Toledo, Spain

Toledo- the city on top of a hill. And oh how wonderful it was to climb up that hill with a 20+ pound backpack and no food in my belly. Can you hear the sarcasm? The walk sucked and was not fun. For those Gustie grads that may (but probably not) be reading, getting to Toledo was like walking up death hill for about 35 minutes. Finally after you’re dead and crawling, you’ve made it. Woohoo. For those normal people out there, it was pretty steep and completely uphill, so you can imagine walking up it for over 30 minutes was painful. My calves were definitely burning. There was a silver lining though- when we checked in, our host so nicely showed us on the map the escalator we went up (he assumed). HAHA. ESCALATOR!? Yep, you heard right, there was an escalator that comes all the way up. Good time people. At least we got our steps in for the day right? Well, now we know. And you bet your ass we went down on the escalator when we left- It’s the small victories.
After braving the hill and checking in, we cooled off a little in the air conditioned room and then went out in search of some sort of fruit or vegetable. After over 3 weeks without basically any, we’ve been craving them lately. We found a local smoothie place and grabbed smoothies for our first meal of the day. They definitely hit the spot and gave us enough energy to walk around. We started out seeing Plaza Zocodover, the main square in the city, surrounded by restaurants, fast food places and other shops with clothes and souvenirs. From here, you could get to the escalators, the Alcazar, shopping, the cathedral, and much more. We set out first for the cathedral. Known for gold leaf, Toledo’s cathedral was full of gold everywhere you looked. While I didn’t pay to go in, Anna did and said it was amazing. Being poor, I peeked in from a different door though it only allowed me to go in about 10 steps into the church. That was enough to see some of the beautiful artistry and golf leafed sculptures and other structures. 
After the cathedral we made our way to the alcazar and the museum. Unfortunately, it seems our luck had run out for the day, because it was closed for the day. Of course the one day we are in Toledo it’s closed! It was a huge bummer, but we survived and instead walked around town more, looking in and out of shops. I also made my way into an art exhibit that was fascinating, showing Toledo in the eyes of a local artist featuring Toledo’s people and also art featuring his beloved mother. After a while we went to find something for dinner and I had some chicken fingers (solomillo in Spain) and Anna had a salad. Can you guess who is healthier out of the two of us? It’s not me. Oops. I figure I can eat healthy when I’m home, right? After we ate, we walked around a little more through town and then found the escalator we so conveniently missed that morning. We went all the way down to see where it came out, and then walked around at the bottom, taking in the town from a different perspective. A little later, after making our way back up to escalators, we grabbed dinner; my dinner consisted of a medium Fanta from mcdonalds and a bag of chips, and Anna’s was a medium Fanta and a milkshake. Solid, right? Eventually we got hot and bored of walking and turned in for the night to pack up and go to bed to get ready for another morning of travel the following day.

Toledo Highlights

  1. It’s very cool that the city is on a hill
  2. The escalator
  3. The Alcazar (even though we didn’t get to see it)
  4. The cathedral 

Backpackers Update

  1. We are officially self diagnosed as exhausted. 
  2. We have also officially worn all of our clothes at least once, yay! 
  3. My Birkenstocks may be cracked in half by the time we get home 

*Pictures coming soon

Next stop: Barcelona  


Cordoba, Spain

We got into Cordoba around 3 and made the half hour walk in probably a little under an hour. We get pretty slow with our backpacks, especially in the heat. Once we got to the hotel and relaxed a little with some A/C (woohoo thank the lord), we set out into the heat and walked for a while. We went to the Roman Bridge, which ran into the Calahorra tower museum on the other side of the river, and also saw the puerta del puente. Our time was mostly spent walking and looking at sights on the outside rather than going in, but they were still very cool.

 After a while we grabbed tapas and sangria (obviously) at a local restaurant. We tried salmorejo cordoba, basically a thicker tomato based soup/dip similar to gazpacho but thicker and creamier, topped with egg and jamón ibérico, along with calamari and croquettes of potato and ham. 
After a long night, we got up refreshed and ready to see some stuff (woohoo)! 

