"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
- Mark Twain

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Përmet

After being sick all week (3 day week) a 4 day weekend was just what I needed. I woke up super early on Thursday morning to head to the bus station to catch our bus to Permet.  I spent the majority of my time on the bus blowing my nose. The main goal was to get all the crap out so that I could breath in all the fresh air that any city but Tirana, Durres, and Elbasan have to offer me. After having the luxury of renting cars and going at our own pace for all of our trips I wasn't sure I'd be happy on the bus. I wouldn't go as far as to say I enjoyed the bus ride, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be. For about an hour of it I had to pee like no other, even though I purposely wasn't drinking a lot of water. Luckily Adam was kind enough to ask the bus driver to stop for me and I ran into the gas station and peed. (No bathrooms on the buses here.) While in there I also happened to break the door of the stall and I thought I'd be trapped for quite some time, but I easily got out. At one point on the journey I looked out my window and noticed we were about an inch away from the ledge that was separating us from the rushing river. I closed my eyes, turned to Robert and said "That wasn't a close call at all. It's fine." He immedieatley started hysterically laughing at which point I told him, "sometimes you just have to lie to yourself and pretend everything is going to be okay." I may have to start living by this rule more often.

We stopped in the small village of Këlcyrë to do a quick hike up to the local castle. I was pretty hungry by this point (and in need of something to drink) so we went to a restaurant where, of course, Adam knew just about everyone. Adam lived in Përmet for two years and would often do work in Këlcyrë as well. After sharing 2 chickens, a salad, some bread, and some of the best fries ever, we looked outside and noticed it was pouring rain. So we ordered another drink. Halfway through, it quit raining, but by the time we had finished, it had started again, so we decided to suck it up and go for our hike in the rain. Along the way, Robert stopped to buy himself a very nice umbrella at a small local market. The hike up started fairly easy, and there were enough switchback that we were able to make it up the mountainside, and to the castle without any major issues. Along the way we pointed out all the shoes we found, and wondered to ourselves why there was so much trash on the trail to a deserted castle.

The next 20 minutes was spent exploring, climbing on, and probably ruining the castle. Part way through our explorations my camera decided to stop working (I assume due to an extreme amount of moisture) and overall there wasn't much to see, so we headed back down to continue our journey to Permet. The trip down was a bit more difficult. Firstly Mr. Robert's newly purchased umbrella was shed into pieces by the wind. Then we decided to take a "shortcut" or more better phrased as a fun slippery slide down a muddy mountain. Eventually, we made it down and after Robert showed the people at the store his umbrella they were kind enough to give him a new one for free  :)

Our next stop was just a short cab ride, on a partially finished road, away. Upon reaching Permet and Adam's in-law's apartment we were very kindly and warmly greeted by his mother in law. She quickly offered us some candied walnuts (so sweet and good) some candied oranges, some dried plums, and walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts, along with some champagne. Adam translated all of her questions and our answers about where were from, and our families. She just kept bringing out more items until we couldn't handle anymore. She agreed to meet us for dinner at her sister or brother's restaurant at 7 and we headed out for an evening coffee at one of Adams favorite places. The reason we decided to go there was because they have 50 lek (50 cent) hot chocolate. I quickly took advantage of the situation and ordered a hot chocolate and an espresso and poured one into the other. I love black coffee, but every once in awhile I enjoy a mocha. It is impossible to find a place that serves them, so you just have to make them on your own.
Mocha!
The walk to the restaurant was short, even though it was on the other side of town, and as we walked Adam pointed out important buildings in Permet. We were kindly greeted by the owners (part of Adams family) and were offered the warmest spot right next to the fire. They cooked our chicken and pork chops right over  some fresh hot coals, and served them up with some delicious veggies, bread, hot cheese dish, homemade wine, and some cinnamon and honey covered apples. All of this only cost us $5 each.
Homemade wine, which was delicious. 
Shortly after finishing our meal we began the walk back to the apartment, planning to stop to get food for our 10 mile hike the following day. Unfortunately all the markets were closed and we figured we wouldn't be able to hike ten miles if we left after the market opened the next morning  because it would get dark before we'd be safely down from the mountain. Going on trail that isn't well marked in the dark didn't seem very plausible or smart.  We also figured we couldn't hike 10 miles without food, so our super awesome plan was out.  I was a bit bummed, but realizing that the hike would be done in the cold and rain made it a bit un-appealing anyway. We planned, instead, on doing a short hike nearby, and headed home, at which point Adams mother-in-law pulled out every single blanket, towel, and pillow in the house to make sure we were comfortable. I slept like a baby for 10 hours, and was super glad I didn't have to wake up at 6am to start hiking. Vacation is about having fun, but it is also about relaxing.
Waterfall with trash.
Breakfast was a cheese and hot-dog like calzone from a Greek bakery, followed by a quick coffee nearby. The market was opened so we stopped to get some food for our lunch and headed toward the mountainside to hike to a nearby, and very old church. Along the way we had to pass over a flowing river, which led to a stop for a beer at Mr. Roberts request. Luckily for us, there was a nice unfinished concrete building for us to escape from the rain, for our 30 minute beer stop. Then we continued up the mountainside, passing another small river, and a mudslide. I'm not sure how Robert managed to get over the mudslide so easily, because after I made it across with his help, my pants, and part of my jacket were covered in mud. After this, the hike was a bit easier. We passed a gorgeous, trash filled waterfall, and eventually made our way to the courtyard of the church. Here we stopped for a delicious lunch of crackers, cheese, bake rolls, tuna, dried fruit, chips, and gin and lemonade. After all, we were on vacation.
Arches overlooking the gravestones.

