Adventures in Italy – Rome Day 1

Hello, can you hear me? I’ve been so terrible with blogging. Don’t get me wrong, I am still running, and I still love oversharing, but just haven’t been able to gather my thoughts into what I felt was worth a post. None the less, I decided, too bad, and share anyways.

Norwegian Airlines had a killer deal $480 RT from Boston to London and while I LOVE London, lived there for a study abroad, and visited countless times, I decided it was a great gateway to Europe. Plus, after our trip to Seattle, I’ve been drooling over flying on a new Boeing Dreamliner jet. Yes, it was awesome no frillz fun.

Upon a quick in and out of London, we took our EasyJet flight to Rome and to our new home for the next few days.

Rome is the capital of Italy and although it’s not a classic high rise city, it is sprawled out with amazing culture and history! Also, I’m kinda of a ruins addict and these have long last been on my to see list.

After passing out, we got up bright and early, because here’s one tip about visiting Italy that I didn’t know. Book shit in advance, like weeks in advance, especially if you’re traveling May- September. I’ve always traveled in October/November which has soo many perks I appreciate a ton more now (aside from less sunlight boo).

Anyways, the bright and early wake up was because I wanted to go check out Borghese Gallery but completely slacked on booking an advance ticket. They were sold out, but I had this idea that maybe they have will call and I can beg my way in. Nope… these people run a tight shop, no reservations, no entry, so GTFO. Don’t worry though, you’re always welcome in the gift shop. The FOMO in me panicked, but then I realized, I’m spending 8 days in Italy with a trip to Florence included. Plenty of time for me to see naked dudes and duddettes and all the Venuses and Madonnas.

Instead we walked around  the park that surrounds the gallery. I don’t recall what to call it and google map seems to not want to give it a name, but it was a cute what I would call typical city park. You got your runners, your Rollerbladers and your couples making out.

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My brother, working on his OKCupid photos

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Best kinda art, is the free kind if you are me. No need for reservations.

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If you walk south-west of through the park, you slowly bump into Italy’s number one unwanted attraction. Hawkers selling selfie sticks. I guess I haven’t traveled internationally in a while, but it’s all the rage these days. Besides the annoying hawkers, you have a killer view of Piazza del Popolo! It was early as I mentioned so the plaza was scarce of the natural tourist animal that tends to frolic here.

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These sculptures were pretty cool at the end of Via Del Corso, the main luxe shopping stroll of Rome.

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We decided to by pass the Dolce and Gabanna for the side street strolls instead. It was around noon now and the tourist animals have come in packs known as tour groups.

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The Spanish steps were under constructions so no glorious photos there. Yes Rome is full of history. You know what else it’s full off, scaffolding! But actually we were extremely lucky, because as I heard, there was a bit less than in the past this May.

Yes, another FOMO moment, but the Trevi Fountain made up a bit for it. It is beautiful and aside from an tourist lady climbing over a barrier in between me and my brother taking a photo, it was mesmerizing to watch.

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We continued the walks. Honestly, every streets ends in a piazza, so just get lost.

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As you walk around, you might notice these closed off city blocks. This one in particularly is Largo di Torre Argentina. 400-300 BC. My favorite part? It’s also a cat sanctuary! A certain emperor who cried et tu brute was murdered here. #trustnobitches

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Rome is hot…. shade can sometimes be a scarce unlike water, plenty of water with Rome’s cool fountains. So prepare to squint a lot, or bring a hat!

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My brother, Tony’s mom, Tony’s sister, ME, Tony while Tony’s dad takes the photos.

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With all the heat and son, Rome’s churches truly end up being a blessing. Plus they’re kinda cool to look at. But it’s a sweet refuge for some cooled shade.

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After recollecting our energy, it was time for our tourist attraction of the day. The Rome Forum, Ancient Rome’s White House and Washington D.C. Ruins.

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You ticket to the Colosseum, also gives you access to the Forum and Palestine hill, and while you get a pretty good view from above for FREE, if you’re already paying for one, wandering through this mess is still worth an hour of your time. Like everything else, get your ticket in advance, or be ready to queue for a while in the bright Roman sun.

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If I had to describe Italy in one word, I would say confusing. If there’s one industry they want to strongly sustain, it must be the large organized tour groups because there is absolutely no signs in Italian, English or Latin in any attraction we’ve gone. I used the free Steve Rick’s guide and that’s me trying to figure out which stack of old columns he’s talking up.

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If you have a specific thirst to know everything you’re looking at, I say invest into a great guidebook because even as I was overhearing some local guides, it kinda sounded to me like each one made up their own story.

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As for me, my main interest was to stump around and pretend I’m in the land before Christianity.

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No matter what ruins you go, which country you are in, the heads are always missing. Where do they go? Are they in the same alternate reality that one of my socks always leaves to when I do laundry?

