Monday, June 26, 2006

Santorini: Beach Party and a Ridiculous Donkey Ride

We've spent the last three weeks cramming it all in on a shoestring - train to train, to hostel, to bus, to boat, always on the go. This week we were going to stay in one place with no train stations, no schedules, no packing, just seven whole days to soak in the fun and the Mediterranean sun. We didn't realize Santorini would be a vacation from our vacation until we got there.

We became quite acquainted with the smoothie guy (mango breakfast!), the baker (midnight baklava) and the moussaka maker (my new favorite food). Most days found us quick stepping the black sand beaches to relax by the sea with our smoothies or 6-packs of cider. An amused (or embarrassed) European helped us open the bottles when he saw us banging the caps with a rock in the absence of a bottle opener. One morning on the island, I scuba-dove with Adrienne our new Aussie friend, and Magda the dive master. The dive was awesome and hilarious. I found myself laughing into my scuba mask as I hand fed hundreds of fish some wet bread. They excitedly bounced off of my wetsuit and sucked up the sogginess. Laurel and Kate, who snorkeled instead, reported back less enthusiastically as they had to swim through some trash to a large buoy and didn't see many sea creatures while there. Sorry, ladies.

The nightlife was rather sleepy, couples and old people everywhere. On the last leg of our trip before going back to the imminent Real World, we were looking for a party. Santorini was lovely but may not have been the best Cyclades isle on which to find one. On one notable evening we met Drunk Norm, a Greek American from Georgia. Most of the bars were cash only so Drunk Norm agreed to help us find an ATM. He stumbled in and out of traffic, urinated in public twice, and leaned on us as lampposts as he rambled on about sharing a hostel with girls, likening the sounds of their peeing to "elephants snorting water". Instead of an ATM, he brought us to Beach Bar. Low on cash, we determinately convinced the blond bartender, Tim, to let us have a free drink, with the utmost class of course. He gave us a shot of something homemade that he called "Rocky". As we raised our glasses and tilted our heads back to drink, Kate who is particular about her alcohol, secretly handed me her shot glass. After sucking back the shot, which tasted like a bathtub, everyone was curious about each others' reaction to Rocky, I received jeers and tsks with the full glass still in my hand - but dammit, I had already drank the drink! Not wanting to throw dear Kate under the bus, I was now on my second shot of nastiness.

Eventually we found some cash, returned to the promising Beach Bar, found Adrienne the Aussie and partied with the mixed crowd, now spilling into the street. Each car had to inch their way through the rambunctious people. My favorite person was a skinny spunky old lady who carried a Beach Bar flag that she would wave seductively in front of the cars as they drove through us. We made friends with strangers, danced on the beach, and swam in the sea, the perfect summer night.

A little hungover the next morning, we explored the caldera via sailboat tour, drudged up the hill of an active volcano, jumped into a hot spring, and docked at Oia, the other side of the island. This was our chance to ride a donkey up the steep cliffs. We had seen people do this from afar all day and walking was a distant option. Already on my donkey, Laurel asked me to hold her camera as she mounted her own steed. As I reached behind me to hand her the camera again, the donkey-men started yelling "Go! Go! Go! Go!", (or what can only be interpreted as such) and hitting the poor donkeys with sticks. Without a chance to assemble ourselves we raced up the switchbacks in a stampede of about 20 donkeys, Laurel, Kate and I being the only riders. There was a knob at the top of the saddle for me to hold onto so I had to make a decision: my life/good health (but I have so much more of the world to see!), or Laurel's camera (full of summer memories and would she understand me dropping it under Donkey's feet given the circumstances??), I was barely hanging on to either. Was laughing or crying appropriate? I couldn't decide that either so I did a little bit of both. As my hold was slipping on everything, I thought to myself, "This is it." So I shut my eyes and just at that moment the donkey stopped because we had reached the top of the cliffs. "I'm Okay?!" Safe on the ground, we looked at each other, limbs in tact and camera safe. It was all a bit ridiculous and now it is OK to laugh.

After some Oia moussaka and of course baklava we returned to our side of Santorini. The Beach Bar was asleep just like the rest of the town and remained that way for the rest of our stay. It would be hard to top dancing in the streets from our one successful night out so instead we enjoyed each others' company, reflected on our adventures, misadventures, what was Buca doing, and how reluctant we were to fly back to London, where we would inevitably board our plane to go home.

Be still, donkey.

<3 kb


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Athens is Hot.

Ahh, the morning after the longest 2 day stretch of my life, summarized much less eloquently than L:  left Rome early early early, a train to Bari,15-hour boat, slept on dirty plastic benches that stuck to our skin, another bus to Athens (3 hours), a bus to somewhere else in Athens, a taxi to where we were supposed to pick up the correct bus, that bus to just outside of Athens to find our hostel, got lost a little bit more, found and asked a bloody butcher for directions, took another bus, and then finally found our little hotel. Guess which part of that description was air conditioned? That's right, none.

