Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

Prague

“The more special something is, the more people start to take it for granted. It’s like they think it will never change.” – The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks

Today I am leaving Tenerife en route to Prague, Czech Republic. This is the final city on my tour of Spain this summer.  Prague is a city that everyone says I will love, so I am looking forward to seeing it. I’ll be in Prague for four days. The good thing about this flight is that we have an 8-hour layover in Madrid! Normally that would suck, but I’m so happy to get a chance to return to Madrid one last time. My love for the city has grown since leaving. I appreciate it so much more now that I’ve been to other cities. Madrid will always be special to me because of the combination of the city itself and the experience I had here.

Tenerife, Canary Islands

This week I am in the Canary Islands on the island of Tenerife in the city of Puerto de la Cruz. I was a little reluctant to put this on the itinerary because I hadn’t heard much about it. I was thinking, the Canary Islands sounds like a nice place, but how come I haven’t heard about it? I got here on Saturday and it has been nice so far. I rejoined my travel buddies Ana and Kate after a week alone, and was joined by another friend, J.Forde.  It took a little getting used to, but I am glad we came after all. I had to go through Madrid withdrawal, but I enjoyed myself after that. Its very different than the other cities I’ve been to in Spain and does not feel like Spain.  It’s quite tropical and touristy because it’s the vacation spot for many Europeans. Most restaurants have multi-lingual menu, which to me, takes away the adventure of being in a foreign country. There are also the street vendors and restaurant “sales people” who try to hustle you to buy their stuff or eat their restaurant. Fortunately, I think being Black gives me an advantage in this situation because I get approached way less than Ana who is White and blonde, and everyone thinks is Finnish. The weather is perfect with hot, sunny days and cool nights. The sun is ridiculously strong, as I believe we’re pretty close to the equator.

So what have I been doing with my time? I’ve resumed Spanish classes for the last week on the trip. I have morning classes this time, from 9:00AM to 1:00PM. It has been a struggle waking up early for class, but it’s the best thing for my time in Tenerife. Unlike Madrid, everything closes around 9 or 10pm. In the afternoons, I’ve done a variety of things like go hiking, go to the pool, visit the various black sand beaches, and take road trips to other cities on the island. It’s been very relaxing.

I will say that I could have done without classes this week. The classes are good, but I have reached a point where my learning curve is sloping downward. I’ve gotten to the various past tenses and frankly I have no idea when to use to use them. This is the time when I just need to do a complete review of everything I’ve learned at my own pace. The classes move so fast and my class in Tenerife has 8 people (vs. 3 in Madrid). Anyway, the trip is going well and I’m happy to have my travel buddies again. I’ve introduced them to the game Phase 10 and they are now hooked. Another group falls prey to the grip of Phase 10! Off to bed so I can try to wake up on time for class tomorrow. I only have two more days left so I guess I should take advantage of it.

Location: Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife, Canary Islands

Sevilla Arabic Bath House

Last night I went to Air Sevilla, an Arabic bathhouse, because I wanted to relax and get a massage. The experience was great and just what I needed. I paid 50 euros for a 30-minute massage and two hour slot for the various baths. I wore my swimsuit there to minimize the changing process. I arrived 15 minutes early and was told to go upstairs and wait for someone to come get me. They give you plastic bags to put over your feet before you enter the locker room. I go in the locker room to change and a woman is their guiding folks to the lockers and then to the showers. Everyone must shower before entering the bath area. A group of us were then taken down the bath area and given instructions on how to spend the next two hours. The bath area is co-ed, so we join the men for the instructions. There are five baths (hot, warm, cold, salt and one with jets) and a steam room. They tell you to spend as much time as your want in each, but they encourage about 10-15 minutes in each with an ideal order of warm, hot, cold, salt or something like that. I couldn’t remember the order so I just spent as much time as I wanted in each minus the cold bath. I made two attempts to get in it, but I only made it to my waste. I like each of the other baths a lot, but wanted to spend as much time in the steam room as possible, so I went in before and after my massage. I needed the steam room for my skin because my face has been drying out significantly from this sun.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience and would definitely go back. I liked that most of the pools were connected and didn’t mind the other people. Each pool was big enough to still enjoy the experience alone. I highly recommended this experience!

