Seville before our Flight

We spent our last day in the south of Spain exploring a little bit of what Seville had to offer.  The city was pretty quiet because the only people crazy enough to be there in the 100+ degree heat were other tourist like us.  Apparently during the summer everyone heads down to the Rota area to stay nice and cool.  We walked passed a bull fighting ring on our way to yet another cathedral!  This one was a bit unique though, because there is some piece of Christopher Columbus there.  The inside was beautiful and reminded us that Europeans know what it means to truly honor their religions and their people.

We stopped by a small cafe and ate some paella before heading to the airport to catch our flight to Madrid.

It only took about an hour to get there and we went from the airport to our hotel, then straight to the center of Madrid.  We went and saw the cathedral that sits right across from the palace.  We made our way to the Mercado and got a churro with chocolate to enjoy as we walked around the town square.  Even at 11 pm the city is alive with music and people.  It was our last night before we left Europe and made our way back to the United States and we were happy to head home, but words can not express how sad we were to leave Europe.

It has been nearly six months since our trip and we will still look at each other to reminisce about how amazing this trip was. Our next trip will be back in the United States to knock off a few more states, but those trips will not happen until May and June, so enjoy the next few months guys!

Oh! We are considering creating an Instagram account to share more pictures from our adventures.  If this is something you would be interested in, comment to let me know!

 

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Well Gibraltar is Right There…

Why wouldn’t we add yet another country to this trip? Unfortunately, we didn’t get stamps for this one either.  Clearly we need to fly in to both Portugal and Gibraltar so we get those stamps in the book!  We parked the car and made our way to the town center where we got into our tour van to get up the rock.  On our way up we stopped at the Cave of St. Michael, which is sometimes used as a concert hall.  The cave is amazing is covered in stalactites and stalagmites.  In the middle of the cave is a formation that looks like the archangel St. Michael making its landing on to the Earth.

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From here we went to the top of the rock where a bunch of monkeys live.  Now a little history on the monkeys; similar to the idea of the crows in the Tower of London, it is said that when the monkeys leave Gibraltar it will no longer being part of the United Kingdom and instead will return to the Spanish.  Because of this, the British government makes sure to vaccinate, microchip, and keep track of the breeding habits of the monkeys that live on the rock.  So much so that when the population gets too high, or a monkey gets older they are sent to zoos to live out the rest of their days.  Now the monkeys themselves are CRAZY!  They will steal just about anything out of your hands, they will climb all over you, and if they feel that one is getting more attention they will fight with the other monkey… even if that monkey is currently on your head.  You are not allowed to touch the monkeys, but they can jump all over you and some of them are HUGE! The views of the Mediterranean were breathtaking, and we got to stand where the Queen stood!

We made our way back down the rock, walked around and shopped a bit, went to have some fish and chips back in the town, and then headed back to Spain!

Roman Ruins in Spain!

If C and I had to pick one country that we are both dying to go to it would have to be Italy.  We both love the history and culture of Italy and C is part Italian.  So when we were told that there are Roman ruins in Spain we had to go and check it out.  Walking around them were so cool, being able to walk where legions likely walked, touching places that ancient Romans touched. We were both so excited and it was an amazing day for it.

When we got back home we decided to have a nice night out in Sanlucar which is a beautiful little town, in San Diego terms it is kind of like La Jolla.  We walked around and just enjoyed the night, until we made our way to Toni’s.  Toni’s is an ice cream shop that has been open in that location since 1896.  The ice cream was super yummy and was a nice treat on the warm summer night.

Wanna go to Africa?

Being so close to Africa, of course we had to take the opportunity to not only visit another country, but another continent as well. So we woke up early one morning, drove down to Tarifa then took a ferry across to Tangier, Morocco!  We had a private tour guide that first drove us around to see many of the palaces in the area.  Finally we arrived at a beautiful lighthouse where you can see both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.  We were sat at a restaurant where we ate a delicious pancake type thing and drank delicious Moroccan mint tea.

