This random trip was a spontaneous purchase based solely on one factor…the flight was so bloody cheap ($430), so I couldn't resist!
After concluding a last minute 2 day Boston and back trip to watch my beloved Blue Jays play (a day before my Madrid flight), I apprehensively jumped onto two well serviced flights with Air Canada to Spain. Unfortunately I was stuck beside a chap who was allergic to nuts, resulting in me being forced to forgo eating all of my strategically packed snacks, which incidentally all had nuts…s.o.b! I found myself weary eyed when we finally arrived in Spain 7:30am local time.
Getting through the dingy old Madrid airport was almost too easy. After a quick glance at my passport from the half awake officer, followed by a quick bus ride to terminal 4, and a free 20 minute subway to the train station, I was ready to board my Seville train. Problem was, I arrived too efficiently! I decided to store my luggage for a few hours and walk through the nearby park. I lacked the gumption to do anything, but luckily my train was ready. I eagerly boarded the "tourist plus" cabin, ready to either a) enjoy watching the landscapes whisk by, or b) pass-out from jet lag, which ever came first. I passed out!
|One of these badboys was mine…an AVE train|
|Top speed 285km/hr. This was the tourist PLUS cabin|
|My home for 3 nights…literally 2 blocks from the cathedral.|
|Just like my Egypt mornings, I woke up to a famous landmark in view|
|One of my favourite tapas bars…yum! And yes, loved the picture:)|
|minus the fries, even this was amazing|
|Night cap before sleeping off my jet lag|
I awoke from a deep sleep, immediately assuming I slept past my 10am "free Seville walking tour". Luckily it was only 8am, giving me plenty of time to grab a quick bite with a much needed coffee. It didn't take long to find one a few steps away (Cafe Europa). The coffee was amazing (1Euro), and the cured meet sandwich was good, just enough to fulfill my need. I made my way through the empty streets to the meeting place which was also located only a few minutes from my apartment.
|An amazing coffee to start the morning|
|So peaceful in the mornings|
Later in the tour, I tried chatting up a young couple from Boston, but immediately got a bad (douche) vibe from them. Next I spoke to two young Canadians from Montreal, but they were not as forthcoming as I hoped, so I decided to digress.
All in all, I got what I needed from the tour. A gained some great background knowledge to why the city existed (the river), its history (lots of catholic and muslim history), and historic/current economic conditions...I'l save you details, I'll probably mess them up anyways.
|The free 2 hr tour…she was good|
|The british dude on the left|
|This place was insane!…where we finished the tour|
|I couldn't figure out how to capture the insane size of the place|
I saw a lot after 20km or so, including riding along the river, meandering through small alleyways, and putzing through several parks before realizing the heat was getting to me. After taking a few minutes to watch a few swans gracefully float by (fyi...if I could be any animal, it would be a swan, just thought you should know), I headed to the nearest tapas bar for a quick bite to eat.
|My 22km bike ride…stumbled onto this cool park|
8:45 came around sooner then expected, and with mission in hand, I headed for the congested restaurant alleys I biked by earlier. I ordered another cervesa with two tapas's (naturally chosen by the waiter of course). Moments later, I received one plate consisting of Ox tail, and one with cuttlefish meat balls!! Both were wonderful, and after finishing up, I strolled back to the apartment to enjoy a quick glass of wine, calling it a night.
|A typical street to dine at|
Before walking to the train station 3.5km away, I needed a caffeine fix…watching the insanely early (4am) Blue Jays win the wildcard race didn't help in the rest department! I headed out at 7:30 not realizing every place would still be closed. I was forced to eat at the train station which wasn't all that bad…there was a McD's there lol. I was a bit early as usual (my ex-wife could indulge you all about my o.c.d on being punctual, probably drove her nuts!)
