« July 2009 | Main | September 2009 »

August 30, 2009

First Photos From The Trip

I was able to figure out how to resize a few photos. Here are some of them.

Cabo da Roca

Cabo da Roca

Lisbon View

Until next time, be safe.

Last Night In Lisbon

We are staying in our hostel in Lisbon for the last night, for tomorrow we head on the night train to Madrid. It is a little sad, because this is the first place that we put down our bags and made ourselves home at. On the other hand, from now on, when people ask us where we have been, we won't have to say that we just arrived, or are "just off the boat," as rudely put by a couple of Canadians getting ready to head home.

Today we went off to a little town called Sintra. We were up and out of the hostel by 9 am, first because we wanted to avoid the inevitable weekend crowd, but mostly because the one palace we had interest in visiting, the Palacio Nacional de Sintra, was free from 10 am til 2 pm. Given how much we like free things, we were off of the train in Sintra, along with another American, Rafael, by 10 am.

The palace wasn't particularly spectacular. We aren't really museum folks; our attention span is shot after usually one museum or old building of whatever sort. Granted, it was a large palace, quite nice from that respect, but let's say we were happy we didn't pay to get in. Anyhow, I was wanting to head up a big hill to get to the Moorish castle at the top, which would have afforded some nice views of this scenic town and the beautiful valley it lies in. I was outvoted, we jumped on a bus at that point to head to the most western point of Europe, Cabo da Roca. The ride there and back was expensive (8 euros round trip each), and I was a little salty about not getting to see the castle (as my friend Will calls them, piles of rocks). The ride was great, though, a half-hour jaunt through some very normal, non-touristy, scenic villages along the kind of narrow, windy roads I suspect are the most common type in Portugal.

Upon arrival at the point, we took the normal pictures of what was a very spectacular cliffside view of the Pacific. If we had just done that and left, though, we would have missed out. We were sitting at the top, looking out over the high cliffs that fell down to crashing waves, when we noticed that there was a trail that led off into the coastal grasslands, and looked as though it led down into a gully that might end us on a beach. So we set out, it was steep at times, quite rocky and loose, but as difficult as the trail was, arriving on a rocky beach was completely worth it. There wasn't a soul in sight, as most people wouldn't have a clue that the trail existed, and most of the rest would be put off by the difficult and steep trail. The waves were big and ferocious, and in one tall spike of a rock outcropping, the ocean had bored two tunnels through the rock. It was absolutely beautiful, and quite relaxing, with the sounds of the crashing waves. Of course I took pictures, but I am having a lot of difficulty uploading them. 

Our American companion stated that the beach made his Portugal segment of his trip. Despite the exciting and fun Lisbon, I would tend to have to agree with him.

Once back in Lisbon, we found that most grocery stores were closed for Sunday. We were lucky enough to find a store open, and for 5.75 euros, we bought enough food and even beer to absolutely stuff ourselves. We took a couple of beers to a look-off over the city and watched the sunset. Probably the best day in Portugal, I would have to say.

Until next time, be safe. 


August 29, 2009

Good Times In Lisbon

We are having a great time in Lisbon. It is an excellent city.

We have been walking our feet off. Thursday, we rode a tram car to the far end of the city, then walked all around the neighborhoods there. We were looking for a specific church, but this city is difficult to get a bearing in, especially because there are so many large hills, and the roads are curved along the contours of the hills. We were mostly successful in getting ourselves lost, which worked out well. We ended up finding the church we wanted to find, but the search was the best part (entry was 4 euros each, which doesn't fit our budget well). We walked around the windy, cobblestoned streets to the point of exhaustion, then walked back to the hostel across the city. Yesterday, after exploring a few churches and a museum, we jumped on a tram that took us out to the little suburb/neighborhood called Belem, where there are several interesting attractions. For example, the Torre de Belem is particularly picturesque; it looks a bit like an enormous chess piece. The Jeronimos Monastery is also pretty amazing. Belem is known for its custard tarts, and we were enormously pleased to find a shop where we had a couple of them as well as some coffee for 3 euros.

Given our daily budget (half of which goes to our hostel), it isn't particularly surprising that we cherish finding good deals. For what we have spent so far, we have seen and done a lot of things. Funny how having a tight budget encourages you to look for the free and cheap things to do. For example, we went downtown yesterday to a shop that had wine tastings for free. All we had to do is fill out a survey (they were all Portugese wines), but as backpackers, time is on our side, so we had no problem sitting down to put some marks on a sheet of paper for what ended up being a decent glass of free wine. (Note: wine is particularly cheap in Portugal, more so than beer, so a good bottle can be as cheap as 2 or 3 euros. Still, free is free.)

