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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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

Relaxing in Tangier

Wednesday, November 13, 2013 @ 6:18 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 140

I decided not to do breakfast this morning since I picked up a few things from the grocery yesterday. I didn't set my alarm either but I still woke up around 8, which is when I'd been setting my alarm anyway.

I hung out at the hotel and did a little bit of work until about 10:30 then set off to walk the beach and find some food. I went down to the big park next to the beach and sat and enjoyed some relative peacefulness. The park is next to a big roundabout so the sound of cars and honking is ever-present. My trick with wearing headphones worked well. I didn't have anyone bother me the entire day.

I wasn't really sure what I wanted for lunch so I walked around for a while before I settled on a chicken pizza. One of the main reasons I like hostels is the kitchens. It makes eating so much easier when you can make a sandwich or something else for lunch/dinner and not have to go out and find something.

I made my way back to the hotel where I read on the rooftop terrace for a while then came back to the room and messed around on my computer. By the time I was getting hungry for dinner I was hit with the same uncertainty of what I was hungry for. There isn't really too much of a diversity when it comes to actual food here. A lot of shawarma/panini/pizza combined restaurants, plus random sandwich shops that don't have any prices or ingredients listed anywhere. Without having something to base my choices, I have to avoid places like that.

After I ate another cheap pizza (nothing can come close to Naples pizza now), I was on my way back to the hotel when I passed this guy I had seen a few times selling fried dough that gets cut open and filled with honey then dipped in sugar. I wasn't 100% full from dinner so I figured I'd get one. Again, no prices or names of what it is listed anywhere, so I just pointed and gestured "1" and gave him a 20Dh bill (about $2.50 USD). I got quite a bit of change back so now I know they're not that expensive.

The treat was delicious. Imagine a really good funnel cake/elephant ear/sopapilla and you get the idea of what it was like. I ate it at the big roundabout/park near the hotel then came back. There are a few other street vendors selling desserts I want to try before I leave. I'll have to limit myself to one a night though or else I feel like I'll have a sugar overload.

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Tags: daily journal, morocco, tangier

Posted from: Morocco

Hate for the Hustlers

Hate for the Hustlers

Tuesday, November 12, 2013 @ 7:40 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 139

A bit of a rant today. I want to start off by saying that I find Tangier to be a really cool place. The culture, city and people are like nothing I've experienced before. The heavy Muslim influences in architecture and the daily prayers blasted from the mosques throughout the city 5 times day are unique and interesting. It would be great to be able to walk around, explore and soak in the feeling of the city without being constantly hassled. Hustlers (or tout's as they're called here) are a well known nuisance. Read up on this link and you'll see what the rest of this post is about: http://goafrica.about.com/od/moroccotopattractions/a/tangier_3.htm

I guess it's because I stick out like a sore thumb, but no matter where I go in the city, people are constantly coming up to me and trying to act as tour guides or ask for money. When you're in the medina and you make eye contact with a local, they see it as some sort of sign that you're in need of a guide or you're looking for help they can profit from.

It really takes the enjoyment out of walking around when you have to constantly keep your eyes ahead and completely ignore people that come up and start talking to you. As soon as you say anything to them, they see it as you agreeing to need their help. Ignoring them, they'll follow you for about 10 seconds then finally wander off.

Today I didn't really have a plan other than to walk around the medina and try to get photos of cool streets, archways and buildings. If I'd stop to enjoy a view or get off the tourist streets a bit, people immediately come up to you and start trying to lead you somewhere else. It got so frustrating that I eventually left the medina and sat in a big park for a while. Even there people see that I'm not a local and either try to sell me junk or start asking me questions.

If it was simply people curious about me as an outsider I wouldn't care one bit. I'd be more than happy to talk with the people if it was truly going to be a conversation. I've actually had good honest chats with people who are working at restaurants when I order food and the staff at the hotel. Unfortunately when someone comes up on the street it's not for idle chat.

With four full days left in Tangier, I'm trying to figure out different ways to combat all the hustling. I think tomorrow I'll plug in my earphones and walk around listening to music. Maybe if I can't hear all the people trying to get my attention then it won't bother me so much. I still want to do a little bit of souvenir shopping before I leave so I might attempt that tomorrow too.

Teaser photos:

In the medina
In the medina
View from breakfast
View from breakfast
Chilling in a park
Chilling in a park

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Tags: daily journal, morocco, tangier

Posted from: Morocco

Monday in Morocco

Monday in Morocco

Monday, November 11, 2013 @ 7:27 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 138

This morning I had another huge breakfast at the hotel. After eating I went down to the beachfront and walked along the beach for a while. I found a park on the beach and read in the shade of a tree for a while. At about noon I worked my way over to one of the new busy streets full of shops and cafes and walked along it.

The street was packed with people going about their daily business. Pretty much all the tea shops had a lot of people in them. Not wanting to miss out on another tea I found a place that had mint tea for 8 Dh and sat outside watching the busy seat while drinking it.

I hadn't really realized it but it dawned on me while drinking the tea just how much sugar and carbs I've been consuming while in Morocco. It seems like everywhere you turn there are sweet shops, honey/sugar rich pastries and tea shops selling the sugar infused mint teas. I'm not sure if it's because alcohol isn't prevalent at all here or what, but people sure do love their sweets.

I came back to the hotel and read on the rooftop for a while before coming back to the room and relaxing for a bit. When I started getting hungry for dinner I set out in search of some food. I wasn't really sure what I was craving but eventually found another shawarma shop and got the chicken shawarma plate. It came with a pita, chicken, carrots, potatoes, rice, cucumber, corn and some of the garlic sauce on top. It was really good and for the equivalent of $4.75 it was nice and filling.

I'm starting to realize how Tangier isn't really built around tourism. Sure, it caters to the cruise ships but if you're here more than a couple of days there isn't really too much new to see or do. Aside from wandering around the medina or sitting by the beach there aren't really many sights to see. I think this week in Morocco is definitely going to help me refill my quota of relaxation and alone time, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do tomorrow yet, but I'll probably start working my way deeper into the medina and just enjoy getting lost in all of the small streets.

Teaser photos:

Tajines perfect for serving jam, honey, cubes of butter and olive oil
Tajines perfect for serving jam, honey, cubes of butter and olive oil
Tangier beach
Tangier beach
Me at the Tangier beach
Me at the Tangier beach

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Tags: daily journal, morocco, tangier

Posted from: Morocco

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