A Chronicle of Amy and Sean's World Travels
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Average Daily Cost in Europe

Back in our planning stages, I loved reading travel blogs to day dream, but the practical side of me was always wondering: how much did it cost?  Here’s a brief breakdown of our average daily cost to travel through Europe.  This figure does not include supplies or gear; costs at home; misc. fees like ATM fees; or most significantly, major transport (which we define as anything that takes us from one overnight destination to another, whether it be plane, train, bus or rental car). Basically, the average daily cost includes things like accommodation, meals, snacks, alcohol, activities, and minor transport like subways.  Any oddities are noted below.

  1. Germany ($73/day) (No lodging costs because we stayed with a friend.)
  2. Poland ($91/day)
  3. Hungary ($101/day)
  4. France ($132/day) (No lodging costs except for one night in a B&B in Mont St. Michel and an air mattress because we stayed with a friend in Paris.)
  5. Portugal ($133/day)
  6. Croatia ($142/day)
  7. Czech Republic ($144/day)
  8. Slovenia ($148/day)
  9. Spain ($154/day)
  10. Northern Ireland ($187/day)
  11. Ireland ($255/day) (This figure is estimated; we lost track of our budget quickly after many a round of Guinness.  Costs are also higher because we went out more than usual while our friends were visiting.)
  12. Belgium ($272/day) (This just for a 2 day trip to Brussels.  Again, costs were probably higher because we drank a lot with our friend and bought an excessive amount of chocolate.)

There are a lot of factors that affect costs, and I plan to write in the future about some of them, including tips we’ve learned for saving money.  To give you a sense of our travel style, we are not eating ramen noodles and staying in hostel dorms, but we watch our spending.  Where you stay has the biggest effect on the budget.  In general, when it comes to accommodations, we always have a private double; we try to avoid shared bathrooms, but will share if we’re feeling cheap; we try to find clean, simple budget accommodation, which means a variety of hostels, pensions, apartments, guesthouses, and B&Bs; and we will sometimes spend $10 or $20 more to get a private bathroom, free wifi, better location, or overall nicer place.  When it comes to eating, we always eat 3 meals a day and usually dessert or snacks; we usually order a drink or two with dinner, and occasionally have a few drinks at other times; we stay at places with free breakfasts if it makes sense, but tend to self-cater breakfast otherwise;  we tend to eat out almost every day for lunch and dinner, but sometimes self-cater if we have a kitchen; we usually spend our most money at dinner, as it is typically our nightly entertainment; and overall, we tend to eat what we want and not skimp on food.

Hope that helps to put the European portion of our trip in context.  Europe is definitely not as cheap as developing countries, but as you can see, it does not need to be outrageous.  If you have any questions about our European costs, leave a comment or send me an email.

A Whole Lot of Nothing

I was going to write lots of posts about Valencia, especially since we were there for 10 days, but sitting here in Prague, Valencia seems like a distant memory.

From Valencia, Spain

It is not that we didn’t enjoy our time there. Like all of the Spanish cities we visited, we really liked Valencia. It is just that nothing exciting happened while we were there. I mentioned previously that due to our excitement over staying in an apartment for a change, we spent a lot of time relaxing. There is not much you can say about that. First, we slept in. Second, we made eggs for breakfast. Third, we surfed the internet and read. Fourth, we went for a walk.  Fifth, we looked for a replacement camera…

It was nice to relax in Valencia, because the two months so far have been anything but relaxing. Travel is stressful. Every day involves countless decisions, endless feelings of unfamiliarity, money limitations, getting lost, and figuring things out. Simple tasks often are a two step process, because all too often something goes wrong the first time and you have to set out again, with newly acquired information, to accomplish what you wanted to do the first time. Even something as simple as getting something to eat can be a big production, because first you have to figure out where to go, how to get there, what exactly they are serving, what to order, how much to order, how to express what you want, and how much it is. Even simple sightseeing or wandering is tiring – there is a lot more activity in our days than we ever experienced sitting at our desks back home. Look, travel fatigue is a problem I know many people who are stuck at work would kill to have, but it is a problem nonetheless. And you may not believe me, but there are days where I am hot, tired, and cranky where I have actually muttered the words, I might rather be at work than deal with this.