Tomorrow we are going to a little town near the coast that is apparently "fairytale like," called Sintra. I am going because there is a really interesting Moorish castle. Also, many museums and other places that charge entry fees (most places, at a going rate of 4-6 euros) have free entry on Sundays from 10 am to 2 pm; we're going to check out a palace while we're out there. We might also check out a few nearby places, although the bus tickets to those places may exceed our budget.

We did so much yesterday and for so little that we were just pleased as punch about our budget. So, to celebrate, we went out for dinner at a nice, decently priced restaurant. We ordered well-priced entrees, which would have kept us under the budget. However, we didn't realize that the appetizers (the plates of fish, the olives, the cheese, and even apparently the bread) are added up and placed on the tab, costing us an additional 10 euros. We were so sad that we had to get a beer with another American, and really blew the budget at that point. Tragic. 

Every day is a new attempt at the challenge of keeping a tight budget. It's fun.

Until next time, be safe.


August 26, 2009

And So It Begins, In Lisbon...

We have arrived on our long-awaited trip. I´m sitting now in our hostel in Lisbon, where we plan on staying through the end of the month.

It was a pretty long trip, I´ll have to say that. We were up very early on the morning of the 25th, to catch our plane in Charlotte, NC. We flew from there up to JFK in NYC, and then on to Dublin, Ireland, on Aer Ingus. As commonly happens to me, I didn´t sleep at all on that flight. Even worse, it was only a 6.5 hour flight, so by the time I was getting tired enough to sleep, we were in Dublin. We had a two hour layover there, which had us sitting in the airport much like two exhausted zombies. Once we finally boarded our flight down here to Lisbon, we could barely keep our eyes open, and ended up sleeping the entire 2.5 hour flight.

Once in Lisbon, we had no issues. Our bags miraculously beat us out of the terminal, so there was no waiting or worrying for them. We loaded up and jumped on a bus that was to take us within a few blocks of our hostel, no issues there. The problem came once we disembarked from the bus, and found we had to struggle up an enormous hill to reach our hostel. 

I guess I should note the weight of our bags. At some point shortly before leaving from South Carolina, my bag weighed in over 70 pounds, once I attached the daypack to the backside. We did some hardcore weaning of our supplies, something difficult when you are trying to anticipate five months of travel needs. By the time we weighed our bags in the airport, my bag weighed 46 pounds, partly because I had the daypack on my back, and partly due to the weaning of the "unnecessary" supplies, including our sleeping pads, which we may end up regretting having left them behind when we go camping. Jess´s bag weighed about 30-35 pounds, which is pretty impressive given her small size.

At any rate, hauling the bags up this huge hill, probably at a 35-40 degree angle, after little sleep, little food, and loads of general grotchiness on both our parts, was a chore. In the end, we found our hostel with no issues and checked in. Per our budget, we are staying in a bunkroom, this particular room with a total of 8 beds. We even met our first hostel acquaintance, some Danish guy staying in Lisbon to study for five months (and staying in a hostel? Wow...).

We then headed out to see a little of the town while our strength held (turned out not to be too long, given this district of Lisbon is really, really hilly). We found a little cafe for Coke and pastries, and to learn a little Portugese. Later we found a shop where (according to our budget) we bought a bag of pasta, some tomato paste, some mushrooms and sardines, cheap wine, and some cookies for less than nine euros. Not too bad. We felt good enough about our budget, and the fact that we are staying under it for today at least, that we got a couple of beers in a little cafe that has a great view looking out over the bay, the big suspension bridge, and a nice section of Lisbon.

Until next time, be safe. 


August 24, 2009

Ready For Departure!

The day has finally come. Tomorrow morning, we will leave for Charlotte, NC, to catch our first flight, to Lisbon, Portugal. It seemed like such a long time coming, but the day has finally arrived.

We've had a great time in South Carolina, despite the humidity we found here. Spending a year away from the Southa apparently causes you to lose any tolerance for oppressive humidity that you might have. We've had the time here to make all of our final preparations, meaning that we've purchased all the gear, probably more so, that we'll need. We've filled the pockets of our backpacks to the brim, and after I finish writing this, I'll be weighing the pack to make sure that it is less than 50 lbs total for me, which is all that I want to have to carry for the next five months.