Our lunching area plus some of the fresco

Adam went to go ask the key holder to let us in, while the rest of us explored the gorgeous fresco on the outside of the church. The plaster the fresco was painted on covered some very interesting stone, and I like to marvel at how old this stone probably was, considering how old the fresco on top of it was. Insane!
Door with the peeled back Fresco revealing the very old rock. 
Adam came back to inform us that they wouldn't let us inside and we were debating what to do next when the key holder came and let us in. She must have had a change of heart. The church was gorgeous. The walls were all covered in paintings and I was surprised how well I was able to see considering it was all natural light on a cloudy day. The sunlight roof was gorgeous. After 10 minutes we had explored enough and headed home. The trip down the mountain was much worse than the trip up. I basically had to ride down the mudslide and hope that I wouldn't get washed away in the mud covered rocks. Once we all arrived safely at the bottom we headed to get some pilaf, followed by some more delicious mocha to warm us up.
skylight and beautiful paintings. 
Home was met with a quick nap for a boys and a warm shower, followed by some music and reading time for myself. After our siesta we were ready for some food, so we headed out for some pasta and macaroons, followed quite quickly by us calling it another early night and heading home to pass out.
Our first furgon ride! 
After the bus ended up taking 6.5 hours (it was supposed to take 5), we opted to take the furgon home. I've heard some pretty bad things about furgons and assumed it would be fast, scary, and packed inside. The ride home was quite interesting, starting with our driver being stopped by a cop. We assumed they would want to check the van and possibly our bags, but instead the driver went and poked his head into the trunk of the cop car for about 3 minutes. He then emerged with a wrapped parcel that looked similar to the shape of a human arm. He quickly threw it in the trunk on top of my bag and after a brief examination we saw blood and felt something frozen. Our conclusion is that it was a goat's leg, but one can't really be sure. Mostly, I was just nervous it would thaw and drip all over my bag, and that the stench mixed with the crazy driving would be too much for my tummy to handle. Lucky for us, after a shaky ride through the unfinished road we dropped the parcel off in Tepelene.
The gross package on top of my bag....
Surprisingly I had no stomach issues whatsoever, thought I kept my stomach full, and my mouth chewing on gum the whole time. My biggest complaint about the furgon is that I was sitting right next to a speaker that was blasting the loudest 90's and pop music you can imagine. I tried to drown it out with my iPod, and was partially successful after Adam kindly asked the driver to turn it down. What is it about this country and terrible music? Overall Led Zeppelin, McGuinness Flint, and Ryan Adams did a fantastic job of making the ride bearable, and pass quickly. It was ironic that on the way to Permet I talked with Scott and Robert about how when I drive I always want a good song playing in case I get in an accident, die, and it is the last song I ever hear. So many songs were perfect for this particular thought on the way home. Before I knew it we were home and heading to get some Jimmy's Pizza!
You can play this song at my funeral, as you dance around me while enjoying some IPA.  The thought that came to my head while I was scared of dying in a furgon crash on the way home: "I don't want no one to mourn beside my grave."

Sunday, January 20, 2013

2nd world country

When I first applied to a job in Albania I was given a very brief explanation of what I was signing onto. It was explained to me that this country was still developing. What exactly that meant, I hadn't a clue. I knew there was power, fairly clean water, internet and all the basic necessities I needed for survival. But if it wasn't a 3rd world country, and wasn't yet developed, what was it?

"2nd world country" isn't a term we hear about much, so I'm going to attempt to write a blog post in which I describe what it is, at least in the terms of Albania.

The Power:  The power in Albania is pretty good, especially in the newer buildings. Since moving to my current apartment I have had the power go out 4 times, but all times it was restored with in the hour, and didn't affect me much. While we visited Saranda we had almost a whole day with our power out. This was a bit more difficult because we had no running water, (it runs on pumps controlled by electricity) no way of charging our electrical items (still not a big deal, )and no working lights. Luckily phones here come with what we refer to as "the albanian special." Flashlights installed on the end of them allowing you to make your way to the bathroom as needed. We also quickly purchased some cheap candles and created an evening of romance including wine and reading. My biggest complaint about the power shortages would be when I'm teaching. My school is lucky enough to have active boards (basic version of smart boards.) However when the power goes off we have no boards at all. This makes it very hard to teach math, and spelling. I've found myself being very flexible in my teaching, which is actually quite an awesome quality to have as a teacher. Especially considering it was my main weakness during my year of student teaching. Another major concern is the powerlines. Not only do they dangle down forcing me to duck to avoid being severely injured, they are also mangled together in an extremely crowded jumble on poles.
This isn't even close to the worst power line. 
The traffic: Everyone here owns a car. It's not a second world country thing, it's a communism thing. People weren't allowed to own cars until 20 years ago. It's a symbol of freedom. Tirana is a small "big city." You can easily walk around the whole city in a few hours. So fitting a car for everyone who wants to exercise their freedom is nearly impossible. The second world problem is that there are hardly any government regulations on them. Most of the people who drive have never been to driving school. They fail to stop at stoplights, they park on sidewalks meant for pedestrians, motorcycles drive on the sidewalks, and they certainly don't follow the speed limit, or yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. They also can't understand that sometimes traffic has to stop, and whenever they are stopped they honk an excessive number of times. What happens if you break the law? A police officer will flag you down using a pole with a circle on the end (at least in our experience.) If you don't stop for him nothing gets done. As you can imagine there is basically no reason to follow the law.
Don't fall in now....
Renting an Apartment: The apartments in my building aren't all owned by the same landlord. Each apartment has a different landlord. Thus if something in my apartment is wrong (the toilet is broken) I call my landlord and he basically does nothing about it. No seriously. Nothing. My toilet has been broken for 6 weeks. I've mentioned it to my landlord twice and he says it is no problem. Let's also talk about the lack of addresses here. Albania just started to get street names a few years ago. I have an official address, but the likelihood that I would receive mail at it is limited to none. My electric bill has arrived one out of 2 times. Also because of this issue, I have to keep a little book that they stamp when I go to pay my electric and water bill. No online service here. I have running water and electricity, which I'm very grateful for, but paying the bill is such a big task. I have to go to the electric building (nearby) during the weekday, before it closes at 3. I work during all these hours, so I have to leave work early. Then I have to go to the water place to pay my water bill. This is quite far away and also not open during hours I'm not teaching, so there is another afternoon of prep time gone. Also when you wait in line it is just like the traffic. Everyone else is first. So a lot of the time people cut in line. Luckily I've learned to block everyone with my elbows.

The Pollution: Trash is everywhere. Albanians have no idea what is happening to the environment. And don't get me started on the plastic bags in the stores. I purchase one thing and they insist on giving me a bag. I go to the market and buy one pomegranate and several apples. I put the apples in a bag and carry the pomegranate  I expect them to put the pomegranate in with the apples after they weigh it. No way! it goes in a separate bag and then the two bags go in another one. For real??? I also would like to mention how poor the air quality is around here. Because of all the cars and the disel they burn I am unable to run. The one time I ran I ended up severely ill and coughing up black crap for 2 weeks. I was advised not to run again and so I haven't. I'm going crazy here! A recent quote from my lips: "It is such a gorgeous day out! I'm going to go home, open up all my windows and let in the fresh air (this sentence was just hardly finished, as I started laughing.) Let me rephrase: I'm going to go home and open up all my windows to the wonderful smell of exhaust. It's gonna be great!"

