30/07/12 – 01/08/12
Seville – Andalusia, Spain
Me encanta España!
Journeying back across the Straits of Gibraltar to Andalusia’s most beautiful city Seville, we had some time to relax before heading out for a live flamenco show. As much as we enjoyed Morocco, gosh, it was good to be back in the beautiful south of Spain!! As night fell, this show was a definite highlight and where else but in Seville, the home of flamenco of course! It was one of the best shows I’ve ever experienced… the music and beating heels of the dancers was so loud and fast you could feel it in your bones. Intense, fiery, passionate, amaaaaaazing!
The next day saw us taking a walking tour to see the pavilions and ponds in Maria Luisa Park and strolling through the Plaza de España and Jewish quarter. We then went to visit the imposing Seville Cathedral and Giralda (it’s bell tower)– which in fact is the largest gothic cathedral in the world. I didn’t know this until we got there but this location houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Well, not all of him to be precise but we were told that about 150grams of his bones remain in his tomb atop the shoulders of four figures representing the four kingdoms of Spain during his life – Aragon, Castille, Navara and Leon.
As the afternoon approached we headed out to Basilippo Olive Oil Culture Centre set in the estate of the Hacienda Merrha, a small family estate in the Los Alcores countryside. We learned about the history, harvest, culture and process of olive oil production and took part in a tasting session of their finest olive oils… or liquid gold as they like to call it.
Dinner on the estate was one of our most memorable, intimate evenings; it was a warm night as we sat in the open air, surrounded by all the olive trees, the food was amazing (they made a perfect Gazpacho!) and I had a jug of fresh cold sangria all to myself :) Me encanta España!
27/07/12 – 30/07/12
Marrakech + Casablanca + Rabat – Morocco
Shop till you drop… (or can no longer breathe).
Traveling by coach through the foothills of the Atlas mountains was a beautiful scenic journey but by this stage not many of the passengers on tour were able to enjoy it as the majority were sick from food poisoning. Fortunately, in our little family of four not one of us got sick because we’d basically survived on a diet of bread and coke.
The setting of one of our first stops Bahia Palace was… just… idyllic. Such an oasis of tranquil gardens, courtyards and beautiful tile/mosaic work on every wall.
However, I just couldn’t wait to get to Jemaa el-Fnaa the marketplace in Marrakech’s medina quarter (old city). What a buzz this place was! When we got there it was early afternoon and I had been looking forward to stocking up on heaps of silver and dress jewellery pieces for sale in the fantastic souks I’d heard so much about. It was certainly no disappointment. Unlike Fez where there were only donkeys about, this chaotic maze of a place had motorcycles and scooters galore! As we got deeper into it all the smoke and fumes from their engines just lingered around. After spending the better part of a day in the souks we could barely speak or breathe because our throats and noses were so sore from all the fumes. Hahahaha I’d still do it again though because I bought so many nice things :)
During the evening, we soaked up some Berber culture (the indigenous ethnic group of North Africa) with a traditional dinner and show. We dined in massive tents over the entertaining song and dance of local Berber men and women. The main event that followed in an outdoor arena showcased their exceptional skills performing all sorts of acrobatic stunts on horseback.
Departing Marrakech, we headed for Rabat via Casablanca. I can’t really say we saw that much of Casablanca as the tour bus kind of just drove around it for a bit and we viewed the Hassan II Mosque (tallest minaret in the world) before stopping at Maccas for lunch because it was Ramadan and everything else was closed. So that’s all I have to say about Casablanca… Humphrey Bogart was M.I.A.
During our short stay in the capital Rabat we took a guided tour of the city including the Mausoleum and Royal Palace. I was more amused by the constant bombardment of street traders draped with all sorts of wonderful goodies for sale. They just follow you around like a shadow the moment you step off a bus to second you get back on. They’ll even continue to try and sell to you even through the window once you’re already seated and ready to depart! I loved the fact that I could still do my jewellery and leathergoods shopping even after I’d left the medina!
25/07/12 – 27/07/12
Fez – Morocco
From Europe to Africa.
We took a short ferry ride from Spain to Tangier in Morocco then hopped back onto the coach, drove past the Rif Mountains and a few hours later arrived in the medieval city of Fez. Fez is the second largest city in Morocco and it’s certainly down in my book as one of the MOST fascinating.
