I’m on a one month trip to Europe! Follow along as I try not to get killed on my first ever international-all-by-my-lonesome vacation. Semi-not-really-live updates will follow whenever I get time.
Day 0: Oakland
11AM: Get out of bed and realize I left far too many things for the last minute. As my Evernote screams at me to cross of items, I realize I have to meet my cat sitter in an hour to drop off Sam and Pete. Shouldn’t be too bad, right? She only lives 3 miles away! Wrong.
Sam and Pete are masters of hiding from the terrible cat boxes I use to transport them, and since almost all of their trips are to the vet, they associate the boxes with a horrible, horrible day. As soon as I bring the boxes out of the bedroom, they both scramble for safety.
There’s Pete hiding behind my surround sound system. Sam buries himself under the sofa (somehow). Deciding I can’t be asked to handle this right now, I make a couple trips to the car as I pack up all their favorite toys, treats, food, and litter.
I ease Sam out with treats and cat-nap him into his transport box, and all the while he’s mewling like I’m torturing him. By the end he just repeatedly whimpers. Pete, of course, has just seen his brother get stuffed into a box, and he’s on high alert. As his hackles rise, I realize the ordinary tactics of treats won’t suffice. I have to outsmart him.
Both my cats, but Pete in particular, love my balcony. They’ll spend all day doing who knows what on that balcony, and I can see Pete wants to escape. So I make as if to open the balcony door, and Pete struts over expectantly. Which is when I grab him and stuff him into the box.
After 30 minutes of wrangling them into their boxes, I head out on the drive - all the while Sam is mewling in his highest key, and Pete just sulks in the back of the box. Every time I turn the box to say hi to Pete, he just turns around with a “how could you betray me” look on his face.
Sam was legitimately terrified (God only knows why, he’s been to the vet 6 times - you’d think he’d be used to this by now), and at the very end, as I’m parking, he throws up.
I got fairly lucky, as most of the vomit stayed in the transport box itself. So I rush into the poor cat sitter’s house to give Sam a bath. Halfway through the bath, the lady asks “Oh, I thought you had two cats.” … Crap. I rush back to the car and get Pete out, and then make two more trips for all their toys. By the time everything is settled, Sam has had one of his worst days ever, and he’s cowering under her couch. Pete, meanwhile, is in heaven.
Let me give a shout-out to Camp Purrific, my pet sitting company of choice. They’re all locals who love cats and take super good care of them. Sheri’s house is 3 stories, with cat toys everywhere. It’s a cat’s dream, and Pete is taking full advantage. The staircases, the scratching posts everywhere - it’s amazing. I elected not to take pictures of her residence out of respect to her, but let me just say it’s the most amazing cat house I’ve seen - on the internet or off.
Once everything’s situated, I say bye to Sam. Pete walks with me down the stairs and licks me goodbye for the first time!
Driving back home, I grab my last meal at Taco Bell in a long time. 3 chalupa’s with beans, no meat and 3 7-Layer burritos with Fire sauce. Yes, you read that right - I do spend $18.33 at Taco Bell whenever I go there. So if you were wondering who on earth that “spend 20, save 10” deal was useful for - it was me.
130PM: In the first smart decision of the day, I decided the clean my place and make it spotless because there was no way that once I got back, with all my jet lag, I’d ever be motivated to do that. 3 hours of vacuuming, cleaning cat litter, washing away cat vomit, washing dishes, and throwing out (many) pizza boxes and Amazon boxes later, I’m ready to finally pack my bag, take a shower, change clothes, and leave.
I get on BART and have a fairly uneventful ride to the Airport and make it through security in seven minutes. I’m not sure if this was just nobody wanting to travel the day after Thanksgiving or SFO finally has its shit together (unlikely), but man was it awesome. It was a total of ten minutes from getting off at the Airport to being through security, and in another two minutes I was at my gate. Guys - I’m not saying I’m an expert traveler… but I might be an expert traveler.
Also I didn’t realize you could bring Taco Bell into the airport. Learn something new everyday. That basically means I’m eating Taco Bell, and the thought suddenly occurred to me as to whether or not TSA just missed it completely, or whether it’s actually allowed. Stream of consciousness blogging people. It’s a thing.
All in all, not a bad day. I ended up doing all but three things on my Evernote: calling the vet (they were closed) to inform them that someone else will be caring for Sam and Pete; photocopying all important documents (didn’t have access to a photocopier… oops); and printing out my London to Madrid plane ticket (not sure why they insisted on printing it… whatever - I’ll do it at the hostel).
Oh, one last thing; I finally caved and got myself a pair of Bose qc25 headphones. We’ll see if they live up to the hype (I’m not an audiophile, and I don’t care if the sounds are “warm” or not - I need it to block out as much sound as possible, and it needs to feel comfortable for 10 hours; if you are an audiophile, please disregard my opinions… also, even if you’re not an audiophile, you should probably also disregard my opinions).
Anyways that’s it; I’m at my gate roughly 1 hour before boarding as I’m putting the finishing touches on this blog post. See y’all tomorrow.
Bye Bay Area! < Insert heavily filtered Instagram picture of some aerial view that’s supposedly the Bay Area here. >
Day 1: Settling In
The flight was amazing. I’m never flying anything but Virgin Atlantic ever again. I’m not kidding:
I'm never flying anything but @VirginAtlantic ever again.— Chander Ramesh (@chander) November 28, 2015
There’s just something about the purple lights on top that makes me happier than the normal, soul-crushing lighting on most air crafts. They had music playing as passengers were boarding, and the air stewards were dancing and happy. It just made you want to be there.
Then there was the fact that the flight had 100 spare seats. Which meant I laid down all night and slept like a baby.
Did you notice the two semicircles below the window? Virgin Atlantic flights don’t actually have the normal shutters that old school planes have! They have a gradation system, where you press the darker circle and the window gets slightly darker. It was amazing to have it half-dark and see a brilliant blue sun shining through the window. The timing system is amazing.
Then there’s the bathroom. Finally, finally, finally - we have motion sensors on the flushing, soap, and water. No more touching disgusting bathroom handles anymore. Next is the door, but one step at a time I figure.
And of course, we have WiFi and power outlets on the flight.
I was very impressed with the in-flight entertainment system. Lot of latest recent releases in multiple languages (they even had Bollywood movies!), and it had a nifty favorite-ing system where I could first do a depth first search of everything they had to offer (because I’m anal and that’s what I do), and later just go through my favorites and watch. This even extended to music, and I could create playlists and shuffle play them. Amazing.
The food was quite reasonable, even bordering on good - which for airplane food is just fantastic. I had key lime pie which was phenomenal. They had reasonable vegetarian options and drink choices. Nothing to write home about, but anything I can’t complain about is a vote in my book for a good flight.
We landed an hour early due to 180mph+ headwinds helping us in addition to an unusually light load. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I’m always flying the day after Thanksgiving from now on.
I get off and eventually wind my way down to immigration. Cut me some slack for what I’m about to tell you - I was super groggy from the amazing sleep I had, and in general I’m a bumbling buffoon when it comes to this sort of stuff.
They offered a landing card to me on the plane, but I didn’t really listen; plus, if I’m being honest, I was testing out my new Bose headphones. They said something about having it ready when you land, but in my head, super-confident me is like “pssh, I got an American passport, bitches. Landing card? More like Freedom card. Go fuck yourself. Back to back world war champions son.” So I tuned out the lady and continued with my awesome noise-cancelling acoustic experience.
Evidently I needed a landing card.
Not a big deal; I’ll fill one out now. Took me like 5 minutes tops. It’s only as I finish that I realize they want you to write in BLOCK CAPITAL LETTERS, and Not Camel Case. Fuck. Fine. I throw that away and I rewrite another one, but for some reason, as I’m halfway done, I revert to Camel Case on my Occupation. God dammit. It ended up taking me four landing cards, and by the end, the assistant next to me asks me in Hindi, “Need help?”
I reply in English “No thank you.” And Inner-Me is like “I speak better English than you, so fuck off bro.” I storm off into the queue, and twenty minutes later, I’m facing an immigration officer.
Okay, before you judge me here - I was fairly flustered already, and kind of nervous being in a new country. But I see the dude is Sikh. So I figure this is going to be a breeze. He’s Indian, I’m Indian. He’s used to being confused for a terrorist, and I’m… Well, I can relate to that even if no one has actually ever confused me for a terrorist. So we should be good here, right?
The problem is that when I’m nervous, I start telling white lies for no reason at all. As if some stranger’s opinion of me will somehow help out my credibility.
“Are you meeting anyone here?”
“Me? No, I have no friends. No friends here, of course I have friends; who doesn’t have friends?” Inner-Me is like “DUDE, GET IT TOGETHER!” Now I’m arguing with myself. “DUDE, I’M DOING MY BEST, FUCK OFF BRO.”
And then I realize… Fuck. What about Daniel Thind? You know, your coworker who you’re going to meet? That dude whose flight you’re on for the return trip? Your Super Smash Brothers buddy? Well too late now; you’re stuck with this lie.
“How long are you going to stay here?”
He raises an eye brow.
“Well, one week now, then one week later when I come back from - “
In retrospect, I think he raised the eyebrows because he was about to sneeze, but in my mind, he’s a trained interrogation expert and I just folded. I can’t keep my story straight, damn I’m an awful liar.
Then he’s like, “how much cash do you have on you?”
Time to stick to just the plain truth. “None.”
Now he legit raises his eyebrows. So now I’m caught between my ego and just plain honesty - yes, I am in fact the least prepared traveler of all time; I really am just that incompetent. I promise. Lying already got me in trouble, so I decide to go with the truth. “Yeah, Trip Advisor told me I really didn’t need any cash, since everyone takes credit anyways. And I have a Barclay card if I need any cash in a hurry.”
“Okay, what are your plans?”
“Oh you know, just touristy stuff.”
“Uhh… I hadn’t really finalized any plans. Staying in a hostel, so I figured I’d do some walking tours and whatever they suggested.”
“Let me guess… Trip Advisor told you about this.”
This must be that wonderful British humor I’ve been told about. Dude are you for real!? We’re both Indian man. We hate the same damn people! Can’t you just cut me some slack here? “Yeah, I’m just a really poor planner.”
“So why do you travel? It’s like.. all planning.”
Now he’s super suspicious of me. He has me bring my plane tickets as proof and my flight ticket to Madrid.
Oh yeah. One of the three things I didn’t do - print out all my plane tickets; well that’s catching up to me now, isn’t it…
:'( And my phone is nearly out of battery and gmail can’t connect. Dammit.
I’m just about to make a wise crack when he stamps my thing and lets me go.
I haven’t pissed in about 10 hours now, so I take a quick trip to the loo. This wouldn’t be memorable if not for two things:
- The bathroom has a rating system - “how satisfied were you with this bathroom”; and one of the options is “cross”
:)That’s how you know you’re in London
- A dude gets into a toilet that’s clogged, flushes it as he opens the door, water spills out and gushes onto the floor, and everyone in the surrounding stalls is like “WHAT THE FUCK”. He comes off, makes eye contact with me, and just coolly says - “oh yeah, don’t use that one.” Me and an Irish dude burst out laughing at how ridiculous this is, and I use a different bathroom. Unbelievable.
Got on the underground; pretty impressed with it - seems very prompt, and exceedingly clean, except for some parts of the seats. Still, no piss smell, which beats Bart by a mile. Many of the train stations have glass walls that open only when the train doors do. I assume this is to prevent suicides. BART could learn a thing or two here.
Also, hearing “This is a Piccadilly line to.. COCKFOSTERS” (I swear they said it just like this) over and over was exceedingly amusing. Evidently only the ignorant American found it so, because the British were far too posh for snigger at such things.
The seating style is very different than BART; rather than having rows and rows, the seats are on the sides with long free stretches in the middle and no seats on either ends; each car has four doors on either side, with the middle one being twice as wide as the edges.
Not sure where they’d put bikes on these cars to be honest, but it’s working so far; not crowded at all (yet).
Also the verdict on the Bose Headphones is an absolute yes. God yes. Heavens yes. The noise cancelling is amazing. Why would anyone ever not get it? Seriously?
We got to the first outside station (like West Oakland as opposed to truly underground stations like 19th street), and man it gets dark here super early! It’s 4:20 and it’s pitch black dark basically - it’s basically like… well, like New England. I’m starting to get why they called it that now.
You know, with all the rain, I don’t think many people really bicycle in London.
Got off of the Underground and got onto a double decker bus 242 line. There was a near fight on the bus. Evidently, an American rushed in front of an old man and pushed him out of the way. They argue, and everyone just twiddles their thumbs and pretends it’s not happening, including the bus driver, which is hilarious. But most surprising of all, he later apologized - apparently he missed the last bus and didn’t want to miss this, too.
Walked to the Dictionary and unpacked and brushed my teeth, finally. Too exhausted to really do anything tonight with my jet lag and lack of sleep; I’m going to tuck in early tonight so I can wake up early tomorrow and go exploring. Shoreditch apparently is quite exciting.
I wake up after four hours because of jet lag. Roamed the streets and had Mediterranean street food. Realize i forgot my towel.. damn. Roam looking for a Tesco that’s actually open but can’t find one. Go back to the hostel only to realize they sell towers.. fml. Buy one for £5.
The sleeping area is super hot, and the WiFi password, ironically, is “staycool”… Very funny, Dictionary. So I’m sitting in the common area lounge which seems much cooler when I make a new friend - Carlos. He’s from Mexico City, and he’s studying English literature. He’s doing a grad program of sorts, having finished undergrad. He’s stayed here for the past 3 months. We make plans to see Abby Road, something he’s always wanted to do. I have nothing better to do, so I agree.
Day 2: All the Touristy Spots!
I wake up at 5AM after four hours of sleep because someone else made a racket getting out of bed. Given the designs of these beds and the metal cages underneath to keep your stuff safe, there’s no way to not make a racket getting out of bed. so I toss and turn, trying to go back to sleep for about an hour after finally deciding to just tour London.
I feel bad, but there’s no way I’m waiting to wake up at 8AM to then eat breakfast and finally leave at 9 or 10 with Carlos. I have to go to work starting tomorrow, which means I effectively get only today to do all the touristy things.
I’ve also realized hostel-staying is not for me, and after this trip, I won’t be doing it again. This is the top rated hostel in this area, by the way, and it’s oppressively hot, totally smells of unwashed dude (I can only pity the women staying in this room), and there’s constantly a racket coming from somewhere. It’s awful. I think in the future I’m going to do week-long trips but AirBNB or just hotel it. The $7.50 towel I bought is the worst thing ever - parts of the felt seem to just come off. Not sure if this is a one-time thing or a permanent issue. Wow, it sucks. Oh well; lessons learned: no more hostels for me.
I’ve changed and showered and brushed, and am out by 7. I’m at the bus stop, and it’s still quite dark; Google tells me sunrise is 7:46.
It’s interesting to me that Cash strictly isn’t accepted on the buses. Maybe this is what’s keeping the homeless out? It also solves the whole MUNI ate my bills because they don’t give change. I like it a lot more than the SF solution.
Also, I finally noticed that all cars seem to have white license plates in the front and yellow ones in the back. I couldn’t figure out why all day, until I came back to the hostel and I googled it. It’s just some silly antiquated law, but now that’s the way it’s done here. Weird.
I did a lot today, so I’ll put them as heading 3’s, so you can easily navigate through. In general, I used Trip Advisor’s list of top things to do in London as a guide, and sorted by distance and ranking.
London Bridge was pretty cool. I stumbled upon it mostly by accident; my stop to Westminster Abbey took me right past it, so I just got off a stop early and walked around. Also, I thought I was particularly witty with this tweet:
I've been told my entire childhood that it's falling down. Am I disappointed? Kind of, yeah. pic.twitter.com/eWxye9bMRr— Chander Ramesh (@chander) November 29, 2015
(Humor me and my poor, addled brain.)
The view was fantastic. There’s just something about having a river in the middle of your city that’s fascinating. Most of the places I really like are surrounded by bodies of water. SFO, while it’s next to the ocean, is not quite the same as having bodies of water literally intersecting your city. It gives the place such a different feeling, with bridges all around. Seattle, Budapest, and Florence were all the same, and all very lovely.
The view of the Eye, Big Ben, and the rest of the city is just gorgeous.
Big Ben was cool. I’m not quite so cynical as my idol Ron Swanson is about it, but it didn’t wow me as much as most of the other things in London. It’s a pretty cool building with great architecture, but beyond that it wasn’t so awe-inspiring or iconic as I thought it would be.
This building was super cool. Cooler than Big Ben, but more or less a slightly more awesome version of it. The architecture is very similar. Unfortunately, it’s closed on Sundays for tourism (but open for worship), and I didn’t feel like praying, considering everything I had planned for today.
Oh, and I thought this war rather hilarious:
Not even Westminster Abbey is free from rubbish on the lawns 😂 pic.twitter.com/efPFh7anbc— Chander Ramesh (@chander) November 30, 2015
Houses of Parliament
Next to all this was Parliament Square, which had some neat statues of rather famous (and some not so famous, at least to me) individuals. The view was pretty nice, and the lawn lived up to what I had been told about British lawns.
842AM: Waiting for the bus to go get breakfast. It’s been a productive ~2 hours to say the least. All of the above are right next to each other, by the way; don’t think I’m some sort of miracle worker here.
Fitbit tells me I’ve hit 16k steps already!
Google maps is neatly hooked into the bus system, which is super convenient to let me know when things are running a couple minutes behind. Many bus stops also have an announcement LED board, similar to Caltrain’s, which I find useful.
I pick a place and start walking, but at the end it’s closed (thanks a lot Yelp - your filters lie!). I ended up going to McDonalds because I figure it’s only breakfast, and I don’t care for a great meal right now; I want to get back to touristing.
This ended up being a phenomenal decision. This is the greatest McDonalds I’ve ever seen. Completely automated ordering system, and you simply pick up at the end. There’s one worker in case something goes wrong with the machines, just like in Safeway when you bill for yourself.
They had Android tablets with free games like Angry Birds and stuff you could play while you sat and ate. There were tons of Chinese people, and I realized later as I was walking around that it was right next to Chinatown.
Also the servers and workers there were all French, and it’s not the first French worker I’ve seen in London. I wonder how large the French population in England really is, and whether it’s because of how bad the economy is?
I know what you’re thinking - you flew all the way around the world just to take pictures of McDonalds? But did you see those pictures? This McDonalds was amazing. Seriously. I regret nothing.
I sit and plan out the rest of my destinations today.
Trip Advisor, by the way, is totally misleading. It gives the impression for some reason that you have to pay for most of these (probably because that’s how they make their money), but most of these are totally free and donation based. £5 donation is all they ask, so I have no idea where this £92 figure came from.
The National Gallery was super cool. They mostly had religious paintings, and, between my PTSD flashbacks to Catholic high school days, I can’t help but wonder how much of this could actually have happened. They had an entire room dedicated to paintings about the immaculate conception, and the very fact that somehow having sex would corrupt a woman just seems so… quaint (and of course it’s men who came up with it, I mean give me a break). But that’s for another day.
I didn’t end up taking too many pictures because it wasn’t very clearly demarcated in which rooms you were allowed to take photos and which ones they preferred you not. So after I got yelled at a couple times (and I speak the language - I can only imagine how difficult a time people who don’t have), I stuck to the safety of taking pictures of the architecture and the rooms in general, which were equally impressive (if not more so to me at least).
I bought Secret London at the gift shop; it sounds promising! For those who don’t know, every place I visit, rather than buying a standard touristy item, I prefer to buy something to add to my book collection.
The British Museum was amazing. I took about 150 pictures or more here alone, and it’s far too numerous to go through and upload each and every picture here. So I’m just uploading a select few that really amazed me.
The general layout when you enter - it’s breathtaking.
There’s basically a section on everything you could imagine.
A money room (the history of currency)
The Renaissance room
The India room (I may or may not have teared up a bit in this room)
The 18th century room (the Steampmunk room - this one was super cool)
China Jade room
South East Asia room
New temporary exhibit - Lykians room (part of Greece)
Ancient Egypt rooms. These were a massive set of numerous excavations and statues; I simply couldn’t photograph everything, and since most people have seen many of these, I decided to photograph these unique sets of doors instead. They had a very interesting history behind them, and ancient fortress building design is fascinating.
The unabashed nature of the “here’s all the shit we conquered” museum is truly astounding.
:) It is tough. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel anything as I walked through the numerous treasures taken from India, particularly South India, but at the same time I’m not so sure that I’m guilt-free. Am I not the product of an extremely long line of caste-based oppression? And if today a Dalit should come to me and spit in my face, would I be justified in my righteous indignation that I did nothing wrong?
I think the answer is yes. I’ve done nothing wrong to this man in my lifetime, as the modern British peoples have done nothing wrong to India in theirs. The people responsible for the oppression and colonization of India have long since passed, and I think it serves everyone better to let it go. It’s not easy, but I think it’s the right thing to do.
The further back we go, we can find more and more atrocities somebody’s ancestors committed against somebody else, and if we’re never willing to let go of old grudges and move on, I think we’re only doing ourselves a disservice. I am fortunate insofar as India has recovered tremendously and taking leaps forward since its days of colonialism. Ironically, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that colonialism is what helped - roads, hospitals, and the English language have all been vital in India’s economic boom in recent times. That doesn’t, of course, justify the oppression; but it does heal the wounds. Others have not been nearly so fortunate, and I recognize that my words come from an extremely privileged position. I don’t think it makes the words any less true, only the pill harder to swallow.
The bookstore there was fascinating. There were numerous books mirroring my thoughts in the National Gallery - particularly The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible, which questions a great deal of writings by comparing them to modern archaeological findings and what we know of ancient societies, and And Man Created God, which tells the story of how a Christian minority established the ruling religion - particularly how rules of the time used it to further establish stability in their realm.
In the end, I bought neither of these, though they seemed very interesting.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Saint Paul’s Cathedral was super impressive. Here are a couple views from the outside.
So, technically, you’re not supposed to take a picture of the inside. Oops. I was about to take a second picture when I saw the sign, so I felt bad and donated £10. I feel like that makes us even, especially because they had lots of “We don’t have public funding, please donate to help with the upkeep” signs. Sorry Saint Paul! Hope you’ll forgive me.
The top picture is a view from the back, with an awesome lawn and water fountain. It was beautiful. I can only imagine the scene when it’s actually sunny. See the building on the bottom? Doesn’t it look weird? I thought so, and weird enough to warrant taking a picture. We’ll come back to that building later.
Technically, I was supposed to head back to London Tower to take a tour, but as I was walking, a group of tourists ask this lady in front of me where Millennium Bridge was, and she replied that it was just a minute’s walk “that way”. I decide I have nowhere better to be and follow them.
I had no idea what it was, but as soon as I saw it, I recognized it from Harry Potter! No wonder it was so popular.
I have about 20% of battery left, and there’s some really cool stuff on the other side - chiefly Shakespeare’s Globe. I’m a huge Shakespeare nerd myself, so I eagerly cross and decide to take a picture, and this is where everything goes wrong.
My phone shuts off midway through taking a picture. That’s weird, but I think nothing of it. I try restarting it, and it seems to work fine. I load the camera app to take another picture, and I see that the last picture I took doesn’t load. Then, after two seconds, it loads, only to have my phone promptly shut off. I try several more times, but up on each restart, the phone crashes in about ten seconds. I assume the data is corrupted, and that’s causing the crashes. Either way, not good. I have about 19% left on my phone and no idea how to get back.
So as I’m walking back (continuously trying to start my phone, by the way, to no avail) I decide to stop by that weird building next to Saint Paul’s that I found earlier. It’s a visitor center with free maps! The lady helpfully gives me two maps along with suggestions for places I should visit (including Oxford street among others), and tells me where I am on the map. As I’m walking back and figuring out the maps, an idea strikes me.
I have about ~10 seconds from when I start my phone to when it crashes, and the most likely culprit is the corrupted photo I recently took. If I manage to delete it in time before the phone crashes, it should be fine. After seven restarts, I managed to do it, and I was proven right. Deciding not to temp fate anymore, I turn back to the hostel so I can charge my phone (now at 10%).
144PM Back on the bus to the hostel.
Fitbit tells me I’ve hit 31,521 steps, 13.42 miles, and over 4200 calories. I decide to take an impromptu pit stop to BoxPark since it’s just walking distance from the hostel, and even if my phone dies, I’ll be fine.
I’ve done plenty of exploring of classic London, but not as much of Shoreditch, the neighborhood of my hostel. BoxPark is the “world’s first ever pop up mall” made entirely of old, used shipping containers. The bottom two pictures show the overall layout of the mall, which is very hip and describes Shoreditch rather perfectly. On the bottom floor you have small, mostly boutique shops local to London, and on the top floor you have eateries interspersed with performance areas for local artists (top left picture), with a different artist every day. Many of them were quite good. Next to the mall (top right picture), you have an outside cafe with a Coffee Gondola (slightly cut off in the picture, sorry) with a man fake-singing to Dean Martin with a real snow machine.