We've also finished our business. Our car insurance is on hold. Our phones won't work after Tuesday at midnight. The accounts that will have to be maintained on the trip will be automatic. Our lives back in the States should continue to run as normal.

Now, I'm just ready to get on the road. I keep reading the Lonely Planet guides we have for our destinations, and it is terribly exciting. Everywhere we've chosen has plenty of interesting sites to visit and experiences to be had. Any one of our destinations could have been a trip on its own. So, it is a little bit of overload to know that we'll be in all of these places.

We'll try to relax and have a slow day here in SC. That will be hard, knowing that Departure Day is just tomorrow. Next time I post anything, I won't be on this continent.

Until next time, be safe.



August 07, 2009

Spending The Dough Already

Yesterday, I had a little spending spree. I finally broke down and bought plane tickets for a few more legs of the trip. Before, I'd only purchased tickets from Charlotte, NC, to Lisbon. I figured that I would watch ticket prices carefully and get them at key moments of cheapness. Well, over the past month I've been watching a slow but incremental increase in prices, and since we are only about six weeks from our departure from Barcelona to Warsaw, it seemed prudent to just go ahead and buy tickets for that flight.

Next, I bought tickets from Berlin to Istanbul. This may require a little more explanation. One reason that I haven't purchased plane tickets to most places is because I don't want to limit our flexibility of our plans. That has worked out well. For example, we've made plans to meet a few friends from Tucson on September 25 in Barcelona, which is after the date that I had initially planned on flying out, which would have prevented us from meeting them. By holding off on buying tickets, I was able to adjust our plans to accommodate something like meeting people. Now, though, plans are seeming to coalese a little bit, so I'm feeling more comfortable making more definite limitations, such as plane tickets. So, we will be in Spain now until the 26th of September, upon which date we will head up to Poland, where we will explore until we spend the night of the 3rd of October in Berlin, Germany. That is so we can catch a flight the next morning to Istanbul.

To explain this new addition to our country count, there is a nurse in the unit I worked at in Tucson, who came back after a couple of weeks of vacation. I didn't know where she'd gone, and was pretty interested in hearing about her vacation in Turkey. She really had nothing but good things to say about Turkey. I looked at a map of our route and noticed that Istanbul is en route from Berlin to Bangkok, albeit a layover, which is fine with us. Then I ran the numbers, and it turns out that adding a stopover in Istanbul only costs $50 for each of us in additional plane costs. So, we're getting a week in Turkey. Maybe even longer than that, since I haven't gone as far as purchase tickets into Thailand yet.

Since I had the card out, I went ahead and purchased a Eurail pass for the two of us in Spain and Portugal. We're planning on going some distance to see different cities, and train travel in Europe is notoriously expensive. We will only get four days of train travel with Spain and Portugal, and it still cost $300 each. That's as much as I paid for flights to Istanbul for the both of us. Seems a little ludicrous, but the alternative would be to pay anywhere from $40 to $150 each for every train ride we took in Spain, which would have eventually cost around $500 each. In that sense, it is a bargain.

One thing that I found with buying tickets for trains and planes is that it is more economical to buy them online in the US on websites based in the US. I called the credit card companies and asked what their foreign transaction fees were, which I found out to be 3%. So, it you spend $300 on flights on a foreign website, say BalticAir, you have to factor in an additional $9 in fees just with the credit cards, which makes a difference when you are crunching costs as much as possible for everything to make this trip fit in a certain budget. On the other hand, buying the same tickets through a website such as Orbitz, even with their fee attached, is often approximately the same as the costs before you added in the credit card fees.

Finally, I went ahead and purchased our travel insurance. This cost about $350 for the two of us for five full months. This is an absolute for any travelers, because not only can it save your trip when your bag gets stolen or the airlines try to screw you, but also because in any instances of injury, you will receive the best treatment a country can provide, and if it isn't enough, you will be evacuated back to the US for care. Try putting that cost on the credit card.

So, in addition to the costs we've already had, including bags, Lonely Planet guides, and those sorts of things, we've managed to spend a fair amount already. That just makes it more important to fully anticipate costs while abroad and follow a solid budget. It's possible to have a lot of fun and to not end up broke at the end. Those who know me well can attest to the types of budgets I keep, and this will not be different; if anything, it will have to be more rigorous. All part of the challenge.

