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Back in the USA

Wednesday, December 18, 2013 @ 02:07 pm from United States United States
Wow, what a day. I'm writing this a day late because yesterday was such a mess that I didn't even have time to compose a post.

It started off fine. I had a big continental breakfast at the hotel, did the final packing of my bag and then caught the free hotel shuttle to the Madrid airport. There was no one at security so I got through that pretty quick. I had 5 euros left in my pocket so I bought a sprite and some Jamon Ruffles (the ham flavored ones) so my family could try them when I got home.

I showed up to the gate and hung around for a while. When it was time for boarding to start, they told us that there was a maintenance issue on the aircraft and they'd get back with us soon. About forty-five minutes later they finally said whatever the issue had been was fixed and they started letting us board.

I got my window seat and fortunately the plane wasn't full so I had the entire row to myself (to start with at least). When we finally got into the air, the pilot came on the speakers and said there was a strong headwind so we probably wouldn't get into JFK until about 2:30pm (we were originally supposed to land at 1:15pm). My flight to Indy left at 3... not good. Anyone who's dealt with customs in the States knows that unless you've got at least an hour and a half to get through customs and back through security you're not going to make your flight.

We were served a really nice lunch and then I got a small bottle of wine since they were free. After they cleaned up the meal service some lady asked if she could sit in my row since no one else was. I said sure, then she asked if she could lay down in the two open seats. WTF? I was in a bit of a crappy mood due to a few nights of bad sleep so I just gave her this look of "are you freaking kidding me?" but said fine, whatever. The rest of the flight I had this woman next to me who kept trying to sleep but failing at it.

I was really hoping we'd get into JFK earlier than predicted but we didn't. We touched down around 2:15 and as soon as I got off the plane they were asking people with connections to go see a guy who would handle it. A lot of people got passes to get through security quicker but since my connection was too close they rebooked me on a flight to Indy (via Charlotte) from LaGuardia airport (about a 45 minute bus ride away).

They forgot to print off my bus voucher to transfer airports so I got rushed through customs and got my voucher and waited around for the bus to LGA. Meanwhile, it's snowing / raining pretty heavily and flights are getting canceled left and right. On the bus to LGA I checked the new flight I was scheduled for and it was already marked as canceled. Great.

I got to LaGuardia and went to the desk and fortunately they booked me on a Delta flight that was scheduled to leave at 9:15pm (it was only about 4:15 right now). There was a 6:15pm flight on Delta as well but the gate agent said the standby list was full. Bummer.

I got through security and figured I'd go to the gate of the 6:15 flight anyway and see if there was any way I could get on it. With the way my day had been going I really didn't want to stick around until 9:15 only to find out my flight was delayed or canceled again (plus it wasn't scheduled to get in to Indy until 11:30pm assuming everything was 100% on time).

I waited at the desk for about 45 minutes until a gate agent showed up a few minutes before boarding. I asked if I could be put on the standby list and she said I was #1 on the list. I guess the original person misread something because the list was empty. I was about to go get some food thinking there's no way I'd get on the flight but as soon as I started walking away they said that everyone on standby was cleared for the flight!

By now I'd already been awake for 17 hours and being on a flight with Indianapolis as the destination was great. What could go wrong now? Well, remember all the snow and rain I mentioned earlier? There was an hour and a half backup with the de-icers at the airport so we didn't actually leave until 8:15pm (2 hours after we boarded the flight). Apparently they can't schedule you for de-icing until the flight has already boarded.

Anyway, we were finally in the air! I tried to sleep but I was too whacked out from the stress of the day to really have that happen. We finally touched down in Indy around 10pm. I'd been up for about 20 hours by now.

I met my parents and we drove home. I don't think Canyon was expecting to see me. My beard and no smells she was used to really confused her. I ate a really late dinner and then got situated for bed. I finally fell asleep around 12:30am, 23.5 hours since I first got up in Madrid.

13 hours of sitting on planes, 2 canceled flights, 2 delayed flights and 4 airports later I was back in Indy. What a day and an absolutely crazy way to end what was such a great adventure in Europe.

Thanks everyone for following along during my 6 months of travel. Over the next few days as I mentally digest the trip I'll be posting more thoughts, stats, favorites, least favorites, etc of the trip.

Last night of the trip!

Monday, December 16, 2013 @ 06:54 pm from Spain Spain
Day 173

Its hard to believe that 173 days ago I arrived in Dublin, Ireland with 6 months in Europe ahead of me. With only the first 5 nights booked and a return flight scheduled I worked my way through some great places and met a lot of great people.

