Friday, 31 May 2013

Sintra


Day two in Portugal, I took a train to Sintra. A little town 4o minutes from Lisbon but miles apart in atmosphere.
With 6 Palaces, a Moorish Castle, and numerous gardens, it's a picture perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. Lovely long walks in the mountains with pretty buildings and fountains. It's touristy but not overwhelmingly so.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Fall asleep in Seville, wake up in Lisbon


With Feria being a 10 day festival, we had a four day weekend, so I took the opportunity to go somewhere a bit further afield. As soon as work finished on Wednesday, I took a train to Seville and caught an overnight bus to Lisbon, Portugal.
I arrived at the majestic Oriente Station at 5am, welcomed by a chilly breeze and faced with the challenge to find the bus that would take me to the hostel .
A taxi ride to the hostel later (I admitted defeat pretty quickly, fighting fatigue and cold.) I was decidedly too tired to follow the original plan which was to drop off my bags and take the first train to Sintra - a small town 40 minutes outside Lisbon.
Instead I took a nap until 12pm and after a shower, I felt refreshed and ready to seize the day.
One of the first things I was surprised by was my lack of preparation. I had no idea where to go or what to see. So armed with a map I went for a stroll, taking a tram until a stop where everyone else got off and wandered around that area.
A quick trip to the tourist information centre informed me that Lisbon is pretty expensive city for tours, so I found an internet cafe to look for free tours.
This was quick and easy, and after 20 minutes, I had booked myself on a walking tour that started in an hour and a Fado tour for the evening.
The tour took around 3.5 hours, and took us all around Lisbon, and the labyrinthine streets of Alfama. It was very good exercise climbing up and down the hills of Lisbon!
The guides were very informative and helpful. At the end of the tour they told me the best areas to go and eat that were less touristy and thus less expensive. Also, a gem of information was when they told me where to go for the best and supposedly original Portuguese egg tarts.
The tours can be found here.

The traditional music of Portugal is called Fado. Famously melancholic, a little sad, there are also happier versions. We went to a restaurant and had some traditional fried cod cakes and flame cooked chorizo, washed down with copious amounts of red wine, sangria and a shot of ginjinha (cherry liquor) in a chocolate cup.
This might sound a little Spanish, but it was most definitely Portuguese.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

A little mountain village called Zuheros


Back in March I took a spontaneous trip to Zuheros, a village with a population of 821 in the middle of the mountains.
What started out as a day trip, ended up a weekend trip after taking an unintentional tour of the province of Cordoba.
We stopped in Lucena and Cabra before finally finishing in Zuheros where we discovered there were no buses leaving that day! The only hotel in the village was fully booked, so we begged the nearby apartment rental place to let us stay one night. It was off season and they weren't normally open, but seeing us drenched from the rain, they took pity on us and let us have a room. Needless to say, we were very lucky!
The next day, the weather was much nicer thankfully, and we took a walk up the mountain to the nearby Bat Cave where there are ancient wall paintings and interesting rock formations.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Vamos A La Feria!


Feria!!
I came here a second time to spend more time and go to the casetas.
At the Feria, there are two parts: The fair ground part, where there are rides, games and food stands selling candy floss, churros, caramel nuts and all the other wonderful unhealthy snacks your pre diabetic pancreas can handle.
This picture is a particularly eye catching stand selling wine from Aragon. One of the busiest stands in the fair ground area, with people standing around holding little plastic cups of delicious Spanish red wine.

The other part are the marquees, or casetas. Each one is a different to the next, some selling freshly prepared food, others selling all sorts of wine, others were like bars and then there were ones that were like nightclubs. I don't even know how many casetas there were, but so many it was easy to get lost. Meeting friends was quite the task, trying to find a specific caseta.

The women were beautiful in their traditional dresses, a big flower adorning their heads and matching earrings. Some danced the traditional Sevillanas while some danced to the latest chart songs.

I tried on a traditional dress, complete with coordinating flower and earrings. It was beautiful, perfect for posing for pictures!

