Spain: The Madrid Edition.

Day 28 (MY BIRTHDAY!!!!) continued:

Along the three hour drive to Madrid, we made a stop at a gas station where my sister valiantly used that magic eraser to remove even more of the green paint from the side of our white Alfa Romeo from our small collision in Cordoba.  She was wildly successful, and we were feeling even more confident that we would be able to get away with it when we dropped the car off that afternoon.

When we arrived in Madrid, we planned wisely to park the car in a parking garage close to our hotel, drop off our bags, and then return the car to the rental facility.  What we didn’t anticipate is the heavy traffic in the city, along with how packed and tight the parking garage would be. Once we found a parking spot, I had to jump out of the car to guide my sister into the spot. One of the attendants came out and attempted to help as well. Really, he just “yelled” at my sister in Spanish. Finally, we had most of our bags and were able to take the escalator up the street and navigate our way to Vincci The Mint, our hotel. It was easy to get there, but we had a big scare at check-in. My passport was missing.. Thankfully, as I was panicking, the young man working the front desk helped me out by accepting my drivers license opposed to my passport. Because of this, we were able to get into our room, and I was able to dig through everything in search of my passport. It wasn’t there. It was either completely gone, or I had left it in Sevilla some how.  I was so frustrated, the last thing I wanted was to have to drive back to Sevilla for it or spend a few days more in Spain while waiting for a new one after a long visit to the US Embassy.

After digging, we had no choice, but to move on with the day. We headed down to the car to take it back to the rental facility. Before we left, I made it a point to check the car for my passport. I remembered that I had it when we were leaving for Tarifa, and I had set it down quickly right before I went to pay for our parking. Thankfully, I found it down on the inside of the seat. YAY!!!!!  I was plagued with relief as I waved it at my sister while she paid for our current parking.  She got back in the driver seat, and I guided her out of the parking spot as best I could. It was so intense, but she made it happen! You go, Erica!

We made our way outside of the city to the address that was on our rental car email. Funny enough, after about a 30 minute drive in traffic, there was no rental car drop off at the address we drove to. We didn’t know what to do, so we drove back into the city. We circled around the train station and pulled into a parking spot in front of a hotel, where I jumped out and attempted to ask the doorman for help. He was saying that it was right in the vicinity but he wasn’t 100% sure. So, being as it was, we drove into the parking lot of the train station. My sister jumped out & went to find it. After about 20 minutes of sitting in the car, she showed up, and knew exactly where to go. She got us there! The rep came out and looked over the car & gave us the receipt. We were not charged for any damage! WOO HOO!!!

iphone update 1870We had some of our smaller belongings with us that we had opted out of carrying to the hotel earlier, so we decided to hail a cab back to our hotel. It was a quick and easy ride. We dropped off our belongings, layered up and headed out for dinner. My sister was hell-bent on taking me to the mushroom bar, Meson del Champiñon, for my birthday. I was 100% in, but we were having a hard time finding it because Erica didn’t have the name. She knew it was right around Plaza Mayor. We did a full circle inside, and the mushroom bar was nowhere to be found. We were hangry & ready to give up, but we gave it one last try. We wandered down the stairs leading to the outside & took a look around. WE FOUND IT!!!!! We walked over to the right and headed in. They were packed! iphone update 1853There were no tables available, so as soon as a spot cleared at the bar, we moved in. We ordered a couple plates of mushrooms and a couple of beers that were so satisfying. We were also served a small plate of bread to accompany the savory stuffed fungus. You guys, oh my god. These mushrooms were the most incredible mushrooms that I have ever had, and may ever have. Despite the mushroom ecstasy, we decided to escape the crowd and find a place we could sit down. We headed back into the plaza and found an outdoor cafe where we were able to use blankets near a heater & ordered the worst paella we had the whole trip, simply because it was under-cooked… but it was hot, and that was all that was really important considering it was freezing and damp outside. Our meal was accompanied by the sounds of locals making music around us. It created a fun atmosphere that we really enjoyed.

After that, we went on a quick hunt to find a Spain patch for my sister for her back pack, and then we headed back to the hotel to sleep.

Day 29:

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iphone update 1855We woke at a normal hour and headed out into the city. It was going to be just an easy day for us. We got breakfast at a small cafe and ordered a couple of omelettes. The omelettes were completely runny inside, so we did our best to eat all that we could and split. We then headed toward Plaza Mayor. We figured we would check and see if there were any street artist… When we got there, we were completely taken aback. Not only were there street artists, there were performers, and there was a whole market lining the entire square full of vintage stamps, coins, trinkets, and more. It was awesome. It was a great place to spend the morning. We ended up buying a some vintage postcards for my dad that depicted bull fighting, and we each bought one more oil painting to add to our large collection. It was a really great way to start the day.

From there, we knew that we needed to pick up additional luggage, so we headed back toward our hotel, down one of the wide shopping roads that had several shops offering luggage. We found a couple pieces that suited our needs &, even better, were on sale! From there… we went back to the hotel & began attempting to pack up our souvenirs since we were leaving the following day. We got a pretty good start, but it still needed some work. It was a little nerve-racking packing our beautiful ceramic pottery into cheap luggage, but the good news is that it all made it a-okay.

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Anyways, back to the trip… We decided to head back out for lunch & made our way down the street to Le Pain Quotidien where we proceeded to have an incredible dish of vegetable lasagna followed by carrot cake that was divine. Not to mention, that the glass water bottles were the most incredible shade of blue, that we decided to take them with too! I know use them as vases.

iphone update 1862We began our journey toward the Palacio de Cristal which sits in the very large and beautiful Retiro Park. It was a beautiful day. The weather had finally warmed up a bit, and the sun was shining. We talked about history and life as we cruised through Madrid. We enjoyed watching the street performers entertain visitors in the park & seeing the people paddle boat in the large fountain/water feature.  We were in the park for a while, we enjoyed seeing the palace & even going in side. Then we stopped at one of the cafes to finally try the churros, a deep fried pastry dough served with chocolate sauce. To be honest, I didn’t understand the hype. I think Mexican churros are better, and the ones at Disneyland are the best… mmmm… that cinnamon sugar goodness!

We decided to explore more of the city on foot. We aimed to find the palace, but that didn’t go as planned. I think we were in the vicinity, but Erica ended up having to go to the bathroom so badly that we ended up heading back quite quickly and making a pit-stop in a Burger King.

iphone update 1868We were still hungry since our lunch was light, and decided that an early dinner was necessary. We did what any reasonable person would do, and went back to Meson del Champiñon. This time though, we beat the rush and got a table in back right next to the charming keyboardist. Not only did we order a couple rounds of mushrooms, we ordered cheese, we ordered olives, and we ordered fried peppers…. It was all so amazing!!!! I loved every minute of it. I could eat there all the time, and I wish there was a Meson del Champiñon here in Scottsdale. haha.

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iphone update 1872iphone update 1871There was one last stop that we had to make while in Madrid & that was the bull bar, La Torre del Oro. Along with its interesting history, the decorating was intriguing as well. There were heads of slain bulls on the wall along with vivid and graphic photos of bull fighting. There were also photos of celebrities and presidents that had visited. It was a really cool place, but I don’t know that I have the stomach to go back. The men working there were very kind. When we ordered the beer, they served us another small drink that was definitely comprised of beef broth & a mystery ingredient that kind of freaked me out. (Out of politeness, I finished it.) There is something about drinking beef broth drinks while look at injured bulls and injured bull fighters that really just turns your stomach a bit. I’m glad we went, and if you are up for it, go. It’s a cool place. But considering I’m not one to condone animal abuse, which I think is a category that bull fighting may fall under, I most likely won’t go back.

We decided that we should start heading back toward the hotel, but I really wanted one last crepe, so we stopped in at a cafe that had just that… a chocolate crepe… a chocolate crepe with an orange flavor… THE DISAPPOINTMENT STRUCK!!!! Orange has no place in chocolate, I don’t care what anyone says.. I did eat it anyways, but I was happy when it was gone.

We headed back to the hotel & finished organizing & packing. We were leaving super early the next morning for the airport, so we went to be early.

Day 29:

When we woke it was dark and raining. We were schedule on the 8:25 AM flight, and therefore wanted to ensure that we had plenty of time to get there. We wanted to leave the hotel by 6 AM. We were originally planning on taking the train, but opted for a cab instead. After checkout, we headed outside & quickly hailed one. The drive took longer than expected because of heavy traffic.

Once we got to the airport, a man came up and grabbed our bags and placed them on the trolley and began pushing them toward the American Airlines counter. He insisted that we tip him, and we declined. We thought he worked for the airport initially, and were a little frustrated that a stranger would just come up and assume that you want there help and would pay them for it. He was angry with us, but we didn’t care… We were way to exhausted to care. Instead, we got our tickets, checked our bags, and headed to our gate.

We were worried that we wouldn’t make our first flight because it would be too full and we were flying standby… but that wasn’t the case. We got on the first flight out headed for NYC without any issue. We even got to sit next to each other.

Just like that, it was bye-bye, Europe. Hello, home! I was okay with that. 29 days exploring other countries was more than enough. I was excited to be back in my own bed with my dog in my family’s home.


Morocco: The Tangier Day Trip Edition.