The water: Apparently the water here is drinkable. Now that I've been here for almost 4 months I will drink a glass of it every few days, but I still don't trust myself drinking it all the time. Apparently the water is stored in tanks on the tops of buildings. Thus, it is sitting out in the sun (especially in the summer.) Therefore if there is one small bacteria in the water, and the water sits in the heat and sun all day long, the possibility of the bacteria multiplying, is great. I spent my first month in this country with terrible stomach problems like any other i'd ever had. I think I can blame it on my stomach trying to get used to the water.

The gypsies: Saddest part of living here. I wish there was something I could do. So many times I have had a gypsy child come up to me and beg for money. And yet I know that if i give this child money it is just going to go straight to their "pimp."
:(
The organized crime: Apparently "nothing here happens by mistake." This is what was said on our way down from the highest mountain as we overlooked a huge forest fire. It was part of organized crime. Seriously? Ruining beautiful things for the benefit of a few people. Stupid. I guess I don't know much about this one, except that it runs our country.
ruined forest.
The shopping: I read about the fresh food markets before I arrived here and was very excited to do my fresh shopping everyday. What a task it has become! When you go to the market they expect you to purchase a large bag of everything you get. I'm only one person, therefore I only need 5 apples, one head of lettuce, and one tomato, not 8 tomatoes and 4 heads of lettuce. Also many of the small markets don't carry everything I want. Granted they have everything I need so this should be enough. They are starting to get some super markets here, but it seems each one has it's own special items. For example I have to go to Conad if I want greek yogurt, but I have to go to Euromax for my peanut butter and Gingerale. If I want oat milk (I can't stand regular milk here as it is filled with chemicals and I'm used to drinking it almost straight from a cow) I have to go to Rossman. And don't even get my started on the search for good mustard and Jameson. As far as clothing goes there are several malls, but most of the clothes in them are expensive. I purchased one item (my winter coat) for about $90, which is more than I have ever spent on an item of clothing in my life. Even my prom dress only cost me $32. I've found a few great thrift stores, which are fantastic, except for the European clothing sizes. What is a 32? is that the equivalent of a 6 or 8? My shopping for boots was endless, because everything I liked didn't exist in my size, and everything in my size was ugly. I've learned that if you find something you like at a decent price you just buy it.
Me and Cortney after a great trip to the mall. 30 minute walk to the center, 30 minute sweaty crowded bus ride there. Then the same trip home, only with packs and bags to carry. 
The Men: Awful. "He was very kind until he got drunk. Then he became Albanian."- The words my friend used to describe a man who I was originally meant to be set up with. Everyone assumed when I left that I would meet the man of my dreams, fall in love, get married, and never return. Wrong. Trying to pave your way through the dating culture of another country is much more complicated than I thought, and thankfully about a month in I realized I definitely had no desire to do so. I've heard far too many comments about what Albanian men expect their wives to be. Let's just say Albania is a little bit behind on the women's rights issues. When I complained about paying my water bill (see apartment section) another teacher commented that when he told them he worked during all the hours they were open, they told him to, "get a wife." The expectation of women is that they cook, clean, take care of the kids and do just about everything. They are seen as an object that men own. I'm not saying all Albanian men are like this, but it is definitely part of the culture. I can't even post some of the comments I've gotten walking down the street. Mostly because I refuse to re-live them.

So this sums it up. 2nd world countries are survivable, but a bit intense.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Amazing Couchsurfing

So this is one of those blogs I've been meaning to write, but have been putting off for some time. Why do I want to write it? Mostly to inform the confused people out there.

When I first informed my mother I was inviting a random person into my house to sleep she sounded a bit worried and asked me how I knew I'd be safe. Then I informed her a bit about couchsurfing. Since then, I have gained even more experience (still minimal) and I'd like to talk about how awesome this site it.

I was informed about couchsurfing last spring when me and my brother were trying to plan our trip around Europe. As we looked at hostels we noticed the prices were super expensive since it was around Christmas. Someone informed us of couch surfing and so I looked into it and signed up for an account. No one ever contacted me when I was in Minnesota, other than to invite me to play ultimate frisbee and out for a large group vegetarian dinner, but after arriving in Albania the site came alive for me. I talked first, to my friend Scott about his experiences and decided it was worth a shot.

I started small, by posting a discussion in the Tirana group about the film festival and inviting others to attend. To my great luck, Malwine responded saying she would like to come with and we planned a meeting place. Malwine easily adjusted to our group and became a fantastic friend. I have shared many delicious baked goods and a couple of deep discussions about my past and future with her. She also ended up moving in with my co-worker.

One night Scott invited a guy who contacted him on couch surfing out for a beer with us. And boom. Joe entered our group bringing a bit of a flare and a crazy/ silly side with him. I was beginning to miss sarcasm. I'm sad to say that he will soon be leaving our group to go back to England :(

Scott hosted quite a few people and I was lucky enough to meet them and learn about couchsurfing from them. I just loved talking to people about their travels and their countries of origin. And then, eventually with enough encouragement, I started hosting. I haven't had many experiences, but I've enjoyed them all. I've yet to have a single bad experience, and I feel as though with each couch surfer I've opened up a bit more. Over winter break I finally got to surf, both with my brother and alone. In Ghent we stayed with a very nice man who showed us out to a great bar. In Amsterdam we stayed with a guy who didn't care that my brother broke his glass (long story.) In Berlin we stayed with a guy who went out with us, offered us breakfast, helped us plan our day of sight seeing, found us a way to watch the packer game and let us stay an extra night. In Munich we ended up staying with a guy who had overbooked a bit. 11 people were crowded into his small 2 bedroom house. We slept on floors and took our turns showering. It was a new years eve party in and of itself, and it was great fun to try and listen to 4 conversations in 4 different languages. In Italy the man showed me how to get to the airport and treated me to a dinner out at a nice seafood restaurant.
The night me and my two best friends were all hosting people. 

How does couch surfing work you ask? Let me tell you: You create a profile(similar to facebook) including information about yourself, you experiences, your couch, and most importantly references. People will search for you in a database based on your location. If they want to come to the city you are in, and stay with you, they contact you with a message about why they want to stay. The more personal they make it (ie: I love bluegrass music as well! or something you can relate to) the better. I generally like the people who are very honest and open. After they message you, you can read about them on their profile. Most importantly you can read the references other people have left for them. Then you can accept or decline their request.
Out for beers in Ghent (I hadn't showered in a few days)

The major benefits of couchsurfing? Mostly meeting new people. Often they will tell you awesome stories about their lives and sometimes it seems as though your friendship was written in the stars. Some people will cook for you, or bring you gifts, and others will offer you information about their culture. There is a lot to be learned from people. My favorite guests/hosts are the ones who create or share music with me. Also, as an aside, I guess it is free. And that can be cool.