Our tour guide had been warning us of this leg of the trip regarding consumption of food – we were not to eat or drink pretty much…. anything! Don’t drink the water, fresh juices, don’t eat salad, cold meats, fruit with skin (apples, strawberries etc), wash your hands every 2 seconds etc etc. So that left bread and Coke as the only safe options hahahahaha.
As in any new place we went to, our guide would give us a brief history tour of the main parts. We took a morning tour which included the Royal Palace and fortifications.
However it was the tour of Fez el-Bali, a sprawling medina that was my absolute highlight! The medina was founded in like the 800’s or something and I doubt much has changed in there over the centuries. It’s such a labyrinth in there, you had to stick close to the group otherwise you’d get lost, never to be found again. Everything you see is shocking… from the un-iced fish shops to the camel meat butchery. Hope you enjoy my decapitated camel head picture.
Back in the day when there was a huge rat problem, they introduced cats and since then they absolutely love them! There are cats everywhere… even sitting and walking over tabletops where food is being prepared.
If you hear “Balak, Balak!” you better quickly move to the side because it means a donkey is passing through, and they don’t stop for anyone! There were heaps of times we were stuck in a narrow passage when we heard “Balak, Balak!” and we’d find ourselves tight up against the wall with stomachs sucked in on our tip toes until the donkey had passed.
Everything stunk – but it was amazing.
Also located in the medina is the leather tannery and speaking of stinky things, well this place takes the cake. We were given bunches of mint to hold to our noses because the stench was so bad. The tannery was the first place I got to haggle as well. For those who don’t know me, my favourite thing to do is haggle at a market with the locals. I was so in my element here!!! Got myself a fabulous pair of leather shoes from 450 dirham ($50) down to 150 dirham ($16). And that was just the beginning, because next stop – Marrakech!
23/07/12 – 25/07/12
Granada + Marbella – Spain
Unfortunately we didn’t get to spend a great deal of time in Granada because it was quite a long journey from Toledo and on arrival we were taken straight to the hotel – buggered and straight to bed. The next morning we took a tour of the Alhambra, a massive complex, part fortress, part palace, part garden. The entrance is so simple and unimpressive, however inside is absolutely breath-taking! So much intricate detailing on every wall, ceiling, floor and the most tranquil oasis-like courtyards which left you just saying “Ahhhhhh”. Even, some of the least impressive rooms are as gorgeous and spacious as my future dream home! And if it were true, then I’d never leave the house! I wish.
The next day we ventured further south to Marbella, part of the Costa del Sol, which literally translates ‘Sun Coast’. We spent a bit of time checking out the towns shopping, beaches and marina before stopping for a not-so-local kebab for lunch. It had only been the first few days of the tour but each day had a super early start (7am!), long coach rides and sometimes mentally draining guided tours. We decided to split from the rest of the group that afternoon and opted to lounge by the hotel pool and drink Sangria instead. Nothing quite like taking a holiday from your holiday!
23/07/12 – 23/07/12
Toledo + windmills of La Mancha – Spain
Well there’s a first for everything.
Considering Toledo is one of the oldest and most authentic cities in Spain I found it funny that to get into the main part of town the bus dropped us at the bottom of a hill and we took these urban escalators into the city! It was definitely a first and given it was the middle of summer we were all very grateful for what would’ve been a long and tiring hike up the hill without them.
Walking about Toledo was like an open air museum. There was lots of diversity which is why it’s commonly known as the ‘city of three cultures’ because Jewish, Islamic and Christians have lived there throughout the centuries.
Toledo is famous for a lot of things but right up there with the most famous would be their Marzipan, not usually something I like but I never say no to trying all things local – this went down a treat with a good coffee. And then there’s Damascene an ancient Moorish handicraft whereby gold is interlaced on iron or steel to create gorgeous decorative pieces from plates to jewelry. Both mums now have matching pairs of earrings :)
Leaving Toledo and headed for Granada, the bus took a scenic stop at an amazing lookout atop a hill lined with windmills and stunning views over La Mancha– YES indeed, we were at the windmills Miguel de Cervantes made famous in his novel Don Quixote de La Mancha!