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From there we were taken to ride camels near the beach, explore a cave with a hole in the shape of Africa that was created naturally.  We walked the streets listening to the chatter happening throughout and admiring the array of colors that are present throughout the city. Jimi Hendrix had a house in Tangier and we got to stop by and see it, which was very cool.  Our dinner was delicious, and although I can not remember what I ate was called, I know that it is a very traditional Moroccan chicken dish and it was incredibly flavorful!  Shopping was mandatory while here and we picked up a couple of beautiful scarves.

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The ferry ride back was nice and smooth and our adventure for the day was done.  The next day we just kind of hung around the house and did some swimming and relaxing, which was nice because the next couple of days were going to be very busy as we finished our trip off.

To Portugal We Go!

We lucked out and managed to find a cheap hotel that could sleep all of us, and was still available on short notice. So we piled in the car and began our drive over to Portugal where we would spend that next day and a half.  We started by exploring the sand castles that are built each year. We were in awe of what these people were able to do with the sand, but we did not spend long there. It was like 100 degrees, and I am not being sarcastic that was the ACTUAL temperature, and we were standing in what was essentially an art filled desert!

20170805_125808 We arrived at our hotel, dropped our stuff off, and surprise surprise headed towards the beach. Anyone sensing a theme yet? The water in Portugal is super clear, but oh gosh was it cold! I don’t know if it is because we were just in Spain where the water was gorgeous or if because it was so hot the water felt even colder, but it was the kind of cold where you get in and it almost starts to burn! There was no getting warm or use to the temperature, but we played in it anyway!

The next morning we got up and took a boat tour of the cliffs. If you go to Lagos I definitely recommend taking a boat tour. It was a great way to see this little town. If the water was not so cold we probably would have taken the entire day tour that brings kayaks and SUPs. I think there was also a snorkeling option that I was interested in.

It was another beautiful day and we still had some time before we needed to make our drive back to Spain, so we walked around some of the street markets. Almost all of the worlds cork comes from Portugal and it was interesting seeing all the cork products.

All in all Portugal was great, they make REALLY good M&Ms although their Dr. Pepper is not as good. C and I were sad that our passports did not get stamped here, but we plan to go back so we will get that stamp eventually!

The South of Spain

Our flight go in pretty late at night, so our first day was mostly spent just walking around Rota, which may sound like it is nothing special, but even the city streets are beautiful in Europe. Being a San Diego kid, the best way I can explain being in Europe to some one who has never been it is like walking around a country sized Balboa Park. We walked on the beach and it felt good to have sand between my toes again.

After a day of walking around we decided to head down to another beach, with the accompanying beach side bar. It was here that both C and I discovered our love of Tintos! Now any wine lovers out there try to keep an open mind, it is essentially a wine cocktail.  Spanish red wine is mixed with a lemon lime soda and a couple ice cubes are thrown in. It may sound crazy but it is delicious, light, and refreshing (especially enjoyed on the beach after a nice warm swim!) The water felt amazing, and had to be at least 75 degrees. It made me long for my days living on a tropical island! The sun began to sink, giving us our first look at a Spanish sunset, this was at like 9:45 pm! That was one of the most difficult things to get use to. In France we were up early to get out and explore, and we did stay up fairly late, but in Spain we were up much later! Earlier in the day we had planned out the last leg of our trip and were super excited because in the morning we were making our way over to Portugal!

 

Au revoir France, Hola Espana!

We woke up on our final day in France a bit sad, but also very excited because we had a nice breakfast planned and a full day of amazing artwork to see. We went to the Angelina tea room, which is considered to have the best hot chocolate in all of Paris. I am not a big chocolate person, but this was exciting for C because she loves chocolate and if you’ve been following along on our adventures you know that by this point we had both sampled a few different varieties. For me eating here was exciting because it was where Audrey Hepburn would have brunch when she was in Paris! C order a bowl of fruit and I got toast. I know that does not sound like much, but with the hot chocolate and the coffee it was more than enough for the both of us. The toast came with some of their signature chestnut spread as well as raspberry jam, both of which were delicious. In fact, they were both so good that I may be ordering some online to have shipped to me!

After breakfast we had a little bit of time to kill before the Musee D’Orsay opened, so we walked through the Tuileries Garden. Much like the rest of our trip Paris provided us with perfect weather. The dark and light green of the gardens mixed with the greys of the buildings and statues combined perfectly with the light blue and white of the sky.  It was decently cool because it was still early in the morning and there were not a lot of people out so it was easy to enjoy the garden.

