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Valencia

30 Apr

Okay, so the entire east coast of Spain is totally different from the middle and southern half of the country. I mentioned that in my Barcelona post and it’s definitely true after visiting Valencia and Alicante during Semana Santa (aka Easter Break). Valencia was Laura and I’s first stop…CORRECTION: technically it was our second stop. We accidentally bought tickets to “Valencia Don Juan”, a pueblo in Leon…to the north of Madrid…land-locked. (Who knew there were two Valencias and that Alsa buses don’t go to the Valencia on the Mediterranean coast? Not us!) We noticed this after the confusion of finding our bus, getting on and passing El Escorial, which is north of Madrid, as well. Luckily our bus driver was extremely nice and called his pal to pick us up in the middle of nowhere and take us back to Madrid.

"Where are we?!"

 Anyway, Valencia is probably one of the coolest cities I’ve been to. I mean, which other city has turned a drained river bed into a park? Or built a giant ship-wrecked pirate as a playground? Or where museums look like the set of Star Wars? Or where paella for 10 or more people is served in pans as big as a table for four? All of this was in Valencia plus a beautiful beach, big boardwalks and the typical old city center and cathedral. The air was definitely fresher in Valencia and it made me miss the water a lot!

I REALLY wanted to play on this!A bridge and aquarium are straight ahead and the science museum is on the left...all museums look like this, right?This isn't even the biggest pan of paella we saw!

 

All museums look like this, right?

 

This isn't even the biggest pan of paella we saw!

 Our favorite thing about Valencia, though, were the random Spanish friends we made. (More often than not these were friendly old men. Haha)! We chatted with one nice old man while waiting for an hour on the bus and flirted a little another with our waiter that agreed to serve us the paella we wanted despite our many dietary restrictions (I’m vegetarian, Laura is allergic to shell-fish). Our new BEST friend was our bus driver. He only was our driver once, but we must have made an impression because when he saw us walking the next day he stopped his bus, honked and waved. (P.S. He looked like Jake Gyllenhaal!) I love vacationing in cities with nice, laid back people!

XO

Roma

14 Apr

Rome is GINORMOUS!! While it is a big city, I am not just referring to its population. I mean that literally every object is huge. The individual bricks, the individual buildings, the cherubs and gargoyles on the roofs and walls of buildings, the columns, the fountains, the monuments, the mountains of gelato…everything is larger than life. It’s an amazing city and there’s no other place like it! It was almost surreal to walk around the Colosseum and the Pantheon and the streets that used to belong to the biggest empire in the world. All of the places I’ve learned about in history class or seen in movies and on T.V. were right in front of me, and they were even cooler in real life.

The enormous Colosseum.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica looking up toward the more than 14 story ceiling. The letters on the gold are as tall as an average person. The statues are 3 times the size of a grown man.

The Pantheon columns are the largest, intact ancient columns in the world. Beau is 6'3" and see how small he looks!

Everyone knows the saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, but Beau an I basically saw it in only one day! Obviously we missed out on some of the places we wanted to go and things we wanted to do, but we hit the must-sees. We got in late one night in the midst of a monsoon, so after a little exploring, dinner, and gelato (of course!) we called it a night. The next day was perfect weather for our sight-seeing blitz. We saw the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, the Forum, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican museum, the Spanish Steps, Capitol Hill, the Arc of Constantine, Trevi fountain and the Pantheon. Whew!

Capitol Hill

The Roman Forum

My most favorite place in Rome was the Trevi fountain. It’s so big and so beautiful that it’s captivating. I could have sat there and looked at it, listening to the sound of rushing water all day long. We hung around it awhile while we ate gelato…I couldn’t have been happier!

Trevi fountain

 Of course the Colosseum and Vatican City, which includes St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum, were cool and interesting. The Colosseum was very different on the inside than I expected. I thought it would be pretty well-preserved, but once you step inside to where the stadium seating and gladiator arena used to be, you realize that you really are walking around an ancient ruin. We over heard a tour guide say that the arena of the Colosseum is ranked as on of the top single sites in the world where the most deaths have taken place.

Inside of the Colosseum

It’s amazing to me that Vatican City is considered a small, independent country with its own postal service, guards and radio station! The little country is completely surrounded by walls. When we walked through one of the entrances, I stood in awe. I found myself in the middle of a huge, circular plaza surrounded by columns with an enormous domed building at one end and cyprus trees on a hill in the background. I wasn’t sure where I was, so Beau had to inform me we were at St. Peter’s Basilica, a church that can seat 50,000 to 60,0000 people on the inside!

St. Peter's Basilica

After the basilica, we rushed to get in line for the Vatican museum before the last entry time. I’ve never seen so many marble statues and frescos in my life! (The Vatican museum houses 4 miles worth of art!) Of course, we saw the Sistine Chapel. While it was amazing, I was much more impressed by Michelangelo’s Last Judgement, which took up an entire wall at one end of the room. After seeing some many impressive painted ceilings, I think the Sistine Chapel lacked luster to me. Of course, it could’ve been that the chapel was smaller and darker than expected (unlike the open and airy cathedral of El Escorial with its beautifully painted ceilings).