The train ride was a painless 45 minute jaunt. Add a quick 15 minute stroll on top of that, and I found my self immersed in tourist central. This is when everything started to fall apart.
|Side wall of the Mezquita|
|Near the Jewish quarters|
|Orange trees and cool firs everywhere|
I was relieved to see my pre-booked 12pm tower access was ready to be redeemed.
|Ahh, the famous Roman bridge|
I was ready to head down and leave the lovebirds to themselves and grab some food. It was a race against time because at this point, the heat was really amplifying…reaching 35C by 1pm.
|Old style Spain|
|Has kind of a fictional feel to it|
|Looking down from the tower|
|The highlight of Cordoba, the Mezquita Cathedral|
|Looking down from the bell tower|
Cordoba was rubbing me the wrong way, and I found myself just wanting to escape all the love birds and old aged tourists, and head back to the place I fell in love with…Seville (sorry if I'm offending anyone, I'm just not a big fan of huge rude/loud asian tour groups and 70+ year old bus convoys). Problem was….my return train was for 8:30pm…and it was only 3pm!!
|My shrimp salad…tasty, but the service was horrendous!|
|Great little plaza in Cordoba...Plaza de Las Tendillas|
After departing the train 40 minutes later, I sped walked to my apartment, and once again enjoyed a few olives and tomatoes with a glass of wine (hmm, I might be overindulging in wine? haha).
Tomorrow would be better, I'm sure of it!
I woke up with a persistent sore throat. I tried to wash away the tickle with lots of water with no avail. I did not want this to grow into a full blown cold. I headed out to eat a proper english breakfast for the first time since leaving Canada. If there was one thing North Americans knew…it was breakfast! I walked in circles for 45 minutes not able to chose a spot. Side note: I tend to do this when parking as well…always expecting to find a better spot around the corner… another annoyance to significant others, I'm sure of it lol. I finally found one, and after 9 Euros of bliss, I headed to the Catheral to line up for the 11am opening.
The line up was long, but after a 30 minute wait, I was in…entrance fee 9 Euros. I tried my best to take my time, optimizing my bang for the buck. Most websites say it should take roughly 2 hours to view, but even with my attempts to immerse myself in the history, I was done in 1 hour.
|My iPhone case wrecks these types of photos|
|Thought this was a bit odd|
|The main mass area in the Cathedral|
|From the Bell tower looking towards the river NW|
|Lots of gold leaf in this place|
Now, normal people would hail a cab. Not me! Like usual, I high stepped myself across town hoping for a successful conclusion.
In a sticky mess, cloths clinging to me, I made it to the other station in time, and had a front row in the bus all to myself….thank goodness I didn't panic lol.
3 hours later, we reach Granada. The city bus was pretty straight forward, and I figured I had everything figured out. Unfortunately my google maps was not printed properly, and it didn't take me long to get lost…and this time I was in a real pickle!
First, I was lost in a tight quartered Arabic market on a steep hill. After getting some help from a fellow traveler, I once again found myself turned around in a compound low in the valley. On top of that, apparently the so called compound was private, and the doors behind me locked. On top of THAT, there was a guard dog, but thankfully he took a liking to me. I tried to find a wall to scale over with no success, until someone saw me and told me I needed to get out. I couldn't! They ushered me out, only to find myself still lost at 7:30pm!
Long story short, I inadvertently climbed several hills before being forced to ask once again where the hell I was. By 8pm, I found the damn place! Thank GOD it was an amazing place…my biggest splurge of the trip.
|My room at Solar Montes Carlos…tough place to find!|
|My patio with the Alhambra in view|
After a long day of mistakes (something I usually take pride in with my travel experience), I was treated to a wonderful sunset, and an even better shower:)
|I look tired, but needed a few pics of me here|
|Views like this are hard to beat|
|That's a wrap for tonight|
My dream woke me up for day 5, and had me quite rattled (which never happens to me). The Alhambra opened at 8:30, and my scheduled entrance to the sought after Nasrid palace within its walls was for 10:30. I made my way down the hill and through the forest to an extremely complex ticket entrance. Hundreds of confused people herded through several different lines. After an hour with my pre-purchased ticket (16 Euros), I was finally in. The complex was impressive, but I wasn't sure how the average 3 hour viewing time was going to be reached by me, BUT, after touring the Nasrid Palace, I finished visiting the Alhambra in almost 4 hours. The rooms were stunning, some of the most detail I've ever seen! Pictures could not do it justice. Outside of the extraordinary inner quarters, the ponds throughout Alhambra were also mesmerizing. On top of that, the several vantage points overlooking the entire city was the feather in the cap. For a place so large, so diverse, so peaceful, while hosting thousands of eager tourists, it was no surprise that the Alhambra was one of the top attractions in all of Spain.
