Sonntag, 23. Dezember 2007


I was looking for something to do with my free time in November and decided to go to London for a few days. It’s not that far from Düsseldorf AND I got a flight for 20€. Not bad. RyanAir is the cheap way to fly around Europe as long as you are not bringing too much with you – if you carry on less than 10kg you don’t have to pay a baggage fee. RyanAir also tends to fly out of smaller, more distant airports. I made my flight out of the Düsseldorf-Weeze airport before checking to see exactly where it was. When I finally checked its location I discovered that it was just over the border from The Netherlands and about one hour north of Düsseldorf. It seems a bit of a stretch to call it the Düsseldorf-Weeze airport, but then again, the flights are very cheap and there is no speed limit on most of the roads there.

I arrived in London less than an hour after take-off. I met an Argentinean guy in the non-EU passport line (which was nice and short - the line, not the guy) and spent the bus-ride into London learning about Argentina and sharing travel stories. I now know the best way to drive from Buenos Aires to the beach without getting a speeding ticket (while disobeying the speed limit that is). We’ll see if that ever comes in handy. I got off the bus and walked a few blocks to my hostel. I arrived at Palmer’s Lodge, which I had booked online a few days beforehand, and was pleasantly surprised. It was an old Victorian mansion with very cozy rooms/beds and a welcoming reading room with a fire. It had all of the things that you learn to appreciate in good hostels – a reading light for each bed, a place to lock up your bags, clean bathrooms and showers, free internet, free breakfast, etc.

I had made plans to meet up with the Argentinean in the city, so I figured out where the closest subway stop was and took off. The London Underground is very easy to use, but not exactly cheap. London as a whole, as I already knew, but was constantly reminded, is very expensive. I spent more money traveling around on the Underground for four days than I spent to fly to England (the flight was cheap, but that still seems crazy). It also doesn’t help that the American dollar is doing HORRIBLY right now. FYI, the British Pound is currently worth $2.06, the Euro is worth $1.47, and even the Canadian Dollar is worth slightly more than $1. It’s not a great time to be traveling elsewhere if you are trying to get your money’s worth. I tried to save money by weaning myself down to one meal a day once I figured out how much money I was spending on food alone.

Anyway, back to Saturday night. I took the Underground into Central London, which was only about three stops away. I went to meet the Argentinean at his hostel, but he wasn’t there. The hostel had been completely full, so he left a message to meet him elsewhere. Haha, he had given me a hard time for booking my hostel ahead of time, but he was the one without a place to stay. I like it when I’m right. I never actually went to meet up with him, but I got to check out London and get my bearings while seeing the Saturday nightlife. I finally decided to go back to the hostel and caught a night bus home. I found a bus that went to Finchley, and my hostel was right off of the Finchley Road Underground Station. Unfortunately, I did not know enough at the time, or have a map to show me, that Finchley and Finchley Road are not even remotely the same place. So after a very long bus ride in the wrong direction, an unofficial tour of some of the London suburbs, and a bus transfer, I made it back to Palmer’s Lodge.

I let my self sleep in on Sunday due to the fact that I had gotten home much later than expected the night before. If I had done a little research ahead of time I would have visited some of the many food and clothing markets London has to offer, as most are held in the second half of the week. However, not knowing what I was doing, but at least in possession of a map this time, I headed back into the city to see the sights. My first priority was lunch since I hadn’t really eaten dinner the night before or breakfast. I went to Wagamama, a chain asian noodle restaurant, at Tim’s suggestion. It was very good. If they had one back in Germany I would eat there every day. Afterwards, I planned to go on a long walk starting on Oxford Street, going past Kensington Palace and Gardens, through to Buckingham Palace, and then onto the River Thames. I got as far as Oxford Street. I’m not much of a shopper, but there were a lot of shops on Oxford Street, and a lot of very cool ones. As expensive as London is, you can still get clothes, and shoes especially, more cheaply there than you can in Düsseldorf. So I spent the afternoon walking through the shops, stopping to get a cup of tea, and avoiding the cold and rain outside. I was so cold that I went into a Marks and Spencers and bought myself a scarf and gloves. They helped a lot. Unfortunately, about an hour after I bought them I looked down and saw I only had one glove on. I have no idea where the other one went. I was so mad that I had lost it so quickly that I refused to buy more gloves. And since walking around with one glove on looks kinda stupid I took the one I had off and was cold again.