Old park bench and us
Voula Beach, where we are staying, isn't quite in the city. It's close, but not walking distance which is somewhat inconvenient as the car traffic in Athens is slightly more horrendous than the sidewalks to get there. The beach looks nice but we will be in the Cyclades in just a couple of days so we decided instead to see the really old stuff. I didn't realize that the word acropolis means a citadel or fort typically built on a hill. The hottest day of our trip, found us walking not only in the hot city of Athens, but uphill seemingly forever, up to the Acropolis. The view once we got there made up for the journey. We saw the city from above, the Parthenon, the stage on which Yanni recorded his live album (took a picture for my mom), the Olympic Temple of Zeus and some other sites that are also mindblowingly old. A common undertaking for us in each city is to find a park bench older than our country and to sit on it, like the Minus the Bear song lyrics suggest. That was extremely easy today since everything here happens to be older than both the U.S. and time itself.

The sites have these guards that blow whistles at you if they think you get too close to something or if you touch something that you shouldn't.  We had a collective three whistle blows during our site excavation. Perhaps due to the delirium brought on by uphill exercise, the hot sun, and the rationing of our precious water, we found ourselves creating silly photo-ops:  we did some air guitar, stood just like the immortal statues, and posed as if a rock were a bowling ball and the remaining Greek pillars were pins. Maybe we deserved the whistle for that one...though I don't think the ancient Greeks would have minded as the souvenir stands seemed to sell a lot of postcards, calendars, and knick-knacks illustrating that their ancient ancestors certainly knew how to party, usually doing so naked.
Temple of Zeus
Air guitar

Bowling. Whistle.
We eventually found our sweaty selves back at last night's gyro stand, which is luckily only a few steps from the hotel door. I don't know if I will ever eat a more delicious gyro. We savored every bite of pita, tzatziki and lamb knowing that the stand would not be open when we leave at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow. Good thing we were too far from the Athens nightlife, or else we would have missed the Wesley Snipes movie on the English-speaking channel or the hotel clerk arguing loudly on the phone with what we can only presume to be his girlfriend (or ex).

We woke up very early to get to our 7:30 am ferry in Piraeus. Destination: Santorini.  We made it to the port just fine but soon realized that our ferry was about to take off and our boat was on the opposite end of the port from where we were standing.  We hauled ass with all of our luggage, got on the boat, and as soon as we found our seats, the boat began to pull away from the land.  Talk about a close call.  Since we actually have seats today, maybe I will sleep through this 4-hour ferry ride, dreaming of the feta and olives to come.

<3 kb
Buca, is that you???


Sunday, June 18, 2006

Travel Day of Death From Hell: Take 2

Angry Trolls

Perhaps this day is my punishment for breaking the dryer at the Yellow Hostel... I accidentally overloaded it with our freshly-laundered clothing. It worked as hard as it could for about 10 minutes, then came to a sputtering death. Our only option was to hang our soggy clothing out the window of our hostel dorm, and we thought we were fortunate to have the line right outside our room.

That is, until we woke the next morning, hangover from an awesome last night in Rome, to find our clean clothes absolutely covered in...
“What is that?”
“Ice cream?”
“How would it get all the way up here?”
“NOOOOO – IT’S BIRD %$#@!!”

Miraculously, not a drop of feces from our feathered friends landed on my clothes. Not one! Meanwhile, some of K’s clothes were so ravished by the birds she had to throw them out. I am pretty sure KB just wore her poopy clothing for the rest of the trip… I kid.

It was another mad dash to the train station after that fiasco, where we just caught the 7am train from Rome to Bari. Somewhat refreshed from naps during the 5 hour trip, we then ventured to the ferry to Athens. “Woo – a boat! I sleep so well on them!” I thought to myself.

Little did we realize that the €30 ticket did not actually purchase us a room, nor a bed, nor even a cushioned seat. Upon our ferry check in, we were unceremoniously ushered to the deck, which was decked out in plastic benches and little else. Oh, can’t forget the covered pool – this plays an important part in the story later on.

We accepted our fate and decided the best way to sleep that night would be in an alcohol-induced coma, so then it was off to the gift shop to purchase whatever bottle of wine we could find. Options were very limited, but we found one for €8 that seemed reasonable enough. Back on the deck, one swig from the bottle for each of us brought the quick realization that this was not wine, but in fact a cruel alcoholic joke. It tasted like liquid earwax, and despite all the things we guzzled in college, we could not bring ourselves to drink it. The label being in Greek, we never did learn its name.