We exited the garden and made our way towards that museum. Orsay is an old train station that has been turned into a museum and there was so much to see. The natural light that comes in from the windows gives the statues you see upon entrance an amazing glow. From the center hall there are side rooms filled with amazing works of art. Because C teaches it, I think the pointillism was her favorite section. For me, it was the Van Gogh section (I should point out here that my brother, C, and I are really big Doctor Who fans and my brother made me watch “Vincent and The Doctor” before I left). Thankfully, Starry Night and Sunflowers were not here  because I was already on the verge of tears seeing all the amazing artwork. If I had seen them as well I would have completely lost it. Although we had seen it for four days, it was still odd to C and I that all of this work was within reach and there was very little obvious security around. It is very different than being in a museum in America, but it really made you feel like that art was made FOR you. You spent less time worrying that someone thought you were too close to it and more time talking about and experiencing it, at least C and I did.20170802_091554

From here we went to the Pantheon. It was yet another huge building that hold the graves of many of the famous French. This kind of freaked me out, especially when C walked us down to the crypt that is under the building. She walked in all the rooms and I waited outside. It smelled kind of like mildew and was just creepy to me. The view as you exited the building was stunning though.20170802_131021

We still had some extra time before we needed to leave for the airport, so we made our way back over towards our hotel. They were holding our luggage for us even after checkout so we could explore more, again I highly recommend Hotel Muguet. We went into the Rodin Museum, which is a garden with his different works spread out throughout the grounds. We saw The Thinker, The Kiss, and The Gates of Hell, just to name a few.

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We went back to Angelina to purchase some pastries, we did not get them earlier because we were very full but also did not want them to melt. From there, we walked back to the Eiffel Tower to give it one final goodbye. It also felt like the appropriate place to enjoy our eclair and macaroons.

We walked back to the hotel to grab our stuff and make our way to the airport for our next adventure. Still thinking about how surreal the past four days had been. I did not understand why people were so in love with Paris. To me, it was just another city until this trip. I get it now! In my travels I have found nothing like Paris yet. It is old and new, small and big, happy and sad, all at the same time. While I feel like I can check France off my list, having seen and done so much in the short time that we were there, I will definitely return if given the chance. I love Paris and saying goodbye was sad. We were able to make ourselves laugh though, because while everything else was so grand the airport we were flying out of was small and we walked on the tarmac to get to the tiny plane taking us to the south of Spain.20170802_203615

 

*I did not post pictures from inside the Musee D’Orsay because while I did take many, they are to remind me of what we experienced, and I do not feel like the pictures do the amazing works of art justice!

 

France Day #3

It’s C’s birthday and she asked to spend it in Versailles, so that is what we did! Breakfast was…you guessed it… chocolate croissants, fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee for me and a hot chocolate for the birthday girl!

I will let you know right now this post is going to be short, because there no to describe Versailles. It is just one of those places that you have to experience at least once in your life.

Our rail pass got us to the palace, it was totally worth the money,  and the walk towards the entrance was just as magical as the palace itself. We arrived when the palace opened and there were still a ton of people waiting in line. We decided not to book a tour for this experience. We wanted to be able to walk around at our own pace and knew that a tour would not allow for that. C did download a podcast that we were able to play and pause as we went (you will notice the earbuds in many of the pictures). Louie XIV really did create a masterpiece, not just the palace itself but the gardens as well. We went on a Tuesday which meant that we did not get to see the fountains, but we did get the “musical gardens”. It also meant that the museums in Paris were closed so it was probably busier than a regular day. We touched as much as we could in the palace and danced in the Hall of Mirrors!

The musical gardens meant that they were playing themed music and it really made the entire experience that much more unreal. Because it was the musical gardens we did have to pay to enter them, but it was 8 Euro each and totally worth it! We got a map and began to walk around. They have bikes and carts that you can rent, but it was a very nice day and walking just seemed right. We saw the Grand Trianon, the Petite Trianon, and The Queen’s Hamlet. We tried to find Marie Antoinette’s estate, we walked seven miles around the gardens trying to find it. It was not until this current moment as I type this that we realized that we did in fact see everything. In all our wondering the two girls from California managed to find giant sequoias on the grounds. We drank more fresh squeezed orange juice, we like to believe that it was from the King’s oranges, and then just sat on the stairs over looking the grounds.