**I don’t have as many photos as usual, perhaps because I was out of my comfort zone**

Day 26:

We woke really early, around 5 AM. We were dressed and ready within close to 30 minutes, and headed down to the garage. I was driving that morning. We were headed south two hours and fifteen minutes to the port town Tarifa, and wanted to catch the 9 AM ferry to Tangier, Morocco with time to spare. The drive was fairly easy as we followed the directions on our phone. Thankfully, we made it there without any issues.

iphone update 1769The sun was finally up, and we were starting to gain some energy as we parked our Alfa Romeo in the paid parking just outside the terminal. We walked in to buy our tickets which took no longer than 10 minutes.  We purchased the 9AM ticket with an open return time that evening, which was convenient because it meant we could take our time.  From the ticket counter, we headed toward the cafe where we were able to grab our tea & coffee and a couple of pastries before boarding. Slowly, but surely, we were getting more and more excited.

iphone update 1771The time finally came to board the ferry.  Once we were on, we realized that we needed to line up to get our passports stamped since we were technically leaving the country. We made our way from the back of the boat to the front as they processed each person quickly.  With our newest stamps added to our passports, we grabbed a couple of seats next to the window, towards the back of the boat. We laughed and had a great time talking and bonding as the boat began its crossing of the Straight of Gibraltar. The ride was a little over an hour, and fairly smooth. The boat did rock a little, and there were some Islamic women dressed in their traditional veils that were struggling. One of them was vomiting into the nearby trash can, and the other sat there with her eyes closed trying her hardest to hold it together, as one of her children was climbing all over her lap, and her other sat right next to her. Another little American girl, who was traveling with her parents and her little brother (who was passed out on the bench without a care in the world) was crying from sea sickness & her mom spent much of the ride with her in the bathroom. It was all hard to watch, and I was definitely feeling for them, as well. It brought me back to Cancun from the year prior when we were doing our Scuba training. We encountered some rough waters there, and i just didn’t know if I would be able to finish the day.

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Finally, we arrived in Tangier all intact, with some others weighing a little bit less. We headed through customs which was effortless, a quick glance and a stamp and we were through. As we emerged from the building, it was very cold & there was a very light rain beginning to ensue. Suddenly, Morocco didn’t seem like the greatest idea, especially as we began being hounded by the local taxi drivers trying to give us a ride. We did our best to shoo them away in foreign languages… Our goal was to not let the locals know that we were American, but that didn’t last long. haha.  The locals wore us down, after turning down several drivers, we had one that approached us & made us an offer than seemed reasonable, especially because my sister seemed uncertain about which direction we should be heading & didn’t want to take any risks. We told our driver, after agreeing on a price, that we wanted to head near the Medina.

As we road along in the back seat, discretely counting out our Euros to pay with, our driver repeatedly offered us the scenic city tour. We on the other hand, continually turned him down. Once we were in the vicinity of the Medina, he made his offer one more time. Upon our refusal he stopped the car so we could get out, and threw his hands up in the air in his frustration.  At this point, we were a little overwhelmed and completely out of our comfort zone.

iphone update 1773We wanted to grab breakfast & found a small cafe just in front of us. I don’t recall the name, but I remember the way it felt when we walked in. It was a building full of Moroccan men who stared at us so intently as we walked through, it was almost as if you could feel their eyes piercingly judging us wild American woman (who were modestly dressed). The man working there led us to a table in the back of the building on an screened in patio. We were inhaling the strong smell of the cigarette smoke from the Europeans just one table over. The menu was in Arabic & English, but didn’t seem completely clear. We went with the first option since it seemed the safest for breakfast. Upon arrival we were pleasantly surprised. It was toast with goat cheese & honey, olives ,and their mint tea which is very sweet and delicious! We ate all that we could, and did our best to drink up our tea that seemed to be made of pure sugar. Our breakfast maybe costs us a couple US dollars, which was incredibly exciting. We made our payment & headed to use the restrooms, which were fairly sketch. The man who tended them was very kind & attentive in getting us tissue to dry our hands.

From here we headed out in search of the Medina. We began our way through a calm area, and up a large hill. We had a man following us, continually offering us a tour, but we learned that it was important to try to avoid the locals offering tours because you can unintentionally end up in a dangerous situation. We did our best to shake him off which was incredibly difficult and somewhat unnerving, but it eventually worked. TIP: The people there are incredibly persistent, and it can be very exhausting. You just have to stand your ground & be aware of your surroundings. We tried to laugh these situation off and not let them overwhelm us too much.

We officially had escaped 2 people trying to wear us down into their overpriced tour that could possibly turn into a robbery (you never know over there) and we were now trying to find the Medina. Little did we know, we were inside, and at the very top. We wandered around a bit, and found ourselves near a couple of small shops in the street markets. They had opened earlier than the rest, and the owners were very pleasant and polite, and just wanted to show us their items for sale. We looked briefly, but wanted to continue on our way since they didn’t really have what we were looking for: POTTERY!

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From here we began wandering the streets in all directions… We took in the beautiful views overlooking the ocean, and we wandered the markets. We both wanted to pick up some artwork while we were there, and found some in one of the shops. We also found a sweet little vase to bring back for our mom. However, once we were ready to make our transaction, the shop owner told us that our total was going to be 90 USD (881 Moroccan Dirham) for a small vase and 3 small paintings. We were taken aback by the high price, and we didn’t know who should take the lead on the negotiating, so naturally we panicked. We decided to create a diversion, because we knew we were getting “scammed”. This was our first attempt at purchasing stuff here, and we didn’t know what to do. haha. We decided that we needed to go to the ATM.  The shop owner instructed his son to guide us. Our problem was, we wanted to ditch this guy, but also, actually get cash. When we got to the ATM, Erica waited to get the money, and I tried to communicate to the guy that we would meet him back at the store. It took a couple tries, but finally he understood that our plan was to head back to the shop shortly, once we had the money.

Once we were free, we headed over to the center of a round-a-bout to very discreetly count our funds, and then we headed back into the market. We wandered into a small well-lit shop right off the main road, where we were able to find a small & beautifully painted white and blue vase to bring home for our mom.  We negotiated the price down 5 Moroccan Dirham which is the equivalent of 50 US cents. It cost us $2.50 USD.  From here we spent the rest of the afternoon shopping. We were in and out of several shops looking over all of the beautiful ceramic pieces & browsing the large stacks of old rugs looking for new homes. Everything was so beautiful & colorful! It was hard to say “no” to all of the lovely treasures surrounding us. We were in and out and found ourselves lost in the market while buying our goodies to bring home. We had hand-painted bowls, bone-inlay boxes, and I picked up a beautiful rug. We stopped in at a cafe where we got another glass of hot mint tea. We drank it slowly as it was searing hot. While we were sitting in the warm and wore down cafe, a young Moroccan boy came in trying to sell us Fez hats. We continually told him “Nein” (German for “No”), until he left  frustrated and somewhat yelling. We were uncomfortable from the situation of a child trying to force us into buying souvenirs, and the strong aroma of cigarette smoke from a couple tables down.  We decided to wrap it up fairly quickly, as we felt slightly choked from the smoke.

iphone update 1793We headed back out into the market and wandered aimlessly for a while, popping in and out of additional shops & enjoying each others company and the bold adventure we were on. We wanted a new way to carry all of our new belongings, and decided that we should buy woven basket totes to carry instead. We wandered into one of the shops and made inquiries about the prices on the plain tan straw baskets. The price he wanted was too high to justify, so we walked out toward the shop next store where a man had baskets with a hints of purple woven through out. As we were working on making a deal, a man on the street knew what we were looking for & decided that he wanted to sell me his baskets. He started to put everything I had in his baskets, and it created an uproar since we were already in the process of making a deal with another shop owner. All of a sudden, the men were all yelling at each other over selling us baskets. We took the ones from the street owner, the ones with hints of purple, and put our things inside, and left as quickly as we could to avoid the uncomfortable drama.

iphone update 1778We didn’t know what else to do, so we headed toward the wall of the city, and found ourselves making our way down to the main road that sits right next to the docking point for the ferry. (Yes, we were only minutes away this whole time, which we had laughed about earlier that day when we first were taking in the magnificent ocean views.) We found ourselves staring at a wall infused with a  small hotel & private homes, with immaculate views, that extended back towards the markets. It was truly awesome. Still plagued with uncertainty of what to do next, we climbed back up the wall part of the way and took a seat on a ledge overlooking the street and the water. We were wishing we could drop off our bags so we could explore the beach, but with the amount of weight we were lugging around from our previous purchases, it didn’t seem practical.  Instead, we sat for a while immersed in conversation about what we had been experiencing.

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After 15 minutes or so, and after the fear of a local wanting to come & try to sell us some form of tour or souvenir, we decided that we wanted something to snack on and headed to the Continental Hotel which was up a set of stairs along the outer wall. It brought us up onto a small patio which led us indoors. We requested a table, and were informed that no food was available to order, but we could get drinks, so we just got a couple of waters & relaxed on the balcony. We enjoyed the time to sit in an actual chair as the weather began to turn once again. At one point we had the lightest drizzle interrupting our break, and the temperature began to drop once again, but it didn’t last long, thankfully.

iphone update 1789We spent about 45 minutes hanging out and talking to another tourist couple who was heading over to Spain the following day. We informed them of the present cold front that had been viciously attacking our trip, and that they needed to be prepared for the weathers brutality. Eventually, though, the time to move on came again. We tried to maneuver our way out the front of the hotel to the market streets, but that didn’t seem possible because  a man came after us quickly and ushered us back out the way we came.

iphone update 1796Finally we were on the main streets, but didn’t know which way to go. We were hungry, tired, and our hands were full. We wanted a good meal since we knew we wouldn’t be able to get one in Tarifa, nor on the road back Sevilla, The task was difficult since we hadn’t seen many nicer restaurants or cafes along the way. As we tried to navigate our way back through the city, which seemed impossible, we ended up stumbling upon a small Moroccan restaurant called Restaurant Rif Kebdani. It is highly ranked on TripAdvisor, and I can attest that everything we got was exquisite!!! I, now, am always wanting to eat Moroccan food. haha. We each ordered a soup and we shared chicken couscous. The flavors were amazing & the appetizers which they bring (free of charge) were so tasty… I couldn’t get enough. It comes with bread and the dipping dishes were unforgettable.  If you are going to make a stop in Tangier, check this place out. The food is on point, and the atmosphere is truly enchanting. It will make your vacation so much more exciting!