The first stop was the Mosque, now a Christian church. The mosque was very big and looked even bigger due to the arches inside all perfectly in line from every direction. They gave the illusion that the mosque went on forever! The architecture is definitely unique and makes this a really interesting place to visit. After the mosque we grabbed lunch; I had risotto with shrimp and a lobster head to get my fill of seafood, and Anna had a salad. After lunch we were disappointed to find that the Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos was closed for the day. So, if you’re traveling abroad, make sure you check the hours in person if you can because sometimes the hours online are wrong! And then you miss out on some cool stuff. Since we couldn’t see the Alcazar, we walked around more along with hanging out in the pension (yay for a/c) before grabbing dinner around 9:30. We have loved tapas, so naturally we got a few new ones to share. We tried jamón ibérico for the first time (cured meat, you see the legs hanging everywhere in Spain!) and it was weird at first, but definitely grew on me! We also had potato croquettes and a little bit of chicken (we are definitely probably a little low on protein and iron at this point, to say the least, since we’ve barely had any meat or vegetables). It was a great last dinner in Cordoba, and we got some free wine out of it too, so what’s better than that?

Cordoba Highlights

  1. Mosque 
  2. Alcazar
  3. Walking around the shops in the city 

Backpackers Update

  1. Someone told me my Spanish was really good, woohoo! Hope it wasn’t just because I bought something from him…
  2. We’ve definitely accepted that the heat is draining a lot of our energy, as we spend a lot more time inside that initially in our trip due to the heat.
  3. We will never take air conditioner for granted
  4. I am so tan my family may not recognize me when they pick me up 
  5. The birkenstocks are still surviving, though unfortunately this will probably be their last trip.

Next Stop: Toledo 

Sevilla, Spain

After a nice 2.5 hr flight, we finally stepped foot on Spanish soil and were immediately shocked by the heat. At about 105 degrees at 8:30 pm we were definitely in for a hot week. Unlike Rome’s humidity, Spain was more of a dry heat which was welcomed after spending the last 3 days constantly sweating. Don’t get me wrong- it was hot. But it wasn’t a heat that had you constantly feeling wet and sticky and sweaty- at least not right away. Once we got to the hostel and all checked in it was around 10:30 and just about everything around us was closed, so we went to a small restaurant at the corner of the street. There we got our first experience of authentic Spanish sangria and tapas! The sangria was fruity, refreshing and delicious, with a hint of cinnamon in it, which isn’t always found in sangria we get in the US. For tapas we tried cola de toro (bulls tail)- it had a great flavor, and came as a deep fried ball, crispy on the outside and somewhat of a mushy mix of tails meat and a few other things to make the filling- it was yummy, but the texture made me hesitant on whether I’d ever try it again. Additionally we had pork meatballs, which were juicy and definitely one of my favorites, tortilla de potata (basically potato pie without a crust) and gambas rebozadas (deep fried shrimp) which were all also pretty yummy! After dinner we treated ourselves to a little ice cream before heading to bed. 
The next day, we got up with planes to see the Real Alcazar de Sevilla and the Catedral de Sevilla. It was already hot out but luckily the alcazar was a mixture in walking outside and inside. The alcazar was amazing, surrounded by a wall of stone, looking almost mid-evil on the outside, but on the inside looking more middle-eastern with beautiful mosaics, arch filled rooms and large gardens spanning 2/3 of the property. We didn’t really have breakfast other than croissants so we ran out of steam after being at the alcazar for a few hours. We found a great restaurant for lunch where we enjoyed paella for the first time! YUM. It was delicious, season well and tasting like seafood but not fishy at all, just full of flavor. The seafood paella we ordered had shrimp, octopus, squid and clams and I would definitely eat it again! We also cooled off with some free sangria (used to convince us to eat there). After lunch we made the hike back to the hotel and I promptly passed out for about an hour and a half. 

