Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Spain Entry #7 The final leg

On Sunday morning we picked up a cute little Fiat from the Europcar center at the Barcelona Airport and made our way to Zaragoza Spain. Thanks to Maureen (our Garmin GPS system) and the help of a friendly shop worker, we found the B&B in Zaragoza. Marta, the owner was super nice and she even parked our car!

We took a walk into town and had some coffee and conversation. It has been so nice to have such a nice amount of time to catch up and chat about our lives and futures.

The afternoon was spent in the hostel calling our mothers for mothers day and updating blogs (Emy updated her blog at least.) We had a nice night out to two different restaurants. The first one was a buffet that was all right and we shared a mini bottle of red wine. The second one was an italian restaurant where I was treated to a delicious chocolate cake and ice cream. Thank you Emy for treating!

In the morning before heading out to Guadalajara we stopped at the Aljafería castle where the current Aragonian parliament convenes. The castle was built in the 11th century by the Moors and then in 1118 Alfonso I of Aragon took it over and it became the residence for the Catholic monarchs. It is absolutely beautiful and the craziest part was looking at the walls where prisoners of war had etched things in. So much history. It is pretty cool that it is used on a daily basis by the parliament. We thought about how it would be to grow up in a castle. Pretty drafty if you ask me. The castle is known to be the castle of joy which is not surprising from the courtyard. Obviously any prisoner that stayed there would think otherwise.

We made it to Guadalajara in the afternoon and tried to find ourselves a place to get pedicures but that didn't end up working out. Emy did find a pair of really cute flats though!

Now we are back in Madrid and it is kind of nice. The hostel we are staying in is really great and much nicer than where we stayed when we first got here. We made lunch in the kitchen and now Emy is doing some laundry. I would wash some clothes too but I will be home in a day so it doesn't make too much sense.

We saw these huge bulls on the side of the road along with lots of wind farms. We never asked why they have bulls all over the place but it is Spain and bulls are a huge part of their culture. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Spain Entry #6 La Sagrada Familia

I don't have much to say but this church was the most impressive church I have ever seen and the largest. Here are some pictures to enjoy. I may write a bit more about Gaudi and Sagrada Familia at a later time. I will let the pictures speak for themselves right now.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Spain Entry #5 Barcelona

We made it to Barcelona! Our train ride was very nice and we were right along the water a lot of the time. We found our hostal relatively easily and dropped our stuff quickly so we could take advantage of the day. Our hostal is not nearly as nice as the Purple Nest was in Valencia. There is no kitchen and the dorm is very cramped. There are a lot more people and the room is quite warm. Oh well. We wanted budget travel and that is what we are getting for now. We will have a few comfortable places on our way to Madrid though. We decided to go with renting a car to drive back to Madrid and we will be staying in Zaragoza and Guadelajara in a B&B and a hotel. It will be a nice treat for the end of our trip.

Anyway, we headed to the Picasso Museum and checked out Picasso´s collection of works that span all of his painting career. I knew he was talented but I had no idea how great of a painter. Everyone sees his abstract stuff but rarely do we see as much of the earlier stuff. It is super interesting to see the evolution of his work. He was first really noticed for his work ¨Science and Charity¨which depicts a sick woman in bed with a nun next to her holding her child. There is doctor taking her pulse on the other side. It is a super depressing piece of work but very impressive. It is not surprising that he received over 150 awards for it.

The other part of the museum I liked was the section on Las Meninas. Picasso became obsessed with Velasquez´s work ¨Las Meninas¨ and did a whole collection in abstract form. He also did a lot of the same pieces with little difference. In his down time while working on the pieces he painted pigeons from his window in the same manner and he considered those pieces a part of the ¨Las Meninas¨ collection. It is quite apparent that he became very involved in his endeavors. Emy and I are convinced that all great painters had some serious mental issues. That is what creates amazing art though right?

I would like to recap our last day in Valencia! We decided to rent bikes and we worked our way along the arts and sciences park to the beach. We made a big loop and rode along a fantastic bike lane to the Royal Gardens. We also took a trip to the Plaza de Toros and ended our trip with a bite of Paella, a tradtional Spanish meal consisting of rice with either meat or seafood. We had a paella that consisted of squid, peas, and garlic. It was great! It reminded me a lot of arroz con mariscos from Peru.

In the evening we relaxed and I ended up going to a little cafe by myself to read while Emy did her own thing. It is important to have a little bit of alone time when traveling. We haven´t gotten sick of each other by any means but having some alone time doesn´t hurt!

We are going to get up nice and early tomorrow to check out Gaudi´s La Familia Sagrada, one of the coolest churches I have ever seen a picture of. I am excited to see in person!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Spain Entry #4 Valencia

Yesterday we made it to Valencia! The train ride was fast since Emy and I slept for most of it. (I am impressed with Renfe by the way. Their trains have been very comfortable and fast.) We figured out how to use the metro train system and found the Purple Nest Hostel with little trouble. After checking in we took naps and then went down to the bar to meet people. We met a guy from Mexico, Germany, a girl from New Zealand and a girl from Belgium (Emy actually met her in the bathroom. Way to go Em on the outgoingness!)