Of course, we all know that’s not really true.

So if one is in the mood to just hang out for a while, Valencia is the perfect city to do so.   After spending two weeks in Spain in earlier in our trip, and leaving and re-entering on three separate occasions, Spain began to feel familiar and more like home, which is what we needed for a little while.  Compared to other Spanish cities, there seemed to be less tourists, and more Valencians just living their lives. The weather was sunny almost every day. Although it often topped 80, it got decent breezes from the sea. Some years back, the city diverted its river, and put a park in its place. The result is a winding green space in the old riverbed, where at any given time people are lounging, playing soccer, running, riding bikes, or walking.

Valencia is at once both very modern and very historic. There is a dichotomy between its architecture. Many of the buildings seemed to be blah, ugly high rises.

Yet it also has grand historic buildings, such as the site of the former silk market, or its cathedral housing the Holy Grail (the cup from which Jesus reportedly drank at the Last Supper).

It also is home to the very futuristic City of Arts of Sciences, a fantastic complex of geometric lines.

You would think that a city on the Mediterranean would be focused on the sea, but if it wasn’t for the fresh seafood everywhere, you would almost forget that Valencia is seaside. The beach, or at least the portion we visited, is nothing to write home about, but there are fantastic paella restaurants up and down the promenade. Valencia is the birthplace of paella, and actually features chicken and rabbit as the main type of paella. All of the rice based dishes we had were fantastic, owing to the local rice.

From Eating and Drinking in Valencia

It is a good thing our need to cook coincided with our stay in Valencia, which abounds with local, fresh produce. In addition to oranges, we had great local tomatoes and olive oil. Besides the neighborhood bakery where we often made meals out of empanadas, we were frequent customers at the Central Market. As the name implies, it is a large market in the center of town, featuring every type of food you could need to cook a feast. The first day we visited, we literally followed our noses, letting our sniffers lead us to the sweetest smelling strawberries.

We can vouch that Valencia is a good place to go shopping, both of the real and window variety. I spent some time wandering in and out of funky shops in the Barrio de Carmen neighborhood. We surely visited every camera store in Valencia for our search for a replacement camera and accessories. We also surely visited every shoe store in Valencia in my search for a replacement for sandals that were not a good fit. Although shoe shopping in Spain was now old hat, it became increasingly clear with every shoe store that I apparently have the largest feet ever known to mankind. I wear a US size 10. Prepared in advance this time, my research indicated that a 10 converted to a 42. Upon inquiry of whether the store might have a certain shoe in a size 42, the response typically was 42? Commence sharp intake of breath and vehement head shaking. Oooh. Maybe a 41. There is no way we have a 42. Then the salesperson would return with a 40. Maybe this would work?

From Shopping in Valencia

Luckily, I found a stylish, comfortable Spanish brand called Wonders where I took a 41. In case you haven’t noticed my repeating wardrobe, it primarily consists of a green shirt and blue shirt. Combined with my blue purse, I have been sporting a very blue and green centric look. So of course the only Wonders sandals (or really, any sandals) that fit me was a colorful blue and green pair. They are blue leather with green soles. I think I found the only size 41 in the entire city. I should know, as every time I saw a shoe store, I popped in to see if they had size 41 Wonders in a different color so I wouldn’t be so monochromatic. They didn’t, so blue and green it is. I later realized that the walls in our Valencia apartment are painted blue and green. I am surrounded by blue and green.

You don’t need a museum to find art.

