Paris, Je T’Aime

Back from a whirlwind trip to Paris this weekend!  I visited about three years ago during high school, but no grand tour of  Europe is complete without a trip to Paris.  I skipped most major touristy spots (though I would have loved to go back to Versailles), instead visiting places I didn’t get to see my first time around, although time constraints kept me from seeing everything on my hastily scribbled list brainstormed in the airport.

Here’s my weekend in pictures:

Once we got to our hostel the six of us staying there set out to find dinner. We found this cute little Italian place and ordered some pizzas and a few bottles of the my new favourite wine - Moscato D'asti. The bottle we had was specifically Ca' Dei Mandorli Dei Giari Moscato D'asti 2010. Crisp, sweet, with tiny bubbles, and a hint of citrus. I could have easily finished the bottle on my own (although that probably wouldn't be a good thing).

Next stop: the Louvre. It wasn't on my list, but it's free for under 26's on Friday nights, so we had to go.

The spiral stairs from the pyramidal entrance down into the Louvre.

We got there pretty late, around 9pm so we practically jogged to the museum's #1 attraction: the Mona Lisa. Disappointing as ever in its demure size and in its glass casing, but an eternal icon nonetheless so I had to take a picture.

We decided to walk along the Seine. The stairs down smelled like urine, but once we were on the walkway it felt so magical. I spotted this pair of swans along the river.

The ferris wheel and obelisk illuminated at night.

At last - our destination, the iron lady awash in light.

I wish I'd gone on this carousel, the animals were so pretty.

Back to the Eiffel tower to watch its glittering light show. It's a little cheesy and over the top with its 20 000 flashing lights, but still gorgeous.

The next morning we set out for the Notre Dame, crossing the Seine.

Moi avec la Notre Dame et un beau sapin de Noel. I tried to practice my French a little while in Paris, but Andreeanne is from Quebec so I was content to be lazy and let her do most of the talking.

Inside the Notre Dame there wasn't much to see. The nativity scene they had set up was cute though.

After emerging from the Notre Dame we split up to head our separate ways and explore Paris. I wanted to go to the Musee d'Orsay so I set out with Anna and Laura, following the Seine. Adventures ensued, with me being given a large gold ring and then chased down by my gifter who demanded cigarettes and money in return. Needless to say I gave back the ring, though in hindsight we probably should have booked it away and tried to pawn the ring for money.

We made it to the Orsay, but the lineup looked like it'd take at least a precious hour to get through, so we settled for pictures with the animal statues outside instead.

We decided to head to the Hotel des Invalides. I tried to take a picture with the cute little trees lining the main path but promptly was furiously whistled at by the guards. No pictures with the cute trees for me.

The Hotel des Invalides is the home of Napolean's Tomb. Unfortunately, it costs 8 euro to get in, which seemed like an exorbitant amount of money that would be better spent on food, so we decided to just take some pictures of the facade.

Back across the river Seine to take a look at the Grand Palais.

Again, story of the day: once we reached our destination (in this case, le grand palais) the line up was too long/entrance fee too expensive. Again, I deemed a picture of the exterior to be good enough.

On the opposite side of the street, le Petite Palais.

We then walked along the Champs Elysees, which is hosting a Christmas market at the moment that stretches on both sides of the street for blocks. The ice skating patch looked too cute with its penguin strollers.

We said we'd meet at the obelisk (or "the pointy monument thing" according to some friends) so we could all have lunch together.

The three of us got there early though, so we decided to treat ourselves to some much deserved crepes.

This nutella crepe was unbelievably good.

We all met up but rearranged ourselves into new groups to set out for different lunch spots. The group I was with decided to mosey along the Christmas market stalls to find our dejeuner. This was the Norweigan stall I bought lunch from. The massive fillets of salmon looked too good to resist.

Fresh Norweigan salmon with salad and creme fraiche in a baguette. So good. Ooh, also you can see the new Cath Kidman camera case I bought myself a few weeks ago. I love the pattern on it, the colours just make me smile everytime I take it out.

After my baguette I decided to find myself some mulled wine and settled on this place. I got the Girl size, though I probably could have finished the "Big Boy", it was so yummy!

Every streetcorner of the Champs Elysees was all decorated for the holidays.

We then set out to find Laduree, creator of the macaron. The lineup to buy its dainty creations stretched out of the shop and down its storefront, but we patiently waited.

There were probably around 30 different flavours but after much deliberation I settled on these three: Pistache, Praline, et Cassis Violette. They were 1.65 euro each, pretty pricy, but absolutely worth every penny. I think the blackcurrent was my favourite, it was so perfectly sweet and tart and rich. I could have eaten a whole box (...but I didn't. Did I already mention they were 1.65 each? That's like $2.50ish Canadian! But they were oh so worth it)

We kept walking until we hit the Arc de Triomphe. Traffic wasn't too bad when we got there, I remember the last time I was there I was in a giant tour bus that bullied its way through the insane traffic circle.

All nine of us met up again to set out for dinner. By now the sky had darkened and the illuminations of the Champs Elysees switched on.

After much searching, we found this little restaurant on a side street. I got the french onion soup to start, which was hot and flavourful and just perfect.

For my main, confit de canard. It was perfectly made, I just always forget I'm not a fan of duck cooked this way. It feels too oily and salty. I'm so asian ha I'd pick bbq duck anyday.

Walking back along the Champs Elysee the rings of light on the trees changed colour every minute. So pretty!

