Friday, April 27, 2012


Vierbergelauf: The epic 16 hour hike covering 4 mountains, crossing roads and rail road tracks, and a Carinthian tradition harkening back to Pagan times to welcome spring and mark the 4 seasons of the year (one mountain per season). Just to make it that much more intense the hike starts in the dead of night at midnight from the top of mountain number 1, sends you down the mountain, through the darkened valley, and up mountain number 2 all before the sunrises. Before even setting foot on a mountain top, our motley crew began with a fine dinner prepared by Christine for our weekly Thursday cooking/dinner club.

Christine stuffed us with breakfast for dinner, which included a fine assortment of fruits, pancakes, fritatas, homemade cinnamon rolls, spreads brought back from the Netherlands (including the ever popular Spekuloos and the newly discovered white chocolate spread), and Mimosas. After this massive carbo-load, Nicole, Emil, and I, loaded down with backpacks stuffed with food, headed off to catch our bus from Benediktinerplatz,so grudgingly we waddled our way 20min. to the city center.

Beneditinerplatz was completely dead, not a soul was in sight, so the three of us wandered around in the dark. We spied a group of girls with poles at the ready and hiking backpacks affixed to their neon-colored-specifically-designed-for-hiking-clothed backs, and followed them. As we did, Vicky found us, exclaiming, "There you are!" We shushed her and continued stealthily eying the group of hikers. They stopped at the marked bus stop for normal city buses, so we did, too. Chatting with the group, one of the girls suddenly frowned and took a longer look at Nicole, asking "Nicole?" It was one of her students.

Slowly, more and more hikers joined the group, until suddenly and an old, weathered man appeared, waving us in to the bar, where he crossed names off of the list and collecting our money for the bus.

Soon, the 4 of us piled on to the bus and were heading off to Magdalensberg, mountain number 1. When we reached the bottom, the bus began to slowly inch its way to the top, a long line of cars, buses, and trucks descended, as our bus climbed to the top. Glancing down through the bus window, the lights of what appeared to be thousands of vehicles zig-zagged their way across the mountain behind us in a seemingly endless line. In the parking lot before the final climb to the Gasthaus on the very top of Magdalensberg, the bus dropped us off and we began to ascend. With 2 hours to spare before the kick-off of the 16 hour hike, we paid our respect to the mass being held in the church, which was stuffed with hikers and filled with the sound of Carinthian songs, and headed to the packed Gasthaus. Every inch of space was taken up by either a hiker, a backpack, or a dog. With barely space to move between rooms, the waiters and waitresses somehow managed to squeeze through the trays laden with drinks and food.

By some stroke of luck, we managed to find an open table and the now 5 of us plunked down. Katherine, a friend of Emil's who had lived in Carinthia last year and now teaches in Innsbruck, had joined us at the bus stop in Zollfeld on the way to Magdalensberg.

We warmed up from the now windy, chilly air and at 15 minutes before midnight decided to start off, especially, as so many others already had. Following the hordes of people and small lights affixed to their heads, we joined the stream of ghostly bobbing lights down the mountain.
(The starting point...)

Their poles made a tapping sound as they quickly made their way down muddy paths filled with stones and tree branches, like mountain goats barely glancing at the ground. I on the other hand, equipped with a failing light, could only hear this sound running through my head...
tip, tap, tip
tip, tap, tip
don't fall, don't trip

tip, tap, tip
tip, tap, tip
don't fall, don't trip

I stuck close to Nicole and her flashlight in the dark, as we made it through narrow paths, paved roads and grassy fields down and over towards Ulrichsberg, mountain number 2 of the day.

At some point, I lost Nicole and Emil, but wound up with Katherine and Vicky. Near a rest stop with a fire, we stopped to rest our feet and warm up near the fire. Miraculously, they were giving out free tea and open faced sandwiches, so as we took part, we kept an eye out for Nicole and Emil passing through in the dark. A quick phone call later revealed that they had already passed the camp and were waiting a few minutes ahead. Reunited, we began our journey up the mountain, stopping at one last rest stop along the way to use the toilets, before heading upwards. Up, up, up we climbed in the dark, listening to a mix of heavy breathing, silence, scattered conversations, which we also occasionally picked up in English, and heavy foot falls.

Covered in sweat and feeling and feeling near the point of exhausting we reached a small outcrop before the final climb to the top at about 5am. Here, there was a sea of lights ascending and descending from the inclined path. Vicky plunked down, devouring a banana and refusing to move. Nicole and Emil seconded her vote. Looking into their exhausted faces, Kathrine and I decided to make the final climb alone. Reaching the top, we could make out a giant cross and stone ruins, as well as free supplies from the fire department. After re-filling with water, we called the others and told them to come up to watch the sunrise over the mountains. They arrived and we huddled together, marveling at the yellows and oranges, as they touched the top of the mountains and shown through what remained of the glass windows of the church ruins.

With Emil raring to go, nervous about being the last person to finish the epic hike, we set out in the chilly morning air. As we reached the main descending path, I realized how happy I was to be covering this particular stretch in the light. The bulk of the path was almost straight down, muddy, covered in slick leaves, and strewn with slippery rocks. Using a discovered branch, as a walking stick, I made my way down, slipping once and sliding down a particularly muddy stretch. The group of men walking by with their walking sticks tapping, simply called out to me "Rutschig! geh?" (slippery, huh?) What an understatement.