Normally, graffiti everywhere is a bad thing, but there sure are some artistic spray painters in Valencia.  I enjoyed wandering around Barrio del Carmen finding more and more graffiti.  It also makes siesta time less dreary.  During siesta time (anywhere from 1:30 to 5:30, depending on the city and the store), Spanish stores close their metal gates, making the street look a little neglected.  In Barcelona, there was a lot of graffiti on the gates, but all of it was of the dodgey variety.  Spanish cities can be confusing – and interesting – because each time you wander down the street, you find new stores and lose track of ones you’ve previously seen.  So it is nice to have some art to look at while you are trying to find that store you just know you saw yesterday.

Here’s a sampling of the graffiti artists’ work:

From Valencia Graffiti

Two months…and we are back in business!

We left Pittsburgh exactly 60 days ago.  On one hand, it feels like we have been travelling forever, but we are only 2/12 of the way through our trip.

The first two weeks in Spain felt like a vacation: new, different, and fun.  Then the second two weeks in Paris were like a more exciting version of home, with friends and homey apartment comforts.  Then there was Morocco, and, well, you know how that was.  Returning to Spain again felt familiar, and we’ve spent a lot of the time ironing out the kinks of our travel style and getting into a groove.

Some things are obvious: we get pretty cranky without constant internet; we are not a fan of shared bathrooms, but will do it if we absolutely have to; and a car is not always the best way to travel.  It is fun bouncing around, but it is tiring and leaves little time for down time.  So we’ve decided for the Eastern/Central Europe portion of our trip that we are going to try to see less and stay at least a week in each location.  One thing that is pretty clear is that the quality of our accommodations directly affects our happiness, but it is also the biggest component of our budget.  We added up how much we spent on everything so far, and if continue at this pace, we’ll be 50% over our yearly budget.  Yikes.  But that figure is misleading, because we are doing the most expensive part of our trip first.  Or at least it better be.

Some homesickness has kicked in, particularly for me, and so to remedy that, we ended up chilling in an apartment for 10 days in Valencia.  I’ll write more about Valencia later, but the reality is we haven’t been doing a whole lot other than enjoying life like this is our home and it is a perpetual weekend.  (Well, what we imagine a weekend to be like, because Sean and I spent most of our weekends back left were either working at work (me) or working on our house (mostly him).  We really like the idea of having a temporary apartment.  It lets you daydream about living in a foreign land for a while.  We actually have had two apartments in Valencia.  We first booked one at 11 Flats for 3 days, and got a great deal (about $54/night) because it was booked last minute and filled the gap for the rental company.  See – just like home:

Then we decided that maybe we weren’t in such a hurry to move on, and booked another apartment through the same company at 5 flats for 7 days (about $76/night).

Both apartments are in the heart of the Barrio de Carmen neighborhood, feel positively enormous compared to the tiny hotel rooms in which we have stayed, have fast internet, and modern decor.  Our current place even has a washing machine, which is really the holy grail for “backpackers.”  I decided to wash my clothes today just because I could.  The apartments, of course, also have kitchens, which has allowed us to shop at the markets and cook real meals.  (So Matt, tell your Aunt Ceci not to worry, we won’t have to eat out for 365 days straight).

We’ve also been filling our days with running errands, a need that does not disappear when you cross borders.  One big errand we accomplished is re-purchasing our camera.  It looks like our renters insurance is going to cover the camera, minus a $500 deductible.  We’ve been scouring Valencia for a replacement since we arrived last week.  There are not many camera stores in Valencia, and our internet searches turned up nothing.  It took days of scouting to find what we needed, accomplished by a combination of asking the reception desk at the apartment company, asking a random photography studio, and keeping our eyes peeled while we walked around in popular shopping areas.  In the off chance anyone is ever in Valencia and in need of a camera or equipment, check out the El Corte Ingles department store on Colon (think Macys, with electronics), a photo store by the bullring (think independent photo store), FNAC on some street I forget (think Best Buy), and FotoPrix in the Nuevo Centro mall (think Ritz Camera).  Sean entertained himself by re-researching camera options.  He dreamed of going smaller and getting something new to play around with, I dreamed of taking pictures with my SLR again.  We pondered lots of alternatives, such as getting a compact micro four thirds camera, or reducing our zoom capabilities by getting a smaller lens.  In the end, when we stumbled across the same camera and lens we had before as a set for a great price, Sean’s dreams of lightening our load were dashed one more time.  We are now the proud owners of a Canon XSi (450D here in Europe) and 18-200 mm lens once again.  Yippee!