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Rome is known for its seven hills, and Palentine Hill as the hills queen of the other 6. There’s something empowering about looking down onto a city, plus the view of the Colosseum isn’t too shabby. I don’t know if not many tourists make it up the hill, or if it was because we went around later afternoon, but it was a refuge from the usual tour group insanity that is Rome. No one even offered us to sell us a selfie stick here.

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I guess models we are not

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and my brother eventually found his new best friend.

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For the evening, we went for a stroll on the other side of the river over to Trastevere, which is pretty much the expat hipster mecca of Rome. A former working class neighborhood with the typical gentrification struggle. It’s relatively peaceful during the day, but similar to us, everyone got the memo that this is the hood to stay for dinner, and it was packed with Tourists.

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With some TripAdvisor guidance, we found Grazia & Graziella. Judging from the appearance of all five of the waiters,  I’d guess that one of the hiring requirements is a properly kept beard. There’s usually a long wait, but we went fairly early (7pm is early to Italians looking for dinner) and only waited about 20 minutes. The host graciously kept refilling our glass with welcome Prosecco.

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I promise, this was a lot tastier than it looks. Mmmmm… rocket with smoked salmon!

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Before we knew it, we were stuffed, and ready for some ZZZzzzz.

Blue Lagoon and Best Bread Bowl Soup in Iceland

One thing Iceland is known for is crazy Bjork and cute edible horses is its geothermal activity and hot springs!  The most famous one is the Blue Lagoon.  While it is a by product of the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power plant, there is nothing but luxury there. The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur and bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help many people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis. The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages 40 °C (104 °F) and was amazing even in the dead of winter freezing temps.

Blue Lagoon 2After a day of hiking a glacier, a spa was exactly what I craved.  What I couldn’t wrap my mind around was that this magical spa was outside in 20 F degree weather.  Now let me start with, I hate the cold and I hate being wet.  I didn’t grow up swimming or near beaches and lakes.  In fact my swimming skills are a step away from a pathetic doggy paddle. While Blue Lagoon is highly recommended, I didn’t think I could really enjoy being wet in the cold.

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The hardest part was stepping in.  It’s a short sprint from inside the warm room, to a cold wooden deck and into the hot water.  We later learned that there’s a side entry way that allows you to get into the water inside and then exit through a hole into the outside pool.  Tony and I happened to arrive at a perfect time.  A few tour buses were leaving and we had the pool almost to ourselves.

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Things to do at the Blue Lagoon

  • We watched the sunset as the pool of thermal water went from a low blue glow to a bright blue glow in the dark.
  • We covered our faces in silica (a microorganism face-mask that gives the water its blue hue) in hopes of taking 5 years off our aging faces.
  • We enjoyed the blue lagoon waterfall!  There’s only one waterfall but since we had the whole place to ourselves until the 6PM tour buses arrived we took our time.
  • We went from the sauna to the pool and repeated with a waterfall soak
  • We took a 20 minute break and rested inside before going back to the pool

In total I think we spent 3 hours there.  Entrance was about 35 Euro per person and does not include towels or anything else but entrance.  Instead we brought our own towels.  We skipped out on getting a massage or buying any of the lotions.  Personally they seemed too pricey and it was way too cold for me to enjoy a massage.  I wanted to constantly be submerged in the steaming calming water.

After the Blue Lagoon we found ourselves once again hungry and exhausted.  Relaxing in a hot spring is hard work.  We got dinner at Svarta Kaffi in Reykjavik, a placed known for their fabulous bread bowl soups!

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We got the vegetable soup and yes, the bread was consumed to the last crumb.

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Have you ever been to a natural hot spring?  I’ve been to some while I was in Peru but none compared to how nice the Blue Lagoon was.  Although the Peru ones were a hell lot cheaper!

Days in Madrid – The Palacio Real de Madrid, Plaza Mayor & San Miguel Market

Madrid was the final destination city in my trip to Spain, and although it didn’t compare to Seville, Granada, Valencia, or Barcelona that doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of a visit.  It does have fantastic day trips like Toledo & Segovia but if you have a sunny day or two, I definitely recommend walking around the capital city of Spain.

If it’s a beautiful day take a walk or a jog in Retiro Park, a beautiful large city park that has a little peace and quiet for everyone.  There’s also plenty of museums to visit but I warn you that the lines will be long.  We skipped most museums due to long waits, the cost, and the fact that I was sick.

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Madrid, unlike Barcelona and any of the other large Spanish cities I visited is a concrete jungle.  The roads are boulevards and are easy to walk around and navigate.  Pick any main street off the park and I’m sure you’ll find something picture worthy.  After all, Madrid was built at a time when the Spanish Empire was at its glory.

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Another unique thing that I noticed in Madrid were these vertical gardens.  Pretty neat way to find some gardening space.