The sun continued to rise, gently bathing the valley below in a soft light.

Eventually, as the last one, I made it down to the camp at the base of the mountain, where prayers were beginning to ring out, food could be bought, toilets could be used, and benches were in plentiful supply. Plunking down next to Vicky, we all ate breakfast, moaned and stretched, preparing for part 2 of the hike. We set off once again winding over, down, over, and along grassy roads and paved roads toward the next mountain. Nicole, Vicky, and I agreed to make to the 3rd mountain and then decide if we could continue. If not, then the three of us would stop and head home by train or taxi.

Marching endlessly through small towns lined with children waiting for candy, or passing small churches nestled away throughout the valley, we began to feel the warmth of the sun. At 10am, half way up mountain number 3 and near a line of rail road tracks, we decided to give up.

Me and Vicky near the end, feeling exhausted, but still in good spirits

Wishing Emil and Kathrine luck as they continued onwards, the three of us headed off, walking along the tracks in yet another endless march. Reaching a road, a truck loaded with 3 young men slowed down and yelled out the window, "Geil! Super geil!" (essentially: Awesome!), giving us the thumbs up, and pointing further down the tracks. Far beyond the point of exhaustion, we marched onwards. At last we came to a tiny station and could not believe our luck. Like some sort of desert mirage or magical illusion, it appeared out of no where, and we thankfully dove towards the benches.

I bid farewell to my stick, and we bought a ticket back to Klagenfurt. 5 minutes later the train to Villach arrived and we boarded, riding to Villach, and then onwards to Klagenfurt, falling asleep on both trains. Home at last, I gulped down 2 large glasses of water and by 2pm, was asleep in my bed, exhausted.

Ok, we didn't complete all 16 hours or all 4 mountains, but 2.5 out of 4 and 10 hours of 16 is nothing to be ashamed of, at least not in my book.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Easter Break: Spain and Italy

Day 1—Klagenfurt to Udine to Treviso to Barcelona

The day began with construction noise, as a crew ripped up the street in front of our house. Finishing up a few last minute details aroun the house and bidding Riannon farewell as she headed out to the Netherlands, I began my journey towards Spain. Elisabeth hopped on the bus once it reached Villach and we continued onwards to Udine, Italy. Once there, thanks to to Elisabeth's Italian skills, we acquired a map and began our day long ramble through the sunny town. First, we made our way to the main piazza, encountering many a shady public garden,

(One of the many little parks)

and from there, we climbed to the top of the castello on the hill. Apparently the old castle was built by invading huns to watch the next town over burn. The view from the top was filled with brown-tile roofs and clear, blue sky. After an appropriate snack time break, where we watched a group of field tripping, disattentive pre-schoolers learn about architecture, we headed out to wander the old town.
At the top of the hill, near the castle

The entrance to the castle

The view from the top of the castle wall

It had an almost venetian feel in parts, but minus the crowds and heavy on the tiny, twisting, flowery allies. We ran into roving groups of Italians pulling young men or women entwined in ropes and bearing wreaths on their heads, singing at the top of their lungs. After wandering past many a shop, gelateria, the local Duomo, we made our way back to the train station, where we caught our train to Treviso. To our relief we had the right ticket for the train when the conductor came around—we weren't quite sure what the rules were for the type of open ticket we had bought in Austria. Continuing our card playing of Crazy Eights and Schnappschen, we arrived in Treviso in time to search for the airport bus. Thanks to a kind, elderly lady we were pointed to a Trenitalia offiical, who happily mimed directions to us. Crossing over two streets, we reached Bus #6 and rode the overcrowded bus to the airport. There, we checked-in, once again I had issues with Security and had a thorough pat-down before I was allowed to wait.

At long last, we were on our way to Barcelona, arriving just 15min past 11pm and waltzed through the empty passport control. Hightailing it, we made it to the bus, which was running limited service due to strikes, and by 12:45pm we were pulling into the surprisingly active bus station of Estaion del Norde. We made our way to the hostel, after stopping to ask directions from the only open restaurant we saw—a Chinese buffet. Unfortunately, the communication barrier was too large and we continued on our way, feeling lost. Luckily, we came to the hostel just past 1am and by 2am were able to crawl into bed at long last. Only to be temporarily awakened at 6am by our roommates.

Day 2—Barcelona (Old Town)

We began the day at 8am with breakfast before heading out to the old town. First, we passed Arch de Triomf, celebrating the fact that Barcelona held the World Trade Fair.

Pushing past bike tours and tourists of all sizes, shapes, and dressed in all kinds of colors, we reached Placa de Catalunya, the main square before the beginning of the Ramblas.

Placa de Catalunya

We began our ramble down the crowded Ramblas, the much touted main shopping/people watching/thief-lurking street in Barcelona. Honestly, it was mostly just packed with people and almost impossible to move as we walked towards the bay.

We found ourselves in a church, seeking shelter from the jostling and the heat. Admiring the colorful candles displayed in front of the alter, we quietly observed seven, colorfully headscarfed women praying to the Virgin Mary before returning to the rumbling Ramblas.

Soon, we reached the harbor and the mighty Colombus statue with the man himself pointing out to sea.