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The time came for us to start making our way back to the boat for the 7 PM departure. We had plenty of time, but we were unsure of what it would be like trying to get back on the boat, and unclear on how to find our way back down and out of the “walled” city.  So, we started out and, sure enough, we felt a bit like we were going in circles until, finally, we were able to get a vantage point & maneuver our way down. Once there, we watched the cars & found the perfect time to cross over to the port.  We headed in and showed our passports & tickets and then were shuffled into the customs line where if felt like it took way longer than it should to have our passport processed. From here, we headed into a waiting area where we took a seat for a short amount of time before they called everyone out onto the tarmac.  The clouds had mostly taken over as the sun was setting, and it was windy and became cold again. We were ready to board. However, protocol had to be taken, and we were required to wait until the boat was cleared & they checked our documents.

Once we were back on board, we were able to grab a seat without any further document processing (unlike on the way there). We grabbed a couple of seats by the window where we crammed in with our baskets full of finds and my new old rug. We were able to watch as the storm progressed over the ocean. The water was far rougher as we sailed from one continent back to the other. We both tried to rest a little bit before the drive we had ahead of us.

It was raining and much colder when we reached Tarifa. We got inside the building & waited calmly for our passports to be stamped. My impatient little sister, left me behind as she made a quick run to the car. In the heat of the moment she slipped on the slick sloped ground exiting the building, and, from inside the building, you could hear her brand new ceramics inside smack the ground along side her. I was in the process of preparing my own exit as I saw this happen, and thankfully a couple of guys were quick to help her up and collect her things. She was perfectly fine, with nothing more than a big old bruise on her leg. But her brand new hand painted bowl from Fez & her fun aqua vase that she fell in love with had broke. While she was discovering this tragedy, I was attempting to pay our parking ticket. TIP: Trying to pay for parking on a machine is a foreign, non-English speaking country is usually a challenge, even when you use the English setting because it still doesn’t always translate properly, so be prepared to take your time figuring it out.  When I got back to the car, Erica showed me her damaged bowl & I assured her that it could be repaired. It would never be perfect, but it could be repaired.

Finally, it was sorted. Between both of our frustration & our exhaustion the drive back was off to a rough start. and didn’t get much better. It didn’t help that our GPS was slightly lagging, so we kept missing turns and having to reroute.

We eventually got back to our hotel very late. Erica attempted to pull into the parking garage and park, but ended up gently grazing the side of the car along the wall. It clearly happened on a regular basis based on the amount of paint and marks in that area. It was a tricky bend to navigate, especially for an American since everything is bigger.

iphone update 1842.jpgWe were in bed well after midnight, and were fast asleep within minutes. We had an incredibly spontaneous journey that day, and despite the small hick ups & uncertainty of what to expect, it was probably one of our favorites. We had many laughs about our time in Morocco.

For instance, I tried to help my sister buy her pretty aqua vase (the one that broke) by negotiating the price down. I was being very reasonable buy trying to drop off about $1 USD  to 50 cents, but the man claimed that I was insulting him when he “has a nice shop full of nice things”.. or that time the man who sold us our stunning bone inlay boxes joked about trading me for camels, and my sister, misunderstanding what he was saying, said she would be willing to take one camel for me… Yes, apparently, I am only worth one camel. haha.

Despite the headaches and frustrations that come with being in such a country, we met some truly lovely people while we were there & it was an absolutely pleasure to able to partake in their culture & their food for just a day.  I cannot wait to visit Morocco again!

…to be continued…


Spain: The Sevilla Edition (Part 1). 

Day 25 continued:

Our drive into Sevilla was pretty easy. It was an hour and half, and we only missed our turn off once because as usual, we were hoping to park close to our hotel, Hotel Alcázar. That wasn’t happening, so we found some metered parking nearby, parked our car, grabbed our bags, and wandered toward the main road & on into the lobby. The guy at the front desk was a little rude, and made it clear that we couldn’t get into our room until check-in time.  So, in order to apply pressure, we sat in the lobby for about 45 minutes until we could get into our room. We were dead set on being able to get cleaned up & drop our bags off before we headed out.

iphone update 1707Thankfully, he did give us directions on where to park the car for a nightly fee. The hotel had a small parking garage just around the corner. So, while we were waiting, we headed over to grab the car from our metered spot, and navigated our way to the garage. I jumped out to press the button to open the door, and Erica pulled the car in. I had to jump out and guide her because the ramp and spaces were so narrow that it was almost impossible to do alone.

Finally, about 15 minutes before check-in time, we were given our room key. We grabbed our bags out of the storage closet, and headed to the elevator & up to our room. It was the smallest room that we had on the whole trip. We were having to rearrange things just so that we could somewhat fit. ..but it was comfortable, and we had a large balcony with an awesome rooftop view of the city.

iphone update 1709We headed out in the early afternoon. We needed to grab some grub, but also, wanted to make our way toward Plaza de España by way of the Alcázar & the Sevilla Cathedral (Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See). We took the long way there because we could not find the entrance to the Alcázar. We walked along the beautiful outer wall as we wound through the narrow cobble stone streets finding our way into the charming tourist areas. We explored the shops, and found an incredible shop filled with ceramic pieces dating back to the 14th century, and yes, you can buy them but at a hefty price. We grabbed lunch at some small street cafe where we got who knows what. The details were not important…

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What was important, was that we eventually found ourselves face to face with the beautiful Cathedral in the heart of the city, just near the train tracks (it’s more of a cable car situation).  FACT:  The Sevilla Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral and the third-largest church in the world. We had no choice, but to conquer the Cathedral first. We made our way around the massive structure, and purchased our tickets inside, from there we made a long walk into the heart of the church. It was overwhelming as most churches can be. There were tourists everywhere, and everything was so ornate. (Sadly, many of pictures that I took on my Nikon from Sevilla onward have disappeared, I assume it happened while trying to transfer.) We made our way through quickly, somewhat turned off by the amount of gold that was stashed behind the partitions because the gaudiness of old Catholic churches has always been repulsive to me, and I say that as a practicing Christian. We were in a rush because the church was closing soon, and we needed to reach the top of the bell tower, the Giralda. FACT: The Giralda is 104.1 meters tall, and you must climb 35 sets of ramps to the top, and then a small section of stairs to access the city views, and get a look at the beautiful & very loud bells, which will ring right over head.  It was worth the calf-burning climb to the top. It was a beautiful day to take in the city of Sevilla. (I’m so disappointed that so many of my photos have vanished.) We spent about 10 minutes at the top making it all the way around, and waiting for the mobs of Asian tourists to make clearings so that we could squeeze in too! “I WANT TO SEE!!!”  iphone update 1714


We made our way down somewhat quickly, trying to get away from the crowds in the spacious hallways of ramps leading from the top to bottom and vice versa, and found our way back out of the cathedral. The weather seemed to be changing from sunny to partly cloudy to cloudy as the day went on. It didn’t seem like their was a chance of rain so we made our way toward Plaza de España.

iphone update 1719Plaza de España is an incredibly beautiful structure near a park. The rounded building is one truly captivating. We enjoyed promenading around the center, as we felt the wind pick up the mist and dust it over us. We loved watching the horse drawn carriages circle the fountain and exit the grounds as we tried to snap photos with them as they quickly passed by. As we were getting photos of one of the bridges, the rain began… It was light rain that pushed many people onto the veranda of the building. We parked ourselves on the floor against the wall so that we could overlook the grounds and watch as the rain gently fell.  After about 10 minutes, it stopped.

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We headed back out under the cloudy sky to try and get some great photos of the stunning architecture. The task was achieve shortly before and after snapping a couple photos for other tourists like ourselves. As we were leaving the park it began to sprinkle again and the sprinkle began to turn into rain. Neither of us were prepared for the weather, so we moved as quickly as possible & then took cover in the bar of Restaurante Oriza where we ordered some hot beverages to help take away our cold. iphone update 1748We removed our damp outer layers, but the moisture had seeped into our skin, and warmth eluded us. As I drank my hot tea, I felt as though I would never get warm. The cold from outside had made its way indoors, and the hot cup in my hands wasn’t enough to heat back up. We finished our drinks, and waited for the on and off again rain to finally steady itself into a tame mist before we headed back out onto the streets.


We were freezing, and had no choice, but to head back to the hotel to grab a couple more layers. We wound ourselves back a new direction, and found ourselves back in our room adding additional layers for warmth, and grabbing our umbrellas just in case… (Turns out, we didn’t need them… the umbrellas that is.) With dinner on our minds and coming up quick we decided to explore the older part of the city. We posed for pictures in front of the Alcázar, and snapped photos of the Cathedral glowing in the warm city lights. We continued wandering through somewhat aimlessly looking for dinner.

