Thursday, July 23, 2015

A few more things...

I have now been back In NYC for a couple days after yet another incredible European trip. Traveling really fills with me with so much happiness. It brings me such joy to be able to see new things and experience different cultures. It's always eye-opening and simply unforgettable. 

Many of you have kept up with this blog (and my IG and FB) over the course of #RayRaysEuroVacay2 which I really appreciate, so thank you for that. I love talking about what I've seen and done and am happy to (over)share everything. There is so much to write about each day that sometimes, believe it or not, I don't cover everything happening! Quite a few people have asked me questions about my trip about things I didn't really write about or discuss here. After all was said and done, I guess they are still important too so I thought I'd address them here; if not for you, but for me too. Because after all, as I've said any times before, this blog is mostly for me for the memories, to vent, and get some of my thoughts out and put them from keyboard to blog post. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Europe (take 2) by the Numbers...

Well guys, another European vacation is in the books!! I can't believe its over already and I'm sad something I looked forward to for so long as now passed, but it was so phenomenal once again. Although my first trip to Europe was unforgettable and amazing, this one came in pretty darn close to that. You'll never forget your first, but seeing all new countries, cities, landscapes, buildings, etc... this time around was so amazing and also something I will never forget.

Everyday I went to bed totally exhausted, happy, and fulfilled.  And every morning I woke up excited, energetic, and ready to take on the day ahead of me. Since this no longer was my first time traveling abroad alone, although nervous, I felt more comfortable and confident exploring different countries on my own. Going with Insight for part of the trip (nine days of it) was also a good call again because I was able to cover so much more ground going from city to city and not worrying about how I was going to get there, where I was going to stay, and not having to get tickets or wait in lines at the very big tourist attractions. They covered that for us and I still got plenty of solo exploring time which was über important to me.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

What are you looking at Swan?

Day 18 

Ah, my last full day of #RayRaysEuroVacay2 began with, what else? A run. I had to get one more of them in while in Europe and this one took me up and back over the Charles Bridge (of course) and around Old Town Square. Then it was back to the hotel to shower, eat, and head out for my Terezín concentration camp tour. 

Thankfully this time around it all worked out and I want able to go. On the bus I overheard a woman talking about Living Environment and I went back to sit by her and she was from Long Island and a special education teacher who pushed in a LE class. We briefly chatted about it and it was nice once again to speak with Americans, and about a something we have in common. There was also another couple from New York and the husband's mother lives in Northbrook and their niece went to U of I. Small world yet again. I talked to these four people most of the time during this five hour tour. Once the bus got going, I actually fell asleep and before I knew it, we had reached Terezín. When we got there, there was a huge cemetery out front with tombstones of those that died there. Some had names and some just had numbers. There were just so many. So sad. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015


Day 17

Today started with another morning run. My destination was the John Lennon Wall to see it with no one else around so I could get a good panoramic. It was a great success and was so awesome to be the only person there. I took my time really looking at different parts of it up close and taking it all in and really appreciating it. I know I've said this before, but one of the things I love about early morning runs in big cities is that you get some of the best tourist attractions all to yourself. On the way back over the little love lock bridge, I noticed an awesome quote graffitied on it that I must have missed yesterday and on my way to the wall. It just made me so happy and put some extra pep in my very heavy step. My legs and feet have been sore the last couple days from all the running and walking and cobblestones, but I don't really want to slow down because there are so few days left and then I can rest all I want (well, minus turning up the marathon training). 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Finally some synagogues!!

Day 16

Even though I went to bed late last night, I still woke up before my alarm. Perhaps I was excited for my run and tour/plans for the day, or I am just getting use to six hours of sleep. I ran over to the river again and over the Charles Bridge which was much nicer without a million tourists, then parallel with the river to another bridge and went across and did this with two other bridges before running back to the hotel. When I got back to hotel, I showered and got dressed and headed down to eat. I said "Fuck it" to the dress today and threw on a pair of one of my new Under Armour shorts that I bought in Madrid with a tank top. Ahhhhhh. Comfort. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Czech Me Out

Day 15

I actually allowed myself to sleep in today because I was leaving and didn't really have time to do much. I woke up at 7:30 but forced myself back asleep until 9. After going to sleep a little after two in the morning last night I was hoping to sleep later but I think I was just anxious about moving on to the next and last part of this adventure. 