Me and the harbor entrance

Me and the harbor

We sat for a while on the Rambla de Mar, a bridge that jutted out over the harbor leading to a mall with free, clean bathrooms, a giant movie theater, and the aquarium. After strolling, bench sitting, “jause-ing” and admiring a rowing team practicing nearby, we made our way to the Barri Gotic, the old city.

Passing remains of old roman walls and interesting buildings, we arrived at the cathedral of the old town, just in time for the admission charging block of time during the siesta hours. So, instead, we circled the structure, admiring the Venice-like streets and lacy architecture,

as well as slipping inside the Decon's House, a mansion now open to the public as a free museum, to view the traditional courtyard.

fountain in deacon's palace

bridge over street

Elisabeth's hopped inside a few stores and, after a few confusing detours, we arrived at Palau de la Musica Catalana, the concert hall built in a rather impressive style—inside and out. We bought the tickets for the 9pm Mozart Reqium and then headed off to enjoy the beach for the rest of the siesta hours.

Catalan Concert House and me


At 5-ish we headed back to the Cathedral, first making a stop at Santa Maria del Mar, the church that inspired Gaudi's Sagrada Familia—ok, the columns were the inspiration.


Next stop: Cathedral, which was packed. We slid inside and marveled at the many chapels before heading out to a nearby courtyard attached to the Cathedral filled with palm trees

and “watch geese,” who also happen to have their very own coy pond.

Circling around the surrounding streets and stopping at the columns of the old Roman Temple, we eventualy made our way to the other side of the Ramblas, which is a bit seedy.

store window

Back at the harbor, watching the sun begin to set and enjoying our sandwich dinner, we admired the peacefullly bobbing boats.
harbor sunset

Shivering, we headed off to our concert. Thanks to the kind ticket-taker, we found our seats and enjoyed the concert in the extravagant rainbow-washed hall. With flying pegasuses behind us, the half statue and half mosaic women lining the stage, and of course, the raindrop of sunshine in the middle of the hall, we were washed in classical music from the middle of a fantasy world.

Nodding off a few times only because we were still exhausted from our journey, we shook oursleves awake in time to stumble out the doors and power-walk home, before falling into bed.

Day 3: Barcelona (Gaudi Day)

We got an early start, arriving at the Sagrada Familia just after 9am and gaining easy access. By 9:30am, the place was flooded with tours and by noon when we were leaving, the entry line stretched around the block. Audio guides in hand, we toured the magnificent structure. Parts of it seemed to look as if they ahd been left in the sun too long and partially melted--creating a new, detailed, more modernized gothic look to the cathedral, which is still being built today. Gaudi died before he finished his final masterpiece, but left behind plenty of models and drawings, now on display in the Cathedral basement. The inside of the cathedral is flooded with light from stained glass windows and natural windows, creating a playful, contemplative array of colors and sunshine on the inside. The tree-like columns support the roof, which was only recently attached. Since then, construction has slowed.

Our next stop of the day—Parc G├╝ell, the area surrounding Gaudi's one time home and gated-community housing project, is filled with wacky mosaics, meling stone designs, as well as palm trees and cacti.

We hiked to the very top, after a picnic lunch on a shady bench, sliding around on the red-orange rocks, as we made our way upwards. Enjoying the view for a good long while in the silence of nature, we were soon on our way again... our final destination of the day—Passeig de Gracia, a street which stretches from near the park all the way back to the Placa de Catalunya and is home to several more Guadi creations. Casa Mila, known for its melting ice cream looking roof is perhaps the most visited and most famous. After strolling the street, stopping for ice cream from a Dia grocery store and enjoying the variety of architectural variations on the street—ranging from the Block of Discord and Casa Batllo with skull balconies to rather stately, respectable buildings, we separated.

Elisabeth left to explore the FNAC, a French department store. I headed back to Casa Mila for a visit. The line was incredibly long and stalled because the elevators to the roof were stuck, but I eventually made it to the ticket office, got a student discount, passed my bag through the scanner and continued through the courtyard to the elevators up top.

I was greeted by swirls of soft serve ice cream and spikes of sandstone colored cones all on the top of a wavy roof.

Next stop, the attic with movies, posters, and models of several different Gaudi creations, including the hanging chain, which he used to determine the vaults and arches of the ceiling.

Down the spiral staircase were a series of rooms locked in the buildings original fuction, small apartments.

Back outside, I rejoined Elisabeth and we began the journey back to the hostel.

Day 4—Barcelona, Barcelona to Granada

We spent the morning packing and chatting with our new Portugese roommate/PE teacher, who was on his way to Italy before heading off to the Picasso Museum. Pushing through school group, after school group, we made our way out of the hostel and began the trek to the museum, chugging along with our backpacks, passing the zoo and Parc Citadella, we crossed through a series of small alley-way-like streets and turned down another, coming to the museum hidden on a tiny alley. The line stretched down the block for the free day on the 1st of the month, but moved quickly and we soon found ourselves inside the beautiful building. The collection was donated by Picasso's wife after his death and is filled with his sketches and early works, all of which were incredibly different from his later cubism style. An entire room was even dedicated to his pottery and another to his version of Velazquez's Las Meninas—in a much more “cubistic” style. Exiting through the palm tree courtyard, we returned to the park for a picnic lunch. We were chatting merrily, when a woman on a bicycle and pink shirt came up to us and started speaking in Spanish to us. We shook our heads and she switched to halting, stumbling English--”Be careful with your bag. There are men sitting behind you. One is a robber and he wants to robber your bag.”
we turned around and the men sitting on the bench across the stretch of grass behind us, exited the park.