There’s more to say, but I was trying to keep this short and sweet. I’ll end with saying that Rome is a city you can certainly visit several times without doing and seeing the same things. I definitely look forward to a chance to visit again! I LOVE Italy 🙂

XO

Barcelona

31 Mar

In two words, Barcelona was…just okay. Don´t get me wrong, it’s an amazing city! It just didn’t blow me away, and I think that is what I was expecting. I have heard that Barcelona is the place to be, even over Madrid, and that its proud natives weren’t all that friendly. I found both of those claims to be false.

I didn’t expect Barcelona to be as big as it was, not that I had any basis for that assumption.  The city isn’t just big, though, it’s sprawling! Everything is kind of spread out, which made it a little bit inconvenient to see all of the things we wanted to see (not that the weather was on our side in that case either). As a whole, the city is way more modern than the other places I’ve visited in Spain. The Gaudí houses are awesome!! As is a lot of the other architecture in Barcelona. It’s definitely different from the traditional Spanish buildings and charming, old city centers everywhere else I’ve been so far.

Casa Mila, probably the most famous Gaudi house. So cool!

In front of another Gaudi building.

The Gaudí houses are built right into the city and some are even used for businesses and apartments. Walking down the Block of Discord is definitely a lot to take in. The big sidewalks and artistic details are beautiful! The allies off of Las Ramblas, one of the main streets in the center, had quite plazas, hidden restaurants and a great open-air market and north of Plaza Catalunya had great shopping, but I think my favorite area of the city was the older, medieval part. I guess I love old architecture because it is so different from what you see in the United States.

In front of Plaza de Cataluyna.

The people in Barcelona proved the rumors I had heard wrong. (Maybe the rumors come from the rivalry between Madrid and Barca? Ha.) I thought everyone was nice and helpful and as far as I could tell, everyone spoke to me in Spanish not Catalan. It probably helped that we stayed with the aunt and uncle of Beau´s friend who couldn´t have been more hospitable to us!

I wish we had been able to hang out in Parc Güell longer…and in the daylight! The park is so far away from everything else! By the time we got there the sun had finished setting and you couldn´t see all the details that make the park so Gaudí. (You can make out even less in the pictures.) Also on my list was to see a burlesque show at La Molina, but that was more expensive than planned. Oh well, I guess that gives me a reason to go back! 🙂

Almost Moulin Rouge!

XO

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

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

Toledo

10 Oct

This weekend has been awesome, and I still have 2 days left because of the holiday! The highlight so far has definitely been visiting Toledo, which my friends and I did after being out until 5 a.m. then waking up at 8 a.m. to catch the bus. (Needless to say, I didn’t look too awesome for all of today’s photo-opts, ha!) We had such a blast! The town has such relaxing views. We did some sight-seeing, talked, laughed and ate…definitely a day well spent. Toledo is a beautifully preserved Medieval town. It sits on top of a hill and is still surrounded by a stone wall. Most of the original architecture is still intact, so arriving there was like taking a step back in time. There are shops that sell swords and knives and replicas of Medieval tools and armor everywhere.

 

Toledo's "main entrance", if you will.

 

 

View of the Rio Tajo from just below Alcazar.

 

 

View right off the main plaza, Plaza Zocodover.

 

 

One of many Medieval gift shops.

 

We went to Santa Cruz Museum, Alcazar, stopped by the Cathedral, had brunch in Plaza Locodover/Lorenzana and hung out around Plaza Mayor. Santa Cruz had two exhibits, one of wool and silk tapestries and another of pottery and tile. It also has a beautiful courtyard. I’m a complete dork for liking museums so much! (I definitely LOVED the pottery way more than anyone else. My mom would understand.)  Alcazar just underwent renovations and reopened with a new museum about the history of war in the area. It’s pretty impressive. The terrace, which has great birds-eye views of Toledo, was already closed, but the courtyard was amazing. The Cathedral is breath-taking and is what Toledo is most known for. We opted out of going inside today, but I definitely plan of going back to see more of it and the other churches around the city.

 

Entrance of Santa Cruz Museum

 

 

This wing of the tapestry exhibit is dedicated to Alexander the Great.

 

 

Santa Cruz courtyard

 

 

Alcazar

 

 

Alcazar courtyard

 

 

One of the entrances to the cathedral. The detail is so impressive!

 

 

Another side of the cathedral

 

Leaving Madrid to visit somewhere new, different and beautiful reminded me of why I love to travel so much (as if I really needed a reminder). What makes traveling so great is the people you travel with, and today I had the best company!

XO

 

Siury, Juany, Katie and Jeta

 

Busy?! No, not yet.

28 Sep

I am kind of surprised to find that I have a to-do list that keeps getting longer. Not that I’ve been expending almost any effort at all to get around to said list. I’m sure sleeping until whenever I want to isn’t helping, but I want to enjoy sleeping and sight seeing before start my job as a teaching assistant on Friday (I’m so nervous!).

Anyway, today was no exception to not getting to my to-do list. Instead I met a friend for lunch then walked around to more of Madrid’s beautiful plazas, cathedrals and palaces. My favorite plaza so far is Plaza Mayor. It encompasses all things I would consider European. It’s an enclosed square with shops and restaurants and ample outdoor seating all along the bottom floor and apartments with Juliette balconies on the top. Every entry way is arched. There are paintings on the buildings and statues in the square. Street performers are always playing either the violin or accordion, which is the same for many places here…there’s always background music to this gorgeous city! Here are a few pictures of Plaza Mayor…

XO

Plaza Mayor

Even the sides of buildings are beautiful here.

Entry to Plaza Mayor from Calle de Toledo