|View looking towards my hotel from the Alhambra|
|The entire reason to see the Alhambra imo is the inner palace, and the insane detailed carvings!|
|Entire rooms are carved to this detail, and then colour added|
|The Alhambra is known for it's water system flowing throughout the complex|
|The famous goat fountain|
After finishing up, I walked down the hill back into town near the cathedral for lunch. It seemed the thing to do in Granada was to order 3 course meals, so I did, (for only 10 Euros). My spanish omelette, chick pea stew, and caramel creme were perfectly executed. I wanted to savour the meal, but I needed to get back to my room as my encroaching cold started to agitate me. yeahhh, siesta time:)
I awoke with some rare energy to exert, so I took this opportunity and looked for the tallest hill to climb to view the upcoming sunset. Coincidentally, this desired haunt was home to Ermita de San Miguel Alto, a run down church with a unique appeal to it. I arrived to find a few dozen locals chillin, drinking beer and smoking pot. I took my seat and enjoyed a relaxing sunset away from the tourists ….something which was missing on this trip.
|Spanish omlette, a must when in Spain|
|Granada just has an awesome feel to it|
|Near my hotel in the Albayzin region|
|Off the beaten track up in the hills where the locals drink…I hiked up for better views|
|squatters live in places like this in the hills and forest|
|Top of Ermita de San Miguel Alto|
I think I could of stayed one more day here, but tomorrow would be an early morning on the bus to Malaga.
|Such a yummy artichoke ham garlic dinner, 11 Euros|
Alarm clock jolted me out the door at 7am. I walked a few km to the SN1 bus and without incident, was at the bus station 45 minutes early. 9am rolled around, and I started to take notice a large group building, making their way to the bus docks. I followed thinking this should be pretty straight forward. Nope!
For some silly reason, there were 4 buses going to Malaga, and ALL 4 parked beside each other. So imagine 100 or so people trying to make sense out of it, all while I tried interpreting the chaos in the maddening kerfuffle. On top of that, several of the buses had two stops, one for the airport, one for city centre. Add that to the confusion, and it just became laughable to many of us. In all the confusion, I met a couple from Vancouver sorting out the same mess. They were super friendly, and we ended up incidentally booking seats together.
The ride was quick, and in under 2 hours, we had arrived. Right away, I fell in love with the city! It became one of the better walking cities I've ever experienced! They had wonderful gardens to commute through, clean harbours with shopping, and mountains with views….what more could one ask for.
|The cathedral was 1 minute from my apartment|
|The harbour walk…great vibe|
|More of the harbour walk|
I ended the day with some good seafood tapas (and of course some wine) calling it a night at 9:30. Tomorrow would be a rare brain-dead beach day!
|The food market|
|Only 1.5 Euros haha|
|These seagulls refused to move!|
|Just another vista enjoyed in Spain|
|A few tapas to cap the night off|
Woke up at 8:30 after a long night of dogs barking and neighbours coming and going till the wee hours. I turned the TV on to the music station, and immediately heard the song I've heard four times since being in Spain…Jon Secada's "Just another day"….going strong for over 20 years here haha.
|My jog near the harbour|
As expected, the beach was exactly what I needed. The water was a perfect temperature, and the 3 Euro beach mojito was a nice added touch from the shady looking man lol.
|Much better then expected|
|My bike ride nearing playa Victoria|
|The nights are always alive|
|Common practice…meat cut right off the leg and served immediately|
I had some time to burn before my 11am train to Madrid, and seeing I enjoyed Malaga so much, I decided to have a traditional breakfast in the sun before boarding. I ordered the churros which is apparently a simply prepared healthy (so they say) morning snack with few ingredients, BUT, what I was not aware of was the large cup of chocolate that came with it. Wha?? I dipped my churros feeling guilty of the dessert like meal I ended up enjoying. When I finished, the waiter was shocked I didn't finish the cup. What! Are you kidding me? I looked to my right, and saw my neighbours downing their entire cup of chocolate, and too the left saw 2 enjoying a mug of beer. Seriously…how are you guys so skinny over here!?