(outside Picasso's home)

We soon moved on towards our next destination, Montjuic (Jew Mountain), the mountain near the harbor, which is home to the old fortress, an art museum, the olympic stadium. We climbed up the mountain following the series of paths from the harbor side.

After a snack break half way up, we continued the rest of the way, stopping for some photos with the famous Barcelona dancing statue. Georgina does just this kind of dancing—typical Barcelona, she says.

At the catle top, we toured all around the ramparts, enjoying the sunny view and trying not to overheat.

We then began our way down the olympic stadium and magic fountains. Unfortunately, we made a wrong turn, heading left around the stadium instead of right and getting ourselves completely lost on a side street of the mountain. We huffed and puffed our way along, managing to locate ourselves and walk back uphill partway to the art museum and fountains, where we rested and enjoyed the view of Placa de Espana.

Then we headed off to the train station, stepping in several grocery stores on the way. Somehow they always manage to look a little skeezy with a lone man smoking out front of a tiny corner store, often not fully stocked or filled solely with drinks.

(The bull fighting ring on the way to the train station)

In front of the station, we watched children bike and roller blade up and down the parkway and slide down the dragon shaped slide. Taking one more wander around the block, we returned to the station, waited another hour—passing the time playing cards before heading to our track. Trains in spain—at least long distance AVE trains likeo urs, require entering through a mental detector, showing your tickets, entering a waiting room, then getting in line, having your tickets scanned and then heading to the actual train where a conductor scans the ticket again and directs you to your seat. We were in “Tourista” Class, so we just had seats in a normal train car, not bad...other than the sqwaking baby and a few other noises, it was fairly quiet and comfortable. Exhausted, we both fell aspleep alomost as soon as the train began its journey. 10.5 hrs later we awoke to the still darkened sky of Granada.

Day 5 Granada

We made our way to the hostel, where the kind and informative owner cheerily checked us in, providing us with a map, sggested walks, Tapas restaurants, and her favorite look-out point across from the Alhambra. Our room was free, so we dropped our things inside, gathered a day pack and headed off to expore the city.

First, we set off in entirely the wrong direction but discovered an interesting tiled church, before setting ourselves to rights.

Walking along the main street, we admired the strange, cubistic light posts.

Soon, we found the Cathedral where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela were buried, but it was closed, so we decided to return after a walk up the mountain across from the Alhambra.

Twisting upwards on a series of cobblestone steps and tiny streets, we felts as if we were in Greece, surrounded by white houses and rolling green hills. We emerged from a curve and there before us was the Alhambra.

Climbing higher, we discovered even better views and more twisting streets. Making our way to San Niclas and a suggested bakery, where we planned to refuel for lunch before attacking the climb up to the church our hostel owner suggested.

We got completely and totally lost. Starving by this point, we followed a trail down and emerged near where we had started at the very bottom of the hill. Back at the main square, I bought a toasted chicken sandwich and we sat on a bench to enjoy our lunch.

Then, we headed back to the Cathedral, paid our 4 Euros and toured the resting place of Ferdinand and Isabela and a few artifacts of the royal couple were also present, such as Isabela's royal jewelry box or Ferdinand's sword and scepture. Exiting just as it was about the close for siesta time, we mosied our way up to the Alhambra, chugging up the steep hill and eventually coming to the entrance office, where we were directed to the ticket machines for our pre-purchased ticket collection. In possession of our tickets, we sat near the entrance on a bench to rest until our entry time. Half an hour before we decided just to enter anyway, we realized that the time was specifically for the palace and not for the rest of the Alhambra complex, which is composed of 4 main parts. So, we hightailed it over to the palace and arrived in plenty of time to stand and wait at the door. We ended up following the German tour guides around and listening to her information on the palace.

We passed through the harem,

the lion fountain,

the baths, and the impressive throne room.

Reaching the exit as it began to drizzle, we headed back through the rest of the ocmplex beginning with the Alcazar,

circling back through the ruins, then heading across the way to the Genralife gardens with the famous fountains.

We re-emerged at the entrance to the entire complex just as it began to pour. We made our way back down the slippery paths and to our hostel.

We lost our way when we were almost back to it and ended up inside a fruit and veggie store, where we walked out with directions and stawberries and a banana. After another stop at a grocery store, we returned to the hostel. I was in bed early, exhausted and feeling sick once again.


Day 6—Granada to Cordoba to Sevilla
The storm clouds were swirling over Granada as a we packed, ate a breakfast of homemade apricot jam and crusty, toasted bread with tea, coffee and fresh orange juice, and headed to the train station. In line for the train, the sky continued to darken and as we pulled away for cordoba, we began to questin our decision to spend a day outside exploring a new city. However, we arrived in Cordoba to only slightly grey skies.

We began our trek to the Mezquita—after only getting slightly lost. We made it, just in time for us to be told it was closed fore day—due to Semana Santa, the holy week before Easter. Most things closed early or completely on the Tuesday of Semana Santa. Why Tuesday? Tuesday is not even a bank holiday in Spain unlike the upcoming Thursday and Friday.

Entering the Mezquita, the former site of pagan worship, then mosque, then Cathedral and now officially named "Cathedral-Mosque," but used solely as a Christian Cathedral.

