To the top of the dome!

Climbing Il Duomo di Firenze on top of Santa Maria del Fiore is a must-do in Italy!  We stuck it out through a three-hour-long line to get our chance.  The good thing about waiting in line with a group is that you can do shifts.  A couple of us would hold the place in line while a couple of us would wander off to explore the Piazza del Duomo, drink cappuccino, go to the bathroom, etc.  It was still a looooooong and slow-moving line!

The humongous and intricate Gothic cathedral was begun in 1296, and the dome was engineered by Brunelleschi.  The church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  You can climb the dome, climb the belltower, or visit the baptistry.  The views from the top of the dome over Florence are amazing!

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Fresco of “The Last Judgement”

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Florence is beautiful!  I can’t wait to go back someday and see more of Tuscany!

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Onwards to Firenze!

After a few days in Rome we managed to secure a hotel in Florence (“Firenze”).  This was not an easy feat, as it was Holy Week and everyone and their mother was flocking to Italy’s famous cities.  But we found a cheap room and made it to the Trenitalia station bright and early, despite staying up waaaaay too late drinking and chitchatting the night before.  Hey, you only live once!

On to Tuscany (Toscano). Due to our pathetic condition, we didn’t get to enjoy the scenery on the train ride as much as we’d  hoped.  By the time we got to Florence it was cold and raining (these SoCal kids are NOT used to that!) and we were desperate for food and a nap.  Several pizzas and several hours later, we were back in shape and ready to go look around the slightly wet city. Florence had a lot more varied food options than Rome did, strangely.  We stuck to Italian food though; it was just too good!  Florence was much smaller and easier to walk around than Rome, but still packed with gorgeous architecture and history!

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Basilica di Santa Maria Novella

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The (fake) David, by Michelangelo, in the Palazzo Vecchio.  The real one was is inside the Academia Museum (Academia di Belle Arti di Firenze), but tickets sell out months in advance and we didn’t think that far ahead.

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Perseus killing Medusa.

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Battling the Minotaur.

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Ponte Vecchio, super old bridge covered in jewelry shops.

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Stunning view over Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo.

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Santa Croce

Tomorrow we’ll get to Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, one of the most famous churches in the world, and climbing it’s beautiful dome!

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A new side of España!

Sevilla, Spain
Sevilla, Spain

After a week in Portugal, we took another Blablacar rideshare into southern Spain.  We choose Sevilla because we had heard good things and it was on the way to Tarifa, where we would catch the boat to Morocco.  It was nice to be back in Spain; we really love it there.  The wine is cheap and the people are really nice.  Seville turned out to be one of our favorite spots yet.  It was cool to see the drastic differences between the north of the country and the south.  Everything was new here.  The accent, the food, the prices…  It was awesome to get a glass of wine and tapas for under five euros each.  Our Spanish had also improved greatly after a couple weeks of hearing mostly Spanish/Portuguese.  The people in Sevilla also spoke a lot more slowly than they did in San Sebastian, which we appreciated!

Sevilla was also our first time using AirBnb.com.   I know, we are behind the times!  We stayed in a nice, affordable room in an older woman’s apartment very close to the city center.  Maria had a very cute doggie which eased our grief over missing Dusty, and she was very welcoming and helpful.  I think we did pretty well speaking only Spanish with her!

Gazpacho, cheese, sardines, spinach/chickpeas, and mushrooms
Gazpacho, cheese, sardines, spinach/chickpeas, and mushrooms

On our first night in Sevilla we had a tapas feast, of course!  The tapas here weren’t all set out on the bar like the “pintxos” in San Sebastian were; you actually had to order them.  They weren’t quite as good, but they were cheap and a little different!  “Cola de toro” (bull tail) was my favorite.  Since it was Friday night, people were out in droves and everyone was having a good time.  Sevilla struck as an incredibly vibrant city where people have a lot of fun despite the Spanish recession.

Cola de toro
Cola de toro

The next day, we got lucky enough to visit the Catedral de Sevilla on “World Tourism Day” (who knew that existed?), making admission free!!!!  This cathedral is actually the largest in the world!  The altars, exhibits, and mausoleums were incredibly ornate and impressive, and slogging up the seven flights of the tower were well worth it for the views over Sevilla.

Hugging an enormous pillar in the cathedral
Hugging an enormous pillar in the cathedral
The organ
The organ
Cristobal Colon aka Christopher Columbus is buried here
Cristobal Colon aka Christopher Columbus is buried here
Main altar
Main altar
View from the tower
View from the tower

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Despite some rain coming in that night, we still managed to venture out to find a secret, local flamenco show at a place called Casa Anselma in Barrio Triana recommended by Maria.  The venue was completely unmarked, but upon finding the address, we asked around and learned that it didn’t open ’til midnight.  Typical Spanish night owls!  So we were forced to have some more tapas and wine at an awesome little joint we discovered down an inconspicuous alley, also filled with only locals.  The champiñones ali-oli were delectable and it was fun to watch how a tiny tapas-oriented kitchen/bar staff operates!  We kinda felt like we were crashing their party, but we love discovering those “off-the-beaten-path” places!