Unfortunately the cathedral was closed by the time we made it back that way so we walked around town and went to the Plaza de España (Spanish square). It was equally breathtaking as we approached the square which was hidden from the outside. Inside we found a huge building adorned with flags, a great water fall in front and a small “moat” going in front of the building, resulting in bridges leading up to the buildings steps. The intricacy of the tiles used to decorate the bridges and parts of the building were equally beautiful. 

After walking around and just wandering, we grabbed a few snacks (including a bowls of instant spicy ramen which I am now still carrying around 3 days later), and I proceeded to eat a whole bag of chips. Not saying that’s the reason we weren’t hungry for dinner, but between the chips, Anna’s wafers and our paella, we didn’t get dinner that night. 

After a nice nights sleep we hit our last stop in Sevilla, the cathedral. The Cathedral of Sevilla is absolutely gorgeous from the outside, looking almost like a big castle as it is HUGE and extremely detailed on the outside. Luckily we were able to make it inside for a while before we had to rush to the train station! Needless to say, the inside was just as detailed as the outside and definitely worth the look. Huge shoutout to Europe for also providing great student discounts (at most places)! 

Sevilla Highlights 

  1. Alcazar de Sevilla
  2. Plaza de España
  3. Catedral de Sevilla 

Backpackers Update

  1. I love love love Spanish and I am so happy I am getting to use it! Definitely a little rusty, but it feels good to try and use my Spanish and get a little better and more comfortable each day! 
  2. My feet are a mixture of tan and dirt. Ew. 
  3. I truly can’t wait to hopefully have the opportunity to visit Spain when it’s not over a hundred degrees from 10 am-10 pm. Even better all restaurants are closed from like 2-8 cause they know it’s hot too. Sweet. 
  4. After 3 weeks, I finally actually know our departure date… it’s not Thursday or Wednesday. Or the 28th. Oops- sorry mom and dad! 
  5. Anna still has blisters on her feet. Moleskin- if you need a poster child, I found her.

Next stop: Córdoba 

Cinque Terre, Italy 

Cinque Terre is definitely one of the most beautiful places we have been so far. The five cities of Cinque Terre could be reached by train, taking 30 minutes to get to the furthest city. Anna and I stayed in Riomaggiore, the largest city and the “capital” city of the area. We got in pretty early the first day which was great because we got to do a lot as Riomaggiore isn’t that big, but also we wanted to see multiple of the five cities. Once we dropped off our bags in the apartment, we set of to walk through the town. Really, the city is one main Street going uphill, lined with restaurants, shops and grocery stores. Additionally, there are side streets that stem off of the main street that go further up hill to apartments, the city school, the castle, and eventually to the top of the town. We walked along the main street, stopping in some of the shops and grocery stores, and continued to take the walk up the side streets (which are basically a bunch of stairs) to the castle as well. The castle is almost on the edge of the hill and has a beautiful place where you can sit on the edge and look over the water and at the marina below.

 After making our way down, we couldn’t resist not trying a seafood cone. We shared a large cone filled with mixed calamari, battered cod, and crab puffs. The seafood was so fresh and definitely one of my favorite things about the area. After eating, we went to the marina and rented a kayak so we could take in the sights from another point of view. We rowed along the coast line, passing swimmers at the rocky beach, and going into a small cave, just large enough for a kayak to fit into. The water was cool and a bright, almost unreal, turquoise color. After kayaking we got gelato, and made our way to the beach. Unlike most beaches, this beach was made of rocks. In a sense, it reminds me of Lake Superior where the beaches are full of rocks and pebbles, though these were much larger. This unfortunately made it a little tricky to get out without falling as we found out. As we made our way out to the deeper parts of the water, we found that a lot of the rocks were covered in algae and we’re extremely slippery! I know I definitely provided a few minutes long of beach entertainment as I slipped and tripped my way past the shallow areas to where I could swim without touching the rocks below. The beach was perfect for a hot day. That water was cool and some of the rocks were perfectly flat for sitting and taking in some sun – and we definitely got our fair share of sun that afternoon.