The downfalls: sometimes it can restrict your life a bit as you have to plan around it. As a woman I have also noticed that many of the men can be a bit into "just meeting for a drink" in the wrong kind of way. I've been told I'm sexy way too many times, but this is why the reference system is great. No references, no way. I can simply decline your request and move on with my life.
About half of the group we stayed with in Munich

Overall I recommend you look into it. If you are unable to host, don't fret. You can join a group in your city that will help you find ways to connect with other surfers. Usually you can find people with your same interest, or people who are want to meet up at various restaurants and bars to chat about life. It has been an amazing ride so far, and I'm looking forward to my future experiences.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Debriefing

Usually after a life-changing trip they make you do debriefing. After sleeping minimally for a week, drinking way more than I should be, and listening to the same song on repeat since I got home it is time I debrief myself.
Days of Trip: 13
Countries visited: 6
Pictures taken: 220
Train rides: 11
Flights: 5
Things I learned:
1. I love my brother. (I already knew this.)
2. I don't like cities. I prefer trees, grass, and mountains.
3. There are many kind people left in this world. There is hope for the human race
4. There is a bigger difference between western europe and Tirana than I thought.
5. Tirana is similar to western europe in ways I never noticed.
6. When lost in Europe go the opposite way you think you should go.
7. I can never go back to the way things were. My life will never be the same, my relationships will never be the same, and I will never be the same.
8. I love wine almost as much as I love beer.
9. It is important to plan rest time into vacations.
10. I hate flying.
11. I love travelling by train.
12. Never underestimate the power of a good cup of coffee.
13. I don't enjoy travelling solo.
14. My dreams continue to grow. I'll never catch up.
15. I will always miss home.
16. I need to choose a language and learn it.
17. The desire to travel and the desire to settle my life in one place is almost equivalent.
18. When I decided I wanted to be a teacher I did it so I could have vacations off with my children. Maybe deep down I knew I wanted to be a teacher so I could have my vacations off for me.
19. I'm no closer to figuring out who I am than when I left home.
20. If the song is right, you can listen to it 32 times in one day and still not be sick of it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Milano: Not a drop of wine

The portion of my trip with my brother came to an abrupt end, and I was suddenly on my own. As I sat at the train station waiting for my train to arrive I wondered excessively why I ever thought I'd be able to travel by myself. I just wanted to be home. And for the first time ever Tirana felt like home.

But I got on my train and successfully found my seat, next to a little girl that constantly asked her mother for money to purchase things from the trolley. It made me remember my little cute students, and I actually missed them. Luckily a few things happened on the train that made me very happy I was travelling on to Milan. The first was that it was the most gorgeous mountain view ever. The snow capped alps were insanely gorgeous and I recommend that you put a train trip through the Alps on your bucket list.  I was so tired and all I wanted to do was sleep, but I just couldn't allow myself to close my eyes with that gorgeous view in front of me. I also got to see the most beautiful sunset I have seen in my entire life. It looked as though the sky was on fire with shades of lavender intertwined within the flames. I tried to get a picture, but the train was moving too fast and so I will take it as a sign that I was meant to share that moment with my music only. I will never forget it for as long as I live.

I arrived in Milan and took out my directions to my host's house. Thankfully, he had given me some very detailed directions using the metro station. I was still completely lost. I took 2 semesters of Italian in college and so I expected to be able to adjust fairly easily, but it was harder than French. The thing about travelling is that there are always super nice people willing to help you. And so a very nice American woman who was living in Milan helped me purchase my metro ticket. As it turns out I wasn't as stupid as I originally looked. The machine I was trying to purchase my ticket from was actually broken. I transfered from the green line to the red line easily enough, but upon emerging from the underground system I was lost. There was construction everywhere and I think the language barrier set in in my paragraph of directions. "Go over the oil" actually could translate to "Go past the Petrol/Gas station." Usually I'm good with directions, but Europe has messed me up, so I was smart enough to just show someone the address and they pointed me in the right direction. After this I made it with little trouble.

My host was a very nice older man, who had 217 references. He happens to be a lawyer and his girlfriend was visiting him from Poland. He was kind enough to immediately ask me about my flight the next morning, to show me where the bus to the airport picked up (5 mins from his house) and to tell me what time I needed to leave. Then he showed me a map of Milan and pointed out a few key things to see, taking into account my interest, and keeping me far away from the fashion district. We planned a short, quick morning trip to the city and he said I could leave my pack behind because he would be there the following day to let me in, as he was planning on sleeping until the time I left (11am.) Once his girlfriend arrived home we all 3 went to dinner at a nice seafood restaurant where I indulged in some shrimp pasta dish, and the best tiramisu I have ever had. I spent the majority of dinner trying to keep up with the conversation. After only getting about 3 hours of sleep the previous night I was one very exhausted girl. When I tried to pay my portion of the bill he wouldn't allow me to and said he always treated his guest to dinner. No wonder he had 217 references!
Hello random castle
After arriving home I was required by his girlfriend to sip on some Polish vodka while we had a chat about something I don't recall because my exhaustion had set in. After one drink she tried to pour another, but I refused reminding her I had a flight at 1:30 and I needed to go see the city in the morning. I passed out quite quickly, but managed to wake up before my 6:30 alarm. I packed all of my things and headed to the city, which was easy to get to now that I understood the metro system. I had some fun wandering around, and attempting to read the map before I finally got where I wanted to get. Truth be told I didn't know it was where I wanted to be, but I knew the park looked nice in comparison to all the buildings. It led me to a castle, the "Arc of Peace" and then to more buildings, including the famous Duomo Cathedral, which was quite breathtaking. After seeing all the sights (in 2 hours mind you) I headed back to the area of his apartment. I really couldn't risk being late to the airport. I grabbed a croissant and coffee and headed out. Funny....I had not a drop of wine while in Italy.
Up and in the city early enough for the sunrise
I had surprisingly no issue getting on the bus, to the airport, or through the check in. I was a bit nervous about this after my experience in Albania, but I had zero issues. Then I indulged myself in a hot fudge sundae from McDonalds, and missed all my ice cream dates with Candice, Becky, and most of all my niece. It was so delicious. I went and sat at my gate for about 45 minutes reading some Ismail Kadare and trying to prepare myself for real life. As soon as they started boarding I knew I was at the right gate. I walked briskly to what I assumed would be a que. Unfortunately what I found was not a nice line, but I giant blob of people pushing and shoving to get to the front. My mind started chaotically wondering what would happen if I didn't make it on the plane and for a bit I was pushing. Then I realized this was a crazy thought. We were all going to get on the plane just fine. Getting on the plane was even worse. They boarded from front and back, but no one had the logical sense to check where their seats were, they all just went to the shortest line. So while I was in row 27 (near the back) the man in front of me was in row 3. What a smartie. He honestly thought it would be faster to go to the back boarding area and work his way to the front? For real?
Duomo Cathedral
I spent the whole time on the plane listening to music, because I needed it. When we landed I again got nervous about getting in line, getting through customs, and retrieving my baggage. Again, no difficulties whatsoever. I handed the driver of the Rinas Express my bag and was quite confused when he asked me a question in Albanian (I have lost everything I learned.) Luckily a very nice guy translated for me and we had a nice conversation about Albania. As it turned out he was working in the Peace Corp and knew one of the teachers at my school. He told me I was welcomed to visit him in the city he lived in anytime I needed to get out of Tirana. How nice of him :)
I found a piece of Albania in the center of Milan, and it made me want to come back. 
Overall I'd say I was a bit relieved to be back in Tirana. It felt incredible to walk down streets and know where I was going. Well, at least for the time being....