Shoreditch is to London as the Mission is to SF. Many hipsters, lots of startups, small local shops, and urban grit. You have shops like “Falafelicious” which is right next to “Sucilicious” (not joking), and while they’re not always authentic street foods, they’re very unique and mostly very delicious. The street foods are as numerous and unique as Shoreditch’s many bizarre bars. There are bars where you play drunken ping pong, bars where the price of beer varies depending on how many people are in the bar, and bars where you engage in pillow fights. Hyper-local, hyper-niche, and hyper-cool is the way I’d describe Shoreditch.
The Pump, for example, is a collection of street food shops with interesting combinations. The Japanese Hotdog at the J-Dog stand is supposedly a must-have, but when I went I couldn’t find it.
Much like the Mission, Shoreditch also has its urban grit that it stands proudly by. Supposedly, if you look closely, you can see some early Banksy and other famous artists. While I did see a lot of graffiti, I didn’t see any Banksy.
330PM: Walk back to the hostel, so I can charge my phone. At the same time, get the real WiFi password (because the one they gave me yesterday didn’t work, and I’ve been using data the whole time). I decide to use this time to write yesterday’s Day 1 blog post and outline most of today’s as well. It’s a lot of time to go through everything. Took about ~370 pictures, and I’m not even a picture taking guy to be honest. I suspect that, given how long it’s taking to charge my phone and upload everything, I’ll only be leaving around 5.
Walking Around Town
I decide to leave a little early and head out to London Tower.
The bus isn’t coming on time, for whatever reason, so I decide to walk to London Tower; it’s only 1.5 miles, and Google says I’ll be there in 30 minutes or so. I suspect that I won’t be able to get it, as it’ll be too close to closing time, but I can do it another day.
Walking through the city gave me a great opportunity to check out the various buildings in London, actually. Well worth it. Most of these buildings I have no idea what they are, I just found them interesting.
The Saint Mary’x Axe, apparently the world’s first ecologically designed building.
On the right, the sloping building is City Hall, and on the left is Europe’s tallest building (supposedly, according to what some people told me). Believe what you will
Tower of London
I arrived too late to go inside the Tower of London, but the outside was marvelous. Perhaps next time!
View from far away.
I was curious as to what is below the tower - a large expanse of lawn, that now they’ve put tents in. I roamed around for quite a bit taking a look from various angles.
There’s also a plaza right next to the London Tower with great statues and a wonderful set of trees and lawn.
Tower of London Bridge
The Tower of London bridge was fantastic. I took a tour which took me inside where I could see the engine room, the second level pillars (with a glass ceiling looking down on the 140-foot drop), and a complete guided history tour of the bridge.
Views of the bridge from the outside
The second floor views
Inside the engine room
Back to the Hostel
It was pouring the entire walk back, so I didn’t take any detours, preferring instead to just get inside as quick as possible.
Met a couple of people in the hostel today. Will Cardia, now a Facebook friend, is doing the same thing I am - he works for Okta in SF, but wanted an extended vacation in London, so he decided to “work from London” for a while. He’s in sales.
Patrick (didn’t get his last name) is from Denmark. He’s a chef and working at a Michelin-star restaurant (Clove Club). He spoke at length about how grueling it is; he works four days a week, and does 70 hours over those four days. And apparently the pay is miserable, which is why he only wanted to do it for a month and then move on. All the money, he says, is when you start your own restaurant. And naturally the chefs don’t get tips, which hurts even more. It was quite fascinating.
My bunk mate came out during this, and I finally bonded with him a bit. He’s from Sicily, and in retrospect I think he was just shy because his English wasn’t too good (so he says, I think his English is way better than he gives himself credit). His story was absolutely crazy - he came here with just 87 Euros to his name in hopes of finding a job. He cooks his meal everyday because he can’t afford to eat out. He’s been having trouble because all the jobs he finds say they want him to work for three days, and if it works out, they’ll only start paying him after. But he needs the money sooner than that, so after 10 days of staying here, he’s going back to Rome in hopes that his cousin can help him out. Man, I knew some places the economy sucked, but man listening to this guy’s story - let me tell you, the Italian economy sucks. His dream is to drive an American car, mainly a Mustang. I try to tell him that in America many people would love to drive Italian cars like Ferrari’s, and he laughs it off. In Sicily he was a boat rower; he’d take tourists out on row boats and show them around. Interestingly, he was genuinely terrified of coming here because of Isis. He says that if they can get Paris, London must be an even bigger target. Unfortunately, today is his last night; he didn’t manage to get a job and he’s going back in the morning.
Met up with Carlos. Good news - he also missed the 8AM deadline because he woke up super late, lol. But he had a great time at Abby Road and met up with a bunch of other people, and ended up going to Winter Wonderland and had a blast. So… all’s well that ends well? Sadly, today is also his last day. Damn. He’s a genuinely good guy; I really like him. We spoke for some time about Mexico City and his career prospects in the future. He recommended places for me to go in Mexico.
Interestingly, Patrick also confirmed that it’s just this particular room that get so fucking hot all the time. He said when he was in that room he just transferred out. And with all the random interactions I’m having, traveling is honestly really fun. I can see the allure of hostels now. You’ve changed my mind, hostels; you’re not all bad. Just this fucking sauna of a room. FML.
These blog posts also are taking forever because I take pictures with my phone, sync them to Dropbox, and then use them on the blog. But it turns out syncing 400+ pictures on shitty hostel wifi takes more than a couple hours.
2108PM Final Fitbit tally: 45219 steps, 167 stairs climbed, 19.25 miles, 5977 calories burned.
Okay, for reals trying to go to bed now. Gnite.
##Day 3: Back to Work
So it’s Monday
:( Which means I’m back to work. But the good news is I’m working in London! Last night as I was lying in bed, I decided there were basically two categories of things to do in London:
- Things you can do anytime - i.e. parks
- Things you can do only during working hours (usually paid) - i.e. museums
It’s quite frustrating that they seem to be open precisely during working hours, which is why I did most of them on Sunday. But each morning I can wake up early at ~6, get out of the hostel by ~7, and do something from 7 to 9:30, showing up to work at 10.
Today, since it was my first day, and I wanted to get situated with the badge and desk situation, I decided to go in early. Also, my phone was unplugged late last night by my bunk mate tossing and turning, so I woke up to ~10% charge.
With my remaining charge, I note down directions to what Yelp (grrr) tells me is the best breakfast spot currently open, and I head out. I take the 55 for about 30 minutes, and coincidentally enough, Bruno’s Bar is not only ~6 minute walk from the London Twoffice, it’s actually right next to Oxford Street, which is another spot on my todo list! So I roam for about half an hour looking at the fascinating restaurants. If you’re ever in London, do take a look - they are all super niche and very interesting.
I didn’t take photos of everything for fear of being super creepy (peering into restaurants and taking pictures lol), and my phone was nearly dead.
I show up to the front desk of the building (again, a Frenchman working - what’s with the French in London - is it just a thing that I didn’t know about?), and they send me up to floor 1. Twitter is on Floor 1 and 6, I found out later.
The front desk security is super nice - she gives me a tour around the entire building. Turns out I came too early - well before breakfast starts, in fact. I can’t help but think this is that European influence. 8:10 and breakfast hasn’t even started? In fact, most of the office is a ghost town.
The tour is quite nice, and the London office is impressive. I didn’t take photos (I was with security, after all), but feel free to take a look at what Google shows us. The first floor has a Yoga room, a massage room, and a neat library quiet space. It looks like the new One Tenth building, but has a distinct London feel to it. Some of the meeting rooms even have an AirBNB-style hotel room-like feel to them. But the best thing about the London office is on the sixth floor - I kid you not - they have a hidden door that leads to a stunning view and a large bar. It’s amazing. As she led me there, I was asking her “this is a weird spot to just… end the building, I wonder why it was planned like this.” She smiles and opens the trap door. My jaw fell open.
All in all, it’s really nice.
I’m apparently not the only one - hat tip to my friend Daniel, whose teammate was here on the same day! I think actually saw him getting a tour from security (the same one I received), but I wasn’t sure who he was.
I won’t be having too many meals at the office, despite it being free. After all, I only have a limited number of meals in London, and I intend to make the most of them. But on days when I’m too busy, I’ll probably grab a bite to eat here.
Also, I’m shamelessly using Dodo to upload the remaining 200 photos on my phone so I can actually fill in these blog posts with the corresponding pictures. I’ve already used up 40% of my Dropbox space in just three days in Europe. And I haven’t even hit Paris yet. Sigh. I know, life is hard when you’re in Europe for a month.
Also, I’m not crazy. The Guardian has confirmed my suspicions regarding French people in London. No, seriously, the French economy sucks. I’ll leave the politicizing and my own explanations for another day, as this blog post is more about travel. I’m just glad that I’m not crazy - I’ve been seeing French people everywhere, and even my hostel had mostly French!
Apparently today is just a classic English food kind of day; after the traditional English breakfast I had, I went with Daniel and his friend and had a classic Pub lunch (who has pie for lunch, honestly? I thought pie was a dessert). It was quite good food, and of course the Brits next to me had a beer at noon. I passed, thank you very much.
I leave work at around 2, and I decide I’ll come back later, since the museums are only open during the day. Besides, I’d rather come back and work at night once the venues during the day are closed. The added benefit of this is that I’m also more in line with HQ time.
Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circle are super cool. The streets are well decorated and they have buildings with amazing architectures on all sides. The Twitter London office is in a remarkable location, and it’s also super easy to access and very central to London.
All four of these pictures were in the same square. The bottom right is an enormous art exhibit with fake trees. It’s surrounded by these large buildings and gated with the doors you see on the top left picture. It’s also right next to the longest running arcade in Europe, the Piccadilly Circus arcade.
Some images of the street decorations. Oxford Street changes decorations frequently, and these are winter-time Christmas decorations. They vary tremendously, but they’re all beautiful.
Lots of images of Regent street as I was walking to Buckingham Palace. These were pictures of the Ritz Carlton hotel.
Buckingham Palace was super cool, but my favorite part had to be this:
My favorite fuck you of the day: a dude roaring a Harley in front of Buckingham Palace. America. #FuckYeah— Chander Ramesh (@chander) November 30, 2015
Green Park (a huge lead up into Buckingham Palace) was meh, to be honest. Wasn’t so impressed for all its size.
Saint James Park
Saint James park is right next to Buckingham Palace, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Lots of geese and other birds, and from the top of the bridge, you can see the tower in Buckingham Palace.
Natural History Museum
All these museums are so gorgeous - and impressively, free.
The outside view is magnificent. They had set up a skating rink and a carousel ride for children right outside, adjacent to the museum.
As soon as you enter, you’re greeted with this massive dinosaur skeleton. The entire section on land animals is impressive. They have one on water creatures as well, but I wasn’t too impressed. I hear they’ll soon be replacing the dinosaur with a massive blue whale (life size), so perhaps that will soon change.
They have an entire eight floors dedicated to insects in a section called the Cocoon. It’s actually quite gross since I hate insects, but if you’re into that sort of thing, I imagine it must be cool.
The vault is a collection of super rare gems and minerals. The glass is set up in such a way that my pictures came out rather poorly with lots of glare, but if you ever go to this museum, definitely go for it. They actually have an entire auditorium filled with minerals and gemstones, but the Vault was by far the coolest.
Victoria and Albert Museum
It was raining rather heavily, so I didn’t bother to stand outside and take pictures of the impressive museum; instead, I just ran inside. But you don’t need my shoddy pictures at any rate - not when you have professionals.
Honestly, you could spend an entire day at any one of these museums and never be done. They have a room on every facet of art you could think of. Sculpting ivory, silver, gold, wood - nearly every material that’s been done in history. Same for making fenses and other metalworking. Drawing, painting, photography. So while I saw a great deal, I’m just going to post photographs of things I thought were cool.
You’re greeted with this interesting set of glasswork as soon as you enter. I think the bottom left is a piece from Chihuly himself, or maybe his style. I went to Seattle several months ago, and the Chihuly Museum is not one I’ll soon forget. I was also greeted by a showroom of Indian fabrics, but… well, being Indian, I thought I’d just pass.
A room filled with Renaissance sculptures of various materials.
Massive plaster room (all things are real, but recreated from plaster). This was crazy cool. Just entering the room makes you hold in your breath. This was honestly my favorite room. They had two large ones of these, and I could have stayed here for hours.
The second plaster room.
Medieval tapestry room - this was actually in a sealed room with a special lighting and temperature along with humidity controls. These tapestries, believe it or not, are 700 years old. It’s amazing how little they’ve faded. The guide did tell me that, while the color has not been restored, additional stitching was done around the edges of people so viewers could more easily distinguish the elaborate scenery.
I came back to work for ~2 hours, and then decided to head out to the London Eye before it closed. Again, the twoffice in London is beautifully located. Just next to the Underground, so it’s only 10 minutes away from the Eye!
… Just Kidding
Nope. I just woke up to the security guard patting me on the shoulder. I had passed out on the desk for half an hour. It’s time to go back. This jet lag is brutal.
I end up going back to the hostel, get some pizza from a place right next door, walk to a Tesco Express and get some 7up, and go to sleep after updating Day 3 blog. I ran into Patrick from Denmark again. He tells me I have to check out the Clove Club, and I laugh it off; not sure how to tell him that just because I’m a software engineer doesn’t mean I can afford those kinds of meals. His last day is tomorrow, which is super sad, and he thinks he and his girlfriend of four years are going to break up. The crazy thing is that she’s actually with him in London (not staying at the hostel), but his mind is occupied with going back to Denmark and possibly staying together with her. If he’s not a catch, I don’t know who is
That’s it for day 3!
##Day 4: Winter Wonderland
Today is a great day in terms of weather - which really just means it’s not going to rain, and it might even be only partly cloudy for two hours. Ugh. I really like London - the architecture, the atmosphere of the city, and there’s so much to do. But man the weather sucks. I don’t think I could live here long-term.
I got a reasonably good night’s sleep, actually; I only woke up once in the middle of the night, and I slept until 6:30, which is huge for me. I think the jet lag is wearing off; that, and going to bed at midnight instead of 9PM definitely helped.
Yesterday on the bus, my card didn’t beep for some reason, so I think I might be out of money (not sure though), so I decide to take the train into work since there’s a station to “top off” the Oyster card there. Good thing I did; the walk took me past some interesting graffiti, and I finally saw some Banksy!
I also ran out of moisturizer, so I made a quick stop to Tesco Express; £6 for a tiny 50ml thing of moisturizer!? Are you kidding me? Does no one in London have skin? Or do they just not care if it’s not moisturized? What’s wrong with this place…
At work for the rest of the day, so not too much interesting stuff to talk about. The free breakfast is alright, but I definitely prefer HQ in terms of food. London’s actual office beats SF by a mile, but in terms of amenities I think we win.
They’ve set up an enormous Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park, which is another really famous Trip Advisor recommendations, so I’m looking forward to that. Besides that, I think I’ve actually done most of the touristy things (besides going inside London Tower, which maybe I’ll do tomorrow morning, and riding the Eye). I think now it’s just time for shows and shopping and other non-destination type things. I’m also looking into neat cafes where I can sit and write for extended periods of time. I walked by the Book Club, which is one such cafe. It’s very niche and has ping pong, in addition to working spots. Maybe I’ll check that out.
Cool London Facts
I got bored so I started researching London.
- London has on average 60 days of sunshine a year. Contrast that with Seattle, which gets about 70.
- The major roads start with “A” or “M”. M is for motorway (aka highways), and A is for arteries. The road numbering scheme itself is quite fascinating.
- As stated above, the license plates are two different colors in front and back for interesting legal reasons.
- London’s population is ~8.6 million, and 44% are Black or other ethnic minorities, which is pretty cool. The entire Bay Area is ~7 million.
- Transport for London does a fantastic job. I spend like 40 minutes comparing and contrasting TFL and BART (which isn’t entirely fair, since BART is only trains and not even inclusive of Caltrain).
- The queen owns all swans in England. This is super weird, and I had no idea. Killing or stealing a swan is a £200 penalty. I just think she’s super lucky that they’re not migratory. Honestly I never wanted to steal or kill a swan until I heard about this. How ridiculous would it be of the POTUS just declared “all Seagulls are now under my protection. Harming them will constitute a $200 fine.” I think people would be killing seagulls left and right just because of that announcement. Anyways, England is weird.
Also I think tomorrow I’ll check out Regent’s Park and work from the British Library instead of the office.
For lunch, Daniel and I went to Tortellini Cup, Trip Advisor’s number 4 restaurant of choice in London. It’s an inexpensive counter restaurant in a shopping mall, and it’s very good. Reasonably priced, vegetarian friendly, and pretty authentic Italian food.
The bus ride up was gorgeous - for the first time since I got to London, I got to see the sunshine!
More images of Piccadilly Circle in sunlight.
This was from the bus ride up; the top picture is the edge of Regent Park, and the others are just interesting buildings which seemed cool.
People who are going to the UK from the US: you do not drink the above drink. Apparently, you take a shot of it and dilute it with a lot of water. I repeat, it is not juice. It’s like 10,000% concentrated sugar and dye.
The London office had like three of these, and I thought, “Oh sweet, fruit juice.” How was I to know? It says “Real Fruit” on it, with no instructions that you were supposed to dilute it. I mean, it was kind of weird in retrospect that the bottle’s seal was broken even though there was just like… 10mL or less taken from the bottle, but I shrugged and poured myself a glass. And the two people standing next to me didn’t say anything. What where they thinking? “Meh, standard American shit”??? How was I not warned. Anyways, it became obvious at the first sip that this was not ordinary fruit juice. So now I’m sitting here at my desk wondering what the heck this is, when my friend Daniel (after watching me drink half of the damn bottle, by the way) coolly informs me that “Oh yeah, you’re supposed to dilute that with water.”
Thanks buddy. You’re a real pal.
Honestly, how do people even travel?
So now it’s just sitting at my desk, and the whole hallway smells of fruit. Ugh. You’d think they’d put it in big, bold letters: “DILUTE WITH WATER” or something. I wonder if I’ve just poisoned myself. That amount of food dye can’t be healthy for you. Farewell, cruel world!
Okay, after a hard day of work, Daniel and I set off to Winter Wonderland, and his friend Ben meets us there (the same Ben we had lunch with yesterday). It’s gorgeous. Hyde Park itself is massive, and there wasn’t enough light for any of the photos to come out well, but if you’ve never been, definitely do go. Winter Wonderland is an amusement part that’s set up in Hyde Park every year, and they have food , an ice skating rink, carnival games, and the usual roller coasters. It’s quite nice.
On the bottom right is the entrance (it says Winter Wonderland, in case you couldn’t make it out through the glare). The other three are lots of rides, all found near the entrance. There was already three food stations as soon as you enter, and cool enough, everything in the park is a clean £5, so you don’t have to deal with any change or coins. Which also means, stupidly, a cup of juice is £5…
Some more rides. They had several giant Christmas trees, but the one you see on the top right is the photo that came out best. The bottom left is a cool little movie thing where your seat shakes and you’re “fully immersed”, but to tell the truth I mostly took the picture to sarcastically tweet out “Someone better tell Stephen Hawking we already discovered the fifth dimension”… And then I had so much fun I actually forgot to send the sarcastic tweet… Damn you Winter Wonderland and your oodles of fun - next time my sarcasm will be out in full!
Some of the cooler rides and sights to see. All in all, it was very well done. We did stop by the ice skating rink, but there was no way I was going to pay $30 a person to ice skate for an hour. On a shitty ice rink. No thanks. So I axed that.
But! The best part of the night, by far, was me winning a carnival game. That’s right people. I actually won one of those games designed to leech money from you. Some backstory. The entire night, Ben demands (loudly) that Daniel win him a minion toy. Mostly, Ben is messing with Daniel to convince strangers that they’re a gay couple and loudly points out to strangers “see, he won her a minion, why can’ you win me a minion!?”. It’s hilarious. Some of the games were interesting, and we almost did one where they have a pull up bar, and you’re supposed to hang on for 2 minutes. One guy hung on for a minute and 15 seconds before falling off. We were going to, but then we saw a stand with nothing but minion prizes, so we had to have a go. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Here is Ben with the tiny minion prize I won for him. Look at that face. How could you say no to that face?
I was feeling rather hungry, so I got a crepe and a veggie burger. It was quite good, except a bit too expensive, and the lady didn’t have anything besides ketchup and hte actual patty and buns. No tomato, no lettuce. nothing. And she was acting like there was nothing wrong with that. I would have passed it off for just a weird English thing, only Ben was also looking at her like what the heck was wrong with her, so I think she’s just weird.
After the park, we went sightseeing outside. There were some cool war monuments (I think a dedication to Australians who fought with the Brits and died in WW2, along with some cool arches.
There were also some super fancy buildings (hotels I think) right next to them; Ben and Daniel were rather unimpressed because Europe and London in particular has so many of these buildings that it’s impossible to keep track, but I really liked the architecture. Plus, they were all decked out with Christmas decorations.
After a bit of sightseeing, Ben demanded we go to a pub, because that’s what Ben does. And with his cute minion, how could we say no? So we walked into a random pub called The Grenedier, and it was obvious that it was no normal pub (so Daniel told me - how should I know? I’d never been in a pub before). Based on my research now, it’s a super well established pub that’s considered “royalty” among pubs in London, and it has ties to the Royal Airforce and military academies. But the coolest part was the numerous currency notes (mostly dollar bills) on the ceiling all throughout the pub. There were even some 100 Euro notes!
Ben’s flat is pretty close to me, just a few more stops along the same bus route, so we say bye to Daniel and head back. On the way back Ben meets an old friend and she asks to go to a pub; by this time I’m super exhausted, and while Ben is just a machine that turns alcohol into energy (somehow), I’m a machine that operates mostly on sleep. So I politely decline and go back to the hostel for some sleep.
##Day 5: Meeting Team London
Staying in a hostel is miserable. While it’s cool to meet people like Patrick and my bunkmate (how often are you going to meet people from so many different walks of life), I’m not sure it’s so worth it. I slept better than yesterday, and besides one incident of someone who sets sixteen alarms and wakes up after fifteen of them (seriously, why do you snooze so much? Just open your fucking eyes and wake up), the night passed relatively uneventfully. But upon waking, I realize my towel is gone. I ask the front desk and they said I had just “rented” the towle, so the cleaning people took it back… I said I had bought it, and they said no, and I had no proof. So I have to buy another towel, and this time, I lock it in my suitcase.
Which is retarded, because how is it going to dry? Not to mention I’ve now spent $15 on shitty towels.
:'( I think next time I’ll definitely stick to hotels and AirBNB’s and shorter ~1 week trips. But, as I’ve said before, new experiences are always valuable - even if they’re not positive! So I’m going to enjoy this as much as possible, with the understanding that a lesson has been learned
I want to take a different route to the office every day, if only to experience different parts of the city. So this time I take two different tube lines (a transfer in the middle). I see some more graffiti and some interesting sites.
I’ve been feeling a bit bad that I haven’t said hi to Ramon and Filipa and the others in the London team with whom I worked on Tweet Pivots, so I decide I’ll Hipchat them after breakfast - but speak of the devil - as I’m eating breakfast, Filipa recognizes me across the table and says hi! We catch up for a bit, and later on I Hipchat Ramon. He swings over to say hi and invites me for lunch with some other friends. He’s super nice and welcoming and offers me some suggestions for when I go to Madrid (he’s from there). Also had time to say hi to Oliver, the DRI for Communities, and he’s super welcoming, too. He invited me out to lunch tomorrow to Borough Market, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while (on Trip Adviser’s top list!), so I’m super excited. All in all, a very awesome and nice team in London.
Last night, someone finally reviewed my massive code review, and go/utildash broke in atla, so all in all, it’s going to be a pretty standard day at the office with the usual work to do.
Lunch was pretty good. Daniel and I went to Wagamama which was a super hip Japanese restaurant. On the way there we saw some historic shopping places and more awesome buildings.
The Palladium is a very famous theater.
The Liberty is a famous shop and looks super cool from the outside.
And we walked down Carnaby Street, which is, like Oxford Street, a famous shopping street.
But the best part of today was getting proper moisturizer. Apparently I’ve been looking in the wrong place entirely. Tesco is for foods mostly (who knew) - and this store called Boot has an entire section for nothing but skincare! So I finally bought some Aveeno (500mL for £10, as opposed to 50mL for £5). It’s still much more expensive than the US, but whatever; good enough. Thank god for knowing locals. Who would have thought that a store called “Boot” would have pharmaceutical stuff - and yes, apparently moisturizer is categorized as pharmaceuticals in the UK. Anyways, thank god that’s over.