22/07/12 – 22/07/12
Daytrip to Segovia – Spain
I fell in love with Segovia. A charmingly beautiful walled city with lots of dramatic architecture, views of scenic countryside and lots of pedestrian streets where no cars are allowed – perfect to explore on foot.
One of Segovia’s main attractions is its Aqueduct – built around 50AD and arguably one of the best preserved ancient monuments engineered and constructed by the Romans in Spain. I still find it difficult to comprehend how: (a) how long ago it was built (b) how it was even built back then with no fancy cranes and stuff (c) the fact it was built with no mortar (d) how it is still standing so well preserved up to this day, and finally (e) pretty much a,b,c and d altogether!!!!
Anyway, we then strolled through the center where the majestic Cathedral is situated. It’s definitely one of the most amazing facades I’ve seen in all of Europe, and trust me, by this point we were pretty cathedralled out.
We had some free time to buy fridge magnets and tea towels before heading for a tour of the Alcázar, one of the favourite residences of the Kings of Castile and thought to be the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s castle.
As expected it was so gorgeous on the inside – not too overly decorative like some palaces (dusting can be a pain you know) but was mostly floor to ceiling sandstone, walls adorned with massive pieces of art and large windows with the most relaxing views of the surrounding area. It was also filled with all types of military/armory paraphernalia to add to that gothic earthy feel.
Thought it was a cool fact to learn that it was the place Queen Isabel promised Columbus the financial backing needed to discover America!
20/07/12 – 22/07/12
Madrid - Spain
The start of the end :(
The train from Valencia to Madrid was full of mixed emotions to say to least. After almost a full year of being away from home and our loved ones, Madrid was the city we’d be meeting up with Mum and Dad (Dans ones) who had just finished up a massive tour of Canada and Alaska. It was also going to be the start of a 16 day whirlwhind tour of Spain, Morocco and Portugal with them which we were really excited about. Unfortunately though, all good things must come to and end and we always knew that arriving into Madrid would be bittersweet because it was the last leg of the trip to end our amazing gap year.
Seeing them for the first time again was awesome! Lots of hugs, kisses and happy tears. They were both stunned at how much weight we’d lost since Sydney (yes, thankyou very much), their theory being that we’d run out of money and couldn’t afford to eat hahahahahahhaha :) gotta love em. What it did come down to was simply walking every day, not having a pantry full of junk food come midnight munchie time and eating rich satisfying food in smaller portions.
Ok so our guided tour started on the 21st in Madrid, a date which also marks the day my love affair with Gazpacho began. Its an Andalucian tomato based soup, served cold. Yummmmo!!! I tried it for the first time one night we had tapas at the Plaza Mayor. I keep reminding myself to make a batch but I haven’t got around to it yet – kind of like this blog entry coming almost 3 months after the fact :-/
Madrid is a bustling city and we enjoyed every moment of eating, sightseeing and shopping (of course), however it’s nowhere near the coast which is why I’ll always prefer Barca or Valencia over it. Having our own tour guide had its definite ups, for example we were able to appreciate the stories and history which made the city what it is today. Little intriguing things which would otherwise be overlooked, like why every street sign also has a picture? Well, apparently it’s because in the olden days when the majority of people were illiterate it didn’t make sense to have a written street sign. So instead they used pictures to identity which street you were on… like elbow street for example. I thought it was the coolest thing ever so I missed out on seeing everything else Madrid had to offer after hearing that because all I wanted to do was find and take pictures of street signs.
15/07/12 – 20/07/12
Paella… “pie-yay-ya” :)
I absolutely LOVED this part of the trip where we spent 5 days in Valencia. Like Barcelona it has beautiful beaches, stunning architecture (not as weird though), perfect cycling paths, mouthwatering food and lazy parks YET with far less crowds and much safer.