For breakfast I walked over to a café near my hotel and got a fresh juice with orange, kale, spinach, melon, and banana and a little bocadillo with ham and cheese. All of that only cost 3.75 euro too. At home the juice alone would easily have been $8. And it was absolutely delicious. The perfect little last Spanish breakfast. When I got back to the hotel I checked out and my car had arrived to take me the airport. I had a 2:00 flight and had the car get me at 11:00 just to be safe. I am so happy I pre-arranged all the transfers to the hotels and airports because it makes it less stressful getting a cab in a foreign country. When I got to the airport, which was enormous, and only took like 20 minutes to get too, I was so early that there was no one even at the counter so I plopped on the floor and just waited. I was at the airport almost as long as in the air on the actual flight. Figures. Security here seemed very lax as I only showed my passport when I checked in at the desk. Then to get into security, I just scanned my ticket at a security gate like they have at big business buildings with ID. My passport was not asked for again. I found that quite strange. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

I heart Retiro Park!!

Day 14

Today was my last full day in Spain so I had to start it off when one last run here. I knew I wanted to hit up Retiro Park again at sunrise so I did just that. I didn't have to set an alarm this morning but I wanted to 1) see the sunrise again 2) beat the heat. I had another awesome, smile-filled run in the park and really think this is one of the best parks I have ever run in. It might take a close second to Central Park.

Post-run I didn't have to rush to do anything which was nice. I had a nice leisurely breakfast, washed my running clothes one last time (hopefully), and tried to figure out what to see today. I looked in my Spain travel book because I had seen everything on my checklist. I found one thing in there I wanted to see so decided perhaps I would go see the University if not too far. I went down the front desk to ask for some ideas with my map. Everything the front desk guy told me to see in the city I had seen. He was super impressed with all the ground I covered the last two days so he asked a colleague and she also said I had seen all the good stuff except one museum that I wasn't thrilled to go to and said the University was a train and bus ride away so I passed on that and decided I would explore Retiro Park a little more and then maybe do a little wandering and shopping. I could always just relax and lay in the sun in the park too. I soooo wish there was a beach here. Barcelona-1, Madrid-0 on that front. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Another Day, Another Palace...

Day 13

This morning was amazing again because I had another great run. My cousin had told me about Retiro Park and how she used to hang out there when she lived here. It was close to my hotel (yet I didn't find it yesterday) so I sought it out this morning (of course it was only three blocks away, but in the direction I didn't go yesterday) and it was awesome. It seems like the Central Park of Madrid. On the up and back on the loop (I didn't go all the way around because I wasn't sure if the distance, I got to see the Puerto de Alcalá (which I looked up when j got home). There were a ton of runners and paths and even a reservoir with a kick-ass sunrise. There I was again, running around like a grinning idiot, happy as a clam. I plan to go back tomorrow morning to run it again but I do want to research the paths more for the distances. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Holy Toledo!!!

Day 12

After a great nights sleep and a solid breakfast, it was time to hit the road. Instead of going directly to Madrid, we are going to Toledo first to see the city and then go on to Madrid. The last few days have had some respite from the heat wave but we are going right back into it today. 

On the way to Toledo, we made a stop to see the town of Ávila. This medieval city has ancient Romanesque walls that surround it. It was a pretty view and straight out of an old movie. After this, we made a quick stop to get something I've been so excited to eat here: Churros con Chocolate. I've had a churros or two at breakfast and they were great, but having the thick chocolate drink to dip them in took it up a notch. It was waaay too rich of a drink to have on its own, but just perfect to add more flavor and texture to the delish churros. I'm sure I'll have it again in my next three days in Madrid because YOLO. Then it was back on the road again heading to Toledo. Once there, we made a quick stop for a wonderful panoramic view of the entire city and to be super corny, "Holy Toledo", it was pretty. Hardee-har-hat. I couldn't resist saying it at least once. Everything is so old and made of stone, it's up on a hill with the the Tagus River below and surrounding it.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ooooooh to Plaza Mayor

Day 11

Today is my half birthday and I have to say, right now 33 and a half feels pretty great!! I'm rolling on a whole eight hours of sleep from last night so there's that too. That's the most I've slept in one night since I've been in Europe this trip and it was needed. With an early morning wake-up to head back to Spain to Salamanca after a quick trip to Fatima, Portugal, it was great to get in early last night, just relax, and get a good nights rest.