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iphone update 1762I don’t know which direction we headed or where we ate specifically, but I recall sitting on the patio in the freezing cold, under a heater & ordering a lasagna and pizza while being serenaded by a local woman with an very raspy voice. Though cold, the ambiance was perfect! It was a long meal, we considered moving  in doors at one point, but didn’t want to be the high-maintenance Americans, so we just stuck it out. I followed up my meal with some Nutella flavored gelato (i know, it was too cold for gelato), only to find out that it had an orange flavor to it which I was not keen on.  I ate it anyways while Erica finished off her glass of wine. We grabbed our check, and decided to take the long route back to the hotel. We called it an early night because the next morning we had a long drive & early start.  We were going to Morocco…

…to be continued…


Spain: The Córdoba Edition.

Day 23 continued:

ipad update 2798We continued our road trip from Ronda to Córdoba. It was another 2 hours and 15 minutes into the city, and finally we made our way in before the sun had set. We were trying to find our way through the small city side streets in an attempt to drop our bags off at the hostel, Hospederia Luis de Góngora, and hopefully find street side parking. As we tried to navigate the tedious and maze-like one way streets we kept ending up going in circles around the same few couple of square kilometers.

At this point the sun was nearly down and we were beginning lose our nerve, when out of the corner of my eye, another car came grinding up on our rented Alfa Romeo.  We were caught off guard & completely unsure of what to do… I did the only thing that I know to do, as an American citizen… I put on my flashing hazard lights, and pulled over into the far the left lane & came to a halt. Within a couple of seconds a dark and curly haired woman, maybe in her fifties, pulled over in front of me, got out of her car, & began yelling at me in Spanish. I obviously did not understand what she was saying. We examined each others cars, but she kept yelling as I told her “no comprendo” & “no hablo español”. Next thing I knew, she was climbing back into her car & driving off. Erica & I were at a total loss. We were “lost” in a foreign city, just experienced a hit & run, and had no clue what else could possibly go wrong on this trip. We did the best thing we could think to do: headed to the underground parking closest to our hotel, and just walk because that is pretty hard to screw up. Finally, our car was parked safely in an underground garage. We surveyed the car damage created by the crazed local, and my sister came up with the idea that maybe a magic eraser would work…

We saved this task for another day, our first order of business was checking in to our hostel. Erica navigated our way, with bags in tow,  to the hostel. As we walked,  we realized there was no way in hell we would have made it there easily in the car let alone been able to park… There was no room! Thank God, for easy underground parking; if only we would have just parked in the first place!

When we got to the front desk, we got our room assigned, and inquired with the gentleman there about what he thought we should do about our car… Basically, after his uncertain advice, we decided we would call Mom. haha…. (Mom’s just always have sound wisdom in tough situations.)

As we bundled up to head out, we called our mom… who’s advice was “call your credit card company and see what they say in regards to the insurance”… (Seriously…. always great advice from Mom.) She always agreed that we should try the magic eraser, and see what happens… We were hungry, and just needed a mental break so we headed to dinner. We headed back through the one way roads, across the main road, and made our way inside Mercado Victoria… a gastro market. FUN FACT: It was the first in Andalusia.

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LOL. Mozzarella sticks…. they don’t belong here!

We made our way around, checking out all of the different stalls serving all sorts of cuisine from around the world. I settled on Mexican, as I needed a taste of home. Erica, on the other hand went a little further south, with Argentinian empanadas.  We divided to order and then met back up on the over-sized and enclosed outdoor patio. Thankfully, it wasn’t too chilly, and it didn’t have the over-amplified noise that was inside. I feasted on a plate of simple nachos, that I think I only enjoyed because of the jalapeños. Meanwhile my sister worked on finishing off her massive and delicious empanadas. Clearly, her eyes were bigger than her stomach. We sat, relaxed, and discussed, but were both exhausted from our trying day… This trip had been more of a challenge than we anticipated, but it was definitely worth it. We made our way back to the hostel, with the intent to climb right into bed.

Day 24:

We woke eager. We were so excited for what the city of Córdoba might have in store for us. We were still on the hunt for street art, and wanted to see some of the fabulous iconic sights the city had in store for us.

iphone update 1693.jpgOnce we were ready, we headed out in search of breakfast. We found our way down the small narrow cobblestone roads, and ended up in a touristy section with shops filled with souvenirs to remind visitors of Flamenco, toros, and the beautiful city. We ended up inside Gourmet Iberico Patio Romano, a fun cafe with an indoor patio! We ordered what I call an English Breakfast: eggs, toast, beans, and bacon, and finished it off with a couple pain au chocolat that were quite delicious. We paid our tab, and headed back on the street toward the Mosque–Cathedral. The exterior of the structure was almost as exquisite as the inside. We found our way into the beautiful courtyard, and wandered to the ticket counter and made our purchase. From there, we looped around over the entry, where they tore our tickets and let us pass.

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iphone update 1695I knew what to expect, but I also didn’t… I didn’t realize it was going to be such a beautiful blend of a Cathedral & a Mosque, nor did I expect the number of columns! It was incredible. The dimly lit archways were truly something to be rivaled. This place had mystique. I was captivated by the beauty and the things that had happened here. It was unique & beautiful. How does a mosque become a cathedral so gracefully?

We spent over an hour wandering through, trying to get great photos without tourists, which was a bigger challenge than anticipated. The details were so incredibly beautiful. TIP: I would definitely recommend the visit if you are in Córdoba as it is now one of my favorite churches to see! 

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Once we headed out, we wanted to head toward the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos. Our direction was first toward the bridge in order to get our bearings, but we were immediately sidetracked by an artist. He sat there painting away, as has wife attempted to communicate with us as we expressed interest in his work. The pricing was very good. I think they sold his work for fun, not necessarily for a living. My sister, made her purchase, but I wanted to think on it. She told us that they would be there until about 1:30 PM.

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With timing in mind, we pressed on fervently in search of the Alcazar. It wasn’t even a full kilometer & took less than 10 minutes to walk to. The outside was fabulous. Tall tan brick gave it a bit of simple & rustic feel, which translated to the interior perfectly. The structure itself was fairly small. We explored the interior for nearly  20 to 30 minutes, and the most challenging part was navigating the stairs as other tourists were coming back and forth. We were able to take in some great city views from the top, and noticed the stunning gardens below. We quickly realized that the reason to go to the Alcazar in Cordoba is the gardens. They are incredibly lush, full of vivid flowers and fragrant orange trees. FUN FACT: The Valencia oranges which can be found through out Andalusia are inedible (Erica can verify), they are far to sour for eating. Their only purpose for planting is the scent they give off. Erica & I enjoyed wandering the gardens, and we had a great time goofing off. We came up with a great book idea called Where’s Natalie?… A “find me” game that I wanted to gift to my husband, but we never really followed through. But we were cracking up as I ducked behind shrubberies, and peered out shyly only exposing my forehead and eyes.

We were watching the clock, as we realized that I was running out of time to get back to the artist by the bridge. When we arrived, the original painting I liked was gone, which I took as a sign that it wasn’t the one. Instead, I left with three others. Two for me, and one for our mom. They were such beautiful pieces of work, that I couldn’t resist.

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ipad update 2904Once the deal was made, and everything was wrapped up, we headed across the Roman bridge.  It was a perfect day to be strolling the city, cool and cloudy but not cold. The walk was refreshing, and I enjoyed walking among my fellow visitors to the other side to take in the old city view.

As we began crossing back over, we both realized that we could use a bench… Our backs were sore from all the exploration. We took a seat for a little while, and then decided that it might be a good idea to actually rest at a cafe. So we headed inward a little bit, and stumbled on an outdoor cafe where we were able to order a few drinks to caffeinate and relax, and we were also able to get some more pain au chocolate because you can never have too many in a day, right?

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A beautiful building along the way!

After maybe an hour, we headed back toward the hostel to drop off our artwork, and plan our next move. We were still in need of magic erasers, so we decided to head toward a market. Somehow we ended up at a grocery store several blocks away, where we proceeded to buy a 6-pack of two liter water bottles, and a pack of off-brand magic erasers. The walk back was longer because we somehow ended up taking a different route. We switched off carrying the large case of water since it was heavy, and finally found ourselves in the parking garage, next to our sweet Alfa Romeo. We dropped off the majority of the water in the back seat, and unpacked a couple of magic erasers & soaked it with some of our water. Erica did most of the work as we attempted to scrub off the paint from the other car… We made quite a bit of progress, but we also had an issue with some denting. We decided that it was a good start, and to revisit it later. We just wanted to eat. We dropped off our remaining water bottles, and headed to grab any essentials we might want for dinner, which were far and few between.

We promptly headed back out in search of a restaurant. We ended up at a great small restaurant, El Choto,  where we ordered a fantastic dish of vegetable Paella on the quaint & dimly lit patio. It was so good that we practically finished off the pan. We were happy little clams, enjoying a warm meal on a cool evening outside.

With full bellies, we wandered aimlessly for a little while before deciding to head back to our room. FACT: Wandering in a dark strange city isn’t always wise… Stay vigilant. When we got there, we did our best to get things in order for the next morning. We were going to be departing, and wanted to get a jump start on the day.

Our heads hit the pillow at a reasonable hour, and we were soon asleep.

Day 25:

We were up bright and early, and ready for the next jourey ahead. We took our showers, and finished packing before we headed to checkout. We carried our luggage back down the spiral staircase, and quickly were at the door and headed to the car. We lugged our luggage the quick distance back to the parking garage, and did our best to load up the car and get it organized quickly.