Luckily, we were still allowed in the courtyard and could peak through the windows at the famous red-white arches inside. Circling around, we admired the sandy stone and moorish designs before heading off to the Alcazar around the corner.
Mezquita courtyard

The Mezquita

peaking in the window

Mezquita entrance

man on a horse outside the Mezquita

We were in line outside the Alcazar when it began to pour. Seeking refuge inside, we were overjoyed to discover a small, indoor display and a large entry hall stuffed with cushy chairs.

the Alcazar

outside the Alcazar

Poor Elisabeth was coming down with something and miserably slumped in her chair. We admired the the hall of mosaics for a good long time before we continued touring the grounds.

the hall where we sat waiting out the rain

the ruins

looking down at the front entrance with all the palm trees

The rain gone, but the clouds still threatening to continue, we climbed to the top of the tower and walked along the wall. Back down, we toured the gardens, admiring the large pools of water, fountains, colorful flowers and tower-shaped trees.


fountain leading to the rest of the gardens

castle-shaped bush

Gradens with vase bushes

mosaic fountain in gardens of Alcazar

Back outside, it once again began to pour as we headed to the old Synagogue. It happened to be closed, so we dodged puddles and made our way to Calles de Flores—the street of flowers and battled with gangs of Japanese tourists to take photos before heading back to the Synagogue, which happens to be one of only three remaining in all of Spain. The rest were destroyed.

outside synagogue

street of flowers

One wall was covered in Hewbrew etched in relief into the stone, another wall with swirls and very “moorish” designs.
inside synagogue

Slowly, we made our way back to the train station via victoria Park and the main town square, which was decorated and waiting for a religious procession.

set up for procession

Once there, Elisabeth fell asleepon a bench, while we waited for our train to Sevilla. I stopped at a grocery store crammed with the most random assortment of goods in every which corner—from frozen pizza to pacakges of noodles to rows of orange juice containers.

I picked up dinner for the train and headed back to wait. Eventually, we made our way to the train. This time there was no security and the train stopped every few minutes. We still had an automatically assigned seat, but a conductor came by to check our tickets, like normal.

We arrived in Sevilla in the rain and began to navigate the twisting streets to our hostel, passing black, purple, and white hooded men on the way. Later, we discovered they were from a cancelled procession. We arrived at the hostel in time for free Sangria hour and to watch the Barcelona-Madrid soccer match. Barcelona won 3-1 after some impressive playing.

Then, we headed off to our rooms for bed. Elisabeth was in one room and I in another as things were solidly booked for Semana Santa. Poor Elisabeth was still sniffling and feeling miserable as she set offf for slumberland. Meanwhile, I attempted to sleep between the rock music below, the comings and goings of the others in the room and the noise through the thin walls.


Day 7—Sevilla

I awoke first and discovered Elisabeth aake about half an hour later. Her watch was broken and her phone was dead. Plus, she was feeling miserable and couldn't even eat anything for breakfast.

We waited for the free hostel tour and met an Australian girl teaching high school in London. Our guide was a polish girl currently living in Sevilla, but who had also lived in Edinburgh for 5 years. We began in front of La Giralda, once a mosque's minaret, now the Cathedral's tall tower that dominates the lion-decorated fountain down below. It was protected by the patron saints of Sevilla during the Civil War, so the locals say.

Inside the Cathedral itself rests Spain's evil king, Pedro, who used to kidnap women and kill their husbands or boyfriends and taking them to the Alcazar, his grand palace. He was so feared that everyone copied his manner of speech and, since he spoke with a lisp, today's Spaniards end all of ther “s” ending words with a “th” sound, lisping.Pedro did at one point meet the love of his live—Dona Maria, for whom he built a wing of the palace—after cutting off her husband's head that is, so he could have her as one of his many mistresses in his palace. She happened to become his favorite.

Preparations early in the day for the afternoon/evening processions had already begun.

Directly across from the Cathedral entrance is where trade and business used to take place in Sevilla, when traders came up the river to the main port. They used to do business in the Cathedral, even bringing horses inside until ropes were put up outside the church for people to tie them up. But since there was no god watching over trade deals, the traders would happily cheat each other. So, the bishop blessed the trade hall and a giant cross was erected outside, thus solving the problem. Today, the building houses the Indian Archives—journals, maps, and records of great explorers' explorations to far off places.

Next up-- Torrow del Orro set along the river and glistening in its rocky, yello spendor in the minimal sunshine. It was said that A. gold was stored there when ships coming back from America were forced to stop to pay a fee B. whiter porcelaian tiles lined the outside, reflecting and glittering in the sun.

Then, we cut over to a small park, which displayed a famous Spanish woman who owns 40% of Andelusia today, as well as lands all over Europe.

Our second to last stop, Placa de Espana, which was also the setting for the planet Naboo in Star Wars. It is inlaid with a variety of colorful tiles made across the river (part of Sevilla, but they consider themselves almost another otwn entirely because this is where the “unwanted” were exiled or jailed during the Spanish Inquisition. It is also where, so they claim, Flamenco was invented—Granada's gypsy quarter also claims this honor.

Around the square, was a small alcove dedicated to each of the main cities in Spain. This one was to Barcelona and shows Columbus bowing before Ferdinand and Isabella. Isabella is portrayed as larger than her husband, showing that she had more power than he did. Meanwhile Columbus seems to bow only to her, ignoring the nearby Ferdinand and gesturing to the riches and slaves he has brought back from the New World.