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One of the biggest tourist stops in Madrid is Plaza Mayor.  The Plaza Mayor has been the scene of multitudinous events: markets, bullfights, soccer games, public executions, and, during the Spanish Inquisition, “autos de fe” against supposed heretics and the executions of those condemned to death.

Madrid 105Now it’s just mostly municipal buildings with heavily armed security guards and overpriced cafes similar to NYC.  However, since coffee is only a few Euros, I recommend sitting with a cup and people watching.  You’ll see pretty much anything walk by in just half an hour.
Madrid 108 Right next to Plaza Mayor is the famous  Mercado de San Miguel, an indoor market of many eateries.  To hold me over for dinner I had a few bites with different seasoned fishes.  They were good but didn’t compare to the freshness and flavor of Barcelona’s Mercat de Mercats.  Plus on a late Saturday afternoon the market was so packed that trying to see your options or placing an order was a struggle.

Madrid 107On our last full day in Madrid, which also happened to be my sickest and rainest day, we went to check out the Palacio Real de Madrid, Madrid Royal Palace.  It was only about a 30 minute walk but with the rain we decided to take a ride on the metro instead.  As you can see, not even my own mother wanted to sit next to me.

We had this idea that because it’s rainy, no one else would wait in a line to go to the palace in the rain.  We were wrong.  We waited two hours in the rain to get inside because I was I was under the mentality of how much longer could the wait be.  Luckily Tony brought me coffee while I stood under my umbrella sneezing everywhere.  I was damn sexy.

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Due to the “delicate nature” of the royal estate apartments, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside.  I think it’s mostly due to a conspiracy to make you buy their books.  Just picture lots of old tapestry and gold, lots and lots of gold in giant ornate ceilings.

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Instead we had to take our photo shoot outside.  This is in front of the royal Cathedral.

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Yup by the end of the trip my mom and Tony have been best buds.

If I had to pick my favorite park of Madrid, it would be a bakery, a crazy busy bakery.

Madrid 111 La Mallorquina, in the Sol area of Madrid was my mecca!  This pastelería has been a local and tourist favorite since 1894. Its name derives from the original Mallorcan owner.
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I can vouch from the 5, 10, 20 things I may have tasted that everything was delicious

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Segovia – Sleeping Beauty and the Roman Aqueduct

Segovia is awesome and I’m not the only one that thinks so.  Segovia is one of the Spanish cities competing to be chosen as European capital of culture in 2016!

When you’re traveling in a new city with a different language you’re bound to have some trouble.  Now for a two-week trip everything went perfectly to plan until we tried to get to Segovia.  Unlike Toledo, the AVE train to Segovia is north of Madrid, Chamartin train station.  To get to Chamartin we had to take a combination of subway and metro to cut time.  There might have been some confusion and we had a little less time then we would have liked to find our AVE train at Chamartin.  We might have jumped on one train that sad Segovia that quickly closed it’s doors and we were stuck! Were we going to Segovia? A street named Segovia?  Or who knows what else?
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Two hours later in anger and in silence with some beautiful mountain views we did end up in Segovia, only over an hour longer than we planned.  Turns out you can take a high speed rail, or a local commuter rail, only difference is the view, one goes over mountains, one goes through, and the time.  The difference in cost was a few Euros as well but not that bad. The train also arrives at the old station vs. the new station and that my friends is a whole story for the end.

In About 8 minutes you are greeted with one of the most fairy-tale skyline I have ever seen.  The star of it all is the Segovia Alcazar.

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It is said that the Segovia Alcazar is the inspiration for the castle in Sleeping Beauty (below).

One of the coolest parts about the castle, was how you go about to get up the hill.  It’s surrounded by a moat and a wilderness area that has an awesome trail around it.  I even saw a runner or two there as we walked.  You then cross a bridge and go up a long staircase to keep in theme with the fairy-tale image.

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You can also go through the town to get to the castle, but where’s the fun in that.

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I’d probably say the best thing about this Alcazar is everything on the outside.  I mean Disney is cool and all but it don’t compare to the real thing.  Plus there was a lot less screaming kids around.

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We did pay to go inside.  There was a small room with armory to look at but nothing major compared to the collection in Madrid.  The castle is currently a museum and home of the Spanish General Military Archives.  Entrance was around 6 or 8 euros.

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The rooms of the castle were bare and empty so we were allowed to take some photographs.  The ceilings were probably the best part covered in typical Spanish Empire ornate gold.

Segovia 7 This was the royal meeting hall
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You also got to take a peak into the cellar of the castle but it was all just bare and clean.  Personally I think it would have been cooler if the armory display was downstairs.

To get a view from the tower you had to buy a separate ticket.  Something the ticket-booth person never told us.  We decided it wasn’t worth paying after the disappointment that was the castle.  Plus the tower really didn’t go that much higher
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After the castle we sat around in the cold to take in more of the magnificent view.