If you ever have the chance to visit Valencia the Lladró factory tour is a must. I’m not just saying this because Lladró was my first employer out of uni and I absolutely adore the company and its creations but it really is worth it. They demonstrate every step of the process from start to finish with the highest standards of craftsmanship. Every single rose petal hand pressed, every mould carefully hand painted – it was fascinating to watch it all come to life and best of all its free! The only downer was not being able take pictures on the tour which is unfortunate because I’m totally not doing it any justice :)
Another memorable Valencian holiday moment was having lunch at our new favourite place to eat, Casa el Famós. Too bad it’s so far from home because we would be serious locals at this place otherwise. Up until that week we thought all paellas (which actually originated in Valencia) were the kind with seafood in it. We were quite surprised when a local Valencian told us this type of seafood paella is the touristy version of the real authentic paella which is actually made with rabbit and chicken instead and MUST be cooked over an open woodfire. I was so glad he not only told us this but also recommended the fabulous place to have it telling us it is the absolute best in Valencia.
The restaurant is not at all in the heart of the city, in fact it’s near a large rice farm in the middle of nowhere with not a tourist in sight! We instantly knew this was a good sign. The staff were amazingly hospitable even letting us take pictures and video in the kitchen as they cooked a row of paella over an open woodfire top. Our trusty advisor was helpful yet again, suggesting exactly what to order: (I hope I’ve spelt these correctly because his handwritten notes are practically unreadable!)
Tapas 1: Patatos bravos
Tapas 2: Chipizones con ajos tie
Main: Valencian paella
Drink: Jug of sangria
Then, find a nearby tree and sleep under it for 30 minutes or so because you won’t be able to do much after such an amazing lunch feast!
So please, if you go to Valencia, apart from doing the sightseeing stuff, cycling the beautiful parkways, eating tapas and hitting the beach as we did, you must also take a day to do the Lladró tour and eat like a local at Casa el Famós.
It will totally make your trip, as it did ours!
08/07/12 – 15/07/12
Barcelona, Catalonia - Spain
Weird and wonderful!
I seriously don’t know where time goes… as I type I’m sitting in the hotel lobby (7:52am) in Costa del Sol leaving for Fez Morocco in less than 45mins and still have to catch up on telling you about Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid, Segovia, Toledo, Granada & Marbellal!! The pace lately hasn’t actually been that bad considering we spent 7 days in Barca and 5 in Valencia, yet the Spanish way of life is how can I explain it…. nocturnal. People don’t start eating dinner until 10pm and where its absolutely dead on the streets at 2 in the afternoon, the cities come to life at 2 in the morning! Even midweek! That’s the Spain I’ve experienced in general so far and although I love that I’m on holidays, I don’t know if I could actually live and work to these timings :-/
So with 7 nights and 6 full days in Barcelona we spent the first full day sleeping, recovering from lost sleep in Ibiza. Day one done. We decided to spend another 2 days on the beach, a beautiful local one called MarBella. I love the water temperature of the Mediterranean… its always just right – cool but not cold then turns to warm but not hot… just somewhere perfect in between.
This left us with 3 days or so to sightsee this weird and wonderful city. Thanks to Antoni Gaudí and Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the city boasts some impressive and very eccentric architecture which can be found all over and give off a unique feel unlike any other European city we’d visited.
We found the best way to explore the city was on bike because it afforded us the time to see all the places we wouldn’t have been able to see on foot.
There are dedicated (and very wide) tree lined paths for cycling and walking and on the occasion when we needed to ride on the road, the drivers were very bike aware… even the taxi drivers! I was quite horrified at the beginning to learn that people don’t wear helmets but soon got over it once I realized the city is practically designed for it.
05/07/12 – 08/07/12
An incredibly exceptional 3 days.
Making our way from Istanbul to Ibiza was nothing short of torture. It started with a 4am cab to the airport to get us on a 7am flight back to Munich. We then waited in Munich pretty much all day in transit from like 9:30am until 6pm at which point we got on another flight to Barcelona. Arriving in Barcelona at around 8:30pm we waited again to board the midnight ferry for an 8hr overnight journey to Ibiza. Finally we arrived at 8am…. exhausted.
So after all of that we arrived at our accommodation right on Playa d’en Bossa beach but we couldn’t check in until 3pm! At least this time the waiting game wasn’t too bad, we just spent the day at the hotel pool and stunning beach.
That afternoon, after speaking with a local promoter, the next 3 nights we’re planned. We would hit Amnesia (Cream) on Thursday, Privilege (SuperMartXe) on Friday and both Space (Café Ole) and Pacha (Defected in the House) on Saturday. All the while getting some beachtime and sightseeing in as well we actually managed to pull it off in such a short amount of time…. albeit, with not much sleep.