At times it felt like the trip would never end and at others it felt like the days were flying by. It'll take me a while to digest everything I've seen and done this trip once I get back but I'm really glad I took the chance to forget about "real life" for 6 months and simply experience new cultures, food, environments and people.

After the stolen laptop ordeal yesterday, I couldn't get it out of my mind and mix in the emotions of the trip coming to an end I didn't sleep well at all last night. Today I came to the hotel near the airport and checked in and have been spending my last day in some much needed alone time. its also helping me look back on the trip.

For dinner I went out and had one final doner kebap (which fortunately was absolutely delicious). I've grown fond of these extremely cheap and filling meals. the closest I've seen to them in the states are Greek gyros. I'm back at the hotel now and will try to head to bed early. I have a little wine to finish that I didn't drink last night due to the stress.

Tomorrow morning I'll eat breakfast and head to the airport for my 10:35am flight!

Laptop stolen today

Sunday, December 15, 2013 @ 09:40 pm from Spain Spain
Day 172

I'm writing this post from my phone because some time between 2:25pm and 6:15pm today my laptop was stolen from the locker in my hostel room. I noticed the door was a little weird today but didn't think anything of it.

I spent the morning checking out free museums and got back to the hostel around 1 this afternoon. I was using my computer until I left just before 2:30 to check out the Reina Sofia and Prado museums, both of which were free this afternoon. I got back around 6:15 and went to get my computer from my locker. I thought maybe I was losing my mind and already took it out. I checked everywhere and found my bag of cables kicked under the bed. The laptop adapter was missing from it.

I told the office and there wasn't really anything they could do. We know who it was but the person is long gone by now. I spent a while changing all my passwords so at least I should be safe that way. All my photos were backed up to Google, although not in full resolution.

I really don't like this place but its too late to change plans tonight. I booked a hotel at the airport for tomorrow night. I already had a strong dislike for Madrid before this happened. This just put the icing on the cake for me.

On the bright side, my passport wasn't taken and I had my camera and phone with me. I guess I'll be keeping an eye out for after Christmas laptop deals now.

Masses of people everywhere

Saturday, December 14, 2013 @ 11:14 pm from Spain Spain
Day 171

After breakfast I started the second walking route that's listed in one of the tourist guides I was given when I checked into the hostel. This route went over to Parque del Retiro via the Plaza de Cibeles, then down to the Reina Sofia Museum, up to the Neptune fountain and then through the Literary quarter before ending up back near the hostel.

I started walking around 10:30 and already the streets were full of people. The Plaza de Cibeles was nice and then it lead to the Puerta de Alcala which was pretty cool to see. I ended up back at the Retiro park and fortunately today the weather was a lot nicer than yesterday. I spent some time there walking around before heading back to the Paseo del Prado (via some streetside bookstalls).

Back at the Neptune fountain I doubled back into the Literary Quarter which is full of small streets lined with cafes, bookshops and restaurants. It ended up at the Spanish Theater before I cut back up to the Puerta del Sol.

I bought a few things for lunch then came back to the hostel to eat. Since the hostel doesn't have an oven or a range I'm pretty limited in my cooking. I found some microwavable lasagna that didn't turn out too bad. After lunch I decided to hit up a free museum and went down to the Museo de los Origines. It was a big museum full of artifacts for the history of Madrid going all the way back to prehistoric times.

It was nice being in the museum because it was completely empty. I went at the Spanish lunch time so everyone was out eating and drinking and I had the museum to myself. It was one of the few times today when I wouldn't be completely surrounded by people.

After the museum I went down to the Puerta de Toledo (another big archway in the middle of a roundabout), but it wasn't nearly as impressive as the Puerta de Alacala. My plan was to walk all the way over to the Reina Sofia museum and try to hit it while it was free but I wrote down the wrong free times for Saturday. I ended up being a few hours early so I came back to the hostel. I'm planning on making tomorrow a "free museum" day so I'll aim to hit it then.

I've got a full room at the hostel tonight which I wasn't really expecting. Before dinner the streets really started to fill up and I looked outside the little balcony out the hostel bedroom window and the streets were absolutely packed. I don't really like crowds and having this many people out on the streets was not something that looked like fun for me.

I read for a while and then made dinner. After some wine I decided to heck with it, I'd head out and work my way through the crowds and aimlessly wander around. The streets were extremely packed and I ended up walking around several christmas markets and christmas light filled streets before coming back to the hostel just before 11pm.