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We walked around the Segovia Cathedral

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And the old Jewish sector

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Past many trinket shops and tourist cafes until we reached the other main attraction.  The Roman Aqueducts.  These were built by the Romans around the late 1st Century AD to supply water to the roman military fort on the hill. The Aqueduct’s highest point is 28 meters in Azoguejo Square.

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The water was transported using the inverted siphon method which forces water from higher ground to lower terrain back up to higher terrain using the pressure of the water. To me that just means magic.

The Segovia aqueduct transports waters from Fuente Fría river, 11 mi from the city in a region known as La Acebeda. It runs another 9.3 mi before arriving in the city.  The water is first gathered in a tank known as El Caserón (or Big House), and is then led through a channel to a second tower known as the Casa de Aguas (or Waterhouse). There it is naturally decanted and sand settles out before the water continues its route. Next the water travels 796 yd on a one-percent grade until it is high upon the Postigo, a rocky outcropping on which the old city center, the Segovia Alcázar, was built. Then, at Plaza de Díaz Sanz the structure makes an abrupt turn and heads toward Plaza Azoguejo..

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From the top of the aqueduct you get a splendid view of the square both past and present

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Now the story of how to get back to Madrid.. as mentioned before we still had our AVE tickets where the train departed from the new station.  While we knew the station was about 5K away, we didn’t know that it was 5K away from the outskirts of Segovia on a highway!

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Luckily for us there were very few cars as it was a holiday.  The few cars that drove past us looked like we were crazy!  Who wouldn’t, as two lost Americans walk with nothing but a cow in sight in search of a train station.  We did pass a gas station who asked us if we had bikes at least and looked in disbelieve when we told her we were walking to the train.  In total I think the 5K was more of a 5 mile walk.  If an empty cab would have passed us we would have grabbed in, however, our only option was to just keep walking at that point.  In retrospect two hours on a train doesn’t seem so bad with our two-hour walk on a highway with tumbleweeds and cows!

Tips for visiting Segovia

  • Pick your bus or train carefully – My first tip is to figure out how you’re getting there and back.  The bus is probably the best bet as it drops you off right at the town center and leaves once or twice an hour from Madrid.  If you take AVE, there is a bus that goes from the highway to town center so look that up, walking is definitely uncomfortable.  You will be on a highway with several rotaries.  You do not want to be walking rotaries.  You can also take the commuter rail which drops you off at the old station in Segovia, but it’s about a 2 hour commute.  The trains also unlike the bus arrive and leave less frequently.
  • The best sites are outside – The Alcazar is more enjoyable from the outside than the outside.  Walking around was splendid and probably the best thing to do in Segovia.
  • Don’t miss out on the Roman aqueducts!  There’s also metal posts on the ground of the aqueducts that are underground.  Look out for those!
  • Buy the two part ticket for the Alcazar – Admission to the Alcazar doesn’t buy admission to the tower, so be careful which ticket you buy.

Madrid – Adventures in Pubs and Bites

Within a few hours of the rail, we went from Granada to Madrid.  Compared to southern Spain, honestly it felt like misery.  It was cold 40s-50s with pouring rain.  In fact it literally rained all day the first day we were there.  Luckily we found a small burger joint called Neilla’s near us.  It was crowded, but it was cheap and it wasn’t McDonald’s.

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Tony was so hungry he got himself a deluxe burger and a chicken sandwich.

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I got a smoked salmon salad but I haven’t figured out how to say dressing on the side in Spanish yet =(

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The apartment we were renting was near Retiro Park. I had dreams of running before it decided to infinitely rain and I got sick.  Anyways one of the perks of renting an apartment is that we got to save some $$$ by making our own meals.  Sadly the clementines didn’t compare to the freshness of Barcelona and Valencia, however, the freshly baked bread was delicious. It’s a shame there’s no good baguette places in Boston!

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Anyways, around rush hour, Madrid Puerta Del Sol area gets packed with commuters, tourists, and performers.

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One evening in search of some fried bites we checked out Malaspina, sorta steam punk looking bar with a touch of modern Spain.

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Upon ordering we were greeted with this cheesy ham bites.  This sampler wasn’t enough so we ordered a few more.

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We also got these tomato toasts that were kinda nasty IMO, but this potato tart that came with it was tasty.

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The final disappointment of the night was calamari.  It was fresh but the batter could have used some more flavor.  Our stomachs felt very disappointed by the bites, which was a shame since the place had 4 stars on TripAdvisor.

Luckily, you can’t disappoint with wine.  The wine is always good!

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On another night we checked out Fatigas del Querer, another pub in the Sol area of Madrid.  I normally despise staying in city centers but my mom didn’t want to travel out into a more neighborhood hang out, so there we were.  Around 10pm there was about a 45 minute wait.  We hung out by the bar, drank some yummy sangria.  The food here was slightly better.  Tony ordered a fake paella,  and I got a hefty piece of steak.

