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Songbird

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The sky was threatening.  We decided to take our chances and wander the labyrinth of streets in Venice anyhow.  Once we were a solid 20 minute walk from our accommodation the heavens opened up.  We ducked into a small Murano glass shop on one of the corners.  We made small talk with the shop owner and Nug reminded me that she had wanted to buy an umbrella the day before.  Another couple walked in to escape the pelting rain as well.  The guy walked around the store and loudly commented on everything he saw.

The radio was playing classic rock.  He blurted out, “You guys listen to classic rock here!  Wow!  I can’t believe it.  I thought this was only popular in America.”  The shop owner looked at him to see if he was joking.  Then, unfortunately, the song “Africa” from Toto came on.  This was a difficult song even for the lead singer of Toto to belt out.  The goon smiled from ear to ear and in a small yell let us all know that he adored the song.  He then proceeded to tarnish the song beyond comprehension.  Nug, the shopkeeper and I looked at each other in horror.  I looked out at the rain and back at the crooning American before deciding that getting soaked was the more agreeable option.  I looked at Nug, “Shall we go find an umbrella?”  She answered by taking my hand and leading me out into the pouring rain.

Nug running

 

St. Mark’s Square

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gondolas

St. Marks Square

The Texan

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Vienna has an abundance of museums, palaces and great restaurants.  It is also packed to the gills with tourists.  After a couple days there we took a bus to Slovakia to try to escape the madness.  The small cobblestone streets, beautiful architecture and lack of crowds were a great change of pace.

Bratislava

On the Danube

Vienna

 

 

 

 

 

As we were waiting for our bus back to Vienna that evening we met a woman from Texas.  She asked about our upcoming time in Italy and what our plans were.  Nug and I looked at each other a bit unsure.  “We are getting a car in Venice and returning it in Naples 3 weeks later but other than that we don’t know,” I told her.  She proceeded on a 10 minute discourse about Croatia and Slovenia.  “If you want to escape the crowds this is the place to go!  It is amazing.  We loved it…”  She continued on with a religious fervor.  We thanked her for her insight and took it with a grain of salt.  Several days later we were snaking through the back streets of Venice and dodging tour groups on the main thoroughfares.  The city was absolutely amazing but the time had come to make our next move.

St. Peter’s Square

Venice

Hey Nug

Hanging with the Garlands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The thought of the Texan on her soapbox came to mind.  “Maybe we should check the Adriatic Coast,” I ventured cautiously as I knew Nug had her heart set on maximizing her time in Italy.  Luckily she was amicable and we spent the next few days exploring the nooks and crannies on the coasts of Slovenia and Croatia.  The scenery and complete lack of tourists were stunning.  As we motored back towards Italy after our successful side trip Nug pronounced, “I’m really glad that we listened to that old Texan!”

Croatia

Croatia

Slovenia

Slovenia

Slovenia

The Penguin Party

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After the prevalence of trash and graffiti in Athens and Lisbon we were shocked at the cleanliness of Budapest.  Before arrival we had no idea that Budapest is really 2 separate cities on the Danube.  On one side of the river is Buda and on the other is Pest.  We were meeting our friend Ted and had no plans other than knowing that we had to be in Venice in 10 days.  On our 1st day as we were wandering around and enjoying the architecture we came across a sign reading “Ice Bar”.  We thought it was an interesting concept but continued across the river to view the Parliament Building as the sun went down.

Parliament Building

 

Later that evening we found ourselves in the vicinity of the ice bar once again.  Of course it was happy hour and the normal entry price of 11 euros was “slashed” to 4 euros with a free drink.  A guy out front saw us as a couple of ducks and went to work.  “Yes!  Yes!  Come in.  Great music!  Big Party!  Come to Ice Bar and make Ahhhhh-Mazing photo!”  We took the bait and found ourselves putting on ridiculous penguin suits.  Why we thought an ice bar was a good idea in 40 degree weather is still beyond me.  We walked into the “Big Party” which consisted of……us in a miniscule walk-in freezer with a few large ice blocks scattered about and crappy thumping techno music that shook my chest cavity.  The drinks were alcohol free “juice” that amount to little more than a cup of grenadine.  We looked at each other and burst out laughing.  We took a few mandatory ahhhh-mazing photos before throwing in the towel and agreeing that we would never again be sold by a guy in a felt penguin suit.