Monday, 27 May 2013

Little Morocco in Spain


Granada and the Andalucia region has many Arabic influences which the Moors left behind almost 800 years ago as can be seen with the Mesquita in Cordoba and the Alhambra in Granada. However, today, there is a large Moroccan population in Granada, selling things such as Moroccan leather bags, stools and clothing (although I suspect some of these items are from Thailand) and offering to write your name in Arabic.
There are also Moroccan restaurants, as well as offerings from Lebanon, Libya, and other areas of North Africa. Altogether, there is an added colourful cultural dimension to Spain, where you're reminded that Northern Africa is only a 12km (7.3 miles) ferry ride away.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Street Performers in Granada


One of the things I love about Granada is how bohemian it is. A contrast to many other parts of Spain, especially Cordoba. You'll see people walking around with their own styles, obviously not caring what other people think about them. These four were performing super catchy jazz tunes by the river, and it was hard not to stop and listen. Of course, as the sign in front of them dictated, I left them a couple of Euros.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Feria Begins!



The biggest event on the Cordobese calendar kicked off tonight at exactly 00:00 with the turning on of the lights and fireworks.
Lots of people crowded in celebrate the much anticipated Feria!
I had candy floss and went on the biggest ride in the park.
Now I feel a bit ill. Haha, what's wrong with me??

Thursday, 23 May 2013

For the times you're treated like a Princess


This is Jaen, where on top of the hill over looking the town, was me, in an old castle converted in to a luxury hotel. A Parador.

This was the view from our balcony.

After a long car journey from Madrid, we spent the night here. It was meant to be a treat, but I had food poisoning and had been throwing up all day and night! 

Haha, you've got to take the highs with the lows!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Something Old, Something New



One of the things I love about Córdoba is the lack of the influence of globalisation.
The clothes shops are mainly Spanish, although we have H&M and Benetton, all the others, such as Zara, Bershka, Pull & Bear are Spanish.

McDonald's is now international cuisine. With only two that I know of and both out of the city centre, a "McPollo" wrapper on the street in Madrid was novel. I couldn't even tell you what is on the menu in a Spanish McDonald's, but I imagine there would be a McPaella, with a side of McSalmorejo, and if you go for the meal, you'd also get a Sangria.
The bonus toy with your Happy Meal, if you're interested, in my hypothetical Spanish stereotype, is a chorizo. Because there's no better toy than the one you can eat.

Starbucks, the face of the anti-globalisation movement, who even managed to open a store in the Forbidden City in Beijing, has not managed to open it's doors here. Not a single Starbucks here.

But yet, next to the city's pride and joy, our 1500 (or so) year old Mesquita, is a Burger King.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Appreciation



Today's photo of the day is one of my favourites from last year.

It was taken on the bridge that separates Thailand from Myanmar (Burma).
The mother was begging for money while he was rummaging in the trash for things to eat.
For me, it was his innocent naivety in not knowing a different life that struck me the most. While the mother was playing up her poverty, he was taking the day as it came, just like any other day. Because he wasn't "poor", this was normal. 

Monday, 20 May 2013

Busking across Europe


 

Today's photo of the day is more like, video of the day.
While I was in Madrid, I had the pleasure to meet two guys from Fresno California who had just begun their adventure touring around Europe for the next two months funded by their music.

After a night out fuelled by tequila and tango dancing, they offered to play some of their music, to which I couldn't refuse!

We went to the nearby Plaza Jacinto Benavente where the bus stop proved the perfect stage.

I wish the both of them the best of luck on their brave adventure!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Madrid Skyline



Sunday.
A day of rest and relaxation.
So I wake up and get talking to two Scottish tour guides of Madrid. We have a breakfast of champions - churros and hot chocolate at the famous chocolateria San Gines.
Then straight after we go for lunch.

Hehehehehe!

Feeling satisfied, we went to the Teleferico - a gondola ride that takes you through the Casa de Campo and offers you a view of Madrid like the one in this photo.
You can see the Royal Palace and the Cathedral on the right hand side.
I felt quite tough in the company of two guys who were just a little bit nervous in the gondola. And they say women are the weaker sex!


