A Travellerspoint blog

The no-sleeper car

Adventures in travel!

After a day and a night like that, you need a very large cup of bold coffee. Since the last you knew of me, I have trekked from Lagos to Lisbon, Lisbon to Madrid and Madrid to Bilbao. Wow, that sure is easy to read. If you have a map, it even looks like a relatively short distance. Doing this, over Easter holiday (which is no small holiday in Europe) on a budget, was an experience. Life is after all, basically a collection of your experiences with your perception.

Some night trains are called sleeper trains because they have sleeper cars and travel during a time when the majority of people would normally sleep. Based upon this definition and my experience on past trains of this nature, the trip from Lisbon to Madrid would be defined as a no-sleeper. Yes, this train fit the part where it commutes during the night -- however we secured ourselves seats because the sleepers were booked (holiday, remember).

So again, being 6´5", sitting in a small seat facing another... sleep just doesn´t come. When we sat down, Dan and I had one of those moments where things look dire... so what do we do, we had a laugh. One of those laughs that you must have... to release needed endorphines so that your internal string doesn´t snap with a resounding crack. We laughed so hard that the girls sitting next to us first looked at us like we were crazy. When we continued, then began to smile, and laugh as well.

In the end, I spent the night on my feet, between two cars chatting with a black frenchman from Paris, a man from Portugal who worked in Switzerland and my travellmate Dan. Mix together conversations with some french, spanish, and english... throw in a few stops with policemen boarding randomly checking passports... toss on the feeling like you have been on a train for days with all the sounds and movements on the rails at around 5am, and you can begin to understand my experience. When all was said and done, we found ourselves in Madrid.

My perception? That is travelling on a budget! What kind of fun would it be if I had all sorts of funds to take a plane and in less than a few hours be at my destination, staying in a 5 star hotel? Well, probably fun in a more relaxing way, but there is no story there!

This is adventure. Out of the comfort zone? Check. Lost? Yep. Agenda or Plan? Nope. Living it up? For sure!

(sorry there are no pictures of this experience for your viewing pleasure, but here are a few last shots of Lagos, the paradise I left behind to board the no-sleeper)

The chimneys in Lagos
Downtown Lagos
Downtown Lagos

Posted by foltz.45 22:50 Archived in Spain Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

Lagos -- somente surpreendendo

Pictures and text NSFW, you will spend the rest of the day, in your office, planning a trip to Lagos.

If leaving Barcelona was bittersweet, leaving Lisbon for me, was not. I was ready to hit the road, upon recomendation from two friends, to Lagos in the Algarave of Southern Portugal.

My expectations were high. I was hoping for an escape from the cities I had seen so far, ready for some hot weather, and a break from the ordeal of travelling. The plan was to take some R&R for a few days.

When traveling, the lows can seem like unscalable, cold, dark canyons. This makes the highs feel like you are soaring like an eagle, in beautiful blue skies, on an warm updraft, without any effort at all. No matter what you do, how hard you try... to plan, to feel comfortable where you are at... things just don´t work out. On the other hand, things do tend to work out, at least for me. When they do work out, there is no rhyme or reason, just blind luck or circumstance.

Concerning our arrival and concenquential stay in Lagos -- where I was looking for a shimmer of a good experience -- I found a vein of pure gold, blinding me with the reflection of the hot, yellow sun. It began the second we stepped off the train from Lisbon with the view of the Atlantic in the background. As usual, we had no real idea of how to get where we wanted to go, but we had something that travellers have, call it luck if you want.

A man asks us when we exit our first train from Lisbon, `Lagos?´ we nod, he hands us a map. Once on the next train we were certian would take us to our destination, the man reappears and wants to know if we have accomidation. We did have a reservation, somewhere. After checking out the rest of the passengers on the train, the man returns (determining us to be good tourist prey) and asks us the same quesion, then gives us his deal. It was too good to pass up, so we miss out on our 10€ deposit and head with this new man.

Manuel. Of all the people I have met, there is a special place in my memories for him. He took us in, Dan and myself, and made it his mission that Lagos would be something to remember. If you ever, ever go to Lagos (which you must) please ask me for his number. As far as accomidating us, he did -- in spectacular fashion for backpackers. It is so nice, and refreshing, to learn about a place you are visiting -- in english no less -- from someone who really appreciates people and the world.

Being from the USA, you are sometimes apprehensive to state your home, not for shame -- for I love the states -- but for how people will accept and treat you (blame this on whatever you want). Manuel and Marie his wife, just like chatting it up with us. They travel the world themselves... through the people that pass through their apartments. Manuel, that man. Like I said before, having good accomidation makes things much better... this was just the beginning.

Our roomates for the first couple days were two Canadian ladies. We enjoyed their company to the fullest. We talked in english, reflected on our travel experiences, playied cribbage and hung out at the beach and roof of our apartment. A very appreciated and fun time, I assure you.

