BrandonoBrien.com

Brandon O'Brien

Travel and Adventure Journal

I wanted a place to journal all my travels and adventures around the world. I always enjoy going back and reflecting on my past travels and getting to relive them through my words and photos.

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Visiting the beach on a cold and windy day

Visiting the beach on a cold and windy day

Saturday, November 23, 2013 @ 9:00 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 150

The weather is finally too cold to really enjoy time out by the beach but I wanted to go see it anyway. After breakfast, lunch and answering some emails I set off to the beach. It was about a 3.5 mile walk from the hostel to the beach but the walk was pretty nice with some good pedestrian friendly streets.

I got down to the beach and it was blowing sand around quite a bit and it was only about 60 degrees outside. You can tell the beach would be a great place to relax if the weather was nice though. The beach was huge! Unlike some beaches where there's hardly any sand before the water, this beach has tons and tons of sand.

On the way back I stopped by the Mercadona market and bought some skirt steak to use in more fajitas tonight. I still had some leftover peppers and onion from last night so I cooked it all up with the meat and it all tasted really good. It made me really miss the southwest and the plethora of good Mexican spices we have access to.

The hostel has been overrun this weekend with study abroad kids in college so it's making me feel a little older than normal being surrounded by kids 19-20 years old who are constantly talking about what courses they're taking. I think most of them will probably leave tomorrow afternoon though to get back to whatever city they're studying in.

Teaser photos:

Really popular frozen yogurt, Llaollao
Really popular frozen yogurt, Llaollao

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Tags: daily journal, spain, valencia

Posted from: Spain

A working day

Friday, November 22, 2013 @ 10:06 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 149

Not much to report today. I dedicated most of today to catching up on some work. I knocked out a few updates to ClearCheckbook and got a new development environment set up for the CCB Android app.

I did run out to go to the grocery store and the mercado central again. I was in the mood for some fajitas so I bought some peppers and an onion and some tortillas. I still had some chicken left over from last night so I used that as well as some asada spices I bought at the grocery. When I was cooking them up for dinner a guy from Mexico let me use some of his chipotle sauce which added some much needed heat to the fajitas.

I didn't go up the big tower today but I still plan on doing that before I leave. It's getting cold enough outside where you can't really just sit in a park or public area and relax. It's a bit of a shame because Valencia has some really nice plazas which would be great for hanging out if it was warmer. I feel like the motivation and energy I had at the beginning of the trip to go out and explore every day has definitely subsided a bit, although that's not really bad either since I feel like I'm getting to know each city I'm at now a lot more than I had other places.

Everyone I've talked to has been saying how cold Madrid has been. I'm dreading going up there in the middle of December. I feel like I'm going to freeze since I don't really have much as far as cold weather gear goes. I guess I'll have to double up my light jacket and rain jacket to act as a make-shift winter coat.

Tags: daily journal, spain, valencia

Posted from: Spain

Walking to the Arts and Science buildings

Walking to the Arts and Science buildings

Thursday, November 21, 2013 @ 9:47 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 148

After breakfast I went back to the Mercado Central and bought some apples, oranges, chicken, asparagus and a potato for lunch/dinner. I came back, ate some of the delicious oranges and an apple and then had a sandwich and some leftover paella from last lunch yesterday.

I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do and didn't really have anything in mind. Since it was a nice day out I decided I'd walk down to the Arts and Sciences area along the Jardines del Turia which is a giant park that surrounds the city in what used to be a river that was dammed and diverted. The parkway is full of runners, bicyclists, walkers, people enjoying picnics and other activities.

The arts and sciences area is really neat looking with all of the buildings having some crazy architecture with reflecting ponds everywhere. It feels like you're walking through a futuristic city the way it's all laid out. I got down there and took some photos then turned around and came back to the hostel.

Back at the hostel I just talked with other travelers and read until I started getting hungry for dinner. For dinner I made some chicken, patatas bravas and asparagus with garlic. There was some curry powder at the hostel so I used that with the chicken and everything turned out really good. After dinner I had a couple beers that I also bought at the market.