Like I said earlier, there are a bunch of museums that are free tomorrow so I'm planning on spending most of the day visiting them. Then on Monday I'm still planning on heading to Toledo to check out the old Spanish capital city and to get out of the madhouse that's Madrid for the day.
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Palacio de Cibeles
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Parque del Retiro
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In the Museo de los Origines

Some exploring in Madrid

Friday, December 13, 2013 @ 06:31 pm from Spain Spain
Day 170

I walked around quite a bit today exploring various parts of the city. I went over to the Royal Palace and up to Plaza Espana (which was actually filled with some kind of setup for Christmas). I walked to the San Miguel market and then back to the hostel. The San Miguel market is supposedly famous for all of its tapas. It seemed pretty touristy and everything was priced higher than it should have been. It was still nice to see and smell all the different tapas though.

After lunch I wanted to check out the big indoor fruit, vegetable and meat market called Mercado de la Cebada. It was along the same lines as La Boqueria in Barcelona and Mercado Central in Valencia, except I feel like both of those were better. This one was two floors but most of the booth spaces were empty. I'm not sure if it's more populated on different days of the week but it didn't really have the same liveliness that the others did.

On the way back I picked up a box of Turron (a type of candy that's really popular around here for the holidays). The box I got wasn't actually that good. If I can find some that tastes as good as the first one I had back in Cordoba I'm definitely bringing some back to the states. The stuff I bought was oily and didn't really have much flavor.

After that I walked over to Parque del Retiro, a gigantic park on the west side of the city. Unfortunately when I got there the weather was turning south and it was starting to sprinkle rain. The park would have been great to walk around in during some nice weather. I'll probably go back later in the week if the sun is out for a while.

On the way back to the hostel the rain persisted and it's been raining the rest of the day. I've just been hanging out in the hostel for the last few hours and don't really have any desire to head out into the cold and get rained on tonight. Unfortunately this hostel doesn't have a lounge area to hang out in so I'm just chilling in my room.

I'm a bit sad that I'm ending my journey here in Madrid. Every Spanish city I've been to so far has been awesome. Madrid is just a huge city filled with massive amounts of people, trash, beggars, prostitutes, and "cash for gold" people everywhere you turn. I really wish I would have spent more time down in southern Spain and then spent a night or two here before flying out. I feel like 5 nights here in Madrid is going to feel like a long time.
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Symbol of Madrid
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Madrid's Royal Palace
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Cool trees in parque del retiro

My last stop on this trip... Madrid

Thursday, December 12, 2013 @ 07:40 pm from Spain Spain
Day 169

I made it to my last stop of the trip, Madrid! The bus ride from Cordoba to Madrid was pretty uneventful. It took about 5 hours after some heavy traffic outside Madrid. I walked around a bit but it started to get dark so I bought some groceries and came back to the hostel.

After I eat dinner I'll probably head out and do a little bit of exploring at night since it seems pretty lively with all the Christmas events and decorations everywhere. Tomorrow I'll hit a few of the main sights and I'm thinking maybe on Monday I'll head down to Toledo for the day, assuming it's not too much of a pain to get to/from.

Las Ermitas de Cordoba

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 @ 06:00 pm from Spain Spain
Day 168

Today I went on a hike with one of the guys who works at the hostel and one other guest. We went up to Las Ermitas de Cordoba, an old area where monks could come and dedicate their lives to God. It was about a 2 hour hike to get to the hermitage. Our guide was really into birding so we stopped several times along the way to look through his binoculars at different types of birds.

The trail we were taking was also part of an old Roman road. It's completely destroyed now due to time but you can still see some of the foundations and some of the flat stones used as the pavement. We also tried some little berries growing naturally along the trail. I'm not sure what they're called but they tasted like a really mild banana.

When we started getting closer to the hermitage a German Shepherd started following us. Apparently it has been following other groups throughout the day. It had a collar and everything and seemed comfortable enough, but no one knew who the owner was.

The hermitage was pretty cool. There were thirteen little buildings where monks used to live. Each one had a garden area, a small bedroom and a very tiny kitchen. There's also an old chapel that's pretty ornately decorated. Javier, our guide, made a Spanish tortilla and brought some cheese, ham and bread for lunch. The tortilla was really good. I'm going to need to learn how to make it when I get back. We ate and overlooked the city of Cordoba and relaxed in the nice views for a while before heading back into the city.

