Archive | January, 2011

Lisbon

31 Jan

I know I’ve said this about a few places now, but I really wish Beau and I had more time in Lisbon! It was so different from Spain and Morocco! The architecture seemed like a mix of northern and southern Europe with its own flair mixed into it…not that I know much about architecture. I think the best way I can describe the cities of Lisbon and Sintra is enchanted.

Whimsical train station.

Arco da Rua Augusta

Old elevator with a view of the city center.

We stayed just a few blocks away from the water in the middle of the Lisbon. The city was always lively! It had a trolley, cobble stone sidewalks, perfectly cooked cod and barrio alto. We bar hopped in barrio alto our last night there, not that you need to actually bar hop since you can drink in the streets! It’s like one big block party, plus drinks were strong and fairly cheap! After a couple of stops we ended up just buying a bottle to split while we walked around.

We spent most of one of our days in Portugal in Sintra, a town just outside of Lisbon. It’s a super cute town built on a mountain with four or five different castles. We only chose two to visit while we were there, the Moorish castle and the Pena Palace. Beau’s favorite was the Moorish castle, which once served as a fortress for the royal family. Mostly just the exterior is left, but it was cool (and a little scary for me) to walk along the walls and climb up the watch towers. Plus the views were breathtaking!

I literally crawled up the steps of this tower, haha.

He really loved it.

Pena Palace was my favorite, and still is one of the top sites I’ve visited in Europe! It is a Disney movie palace. It’s purple, yellow and red with spiral stair cases and a ballroom inside! We weren’t able to take pictures of the interior, but the rooms of the king, queen and princess still have furniture and decor dating back to the 14th to 18th centuries. It’s exactly what you would think a palace would be! It sits on the highest mountain in the area and is surrounded by forest and gardens that reminded me of the movie Secret Garden. Really, the whole place made me feel like a little girl who was being shown proof that princes and princesses are real! I loved it!

I am SO excited...and cold!

Front of the palace (really, just part of the front)

Back of the palace

We ended our trip to Lisbon at the Oceanarium. It has one of the largest salt water tanks in the world! It was really cool because you are able to see all of the animals up close. Some of the penguins and other sea birds were literally a foot away from us and the sharks and giant manta rays saw right up to the glass! It was a great way to spend the afternoon before getting on the plane back to Madrid (especially since it was raining, haha). I can’t wait ’til my next trip!

XO

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Sevilla

30 Jan

After spending a few days in Sevilla, I think it has become my favorite city in Spain. I do love Madrid and there are a ton of things to do here, but Sevilla seems to have the Spanish soul you read about in travel books or hear about from other people. The town is slower and more relaxed, which immediately makes it more typically Spanish. The people are very warm with a “no pasa nada” attitude about everything. Everything in the center is beautiful, there’s a lot of pride in tradition and Spanish culture, and the food is great. Beau and I split a fried seafood platter the first night and it beat every fish camp in the U.S. I’ve ever been to!

Our hostel was a five-minute walk from the Cathedral, which was our first stop the next day and at least twice as big as the one in Granada. (In fact, it’s one of the largest in all of Europe!)

View of the Cathedral at night...I thought this building was unbelievable!

The main altar. It has somewhere around 50 scenes from Jesus' life carved into it and is covered in gold.

Climbing the tower of the Cathedral.

We also toured the bull ring, which Beau liked a lot since he’s a guy, ha. The tour guide explained the tradition like a Spanish fairytale starring heart-throb matadors in fancy costumes dancing with these prized animals. It was very interesting to learn some of the history, but I still don’t know if I would go to a real fight.

Plaza de Toros, gate where the bull enters the ring.

In the museum at the bull ring.

  My favorite place in Sevilla, though, was Plaza Espana. Most cities in Spain share street and plaza names, but Sevilla has the Plaza Espana. The plaza was built for an exposition in 1928/1929 right beside Maria Luisa park (aka Central Park in Sevilla). Everything is covered in colorful Spanish tiles! It has a moat surrounding the plaza that you can paddle boat around and tile plaques dedicated to every different area of Spain surrounding the main building, which looks like it’s fit for a king but instead houses government offices. (Can I work somewhere like this, please?) I was just expecting another cute plaza with shops and restaurants…so needless to say I was blown away!

Plaza Espana...Did I mention there are horse-drawn carriages all over the city?

Close up of all the beautiful tile!