Saturday, 18 May 2013

El Rey León



Madrid for the weekend! And a much long anticipated trip to see The Lion King!
I've been wanting to see this show ever since it first came out, but could never afford the tickets, or it was just sold out.

The arts industry in Spain is being crippled by the recent increase in tax from 8% to 21% on cultural events. Coupled with funding cuts from the local and state government, theatres have had to change their schedules to favour cheaper productions and the Prado is now open 7 days a week in effort to make up for budget cuts.
The Lion King is one of the only shows to still play to a full house and I would highly recommend you go to see it!

I was so excited, and it really didn't disappoint! The costumes were innovatively imaginative and the cast blew me away. The set design was genius! The scene with the stampede, shortly before Mufasa dies (sniff) was both beautiful and terrifying. Their use of perspective to create the illusion of the stampede coming straight towards you creates a scene just as intense as the giant rock rolling behind Indiana Jones.
I sat in the fourth row from the stage; possibly one of the best seats I've ever actually paid for. I could see every facial expression, every costume detail, every bead of sweat.
They were able to draw every emotion, elicit every Disney aspect combined with the artistic direction of a stage performance. 

Of course, being in Madrid, the show was in Spanish. I've seen the Lion King movie, I know it pretty much off by heart but it delighted me with some adaptations. Some to make it more "Spanish" including a scene where to distract the hyenas, Timone and Pumba dance Sevillanas!

While my Spanish isn't good enough to understand every thing they said, watching the show in a different language is a lot like panning for gold: for the bits you understand, they're like nuggets of gold.
The rest you can extrapolate from context and tone.

I think it's a crying shame that the Spanish government would hit a sector where a person can spend money on something that makes them richer.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Cardinal!



Ok, today's picture of the day isn't very pretty. 
I could stick a filter on it and stamp some girly motifs but....
No, I just took it on my phone about 5 minutes ago. And since this is picture of the day blog, it would make more sense if at least some of the pictures were that days.

So last weekend in Madrid, I was with a group of new people, including a few madrileños, just walking down the street, in an area I was unfamiliar with, chit chatting, laughing, exchanging high minded ideas, then ouf! Bollard.

Man, they're everywhere!! Not just parallel to the road but also at 90 degree intersections and when you're not really looking at where you're going... Well... This is the resulting bruise. A week later. 

I don't know about you, but I quite like bruises (or cardinal in Spanish). Perhaps I'm just a masochist, or maybe I get tiny sense of survival. Who knows. But I am just the slightest bit proud of my cardinal.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Caracoles


At this time of year, all around Andalusia, there are marquees selling Caracoles.
In France, they're called escargots and in England, well, they're also called escargots. Maybe because it sounds better than ordering snails!

This picture was taken in Cádiz. Famous for it's seafood and abundant with caracoles!
I tried my first one last week, after my helpful friend pointed out their sad little cartoon-like faces.
In Spain, there are two types: big ones and small ones.
They come in a variety of sauces, usually a broth or a tomato based soup.
I sampled one of the small ones in broth. I must admit, I hesitated as I held the shell of the poor creature, looking at it's little face, before bringing it to my mouth and sucking it's little body out of it's little shell.

The verdict? It tastes like you'd expect a snail to - a bit like dirt. A very flavoursome dirt mind you, but dirt none the less.
I'm not sure I'd rush to have another portion, but I'd definitely try another variety if someone else was ordering it!

I think it's also worth a mention, the hostel I stayed in whilst in Cádiz was called Casa Caraol, hehe. If you come to Cádiz, I really do recommend this hostel. There are hammocks on the roof terrace where my new found friends and I chilled out at the end of the night, and relaxed under the sun during the day. It was a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Cruces in Cordoba!



As I mentioned before, Cruces is a 5 day long party that starts on the 1st May which is also a public holiday.
The city is filled with floral crosses and marquees serving food and drinks pop up all over the place. People dance Sevillanas to traditional music and everyone is happy.

At night, it turns in to a party where the plazas (or squares) are filled with students and other people forming what is known as a botellón. Essentially what teenagers do in the park in England with cheap cider, here it's a massive cultural event without the negative connotations. A technically illegal street party where the police are nearby to confiscate alcohol that isn't bought at a stand. But they're not exactly strict.
What happens is an energetic party with music blaring out, drinking Rebujito - a refreshing cocktail of the region's fino (a type of white wine sherry) topped with lemonade, or sprite.