We wanted to grab breakfast on our way out of town, as it was an hour and a half drive to Sevilla, and we were hungry (we are always hungry).  We decided to stop at a McDonald’s for convenience. We ate our meal somewhat rapidly, and refreshed our directions with the complimentary wifi (Thanks McD!). In a jiff we were back on the road!

…to be continued…

Spain: The Ronda Edition.

Day 23 continued:

iphone update 1674We made our 2 hour (roughly) drive through the Spanish country side toward the mountainside town of Ronda. Ronda is home to the Puente Nuevo Bridge & free-flowing wine, or so we thought.

The drive was fairly simple. We passed over bodies of water, through rolling hills, and made one emergency bathroom stop for my sister, where I picked up a pack of Pringles to much on along the way.  We were there fairly quickly, and navigated our way through the town towards the main road which thankfully was also home to a parking garage.

iphone update 1672With our car parked, we headed out on another adventure. We began our walk toward the beautiful bridge, but were distracted by the bull fighting arena, that was quite petite in size. We don’t have an interest in bull fighting, so a tour was simply out of the question, but it was fun to walk around the exterior, and snap pictures of the statues & each other. From here we stopped at a very small park line with sweet trees adorned in pastel pink flowers where we were able to take in the spectacular views of the town below the cliff. Despite the little bit of haze in the air, we could see for miles. It was amazing!

We headed back toward the main road, and made our way onto the tourist filled bridge. We grabbed a couple photos of the outlying views, and then followed the road toward the trail that headed down the cliff. From here we were able to grab a bunch of gorgeous photos of Puente Nuevo. IT was a fairly steep climb down, and I was dreading the inevitable drudge up. However, we took our time wandering the cliff side with the other tourists. We climbed up on boulders and walls, and down small pathways. It was very enjoyable, and the weather made it quite tolerable.

As I followed my little sister’s lead up the mountainside, we decided that it was a good time to grab lunch so we stopped at the first place we found, Cafe de Ronda. iphone update 1683We both went with simpler choices, and were not overly impressed, but it was enough to get us through to our next stop.

Neither of us were ready to go, we still had to find the free-flowing wine, and I wanted to stop in a shop that was right across the way. They had a bowl on display that I had been eyeing all through lunch.  After our check was paid, and bathroom break had, we headed across the way. I decided to hold out on the bowl because I anticipated finding many more ceramics along our journey.

ipad update 2656Meanwhile, my sister was trying to find her way to the wine. She inquired with the shop keeper, but she didn’t know. Next, we headed into a hotel just off the bridge, and the concierge directed us toward Parroquia Santa Maria la Mayor…. We searched, but found no wine. So, Erica popped into another shop using her best Spanish, but the man had no clue what she was talking about. We decided to back toward the newer part of the city, in hopes that it was there, but on our way we decided to stop at a small shop that appeared to be full of delightful treasures. I do not know the name, but here is the address: 2 Plaza Duquesa de Parcent. I got a beautiful piece of pottery here, and the shop owners were very friendly, and the man spoke great english! With that said, he informed us that there was no free-flowing wine in the city, and that it was probably part of a wine tasting at one of the vineyards in the area. It was safe to say that Erica was incredibly disappointed, as that was a major part of why she wanted to visit… So, it is safe to say that Pinterest can be misleading.

iphone update 1685With one heavy heart & one joyous heart, we began our light trek back toward the car. We crossed the tourist filled bridge, once again, and popped into another shop that we noticed had oil paintings, we sifted through the large the pile, and my sister ended up purchasing two beautiful pieces. Ironically, the two that I would have picked. We had fun looking at all of their woven baskets and wall art, but knew we had all we needed.

We made one last bathroom stop before starting the car, and paying for parking. Navigating our way out the town was far more difficult than finding our way in, but one way streets can do that.

We back tracked a little ways through the hills and over the water before beginning our journey north to Cordoba.

…to be continued…

Spain: The Granada Edition.

Day 21 continued:

We arrived in Granada as the sun was setting, but still had to make it into the city center to find our hotel. This was my first time driving in Europe, and I felt like it was a good place to be initiated. I had to take on massive roundabouts as my sister directed me towards our hotel. As we got closer, we realized that we had no clue where to park, as parking on the street was not an option. Instead, I took us down extremely narrow one way/ one car cobblestone roads that were constantly plagued with people blocking the way. We were laughing out of discomfort at one point because we had no clue what to do. We found a parking garage that was nearby, but it was full so we had to move on. We opted for a new plan. I dropped my sister off in front of the hotel, so that she could inquire about our options. I continued to drive around.

Progress was made. Shortly after my solo drive around the town, my sister was standing on the street corner and directed me to the recently vacated parking spot just outside the hotel. From there, one of the hotel receptionist took our keys and our car and parked it for us. We had to pay extra for parking then, but it was worth it since we didn’t have to deal with it any longer.

We got checked in, and dragged our pile of luggage to the escalator, and to our room. We needed to go grab some dinner, but first we had to layer up. It was very chilly outside, and neither of us were prepared. After a quick prep session, we were down on the streets in search of food. We ended up at La Antigualla III, a tapas restaurant and bar. At this point, I was pretty worn down, and the overwhelming sounds from the surrounding crowd (it was packed), were enough to put me over the edge. I just wanted to eat and get out of there. Meanwhile, my lively little sister was loving it!  We proceeded to order a few things, and I will say that I had the best spring rolls of my life here! They were so good, that I ordered two rounds.

We finally were able to leave, and decided to head back to the hotel; not just because we were tired, but because it was freezing! When we got back to the room, each of us was trying our best to purchase tickets for Alhambra online. We were having no success so we decided that we wanted to be up early to try to get to the ticket office in hopes of getting potential spares.

Day 22:

iphone update 1620We were up bright and early. We did our best to get ready in a flash so that we could head out in search of tickets because we needed to be there a little before 8AM to beat any potential rush. We figured out where the ticket office was, but we arrived too early, seeing as no other ticket hunters were there. We walked up and down the street to kill time, until just a few minutes before. We had been told that the tickets sell out quickly, so we wanted to be the first ones in. We succeeded at that, but were caught off guard when we saw that tickets were completely sold out through May (we were there in March).

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We had no idea of what else to do, but we needed to get cleaned up first. We headed back to our hotel, and showered and primped. We were starving, and had no idea what to do with our day, so breakfast became the priority. We ended up at a small cafe where we proceeded to order paella and pizza. Some breakfast, right? I guess, eggs just didn’t sound very appealing.

iphone update 1643As we sat and discussed the possibilities of our day, we decided that we would wander the city and the markets.  …and so, we did just that. All day we wandered through the small city streets while exploring the market shops along the way, and stopping in and out of bars for drinks and snacks.  As the afternoon began to set in, we decided on getting henna from one of the gentlemen along the way. We had so much fun with it. It was my first time, and I fell in love with the beautiful design that was painted on my arm.  From here we did our best to let our arms sit and dry, but we were incredibly impatient. We  made our way into a small shop and found some lovely ceramic treasures here. We did our best to operate with our single bare arm and hand as we picked up our treasures, sifted through our money, and took our bags.

iphone update 1658Shortly after, we headed over to a bar where we got some delicious tapas and drinks… It was a great way to relax while our henna continued to dry. My sister was much better at not smudging hers. I smudged mine a bit in two spots, but it was hardly noticeable in the end.  With our stomachs full, in addition to our hands, we decided to head back to the hotel for a little bit to drop things off and relax. With our henna mostly dry we started to peel it off (which you aren’t supposed to do). We were in love with our results. It was so beautiful, and fun.

We rested for over an hour when our hunger began to take over once again. We needed food, and fast! We had heard about a take-away noodle joint in the city, and we made it our business to track it down while have intense conversations about family and life.

iphone update 1667Once we found PadThaiWok (yes, it is supposed to be all crammed together, like that). We took our noodle dishes to go in boxes, and made our way to a fountain on the main road. We sat just across the street, and watched as people and cars made their way around. The sound of the water and the glowing statue in the center of it made for quite the ambient setting. We were able to reset our bodies and minds before recommencing our evening stroll through the city. We found the beautiful Granada Cathedral, and had no problem making our way around.

With the extremely cold air setting in, we had no problem wrapping things up. We headed back to our room to get some R&R before our next day began.

Day 23:

iphone update 1668.jpgWe woke up quite early,  got showered, and packed everything up, just to leave it by the hotel room door. Our mission was to find breakfast, so we headed back out onto the city streets. It was so cold. I couldn’t help but think of how unprepared I was for the frigid weather.  We found our way into a small square just near the market we were planning to visit. From here we hopped over to Gran Cafe Bib-Rambla for a quick breakfast.  Eggs, toasts, bacon, tea & coffee made its way to our table while we watched the locals eating churros or tomato spread on bread… SO MUCH BREAD!!!  We did or best to eat quickly as the one man show (aka waiter) memorized orders, shouted them at the two ladies cooking, and acrobatically maneuvered stacks of food on to the waiting patrons.  It was more than just breakfast, it was an entertaining show.

With breakfast wrapped up, we headed out to the market, but most the shops were still closed, and most of what we were seeing at the few that had opened was what we had been seeing prior to that morning. We decided not to waste anymore time, but to head back to the hotel & begin our next journey.

We checked out, and had the concierge grab our car. Within 5 minutes we were loaded up, and back on the road.  We were headed to Rhonda, the beautiful small town tucked away in the mountains.

…to be continued…

Spain: The Barcelona Edition.

