Catching Up on the Past Few Weeks

It's been over 3 weeks since we last provided an update!  Here's a summary of what we've been up to.  The details are a little lighter just to help us catch-up on reporting everything that's been happening:

Besseggen Ridge, Norway

Julia and I were both wiped out after we hiked Troll's Tongue.  We wavered on hiking Besseggen Ridge, even though the hike is supposed to be easier and shorter than Troll's Tongue -- we were both just so exhausted.  Finally, by day 4 of our recovery, we were both wanting to hike Besseggen Ridge.  Our muscles had nearly fully recovered, and Troll's Tongue was such a gorgeous hike that we thought we ought to see what Besseggen Ridge was all about too.

The night before the hike, we stayed in Gjendesheim, Norway.  In the morning we boarded a ferry across the Gjende Lake to Memurubu.

Location of Bessggen Ridge hike

Location of Bessggen Ridge hike

To begin the hike, most people take a 20-minute ferry ride from Gjdendsheim to Merumbu.  While the ferry ride is 20 minutes, the hike back to Gjendesheim takes between 5-8 hours!  The hike is about 8.5 miles, shorter than Troll's Tongue, but with just as much climbing.  In the video below, you can see one of our favorite parts, which involves climbing/scrambling up a ridge with a lake on either side.  One lake is about 2,300 feet below and the other lake is about 1,000 feet below.  Pro-tip: if you have a sense of self-preservation, it's best to keep your eye on the prize above you and not below you.

All in all, the hike was definitely easier and shorter (7 hours vs 13 hours).  As promised, it was also gorgeous!  

Oslo, Norway

We stayed in Oslo for a couple of days to rest before moving on to Spain and Portugal.  Having just completed Besseggen Ridge, we kept our activity pretty low key.  I will say that, like the rest of Norway, there seemed to be an unusually high number of places selling pizza.

Barcelona, Spain

Oh, Barcelona, how i miss thee already.  

With such an active schedule in Norway, we set out for a week in Barcelona to be focused on rest, arts, and time in cafes.  We did a Gaudi tour on the day that we arrived, walking past several of the buildings that Gaudi designed and worked on.  The next day, we headed to Barceloneta beach to read and just hang out.  Julia read The Underground Railroad and I read On Duties.  

For the rest of the week, Julia took a water coloring course in the afternoons while I took to working on the Code for DC project I have been working with Bread for the City on over the past few years.  We fit in some time to explore Parc G├╝ell (Gaudi), do a tour of La Sagrada Familia (Gaudi).  I didn't think I'd ever have a favorite architect, but I think I found him!  His attention to detail and his demands that the finished match his vision was impressive.  He dreamed big and created amazingly unique structures and places.

THE FIRST water color that Julia painted in her class in Barcelona

Later in the week, I took a break from the coding to rent a skateboard and just cruise along the beach.  Most of my riding has been through the electric skateboard I built, so pushing a board gave me a good opportunity to actually practice the old fashioned way of getting around; it's a very calming experience.

As a highlight of the week, and on our last day in Barcelona, I found out that Dylan, a co-worker from Socrata, had recently moved out to Europe and was spending the week in Barcelona.  We rented longboards, cruised around the beach, got some lunch, and cruised around some more. After Dylan and I finished riding for the day, Julia and I headed to do a live sketch drawing with group of people who regularly meet to sketch.  This was my very first time in a sketch class, but embracing that my drawings were going to be very bad was a great way to watch myself learn as I just tried sketch after sketch.  By the end, I was still very bad.

Madrid, Spain

On Saturday, July 1st, Julia and I headed to the train station in Barcelona and took a train to Madrid.  The train station in Madrid is very close to El Retiro Park, so we hung out there for a couple of hours to read and relax before heading to our place.

In the evening, we headed to the Mercado de San Miguel and just gradually picked up some small things to eat to sample different types of food over the course of the evening.  The next day we visited the Reina Sofia to see Picasso's Guernica exhibit.  

In the afternoon, we rented a car and started a 6-hour drive to Lisbon.

Lisbon, Portugal

We got in at about midnight to Lisbon.  In Alfama, the neighborhood we stayed in, it's impossible to take cars onto most streets there, because they're too narrow, so we parked the car in a public lot about 10 minutes away from our Airbnb.  Alfama is one of the original districts of Lisbon.  It's an amazing collection of narrow, winding, cobble-stone streets with many stone structures.  The hikes in Norway prepped us as most of our walking involved going up toward the castle that sits on top of the hill or down toward the docks at the bottom of the hill.

Walking in Lisbon itself was a pleasure, and we spent our time exploring in Alfama and nearby neighborhoods.  One afternoon, we took one of the street cars -- no real destination, just to cover more ground.  

Cafes are alive and well in Lisbon and espressos can be had for less than a euro each.  Paired with a pastel de nata (a delicious custard-like tart), it's a perfect snack in the afternoon.  

On our last day in Lisbon we explored Bairro Pedro Cruz, a neighborhood a few miles north of Alfama to see some street art, recommended by a street artist we met in Madrid.  Afterward, we had lunch in an area called LX Factory, a former, large manufacturing complex that is now home to a number of small companies, artists, and restaurants.  In the early evening we drove to Cascais to get some beach time before we left for Morocco.

Cascais, Portugal

While we were in Lisbon, we actually didn't know where we wanted to go next.  We spent a lot of time talking about places in Spain -- Grenada, Seville, Cordoba, Malaga -- but also going to Porto in Portugal too.  We decided to stay close to Lisbon, because we enjoyed Portugal so much already, and also because it was close.  We also just wanted to maximize the enjoyment of our time rather than spending more time traveling.

Deciding where to go a couple of days before you go there, has its downsides, primarily the availability and cost of your lodging and flights (if you're flying).  With that, we only found a few places in Cascais on Airbnb, but all were above the lodging budget we are trying to keep.  Starwood to the rescue!  We had a bunch of points saved up and were able to able to get a place in Cascais for not too many points per night.  For our first three nights, they upgraded us into a 1-bedroom suite, which was great not only because of all of the extra space, but because we could also cook ourselves a large breakfast before heading out for the day.  On the last night, they needed to move us because some "Platinum" member had already specifically requested our room.  They moved us to a ridiculous 2-bedroom suite.  We only slept there though, because we spent the entire day in Sintra and then having dinner in town.

Next Steps

Flexibility has been a guiding principle from the moment we started to plan.  This meant that we had a rough outline of where we wanted to go, but we didn't have everything booked when we left on June 7th.  We didn't know where we were going after Barcelona and Madrid, we didn't know how long we'd be in Sri Lanka or where we'd go next, and we didn't know when or how we were coming home.  This meant that we've had to do a fair amount of travel planning on the road which takes some time.  The upside, though, has meant that we can feel things out a little bit as we go, which is what we wanted.

We have most things hammered out now.  

We're in Morocco now, visiting Fez and Marrakesh.  On Thursday, July 20th, we'll start heading to Sri Lanka.  We'll spend about 9 days there before heading to Japan for 16 days.  At the last minute, we put China on the list, because most flights were looked at from Japan stopped over in China, so we booked a 72-hour stopover in Beijing, the maximum length of time you can stopover in Beijing without getting a visa, which would have been a small nightmare since we would need to use a private courier or fly back to the U.S. to process paperwork.  That said, plenty of people of posted 72-hour Beijing itineraries, so we're going piece something together and pack our days before coming home!