|Spanish breakfast…churros. The cup on the left is full of Chocolate!|
The bullet train was quite enjoyable, and after a quick 3 hours to Madrid, followed by a 15-minute walk, I made it to my quaint historic 3rd floor B&B. Today was my only real day to tour Madrid, so I made the most of it and headed straight out.
|Lots of palaces and museums here|
|On my way back to the B&B|
|What can I say…I like fountains, and Madrid has tons!|
|The shopping streets here are pretty amazing…good thing I wasn't with a shopper lol|
|My room for 2 nights|
I took a quick nap to give my sore feet a break from all the walking I’ve been doing, but couldn’t waste time during this portion of my trip. I needed to utilize my time and see and do as much as possible. I headed straight back out to the famous food market near plaza Mayor and decided to make this my splurge night. I enjoyed several wonderful tapas and several beers. I met a nice couple from South Africa, and a couple from the Netherlands, but it started getting late (12am), and I had an early day in Toledo, so I needed to cap myself off.
Problem was…I was a bit drunk, and didn’t remember the streets. Not only that, I had no map, and was fully turned around. It took me over an hour to get back to the B&B!!..... it should of only taken 10 minutes!
Mental note: Don’t venture out for drinks without a solid understanding of your location lol.
|The baked clam was amazing|
|This was a real hoping place…though I did feel a bit underdressed|
|A type of fish, a speciality here. Looks really gross, but not half bad|
|Each one of those suckers cost 14 Euros!|
|Lots of people ordered this octopus plate…too big for just me:(|
I delayed my Toledo train today for a few hours allowing me to enjoy the breakfast at my accommodations. The host was very friendly, and the 7 guests at the table with me were great companions. After a few laughs over Trump (the American guests), and capital gain structures in New Zealand (Ausie and Kiwi guests), I headed off to Toledo, only a 30 minute train ride away.
|My train to and from Toledo|
The plan was to walk everything, and then conclude the day by walking the entire perimeter to witness the best vantage points. The info booth lady thought I was crazy, but it was only an extra 5km I remembered thinking!
|Good start to the walk!|
|Entire town built on a hill, surrounded by a river|
I walked up the progressively inclined road for what seemed like ages (in the blazing sun) until I ran out of sidewalk. I thought it was odd to have no where to walk, but decided to continue on…………………………until I reassessed after 4km. Something was not right. I couldn’t see the town anymore, and the numbers were not adding up. I had to make the hard choice to jog back down the hill to see where I went wrong. Well f&^k, I somehow missed a turn. One of the few times I was glad to be traveling alone, I would of really heard it from my partner I'm sure of it haha. Nothing like a 8km mistake:)
I found the hallowed sidewalk, which led me directly to the embarrassingly easy located viewpoint. I was a sweaty mess at this point, and was happy to be finished the day 2 hours early. Thankfully I was able to change my 7pm train to 3:30, allowing me to enjoy a bit more of Madrid.
|Finally arrived to my view point|
|Yeah, I was a bit tired at this point|
|Pretty cool town|
|Almost back to the train station|
A quick shower followed by a 20 minute rest, I was ready to tackle a few more sites in Madrid. I took advantage of the 2 free hours offered, (between 6-8pm) in the Prado Museum (the top attraction in the entire city). I felt guilty I couldn’t appreciate the art as much as most presently were, but I guess when it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing!
I finished the night off with my last sangria of the trip, paired with 2 tapas, and called it a night.
Spain was a surprise for me. Lots of tourists everywhere, but everything seemed clean and organized. Locals took pride in their appearance, and refinement was quite evident. Food and socializing was the focal point of everything, and I was a bit jealous we didn’t have that here in Canada. I do feel Spain would be up near the top of my list if I was able to share with a significant other, but I was able to make due, and enjoyed my time in such a historic colorful country.
Day 10 was just a very long flight back to Canada…with extreme jet lag. I had a 8 hr work shift the following morning…yikes!