My skin has been killing me for the past four days, and I was a little too happy as I was checking out in the store. Before the cashier could even say the price I had handed her exact change with a big grin on me face. She’s like “Okay…”
When can I say? Brown people problems. We trade sunblock and not getting sunburned for being ashy and needing lotion constantly.
We came back to work and one of our coworkers who sat across from us had made Mince pies - some weird British Christmas tradition - and she kindly offered some. I had one. It was okay; not great to be honest. But an authentic local experience, I suppose? Daniel politely refused, informing me later that he hates the things with a burning passion.
For dinner I went to a classic English chain called Nando’s. It had a variety of foods from burgers to wraps along with many vegetarian options. It was pretty decent, but we went right as the place was closing, so their options were far fewer than they normally would have been. The cheese was incredible, and one of Daniel’s friends ordered a veggie burger with avocado, cheese, and pineapple. Incredible.
Me and some of Daniel’s friends. Ben you recognize of course from the previous photo where I won him a Minion. On the bottom is Ayden; he comes out to SF quite frequently, actually, and he’s a very cool guy. On the top next to me is Neelam. These are all Daniel’s childhood friends (since Elementary school years). She’s a solicitor, and Ayden and Ben both do software. I actually think I’ve met Ayden once before when he visited Daniel in SF, but at the time I didn’t know Daniel quite so well, but going through his Facebook pictures now, I clearly remember Ayden and his girlfriend visiting the SF office. Crazy small world.
I took a rather interesting route back to the hostel, and along the way I caught this cool street. Besides that, I’m afraid I didn’t end up doing too much yesterday besides work.
##Day 6: Shakespeare!
It only took six days, but I’m finally able to navigate the tube without aid of Google Maps! I walked/tubed to work all by myself, I’ll have you know.
And I’m glad I did - I saw some pretty cool sites today!
This is all one giant building with the label “PROGRESS” at the top. The bottom left is actually the Shoreditch town hall, but on the right, I was delighted to see, is the Clove Club - the Michelin Star restaurant in which Patrick from Denmark works! It only has 2 £’s on Timeout, so maybe if I can book a lunch table for when I come back, Daniel and I can eat there. It’ll certainly be interesting, eating at a Michelin Star restaurant.
Oliver unfortunately got too busy to go to Borough Market today, but I decided I might as well go myself. The commute was super easy - probably because I’m just getting used to the Tube system - I didn’t end up needing maps at all.
Borough Market is right next to Southwark Cathedral, London’s oldest Gothic Cathedral - one that’s over 1000 years old, actually. It’s a massive structure that’s super impressive. It’s also right next to the Shard (pencil like building to the left), which is the tallest in building in London and I believe all of Europe at a staggering 309 meters (oh, sorry, this is England - metres. Happy now?
Another view of the Shard at the top - a plane happened to be going right past it, and I thought that was kind of cool. The bottom left is a frontal view of the cathedral. Very imposing structure. And at the bottom right is the gate that leads to Borough Market (you can see it says Market).
The market itself is an enormous indoor/outdoor market that’s a conglomeration of various local shops, farmers’ markets, and random goods. It was super cool - the top picture is the building in which most of the market is housed, and on the bottom right you can see the roof system. Parts of the market are outdoors (sort of covered in tents), so if it starts raining, you may get slightly wet, but it shouldn’t be too bad.
The shops were incredible. An enormous variety of foods; each stand seemed to be unique in its own niche market, and all of them had signs of “100% British made” or “locally sourced” or whatever. Nice to know that protectionism knows no national boundaries. Many shops were super veggie friendly - in fact, there was another section called “Green market” which seemed almost exclusively vegetarian (mostly desserts, juices, and street foods from many countries like Ethiopia and India). And then there was the enormous seafood section - live lobsters like in China, where you point at one, and they cook that exact one for you - ew, gross, no thank you. And the meat section was huge. They had reindeer, elk, zebra - I can’t even list them all. And apparently on meat burgers they put cranberry sauce (this country is so weird).
I was so engrossed I kind of forgot to take pictures once I entered. It was a super cool experience, and I could easily see people spending a whole day just here. The desserts section was probably my favorite. Goats milk ice cream, very interesting Nutella donuts, and lots of creative pastries.
After that, I came back and did some work at the office. I’m mostly done with my major reviews, so I think it’s time for a change of scenery. The British library is open, and it’s a must-see place apparently, so why not? Luckily, I remember to print my boarding pass to Madrid at the Twoffice before leaving, since I’m probably not going to be back tomorrow (10AM checkout of the hostel and then straight to the airport). I’m not sure why non-EU members must print the boarding pass, but whatever.
The British Library
The British Library is enormous. The trip there was actually pretty cool. I got to see King’s Cross station as well as an international train station (Euston). It was very similar an airport but had different feel at the same time.
I actually had to walk through the international train station and to the other side to get to the library, and when I crossed I realized the library actually went on for about two blocks! The library has so much more than the library attached to it - research facilities, specialized rooms for historians, and so much more. It was absolutely massive!
On the top left is the St Pancras train station - also an international train station, though I didn’t go through that, and on the bottom left you can see the Kings Cross train station for the London Underground. Enormous and super famous. On the bottom right is part of the library building, and on the top right is one of the courtyards I passed on the way to the library.
The view from the front is pretty cool, too. A nice courtyard set up with Christmas trees and everything.
Top right is the entrance to the library, and bottom right is the view as soon as you enter.
Inside (top left) there’s a library within a library - the black shelves with the book cases are called “The King’s Library”. Not sure who’s allowed in there, to be honest. They have two cafes and one main restaurant which has a daily menu (very veggie friendly, thanks Britain!) and numerous reading rooms. The reading rooms are specialized by discipline and require a library membership card. Setting it up is a little slow, but it only has to be done once. But man I thought the SF public library was impressive - this really takes the cake.
They had an Alice in Wonderland (bottom right) exhibit to celebrate the 150th year anniversary of the famous story. They kindly asked to not take any pictures of the exhibits, so I took a picture of the sign instead. Yes, I’m simply that touristy
They also had another showroom of super rare books that belong to the library - books from Japan to China to Iran to India and back to Europe. It was super interesting. They also had a lot of plays form Ben Jonson who, at the time, was Shakespeare’s rival and someone who most people actually considered slightly superior to Shakespeare. It’s fascinating to me how history changes and who ultimately comes out to be the “winner” in these things. Similar to that other book I was looking at (And Man Created God) where basically a small group of Christians, a severe minority at the time, came to then define the world.
One thing that was rather odd is that, although they have books as recent as 2014, JK Rowling wasn’t featured in the library at all! Maybe they asked her and she declined? But you’d think she’d be one of the most prominently featured considering…
Shakespeare Globe Theater
I decide to go back to my hostel because from what I remember there’s not any space to actually store backpacks and such in these theaters. Might as well pack while I’m at it, too, since I have a bit of time. After having dinner at the same pizza place (it’s quite good - I later yelp them and discover they’re the #1 delivery/take-out place in Shoreditch), I pack my bag. One good thing about traveling light is that it takes literally 10 minutes. I pack everything except for the shower essentials for tomorrow morning, leave my backpack in the trunk and lock it.
It starts to drizzle, and even worse, the buses are really delayed. I now finally understand why all the locals prefer the tube whenever possible; the buses, while cheaper, are super unreliable because traffic isn’t so easily predictable. One bus didn’t show. Another came but suddenly ended its line and unloaded all of its passengers. And a third finally came and picked me up. That was super confusing, and even the locals were puzzled.
In the bus that did come, for the first time, I saw a second person helping out the driver. I’m not sure if he was a ticket checker (he didn’t really do much checking since everyone’s paying with Oyster cards or Apple Pay) or he was evaluating the driver. He would sometimes correct him like “break, break”, but usually the two of them didn’t speak in English. Very interesting. I suspect he was a new driver and being evaluated or something.
Regardless, it was a good thing I left early because with the bus fiasco, I nearly was too late. I arrive at 7:25 for a 7:30 performance, so all is well. Check in was easy enough, and I had the foresight to see that it would be raining during the play, so mine was in the Sam [last name] room. For those who don’t know, the Globe has two sections - the main Globe that everyone has come to expect and also an indoor room called the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. In the Globe’s own words, “What happens when it rains? Those in seats will be under the protection of a sound roof. Those standing in the yard are at the mercy of the elements. The show will continue regardless. No umbrellas are allowed to be put up in the yard at any time.” That sounded awful to me, to be honest, and I know the die hard Shakespeare fans would suck it up and just stand in the rain, but no thanks.
Since I’ll be back, I’ll try to book another play on a sunny day for the actual globe arena. I don’t have any pictures since they were super strict about no photography, but I’ll do my best to describe the room. The Globe strives to be as authentic as possible, which means no microphones, no electricity. All the lighting comes from candles, and the seating structure emulates what plays would have looked like in Shakespeare’s day.
Imagine a semicircle. The flat edge has three sets of doors from which the actors can emerge. The audience is seated all along the rounded portions of the circle in many set of circular rows. At the back end of the circle, there is another set of doors (the doors through which the audience came into the theater) that actors can come out of as well.
There were about 150 candles. six chandeliers each had 12 candles (2 rows, the bottom row had 8 candles, the top row had 4 candles). They were basically 2 rows of 3. And there were another 30 candles on the floor (3 boxes of 10 candles). There were another handful of candles scattered throughout the theater.
The play was 3 hours long, with a 15 minute intermission. They stay as traditional as possible, down to the bell that signifies you have 5 minutes left. The playhouse itself, I felt, was fairly authentic, even if it wasn’t open air.
The play itself was reasonable, as far as Shakespearean comedies go. Cymbeline is a lighthearted comedy about the Romans and a plot to invade Britain. The actors were really quite good, down to crying real tears on the stage when the time called for it. The play’s first opening night was on December 2nd, and I swa it on the 3rd, so it was still quite new (it goes on until April), and unfortunately one of the actors in the very beginning messed up a line (twice!). He went over it as if nothing had happened, as one would expect of a professional, and indeed by the very end I think most people forgot about it entirely, but it kind of dragged on me.
It was an absolutely phenomenal production, and barring very minor issues, it was a great experience. I would recommend anyone who visits London to do it at least once. I’ll be coming back myself for a tragedy, which is more my cup of tea when it comes to Shakespeare. I think most of his comedies have aged poorly (how many deus ex machina can one man have, by Jupiter!), but there is something to be said for the legend that influenced literature for so long and to such a great degree.
Sir Francis Drake Museum
On the way back, I found this cool museum.
The coolest thing about London is that, randomly, thing like this will simply pop up. Turn the corner and they’ve set up a new exhibit. In this case, it was a museum-ship that you could go inside and check out. By this time it was becoming very late, and raining very hard, so I decide to just go back to the hostel and pass out.
I also saw the monument of Saint Magnus the Martyr. That was super cool. My picture came out horribly, so I’m shamelessly stealing from Google here.
On the bus ride back, I saw a guy snoring super loudly. Quite impressive that he managed to sleep with all the commotion a bus makes. Props to you, guy.
One thing that’s been bothering me more and more is that all the signs in the tube say if you’re going to stand, stand on the right side, and if you’re going to walk on the escalator, do so on the left. That makes 100% sense in the US where you drive on the right side and overtake on the left, but in the UK it’s the exact opposite. Why do they do that? I’ve asked a bunch of locals and no one knows why… I suspect that it used to be the other way around and all the tourists mucked it up, so they just changed it to be the other way? But in either case, there are signs everywhere, and people would figure it out based on what others are doing… right? It’s not that complicated. Anyways, London mysteries aside, it’s time to sleep.
##Day 7: Bye London, Hello Madrid!
I slept so poorly last night. I think everyone’s last day is today, so people were tossing and turning and making noises all night long. Ugh. I can’t do it. I had the alarm set for 8, but after waking up at 3:30, 5:30, and 6, I just got up at 6:10.
Anyways, it’s my last day in London, and I don’t have time to go to the office. Of course it would be a bright, sunny day on the day I leave.
:'(I’m having huge git problems, and the WiFi is too slow for me to really debug, so after half an hour, I give up and decide to go to the bus stop early.
Apparently national buses (like the one I’m taking to the airport) don’t accept Oyster cards. They only accept cash. Why the inconsistency? In any case, I really should have checked rather than simply assuming. So now I’m on their website, and they make it clear that it’s best to buy a ticket beforehand, because otherwise they can’t guarantee that there’ll be space on these buses, and if there isn’t you don’t get to ride. That and I’m not sure I have enough cash to even cover the ride - I have no idea how much it’ll be.
So I try loading their fare estimator, but it keeps giving me errors. I think it’s a mobile web issue. But then I remember I just happened to download mobile Firefox a couple days ago by luck. Why not try it there - Safari might just be super weird? It works! So I’m frantically trying to buy a ticket for the exact bus I’m boarding before it arrives, and I make it just in time. I literally buy the ticket and get the confirmation at 8:42 for the 8:43 bus!
Only it doesn’t show… There were a couple buses that passed that had “Stansted Airport” written on the top, but none of them seemed to be the A8 line. And I start doubting myself. Did I miss the bus completely? But there was another A8 line at 8:20 that didn’t stop here at all. So am I at the wrong bus stop entirely?
Okay, calm down. You’re super early because you anticipated something like this. So what’s the worst case here? Okay, find out the prices. It’s only £8, which means we can absolutely afford it with cash alone. Okay, so I wait for another half hour for the 9:07 one, and from now on, I hail buses like it’s the end of the world. No more half-assed fish flails. The whole street is going to know when I hail a bus.
Oh, and I’ve used up all of my high speed data, by the way. So I’m on 3G speeds while all of this is happening (fml). Once I get my senses, I decide to explore the website further, and they have a coach tracker. The only problem is that the coach tracker, which tracks delayed coaches is… well, delayed. The first couple times I didn’t even realize it was actually self-updating because it was so delayed.
Turns out, the bus is late. The only problem is that they won’t just say - hey, the bus is 30 minutes late. No, every two minutes, they’ll update the time by another two minutes. And on and on this happens for about fifteen times. Which means I don’t actually go to get any food because I’m afraid I’ll really miss the bus this time.
Anyways, by the time the bus comes, I feel like I’ve already had an adventure.
Oh, here’s this awesome photo I captured to prove to all the non-believers that, for about 7% of the year, England is actually sunny. And let me tell you - it’s gorgeous when it’s sunny. That’s right - not a single cloud in the entire sky.
The bus ride was awesome - I definitely did the right thing in taking the bus. I’m sitting right next to a super shy but super nice girl from Singapore. It’s obvious we’re both tourists because we keep swiveling our heads in unison to take in all the views. I didn’t take any pictures of the English countryside (that would have been way too touristy - I have some dignity, after all), but let me tell you - it’s exactly how I imagined it. I don’t know if it’s just that I’ve see too much Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and so many other stories like Merlin, but I think the English countryside is something that most Americans have this iconic image of. And they’d actually be spot on. The quaint farms that dot the hills are just how I imagined them. It’s quite beautiful.
It was also a fun ride because I got to see suburbia in England, which is super different than downtown London, obviously. And the larger roads were cool, too. We actually started going 50mph at one point, but I think this was still just an Artery and not an actual Motorway (which I think the national speed limit is 70mph). Why does England use the metric system in everything except for distance? Everything is imperial - I think that’s actually uniquely worse than just using imperial for everything.
Or as my friend Daniel likes to say - “we’re just very confused”.
As I’m left to my thoughts on the bus, I start thinking to myself once more that I need to learn more foreign languages. This happens every time I’m in Europe, honestly. Last time in Italy I decided that, given how similar to Spanish Italian is, I really should learn that. And I started writing down words on my phone to memorize later (which of course I promptly lost once I switched phones). So I download an app called Memrise which helps you learn languages as well as a Spanish to English dictionary. I think this time once I come back I’m signing up for intermediate Spanish classes. It’s time I actually got serious. And learning new languages is so important.
Also, while I was bored, I checked the iPhone Health app (builtin for you Android people who don’t know), and its step and distance counts are way different than the Fitbit. I’m not really sure which is more accurate, as I wasn’t really paying attention, but on the day that I walked > 45k steps for example, the iPhone reports it as ~31k steps. And while Fitbit says it was > 19 miles, iPhone says ~14 miles. Not sure what the reason for the difference is, and not sure which is more accurate. All I know is my feet hurt like crazy that day, so it must have been way more than normal.
I get to the airport still way too early, despite all the delays. The flight isn’t for six hours, and evidently, I’m not allowed to check in my bag (so I find out after standing in line for about 20 minutes). So I decide to get something to eat (veggie hot dogs - go figure), and finally sit down and do work. Everyone is entitled to 1 hour of free Wifi at this airport, so might as well make use of it.
I finally debug my git issue and submit the job. It’s taking well over an hour, because as I’m writing this in a hipster coffee shop roughly 90 minutes later it’s still running… Oh well. My part is basically done and I’ve unblocked my teammate, which is the most important thing (once this change actually lands). Once the hour of free WiFi was up, I moved to check in my bag and go through security.
Okay, before you judge me on this next part, there’s something you should know. I’ve flown a lot. I’ve done the airport security process too many times to count (though I did, once). I did speech and debate in high school, which meant that every year during high school and half of college, I flew out for tournaments. This is roughly 40 flights a year for six years. Not including personal family trips, traveling to and from Dartmouth, etc. These are just for debate alone. So I know a thing or two about how to get quickly through security. By the time I’m there, my shoes are already off, my laptop is already out, and everything is ready to go. I actually time myself every time. I get through security quick.
So when the lady asks me “Oh, do you need help? Do you have any liquids?” In my head I’m like “Uh, help? Pssh, lady I’m an expert.” So I coolly tell her “No, I’m good.” And shove my bag into the compartment and walk through the security scanner feeling like a badass.
And sure enough, when the bag comes out, it has to go through extra screening. I roll my eyes and wonder what it could be now. And her smug, French face when she finds the overpriced, tiny moisturizer I had forgotten about will haunt me till the day I die. When I packed last night, I planned on putting all my liquids in the suitcase, and I diligently recounted everything. But the Nivea is so small it was hidden by my deodorant. It actually took her three attempts to find it. And she smirks at me with those evil French lips and says, “Please go through once more… sir.” I swear she said it just like that - like the “sir” was an insult. Ugggggh. I have to go through all over again…
My grumpiness at having forgotten that overpriced moisturizer must have been evident because, after security, as I was walking into my terminal, this lady pulls me over and asks where I’m going. I’m so startled by the question it takes me a minute to respond. “Uuuh, Madrid.”
But in her mind she’s thinking “This dude doesn’t even know where he’s going? Definite terrorist.”
So a 10 minute interrogation ensues - luckily, I have proof of everything. My Shakespeare tickets, my plane ticket into London 7 days ago, my train ticket out of Madrid and out of Barcelona, along with my passport. Let that be a lesson to you kids - when traveling internationally, especially if you’re colored, keep records of everything - yes, everything until you’re back home. She lets me go, finally, and I take some time to wander around the shops. I have plenty of time.
This airport is not as big as Heathrow, but it’s still nice. The shopping areas are pretty nifty, and I cozy myself in an electronics store that has a bunch of gadgets (of course, what else did you expect of me honestly?). And of course, the very first thing I see is a line of Fitbits
:). They’re just taunting me now… Grr… But I decide not to buy one - although I lost my Fitbit One, I have a Fitbit Flex at home, which I’ll switch to instead. Good enough for my purposes at any rate.
One thing that I noticed in the beginning but dismissed is that there are tons of visibly armed guards. This is the sixth pair I’ve seen - always in groups of two, always carrying two massive rifles. I didn’t look too closely to see what kind of gun it was (it’s probably not good for them to see that a brown dude is familiar with guns in the first place, and after my interrogation, I decide to just keep my head down and walk away). It’s actually way more terrifying than the US. They’re not visibly posted anywhere in the states, as far as I’ve seen. I can’t help but wonder if this is the post-ISIS/Paris world?
I finally find the most hipster coffee shop in the world, called “Joe and the Juice - Coffee, Juice, and Much More”. But the important thing is that I didn’t get any sleep, and they have plugs. So I’m sitting here writing this blog and getting caffeinated. I also had next to no charge on my phone and laptop, so thank heavens I came early honestly.
As I’m leaving London, I can’t help but feel quite satisfied. I did most of what I wanted to do. There are some small things like London Eye and the inside of the London Tower, but I have another week, so I can always do that stuff then. Not bad, London, not bad at all!
The weird thing about this airport is that they don’t even announce what gate the plane is going to arrive until 45 minutes before departure. So once they do, its a huge rush to get there. I think it’s a cute ploy to make people shop more - there are signs that say “relax, enjoy, shop” everywhere.
Met a super nice elderly British couple on the plane ride. They were coming to Madrid for the first time because their son was marrying a Spanish girl, and they were beginning wedding planning. We exchanged pleasantries about San Francisco and London, and about how nervous everyone was coming into Madrid because none of us really knew Spanish all too well.
We land and everything goes quite smoothly - the bags come on the wrong luggage thing, but whatever, that only took like 3 minutes. Customs was even easier. As soon as he sees my US passport and confirms his suspicions that I don’t speak Spanish, he just snorts, stamps the passport, and waves me forward as if he doesn’t have the energy to deal with me (which is fine by me).
But finding the Metro was impossible. For some reason I thought the metro was a fancy bus line (thanks Google Maps icon), when in fact it’s the subway. So while the arrow pointed down on the signs hanging from the ceiling, I thought they were saying to go forward or backwards, or really anything besides down. At first I try to rely on google maps, which is a horrible idea because it has no reception in the airport. As I’m roaming back and forth, unable to find the metro (I don’t know why I thought it was a bus to be honest; I just wasn’t thinking very clearly), I contemplate just getting a Taxi. I’d pay a boatload, but it’d be so much easier honestly. Then I see a lady speaking English to her children, so I ask her, and she tells me to follow those signs. That doesn’t help me much because “following those signs” is what got me here, in the wrong location. I go to the visitor/tourist center, and he gives me a map of the entire subway line and tells me I’ll take this stop and then transfer onto this line. We speak in broken Spanish and English, and from him I get the idea that this is actually a Subway. All in all this must have taken about an hour (an hour for a fifteen minute walk!).
So I try for the third time to find the Subway, and when I finally do, I see the old couple there again. They’re having problems with some of the machines printing tickets because for some reason they won’t accept credit cards. I try, too, and sure enough, my credit card is rejected. I go to a different machine which won’t even take cards. What on earth is going on, Madrid? So I try my debit card, and it works. After a while of searching, I find the line I’m supposed to get on and, as I get into the car, I find the old couple.
We all have a laugh about how we all got lost everywhere, and I sit with them for five stops until we all part ways. I have to find the transfer line which will take me just one stop away to my destination…
If only it were so easy. London was very easily navigable, but I’m having a much tougher time with Madrid’s underground system honestly. I ask one English speaking group and they say to go upstairs and take a left, but that leads to the exit. I try an old man, but he won’t respond to me; he just sits and reads his newspaper (maybe he’s hard of hearing and I didn’t try loud enough, or maybe he just hates strangers). The reason for the confusion is that, while Google Maps says take the train to Puerta del Sol, I can only find trains to Puerta del Sur. And if memory serves, Sol (Sun?) != Sur (South?). Super confusing.
So I try a third group of people; these people speak absolutely no English, and their Spanish is super fast. So I tell them in broken, slow Spanish that “Quiero ir al Puerta del Sol” (I want to go the Puerta del Sol, I think). I think they say something to the effect of “yeah, me too brother” or something like that. They’re manual laborers or painters or something; their clothes are suuuper dirty, and it’s clear they’ve come back from a hard day of work. They’re waiting for their friends to get past the turn style, and I ask once more if they know what platform train C-4 or C-3 comes in. They look around and say they don’t, but I think they say something like “but we know another way to get there”.
At this point my confidence in these guys is wavering and my suspicions rising. I am just an easy tourist (clearly with some money, as I wave my iPhone in front of them), and they’re a group of six or seven. They could easily take me, and I have no way of getting back. Probably not worth it. I go downstairs in a different escalator and find out that that’s not it, either. When I come back up I find they’re waiting for me. The train on the other platform has arrived, and he’s waving me “mi amigo, mi amigo!” What the heck, what have I got to lose? I run with them and get on the train. There’s a spare seat, and he offers me to sit, but I decline and let him sit instead.
As we ride, I’m verifying that we’re indeed seeming to go in the right direction, but instead of one stop, there are like six. I’m not sure why - maybe the other train I was supposed to go on was an express, and this is just a regular train? Along the way, he points to a giant lit up Christmas tree and says “Puerta del Sol, si?” I nod as if I know what the heck Puerta del Sol looks like.
They all are getting off at a stop that’s not recognizable my maps, and I decide I can’t really trust these guys. They motion me to get off, and I explain “no, I know my way now, thanks” by pointing to my phone. He nods in understanding and gives me the thumbs up sign after leaving. Honestly, I’m relieved they’re gone at this point. I don’t know who they are really, and they don’t look super super trustworthy. At any rate, it’s clear that now the train is actually going father away.