This hostel is really good as far as long term travelers who like to sit around and talk about their trip so far so I spend a lot of time down in the lobby talking with them and sharing experiences and places visited. Of most of the people here, I've been traveling the longest which is pretty cool. It seems like most people are also wrapping up their trip in December to be back home for the holidays.

I think tomorrow I'll go up one of the towers here to get some good views of the city. Apparently they're really nice just before sunset.

Teaser photos:

The arts building
The arts building
Torres de Serranos
Torres de Serranos
Science center
Science center
Cool trees
Cool trees

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Tags: daily journal, spain, valencia

Posted from: Spain

Walking tour, paella and cheap tapas in Valencia

Walking tour, paella and cheap tapas in Valencia

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 @ 9:46 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 147

I took some cold meds last night before bed and ended up sleeping until 10am today. I was pretty shocked but woke up feeling pretty good. My voice is almost gone but that and some slight soreness are all that's left. I ate a quick breakfast and then went to the Mercado Central across the street and walked around. It seems a lot like La Boqueria in Barcelona but there's a lot less tourists walking around and the market is a lot larger. I'm going to go back tomorrow and buy some oranges, apples and probably some shrimp that I can cook up for dinner.

After I checked that out, I came back and made a quick sandwich before heading out to the free walking tour. It met at the Plaza de la Virgen which is just behind the big Valencia Cathedral. There were a bunch of school kids with huge measuring tapes trying to measure the size of the plaza. It was pretty funny to watch them completely block flow of the area by walking measuring tape across it.

The tour ended up being only myself and four others from the hostel so it was a nice small group. The guide lead us around the old city pointing out the history of some of the buildings as well as the history of Valencia itself. It wasn't quite as informative as I thought it would be but it was still pretty good.

Once the tour ended, our group went back to the hostel then went out and found some take-away paella from a place around the corner. I got some Paella Valenciana and Arroz de Banda. Both were pretty good but between the two I think I liked the Valenciana better. Everyone else got random types and everyone had their preferences on what they thought was best.

We all kinda went our separate ways for a few hours with the plan to meet up later to get some cheap tapas and beer. I hung out at the hostel and did some work and finished my book then relaxed in the lobby and talked with some of the other travelers for a while.

When everyone met up around 7:30 we set out and found a place where everything on the menu, including beers, was 1 euro each. You fill out paper with what you want, bring it up to a counter and pay for it, then they call your name when its ready. I got a few different types of sandwiches and a beer. They weren't really typical tapas, more just sandwiches but they were still really good. My favorite was a tortilla sandwich (tortilla being an egg/potato/onion cake, not the mexican style flour or corn tortilla). On the way back to the hostel I got some of the pumpkin donuts. They weren't fresh out of the fryer which made them not as good as I was expecting. I'll have to try some when I see them being made fresh.

Some of the other guys were going to head out and get more tapas then go to a big club but I declined on that since I'm still fighting the end of this cold. I think tomorrow I should be back to normal again which will be nice.

Teaser photos:

Plaza de la Virgen in Valencia
Plaza de la Virgen in Valencia
Mercado Central
Mercado Central
Cool balcony gardens
Cool balcony gardens
Statue but no one knows who it is
Statue but no one knows who it is

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Tags: daily journal, spain, valencia

Posted from: Spain

Leaving the gloomy weather in Barcelona for Valencia

Leaving the gloomy weather in Barcelona for Valencia

Tuesday, November 19, 2013 @ 8:59 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 146

I went to bed pretty early last night so I wouldn't be tempted to sleep in this morning. I got up around 7:30, packed up, ate a quick breakfast and then set off for the metro station. Fortunately it wasn't raining this morning so I didn't get wet walking to the station but it was definitely chilly and looked like it was probably going to rain a little later.

I was a little worried about taking the metro to the train station since I hadn't used Barcelona's metro system in the 2 weeks I stayed there. The train station was a little too far to comfortably walk, and for 2 euros the metro would get me right there. I've been dealing with public transportation all over Europe so the Barcelona metro system wasn't really that much different.