I had never heard of the town of Fatima before this trip but it has major Catholic significance. On May 13 of 1917 and on every 13th of the months until October of that year the Blessed Virgin Mary (Mother of God) appeared to three children that lived there and gave them a message. This was considered to be a miracle in this town and people flocked there to hopefully get a glimpse themselves. It has since become a very holy and sacred place because of this. (This kind of story reminds me when people find images of Jesus on toast or a Dorito or something.) 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Cristiano...Where are you?

Day 10

OMG, today started so incredibly. I had set my alarm for 5:45 because I wanted to catch the sunrise on the Tagus River on my run. I was so excited when I got up to get started. By 6:00 I was out the door and running down the Avendida de Liberdade. I ran through the empty streets to the Plaza into the pastel colored sky and was just in awe. I was smiling ear to ear the entire time. The sky was gorgeous with the water in one direction with the orange sun rising and I could see the Cristo Rei and the 25 de Abril bridge in the other direction. It was pure happiness and I just felt so grateful for this experience. When I got to the water, I started running parallel to it, watching the sun get higher and higher and just taking it all in. There was some really cool street art along the way and people stumbling out of clubs as well. I ended up running five miles total; the temp was perfect, the pace was great, and it was just such a fantastic start to my day. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Look out Lisbon!

Day 9

I had the best sleep of the trip last night; almost a whole 7 hours. Maybe it was the Bendryl or maybe it was sheer exhaustion, or a combo of both, but I welcome it. When I woke up, I packed up and headed down to breakfast. Usually I bring my phone or iPad with me while I eat, but today I didn't and just sat there alone eating (which I really don't mind) and then realized I was staring off into space, eating alone and was reminded of Steven Glansberg from Superbad and starting laughing out loud to myself. You know that scene in the cafeteria when Seth doesn't want to be left alone to eat dessert? Hope so. If not, YouTube it. It's funny.

Then it was on the road to Portugal. This was going to be a long ride, but we were going to gain and hour on the way (it's on the same time zone as London). After about an hour and a half into the drive, we stopped in the town of Jabùgo to see a Spanish ham factory. The best hams in all of Spain are made here, Salamanca, and in another small town in Spain. At this factory, which produces Iberian hams, we had to put on a sanitary gown and hat to protect our clothing from dripping oil from the hanging hams. Lovely. They showed us the process of how the hams are made and gave information on how they are cured and dried and everything. It smelled awful in there but was interesting. I love me some swine and have been eating ham almost every day so far so I may as well learn a little bit about it. There were also hams hanging everywhere. The entire time I kept thinking how much my brother would have enjoyed this; especially the samples at the end.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Another day, another Cathedral and Palace

Day 8

This morning began with my alarm clock going off with the sky still dark. I did this on purpose too. What's wrong with me? But since I was going to be in this hotel in Seville for two nights, I wanted to get a run in this morning. I got in a solid four miles at a consistent pace and the heat wasn't bad at all. When I came back, I quickly showered, inhaled some breakfast, and then it was time to hit the road to Plaza de España. On the way there we passed a lot of the buildings that belonged to other countries many years ago from the 1929 World's Fair that are all something else now. They are all architecturally unique to their countries which was neat to see. Once we got to the Plaza de España, (where part of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones was filmed. I've never seen it but was told that by the guide) which was Spain's pavilion in the fair we got to look around and wander a bit alone. It was a very cool space with four Venetian style bridges and curved hallways. I definitely enjoyed seeing this. It was gorgeous. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Pretty, beautiful, gorgeous, amazing, etc...

Day 7

After a fantastic night in Granada, I had a hard time falling asleep last night. Going on like a solid five hours of sleep, it was time to get up and eat breakfast. I have decided breakfast is by far my favorite meal of the day here. The Iberian ham, manchego cheese, bread, a churro, a Nutella (!!) pasty and fruit and fruit I ate was all delish. They even had the mini takeaway Nutellas at breakfast this morning, so of course, I took two for the road. Then it was on the road to Córdoba. After it being 100 degrees yesterday in Granada, it was supposed to be almost 115 there today (thankfully it didn't quite get there but was three digits again. Sigh). Sure, it's a dry heat, but damn, it's hot out! 