We split up again after dinner, with some of us heading to the Moulin Rouge, which was on my list. We didn't go inside, I doubt we'd be able to afford a show so we just snapped pictures of the infamous mill wheel. It was pretty early at this point so we decided to buy some bottles of wine and head back to the hostel to play cards. We got a bottle of rose and a bottle of white. The rose cost 2.90, the white, 3.90. The one euro made all the difference, the rose was like watered down wine, but with the same alcohol content. So horrid.

Our roommates told us there was a club downstairs so we decided to check it out. It was pretty small, and the music was not my style, but it was still fun, although we didn't stay for long. I had to dance to the I don't even know what... it was like trance music with super heavy bass so I just sort of swayed around.

We slept in Sunday morning and caught breakfast at the hostel before checking out. Andreeanne and I set off for the Trocadero for some last pictures of the Eiffel Tower before we had to leave for our flight.

We walked from the Trocadero up to the tower for some closeups.

..and then through the tower and through the park.

It was lovely just sauntering through the park talking about nothing and everything. We kept walking until we hit the military academy.

I walked past this cafe, which is obviously meant for people watching, with all of its chairs facing outwards onto the sidewalk.

White Kinder Bueno! We both had never tried it before so we had to get one from the vending machine while we were waiting for the metro. So good! I like it more than the regular chocolate Buenos. Why don't we have the white one in Canada?!

Around 1pm to 7pm was spent in painfully mindnumbing transit. Once back in Manchester Andreeanne and I decided to head to The Oxford, our new fave, for dinner. We both got the bacon and cheese beef burgers - so good and so cheap! It's on the the 2 meals for 6.95 menu, making it cheaper than McDonalds, and infinitely better. I highly recommend the place.

The lack of time aside, it was just such a lovely relaxed weekend of amazing food, wine, and company with the beautiful dame de fer always in the background.

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MCR (& me) loves XMAS

It’s only November, but really almost feels like Christmas with all the lights up and twinkling in city center.  I set out to explore Manchester’s Christmas Market, which opened last (last?) week tonight with some friends.  It took up all of Albert Square and then some, spilling onto the next block, but it felt so cozy!  Here’s some pictures.

We dropped by Selfridges in Picadilly first... 20% off almost everything today until Sunday!!

The eye is looking gorgeous all lit up

The Christmas Market! It was absolutely packed with people everywhere and the most delicious smells of chocolate, mulled wine, and sausages wafting around wherever you went

 

I had to force myself not to buy anything here... all the pastries looked so yummy

MCR loves XMAS

The Christmas tree in Albert Square all decked out in its glittering finery

The main entrance to the market. Gorgeous.

The sidestreet that the market stalls spilled onto. We went a bit late (shopping at Selfridges comes first when there's a sale) so the vendors here were already starting to pack up

I didn’t buy anything from the markets, it was just fun to walk around looking at all the different things being sold.  Everything from cheeses, meats, pastries, chocolates, toys, jewellery, purses, and silly knit animal toques.  I am painfully mourning the loss of my luggage space right now from all the stuff I’ve accumulated since I’ve been here and really can’t buy anything more at this point.  I had a really good time though, everything looks so beautiful under twinkling icicle lights, you can’t help but feel content with life.

Time to pack now – off to Paris tomorrow for the weekend!

Au revoir mon amours.

Betty

¡Hola España! (Part 3)

Well, as promised, here is my final installment of photos from my trip to Spain a few weeks ago.  I spent the last few days of my trip in central Spain, in Madrid, Avila, Segovia, and Toledo.  Madrid (literally the center of Spain, there’s a plaque in the sidewalk near Plaza del Sol I think it was that marks the absolute center of the country, where all roads lead to) was our homebase – we took day trips leaving from Madrid and came back each evening.

First impression of Madrid: the airport. Efficient, modern, clean and shiny, and welcoming. I think Madrid's airport is the best I've seen to date aesthetically speaking. This is just the luggage pickup area, but the rest of the airport was really pleasing to the eye as well with a clean palette of greys and whites with punches of warm brights hues. Definitely impressed me.

After checking into our hostel we set out to find lunch, which proved to be more difficult than you'd imagine. No restaurants were open - one waiter told us that most people were still sleeping - it was 12pm on a Sunday! We finally found a place open for lunch near Bilbao station around 1pm. I got the paella to start - pretty good, felt very authentic and homemade.

For my main, steak.... this was not all that great.

After lunch we set out to find our way to the Prado, one of the most famous museums in Spain. Along our walk the buildings I saw really showed how Madrid is the capital of the city, as well as the financial center, with tons of grand neo-classical buildings showing the city's wealth.

I loved how major junctions and roundabouts all had fountains in the center.

Finally, we found our way to the Prado. Here's the main entrance. It may not look large from the front, but this building is huuuuge! The main entrance is really just on the very edge of one of the wings of the building, with the actual front of the building looking much more imposing. Luckily for me and Debbie (not so much for April and Diana), admission was free for students under 25. I really enjoyed this museum, which housed numerous works by the who's who of Spanish artists. My favourites were "Saturn Devouring His Son" by Goya, "Las Meninas" by Velazquez because of Picasso's collection based on the painting, and "The Garden of Earthly Delights" by Bosch, which looked just so fantastical and surreal and full of symbolism that I had to buy a poster.

Puerto del Sol - you can see the clock in the top left corner where locals gather on New Years Eve to eat 12 grapes in the 12 seconds leading up to the new years.