I paid for my ticket and made my way to the L3 line that would take me to the station. A train showed up as soon as I got to the track and after 8 stops I was at the train station. I had to work my way around the underground metro station to finally get to the train station but the signs were well marked.

I got to the train station about an hour before my train departed and waited around for a bit before they started collecting tickets. This is the first time I've had to get my ticket scanned before boarding the train. Usually they check once you're on board but maybe they've had issues in the past with people getting on without having tickets.

The train ride was comfortable enough. It took about 3 hours and we got to pass through some amazing countryside. There were all kinds of farms and some mountainous areas we passed through. I could definitely see some of the architecture that influenced New Mexico in the areas I was passing through.

Once in Valencia I got off the train and was greeted with bright blue skies and warm enough weather I didn't need my jacket. I stopped at an information desk and picked up a map and figured out how to get to my hostel. Along the way I stopped and got a sandwich for lunch and then made my way to the hostel.

Even just walking around from the train station to the hostel, Valencia has a much different feel than Barcelona. Valencia just feels older and much more compact, although it still has that nice feel of not being a huge city. I'm definitely going to enjoy the week I'm spending here.

After settling into the hostel I went out to do a little exploring. I aimlessly walked around for a while then went to a pharmacy to get some medicine for my cold. I went in and said I have a sore throat (in Spanish) as well as a cough. She brought back some cough syrup and some ibuprofen. Everything was behind the counter and I had no idea how much it was going to cost. When she brought both out I was thinking it was going to cost a lot but only ended up being 7 euros. Cheap medicine in Spain!

I came back to the hostel and took some of the cold meds and read for a while. I also ran out and picked up a few groceries to hold me over for the week. I only got some of the essentials since there's a huge fruit/meat/vegetable market across the street from the hostel that I want to check out tomorrow. It looks like it'll be similar to La Boqueria in Barcelona.

At 7:00 I decided to go out and find some paella since around lunch time I saw paella stands everywhere. When I went out tonight most of the places didn't have their paella on display. I guess it's more of a lunch dish than a dinner dish. I found a place near the hostel that was selling paella and bought some paella Valenciana (the local version with chicken or rabbit) and brought it back to the hostel to eat. The paella was good and I'm looking forward to trying more throughout the week.

There's a free walking tour every day that starts at noon so I'm going to check that out tomorrow. It'll be nice to get a general overview of the city so I will have a better idea of where to explore throughout the week. There's also an 8 euro paella tour every day that I might check out. In the short time I've bee in Valencia, I'm really liking the city.

Teaser photos:

View from the balcony in my room
View from the balcony in my room
Old city gate
Old city gate
Plaza de la Reina
Plaza de la Reina
Paella cooking equipment are for sale everywhere
Paella cooking equipment are for sale everywhere

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Tags: daily journal, spain, valencia, barcelona

Posted from: Spain

Rain all day

Monday, November 18, 2013 @ 7:07 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 145

I didn't really do much today. I battled the rain and went to the grocery store this morning to pick up food for today and tomorrow morning. After that I came back and cooked some chicken, broccoli, asparagus and bell pepper and had that for lunch. I read for a while and then made the same thing for dinner.

It would have been nice if it hadn't been raining today so I could have gone out and walked around a bit more but it was a steady rain all day. Tomorrow I catch a train to Valencia at 10am so I need to figure out how to get there in the morning. Apparently I just need to get on the metro and it will take me pretty close to the train station.

It looks like the weather in Valencia should be in the mid 60's and no rain for the next few days which will be nice. I'll be in Valencia for 7 nights before heading to Seville.

Tags: daily journal, spain, barcelona

Posted from: Spain

Back in Barcelona

Sunday, November 17, 2013 @ 7:45 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 144

I left Tangier this morning and made it back to Barcelona where I was greeted by cold weather and rain. When I first got to Tangier I took out 1,800 Dh (about $225 USD) thinking that's about how much I'd need for taxis to/from the airport and food for the week. Well, last night I counted up how much I had left and it came to 1,000 Dh. Basically, Tangier was way cheaper than I thought it would be.

