Europe Spain

Sevilla: The Birthplace of Flamenco

After Gibraltar, we drove to Sevilla.  We climbed up to the top of the Mirador, that looks like a mushroom, which was quite hot in the afternoon but had pretty great views of the city.  We wandered around a little that evening, taking in the area around our hotel, and then had the main tour the next day.  It started at Plaza de España, which was gorgeous.  Then we headed to the Alcazar, which had similar tiling as the Alhambra, and walked around the city center a bit.  Sevilla is a beautiful city, the architecture was very ornate.

The best part of our time there, however, was the flamenco show!  The footwork reminded me a lot of tap, and it was pretty impressive.  The woman who did the choreography was apparently 70 years old.  They performed an excerpt from Carmen, had live music, and did various solo and couples dances with castanets.  Having once danced to the music of Carmen, it was nice to hear music I recognized.  I love watching people dance, and it was awesome to see the regional style!

Our next morning was spent in Cordoba, where we went to a mosque that had been turned into a church.  It had beautiful ceilings, and row after row of columns with red-striped arches.  It still amazes me how the different religious practices seem to coexist so easily in Spain.

Our final night was in Madrid again, after coming full circle.  The trip was a whirlwind!  I had a great time, and although there are a few cities I would visit again, I feel as though I have a good sense of Spain and I’ve seen many of their famous monuments and artwork.

I’ve finished blogging about this trip just in time, because I leave for France in 5.5 hours!  I have a flight into Paris, a train ride to Strasbourg, and then I’ll have to find my Airbnb place from the train station.  I’ll keep you updated on how that goes.


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Gibraltar: Light-Up Caves and Monkeys on Cars

Located at the southern tip of Spain, Gibraltar is technically an overseas territory of the United Kingdom.  We stopped by for the morning after leaving Costa del Sol, and it was pretty awesome.  We went on a bus tour with our slightly crazy but very entertaining driver, and he brought us all around the island.  We stopped at a lighthouse at the southern part of the rock, where he told us about a mosque funded by Saudi Arabia and explained that if we looked over the Strait of Gibraltar we could see Africa.

From there we went to the top of the rock and checked out St. Michael’s Cave, which was a performance venue.  I bet it would be amazing to see a concert in there!  Although I’ve been in a lot of caves, the lighting in this one was the coolest I’ve ever seen.  They had a bunch of changing colored lights in the space, which emphasized all of the cave features.

Outside of the cave, we saw the famous colony of apes.  There were signs everywhere saying not to feed them and talking about how they may bite.  But what surprised me was how close they would get to people.  Some of them seemed to pose as the tourists took pictures, and we even watched one climb onto a moving car.  They were very cute!

Overall, a pretty fantastic day trip.  Totally different from anything else we saw in Spain, and if you’re in the area, you should definitely check it out!

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Costa Del Sol: Beaches, Burros, and Bartering

We stayed in Torremolinos while we were there, and our hotel was beachfront and beautiful.  Our first afternoon we went to Mijas, which was a cute little whitewashed village, and we got to spend a couple hours looking around.  They have “burro taxis” there too, with little license plates.  When we got back to Torremolinos, we went to dinner at a beachfront restaurant and they made me a vegetable paella, which was very good.  I’ve discovered I like the taste of saffron, which is unfortunate since it’s typically very expensive!  We also had freshly squeezed orange juice on the beach, which was amazing.  After dinner my mom and I headed up to a shop where we’d seen a souvenir she wanted.  We also ended up bartering with a different shopkeeper for a leather bag, which was fun.  He spoke a little French with me, and the price went down from 45 euros to 32 euros so I felt accomplished!

The next morning we went out to Malaga, and saw Roman ruins, checked out souvenir shops, and tried some sangria.  We got back in Torremolinos around noon, which left us the rest of the day to have lunch and go to the beach!

We went to lunch at a really good pizza place, where I got in an argument with the management over the fact that they charged us for bread.  Because, seriously, you can’t bring us something we didn’t order, not tell us it costs money, mislabel it on the menu, and then expect us to pay 1.50 euro per person for it.  They took it off our bill.