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When we returned to the city we decided to go rest for about an hour at the hotel before we made our way to Les Invalides. Seeing Napoleon’s tomb was interesting and grand. It was seeing all of this that allowed C and I to come up with our newest motto, “everything’s bigger in Texas, but it is grander in Paris”. We made our way to the Champs-Elysees where we stopped to have dinner and then climbed the Arc de Triomphe. The view from the top was amazing and the story about the eternal flame for the unknown soldier is wonderful. We made our way back to the hotel to call it a night, after having walked a half marathon, so that we could make the most of what would be our last day in France.

 

 

France Day #2

Day two started early in the morning because sleeping for 12 hours meant we had a lot to make up for. We hopped on the metro and headed towards Sacre Coeur. We went one stop too far, but it was okay because it gave us our first view of Notre Dame, and it was not a far walk to get from there to Sacre Coeur. This day was our first experience with the fact that Europeans are not really early risers. Nothing was open, there were very few people walking around, and it was oddly quiet. By the time we reached the top of Montmartre the sun was beginning to rise. It was gorgeous! Even with all of the beer bottles on the steps, it was a sigh to see.

From here we walked back down to the city streets and ate at our first corner cafe, with a great view of Notre Dame of course. The cathedral is magical and there is just something about walking around inside that helps you to understand why religion was, and still is for many, such an important part of life. There was a Mass going on as we walked the interior of the church, so we decided to sit down and really take in the moment. While we did the bells began to sing. I got chills while C was teary eyed. It was the first of many moments when the trip seemed unreal. From here we walked over to the Fountain of Saint Michel. The water was not on, did I mention the city does not come to life until around nine, but it was still a true work of art. C and I had a good laugh because at one point a pigeon perched atop the devil’s head and began to defecate. We found it to be quite appropriate.

From there we made our way over to Sainte Chapelle. Walking up to the chapel it was not particularly beautiful, especially after seeing Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame, but do not let the exterior fool you. Some of the most beautiful stained-glass is located inside across 1,113 windows depicting scenes from the Old and New Testament.20170731_091500 It was now time to make our way towards Normandy, our main stop for the second day. An hour long train ride got us to Bayeux where we met our tour guide. It is possible to see the D-Day sites without a tour guide, but it does require a car. Once again we lucked out because our tour was only 5 other people. First, we went to see a Pointe du Hoc. From this location you can see Utah and Omaha beaches, which lead the Germans to fortify the area. You can still see remnants of the life the Germans created there, as well as giant holes in the ground from the Allies weapons. There is a memorial there, in the shape of a dagger, for the Rangers that took possession of it on D-Day.

Next, we were taken to Omaha beach. I warned C before we even left for our trip that I was going to cry the day we went to Normandy, and I thought that seeing the beach would be the moment that made the tears come. Our tour guide parked the van, we got out and walked towards the beach, and my eyes stayed dry. I was in complete shock for a few moments though. You see although Omaha is a historical site, it is still a beach. There were people laying out, swimming in the water, enjoying a normal day at the beach. For them, it just so happened to be Omaha; for me, it was a sacred place. Our tour guide could sense that we were all in shock to see the beach as such, and reminded all of us that those who fought and died on D-Day did so to allow people the freedom to do just what those people were doing.  This made what I was seeing a little easier for me, but it was still difficult to get over. Then we got a bit of time to ourselves. C and I went down to the beach, a little bit away from everyone else, and it was in that moment that it became real to me.  I was sitting on Omaha beach. The blood, sweat, and tears of the men who fought there were under my feet. If the tide was low remains of the harbor could be seen, just a few miles out were tanks that never made it to shore. The tears made their way to my eyes, but it was not until our next stop that they began to flow.