A quick googling reveals I’m now a 30 minute walk to the destination, and a 30 minute guarantee is way better than an unknown amount of transfers. I get off at the next station and start walking.
The feel of Madrid is very much like Rome. London had a much cleaner, upper class feel to it, and Spain seems a lot poorer by comparison. Lots of graffiti, street vendors trying to sell various toys, just like in Rome, and many homeless on the streets. In London I saw maybe three homeless people? I saw around thirty as soon as I got off of the subway.
The walk is all uphill (and somehow these old people in front of me are beating me!), and I’m pouring sweat. I’ve clearly dressed far too warmly for this weather. It’s well above freezing, so partway through I take off the jacket, stuff it into my suitcase, and keep walking.
Madrid, like Rome, is a super walk-able city. I realize based on Google Maps I’m actually passing all of the sights I’m supposed to see while I’m here, purely by accident.
The royal palace, an important arch, and some other magnificent building.
I would stop and admire more, but I’m in a rush to meet the 9PM check in, and Google says I’ll be there within 10 minutes or so. So 20 minutes of walking goes by without a problem, and, when I’m nearly there, I see the giant Christmas tree that the dude had showed me on his phone.
God. Dammit. The ultimate face-palm moment. That’s what I get for thinking badly of those guys. Turns out this is where I wanted to go all along, and by doing my own thing, I added another 30 minutes for myself for no reason at all. But honestly, in retrospect, I would have done the same thing again. I had no way of really knowing who these people were or if they could be trusted. All it would take is for me to trust a single bad person who shouldn’t have been trusted, and all would have been lost. I stand by my decision.
I feel bad that I thought ill of these dudes, but I stand by my decision.
The Christmas tree the dude showed me on the train.
Anyways, I finally reach there, and I realize there’s no sign pointing to the hostel. Ugh, not again. I roam the streets back and forth and find a number 7 on the street. Room 007 La Ventura Hostel is the name of the hostel, so I figure oh, this must be it, right? I press the button to dial concierge a couple times, but no one answers. Something must be wrong.
I look back on Google Maps to see that it’s actually #5 on the street, even though the name says Room 007. Why? What does room 007 have to do with anything? I look around and a dude smoking on the street asks me what I’m looking for. I actually don’t know what he really said, but I heard “buscando” which means “searching”, so good enough. “Estoy buscando para el hostel” - and show him my phone. He points me to a restaurant door. I’m about to enter when he says “la otra, la otra”. The other one. There’s a super small door right next to it, not labelled or anything. I try to open it, and it’s locked. The people at the front desk see me and buzz me in.
And that’s how a 33 minute commute on Google Maps took nearly 2.5 hours.
I am not a smart man. Seriously, it’s a miracle I’m even allowed to be an adult.
I check in, but apparently all hostels require a cash deposit for the key. Who knew. So I trade my driver’s license for the key card, and they tell me I can enter, and whenever I get the cash, I can get my license back. Fair enough. I’m in Room C-31, bunk 1. As far as I can tell, there is no Room 007. So where does it come from? Why must you confuse me so
The room is amazing. The entire building is super cool actually. It’s basically a hotel turned into a hostel. All the rooms are hotel quality with amazing wooden floors and high quality furniture. The beds are quite nice, and unlike the previous hotel, each bed is retrofitted with a lamp and a charging station. Top and bottom bunks have separate chargers right next to where each’s pillow is meant to be.
Each bed has a corresponding lock and a locker where you can store valuables. I open the locker to find… towels! Oh sweet, heavenly tools of cleanliness. Great towels, pillows, comforters, and sheets. Amazing. Seriously. This is the best hostel yet. The people are super friendly, and my room only has six bunks (five occupied, including me). The temperature is great, and all in all, it’s a great room!
It has its own toilet and shower which seem super clean along with a sink. And it even smells quite nice.
I go to checkout the party at the terrace along with the common rooms. They have foosball, a nice set of books, and a TV. Not bad! One of the hostel workers is from the UK and he invites me to party with him; they’re having game night tonight, since it’s Friday. I explain I need to go get cash and unpack and settle in, but once I’m done that I’ll join.
The walk to the ATM was gorgeous as well.
So many beautiful buildings with amazing architecture.
The global alliance with Bofa and Barclays (and many others) means no foreign transaction fee, but the ATM does have a five euro transaction fee. So overall, I paid $7 to get 400 euros out. Not bad, considering the raw deal I had in London ($30 for withdrawing £200!).
I come back and get my ID, and then decide I need food. I haven’t eaten in far too long. There are lots of restaurants right on the street of the hostel, and I think I’ve had enough adventure for one day. No need to venture too far. I find a Chinese restaurant right next door and have a super filling meal for under ten euros. The Chinese people spoke fluent Spanish, which was cool.
And I went promptly to bed.
##Day 8: Pickpockets
I slept amazingly. God I love this hostel. Slept from 12 to 6 nonstop, and then again from 6 to about 8:20.
I woke up because one of the roommates had the worst cough ever; sounded like he had bronchitis or was trying to cough out a lot of phlegm. Anyways, the entire room awoke with him. Most of the room seems to be my age, but this guy is about 50 or so. Not sure why he’s traveling.
I also now know why everything smells like perfume - the dude sprays the aerosol everywhere. It’s literally cancer in a can bro, take it easy with that shit!
I’m still feeling tired, so I decide to take my new found motivation and actually start Duo Lingo. It’s way better than Memrise because it has placement exams, so I can actually test out of a bunch of stuff. I set my daily goal for about 20 minutes per day, and I decide once I’m getting back I’m going to make language goals for myself for every 2-5 years (about how long it takes to learn a language to get comfortable with it - not mastery, just enough to get by). I think I’ll start with Spanish since it’s the most similar to English and should be easy, then Italian after that (super similar to Spanish), and then Japanese since I’ve taken it for a year already at Dartmouth. I think if I learn these three I’ll be quite happy, but some “stretch goals” would include French and German.
I get ready and leave the room at about 11:15. I meet the girl who’s staying in the bunk next to me on the way out; she’s shy, but seems nice.
I decide I’ll start with the East side today and just walk around everywhere. I did so many museums in London that I can’t be asked to do many more today. Besides, after all the rain, it’s incredible to see a clear sky and warm weather - it’s 65 degrees! I want to wear shorts, but that’s such an American thing (big no no in Europe), so I decide not to take any jackets with me.
Congreso de los Diputados
I saw this at night last night as I was looking for Barclays, but at that point I was so intent on just getting cash and going to bed that I didn’t really pay attention. It is the lower house of the legislative in Spain.
There is also this neat statue right next to the building.
Fuente de Neptuno
Was also something I saw last night on the way to the bank, but at the time I had no idea what it was. The night photos generally came out rather poorly, so whenever I can I’ll prefer the day time photos.
Museo del Prado
Is the number one thing to do on Trip Advisor, and it’s supposedly a phenomenal museum.
Unfortunately, I’m quite done with museums at least temporarily, and I decide I’ll come back and do this later. It’s in a very central location though and is surrounded by many other things to do, including Retiro Park. The weather is, after being in London for a week, simply too good to pass up. Still, the museum is rather beautiful.
A front view.
And a side view.
Real Academia Española
The official government entity responsible for the Spanish language. The libertarian in me cringes, but then again we have words like “fleek” so maybe they’re onto something.
San Jeronimo el Real
A very famous church also right next to RAE and the Prado museum.
Cason del Buen Retiro
An annexed building that’s now part of the Prado museum. Didn’t do any of the Prado museum today, so you’ll see pictures of the insides later (if they allow photographs).
Retiro park is enormous and has a lot of things to see. I didn’t take pictures of everything - only the most memorable things. It’s extremely bike and dog friendly, and they have numerous bike paths right next to the stairs. I also saw many people rollerblading on some of the larger roads that intersect the park.
A view from the entrance of the park and the Jacinto Benavente Monumento.
I didn’t have any breakfast yet, and I’m a very poor hydrator. Since I’m going to be doing plenty of walking in the sun, I decide it’d be good for me to get some water early on. I see a stand with snacks and drinks and I ask for some “agua frîa” (yeah, be jealous of my compendium of Spanish vocabulary), and he says something like one euro. I give him a five and he gives me back one euro in five twenty cent coins. I stare at him incredulously, and he’s like “Oh, perdon! Lo siento, señor, lo siento, and he gives me three more Euros.” Dude tried to rip me off! Guess it’s a dog eat dog world out there for tourists. I thought about confronting him further, but he gave me the rest, and honestly it just wasn’t worth it.
A view from the top of the hill.
This is no doubt one of the most famous and easily recognized monuments in Madrid - Monumento Alfonso XII. It’s behind a large pond where people can rent peddle boats. It’s an absolutely breathtaking monument, and something about the cellphone camera just loses the sheer size of the thing.
A view from the front
Closer up to the actual statue
The pillars surrounding the statue
A cool building in the middle of the park - Palacio de Velázquez
There was a cool building made of glass. Inside there were large bones hanging from the ceiling. The Spanish have a weird taste in art.
Another view of the same glass building but from father away. It’s next to a cool fountain and a lake.
There’s a large set of tennis courts in the middle of the park, but sadly they were hard courts. So disappointing. I wanted to see some of that famed Spanish red clay. And weirdly enough, there was an English team practicing, with the coach yelling (quite distinctly) “bend the knees!”
Ministerio de Agricultura
A very cool building. They apparently had some tours, but I couldn’t really decipher the signs well enough with my broken Spanish well enough to really figure out what was going on, and I wasn’t brave enough to confront the guards who had guns visibly poised. I decided that pictures were quite enough (don’t want an incident due to translation issues, after all!).
Lunch was pretty interesting. I had lunch at a very authentic place - I intentionally chose something where the waitors wouldn’t speak English, and it didn’t look too big or modern, and definitely not a chain like KFC or Starbucks. I wanted an authentic experience for what a real lunch at Madrid would be like.
The waiters were definitely upset that I wasn’t fluent in Spanish; it confused them because I don’t speak with too much of an accent, and I’ve taken 3 years of Spanish, so at times I can say things with confidence, but my listening skills aren’t quite so good. So when they say things super quickly, I have to ask them to repeat it an annoying number of times.
I sit down and order just by pointing and saying things. He asks what I want to drink. I ask for a “café con leche” (coffee with milk) - mostly because I panicked. For some reason this is the hard question. I don’t even like coffee, but it’s one of the few things Spanish class had drilled into my head, and so it just came out.
Well, looks like I’m drinking coffee.
Weirdly, every five or so minutes, this restaurant would make appetizers and people would bring them around on plates (not free of charge). I think it’s meant to encourage impulse buys since the food is already there in front of you. At any rate, whenever these were ready, they would ring a bell and say something that I never quite cought or understood.
At one point this lady comes in to sell a book she supposedly wrote. Not sure how much I believe that. She approaches the dude next to me, and I hear the pitch in full. She comes to me next and, like a fluent Spanish speaker, I say the line I’ve said far too many times since I got here. “Sorry, but I only speak very little Spanish. I’m from the US, and I’m a tourist.” Boom, no accent.
And she’s like, “But you understand a bit, yes?”
At this point I change my mind. Talking with locals and flexing my rusty Spanish skills should be part of the experience. And this beats looking at random tweets on my slow 3G data any day. So why not?
We talk for a bit, and she asks what language I speak. I don’t catch all of her words, but some of them stick out - “algún idioma”. I know algun means “some” or something like that, maybe? And idioma is language, so I say “ingles”, and the conversation goes on. Understanding her is not so bad, as body language and (I think she’s trying hard for me) her speed isn’t too fast. But responding is difficult. Classic case of active vs passive recall. When I’m presented with a word, it’s easy to remember - oh yes, that’s what that means. But when you ask me to come up with the word actively, like when speaking, that’s much more difficult.
The conversation stalls when I realize I don’t know how to say “I don’t have space for that in my suitcase.” More specifically, “suitcase”. She gives up and leaves, and only afterwords I remember “equipaje”. It’s too different from Spanish, so of course she doesn’t understand it.
Oh well. Still, not a bad way to spend lunch.
Oh, and Duolingo says I’m 25% fluent in Spanish. That counts for something, right?
Museo Nacional de Anthropologia
Was not that great to be honest. But the outside is certainly cool. The value of museums is greatly diminished if you’re Spanish isn’t up to snuff, I find. Some museums are kind enough to put some English on the bottom, but a lot don’t. And museums are, by their very nature, dealing with very technical stuff. This isn’t Dora the Explorer. So if you’re going to go in, be sure you have a dictionary handy. I paid $10 for an app, but even then, it was quite difficult.
Here’s a picture of the outside, at any rate.
Real Jardin Botanico
I think there’s a reason this isn’t even on Trip Advisor’s top 20 things to do, despite being so close to Prado Museum and Retiro Park. I really didn’t like this as much, and left in like 20 minutes. If you’ve seen any other botanical garden, you’ve seen better.
Puerta de Alcalá
This arch, which I had no idea what it was yesterday night, turns out to be gorgeous during the daytime!
Plaza de Cibeles
Super cool plaza with tons of important buildings right there.
National bank of Spain was, unfortunately, under construction or maintainance while I was there, so they tarped it up with huge yellow sheets. Looked super ugly, but I could see behind the sheets there was incredibly ornate carvings. I can only imagine what it looks like normally - oh wait, no I don’t. Thanks Google! Seriously though, it’s an awesome building.
Then of course, in the middle of the plaza, is the very historic Cybele Fountain. It’s hard to get close because there’s traffic all around, and there’s no actual walkways to approach the fountain super closely.
And the Cybele Palace, which I didn’t realize until later, is actually City Hall! Entrance is free, but as you’d imagine, it is a functioning City Hall, so there isn’t actually much to do besides walk around. There is a viewpoint at the very top for 3 euros or so, but they were out of tickets for the day when I went.
:( Oh well; the good thing about being here for a week is that I get to come back and make sure I do stuff like this.
The palace is seriously gorgeous though.
Biblioteca Nactional de España
Super impressive national library. For some reason Google labels this the National Archeological Museum. Very confusing. Here, too, guards with guns. I think I’ll come back later when I work up the courage (seriously, why all the guns guys!?).
AKA Fernán Gómez Centro Cultural de la Villa
It’s a cute little center with a small ice skating rink set up and a theater as well. I’m walking around, taking photographs.
I had only prepared for one of the two main types of pickpocketing: you’re carelessly showing your wallet in a crowded space, and someone runs by you, knocking you to the ground, and they’ve run off with your wallet. The truth is, thieves have become (and maybe have always been) far more creative than that.
They start fake fights so the marks’ attentions are drawn elsewhere, and another member of the team will swing by and take things from the onlookers in the crowd. They’ll throw something in your eye and another person will “help you to your feet” and even give you a towel, and you’ll leave thinking “oh, what a nice person.” Indeed, in this more subtle version, the goal for them is to have you leave without ever realizing that they have your money.
This is, apparently, so common in Paris that Trip Advisor has a whole section on common scams. And the one that was played on me today was textbook - literally, it’s under the section called “Clipboards”. Wow.
Couple things that were not going for me:
- My scammers were young (middle-school, early high-school age)
- They were female
- They even had what looked like a school uniform on
- They were prepared with a firm (ish) backstory
- I didn’t know anything about how things work in Madrid, so I couldn’t really do a reality gut check
- Poor Spanish
Two girls approach me with a clipboard and start talking to me, and once it becomes clear I don’t speak Spanish natively, they switch to broken English. They are demanding something for disabled people and want my signature. They use their credibility with Spanish and relative inability to speak English phenomenally. Once I sign, they’re trying to explain that they need to see my ID to verify my signature. I’m already skeptical, so I make sure the wallet is firmly in my grip, and I show my driver’s license, sign the petition, and leave.
And that’s it.
I didn’t feel a thing, despite it firmly being in my grasp. By the time my suspicions get really high, it’s too late. I look inside, 70 euros are gone. All the credit cards and everything are present since my wallet was in my hand and folded in a manner that only exposed the cash.
At this point I’m super angry with myself. I’m so incredibly naive - and the irony of all this is I’m constantly suspecting everyone all the time. I’m fairly paranoid and distrustful by nature. The people on the subway, people in my hostels that I’m staying with, etc. I lock up all my stuff always with a huge padlock, and I make sure to split my cash like any good traveler would. 100 in the suitcase, 100 in the backpack, 100 in my wallet. I even got off on the wrong stop on the subway to avoid those sketchy dudes earlier!
And still I was pick-pocketed.
Of course in retrospect things are always much clearer. Why would my ID matter, and for that matter, if I’m a tourist, which they clearly know and verify that I am, why would my say have any weight in Madrid’s local matters? Obviously it doesn’t, but you have to understand thieves are quick. All of this was in less than a minute - maybe even 30 seconds.
You can never be too careful, especially when travelling. I did most of the right things. Safest place to keep belongings? Front pant pocket. Check. Separated money, obviously check. Take only what you need - I never carry my passport with me whenever I’m walking around.
Carry really only what you’ll need. Would I really spend 70 euros in a day? Probably not, at least in cash. All restaurants and museums accept credit cards. So why go anywhere with more than 20 euros - particularly in Madrid which is so walkable? That’s just silly.
Bare minimals - I’ve since stopped carrying my wallet everywhere. If I lose it, all my credit cards are gone. I carry one credit card, one debit card, my driver’s license, and a 20 euro note. That’s in one pocket.
Essentials - these are things I absolutely need. Hostel key and padlock key so I can access my backpack are among these. These cannot be stolen or my life will get significantly more difficult. It’s going to sound gross, but I don’t really care - They’re super small, so I put them in my boxer-briefs. They have a small pocket thing, and they’re inconspicuous. Wherever you put them, put it somewhere really safe.
Crowds. Crowds. Crowds. They’re everywhere in crowds. Avoid them. I walk with my hands in my pockets now at all times. I’ve seen locals do it, and they also place their backpack in front of them.
Pictures - I’m no longer so cavalier about pulling out my phone to take pictures. It’s just not worth it. Only take it out when you’re sure you’re safe and people aren’t right next to you.
By the way, there’s an excellent National Geographic video about one of the most famous pickpockets in Italy.
Plaza de Colón
Nothing super special, but it has cool buildings (and a Barclays, yay) along with a fountain and some statues.
Museo de Sarolla
Was a let down. This should not have been as high on Trip Advisor as it was, personally.
Enormous art museum, but I didn’t realize (I should have) that modern-ish art would play such a huge role. An entire floor dedicated to Picasso and Cubism; a large room for surrealist work, including Salvador Dali, and a ground floor that can only be described as modern art. I can see how many people would like it, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
After everything, I came back to my room and just digested everything for about an hour. All in all, the pick pocketing could have been much worse. But I do want to take it easy for a night and not go crazy far. I decide to just go to a restaurant right next to the hostel because I don’t want to exercise my broken Spanish any further today. I stop by an Indian place - the guy has been in Spain for 16 years. He speaks to me in Hindi at first, but I explain I don’t know Hindi, and that I’m from Tamil Nadu. The meal is fine, and I go back to the hostel.
A bunch of people in the common room are going to a pub crawl. If you ever go to a hostel - even if you don’t drink - I highly recommend doing these. It’s a great way to meet people, and you also get a guided tour for free as you walk from place to place. It’s quite fun.
It was fifteen of us from 3 hostels. Lindsey is from Canada, though she lives in London, and is my age. She’s also in my hostel. Our hostel guide dropped us off at the first pub super early and left for a fetish festival - he was dressed in all leather and had tape on his nipples. Super weird guy. He also gave us the wrong wristbands to skip the queues, and more importantly, almost didn’t give me back my change (I gave him a 50 for me and Lindsey, since she didn’t have cash and paid me through Venmo). It took him nearly 30 minutes to get me my 20. In any case, pretty sure he’s nearly homeless and just pockets the money instead of actually giving it to the hostel.
Met two people from England there not related to the actual pub crawl, but both of us were just looking for any other English speakers. Charlie and James; James is quite cool, and I got his phone number actually. Then a bunch of the other pub crawlers finally showed up. 3 from Australia (it’s their summer vacation now, so they always tour Europe in December), and two people from the US. Our tour guide’s name is Carlos, and he’s from Venezuela. Super cool dude. The two from the US are from boulder - Charlie and Jeremy. They met the Brits and had a ball about how similar their names were.
All in all it was a pretty fun crawl! I went home early at 4:30 (reached home at 5), but I later found out from Charlie’s texts most of them didn’t get home until 7. That’s how the Spanish evidently party every night. I can totally believe it’s a lot of fun; I just can’t possibly function like that on a daily basis. I think once is enough for me, thank you very much.
##Day 9: Recovery
Today’s theme is recovery. I was out way too late last night, and, as I discovered partway through the day, I got Gandhi’s Curse from the Indian food last night. So midway through the day I just call it quits and go to bed early.
Woke up at around 10 to El Rastro by 11, which is this huge open air flea market every Sunday. El Rastro is absolutely filled with pickpockets though becuase it’s packed with people, and that’s the perfect environment for them, so I didn’t take too many pictures there. The walk there was super cool - saw a lot of urban art.
The market itself was pretty interesting. They had all sorts of goods (including many Indian fabrics, which are very popular here). Once store though takes the cake - it was filled with live birds. The entire street was so noisy from all the birds. There must have been two hundred cages there, all with live birds. It was crazy because it didn’t seem like a proper pet store - just a random hole in the wall with dozens of birds!
And as I’m walking back, I run into a protest. Must have been around thirty protestors escorted by two or so police officers on scooters. They handed out flyers and I gladly took one, mostly out of curiosity. Turns out it was an animal rights protest.
Puerta del Sol
Since it was on the way, I took another tour through the famous Puerta del Sol - this time during the day.
The famous El Oso y El Madroño (bear and strawberry tree) statue.
Some other sights to see in Puerta del Sol.
And, in what seems to be a day filled with protests, a communist protest. On the left you can see a flag that says “no Nazis”, and several people were holding up flags of the hammer and sickle.
This is probably the most famous plaza in Madrid, and while on Google you may find images of this grand, empty courtyard, it’s basically never like that. It’s packed with semi-permanent pop-up shops and crowded with people in costumes and various street performers.
Around this time, I realize that Gandhi’s Curse has hit me, so I run back to the hostel to do my business in a poor race against time. Afterwards, I come out and make the same journey, this time admiring the very awesome buildings Madrid has.
Mercado de San Miguel
Plaza Mayor is at one of the hearts of Madrid; tons of shopping and small restaurants everywhere, but a particularly famous mercado is Mercado de San Miguel.
It’s a combination of farmers markets, restaurants, and souveneir shops - and it is packed. It took me nearly half an hour to get from one end to another despite the all actually being rather small. I couldn’t even get my phone out of my pockets to get a picture of it.
But if you have an hour or two to spare, I highly recommend it. The shops all have various treats you can buy for one or two Euros each, and you can just shop around and eat goodies.
Chocolatería San Ginés
If you’ve been to Madrid, you know they take their churros with chocolate seriously. All along Puerto del Sol (and most of Madrid for that matter), are various chocolaterías offering the same. But how to choose which one?
The most famous is Chocolatería San Ginés. As one of the first in the area to begin the strong tradition, it boasts an illustrious history. The inside of the restaurant walls are filled with historic pictures regarding the founder and his family. Super cool stop - and if you’re ever in Madrid, it’s a must do.
If you have a hard time finding it, don’t be ashamed. It’s tucked away inconspicuously in a corner.
Good luck finding a table though!
Catedral de la Almudena
A very cool cathedral quite close to the royal palace.
A view from the outside.
I had just finished up and was about to do the Royal Palace when Gandhi’s Curse struck again. I decided to call it quits - if I’m going to be rushing to the bathroom every two hours with stomach pains on five hours of sleep, I may as well just take a break and resume tomorrow. I am here for a week, after all.
On the way back, though, one of my greatest mysteries was answered. All throughout London and Madrid, I’d been seeing motorcyclists and scooters drive with giant oven mitts on. I thought I was losing my mind. If it’s that cold, just don’t ride! Riding with oven mitts is so dangerous. And finally, I saw two scooters, parked, with the oven mitt attachments. Everything made sense.
I promptly pass out once I get home.
##Day 10: New Hostel Friends
Oh man did I need that day off yesterday. Woke up feeling fantastic, and I slept like a log for a good thirteen hours. Evidently I should have checked the weather before starting out because today was quite chilly. It was the first cloudy day since I came to Madrid, and since I left early in the morning, it was quite nippy. Must have been low 40’s, though by the end of the day it warmed up to high 50s.
Palacio Real de Madrid
If you haven’t bought tickets, I recommend getting there early. The line is fairly long, and I was fortunate enough to get there early enough that I only had to wait for 20 minutes. Unfortunately, it was really cold, and I was rather underdressed.
The view of the palace from where you stand in line.
Along with the back of the cathedral.