We almost missed a bus to take us back into the city center but ended up jogging a bit to get to the next stop and got on. The bus dropped us off a few minutes from the hostel which was nice. Since getting back I've just been working. I leave for Madrid, my last city on this trip, tomorrow morning. Tonight I'll go out and get something to eat and pack up so I'll be ready to go in the morning.
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Cordoba from La Ermita
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Cork trees
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Inside the chapel at the hermitage
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Old Roman road

Mental relaxation day

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 @ 09:02 pm from Spain Spain
Day 167

After doing a bunch of walking, drinking, eating and sight seeing yesterday I decided to take today pretty easy. I went out in search of some souvenirs but two of the places I wanted to go to were both closed. I went back to the Zoco artists area and picked up a ceramic cooking spoon holder for myself (one of those you set the spoon on while cooking so it doesn't get sauce and junk all over your stovetop).

I got a few things from the grocery for lunch and dinner and then aside from a few little walks around the local area I've pretty much stayed in the hostel. I've watched some shows on my computer and answered some work emails.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow. We're meeting at 9:45am at the hostel and we'll do a couple hour hike to a hermitage of some sort, have lunch and then come back. The guy who helps run the hostel is leading the hike and says there are some really good views of the city from where we'll be.

At this time exactly one week from now I'll be touching down at the JFK airport before making the last leg of the trip back to Indy! It's crazy to think that I've been over here traveling around for nearly 6 months now. At certain times it's felt like time has gone slowly but at others it seems like it's gone by really fast. I feel like this last week in Spain is going to absolutely fly by.

Getting up early to see the Mezquita

Monday, December 9, 2013 @ 06:15 pm from Spain Spain
Day 166

Never one to turn down a way to save money, I got up early this morning so I could make it to the Mezquita by 8:30am when they open the doors for an hour for free admission. Otherwise, It's 8 euros to enter and walk around the mosque-turned-cathedral.

Getting out early was definitely worth it. First, I went and got a few shots of the tower at sunrise from a few spots and then entered the Mezquita. The original mosque was started in 784 and then in 1236 it was converted into a cathedral. Elements of the original mosque are still present and mixed with the christian cathedral. It's a really cool mix of architecture and design.

The entire cathedral is covered in these really cool brickwork arches that make for some really cool views when you see a bunch of them in the distance. I walked around for about 45 minutes taking photos and admiring the views before heading back to the hostel to eat breakfast and get some coffee.

I hung out at the hostel for a couple hours and then set out to look for a few places I was recommended to see. The first was a local artists coop that sells prints from artists all over Andalucia. I didn't buy anything but I think I'll go back later tonight when it's open again (crazy Spanish hours) and pick up a piece of artwork for home.

I was getting pretty hungry and the map I've been using mentioned a place to get some really good hotdogs. Hotdogs seem to be pretty popular down here and most places sell tiny ones as tapas. This place, Lucas bar, supposedly has the best. I went and ordered the perrito completo (mustard, mayo, ketchup and onions) and a cana (25cl beer). The bun isn't a normal bun, but more like a baguette cut in half and then a hole drilled in the middle and it's jammed on these heating rods. All of the toppings are put in there with the hotdog. It makes for a pretty compact and easy to eat meal. I'm not a fan of mayo or mustard but figured "when in Rome". It ended up being pretty good.

After that I went to a local winery called Bodegas Guzman that sells €1 glasses of their local Montilla Moriles wine. I had a glass then decided to get a small tapa with my second glass. I wasn't really sure what to get so I randomly picked chorizo al vino (spicy sausage cooked in wine). It was really tasty. After those two glasses I left to go back to the hostel. Along the way I made one more detour into another place giving away free tapas with each drink and got a "tubo" (33cl) of beer with some patatas bravas.

Being sufficiently stuffed and a bit tipsy I came back to the hostel for a mini siesta. I showered, answered some emails and watched some shows on my computer. I'll probably head out again in an hour or so to check out the art store again and then get something light for dinner.

I was originally planning on heading to Granada tomorrow but after doing more research yesterday, it's a huge pain in the butt to get everything done in one day. The bus would get me into Granada around noon, but the tickets to the Alhambra are only morning or afternoon, so I'd have to either rush to the Alhambra for the morning admission or feel rushed at the end of the day to get through it and to the bus if I chose the afternoon admission. I'd rather go there when I can spend a few days to explore the city and not feel rushed the whole time.