Plaza Mayor, found right next to Puerto del Sol. What a tourist hub. The plaza is surrounded by residential and commercial buildings with restaurants, cafes, and souvenier shops, and the center of the plaza houses numerous little stalls with vendors selling different sweets and cheeses and meats and knick knacks. Dotted in the open perimeter of these stalls are random street performers - I don't know why they bother because I didn't see anyone give them money but it must be lucrative somehow because every major Disney character was milling about in one area or another.

That evening we did a tapas tour of Madrid. Our Sandeman guide was young and fun, and she was really energetic which made for a great tour. Our first stop we had this black pudding and sausages. What was the black pudding you ask? Well I asked too and it turns out its made from basically everything you wouldn't normally eat from a pig (unless you're Asian, so I didn't mind the idea of eating intestines and whatnot, but some the non-Asians on our tour were a little nonplussed about it)

Little empanadas and croquettes

Jamon and monchego cheese - always good

The name of the first tapas bar was some along the lines of "Zapateros" or something like that (zapato is shoe in Spanish) so the place was decorated with all sorts of shoes on the walls and hanging from the ceilings. Cute!

Second tapa bar. Salami on bread and spanish olives. I hate olives normally, but these ones were so good! They had a really mild taste and were perfect to nibble on.

THIS WAS SOOO GOOD. Basically marinated pork kebabs, but absolutely delicious.

We then stopped at bar to try a madrono berry shot. The madrono tree with the bear is the symbol of Madrid. The tree grows berries, so we had to try some of the madrono berry liquer, which they serve in little edible chocolate coated waffle cups, almost like a little ice cream cone. So yummy!

Last stop - this tapa bar was by far my favourite. These were roquefort cheese rolls with avocado and sweet onion. Absolutely incredible, I'm definitely going to try making these when I go home.

Cream cheese with sweet onion in a flaky pastry shell. I could eat a bowl of the sweet onion just on its own, it was so sweet and savoury and just amazing.

Lastly, chicken lollipops with curry, herb, and sweet vinegar and mustard sauces for dipping. Super cute presentation and they tasted deelish.

The next day we did Sandeman's "free" walking tour of Madrid. Our guide was again really enthusiastic and was a great presenter, she made it feel as though she was telling a story. We hit all the major highlights in the city. Here's a picture of a restaurant Ernest Hemingway used to frequent during the Spanish civil war.

 

The cross marks the boundary where Madrid used to have walls separating itself from the not-so-savoury neighbourhoods next door. The wall had a big gate that was locked, with the cross just inside (or maybe outside? I forget) to remind all of the alcoholics, gamblers, and prostitutes in the nearby neighbourhoods of their sins, and basically remind them that they were going to hell.

The royal palace, the biggest in Western Europe. Too bad we didn't get to go inside, apparently it's gorgeous but the lineup was just too long.

Our guide used this cathedral to tell us about the Spanish world "manyana". It means tomorrow... or the day after, or maybe the week/month/year after. If you ask someone to do something for you in Spain (ie. a cathedral) and they reply that they will do it manyana, don't expect it to be done right away. Case in point: Ideas to build this cathedral started in the 1600's... Construction didn't start until around the 1800's... and the actual completion of the cathedral didn't happen until 1993.

We got a little break and we decided to get some CHURROS. So delicious, they're like thin little Chinese doughnuts that you dip into chocolate. Absolute heaven.

The royal opera house. Our guide told us that for people under 26, if you go after 4pm on the day of a show you can get tickets with a 90% discount.

The home of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote.

The site of the attempted coup in 1979 after dictator Franco died.

Lunch at the Museum of Ham.

We chose to eat upstairs in the salon... here's my starter: melon and jamon. I was soo full just from the melon!

For my main I had this really tender chicken with peanut sauce and chips. (or fries. I feel like I'm becoming a little more British now, I think of fries as chips and soccer as football now when I talk)

Dessert was rice pudding with lots of cinnamon. Yum yum yum.

That evening we returned to the Royal Opera house to watch the show that night, Pelleas and Melisande. Here's a pic of the lobby.

We got amaaazing seats in the front row for which we paid 17.20 euros. I felt pretty underdresed in my jeans surrounded by men and women in cocktail dresses and tuxedos who paid 172 euro for their seats. Oh well.

The royal opera house is known for its fantastic acoustics. I didn't get to put that to the test being in the front row with the orchestra in front of me though. Oh but something funny: turns out the opera was actually in French, not Spanish. So I understood about 1 in every 10 words or so...

The next day we did a day trip to Avila and Segovia. The weather was absolutely horribly cold, I think it was like 7 degrees and I did not pack for that kind of cold so I was basically miserable. After we left we stopped on a hill to take a panoramic picture of the city. The walls built in the 11th and 12th century are the main draw of Avila, the city itself is filled with lots of beautiful old cathedrals and buildings, all of which I was too cold to really enjoy. After snapping this picture I booked it back to the tour bus to try to warm myself up. OH. Biggest highlight of Avila: visiting Convento de Santa Teresa where they have a small museum, which has her ring finger on display. Really. Her flaky dried up finger, still wearing a ring, is there preserved in a glass box for all to see. Strangest thing by far on this trip.

The main draw of Segovia was the roman aqueduct.

We also had lunch in Segovia. Here's my bean soup to start, which was perfect for the freezing cold weather.

For my main was this incredibly tender beef with vegetables. It was really well cooked and tasted really authentic.

For dessert... take a guess at what this is. Cheesecake? That's what I thought but nope, a block of icecream. I had warmed up enough by this point that I happy to eat it though.

Just to get an idea of the size of the aqueduct, here's a comparison of me (5'4) vs. the aqueduct (93'6).