Clubs wouldn’t actually start getting good until 2am so our nights would start at 1 until about 6, sleep until 9 to eat breakfast, beach/poolside or sightseeing for that day, dinner, short nap then out to do it all over again. It was so backward yet so awesome!!
The nightlife is pretty remarkable! My personal highlights were Calvin Harris, Boney M (who absolutely rocked Space!) and the hip hop room at Pacha. These places put on incredibly good shows, theatrical, surprising and very entertaining. We definitely got our moneys worth!
On the last afternoon we made our way over to the other side of the island, San Antonio to watch the world famous sunset. Unfortunately Café del mar and Café Mambo were completely full by the time we arrived. When we walked past Café Mambo Defected in the House was DJ’g for the pre-party and was mixing a version of Seals track ‘Crazy’ which will now forever remind me of Ibiza.
We ended up watching the sun go down with our mates at a nearby rocky area by the water…. it was idyllic. Wishing we were back in that crazy town with the crazy people who made this weekend an epic one we won’t forget. Happy days :)
29/06/12 – 04/07/12
Our fondest memories of this city all revolved around food. Be it smelling, seeing or best of all eating it, our tastebuds were certainly tantalized! I could eat again even after having a big meal because there were lots of things to snack on; roasted chestnuts, Turkish bagels, Turkish ice-cream, baklava, soft candy, Turkish delight, nougat. Oh yum!
We spent 5 days near Sultanahmet, the old part of Istanbul. In the short time we were there the small bakery around the corner from us would know exactly what we wanted for a morning snack (after having breakfast just minutes before)… “two lachmacun??”… “Yes please, take-away!!”
Being so close to the sea there was a nice breeze most of the time, however the relief is short lived once you’re out of the shade, find yourself in a crowd or worse still get on the smelly tram! One hot day while sightseeing around the palace we just lay under a gorgeous big tree on a nice patch of grass – the cool breeze was ideal for a half hour of lazy time.
It was so refreshing to be in this part of Europe because it was very different from anything we’d seen up until then. There are Mosque’s everywhere and we could hear the call to prayer quite frequently, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning and throughout the day on very loud speakers. Everything is so rich and vibrant in culture, custom and history. The Blue Mosque is so beautifully detailed on the inside. I also really loved the Grand Bazaar, or should I say really loved ‘getting lost’ in the Grand Bazaar. I absolutely adored the handmade rugs, lights and trinkets – so striking with all the different colours and textures. Might just need to consider re-decorating my place Turkish style :)
26/06/12 – 29/06/12
Munich, Bavaria Germany
Haus of bier!
Yes, we gave in on this leg of the trip and decided to do one of those hop-on-hop-off city bus tours which included a circle trip around the city plus BMW world, Allianz Arena and Nymphenburg Palace. However, despite the stunning examples of baroque and rococo architecture the city had to offer, I must admit everything by this point had started looking very much the same. Not a bad thing, just a reminder of how powerful the Roman influence was and still remains today. We also learnt a few interesting beer facts on the tour. Bavaria is seriously the beer capital of the world so much so that beer is legally classified as ‘food’! I guess with no alcohol tax, this means the price of beer is incredibly reasonable – in most cases cheaper than water or coke! Big shame I don’t like beer and Dan was still on antibiotics :(
We found the people of Munich to be a friendly and social bunch. They were always so happy and sometimes even over helpful in assisting the poor ‘lost tourists’ hahahhaha. One evening we were on our way to find a spot to watch the Euros (Germany v Italy semi-final) when we ran onto a train not knowing which direction it was going in. Don’t ask me why we ran onto the train when we could’ve waited for the next one (2mins) after actually having had time to look at the map! Anyway we asked a nice stranger where the train was going and before you know it we’re having a full on conversation and he ends up inviting us to watch it with him and his mates who’d saved seats at a nearby park with a bigscreen. Sweet! Well, unfortunately the Germans lost to Italy in that game but we still had a good night out.
23/06/12 – 26/06/12
Prague, Czech Republic
Destination - Central Bohemia.