K and KB opted to try to sleep on the plastic benches, but with the deck’s stadium-style lighting, I thought sleeping under them was a better option. Which is what I did, wrapped in my beach towel for comfort and protection:

I was awoken by gentle tapping on my shoulder in the morning, and my first thought was “If we aren’t in Athens, someone is going to die.” I was confused to see that I had been woken up not by one of the Ks, but by a Japanese tourist, who was frantically gesturing first at me and then at the pool, some 15 feet away. I rubbed my sleepy eyes and then saw to my horror that the covered pool was LEAKING SCUMMY WATER, MERE INCHES FROM MY HEAD.

Had the foul, stagnant water, which had combined with balls of lint, loose hair and bits of food during its 15-foot journey across the deck floor touched me, I might have pulled a Carrie. A million thank you’s to that Japanese tourist, who unknowingly saved the lives of many that morning.

Several more long, obnoxious hours remained on the ferry until finally we were at our destination: a bus station 3 hours outside of Athens. Wearily, we boarded the bus and prayed our time on the ferry would make this feel like a treat. It did not. Finally in Athens, we learned we had to take a bus to yet another bus… and making it all the more difficult was the fact that we couldn’t read the Greek symbols on all the signs. Through KB’s ingenuity (e.g., somehow gleaning the correct direction from a butcher shop we stumbled upon), we FINALLY arrived at our hotel – only 50 hours of traveling later. The hotel was humble and sweet and could not have been a better sight for sore eyes (and butts and backs and heads and...).

After some long baths and a few delicious gyros, we are ready for bed. Please excuse me while I sleep forever.



Friday, June 16, 2006


We hopped our transfer rail to the Eternal City.  The train was packed so we were lucky to find a cabin with 3 empty seats and a skinny older Italian man.  We stuffed ourselves and our luggage in the room, sitting 2 by 2 across from one another, shoulder-to-shoulder.  I was running on empty and in desperate need of a nap, so I closed my eyes and drifted off.  Who knows how much time had passed before I was awoken by what I thought was a hand on my leg.  I looked around and checked my watch--1 hour to Rome.  Groggy and unable to think straight, I closed my eyes again.   I felt the man brush his hand against my thigh.  Was it an accident?  I looked up to see the girls distracted by their iPods and journals.  Either way, I was up and alert, adjusting my legs to give the guy as much room as our luggage would allow. 30 minutes later, the train began to slow--finally!  I started to gather my things when the dirty old man nonchalantly reached out and tickled my upper thigh.  Before I could even register what the hell had happened, the creep jumped up and out of our cart, my jaw left hanging open.

We checked into the Yellow Hostel, taking notice of how attractive the male staffers were.  
They mentioned nightly pub crawl tours with the hostel. For a small price we could drink for "free" at 5 bars.  The people seemed like a good time and we were ready to make friends in our age bracket, so the crawl seemed like the way to go.

We walked in to the first bar, noticing 2 valley girls lying on the bar surrounded by men.  “Ladies!”, a burley frat boy screamed to us, “Body shots?”

“Uh, I think we’re good, thanks! ...hopefully those a-holes are Canadian,” KB grumbled.  A few of the hostel workers came over to talk with us.   “I was worried you guys were going to say yes,” said the pub guide.  We had gained their respect!  KB spent the night dancing with the most entertaining, if not slightly off, hostel worker and  L had become the object of a beautiful blue eyed marine's affection, who was stationed in Rome.

One of the guys, whom I shall refer to as “sexy hostel worker,” and I talked all night.  He was a Harvard grad, living in his own apartment in Rome and working as a tour guide at The Vatican.  He could hold an actual conversation (even after 4 years of college, this was foreign and unfamiliar to me) and he talked about his interest in history and his work at the Vatican.  S.H.W. even offered to get me a job at the hostel; free lodging and food, measly pay and a ton of fun.  Had I not cared about having a future, I would have taken him up on it.

Giddy and tipsy, we walked back to the hostel gossiping about our men.  We took what I swore was a shortcut through a well-lit side street, despite L's protest.  Halfway down, behind 2 large dumpsters, appeared a dozen homeless men lying on the ground.  We spotted them; they spotted us, and so began the Italian cat calls and yelling.  “Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” I thought to myself, “we’re going to get gang raped.”   We looked straight ahead, avoiding further eye contact, and instinctively took flight at the same second. “You both know I have no sense of direction.  We’ll share the blame for that.”

The next morning afternoon we headed to the Vatican.  We were checking out the scenery when we noticed how crowded it was getting.  Apparently we had stumbled in on the Sunday Papal blessing.  People plan trips to Italy just to catch a glimpse of the Pope and we just happened to stumble in at the right moment.  I don’t consider myself religious, but I was taken aback by the whole scene.  The Vatican was packed, elbow-to-elbow.  When the Pope appeared in his window, I remember looking around and seeing all eyes on Benedict.  It was so quiet I think I heard Buca playing Creed on repeat all the way from Tarifa.  I am an emotionless robot, but I might have gotten choked up... if it weren’t for the car show going on in the center of the Vatican, which the Pope blessed.

