Barcelona – Our favourite place in Spain!

Barcelona is hands down our favourite city in Spain. It has a vibe about it that no other city can compete with. The trip from Valencia took a little over three hours before we were in the heart of Barcelona. We had chosen a little B&B called La Casa de Marcelo and it was perfect. Right in the middle of town, close to the famous Ramblas, the old town and a 10 minute walk to the beach. Although Marcelo warned us that the metro was home to best pickpockets in Barcelona, we took our chances and decided to use this as our main method of transportation. We didn’t have any problems using the metro, it was air conditioned, on time and at eight euros for a five day ticket you couldn’t go wrong!

With only three days in Barcelona, we had to list everything we wanted to do. Most sights we wanted to see related to Gaudi in some way, shape or form – but we also had some errands to run.  We’d been toying with the idea of sending some of our winter clothes home and decided Barcelona would be the last place we would probably be able to understand what costs (80 euros) were involved. I also wanted to cut my hair. Something that was obviously a massive change for me, but with the heat and the inability to maintain it, I decided it was time for a change. Language wouldn’t be a barrier here, so I decided to do it while they still understood what I wanted.

La Sagrada Familia: One of Gaudi’s unfinished works of art. He worked on it for 30 years before his death in 1926 and is estimated to be complete in 2026. The cathedral is gigantically impressive and true to it’s gothic style. Some say it’s ugly…by some I mean Gus,  but even he can appreciate the complexity of this design. It was here that we tried to have our picture taken in front of the monument, which led to a massive fail. But we took one of the monument on it’s own, so you can tell we were there. The line to go into the cathedral was just as massive as the monument itself. A two hour wait we were told, but we did go at midday and with so much to see we didn’t get a chance to see it inside. We did get told that if we get there first thing in the morning it’s much easier to get in… We’ll have to check it out next time.

Park Guell: We loved Park Guell. If you’re not up for the hike then make sure you take the road Baixada de la Glòria which has a mix of escalators and stairs to the top of the Park. It’s still a work out, but you get to rest a little on the escalators which we found refreshing. You can see a great view of Barcelona from the top of the hill especially the Sagrada Famillia, which is as you know hard to happy snap from below.

Gaudi wasn’t a fan of square structures, which is one of the reasons all his creations are curved or circular – representing infinity. Some also say he took acid. Whatever you believe…this park is amazing! Columns and wavy rooves, street performers everywhere, sweeping steps leading up to the famous Iguana. My favourite were the gingerbread houses, as they look like they’re something out of a story book. Very cool!

We got a good lunch deal around this area also it was six euro for pasta, salad, chicken and fries. So if you can find it, it’s not flash – but had a great deal for locals and us tourists alike :)

Las Ramblas: Everyone tells you to go visit Las Ramblas when you go to Barcelona. I’ve done it twice now, the first time I was on my own and too scared to go in because everyone told me I’d get robbed for sure. This time, we walked down Las Ramblas and the only kind of robbery we encountered were the prices of meals. We ordered a large coke and out came the biggest pint of coke we’d ever seen for only 9 Euro!!  Just a little excessive we thought!! So if you’re going down Las Ramblas make sure you don’t eat on the restaurants on this street. Obviously catered for tourists. Check out the street performers and the food and art markets towards the end of the street. The street vendors will drive you insane trying to sell you whistles.  But after the 50th attempt at selling it, they get the idea. We weren’t overly impressed with Las Ramblas, but I guess it’s something you should do, especially if the markets are on!

Barcelona FC: Coming from a family of hardcore Barcelona supporters – going to a soccer match was one of our must see’s while in Barcelona. Unfortunately, we timed it very badly and missed out on the season all together in Spain. We did however get to see the stadium, home to the 2010-2011 world champions!  Loved every minute of it, you can do an audio tour for an additional five euro – but we just did the walk around and stocked up on some merchandise. Well worth the 25 euro.

All in all, we loved Barcelona and the fact that is has a beach so close to the city just makes it all the better. People are friendly and although they tell you to be careful of the pick pockets, we were fortunate enough to not have a problem here. The food here was also incredible – so plenty of opportunities to try some tapas if you’re in the area. We will definitely come back here!