Monday, January 7, 2013

Switzerland: we danced, and we cried, and we laughed and had a really good time

Coffee along with some much needed wi-fi to check into our lives in the morning, followed by attempting to exchange some money and retrieve my card. This was a failure because the line was far too long and we didn't want to miss our train. We took 3 trains to get to Switzerland, since our pass didn't cover the one through Austria. None of them we're bad trains and we made all the ones we wanted. Daryn's friend Jenna and her husband we waiting for us when we arrived. I immediately felt welcomed to their home. Florim (Jenna's husband's family is originally from what is now Kosovo, and it was interesting to talk to him about his family.) Jenna was also very interested in my experience abroad, and it talking with me about my culture shock, since she also has experienced this living abroad.

For dinner we had some delicious fondue, which is a very common meal in Switzerland. We went for a short after dinner walk around their town, and I was in love with how much character it had. Each village has a castle, and the city of Yverdon Les-Bains (where we stayed) was right on the largest lake in Switzerland. The lake was covered in swans and located near some small cabins. None of the cabins are allowed to be on the lake because then less people would be able to enjoy it. How smart is that!?!? Also there are only a few streets you are allowed to drive on, making for a very relaxing small city life, and leading people to enjoy walking everywhere. These little things made me hate the chaos and mindless ways of Albania. We stopped for one beer at a cute little bar/cafe and headed home to get some sleep because tomorrow we were headed to the alps!
First views after arriving
A quick breakfast was followed by putting on winter gear, and heading into the car to drive on the dark highway to the alps. The sun began to come out as we drove and I felt again as though I'd never seen mountains before in my entire life. The sun was beginning to radiate off the snow as Jenna explained to us the history of cities, and pointed out beautiful and interesting sights along the way. Switzerland is a very interesting country and a lot of their politics make a ton of sense. For example trash bags cost a lot of money causing people to be more conciencous of how much waste they are producing. You also have to pay every time you need a bag at a store, which causes people to always carry reusable bags with them. Get on board America! Once we arrived at Les Diablerets (the village we would be in for the day) we stopped to get some cheese and fruit for our picnic later in the afternoon. Florim (Jenna's husband) then rented our sleds and warned us that conditions on the trail weren't great, because it had just snowed, so we wouldn't be going very fast. We were fine with this as we were quite nervous. We all hopped onto the ski lifts to make it to the top, and I was already in awe of the breathtaking views.
At the top of the mountain.
The first time down the hill was in fact slow, but the last portion was fast and extremely fun. Lunch was a typical Swiss picnic, consisting of bread, cheese, and wine. Apparently Swiss people never eat crackers with their cheese! This is crazy! Anyway after finishing our 2 bottles of wine we were feeling quite good and ready for our 2nd trip down.
Lunch :)
Of course me and Jenna both needed to use the bathroom and had quite a difficult time finding one, so we ended up going in the front of the car. Don't worry, we covered it up with snow. The second time down was much quicker, because the sun had melted some of the snow. It was way more fun that the first time was, and by the time we reached the bottom we were ready for our 3rd time. The 3rd time was cold, and by the end of it I was ready to get into the heated car and home for a hot shower.
Midway down break
We headed into the city of Lausanne to meet a few of Florim's friends (it was one of their birthdays.) It was also a gorgeous city. Lausanne is built on many different levels, and apparently directions come not only in the form of left and right, but also up and down. There was a beautiful Cathedral (after the Munich night pictures I didn't even attempt to take any pictures to capture the beauty) and at every hour a man comes out to call our the time. It was very interesting to see, and he even asked us how we were! After meeting Florims friends we headed to a nearby bar (where Florim used to work) and had one beer. During this time we talked a lot about Albanian men. One of Florim's cousins was once pressured to marry an Albanian man, but is now dating a guy from Italy. They decided to invite her to dinner the following night so that I would be able to talk to her. They opted not to invite her parents, assuming they would try to set me up with a man. I was so exhausted I fell asleep on the car ride home, and was able to easily sleep until the next morning.

Since we didn't have to drive so far away we decided to allow ourselves a little extra sleep time. After a quick breakfast and coffee, we packed a tea and chocolate picnic and headed to a smaller mountain range called La Chaux-de-Fonds for a bit of winter hiking. We parked the car about a 30 minute walk from the cliff overlooking the Alps and hiked our way through the snow into a quite windy area with a beautiful view. Unfortunately for us it was quite cloudy that day, so we could not see the Alps, but the picnic in the snow was still a wonderful experience. Hiking back to the car was quite easy, because it was downhill. On the drive back we stopped to take some picture where we were able to see the alps, and I think they are some of my favorite pictures from the trip.
part of what looks like clouds in this picture is actually the Swiss Alps. And this picture does it no justice whatsoever.
We also stopped at a market to get items for our dinner that night. Daryn related the market to a small grocery store in America and I was overwhelmed to the core. At one point I thought I might pass out. This "small grocery store" was about the size of the biggest store I've been in since I got to Albania. It was not a pleasant experience. Luckily we were able to get in and out quickly. Once back at the house we continued our cheese and wine experience. I just can't get over how much we had, and how much I loved it all!