Of course I fell asleep a bit on the way to Córdoba and along the way we passed olive grove after olive grove. I missed some of the information on all of it because I was in and out of sleep but we made a pit stop at one of them that used to have a train station that is now a store. It had all kinds of olive oil products, almonds, and figs and other goodies and was cool to check out. I snuck off and walked on the grove and looked at the olives on the trees. I wish I liked olives, but i don't. They are gross. Period. I do however like olive oil and Kiehls Olive oil shampoo and conditioner. Totally related, I know. From there, our next stop was La Mezquita, the former mosque, now cathedral in Córdoba. This place, built in 1236, was enormous. Like so big! Inside were columns and columns (and columns) with marble and stone and the arches were amazing too. It was so big! Oh wait, did I say that already. Cause it was big!! This cathedral still has services everyday and is now owned by the Catholic Archdiocese. The pulpit (I think that's what it called) was also amazing. So much detail. So many colors and gold. Truly an incredible work of art. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Oh, I'm sorry, it's the Moops

Day 6

Another bright and early wake up call got me out of bed this morning. I have not been falling asleep until at least midnight here most likely due to excitement and the extra daylight. I don't mind so much right now, even with the early wake-up calls since I have time to nap on the bus. 

Breakfast was absolutely delicious. I had one of my favorite cheese, Manchego, which I forgot was Spanish (and hope to eat a lot more of), Spanish ham, potatoes, my first churros of the trip and some fruit. A nice big breakfast! You know what I haven't seen yet at breakfast? Nutella!! I thought it was everywhere in Europe; I mean it was last time I was here. I guess maybe it's not a as popular in Spain. I was counting on taking a a few on the road with me for when I get a little craving. After breakfast and a check on the news on my iPad, it was on the road to Granada to see the Alhambra, which apparently is the largest tourist attraction in all of Spain. Who knew? I had never heard of it before but decided to read up on it in my travel book on the way there.

Monday, July 6, 2015

I can cook!!

Day 5

This morning it was off to Valencia. My wake-up call was at 6:30 and it was tough getting up. I had another delicious breakfast and we hit the road. I almost promptly fell asleep on the bus and then we made a quick stop in the town of Tarragona to see the famous Pont de Diable (Devils Bridge) also known as Sant Bartomeu Bridge, which is an aqueduct that dates back to the first century. This Roman Era bridge is still standing strong and quite a piece of engineering. It was here I realized I had left my sunglasses in my other purse in my suitcase. Ugh. I was either going to have to squint all day or buy a new pair in town. New glasses it was. 

Our bus had WiFi on it which is awesome! I was able to catch up on the news and celeb gossip on my iPad and I also did some research on Valencia to know what I had to see. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

More Garlic Mayo!!

Day 4

Today my tour officially began, but before all that, I decided that I would run one more time in Barcelona. I set my alarm for 6:40 and was out in the street by 7:00. I just did a down and back on Ave. Diagonal and my first two miles were fast; under 9:00 minutes each. Then my legs really started feeling it and the last two were horrible but I got in my planned four. Since I will most likely missing my long training runs while here, it's important I get my short ones in if I can. Plus I like being out in the city before it wakes. One little surprise I didn't expect this morning was the site of...wait for it...a dick!!! Ahhhhh. That's right, I saw a Spanish penis. As I was running back the hotel, I passed a few people on the road, mostly others running or going for a walk. I then passed and a young man with a backpack. His fly was wide open and his penis was just flopping in and out of it. I looked in horror and then began giggling as I ran. WTF? I could not believe what I just saw. Was he airing that sucker out? Did he not feel the breeze on his weiner? Was that on purpose? OMG. I have seen few homeless or crazy people here so I don't know what the deal was with that guy, but it definitely was a surprise ending to my run. Eeeek. 

After my run, I quickly showered and headed down to breakfast. There was a good spread and they even had champagne as well as fresh peach juice for bellinis and orange juice  for mimosas. So fancy. There was also a full salad bar. Odd. I passed on all of that but got tons of fresh fruit, probably one of the best croissants I've ever had and some not good eggs and bacon. European bacon is not American bacon and yet I try it every time and am disappointed. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Life's a Beach

Day 3

After finally getting some decent sleep last night, I was going to use today as a "chill" day. I fell asleep a little after midnight last night, woke up wide awake around 4 and finally fell back asleep at 5:30 to finally wake up at 10:00 to my alarm. I probably could have kept sleeping if not for that alarm but I didn't want to waste a day, even if it is a relaxing day. I never sleep that late on vacation (or in my real life) but I think my body needed it. I laid in bed for about a half hour then promptly got dressed, inhaled a Kind bar and headed out to the beach. Luckily, to my surprise actually, I had two drawstring backpacks in my suitcase that I didn't know we're in there but were perfect to take with me to the beach. I didn't have to be back for anything all day until welcome drinks at seven at my hotel. I actually got see who is going to be in my tour group for the next nine days today. (More on that later.) I have had mixed feelings about being in a group (just like last time) but it's not for a long time and I don't have to worry about transportation to all the other cities in Spain I wanted to see, arranging hotels there, and organizing separate private tours. 