Off to explore more of Roma, beyond the nightlife, with my faithful companions.  Miss you. 
Write soon!



Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Cinque Terre, Italy: Call me Luke Skywalker

We have said this about each place that we’ve been to, but Cinque Terra is really beautiful--like a miniature Capri.  We're staying in colorful Riomagiorre, one of five villages in Cinque T.,  situated on the steep cliffs overlooking the Ligurian Sea.  The sloping streets are filled with gelato stands and the sweet, sweet smell of freshly made pizza (my favorite friend).
We're staying in the first pink building pictured above. It is a one-bedroom apartment next to the water with a convenient view of the sunset.  Last night we hung out in our little alcove and watched the sun burn out with some red wine and a dozen or so entertaining tourists who serenaded everyone with drunken song and nonsensical rants, i.e.  “Call me Luke Skywalker”, “I’ve shown classier girls than you my penis”. I'm still not sure what it meant, since we all remained fully clothed, or if it was an insult or pick-up line.
We kicked a bottle of wine and found a spot overlooking the rocky beach, away from the drunks.  The sky was full of stars and we were full of cheap wine.  We talked for an hour about leaving college and being nervous to return to real jobs/ grad school, neither of which sound like much fun when you’re frolicking around Europe with no commitments or worries. We happily stumbled the 10 feet home, played hide and seek in our tiny apt. and fell asleep to the sweet distant sounds of the drunks scream-singing "American Pie."

Today was spent drinking Limoncino (goes down like dirty bathtub gin) and hiking to Monterroso. Hopefully it will burn off all of the pizza, gnocchi and gelato we've been eating so we can make room in our distended bellies for more. We could stay here forever, with Buca by our side of course.  I would die with a marinara and hazlenut gelato smeared smile on my face.

Tomorrow we feast with the Pope and ask him to put in a good word at Dante's fiery inferno for all of our ex-boyfriends rotting back at home.



Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Interlaken, Switzerland: Clothing Optional

My faithful companions and I arrived in Interlaken yesterday via train ride through the Alps.  Switzerland is unreal - bright blue sky, crystal clear water, clouds appear to be just out of reach and the quaint colorful homes look like something out of a storybook.  
We walked in silence and awe to our hostel when a pair of hands covered my eyes from behind.
“What the?”
I turned around to find Opie grinning like an idiot.  Now I am all for romantic serendipitous twists of fate, but this was not fate at play.  I had told Opie of our Swiss adventure the night before we left Barcelona.  Opie’s plans involved nothing remotely close to Switzerland.  I should mention that I had lost interest in him the more we talked in Spain.  He was like a nervous fidgety 12-year-old with severe anxiety. 

We chatted for a bit and awkwardly parted ways.  Opie was staying in the hostel across the street from ours, so we would be sure to run into him again.  We unpacked and went off to explore our temporary home. 

The Funny Farm hostel is a backpacker’s paradise complete with a pool, volleyball net, Guinness tent and fire pit, not to mention the glorious mountain peaks visible from every direction.  After meeting and making late dinner plans with 2 hilarious Canadian cousins sharing our floor, we rented bikes and rode toward the outskirts of town around beautiful Lake Brienz.  On the ride, we noticed several sunbathers scattered around the lake with the penchant towards no clothing...When in Rome!

We pulled over after finding the perfect shady and secluded spot, ate our lunch of cheese and fruit and covered our eyes while we took turns throwing off our clothes and jumping in the water.  Surrounded by snow covered mountain peaks and crystal clear unpolluted water, we paddled around the lake, laughing at our bold inhibitions! Would any of us have done this a few weeks ago?  I looked up to check on our bikes. “Uh, guys, there’s a man watching us from behind the trees.” 

L: “Let him see what he’ll never have.”
K: “He’s taking off his clothes.”

The now naked man proceeded to hop in the water, within close proximity, and slowly swim in our direction.  Like a great white blinding flash, KB darted out of the water, naked as the day she was born, and grabbed our clothing (my hero!).  She tossed us our once dry clothes and we sped away on our trikes.