No comment.

Cool guy!

Wow…

Nerds!

The Gamble

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We arrived at the Sintra train station 2 ½ hours before our flight to Athens.  The train ride to Lisbon is one hour and a taxi ride from downtown to the airport is another 20 minutes so we had just enough time.  Of course the train was 30 minutes late.  We arrived in Lisbon 1 hour before our flight and hailed a cab.  En route to the airport the driver asked which terminal.  “International,” we responded.  “No, we have 2 terminals and both are international.”  We looked at each other like 2 kids who were just told that Santa wasn’t real.  He explained in broken English that Lisbon had 2 terminals that were “20 minutes apart.”

With 45 minutes until our scheduled departure we were like 2 Vegas gamblers putting all the chips on black when I guessed, “Go to Terminal 2.”  We pulled up and Nug nervously bolted inside to check the departures screens while I chewed my nails outside.  After what seemed like hours she skipped out with her hands triumphantly skyward and we grabbed our packs.  We pleaded with an agent and were ushered ahead of the waiting line.  We dashed to the boarding gate and arrived just as last call was announced.

Acropolis

Early to the ferry

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we left Athens several days later to board our ferry to Santorini we were uncharacteristically early.  Athens and Santorini were like 2 different worlds.  Graffiti, trash, beggars and peddlers are rampant in the capitol while clean white stucco buildings, amazing views, clean walkways and well to do people inhabit the island.  We spent several days enjoying the amazing sunsets and walks along the ancient volcanic rim before continuing our journey west.

Nug

Boat life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boom

 

Balcony view

Protests, Palaces and a Princess

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We had 10 hours between our check out from our hostel in San Sebastian until our train ride to Lisbon.  We planned to wander around the town, eat some tapas and buy souvenirs.  Unfortunately, as is often the case in Europe, there was a strike and protest.  Every business was closed for the day and a huge mob was walking in circles with banners and chanting while protesting government austerity measures.  We spent the day dodging the flock and subsisting on stale crackers that I found at the bottom of my bag.

We were too happy to board our train later that evening and were pleasantly surprised to see one of the cleanest train cabins we had ever experienced.  It was also a 2 berth cabin which was a treat after sharing numerous rooms with individuals of various smells.  We arrived in Lisbon the next day to find that the rally had followed us there.  Luckily a few Europeans were willing to work as there were some restaurants and businesses open.

Lisbon

Belem

Estoril

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a week of exploring Lisbon and the surrounding areas we jetted off to Sintra to spend our 1 year anniversary.  The town is filled with ancient, fairy tale-esque castles, palaces and villas and is set in the mountains with panoramic views of the countryside and Atlantic Ocean.  Since Nug thinks she is a princess I thought this would be a fitting location.  We spent the next few days exploring the amazing buildings, drinking the local “green” wine and eating some of the tasty local specialties before retiring back to our royal quarters…a double room at the local hostel with shared bathroom.

1 year!!!

only the best for my Nug!

Royal Quarters with a view

 

 

Quinta da Regaleira

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Flashpacker 10

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We had just spent 10 days catching up with a big group of our friends from Jacksonville in Paris, Bordeaux, Hossegor and San Sebastian.  We had had a fantastic time seeing everyone again and were missing them now that they were gone.  It was rainy and grey outside and we were spending the day at our apartment in a mini-depression.  I was pacing the room restlessly.