Day 18:

About 18 hours after departing Johannesburg, I landed in Barcelona. I was now on day 18 of my international journey in two continents. I was one continent, five countries, and eleven cities in. I had two countries and seven cities to go.

After collecting my bags and clearing customs, I walked out into the main entry of the Barcelona International Airport and found my adorable baby sister standing in front of a pillar. Jet-lagged, we made our way to the metro station underground, and bought our tickets into the city. Erica (that’s my sister) had everything mapped out. We were headed to our first hotel in Barcelona, Well and Come Boutique Hotel.  Once we weaved our way around city corners, with the help of GPS, we found ourselves in the lobby. We checked in, freshened up, and headed toward the beach. There were two main priorities… dinner & gelato. We couldn’t decide what we specifically wanted, so we ended up at Marina Moncho’s where they had many options to choose from. We both went in the direction of a salad, which felt almost mandatory after all the plane food we had both consumed. The service we received was very good, and once it was all said and done, they brought us a couple small dessert bites for us to share. It was fun and quite generous, but not enough to satisfy my sweet tooth.

We headed back out and walked along the “boardwalk” and along the water. The walk happened to be a necessary step in finding the gelato of my dreams. Unfortunately, without wifi I was unable to pull up the name of the place we had gone the last time we were in Barcelona (Deliziosa Gelateria Italiana). Sadly, I couldn’t remember the name or the place… I thought I was there, but there was no nutella flavors… so i opted for another, a chocolate type… I didn’t like it very much which was very disappointing. I ended up throwing out a decent portion. I realized in the end that it was a completely different gelato shop… and I am unsure of the name of the one I went to this time.

With gelato now out of the way and off my disappointed mind. We headed back to the hotel so that we could start working on our plans for the following day: my sister’s birthday. But first, we stopped for some large bottles of water and tea for me. We ended  up sitting on our beds booking tickets for both La Sagrada Familia & Park Guell before we ended up passing out.

Day 19:

The next morning we woke eager to greet the day. It was going to be a big one! After we got showered and cleaned up,  we packed our suitcases back up, checked out of our hotel, and headed back on the streets to find our next hotel, Lodging Apartments City Center. NOTE: I picked this place specifically for the in-suite washer and dryer because I had a ton of laundry to do. Also, the reason we stayed at the other hotel first, was because our dates had shifted, and I was unable to add an extra night to our stay at the Lodging Apartments… So, anyways… We arrived bright and early at the Lodging Apartments, a little before opening, but the lady there was kind enough to let us in. She checked us in, and thankfully our room was already ready, so she led us to the escalator and showed us to our suite.

iphone update 1491.jpgiphone update 1489.jpgWe got everything dropped off & headed in search of breakfast. We decided to go to Mercado de La Boqueria. It was phenomenal. The food options felt endless. Erica grabbed a fresh juice, and I opted for a cup of pomegranate seeds. We munched and sipped as we wandered from stall to stall brain-boggled by the options. We ended up grabbing some stuffed pastries that had veggies, cheeses, and possibly meats. They were all delicious, and a great way to start off our day of adventures… Oh, yeah… I also, got gelato. I had to. It was yummy. Then from there, we began our journey on foot in the direction of Park Guell.

iphone update 1487.jpgOur first, main attraction that we stopped at was Casa Batllo. Erica had never seen it, and since I believe that it is an icon in Barcelona, as well as architecture, I thought it was necessary for her to see it (you can see more pics from my last visit here), but I didn’t think she would fully enjoy touring the inside (and I had done it on my last visit), so we moved on.  From here,  we continued on the path toward La Sagrada Familia. Even though, we had tickets to see it in the late afternoon/evening, we thought we admire the outside with the other morning tourists.

iphone update 1496.jpgWe needed a little caffeine pick-me-up, so we popped into Starbucks which was right across the street. With cold beverages in hand we decided to have some fun snapping additional photos of  us and the cathedral from behind.  We didn’t know what else to do, so we began the long, long walk up toward Park Guell. The temperature had definitely risen, and we were trying to find our way based on the iPhones GPS & our tourist map provided by the hotel. It was taking longer than anticipated, and we ended up needing a bite to eat. We stopped at a small cafe, where I proceeded to have a terribly boring tuna sandwich that was literally tuna & tomato spread on bread. haha. …but it was cheap, and that was nice.  We enjoyed our quick 25 minuted break before we hit the streets again, and began to climb up hill. It was a fantastic walk, but very exhausting with little to see.

ipad update 2405Finally, we reached the park. We had a little time to kill before we could enter, so we just wandered the open grounds, visiting some of my favorite sights from the time before. Eventually, our time came to get in line for our tour. We waited a little while, until the line started to move. The girl scanned our digital tickets and gave us the informational pamphlet, and directed us.  We were immediately drawn over to the large balcony which gave a view that overlooked the city. NOTE: Unfortunately, the air quality is pretty bad, so you see a lot of brown haze crowding the blue skies, and the area is crowded and people are a bit pushy. If you want a great photo, you have to be patient. After, we headed down the stairs to the “tunnel” and walk way which was also lined with breezy palms. Each column had a different design. (Our favorite was the lady with the fruit basket on her head.) We followed the path that led us back down toward the exit (aka once main entrance). We grabbed a couple of photos and then headed up the main stairs into the covered hall of columns and mosaic detail. It was truly unique, and  fun… but then we decided to keep going… We ended up in the gardens, and realized that was it. I was expecting so much more, but there was no more to be offered. It was a fairly pricey ticket for the small ground you get to cover.   We were a little disappointed because we were obviously expecting more. We didn’t want to leave just yet, so we headed back to the balcony in hopes of getting better photos, and stuck around until we succeeded. Worst case scenario, we would just people watch for a bit. Here is a small photo gallery:

Eventually, we made our way out of the park, but we still had a few hours until our tour of La Sagrada Familia. So, we headed back down the hill in search of the metro, and decided it would be wise to go find a store for snacks and laundry detergent, so we did just that.  We found a market near our hotel, and wandered through in search of detergent first… I am not fluent in Spanish, and was having a hard time figuring out what I was buying. I felt somewhat confident that it was detergent at the time, but thinking back on it I am pretty sure I just bought fabric softener.  With a couple bags of snacks and “detergent” We headed back to the hotel to charge our phones & start the laundry.  We separated our clothes and attempted to start the first load. I didn’t think about the fact that I had to translate the settings on the washing machine, but we got it figured out.

We were excited to get back to La Sagrada Familia which was really only a few blocks away from where we were temporarily residing. We found the entrance, and had our passes scanned again. We picked up our complimentary audio guide, and started our tour out front. My neck began to hurt as we stared up at the massive structure, admiring all of the intricate carvings and details that have yet to be finished.  We easily spent over an hour in the church admiring the beautiful rainbows of stained glass & unique architectural design that embodies Gaudi‘s style. It was phenomenal. Erica & I both decided that it was one of our favorite churches.  We opted in to tour the northern towers which allowed for some great city views!

Afterwards, we headed across the street to the pond, where we got some additional photos of the cathedral reflecting in the water. …but our dinner time was coming. We ended our night at a great tapas (small bites/snacks) restaurant that my sister had heard about from one of her fellow flight attendants (sorry, don’t have the name). We picked a variety of tapas to share, and had a great time breaking down our day, and discussing the next. We ended up with a tiny piece of exquisite carrot cake, that left us wanting more, but we instead decided to wrap it up and head back to the hotel because the next day was going to be a big one.

Day 20:

It was Montserrat Day! …and Saint Patty’s day. We were curious of how many people we would see embracing that Irish holiday.  We were up early, and got ready to head to the metro station, so that we could then purchase our train tickets to head to the mountain. We were uncertain of which tickets to purchase because it was just options without descriptions. A man working at the station attempted to help, but naturally didn’t speak English & seemed frustrated with us that we didn’t understand him or know what to pick. Feeling slightly pressured we just  picked the one that seemed to make the most sense, the rail pass & sky car. We board the train & after about 10 minutes, were headed out of the city.

We passed through several small towns before we made it to our destination, or what we thought was our destination.  We were the only people to get off the train, which seemed odd. Unfortunately, at that point, it was clear that we exited one stop too soon. NOTE: We sound so dumb, I know. We were not paying careful enough attention, and the “map” we had gotten before boarding our train, looked completely different than the one that was inside of the train which led us astray…. We decided, since it was an hour until the next train arrived, that we would just walk. The distances between the last several stops had been fairly short, and it seemed like it made more sense to walk a short distance than to sit for an hour.

IMG_0107Well, we began walking, following the train tracks as best we could. We ended up walking along a highway for about twenty minutes, while my sister continually said “I hate this” (haha). We came to a parking lot which seemed to lead into a nature reserve with hiking trails. After about an hour of walking towards and into the mountains, we did our best to reevaluate our resources which were no help at this point, From here we could see where Montserrat was, and decided it was far too long of a walk along a highway to keep going. We opted to turn back. It was very warm & we had no water. My sister was incredibly frustrated while I tried to keep a positive attitude. I knew we would laugh about it later.

IMG_0108When we got back into the town we stopped for some water & gummy worms, and then went back into the train station. We sat for about 15 minutes before the train showed up. As it turned out, the final leg was the longest. We were starting to laugh about it, but were still aggravated.  If anyone ever said anything, we were just going to tell them that we were visiting our great aunt.

