Holy Toledo!

Hola!
It’s official: I love Spain. The food, the culture, the people, it’s all fantastic! Unlike Paris, where I felt out-of-place and intrusive, here in Madrid I feel like a welcomed guest. You smile at people, and they smile back!
Madrid is lively and sometimes chaotic, so a few hostel friends and my dear friend Pablo (from Madrid) took a day trip to Toledo: the old capital of Spain in the 6th century. It’s described as a medieval city, and yes, it is exactly what you imagine an old European city would look like.

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Te streets are tiny: some so tiny no car will fit down them, let alone be able to navigate the winding paths and sharp corners.
Toledo is a mere 25 minute trip on a high-speed train from Madrid, and only a 21 euro return ticket: well worth it! We walked 15 minutes from the station, up a steep-hill until we came to an entrance. The old city is contained behind a fortress wall, and looks more like a castle than a city from far away.

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We were immediately blown away by the old city streets. The main square was bustling with people, but the side paths were eerily quiet, and you almost felt like you were in a different time-period.

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Our first stop was the famous Catedral (above). We ventured into the free part of the building, deciding that paying 8 euros to look at an old church (filled with tourists) wasn’t worth it.

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Besides, we stumbled upon an old church and opted to go sit inside there instead. There was no one there, except for a quiet nun–observing us from afar. I have never been in a building so quiet.

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We walked through the streets, up steep stairways and then back down cobblestone hills. It was surreal. All I kept saying to myself was ‘I’m in Spain!’

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And of course we stopped for some food! First we sat at a quaint outdoor bar where we enjoyed cervaisas and tapas.

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How much do you think it was?

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Only 1 Euro each! Of course, we were still hungry, and had plenty of walking ahead of us, so we headed next door to the ‘Tavern’ and had a set menu for 11 euros: salad, cod fish, a glass of vino tinto (red wine) and a cafe con leche (coffee with milk) all for only 11 euro! Amazing! Our bellies full we continued to explore, and eventually came to rest in a small park.

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We finished our day of exploring by following a ‘parade’ of jazz musicians playing swing music. And yes, people were swim swing dancing!

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After grabbing some gelato we walked over the bridge and back to the train station where we sat around and played cards. It was the perfect way to end such an eventful day!
So, if you’re heading to Madrid, I highly recommend a day trip to Toledo. Inexpensive transportation cost (and quick) as well as relatively inexpensive food combined with old European charm make this one of my favourite destinations so far!
Next destination: Seville. Porto has proven to be a difficult city to access via train so I may not get to see it. Going to try Lisboa instead!

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Cheese, bread and wine in Paris, France

Oh hey there!
I am so sorry I’ve been MIA! I only have my phone as a way to write my posts and post my photos…and sometimes the Internet isn’t very reliable!
Wow…I don’t even know where to begin! Instead of starting from the beginning, I’ll write about my night in Paris, since it’s still fresh in my mind.

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I travelled to the Eiffel Tower solo my first full-day in Paris. It’s big. Really big.
And it’s crowded. Very crowded. I have a hard time appreciating a place when it’s crawling with people. But, amazing none the less.

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Then I got lost. Well, not literally. I knew what tram station my hostel was at so if I really did get lost I could just go to any tram station (they’re everywhere) and head back.

I stumbled on an outdoor market on Rue Cler. There was fresh produce, fresh croissants, buskers, cafes over-flowing with people and tents with antiques and furniture and random trinkets.

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It was an awesome discovery! I wanted to go to Luxembourg park, but somehow I kept getting turned around and ended up walking in the wrong direction, north instead of south, and ended up on the Seine!

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There was a fence with ‘Locks of Love’ (I don’t know what it’s actually called), but it was the perfect photo opportunity, and I’m certain I’ve seen photos of it before. Then I walked across to The Islands and explored the boardwalks along the Seine.

I had been walking for 3 or so hours by this point, and as if someone heard my prayer I stumbled on Luxembourg!