Muy divertido!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Feria de Los Patios


Welcome to May in Córdoba! 

This is truly the month Córdoba shines and shows off. It began with Cruces, which is when the town decorates with floral crosses and the whole city turns in to a Sevillana dancing botellón

Now, it's time for the Festival of the Courtyards.

Part of UNESCOs Intangible Cultural Heritage List, patios, or the inner courtyards from which the apartments and houses lead on to, are decorated ornately with terracotta pots filled with brightly coloured flowers. Some have wine and barbecues while others have guitar players and traditional singers. 

Patios which are usually kept private are opened to the public for a city wide competition to see who can decorate the most beautiful courtyard. The whole atmosphere is energetic with people from all over the world flooding to Córdoba to witness the scenes that end up as paintings. So picturesque and perfect you'd think it was some Hollywood director's idealised dream, you can't help but feel privileged to partake.

This is the best of Córdoba.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Welcome to my first Photo of the Day!



The weather has been beautiful recently, and with my time in Spain drawing to an end, I have been trying to go to as many places as I can on the weekends. Even if it means only deciding at 3am Saturday morning, where to go and booking everything before waking up two hours later to catch the bus!

Yesterday morning, I was sitting in a café engrossed in an engaging conversation with Panos, talking about the usual things about life, where's it going and what to do next, he inspired and motivated me to get back to writing and set up this new segment of my blog.

I love taking photographs, and these days, I seem to be out more than I'm in, so a photo of the day seemed to be the ideal way to share my experiences quickly, easily and regularly. Thus most (or nearly all) of the photos here are unedited.
Since I don't have the time to write a thousand words everyday, I'll let a picture do it for me!

Since I last wrote, back on November 8th, I've been to:

Spain
  • Sevilla 
  • Cádiz
  • Granada
  • Tarifa
  • Antequerra
  • Zuheros
  • Almodóvar
  • Marbella
  • Málaga (more times than can count)
  • Costa De La Luz
  • Madrid x2
  • Toledo
  • Ávila
  • Segovia
  • Jaén
  • Mázagon
  • Sierra Nevada x2
Portugal
  • Sagres
Malta
  •  Victoria (Gozo)
  • Azure Window
  • Xlendi
  • Gharb
  • Masalforn
  • Blue Lagoon (Comino)
  • Sliema
  • St. Julian's
  • Valletta
  • Vittoriosa (Birgu)
  • Paola
  • Marsaxlokk
  • Rabat (L-Imdina)

I have a lot of catching up to do! So while I get round to that, I'll post some of my favourite pictures from my collection. Some more recent than others but each one will mean something special to me. 

The inaugural picture for this new segment was difficult to choose. I felt that it had to be from this last trip to Madrid since it's where this bad boy was conceived.
But I must admit, I didn't take as many photos as I thought I had.
I chose this one in the end simply because I like it.
It was taken at the Thyssen-Bornemisza. In it is the distinctive artistic work of Roy Lichtenstein at the end of a corridor. An artist that has spurned thousands of copies and printed reproductions, and inspired many a retro café decorator. 
Some things like works of art are timeless, while some things are transient.
Some people are happy to sit and let time pass by, content with security. While others (like me) always need an emergency exit, just in case.
For me, I try to appreciate the transient. I am a transient. Life is transient.
If you always do what other people tell you to do, you'll only ever be a copy, a reproduction of someone else's hopes and desires.
To be original, you have to do whatever it is that you want to do, live your own life and take advice, but never orders.
This corridor is like my time-line, with the end goal of living a life of original art.
And Panos, a new friend, acquaintance, and viewpoint. His path crossing mine for this brief but wonderful weekend in Madrid.



This picture was taken about 20 minutes after the aforementioned inspirational conversation yesterday morning. It was written on the wall at the hostel I stayed at. Potentially one of the most chic hostels I've ever stayed in. While the grammar isn't quite spot on, the message is clear enough.

xx