Then we headed to the train station to double check/ purchase our tickets for the following day. It was hard just knowing that the following day we would have to say goodbye. Daryn had been dying to play music since about 4 days into our journey, and Jenna and Florim's friend owns a beautiful electric grand piano. He was kind enough to have us over an hour so that him and Daryn could serenade us with some impromptu jazz music and a few other fabulous songs.
Raclette. mmmmm.....
Next on the list was a dinner of Raclette, which is a traditional Swiss meal of potatoes with melted cheese and seasonings on top. It is, of course cooked in a very special appliance and was delicious! I ate way too much just because it tasted so good. During this time we were joined by Florim's cousin and I got to talk to her a bit about Albanian and Kosovo. Eventually we made the decision that she would be staying the night and from that point on things spiralled downhill. It started with Daryn teaching her how to shotgun a beer and was followed by multiple drinking games, including musical chairs, many beers, and at one point champagne. Who knew 5 people could wreak such havoc. The night ended with us watching and laughing at some pretty ridiculous youtube videos and then passing out at about 2:30am.
The start to a wonderful night.
I slept terribly knowing that it was the final day of our journey together and that tomorrow I'd be on my own in Milan. I wondered to myself why I was so stupid in choosing to fly out of Milan. Why hadn't I just left from an airport in Switzerland? With the trip being over I was back to being confused about my life, and in need of being responsible for it again. It felt like leaving home all over again, except without all of the excitement about heading to unexplored territory. I tossed and turned for the majority of the night, and eventually forced myself to get out of the bed to shower. We ate breakfast slowly since we were a bit hungover, and after a few tears and hugs at the house we headed to the train station so Daryn could catch his train. More hugs, and uncontrollable tears. After we watched the train leave Florim and Jenna drove me to my train station about 45 minutes away. On the way there Florim said something that changed the way I will feel about saying goodbye for the rest of my life.

Goodbyes suck. They are terrible and horrible, but they are also incredible and beautiful. They are one of the greatest things in the world. The emotions brought to the surface of a goodbye are some of the truest emotions a person can produce. In that moment you aren't holding anything back. You are completely genuine to who you are and what you are feeling, and that is amazing. It reminded me of a quote I read when I was extremely homesick about 6 weeks into this experience. "How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard." -Winnie the Pooh. I'm the luckiest person in the whole wide world. And thus ends the portion of the journey with my best friend. I already miss him like crazy, but I'll hold on until the next time I get to say hello.
20 thousand roads....

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Munich: celebrating 5 new years

On the 31st we woke up early to head to the central train station. Sadly the first train to Munich was cancelled. We grabbed some lunch for on the train and headed were able to catch the next train. As it turned out we had 1st class tickets (not sure that happened) but it made for a seamless ride without interruption other than people coming to offer us free candy. 

We spent the majority of our time playing cards, and I have to say I have missed playing cards with my brother. It felt like a typical Friday night or Saturday afternoon. I also fell even more in love with Germany. I kept commenting to Daryn that "I could live here" every time we passed a small village or an area that would be perfect for camping. I couldn't believe how gorgeous the countryside was, especially considering it was grey and winter-like. It makes me desperate to go back in the summer to see the green grass and trees. I can honestly say that I left my heart in Germany, so I'm going to have to go back to retrieve it at some point.

When we arrived in Munich I called the man we were surfing with (on a pay phone) and got train directions to the stop byt his house. I figured from there I'd be able to use the map on my iPod from their. We needed to exchange some money, but unfortunately the banks were already closed given it was new years eve. I figured I could just take some Euro out of my account in Albania. So I put in my card and upon trying my pin 3 times I found out that my card wasn't excepted there. Unfortunately the machine took my card, so I guess along with my heart I left my bank card. We figured we'd just have to live off of the 20 Euros we had, as I was unwilling to sacrifice my other credit card. 
Couch surfers from Russia and Taiwan: celebrating Russian New Year

Eventually we got on the correct train (we were originally going the wrong way) and got off at the appropriate stop. But then when I tried to turn on my ipod it was dead. We had no idea where we were going, other than the address of the man. So we walked around looking for the right street. Eventually we decided we were lost enough to ask a guy. He took us back to his house and looked up the address on his GPS. After looking at it he thought it was impossible to walk, so he offered us a ride. People are so nice in Europe. As it turn out it was about a 5 minute drive, but we were still quite grateful. Our host opened the door and immediately offered us a coffee from his espresso machine. Oliver was down to earth and had very good taste in music. I enjoyed being offered a bit of sarcasm (no one in Albania understands, so I've quit using mine.) He informed us that he had 9 other people staying there that evening, 4 from Brazil, 3 from Taiwan, and 2 from Russian. It was going to be a full house. We were lucky to be offered dinner cooked by the girls from Brazil and Taiwan. It was delicious, and soon afterwards we celebrated the Russian new year with some Champagne (their time zone was different.) All in all we decided we would be able to celebrate a total of 5 new years, however 1 had already happened and 2 would happen in the early hours of the morning. 
We found a dessert open mall.
We opted to head into the city to wander around with the russian friends. The others were heading to a party with a cover and we didn't really feel like being trapped in one building with a large crowd, when there were things to see. The Russians met some of their other friends in the center and we quickly downed a bit of vodka and were happy that though their friends wanted to go into the Hard Rock cafe, they didn't. I was able to find a place that wasn't out of beer, so we purchased 4 and walked around with them discovering the constant drone of fireworks as we went. After we counted down the new year me and Daryn found a corner to pee in again. One of the Russians desired some hot wine, so we went back to the location where we had originally seen it, but they were all out. The man working at the counter was nice enough to offer us, instead, some free Champagne, which we drank quite quickly before heading home. 
I tried to take a picture of the fireworks, but it didn't work :(

I found a spot on the floor and rolled out my sleeping bag. Everyone arrived home pretty quickly, and we shared our adventures of the night while drifting off to sleep. I was not ready to leave Munich the next morning. 

Berlin: Instant love

We spent our morning riding the train to Berlin. It was a bit too soon to leave Amsterdam, but next time we will plan for more time everywhere we go. There we no issues getting on the train, but a bunch of the seats were reserved. Luckily, we found two with a table so we could play some cards, however when the train switched over to Germany a ton of people got on, including a large family that had reserved the seats we were in and a bunch around us. What followed was a countless number of times switching seats, eventually standing for about an hour and then finally getting to sit again. We arrived in Berlin and followed my directions to our next couch surfing hosts' place. Unfortunately I had forgot to write down the last name we needed to buzz at his apartment complex.
Cheddar Cheese on the train!
We quickly found a cafe with Internet and looked it up while enjoying a coffee. We went and rang and were let into a super nice apartment. Our host was great and joined us for dinner at a vegan restaurant. I felt right at home with a veggie burger, fries dipped in REAL catsup and a delicious German beer. Me and daryn decided to walk around for a bit while Fabian(our host) went home to do some work. Our luck continued as we found a small brewery a few block away, called Hops and Barley. Here we not only sampled delicious beer, but also met a very nice couple from Israel. We talked to them about their travels and discussed the joys of couch surfing with them.
Beer at Hops &Barley
At this point we headed back to Fabian's apartment to map out a plan for the following day. So much to see in so little time, and I never wanted to leave. You know how they say you know love when you have found it? Well I was in love. With Germany.