As it started to get dark I walked up Regent Street, another shopping street. Regent Street has a much more grand appearance than Oxford St. All of the buildings are made of white stone and Christmas decorations were already going up. I love big cities at Christmas time! I made it Leicester Square, where many of London’s theaters and ticket vendors are located. I got some info on all of the shows in London and decided to get tickets to Wicked. Since it was still cold and rainy and I felt like it was still a bit too early to go back to the hostel for the night I bought tickets to see American Gangster, the Denzel Washington movie. I had an 1 ½ to kill before it started, so I hunkered down to read in a Starbucks for a while, and got dinner and a bubble tea in Chinatown. I went to the movie, which was in the nicest and biggest theater I have ever been in. The movie was good, but I’m not sure it was worth the most expensive movie ticket I have ever bought - 13£, which equates to almost $30 American! After the movie I was happy to go back to the hostel, change into dry clothes, and get into a warm bed.

The next morning everyone in my room was woken up by someone yelling right outside our door, “Don’t touch my things. It is private property!” Blah, blah, blah. What I could gather from the other girls in the room was that one of the girls who had been staying in the room for almost a month was a little off-her-rocker, possibly schizophrenic, and getting kicked out at last. The police showed up and she made quite a scene. Since I obviously wasn’t going to get any more sleep I went down to breakfast, then packed up my things and checked out. I took the Underground to Hyde Park Corner station, where the FREE Royal Walking Tour began (it’s not really free though, because the guides only get paid through “tips”). In true London style, it was raining/pouring, but I had an umbrella with me. The tour wound up being one of the best things I did while in London. The guide, Gregg, was from Brisbane (one of thousands of Aussies in London), knew a lot about London, and was able to put a fun spin on everything he showed us. As we waited for everyone to arrive a motorcade went by, with lots of police. It was likely someone important, but we couldn’t tell who. We started the tour at Buckingham Palace, where the Changing of the Guard usually happens, but get this . . . it doesn’t happen when it rains, which gets me thinking, does it ever happen? It probably would have bored me though, so I didn’t care. When we arrived at the Palace Gregg pointed out that the flag was up, signaling that the Queen was in residence. She hadn’t been there the day before, so it is very possible that the motorcade we had seen was the Queen on her way to the Palace. Pretty cool. We also got to see the Horse Guard, the official protectors of the Queen, parade by. Then we moved on to the Princes’ Residence and got our pictures taken with members of the Royal Guard. Next was Park Place – one of the most expensive neighborhoods in London, Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, where Gregg mentioned that it looked like Fred Claus was going to premier that night, Diagon Alley – or at least where they shot some of the scenes in Harry Potter, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square – where you are supposed to see someone you know if you stand there for over 10 minutes, the National Gallery, Whitehall – the British White House, 10 Downing St. – the residence of the Prime Minister, and Churchill’s War Cabinet Bunker, where Gregg retold some of Churchill’s funnier quotes:

JOKE #1: Secretary: “Mr. Churchill, you’re drunk.”

Churchill: “Yes, my dear, but you are ugly and tomorrow I will be sober.”

JOKE #2: Secretary: “Mr. Churchill, if I was your wife I would poison your tea.”

Churchill: “Ms. Jane, if I was your husband, I would drink it.”

We ended the tour with St. Stephen’s Tower, which contains Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. The bells at Westminster Abbey were clinging non-stop and we later figured out that it was for the Queen’s Diamond Wedding Anniversary, which explains why all the flags were up at the Royal Residences – everyone was in town for it.