The Bull Murders

It is not as if I didn’t know what was going to happen at a bullfight.  I mean, I knew bulls were going to die right in front of me.  Sometimes the bulls kill the matador instead, Sean said helpfully.  Great.  My alternatives are watching people torment an animal, or watch the animal turn on the people.

Yet I was willing to go to the bullfight, because although you can sit in cafes all over the world, bullfighting is a strong cultural tradition most famously associated with Spain.  Plus, I figured I condone the murders of innocent animals each time I eat meat, even if in my ideal world the animal lives a happy little life beforehand.  I’m no angel.

Again, because we are cheap frugal, we opted for the cheap seats in the sun for 13 euros per ticket instead of upwards of 30 euros for tickets in the shade.  Turns out that like the spectators, matadors like the shade too, so in exchange for having the sun beat down onto us, there was a greater distance between me and the live killings that were about to occur.

Sean busied himself taking live action shots.  Don’t worry.  Although it meant I was forced to live through the killings a second time, I screened all of the shots to not subject you to any of the ones with stabbing, goring, or blood.  There were three matadors on the poster advertising the fight.  We naively assumed we would only have to watch 3 bull “fights,” but turns out there were six bulls murdered that night.  The crowd never grew tired of the show.

Each time, a bull would be released into the ring.  It would stumble around, looking confused.  Then one of the matadors would entice it to come over with a pink cape, and the bull would take off running.  They would egg the bull on for a while, provoking it to charge at the pink capes, until a man on a horse would come out.  The bull would take all of its anger out at the horse and charge at its side.  The horse, who was blindfolded by the way, would stumble around while the rider on top stabbed at the bull with a long sword.  Fortunately, the horses now wear armor.  For a time, more horses were killed in bullfights than bulls.

After being weakened by its stabbing from the rider atop the horse, the bull continued to charge at the matadors.  They taunted the bull, enticing it to come closer, until each of them stabbed two colorful pointed sticks (banderillas) into the bull’s neck.  Sometimes, one of the two would bounce off the bull and land on the ground, but the end result was that the bull would run around, raging mad, with 4-6 banderillas dangling from its body.

Finally, a matador would come out with a red cape.  When the bull charged at the cape, the matador raised a giant sword and thrust it in the bull’s neck, going for the kill shot.  If it didn’t work, the matador would repeat until the bull stumbled and collapsed on the ground.  Just to make sure the job was really done, one of the other matadors gave the bull a few final stabs.  Horses dragged the bull’s lifeless body away to the cheers of the crowd, leaving a trail of blood in the sand.  The blood was swept over, and the process began again.

I can’t begin to fathom why this is something that people enjoy, but to each his own, I suppose.  It is safe to say that this will be the one and only bullfight I attend in my life.

p.s. When we were eating dinner at a little hole in the wall restaurant in Lisbon, Portugal, we noticed they were showing a matador collapsed on the ground on t.v.  At first I thought it was the news and a bull had killed a matador.  Then we realized it was a t.v. show – something along the lines of C.S.I., Lisbon.  All of the characters were there: there was the older, wise detective, the young hot head, and the attractive female.  They studied the crime scene, went to the morgue, and interrogated suspects.  The only difference was the murder.  The murder was of a matador, killed by two banderillas in his neck.  A classic Iberian whodunnit.

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