The beach was incredibly relaxing.  I found some seashells and sea glass, fell asleep on the beach, got a sunburn on my legs, went up to people from Norway to ask which Scandinavian country they were from because their language sounded like Danish, and saw my first live jellyfish, a little neon purple one floating about six inches from my leg.  And for dinner, we got ice cream at this tiny place on the boardwalk, which was some of the best I’ve ever had.  They had all these amazing flavors, like Twix and a gingerbread cookie kind and donut flavor, which tasted like cake and was delicious.  So, all in all, a pretty great day, and a much needed break in the craziness of constant city tours.


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Valencia, Granada, and Sweating to Death at the Alhambra

After Barcelona, we headed to Valencia!  It was a long day on the bus, although the drive along the coast was very picturesque.  When we arrived, we did a city tour.  First we went to the modern section, which featured stark white buildings in creative shapes, like a couple that looked like fish or boats.  It was pretty interesting, very unlike anything I’ve seen in the US.  Which might be because our architects aren’t that creative and would rather just make another rectangular prism when they design buildings.  After wandering around the gardens in the modern section for a while, we headed into the older city center.  Our tour guide took us to an ice cream place and had everyone try the horchata flavor, which is a taste that is specific to the region of Valencia and is made of tigernuts.  I thought it was alright, although some people in our group described it as a bit chalky.  From there we walked around, went in a couple churches, and got a sense of the city.  I would have liked to spend a little more time in Valencia, because I liked what I saw while we were there.

The next day, we got up early to go to Granada. Our afternoon was spent at the Alhambra.  We had the bad fortune to have our visit on a particularly hot day, so it was a little miserable.  We kept dipping our hands in fountains along the way to try to stay cool, which didn’t really work.  Despite all of that, the palace was awesome.  All of the details were stunning, with tiles and intricate designs covering the walls.  The only ugly parts were the ones that Christian monarchs had added years later in an attempt to make the palace theirs, like these awkward ceilings with their crests on them.  Overall, pretty magnificent, and I’m impressed that humanity managed to accomplish anything before we invented air conditioning.

The morning after, most people went on the optional tour to a cathedral.  We decided we didn’t need to see more cathedrals, so we headed into town and checked out the shops.  I tried to buy a dress, except it turned out it wasn’t a dress and so I had to return it and the street vendor was very unhappy.  It was an awkward encounter.  After one more stop at a bakery, we went back to the hotel and met the rest of our group, so that we could get on the bus and head down to Costa del Sol.

Until next time!

Europe Spain

Barcelona: Las Ramblas, Sangria by the Beach, and Taking Grandma to Pride (Accidentally)

We spent about a day and a half here.  When we first arrived, we did a tour where we got to see the oceanfront area as well as La Ramblas, which is a pretty tree-lined open air market.  Unfortunately our guide walked us through that area at the speed of light, but I still managed to snag an image of Barcelona to join the European art collection for when I have a real place.  We also went to La Boqueria, a food market, which was also pretty cool.

Then after dinner we took advantage of our hotel’s great location to go see the fountains across the street at Plaça de España.  The fountains were awesome, they had colors and movement to go along with modern music- I had been expecting classical music, so I was a little surprised when they started playing Top 40 hits.

As it so happened, the weekend we were in Barcelona happened to coincide with Pride.  So the entire street up to the fountains was blocked off and there were rainbow flags everywhere.  We walked by the whole festival and watched some of the dance acts on the stage.  The whole experience was… very enlightening for my grandma, especially after we informed her that the performers in dresses were actually men.

The next morning we went on another tour, where we saw the Sagrada Familia church.  It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before, and I wish I knew what all the intricacies meant because it seemed like there was meaning and thought behind every detail.  We also went through the Gothic quarter, and we took a drive near the Olympic buildings and up to the top of a hill with a lookout point where you could see the whole city.  At the lookout point, instead of sidewalks or normal cobblestones they used recycled materials like gears and old wine bottles mixed in with the stones, and the effect was very cool.

Our afternoon was free, because most of the people on our group were off at a monastery.  So we chose to hit the beach, where I got to dunk my feet in the Mediterranean for the first time.  We walked all the way across, and then we ate a cute little Italian place on the beachfront.  It was a perfect day, with a nice breeze and we ate outside under the umbrellas.  After how busy the previous days had been, it was nice to have an afternoon that was not planned out and scheduled.