I grabbed lunch at Tesco, at Gregg’s suggestion, since it is the cheapest way to go in London. It’s a convenient store with a lot of takeaway food. I got pasta for 1£, which is a very good price. I ate and walked over to the Thames, which I was seeing for the first time – it took me almost 48 hours in London to actually see the river! The London Eye, the huge observation wheel (not ferris wheel, if you say that they get pissed), was going. The Eye was constructed as one of three projects for the Millennium and was supposed to be temporary. But people liked it and it brought in so much money (50,000£/day in the summer) that it’s there for good. Kinda like the Eiffel Tower. During the tour someone had mentioned something about there actually being a Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station (Harry Potter fans will know what I am talking about), so I went to check it out. Then I had to scoot back to my hostel to pick up my bags because I had booked a second, cheaper hostel for my last two nights in London. It turns out that that was a very good idea, because the power was out at Palmer’s Lodge when I went to retrieve my bags. I took the Underground to the Docklands Lightrail and caught a train out to Deptford Bridge, which is two stops away from Greenwich. I was quite a ways from the city center, but paying only £6.50/night, which is pretty much unheard of in London. I walked into the reception/bar at the new hostel and the only customers were old Rastafarian guys in a very heated discussion. I got up to my room and met the roommates – all very cool people. There was a French girl who had been at the hostel for almost a month while trying to get a job and an apartment set up. She had decided that London was the place to be and just picked up and went. There were several Aussies, some who had been traveling the world for almost a year, and we all shared travel stories.

I quickly had to change and make the trek back into the city for dinner before Wicked. I made a point to walk through Leicester Square, just in case the Fred Claus premier actually was happening. And it was!! I picked the perfect time to walk by because Vince Vaughn had just arrived on the red carpet. It was my first famous-person sighting, so I was pretty excited. Not to mention that Leicester Square was completely decked out with decorations, enormous TV’s, and fake snow machines blowing soap/foam into the air. It was cool! I quickly ran over to Chinatown to grab some dumplings and tea and then caught the Underground to Victoria Station. I made it to the theater just in time and had pretty good seats, second row up in the balcony. For those of you who don’t know, Wicked is the untold story of the friendship between Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West (from the Wizard of Oz), and is based on a book. It turns the classic story of the Wizard of Oz inside out, but still manages to get you to like it. The show was very good!! After the show I went to the River Thames and saw the Tower Bridge and nearby sights at night. Then I had to catch a train back to Deptford Bridge before they all shut down for the night.

The next morning I woke up early because I wanted to catch a tour of the Old City of London, which started at 10AM. And guess who the tour guide was? Gregg again, which was cool, but a lot of the jokes weren’t as funny the second time around. And I ran into the first Americans I had seen the whole time on the tour. They were a bit annoying. It may seem silly that I would be going on another tour of London, but there is so much to see in this city that even two tours aren’t enough. We started out at the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, and saw The Monument to the Great Fire of London (1666), which you can climb and get a certificate for, but make sure you get all the way to the top. They have hired someone whose sole job is to give certificates to those who have climbed ALL the way to the top. Gregg learned that the hard way. We also saw the Royal Exchange, The Bank of England, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was used as a mark by the Nazis to bomb London – the only reason it survived the war. We also saw the Millennium Bridge, the HMS Belfast, the Tate Modern art museum, the Globe Theatre, the Church of the Knight Templar (Da Vinci Code fans!), and the real London Bridge. Many people get Tower Bridge and London Bridge confused. The pretty one with the towers is Tower Bridge. London Bridge is one of the ugliest and most nondescript bridges you’ll ever see. What’s funny is that when it had to be replaced years ago, the old bridge was put up for sale. An American bought it, paid to have it dismantled, shipped, and reconstructed in the middle of the desert in Arizona (what is in the picture). It is now the second most-visited site in all of Arizona after the Grand Canyon. Even funnier, after it was reconstructed the purchaser asked where the rest of it was (meaning the towers). When he was told that that was all of it and that the Tower Bridge was still in London he said, “Oh yah, I don’t know what I was saying. I knew that.” He has never admitted to thinking he bought the Tower Bridge. We ended the tour in Covent Garden, where Gregg told us the story of Sweeney Todd, the greatest serial killer in London history. Greatest in that he had the most victims (over one hundred!), even more famous in London than Jack the Ripper. Sweeney Todd had a barber shop with a trick chair which would drop the customer into the basement when it was tilted back. Once in the basement, if not killed by the fall, the victim was killed and skinned by Sweeney Todd. The meat was given over to a local pasty (meat pie) shop that had the tastiest and sweetest pasties in town! Ick!