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As for my mother?  She stayed on the liquid diet 😉

Visiting Toledo, Spain – Lost in a Medieval Capital

Toledo, Spain

With an easy 30 minute AVE train ride from Atocha REF station in Madrid, Tony and I found ourselves in Toledo, a former capital of Spain and UNESCO World Heritage site. Many other travelers got off ready for their day trip around Toledo.  At the station a long of tour buses try to sell their tour.  Most get on one of those hop on and off tour buses or took a taxi.  When the hustle and bustle of the tourist business slowed down, Tony and I were left all alone.

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Alone we decided to just walk over from the station to the downtown area in what turned out to be a pretty easy walking/bike path

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A city built upon and around a hill was met within 5 minutes. We laughed at the fools who took a cab to the city center. Sitting at the top of the hill is the Toledo Alcazar that was built by Romans and a stone wall that might be one of the oldest in Spain. The Alcazar houses mostly government offices, a library and a museum that we decided to skip out on.

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We ran up the steps of the city Rocky style only to realize at the top of the crazy hill is an escalator   AN ESCALATOR  That ran from the garage under the city.  I don’t know why but I felt crushed and disappointed by this modern addition to such a beautiful medieval city.

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Toledo has some of the oldest and most beautiful city walls I have ever seen.

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It was cold compared to Southern Spain (54 degrees) and besides opening up to some beautiful stone structures, walking around was also another way to try to stay warm.

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The streets similar to the older quarters in Seville, were super narrow and curvy.  I always made sure to lean a little closer to the wall because you never knew when a high-speed taxi or rental car would come charging down a hill.

Toledo Spain 7The only problem there is about wandering around and getting lost is that i have no idea what I’m looking at or maybe i don’t remember. One of the many decorated buildings in Toledo.  I think it was a small church or a government building.

Toledo Spain 2One of my favorite sites that you just can’t miss is the Toledo Santa Maria Cathedral.
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As cold as it was, I took a few minutes to sit down and take in the details that make this so much different then the Seville or Barcelona Gothic Cathedrals.

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I skipped going inside as at $8 per person I don’t think I would have seen anything more exciting inside that I haven’t seen in other Cathedrals throughout this trip.  However, there was more than enough to admire from the outside.  These statues reminded me of soldiers!

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Although my favorite part of it all were the lions and gargoyle statues.

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I have no sense of direction so I can’t tell you for sure but I think if you walk North or whichever way is in the direction of the bull ring you come out of a beautiful stone entry way to a main road that has one of the best views of the city!

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Although Toledo is a city that was made up of multiple cultures (Roman, Visigoth, Emirates of Cordoba, and of course the Spanish) and religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), and time periods, the majority that thrives the most would be the churches and catholic influenced structures and symbolism.  However, take the time to walk around the Jewish and Muslim parts.

The synagogue and mosque may not have the same grandeur as the cathedral, but are worth a walk around at least on the outside.  Just like the cathedral, both the mosque and synagogue charge admission and towards the end of the trip I was a little more clingy to my remaining Euros.  In retrospect the one thing I wish I did was pay to visit the synagogue as I now know it’s one of the oldest still standing synagogue buildings in Europe.  What I’m seeing online are some beautiful Judaic stucco decor and it would have been great to see.

Final Tips on Visiting Toledo, Spain

  • Take the AVE high-speed direct train – It’s about $9 each way and only 30 minutes.  I also recommend buying the tickets a day or two before.  The ticket line can be a little long at times and on nicer weekends the popular morning and evening train times sells out.  After getting off the AVE, i recommend walking there instead of taking a cab.  There’s also a public bus that runs there but I think it goes in a roundabout way so walking would be faster.
  • Wear comfortable shoes – It’s hilly and cobble stoned so unless you’re doing a bus tour, I think you want your feet to be comfortable.  I wore Toms and those were fine, I would just skip heels and possibly even wedges.
  • Get Lost – From what I saw, the best thing to do in Toledo is to get lost in this beautiful medieval city.  Sure there are museums and trinket shops with beautiful swords but that’s if you have and want to spend money.  Walk around as with each turn you’ll walk into another beautiful sight.  Cozy up with a cafe con leche at a random hole in the wall.
  • Free WiFi – There’s a McDonald’s in the town plaza that has free WiFi   Could be useful if you’re looking for a specific place to eat or trying to check the train schedule for an earlier train back to Madrid.  Or just want to catch up on emails.  There’s local cafes all around but I didn’t see any with WiFi.

Free Tapas in Granada

Free Food!  Free Food! Well almost… the price?  A cheap glass of wine or beer!  And some of it is even good food!  Wine + Greasy Food = Happy Liana.  And that my friends is my summary of Granada dining.

Tapas, a food that was designed to go with drink, is sadly no longer free in most places even in Spain.  One exception is Granada and they vary in range and quality.

