Category Archives: Travel

Semana Santa in Andalucía

Let’s cast our minds all the way back to April and Semana Santa (Holy Week). You may already be familiar with the famous processions that are held in Spain during Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. In Andalucía, they typically feature huge, heavy floats supported by lots of strong men and a lot of people wearing pointy hoods reminiscent of a certain American clan.

Semana Santa
To witness these processions first-hand (the tradition doesn’t really exist as far north as Oviedo) I used my lovely ten days of holidays from school to travel to Málaga, Granada and Córdoba in Andalucía.

An excruciatingly long overnight bus trip (including a stopover in the early hours of the morning in Madrid bus station) and I made it to Málaga. The weather was warm, the sun was shining and I was exhausted. Málaga turned out to be a great spot to relax for the first few days of my holidays. I did a little touristy sight-seeing, a lot of old, tiny street wandering (I could never, ever find my hostel), sat in the sun at the beach, spotted a few processions and joined the crowds to watch, and then ate ice cream. It was so good to see the sun for the first time in months. Sadly, most of the rest of my trip to Andalucía was shrouded in cloud and drizzle as the good weather didn’t hold out.

After a few nights, I hopped on another bus to Granada. Granada turned out to be the absolute highlight of my trip, not just because of the Alhambra (which needs a whole post of its own), but because the whole city is utterly gorgeous. I had a fabulous time there, in spite of a very, very early start one morning to buy tickets to the Alhambra (book in advance! Especially if you are visiting at one of the peak holiday times!) and a subsequent cold from sitting around in the cold and wet at 7 am. I spotted a few more processions, had my palm force-read by a gypsy, went on an excellent walking tour of the city and bought handmade dulces from a convent.
A sneak peek photo from the Alhambra for you.

My last stop, and sadly only for one night, was Córdoba. I visited the famous Mezquita cathedral-turned-mosque-turned-cathedral and the magnificent gardens of the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, the castle/fortress of the Christian Monarchs, ie King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who reconquered Spain from the Moors in the late 15th century.

The trip back to Oviedo was another long, overnight bus ride. I arrived home at 6 am on Saturday morning and spent the rest of the Easter weekend sleeping off my cold. I couldn’t say it was a relaxing Easter break but, in light of the things I saw and did, totally worth it. It was a bit of a different Easter, but certainly refreshing to see barely any Easter eggs (unlike the way they seem to pop up in supermarkets in Australia the day after Christmas) but to see a religious focus instead, albeit a very Catholic one with all those floats of the Virgin Mary.

If you fancy it there are photos from Málaga and Córdoba over on Flickr.

TTFN.

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An update from the road.

I am writing this post for you all from Heidelberg, Germany, 35 days in to our wonderful travels. The number of stories and photos I have to share is incredible so for now I will just give you a brief list of some of the amazing things we have already seen and done.

1. We spent a fantastic week in London and barely scratched the surface of things we wanted to do.

2. While in London, we met two of our favourite actors, David Tennant and Catherine Tate, and had our photos taken with them!!

3. I pretended I was in a Jane Austen novel in Bath, and even drank the nasty spa water.

4. Although boating on Loch Ness didn’t bring any Nessie sightings, we did take in the peace and tranquility of all that water.

5. After years of seeing photos and videos sent by our friends in the Lake District, we finally made it there and even climbed a small hill: Rannerdale Knots.

6. We rode on the Eurostar Chunnel train and barely even noticed the time we were underwater.

7. Sat in front of the Sacre-Coeur looking out over Paris while eating a fresh baguette and camembert cheese for lunch.

8. We dined on fabulous French food in a restaurant in Lyon.

9. We biked through some beautiful parks on a wonderful sunny Sunday in Strasbourg.

10. Perhaps we have already consumed more ice-creams than is decent, including my all-time favourite here in Heidelberg.

So far we have taken two buses, eleven trains (not including changes for the same trip) and stayed in thirteen different accommodations, including the very memorable Inglis International Hotel just outside the Lakes. I have updated the map (the link to which you’ll find on the right-hand side of the page) with our full itinerary so far.

With one month already gone the time is passing far too quickly but we are squeezing in as much as we can. Hopefully I’ll be able to tease you all with some of my photos soon!

TTFN.