That night we sat down for a proper dinner of wine and cheese fondue, then went out with our new Canadian friends.  We ended up at a crowded little basement bar with Opie in tow.  KB met a Swiss townie, Phil, and L a hot Brit, name unknown.  I was not so lucky and ended up leaving with Opie.  He insisted on walking me back to my room.  I obliged and told myself that we could still be friends.   We ended up in my room—I kept the door open so he didn’t get the wrong idea.  I sat on my bed.  He followed.  “Gosh, I’m exhausted.  Thanks for walking me back.  Good night, Opie!” He leaned in, smelling of rancid sweat (he had been wearing the same clothes each time I saw him).  I nonchalantly propped my leg up as a barrier. “Welp, I need my beauty sleep.  See ya in the morning!”   Finally getting the hint, he left. That was the last time I saw Opie.

Today we went Canyoning with the Canadians and an American girl we have fittingly nicknamed “Brain Rot”, or “BR” for short.  Canyoning involves rapelling from cliffs, zip lining, and jumping off waterfalls and high platforms.  At one point, we were given the option to choose a baby or extreme jump.  K and I chose the monster.  Go big or go home to Pennsylvania.   We had just rapelled from a cliff, so I had adrenaline flowing through my entire body.  We climbed up the cliffs and jumped one by one.  I was first up.  L looked like a tiny yellow ant wading in the water. “You have to jump outward. Don’t just jump or you’ll land on the rocks,” our instructor, Grandpa Neil, told me.
“Excuse me?”
I looked down at the rocks below and thought about how pissed I would be if I hit them.  I hadn’t even made out with anyone.  I took a breath and pushed off the rocks with all my might...
Coming down from our high, we walked through town on the way home and rewarded ourselves with cheese and a baguette.  We grabbed a bench overlooking a beautiful fountain with a little old man perched on the side.  Like scavengers, we shoved as much food as we could in our mouths and reflected on the past few days.  Before our very eyes, the old man leaned to the side, lifted his leg and let out a loud “PPPPFFFffttttt.”  I swear it had an echo.  We giggled for about 40 minutes, kicked the Gouda and headed back to our home sweet hostel.



Monday, June 12, 2006

Travel Day of Death from Hell: The Escape from Buca

Here was the itinerary: Madrid - Barcelona - Tarifa - Interlaken. Easy, right? We learned the hard way that Europe is a lot bigger than the map in our travel book would imply.

We assumed it would take a day to get from southern Spain to Switzerland, but we hadn't accounted for delayed trains and having to take the scenic route. After our harrowed escape from the surfer frat hostel, a day trip to Morocco and a mad dash to the train station, we thought the worst was behind us. We were prepared for a night of sleep, regardless of the less-than-spacious sleeper room outfitted with two rows of bunk beds, stacked three beds high. It had been an exhausting adventure of a day!

Do the math – three girls, six beds…

Roommates in hostels and sleeper trains alike had not been too much of a problem. That is, until we arrived, sweating and slightly out of breath, to our train accommodations. We were “greeted” by three surly dudes who looked like they had just missed the 80s punk scene and were still pissed off about it. Our quick hellos were met with undeterminable grunts, so we stowed our stuff and then fled the tiny, hot room already stinking of man funk to the dinner car. Over ham sandwiches, which is apparently all they have on trains in Europe, K1 entertained me with her top 10 list of the trip so far, and K2 delighted us with her artistic prowess:

Despite little sleep that night, we had some reprieve with a quick visit in Madrid during the downtime between our next departing train. From what I saw, it’s a gorgeous city that deserves more than a few hours! I’ll put it on my list for a more thorough visit some day. Back on the train, we entertained ourselves with dreams of Switzerland and a few rounds of MASH (yup, middle-school style). A slow train through France put a damper on those Swiss dreams though, as we learned that due to delays, we had missed our connecting train to Interlaken. K2 would have made her high school French teacher proud with her conversation skills – I, on the other hand, sat there dumbly while a French teenager behind us rolled her eyes.

The only option we had was to take the scenic route through southern France, a major detour from the route we had planned. The countryside was beautiful though, which almost made my numb butt cheeks worth it. Almost. We arrived in Geneva late at night and realized we could go no further. Not one smidgeon of a second on another train or one of us would have a meltdown – to be honest, probably all of us.

I think we remedied the situation the best way possible. We treated ourselves to a semi-fancy hotel room, hot showers, a pizza and a bottle of wine and were amazed at how much better we felt. Sometimes good friends and a good night’s sleep are all you need.

And now we are yet again on another train, only this time Interlaken is so much closer.



Saturday, June 10, 2006

Tangiers, Morocco: "Ladies, you need sunglasses? Some spices? A husband?"