Location: Sevilla, Spain

Sevilla, Spain

Today was a good day. I’m in Sevilla and loving it! I had a great night’s sleep and woke up around noon. I finished watching the movie I started last night, got dressed and left around 2pm for my afternoon in the city. I immediately went to find something to eat since the afternoon siesta will be in effect around 4pm and food options are limited until dinnertime, which is around 9pm.

Lunch is the best deal here where you can get the “menu del dia” which includes a first and second course dish with a drinks, bread and coffee or dessert for 8-10 euros.

I’m pretty oriented with the city now so I don’t have to wander around staring at a map like I did yesterday. I walked for a bit looking at different menus and found a place on a small, side street. I got a mixed salad and grilled calamari. Vegetables are kind of hard to come by so I try to get a salad when I can. Plus I must gear up for my two hour Arabic bathhouse experience tonight.

Planes, Trains and Autobuses

Sunday, I left Madrid for a one week stint in Southern Spain. I am traveling alone as my travel buddies, Ana and Kate, opted for an extra week in the Canary Islands. I love beaches, but there was something about these three cities in Southern Spain that I had to see. Granada, Sevilla and Cordoba are popular cities in the Andalusia region, which is known for its mix of Muslims, Jews and Christians and overall Islamic influence. Each city has at least one well known mosque, cathedral and/or palace.  Some say this region represents the essence of Spain, so I had to come see for myself.

Last weekend, we took a weekend roadtrip to Granada to see the Alhambra and it was worth the trip. In two days, I fell in love with Granada and its islamic charm. Signs are written in Spanish and Arabic and I felt a sense of what it’s like to be in Morocco. This will have to do since I won’t be making it to Morocco this time around. Words and pictures cannot capture the grandness of the Alhambra. Its a
palace and fortress where various rulers lived. The Palacio Nazaries is the gorgeous, intriguely designed main palace. Then there’s Generalife, a massive garden that’s like a mini maze. The entire thing took about two to three hours to walk through. It was definitely worth the trip.

Now I’m completely the journey with Cordoba and Sevilla this week. I took the Ave train from Madrid to Cordoba which is kind of expensive for a train ride, but it cuts the trave time in half to less than two hours.  The train ride was nice and relaxing. They even played a movie, Madagascar 2, which was the perfect start to my trip. I haven’t seen the first one, but this one had me cracking up from beginning to end. I was laughing so hard that a few kids where looking at me like “what is wrong with that woman?”. Animated movies are some of the movies out there now.

Anyway, so yesterday I did a 24 hour stop through Cordoba. Its a small enchanting city that doesn’t require much time. Its claim to fame is the Mezquita. this was my sole purpose in going so I booked a cheap hotel next door to it, checked in, put my bags down and headed over. It was definitely worth the stop. When I walked in I gasped in awe. I didn’t know what to expect and was focused on getting in, that I just stopped in my tracks. My travels book says its hard to exaggerate the beauty of the Mezquita and it was right. It’s a beautiful mosque and one of the great creations of Islamic architecture with shimmering gold mosaics and red and white striped arches into infinity. The Mezquita has topped the list of favorite sites in Spain.

After two hours in the Mezquita, I spent the rest of the day wandering around the city stopping to rehydrate and rest in parks and plazas. I bought an audiobook and listened to that while walking around. It turned out to be a good complement to day. After about six hours of walking,  I had dinner and tried the traditional dish of oxtail stew, which was good. Then I went to a concert at the Guitar Festival.
It was a Spanish guitarist and his band. It was a long day, but a great day overall!

After a long day and night in Cordoba, this morning I hopped on the bus to Sevilla. The bus ride took about two hours and only costs 10 euros. I opted for the bus over the train this time because the travel time was about the same and the bus is about 50 euros cheaper. The ride was nice and cozy on the air conditioned coach bus with two seats to myself. Noting the A/C is key after I had a restless night of sleep in a hot room that supposedly had A/C.

My first impressions of Sevilla are positive and I think I am going to enjoy spending the next four days here. Sevilla is a bigger city than Cordoba with a lot more to see and do. My schedule is completely open to do whatever I want. I’m not taking any classes this week either. The only thing that is a must is a visit to an Arabic Bathhouse for a little relaxation.