Our last stop was the old tobacco factory, which is currently one of the university buildings and where our guide did her Erasmus year. It is actually the setting for the opera Carme nand the students will perform it in one of the inner courtyards in June.

Supposedly, the angel on top of the building would trumpet if a virgin passed below him. His horn has yet to sound. Locals like to say that 9,000 women worked here, but in reality it was 3-4,000 men and women rolling tobacco.

Finished with the tour we got in line to enter the Cathedral with our new found German friend and were thankful the line was shorter and moved more quickly than earlier in the day, as women attempted to shove twigs into our hands and read our palms. Our new German friend found her friend and we soon lost them as we marveled at the splendor of the Cathedral's many small chapels, the blinding silver alter and came to a halt at what claims to be Columbus' tomb before continuing up to La Giralda, which is, thankfully built without any steps and a series of inner, twisting ramps. Along the way, we paused to look out the windows, admiring the view of the enclosed orange tree garden and the spires of the Cathedral in contrast to the roofs of downtown Sevilla.

Columbus' tomb

Almost time for the afternoon tour, I left Elisabeth wandering the Cathedral agreeing to meet at 6pm by the fountain outside. Joining the tour, we began in the Alcazar, royal palace which was filled with flowers in full bloom and christianized moorish architecture.

We then began the trek to the Jewish Quarter.

First up on the tour, O Suzanna Street/Death Street/Chains Street...the street with many names. Same call it O Suzanna because of the young Jewish girl who fell in love with a Christian man. She told him that her father was planning to rally the people in the quarter to attack and he in turn told the Christian forces. Those forces surrounded and killed the majority of the uprisers...hence the name Death Street. Not long after Suzanna couldn't live with the same of betraying her family, so she hung herself from her window with chains...thus the Chains Street.

Her head was displayed in a small alcove near the window as a reminder.

Circling through a courtyard with an orange tree we reached Pepper Street. This is once where the a spice merchant lived. He began to run out of his spices and unable to get more, he prayed for help. But everyday his spices dwindled and one day a man saw him crying in the street. The man instructed the merchant to pray to Jesus, and out of options, the merchant complied. Remarkably, a pepper tree grew over night. To this day the street is still home to growing pepper plants.

Next up, the art museum dedicated to the painter Morillo. Velazquez was also from Sevilla, but he never came back to Sevilla after he left. In turn, his home town chose to reveer Morillo.

Squeezing through the street with the kissing balconies, two balconies smushed with in a fraction of an inch across from each other on a narrow street, we rounded a corner and emerged in the sit of an old cemetary. Today it is a park filled with trees and large, stone cross resting in the middle, which is supposedly marking the spot where Morillo is buried.

Squeezing down another street, we emerged a the site of an old temple with only a few remaining columns reaching from the ground.

Circling around, we reached the town hall with the gathering procession forces. Bands were lining up side by side with purple hooded people and the surrounding bleachers were beginning to fill. People were absolutely everywhere.

Fninishing with a look at the symbol N (infinity) OO, which was created long ago by the king when his son was challenging him for power. The symbol expressed his thankfulness to the people, who remained faithful to him.

Pushing through the crowd, I managed to work my way back to the Cathedral, only to be told the road was closed and be directed back the way I had come. Working my way through a network of streets, I finally emerged at the lion fountain where Elisabeth and I had agreed to meet. Scanning the crowds in search of Elisabeth, worried I would never find her, she magically emerged and we made our way back to the hostel.

Nearby, where they were preparing for the procession, we discovered this small flower-covered church courtyard.

Grabbing our bags with beelined for the train station and headed off for Madrid.


Day 8—Madrid
We arrived in Madrid late, going in circles around the train station, trying to find Isobela Street. Everyone we asked gestured vaguely in one direction or the other, looking puzzled. I whipped our our Rick Steves book and once we flipped to his handy museum guide and map, we discovered the tiny street. Finally on our way, we soon found the hostel and checked in, only to get lost on the way to our room and then our key cards didn't work. Back down we went to activate the cards. Everything set to rights at last we were finally able to crawl into bed.

The next morning, we breakfasted on toast and overly sweetened Musli and I was relived Elisabeth was at last eating something. First, we walked to Plaza Mayor, at which point it began to dump buckets of rain from above. Taking shelter underneath the covered walkway,

we continued onwards, passing through Cibeles Square with the lion drawn chariot fountain situated in front of a former palace.

Arriving at the Prado Museum, we joined the line for the museum, shifting our feet in the cold. After gaining our free entry, we worked our way through the museum from Rubens to artists I had never heard of to Velazquez's famous royal portraits. I even discovered a few new favorites:
--Time Defeated by Hope and Beauty by Simon Vouet
This painting features Hope dragging Time away by his wings, while cherubs climb over his back and Beauty is about to spit him with her spear.
--Guido Reni's Girl with a Rose, which displays a girl with a rose in soft, muted colors and is most likely an allegory, according to my audioguide, because of the girl's general appearance.
--Juan Bautista Maiano's The Adoration of the Shepherds
In this one the angels abover are clinging to the clouds and peering down as if from a dark rockface. Down below the life-like, cuddly sheep and goats gaze upwards.
--Velazquez's Las Meninas
The famous portrait of the 5-year-old with the two maids bowing to the young girl and the parents reflected in the mirror as they themselves are painted.
--Jacob Jordaens' The Painter's Family
Naturally, it feautrues the painter's family and highlights a little girl and her mother with incredibly detailed clothing.
--Titian's The Worship of Venice
The painting is filled with cherbs picking apples, playing, cuddling with rabbits, and one about to shoot another with a love arrow.