Right after hearing the legend of Sweeney Todd I decided I was hungry and had to get something quickly before I caught the Tube/bus to Oxford. Despite the gross stories of human flesh pasties, I decided to get one (beef, not human, hopefully), and it was good. The rest of the tour group was heading to the pub, but I wanted to make it to Oxford before it got dark. I caught the Tube, grabbed the front seat on the top of the double-decker bus, and watched as we drove through Kensington, Paddington, and Notting Hall, all very trendy parts of London. I was exhausted and fell asleep for most of the rest of the 2-hour ride there. When I awoke it was almost like I was in a different world. Oxford is an amazingly beautiful city, mostly due to its architecture. I felt like I had jumped into a storybook. I had never seen pictures of Oxford before, so had no idea what to expect, but it was filled with monumental, old, ornate stone buildings and warm, inviting shop windows. I left the bus at Gloucester Green and met my friend Anne, who I went to high school with, at a nearby coffee shop. She is at Oxford for a masters in biological conservation. She took me on a walking tour of Oxford and explained how the whole college system and University works. And by “college” I mean the group of people you are assigned to live, dine, and bond with during your time at the University. Think of Harry Potter, or schools in the UK or Australia if you know how they work. Speaking of Harry Potter, I hadn’t known before, but many of the scenes from the movies were filmed at Oxford. Check out some of the pictures. The people lucky enough to be assigned to Christ Church College get to eat in the Great Hall every night if they want to. How cool is that? We walked through some more of the larger colleges, all impressive in their own ways. It seriously felt like I had stepped back in time. After the tour we went to the Lamb and Flag (I think?) Pub, one of the famous, old, very English pubs in Oxford. We talked to the friendly, old bartender who had just gotten back from a trip to NYC (very cheap now due to the lousy American dollar, but I’ve already done enough complaining about that). Anne and I talked about traveling, high school memories, jobs/school, and sports. Anne is playing on the Oxford University Lacrosse team and is on the novice rowing team. Sound familiar? Crew is a VERY big sport at Oxford. Oh, and if there are any girls out there that play basketball, the Oxford women’s team needs players!

After the pub, we went back to Anne’s apartment, I met some of her roommates, and we changed into nicer clothes for dinner at Worcester College. Anne was able to get me a ticket through her roommates (thanks!) for the three-course meal in the dining hall at Worcester, not quite as fancy as the hall at Christ Church, but still very cool. We had to wait for everyone to arrive, and for a master of ceremony to recite something in Latin before we sat down to dinner. We had shrimp cocktail, vegetables, pasta, a meat dish, and a custard dessert, all for 5£. Pretty good. Things can get exceptionally fancy at Oxford. Worcester has a ball once a year where the ticket, which doesn’t include dinner, is 160£! After dinner we hung out at Anne’s apartment, had some tea, listed off all the people from high school that we now know are married!, and talked with her roommate from Northern Ireland. Then I had to catch the tube back to London, which was a much shorter trip this time since it wasn’t rush hour, and then take a string of trains to get back to Deptford Bridge.