P.S.. My long hair is gone, no tears and Gus still recognised me – which was a bonus! :)

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Valencia…

We got back on the road and headed towards Valencia. Happy to be heading back into civilisation, we started the day early as we were told it would take about six hours to drive in. The trip was slightly delayed due to an AFL game being played in Melbourne and an eager Demons supporter wanting to listen to it. We managed to find a café on the side of the highway that had free wifi and we streamed the game live via the Tune In Radio app. A couple of goals (in the Dee’s favour),  one joyous supporter later and we were back on the road again.  A much easier drive than the one we took to Orgiva, so we took the drive in turns and managed to get to the car rental place just six minutes shy from our return time.

We stayed at a hotel called Rooms Hotel Deluxe – which was fun! Every room was themed differently, so you don’t know what to expect when you open the door. There was the Moroccan room, the Mozart room and our’s was called the Enchanted Forest. Our room was covered from floor to ceiling in plants, leaves and trees, which made it very interesting to wake up to. Other than that the location was great, really close to the Art and Science district, which looked like two giant space domes designed on a giant swimming pool! I’m not sure if they are designed for people to jump into, but on a hot day in Valencia you can imagine a vast amount of people surrounding the pool.

Our first day, we headed into the centre of town where we saw much of the city’s cathedrals and markets. The market in this square we found was primarily aimed at tourists and sold a lot of overpriced bags, cooking utensils and leather goods. We’d heard about another market at Plaza 6, which was called the Mercado centrale just around the corner. Renowned for their cheap and fresh food, we had to add it to our stops. Unfortunately, by the time we got there the Market was starting to close down, but I managed to pick up some happy pants (which are all the rave here in Spain) for 10 euro and we got a meal at a ‘hole in the wall’ for 15 euro. It was amazing!

Paella is considered the traditional dish of Spain, but many believe it originated in Valencia.  We were searching for a type of paella called Fideua, which we got a taste for at Melbourne’s own Spanish Festival last year. The ingredients are the same as a normal paella, with it’s main ingredient rice substituted for noodles. We managed to find this dish at this place and it was delicious! We also found the best place for churros back at the centre, so we ordered some churros to finish up our Spanish cuisine experience!

One of the key things we’d heard about Valencia, was about how it’s river Turia – that used to flow through the city centre, had been re-routed to now flow into the outskirts of the town. In it’s place, the empty banks of this river has now been converted to hold nine kilometers worth of gardens, playgrounds and fountains. One of it’s main attractions is a giant statue of Gulliver that has been designed as playground for kids to jump and slide all over his body. They must have really hated Gulliver, as they have him tied down to the ground.  The park is amazing and you can stroll for hours on end – lucky for us we only did it once!

Valencia was a very cool, modern, yet laid back town. It’s unique in that they are trying to separate themselves from the old Spain by designing new and original architecture – something it has recently become famous for. It is very different to Madrid in that it is not so fast paced and was a welcome change from Orgiva. It was a great stop along the way and we would recommend to anyone who is travelling in Spain.

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The road to the mountains of the Moors…

Travelling isn’t always fun and the road leading us from Lagos to our next stop  (just south of Granada in Spain) reminded us of a little something we’d gone without for a while…stress! It was going to be a long day in transit. A six hour bus ride from Lagos to Seville, where we hired a car to drive to Malaga (three hours away) and then onto Orgiva, a town that was approximately 90 minutes away again.

The combination of not having driven for four months, being on the other side of the road, dealing with a confused GPS system and Spain’s roadwork’s was not the best start to our drive. Combine this with a navigator who can’t read road signs and a driver who won’t listen because she can and it all gets a little out of control. We got back on track pretty quickly though, we had no other choice, the speed limit on the highway was 130km! Our little car struggled to get above 80km over the mountainous terrains, but we pushed on and saw some pretty amazing scenery along the way.

I must admit when we booked this place it said it was an hour from Granada, an hour from Malaga and an hour from Cordoba. Very central to everything we wanted to see. What it doesn’t tell you, was that it was at one of the highest peaks of an area called Las Alpujarras, so high that we could see snow capped mountains…snow! Not the sunny Spain we’d imagined. Major freak out’s along the way – the navigator was about to throw me off the island and I was ready to turn the car around, but again we persisted and ended up in a lovely little country town surrounded by olive trees called Orgiva.