It’s really quite impressive. On the side there’s a section with a beautiful view of southwest Madrid.
It was super confusing where you were and weren’t allowed to take pictures from inside the palace, so I got yelled at quite frequently. I ended up just asking the guides in a room by room basis whether we were allowed to take pictures.
Scenes from the entrances (where you were allowed to take pictures).
It was quite a surreal experience to be in the castle, honestly. I’ve always read about royalty, but it was quite another thing to see it for myself. Literally, they had a room for changing (for both the queen and the king), a room for sleeping, a room for dining, a room for balls, a private dining chamber - there were too many to name off. But the private church was amazing - the entire ceiling was gilded with gold! Blew me away.
Fairly recently (June of last year), Juan Carlos abdicated in favor of his son, so they had a lot of documents from that abdication at the palace, including the king’s crown and the royal baton.
Overall, a super cool experience.
Some of the rooms I saw (where you may or may not have been allowed to take pictures - it’s unclear).
Parque Mardid Río
The Parque Madrid Río is a super long park that borders both banks of the river that intersects Madrid. It’s absolutely gorgeous and is a dream for bikers (much like the rest of the city, actually). There are many bridges that pedestrians and byciclists can take to cross from one side to the other.
I traveled a fair distance along it, but I definitely didn’t cover most (or even close to most) of it. Google has phenomenal pictures as always for the curious.
These were my favorite portions of the walk I did today.
A super cool swirly bridge that’s actually split in two, with a small viewing platform of the park in the middle. Takes bicycles and pedestrians.
Some views of statues and lawns I thought were scenic. Seen from the swirly bridge.
The maze gardens that border both sides of the river.
Views of both sides of the river.
Very close by is the Real Basilica de San Francisco, but it was closed!
So I start looking for good restaurants nearby, and Google Maps tells me that Tacos and Tapas was super nearby! I eagerly start walking, only to find that it, too, is closed.
I decide I’ll try both of them another day - probably Wednesday.
Nearby, however, there was a curious burger place, so I step inside. The entire place is vegan! Super neat to find such veggie-friendly places in Madrid, and it seemed to be the only thing open nearby.
I’m so glad I did come in. The food was amazing! I’ve had my fair share of veggie burgers, but this one takes the cake by far. It came with potatoes that had a mayo-like cream on it along with a boul of hot lentil soup. Delicious! And, of course, I had to ask for cafe con leche, since that’s one of the few things I can say in Spanish, and I was thirsty.
My phone is having some more problems - keeps saying “PDP authentication failure”, and no data will work. This is particularly frustrating since I’m 100% reliant on Google Maps. I’ve saved places and location works even without data, but it’s still fairly annoying. I decide to come back to the hostel to try and debug, and a quick Google search reveals that I have to a hard reset, and sure enough it works after that!
I stayed for a couple hours in the hostel common room writing my blog and talking to people. It was cool meeting some of the others and exchanging awesome tourist details about Madrid. Met another Australian named Alfred, and he seems like a cool guy. We’re planning to get dinner together.
The Paella Fiasco
Alfred suggests we get paella, and I think that’s a good idea; a good traditional Spanish dinner is just what I’m thinking about. We have plenty of time, and I have nothing better to do, so we go around the various sights and I show him the places he should visit quickly. I take him through Retiro Park, the Alcalá arch, and city hall.
Some of the places at night.
We decide after an hour of walking that it would be good to go down for dinner. There’s this place called El Cordero which Google says has the number one paellas in town… Only we go to the wrong one. We end up walking 30 minutes, only to realize that the place we go to doesn’t even have paellas. That, and the average price for a dish is 38 euros. No thanks.
So we walk all the way back (almost stepping in dog shit) and go this place called “the brilliant”, or “el brillante”. Super authentic and bustling with locals. Seems like a good place, and their signature food (the calamari sandwich) is on the top 7 must eat foods for Madrid culture, above even the chocolate churros.
So I order one.
And let me tell you, it was awful. No sauces, nothing. Just bread and calamari. Good lord. I’m glad I did it, but never again. They were selling these like crazy - and I don’t know how. It was miserable.
On a side note, I had lunch at Lizarran the day that the local came in and tried to sell her book to me, and there I had Huevos Rotos - so I’m pleased to announce that I’ve had 3 of the top 7 must haves in Madrid.
The meal was especially disappointing because we were so hungry, and we had been walking for so long. So on the way back we both get a can of coke and go back to the dorm. I meet my new dorm mate Oscar from Colombia; he’s studying in Milan, and he’s taken the bunk of the Korean girl.
We decide to all go for a pub crawl, and we meet more people along the way. Eventually we get a good group of six of us, and we head off to the pubs, only to discover that they’ve left without us because it began at 11 and not 11:15. So when we get there at 11:30, there are random promoters on the street trying to make us pay of these wrist bands (for a free to enter bar) which supposedly give us unlimited drinks. Me and Alfred go inside for free and decide to look for the people we’re supposed to meet, and inside we meet two of them, and let them know that we’re going back to the hostel and relaxing on the rooftop terrace.
We head back and have a pretty relaxed night of just talking, playing music, and sharing stories about traveling. This entire time I’m desperately trying to get tickets to the Real Madrid game tomorrow night - I try other people’s Spanish phone numbers, Spanish credit cards, everything, but it always fails. Spain: This is why your economy is in the shitter. Honestly, I want to give you my money, and you won’t even let me. What is wrong with you? So after fifty minutes, despite not knowing a thing about football, I’m solidly rooting against Real Madrid and their stupid website. I hope you lose Real Madrid. I really hope in my heart of hearts you lose. Grr..
About an hour or so into the relaxing the two from the original pub come back and join us, so now there’s eight of us.
On the bottom is a selfie with Alfred and me, and on the top is the picture of the group. Starting from the left, Oscar is from Colombia and is in the same hostel room as me; he’s studying in Milan and thus knows Italian, Spanish, and English. Next to him is this beautiful Indian man. Next to him is Sebastian who is Oscar’s friend from childhood and also studying in Milan with him. The two are really cool people. Next to him is Suzanna; she’s also from Colorado (seriously - how many people from Colorado are here?), and was a Spanish major in college and now teaches English to Spanish children. She’s fluent, and she and Sebastian helped me with my Spanish. On the bottom row is Vida who is Australian like Alfred. She and Alfred know not a lick of Spanish, but in Madrid you can get by on English honestly. And then there are the two Germans who are studying in Sevilla; their Spanish is quite good, though not as fluent as Suzanna or Oscar.
After a bit we decide to go for food and we find this pizza place because we’re starving, and there we actually meet two more Australians. I learn that Australians call sandals “thongs”… This led to not a small misunderstanding when Vida coolly tells me to “make sure I bring my thongs for the beaches in Barcelona”. I was about to tell her I’m happy, not homosexual, when Alfred realizes what’s happened and clears it up.
Halfway through the Australians decide they want “Macky’s” (McDonalds - seriously, what is it with Australians and lack of proper naming conventions), so they disappear. They promise to “be right back”, but we never see them again. 100% convinced they’re eaten by zombies, so we do our due diligence, mourn them for about 10 seconds, and flee to the safety of our rooms. And that was the night!
Or it would have been, except this new lady on my room starts Skyping her boyfriend loudly at 5AM. WTF is wrong with people. And also, seriously, if you’re like forty, why are you in a hostel? It’s just weird.
##Day 11: Temple of Dabod
Had a fairly late start today; woke up at around 10:30 and tried to fix my phone problems (to no avail) while my roommates were using the bathroom and shower. Ended up getting ready and leaving the hostel around 11:30 and headed straight for the Temple of Debod, since that closes for the afternoon siesta at 2PM.
I actually saw Alfred sitting at the lounge on the fourth floor, and he was having a rough morning, too. He actually stayed up much later than I did, and he had signed up for a walking tour and was contemplating not attending. I end up persuading him to go, and Theo walks Alfred and several other people to the walking tour.
Temple of Dabod
On the way I saw some pretty nifty buildings.
The Senate of Spain
La Iglesia de Santa Theresa y San José (the church of Saint Theresa and San Jose)
And a beautifully constructed hotel
The temple itself is on a giant hill, surrounding by an awesome park where people can bike and bring their dogs.
The view from the hill overlooks most of Madrid, including the Royal Palace and the famous cathedral right next to it.
The view of the Temple of Dabod itself. For those who don’t know, it was donated by the Egyptian government to Spain for Spain’s efforts in helping preserve many valuable temples in archaeological findings. It was disassembled brick by brick, moved to Spain, and reassmbled. Pretty neat!
And the view inside
For those who don’t know, Cocido is a famous, traditional food in Madrid. It’s a chickpea stew, and while the various ingredients may vary from restaurant to restaurant, La Bola Taberna holds the distinguished title of being the home of cocido. It’s a super historic and famous restaurant, and if you’re looking for traditional Madrid-style food, this is where you need to go.
I didn’t realize they were cash only and that you need reservations, normally. I got doubly lucky - I was having about 30 Euros in my pocket (really not the end of the world, since I could have just walked back and gotten the cash), and since I was just a single person, they could actually fit me in without any wait at all!
In the beginning, you’re given this bowl of what’s basically tomato soup with some rice noodles inside (see the picture on the top right). The table is already set wiht the bread and olives for extra flavoring - though you really don’t need any extra flavoring. Cocido takes over a day to cook, and the way they carefully prepare it ensures all the flavors are locked in. If anything, use the bread as a palette clearer because you’re going to need it as your taste buds tossed back and forth in one of the most heavenly battle of the senses.
On the bottom left you have tomato sauce, leeks, and chili peppers. The chili peppers are barely spicy - in fact, they’re mostly sweet, providing just a hint of spice at the very end. Trust me - I have a very low spice tolerance, and it was fine even for me. They’re eaten along with the bread, since it’s so flavorless, but if you want you can have it with the soup, too (though I personally wouldn’t recommend it - the soup flavors are so rich). You cut up the leeks with a knife to how much ever you want and have it with the soup. I only used about three quarters of one of the two given leeks. They were really strong, and you really didn’t much more.
Besides, as I said above, you really do want to eat the soup alone for a couple spoonfuls and just wrap your head around the flavor.
Once you’re done, you get to what’s inside what looks like a water jug. It’s hot, and what’s inside has been cooking this entire time. You spill it out onto your plate (bottom left) - tons of chickpeas, steamed lettuce, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and a bunch of other stuff that I didn’t even recognize. Here’s where you use the tomato sauce and any left over peppers.
It’s not super cheap (two out of four euro signs) - a lunch will cost you about 34 euros if you have anything to drink, and the cocido alone will be 25. But man was it delicious. Well done, Madrid. You’ve redeemed yourself. I can happily now say I’ve experienced traditional Madrid foods.
Some other cool places I saw on the walk back -
And the Plaza de España
Back to the hostel, where I meet Alfred after a while. My phone’s been having problems still - the same PDP error, and some people suggest to completely factory reset the phone (after backing it up), and restoring it. This is actually what to do in order to unlock the iPhone per T-Mobile’s own instructions, and I’d been holding off on doing it for later, but now is as good a time as any.
Good news? iPhone is unlocked!
Props to @TMobile for making the unlock process so easy. Saved my butt while traveling abroad— Chander Ramesh (@chander) December 8, 2015
Bad news? It still gives me the same error.
=/ The worst case of this is that the SIM is messed up and I’ll either have to get a new one or get a new number. Ugh. Why 3-G data? I can’t even send texts. Nothing will work. Bummer.
We start planning what to do for dinner and when to go to the game. I finally cave and download Facebook and Messenger apps for mobile (and privacy goes out the window - don’t worry, I’ll delete them after the trip) because it’s the only way to really message people and stay in contact since everyone has different plans. Vida and Alfred and I are probably going to get dinner, and Sebastian and Oscar are down, too. So we’ll see how many of us actually end up going, since only Sebastian and Oscar actually have tickets to the game. Might as well try!
I also use this time to catch up on the blogging.
Dinner was quite good - we went to Rosi La Loca that was recommended to Alfred by his walking tour guide, and it was phenomenal. The waiter was an Indian guy who grew up in London, and he was very friendly.
We all ordered five main courses and just shared amongst each other. Everyone except for me got wine; I got coffee because I was so sleepy. Alfred got his paella that he had been looking forward to for so long, and all in all we were all pretty content.
At the end, Alfred’s card didn’t work for some reason as we split the bill, so I paid for him, and he paid me in cash. I felt bad because he had to suffer the embarassing scene as all of us were waiting for him outside, and his card was declined. #WalkOfShame
:p But the restaurant took it in good spirit and assured him this sort of thing happens all the time.
After this, we split up. Alfred didn’t want to see the football game since he’d signed up to see one in London anyways, and Oscar and Sebastian already had tickets. Vida and I wanted to go just to get pictures of the stadium and really see if we could get tickets. I told myself if there were tickets for under 50 euros, I’d do it (that’s how much cash I had), and if not oh well.
We took the metro, and this time Vida confirmed that Google Maps’ directions were just horribly wrong, and I’m not totally incompetent. So I ask one of the workers there how to get there, and she directs us there. We get on the right lines this time, but we get off one stop early. We’re already late, and we end up walking like another 15 minutes. But it wasn’t too bad.
By the time we get there, the game’s well under way. It takes us a couple times to even find the ticket office, but when we do, there are tickets for 45 euros. I look to Vida and she decides it’s not worth it for her - her said limit was 35 euros. I decide to go ahead and do it (how many times am I coming back here? Hopefully never).
The game was awesome. Let me clarify - I’m not a soccer fan. I really don’t know the rules that well, and I’ve never seen a game before. And usually when I watch, it’s incredibly boring because there’s just not that much action. This particular game was one of the highest scoring matches - Real Madrid picking up over Malmo 8-0!
True soccer fans no doubt must have been supremely disappointed because the quality of play wasn’t too high; it was just one side thrashing the other, but like I said, I wasn’t really here for any of that. I just wanted to experience the atmosphere and the thrill of watching one of these games live, and man was it awesome.
When I walked in it was 2-0, and I was super sad that I’d missed (what I thought would be) all the goals in the game. Every time they score they’d shout the first name of the player who scored, and the audience would shout back the last name. And, fifty minutes in, I don’t know what happened, but even I was shouting “RONALLLDOOOO”.
Awesome time, highly recommend if only once and never again.
On the way back I decide to get off a couple stops early and just walk back along the Gran Via. It’s on my todo list anyways, and since I’m not going to do any actual shopping, I may as well cross one thing off the list for tomorrow or Thursday.
It’s very beautiful, and if you’re into shopping, it’s definitely the place to be.
By the time I get back, everyone’s about ready to go to bed. We’re making plans for tomorrow when Vida tells us that she’s taking a day trip to Toledo, and we should all go. Oscar, Sebastian and I agree as we say bye to Alfred who’s leaving at 6AM.
#EndOfAnEra #HostelLyfe But seriously - that’s hostel life. You make great friends with someone, and 48 hours later they’re gone.
##Day 12: Toledo
I’m developing a smoker’s cough here, and it sucks. Air pollution is really bad in Madrid. Look it up - it is really bad here. I’ve only been here for a week, and I’m already coughing and falling sick. I don’t know how people with asthma survive here, but then again, maybe they don’t - BBC estimates 2000 people die a year in Madrid due to air pollution (primarily traffic fumes). On top of that, people light cigarettes like incense here. It’s miserable (air quality wise - everything else about the city is quite nice).
I really should have only booked for 5 days to stay in Madrid and not a full week. I’ve done everything there is to do here, and now the poor air quality is really starting to grate on me. I’m so glad Vida suggested this day trip away to Toledo - I badly needed it.
The bus ride itself wasn’t scenic at all, which surprised me. I thought it would take us through the Spanish country roads, but it was basically like travelling on the 101 in the US, if the 101 had much narrower lanes. Toledo is about 42 miles away, and we get there in about 70 minutes, with most of the delay being getting out of Madrid proper.
The whole thing is not a bad deal actually. 20 euros for a round trip bus ticket (leaves at 11:30 for Toledo, leaves at 4:30 for Madrid), and it entitles you to a free “train” ticket (40 minutes) around Toledo with scenic stops and a good explanation of Toledo’s history. I say “train” because it’s actually just a small buss with separated compartments. They also have an offer, for 10 euros, for a two course meal with bread and desserts at a particular restaurant. That sounds fine to us, so we take that, too.
The plaza in which the bus stops; it’s very famous, as it’s the main plaza right in the center of town. We walk around the town for a bit and see the various sights.
Typical Toledo streets
We end up stopping for lunch, as we’re all hungry. The restaurant is pretty good! I have ministrone soup for my first course (with my free bread), potato-stuffed tortilla with salsa for my second course, and tiramisu for my dessert. Not bad!
We then decide to take our free train ride. The views were goreous, and we learned a bit about Toledo’s history. It used to be the capitol of Spain, and it was such a beautiful city that the Spaniards wanted to protect it in case of wars (because the capitol would almost certainly be beseiged); so they moved the capitol to Madrid to save the city. It has a very historic skyline that poets and artists have marvelled through the ages, and most importantly, it was called the City of Three Cultures because it was a place where Jews, Muslims, and Christians have lived together in peace for centuries.
It was ruled by Muslims for a long time, and even then Jews had their own quarters with synogogues and everything they’d need. The Christians at the time lived with the Jews in the Jewish quarters because they felt a commonality with them. When Christians conquered the city in the 1500s, surprisingly little changed. Some of the synogogues were converted to churches, but it was still a marvel in terms of various cultures living together in harmony. That’s the “tldr” version, anyways.
Some of the views from the skyline
Famous arches into what used to be the Jewish quarters. Today, only 2 of the original 12 synogogues remain
More famous parts from outside the city
After the train ride, we spot the most famous church (besides the cathedral, which we chose not to enter) in Toledo, and for just 2.50 euros, we can go inside and on top to get one of the best panoramic shots in Toledo!
The insides of the church - it’s absolutely stunning, and for some reason, virtually no one was there!
More shots of the insides
The panoramic shots we took at the top - absolutely beautiful
For some reason Oscar and Sebastian didn’t want to accompany us inside, so Vida and I went alone. When we came out, Oscar had bought this tiny Lord of the Rings letter opener sword. Turns out the second movie was actually filmed here, which is why there are LoTR shops everywhere. Here is the man himself with his new “sword”.
Toledo was super cool; it’s such a sleep town in comparison to Madrid, but it’s amazing to think that, 500 years ago, this was a massive city. It must have been just three by three miles, and yet back in those days it was immense. It’s a very cool trip back in time.
When we come back, Sebastian leaves us forever.
:'( He had a flight back to Milan because classes were starting. Oscar didn’t go back with him because he’s skipping the first three days of class, haha. What a boss. I come upstairs to catch up on my blog, and Vida and I decide to grab dinner at Casa Gallega (or wherever we end up deciding).
Dinner was amazing. Vida and I went to Casa Gallega (somewhere I’d been dying to go for a while); I definitely needed Vida because it was a super fancy restaurant, and I just felt weird going by myself. It was quite delicious, and we got this cool dessert souffle thing that they brought out and then set on fire. It was pretty impressive (you can see the scorch marks on the sides).
Oscar and I have a pretty awesome heart to heart; we talk a lot about Colombia and India and exchange cool bits of information, and we bond over how difficult it is to learn languages. I learn that the real reason Oscar is staying for three extra days is a girl
;) of course, you dog. I’m so proud!
Obligatory goodbye selfie with Vida
##Day 13: Sick
Well, I’m definitely sick. Ugh.
Sooo congested, have that slight headache thing, and a slight fever. Ughhh. I feel awful. But today’s the last day in Madrid, so I should at least hit the two remaining museums. I drag myself out of bed and find out my throat hurts a lot, and it hurts when I swallow, too - kind of like that feeling when you have strep, only without the massive fever.
I met Oscar downstairs as he eats breakfast, and I decide to skip the meal and go straight to Prado. It’s only 11, so I’m hoping there won’t be too many lines. I get in very quickly, and Prado is quite large.
The permanent exhibits are more of the same - very religious paintings and various orthodox Christian scenes. It’s not bad, and it is interesting in many ways, but I’m just tired of it. Between Italy, England, and here, basically every museum has an entire floor dedicated for this. As I wandered from room to room, I began day dreaming about a world when instead the Pagan religions won over, and how different the world would be if that were the case.
The temporary exhibits were quite cool, though. We were forbidden to take pictures anywhere, so you’ll just have to go on my descriptions. There was a large Ingres gallery, featuring some of his most famous works, along with a super fascinating gallery of intricate rock crystal carving - think quartz, but slightly different. It looks like glass but is adorned with gold on the edges or other jewels. It was quite remarkable.
I came back and had lunch at the same Indian place. My throat is really hurting and I don’t feel like exercising my Spanish. Just let me order in English and eat in peace - this time, I make sure the veggie biryani is mild. I also grab a large carton of fruit juice from a nearby convenience store so I get some more vitamin C, and I force myself to do the Reina Sofia museum (the last one).
I’ve already decided that the Real Basilica de San Francisco and the Casa de Campo are way too far away. Perhaps if I come back to Madrid, but I’m quite happy leaving without doing those two; I feel like I’ve done more than enough. Maybe that’s just the cold talking, I don’t know. I also decide going to Tacos and Tapas isn’t worth it - I’ll do a Mexico trip next year or the year after anyways, once my Spanish is up to snuff; no point in having Mexican food in Spain. So I force myself to walk all the way down to the last museum.
The museum is quite nice, and even though I don’t really have an appreciation for modern art, it was a good visit. I’d definitely recommend any visitors to Madrid go. Some pictures of the plaza right outside the museum.
The museum also has a nice courtyard right in the middle, with trees and strange modern art sculptures.
Most of the pieces of modern art I saw were super weird, and taking pictures is frowned upon in some rooms, and allowed in others. So in general, unless I saw someone else taking a picture, I didn’t bother. There was an enormous wing dedicated to New Babylon and the artist behind it, Constant Nieuwenhuys. It was certainly interesting watching the philsopher / artist lecture on the perils of capitalism, and yet, whenever confronted with the actual implementation of his paradise, simply respond with a vague “I’m here to ask questions, not offer solutions”. Seems very emblematic of nearly every discussion with anti-capitalists I’ve had. “We think X is bad.” “Okay, what’s better?” “Doesn’t matter, X is bad.” Bummer.
To give you a small taste of pretty much what fills this museum, here are two pieces that occupy whole rooms. I honestly don’t know what I’m looking at.
On the way back, I saw another museum, and the outside looked cool, but I was rather sick at this point and decided to just go back to the hostel, lie down on my bed, and catch up on 2.5 days’ blogging.
As I’m sitting in the common room, no fewer than six people have come in, all saying they’re sick. And Oscar has verified that he has that feeling in the back of his throat that you get before you fall ill. The whole hostel is doomed.
For dinner I went back to the Chinese place. I don’t care, judge me all you want, but you can’t get a better deal for 6 Euros, I promise you. What an amazing place. And besides, I’m so sick; I can’t be asked to walk long distances. I sit down and eat, but there’s this obnoxious pair of American students talking about Tinder and how hot they are (ugh, kill me), so I finish quickly and retreat back to my hostel. I get another bottle of OJ. Need. Vitamin. C. Dying.
I need to unblock Roopak at work, so I come back and do some work on the third and fourth floors. My new room mate is from New Zealand (basically Australia, so my point stands - Australins everywhere), and he’s super cool! He’s working in London, and we exchange tips. He’s also a huge tennis fan, which is awesome. We gush over our favorite players, and he even met mine, David Ferrer, in Australia! So envious. He works for a company that does business-to-business lead-gen, and one of their main clients is actually Salfesforce, funnily enough. It’s a pity that I meet him so late, as I’m leaving tomorrow morning.
I say goodbye to Theo (what a character) for the last time as well. He was listening to lectures about Foucault all day, really loudly, so I was kind of grumpy with him. Oh well, moving on. On to Barcelona!
##Day 14: ¡Hola Barcelona!
Left the hostel
:'(, but not before making my mark!
The entire hostel is covered with various people’s silly goodbyes, so I figured I had to leave mine, too. Also I noticed only at the very end (because I never used the elevators) that they actually had the load bearing displays right there, and if you got in with roughly six people, the elevator would give a warning that it’s too heavy and actually not move! How cool.
The Atocha train station is super cool, and it’s gorgeous inside. They have a rain forest type setup, and it even has a pond with turtles!
I did arrive about 20 minutes or so too early, but that’s not bad. Worked on my Duo Lingo and boarded.
Trains are amazing. I’m convinced they’re the best form of transportation, and the US did itself an enormous disservice in disassembling so many railroad lines in the advent of the highway boom. The train was nearly silent despite going nearly 200 mph! People could stand and walk around, and there were just far fewer disturbances or regulations than in an airplane. And so much legroom; just way more convenient than planes or cars by far. They also had these super cool glass doors that would sense when you were coming and open. They separated most of the carriages. Amazing.