We then did a walking tour of Segovia, which was nice. You could really feel the Moorish influence on the city like in this cathedral here.

 

To end the day we went to Segovia's Alcazar, the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle.

The ceilings inside were so intricate and luxe.

This room was my favourite. The ceiling was covered in golden pineapples!

One last look at Sleeping Beauty's castle.

Dinner was at a random pub. I got the steak, which wasn't bad. I'm definitely craving the Keg's filet mignon though after all these thin pan fried steaks.

Another look at the Museum of Ham. It's like the Spanish McDonald's, they're everywhere!

We then headed over to the Museo Reina Sofia, where all the modern art is held. The glass elevator was pretty cool. No pictures in most of the rooms, including all of the rooms housing Picasso's works. His piece, "Guernica", and all his preliminary studies are housed in this museum - really interesting to see how much thought and preparation went into his final painting.

Lots of Dali in this museum - this is his piece entitled "Hitler's Enigma".

Indistructable Object by Man Ray.

Afterwards we stopped to rest our tired feet at a cafe. Here's my pu-erh tea - trying to lose a little weight since I ate so much on this trip!

The next day we headed to Toledo. The weather was just uncomparable to the day before, still cold, but at least it was sunny so it felt so much warmer. I really enjoyed Toledo's narrow little streets and ancient architecture. We were in the old part of town, which is walled in up on a giant hill that you take a series of outdoor escalators to get up to. I think we took at least 5 or 6 escalators to get up here!

Toledo's main catheral.

We then visited El Greco's home, now a museum. His sculptures were really beautiful and decorated the outside patios as well as the inside exhibits.

Another sculpture. It was a really lovely place that felt so serene and peaceful, I really enjoyed my time there, and can imagine why El Greco built his home and studio there.

Next up was the cathedral commissioned by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Really gorgeous cathedral. Here's a picture looking out into the cloister, which was filled with orange trees.

I forget the story behind this cathedral... It had something to do with the Moors vs. the Catholics. I think the handcuffs decorating the facade make for a really striking image.

A look at the entrance to the old city center of Toledo that we came out of.

It was really windy once we came out! I tried to take a nice picture but obviously failed... Also, you can use this picture to see just how elevated the old city of Toledo is - we had to walk all the way down to bottom from here, no escalators down unfortunately.

We spent our last evening in Madrid shopping and walking around. One of the places we visited was this market, similar to Granville market with dozens of different little vendors inside selling all sorts of artisan chocolates and pastries and fresh fruits and vegetables. I didn't buy anything, but it was fun to look around. It was definitely a feast for the eyes inside.

Some more characters in Puerto del Sol. Oh hey out-of-proportion Pooh and Tigger.

Here's the statue of the bear and the madrono tree, the symbol of Madrid in Puerto del Sol. I bought some beautiful black suede wedge booties a little earlier, which are in that green bag :)

Having a bit of fun at the airport before we left... Hey, I can pretend.

Toro toro! We didn't get a chance to watch any bullfights in Spain because the season is over, and I really don't know if I'd want to. I learned more about it while in Spain and it seems like such a horrible, sadistic sport, where you're basically just watching a bull get slowly tortured until it dies.

The Last Supper. A massive portion of penne bolognese with cheese at the airport. Unfortunately, it really was not as "mmm" as the napkin would have you believe.

FIN.

¡Hola España! (Part 2)

As promised, here’s the second part of my post on my trip to Spain during reading week, this time covering Barcelona.  It may be just one city, but a quarter of my pictures were taken there!

 

When we got to Barcelona it was in the evening. After checking into our hostel we set out to explore! This is one of Barcelona's main plazas (I forget the name).

Dinner the first night at Txapela! This place came highly recommended by one of Debbie's Barcelonian (?) classmates, so we knew we had to try it. One of those trays of potatoes with spicy sauce is mine (and was delicious).

More of the tapas we ordered. The ones with baby eels, foie gras with apple, crab salad, and jamon made up my dinner.

For dessert: strawberries in vinegar with vanilla cream. Surprisingly good! The sweetness and richness of the cream went really well with the tartness of the berries. Note to self however: never again order tapa sized desserts unless you order more than one!

The menu at Txapela. Sorry it's blurry! It reminded me of ordering nigiri sushi, except instead of rice, it was bread.

Breakfast day one in Barcelona. This place didn't have a menu, so we all just ordered what we wanted. Lesson learned here: never order anything before seeing a menu, otherwise they can charge you whatever they want. Paying 3 euros for a 200mL bottle of Minutemaid orange juice had me fuming.

Our first day in Barcelona ended up being at Montserrat because our tour guide for Barcelona injured himself, so we had to switch plans around. It was really foggy that day, so it was hard to see much. The words of our guide: "now, just use your imagination to see the river down there"

Even with the fog, you can tell why Montserrat has so many visitors. The rocks making up the mountain have the strangest shapes and look like sculptures.

The exterior of Montserrat's cathedral.

With our tour came a liquor tasting. We got to try a small sample of each of these liquors. The hazelnut one and the crema catulunya were soooo good.

We then went into the cathedral to listen to the boys choir sing. And I mean to listen only, the place was packed so all you could see were the backs of the people standing in front of you.

After listening for a while we decided to go line up for what Montserrat is most famous for, the Black Mary. Thousands make the pilgrimage up here each year to touch her and to pray. The lineup was massive when we got there.

Took this while I was waiting. The fog made everything feel very dramatic and mysterious, it was pretty cool actually.