Almost Famous...anyone?
The 40 minute boat ride from Tarifa to Tangiers was a smooth one.  We were so anxious to get off of the boat and on to our next adventure; all we could do was sing “Tangerine” and make fun of KB's motion sickness wristbands.  We weren’t sure what to expect from the “touristy” city of Tangiers, but we were thrilled to arrive and explore.   Like any good tourist, we did our research and took in the cautionary tips from our fellow travelers:
  1. You’re visiting an Islamic country; dress modestly +  keep your arms and legs covered out of respect
  2. If you are a woman, no matter what you wear, expect to receive male attention ("good" and bad)
  3. Avoid anyone asking if you need a guide.  They may seem helpful, but it will cost you.              
  4. Use your right hand for everything.  The left is considered unclean.
  5. Guard your belongings and don’t wander down any empty side streets.
      With our arms and legs covered, gripping our purses for dear life, we cautiously stepped off the boat and on to African soil for the first time.  Before we could take in the scenery, we dodged our way through a crowd of men asking if we needed directions.  Once in the clear, we stopped to look around.  Tangiers is filled with tall whitewashed buildings and mosques, beautiful red Moroccan flags lining the water, palm trees and tempting beaches (which, given the modest dress code for women, we would avoid).

The streets were filled with men and a handful of women.  We noticed the stares, ignored the hisses and cat calls and made our way to the Casbah.  We felt more at ease when we noticed other tourists passing us by.  Had I been able to carry everything, I would have spent all of my money on the pottery and jewelry lined along the walkways of the marketplace.  The few locals whom we had interacted with were very kind.  We wandered up and down the streets, buying souvenirs and picking up delicious Khobz bread for lunch. Just as we were about to leave, we were treated to a call to prayer, amplified through the entire city through speakers mounted in the prayer tower.  Ah-mazing.

We only had a few hours to explore before our ferry departed, so we caught just a glimpse of what Morocco has to offer. If Tangiers is considered the "touristy" city, I would love to see what its other cities are like- with more time and perhaps an empty backpack.

Tomorrow we feast on chocolate in Switzerland!  

xx Kate
View of Africa from Tarifa, Spain


Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Tarifa, Spain: The Birth of Buca

Buca Windsurfing in Tarifa 

1. Buca. After an overnight train from superb Barcelona, we stepped out of the station in Algeciras, Spain and followed our e-mailed instructions from the next hostel:  Take the bus to Tarifa, once there call this number for car service back to your accommodations. We rode past hundreds of windmills, found the pay phone and after a few more minutes of waiting, our shuttle service had arrived. The driver stepped out of the van, dirty blonde surfer curls covering his eyes, "Hello," he said in a heavy Italian accent, "I am Buca."

2. OTB. We drove a couple of miles out of town, past what looked like hippie camping communes and to the gated building with the same ominous letters painted on the entrance, "Only The Brave." Inside, an empty bar and lounge, dirty faux zebra and leopard printed couches, small kitchen/storage room, and a gated weight room visible through the window. At least there is a pool. It appeared we had the hostel to ourselves, except for the random "workers" who came and went as they pleased. We observed the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album was playing. "I love this song," said L. Another observation, are we the only girls?

3. Tarifa. The windy city was meant to be a layover en route to Morocco, only a short ferry ride from the coast of Spain. The guide books made Tarifa sound infinitely better than port town Algeciras. Quiet, empty beaches, tons of kite-surfers. We convinced Buca to drive us to town for some groceries and to explore. Bored with the quiet town quickly, we went back to OTB and decided to check out the beach. Buca looked at us funny and the only advice from the hostel was to wear sunblock because even though the wind makes you feel cool, you are still very exposed to the sun. Thanks Buca.

4. Beach. We were told to walk up the road about a quarter mile past the communes and access the beach there. Easy enough. Though the sun was hot, the wind was cool. Buca was right. Now in our bikinis and towels in hand, we made it to the edge of the beach. Empty.
1st step: "Ouch"
2nd: "Ouch!"
3rd: "Ow that really hurts!"
The beaches are empty because any idiot knows that wind + sand = stinging unyielding pain over your entire body, face, eyes, and various other unmentionables. But we'd made it this far, dammit! We ran the 100 feet to the edge of the sea screaming like three crazy people, touched the water to prove a point, and then ran back to the road happy to be alive.

5. Lounge. "Back so soon?" quipped Buca from behind the empty bar. "Yes," we all mumbled. We took turns checking our email inside the leopard lounge, noticing RHCP's song "Hard To Concentrate" was still on repeat. "You like this song, huh?" L said. "I love RHCP. I am like Anthony Kiedis. We are like same person," sure Buca, sure. He retired RHCP and popped in his Creed CD. "I love Creed too." "Oh I hate Creed," - L probably didn't mean to say it with such disgust. "Well then," Buca leaned in close with a provocative smirk, "why don't you cut your vein?" motioning with a razor-blade he pulled out from under the bar. Time to go back outside.