Me and Daryn both took showers and shortly after finishing we headed to Fabian's friend's house. As it turned it he had studied in Milwaukee  Together we ahared 6 beers and then headed to a nearby bar for a few more. We met so many interesting people who were all interested in Albania, and wanted to share their culture with me. The more I talked to them the more I longed to stay. We attempted to head to some clubs after this, but no where would let us in, because we had too large of a group. Daryn and I left the group behind and ended up finding a semi secretive place to pee on our way home. We stopped for a beer and discussed the possibility and desire to stay another night. It would mean missing out on some Munich beer, but it was worth it.
Favorite art at East Side Gallery
The next morning Fabian offered us a breakfast of delicious bread, coffee and fruit. He approved of our idea to stay another night, so we headed out to see the sights.

We saw a lot of very cool buildings and places related to world war 2. I won't bore you with information(mostly because I don't remember any of it) but I will tell you my favorite part was the East Side Gallery. This sight consist of part of the Berlin wall, that is now covered with gorgeous artwork, and a lot of graffiti.

Our biggest(and only) complaints about te city are as follows: too many tourists, having to pay to pee, and that fact that some restaurants don't serve tap water. I was so dehydrated at one point that I ended up paying 3 euro for a very small bottle.
Famous Building, TV Tower

It was funny because Fabian had told us how to get from place to place using the train system. We found however that by the time we had reached the first place walking we could see the next place in the distance and it would be easier just to walk there. Then we ended up deciding to walk home. All in all, I believe we walked a minimum of 10 miles during the day. And by the end of it I was sick of seeing sights.
Check-point Charlie, where the Berlin was was first torn down.
It was beer time again, and after walking for a bit we decided we had like Hops &Barley so much we may as well go back and get more beer. These beers led to our inevitable great and deep talk about life, where we are going, and our feelings. We talked mostly about our family and the things we inherited. It was decided that we get our way of showing our feelings from our father, holding everything inside until we just can't anymore. And as I talked about my future plans and we discussed the possibility of not seeing each other for a year or two, we almost began crying, but opted to hold it in until we had to say goodbye for real.

Then we headed out for some dinner, because after walking 10 miles, without water, and drinking 2 beers food becomes necessary. I had some falafel and Daryn had some vegetarian lasagna. The previous night when we were lost we had seen a sign saying Porter, and after drinking nothing but wheats Daryn was in the mood for some dark, so we went back in search of it and eventually found it.

This bar was quite strange for us. It felt a lot like a bar from our hometown. I couldn't decide if I liked it or hated it. It was filled with smoke, loud music, and people who were crazy drunk on a Sunday night. We quickly finished our porters (which were extremely sweet) we given some plum liquor shots and head out with everyone kindly shaking our hands and saying goodbye to us with huge smiles on their faces.
Even Berlin loves the Packers!
When we arrived back at out lodging Fabian asked us if we had any other plans. The plan was to go to bed, but when we told him their was a packer game on he was kind enough to find a way for us to watch it on the big screen in his room. Daryn ran down to the market to pick up a few beers for us all to split. I only made it through the first half, and sadly we lost to the Vikings, which sucks!

The next morning I was not ready to leave to Berlin

Amsterdam: the 6th food group

Agh! What a day it was. We headed out of ghent plenty early, planning to catch the 11:18 direct bus from Brussels to Amsterdam. With our early arrival we walked around, and got some lunch for on the train. However when we headed up to the platform we noticed it said you needed a reservation. As it turns out our train book (which said we didn't need one) was out of date, as was the information Daryn had looked up online only a few days before our trip.

We asked at an information desk and they informed us we should go to Antwerp, then to Rotterdam, and them to Amsterdam. We would arrive only an hour later than originally planned. However, when we got to Antwerp they told us the trains to Rotterdam were cancelled forever. We discovered we could go to Roosdale and then to Rotterdam and then to Amsterdam. The train system was exhausting. It was really a crappy way for us to begin our train portion of the trip. Lucky for us on the train to Roosdale we met a nice couple also going to Amsterdam. We ended up following them directly on a train to Amsterdam. We had learned out lesson. Once arriving at the train station we went immediately to the information desk to check the information for our next train trip. As it turned out this time the information in the book was almost exactly correct, only off by about 4 minutes. I loved the train station in Amsterdam the last time I had seen it and it was cool to get inside for a bit.


I took charge of our directions in Amsterdam, for many reasons. We stopped at a coffeeshop quickly and then headed to wander around and look at the dam system/find the Brady bar, which had been suggested by someone on couchsurfing. However when we got there we discovered it wasn't open and that you had to be 23 to get in. Therefore I wouldn't be allowed to go, so we found a different bar nearby and enjoyed 2 beers each, which was just what we needed after our stressful journey. From here we headed to find the apartment of our couchsurfing host. We found it with little trouble but had to pee pretty bad when we were almost there, so we stopped and found a nice corner to use.

Eventually we made it to our host's apartment, and he was able to point us in the direction of some delicious indian food for dinner. It was just what I wanted! We headed back and Daryn and our host headed out for a few beers. I was pretty exhausted, so I just hung on the couch, did a bit of reading, and fell asleep. I was awaken a few hours later by their return. After 30 minutes of being home it was clear me and Daryn needed to add a 6th food group to our list. We had forgotten to drink water. Daryn got extremely hot and dizzy and upon trying to drink water he lost control and broke a glass. I asked our host for a broom, but as it turned out he didn't have one. So, I cleaned up the water and glass carefully using paper towels. After Daryn had a few sips of water he was ready to help us clean up and we finished with ease. Back to bed to prepare for our time in Germany.

Belgium: Singing in the streets of Ghent

Wow! I thought for awhile that I hated western Europe, but all I actually hate is the cost. We got on our airport super early and they kept trying to sell us shit. All I wanted to do was sleep, and I would have understood if they had asked us once, but it was every 15 minutes.