Finally inside the cathedral again, the lineup moved at a snails pace through all of the rooms, most of which housed altars to various saints or featured a dying/suffering/bloodied Jesus.

I thought the Angel Gate was quite pretty. Also, note the neverending (and rarely moving) line. I guess it was good in that you had (plenty of) time to appreciate the works of art in each room.

 

The Staircase of the Saints. Each panel is a mosaic and was pretty interesting to analyse.

Finally, after an hour of lining up we made it! As I got closer to the sculpture of Mary I noticed that she was inside the glass, so I asked April about it. She told me that you just touched her through the glass, so I went oh, ok. So when I got there, I noticed the sphere of the universe protruding through the glass. But, in the back of my mind were April's words "oh, you just touch her through the glass", so, I put my hand to the glass. Fail. You were supposed to touch the sphere. Looks like I'm going to have to make another trip back there.

On your way out you could purchase a candle to light. We were in a mad rush to get back to our bus, which we were late for because of the long line up to touch Mary so we didn't have time to stop.

Lunchtime! We all did the "menu del dia", the set menu. I ordered the salad for my starter and it was absolutely AMAZING. I hadn't had vegetables in days, which probably also contributed to how great it tasted, but on its own it really was fantastic. Basically a garden salad but kiwi, caramelized apple, and a creamy mango dressing. Deelish!

For my main, steak with roquefort sauce (I am loving the stuff), potatoes, and cauliflower. Not bad, steak was a bit tough though despite ordering it rare.

Dessert was excellent however. The tiramisu was sooo good, and the tea I ordered came in the cutest little silver teapot.

After lunch we headed to the Picasso museum. No pictures allowed inside, so I snapped this from the outside through the window. I really enjoyed this museum, which houses tons of Picasso's earlier works, and a few of his later ones. The only thing I would complain about is the abruptness of how his works jump from the blue period to his later years in life, without any explanation of what happened in between. I think his pigeons works (on the walls in this room) were my favourite. Not too crazy, but still full of life.

Next we made our way to the flamenco show we'd bought tickets for. Here's a picture of (I think) town hall? It looked so cool lit up at night!

When we go to el de Tablao Carmen the waiter immediately began to bring us our food (we cut it pretty close to the start time of the show, most people had arrived earlier to enjoy the tapas). The bread rubbed with tomato was one of my favourite tapas in Spain. The monchego cheese was pretty good too.

Our platter of MEAT! The top layer is jamon, with the two outer rings being different types of salami. I wasn't a big fan of the salamis, but the jamon was really good (I don't think there's such a thing as bad jamon)

Calamari and more spicy potatoes - couldn't get enough of these two dishes! At the edge of the picture in the bottom left corner you can see our plate of pimentos, these little fried green peppers. At first I didn't like them, but they really grew on me.

For dessert, catalunya cream (basically creme brulee). The sangria in this place was really good, as you can tell by the almost finished jar in the background.

One of the dancers in action! This style of flamenco was very different from what we'd seen in Seville. It was much more lively and "happy" feeling, with more emphasis on the dance than the music. The flamenco in Seville felt more intimate and serious. I don't know which one I liked more!

Tablao Carmen was in the Andalusian Quarter of El Poble Espanyol up on the Montjuic mountain. The "village" was created for the 1929 world fair, which showed off the different styles of Spanish architecture.

Breakfast day 2! Here's a picture of my bikini (ham and cheese sandwich) and freshly squeezed orange juice. Delicious, and really cheap!

View of Barcelona from the top of one of the mountains... I forget which. Anyways, we were on a sightseeing tour of the city, and this is one of the first places we were brought.

Next stop: Sagrada Familia! Probably Gaudi's most famous, though unfinished, piece of architecture. The facade is just so incredible, there's so much going on I could stare at it for hours and still probably not notice all the detail.

The inside of the Sagrada Familia. What a change from all the other cathedrals I've been to! It's so light and airy and colourful inside.

The main nave.

One last look at the outside - the fruits at the tops are so cute!

Next we went to one of the markets. I felt like such a tourist snapping photos of the inside, especially since I scoff when I see tourists taking pictures of Granville Island's marketplace.

This counter sold eggs. Holy cow, I don't know what kind of bird these came from, but they were massive!

We got to sample tapas and a drink. I chose cava, Spanish champagne. It was pretty good.

More of the tomato rub bread and a fish salad.

The pimientos de padron! These things get addictive, they're so yummy!

A look at the place we had our snack at.

Next we walked through the historic area of Barcelona, inside the area originally fenced by the city walls.

The door of a roman cathedral

This place was a battle site for the Spanish Civil War. All the gouges in the walls are from bullets.

 

Original Roman columns, where they were built were hidden inside a small covered area between some other buildings.

The poor people's cathedral built by merchants.

Lunchtime! We went to this place called Origens, which our guide recommended to us. It served only organic and often locally sourced, sustainable food. The chandelier made from colanders was amazing!

My veal stuffed with spinach and cheese with rice. Really good!

Next was Park Gruell, designed by Gaudi.

Such an interesting place! The way he integrates his man made designs with nature is so unique.

Oh, why hello there.

A view from the terrace.

This is where Gaudi lived!

The ceiling of the columns.

The famous salamander! I had to wait forever to take this picture.

Another one of Gaudi's designs, La Pedrera. These apartments have since been converted into a museum, but there are still a few that have some lucky families living inside.

The roof of La Pedrera! Definitely the best part.

This sculpture reminds me of soft serve icecream.

Another sculpture.