Things NOT to eat while in Madrid: Callos madrileños

“Be adventurous! Just make sure you understand the language while doing so. – Me

I’m an adventurous person and am also an adventurous eater. Last night I learned that being adventurous does not always pay off.  In the US, I often order food that I’ve never had before or blindly go with the waiter’s recommendation. I’ve used this same approach here in Madrid and it has paid off with me trying some of the best dishes ever. Well not last night. I randomly picked something on the menu, Callos madrileños, and asked what it was. The waiter provided a detailed description. Unfortunately, I only understood about 1% of what he said.  So we go ahead and order it. The waiter brings out this halfway decent looking dish with meat in a red tomato sauce and bread to go with it. I notice that the pieces swimming around in the dish look a little fatty, but I assume there will be some meatier pieces underneath. Well, there were not. So I scoop up a few fatty pieces of meat with the bread and take a bite. It didn’t taste that bad, but I realized that this was not something I could eat an entire bowl of. It hit us that these rubbery pieces had to be some part of the pig like the stomach, intestines, ear or hoof. I felt like a contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. I know chitterlings well so I immediately eliminated intestines. I’ve seen pig’s feet before as a whole, but not as pieces. Hmm…I don’t think pig’s feet can be cut up this small so that’s out. Ear is just plain disgusting and illogical. Therefore, I select A. Stomach. Final Answer.

Unfortunately, I did not win a million dollars. Instead I was able to send the dish back with a simple, “No me gusta. Es un poco extraño” (I don’t like. It’s a little strange). The cow stomach was then replaced with an interesting tasting group of samosas.  So, today’s motivational quote of the day is from yours truly. Be adventurous! Just make sure you understand the language while doing so.

Here’s a picture. Look at your own risk.   http://www.fotolog.com/gastrosofia/24017922

Hola Madrid!?

“First impressions are important mainly because too many people put way too much faith in them.”

I finally arrived in Madrid safe and sound, but not without the random travel “hiccups”.  My first and most important connection through JFK to London was delayed almost two hours due to the traffic congestion.  As a result, I missed my connection in London and didn’t get to Madrid until two hours later. No big deal except that my cell phone wasn’t working and I had arranged for transportation and had a one hour window to meet the property manager of our flat to get the keys. With my phone not working, I couldn’t call either of them to tell them when I would be in.  Also, I couldn’t get a wireless signal at Heathrow airport (more complaints about Heathrow to come). So I get to Madrid and pray I can get wireless there or I’ll be forced to play the foreign victim role and ask someone to use his or her phone. I get wireless access in Madrid and Skype comes through in the end, although one of my bags does not.

Thanks to Skype, I find my taxi driver and part two of the adventure begins. He doesn’t speak or understand English and we all know that I’m on this trip to learn Spanish, so this could be a problem. I understand the basics of what he is saying and he miraculously finds my flat after winding through the narrow sides streets.  I’m happy. Then something random happens. While we’re standing outside waiting to be buzzed in, someone squirts ketchup on my butt. I’m bending down getting something out of my backpack when ketchup randomly “falls from the sky”. I halfway saw a guy walk behind and drop something and next thing I knew I had ketchup on my butt. Then about 5 minutes later another dude walks up behind me and points to the ketchup and hands me some napkins. Coincidence? I think not! I’m still confused as to what the point of the whole ketchup situation was, but unfortunately that’s my first impression of Madrileños.  I refuse to let that me the impression of Madrid that sticks, so I am suspending all judgment until I am here at least a few days so look out for a more complete assessment of the city. On a good note, our flat is super cute and has A/C (see the pics below). It’s going to be in the 90’s most of the time that we’re here.

With everything that happened today, I had to express my gratitude and dissatisfaction with a few people and organizations using a simple thumbs up or thumbs down.

Thumbs up

  • To Skype for coming through on all of my calling needs. You’re a better service provider than Sprint! I did sign up for A Skype number
  • To Quita and Brian for the Euros. They came in handy when my ATM would not allow me to withdraw money
  • To Anastasia for finding such a great flat in Madrid…with A/C. This is why I travel with you!

Thumbs down

  • To the Madrileños who squirt ketchup for fun and games
  • To Sprint for failing once again to provide adequate service and not activating my request for an international data plan after I requested it two weeks in advance.
  • To Heathrow airport, for a poor design/layout. What’s with taking three 10-minute bus rides for one connection? I was also surprised that the signs did not include translations in multiple languages. I thought the Brits were more progressive than Americans when it comes to other languages. Guess not.

Location: Sitting in the living room of my home for the next three weeks waiting on Ana to arrive.

Mood: Tired

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