We also went to the Alcazar palace, participated in a Los Reyes parade (by participate I mean fight children for free candy, LOL), and went on a super fun pub crawl with our hostel (where we had to help a 18-year-old French Canadian who drank too much and threw up on herself at the end of the night. Kids, ha.). We wanted to hang out/ go out in Triana, a neighborhood on the other side of Rio Guadalquivir, but we ran out of time. I’m not too worried, though, because I definitely see myself going back to Sevilla!

The gardens of Alcazar, definitely the best part!

XO

Marrakech

22 Jan

When I told people I was going to Morocco, EVERYONE suggested Marrakech, and they were all right. (Everyone also said not to spend too much time in Tangier, and they were right about that as well. Haha!) Marrakech is beautiful! It looks like an oasis amongst the dusty landscape with gardens and palm and orange trees everywhere.

Just off of the (overnight) train and it's already prettier than Tangier!

Marrakech was the only city where we hadn’t pre-booked a place to stay, so after taking care of that we explored the medina and the souks.  The souks were pretty cool! They have everything from knock-off bags, shoes and clothing to Moroccan fabric to spices and pastries for sale. The streets of the souks are all covered by a thatched roof and are somewhat organized in little “neighborhoods” off of the main street according to what’s being sold. The medina in Marrakech is much bigger and cleaner than the old medina in Tangier.

Shopping in the souks.

The main plaza of the medina at night full of food, people and performers.

We honestly could have spent one more day in Marrakech to see some of its big, famous gardens and a few other sites, but we did get to see some interesting things while we were there! First we went to the Badi Palace ruins, which used to serve as the king’s summer residence and was used for royal events. Our favorite part of the palace was probably getting to walk through what we think were old dungeons.

Looking down into the open-air pavilion of Badi from the top of the wall.

Wandering around in underground hallways.

Next we went to a mosque. Yes, we got to go inside a mosque…one of the only ones non-Muslims are allowed into. It definitely wasn’t what I had expected, not that I had any previous idea about them anyway. It had a large, open courtyard with a pool in the middle and rooms surrounding it. Above that there were tons of rooms that people used to live in, almost like a monastery (this was the part I wasn’t expecting). It did NOT have a dome. In fact, none of the mosques we saw in Morocco did. I really could’ve sworn that domes were typical of mosques and Moorish architecture but clearly I was wrong.  

Medersa Ben Youssef mosque

Checking out the different rooms.

We also checked out a palace that had been restored and turned into a museum and another site that had been fairly recently excavated. Even though we both loved Marrakech, we were excited to get back to Europe. Mostly to eat some familiar food!

XO

NYE

21 Jan

I thought New Years Eve deserved a special mention all its own. Not because it was the best party of my life or anything. Because it was…interesting.

First let me explain one of my observations about Tangier. There are men everywhere! Not people, almost only men. It is especially noticeable when you stop in one of the many cafes, which are also everywhere. They all have outdoor seating, they all primarily serve coffee or tea with fresh leaves in it (maybe a few pastries), and they are all full of male patrons that will only sit facing the street, somewhat creepily watching people walk by all day. (Sometimes there may be a couple or group of women, but they usually sat upstairs.) Beau and I ventured into a couple of these and it was perfectly fine…just different.

That little bit of information may make more sense of our NYE experience in Tangier. We walked down the boulevard by the beach to pick from one of the clubs there. They were all fairly expensive (40 euros, no drinks included), so we decided on one that ended up letting me in for free…but then required both of us to buy a drink at 10 euro each. Some deal, right?! But whatever, it was New Years.

At around 12:30 we noticed that it was still mostly men in the “club” and that the entertainment, 3 overweight belly dancers, hadn’t gotten any better. We had also noticed a lot of younger girls showing up all dolled up (I guess that’s the best way to put it), so we figured a change in dancers would come at any moment. It didn’t. These younger girls took off their coats, checked in, then made their way to seemingly predetermined tables.

That’s right, they were working girls. Needless to say, we left a little over an hour later and despite how cute my NYE top was I ended up keeping my jacket on the whole night. After all, I didn’t want to be confused as a working girl, ha!

A "club" throwing a New Years Eve "party" Tangier style...(I guess, ha!)

Anyway, we both decided it would definitely be a NYE we wouldn’t forget…and at least we got to spend it together!

XO

Tangier

17 Jan

I think the very best way to describe Tangier is culture shock. Of course, I read a little about it before going and expected it to be different, but reading and being somewhere is never the same! Tangier is very metropolitan, crowed and obviously hasn’t been preserved the way other cities I’ve visited in Spain (aka kind of dirty). However, it definitely has improved and still is. Not to say we didn’t have fun and enjoy being in a new place! It was just different.

