Stories and Pictures #12 – #22
Monserrat, west of Barcelona, Spain
I took this pic while I was hiking up Monserrat. Somebody had tied a Catalonian independence flag to the railing. It had a bunch of autographs on it, probably from random hikers. This clever, fellow American tourist removed it, tied it to her neck like a superhero cape, and we took pics of her. Even on an uninhabited mountain, the Catalonian independence movement is strong.
I remember this hike very vividly. Not only because of the amazing views, but because of how sick I was. I’d come down with a cold with only two days left in Barcelona. One of my roommates told me how to get to this popular hike. I had a decision to make: do I rest and get better, or go for it.
Well, after a few subways and trains, then some walking, I made it to the trailhead. I recall my legs shaking as I came down the home stretch after several hours of hiking. When I got home, I showered and collapsed into my bed. I’d pushed myself too much. I slept most of the next day and night.
That sickness was extra unfortunate because my hosts – seriously, the greatest hosts of all time! – were throwing a party that night. Both my hosts and I felt bad that I couldn’t join them.
I’m glad I finally got some rest, though. The next day was a travel day. Onward to Jesus Pobre!
Montgo Massif, located between Denia, Xabia, and Jesus Pobre, Spain
This was one of the many solo hikes on my journey. The mountain has a very simple shape, similar to a table. You can climb up from a few different points, then walk on the relatively flat top of the very long mountain.
In total, it took me 5 1/2 hours to complete this hike – 5.8km to the top, 5.8km down, then I walked 1.6km back to my accommodation (8.2 miles total).
I vividly remember it being a very lonely hike. I saw only a few hikers on my way up, only a few at the peak, and only a few on my way down. Most of them were friendly Germans, including two German college kids at the peak who were flying a very small, but powerful drone.
It was certainly a beautiful day for a hike!
Alicante Sharks football team, Alicante, Spain
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about traveling, it’s this: making things up as you go along often leads to the best times!
I met some locals at a bar and they invited me to watch their friend play for the local football team, the Alicante Sharks Club de Football Americano. Interestingly, the team charged out of the tunnel before the game, proudly and confidently carrying the American flag (you can see it in this picture on the sidelines). Their defensive coordinator was a retired American football coach who gave them instructions in English.
The Sharks won the first game that I saw 28-0 and the second game 55-0. There was also a female Sharks team that played the next day. They won 71-0!
Tabarca Island, off the coast of Santa Pola, Spain
Tabarca Island so small, only 68 people live on the island. If you choose not to pack a lunch for your trip, there are a few restaurants and cafes on the island.
It also boasts some history with an old military building, a lighthouse, and a cemetery. Outside of the one big beach, there are multiple small beaches. If you, your friends, and/or family get there early, you can pretty much take over one of the small beaches and have a semi-private island beach for the whole day!
Despite its extremely small size, this island is a microcosms of Spain: bars on all of the windows, graffiti, and stray cats. I couldn’t believe that – even this tiny island that was almost exclusively filled with tourists every day – had a decent amount of graffiti. C’mon Spain. You’re better than that.
And the bars on the windows? Really? The tourists come on the island around 10am and leave around 5pm every day. What exactly are you afraid of? Betsy and Bob, retirees from Iowa, breaking into your island apartment? Seriously?
Aside from those setbacks, if you’re in the area, Tabarca Island is definitely a nice day trip. Walk around the outside of the island and check out the absolutely stunning water, rocks, and small beaches. As with any tourist experience, don’t be afraid to go off the main paths and explore a bit!
The Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany
On my first day in Berlin, there was only one thing that dominated my mind: I must see The Wall, immediately.
I’ll admit, all my life, I’d always thought the Germans had torn down the entire wall, except for a very small part. I’m so glad I was wrong. It’s actually randomly spread throughout the city.
However, don’t be fooled like I was. This guy is one of many people who’ve documented exactly which parts are fake and which are the authentic remaining parts of the wall.