Until next time, be safe.

Confidence Is What You Feel Before You Fully Understand The Situation

We're moving very quickly towards our departure date, it's pretty amazing. In less than three weeks, we'll be humping our backpacks through the airport terminal in Lisbon, Portugal. That's a pretty exciting and startling thought for the two of us.

I'm having conflicting feelings about the upcoming departure date. Part of me feels like it is taking forever arriving. This part of me feels like there is nothing to do but wait for that moment when we board our plane in Charlotte. That is a relaxing idea, but entirely unrealistic.

Which brings up the conflicting side of me. I'm realizing that I only have couple more weeks, and I keep remembering things I need to do to prepare for the trip that I have forgotten or worse, haven't even thought of yet. After all, it's not like I take a six-month hiatus from life to wander around frequently. There are arrangements to be made, necessities to be purchased, and plans to be designed. This is a much less relaxing way to think of the trip. In a way, it will just be relaxing to get on the plane and know that whatever I didn't manage to accomplish will just have to be postponed or neglected altogether.

It's not that I'm nervous or having cold feet about the trip. I have been there before, on the first real international trip I made as an independent backpacker to Chile. Every time I would talk about the upcoming trip, I would break out into cold sweats. Jess and I have been around enough, have gotten enough traveling and especially backpacking under our belts, that I feel quite confident in our decisions that we've made about this trip. What causes me anxiety is making sure that there is a proper foundation for our trip. I want things to be set up in order for our trip to start out smoothly, without having any baggage besides our backpacks accompanying us as we head out.

So in the midst of quitting our jobs, moving all of our belongings from Tucson up to Colorado, and spending time with family and friends, I've really had to consider what remains for us to do in preparation for our trip. I've already started a journal, as I have found that writing things down keeps them straight in my mind. Top of the list now seems to be finishing out our supply list, which at this point only requires tweaking our clothing selections. For me, I need good boots that will survive the trip. Also, both of us are planning on buying special underwear, as a matter of fact. This particular kind of skivvies will be easy to clean, quick to dry, and lightweight. For the hardcore, two pair are the bare necessity, as one can be washed and dried while the other is worn. I think we'll end up with three pairs each, to give the other two an extra day to air out. So, we'll have three pairs of skivvies, four to five shirts, a couple pairs of pants (preferably quick-dry, preferably with zip-off legs), a couple pairs of shorts, something warm, something waterproof (a combination of those two would be ideal), and a bunch of socks. This last article, the common sock, is crucial. They are lightweight, they are often stinky, and they can be dramatically uncomfortable without proper care, so a bunch of socks isn't a bad thing.

Everything else in our bags seems to be in order. We have our lightweight campgear. We have our travel towels, travel clock, and travel sewing kits. I have a first aid kit that would allow minor surgery in the field, which hopefully won't be necessary. I have more stuff than will probably be going with us, and surely more stuff than will make the complete trip back home. One thing that I do like to do in preparation for trips is buy stuff to take along; fortunately, I've pretty much run out of things that I feel that I could buy on the excuse of this trip.

Beyond the physical needs of the trip, there is a lot of preparation. I have business related to our last apartment to wrap up. I need to confirm whether we need to have any immunizations (I don't think we do) and whether we need to buy any anti-malarial medications (that may be necessary). I need to reserve a spot in a hostel in Lisbon for our first night, the one reservation that I will bother with on this side of the Pacific. There are tax issues I should probably at least preemptively address, at least to prepare for when we get back. There are accounts I need to suspend, phone services to cancel, car insurance policies to put on hold. I need to write a few letters, send some pictures, winterize our vehicles and belongings. See, it's a little stressful getting ready to be gone from home and convenience for five full months, there is a lot to do.

Getting on that plane will be the most relaxing thing I manage to do in the next two and a half weeks.

Beyond all of the busy preparation, though, the Trip comes through, a reminder of great times to be had, and I remember how inspiring the idea of this thing was even in China, and how it continues to inspire us now. Preparation will be accomplished, and we'll be moving on to our trip. Actually, scratch that, we're already on the Trip. After all, we are currently unemployed, and we drove 900 miles from Tucson to reach Colorado and will fly nearly 2000 miles to Charlotte soon. Most importantly, this is a journey over seven continents, and this is the first one. Six more to go.

Until next time, be safe.


Hosting by Yahoo!