The final location on the tour was the American cemetery. We arrived close to 1700, which is when they perform their flag ceremony. We stopped and watched as Taps played as the second flag was lowered and folded. From there, C and I walked through the area. Touching as many graves as we could, paying our respects, saying thank you, and sending up a quick prayer. The graves are in no particular order, and many of the tombstones are soldiers known only to God. Those graves had a prayer sent to their families as well. It was an experience that touched me deeply and I will never forget being there.

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After our train ride back to Paris we decided to walk around and go see the Eiffel Tower at night. Check number two on my bucket list for this trip. We let the light at the top be our guide and as we walked up it hit the hour mark, so the tower danced with light. As we approached it, the size of the tower became apparent. It is huge and really is a wonder to see! There were a good amount of people around, but because it was later at night the crowd was not so bad. As we began our walk back to the hotel we saw a new piece of art being constructed in line with the tower. It is a monument of peace and I found it very cool that we were able to see it before it was officially done.

The day was long, but incredible. I would not have changed a second about this day and I am so glad that we decided to sleep as much as we did to make this amazing day happen!

The 50 State girls go to… Europe?

While a good portion of this blog is devoted to our travels around the United States every once in a while you may stumble upon an entry of another sort. The next few are a chunk of them, because we went to Europe!! Our fourteen day trip took us to five different countries and two different continents.

We chose to leave from LAX instead of home because it was quite a bit cheaper that way; you have to love living a short car ride from one of the main international travel hubs in the world! After a short layover in Chicago we found ourselves on our first trans-Atlantic flight. Now is probably a good time to point out that it was C’s first time traveling outside of the United States as well. For those of you reading this who have not taken a flight like this, sit in your hallway on a small chair for 13 hours and you have about the same sensation. That being said the American Airlines flight that we were on was very nice and I would choose them again for a long flight.

Home base for this leg of the trip was Paris. Our original plan was to arrive and immediately make our way to Notre Dame so that C could attend a mass at the amazing cathedral. As is typical for our trips it did not take long to have to alter our itinerary; we were a bit late getting into the city and decided that we would just head straight to the hotel to drop off our luggage and then find a nice place to eat. We stayed at the Hotel Muguet and I highly recommend it! It is only about 3/4 of a mile from the Eiffel Tower, our room did not have a view but they do offer some, and it is very close to two metro stations. The staff were great, the hotel was very clean, and they were willing to store our luggage before check-in and after check-out so that we could explore the city without having to worry about looking too much like tourist (we know that we both did anyway, but whatever!)

We bought the four day museum pass as well as the 5 day metro pass that included zone 5; this meant that we had free entry into most of the things we wanted to do, many with front of the line privileges, and transportation to Versailles. Next step was learning how to use the metro, and I have to say I was surprised at how user friendly they were. By the end of our trip we were navigating them like a pro!

Alright, back to the good stuff! We hopped back on to the metro after dropping off our luggage and made our way towards The Louvre. We booked a tour, which I strongly suggest for anyone planning a visit, because the museum is HUGE and you will likely get lost and upset when you do not see what you were hoping to. We arrived to the Arc de Carrousel, our meeting place for the tour, a bit early so we grabbed a bite to eat from one of the stands in the area. I had my first of many chocolate croissants and C had a small pizza. We then began just walking around the grounds and they were spectacular, it helped that the sky was a beautiful shade of blue with fluffy white clouds.

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Our tour guide met up with us and the four other people that booked as well, began talking about the history of the Louvre, and walking us past everyone else in line to enter. The Louvre began its life as a fortress, that is where the word Louvre comes from, and we got to walk in what use to be the moat of the fortress! Of course C and I needed to touch the walls because how can you not touch something that was built in the Middle Ages. Our guide lead us around effortlessly and made sure we hit all the “main” stops. Being in that building surrounded by some of the greatest art pieces ever was indescribable. (Just check out the pictures, but please ignore how tired we look!) While being there was amazing and it was a great way to kick off our trip we were both exhausted. Did I mention that we were both running on about 3 hours of sleep in a 48 hour period? There were moments where C literally fell asleep standing up! Please do not let this taint your opinion of our guide or the Louvre itself, because again both were amazing, but we were EXHAUSTED! So after the tour we went back to the hotel and slept for like 12 hours! HAHA, I know not what you want to do when you only have four days, but trust me we made up for it!

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