Eisbachsurfers, Munich, Germany
Germans really know how to have a good time! Virtually all year round, surfers go to Munich for Eisbachsurfen (“Ice River surfing”). Most tourists only know about the main spot (pictured here) to surf. Actually, there are two spots. The other is only an eight minute walk away into the Englischer Garten (“English Garden”). Because of how it’s set up, the second spot is a little less fun for the surfers. However, it’s got an extra thrill – the surfers must share their waves with people who are swimming down the coolest lazy river on the planet, right into the waves!
This is definitely one of those many moments throughout my travels when I’ve thought, “these people have more freedom than anywhere that I’ve seen in the US”.
Even if there were a magical place in the US that would allow surfing in the middle of a major city, thanks to the litigious culture in America, there’d have to be tons of rules posted and signs warning of every possible danger. All the surfers have common decency and respect for each other’s space.
Truly, the US have a lot to learn from these awesome, courteous, thrill-seeking Germans
Central Market Hall, Budapest, Hungary
The Central Market is a no-brainer if you’re in Budapest. It’s absolutely massive and offers a lot inside: two floors of delicious food, diverse clothing, touristy collector’s items, and more.
Most vendors expect you to negotiate the purchase price of an item. Other than some amazing food and local beer, the only thing I bought was a Hungarian flag sticker for my suitcase. It was about $2, which was a little too high. I didn’t negotiate the price.
After I paid, the vendor went over to his friend, pointed at me, and said something in Hungarian. I can only assume that he was making fun of me for paying so much for a sticker. I just couldn’t bring myself to negotiate the price of something so inexpensive from somebody that’s likely a lot poorer than I am.
Red Ruin Pub, Budapest, Hungary
Very close to my accommodation in Budapest was a cool bar called Red Ruin. It has anti-Communist artwork all over the bar. Sometimes the artwork was poking fun of Communist leaders, sometimes the artwork was more serious and thought-provoking.
In my opinion, the above artwork is the most powerful in the bar. Click on this picture to expand it and read the things that are coming out of his briefcase that says “Communism” on it.
While in this bar, I met a Mexican who was solo traveler like myself. We decided to continue hanging out and continued bar-hopping. Eventually, we made it to the greatest bar in Budapest, Szimpla Bar.
If you visit Budapest, you absolutely must visit Szimpla Bar, even if you’re not a drinker. They’re open from lunch until late night and offer great food as well.
Vienna State Opera House, Vienna, Austria
Day and night, when I passed the Vienna State Opera House, I stared at it for while and took pictures. Even though I knew I’d taken pictures of it before, I couldn’t help myself. It’s truly one of the most magnificent pieces of architecture I’ve ever seen. Looking at it from every side and at any angle, it hypnotized me with it’s complexity and beauty. If you visit Vienna and you don’t at least walk past it, you’re missing out!
The Roman Forum, Rome, Italy
The Roman Forum has lasted thousands of years. Through government wars, religious wars, and political changes, much of it still stands today.
The entrance fee is very modest – I believe entrance to the Roman Forum and Palatine was only €7 and if you added the Colosseum, it was only €12. It’s an easy and obvious inclusion to any travelers trip to Rome.
Wanna know something that Rome doesn’t want you to know? Outside of the tourist areas, Rome is quite crappy. The train stations have homeless people sleeping on mattresses. The train tracks are lined with garbage.
Out where I was staying, closer to the beach, there are prostitutes looking for customers on the side of the road and illegal gambling in the bars.
I’m sure the Rome tourism department would rather you not see that side of the great city of Rome. Now, you know.
Sunset on a Roman beach
While living in SW Florida for 26 years, with the beach facing the west, I saw many nice sunsets. None of them were as breathtakingly stunning as this Roman sunset.
I was able to see this sunset because I rented a car for three days. It was the first time I’d driven a car in about six months. To say that I was excited to drive would be one of the greatest understatements every made.
After I got in the driver’s seat, I literally yelled and screamed at the top of my lungs out of joy! I was so happy to have the freedom to drive where and when I wanted.
At one point, I was in a crazy traffic jam trying to get out of downtown Rome at rush hour. I’d never been so happy to be in a traffic jam that wasn’t moving at all! Apparently, six months of trains, planes, buses, ferries, bike riding, and walking will drive an American crazy. Or, at least, it drove this American crazy!
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