So it kind of sounds like all my recent blogs are about Dan being sick. Well, unfortunately his bronchitis was still alive a kicking during our short stay in Prague. We had planned two full days to explore the city, however spent one entire day indoors next to a humidifier watching movies. Figured, better to ride off a few entire days than have it linger on for weeks.
OK so with day one over, we just strolled around city’s medieval squares and sites with what little time we had left. Just walking around it wasn’t difficult to conclude that Prague is one of the most charmingly pretty cities in Europe we’d been to. It reminded me of something out of a Disney cartoon, the old ones, like Beauty and the Beast or something. Very enchanting architecture, beautiful streets/bridges/castles, gold tipped towers, busking musicians all over and cute little puppet shops on every street.
The weather was warm but started to get quite cool in the late afternoon……. this ended up being perfect for snuggling up under a fleece blanket with a creme brûlée, mulled wine and magnificent views over the old square :)
20/06/12 – 23/06/12
The city of spas…
On planning this trip my father in law was adamant we visit Budapest telling us it’s a beautiful city not to be missed… no bias of course since he is Hungarian.
Well we did end up going and I’m so happy we listened. Each night we’d see hundreds of people sitting around, socializing, picnicking, relaxing feet deep in the pond and playing musical instruments in the park just a stones throw away from where we were staying. The atmosphere is abuzz and vibrant where people just really love being outdoors - I guess it helps when the weather is in its high 20’s even by early evening and it’s still bright at 9pm!
Having suffered a personal loss which was hard to take being so far away from home, coupled with Dan getting sicker by the day meant inevitably it was going to be a very laid back few days. It was high time for it anyway given the pace of the trip since we’d left the UK has been nothing short of crazyhectic.
We didn’t know this until we arrived but Budapest has more thermal and medicinal hot water springs than any other city in the world. And thanks to the Turkish occupation of Hungary centuries ago, the thermal bathing culture still thrives to this day. So we decided to spend a day at the largest one in Europe - Széchenyi Spa.
I simply cannot remember a day when I was more relaxed or at ease than this day we spent thermal bathing. The compound houses 15 baths all ranging in different temperatures from 20°- 40°. Then there were the saunas. I went into one that was 83°! Dan couldn’t even do 5 seconds in there and I totaled about 4 minutes max because the air was so thick, moist and uncomfortable. You literally feel the hot air all the way through your air passages and into your lungs – breathing through the nose burnt! At 83° I was also afraid that I may start to cook so I got out, had the most invigorating freezing cold shower ever and decided to use one of the cooler ones thereafter. After five hours of bathing and saunering (if that’s even a word) followed by a one hour full body oil massage then another hour of bathing again we were left totally slackened and without strength yet completely revived. I was also surprised to notice that after soaking all day you don’t actually get all pruney. Budapest has over 50 of these thermal baths/springs… and I wish we had just one back home because I’d definitely be a regular there! We finished off the day eating really tall ice creams.
The next day we slept in, done some light sightseeing, went to market, spent 2 hours drinking tea and then ate ribs smothered in Jack Daniels sauce over the football match.
One of my favourite European cities, we’ll definitely be back in Budapest one day :-)
18/06/12 – 20/06/12
Relationship… still in tact.
By the time we got to Zagreb Dan was quite sick and the city was a scorching hot 35° so the last thing he wanted was to spend it walking all day in the sun. We decided instead to tick off a few of the main sites, eat gelato and then visit a museum. I didn’t have any expectations at all however was delighted to find the city was clean, un-crowded and the people were lovely – a reason the city was ranked 4th most polite city in the world according to readers digest I assume.
Anyway so I’d read a few reviews and came across a private museum called the Museum of Broken Relationships. I figured it would be a little different from the usual galleries and history ones we’ve been sticking to in Europe. It certainly was different and I highly recommend visiting it if you ever get the chance.
The museum is basically an exhibit of donated personal belongings accompanied with the story behind the broken relationship. Some of the stories are light and happy, some definitely go deeper and are even depressing to read… some made me angry. The stories behind relationships that lasted for a few days compared to that of a lifelong love were so fascinating to read. We spent the most amount of time in there than any other museum we’d ever been to!