The next floor down showed models of all of Gaudi's designs. Really neat.

Casa Battlo

Las Ramblas at night. THE place for souveniers, and pickpockets. We held our purses close walking down this street.

We had dinner at one of the restaurants on Las Ramblas. The tapas here were so good!

More of the tapas. The meatballs were so yummy!

For our main we shared this paella. Sooo good! We finished all of it.

We then walked until we hit water. Just over the bridge is a mall. Gorgeous views!

…and that basically sums up my time in Barcelona!

¡Hola España!

I got back to my room from Spain around midnight last night, and while I loved my time there, I’m ecstatic to be back!  All the travelling was absolutely exhausting; in nine days we hit up eight cities: Seville, Cordoba, Granada, Barcelona, Madrid, Avila, Segovia, and Toledo.  Whew!  I’ve got literally hundreds of pictures, so I think I’ll post a few times and break up my pictures by region: Andalusia, Catalonia, and central Spain.  Because I’m pretty logical minded I’ll go in chronological order of my trip, starting from the beginning so up today: Andalusia.

After checking into our hostel we did one of the "free" walking tours - first stop was the cathedral of Seville, the tallest cathedral in the world though originally an Islamic mosque. Guess how many stairs to get to the top of the tower? Answer = 0! Imams would ride donkeys to the top back in the day, since they'd have to call out prayers five times a day.

Gorgeous archway

I forget what building this was... but it's beautiful! Ha. By the way - notice that I bought a new camera before I left! Woohoo! I picked a Sony one because of the panorama feature, which I definitely put to good use on this trip

A very famous bullfighter outside Seville's bullring. Look at his figure and see if you can find something slightly awry on/in his pants...

Seville's neighbourhoods are divided by a river

Another gorgeous building of which I forget the purpose!

The fountain outside of Plaza Espana

After our tour we enjoyed a lovely meal outside. To start, I got the gazpacho - cold tomato soup, which was absolutely perfect given the 26 degree weather.

We walked through this park back to our hostel

It's so hot in Seville, this retail street hung sheets bridging the buildings to provide some shade to entice passerbys to walk down it

Near the cathedral we came across a hustling bustling marketplace where vendors set up stalls. So many cheese samples, I loved it!

This bakery had the most amazing looking pastries

We came across what I'm going to assume to be an economic protest. Spain has a massive 20% rate of unemployment right now, so I'm not surprised at all.

That night we watched a flamenco show - no pictures during the show so I snapped one before it started. The dancers had the most intense faces! It was so emotional, the singing and the dancers with their anguished expressions. We enjoyed some lovely vino dulce (sweet wine), which tasted amaing, but practically put me to sleep.

The cathedral at night.

I forget what this building is - but isn't it pretty?

After our show we went to a tapa bar recommended to us by our hostel's receptionist. Ho-ly, we had to wait an hour before we were seated because we got there at 10, when all the locals start having dinner. The food was worth it though! Here's the marinated octopus salad we shared.

This tapa was absolutely incredible. This massive thing of bread topped with the most amazing jamon (it's like prosciutto, only thicker and to die for), monchego cheese, and a fried quail egg. All the locals were ordering it, so we knew it had to be good!

Stuffed chicken with almond sauce and potatoes

The next day we took the train to Cordoba. Here's a picture of the Mezquita, a UNESCO world heritage site, from the outside - the arches were gorgeous.

Inside the courtyard

So many orange trees!

The cathedral tower. Unfortunately, because we went on a Sunday they were holding mass, so we couldn't go inside :(

The tourist information center was housed in this incredible looking old church

This bridge is another UNESCO heritage site

Since the Mezquita was closed we went to the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos. The inside of the palace was a little lackluster, although I thought this balcony provided an interesting view of a courtyard they're now excavating.

The walls of the Alcazar were definitely neat to walk around on, and provided an amazing view of Cordoba

The highlight of the Alcazar by far was the gardens though - absolutely gorgeous! Maybe not in this picture, but keep reading...

So many giant koi!

This courtyard was also filled with orange trees

The gardens and the fountains were an absolute delight to wander through, especially with such amazing weather

The orange trees were so neatly pruned and cute!

The Alcazar from the outside

After Cordoba we took the train back to Seville to grab our luggage, and then took the train to Granada. We got there quite late, and immediately after checking in to our hostel, set out to find what Granada is famous for: free tapas when you buy a drink! This was the first place we went - I got a "jamon bocadillo con roquefort" - ham bagel with roquefort sauce

 

This was the second place we went - the beer was really good here! And I got an amazing chorizo kebab.

Our third tapa bar - the Michael Landon. This place had the most hilarious interior decor! It was filled with pictures of terrible 80s tv shows and movies, like Baywatch and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Those three glasses are our limonada de vino - red wine with lemonade. Basically just cheap sangria, but so good!

After these burgers we had to call it a night, 6 euros down and we were absolutely stuffed!

The next morning we woke up EARLY to go to Alhambara, notorious for being the #1 attraction in Spain, or at least Granada, so that we wouldn't have to wait too long to get inside. Here's a picture of the fountain halfway up the climb to get to the top.

The buildings in Alhambara, a former Islamic palace/fortress that was taken over by the Catholics, all had absolutely gorgeous architecture.

The view from the top. We hiked the hill all the way up from somewhere down there!

The Nasrid palace had the most amazing architecture.

Tons of postcards use this picture from the Alhambra, so I had to snap one too!

