Visiting the Low-Country of South Carolina

When my cousin suggested we check out Charleston, South Carolina for a few days, I said “Sure. Why not?”

I had never really thought about going there before and didn’t know much about it.  I searched online and found a hostel and got an idea of things to do.  Turns out the only hostel in South Carolina is located in Charleston.  So I booked us a private room and we set off from Atlanta where my cousin lives.

Upon arrival in Charleston, I immediately picked up on the similarities to Savannah.  In fact, on several occasions I would think I was in Savannah and my cousin would politely correct me.  🙂  It had a historic small town feel, with tilted old houses and narrow streets.  Our hostel was cute, with several houses on one lot and a small gravel parking lot in the middle.  Our room was on the second level of a house, accessed by the double decker outside porch.  We had a cute bench swing outside our door and it had the perfect feel for the Southern experience.

After settling in, we immediately hopped back in the car and drove down to the scenic battery at the southern most point of historic Charleston on the water.  We parked the car and walked around the park facing the large stone barrier walls along the waters edge.  All around the park are historic cannons and statues demonstrating the historical significance of this waterfront corner of town.

As you walk into town from the battery area, you pass by historic southern mansions squeezed together on a tight row, sharing the waterfront views.  If it weren’t for the cars, you would really feel like you were in a different time.  We zig-zagged through town, cutting down cute brick alleys between historic homes, peeking into gardens and church yards, and taking pictures of everything!

I was immediately enchanted by Charleston.  I couldn’t wait to see everything.  We hopped on the free trolley that circles around the historic downtown area so we could see where we wanted to go next.

We got off the bus at the Market Hall, which is a historic market with a series of buildings stretching four blocks.  This market has been here since the 1790’s and there are still vendors there today selling local foods, produce, and various souvenirs.  The market leads you to the wharf and the waterfront. We walked along the park with fountains along the water and headed back into town to get food.

We grabbed some seafood at a restaurant with a rooftop deck.  I asked the waitress what seafood on the menu was local and she said probably only the shrimp.  So I ordered a shrimp sandwich and my cousin got a steam pot.  Both were great!  But while we were eating our table’s umbrella got picked up by the wind and rose up out of the table.  In mid bite I grabbed the pole and a guy at the next table helped me!  Haha it was quite the meal.

We planned out the rest of our trip and headed back to the hostel to relax with a six pack of beers on our porch swing at the hostel.

New York City – Day 2, Morning

I woke up a bit groggy from my big bottle of Belgian beer the night before.  I got dressed and wandered down to the courtyard for my complimentary breakfast.  It consisted of: Bagel, 1 butter, 1 jelly, 1 Apple, and unlimited coffee.

I sat down at an empty picnic table and began to spread my jam on my bagel when a girl came up and asked if anyone was sitting next to me.  I shook my head and she sat down directly next to me on the bench of the empty picnic.

I snickered to myself because I thought it was odd behavior to not spread out, but we began to talk and I decided she wasn’t so much of a weirdo after all.  She was from Germany and had been to America before.  She had lived in Texas for a year on an exchange program.  So she had just finished revisiting them and was stopping in NYC for a week on her way back home.

She had done what I was planning to do this day already.  So I picked her brain about the 9/11 memorial and the Met.  She told me about a Tenement Museum downtown that sounded very interesting as well.  However, this museum is still on my to-do list.  She was headed to MoMa, so I bid her farewell and headed out to the subway to get to the Met.

I was given directions by the Subway lady to what I thought was the Met, but as I walked up the stairway from the station I realized she had sent me to MoMa.  I guess all the art museums are the same to the subway lady.  So I walked 30 blocks north along Fifth Avenue, taking pictures the whole way.

I walked by the Plaza Hotel and the Central Park Zoo before I finally arrived at my final destination.  The Met.  I had never been before, but I knew what was here.  The biggest and best collection of my favorite classic artists: Monet, Manet, Picasso, Renoir, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Matisse, etc.  I walked past the voluntary contribution line and headed straight to the Monet section on the 2nd floor.  I walked around taking cell phone pictures of myself with all the greats!