I paid 800 Dh in cash at checkout from the hotel then used my card for the rest. I'm glad it worked out that way so I didn't have to mess with exchanging money back to Euros. After checking out I hunted for a taxi but the area where the taxis have been all week was completely empty. I walked around for a while and could only find the small "petit taxis" that don't go to the airport. Eventually I saw a passengerless taxi drive by and flagged him down. I kept 200 for the taxi ride to the airport but the guy only charged 100.

After checking into my flight and getting through security, I had to blow my leftover 100 Dh that would soon be worthless in Spain so I bought a big bag of crunchy M&Ms, a coffee and a pain au chocolat. The boarding processes for all the airlines I've flown in Europe and Morocco have no real order. They say boarding begins and it's just a massive line with no priority or anything like that. Nothing like the in the States where there are 20 different priority and boarding levels.

Vueling Airlines that I flew back to Spain on is a bit of a ripoff when it comes to food and drink. Flying to Morocco on Royal Air Maroc was great. They gave free drinks, coffee and even a small meal. Vueling wanted money for everything. I just ate a few of my M&Ms and refused to buy anything else.

We had a bit of turbulence but nothing too bad. When we got to Barcelona the weather was cold but at least it wasn't raining. I got on the Aerobus back to Plaza Catalunya and walked to the hostel. It was nice being back in familiar territory again. Having been here for 12 nights before going to Morocco I really got a feel for walking around the city.

I checked into the hostel and read for a bit then decided to go run and get some stuff for dinner. It had started to rain and hasn't stopped since. It's supposed to be like this all night and all day tomorrow too. I had some pasta for dinner and the hostel is also doing another paella night tonight so I'll probably have some of that as well later.

It's nice to be back in Spain even though the weather isn't great right now. I've got exactly a month to go before I catch my flight back to the States. I'm pretty sure these next 30 days are going to blow by. I'll be in Barcelona for two nights before I head down to Valencia which is also on the coast a little farther south of here.

Tags: daily journal, spain, barcelona

Posted from: Spain

Last day in Morocco

Saturday, November 16, 2013 @ 6:27 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 143

It seems like my time in Tangier has come and gone in the blink of an eye. While Morocco has been completely different than anywhere else I've visited on this trip, it's been interesting to see a completely different culture in action. This is also the first place I've visited this trip where I can go almost an entire day without seeing any tourists. It's a much more "immersive" feel compared to every other city I've been to on this trip.

I slept pretty well last night after going to bed really early. After eating a quick breakfast in the room I went out for a cafe au lait at the Cafe Paris again. I had the coffee and read there for about an hour. The place was starting to fill up so I left so other people could use my table.

I read by a nice overlook on the main street for a while before heading down to the Comedia restaurant I ate at yesterday to have lunch. Today I had tajine chicken with fries, a little olive salad and some orange juice. I'm not an olive fan, but it seems like people here in Morocco put them on or with everything. Since they were there I had a few. I liked the brown ones the best, then green and black the least.

Once I finished lunch I came back to the hotel to read and relax for a bit. I talked to my parents for a while and then got ready to head out for dinner. I went to a place down the street and got "super shawarma". Apparently super meant it came with salad and fries. I know they say to avoid the salads but I hadn't had any real greenery in a while so I ate it. I didn't get sick from the salad I had the first night here so I took my chances. So far so good.

On the way back from dinner I got another one of those freshly fried and sweet filled donuts. Today they were filling them with some kind of apricot jam. I liked the honey mixture they used the other day better but it was still really good.

My flight tomorrow doesn't leave until about 11:30am so I don't really need to rush. I'll probably catch a cab between 8:30 and 9am which should give me plenty of time to get to the airport and get through security. It'll be nice to get back to Spain where I don't feel quite so alienated. Being able to understand signs in Spanish and having the faded memory of Spanish classes from high school makes it a lot easier to go out and get around. The mix of Arabic and French here is really tough.