After swimming and laying out on the rocks, we cleaned up and showered, and then went to find a place to eat. We settled on a restaurant along the main road where we shared a bottle of local white sparkling wine, and at gnocchi and pasta with pesto. After dinner we walked around a little and then settled up on the hill overlooking the water for a while to look out into the ocean. 

The next morning we got up nice and early so we could see another one of the 5 cities (somehow we made it to all 5…technically). We had settled on Monterroso, the furthest of the 5 cities, and the only one that has a real “beach.” Once we got to Monterroso, we got pastries and coffee at a local cafe and then settled on the beach. The beach here is definitely almost all along the coastline, and it’s lined with umbrellas and beach chairs. We settled on the beach which was not sandy, but rocky, though the rocks were more like very very small pieces of rock makes then still comfortable to walk and lay on. We spent a few hours hanging out and listening to music and podcasts before getting up and walking through the city. 

Since the cities were very close together and easily accessible by train, we decided to try and hit the other three before we went back to Riomaggiore. We had some fruit salads (only the second time we’ve had fruit all trip) and sat by the water and then decided to head to the next city, Vernazza. While Monterroso was more of a beach town, Vernazza was like a smaller Riomaggiore, a main road filled with shops and restaurants , and an area for swimming and small boats. We decided to eat lunch here and Anna settled on a salad, while I tried Arancini (basically a rice mixture, similar to risotto, formed into a ball, breaded and deep fried). We sat by the water and watched kids and families playing and swimming and after eating we moved on to the next town, Corniglia. 

Corniglia, perched on a hill, was not a great stop for us. We were tired and definitely did not want to walk up stairs all the way up a hill. So, while we technically were in Corniglia, we got off the train, walked about 5 minutes and then walked back to the train station to hit the last city before Riomaggiore, Manerola. Manerola was more similar to Vernazza and Riomaggiore, but again, smaller. We walked up and down the Main Street before heading back to Riomaggiore for gelato after a long and hot day (we LOVE gelato)! 

After sitting on the side of the long rocky cliff for a while, we cleaned up before getting a pizza to-go, and one more seafood cone to take back to the rocks to eat for dinner while we watched the water. We were in the perfect spot to watch the sun set behind the 5 towns, and it was absolutely beautiful and calming. The best and my favorite pictures of our 2 and a half days we’re taken at that moment. 
Following the sunset, we went to a little cafe for coffee and dessert (yes, we know we already had gelato, but we don’t care) and to steal some wifi from the cafe across the street. We talked about the trip so far, eating tiramisu and sipping on our coffees, amazed at how we were already halfway done with our adventure. We still can’t believe we only have 2 more countries to go! We hit 5 countries in 2 weeks, which was definitely exciting, but we’re excited to take our time a little over the next 12 days. After a nice long night sleep that was much needed (the wonderful pro of not having internet at night), we got up and made our way to the train station to continue our European trek.

Cinque Terre Highlights

  1. Riomaggiore 
  2. The beach at Monterroso 
  3. Gelato
  4.  All the seafood you can eat 
  5. The scenic views of the water (best in Riomaggiore we felt) 
  6. Kayaking in the ocean

Backpackers Update 

  1. Were definitely tired, but we’re not slowing down by any means!
  2.  We’re definitely still in need of pedicures, and maybe some massages too. The backpacks are definitely not good on the back. 
  3. While we’ve been walking a ton, that did not prepare our bodies for the beach 
  4. We are in need of some fruit and veggies for both personal enjoyment and other reasons 
  5. My birkenstocks are very close to having the heels completely run down and will probably have holes in them by the time we return. I am heartbroken. 

Next stop: Rome

Florence, Italy 

Despite what I’ve said in the past, Italy is by far my favorite country. While it has been very hot with the sunny days we’ve been having lately, I can’t complain as we have been able to see a lot of what Florence has to offer. Our two days in Florence were definitely a nice break from carrying our packs around, but they were also full of breath taking sculptures, churches, and more. 