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It was so gorgeous! There were people sitting on chairs all around the gardens, and I did the same. I had my book with me so I put my feet up and read in the sun for an hour. Ah, now it feels like a vacation!
Around 5 I headed back to my hostel (20 minute walk), and then I met my roomies: 2 very friendly Brazilian women! Immediately they invited me out with their friends and that’s what this post is really about.
When you go to Paris (because you will go), don’t waste your money in a crowded cafe. Around 7 head to the Eiffel tower with friends and bring fresh baguettes, French artisan cheeses, a few bottles of wine (don’t forget the cork-screw!) and sit on the grass and just enjoy the tower at night. They also do a 5 minute light-show at 9pm! There were tons of people doing the same thing as us, and it was exactly how I imagined Paris would be. And, since wine only costs 4 euro a bottle (a good bottle, you can get a bottle for as low as 2 euro!), and cheese and bread are also inexpensive, you get an authentic Paris experience without spending crazy amounts of money!

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I promise I’ll write more posts about Ireland (Guinness and skinny-dipping) and Morlaix, France once I’m settled in Madrid! Next stop: Madrid! I met a friend, Pablo, while I was in Dublin so he is going to take me around Madrid while I’m there for a week 🙂

Eurail Pass – What a headache!

The countdown is on! Only ten days until I start my 3-month journey.

I’m not a procrastinator, but I waited longer than I should have to purchase my Eurorail Pass.

Why? Because it’s not as easy as the online-world makes it sound! Seriously, what is simple about picking a pass? Okay, I admit, if I had an itinerary in mind, I’m sure buying a pass would be simple. BUT, I am going with NO plan.

I’ve been on a few sites, including Rick Steves, for advice, but couldn’t really decide on the best course of action.

So, I headed onto the Eurail site and started comparing prices. Are you ready?

(Note: These are youth prices).

Eurail Global Pass: 10 days in 2 months – $548

Eurail Select Pass: 8 days in 2 months (3 countries) – $384

Eurail Regional Pass: 8 days in 2 months (France-Spain) – $364

Eurail One Country Pass: 8 days in 2 months (Spain) – $384

Alright. Do you see what I see? Let me break it down for you.

Why not the Global Pass?

I am going to be in Europe for a total of 3 months. A 3-month unlimited pass (not shows) is over $1000! No thank-you! I only plan on visiting 4-5 countries max, and the countries I am going to be in aren’t connected as well as Eastern Europe. Sure, if I were going to be in Eastern Europe,  a global pass may have made sense. But, Ireland I plan on traveling via bus or one-way train tickets. France I only plan on traveling through, and maybe stopping for a night or two. Portugal is also a country not that well-connected via the rail network. Global pass (for me) is out!

One Country Pass – I think not!

I think this is fairly self-explanatory: why would I pay the same for a one-country pass (same amount of days) as I would for a regional?!

Regional vs Select Pass

I wasn’t sure if I was going to travel in France. I may decide to fly instead from London to Spain (<$40), but I don’t know. But I figured for an extra $20 I’ll have peace-of-mind. That’s the same for portugal: I’ve tried looking online for tips on getting around this small country, but haven’t really stumbled on much. A friend of mine who visits there frequently told me that the bus system is the best option. But, if I decide to train into Lisbon for a few nights, nothing is stopping me. Also, what if I decide to do the Mediterranean tour in France and over to Italy? The options!

Cost: $401 (including shipping and insurance) for the regional pass.

I chose France, Spain and Portugal.

How did you decide on the amount of days?

This was a tough decision. Do I choose 7 days in 2 months or 10 days? I opted for 8 because I figure I will be spending a lot of time in certain areas. I love to stay in one place for an “extended” period of time (more than 3 days) to really soak in the culture. Honestly, it was a total guess as to how many days I might need. I’ll be kicking myself if I realize I need more.

So, for those of you looking into buying a Eurail Pass, I’m not going to lie and tell you it’s easy. It’s not! Even if you have an itinerary, spending a lump-sum like this is never easy to do, and what happens if your plans change? Do yourself a favour, and RESEARCH. I wish I would have seriously looked into this a lot sooner.