Tag Archives: Travel journal

[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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[Catching Up] A home-cooked lunch.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that grandmothers are in the business of feeding people. Spanish señoras seem to be particularly renowned for this habit. A few weeks ago my landlady took us to lunch at her mother’s house in her pueblo (village) called Salas. ‘Us’ is the three of us foreigners living in my landlady’s properties: myself, a girl from Guatemala and one from Mexico.

After the usual hair-raising drive we arrived in the little town of Salas on a fine, Spring day. We took a short stroll around the town before stopping at the bar for a quick drink in the sun while I tried my best to keep up with the conversation, and even – gulp – participate.

Tower from the old castillo in Salas

Just around the corner was our hostess’s house and we arrived to find red wine, ham, chorizo, cheese and croquetas (little deep fried balls of ham and cheese) ready and waiting. Then it was time for the first course: traditional Asturian fabada, a very rich bean stew with chunks of pork, chorizo and morcilla (Spanish blood sausage) mixed in, and fresh bread on the side. Second course: fried salted cod and salad with pork. Finally for dessert there was a huge dish of arroz con leche, literally rice with milk, essentially rice pudding. I cannot stress enough just how much food there was, nor how much of it was consumed! Our lovely hostess must have had leftovers for days.

Eventually we rolled from the table and back to car. On our way back to Oviedo we made a few stops in sweet little seaside towns, even getting out and stretching our legs in one: Cudillero. It was a gorgeous little town, on a hillside sloping right down into the sea, with the houses clinging to the land.

Houses in Cudillero


The seafront in Cudillero

It was a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday and a great experience to have of real Spanish home-cooking, which I can certainly attest, in this case at least, is very delicious.

TTFN.

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[Catching Up] Carnaval Take Two: Down comes the rain.

Nearly four days of almost total bed rest later I’m ready to start filling you all in on the last six weeks worth of adventures. Let’s go back to where I left off, Carnaval.

As you may remember, in Asturias there are two weekends for Carnaval, the last weekend before Lent and the real Carnaval, and the following weekend when Oviedo throws its own party.

By the second weekend of Carnaval I have to admit I just wasn’t feeling the motivation; the all-night dancing and freezing cold dawn Navia wanderings had taken their toll and I wasn’t feeling very well. So rather than hit up Carnaval with the other twentysomethings and repeat the partying and dress ups, I decided to enjoy the family-friendly version of Carnaval.

So I meandered down to the centre of Oviedo early in the evening to check out the parade of groups wearing fabulous, bright costumes. The parade finished at the Plaza de Alfonso II, otherwise called the Plaza de la Catedral, where there was a big stage set up for the costume competition, complete with D-grade local celebrities to judge (there was a female judge dressed up as a dominatrix I’m pretty sure, she was even prancing round with a riding crop… It was all kinds of weird). As the parade wound up the Plaza filled right up with people and the competition got under way. My personal favourite was the Oreo biscuits complete with box (typical of the sweet-tooth, right?).

However I didn’t ever find out if they won the group section as during that section the heavens opened. And properly opened. I have never seen such a large crowd dissipate so quickly! People were sheltering in doorways or under balconies from the heavy rain and rising puddles or braving it and getting drenched (that was me, I forgot my umbrella. Stupid, stupid thing to do; in Asturias you never ever leave the house without your umbrella!). Halfway home the thunder and lightning started and I experienced my first, albeit brief, Spanish thunderstorm.

All in all it was a fun evening, the effort that goes into the costumes is remarkable and the monetary value of the prizes likewise!

The Mythology Society even had a dragon


The Oreos


The Plaza de la Catedral starting to fill up

TTFN.

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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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Barcelona: Day Two.

On my second day in Barcelona, Saturday, I took myself on a little self-guided walking tour of L’Eixample to see as much Modernisme architecture as I could handle. Quite aside from the most famous buildings of this movement there are lots of other gorgeous, and arguably more subtle, examples of it spread throughout L’Eixample where locals pass them by without a second glance. In particular I fell in love with a still-operating pharmacy decked out in the full Art Nouveau style.
I continued my little tour by visiting, among other buildings, the garishly decorated Palau de la Música Catalana and the neo-Gothic castle-style Casa Terrados, more commonly known as La Casa de los Punxes, the House of Spikes. It has three different front doors, one for each of the family’s daughters (and to think my sister and I had to share!) and was apparently described as ‘a crime against the nation’ when it was first built. I am inclined to agree. (I will pop some photos of it on Flickr if you want to see it.)

The detail on the balcony at the Palau de Música Catalana

Then I slowly made my way back to Passeig de Gràcia to see the famous Casa Milà or La Pedrera and La Manzana de la Discordia (side note: I was so confused when I first heard that name as the only meaning for ‘manzana’ that I previously knew was ‘apple’ and ‘Apple of Discord’ didn’t seem to make much sense. I then learned that ‘manzana’ also means ‘block’ and the world made sense again.) Casa Milà is an apartment block designed by Gaudí with a wavy façade and some very intricate wrought iron balconies.