I pretended to not see this no photo sign and quickly snapped a shot as I walked inside... These lion sculptures were gorgeous! The used to be outside as part of a fountain and are being restored right now. Each lion is carved differently, so their forms are the same but the faces and designs in their fur and manes are unique.

I can't remember the name of this room, but it was by far my favourite in the Nasrid Palace! It had the most amazing ceiling.

We explored the gardens a bit - massive, but not as impressive as Cordoba's Alcazar's gardens.

We went inside the Palacio de Carlos V, which housed several museums. If you stand in the very center and sing your voice is projected throughout the structure - I squeaked out a few notes to try it out. The acoustics are incredible!

The view from the Torre de la Vela looking onto the Plaza de Armas. You can see all the foundations of the houses the army used.

Another view

This is the other side of the Alhambra. The site is absolutely massive!

The Water Stairway

After our visit we tried out a really gorgeous restaurant, which reminded me of Brix in Vancouver. It's in a covered little courtyard so it feels like you're outside even though you're "inside" since the ceiling is glass and is as high as the surrounding buildings. Here's the russian salad we got as a starter.

Mmmm tapas and sangria. The tapas consisted of omelette with mushrooms, jamon, monchego cheese, these amazing pea/bean things, fried zucchini slices, and a salad made with fish, oranges, and olives.

For our main - Paella! It looked absolutely amazing, and I wish I could say it tasted the same but the rice wasn't cooked thorougly and it was too salty. Waaah. The seafood was delicious though.

This is probably another cathedral in Granada, there's too many to keep track of all their names!

After our lunch we headed back to our hostel to grab our things and head to the airport: we were off to Barcelona!  I think Barcelona was my favourite city in Spain, you’ll see why in my pictures soon!

the city that stole my heart

As promised, here’s a summary of my weekend in Prague.  I had such an amazing time there, it really took me by surprise because I didn’t know much about Prague, apart from the fact that everyone who I told I’d be going there said it was beautiful.  I left, absolutely in love with the city.  I think what really helped was Debbie had a friend living there, so he acted as our unofficial tourguide for the trip and brought us to the most amazing places.  I could write a short novel about my experiences and the places I saw, so I’ll save you the reading and post some of my favourite pictures.  Unfortunately, my camera battery prematurely sputtered to death so I missed capturing some of the most gorgeous places on Sunday.  Jiri, our “guide”, had a pretty legit DSLR camera though and snapped some amazing pictures so I’ll definitely grab all those and post them as my own once I can get my hands on those (just kidding, it’ll be pretty obvious the HD shots could in no way possibly come from my dinky little point and shoot camera).

Pictures below are in chronological order so you can get a sense of what I did each day!

Wenceslas Square - the first place I saw in Prague; the street is lined with trendy shops, swanky hotels and restaurants

National Museum

we walked around city center and I snapped this picture - no photoshop, promise! such an eclectic mix of stores and cafes in the area. Actually, this might be in front of all the cabarets, I forget ha.

the top of this building reminded me of a faberge egg

such a charming hotel exterior - I would have loved to stay here!

we decided to climb the spiral staircase (which were terrifying! so high and steep with no railing, just an ancient rope running vertically down the centre of the spiral to hold onto) to the top of this tower but half way there was a landing where you had to pay to climb the rest - we are cheap tourists, so no thank you

I think what I loved most especially about Prague is how colourful all the buildings are - coral, pink, orange, yellow, sky blue... even though it was rainy, the buildings brought colour to everywhere I went

I thought this building was too cute! Chapeau Rouge = Red Hat for this adorable red capped building

We went into this gorgeous church, the interior was even more impressive than the sculptures adorning the exterior

a little blurry, but I think this captures the grandeur of the interior

such charming streets

Old Town Square

a carriage on Old Town Square

we went into another church (cathedral? I don't know the difference), this one in Old Town Square

another gorgeous church interior - here's a shot of the chandelier and ceiling

I can imagine this being a lovely lunch spot - if only it hadn't been raining, booo.

another corner of Old Town Square - the colours of the buildings remind me of dainty pastel macarons

the rain didn't stop us, or anyone else from flocking to the square; here's another corner of Old Town Square

the astronomical clock - built in 1410 and the only one in the world still working. It does a charming little show every hour during the day time, where a procession of little dancing figures can be seen in the two windows that open up.

Next up: Jiri brought us to Karstejn castle, built in 1342. We walked up the mountrain, passing by lovely Bohemian houses

the other side of the castle that I could see from the tower I was standing on

the view from the top; no pictures of the interior of the caste - we went on a tour but pictures weren't allowed. This is also the path I had to walk up to get to the castle - yep, that was my exercise for the day.

we then went to a restaurant at the foot of the castle - it felt like Old Country with antlers and boar heads adorning the walls, where I had an amazing lunch of beef, sweet creamed vegetable sauce, and dumplings with cranberries and whipped cream with a Pilsner (beer is cheaper than water in this country). Scrumptious!

Jiri then brought us to a place called "America". We weren't sure what we were getting ourselves into when we went through heavy metal doors into a long, unlit tunnel with only a small square of light at the end...

the other end? America.  It's an old rock quarry that's now used by locals in the summer to swim.  The doors are opened in the morning and only 30 people are allowed inside before they're closed, and once you're in you're there for the day until they open them again at 6pm, unless you climb up and over the rock.