I had a blast and then I decided I was hungry and it was lunch time.  So I went down to the wine bar restaurant in the Met and had myself a fancy salad and fancy glass of wine.  As I was eatting my lunch, I remembered that my friend had recently been to an event on rooftop of the Met, so I looked on the map and saw where it showed an elevator to the rooftop terrace.

After my delicious meal, I hopped on the elevator to the roof and discovered a beautiful mirrored sculpture with stairs cutting through, so you could walk around like in an Escher picture.  I got another glass of wine at the rooftop bar and strolled around the veranda gazing across the park at the Manhattan skyline.

As I looked across the treetops and glanced around at the people my age here with friends, and I began to imagine myself becoming a New Yorker myself…  It’s not that far-fetched; I am having my 30 year crisis.  🙂

High Speed Train through Spain

The next destination of our trip was Madrid.  It was kind of rainy in France and I wanted to move on and find good weather.  So the next day we went down to the train station to figure out when we should go.  There was a train leaving in an hour that would connect me to the high speed Renfe train in Spain at the border.  

The high speed train cost the same as a plane ticket!  But I was excited to get there and decided I didn’t care about the cost… 100+ euros… 

Expensive Fancy Fast Renfe Train… with a movie in Spanish, thanks for the free headphones I guess?

Nicole on the other hand, was not going to cave on the price and decided to wait in France for the super cheap overnight train.  

I raced back to the hotel, grabbed my backpack and ran back to the train station to board my train.  It was a regular train to the Spain border, then I transferred to a regular Spanish train and then in Barcelona I went through airport level security and boarded the high speed train.  

At this point, I probably should have stayed in Barcelona for a couple days.  But Nicole was flying out of Madrid in three days, and I wanted to spend the last few nights together.  What I didn’t know was that Nicole would be sick the last two days and would stay in most of the time.

Mediterranean view from Spanish train

But it turns out Madrid is not a bad spot to spend a week.  I arrived at the Madrid train station around sunset.  I had a reservation at a hostel near the Puerta del Sol and I decided to walk since the weather was so nice.  But it was a Sunday, and the closer I got to my hostel, the more and more crowded the sidewalks became.  Turns out, Spanish families walk around the shopping districts on Sunday evenings.  And particularly this week was very busy, because it was a week full of holidays for them.  

Pretty Circle outside Madrid train station

Eventually, at a snails pace I made it to my hostel, where I was put in a five person dorm by myself!  Sweet!  I got settled and headed out for tapas and sangria!  The streets were super packed, but I was super hungry and 20 pounds lighter without my backpack, so I quickly zigged and zagged until I found an empty shrimp shop. 

Puerta Del Sol Christmas Tree

I walked in and they had a pretty menu written on a wall of mirrors.  One of the guys spoke english and he kindly walked me through my options.  I went for a full plate of prawns and multiple glasses of the sweet house red wine.  

Within minutes of chugging my first wine, while waiting for my prawns, the shop filled up with hungry groups of people.  I was watching the people at the bar, peeling their shrimp and throwing the shells into a little gutter along the foot of the bar.  It reminded me of the olive pit spitoons in Venice.  

Prawns and Wine at my cute standing table.

I was utterly stuffed after my plate of prawns, but I wandered on to find a glass of sangria.  I found another empty bar and sat down near a girl that was also by herself.  She said hello in English and asked if I spoke English.

I was excited as always to find someone who spoke English and we sat together and chatted.  She was a doctorate student from England and she said she spends a lot of time in Spain for whatever her thesis was.  We chatted for a while until I explained I was tired and said good night.  

I went back to my nice solo room and enjoyed my bed next to the radiator.  

Megan’s Roman Holiday

We checked in at the Yellow Hostel and were greeted with free drink tickets for the hostel bar.  I ended up playing beer pong in the basement with the hostel staff late into the night.  An international game of beer pong, with people from every end of the world was a warm welcome to the international community in Rome.  