6. Pool. It wasn't surprising to learn that the pool was empty and had old mattresses at the bottom. We sunbathed poolside anyway. A little wind doesn't hurt, as long as there is no sand nearby. I'm not sure where K was when L brought up the brilliant idea of leaving for Morocco 1 day early. The consensus was, do we really want to take two more days of this? I'm sure there are far worse hostels in the world and less desirable situations to be in, but this is our vacation and we don't have to stay if we don't want to! We agreed to pitch the idea to K. By now my flip flip had blown into the deep end of the empty pool. I tiptoed in from the shallow end to get it. Once back inside, without any wind, I felt a little dizzy.

7. Conference. K: "Guys, did you see the "do not flush toilet paper" sign?"
US: "K, we need to talk." She looked alarmed. We took her into our room and told her the plan of an early departure.  K breathed a sigh of relief.

8. Dinner. We cooked ourselves a cheap dinner of bread and jam, made our regrets of leaving early known to Buca and got to know Vincenzo from Italy and Marco from Brazil. They stay at OTB for free in exchange for some hard labor such as cleaning, building, dragging the mattresses into the pool. They were cute but as the only female guests at OTB, and party pictures on the wall, we felt as though this was a frat house party waiting to happen. We chatted a little longer, refused offers to sleep in their rooms, politely said good night and pushed the large cubby shelf in front of the door because we did not quite trust the locks.

9. Luca. Unsure of when and how often the ferries to Morocco depart, we woke up at 6:30 a.m. The flyer on the bulletin board gave a schedule of taxi services to Algeciras where we would board the ferry to our next destination. We looked for Buca so that he could take us there, he was no where to be found. The exterior doors were barred and locked so we couldn't exactly leave. Finally a new male was wandering around and we asked him, "Where is Buca??" He replied, "Who is Buca?" Beginning to worry if Buca actually worked there or if he was some homeless man who just wandered in and out of this frat shack, our new friend laughed wildly at us, "Oh, you mean Luca?" Luca must roll his L's very well.

10. Departure. Our new friend and Marco couldn't find Luca either. They checked his room, which is a hut on stilts outside, no sign of him there. A girl (a girl!) named Molly walked into the lounge. "Molly," they said teasingly, "Where is Luca?" Of course this was all in Spanish but we could still understand who Molly was and with whom she had spent the night. After an hour or so we finally found him. Well,  I'm not a morning person either. We asked for a ride to Algeciras. Buca replied that he does not drive to Algeciras. "But Buca, your flyer on the bulletin board boasts 15£ rides to Algeciras and the next one leaves in 15 minutes." He didn't believe us, walked over to the board, read the poster and said,
"That is an old sign."
"Oh. Can you take us anyway?"
"No. I don't drive to Algeciras."
Take us anywhere, Buca. Take us to someone that can take us to Algeciras. Teach us to kite surf and we will kite surf there.
"I will take you to town, you can take bus."
Locked in the OTB hostel

I wish I could say there was something more magical about the departure and our last goodbye with the man. We were so excited to leave and he was so excited to see us go, mostly so he could go back to sleep. It was where we first met Buca that we said goodbye.

If anyone ever asks where we were on 6/6/06, we can tell them we were locked in the OTB hostel. There is something tacit and unspoken about Luca Buca - he stayed with us for the rest of the summer and brought us closer together. The only arguments for the rest of Europe 2006 were who missed Buca more.  Flash forward almost 5 years later and Buca is still with us.

<3 kb


Monday, June 5, 2006

Let's get a bottle and drink, alone tonight.

A box will do instead. Sad to leave Barcelona. Even sadder to squish into our overnight train compartment. What will K do with all those legs? At least we have bread, queso and boxed sangria (a.k.a. sleep aid.)

Tomorrow we wake up in Tarifa!

<3 kb


Saturday, June 3, 2006

Barcelona Continued: "I have to go. They're charging me phone sex rates."

Parc Guell
This is our last night in Barcelona and we have loved every single second of it - Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, Picasso, the quadriplegic on Las Ramblas without underwear, the beach, sangria and tapas are all amazing. The weather is just as beautiful.  I was just reveling at how much color I am getting when Guermo, the friendly unibrowed hostel worker, asked if I made it to the beach at all. Whatever - pale skin will be cool again one day!

We've met a lot of great people,  Americans, Australians and a few Canadians here and there. We met Nat (pictured below) on the streets in London. I just happened to be wearing a Bloom U hoodie and he stopped us to ask if we were from PA.  It turns out he went to high school with one of my good friends, we happened to be staying at the same hostel and we ran into him again today at thPalau Nacional (National Palace) of Barcelona.  Small world, eh? If I run into him again on this trip then we are destined to be together, right?