Tags: daily journal, morocco, tangier

Posted from: Morocco

Hanging around Tangier

Hanging around Tangier

Friday, November 15, 2013 @ 5:46 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 142

After dinner last night I started to feel the onset of a sore throat. I went to bed but was tossing and turning all night. I finally got up around 9am and ate a quick breakfast. I was content with not really doing much today so my body could fight the sore throat. Fortunately my throat doesn't feel as bad but I've got a bit of a headache now.

I worked on ClearCheckbook until about 11 then went out to find some food. I had passed by a place the other day that looked pretty busy and the prices were pretty reasonable so I went in there for lunch. They had a chicken couscous dish as the daily special so I ordered that. It came in a tajine and was served with some chicken broth that you ladle over the couscous/veggie/chicken mixture. They also gave me some kind of really thin yogurt in a glass and a little olive salad. I'm still not huge on olives so I didn't try that. The yogurt drink was alright, but a little sour for my tastes.

I went to various areas and read and relaxed for the next couple of hours. I'd alternate between sitting in the sun, the shade, and various sitting areas around town. By about 3:30 I knew I wanted to start my journey back to the hotel. I swung by a little bakery and got some kind of sweet roll for tomorrow's breakfast then went and picked up some more apples before swinging by a pizza place I read about online.

The pizza was alright, but not for the price. It'll be nice to get back to Spain where I have a wider variety of food choices and a kitchen to make what I want. I think that's part of the reason I'm getting a little sick... lack of healthy food for the last week.

The forecast for tomorrow is calling for a little bit of rain so we'll see how that plays out. I still might try to do a little souvenir shopping too. The only downside is that I'll have to carry anything I buy with me for the next month since shipping costs are so outrageous.

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Tags: daily journal, morocco, tangier

Posted from: Morocco

Staying Caffeinated in Tangier

Thursday, November 14, 2013 @ 6:37 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 141

Even though I haven't been setting an alarm, I've still been waking up within a few minutes of 8am. I didn't have any plans again today so I stayed at the hotel until about 10:30am when I set out to find a cafe to hang out at.

All week I've seen people drinking this really light brown drink at the cafes around town and they always looked thick and delicious. I wasn't sure what the actual drink was so I went to the Cafe Paris today (directly across from the French Embassy) and took a wild guess. I ordered a cafe au lait. My guess was right. They bring out a glass cup filled about 1/3 of the way with strong coffee and then they have a small pot of hot milk that they fill the remainder of the glass with in front of you.

I'm not sure if it's the coffee, the amount of milk, the type of milk, or what, but it's some of the best coffee I've had all trip. I sat at the cafe and drank the coffee and people watched for a while. I'm not sure who I was sitting next to, but the guy seemed to know everyone on the streets. People would come by and sit down and talk with him for a few minutes then carry on with whatever they were doing.

I started to get hungry so I left to go find some food. Unfortunately the place I wanted to eat wasn't open yet so I found a quiet spot to read for a while. I was craving another coffee so before lunch I went to a different cafe and got another cafe au lait which tasted just as good as the first one.

For lunch I had another shawarma meal from the same place as a few days ago. I went back to the quiet reading spot and read for a while longer before going to a nearby grocery and picking up some bread, cheese, ham and other random items for dinner. I also bought another 5L jug of water which should hold me over the rest of the trip here.

Back at the hotel I've just been reading, working and eating. The sandwich was pretty good but I'm starting to crave vegetables. Without a kitchen it's really hard to prepare anything remotely healthy. They also say to stay away from the salads here because the water used to wash the lettuce can cause stomach issues. I guess I got lucky with the salad I had the first night I was here.

Teaser photos:

Cafe au lait at Cafe Paris in Tangier
Cafe au lait at Cafe Paris in Tangier
Cafe au lait at Cafe Paris in Tangier
Cafe au lait at Cafe Paris in Tangier

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Tags: daily journal, morocco, tangier

Posted from: Morocco

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