Also, mysteriously, the PDP error that has plagued my phone for a week now just stopped. Data (slow 3G speeds) have resumed functioning. I have no idea what’s going on or how it got fixed. Weird.
I finally got awesome views of the Spanish countrysides on the train ride!
Super satisfying, and super cool. We would go from nearly barren desert wasteland to, all of a sudden, super heavy fog and then to a dust storm! It was quite an enjoyable train ride.
Once I got off, Google Maps is once again not giving me actual metro routes to the hostel, so I end up just walking. It’s about an hour’s walk, and besides not having eaten all day, I’m fine with walking. I am here to see the city, after all.
The air is also much cleaner here. I pass a cool skate park thing on the way.
I get to the hostel and this is by far the best hostel yet. The rooms are the perfect temperature, it’s super clean, and the people are super friendly. There are also a ton of Americans in this one. But I think most importantly, unlike other hostels, people are hanging out in the common rooms more and just enjoying company. I got to meet a ton of new people, and the community is super vibrant. I think I underestimated hostel quality in affecting how much / little one ends up liking the place. And somehow, this hostel is the cheapest yet! By a factor of two! I don’t know how, but if you ever have a chance at staying at Black Swan Hostel, do it. So worth it.
The hostel has a ton of activities, and tonight, we’re going to see the magic fountain show.
On the way, we see some cool sights like
The fountains were super gorgeous. A nice water and music show. Turns out they don’t have a drought here; amazing. They’re called the Font Mágica de Montjuïc (the magical fountains of Montjuïc).
And right behind it was the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya - super gorgeous and lit up at night! I didn’t have a chance to go inside, but I figure since I’m here for a week, I can do it later once I run out of things to do.
There were about 15 of us in the group, and after a while we head back to do a pub crawl. The pub crawl was lots of fun! Since we’re all American, of course the first place we head to is… an Irish pub. Unbelievable.
We eventually wind our way down to the beach! The beach is really nice, though the water is freezing. There’s sand everywhere - in my clothes, my suitcase (which was open when I took off my pants and shoes). Oh well; not a bad night overall! Certainly love this new hostel and Barcelona!
The groups in hostels change quite frequently, obviously. There were probably 12 other Americans - most of them college students. There were two other Indians, one from India, and one working for Amazon in Seattle, and there were a handful of Brazilians (and a married couple actually!).
There was one guy who is from Bosnia but works as a teacher in Finland. His girlfriend of five years had just broken up with him because he was working too hard. He was explaining how the Finnish education system is frozen in time, so he’s doing all this extra work to have them incorporate iPads and other technologies at his school, and it’s an enormous uphill battle. He eventually won, but he was wondering whether it was even worth it if he lost his girlfriend, and so, literally the day before, she said she wanted to go on a break from their relationship to contemplate things. And he booked a ticket to Barcelona that day.
He was saying how he’d never done impromptu things like that before, and as a teacher he was always stuck in the past or looking into the future (I’m paraphrasing due to some language barriers). But overall he wanted to just live in the moment for the first time and take in everything. It was a pretty fascinating story and led me to do some thinking on my own. I had some interesting adventures walking on the beach and just mulling over everything he and I talked about.
We’re each the main characters of our stories, but we’re not always the protagonist. What happens when you do some soul searching but don’t like what you find? I think I got a taste of what that must be like tonight.
##Day 15: Walking Tours
This hostel was the first one that offered non-sketchy, seemingly legitimate walking tours, and boy am I glad I signed up! There are two - a Gothic one, which I went on today, and another one which I’ll do tomorrow.
Me, Mario and his wife (a Colombian couple in their late 20’s who’ve been traveling for an amazing seven months!), and Chen (a girl from Singapore) set off; we’re a couple minutes late, but the tour stops and waits for us, and we meet up. The walking tours, if you can find a good one, are a super awesome way to get the history of the city while getting a good layout of where you are. All my friends recommended I do one, but it wasn’t until I did this one that I can see why.
The Plaça de Catalunya
The major plaza in Barcelona - has city hall as well as the palace where the royal family lives. The three flags are the flags of Spain, the flag of Catalunya, and the flag of Barcelona. The flags you can see on the houses are basically symbols for a independent Catalan. The movement for a separate state is very much alive, though currently the blocker is what the currency would be, and what the impact to the economy would be.
This particular plaza was a school and a church, and during World War 2, Franco sought Hitler and Mussolini’s help in establishing a fascist regime. His fellow dictators agreed and wanted to bomb the previous plaza where the city hall was, but bombed this one instead. You can see the damage on the buildings. And worst of all, nearly all the casualties were children because the school was entirely demolished.
The Santa Maria del Mar. At this time, many churches started charging to hear the word of God, and the poor people of the city couldn’t afford it, so they built their own in 53 years (which is very quick relative to the time it took to construct the other churches). People would literally just bring over rocks during their spare hours. During the civil war, anarchists set fire to the church for siding with Franco, and you can still see the scorch marks.
Roman towers. Barcelona is built on top of many Roman ruins, and this is one of the better preserved ones. The museum in Barcelona has the best ones.
Small church dedicated to Saint Christopher, the patron saint of traveling. Underneath you can see the Roman ruins - this particular spot has been popular for travelers for hundreds of years.
Other cools spots I saw on the walking tour.
The walking tour ultimately culminated at the Barcelona Cathedral, which is at the heart of the Gothic quarters. The Gothic influences are responsible for the wide arching doorways that are so typical of many churches here, but usually they’re not so ornate. This is because recently with the Neo-Gothic revival, they’ve changed the styles and all the ornamentation is actually extremely recent. You can see the older walls of the cathedral, which haven’t been modernized, are still plain and true to the older Gothic styles.
Inside the cathedral lies the tomb of Saint Eulalia, a martyr who died during the Roman occupation. She was a twelve year old girl who was reportedly tortured for twelve days, and at the end of each day, she was asked “Are you still a Christian?” To which, each day, she responded with a firm “Yes.”
After the walking tour I come back and basically do laundry all day. Not very exciting, and not super fun, but so essential. It was also a ridiculous 7 euros, but at this point I can’t say no.
That night I meet a super cool guy named Ben Norris from the US, and we both decide to go out to find tapas; he’s a super chill libertarian himself, so we bond over how crazy the modern day Republicans are and our similar backgrounds. Eventually we meander into this amazing tapas place and we both have a 50 euro meal. Amazing food with an awesome new dude!
##Day 16: Tibidabo
I did nothing for most of the day, waking up super late. I didn’t even eat breakfast because I was still full from the dinner last night. But eventually me, Edin (the teacher whose girlfriend dumped him
:'(), and Leo (a dude from England I met) decide to take the bus up to Tibidabo. You can absolutely do the hike if you want, by the way - it’s only 4 miles; roughly 2 hours one way, and coming down is all downhill.
But it’s 3 euros for a one way bus ticket, and in about 35 minutes you’ll be there.
And boy is it worth it! I wanted to go here initially because Oscar and Sebastian recommended it to me in Madrid, and we were lucky enough to get there just as the sun was setting. You get gorgeous panoramic views of all of Barcelona. There’s also a really cool church up there along with an amusement park, where the rides take you off the edge of the mountain and back, so if you’re into that sort of thing, go for it.
We split up to take in the various views, and Leo and I do all the views while Edin wanted to do some of the rides. Edin is Muslim, so we wander for a bit trying to find a non-pork based source of food, as he’s super hungry. Eventually, we find a beef hot dog stand, and he’s just chilling.
Not cognizant of the fact that Church is now in session, Edin’s trying to walk in with a hot dog in hand, munching noisily. I’m trying to tell him to stop, that church is now in session, that you can’t just go into it with a hot dog in hand, but, maybe due to language barriers, Edin doesn’t get the memo. He saunters in, licking ketchup off of one hand, hot dog in the other, and starts walking through the pews! I rush in after him to get him out while Leo screams through the open door “Damn it feels good to be a gangsta!”
We were in tears the whole bus ride back, just reliving the absurdity of what just happened.
We kept asking Edin what on earth he was thinking, and he just kind of abashedly shakes his head and mutters he forgot. What exactly he forgot we’ll never know, but man those churchgoers were not happy with us.
That night the hostel takes us all to a free flamenco show which was super cool!
Met a lot of super cool people tonight; Brenna is also from California; Ankush is from England; and Helen from Georgia. Kush and I sang the worst duet ever at George Payne - because he chose a song I didn’t know and insisted we do it.
:D I still say I killed the performance. Brenna and I stayed up way too late just talking about stuff and eating bad frozen pizza.
##Day 17: Nothing
I woke way too late and missed Ben and company for Sagrada Família. We were supposed to meet at 8:30 in the morning because the church opens at 9, but I ended up waking up at 1PM.
Me, Leo, Edin, and Erdal had to form the most dysfunctional lunch group of all time. We all woke up late and did absolutely nothing all day. Eventually we meandered to a restaurant, and we were so out of it that no one even tried to speak in Spanish. Some of us mumbled for coffee, and by the end we devolved into cavemen who just pointed at previous orders of coffee and water. As we were leaving, Edin almost left 100 euros in cash on the table! It was only when I pointed it out that he mumbled “Oh yeah, good point” and then pocketed his money. Classic.
And in true dysfunctional form, my man Edin took the selfie upside down.
:) So in honor of his memory, I’m keeping it this way. I’m on the right, then Erdal, then Leo, then the man himself.
It was glorious. Did some work and caught up on some blogging, but I really needed a day off just to relax and do nothing.
That evening, we set up to watch Straight Outta Compton, which is a phenomenal movie, but the TV speakers were miserable. Halfway through, Erdal steps out and buys new BlueTooth speakers, which make the movie far more enjoyable. Most of the hostel came down to watch, which is super cool.
That night we did salsa at a cool bar with the most Latin salsa instructor you can imagine. While it was a lot of fun, it was also packed in that tiny bar and incredibly hot. And I was hungry. There was a restaurant called Tapas 24 that was closing soon, so Anna, Ben and I went and had an amazing meal. Ben and I nerderd out about the various films and TV shows, including the awesome Jar Jar Binks conspiracy theory that we both totally buy; Anna just hung her head in shame mostly and tried to pretend she didn’t know us.
Went to bed at about 2:30.
##Day 18: Back on That Tourism Grind
Woke up at 8AM to leave by 8:30 and be at Sagrada by 9. I met these two cool Brazilian dudes the night before, and we were all planning on leaving together. I get down at 8:32 to get ready, and they’re finishing up breakfast. I can wait for five minutes. They finish one course, and they grab up and get another one. Okay… I can wait ten minutes. Now it’s 8:50, and they’re getting a third course, and at this point I abandon them and just head over to the church… I ended up seeing them at about 10AM, and they were like “Oh we just got here.”
That’s why I travel alone. That’s exactly why.
If there is only one thing you can do in Barcelona, this should absolutely be it. It is, without a doubt, the best Barcelona has to offer. And do yourself a favor, and take the audio guide. This is a solitary experience that encourages contemplation, so do yourself and everyone there a favor - shut your mouth, put your phone away, and just be there. It’s amazing.
Protip: the noise on the iPhone cameras are fake. You can silence it. Next time you’re in a church and I see you taking noisy ass photos, I reserve the right to punch you in the face. It’s a church; show some modicum of respect.
Okay, I’ll end my grumpy old man rant now.
The church is absolutely mind blowing. And although I took 247 pictures of it, but no photo can possibly do it justice. Go there, be there. Enjoy it.
Starting from the outside, the first and only facade completed by Gaudi himself. It’s absolutely breathtaking and super intricate.
The inside just gets even more stunning. Gaudi designed this building with church-style acoustics in mind, and it’s actually meant to house four organs. The large ceilings help to prevent echoes. Notice how the pillars branch out more and more like trees, but at the same time support the enormous weight of the roof. He had to design specialized hyperbolic arches which used less material but could support more weight.
The stain glass windows are designed with an optimal amount of light during the day, and artificial lights provide the same amount of light at night. In Gaudi’s own words (paraphrased from memory) - a church cannot have too little or too much light, for in either case, one cannot see. He wanted this to be a place that encouraged contemplation and ultimately enabled people to achieve enlightenment.
The detailed alter.
There’s a museum underneath the church where they go into the designs of how the hyperbolic arches work, along with all the other innovations Gaudi made specifically for this church. It also has cool miniature plaster models of how the church is meant to look upon its completion (est 2026). This is also knows as the unfinished church, as it’s never been completed.
Outside the church there is a tiny school, which looks very unimpressive, until you realize the architectural feats achieved to create it. Its unique wavy shape allows only two walls, each 10 cm thick, to support it. It has enough space for three classrooms, and was designed in such a way as to require as few materials as possible while maintaining structural integrity.
And on top you have the towers which give an absolutely stunning view of Barcelona.
On the back side, we have what will be the main entrance (upon completion). This facade is more standard Gaudi with its weird shapes and thought provoking sculptures.
Definitely do not pay to go inside; the views alone are not worth it. But if you’re super into architecture, then it’s worth it. You get better views from above the park or even at Bunker del Carmel, which has 360 views of the city. Totally Awesome.
The architecture is quite cool, and the park is well worth a visit. I’m becoming more and more a fan of Gaudi. It just looks cool.
It also has a cool Casa Museu Gaudi, too.
Arc de Triumph
Parlament de Catalunya
Castell dels Tres Dragons
Met back up with Ben at the hostel and we went out to El Xampanyet, which was a super traditional tapas place. Very authentic, and extremely good. Highly recommend if you’re in the area. Spaniards are extremely fond of their bread and tomato sauce.
The Picasso Museum was much better than most of the art museums in Madrid that focused on modern art, in my opinion. I think most art, but modern art in particular, is heavily context dependent. If I walk into a room, and all I see is just a black square in the middle of the room, it’s very difficult for me to appreciate what I’m looking at. But the Picasso Museum was actually super cool - they organize it in chronological order, and you go through Picasso’s life. You can step through his various masterpieces in order and watch his transition to Cubism unfold. Very cool experience, but not worth 11 Euros in my opinion, so if you can get a student discount (free), then do it. Otherwise, feel free to skip. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take pictures in there, but Las Meridas is super cool. You also get to see how, for many of his masterpieces, he prepares many times with each specific part.
Walk to the Harbor
Mirador de Colom - a tribute to Christopher Columbus
Walked down la Rambla - a super historic street in Barcelona filled with lots of cool shops
Mercat St Josep La Boqueria - an indoor, massive farmer’s market
All in all, it was an awesome day hanging out with Ben. Super cool dude and willing to actually do stuff instead of just partying. Fun fact about Ben - he was actually in Paris watching a soccer game the day of the attacks. He was in the stadium. Very interesting to hear an alternative and first hand perspective of the attacks that runs counter to what most of the media insists on.
We decide to make plans for tomorrow as well; we saw some cool stuff from the harbor and we didn’t know what it was - based on rough maps guesstimation, we think it’s near the National Museum of Art of Catalan, so we’ll do that and just explore the gardens around it.
Ended up walking about 16 miles, so I’m quite happy.
Ben and I make a pit stop at the supermarket right outside our hostel so I can grab some of my favorite juice - this weird blend of all these berries. But the coolest thing happened (shut up, Ben, it was super cool) - I saw the tiniest little eggs! I was wondering why they’d be so small when it hit me: the eggs are for tapas! Blew my mind. Aren’t they adorable?
We put on a movie - Kingsman. But I’m absolutely exhausted so I keep falling asleep halfway through. After the movie I pack up and go to bed; it’s not even 7PM yet.
I wake up super hungry around midnight. There’s a lot of noise coming from outside my room, and I go outside to brush my teeth. It ends up being Ankush, Helen, and Sebastian and friends. We decide to all go out because it’s Kush’s last night. I make a pit stop at Burger King because I’m absolutely starving.
Most of the bars are closed, and we didn’t want to go to George Payne’s again because that’s boring, but ironically the only bar that ends up being open is another Irish bar. Typical.
I met some really cool people, so I’m glad I went out with them.
Helen and Kush I met previously; Spencer is a cool dude from Santa Barbara who worked as a law associate for two years, decided he hated it, and quit to travel. Really cool dude - he reads a ton (a book a week!) and a lot of nonfiction stuff. Makes me jealous - I really should read more nonfiction. Antariksh is a Stanford student in his sophomore year doing chemical engineering; he’s born and raised in Singapore, and also awesome. He and I are actually going to be in Paris during the same period, so we exchange contact info!
We got into a really long and quite engaged discussion about religion and its place in the modern world. Kush is super interesting - he’s Hindu by birth but ultimately chose Sikhism because he felt a calling. I’m obviously Hindu. Antariksh is agnostic / atheist, and Helen is a devout Catholic. I’ll say this: I can definitely see more now why religious conflicts can arise, because if a friendly discussion between people who were being extremely civil can incite such disagreement, it’s absolutely the case that general people (once you bring in racism, rudeness, etc) would go to arms against each other.
That said, we have so much more in common than we realize, but I think we choose to focus on the differences.
I didn’t eat enough, so on the way back we stop by at a super market, and I get a couple frozen pizzas and some other snacks. It’s pretty late out, so as we’re walking back, the cops stop us thinking we’re having alcohol in our bags or something (that’s illegal in Spain). They examine our bags and see it’s only food, so we get back to the hostel. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Kush was awkwardly waddling because he had a huge bottle of wine in his pants, which is probably why they stopped us in the first place!
As I’m preparing the pizza, Kush and Helen disappear, and Sebastian goes to sleep.
:'( But on the plus side I guess that meant more pizza more me. Ended up going to bed at around 5AM.
##Day 19: All the Gardens
Wake up at 9 and decide to head out; shower, get changed, meet Ben in the lobby, and we’re heading out. When all of a sudden Anna comes down and tells us she’s been pickpocketed! We’re shocked; we ask how it happened, what did she lose, does she need any help - the usual stuff. She was riding the Metro last night, and we’re all understandably sorry. She has to go cancel all her cards, tell her parents, etc.
So Ben and I leave the hostel feeling super somber, and as I’m walking, something falls on me. My worst nightmare jumps into high gear.
Immediately I turn to Ben - “Did a bird just poop on me?”
“Dude calm down, there’s no way man. It’s just water.”
“Dude, did a bird poop on me? Double check.”
“… Yeah, a bird definitely just pooped on you man.”
FML. So we turn back. Luckily, it’s only on my shirt. A quick change of shirt later, we head again. Keeping positive - we’ve had bird shit and a pickpocket; not off to the greatest start, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still have a great day!
We head first to the National Museum of Catalan, and on the way we see some awesome stuff. It’s actually exactly where the magical fountain show was, but it looks so different in the daytime!
The Plaça d’Espanya
Fira de Barcelona, which is a trade fair institution - and one of the most important in Europe.
Awesome daytime views of the entire plaza and the cool monuments
And daytime views of the museum and the pillars
The museum was spectacular. It’s one of the top three museums I’ve been to for sure, and maybe the best in Barcelona. It has a number of sections, but one of the most unique and interesting was a set of paintings they carefully preserved and moved from 1000 years ago. These works of art are certainly astounding, but the way they’re presented is even more so. They recreate the rooms in which the original paintings were found within the museum itself, leading to some spectacular exhibits.
It then transitions to a more standard religious paintings section.
Within the museum there’s this breathtaking, large open space which has a cafe, a musical venu (currently unused), and some other stuff.
An entire section on propoganda, which is awesome.
And much, much more. Many sections are classic art, so I respectfully didn’t take pictures of those sections. But the best thing by far is that you can go on top of the museum, which is already on top of a hill, and see the beautiful views of Barcelona!
We ate at El Jabalí, another authentic Tapas place. The restaurant itself wasn’t so special, but there was this very interesting mushroom and pesto tapa that I thought was quite different than most of the other places we’d been to.
After that, we went back around the back of the museum and started hiking around the gardens and the mountain in the back. It’s quite beautiful. But the coolest part was finding the monument made to light the flame for 1992 Olympics.
Eventually, Ben and I remember our conversation from the previous day - particularly the Gondolas that led all the way up this mountain, and we decide to start climbing and stop wandering. Turns out it led to a castle! The Castel de Montjuïc.
The castle is literally right on the water’s edge, and you get amazing views from it.
Inside the castle you have… well, a standard castle. Fortresses, cannons, the whole deal. This castle is particularly significant in terms of history regarding Franco’s domination of the Catalan peoples and his oppression over their republican government. So you often find not-so-neutral signs, like this one.
The castle has some cool plazas and open spaces.
Underneath, there’s also a museum dedicating all the ways in which Franco and his cronies messed with the president of Catalan.
We start walking around and there are some other cool plazas, like El Pla de Barcelona, which basically seems like a cat sanctuary. There must have been around 20 cats there. Beautiful scene though.
We hike back down the mountain, and on the way, Ben and I develop a conspiracy theory that I now completely believe.
Nearly all of these tourist shop trinkets are identical from Rome to Paris, and there’s no way that individual street vendors all pay for it out of their own pockets and try to make a profit by selling these things. There must be an international cabal - some sort of vertical monopoly for whom all of these people work for. And by cooperating, they must be able to meet their quotas. Basically, the next time we see one of these people, Ben is going in with a nice cop “I need to see your books”, and I’m going to bust in with bad cop - “WHO DO YOU WORK FOR!?” I’m telling you - Trinkets and Things is the monopoly the SEC has no idea about. An international secret cabal working to undermine tourists from all around the globe.
We stop by the supermarket, and I show Ben the amazingness of this one juice - it has all the anti-oxident berries. Whatever it has, it tastes amazing. He agrees and we both get some juice and some snacks. We both walk in, way too exhausted, into the hostel, and crash onto the count.
Only to see Anna’s unbelievably happy face.
Why would her face be so happy, you might ask. Turns out she got her wallet back. A kind stranger Facebook messaged her during the day - “Hey, you left your wallet on the train last night. Where do you want to meet up?” Not only did she not get pickpocketed, she managed to have her wallet be found by the one person in Barcelona who would not only find her, but be willing to go out of the way to meet her and return it. Unbelievable. #classicAnnaMove
That night, the Texans (Anna and her two friends), Spencer and I all spend a bunch of time having a really good conversation. It was a great way to end the day - especially considering Ben and I had walked 17.3 miles! (And that’s on the iPhone, so the Fitbit probably would have said way more.)
Notice how Ben is having that juice I told him about? You’re welcome Ben.
##Day 20: Bonding on the Mountain
Woke up at 9:30. Was so groggy and tired from the insane amount of walking and lack of sleep that, when I saw Ben in the shower, I didn’t even say hi. I just groaned and walked in.
Turns out he was in way worse shape - he was quite hungover and, when I saw him, he’d been showering for an hour. He’d been slumped over so long that the motion sensor lights didn’t even detect him, and the lights went off. But the best part is that he doesn’t even bother to fix it for another ten minutes.
We set off for what will by far be one of the best days in Barcelona.
All the Gaudi
The walking tour was not as good as the other one. Me, Ben, Edin, and many others from the hostel go to the Gaudi walking tour, which meets in the same large plaza as the other one. This one was not as good, though. The group was insanely big, so you could barely hear the guide. And she made really awkward comments asking for money - “Hey guys, this is my only source of income, so if you could please tip me, etc.” The other guide was just much classier - a simple “Give as much as you think it’s worth; if it wasn’t worth anything, that’s fine, too.” But this went on for like 10 minutes. So awkward.
Also, as we were walking from place to place, I wanted to ask her (she’s American, like everyone else in these hostels) what she’s doing in Barcelona. She moved when she was vacationing and decided on a whim, without getting a job first or anything, to just live here. So… the fact that she doesn’t have any other income sources sounds like a personal problem.
And constantly during every speech there would be a garbage truck or something really loud disrupting her, and because we were such a large group, the effect was even worse because we couldn’t just huddle together.
Anyways, without more complaining, here are the places we saw on the walking tour.
Gaudi’s first and last job with the actual city government. Two twin lampposts in the plaza from which we leave. The city tried to skimp and only pay him half, so he sued them and got his money, deciding to never build for them ever again.
This was a mansion he designed for one of his close friends. The Palau Güell features a phoenix in the very center because at the time, this used to be a very seedy and dangerous part of Barcelona, and the Güell family thought that by coming in and being so influential, they would make the entire area better along with them. The doors are designed super wide for horses, and the house actually has a stable in the basement, along with 12 chimneys to reduce the smell. The windows in the bottom floors of these buildings are always the most ornate, since that’s where the family lives (why climb all those stairs). Servants and guests lived in the upper floors, so it doesn’t have to be so ornate, and it was not uncommon to find the rich families even renting out upper rooms.
The next building was by far my favorite. Casa Batlló (pronounced baht-yo) is a fantastic work of art that mirrors the ocean. I actually ended up going into this one and doing the audio tour after the walking tour, and boy was it worth it.