Lagos is a town of 40,000 in the offseason, 400,000 during the summer. Luckily we were here during the off season. This does not mean that Lagos is not a place to behold, just that there are less people and things are cheaper.

The landscapes and beaches are amazing. Pillars of limestone petruding from the surf fill the seascape. The weather, windy but warm. The people, english, portuguese, canadians, americans, italians, germans, spanish, french, tourists -- and everyone is happy, friendly and speaks english.


We have found lots to do, relax on the beach, swim in the fridged water of the Atlantic, browse the small shops, bike around, take lots of pictures, go boating, and surfing. The place is amazing. My travel guide book says you will come for two days and stay two weeks. Well, we planned four days and will spent two weeks, not too far off.


Posted by foltz.45 17:30 Archived in Portugal Comments (1)

Lisbon Experience

It has been a while since last time...

Our departure from Barcelona was bittersweet. We were fortunate to have had a great experience, but were ready for new adventure. The train from Barcelona to Madrid was a breeze. With a short lay over we were again prepared for another night train experience. Upon being shown our sleeping compartment, we were delighted to find we only had to share with one other guy, who spoke enlish, was 20, and from Seattle. The trip wasn´t too bad, besides the beds being too short (they always are) and the hot temperature of the cabin (this seems to be a re-occuring theme on trains) and we made it to Lisbon the next morning.


We had all sorts of time to dispose of as our apartment would not be ready until noon. We strolled around with our packs in the central square (see above), got some eats and proceeded to find our place. The first few hours in a new city, trying to figure out things, always prove to be the most stressful. We were supposed to meet our landlord at noon and found the place, after a fast paced hike in the warm Portugal weather, sometime around 13:00 -- not bad if you ask me. The problem was, we could have shown up at 15:00 and been fine. They were still trying to get things in order from the last resident. It is custom for the renters to have a look at the place before the deal is done. As they were cleaning, we set our packs down, stuck our heads in and though it looked fine. So we went to a cafe with a spectacular view of Lisbon, had a coffee, and returned to settle in.

Let me describe the apartment. It was something around 100 sq. ft. of living space. We had assumed when we looked in that there would be another room around the corner from the kitchen, or something like that... not the case. Have a look (the 'bed' is where the shot is taken):


We couldn´t be upset, when you backpack europe on a tight budget, you cannot be picky. We had a futon with separating cushions, a bathroom you could almost turn around in, a kitchen for one person, and the best part -- a wash machine. So thus we resided for four days.

The sites of Lisbon were worth seeing, however we had our fill of this city during our time there. We stayed in a historic part of town, the only place that the huge earthquake in the 1700´s didnt level. The apartment was below the castle of Sao Jorges, built in the 6th Century, and an impressive site at the end of the day with the last rays of sunlight.

We decided to hike to the Tower of Belem, the symbol of Lisbon and another historic site. On a map without direction or scale, this distance looks small from our apartment. When you make it to Lisbon and get your tourist map, remember, from the Castle of Sao Jorges to the Tower of Belem and back we figured to be 10-12 miles. Still worth it however, because the Monastery of Jerónimos is right across the street along with the Portugal Mariner Statue. IMG_97931.jpg

This hike also includes a great view of the Lisbon Bridge and Statue of Jesus, both worth seeing.

One other highlight of Lisbon was a bakery near us, which produced the most wonderful smells, not to mention great tasting sandwiches and pasteries. If you could only scratch and sniff this picture!

Well, that is a lot, and enough of Lisbon. The people here are as nice as you can expect from a 2 million+ people city. We had enough of the big city and were ready to head south to the smaller towns of the Algarave.

Posted by foltz.45 17:40 Archived in Portugal Comments (1)

Valencia -- Part II


"Donde esta Las Fallas?" is my question at the information desk at the Valencia train station. His response, while probably trying to hold back a mixture of a laugh and frustration from how many times he had been asked the same question by touists, was to point behind me out the door. Luckily the train station was centrally located in the heart of the older part of town.

Even early during this spring day, you could feel the excitement and energy. As soon as you step out of the station, ninots or puppets could be seen. We had some time too kill before the 14:00 Mascletas. We began our own tour of the city. I was greeted by the scent of something fried.

I need you to picture in your head and feel like you are at something of a carnival, the 4th of July in the USA, and the beginning of spring. Got it? Okay, now you (by you I mean me) are walking by a food stand, a huge vat of oil is cooking dough. All kinds of fried donought type foods is what you smell. The architecture is also impressive. So now you are snapping off pictutures of the amazing buildings. At random points in the streets, sometimes at crossroads or just in the middle of a fenced area, huge ninots are visiable for your pleasure. These are amazing works of art, something that artists have spend lots of time and money on. They are only to be enjoyed, however, for one week. Las Fallas is the celebration of the start of spring. At the end of the week, among many other events that occur, these ninots will go up in a blaze of fire.