The roads in Orgiva were as small as the car, one-lane roads with two-way traffic. Enormous mountainous rocks to the left and cliffs to the right, that plummeted a good 500 meters to the rockiest valleys we had ever seen. Add to this having to dodge the Spanish locals with the on coming traffic – it was enough to put you off driving for a lifetime. We finally made it to our apartment and it was a sight for sore eyes. A magnificent one-bedroom apartment, with a pool and a view that was well worth the nerve wrecking drive. Needless to say we weren’t going to hit the road for a while, so the next couple of days were spent by the pool – chilling out.

The town of Orgiva itself is very remote, with a population of about 6,000 people. One main street, one supermarket, a handful of restaurants, lots of olive, apple, cherry, fig and orange trees. We had dogs chasing after us on our morning runs – it was a real treat! The days we did go out and about we’re amazing! I finally knew the dimensions of the car, we became the crazy locals the tourists were trying to avoid on the road and headed out on some day trips.

The first was to a village called Nerja. A place famous for it’s beach side town and more importantly its paella on the beach. We were told Ayo’s Paella restaurant was something to be experienced and it was one of the things on our bucket list while visiting the south of Spain.

The next day we drove to Granada to see the Alhambra Palace. We were told that we were lucky to get to go into the palace as they only sell 6,000 tickets a day and they usually sell out weeks in advance.

The palace was probably one of the best palaces we’ve been to in Europe. The gardens were perfectly manicured; full of bright colourful flowers and the architecture was very different to anything we’d seen. The Moors (Seinfield fans may remember the Bubble Boy episode referring to them as the ‘Moops’) introduced this kind of architecture to Spain and it is now a world heritage listed site. You can get some pretty awesome photos of the town of Granada here too and if you do go, stop at the café across the road for a ham and cheese toastie, one of the best to date!

In hindsight, we probably shouldn’t have located in Orgiva if we wanted to spend time in either Granada or Malaga. It was a gorgeous town, very quiet and different to anywhere we had been on the trip – but a hard place to drive from especially when you’re doing day trips. We met another couple at our place, staying for a week – they weren’t heading anywhere else so it was like a retreat for them. If you plan on just resting up and relaxing then it’s a great place to do it.

The south of Spain has so much to offer, from its beaches to its cute little towns – it’s impossible to see it all in six days. Next time we’ll allocate a lot more time!

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A week to relax in Lagos!

We’d both heard so many great stories about Lagos we had to add it onto the itinerary for the trip. Lagos is a small seaside village in the south of Portugal and home to what we were told was Europe’s second most beautiful beach, Praia Ana. Out host Rita asked us not to ask about the first most beautiful beach, as she didn’t know.

Our villa (which looked like a Mexican hacienda) was only a 10-minute walk to the old town and another 10-minute walk (in the other direction) to another main attraction in Lagos called the Ponta de Piedade. To get down to these grottos it took approximately 200 steps, so you get to do some good exercise and once down there you have option of taking a little boat to see the coast for about 40 euro.

This small town was so chillaxed that we decided not to rock the boat and just enjoy the vibe. It gave us time to catch up on some reading, blogging and much needed exercise. This is where we started our morning jogs to the Ponta de Piedade every morning, followed by some hard ab work and then the rest of our time was spent between the beach and our pool. We explored the old town in the afternoons, pacing ourselves and settling nicely into Mediterranean life.  Life here is very easy going, no one is really in a hurry and it suited us just fine. It was absolute bliss!

You can see why people just love coming here. The scenery is breathtaking and beaches are just minutes away from your doorstep, the food is fresh and the sunsets are amazing. You definitely feel like you’re on a holiday when you’re here. Would recommend it to anyone who is down this way.

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Lovely Lisboa

We took a night train from Madrid to Lisbon and upgraded to first class so we could get some sleep. Luckily, an upgrade meant we got breakfast, dinner and access to the members lounge. The only catch being it was an additional 200 euros – we did it though for sleeps sake and had we not been on what seemed to be the world’s bumpiest train ride ever we would have got a great nights sleep.

We arrived into Lisbon at 7am – a bit too early to check into our apartment, so we left our luggage at the train station and set out to see the sights. Not knowing much about Lisbon and being too tired to work it all out, we decided to get the hop-on and off bus around Lisbon. We ended up spending about three hours on the bus and got to see a whole lot of Lisbon (in between napping of course) and didn’t get off the bus until we were back at the starting point. The great thing about this bus was that there was a stop around the corner from our apartment, so we could use it as public transport.