Gaudi is super intense. Not only does he design the buildings, he designs everything within as well - including the furniture. In this case, he designed even a custom typography to go on the apartment doors to fit with his oceanic theme. I love his attention to detail and his obsession with small things. Even custom door handles were designed specifically for this apartment and were cast with his own hand.
As reflected in his masterpiece, the Sagrada, his attention to light was borderline fanatical as well. Normally the upper rooms would get the most natural light, leaving the lower rooms darker. He changed the game here with alternating window sizes, obsession with roof holes, and a brand new ceiling atrium to enhance the building’s natural light in an attempt to make sure all rooms got an equal amount of light.
There’s far more I can say about Gaudi - if it isn’t clear by now, he was an absolute mastermind. I’ve spoken at length about the design decisions he took with regard to acoustics, too, and he does the same things here. Here are more pictures of this awesome building.
La Pedrera is the final one we saw - the tour of course ends at La Sagrada, but I already did this very in depth yesterday, so I gave her the tip and just hopped off. I ended up going inside this one as well, with the audio guide.
Some neat facts about the buildings. Construction was stopped twice on this. This building was commissioned after people saw the Batlló, and they wanted something similar. The owners thought this building was so ugly and hated it so much that Gaudi threatened to just quit and walk away. Once more when the city declared that one of the pillars extended four feet too far into the sidewalk. Rather than change his designs, Gaudi took them to court, won the lawsuit (having his building declared as a work of art rather than a building), and then celebrated by taking the court transcript home. An interesting guy.
The inside was very cool, too, and actually it still functions as a working apartment building on the upper floors. You can enter the main hallways, the first floor, an apartment on the 4th floor, the roof, and the attic. The rest of it is closed to visitors.
The roof was very interesting, and interestingly enough, the chimneys were actually the inspiration for George Lucas’ Stormtrooper helmets.
The attic features more of the similar arches that Gaudi pioneered.
The apartment on the 4th floor has been furnished with the items that Gaudi himself would have designed for the place. It’s kept in great condition.
The first floor is without a doubt the coolest portion of the place. Gaudi was well ahead of his time and actually planned an open floor space with no walls separating the enormous living room floor. But it’s now been turned into a super cool museum where pictures are forbidden. Still, wicked cool.
Both of the buildings are very expensive because they are not funded at all by the government, so for about 20 euros (18 with a student discount) you get entrance and the full audio guide. If you can only afford to do one, do Casa Batlló. If you can’t afford either, but you want the full Gaudi experience, do Park Güell (outside, don’t pay), go see all of the aforementioned buildings from the outside, and see the Cascada Fountain at Park de la Ciutadella.
But regardless of what you do - I cannot stress this enough - you must pay for Sagrada Família - pay for the full thing: entrance, audio guide, and tower. If you come to Barcelona simply to get drunk and party without ever setting foot into Sagrada, you are a piece of shit human being. I’m only half kidding. Please please do it.
I ended up buying < insert name here > at the Casa Batlló gift store because I’m absolutely fascinated with Gaudi. The more I hear the more interested I am. He’s really a revolutionary architect, and like many geniuses, also kind of an asshole.
Interesting tidbit - when the Olympics came to Barcelona in 1992, they made many of the major street sidewalks filled with Gaudi’s designs from La Pedrera.
Edin, Ben and I had been doing the Gaudi tour together, as well as Casa Batlló, but we split up for lunch; Edin and Ben head off for McDonalds and I decide to do La Pedrera. We wanted to do the maze gardens and then hike up the mountain to Tibidabo in time for sunset, so we were a little short on time - Google tells us it’s going to be roughly a 2 hour hike. So on the way back I grab a 2 euro pizza from the super market, microwave and eat it super quickly. We meet up with Spencer at the hostel, and he’s going to join us for the maze gardens and the hike to Tibidabo. Spencer, Ben and I are all leaving tomorrow morning, and honestly these two were super cool dudes, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group. So many people at the hostel just wanted to get drunk and do nothing, so it’s refreshing to find people who are actually willing to do things in the city and go sightseeing.
While I’m at the the hotel, I meet this Colombian girl named Maria. She sees that I’m eating a pizza and she comments something to the effect of “I can’t believe you’d come all the way to Barcelona just to eat a pizza.” Side story before continuing - turns out I met this girl on the first night, and she sent me a friend request on Facebook. Me, on the other hand, I was like “Who the hell is Maria? Declined.” Instantly. Like instantly - so instantly we were almost definitely in the same room, sitting next to each other when this happened. So she hates me. Regardless, not remembering this until much later, I more or less explode. “Tapas!? I’ve had Tapas like 6 times - ever night for dinner! Woman I AM TAPAS!” Or something like that. Yeah… She definitely hates me.
We metro to the gardens, and they were pretty awesome. It’s only 2 euros to get in, so if you have the time, it’s well worth it. But that said, they’re not super well maintained (hence it’s only 2 euros). But I’d never been in a maze garden before, so why not.
We started out mostly making fun of stupid Instagram culture and everything wrong with it, but much like Sarcastaball, we get too drawn in. By the end it’s not clear whether we’re making fun of it or actually doing it. Help me, Sharon. Help me. But I got some sweet pics though, so maybe #worthIt.
Hike to Tibidabo
We basically have an hour and a half until sunset at this point, and Google says it’s a 2 hour walk from the maze gardens to Tibidabo. So we’re going to have to book it. First we decide on the route - we can either walk all the way down, follow the road west, and eventually climb the mountain; or, we can climb the mountain, and just walk west on the mountain itself. We decide for the latter since it’s more scenic.
We make a classic mistake, though. I’m navigating.
We get lost, twice. There’s a high school right next door, and we’re basically stuck on campus. We double back twice and go on the wrong road once. And all this time, I really have to pee. So we stop for a bit to read a map while I pee. One hour left on the clock.
And we just. Fucking. Book it. There’s a super winding portion of the path where it snakes back on itself numerous times, and rather than going on this path, we just go through the bushes. We’re literally on our hands and knees, looking for further footholds and trees onto which we can grab, and bouldering our way up this mountain. And once we get up the mountain, we’re still setting a brutal pace. Eventually, we see the top of the cathedral, and a sign tells us it’s only 2km away. And wonder of wonders, we decide to start running.
We ended up doing a 1 hour 46 minute hike in 58 minutes…
And missed the sunset by 2 minutes. We were at the top at 5:25, and captured the moments just after the sunset.
This was a phenomenal hike, and man was it thrilling. Unfortunately, when we get to the top, Tibidabo is totally abandoned for some reason! But I get some shots of the inside of the church, which was in session last time, so that was cool. And I also get to see Barcelona at night from Tibidabo, which I didn’t see last time either.
The inside of the church
Barcelona at night
We take this sketchy bus back and take a ferry down!
This was absolutely the best day; we bonded a ton on the hike, and it was something I really needed given how much I’ve been eating here.
We ended the day on 17 miles and 122 flights of stairs climbed (per the iPhone). I shower, blog a lot, and have some free pasta per the hostel. All in all, can’t say I have any regrets for Barcelona. Over 3 days I’ve walked more than 50 miles.
We stop by the supermarket to get some juice, and after convincing Ben about how awesome my juice is yesterday, he and I convince Spencer of its awesomeness today. So we all decide to get the same juice. We wander over to the juice section totally exhausted, and our brains aren’t working at all. But one thing that is certain is that we have far too many coins. So we’re going to pay for these juices with our spare change.
We stood there literally for ten minutes counting and recounting to make sure that we all have enough, and once it’s obvious we do, we spend time making sure it’s exactly 1 Euro and 45 cents (the price of the juice). Fifteen minutes go by, and I say - hey guys, we could actually just check while we wait in line.
Like drunken idiots who are too exhausted to think, we groan back to the cashier’s line. Let me tell you - everyone in the store was confused.
3 people who all buy one item. All of them pay with exact change. The cashier was looking around to make sure that the juice mafia wasn’t in town looking to collect. When Ben first dropped the change and said “1 Euro 45 cents”, he took a couple seconds to verify. But by the time it came to me, the cashier didn’t even really check that much - he just kind of stared at me.
We collapse onto the hostel couch and don’t move for the rest of the night. A bunch of us (me, Ben, Spencer, Anna and her Texan gang, Antariksh, and this new guy named Jeff) stay up talking until 2AM, and eventually I fall asleep at around 3. What an awesome last day.
##Day 21: Bienvenue à Paris
I woke up early due to some people making noise; story of the hostel life. But it was only 10 minutes earlier, so not a huge deal. I actually asked the hostel desk people about this mysterious R line. In my defense, there were absolutely no signs posted in Barcelona Sants, but from the outside it was quite obvious. So rather than walking for an hour, I just took a 10 minute metro ride.
Anyways, got to the platform about 50 minutes early, so I had time to go to the bathroom and have a relaxed breakfast. Once all that was done, it turns out they preponed my train by about 5 minutes. Meh. Chilling in line for 20 minutes isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Barcelona was a lot of fun. Some general thoughts and observations:
- Their museums are just way better organized than anything I’ve seen. The Gaudi houses and the Picasso museums are great examples. They put a lot of thought into which rooms you see first and how the overall experience will shape your views. The National Museum of Art of Catalan was amazing as well - the layout of each room was extremely well thought out and put together, whereas often times the British Museum, though it had better pieces, was just cobbled together and assembled in a room.
- The independence movement is very much alive. I feel for them - I really do. Their legitimately established democracy and much of their culture was crushed by a fascist, and now they’re forced to take on another language. But that doesn’t change the fact that they’d need a currency, need to reapply to be part of the Eurozone, and that their economy would be devastated. The transition period alone might kill any hopes and dreams. I think it’s just another case of - yes, bad thigns happened in the past, and that sucks - but not everything can be fixed.
:(Such is life.
- It’s a really really fun city. It has a very unique character - one that stands out to me more than Madrid.
- The beach is fake
One thing I’ve definitely learned is that the hostel you stay in affects the quality of your trip by a lot more than I anticipated. In London the hostel was not very good, and I didn’t meet very good people. But the city I absolutely loved. It’s still the only city I can really imagine living in. In Madrid the hostel was much better, and I met some cool people - but I just hated the city. Well, not hated. But I wouldn’t come back. Whereas, for whatever reason, Barcelona had the awesome nexus of being an awesome city, getting to meet really cool people, and staying at a wonderful hostel. Definitely the best city so far.
I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t because I met so many Americans there, and I’m just more comfortable with them. At the same time, an alternate explanation is that, while I met awesome people in Madrid, Alfred left after about two days, and same with Vida. Whereas I just spent a lot more time together with Ben. Who knows; I really could just be biased towards Americans and the familiarity they bring.
The hostel also was more active than Madrid. The common rooms were packed every night, and they always had some event or other happening, whereas the first night only the one other Canadian girl from the Madrid hostel went on the pub crawl. That was kind of bleak.
Anyways, I had a horribly overpriced salad and then got on the train.
Train ride itself was pretty awesome - got to see the awesome French countrysides as well as the ocean. The train had numerous stops and hugged the ocean as long as possible.
For the first time I figured out the metro without any problems at all. Getting tickets took a couple tries because deciphering French is not obvious, but besides that, Google Maps took me all the way, even with a train change in the middle. The hostel itself seems okay; they have lots of facilities including laundry, which is nice. But the bedroom is super hot which is my main issue. We’ll see though, I’m keeping my hopes up.
I chilled in the common room, catching up on my blog for a bit, before heading out for dinner (having skipped lunch). There was a guy outside selling bananas, and I thought it was 1 euro for a banana - turns out it was 1 euro for a bushel. Amazing. I got 7 bananas! On the walk to the supermarket, I actually saw some pretty cool sights.
I like the way they have their overground rail system - with grass all along the tracks. I guess they can afford to do this since the cars don’t share the same lane, like they do in San Francisco and many places in the US.
Also, I had always been told that the Québécois were more french than the French. And today I finally have proof. The stop signs in Quebec all say arrêt, while in France they say…
France seems to be doing better in terms of unemployment than Spain. If Germany’s unemployment rate is
n%, France is
2n and Spain is
4n. The US is roughly
n as well - but I think the real problem in both countries is the youth unemployment rate. In Spain it’s between 40 and 50%, and in France around 25%. Imagine the social ills that result in 1 in ever 2 young people just sitting around, twaddling their thumbs. Brutal.
At the hostel I meet these two Indian dudes (real Indian, not fake Indian like me). We’re getting along fine, but within the first 3 minutes, one of them asks me what I do; I say I’m a software engineer, and he asks “How’s the package?”
This is one of the classic cultural differences. Much like how white Americans won’t talk about who they voted for, whereas other Americans have no problem with it, Indians have no problem asking for and sharing compensation and other personal details. In the US I think this is because there is an “act like you’ve been there before” attitude - when you make it, don’t brag; act like you’ve been there before - act like you’ve always made it, and be understated.
But that doesn’t exist in India because (this is my hypothesis) it’s such a poor country. There is not “I’ve been there before”. So they often brazenly ask this sort of information.
I reply with a laugh and say “Boss, I’ve only just met you. I can’t share that kind of details.” And start walking away.
He replies to my back with a “Must be really good then.”
I laugh it off and reply with “Must be!”
What an infuriating individual.
I’ll probably publish a separate blog post about this, but there are many aspects of Indians that really annoy me. And of course, many times in my life, people have remarked “you’re not even a real Indian!” Even my friends, who honestly like me, have said those exact words. And while previously I would get indignant or feel insulted - honestly, now, I find I don’t really mind that.
##Day 22: Must. Take. Metro.
Wow it feels amazing to sleep for 14 hours. I end up leaving the hostel around noon-thirty.
The theme for the day is take the metro everywhere for everything; normally I’d walk to get exercise, but I think I horribly overpaid for this 5 day unlimited Metro pass for all the zones. 60 euros, when everything on Google Maps as I’m planning my commute seems to be €1.70! Which means I’d have to take 36 rides in 5 days… So here goes. Metro everywhere.
I’m off to the catacombs, which seems like the coolest option. The doors on many of the metro cars are manual, so you can actually open them while the car is still moving! So all the locals do it while the train is still going like 1-2 mph, and just walk off like they’re badasses. I just wait for the train to come to a complete stop.
:'( Someday, I’ll be cool. Sombeday. Notice me sempai, I’m cool.
Get to the catacombs, and the line is way too long. I think this is one of those weekend things, so everything is absolutely packed. I’m going to wait for mid-week before going to try the super popular things like this and the Eiffel Tower.
The closest star on my map is Place Denfert Rochereau, but it turns out that’s closed. So I start walking around because supposedly the plaza is famous as well, and that way, when it’s open mid-week, I’ll just zip in, do the building, and continue onwards.
There was a cute dog park and some cool buildings, but overall I wouldn’t spend more than 20 minutes here.
Strolled through a very large cemetery but obviously didn’t take pictures out of respect. It’s gorgeous, and you can find other Parisians relaxing on the benches, reading a book, etc. If you can get over the fact that there are graves there, it’s actually an extremely peaceful park. Also there seemed to be a lot of homeless people on the street leading up to it (lots of piss smell), and a sign that said something like “I’m a migrant, don’t pass judgement”. But it was in French, so maybe I’m wrong.
Montparnasse tower is a standard skyscraper, but you can go all the way to the top to get some of the best panoramic views of Paris around. If you don’t know what to do, I’d suggest coming here first - they have a lot of demarcated landmarks that you can see in the skyline, along with binoculars and LCD touch screen TV’s to help you identify them. The elevator ride is crazy fast - 60 floors in under 40 seconds.
And the views are worth it - if you can stand the €15 fee.
I also said ‘Hola’ to the first three people to said ‘Bonjour’ to me; apparently context switching to French takes a while.
I decide to head to the Army Museum after lunch because that’s closest (Metro!), but once I get out, everyone is talking about Rodin. So I decide on a whim to head there instead; must be good, after all. Turns out it’s a bronze sculpture museum. Quite beautiful from the outside.
You know you don’t appreciate art when you like the gardens and the architecture of the rooms more than the actual bronze sculptures.
But if you do like bronze sculptures, there are many. Particularly about the 100 year war. One cool thing this museum did was put the signs about the sculpture a couple paces away, and usually behind the actual sculpture. I think this was a very good idea - one that more museums should start doing. This way, when you first see it, you have time to just soak it all in and see how the piece makes you feel. You’re not tempted to start reading right away. After a couple moments, you can read the sign and see if you agree with how the piece made you feel, and maybe even come back to it and reexamine.
Inside the building they talk a bit about how they’re actually made, and many people make busts out of marble first before doing the cast in bronze, which was super cool. Maybe this was just a France thing, but inside there were tons of people drawing various sculptures, and even a grandfather teaching is granddaughter; I thought that was pretty neat.
Weirdly, there are four or so museums that are all super close together - The Plans-Reliefs Museum, the Museum of Contemporary History, and the Army Museum along side Napoleon’s Tomb and a church. I decide early on that I’m not doing anything besides Napoleon’s Tomb and the Army Museum. Eventually, I get to this super cool castle looking building that had a moat.
Turns out that everything I had mentioned was basically in one giant complex! How convenient. And the best thing about today was that all of them were free for some reason!
The outside of Napolean’s Tomb
The inside plaza and backside of the Army Museum
The Army Museum was by far the coolest. At times it lacked English signs, but honestly, who cares. You’re looking at super old, super awesome, intricately crafted antique weapons. I don’t think you need signs to say - “this is an old gun.” It’s awesome. I could have stayed there the entire day. They also had various floors dedicated to various weapons and the histories of how the infantry units evolved (pikemen vs halbediers vs cavalry vs heavy cavalry, etc). Fascinating stuff, and had their giftshop had any books in English, I would have bought one. The history of war is something that’s always fascinated me.
Next up was the inside of Napoleon’s Tomb. It’s absolutely gorgeous inside, and unfortunately I went at around sunset, so the pictures didn’t turn out super duper well.
I had initially planned to watch Star Wars tonight, but each of the three theaters I went to (three! but Metro, yay!) were all sold out for the next two nights and today or just weren’t showing it. I decide to go back to the hostel and buy tickets online. On my way back, I find my favorite €1 for 7 bananas guy, and today it’s €1.50! I only had €1.10 in my pocket, so I go with 7 oranges instead. If tomorrow the oranges are also €1.50, I’m going to riot. That’s some serious dynamic pricing going on man.
Back at the hostel I catch up on some blogging while watching some movies. I meet some more Australians and some Canadians, but I find that I’m kind of emotionally exhausted. You meet great people, and then they’re gone in two days because that’s how hostels are, and it’s super tiring. After a while you just get numb and don’t want to meet new people anymore. Or at least take a break from it; anyways, that’s pretty much where I’m at mentally.
I’m sure it’ll pick back up in London when I meet Ben, Spencer and Kush (not to mention Daniel <3).
##Day 23: I Hate the Elderly But Love Graveyards
Left even later today at 12:50PM.
I think it’s maybe the sleep debt catching up to me or maybe traveling while periodically falling sick; but either way, I have a super disturbed sleep at night, so I sleep more once everyone leaves the room, and it’s actually quiet.
First stop is the Bastille monument and the entire plaza around it. There’s a large market all along the Boulevard Richard Lenoir leading up to the monument which was pretty cool.
Also saw the Opera Bastille building.
Okay, don’t judge me, but I happened to wander into this set of gardens which was quite beautiful - and I bet if it wasn’t winter and all the flowers were in bloom, it would be even more beautiful.
But, it just so happened that right next to it was a really famous cemetery. I don’t know why I keep wandering into these graveyards, but apparently this one is really famous. The Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is famous for being one of the first garden cemeteries, as well has having many World War 1 monuments. There were a ton of tourists here, but at the same time it didn’t really feel right taking pictures of the graves.
I compromised and only took pictures of monuments or graves that others were taking pictures of.
Inside the massive cemetery there’s also a crematorium.
The crematorium felt more real than the rest; there were too many tourists, whereas the crematorium actually had an underground section that was super quiet and somber. I saw old couples leaving in tears, and nearly ever cupboard in there had fresh flowers. Kind of sweet, but I can’t help but wonder whether these ornate graveyards are for the dead or for the living. As Hindus, we cremate our dead, but the Western tradition of having a burial is interesting I suppose.
I suppose the counter argument is that why would they want such ornate graves if they didn’t want people to take pictures of them. But maybe they weren’t the ones who decided - perhaps the family decided instead? Either way, not sure if taking pictures of graves is still a good idea.
Also saw a lot of people mourning deceased of the recent Paris attacks. Sad.
Also, many famous persons’ graves are here - like Jim Morrison. I think the rule is that, regardless of nationality, race, religion, etc - so long as you have lived in Paris, you have a right to be buried here. I think it stems from one of Napoleon’s old edicts.
Anyways, off to the Arc de Triumph (but my metro of course!).
The Arc was super cool, and way bigger than the one in Barcelona. I walked for about 30 minutes just circling to get views from all sides of it.
But the line was enormous. This is what I get for trying to do touristy things on a weekend. It ended up being an hour long queue to go up, but that wouldn’t have been so bad if not for the worst couple behind me.
These two (maybe sixty years old?) couple were disgusting. The man was constantly smoking, and when he coughed, he never turned away or covered his cough. He’d just cough right at the back of my head. And of course he’d blow the smoke right at me. Why not, right? The woman would constantly have this obnoxious fake laugh that would interrupt her real laugh - like “haha -HEEE HEEEE- haha”. The first time it happened I had no idea what it was; I had to see her doing it live to verify that, in fact, she had the most messed up laugh of all time. And they would constantly kiss super noisily. There were kids present, but instead they choose to act like newlyweds. Ugh, disgusting. But none of that was worse than this: the lady would constantly blow raspberries. Just spit everywhere. I came home and took the longest shower of my life. Ugh. Gross.
It was the most testing hour of my life.
I also contemplated just leaving and going to the back of the line; it really would be worth it just to avoid that disgusting old couple. I hope they die. I really do. They have no manners, and they disgust me. If you’re reading this, I hate you.
An hour of torture later, I get to go up the arc. It’s about 240 stairs, and the only way up is via stairs. Good old stair climber for the win! The insides of the arc were pretty cool.
But the views were quite nice.
I come back to the hostel and blog while my Australian friends put on the Matrix series. We end up watching all three, and I don’t mind since I have a lot of catching up to do on the blog. Ended up going to bed at around 3.
Also the Matrix really sucks. A lot. So many plot holes.
##Day 24: Eiffel in Love With Puns
Insert your favorite “I fell”/”Eye full” puns here. Okay, glad we got that over with.
Spent most of the afternoon at the Eiffel Tower and all the plazas around it. One cool tidbit is that another dude tried to con me out of my money today; not as bad as pickpocketing, thankfully. He comes up to me with a string, and say that I don’t want to buy it. He insists he’ll give it for free and that I don’t have to buy it. I say no, but he puts it on my hand anyways. And then he says that I have to buy it. I turn, slip it off, and walk away.
I got curious so I started researching - apparently, if done successfully, you won’t be able to take it off. So they make you pay to remove it. I suppose you could walk the whole day with it and wait to get scissors. Regardless, no one in Paris wants to give you free shit (obviously). They’re just more persistent in trying to con you thank you think they are. Stay firm and walk away.
Views of the gorgeous lawns next to it.
And on the far side, you have this fancy building and this weird art exhibit thing.
Then the actual tower from afar.
Underneath was pretty cool, too!
I took the south entrance, which means you have to take stairs. If you’re willing to wait in line a bit longer (and pay more), you can take an elevator. But the stairs weren’t too bad. Besides, with how much bread and cheese I’ve been having on this French diet, I think I need it quite honestly.
And once you get to the first floor, there are even more stairs to the second floor!
But the views are amazing.
On the other side you have some super cool fountains and buildings, including a marine museum, an aquarium, and a theater.
The water works
Back views of the Eiffel Tower
I actually stopped a guy from getting pickpocketed today! If you can believe it - it was another clipboard lady!! I explained my story in Madrid to him, and he was super grateful. Felt like a pro
I stopped by the Le Plais de Congrés de Paris, which turned out is a huge shopping center as well as a music venue.
I decide to pick another location at random - why note Notre Dame cathedral?
The Notre Dame cathedral looks pretty cool! I decide that, while daylight hours are there, I’ll see all the other buildings on this little island and come back to do the inside later.
Way too many things are closed on Mondays. Honestly, France - how are you even a functional country? Oh wait, you’re not. #UnemploymentJoke But seriously, it’s frustrating. The crypts? Closed. Luxembourg Gardens? Closed. The Crypts next to the Notre Dame Cathedral? Closed. Why you do dis?
I decide to do the Conciergerie, otherwise known as the Palais de la Cité.
Which proves to be the dumbest €9 I’ve ever spent. If you’re ever in Paris, don’t do it. I don’t care that it’s historic or that it used to be where the kings lived and then turned into a prison. Such a waste. Notre Dame is free. Eiffel Tower is €7. For €9 it better blow my pants off. (Hint: It didn’t.)