I let myself sleep in a little bit on Wednesday. I had been trying to do so much that I hadn’t realized how tired I was. And by this time I also realized that there is way too much to do in London! Or at least 4 days isn’t nearly enough to do it all. I packed up my things and took the train over to Greenwich. I was psyched to be at the Prime Meridian and to see the cute town of Greenwich. Unfortunately, the markets weren’t open, but it looked like it would be a really vibrant place when the markets are going on the weekend. I took a walk along the Thames and through the Old Royal Naval Academy, which looked a LOT like Annapolis. My walk through Greenwich got old pretty quickly because I was carrying my bag with me, which was mysteriously getting heavier by the minute, or so it seemed. So I hopped on the train and headed for the Brick Lane, a street in the Indian part of town that is lined with curry shops. There was no way I was leaving London without getting the number one most-ordered dish in London . . . chicken tikka masala, which is also one of my personal favorites. I had lunch, had hoped I would have more time for sight-seeing, but unfortunately had to head back to the airport. It was a good couple of days and I will be heading back to London whenever I get the chance!

Donnerstag, 8. November 2007

Athens and THE Marathon

On Halloween I flew down to Athens, Greece. For the past four months or so I have been training for the Athens Classic Marathon – the original marathon. This year it was run on November 4, so I went to Athens a little early to get adjusted to the city and to see some sites. I arrived to discover I had done an excellent job of picking a hostel via the internet. I was right on the edge of the Plaka, the old, gorgeous, and most well-kept area of Athens. It is at the foot of the Acropolis and filled with great restaurants and interesting shops. It also turned out that my only roommate in the hostel was from Brisbane (Northside – Mitchelton, to be exact), so we had a lot to talk about. Her name was Rae and she has been traveling the world solo for 8 months (through both Americas, Europe, and then onto Africa). When we met she had just returned from the Greek Islands, which sounded very cool - another place I have to add to my list. Luckily she had previously spent a few days in Athens, so she had tips for restaurants and things to do. I went for one of my few remaining training runs through the National Garden, which was filled with fountains and statues, and old men playing chess, past the Parliament Building and the Temple of Zeus, and up towards the Acropolis. I watched the sun set over Athens and then returned to the hostel. Rae was gone but left me directions to where all the restaurants were. I wound up going to “God’s Restaurant” – it couldn’t possibly be bad, right? It actually wasn’t – it had lots of good home-style Greek food, like moussaka, souvlaki, lamb, stuffed peppers, feta cheese, cheese saganaki, Greek salads and OLIVES, baklava, etc. I had the moussaka, a glass of Mythos beer, and watched a Greek soccer game on TV. I even got free dessert because I was eating alone, although I’m still not sure what it actually was.

After dinner I met Rae at another hostel that had a bit more going on. She knew a bunch of people there since she had stayed there the week before. Everyone was dressed up and celebrating Halloween. Some of the Athenians led a large group of us bar-hopping through Athens. It was mostly Aussies, Brits, and Americans. And one guy from Uppsala, Sweden! It was a ton of fun. I think it’s the first time I’ve been hanging out with people my age since August (with the exception of the trip back to the States). Anyways, after a fun night out I woke up to breakfast at the hostel, which consisted of cucumbers, olives, hard-boiled eggs, and tea. I loved it, but other people didn’t seem too happy – they couldn’t figure out where the bacon and eggs were. After breakfast I grabbed a map and wandered around the city. I crossed back through Syntagma Square, where I had arrived on the bus the day before, and strolled through huge shopping streets until I stumbled on the flea market. You can find pretty much anything you want at the Athens flea market – food, furniture, clothing, Greek and Roman statues, an overabundance of souvenir shops and more. I didn’t buy anything, but it kept me entertained until I was ready to eat again. I picked one of the many street side cafes near the Agora – the ancient marketplace – and had stuffed peppers and feta cheese. I people-watched/browsed a book for a while until I decided that I wanted to see what the Athens coastline was like. I heard that it wasn’t that impressive, but was hoping whoever told me that was mistaken. And really, I just wanted to be down by the water. So, I took the train to the waterfront, walked around for about 20 minutes, and decided it wasn’t worth the trip. The beaches near Athens were not where I wound up, which was just a marina of construction and polluted water. I jumped on the next train back into the city, went for my LAST training run of only 2 miles, and had just enough time to take a nap before meeting Rae for dinner on her last night in Europe! We went back to God’s Restaurant since it was cheap, good, and we knew pretty much everyone who worked there. We were there for over 3 hours eating and comparing travel stories! Out of all of her travels, the worst hostel she has ever stayed in was not in South America, or some eastern European country, but in Denver, Colorado. Kinda surprising. The most boring place she had been to – Brussels. I have heard that from virtually everyone I have talked to. One place I do NOT need to add to my list of places to go.