La Pedrera

It still houses one floor set up as a genuine 1920s Art Nouveau-Art Deco Spanish apartment. After a steep entrance fee and a few sets of steep stairs (I wasn’t going to wait for the lift like everyone else when there was a perfectly serviceable set of stairs. I underestimated how many flights up the apartment was.) I made it up to the apartment and really enjoyed the period furniture and décor and light and airy apartment. It had some great views over Passeig de Gràcia too. I think I could happily live there if anyone is offering. Then it was further onwards and upwards to the roof, which is spectacular. Bizarre but spectacular.The roof is all uneven with mini-flights of stairs or ramps leading you constantly up and down and it is covered by huge chimneys in strange block shapes. The view over Barcelona is great, as from just about everywhere you can see the Sagrada Familia sticking out because it is so huge.

On the rooftop

Back on street-level it was finally time for La Manzana de la Discordia. Well, discord is right! There is nothing harmonious about the three Modernista buildings almost next to each other. Gaudí’s Casa Batlló has great, vibrant colours and shapes; next to it is the right-angled, Moor-ish Casa Amatller by Josep Puig i Cadafalch; on the corner is the ornate, delicate Casa Lleó Morera by Lluis Doménech.


By this point I was pretty much Modernisme-d out. While I do like the Modernisme-Art Nouveau style I really feel I am an Art Deco girl at heart. I spent the rest of the day eating fruit from La Boquería and people watching again, this time in the Plaça Reial. Later, back at the hostel, I struck up a conversation with some of my lovely roomies and ended up with a great bunch of people to head out with for dinner and drinks. It was some very welcome English-speaking company! Still, it was relatively early to bed before my last day in Barcelona. How many things there were still left to do in the city!!

TTFN.

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Barcelona: Day One.

Roughly six weeks after arriving in Spain it was time for my first big, long weekend trip! I was extremely excited all Thursday at school and was counting down the seconds in my private classes that afternoon until I was free! My plane was delayed leaving Oviedo so I was a little later arriving in Barcelona than I expected and didn’t make it to my hostel until about 1am. The Metro had stopped running at midnight so after getting off the airport train shanks’ pony became my mode of transportation. A half hour walk in the rain later, I was glad I had packed lightly and well and truly ready for bed.

The next morning I had two motivations to be up early. Primarily because I was only in Barcelona for three days and had to make the most of each day, secondly because the free breakfast was only served till 10am! So, fed and watered, I was on the road by 9.30am. I started at La Rambla, probably the most famous street in all of Spain. I am at a complete loss to explain why, but there it is. I still can’t explain why a street should be a constantly busy tourist attraction just because it is a constantly busy tourist attraction, seems rather circular to me, but that appears to be the main reason. There are tourists wandering around, being hustled by people trying to sell them junk, food stands, Starbucks, Burger King and McDonald’s, and more tourists.

La Rambla


I located the Mercat La Boquería, which is what I was searching for, and made plans to come back at lunchtime. The market ended up being one of my favourite things about the city.

After my disappointment about La Rambla, I jumped on the Metro and headed to the most famous landmark in the whole city: Antoní Gaudí’s Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família. I remain undecided about whether I liked it or not.

The Nativity Façade

It certainly is the most unique church I have ever seen but I can’t quite work out if I liked it or not. I spent a good while snapping photos of the outside but I still felt considerably underwhelmed by it. That combined with the long queue and expensive ticket price to get in made me decide against checking out the inside. (I slightly regret this now, as I hear it is much more stunning inside, but at least I know one thing I’ll have to do when I go back to Barcelona one day!) One thing that is really striking about La Sagrada Familia is its size. It is really huge, and with all the cranes and scaffolding it looks even larger. No wonder it still isn’t finished, even though they have downsized it from Gaudí’s original designs!

The Passion Façade

The entire southern façade of the church is still covered with scaffolding but will apparently be the most stunning of them all and show Jesus’ ascension into Heaven.

(One interesting thing that really irked me while I was in Barcelona was the number of postcards of the Sagrada Familia where the cranes and scaffolding have been digitally erased. That’s not real! Nor is it a souvenir of what I have actually seen!)

I decided to stick with the Gaudí theme and caught the Metro and then climbed up an incredibly, vertigo-inducingly steep hill (fortunately there are escalators to help you along!) to reach Parc Güell. I loved it. It is a beautiful open space, something that is always welcome in a city the size of Barcelona, and it is dotted with some amazing buildings. But the mosaics! Oh, they are just beautiful, all around the edges of the terrace. I took almost as many photos of the tiles as I did of the rest of the park put together.

The edges of the terrace area

The views from there were also quite stunning so space to check out the views and the tiles was certainly at a premium!