Beer Pong at the Yellow Hostel

I made friends with a bartender from Pennsylvania.  He gave me his life story in a nutshell.  He came to Rome while backpacking and never left.  He ended up marrying a Roman and they had 2 kids and 2 dogs.  I asked if he had learned much Italian and he laughed.  He had given up trying to become fluent in Italian and his wife knew English perfectly, so they just spoke English at home.  Everyone speaks English in Rome!  For the most part…

I woke up early and headed straight for the Colosseum.  I had a gypsy insist on helping me purchase my metro ticket.  I offered her a Euro penny but she declined… Immediately after I walked away a cop yelled at the gypsies to get away from the ticket machines.

Colosseum in the morning

The Colosseum in the morning light was gorgeous!  The sun kept peaking through the columns in different angles and it looked so peaceful and serene.  In the morning light I could see a sort of light mist or smog in the air.  I’m leaning towards it being smog, but who knows.

I decided to buy a ticket to go into the Colosseum, because then you can also go into the Roman Forum across the street.  The size and deteriorated condition of the Colosseum are very apparent as you walk around.  But also, as I stood at the end of the oval, looking down into the rooms that would be below the sandy fighting area, I had tears come to my eyes.  I stood there imaging the hundreds of people, tigers, bears, and other creatures that had been forced to fight for their lives here. 

How many living creatures died in the sandy center stage of this arena?  We will never know.
There are a bunch of black cats living at the Colosseum.
I walked over to the Roman Forum and tried to figure out the cryptic map they provide you with when you walk in.  It’s useless…  So I just started walking. 
Turns out the Roman Forum is very big!  I covered a third of it before I gave up and exited to go search out some lunch and take a siesta. 
Arena inside the Roman Forum
The Pines of Rome with the Colosseum in the distance.
After my siesta, I got back on the metro and went up to the Trevi Fountain.  I was very excited to see this fountain.  It looks so beautiful in all the pictures I’d seen.  I walked around a corner and heard the sound of a lot of people talking… Turns out Trevi Fountain is a hot spot!
Square near metro stop for Trevi Fountain
Trattoria on my way to Trevi.  Scooter parking only!
It was so crowded.  I tried to get up close and take pictures without anyone’s head in my way.  I had to fight the crowd to the front…  What a circus?!
Me and the Trevi Fountain
I quickly headed on my way to the Pantheon.  This building is very old and the dome is bigger than the one at the Vatican.  The outside of the building looks very dirty and worn out with little dents and holes in the stone. 
But the inside is beautiful, with a big hole in the center of the dome to let light in.  It also lets water in, so there are cones around the center of the floor where there are little holes in the marble to let the water drain. 
Birds flying past the hole in the dome of the Pantheon
I rested on the front steps of the Pantheon and stared at one of the many Egyptian obelisks in Rome.  I thought about Cleopatra for a while and then headed off to the Piazza Navona.
The Piazza Navona is a very large square… but it’s actually shaped like a rectangle.  There was a sort of Christmas festival setup with retail stalls everywhere.  Off to one side is a bright carasel, busy with happy children.  In the center is a beautiful fountain with another obelisk in the center.  There’s a lot to do and see at this square, but I was running out of steam and the sun was setting.
Piazza Navona
I headed down a busy main street towards the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument.  This monument is quite impressive in size and at night they have it lit up beautifully.  I walked around taking pictures, but feeling the energy drain from my legs.
Vittorio Emanuele II Monument
So I continued towards the Colisseum which was the closest metro stop at that point.  Of course, I had to take some night shots of the Colisseum and then I headed back to the hostel. 
Roman ruins
Colosseum and the moon
I ran into Nicole at the hostel bar.  It was almost dinner time and she wanted to go eat somewhere later.  I explained that my legs were jelly and I needed to rest.  I passed out in my top bunk for two hours.  I finally threw myself out of bed, but I felt like crap.
So luckily Nicole agreed that we could just go to the restaurant across the street where my beer pong partner from the night before worked.  We got him as our waiter and we were able to get to know him a bit better.  He was from the Ukraine, but had lived in Rome with his parents most of his life.  At the moment he was studying at a university in Rome and working and partying all at the same time. 
After dinner, Nicole headed out to find nightlife in Rome and I headed back to my bunk to pass out.  Nicole ended up getting her dance on and I got a very deserved good night sleep in preparation for our journey to France the next day.