We got in around 6:30 and luckily found our hostel pretty easily. We had a later check in, so we decided to eat dinner at a nearby restaurant. At dinner we shared our first taste of what we were in for this week. We shared a mushroom and tomato risotto along with a pasta with a creamy meat sauce, and sipped on wine as we chatted about our plans for the week. 

We were definitely excited to be in Florence, especially after our wonderful experience in Venice, we just wanted to see more of what Italy has to offer! After check in, we finally got to set down the packs for a bit and enjoy walking around town. We lucked out and our hostel was in a perfect central location, practically right next to the Duomo, the famous church characterized by its giant dome, and it’s large and intricately painted, and sculpted, pink, white and green façade. Our hostel was also minutes away from other sites such as the large shopping streets, which seem to be the state of many European cities, and other historical tourist attractions. 
After a great nights sleep, we set off and started our day with coffee and pastries – we confirmed that breakfast is just as yummy as dinner, with our buttery, cream filled croissants. We decided to start the day with Rick Steve’s city walk so that we could take more time to walk on our own later. He started us at the Duomo and the baptistery which was right behind it, adorned with its copper doors carved with intricately realistic figures showing scenes from the bible. 

After, we went down the shopping streets passing by a large plaza with a large archway above it, viewed a local church, and admired another town square full of sculptures of typical Italian scenes and God’s such as Neptune and his water beasts and other sculptures of Italian heroes like Galileo. After the large street full of sculptures, we went over the famous old bridge, which is lined with expensive jewelry shops, and explored the other side of Florence, equally filled with tourists and locals alike. For lunch we munched on yummy local Italian sandwiches and later had slushies to cool us down before taking a break from the heat for a while. 
After cooling down and recharging for a while, we went out for dinner across the old bridge at a local pasta bar. We shared a spinach and ricotta ravioli and a spaghetti season with pepper and pecorino (goat) cheese. Both dishes were delicious, and we are both loving sharing dishes so we can get two meals for the price of one!

 After dinner we walked to a famous lookout where we watched the sunset for a while, before heading to Pitti Plaza, where there was a free acrobatic show to kick off Florence’s upcoming fashion week! We were so glad that we took the opportunity to see the show because it was incredible. The acrobats did a lot of aerial work that we honestly can’t ever imagine being strong enough to do. The way they lifted themselves and spun and did the splits was so amazing, and their strength was even more insane as we watch them hang on with only a hand or an ankle as they floated meters above us! After the show we walked through the brightly lit, bustling streets of Florence (the only city we have been to so far that has been awake with us at midnight), and made the trek to our hostel where we packed a little to head out for our next stop in the morning! 

Florence Highlights

  1.  Acrobat show
  2. The old bridge
  3. The Duomo 
  4. Sculpture area near the old bridge 

Backpackers Update

  1. We truly are becoming navigation pros
  2.  Our backpacks are definitely getting heavier and not lighter (aka we need to stop buying people gifts)
  3. We’ve accepted that our feet will never stop hurting 
  4.  I can’t feel one side of my big toe and will be selling my Chacos when I return 
  5. We LOVE all things Italy! Let’s be honest I’ve already mentally planned my next trip, even though it probably won’t be for over 10 years.

Nest stop: Cinque Terre 

Venice, Italy

As we have progressively moved from towns with Gothic buildings, to Rococo style, Venice is definitely a complete change of scenery with beautiful buildings towering over small walkways and bridges over the numerous canals. We had to carry our packs around all days which kind of sucked, but the views were worth it. So was the cheap Italian leather, woohoo! When we arrived we were amazed by the beautiful water, full of gondolas and sleek speed boats that whizzed by us. Since not much was open in the morning, we took advantage of the cute cafe we found and had a nice breakfast of bread with marmalade, scrambled eggs, juice and friend pancetta along with some coffee to give us a little kick in the butt for the day. After breakfast we made our way through the streets to see Saint Mark’s Basilica, which was crowded and had a crazy line to see inside. While we didn’t have the time to see inside, we can only imagine how breath taking it was after admiring the intricately sculpted and painted exterior. We continued to travel through the various plazas, and walked along the ocean and canals while we sipped on fruity slushies (seriously they were a gift from the Italian Gods on this hot, sunny day), and admired the boats that passed by. We also took the time to admire the shops and restaurants we passed, and even bought a few souvenirs for friends and family and of course our selves. Among a few other sites, we saw the university, A few art galleries and Dogano Point, full of sculptures of mermaids and other sea creatures. Needless to say, I definitely hope to take a trip back here to enjoy a gondola ride, and maybe take a water taxi too!