Lisbon, we discovered is an eclectic mix of old versus new city. At the moment the old city wins just because it seems to make more sense. The new city called “Parque das Nações” was built for the World Expo in 1998 and much like the Docklands in Melbourne – has strange “art” on it’s streets, lots of sport stadiums and just randomly shaped buildings. Impressive, but I think if you go to Lisbon you should centralise yourself in the Old Town. There is much more of an ambiance and many more options for sight seeing, eating and drinking.

Barrio Alto: We were told Barrio Alto is place to visit for restaurants and bars. The direct translation for Barrio Alto is High Neighbourhood and it certainly was!  There is a funicular that takes you to the top and we took this option to get up there, once in the Barrio there are plenty of restaurant or café options. Don’t know if we were just used to the exuberant prices in Paris or Madrid, but the meals in Portugal were very cheap. The first night, Gus was desperate for Peri-Peri chicken – just to see if the Nandos chicken really tasted like flame grilled Portuguese chicken. It surpassed all expectations and we had two grilled chicken meals and a jug of sangria for 20 euros.

We were warned before heading to Europe that some places may charge you extra for bread and not let you know until the end of your meal. This place took it to a whole new level and managed to place bread, olives and a whole cheese platter in front of us. For a brief moment we thought we’d won the lottery for being awesome customers. But alas, reality set in and realised that the other patrons tables were empty – we probably just looked like saps! We sent back the cheese and bread and kept the olives – they were delicious!

Barrio Alto is where we met our first ‘Dinner Friends’, a Dutch couple that were sitting next to us and were eyeing off our olives. They were lovely and after Gus photo-bombed (a phase he is going through) their holiday snap there was an awkward exchange of “haha’s” and “good one”.  I don’t think he would have done it if he knew we were going to sit next to them the next night at a place called Café Luso.

This place was renowned for it’s Fado show – traditional Portuguese dancing and singing. The show was great, the singers were extremely talented – it lasted about two hours and you get to choose between five or six options on the set menu. It’s good food, a little bit pricey – but then we were watching the show also so it worked out nicely.

This is where we met our Brazilian friends, sitting on the other side of us. Gus photo-bombed their happy snap and they loved it! We spoke the whole night, the Dutchies joined in after a while and it was an international friend party! Great night and good way to finish our stay in Lisbon!

Belem: Belem is the historical part of Lisbon. We took the bus there from our apartment, situated in a part of Lisbon called Santos. Belem is home to the old port of Lisbon, which is why there is an abundance of lighthouses, castles and forts. We must have been lucky to head there on the Sunday as we caught a show of folkloric dancers at the park with pretty average singing, but great dancing.

As well as it’s historical sites; Belem is also known for it’s famous vanilla flan pastries at this shop called Pasteis de Belem. It sells something ridiculous like 8,000 per day – so we stopped in to see what the rave was about and they were absolutely delicious!

We spent the day cruising around Belem, lots of gorgeous parks and amazing scenery. Great place to spend the day!

Fatima: Fatima is a 90-minute bus ride from Lisbon and is a small town with a population of about 8,000 people.  It is famous (at least in the catholic community) for an apparition of the Virgin Mary over 90 years ago. The story goes the virgin appeared to these 3 children in about 1917 and prophesied three secrets which the Vatican kept under lock and key for about 60 years.

Being so close to it, we thought it might be nice to visit it. The place were the apparition took place has become a chapel and there is a monumental cathedral and massive courtyard for people to gather on the anniversary days. The celebration takes place on the 13th May and thousands of pilgrims usually gather at the site, most do the walk on their knees all the way to the altar. We saw two people doing this on just a normal day, so you can imagine it would be pretty insane on it’s anniversary dates.  It was a beautiful sanctuary, very quiet and lots of trees. It was good to finally see the place after hearing so many stories about it.

It was great to experience Lisbon and learn that it’s more than just Christiano Ronaldo and Nandos. Everyone in Lisbon was incredibly friendly and spoke perfect English so we didn’t struggle at all. Just in case you’re interested, Gus has continued his photo-bombing trend across most of Europe. No black eyes yet – so lets hope he’s onto a winner!

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