Friday, August 9, 2013

Putzing Around in Portugal

While studying in Madrid this summer I had the chance to go to Portugal with some new friends. I was a little anxious as I had tons of work to do and had just met these seven people, but it did not disappoint. We spent the weekend laughing so hard there may or may not have been some peeing of the pants. 

The weekend started out in hilarious fashion just driving out of Madrid.  None of the girls in my car could drive stick (including me!) so we had to get an Audi automatic (poor us). Originally we weren't going to get a GPS because Callie had printed out Mapquest directions (which had 35,987 steps just to LEAVE Madrid). But we decided to splurge and got the GPS and oh am I so glad we did. Otherwise I think we would still be driving around Madrid or somewhere else in Europe. As crazy as it sounds, the car ride was actually one of my favorite parts of the trip because I got to know these girls in an honest, fun, and personal level so quickly. 

Once we got to Madrid the fun didn't stop.  We spent the weekend laughing, eating, sightseeing, and much more.  I will say if you like a good pastry you need to go to Portugal. It is also the place for you if you love steak swimming in butter on a cruise ship decorated restaurant. I would suggest going late at night so you have some great photographers and people watching. 

 Part of traveling I love the most is just putzing around with no plans.  It is so unlike me since I love a good plan, but I find that you discover the best places this way.  This trip could have ended in a disaster--eight strangers in a foreign country--but it was great because we all had the same idea...#putzingaround.

Another thing Portugal Europe has going for it is the amazing architecture. I'm no expert, but man I could just spend a day wandering the streets and taking in the buildings.  But of course I would have to stop for some legendary egg pastries.

I'm so glad I didn't hole myself up in my hot room doing work all weekend, otherwise I would have missed out on some great sights, food, and most importantly friendships. 

I can't wait to see what next summer has in store. Who know's maybe I'll learn stick shift by then. :P Sidenote--these pictures are from my awesome friend Emily, since I didn't bring my Nikon. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Cusco and Machu Picchu--Our One Year Anniversary Trip

Jess and I hopped on a plane to Cusco/Machu Picchu right after the end of school. Since I was going to be in Madrid taking Masters courses and he was headed to the States for summer we wanted to take a trip to celebrate our ONE year anniversary.  It's always been a dream of both of ours to go to Machu Picchu, so we figured why not?!

The colorful city of Cusco
We spent the first two nights acclimating to the altitude in the charming town of Cusco.  It's a small little town where people are proud of their culture and color is in no shortage.  We absolutely loved Cusco, it was easy to get around, there was lots to do, and the people were wonderful.  But the elevation was no joke. Jess assumed that the city was only about 5,000 ft above sea level, but after one glass of wine and walking up a hill we truly felt the 10,000 plus ft elevation.

The Sun Parade lasted all day and night 
We happened to be there during the Sun Festival, their biggest holiday. There were lots of parades, parties, and colors everywhere.  It also meant the moon was the closest it would be all year, it looked like you could reach out and grab it.

Dancing in the streets 
 Every corner we turned on there were groups of people getting ready for their part in the parade.  They were all smiling and enjoying the beautiful day with their family and friends. I felt like if we would have asked to join in their group for the parade we would have been met with a resounding Si!

Helping each other get ready
 We saw women that could barely walk and children that were fumbling around learning to take their first steps participate in the parade. It didn't matter your age or ability, the more the merrier!

Everyone, both young and old, participates in the Sun Festival 
Anytime we travel I love to just people watch and go where the locals go. We were never bored in Cusco because of all the colors and different walks of life that joined together.

Teenagers in Cusco
 Later in the afternoon we sat in a plaza full of finished parade walkers and enjoyed a Cusquena while basking in the sun. Jess wanted to join this particular circle of locals, but was not able to so. Instead, we sat on a little stool and drank their local beer (it wasn't very good) while watching everyone. 

What's a party without beer? 
 The clear blue skies will forever be in my mind when I think of Cusco. The air was clean and fresh, as well as crisp and a bit chilly. The first day we bought some alpaca items to keep us warm-Jess a hat and a sweater for me.
Sun Warriors 

Holding a lamb...I was in heaven
 I kept thinking the women were actually carrying things in their blankets, but it was just part of the costume.  Although, sometimes they really did use it purposefully. 

A group of women waiting for their turn in the parade

Cute baby lamb and her owner

It's never too cold for a popsicle

Little guy was part of the festivities too

We enjoyed a picturesque train ride from Cusco to Machu Picchu. When we arrived someone from our wonderful hotel (Sumaq) met us to take our bags and guide us to Machu Picchu. The way up to Machu Picchu was steep switchbacks that were barely big enough for a bus to fit on.  It wasn't very comforting when your bus had to pass another one, but after a couple times we figured these men had been driving all day every day for countless years.

Waiting for the train in the freezing weather

We arrived and were so excited, we decided to get a guide to show us around and explain things in better detail.  We spent about four hours walking around taking in the sites and learning about their culture.

After touring every part of Machu Picchu Jess wanted to hike to the Sun Gate, the entrance to Machu Picchu (about an hour), I was tired and hangry so I headed back to the hotel.  Jess said it was an amazing trek and he got some great pictures, while I enjoyed a hot bath and a snack at the hotel.  Hey, you gotta love a man that knows a happy wife is a happy life.

It was such a peaceful place I wish they kept it open at night, because I would have loved to camp underneath the night sky. I'm sure the stars and moon would be close enough to touch!
Us on the backside of Machu Picchu...the mountain to the left of us is what we climbed the next day.
 We had a two day pass, so the next day we went back and climbed Huayuna Picchu, the highest mountain next to Machu Picchu.  They only let 400 people on it per day, and only at certain times. We picked the early slot and headed up for the hike. It was pretty tough, mainly because it was steep and the "stairs" were simply narrow rocks along the side of the mountain.
Alpacas were grazing all over the fields.  They would come right up to you!
But once we got to the top, man was it worth it.  We actually thought we were at the top and took tons of pictures, but then Jess found a little cave you had to climb through to get to more steps and a wooden ladder up to the very top.  We I overcame my fear of falling to my death and made it up to the top.  I'm so glad Jess encouraged me to do it, I would've missed some great views.
We made it to the top of Huayuna Picchu!

Our view...the switchbacks on the left was the route the bus took, and Machu Picchu is behind us.

Taking it all in.

We did it! 

Pretty amazing view...
The trip was incredible and I'm so glad we had the opportunity to go. We are so blessed to be able to travel and see sights/places that most people only see in magazines or on Pinterest. 
Us at Machu Picchu (I wish we would have been a smidge to the right)
We took a night walk in Aguas Calientes
Happy Anniversary to Us! One year and on top of the world.