Right next to it is the Saint Chapelle, which is also on the Trip Advisor top 20 (so was the Conciergerie, but so much for that). I arrive an hour before closing, and the sign says “Last admittance 30 minutes before closing.” But guess what? Yup, the guards were tired and too lazy, so they closed the entrance early.
I’m too tired to be more angry honestly. Have fun with your massive debt and your inability to function as a nation, France. I’m done. No, I won’t be coming back. Italy is equally dysfunctional, but at least they’re welcoming to tourists. You seem to hate tourists while simultaneously being a shit country. I don’t see where your moral high ground stems from.
You're playing Adele but insist that I speak French? I'll just take my money somewhere else, thanks.— Chander Ramesh (@chander) December 20, 2015
The line at the Notre Dame is way too long; I think I’ll have to come back way early one morning, right as it opens, and do it then. I’ll have to come back to the Saint Chapelle anyways, so might as well. Besides, now I’ve taken pictures of the outsides, so when I come in, I can just whiz in, do the insides, and move in.
Also, I’ve missed way too many Metro trains by 3 seconds. I don’t know why it frustrates me, since it’s not like I have anywhere to go; it’s raining outside, I’m done for the day, just relaxing anyways. But it still bothers me.
Also, for some reason, even though I’m doing Paris at a much more relaxed pace than Barcelona or Madrid, I’m still walking eight miles a day. And I’m trying to take the metro everywhere! All this cardio is bad for my #gainz
I saw at least four independent street-side fruit vendors each price their bananas today at €1.50. Which means they’re all in cahoots guys. The size of Trinkets and Things keeps ever-expanding. I wonder why they sell them on the street, and more importantly, where they get it from. Do they just markup supermarket prices? It’s too cheap for that I feel. So how!? Who do they work for?
Come back and do some massive blogging. Also watched The Ridiculous 6 which was on while I was blogging; a surprisingly hilarious movie.
Met two cool people - one of the hostel workers, Justin, is only 18 years old. The day he checked me in was his first day, which explains why he was so unsure and nervous. He’s taking a year off before deciding what he wants to do, if go to college at all. Not my place to judge. He’s from Canada and speaks French fluently, though he’s embarrassed because some Parisians made fun of his Quebec French which is apparently slightly different. And another girl named Emily from Canada as well; she’s a chemical engineering graduate but there were no jobs in Canada (she wanted to go into oil, but prices crashed and layoffs everywhere) so instead she’s working in Belgium, traveling when she can. Pretty cool - very outdoorsy girl but also likes to travel. Tomorrow is her last day, and so I probably won’t see her again realistically.
The Australian and Portugese dudes that I watched the Matrix with are nowhere to be seen; probably gone already. This is why I’m tired of making friends. #HostelLyfe
I’m finally caught up guys. Finally.
##Day 25: May the Force Be With You
Woke up super early to get to Star Wars! Antariksh found a theater about an hour away, so I’m at the train station by 9:30. As you can see, it’s completely empty; probably because everyone is already at work, right?
The theater was super cool - there’s a river in between and the theater is on both sides of it, which is awesome.
And it was… totally empty. We were both shocked. The Grand Rex was sold out for most of the week, while this one was completely empty!
I’ll put my thoughts on the movie in a separate blog post, for fear of spoilers and such. I’m a hard core enough fan that my thoughts on Star Wars merit a separate blog post. Anyways, Antariksh is actually flying out to Italy right away, so we say goodbye. Turns out his hostel (the super cool one right on the water’s edge that was #1 rated in Paris) wasn’t as good as Black Swan either. We both bond over how awesome that hostel was - how many cool people we met in addition to the general culture here.
I went to Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre, which was pretty cool! Montmartre is a very tourist-friendly little town, and it’s on top of a hill that overlooks most of Paris. So if you’re concerned about people hating English speakers, eat here; they’re totally fine with it. But of course there are also many pickpockets and such.
I roamed around for a bit, but basically all museums are closed (the Louvre, the Orangerie Museum, and a whole bunch). But there’s so much awesome stuff next to it that I decided to just walk outside and take in the sights while the sun is still out.
The plaza in which the Louvre is located
Mini arc right next to it
The Jardines des Tuileries. Another pick-pocketer with the clipboard scam came at me! I can recognize pick-pocketers fairly well now.
The Bridge of Alexander III
The Grand Palace
The Little Palace
Went to the Catacombs today and someone gave me the bad news that it’s basically closed till 2016 because all available tickets have been sold out.
:'( Guess I won’t do the Catacombs while I’m in Paris. A lot of people at the hostel gave me the idea to go to Versailles if I run out of things to do, so I think for the next two days I’ll do museums, and on the last day I’ll go there.
One of the best things about traveling in hostels is that you get a chance to meet people from all walks of life - and I think for me in particular, it’s been very eye opening. It’s rare that I get to interact with people from other socioeconomic strata on such a personable level.
Today I met a girl named Alex from Portland, a guy named Kaiden from just outside of Chico (California), and a guy named Rahat from Queens.
Alex is uber liberal, born and raised. Vegan, of course, and between her “Everyone is Gay” (because sexuality is fluid, as she told me) sticker on her laptop and the “You use Apple products!?” being the first thing out of her mouth, you can pretty much imagine the rest of what she believes in. I’m not sure why, but recently I’ve gotten into stoicism and reading Cicero’s rules for good conversation, so I didn’t interrupt, mock, or criticize her. She’s 20 years old but doing a masters, which was very impressive. She chose France because it’s more than 6X cheaper than the US. She’s studying international relations.
Again, the important thing is not whether or not you agree with people, I think, but instead simply meeting them and seeing how they think and how they live. It’s eye opening. So I’m trying to be as non-critical and as open as possible.
Kaiden’s story is a bit sadder. He’s 21, but never graduated high school and never went to college. His mother is/was a total alcoholic, and growing up they never really got along. When he started getting into trouble as a high schooler (drugs, etc), his dad disapproved greatly and they stopped talking, too. He makes most of his money growing and selling weed, and he decided he needed to get away from Chico after his best friend was shot in the neck and died. He’s saved up a bit of money and wants to make the most of his time here.
Rahat’s background is very similar to mine. He’s Bangladeshi, and his parents are Muslim; he’s agnostic / not sure what he is himself. He works for a PR firm that primarily serves SquareEnix and EA, and his job is basically marketing video games. Pretty cool guy; he’s 27.
That’s one thing this trip has certainly done - I’ve met very interesting people. I think I may have forgotten to mention previously a girl I met in Barcelona; she’s a third generation fisherman. Her family fishes for Alaskan King Salmon (I think the name is right?), and so stays on a ship between three and five months in a year. The rest of the year she travels! It’s a fascinating career, but I doubt I could be on a ship for five months straight.
That night, Justin (the 18 year old who doesn’t want to go to college who works at the hostel now - really nice guy, by the way), Kaiden and I cook dinner! I decide I want to be a little more frugal for the remainder of my trip, so we go off to the grocery store to make some stir-fried veggies. Justin took a couple cooking classes in high school, so he guided us through most of it. Honestly, it didn’t turn out so bad! We may have bought too much actually, and that’s crazy because we only spent €5/person.
All in all, I think it was a really fun night, and when I come back, I’m going to start cooking for myself. It’s way cheaper, and not so laborious as I thought it would be. Put on a good audio book, learn some stuff, be healthy, and save money. I think I’ll do it.
We meet these two Chileans, and one of them plays Chess. I recently downloaded the Chess.com app, so I’ve been playing constantly on the subways ever since I got to Paris. I really don’t know why, other than I used to take lots of chess classes and maybe I miss them? Either way, it seems like my entire week was preparing me for this moment. I eek out a 3-2 victory over 5 games, and it was a lot of fun. I got his number on whats app, and he’s decided we’re going to play some more later.
A pretty good night with the hostel!
##Day 26: All You Need Is Louvre
Okay, last punny title, I promise.
Kaiden, Alex, Rahat and I were supposed to go the Louvre at 9AM, but my horrific bunk mate seems to be unable to be quiet during the night. After finally falling asleep at 2AM (I was lying down in bed by midnight), I woke up at 4:30 to him shaking. Go back to sleep. Wake up again at 7 as he super loudly packs his stuff. Go back to bed at 7:30, wake up at 8:30 for my alarm. Nope, no way.
I’m on vacation. Not happening.
So I message them and say I’m not going to make it; funnily enough, Alex wasn’t going to make it either.
I finally fall asleep and wake up at noon. Make it to the Louvre by 1, and stay there pretty much the entire day, almost till closing. Side note - water in the Louvre is ungodly expensive. Why don’t they have water fountains? So ridiculous…
Also, it turns out there’s a metro-only, zone 1 and zone 2 unlimited pass for €7; makes sense if you take more than 4 rides a day, so that’s way better
The most interesting thing was that the audio guides were done via Nintendo 3DS XL’s! They proudly announced their partnership with Nintendo. Pretty cool. For those who haven’t done this museum, I highly recommend an audio guide. It’s absolutely massive, and now that I see the scale, I’m not so surprised that Antariksh managed to spend a full 9 hours in the museum.
They have a variety of trails you can take, but the one you want to start with is probably the “Masterpieces Trail”, which takes you to the most famous artworks. They also have, besides the three trails (masterpieces, Egyptian, and casual), a list of maybe 90 masterpiece “cannot-miss” artworks. Needless to say, too many pictures were taken, and not all can be uploaded.
I’m not even sure about the value of uploading these pictures, to be honest. Most of these works of art are much more impressive in person, and as I’ve stated before, most art cannot be appreciated to its fullest without the surrounding context (i.e. signs and/or audioguide).
But for the purpose of completeness, and some sort of backup in case my other pictures get deleted, I decided to upload some pictures anyways.
The Venus de Milo is, unlike many of the other sculptures in the room which are Roman copies, an original Greek statue. The arms were never found, and we know the sculpture was never meant to be showcased in the manner that it is - from behind, you can see significantly less detail along with the two separate marble blocks that were used. Most likely, it was meant to be put up against a wall. Probably sculptured around 130BC and reflective of the female nude trend - something that was original back in those days.
Diana is the goddess of hunting; the bow is missing due to being broken. The most interesting thing is that she is also the goddess of the moon and wears a crescent moon on her head! Diana of Versailles
This huge golden gallery is dedicated to the god Apollo. It’s all about domination, which is why you can see men in chains all across the room. But Apollo is also a protector, and there are nine women representing the nine muses. It was an enormous room that was a dedication to Louis XIV.
The Battle of San Romano. It depicts a battle between the Florentine and Sienese forces. The background was originally a vibrant green but is now faded to a deep dark. But the most important thing is that the rules of perspective were first being developed in Florence, so the artist used these to make the armor more realistic.
The coronation of Napoleon. Interestingly, very heavily doctored. The priest has the features of Caesar, as an honor to Napoleon. And his mother is there, even though in reality she refused to attend because she didn’t approve, but here the artist portrays her as willing and eager.
A statue regarding the Franco Prussian War; the center is empty because it was meant to be where Louis XIV stood, but during the French Revolution it was melted down; the victims, on the other hand, were spared.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace. It’s been through many restorations, and it’s only post restoration that we can see the two different kinds of marbles used. It’s meant to demonstrate an angel captured just at the moment of victory.
And of course, the Mona Lisa.
Those familiar with Freakonomics will know that it actually wasn’t the global phenomenon it is today; in fact, it was only when it was stolen and recovered several years later did it become so valued. Although at the time, it was quite large for a portrait, by today’s standards it’s actually quite small. And since it’s located right opposite this ginormous painting, it seems even more diminutive by comparison.
For perspective, here’s the giant wall it’s mounted on.
I bought the English version of the Understanding the Tragedy of the Cathars. Seems fascinating.
Came back to the hostel and did some blogging, caught up on Internet stuffs.
Also watched V for Vendetta for the first time, which was super cool. Some general thoughts: I had no idea Hugo Weaving was was V, that was super cool. It’s interesting how legends develop, I think. Guy Fawkes was one of thirteen conspirators for the Gunpowder plot, but for whatever reason, he eventually became the most famous. I can’t help but think back to the British Museum and how during his time, Shakespeare had many rivals and wasn’t considered the top, but once again, for whatever reason, after his life, he becomes far more famous.
Also, it was nice to just revel in the anti-establishment feelings for a while. It brought me back to my younger days when you didn’t have to worry about what came afterwards. I think that’s the most common thread with Anarchists today, too, if I look back on all the anarchist graffiti I saw in Spain. It was almost always very young children (teenagers, mostly) who did it.
The movie gives you an amazing feeling when you see the storm of black coats and white masks take on the soldiers, and it’s wonderful and thrilling. Until you have to think about what comes afterwards. And how most revolutions actually end in dictatorships, regardless of whom they were revolting against. And how blowing up parliament is certainly no guarantee for actual success against tyranny.
I think the Anarchist movement, to me personally, represents growing up, in a way. Most of us when we were young were sick and tired of rules and the lack of freedoms, but we never really pause to think about the “what next” questions - particularly the consequences. I think that’s what modern anarchists lack most.
For what it’s worth, as I write this, it’s totally stream of consciousness. I may not even agree with everything I’ve said if I look back after a couple weeks; but, currently, it’s how I’m feeling.
Also, that movie is so quotable. Some of my favorite quotations from the movie are the following:
- “Is it ever meaningless to apologize?” “Never.”
- “There is no certainty, only opportunity.”
- “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”
- “Our integrity sells for so little, but it is all we really have. It is the very last inch of us. But within that inch, we are free.”
- “Artists use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover the truth up.”
##Day 27: Twas the Night Before Xmas
I didn’t do much today. Hostel life is brutal; back pain from a month of shitty beds is too real. It’s hard to fall asleep at night with so many people, so I consistently oversleep during the day.
Stayed up pretty late reading A Guide to the Good Life, and it’s really resonating with me. It’s pretty fascinating from a historical and practical point of view. I’m about 25% done with the book.
Left the hostel at around 2PM and mostly just walked around seeing various things.
I saw Iglese Saint Gervais, but it’s hard to get a good photo of it due to all the traffic and surrounding buildings.
Stopped by Hotel de Ville.
Came back to Notre Dame, heard the bells, but decided not to go inside. Line is still way too long, and I’ve done more than enough of churches for the time being, thank you very much.
Stopped by Tour Saint-Jacques, which is a huge tower in a nice little park.
Also saw the Center Pompidou, aka the Centre national d’art et de culture Georges-Pompidou, which is an art and culture center.
Next to it was the famous Stravinsky fountain, but it unfortunately was not on.
After that, came back and relaxed at the hostel. Tomorrow is Christmas, which unfortunately I think means that the Palace of Versailles will be closed. I think I’ll go there regardless, since I’ve done most of everything else I wanted to do in Paris. That, or maybe check out the Fondation d’entreprise Louis Vuitton. Overall, more than ready to go back to London I think.
Got some frozen pizzas for dinner, since everything was closing down for Christmas. Came back to find a lot of people watching TV (mostly Australians), and that the hostel owner had bought a bunch of groceries to cook dinner for the entire hostel! How nice. Had a nice dinner and had a pretty sweet time watching TV.
One guy from New Mexico saw me playing Chess yesterday, and we had a match while Jim Jeffries’ special was playing on Netflix. Had a stalemate - he was quite good, though.
Stayed up super late talking with people. Two of the hostel people had guitars, so we played songs and sang karaoke basically, and I had a fun time talking. The dude who sings on Subway lines for money explained that he basically ran away from his family in Germany and was on a quest to discover what happiness really was, so he’s doing this now for as long as he can. We all start sharing stories, but Kaiden has some insane stories - they basically are Breaking Bad in real life. The life of a pot dealer isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, evidently.
I don’t really feel comfortable sharing them publicly, but you can imagine the kinds of things they involve if you’ve seen Breaking Bad.
The man on the left is a hostel worker, and he had one of the guitars. Making our way rightwards, the guy next to him is a Canadian dude (I think his name was Mark or something?). The hang-loose gentleman to his right is Kaiden, and the right-most guy is our German subway-riding street performer. He does a really good Eminem’s Lose Yourself though - all just with a guitar.
There was also a power shortage in the middle of all this, so we spent a long time talking in the dark. All in all, went to bed around 5AM.
##Day 28: Christmas in Paris
There was basically nothing open today besides the Eiffel Tower, and there was no way that was happening again.
So I wandered about for a bit until I found a Muslim restaurant that was open and had a nice lunch there - very traditional French meal - an omelette du fromage with a crepe and some orange juice. It was insanely expensive though! I suspect the English menu has slightly higher prices listed than the local menu, if you know what I mean. Oh well.
I forgot to take pictures of the omelette for some reason; but it was your standard omelette with a salad and fries (I don’t know, it’s weird for me too).
Wandered around until I found the famous love-lock bridge.
Kaiden was actually talking about it, and his crazy plan for proposing to his maybe-someday future wife would basically be to get that lock today, keep it engraved with the date for a decade (or however long it took), and when you’re ready, fly out to Paris, put the lock on the bridge a couple days early (so you know where it is), and as the two of you are going on a walk, you bring out the key and she can unlock it or something.
Anyways, I thought it was super cute and romantic.
Unfortunately, as you can see from how many locks there are, there are concerns about structural integrity of the bridge, so they removed large sections of locks on the bridge, as you can see here.
Still a pretty cool thing to do. One thing I didn’t realize is a sizeable Tamil population, mainly due to Sri Lankans having migrated to France in the 90’s. I had to google it because between the grocery stores and the amount of Tamilians I heard in tourist lines I thought I was going crazy. Their accent is quite interesting, and I think they speak a much purer form of Tamil than most Indian-Tamilians, actually. I think it’s a general pattern for any populace that’s been oppressed. The Québécois, as discussed earlier, speak a purer form of French in many ways than the French do.
At any rate, there were these two girls making fun of me on the bridge; at first I wasn’t sure because they were kind of far away and with their accent, it wasn’t instantly clear. As I draw closer, they kind of get quieter, but one thing I hear over and over is “He definitely doesn’t know Tamil” over and over (kind of desperately). I kind of chuckle and respond in Tamil “Who doesn’t know Tamil?” The girls (young schoolgirls-ish age, you can imagine how they might make fun of passing strangers) scream and run away. It was super cute and a funny moment.
Come back to the hostel and do some work.
Met a bunch of new people, and we all go out for Indian (really Sri Lankan, but whatever) food. It was pretty good actually!
The crazy thing is the guy on the right-most side (Ryan) was actually a teacher at Challenger middle school, which was my middle school! He taught in the Las Vegas location, which is where he’s from - but it was just crazy to meet someone who actually taught at Challenger.
Stayed up way too late talking to various folks about religion and spirituality and such. Maybe it’s just the books I’m reading, I don’t know. Regardless, I guess the fundamental question at some point becomes - is having faith in something unproven (because it makes you feel better, because you’d prefer the world to be that way, etc) - fundamentally bad?
I’m not sure. Often times throughout history, the what you have faith in matters greatly - particularly if it compels you to kill/maim others. But if one chooses to believe in reincarnation or something because it gives him peace at night, is that bad? It might be a form of self-delusion, and that might be bad. I don’t know.
I’ll probably put out a separate blog post detailing all of it - too many thoughts swirling around to put it here.
##Day 29: Back to London
Checked out of the hostel and said by to everyone; met a couple others from the hostel on the train actually (they were off to the Louvre, so we went on the same line for a bit).
London is so serious about immigration. When I went between Spain and France on the train, it was super chill - no one cared. But there was an enormous line specially for taking the train into London, and I had to fill out a landing card yet again!
Luckily, with all that practice I had at the airport, I aced this one - BLOCK CAPITALS and all
Trains are amazing. It’s a pity the US doesn’t seriously invest in them. I’m unfortunately left with €30 that I don’t know what to do with; thinking I was smart, I bought a €10 lunch at the cafeteria cabin, only to find out that, since I’m in first class, I get an awesome meal for free - and guys, it was awesome. Quinoa salad, the most delicious chocolate mousse thing I’ve ever had, my choice of seven different kinds of bread - it was incredible.
The English Channel tunnel is about 50.45 km long, and at its deepest, 100 m below the bottom of the sea floor. It takes about 20 minutes to go through it. The train’s cruising speed is about 300kph, but the top speed is 334.7kph. How neat! I’m still left with €20-some odd Euros; I guess I’ll just exchange them into dollars when I get back into the states.
The hostel is basically an enormous mansion (or frat house, depending on your perspective - it kind of smells of an old frat house, not going to lie) converted into a hostel.
All the rooms are super fancy, with fancy fireplaces and cool two-story rooms (super high ceilings all around) with beds that have these cool curtains around them for some modicum of privacy! And thank heavens, unlike the last one, the bedrooms are actually cool enough that I can sleep.
Went to bed at… 7PM! Thank you, thank you. I’ll collect my old person card at the door.
P.S. I found this advert on the Tube - just had to take a picture. Glad I’m not the only one!
##Day 30: Nothing
Woke up super early because I was hungry (I guess I skipped dinner yesterday, oops).
Went to a local English breakfast place. £5 for a full breakfast - beans, fried tomatos, sauteed onions and mushrooms, an egg, four pieces of buttered toast, and tea! Not bad. I think I’ll have breakfast here from now on.
I went all the way to the British Library only to find out it was closed. Oh well. Looking on google Maps, I see most things are closed today, so I went to the closest mall, bought a razor and and shaving cream and made myself look sort of not-homeless (30 days of no shaving, after all).
Tomorrow I’ll go get a haircut.
Caught up on my blog, read more of the books I’ve purchased, and just lounged around.
##Day 31: Also Nothing
Apparently there are two Boxing Days. I’m not really sure why - Friday was Boxing Day, but today is, too. So once more, everything is closed. No haircuts, no nothing. I mostly just walked around London (it was partly sunny today!!) and saw the Tower of London once more. Had lunch at a great burger place which was super veggie friendly, and finished my Stoicism book. I really, really like it actually. I’ve been doing a lot of philosophical thinking lately (for whatever reason), and I’m definitely going to give what this book recommends a try. I bought tickets to Stonehenge and Bath tour for the day after tomorrow, so that should be fun.
##Day 32: Becoming Human Again
It’s gotten to that point in the trip - it’s been over a month, my clothes are dirty (despite doing laundry twice so far), and I didn’t bring any toiletries (besides dental stuff) with me.
Woke up early this morning and shaved - total, clean shave. Finally.
Then got a haircut from The Legends Barbershop.
And then, by total spontaneity, decided to get waxed. I usually shave under my armpits - especially when it’s too hot. I brought far too much winter clothing with me and not nearly enough shirts. But at this point in my trip, my shirts are all too dirty and wrinkled. So I throw a sweater on top to hide everything, and voila. I look slightly less homeless. But it’s freaking 55 degrees here! I don’t wear a sweater, never mind a long sleeve shirt, in California in that weather.
And for some reason (fashion), I see Lononers wearing three or four layers.
So, in the spirit of trying out new things, even if they make me uncomfortable, I found a highly rated waxing place at Bodhi Clinic. Not going to lie, I was so embarrassed to even enter that I circled around four times just to make sure no one on the street could watch me enter. And it took me quite a bit of courage to work it up, especially thanks to movie scenes like this one.
But once I got inside, it was actually super cool. There was a really nice dude who greeted me inside, and I sat and waited while filling out some minor paperwork. I told them I just wanted to see if I even liked it since I’m trying this new thing where I force myself to have new experiences - so I’d just like under the arm pits. Supposedly, it’s not too painful there.
He asked me what I did, and he was surprisingly knowledgeable about tech stuff; he must have a lot of tech clients. I told him I did backend stuff, and he asked me what kinds of databases I worked with. I told him I mostly worked with MySQL and a proprietary key value store called Manhatten. He said “Oh, is that like Mongo but faster or something?” I was very impressed.
Eventually, I was seen by this lady. The whole thing must have taken 10 minutes or less, and it wasn’t that painful honestly. It was nowhere near screaming level and not even close to eye watering level. Most of the dull aching only started about 30 minutes afterwards. There was some super minor bleeding, but nothing major. I did walk around a bit awkwardly afterwards with my elbows bent so my pits wouldn’t touch my shirt, but after a while I eventually manned up and just walked normally.
Baby smooth pits though, so that’s a plus.
But the larger lesson, as with all new experiences, is in conquering your fear/embarrassment/pain/whatever. It’s getting you out of your comfort zone, and for me it took a lot of work. I literally circled the shop four times, and a lady asked me if I was lost in the middle. The entire time was just me psyching myself up to go and do it. So in that sense I’m definitely glad I did - at some point you just have to say “screw the haters” and do it.
That night for dinner I met up with my middle school classmate who’s now an expat and permanently residing in London! We met at Wagamama’s, which is apparently another chain like Nando’s. It’s an Asian fusion place and also very vegetarian friendly which was cool.
All in all, no longer look like a caveman and met up with an old friend. Not a bad day! (Still look homeless, though.)