In July of 2008 I was back in Europe, this time for a marathon two and half week trip. When I sat down and thought about it, this was the longest trip I had ever taken in my life. Weird. This trip was also one of those "sleep in a different city every night trips." It was crazy - so crazy that I have forgotten all the places that we visited. But some of them are still fresh in my mind, and I will share with you what I can.

There are a few general lessons learned from this trip. One, don't rent small cars. Two, people from Versailles drive like crap. Three, Spain is beautiful. Four, France is beautiful. Five, if you stay in Amsterdam in the summer, even if the high is only in the 70s, get an air-conditioned room - the humidity is killer. Ok, here we go...

Upgraded. I'll take it. Truth be told, the only reason that domestic first class seems so nice is because coach is so god-awful. Whatever, it's better.

Waving goodbye to Austin for a while. We had a pretty hot summer, and were in the midst of a 45-ish-in-a-row streak of 100F+ days, so it wasn't a very tearful goodbye.

I got this biscuit.

I got a new camera before this trip, and it has this weird feature on it. Basically, you point it at something that is a particular color, and then snap a photo of it. The camera samples that color, and then when you take subsequent photos in that mode, it processes the photo so that only the selected color is shown, and the rest of the photo is kind of sepia-looking. I fiddled with this a little, and took some photos this way, so they're sprinkled in throughout this report.

Here's the first:

Chicago. Looks like one of their 20 nice days they get every year. Despite the weather, I love this city.

Waiting for my next flight I noticed that this lady had a bunch of maps and guidebooks. This was a hint that I was getting little jaded about travel. When I first started traveling, I used to extensively research every little town that I went to, and in between business stuff I would run around and see everything and figure I could sleep when I got home. This trip, in July, was my 4th or 5th trip to Europe in 2008 (I ended up going something like 8 times.) I was going to new cities, new countries - and didn't even bother to get books to read on the plane. So I sat their feeling guilty as hell - people dream of going to Europe and visiting the cities I go to, and I just take it for granted. So I decided that even though I was unprepared, I was going to have a full trip and experience as much as I could. Thanks for reminding me of how lucky I am lady.

One of the planes with only the color blue in the picture.

One with only red in the picture.

I got to Barcelona and had no Euros, so I went to the ATM. This cute kid was in the luggage cart ahead of me. His mom was very slow on the ATM and I caught myself getting riled up and thought, "Dude, you are in Barcelona for crying out loud, you have plenty of time, just relax."

The train into the city center (err, centre?) was pretty crowded. Everyone was there on vacation.

I saw this sweet Kbike as I walked down the main street from the train station. The weather was wonderful. About 75F with a light breeze.

My meetings got fouled up, and my Barcelona meeting got canceled. Sometimes meeting screw ups turn out to be ok. (about 5% of the time.) So I had some time for lunch, then I had to catch a train up to Madrid. The first of many diet cokes that cost more than five bucks. Check out that lady chowing down in the background. Also note the two meager ice cubes. That's actually a lot of ice in Europe. This is big difference between our cultures. In the US, you go to lunch and order a diet coke. It costs about $1.50, and comes in a glass the size of a bucket, and has a pound of ice in it. And you get free refills. In Europe you get a 350 ml (that's about 47 centipedes) and no refills.

This was my lunch. Not speaking Spanish caused me to not grok that the squid was deep fried. I thought I was getting grilled squid and grilled potatoes. Rats.

I paid up and left to walk around a little more.

I went down the street some more and found this. Up on the hill is something interesting. Needing to catch a train (and I still didn't have my ticket) caused me to head back to the station and not explore further.

Here is the inside of my train car from Barcelona to Madrid. The next time someone tells you high speed rail is a dumb idea, show them this picture. You can travel like this, or sit in your car (going much slower) or screw around with airports and planes. This was a really nice train, one of the most recently built high speed lines.

The display was slick - LEDs set behind smoked glass. Later, it showed me our speed.

They brought me a meal. They served Gazpacho. Remember that stupid biscuit American Airlines gave me? Sheesh, I want a high speed rail system in the US like this!

Spanish country side rolling by... 301 kph. That's 187 miles an hour. Fo' realz!


We have a painting in the living room that looks a lit like this. I love the painting (that's another story, how I got it.) I really liked seeing the land on the way to Madrid.

Arriving in Madrid, I was met by another Kbike! Sweet!

I came across this good looking F650.

As I wandered looking for a place for dinner, I came across this old girl.


A cruiser parked by the main square in Madrid.

I headed to the Plaza Mayor, the main touristy area where their old town hall is.

There was a neat accordion sitting there.

A photo with only blue. (Look at the way that dude's girlfriend is looking at him! Dan, this one is for you.)

I eventually picked a place and ate dinner - at 10pm. Now this is something that I really liked about Madrid - they eat dinner really late at night. So at 10:00, everything is still open. Perfect.

Feeling green!

From Madrid we jumped in the car and drove to Perpignan, which is just over the border in France. Along the way we stopped at a totally random roadside place for lunch. It was amazingly good.

A CHUNK of bacon. Olives and some other pork to the upper right.

Here is the rest of it. This lunch was incredible, and I'm telling you, we were in the middle of freakin nowhere.

Europe has quite a few wind farms.

Pardon the bugs, but here we are crossing the PRIME MERIDIAN! To my ten year old self, this is amazing. Even as a grown up, I thought it was way cool.

In Perpignan we stayed in an old timey hotel. It was good to hear French again.

I snapped a shot of this tourist outside my window.

We got back on the road, and had breakfast at a truck stop.

I was traveling with a co-worker that has an...add affinity for energy drinks. In Europe they have different brands, so he was pumped up to try all the new ones that he can't get back in the states.

This one had a reseal able opening! Too cool!

My breakfast. Hey, we've all got our own little "habits." :-D

We got to the town where our meeting was, and I can't really remember where we were. Somewhere near the Mediterranean Sea? This is Mick on the left checking his blackberry, and Francois explaining all the things we got for lunch. (Totally amazing food, AGAIN.) Get ready, I took a close-up of each dish.

Cheese with ham wrapped around it on field greens. (note, this is French cheese and French ham, which is juuuuuust a little tastier than what you might expect at home.

Tomatoes. Cheese. Herbs. Oil.

Grilled beef.

Potatoes and ham.

Peppers. Oil. Chives. Onions.

Here's how it looked before I munched on it.

Dang, it was so good! I need to ask Francois where the heck we were. I think it was Aubagne.

And then dessert! This was incredibly delicious - I will remember this for the rest of my life. See those little ridges? Those are thinly sliced apples laid out like a deck of cards. It was on a tart-like crust. Covered with a tasty syrup. (I'm salivating as I type this.)

Look how thin they are sliced!

I wrapped it up with a perfect cup of coffee. I love Europe. I love being there, I love the people, the variety, and the food. I love the old buildings. I love the public transportation. Most of all, I love that I can go into ANY place and get an awesome coffee. It blows my mind. In Austin, I can go to THREE places and get a decent coffee (Teo's, Medici, and Fino.) Every place else that I try it, it's burned, or stale tasting, or too bitter. In Europe, it's good everywhere, every time. If they could fix the Diet Coke thing, I could move there.

Mick got another energy drink.

We hit the road - in the next update we go to Grasse, which overlooks Cannes. Here is the route we drove from Madrid. Click Here.

Click here to continue to Part 2...