Our Airbnb host mentioned a street we should walk down for the best tapas but sadly that went in one ear and out other another in our traveling daze.  Instead we just wandered around.

The first place we hit was a snazzy little small bar with lamps and curtains creating a small Moorish haven.

With a small beer that I think was a euro each Tony walked away with a fajita while I munched on a hummus, olive and ham platter.  Although not the highest quality of grub, it motivated us to continue on our tapas bar crawl.

On our next stop we hit Bodega la Antigualla, a tiny Medieval style bar along a street in El Albayzín.  Aside from a ton of armor decorating the walls the place was cozy and warm on a cold even that was all we could ask for.  Tony and I decided to get a mojito with our tapas.

Yes that my friends is not a tapa, that is a meal!

A toasted ham, cheese and tomato sauce sandwich sprinkled with oregano and some yummy fries with not one but two sides of sauce.  I wasn’t into the creamy tartar like one but I appreciated that tomato one.

If you want a more proper meal, I recommend checking out one of the many Middle Eastern restaurants in the area.  We went to Teteria y Restaurante Marrakech (I think) with my mom.  A hookah tea cafe with yum yums.  After a week of living off tapas it was nice to get a hearty warm meal.

I forgot the official names of everything we ate so you’ll get my own names for stuff.  Lentil soup!

A soupy vegetable dish with mild flavor.  I kinda wanted to bask it in Tabasco sauce but then again I think everything tastes better in Tabasco

A delicious chicken dish!

And Moroccan meatballs that I thought would be awful but were delicious.    It was Tony’s selection but it was a good one.

For the most part between food, Alhambra, and living in a cave, I feel like I experience most of what I wanted in Granada.  The only sad part was that all the bath houses were closed on Monday.  I guess it’s good to leave something in each city to come back to.  And I hear there’s a ton of other pubs with free tapas to test out!

A Visit to Alhambra – Granada, Spain

Exploring the grounds of Alhambra

Alhambra is a palace and a fortress built during the mid-14th century for the last Muslim Emirs in Spain and its court, of the Nasrid dynasty..  After the Moors were driven out of Spain in 1492 (Same time as Columbus sailed the ocean blue), the Christians continued to use it as a palace.

Palaces back in the day were built as whole cities that house markets, shops, and homes.  However, currently, outside of where royalty lived, the rest are just ruins.

Surrounded in luscious greens with breathtaking views.

Generalife

Unlike others, we started at the end with the Generalife, summer palace and country estate of Granada’s royalty.

I didn’t think I could be nearly this impressed with a garden but with each step, the next part was more glamorous than the last.

We continued to just wander around the grounds, getting lost until it was our allotted time slot for the Nasrid Palaces.

We had 4 hours to enjoy ourselves during the visit and sometimes taking a nap on top of the world is what is needed.

And yes I rock Mizunos wherever I go, because I never know when I’ll feel like running 😉

My mom hasn’t perfected her photo taking skills, so all my shots with Tony might be a little (okay a lot) crooked.  I guess we can’t all be as talented as me 😉

Now it took me a while to remember what the circular structure below is.  It is not another Plaza de Torros (bullring), but instead is the Palace of Charles V. He wished to establish his residence close to the Alhambra palaces. Although the Catholic Monarchs had already altered some rooms of the Alhambra after the conquest of the city in 1492, Charles V intended to construct a permanent residence befitting an emperor.

As we walked around the structures of what remains I was amazed by the beautifully carved ceilings.

The Alcazaba, a fortress, is the oldest part of the Alhambra.  It is thought that before it was built and before the Muslims arrived to Granada, there were already several constructions in the same area dating back to the 9th century. It is believed that it was then built by Sawwar ben Hamdun during the fights between Muslims and muwalladins [Christians who converted to the Islam and lived among the Muslims].

One of the towers, Torre De La Vela, gave some of the most amazing views of Granada if you get past the stair hike to the top.

Palacios Nazaries

Alhambra wasn’t built in one time, nor planned so trying to organize yourself on a point to point tour isn’t really worth it unless you’re following a tour group; however, your visit to the Nazaries Palaces is schedule at a specific 30 minute interval.  Don’t miss it, because you will lose out on the jewel of Alhambra.

The royal palace consists of three sections: royal offices, ceremonial rooms, and private quarters.

The walls are jaw-dropping with carved wood ceilings, stucco “stalactites,” ceramic tiles, molded-plaster walls, and filigree windows from top to bottom. The colors red (blood), blue (heaven), green (oasis), and gold (wealth) as suggested by the Qur’an.

To be honest? As I walked around I pictured myself on a rich rug smoking a hookah as the walls are covered in rich fabrics from around the world.  None of the rooms are furnished but you can let your imagination run wild.