Speaking of fire, it is now 14:00 (2:00pm, for you all not accustom to Europe watches tell time). The Mascletas is about to start. You had been walking around with ease, not too many people about. However, within the last hour, people have been appearing at an alarming rate. It is very apparent where the celebration was to take place, where the huge crowds of people were congregating (see above picture).

It takes you about 20 minutes to walk the distance of a block in the waves of people. Giving up on trying to make it any further, you just decide to stand and watch from this place. The sound of a fire cracker reaches your ears. The sound has been common all day long, but several more follow. Then fireworks in the air. Mascletas has begun! For the next 15 minutes, you, and everyone else watch the fireworks fly in a blaze of spring glory. These are exploding not 40 yards away causing shock waves of sound to pass through your body and chest. The lights and noise are impressive, the feeling is intense. In a grand finale, explosions are resounding from the sky to the ground. At the end, music begins to play and people sing along, something similar to New Years Eve. Locals in traditional dress walk around, people, including you take pictures. Within the next 30 minutes, most of the crowd will be gone. It is Monday, I assume people have to go work. Street sweepers and people clean the streets to be very respectable.

Happy Las Fallas!

Now you wander over to a stadium...

Posted by foltz.45 17:14 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Valencia -- Part I

The sky is darkening to a orangish red, the sun is just about to drop over the rim of the stadium. The weather -- just about perfect with pants and a t-shirt on. There is an intesity amongst the impatient crowd. Old men, weathered by the Spanish sun, chew their cigars chatting between each other in anticipation. They are as excited as I am even though they have witnessed this event many many times in their life. Me, well I don´t really know how they could be as anxious, it´s my first time in such a stadium. As if he knows, one of the old men looks over to me, says something in spanish and gives me a huge grin. I know he said, `here we go, this is going to be a good one.´

My seat is old and hard as rock, but I don´t hardly notice. Wait! The gate is open... a big one, black, charges out. The crowd grows louder. out of the sides of the ring the torero´s assitants appear with their red-pink capes. The bull is full speed ahead, chasing after each of these men. The band strikes a chord and out come the horses, the bull burries his horns into the armored side of one of them, the mounted picador spears his back. The begining of a blood river flows down the bull´s side.

The band again begins. This is now the signal for the banderillero. Standing in the center of the stage, he raises his colorfull barbed poles. His appearance is of a preying mantis. The bull is infuriated by this gesture. He now charges this new man. Waiting until the last second, the crowd holding their breath, the banderillero skillfully places his banderillas. This act is repeated four more times all eight of the barbed spears now rest in the bulls back. The banderillero´s have been especially brave and skilled in their strikes, the crowd rewards them with appreciation of applause.

Now a new tune plays for the enterance of the matador. I rattle off as many pictures as I can. The bull, still angry as ever, has blood rolling down his back and sides. He seems unphased. Now alone in the arena with the bull, the matador skillfully moves his feet while holding his brilliant red cape, taunting for a charge.

Oley! Oley! The crowd is chanting. This particular matador is pleasing the crowd with his swiftness of foot and hand. The bull is also putting on a show of strength and stamina. Now, the final chord by the band. At this point, the matador recieves a new sword. The final moment is upon us, the crowd recongnizes and builds in sound. With several more volleys between the bull and matador, he raises his sword in a striking position. When the bull charges, it will be his last, the matador burries the sword deep into back, he stops, and falls to the dust. The crowd roars! The matador, looks at the bull giving it final thanks for sparing his life and for giving him fame.


In victory, the matador walks around the crowded arena. Bunches of flowers, single roses, and flags rain upon the stadium floor. The crowd is up on their feet waving white flags in the air. Giving kisses and bows, the matador retires within the walls.

This is a spanish bull fight. I was glad to have the chance to see one of these events, taken place in the city of Valencia on the southern coast, a short trip south of Barcelona. The event lasted 2.5 hours, the crowd was pleased, no man or animal was seriously wounded -- except for 6 bulls. I would say to those farmers who raise beef cattle, forget the cows, build a stadium, work something out with animal rights people, raise bulls for meat, and instead of sending them to slaughter, sell tickets and fill the market with bull meat. Yes, I know there would be many problems with this, but it is a novel idea (I´m sure the meat wouldn´t be as good) and it works in Spain! (all bulls killed are processed for meat right behind the scene).

As you noticed, this is part I of Valencia. Part II to come later. This week in the city of Valencia, there is a festival called Las Fallas. This is why we travelled there and why the bull fighting was so good this week, or so I was told.

Posted by foltz.45 13:47 Archived in Spain Comments (3)

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