We got off the train & headed to the sky car. From there it was a fairly short wait before we got inside the round yellow vault & began our ascent up the side of the cliff. Within minutes we were at the top and began to walk around. We needed to find lunch, we were both starving after our random two hour on-foot excursion through Spain. There weren’t many options, and considering that we were overwhelmed & hot we just settled on the Cafeteria. They had a variety of options, but the food was very much marginal. I got a lentil soup & Erica got spaghetti, and it was nothing to brag about. I also, snagged a piece of cake that was some of the worst cake I have ever had. Thankfully, my sister grabbed a couple of Snickers at the checkout counter.  We did the best we could to choke down the sub-par lunch and get a move on with this portion of our day. We just meandered through the grounds, and found a pathway along the mountains edge that led past many Catholic shrines. We had a great time goofing off. We were doing funny poses, and taking pictures of each other. We were cracking up! …at certain points we were laughing to the point of tears. Our day had finally turned around.

We spent a couple hours wandering and exploring the Cathedral & monastery. It was a beautiful place to visit with the rock cliffs as a backdrop, and the intricate details throughout the Cathedral, but it was time to head back. We were burnt out and our feet were tired. We got back in the sky car, and enjoyed the views on the ride down. From there, it was about another ten minutes before the train arrived, and we were headed back into the city. This time, we road it all the way without any errors.  We did have concerns about getting out of the train station in Barcelona because of our accidental exit earlier that day. When we put our card through, it wouldn’t take it. We were stuck, as we feared. We headed to the ticket stand in an attempt to buy an exit pass, but thankfully, a “train station person” came over, examined our  round trip tickets, and let us through without any issue (THANK GOD!).

When we got back to our room, we finished up our last bits of laundry & grabbed all of our necessary layers, as we headed out for dinner. We wandered all over in search of Asian food, but the place we were interested in had a line at the door, so we wandered back through the windy, small streets to Cuines Santa Caterina, a Market style restaurant. The setting was a lot of fun, and my sister and I proceeded to have two very different experiences. I ordered the swordfish. I was thinking it wouldn’t be incredibly fresh and mild since we were in a coastal city, much like the swordfish I had a couple years back in San Diego. What I had, was instead, hardly palatable. I was doing everything I could to eat it… and not gag. In other words dipping it in our delicious hummus that we had ordered as an appetizer… I couldn’t finish it. It was the worst seafood experience of my life.  With this, we wrapped things up quickly, and wandered around the area. IMG_0116There was a brightly lit square full of people passing through, and a beautiful cathedral near by that also had impromptu opera singers behind. It was fun to watch as a funny mix of men stood around singing with their bold voices to a small group of onlookers.

Prior to dinner, I had decided that I wanted crepes from a small cafe we had seen along the way. We headed in so that I could grab a nutella crepe. It was HUGE, and packed with nutella, a little too much! But it was delicious, and it was more than satisfying.

We decided to head back to the hotel after this because we had an early start planned for the next morning. We went back and began to get packed for our next big adventure.

Day 21:

We woke bright and early, and quickly worked to get everything cleaned up and packed up. We raced down the stairs with a decent amount of stuff in tow in search of the train station. We headed to what seemed the like the city center where the metro and train meet. We were supposed to find the rental car company here, but instead felt like we were turning in circles with absolutely no luck and 100% frustration. Tempers were beginning to flare. We had no choice, but to turn back because we were informed that there were no rental car companies in the area.

When we got back to our hotel, we talked to the lady at the front desk, and she was more than willing to help. She was googling, calling, mapping… and finally she figured it out for us. She told us and showed us exactly where we needed to go. She advised us to grabbed all of our bags & hail a cab because it was on the outskirts of the city at the actual (above ground) train station. We did just that.

We grabbed all of our luggage, left the room key on the table as instructed, and headed down. It only took a minute for us to get a car, and then a brief 10 minute ride to the station. We were dropped off in front, and, once again, felt lost as we wandered all around the station looking for Hertz. It was no where to be found. We were at our wits end. Finally, I stepped into Budget, and asked where it was. Naturally, we were instructed to head back outside and go left, as it was across the street. NOTE: You will see that Spain really challenged us! 

FINALLY!!! FINALLY!!!! FINALLY!!! We had our car!!!! From Barcelona we began an eight and a half hour, very smooth drive to Granada. We made a couple bathroom breaks, and switched off driving at the half way point, but it was easy, and a truly beautiful drive along the way!

…to be continued…

A European Roadtrip: The Munich End Edition.

We got back to Munich early that afternoon after almost a 2 hour drive. We stopped at the Hotel first, & checked in. We were staying at the Le Meridian, which was directly across the street from the ALoft that we stayed at when we first arrived. (As a Christmas present, my mom has booked this one with her Starwood account points. She got us a beautiful suite, that really was too big, but was truly relaxing for our final night.) We were there early so we left  our bags at the front desk, and headed to Budget to drop off the car which was quick, and easy, much more so than picking it up. …I have no idea, at what point we went back to get settled into our room… Sometime between check in and dinner. haha.

We wanted to grab some food for the time being. We planned on using the rest of our Euro coins, and hopped over the sandwich shop in the train station. We couldn’t afford much with our coins, so we opted for a sandwich and a pastry. Enough to hold us over until an early dinner.

iphone latest 434.JPGWe spent the rest of the afternoon just hanging out around town. There wasn’t much to do because the majority of stores are closed on Sundays. The hot spot that day was the Christmas Market. There were so many people there that it was almost too difficult too maneuver down the aisles of vendors. In light of this all the global events that have been occurring with ISIS, it was making me quite nervous. I tried my best to remind myself that to continually think of them possibly attacking is allowing them to win. FACT: “To live in fear is to deprive ourselves of the opportunity of adventure.”-Natalie Rathman. I settled my nerves with a delicious Nutella crepe. Of all the crepes I had on this trip, and I had way too many, the Munich crepes were still the best!

When we were momentarily burnt out the market we head back to The Hofbrauhaus for our very early dinner. The place was packed and so noisy. We were lucky that we even got a table. We ordered different things than last time, but didn’t enjoy it much. (I think we were just getting burnt out on the cultural food.) We ate as much as we could, which included a German pretzel (of course), and finally got the check. It was time to move on again, like it always is for us. (I think we have short attention spans.)

insta-9We wandered all over the city. We weaved in an out of all the Christmas markets and down small quiet streets. Eventually, we did end up back at the big market in Marienplatz. I still hadn’t found my perfect German souvenir… I had loved the concept of the German smokers, but was hesitant because I  was afraid they would be too German in style. I also debated between some of the more crafty holiday items, or even a nutcracker…  I wanted something that suited our home and/or suited us. Finally, after hours and days of searching I found it. There, at one of the large booths, was it. My German  smoker. A plump German man in a sitting position smoking his pipe with a dog on his lap, a rifle over his shoulder, and a fox on his back. He was perfect. He had a feather in his hat, and big bushy mustache. We were short on cash, so thankfully, the man there was willing to bargain with us and Brad saved us close to 20 Euros which was awesome!

Eventually, we decided we should eat once more before we headed to bed. We had early flights the next morning, but still had lots to do to prepare. After dropping off anything that wasn’t mandatory to carry, we headed back out for Indian food. We scouted a few options. One option was underground, and kind of sketched us out, so we moved on to the next option. It was quaint, but looked welcoming, so we headed in for this trip’s second round of Chicken Korma. It was delicious, and we were satisfied. With sad hearts, and full stomachs we headed back to the hotel.

Within a couple hours, I had everything packed up. I’m a slow, but very strategic packer. We had to be up early, as we both had morning flights, but we also wanted to try to find a market to try to get Pecans for Brad’s colleagues because they wanted the chef at their “camp” to make a Pecan pie. Early the next morning, we did just that. With tea & coffee in hand, we scouted the closest grocery store, and searched high and low for pecans. 4 small bags, and about $20 Euro later, we had the “contraband”, and Brad’s work-friends eventually had their delicious, homemade-in-the-Congo Pecan Pie.

Before, there was another Goodbye in the Munich airport… I cried as usual even though I didn’t want to. However, I knew that within a matter of weeks, Brad would be home, and we would be off on our next mini adventure!



1) I now appreciate that US stores are open on Sundays

2) It never hurts to ask… You won’t know until you do!


A European Roadtrip: The Neuschwanstein Edition.

iphone-latest-370We arrived at our tiny hotel, Landgasthof Zur Post, in Schwangau early that afternoon. We quickly checked in got our bags dropped off. Sadly, our hotel did not have any wi-fi for guests. We were trying to map out our route to the Neuschwanstein castle using the computer in the lobby, but it was too difficult, sadly. It was extremely outdated. We ended up just asking the front desk staff, and hoped that we would remember.

We got back in the car & managed to find our way, thankfully it wasn’t too difficult. We parked our car in the lot below and began our stroll up the hill. We got to the ticket counter, and purchased our tour tickets. TIP: The tickets were rather expensive (Iiphone-latest-344 they were a little over $60USD a piece), so if you are on a tight budget, keep this post in mind, and do the hiking around the area instead. When you buy your ticket, you are assigned a tour time because of that we had ample time to make our way up. We had the option to take a carriage or walk. We decided to walk because we had so much time & we both enjoy the exercise. FACT: One of the best parts of the walk up is the view. You can see out over the entire valley. You can see the other castle, Schloss Hohenschwangau, that was built for Ludwig’s mother, which is on the road to the main castle. You can see the nearby mountains and lakes.. It’s just all together stunning!

iphone-latest-345On our way up the hill we checked several of the restaurants because we were trying to find the one I had eaten at as a child. I was on the hunt for what I recalled to be the best chicken schnitzel of my life. We didn’t find it until we were almost to the top. …but that was okay. It was worth the hunt. I was hungry, and it was delicious! The touch of lemon & the tenderness of the chicken makes it soooooo yummy!