The first building you enter is Court of Myrtles (Patio de los Arrayanes). Moors loved their patios as open-air courtyards in the palace feature fountains with bubbling water like a desert oasis, the Quran’s symbol of heaven. Women, who rarely went out, stayed in touch with nature here.  One theory is that the jealous men even with all the women they can maintain (as Quran suggests) kept wooden screens that allowed the cloistered women to look out without being clearly seen. The other theory is that the upstairs was for winter use, and the cooler ground level was for the hotter summer.  My personal bet? Jealous men.

The next grand building is The Hall of the Ambassadors (Gran Salón de Embajadores) where you would meet the sultan.

What I heard from a nearby tour, the writing are scripts from the Quran repeated over and over again. Muslims avoided making images of living creatures — that was God’s work. But they could carve decorative religious messages. One phrase — “only Allah is victorious” — is repeated 9,000 times throughout the palace.

It was also here that Columbus made his pitch to Isabel and Ferdinand to finance a sea voyage to Asia.

The final building is the Court of the Lions (Patio de los Leones) where 600 years ago, only the royal family and their servants could enter.

The fountain, a gift from a Jewish leader celebrating good relations with the sultan, has 12 lions that represent the 12 tribes of Israel. During Moorish times, the fountain functioned as a clock, with a different lion spouting water each hour. Conquering Christians disassembled the fountain to see how it worked, and it’s never worked since.

The Hall of the Kings (Sala de los Reyes) is probably my favorite part of the whole palace.  I love staring up into the enchanting ceilings.

Although our ticket to enter was at a specific time we were free to take our time in the palaces and then wander a little more around the grounds and get a photo of all three of us taken!

TIPS FOR VISITING THE ALHAMABRA

  • Book your ticket in advance.  Tickets sell out and are limited!  If you want to avoid paying a hefty fee for going through a guide, buy your ticket in advance.  I brought mine a month in advance and already the time slots of the Palaces were limited. I wanted to start with the palaces but only time available for a party of 3 was 1:30. If you know which days you’re going to be in Granada, get your tickets and bring the credit card you ordered with you if you used Ticketmaster   There are machines to the side that are easy to use and avoids a long wait time.
  • You can walk or take a bus from the city center.  The walk is a long, uphill walk in potentially hot sun.  Once you get to Alhambra, there will be lots of walking in side the grounds.  The bus ride is 1.20 Euro.  You can decide what you prefer.  I personally am more into downhill walks and uphill buses.
  • Examine your ticket for your allotted time.  Your Alhambra ticket is good for 4 hours and 30 minutes of that at a very specific time is allotted to the Palaces.  Don’t miss it.  As we sat there and waited for our shift, we watched many disappointed faces who were not allowed in because they missed their scheduled time. Being old, being young, being confused, or any other excuse in the world, won’t let you inside.
  • Take your time – Certain parts of the Generalife, and the towers, you can only enter once so make sure you take in everything with whoever you’re traveling with because there is no reentry.  Tony and I ran into the tower without my mother and we couldn’t go with her when she was ready.
  • Get a written guide – You can share it, and sometimes I really wish I knew what I was looking at without having to eavesdrop on tours or goggling my photos after the fact.  It costs extra but I think knowing more things about this enchanting palace is worth it.

Adventures in Spain – More chillaxing in Seville – Cathedral

I know I said I was going to keep my Seville recap to only two posts in my last Seville Recap but I’m in a rush and I wanted to share some more parts of my trip.  Although my blog has never been private or secret, I haven’t shared it on Facebook with my friends and family until recently.  Hopefully they won’t freak out of running obsession… but at least now they know where all my food photos go =)

This post is is dedicated to my favorite part of Seville; Catedral de Santa María de la Sede.  Initially the Moors built a mosque where the Cathedral is not located and the works lasted 26 years (1172-1198). The main part of the Giralda tower and the Courtyard of the Orange Trees (Patio de los Naranjos , Islamic baths) are the only remaining parts of the original mosque.

I know a little Jewish girl talking about how her favorite part in Seville was a church that used to be a Mosque, but bear with me.  I love Gothic architecture and this was one of the most amazing buildings I’ve seen.  I loved it so much, I paid twice (Hey if you’re under 26 it’s only 3 Eur) to go up in the tower.  Granted the second time was to go with Tony, but before I knew he was coming I went out there alone.

The Seville Cathedral was built for two main reasons. The first one is that the old mosque was in very poor conditions after the 1356 earthquake. And the second one is because the rulers of Seville decided to build a new temple in 1401 to demonstrate the city wealth and the Christian’s domination over the Muslims.

The Giralda is the bell tower of the Cathedral of Seville.  It was a minerat (Arabic lighthouse found in a mosque), which was turned into a bell tower.  The climb to the top left me a little short of breath but the views from every corner is amazing.

You even had a great view of Plaza de Toros.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time staring out taking photos and just watching the world slowly go by.