We exited in the rain, Elisabeth taking up the raear with her aching back. We only made it part way down the street before it began to hail and we took refuge in Carrera de San Jeronimo's Deli Kebap Restaurant. Starving and chilled through by this time, we each got a Kebap—chicken for me and salmon for Elisabeth and hunkered down for a good long time.

Slowly, we wound our way back to the hostel at a snail's pace, but first, churros con Chocolate. As I left the restaurant, I felt my hear hurt and my arteries twinge from the intense sugar and chocolate.

Day 9—Madrid
Elisabeth's health restored, we began our sightseeing with an early trip to Palacio Real. Walking briskly against the cold and wind, we reached the palace courtyard. It was 9:15am and we realized the palace wouldn't open until 10am, so we went into the Cathedral instead.

There it was warm, the ceiling was decorated in swirls of color and interesting geometric designs. The nuns and priests were out in force. The nuns were this long, lacy veils and headresses and the priests decked out in purple. They gave curt, but thoughtful bows to the alter as they busily passed back and forth.

15 minutes before 10am, we re-entered the the palace courtyard and joined the line, jumping in just in time to for the accordian music of a seranading street performer to ty to keep warm from the blowing winds.

Inside at last, we merrily pranced through the royal chambers from the mighty, red lion throne room, now used only on special occasions, to the “boxcar room” (a side room shaped like a boxcar—long and narrow) to the porcelain room, covered in sculpted porcelain figures.

Back in the cold, we hurried over to the “Farmacia” and the armory, which was filled with armor from Charles V as well as spears, saddles, riding equipment and armor from a few other Spanish Kings.
We made our way back through Puerto del Sol, stopping to admire the symbol of Madrid...the bear and tree.

After a lunch break for paella and tortilla,

we continued onwards to Museo Thyssen, a collection of work from Cara Thyssen family, as well as other paintings—and jam packed with Impressionist paintings from Monet's to Picasso's to artists I had never heard of. We stayed until we were kicked out.

Enjoying a little bit of sun, which was just poking out from behind the clouds, we began the jounrey back to the hostel, hoping Elisabeth wouldn't collapse first. Turning around the corner we were met by a large crowd and blue railings set up along the streets. We turned back and marched down C. Alcala, where we promptly reached a bottleneck.

The procession was on the parallel street and the street where we were currently standing was already prepared to receive them. Using a connecting street, I attempted to watch the procession, leaving Elisabeth on a bench to rest. Returning a short while later, we both got into position to watch the procession.

First came the flag bearers and musicians and then the masses, filling the surrounding area with a grating noise, setting my teeth on edge. Looking for the source of the noise, I discovered the marchers were barefoot and dragging chains. After them, came the purple hooded figures bearing crosses, dragging chaings and proudly marching behind the unhooded masses. The procession ended with a giant coffin decorated with flowers and candles.

The crowd slowly dispersed and we continued on our way. Trapped again by another procession near our hostel, we barely managed to negotiate the packed cross streets and deposit Elisabeth in her bed after dinner—where we actually met another German on her way home after study abroad in Spain.

Day 10—Madrid
Both our roommates left early and were bumping and thumping around in the early morning light. Elisabeth left to visit the computers and I slept in and packed. After a slow breakfast and repack, we left our things at the hostel luggage room and headed out, passing Victoria Hostel

and an interesting street design.

Next, we admired the Botanical Gardens from the outside, too cold to spend much longer outside. We arrived at Reina Sofia, just as the line was beginning to grow for the free afternoon entry. As students, we had all day free entry. To cover our various desires, we split up and agreed to meet in a few hours. I began on level 3, circling thorugh exhibits, such as grassy mound, the never-ending type writer and the giant cigarett box.

I swooped down to level 2 next, which was filled with paintings that made you think, film exerpts, and most famous of all, Picasso's Guernica, as well as plenty of other Picassos.

Riding up to level 4 on the elevators, I cruised about before playing “is the elevator overweight” for a good 30min. The elevator would beep frantically, refusing to move. Everyone would get off and one by one we would attempt to add people, but often the beeping would restart. Some people would stick an apendage in and out, appeasing the elevator and it would magically begin closing the doors and heading down. Finally, I was able to ride down to level one and finish my tour with a room filled with two empty bird cages and two live birds well on the other side of the room.

Exiting, we worked our way to Caixa Forum, which featured an exhibit on dance, displaying ballet costumes and video clips galore.

We headed back to the hostel, pausing at the newly discovered Lidl around the corner on C. Magdalena for groceries.

The church across from the Prado.

There, I uncovered some kebabs, called Delave brochette and an eggplant. I cooked everything up, added a bit of Iberico sliced ham and spanish cheese, topped it with some tomatoes and yum!

As we were eating, a group of young high school/middle school aged germans filled the kitchen and began to cook. They were surprised to discover we spoke German.