Our time for our tour was approaching, so we gathered our things & worked toward finishing our walk up the hill. Eventually we reached the front, and hung out until our time came. We lined up at the gates, insert our ticket into the turn-style and continued on the path behind the guide.  We were so excited! I remembered parts of it from when I was a child, and  couldn’t wait to see the grandeur once again. …and it was just that Grandeur. The ornamental design is almost overwhelming as you see all the intricate detail everywhere. FACT: You are unable to take photos through the main tour. So in order to see the inside of the castle, click here. iphone-latest-351The disappointing part of the tour is this: Despite the magnitude of the castle, you only get to see a fraction, because apparently the majority of it was never finished. So at a heavy price tag, you only get to see a small part of what could be amazing. It’s great to see the views that King Ludwig II had when he looked out his castle windows, but I will say that if you have seen it once, there is no need to go again, not for the cost. The part we did get to take pictures of because it was separate from the rest of the tour: the kitchen!!! They had so many copper pots!!!

nikon-2-031-2We eventually made it out of the crowded royal structure, and continued to explore.. We took the pathway up towards the bridge was closed temporarily for renovations… So, much like some other daring tourists we ignore the signs telling us to stay on the path, we wander off onto a fresh trail where we could see the castle in the sunset light with no one to block our view. It did feel ballsy to stand with our back to a cliff, and I got very nervous about others too. There were some people who were acting silly near it, and at times, I felt like I needed to leave before someone slipped and plummeted into a  gory mess below. But as far as I know… everyone has survived thus far! (Insert applause here).

iphone-latest-390We began our descent down the darkening hill after getting some photos of the front of the castle. As we came down we noticed the lights near the lake. We head toward them and realized it was the tiniest of all Christmas Markets. They offered hand-crafted art, Sausage meals, and Hot Wine. Brad & I wandered through for a little bit, but it was so small that really, there wasn’t much to do. It seemed like a big social gathering of locals & maybe small touring groups.

Considering the only true food option was sausage, and I’m not a big sausage fan we eventually headed out. We wanted to try and find something else in the nearby “village”. We began our walk back toward the car and stopped by a couple of the fires for warmth. (Their fires were made from a large split log, it was so cool.) We were in the car for quite a while and were disappointed to find that nothing in the nearby village was even open. We were screwed, and I was forced into hunger! All we could do was turn back. We headed to our hotel. I think we were able to snack on some things back at the hotel, but we were never satisfied. All we could was head to sleep and wait for our breakfast the next morning… We ate the same old stuff, but we were hungry… That’s all that mattered. We loaded up the bags, and hopped into the car.

iphone-latest-418-1We were heading back to Munich that day, but we still wanted to see a little bit more of Neuschwanstein before we left. So we headed back up the road toward the castle. I hopped out to grab a few photos of the swans in the lake. Once I hopped back in the car we saw a small road that led off into the forest. We weren’t sure where it led, but we followed it all the way to end. It was the best experience we had while there. It was beautiful to see the leafless trees below the cloudy sky, the mossy rocks and tree stumps lying among a field of brown leaves. …and the views overlooking the lake and mountain tops…. We don’t know if we were suppose to be there, but we don’t regret it!

We slowly made the descent back down by the lake, and pulled out onto the street in a inconspicuous fashion, and headed back for the main highway.



1) You don’t need to spend the night, a day trip would be fine.

2) Not a lot to do in the area. 

3) Breaking the rules isn’t always a bad thing, and can expose some wonderful surprises!

A European Roadtrip: The Rothenburg Edition.

iphone-latest-333-1Our drive to Rothenburg ob der Tauber was only about an hour, thank the good Lord above! …and our hotel, Hotel Rappen, was easy to find as it was on the outside of the city. Thankfully, this made getting there easier because driving through the small cobblestone streets didn’t look all that exciting. Well, it did, but it also, didn’t.  The tricky part was finding out which building. Apparently, there were two buildings to the hotel but each building served a different purpose! It was weird, but we got it worked out. We got checked in, then grabbed our bags from the car. We headed to the elevator, which seemed ancient. It had hardly enough room for two people and bags, and was so slow. iphone-latest-313I’m not going to lie… I worried about it getting stuck and/or plummeting. Thankfully, that never happened. We arrived on our floor in one place and found our way down the small hall to our pleasantly spacious room with a great view of the town outside the wall. FACT: One of the great things about the more central-eastern parts of Europe is that the rooms are larger than those compared to Western Europe… Remember how we could hardly move in London in Paris??? Well, this trip we had plenty of rooms for activities!

Once we were settled, we ventured out the side of the hotel and into this small walled city. It was so beautiful. The quaint streets with the old fashioned architecture painted all different colors was truly something. Tourists and locals wandered the streets stopping in and out of cafes, and popping in and out of shops.  We wandered aimlessly, admiring it all.

iphone-latest-318-1We found an area of the walled city, on the southern edge, where the wall is low enough to look over because it drops down several storeis. You can look out over the valley which has quaint homes and small vineyards. It is a beautiful view, and should be seen.

Eventually, the sun set. We felt like we had seen everything, and really just wanted to eat. We found a small restaurant near by & popped in. We both ordered the French Onion soup, which was so unbelievably salty, that Brad couldn’t even finish his. I did it for him..

Eventually, we continued to wander  through all the small areas of the Christmas market, but we didn’t find anything that interesting. We did stop into St. James’ Catholic Church because we heard the organ playing. When we walked in, it was completely dark except for the lights from the candles. It was amazing! I think my soul was overwhelmed by the insane acoustics as the organ screamed… It was such an intriguing setting. If it wasn’t for the other patrons inside, I probably felt like we were part of murder mystery.  Eventually the music stopped, and the people began to clear out, and so did we.

nikon-2-029With the uncertainty of what to do next, we just began to head back toward the hotel, but then curiosity struck. Just to the right of the city entrance, their was a set of stairs leading up the side of the city wall. We knew. We had to climb. ..and we did. We climbed to the top of the wall and began to walk. It was incredibly dark. You could hardly see your feet move in the yellow glow of the city lights. The turrets were incredibly tricky, as they were almost 100% closed in. Some of the had steps, so at almost every one, you had to cling to the sides of the walls, and step slowly. At a certain point we decided to start using the flashlight application on our phones for piece of mind.  We walked until we could not walk anymore and had to turn back. It was a long way to the start, but it was so worth it. How often, do you get to walk a city wall in the dark!! It felt so medieval. All I needed was a bow and arrow, and I was ready to tar someone from the side.  TIP: The wall is well managed, but certain areas were kind of dirty, and some spots did make me a little nervous. If you are a major germ-a-phobe or just like to live life on the safe side, I’d recommend doing it during the day. Granted, it’s probably a fair amount busier then.

After our great wall adventure, we headed back to the hotel for some R&R. We watched a movie on our iPad, and passed out. TIP: Having movies on your iPad is a great way to kill time and stay warm in some of these smaller cities. Brad and I aren’t big drinkers,  so this was convenient for us. Shops in other countries don’t have extensive hours like in the US, so it’s nice to have that backup option of something to do. 

iphone-latest-342-1The next morning we arose with purpose. I was going to the Kathe Wohlfhart store to get myself some ornaments. (I told Brad that I would only be getting few, but ended up purchasing closer to ten. WORTH IT! ) But, first, breakfast. We wandered downstairs to the restaurant where we took part in the buffet. The same ole’ stuff as everywhere else… meets, cheeses, breads, produce items… Satisfying, but getting old.  We ran backup to the room to grab our coats and then headed back into the magical walled city. There are like four Kathe Wohlfhart stores inside the wall…. but I wanted one specific one… The BIG ONE!!! I found it… The place was literally a maze. They have it set up so that you can only go one direction, and that one directions winds you through the store in a strategic fashion…. It truly was magical. It was so shiny & sparkly inside with all the Christmas things you could ever want! I was in heaven. We were inside for probably about 45 minutes, and eventually took my basket to the counter. I will never forget the experience that came with checking out After the lady had rung everything up, I handed her my credit card, which I had never signed. This apparently was a huge deal. Apparently, if your card isn’t signed then they don’t want to use it. So after shaming me for it, she asked if I had ID, and I had to say no… my only ID was drivers license which had my maiden name & didn’t match my credit card (oops). I told the woman that if she put everything aside I’d go get it, or if she wanted to use Brad’s it was the same card and he had ID. lol.. All of this forced her to just accept it, and run my damn card. I’ll never forget her condescending tone as she told me that I should sign the back of my card. What a moment!

insta-8With ornaments in hand we were on our way. We wandered the city a bit more out of curiosity, but there wasn’t much to find. Brad was curious about trying a schneeball. He had been eyeing them the day before, as they did look like a delightfully enchanting pastry. However, to his dismay he said it was like eating pie crust covered in chocolate. Which, I think is all it is. I don’t think he’ll get one again if we ever go back!  As our curiosity began to fade, we headed back to the hotel. It was time to move on. Neuschwantstein was calling, and we didn’t want to miss the tour!



1) One day is plenty!

2) Hi, my name is Natalie & I have an addiction to Christmas ornaments.

3) Just because you are in Europe doesn’t mean the French Onion will be good…

4) If you plan on using a CC in Europe, sign the back of the card. They don’t like if your card isn’t signed. (and make sure you have your ID)