I wandered around the park for a good few hours, enjoying the marvellous sunshine and almost warm weather. There are a lot of paths you can follow and lots of good hill-walking to be had if you’re looking for exercise while in Barcelona. It appeared to be a popular spot for a particular group of masochists of that kind known as joggers.

Looking over the main entrance to the park from the terrace

I spent my late afternoon (after I succumbed to hunger and dragged myself away from Parc Güell) and evening grabbing some fruit salad for lunch from La Boquería and eating it and enjoying some serious people-watching on La Rambla. I also stocked up on some provisions, cooked dinner and enjoyed the free internet at the hostel that night before turning in early.

Loads more photos will be up on my photostream too, including a bunch of photos of those gorgeous tiles!! And some more interesting ones for everyone else not quite as enamoured with Gaudí mosaics as I!

TTFN.

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In the heart of Spain.

A few weekends ago I decided to take a day trip out to Cangas de Onís and Covadonga. One of the great things about living in, and travelling around, the Principality of Asturias is its size. To travel on the bus from Oviedo, in the centre of the region, to Cangas de Onís in the far east, only takes about an hour and a half along the smooth Autovía del cantábrico (Cantabric Highway) that links the northern autonomous communities.

You may be wondering why I have described this trip as going to the heart of Spain. You are probably thinking that Madrid, the capital and geographically situated in the centre of Spain is the country’s heart. However in reality, the Spain as we know it now stems from Asturias, and more specifically from Covadonga. As you may, or may not, know, much of Spain was Moorish territory from the 8th to 15th centuries. Asturias, however, is a region that was never occupied (the traditional dialect here, the architecture and even the food, consequently, have far fewer Arabic influences than the more southern regions). And Covadonga is the site of a famous defeat of the Moors in a battle in 722 (although these details are not exactly concrete) and became known as the home of the beginnings of La Reconquista (the Reconquest), which was finally successful in 1492 when the Moors were defeated in Granada. The first King of Asturias, Don Pelayo, led the battle from here is still revered in this part of Spain. Cangas de Onís was the capital of the Kingdom of Asturias in the first half of the 8th century, until it moved to Oviedo. (Following the expansion of Spain during the Reconquest, Asturias was downgraded to a Principality after the capital moved to León and the Madrid. The eldest child of the monarch is the Prince or Princess of Asturias, essentially in the same way the British royal family have the Prince of Wales.)

When I arrived in Cangas de Onís I was feeling pretty lucky to live in such a “paraíso natural” (natural paradise) as the Asturian tourism campaigns describe it. You can tell you are entering the region of the Picos de Europa as the town is surrounded by some pretty specky mountains. It was a pleasant place to wander around for the morning, it was a beautiful fine day. The town has some gorgeous architecture but my favourite was the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge). The bridge is not actually a Roman-built bridge, but apparently it stands where a Roman bridge would once have stood.

El Puente Romano - Cangas de Onís

Hanging from the middle there is a large Cruz de la Victoria (Victory Cross), the symbol of Asturias that features on the Principality’s flag.

La Cruz de la Victoria

After my morning strolling around, enjoying the sunshine, I took the 20 minute bus ride up to Covadonga, located just inside the Parque Nacional de Picos de Europa (Picos de Europa National Park). After the slightly scary hairpin turns, I arrived at the breathtakingly beautiful, isolated spot. The place is commemorated with a basilica but the most important religious site is La Santa Cueva (the Holy Cave). The Cave houses La Virgen de Covadonga or La Santina (The Virgen of Covadonga, or the Little Saint), King Don Pelayo’s tomb and is now a Chapel. If I’m honest, the most striking thing about Covadonga is the location. The Basilica is very pretty and the Chapel sweet, but neither are as spectacular as the location. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are a few thousand words worth to express Covadonga more eloquently than I can with words!

La Basilica de Santa María la Real

Statue of Rey Don Pelayo next to the basilica

Looking up to the basilica from the valley

I had about three hours to spend in Covadonga before the next bus back to Cangas de Onís and then on to Oviedo, which was more than enough. After visiting the Basilica and the Chapel I had lunch at a grimy, overpriced restaurant (there were about three to choose from but only one was open for the winter.) Then I spent the rest of the time walking along the nice paths through the scrub down the hill. This left me with quite a walk back up to the bus stop right by the Basilica but it was better than sitting in the restaurant!

The bus trip home was uneventful. I love that every time I take a trip out of Oviedo I get to see snow-capped mountains from the bus window, that’s something I still haven’t been able to get over. You can’t see them from my side of the city so it’s always very exciting when I head out of or back to town. I arrived home in the early evening, knackered from a long day and lots of walking but it was totally worth it.

There are lots more photos on my Flickr photostream from both Cangas de Onís and Covadonga (including a shot of those tight hairpin turns on the road up the hill).

There will be a few blogs sharing my adventures in Barcelona coming this week so keep an eye out!
 

TTFN.

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