Last night we experienced Barcelona nightlife.  We bought cheap beers from Pakistani men in the Plaza Reial while waiting in line at a club. It was admittedly pretty sketchy, we found ourselves singing "drugdealers, hookers, and thieves, oh my!" to the rhythm of the Wizard of Oz chant (we chanted quietly, don't worry).  We stayed at the club until they kicked us out at 5am.  There were other Americans from DC at our hostel and they bought all of our drinks which was amazing AND the reason why I got pretty hammered last night.  I made out with one of the DC guys... fill you in with all the details later so he doesn't accidentally walk in, look over my shoulder, and see that I'm already writing home about him.   His name is Jimmy, cute and just finished grad school.  K is in love with another boy at our hostel who looks like he's 13 (we'll call him Opie).  Jimmy's friend, who reminds us of an Angry Leprechaun (can you guess his nickname?), is enamored with L.  

I leave you tonight with this:  A man flashed us his penis today.  He was hiding and coughing loudly in the bushes. When we looked, we saw a scraggly Spaniard holding his dong in hand, moving it rapidly. Write back if you get the chance.

The scene of the penis flashing (he was lurking behind a bush on the left). 


Friday, June 2, 2006

BARCELONA: Drug Dealers, Hookers and Thieves, Oh My!

We got in last night and our trip here has been quite eventful.  There was a celebrity on our plane, Peter Doherty.  He dated Kate Moss, got her into a mess with drugs and is in a popular British rock band (I had to look him up too. K reads her US Weekly and was, thankfully, able to identify the drug addict).  When the plane landed in Barcelona, the flight attendants notified us that we would be delayed from exiting for about an hour. Dirty Pete and his posse of friends started getting a little rowdy.  One kept standing up claiming he had to ¨have a piss.¨   The poor flight attendant could only protest for so long until she caved.  A little while later, the whole plane was surprised to see the Spanish police come on board. They let everyone off the plane except for the tall rocker, his obnoxious friend and the rest of their entourage.

We overheard a flight attendant say that a passenger saw Pete come out of the bathroom with a belt around his upper arm.  His friend had to "have a piss" so he could flush the evidence (smart man).  Later when we were waiting for a bus, we saw them all walk out of the airport, so they got off the hook. We were eyewitnesses to breaking international news! Check it out:
Our view of Pete Doherty 

 After searching aimlessly for what felt like an hour, we finally found the Sant Jori Hostel.  It's a really cool place (read: clean) and so are our many male roommates (read: cute).  We had a pot luck dinner last night, since our roomies bought too much spaghetti.  We contributed cheese, crackers and gelato, our-go to meal since we've arrived in Europe.  After dinner we all took a stroll down Las Ramblas, stopped at The Black Sheep pub to have a glass carafe of the most a-m-a-z-i-n-g sangria. Our hostel friend, who looks like the Rocketeer, ordered a pitcher of beer, or "cerveza gigante," to the chagrin of the bartender.  Today was spent on the beach.  I was too paranoid about sunburn, so it looks like I barely stepped out in the sunlight...better than skin cancer I suppose.
Well we are off to hang out with our new friends & plan our day tomorrow.  We'll write again soon.


Wednesday, May 31, 2006

London II: You Say It's Your Birthday?

Millenium Bridge
Must rest up for tomorrow's sightseeing adventures, so I'll make this note short and sweet.  Today has been my favorite birthday to-date.  We spent the day exploring Buckingham, Hyde Park, Notting Hill & Carnaby Street.  L and K bought wine, cheese and crackers for my Birthday dinner.  We found a perfect little spot in the back of our hostel and talked about how we couldn't wrap our heads around the fact that we'd be spending an entire month wandering around Europe.  We spent the night at Waxy O'Connors, a bar in Piccadilly Circus, drinking Strongbow, Stella and Archer's & lemonade (I don't know what Archer's is exactly, but promise me you will order it next time you're in England).  On our way back from the pub, K walked directly into a giant white truck stopped at a red light.  I had some trouble balancing myself on the subway and fell into the platform door.  Successful birthday.
Birthday Eats on the hostel

This can't be repeated too often, of course,  since being hungover in the sun while sightseeing is no fun. To quote K, "I want to cherish my memories here, not black them out."  Talk soon!



Tuesday, May 30, 2006

London Town

 We made it to London!  We have to pay for the Internet so I won't be able to check email as often as I would like.  Today we went to Westminster and saw Parliament, Big Ben, London Eye, caught a glimpse of London Bridge & the Tate Modern.  We're gearing up for an arduous night ahead: Indian food for dinner and a bottle of wine.  Time still hasn't caught up with us (or vice versa?), so we're napping for a bit before doing any of that.  Tomorrow is K's birthday, so L and I have to think of something nice to do for her.  We also want to get a good spot for the changing of the guard tomorrow, if can get there early enough.  I'm out of time, but hopefully I'll talk to you soon.  <3 kb