Hasta mañana!

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Modern Art and The Running of the Bulls, Except Without the Bulls

After we left Vitoria, we headed to Bilbao, where we saw the Guggenheim Museum!  Architecturally, it was amazing, with all these curved walls.  I’ve only been to one modern art museum before, which was ARoS in Denmark, and for me, modern art is very hit or miss.  I tend to look at it as an experience, rather than “art” in the traditional sense.  And I totally didn’t get some of the exhibits, like the umbrellas in the lobby, but other ones were really cool.  They have this giant flowered dog in the front of the museum, and there was another piece by the guy who did the Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park, and a creepy spider that was supposed to represent the artist’s relationship with her mother (….yikes).  The most interesting for me was a series of statues that looked like inflatable pool toys, like the animal kind that kids can sit on.  They looked exactly like inflatables, but they were made of steel.  It was bizarre.  I had the feeling if I could reach out and touch them that there would be give.  In the ehh side of the exhibit, the part that made me shocked that someone got paid to do it, there was a series with old vacuum cleaners in glass cases with bright lights.  Don’t ask me what that one represents.

After we left the Guggenheim, we went to San Sebastian, which was beautiful.  It’s shaped like a big horseshoe so there was plenty of beach space.  We walked around the area with shops and restaurants and got some ice cream.  I got to practice a little French with some tourists who wanted me to take their picture, and then we went on to the beach and walked along that.  It was lovely.  It was also my first introduction to topless beaches.  Which is a trend that I am very glad has not spread to America.  Not that I’m a prude, but I really don’t want to see certain people topless.

From there we ended the day in the Pamplona, where we got to walk along the path where they do the running of the bulls.  They were setting up the fencing for it while we were there, actually.  Our guide told us all about bullfights, which I don’t support, but I have seen the running of the bulls on TV so it was pretty cool to actually be where that takes place.

The next day, we left for Barcelona, and we had a stop at Saragossa at a very pretty church where supposedly the Virgin Mary appeared to someone.  After a short tour of the church, we headed off to a café again and enjoyed another relaxed morning.

Photos of Barcelona to come later~ Adios!

Europe Spain

That Time I Got Locked In A Bathroom At A Winery

After Madrid we headed up to Basque country!

Our first stop was in Segovia, where we saw a 2000-year-old Roman aqueduct.  It’s pretty unreal to go anywhere with history from that long ago, considering the U.S. is such a new country.  We had some free time there, and enjoyed some hot chocolate outside of one of the cafés.  A very relaxing morning, which was followed by a wine tasting.  Which, you know, should have been relaxing….

Except.  I kind of got locked in the bathroom.  There was a sign on it in Spanish, but it didn’t look terribly urgent or important, kind of like an announcement that they wanted to use less paper towels or a reminder not to throw your trash in the toilet.  And someone else had gotten out (escaped?) before me, and just said the lock was a bit difficult.  So I thought, ok, that’s fine, I can handle that.  Ha.  Not quite.  The lock would not turn, and even after it did, the door would not open.  And of course, there was no space between the door and the floor, so I couldn’t get out that way either.  My mom and grandma are trying to help from the outside, and I’m considering the merits of using the sink to vault myself over the top of the stall door, and our tour director is yelling at the people at the winery to fix it…. and finally they brought this guy in, and he did something to the door and it opened.

It was a bit traumatizing.

So after that we got to tour the winery, which was cool because they took us through the entire process and we got to see all their machinery and the bottles of wine that hadn’t been labeled yet.  And then they gave us cheese and crackers and wine, which was quite good.  It was Bodega Portia, at Ribera del Duero, in case you were wondering.

We went to Burgos next, to see the Cathedral of Santa Maria.  It’s this stunning and enormous Gothic cathedral.  A lot of our group went inside during our free time, but we headed to a local restaurant and ordered some sangria.  We appreciated the church from the outside instead.

