Monday, June 27, 2011

Gibraltar & Tangier (Nov. 22-23)

Gibraltar is one of those "well as long as I'm here I should go there" places that seems more interesting the more I look at it. One reason is that it's so close to Tangier, Morocco, sometimes known as the Tijuana of Africa. It's almost like I'm so close that cannot not go.

So, the Gibraltar/Tangier 2-day trip will be the last stop on my epic journey: Madrid to Gibraltar one day, then Tangier and the trip back on the next.

Madrid (Nov. 18-21)

Madrid is the last major stop on my trip. On Friday Nov 18 I arrive from Barcelona. I've got 4 days booked here, including one day off for relaxing. In theory, on Tues Nov 22 I leave for Gibraltar and Tangier, and I'll be back sometime on Nov 24 (Thanksgiving Day in the US) to catch my flight back home.

One difference between Madrid and other cities is that I've got a friend who lives here (hi, Alan!) who offered to host me at his house, so I may rely on him to help plan my days here.

Andorra (Nov. 17?)

When I was in 7th or 8th grade, a classmate pointed out to a teacher in one of my classes (geography? Spanish?) that there was a tiny country between France and Spain. The teacher refused to believe it until it was pointed out to her the existence of Andorra (468 square km), nestled in the Pyrenees between France and Spain. Since 1978 or thereabouts, I have wanted to visit Andorra, and if I'm going to Europe I'm going to try like hell to go there.

Barcelona (Nov. 15-17)

Barcelona will be the last of the Olympics host cities I visit on this trip (Paris, London, Berlin, St. Moritz, Amsterdam, Garmisch, Rome, and Munich) and my final country on my Grand Tour, not counting side trips. Only 10 days til I fly home!

Frommer's One/Two/Three day tours look like this:
  • Day 1: This is going to be a very full day, so make an early start at the Plaça de Catalunya. Spend the morning wandering down La Rambla to the Mirador de Colón beside the port. Return via the Placa Reial and explore the neighboring Barri Gòtic with its central Catedral. In the afternoon visit Antoni Gaudí's unfinished masterpiece, La Sagrada Família, and the Parc Güell before returning to the Raval and Poble Sec districts on the western side of La Rambla. From there, take the funicular to the top of Montjuïc for a fine view of Barcelona and its harbor. Explore the gardens and castle museum, and if there's time, pop into the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya for a glimpse of the finest collection of Romanesque relics in Spain.
  • On the second day stroll through the pond- and garden-filled Parc de la Ciutadella and visit the Zoo, time permitting. Then explore the narrow-laned barrio of La Ribera, with its Picasso Museum and imposing Santa María del Mar church, and walk down to the old (but gentrified) maritime quarter and beachfront of La Barceloneta with its modern adjoining Port Olimpic area. It's the ideal spot for an atmospheric seafood lunch. In the afternoon wander around Port Vell and explore the regenerated El Raval district.
  • On Day 3 make a leisurely morning exploration of L'Eixample, the 19th-century district that expanded the city away from the congested Barric Gòtic and Ciutat Vella in general. This is where you'll find Barcelona's widest avenue, the Passeig de Gràcia, and greatest concentration of moderniste (Art Nouveau) architecture, highlighted by the Manzana de Discordia zone, where Gaudí's Casa Batlló, Puig i Cadafalch's Casa Amatller, and Domenech i Muntaner's Casa Lleo Morera are all so close they virtually shake hands with each other. Most famous of all is another Gaudí gem, Casa Mila (popularly known as La Pedrera) further along the paseo. Pop into Vinçon, the city's famed design emporium, for a descent to relative normality, and then continue up to the village-like district of Gràcia at the northern edge of L'Eixample. Return to have lunch in Casa Calvet, a restaurant housed in an early work of the omnipresent Gaudí. In the afternoon catch the Metro up to Pedralbes and visit its monastery and palace. Then continue up to Tibidabo by funicular for the best overall panoramic views of the city and coast stretching north toward the Costa Brava. In the evening wander into the adjoining Collserola Park, still high above the city.
My problem is that I have only 2-1/2 days budgeted for Barcelona (Tuesday Nov. 15 to Thursday Nov 17, leaving for Madrid on the morning of Nov 18), arriving the first day from Provence. I've got 4 days in Madrid (including one day off) and then a couple days in Gibraltar & Tangier, so I might find myself running out of time unless I freed up a day earlier in the trip. Rick Steves more or less suggests the same things for the first two days, so I might skip their third day suggestions in favor of a day trip.

I also want to go to Andorra (see separate post), but that's a full day trip to and from Barcelona. Rick Steves also suggests a side trip to Montserrat, which is another whole day trip unto itself.

According to the RailEurope site, the train from Barcelona to Madrid takes about 3 hours.

Provence & the French Riviera (Nov. 11-14)

Going into this trip, the only place that I knew I wanted to go to on the French Riviera was Monte Carlo, Monaco. But at this point in my planning, I already have my itinerary and timeline set (I had to book my airline tickets) and I know how many days I am going to spend on the trip, so now it's a case of fitting what I want to do into the time I have left, and determining if I need to take a day from somewhere else (like my 4th day in Rome) to extend my stay here.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pisa & the Italian Riviera (Nov. 9-10)

Sure, the Leaning Tower of Pisa could be considered a tourist trap, but I'm a tourist, so what the heck. Pisa is on the route from Florence to La Spezia.