After a good night’s sleep I woke up, checked out of the hostel and found the hotel I had booked for the rest of the weekend with Tim, Mom, and Jenny. Unfortunately, the Novotel was nowhere near as close to the Plaka as my hostel and in a rather run-down area of town, but it worked out. I then took the tram to pick up my marathon registration at the Olympic Fencing Hall at the Hellinikon Complex from the 2004 Olympics. It was conveniently one hour out of the city (sense the sarcasm); however, I did find the beaches that were worth going to. I got my bib number, racing chip, and commemorative shirt and towel – all very exciting! I made it back to our hotel in the “ghetto” and read for longer than I had planned while waiting for the family. Little did I know how difficult driving in Athens was, especially when you are given completely false directions. The traffic, tiny streets, and signs in Greek are bad enough to begin with. It took Tim, Mom, and Jenny three hours to get to the hotel from the airport! It only took me one hour to get into the city on the bus. Lesson – just use the train/bus in Athens. Once they arrived we took the Metro into the Plaka and wandered/climbed around the quaint streets and alleyways. We had a great dinner filled with Greek salad (which we learned does not usually contain any lettuce), stuffed vine leaves, moussaka, lamb, and souvlaki at a rooftop restaurant below the Acropolis. I have decided that Greek food is my favorite European food so far. I can’t get enough of it.

On Saturday we started out in the flea market. Our only purchase was what Jenny is wearing in this picture. Apparently she has always wanted one of these masks. I’m not quite sure what it says about her, but out of everything they have in the markets, this was the ultimate for her. I had saved going up to the Acropolis for when Tim, Mom, and Jenny got into town, so that’s what we did next. We had our own tour with a friendly Greek lady named “Kula.” I think we only understood two-thirds of what she said, if that, but it was still interesting. I was racking my brain to remember all the things we learned from Jacobson and Miller in Humanities, but a lot of that is gone now. Jenny snapped a picture of this dog up on the Acropolis. There is actually an abundance of stray dogs and cats in Athens. The odd thing is that they are fairly friendly and look as if they could lose a few pounds. Apparently the people of Athens feel bad for the strays and every once in a while the animals are rounded up, sterilized, vaccinated, and collared. They are virtually everyone’s dogs, and everyone feeds them, which is why many are overweight.

Back to our activities . . . we grabbed an earlyish dinner at a taverna on our favorite street in the Plaka. We had a cozy table next to a fire place and live, traditional Greek music played in the background. It was very relaxing. After the filling pre-race dinner we headed back to the hotel where Jenny and I watched TV until I could fall asleep, which was late – 1:30am – not good. I woke up at 5:30 to catch the train to the Panathinaiko Stadium for the marathon. Panathinaiko is the pure-marble stadium that was built for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and was used as the finish for the marathon in the 2004 Games, as well as annually for the Athens Classic Marathon. From Panathinaiko, all 4,000 participants were bused 26.2 miles, or 42.2km, out to the city of Marathon where the race began. I warmed up on the track and was running alongside the Kenyans who eventually went on to win the race. I thought that was pretty cool! I was amazingly calm before the race, which is totally unlike me. I wore a pair of UVA shorts, which turned out to be a good idea because I met a lot of people from VA and the U.S. that way. I even got some “Go Cavaliers” shouts during the race, which was an especially welcoming thing to hear when most other cheers were in one of 20+ other languages.