Venice Highlights

  1.  Puente Dogan
  2. Saint Marks Basilica 
  3. The channels and ocean filled with speed boats, water taxis and gondolas 

  Backpackers Update

  1. Our feet and backs definitely hurt, in addition to the sweat we’ve accumulated on our backs
  2. We are pumped to show off our cute new purses when we get back
  3. We LOVE slushies
  4. All of this walking makes our tummies empty and ready for pasta and seafood over the next 5 days, so that’s always a big win
  5.  We are in desperate need of a few pedicures when we get back and are open to offers from anyone including strangers who may be reading and want to help a few poor students. Also accepting offers from boyfriends, friends, or mom and dad. We love you all so much.
  6. In all seriousness, we love and miss all the wonderful people in our lives and if we could, we would have brought you all with in our suit cases. Much love. 

Next stop: Florence

Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich was definitely a nice needed rest after completing a full week of travel. While we weren’t there long enough to really be “wowed” by the country, we definitely felt that way when we saw the prices! Most restaurants had an average price of $30 for their dishes which was definitely not quite in our budget. Luckily, our small apartment for the night was equipped with a kitchen which was fun experience for a night. Anna and I found a close food coop and picked up some food for dinner and breakfast and spend the night cooking dinner, watching Transformers in German, and recharging for a long day of walking with our packs that was to follow. 
After sleeping in and eating a heart homemade breakfast of scrambled eggs with beef and Gruyere cheese, we made our way over to the old town in Zurich with our packs (apparently it takes longer than a week to get used to carrying a 35 pound backpack around for hours everyday). While many of the other European cities we’ve been in have had an old historic feel, Zurich’s  old town definitely felt more like a large outdoor mall among churches across the other side of the river. Even so, it was still fun to Rome the streets, enjoy the view and people watch front a few park benches, and dance to the music while watching the big gay pride parade that took place that day. Eventually, we stopped into a restaurant for lunch and finally got to enjoy on the the three great foods that Switzerland has to offer: Raclette. Raclette is a type of cheese that is flavored with different things such as wine, garlic, and other cheeses, that is then melted and poured over vegetables like potatoes, or over cubes of bread. Unfortunately we didn’t get to try the other “Swiss treats” chocolate and fondue, but the Raclette was definitely delicious! After our meal, we also got lucky and had some free ice cream from a shop that was having its grand opening across the street. HUGE. SCORE. Especially on a hot day! After a long day of exploring the small stone paved streets, we hopped on a train to Milan, Italy where we stayed for the night before our next stop! The train ride out of Zurich allowed us to see a different side of Switzerland; we rode along side the clear ice blue water and it was absolutely gorgeous, we couldn’t feel our eyes away! Unfortunately, we didn’t get to enjoy Milan, but we did have time to enjoy pizza the size of our heads before we hit the hay for the night so we could catch an early train to our next stop…

Zurich Highlights

  1.  Raclette
  2. The old town
  3. We would have loved to go to the alps if we had had more time

Backpackers Update

  1. We finally had some good protein with our egg and beef filled breakfasts! Thanks mom and dad for teaching us to cook for ourselves. 
  2. Our feet and backs hurt, but at least we got to shower, yay!
  3. We both also successfully finished our own large bags of potato chips, good thing we’re walking right?
  4.  After watching Transformers in German, we still only know the same 3 words we did before watching the movie.

Next stop: Venice