After arriving at the Brussels airport we purchased our bus tickets to the central train station. Unfortunately once again these cost us even more money at 18 euro a piece. After a nice 45 minute ride, we arrived at the Brussels central train station, activated our eupasses and hopped on a train to Ghent. We made it only 10 minutes later than I told my couch surfing hose we would.

Didiers was a very cool guy to stay with, and he was also hosting a girl from the states who was studying abroad in London. We dropped our packs off, planned on meeting up around 7 and headed out to explore the city.
Typical street. Charming even in the rain :)
We spent several hours just walking around and seeing some very cool architecture in the form of castles and churches. There were several christmas villages along the way. Eventually we found a beer house and headed in to select several beers to enjoy. I had a triple and daryn had a hoppy beer. I made him agree in the beginning that we wouldn't ever order the same beer, due to the vast options. Starting off the afternoon with an 11% was probably a great idea. We then split a hopped duval triple, which was the best beer I've had since I left home. We headed out of the bar feeling much better about life, unfortunately we must have wandered a bit far, because we got insanely lost. Luckily, we had plenty of time to wander around, eventually ask for help, and to find ourselves again.
Gavensteen Castle
It was noted that we still had an hour and a half before we needed to meet up with people, so we stopped for another beer. The regular duval sucked, which is surprising, because I was told it was the best beer in Belgium. Maybe it was good, but I was just comparing it to the previously incredible beer.
hopped duvel tripple: reaction after first taste
Dinner was soup and bread, eaten over a discussion of what we all did during the day, and shortly after we headed out for some more beers, because we were in Belgium and what else did we want to do? We got a bit lost on the way, taking directions as best as we could from our host, but the lights on the buildings were beautiful, and eventually we found our way. Me and Daryn were lost as to what to try next, so we asked the bartender for suggestions and he was very helpful. I had a wonderful hoppy ipa and an 8% something else (which he recommended when he found out I liked stouts and was in charge of getting everyone home.) Daryn noticed some men drinking quite large glasses of beer (de dulle griet) and was intrigued enough to turn in his shoe to get one. We thought this may be similar to "das boot" in Wisconsin.
Daryn and our host with their de dulle griet
We ended the night by catching the last tram home and singing Gram Parsons in the streets of Ghent. Who knew that after walking about 8 miles in one day the next day on the train would be even more exhausting (see next post.)
Beautiful night time view

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Madrid: Our love affair with wine

We arrived in Madrid on Christmas eve. I was a bit nervous about everything being closed down. One of the couch surfers told me it is a family holiday and there aren't many places open. Far from the truth. After paying our 60 dollar taxi fare, we were able to find our hostel after a very kind English-speaking woman drew us a map. We got in, paid and settled down(aka peed and were ready to go out.)

We wandered around and spotted some awesome lights, and some lit up Christmas trees. We stopped for some beer and tapas at a bar that looked decent. It was clear from the beginning that Spain was known for it's wine, but we are beer fanatics. The beer sucked so we moved onto some wine and just continued to walk around before eventually deciding it was food/bed time. Luckily, we were able to find a mexican place with delicious burritos. It took a little effort to find our hostal, but eventually we did.
The Green Tree that always helped us find our way.
Sound sleeping for me until about 8:00 am the next morning. I was anxious to see what would be open on Christmas day. Eventually, we found what we assumed was a chain restaurant "cafe e te". We saw several of them throughout the day. Breakfast consisted of some delicious coffee and a croissant, before heading out to see what we could see and find what we could find. We kept getting lost, but eventually we figured out where our hiatal was in the map, and which way was north and south. This came in super handy as time went on. We also happened to stop by another expensive bar to try some more beer.
Loved these roads that we kept walking on and getting lost on.
Things to see in Madrid: churches and museums. Successfully, we didn't go into a single one, but we did get a whole lot of pictures. The best part about Spain is that everything you get a drink you get served a food. Most commonly it is bread or olives, and we were lucky that most of the time it was vegetarian. We also found out we are multilingual  While speaking, we would combine french, and sometimes even hebrew and albanian with our spanish. At one point I said "yo parle espanol" for "no speak spanish." I had combined albanian, french, and spanish. Crazy!
This area reminded me of fall at the U of M.

The majority of the day was spent walking around finding cheap places to drinks. We stopped at "Broken Hearts "low cat bar and the ham museum (Museo del Jamon.) In between places we would have a coffee or a water. I kept being amused by all the American restaurants, such as taco bell, KFC, and burger king. It has just been so long since I have seen any of these pales. Eventually we got hungry for real food and ate some simple but incredibly delicious sandwiches and had the best vino we had ever drank. Each glass only cost us a whopping 2 Euros! We ended the night at our favorite bar called "Remember." Daryn kept commenting that no one wants to remember a bar, but upon entering it became clear we would. Of all the spanish beer we drank they had the best, and they combined it with some rocking tunes including Primus, the Talking Heads, and many others. Daryn was, of course, jet lagged, and was ready to stay up for another beer, but I wanted to sleep. So, we split a beer as a compromise and headed to bed.
Daryn taking a picture of yet another cool looking building

The second day started with croissant and coffee again. We knew that the following morning we had to get up quite early, so we wanted to head to bed early. Therefore we allowed ourselves a beer and a wine when we made our noon stop. We headed, again, to get a baguette con queso at the ham museum, which we found out was famous. We loved their 1 euro food and drinks.
A beautiful church filled with tourists.
The day before we had found a sherry bar that a friend recommended to us, but it had been closed. We successfully found it again and went in to share 6 sherrys and of course, tapas. This place had the best olives I have ever had. I believe they were soaked in balsamic and oregano. So, and the man who ran the place was very kind to us, except that he yelled at me for taking pictures.

I want to go back just for these olives: round one of Sherry
After the sherry bar we were in need of some serious water, so we headed back to our hostal for a siesta, some water and some luggage organization. Daryn also took some time to talk to the guy at the front desk about getting to the airport the following morning (our flight was at 6:15am.) The man assured us he would have a taxi outside the hostal for us at 4am. We just couldn't get over how cheap and delicious the wine was at the place we ate dinner at the previous night. So we headed back to the same place to try different and even better kinds of wine. This was followed by a Guinness  because we decided we needed to try one on tap in Europe to compare. More beer and an early bedtime. Overall this portion of the trip taught us the 5 food groups necessary for survival: wine/fruit, beer/bread, cheese, veggies, and coffee. The following morning we had a taxi driver waiting outside the hostal for us at 4am. We were ready to head to Belgium.
Super cool!