The coolest part of the tower is that all along the winding path are windows and as you make your way up  you get to appreciate the view from hundreds of angles (and yes I took a photo or two from all of them).

Five years after construction ended, in 1511, the dome collapsed.  The dome again collapsed in 1888 (earthquake), and work was still being performed on the dome until at least 1903.

I made a new friend on my way down from the tower

The interior to me personally wasn’t that interesting, it was just like other Cathedrals, only you know bigger with lots of Jesus figures and etc.

They did have this one room filled with gold.. that might have interested me a bit.

The Cathedral is also the burial site of Columbus, not that the photo above has anything to do with it but I thought that was an interesting spot.

The one thing about Spain that I’ve noticed are ceilings… they’re beautiful.. this was one of the many detailed ceilings in the Cathedral.

We grabbed some food afterwards, at whereelse but the Catedral bar.  It was another tourist hole but the food was decent.  A swordfish steak

And ox tail… What can I say, I like to get adventurous with my food options.

It’s my birthday today!  I’m getting old!

An Introduction to Seville, Spain

I’ve been contemplating and contemplating how to recap my 3 days in Seville, and I got nothing.  So instead it will be a slow photo stream broken up into two parts.  Because I was traveling with my mom I didn’t get too crazy in how far outside of the tourist zone I went.  However, within the tourist zone it’s not so much as do but more of a take a walk, relax and enjoy.  Things run slower in Sevilla.  While Barcelona & Valencia still had the hustle and bustle of a city on the go with a Mediterranean edge, Seville was more a place where I caught my breath, relaxed, ate some grub, enjoy some wine and got lost in the maze of narrow streets.

The first day we got to Seville, it was pouring rain, absolutely pouring, and after our cab dropped us off in Santa Cruz, where we were staying we were at a loss of where to eat.  We picked the first place we saw, I don’t remember the name but aside from great wine everything else was disappointing.  My mom ordered these salmon things wrapped around cream cheese….

I ordered a mistake… well unless you’re into the atkins diet.  The beef was great but I could have really used a real burger bun instead of this bread thing… not sure why they had this on their list of “recommended” dishes.

One of the many crazy narrow streets to get lost in when you’re searching for some grub.

As the rain slowed down we tried to walk around

The good thing was that our room was near the Cathedral, so every time we got lost, we would follow the arrows to the Seville Cathedral and find our lodging from there.  My mom looks thrilled haha.

The Seville Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral and the third largest church in the world.  Even as someone whole claims no religious affiliation, I was in awe of it’s architectural beauty.

A warning to vegetarians .. you will see hanging hogs pretty much everywhere in Spain… it was kinda gross at first but I started to find it pretty cool halfway through my journey.

I know trash isn’t that exciting but I thought the recycling bin was kinda neat… I like trash-bins  I’m a weirdo, love me.

Sadly after packing my running skirts, and my new unwrapped Garmin, I only ran once in Spain… In Seville.. 6 miles on Guadalquivir River felt refreshing and a struggle at the same time.   I was thirsty (I guess drinking wine instead of water for a week does that) and I was tired.

I ran by the Navel musuem and I really think we should revive the brick style architecture too look more medieval.

I rented a room through AirBnB because in between hotels I wanted to save some $$ and this is the lovely courtyard in our building that brought sunlight into all the rooms.  I thought it was neat.

On our second day we went to the Alcazar, their palace.  It is the oldest European palace still in use and it used to be a Moorish fort.

The gardens were pretty and I’ll skip the history lesson but if you’re curious Wikipedia has all you need.

As we walked around the garden, we made new friends.  These guys were everywhere!  Only the males are pretty though, afterwards we saw a bunch of females and they well uuuugggllly.

And of course within 5 minutes of being in the gardens, it started to pour!

We decided with the rain it was a good idea to take a walk inside

The tile work in the room was beautiful.  I wish they kept some drapery or photos of what they thought it used to look like when in use.  I guess I had a hard time picturing what should be here besides a bathroom.

Just another pretty site within the garden

This is the Baths of Lady Maria de Padilla at the Alcázar of Seville.  The “Baths of Lady María de Padilla” are rainwater tanks beneath the Patio del Crucero. The tanks are named after María de Padilla, the mistress of Pedro the Cruel. Legend has it, Pedro fell for María and had her husband killed. María resisted his advances and poured boiling oil over her face to disfigure herself to stop Pedro’s pursuit. She became a nun and moved to a convent afterwards. She is regarded as a symbol of purity in the culture of Seville. I don’t know if this is true but that;s what the internets told.

Sight seeing ends in hunger.  We went to some place that was called something bodega.  The food was good but I don’t know if it was anything special aside from these meatballs.  They were yum yums

I forgot if this was beef or pork but it was yummy….

this was less yummy, it was beef in their “signature sauce” but I don’t think I want to know what the special sauce was.

These things were great too, shrimp wrapped in yummy light pastry type wrap!