After packing sandwiches for the road, we caught the Aeropuerto bus to the airport right outside the giant Salidas sign outside the main train station, after the great stamp search for Elsiabeth, which turned up empty.

At the airport, we managed to convince security to let us through to the otherside, so we could wait for our early flight out to Milan. We watched as pilots and stewards appeared and disappeared, also playing “is the elevator overweight” game with the nearby elevator and watching as more early travelers arrived to spend the night, or a few hours remaining asleep on the airport benches.


Day 11—Madrid to Milan

I didn't sleep. I was too nervous or excited, so I read instead. Close to 4am, I gathered my small backpack and went to the security checkpoint to exit and re-enter after getting a stamp on my ticket from Ryanair. They wouldn't let me out there due to security resons. I was directed down the elevator, out, over, under, and through. I sighed with relief when I passed the customs control office and he didn't stop me. Finally, arriving at Ryanair, I came upon an impossible series of long lines and a confusing jumble of sleeping backpackers and luggage. So much for the offices opening at 3:30am—it was now well past 4am and no one was working yet. After much confusion and waiting, I finally reached the visa check, had my ticket stamped and marched to security. I was relieved we had gone through earlier and I could leave my big bag with Elisabeth because they were actually weighing bags...yikes! At last, I made it through security, after a guard pawed through my bag in search of non-existent liquids, coming up only with oranges.

Once on the plane, I passed out and woke up in Bergamo, Italy, where we landed.

Collecting ourselves, we caught the 9,90 Euro bus to the main train station in milan. From there we walked to Hotel Ambrosiana, passing rows of closed shops, shut tight for the Easter holidays. We rang the bell, crossed a courtyard overflowing with construction items, turned right, climbed the stairs and found oursleves warmly welcomed by a staff member, who let us drop our things and helpfully, cheerfully showed me the sights on the map, while Elisabeth freshened up.

Then, we hightailed it to the metro and the Sforza Castle, where we would meet our tour tickitaly group for the viewing of the Last Supper. No one was there with a sign, so we nervously paced the area—got some Mango-Stawberry Gelato and chilled in the shade of the nearby trees. I went to check the inner courtyard, just to be on the safe side and upon my return, a group had miraculously formed and a guide with a sign had appeared. Off we went around the castle—learning about the previously canal filled Milan and how Napoleon almost destroyed the castle or the symbol of Milan—snake and red cross (also the symbol of the Alpha Romeo).

The symbol of Milan.

The ruins outside the castle.

Then we walked to the church that houses the Last Supper, enjoyed the inner courtyard and entered the series of doors-chamber-doors that led up to the painting. Already, it felt as if someone had sucked the air out of the room waiting before the door, anticipation rising, we heard the group in front of us leaving. The doors on the other side closing, as ours magically sprung open. Suddenly, there was in all of its faded glory—-The Last Supper, adorning the wall of the refractory, where the monks once enjoyed their meals. This whole room, except for the paintings on both ends was destroyed by a bomb in WWII. The painting at the other end is in much better condition with vivid colors featuring Milan scenery behind a crucified Jesus. Our guide explained this is because it is a fresco, which means the colors of the paint were absorbed into the wall, while Leonardo's was done in a different method, causing the colors to crumble and fade. Many have tried to restore it and failed because they treated it as a fresco. One restoration specialist spent 20 years removing their attempts and now what remains is the uncovered, original painting. After 15 minutes in the presence of the painting, we were booted out into the sunshine, where we bid farewell to our guide and Elisabeth and I began the walk to the Duomo.

The giant sewing needle sculpture in honor of Milan's fashion industry.

An Alpha Romeo.

A yellow trolley in Milan.

It took almost 600 years to build because the dragged marble blocks one by one from the quarry 3 days away from Milan. In the 1960s, they finally put the last bronze door on the Duomo.

Next, we wandered down the famous expensive shopping street, passing through the fancy shopping center complete with a McDonald's, and worked our way to the park where canals still exist. Elisabeth headed back and I continued to explore. Meeting her around 6pm back at the hotel, we unpacked and by 9pm were unconscious.

Old Milan

Day 12—Milan to Venice to Klagenfurt
We arrived in Venice and immediately headed towards Frari Church, which, by some miracle, we quickly reached. Once inside, we marveled at the master's works and walked among the impressive tombs of the wealth from past eras. There, we were on our way heading for Accademia bridge, but I managed to get us lost several times before we actually got there. Once we reoriented, we crossed the wooden bridge and headed for Venice's main attraction—San Marco square. We wandered about, fighting off crowds left and right and there began the trek to Rialto Bridge. Mission accomplished, we meandered our way to the train station to retrieve ou things. Along the way we were stuck several times in a sea of people, barely able to wiggle our noses.

The workshop where gondolas are repaired

A church in a hidden alley.

A tower in the distance.

The Grand Canal.

One of the many canals

The side canal near where Goethe lived for a week. The scene near the the canal changes with the season.

A canal with a gondola in full view.

The Accademia bridge.

San Marco Square.

Me outside the Doge's Palace.

At long last, in possession of our bags, we power-walked to Piazzle Roma, where we caught the People Mover and arrived just in time for the bus. Between naps of exhaustion and chats, we soon arrived over the border and were back home in Austria. I bid Elisabeth farewell in Villach and continued on to Klagenfurt. From the train station, I sleepily made my way home, even beating Riannon home from the Netherlands.