Now that I have an extra day here, I'm not sure what I'll do. There are still more things to check out so I'll probably just wander around town tomorrow sampling tapas and more wine and drinks. Not a bad way to spend the end of my trip!
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Arches in the Mezquita
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The bell tower at sunrise
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Part of the old mosque in the Mezquita
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Barrels of Montilla Moriles wine at Bodegas Guzman

Cordoba's Jewish Quarter, Giant Tortillas and Tiny Streets

Sunday, December 8, 2013 @ 06:09 pm from Spain Spain
Day 165

The hostel has a bucket of oranges and a juicer sitting out every morning so today I made myself some fresh squeezed orange juice with my breakfast. I mostly worked until around 11:15 when I headed out to do some exploring.

First up was the Pepe Espaliu art center. He was a modern artist from Cordoba who worked with paintings as well as sculptures. The museum was free so I figured I'd check it out. It wasn't too big but there were some interesting works there.

Next, I followed one of the suggested walking routes through the Jewish Quarter. There's an old synagogue there where you can go in for free and see some of the remaining 14th century synagogue. It was a pretty small building but fortunately there weren't too many people in there. Some of the designs were very intricate and looked really nice.

There's also a really cool artist plaza with all kinds of local arts and crafts for sale. I'm going to head back later in the week and possibly get some souvenirs to bring back home. The walls of the plaza are all lined with flowers sitting in blue buckets. It's a pretty cool sight to see.

The walking route went around some of the old walls of the city then I cut back toward the Mezquita since I was getting hungry. I read about this place called Santo's Bar that makes some giant tortillas (the spanish potato omelette). It was way too packed inside to try and take a photo of one of the full tortillas but imagine a slightly smashed basketball and you'll get an idea of the size of them. The slices you order for 2 euros come like slices of cake. I ordered a slice and some vino rioja and ate on the wall of the Mezquita like all the locals do.

After that I went and sought out the smallest street in the city. At it's narrowest point it's as wide as a handkerchief at 74cm (which is why it's known as Handkerchief Alley). It leads back to a very tiny plaza with a small fountain and an orange tree.

I aimlessly walked around some more before heading back to the hostel for a mid day break and to have a small lunch (since the tortilla was pretty filling). I answered some emails and then went back out to check out a few more sights. One was supposed to be a really nice view of the belltower through a small flower lined street but the timing wasn't right and the sun was in the way. I'll have to go back later since it looks like it really will be a good view.

After that I went down to the Puente Romano and walked across it for some great views of the bridge with the Mezquita in the background. The bridge was a little busy but nothing like the Charles bridge in Prague.

I'm planning on getting up early to get to the Mezquita by 8:30am since it's supposedly free entry between 8:30-9:30. Getting up early will save me 8 euros so that's good! Since I'll have to get up earlier than normal I probably won't do much tonight, which is easy since most places are closed on Sundays and people generally don't go out as much.
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Synagogue in Cordoba
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Blue flower buckets everywhere
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Everyone eating their giant tortillas (potato omelette) from Santo's Bar
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Mezquita from across the Puente Romano
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Cardiff Bay from Cardiff Bay Barrage. #cardiff #europetrip2013
Creepy eyes. #birmingham #europetrip2013
Edinburgh from Bridge St. #europetrip2013
Goats. #llandudno #europetrip2013
Bruges! #bruges #europetrip2013
Brecon Beacons National Park #europetrip2013
Blasket Island #europetrip2013
View of Llandudno and Great Orme from Little Orme. #llandudno #europetrip2013
Another shot of Riomaggiore in the Cinque Terre. #riomaggiore #5terre #europetrip2013
Castel Sant'Elmo. Some fantastic views of Naples from here. #naples #europetrip2013

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Where I've been:

Good Evening… Planet Earth
All the countries I visited on this trip (in yellow).

What's this about?

Traveling is something I've loved doing for as long as I can remember. I've been lucky enough to travel out of the US a few times but never longer than 2 weeks at a time. I decided that I should go see the world and experience all it has to offer. I booked a one-way ticket to Dublin, Ireland to depart on June 26, 2013. After I get to Europe I'll let serendipity take hold and see where I end up. No schedules and no itinerary… just go with the flow. That's as close to a plan as I'm making.

Who am I?

My name's Brandon O'Brien and I'm a travelholic. Before this journey I've been to 11 countries and put over 17,500 miles on various motorcycle trips through the USA and Canada. I'm a self-employed web developer so I'm fortunate enough to be able to work anywhere there's an internet connection. That's what truly made this experience possible.

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