I took the train directly to the beach and claimed my spot in the sand. I was hoping it wouldn't be as crowded as it was yesterday but no luck, it is the weekend after all. The beach is very nice, clean, and free. And easily accessible as well. I wish this was the case in NYC, but no such luck. Blah. As I was on the beach I heard some American wish another a happy Fourth of July and I totally had forgotten today was the fourth because it's clearly not a holiday here. But I do guess it was only fitting I hit the beach today because, 'Merica. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

From Sunrise to Sunset

Day 2

Today started running (literally) on VERY little sleep. I fell asleep last night a little after nine then was up again around 11 and didn't fall back asleep until almost 2:30 in the morning only to have my alarm go off at 5:10 for my sunrise running tour. I think the lack of sleep was part jet-lag (which I am having a big issue with) and part excitement for today. I guess it goes with the territory and I accept that. 

I got dressed bright and early and hopped in a cab to Plaça Catalunya in the center of the city. I didn't want to take the Metro for my first time that early in the morning. When I got to the Plaça Catalunya I immediately spotted my running guide (Luca) with his backpack and Go Pro ready. It was just me and him for our run which was a nice surprise. (FYI I booked this tour a couple weeks ago and it's called Go!Running Tours Barcelona.) I'm glad it wasn't a group; it gave it a way more personal touch. Doing a running tour is something I had never done before and I was excited to see what it would be like. We immediately got going because I told him I wanted to see the sunrise over the Sea. He ran at a little faster pace than I am use to but that was fine for the push. We first ran down Las Ramblas which was almost empty minus the people coming home from the clubs. I love having some of the most touristy places of big cities virtually to myself on early morning runs. It's a cool feeling. We then made our way past the Christopher Columbus statue and down the the water, which is where I wanted to run so badly! We saw the sunrise over the Mediiterrean Sea and it was beautiful. Although kind of cloudy, I am so glad I got to see it. Throughout the entire run Luca was snapping pics with the GoPro which was cool and although I've never taken a good running picture in my life, maybe one of these will turn out acceptable. (They were all emailed to me to keep!) We made our way past a lot of places I saw on the bus yesterday (Port Olímpic, Port Vell, La Barcenoleta, Olympic Village) and saw a bunch of places I didn't see, like the Zoo, the Cathedral of Barcelona and The Waterfall in Citadel Park which was absolutely beautiful. And without other people around, it makes it that much more awesome. We then made our way around tiny side streets of the city which made me feel like I was back in Italy. It had a very Roman and Venetian feel and was so cool. I never would have navigated that myself. He showed me so much and was very knowledgable. All in all, we covered about 7 miles at probably a 9 minute mile. Fast for me. But good for me. And informative. Win-win. There were picture stops along the way from both him and I and I thoroughly enjoyed this tour. Although expensive, I hate not doing stuff on vacation because of cost (to a certain degree) because who knows when you will be back again. Throughout the entire run I imagined how much my mother would have enjoyed doing it this as well. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Bienvenidos a BarTHelona

Day 1

And we're off! #RayRaysEuroVacay2 is underway!  First stop: BarTHelona. I've been here one day only and am already working with the Spanish lisp that so many Spaniards use. Look at me immersing myself in the culture so quickly. I'm a natural. Yeth, yeth I am!! 

My flight out of Newark to Barcelona was last night. Of course, as almost all of my flights go, this one was delayed a bit. We were supposed to take off at 7:15 but didn't end off taking off until 8:15. I had already taken my Tylenol PM at 6:45 to ensure I'd get some sleep on the flight so was ready to get in the air. I was able to watch Hot Tub Time Machine 2 and Broad City (!!!) on the flight before falling asleep on and off a bunch and we finally landed in Barcelona at 9:00 am local time (3:00 am NYC time). They are six hours ahead of New York so I had the entire day ahead of me on just like 3-4 hours of sleep. Ugh. Because of this I was definitely anticipating a lot of jet lag but had to get out there and explore Barcelona immediately. I knew I could (and would) go to bed early tonight because I had to be up super early the next day for my sunrise running tour.