Overall the race went amazingly well – much better than I thought it ever would! Knowing that Athens was a difficult course, I had hoped to finish in under 5 hours, and I would have been extremely pleased with anything under 4:20, which is 10-minute-mile pace. In the end I wound up finishing in 3:35!!! That’s 8:13-mile pace! I was the 41st woman across the finish line (out of 579). I powered up the hills like they weren’t even there, or I could also say, like Kate Meehan. And I ran negative splits – my second half was 7 minutes faster than my first. So, I’m happy. I had planned on this being the one marathon I ran in my life, but I have since figured out that I qualify for the Boston Marathon. I may be running two marathons in my lifetime now. Exciting though.

I hung out at Panathinaiko after the race as the soreness set in. For anyone who has run a marathon, you know what I am talking about. I managed to get a massage, but can’t tell if it helped at all. By the time I recouped and the massage was over I still hadn’t seen Tim, Mom, or Jenny, nor had I seen them anywhere along the course. I finally met up with them about two hours after I had finished. Athens traffic had come back to haunt them. They had tried to get to different points along the course, but missed me every time and arrived at the finish about one and a half hours after I had. I felt badly that they spent all morning in the car! So, we took a bunch of pictures after the big rush was over. We then went back to the hotel room, where I had never been so happy to see a bed and a shower! I fell asleep for a while before we went out for one last Greek dinner in the Plaka. Actually, I hobbled to dinner. It was pretty hysterical – you could instantly spot anyone who had run the marathon that day. We all had the same exhausted expression and pained gait as we trudged around that night. After dinner we grabbed one last glimpse of the Acropolis lit up at night, when it is most beautiful. We woke up early the next day and headed to the airport several hours earlier than necessary to make sure we could get through Athens traffic.

We all arrived safely back in Düsseldorf. Jenny is now at a soccer tournament in London and will return on Saturday. Tim took off for London for a day, too. And Mom, Shadow, and I are hanging out at the house. I can finally walk normally again, which is good. Hope everyone is doing well!! Drop us a line and let us know what is going on back in the States!! Miss everyone!

Mittwoch, 7. November 2007

Costa del Sol

While I was in Maryland, the rest of the family flew down to Marbella, Spain on the Mediterranean. Before I got there they managed to drive around and get lost several times, so that by the time I arrived they had the directions all figured out. They also managed to explore old town Marbella and visit the cliffside town of Ronda. I can’t go into too many details about those excursions since I wasn’t there, but I do have some pictures. Marbella . . . oranges and limesHere are some of the sites from Old Town in the Plaza de Los Naranjes (Plaza of the Oranges), a Catholic, Church, cute streets, etc. And here is a shot of the gorges around Ronda. It’s a bit scary, especially when driving on skinny roads in a manual car. Here is Jenny in front of the oldest bull-fighting ring in Spain with her attempt at getting two scoops of ice cream. She did get two scoops! But also an extra cone to go with it. Some Spanish boys passing by laughed at her.

On the first day that I was there we went out for a great dinner in Old Town Marbella at a restaurant with a Moroccan-style outdoor courtyard. Jenny had the most memorable dinner – “hung” chicken. Literally. After dinner we went on our usual gelato hunt. By the next morning my jet lag was beginning to wear off. We had nothing in particular planned, so spent our morning exploring the Old Town. We also spent some time down by the pool before mom, Jenny, and I went to a Paella cooking class. They made enough paella for 50 people in this one skillet! I went for a run at sunset on the beach. I actually managed to run at sunset almost every night we were there, which was great. It was so gorgeous!!