 

 

 

 

 

“Does my gut look bigger to you?”  I was holding my expanding paunch in my hands as I asked Nug.  Without budging or looking up from the drivel she was reading (50 Shades of Grey) she responded, “Yes.”  It’s finally caught up to me.  The old age, the lack of surfing since leaving Australia and eating out 2-3x per day have taken their toll.

Perhaps an even bigger culprit was the double Achilles heel I have of loving fat kid food and not being able to turn down a good deal.  It started in Asia.  The food was amazing, everywhere and cheap as dirt.  We couldn’t walk a block without seeing something new or delicious looking and with the prices I felt like I was getting ripped off if I didn’t give everything a try.  Fresh donuts for 12 cents, peanut brittle for 25 cents, 50 cents for ice cream or a mystery meat skewer, buttered corn for 12 cents or any number of gastrointestinal treats for pocket change!  The 25- 75 cent beer and the fact that we could walk on the streets with a brew just compounded the problem.

It continued in China with the amazing bakeries and Russia with the sausages and the stews that were buried in sour cream.  When we arrived in France I fell in love with chocolate waffles and the gelatos that were on every corner.  Now we were in San Sebastian and the tapas restaurants were numerous and unbelievable.  I had been stuffing my face until my stomach hurt.

I looked at Nug and informed her, “I’m going on a diet.”  She continued to block me out and read 50 Shades of Grey.  Later that night after 3 tapas restaurants I spied a Snickers ice cream for a euro and started to feel a twitch.  “I’m going to test that,” I told Nug.  “I thought you were on a diet,” she hit back a bit too sarcastically.  I inhaled the ice cream cone before I responded, “Maybe I’ll start tomorrow.”

The Invalid

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Our arrival in Paris marked our return to the western “cultured” world…or so we thought.  That notion was dashed the 1st night at dinner when 2 French gentleman had a tiff that resulted in one body slamming the other into a table.  The table split in the middle and shattered plates and glasses.  There was an undercover cop at the table next to us who pulled his gun and broke up the meelee.  I didn’t feel bad about eating with my elbows on the table after that.

We had a few days to spend in Paris before heading to Hossegor and the next day we met our friends Tom and JL at the Louvre.  Picking a tourist hot spot like that was not our brightest idea as it was packed and it was like trying to find “Waldo”.  We were so stoked to see them that we walked around in circles and really saw nothing but the Mona Lisa.

Louvre

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next mandatory stop was the Eiffel Tower where we sat in the grass, ate cheese and drank bottles of wine purchased from hawkers in the park for a couple of Euros.  The next few hours turned into a blur and before I knew it we were singing and taking absinthe shots.  I had not had a big night out in months and was clearly in over my head.  Things got a bit fuzzy as we found our way back to our hotel (it was more like a closet) in the wee hours of the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

The alarm rudely brought me back to a miserable consciousness.  My head felt like I had been hit by a Mack truck and my mouth felt as if I had just attempted the “Saltine Challenge”.  We had to check out of our room at 10am and meet Tom and JL to pick up a rental car for the drive to Hossegor.  I took some Tylenol and we hired a cab.  The cabby was weaving in and out of traffic and the Parisian roundabouts were relentless.  I felt like I was on the Octopus ride in Coolangatta again.  He pulled up to a red light in front of the Louvre.  The Tylenol, the roundabouts, the absinthe, the viscous throbbing in my brain, the wine…it was too much.  I had reached the tipping point and told him to wait while I hopped out and bolted to a tiny patch of bushes.  I wretched and grunted like Maria Sharapova as I spent the next minute hunched over.  I turned around to see a small crowd of pasty tourists with high socks and fanny packs gawking at me.  Several old ladies were shaking their heads and a younger kid gave me the thumbs up as I wiped tears from my eyes and ran back to the cab.  We finally got to Tom and JL’s hotel.  I hobbled in slowly, in the manner of an invalid, and planted my derriere on the couch in reception.  Thankfully, they let me spend the next few hours there in my personal hell.  I didn’t recover until several hours later as we were on the road to Hossegor at which point I had written off drinking for good.

 

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