Amazing tapas bar hidden in an alley
Amazing tapas bar hidden in an alley

Finally, we went back to the flamenco place to find a line forming.  We jumped in the back and waited about 20 more minutes as more people arrived.  Obviously, this was the place to be!  Once the doors opened, madness ensued.  The proprieties, a feisty,  petite woman, opened the side door instead of the front door, putting those who had waited longest at the back of the line and those who had just arrived in front.  A crazy stampede of pushing and yelling ensued, ending with Zach & I being among the last patrons to actually get seats and a bunch of people standing in the back.  The place was packed to the gills and we only spotted two or three other foreigners.  It was free too, but you had to buy a drink.  I didn’t know much about flamenco, because all I was picturing was women in colorful ruffly dresses dancing.  Instead, this place was all about the music.  A band of four guys playing acoustic instruments and harmonizing perfectly on ballad after ballad, while the dancing was left up to any audience member who wanted to strut their stuff!  Obviously they learn from a young age because they were great!  We stayed until 2am and there was still no sign of them slowing down.  All in all, an unforgettable night in an amazing city!

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Flamenco at “Anselma”
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Lisbon, and how to not fight with your travel buddy

There comes a point in every trip, when you’re traveling with just one companion, that you may start pushing each other’s buttons a bit.  Especially once the novelty of travel has worn off and the annoyances of living out of a backpack, worrying about money and buses and rain, and walking endless miles every day start to seem more acute.

This point for us came in Lisboa (“Lisbon”, in English).  We had been rocking through one big city after another and maybe we were more tired than we realized.  You’ve probably been there.  Suddenly, getting lost isn’t fun anymore, and then one of you is hungry but you can’t agree on where to eat, and then you stop being patient, and then “WHERE ARE WE GOING????  WHY ARE WE STILL WANDERING AROUND THIS TOWN LOOKING FOR FOOD AT SIESTA TIME??????  I’M GOING TO EAT MY ARM AND THEN I’M GOING TO FLY HOME WITHOUT YOU!!!!!”  Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but you see what I mean.

How do you deal with frustration on the road?  For us, I think it’s a matter of space.  No matter how much we love each other, we both need some alone time, which is hard to create when you are literally spending every waking AND sleeping moment together!  It helps to let each other off the hook from being social every now and then.  Read a book at a cafe instead of trying to talk all the time!  Go running or for a walk by yourself!  Just do some yoga in the hostel room while the other person surfs the internet.  Escape into your own thoughts every now and then and don’t stress about always being “on” for the other person.  Also, get some rest!!!  It helps us to have a lazy day every once in awhile, where we just catch up on planning, blog stuff, and reading instead of traipsing around in the sun all day.  Usually any rainy day is a good excuse for a rest!

Communication is also key.  We often fall into the trap of expecting the other to read our mind, since we know each other so well.  But that’s not fair.  You have to constantly communicate your needs when traveling, unless your partner really is psychic.  Otherwise you end up with, “How was I supposed to know you weren’t in the mood to wander aimlessly right now, isn’t that what we do every day?”

That being said, most of the time we are pretty cool with each other on the road.  We’re always learning how to communicate and take care of ourselves better.  Traveling together can definitely make or break a relationship and I highly recommend you try it before settling down!

Without further ado, here is Lisboa, which was really big, really tiring, but really beautiful too!

Cool surfboard design on the front of the modern art museum
Cool surfboard design on the front of the modern art museum. The museum is FREE and has some really funky stuff!
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Praça do Comércio in Baixa- the central neighborhood
View from the top of the Alfama
View from the top of the Alfama
Awesome samba band playing for tips!
Awesome samba band playing for tips!

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The plaza at night
The plaza at night
Lisbon has fun yellow trolley cars and amazing graffiti everywhere
Lisbon has fun yellow trolley cars and amazing graffiti everywhere
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Bairro Alto has beautiful architecture and great cafes
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Torre de Belém, the city’s most famous cathedral

Lisbon has an unending supply of gorgeous views, great food, and happy nightlife.  I hope we’ll be back to explore more someday!

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Cathedrals of León

León is the old capital of Nicaragua and is known for being a liberal city full of intellectuals and poets.  It also has several really awesome churches.

The most famous cathedral is this one, the biggest church in Central America.  It was built in the 1700s and although the outside is a bit worn out, the inside is really well-maintained and gorgeous.

The altar
Great paintings

We saw two other really old churches in León.

Other highlights of León included some good street food, fun parties, and volcano boarding (post on that coming tomorrow)!  We also ran into an old friend who worked with us at Loki Hostel in Cuzco.  What a small world!

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