On Thursday we took a day trip to Granada, the home of the famous Alhambra, an expansive Moorish city and palace. The drive through the Andalusian region was beautiful – rocky mountains and olive trees at sunrise, with the original Sierra Nevadas in the distance. We got to the Alhambra and went on a tour, which was quite long – roughly three hours. It was very interesting to see though. The Islamic architecture throughout the palaces was very different from the classical European architecture we have been seeing all over the place. Islamic style architecture stresses adorning the inside of the structure, so while the outside may look a little plain, the inside of the palace was meticulously detailed and intricate. There is also a stress on the incorporation of water. Several courtyards within the palaces contained ponds and waterways and were extremely cozy and relaxing. The views down to the main part of Granada were great! And on one of the adjacent hills there were gypsy homes/caves!! After the tour we attempted to see part of downtown Granada, but driving in that town is kind of difficult, so after several failed attempts to find the Old Town of Granada we decided to head back to Marbella.

The next day was our big trip down the coast to Gibraltar. Before this trip I had heard of “The Rock of Gibraltar.” I figured it was an overly large boulder sitting at the mouth of the Mediterranean. In some ways it is, but it is also a lot more. First off, it’s not just a big boulder, but a massive protruding cliff containing a town at its base, castles on it, and caves and tunnels within it. Gibraltar is actually a British colony – the only colony in modern-day Europe. So once you cross into it (with your passport) everything is in English, and fish and chips and Marks and Spencer abound. And it is also home to a group of wild monkeys, likely pets brought over hundreds of years ago. The first thing you have to cross when you enter Gibraltar is a one-lane airstrip. We decided to take a tour around Gibraltar by van with a guide. It was actually a great way to go. Mom may disagree since she hates skinny, high-up roads, and these were pretty much the worst I have ever seen. And we did it in a manual car. Our tour guide was extremely interesting and had just missed being voted into the local Parliament by one vote. Too bad. We started up the Rock and looked towards Africa, which is 15km away. You can see the Atlas Mountains in Morocco easily on a clear day! We then entered St. Michael’s Cave, one of many naturally-formed caves within the Rock. St. Michael’s holds a concert hall, where the Mounds View Orchestra has actually played a concert before on one of their European tours!

After the caves we headed up to the heights of the Rock, where the monkeys hang out. They are extremely used to human contact, but you still have to be careful with them. We kept our van windows closed, as monkeys have been know to jump in and steal your bags. Check out this monkey riding on the top of the van in front of us! Our driver even had a plastic snake in the van to keep them away. It freaked me out a little, too. Jenny wanted to have a monkey sit on her shoulders, which you can do. But some of the monkeys got in a fight in front of us and made a show of their enormous teeth. They would bite, so I was not disappointed that Jenny decided against having one of them on her shoulders after that. I was really psyched about this part of the rock because clouds were forming right in front of our eyes!! Wind was coming up and over the eastern side of the rock and materializing into white smoke. It was sooooo cool! I think I got a lot more excited about that than anyone else. If I haven’t said it already, the views from anywhere on the Rock are absolutely amazing, as I’m sure you can tell from the pics.

Then we moved onto the military tunnels inside the Rock of Gibraltar. As a precaution during WWII, the British built tunnels in the rock and armed them with cannons in case the Germans ever decided to attack. Luckily, the tunnels never had to be used, but they were cool to see. We also walked through the old Moorish castle halfway up the rock and took in our last elevated views before heading back into the town of Gibraltar. We walked back out of Gibraltar (which is faster than driving because of the traffic), but had to wait for planes to land and take off first. I don’t think I’ve ever been that close to an active runway before. Here is all the traffic lined up , waiting to cross. Once the planes were gone, we were supposed to walk across “as quickly as possible” – that’s a little scary. I think we all enjoyed our day trip to Gibraltar. It was one of the most interesting and eclectic places I have ever been to, and I hadn’t really known it existed before.

We grabbed a nice seafood dinner by the beach in Marbella for our last night. The next morning we took one last trip to the Old Town before catching our plane back to Düsseldorf.