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[Catching Up] Madrid: Day Three

(I can’t believe I’m still writing about April…)
On my last day in Madrid I was all by myself (my amiga was on the plane to Barcelona) and had a lot of activities to fit in.

I started early and headed to the Museo de la Reina Sofia for the Sunday morning free entry. The Reina Sofia is a gallery of modern art and its most famous piece is Picasso’s Guernica, his large, black and white, cubist depiction of the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. It is a very striking piece, taking up almost a whole wall. Even in the cubist style (which I confess I don’t really ‘get’) the anguish and pain on the faces is very real and very scary.

My next stop was the Museo de Sorolla, a gallery of paintings by Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla. As it was a nice day and because I am pig-headed, I decided I could walk there and save myself the Metro fare. The gallery is in the painter’s house, which he designed in an Andalusian-style with a lovely patio garden. The artworks are displayed inside the house, including in his studio. I love his wonderfully bright and light paintings and highly recommend that everyone checks them out.

By this point my art quota had been well and truly met for the weekend so I skipped the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, the third major gallery in the capital (behind the Prado and Reina Sofia). Instead I went to the Parque del Retiro, a great big open park with plenty of grass, trees and even a pond for boating. I ate an ice cream and soaked up the sun.

Lollipop trees


Boating

One smooth train ride that evening and I was back in Oviedo, in the rain.

TTFN.

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[Catching Up] Sunny Saturday in Segovia.

On Saturday of my weekend in Madrid we took a day-trip out to Segovia, a little town about 90 kilometres away from Madrid. After Renfe, the national Spanish train company, made things slightly difficult, we ended up on the slow, but cheap, train to Segovia. The weather was marvellous, a perfectly clear sky with lots of warm sunshine, both things I have come to appreciate so very much living in rainy Asturias.

Walking in to the old town from the train station the first spot we came across was the Aqueduct that originally dates from Roman times. Even taking into account the fact that it has been rebuilt and restored a number of times, it is very impressive. It has beautiful, even arches, lovely stone work and a Virgin hiding away in a little niche. With clear, blue sky behind it, it could not fail to be very picturesque.

We found the best way to see the town was to cut a path from the Aqueduct on one side, through the tiny, cobbled streets and the Catedral de Santa María in the middle, out to the Alcázar (fortress) on the other side of the old town. This took us to the three main attractions and we got a lovely walk in between. So from the Aqueduct we took some back streets and meandered down to the Plaza Mayor, which is somewhat overshadowed by Segovia’s Cathedral.

The Cathedral boasts the usual plethora of side chapels and ornate choir stalls but it also has some great artworks. After the bright sunshine it was a little chilly though!

From the Cathedral we really only had to keep following one street to wind up at the Alcázar. We decided to skip the Artillery Museum inside but I did buy a ticket to climb the Torre de Juan II (one of the fortress’s towers), laughing at the warning that the 152 step staircase was “not for unhealthy people”. Turns out the spiral staircase is more unsuitable for claustrophobic people or anyone bigger than about a size 12. It was a tight squeeze! Especially with people walking both up and down and trying to pass each other. However the views from the top, looking back towards the Cathedral towering over the old town and the snow-capped mountains in the background, were magnificent and worth the effort.

One delicious lunch later and we were back on the train to Madrid. One siesta later and we were heading out to dinner and our last night together before my lovely friend headed off to Barcelona the next morning. We ate in the Plaza Mayor, which turned out to be much more touristy in the evening but beautiful all the same. A chocolate con churros each later and we were very ready to sleep! The next day was to be my last in Madrid and I still had plenty left to see!

TTFN.

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[Catching Up] Madrid: Day One

I finally made the trip to Spain’s capital back in early April when I made plans to meet a friend visiting from Australia for the weekend. I took the train from Oviedo on Thursday evening, and it turned out to be a very comfortable, pleasant journey of approximately 6 hours. I got to read, stretch out my legs in the tons of leg-room and watch first the mountains of Asturias and then the plains of Castilla y León pass by. My point here: trains are awesome! (My cross-country bus trips in Semana Santa really proved this too).