...the other end? America! It's an old rock quarry that's now used by locals in the summer to swim. The doors are opened in the morning and only 30 people are allowed inside before they're closed, and once you're in you're there for the day until they open them again at 6pm, unless you climb up and over the rock. Even though it was something like 7 degrees the water looked so gorgeously blue that I wanted to dip my toes in (...but didn't. I'm not crazy, dur).

the other side of America, where we came from

we watched as the sun set over America

we then returned to city center and walked across Charles Bridge, which was decorated with a continuous line of baroque style statues on both sides

you got an amazing view of Prague castle (top left) and the Old Town areas, all which reflected in the Vltava river below... I can't describe how gorgeous the view was

after walking around admiring the architecture of the city we needed to warm up, so we went to this amazing tea cafe, with a seriously impressive tea menu. I got li zhi cha - it was authentic Chinese tea, delicately flavoured with lychee just what I was craving. The cafe itself was such an experience, it's walls were painted orange and there were daybed like seating areas with embroidered pillows, and shisha pipes everywhere with a lengthy shisha list to choose from. It was very mystical, middle eastern feeling.. I loved it.

walking back to Old Town Square we spotted this makeshift memorial to Steve Jobs in front of the iWorld store - people had left flowers, candles, and apples with a bite taken out. It was really touching.

We then watched the astronomical clock, which was too amazing for words.  My pictures don’t do the show justice, just watch the video below:

afterwards we went to the Tlusta Koala, the Fat Koala pub heehee. I had an amazing dinner of potato pancakes and pork loin with apple and horseradish sauce with a "Pepsi Light". Terrible service from the waitress, but great food.

Whew, this is already quite lengthy, and this is only Friday night and Saturday.  I’ll post pictures from Sunday (there are tons!) another day.  Enjoy these for now!

Top o’ the Mornin’

Life is getting busy!  My 6 classes are now in full swing, although they’re manageable since I’m not taking any exams, just writing essays and doing coursework since I won’t be here for exams.

I went to Dublin last weekend!  The whole trip went really smoothly I felt, from getting to the airport and onto the plane, to finding our way to the hostel and all of the tourist spots we visited.  We stayed at the Avalon Hotel, which had a great location in the city center.  It was my first time staying in a hostel, and I was impressed!  It was a lot better than I expected – clean (as could be expected), computers, lockers, really helpful reception staff, and free breakfast every morning.

My bed! B for Betty, perfect.

Two days definitely was not enough for us, but we saw as much as we could.  I’d say we covered the major spots to see in the city, but I really regret not having the time to see the countryside of Ireland.  There was a bus tour but we just didn’t have the time to go on it.  Seeing the city was quite easy though, we bought tickets for a hop on, hop off bus that had designated stops in front of attractions and came fairly frequently.

Here’s a photo essay of my trip:

My first sight of Dublin - the airport! Pretty sure they picked green for their accent colour on purpose

Central Bank of Ireland - this reminds me of a building in Vancouver!

The most fun place of our trip by far!

the 9000 year lease Arthur Guinness signed about 250 years ago

all this water from the Wicklow Mountains will be beer in a few hours!

I tried my hand at pouring a pint of Guinness - I never know there was so much technique involved!

the view from the top - it was horribly rainy all weekend

the Guinness factory!

Pheonix Park - the largest city park in Europe. It's almost double Stanley Park's acreage if you need a comparison. Too bad it was wet or we would have walked around more!

Collin's Barracks - a former army barracks converted into one of the four sites of the National Museum

a quick photo collage of the the Collins Barracks once inside the front entrance

the Irish High Cross exhibit was really fascinating

a late lunch at a cafe: bacon mushroom quiche and some side salads for me with a nice hot americano

the West Front of Trinity College

a close up of Campanile

even with the rain Trinity College looks gorgeous - maybe not in this picture but just take my word!

the River Liffy, which cuts Dublin into the North and South

there was a communal kitchen at the hostel where we made grilled cheese sandwiches and pasta for dinner the second night

the mess of things people kept in the kitchen

I thought this system was quite ingenious

we visited Dublin Castle, established in 1204 AD

part of the entrance to Dublin Castle

part of the tower and church

the inside of the church was gorgeous!

Christchurch Cathedral, built in 1030AD

a close up

I tried to buy some whisky as a souvenier but they wouldn't sell any to me, citing how it's illegal to sell alcohol before 12:30pm. I thought everyone had Irish coffee for breakfast!

we had lunch at The Church, a renovated church (obviously) that's now a bar/restaurant/nightclub. This was where Arthur Guinness was married!

the Dublin Spire, the tallest sculpture in the world

the Natural History site of the National Museum: my favourite spot of the day!

aka "The Dead Zoo", the Natural History museum housed thousands of stuffed animals - literally. A little creepy, but I loved it!

Next up was the National Gallery - the European art wasn't overly impressive but I enjoyed the contemporary art exhibit. This was my favourite painting.

Next up - St. Patrick's Cathedral! This is where Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels, was dean and was buried.

Where the well was where St. Patrick baptised many Irish people in the 500s, becoming the patron saint of Ireland

The exterior of St. Patrick's Cathedral. When we came out it was sunny, after having rained the entire weekend.

We ended the day with an amazing dinner at O'Neill's pub. I had Irish beef and Guinness stew with all the fixings. My plate was massive but I still wanted more even after I finished it!

We ended the night early on Sunday, returning to our room at 9pm because our flight was at 6:30am on Monday, meaning we’d have to be up at 3am to get to the airport in time.  The flight itself only took half an hour (it was supposed to take 1 hour, so we got back early), and we were quickly back on our ways to our halls.  Once Andree-anne and I got back we had a massive breakfast and took a nap before dragging ourselves to class.  Great weekend overall!  Lesson learned though: never again do a Monday morning flight.