Brushing up on Tangier during the ferry ride. You can't go wrong with Rick Steves!

Anyway, we arrived to Morocco at a port a little outside of Tangier. Driving through the countryside into the city was breathtaking! The coast and mountains are right beside each other and the weather was perfect. Entering the city of Tangier was an abrupt and drastic change. First, you drive by the newly built and still-being-constructed condos by the beach and then into the city. There are suddenly buildings everywhere! Some are more modern and typical office-looking buildings and others are old French colonial style. The sidewalks were either wide and packed with people or non-existent and still packed.

The first night we were pretty exhausted from traveling all day and it started to rain so we walked around near our hotel, ate dinner and crashed. The next day we visited the medina, Grand Socco and Kasbah (the oldest part of the city). This was my favorite day! There are great views from the Kasbah, which used to be an old palace located on the top of a hill in the medina. The palace has been turned into a museum and it, as well as the area around it, is painted white with splashes of color and keyhole doors and arches.

Grand Socco plaza before entering the old medina

Houses near the Kasbah.

Beau and I in front of one of the many mosques in Tangier/ the medina.

View from the old city's perch. So pretty!

However, getting up to the Kasbah from the old medina was almost an ordeal. From Grand Socco we walked through a keyhole arch to an area with an overgrown plaza and a lot of French colonial buildings. We THOUGHT this was the old medina. It wasn’t. We passed through another arch onto tiny, labyrinthine streets (most of which weren’t labeled) with a few odd smells. Shortly after a group of teenage boys began herding us toward the Kasbah, at which point I was sure they would get us lost then try to mug us.

Well, needless to say that definitely didn’t happen. After I made it very clear that they needed to back off (aka freaked out a little), two of the boys, who ended up being good kids and charged us for the unofficial, unsolicited but definitely needed tour, became our guides for the day.

The next day we had to wait around for our train to Marrakesh. The extra day in Tangier wasn’t really needed, but I did get to ride a camel!

Yay!

Off to Marrakesh! XO

Granada

13 Jan

My boyfriend and I got back to Madrid after 12 straight days of travel last Saturday night happy, exhausted and a little dirty (we had lost the shampoo and conditioner we had brought a few days before coming home). Our trip was absolutely AMAZING! In the end, we got the chance to hang out in 5 different cities in 3 different countries. We took tons of pictures and videos (most of which I will put on Facebook rather than here), but I’ll just give y’all some of the highlights.

Our first stop was Granada, Spain. Granada was such an adorable city. The highlights for me were La Alhambra and the live flamenco show! We also liked the Cathedral, which was beautiful, and a bar we found with good American music… aka lots of Rhiana (Spaniards love her!).

First day in Granada! Not as cold as Madrid but still chilly!

The first day there we went to the Cathedral and Royal Chapel. It was the biggest church with some of the prettiest architecture I’d ever seen until visiting some of the other places we went on our trip. Either way, it’s still in the top 5! My favorite part of the Cathedral was the organ, it blew me away!

This is one of the two sets of organ pipes in the middle of the Cathedral.

 

The main altar.

The second day, we went to La Alhambra, which is a huge palace complex that took us almost an entire day to get through. It literally had a miniature city inside of its walls! Turns out that a lot of other castles and palaces were modeled after this one, so it’s cool that we got to go there first. (We definitely saw a LOT of palaces, castles and cathedrals, lol. They were all breathtaking, though.)

This courtyard-oasis was my favorite part of La Alhambra and is one of the oldest parts of the palace.

Shot from the Generalife Gardens across from the actual palace.

Great view from the top of La Alhambra!

 That night, we went to a flamenco show for dinner. So far in Madrid, I had only seen a Flamenco ballet, which ended up being mostly ballet and maybe 10 minutes of what I thought Flamenco would be. This show was REAL flamenco! I couldn’t blink I was so into the solos and watching the footwork. The restaurant-bar had great drinks and tapas and the dancers danced their butts off!

Action shot

Dinner was good. Beau really liked what he ordered-it was probably his favorite meal the whole trip. I ordered shrimp (yes, for my time abroad I have gone from vegetarian to mostly vegetarian but sometimes pescatarian). The shrimp, or maybe more appropriately called “prawns”, had their heads and everything else still attached. After eating a little of two of them that Beau had to de-head and gut for me I gave him the rest and remembered why I decided to be a vegetarian in the first place, LOL!

Granada was very different from Madrid. You could definitely see the Arabian influence in all of the Moorish architecture, which made it the perfect destination before heading to Morocco… More to come!

XO