The next morning we started out with few fixed plans, just a generally idea of walking in a vague direction and seeing a few of the sights. We started out at the Plaza Mayor, which was lovely in the early morning without so many tourists and touts (except for Minnie Mouse who seemed to think we were famous because she kept wanting to have a photo with us…) We also headed out to the Palacio Real and climbed up the dome of the Catedral Almudena next to it for a lovely view over the city. All of this seemingly organised sightseeing was interspersed with copious amounts of aimless wandering but it was nice getting to see the city, something you miss out on if you just take the metro from your hostel to your chosen tourist attraction.

Plaza Mayor


View of the Palacio Real from the Catedral de la Almudena

After a yummy lunch involving delicious tortilla española and a good dose of caffeine, we spent a large part of the afternoon exploring the collection of the Museo del Prado. Madrid has three world-renowned museums, all located within the so-called ‘Golden Triangle’, a little corner of Madrid. The Prado is the most famous and houses European art spanning the 12th to 19th centuries. Famous Spanish artists such as Velázquez, Goya and El Greco have lots of paintings on display, as do Ruebens and Bosch. There are also a few paintings by my favourite Spanish artist Sorolla (but I got to see many, many more at the dedicated Museo de Sorolla later that weekend). The Prado is very big, not anything like the Louvre, but it would take you a long time to see everything properly.

An early evening siesta later and we headed out for more tasty tapas and Spanish wine. We had an early night though to get ready for our early train out to Segovia the next morning!

TTFN.

PS: No surprises, Mum picked all of the right royals from the last post. They were (in no particular order): Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh, Catherine and William the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Camilla Duchess of Cornwall, Charles Prince of Wales and Prince Henry who is more commonly known as Prince Harry!

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For my sister.

Las niñas en el mar by Joaquín Sorolla.

One of the best things I did in Madrid last weekend was visit the Museo de Sorolla. This painting struck a particular chord and so here it is for all of you to enjoy.

TTFN.

(source)

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Barcelona: Day Three

Ok, so here we go with the highlights from my last day in Barcelona!

Day three started with saying goodbye and bon voyage to my new friends who were flying back to their university in Versailles (I was very jealous at the time and wished I were flying back to Paris instead of Oviedo..). I wandered aimlessly out of the hostel with two rough ideas of how to spend my day: I wanted to go to the beach area and I wanted to go up the hill to Montjuïc. I still hadn’t decided which to do first as I left the hostel but when I reached the metro stop for the Montjuïc funicular I finally made my decision and kept on strolling down to the beach. It turned out to be quite a walk but the weather was okay and when I finally did make it I bumped into my room-mates! We passed some time very pleasantly enjoying the view of the sea and a few snatches of beautiful warm sunshine before the thunderclouds started to roll overhead (they kept rolling and it turned into a beautiful afternoon). I imagine that the beach would be great in summer, it is a nice long sandy stretch and Barcelona does get quite hot in summer I’m told.

La barceloneta - The beach in Barcelona


Pebbles on the beach


Around the middle of the day we said goodbye again and I made my way up to Montjuïc. Montjuïc is home to an old castle, a bunch of museums and gardens and the 1992 Barcelona Olympics venues. It’s only a short funicular ride up the hill (for the price of a regular metro ticket) and you don’t really realise how far and how high it is until you get up there. I didn’t stop at any of the museums although there are quite a few with both art and ethnographic exhibits. Instead I wandered around some beautiful open garden spaces and looked out at the great view over the city. I also tried to visit the old castle right at the top of the hill but I think that, in spite of the signs pointing you in the direction of the castle from the funicular stop, it is only accessible by the cable car or by driving. I made it as far as some car parks up the pretty steep hill and then the trail sort of disappeared. So I left it at that!

Barcelona is big


Looking down from a garden to the museum of Catalan Art


Spring is coming!!

It was an early night back at the hostel that evening and I had the whole dorm to myself! This was super helpful when I got up at 4.30am before my 7.20am flight, as it meant I could switch all the lights on and be as noisy as I liked! I made it back out to the airport easily enough, with no delays, and consequently had arrived at my terminal and passed through security before the gate number for my flight had even been released. Once back in Asturias I caught the bus back to Oviedo, walked home to dump my backpack (where I also discovered a lovely parcel from home had arrived for me) before making it to school for an 11.25am start. It was an extremely long day!

As always, more photos to come on Flickr, especially some yummy photos I took at the Mercat La Boquería over the three days I visited. Stay tuned for a new Wordy Wednesday post tomorrow!

TTFN.

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