I had never heard of the "Cinque Terre" (Five Lands) on the Italian Riviera until I started researching this trip, and everyone who has been there raves about it. So I figured it's worth looking into. They are five fairly isolated seaside cliffside villages just up the coast from La Spezia, great for hiking and sightseeing.

Florence (Nov. 8)

Update 8/3: And we're back on, I added one day in Florence and removed one day in Cinque Terre.

Update 7/11: Changed my mind again and removed Florence from the itinerary so that I could spend the time in Provence, France, instead. Maybe I'll add Florence back in if I cut something else out.

Update 6/12: I squeezed out a couple extra days here and there from my itinerary to make room for a stop in Florence after Rome. Those who have been told me that I couldn't come through Italy and not stop here. So I'll check it out.

Rome (Nov. 3-7)

This is the entry that I've been dreading most, both because it's the place I most want to go and the place that's going to be the hardest to preview because there's so much stuff I'm going to have a tough time cutting stuff out. And with my limited time I have to cut out Florence and everything south of Rome (Amalfi Coast, Capri, Mt. Vesuvius & Pompeii) for my next trip.

And so, Rome. Sic transit gloria mundi.


Today I went on a little shopping spree at Bed, Bath & Beyond (mostly Beyond), things that I think I'll need. Let's look at the damage:
  • 1 Eagle Creek 14x10x3 Packing Cube and 2 7x10x3 Half Cubes (cheaper at BB&B than Amazon, especially with coupons). Packing cubes are supposed to be a great new concept in travel, you buy these cubes and put stuff in them so when you have to unpack it'll be much easier to remove and replace, rather than taking out a handful of socks, shirts, or whatever. I'll see what things look like when I'm packing. I'll probably keep at least one of the half-cubes so that small loose items don't get lost in the suitcase (which did not come with pouches lining the inside).
  • 1 Wordlock combination lock (uses letters instead of numbers so that you can remember a word as the combination instead of a random 4-digit number). It doesn't have a cable, though, so I'll probably return it and find one that has one.
  • A few items from their travel section - a 3-pack of Puffs tissues, a 2 oz container of hand sanitizer, a pack of 4 SHOUT Wipe & Go stain remover wipes, a roll of Charmin To Go (I was traumatized when I visited China and it was BYOTP), an emergency rain poncho (clear plastic, folds down to credit card size), a 2 oz clear jar (for tiny things), and a collapsible travel cup (thinking of places I've travelled where they didn't even have a cup in the room to rinse after brushing my teeth). These all ranged in price from $0.99 to $2.99.
Other stuff I had lying around that I'll be taking:
  • Travel umbrella, manufacturer unknown. I used to carry this in my briefcase to work (when I had a job), when completely collapsed it's only 11 inches long.
  • A 9-LED flashlight (identical to this one) that I got at a job fair. If it fails, I've got my iPhone light as a backup.
  • A small rubber doorstop. Several guidebooks said it's a good thing to bring along, I guess if you're in a sketchy hotel room or something.
  • A 3-oz plastic bottle to be filled with laundry detergent. I already have the bottle and the detergent, no sense in going out to buy the one-load packets.
All of the non-cube stuff fits inside one of the half-cubes, except for the umbrella.

My tech gear:
  • Debating on whether or not to take my Garmin GPS. I haven't loaded the Europe maps yet though. I won't be driving, but it'll be nice having an idea of where I am. I know my iPhone has GPS but I probably won't have a data plan and would only be able to rely on wifi hotspots.
  • My netbook, as mentioned earlier, with its power cable, a USB travel mouse from Targus, an ethernet cable, a mini-USB cable (for charging my GPS), and an iPhone cable that connects to a USB port on a wall plug (I can charge it via the wall or charge/sync it to the computer). I can charge my GPS and iPhone via USB ports on the computer. Also a USB-powered AA/AAA battery charger and a portable laptop hard drive (200 GB) with a case that is powered by USB. I'll sync up my photos and my iPhone/iTunes library to both the netbook and this portable drive, as I want to have a backup of my pictures in case something happens to the netbook which is my primary backup.
  • Canon G12 camera with 3 batteries, 1 wall charger, mini-tripod, two 16 GB flash cards
  • iPhone with spare battery pack (got it at Fry's a couple years ago for about $30, adds about 50% to the iPhone's electrical charge) and a battery powered speaker.
  • A Velbon T-3500 tripod. It was a Wal-Mart special about 20 years ago and it still works well for me. It fits into my suitcase and I can put it in my backpack and walk around with it during the day.
My tech stuff (minus the tripod) will all go in my carry-on backpack, everything else will go in the suitcase.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Milan & Venice (Oct. 31-Nov. 2)

Coming in to Milan, I have an unexpected (and unplanned-for) half day to spend. I arrive from St. Moritz at 12:50pm on day 45 (Oct. 31st), then spend the rest of the day and night in Milan, then take the 8:05am to 10:28am train the next morning into Venice on day 46 (Nov 1). Wonder what Halloween in Milan is like?