After a little more driving, we finally arrived at our final destination, which was Vitoria.  It was cute, a little more modern-looking.  We walked around and checked out the main square.  After dinner, we headed back to the city center with a couple other people we had met through our tour group, Destinee and Astrid.  Destinee had heard of some sort of alcohol that was supposed to be regional in the north, and wanted to try it.  Well, first of all, there were no Spaniards out, so we went in a bar and were basically the only people in there.  We should have been prepared for the taste, because the bartender laughed when we ordered it…. I believe Astrid described it as cough syrup.  But we ordered a couple other (better tasting) drinks and hung out for a bit, talking to the bartender with our (very limited) Spanish and his (also fairly limited) English.  It was a lot of fun, although we were still a little baffled at how empty the streets were considering we didn’t go out that late.

We had one more day in Basque country, but that will have to be a separate post as we went to three more cities and I took a lot more pictures!


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Toledo: A Step Back in Time

If I had to pick my one favorite place I visited in Spain, I would say Toledo.  When we took the bus there, we stopped at a lookout point where we could see the whole city, and I loved it after one look.  We took an escalator up to the top and then worked our way back down as part of the tour.  It was an afternoon day trip, so we started out with lunch, and then headed over to the Church of Santo Tome and a synagogue.  This was only the second synagogue I’ve seen, the other was in Poland.  But the thing about many of the religious buildings we’ve seen in Spain: they have influences from multiple religions in the same building.  So the synagogue had Islamic architecture, and later in the trip we saw mosques transformed into churches and Christian elements added to Islamic palaces.  Which is pretty cool in my opinion.

We also did a little shopping.  I added to my art collection and Mom and I found my graduation gift, a Lladro (which is a type of Spanish porcelain figurine and a bit of a tradition for college graduation in my family).  After we were done there, the whole tour group met up again and we went to a Damascene steel workshop, which is very intricate metal work that I saw a lot in Spain.  It’s absolutely beautiful, and the highest quality pieces are hand-made, which we saw people working on while we were there.

And that concludes the second half of day two of our tour!  Adios for now.

Europe Spain

Madrid: Architecture and Churros

Hello again to those of you who follow me!  After the last six months at school with no European vacations, I’m back to traveling for the summer, which means frequent updates again.  I just returned from two weeks in Spain with my mom and grandma, where we did a tour through Globus.  I have a week here in the US before I leave again for France.

So we flew into Madrid and spent two days there.  After a very long day of flying from Denver to Washington DC to Madrid, the three of us were pretty tired so we had a relaxed day.  We walked to the Mercado de San Miguel and looked at all the different types of food, went through Plaza Mayor, and then got chocolate with churros at the Chocolateria San Giles, which was recommended by my friend Kaitlyn as the best place to get churros in all of Spain.  I haven’t tried every place in Spain, but they were truly incredible.  Later, after a short nap, we headed off to dinner where we met the other 27 people that would be on our tour.

The next morning, we had a short bus tour of Madrid, with stops by Puerta del Sol, Plaza de España with the Cervantes monument, and the Parliament building.  After that we headed to the Prado museum and had a tour of the artwork, which, admittedly, was not artwork that I knew much about.  We focused a lot on Goya, and in particular I thought the Black Paintings he made at the end of his life were the most interesting because they were so different from any paintings I’ve seen before.

That afternoon, we headed to Toledo!  But that’s going to be in a separate post.

We got dinner in Plaza de Santa Ana, which was lovely and had lots of outdoor tables.  We ordered some delicious sangria and were happily enjoying our dinner under the umbrellas when it started pouring rain, so we had to move inside.  But rain aside, sitting in beautiful warm weather under an umbrella with sangria is something I could get behind.

Some first impressions from Spain:

1. Immediately I could feel the difference in lifestyle pace.  Having traveled primarily in northern Europe before this, there wasn’t that same culture of eating outdoors, and closing shops for a few hours in the afternoon.  I’m not sure if I would want to be there when I had deadlines and work to accomplish, but it was an ideal feeling for vacation.

2. Thankfully my mom and grandma had taken Spanish before, because we had some language barrier struggles throughout the trip and starting the first day.  Unlike when I lived in Denmark, I could not walk up to anyone and assume that they would understand me if I asked a question in English, and my Spanish abilities are about 20 words, half of which are literally counting to ten.  More stories about this to come.

Adios for now!