We decided to go look for food at 10pm and found a place that served tapas and some regular meals. I am finding it quite difficult to be on the 10 o'clock dinner schedule. I am so hungry at that point since we eat around 2. Typically Spaniards eat lunch around 3 or after. The pub crawl poster in our hostel says it meets in the bar at 1am. Yikes! Seriously, that is late. I am good to go out around 10:30pm and then be home around 2am at the latest. Otherwise the following day is ruined.

It is fun to meet new people and go out but I find that a few hours is enough time to be out dancing since I don't really like to drink heavily anymore while out. Those days are gone. Dancing is still really really fun though.

Today we took a free bike tour of Valencia and the science and art park. It was kind of depressing since they don't use the opera house more than twice a year and it leaks. They also don't use the building they just constructed two years ago for tennis matches. What a waste! Our guide was nice but she wasn't very informative. She also was on more of the negative side when it came to comments about the city. It was a free tour so Emy and I weren't expecting a ton.

We had lunch with everyone from our bike group and then the six of us from the night before decided to go to the beach for a bit. It was really nice and hot but very windy. I quickly found an umbrella and relaxed while Emy checked out the water. It was a very nice afternoon.

Tonight I think we are going to make dinner at the hostel. Breakfast consists of bread and jam with coffee and orange juice so I think some cold cuts and fruit are in order for tomorrow. We need to make a trip to the market.

Until next time!

Sorry my blogs are not full of pictures. I have been lazy with that.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Spain Entry #3 Toledo

Today we took our first train ride on a Renfe train to the religious capital of Spain. Toledo is a beautiful medieval town that has more churches than we could count or take pictures of. It is a town that has hosted Muslims, Jews, and Christians throughout its history and is more than picturesque.

Emy and I took advantage of the gorgeous weather and walked all over Toledo today. We took a train ride around the outskirts of the town, checked out the Sefardic Jewish Museum/Sinagoga de Tránsito. I got quite the lesson in Judaism from my cousin. It was fantastic. I really liked hearing all about the different customs and ideas behind the artifacts that we were looking at. I think the tombs were really neat. They used limestone and carved prayers into them.

We took a train car ride around the city and took a lot of pictures. Emy has this cool app on her phone that allows her to take a bunch of photos and it puts them together to make a panoramic shot. Photos will be up soon.

We checked out the main Cathedral and it was enormous. There were various chapels and in the middle it looked like it was sectioned off into different chapels as well. We didn´t have a guide nor do we know if this is true but we think that it might have ended up that way because different catholic groups may have added their sections during different points in history. It would make sense because this town is definitely a religious epicenter for all three religions.

The synagogue Santa Maria la Blanca was constructed in the early 13th century and it was converted to a convent in the 15th century. I really enjoyed the synagogue because there were nuns inside who were very helpful with information and books promoting good will and connection to the Jews from the Catholic church. She was very nice and she pointed out where there was a 6-sided star in the arches and an 8-sided star. The 8-sided star is an Islamic symbol. It looked very much like the sun tattoo I have on my ankle but it lacked a circle in the middle. I wonder how many religions in the world have stars as important symbols. There is star involved in the symbols for Islam (crescent and the star and the 8-sided star as I learned today), Christianity (the cross) and Judaism (the star of David). The star that I have on my ankle represents the sun which is a symbol the sun god Inti for the quechua people of Ecuador.

It was a very religion filled day and I enjoyed it very much. I like learning more about all religions and seeing how they all connect. I think it is super cool that Toledo has been host to the three major religions in the world. There has got to be something quite powerful about this place. One thing I know for sure is that it is surrounded by absolutely beautiful scenery and the River Tajo.

Emy and I are exhausted and are currently waiting for it to be 8pm so we can go eat dinner. They don´t serve dinner here until after 8pm. It is only tapas and drinks. We have had a lot of tapas in the past day (sandwich type plates that typically have fish, cheese, meat, or a mixture of that all served on bread with olive oil). They are delicious but we are craving a legitimate meal. We are struggling a bit with the late dinner schedule they keep in Spain but when it Rome...

Hasta mañana!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Spain Entry #2

Today we got up really late. Instead of going out and drinking it up (because I am on antibiotics right now and drinking costs a lot of money), Emy and I had really good conversation until the wee hours of the morning. It is so great to have so much time with my cousin and really be able to discuss lots of things and reminisce about the past. It's also great to be with such a laid back traveler like myself.

Last night Emy and I headed out to a meson (restaurant in Spain Spanish) and had a menu. We spent almost two hours eating and left the restaurant after midnight. I found a jazz bar in the lonely planet book on Spain so we headed over to Populart and listened to some jazz for a little while. It was great. There were two saxophonists, a pianist, bassist, and a drummer. The place was packed and apparently we talked a little too loud at one point because a Spaniard told us to quiet down during a piano solo. Oops! We stayed for 45 minutes or so and had a drink. I love jazz but when it is all instrumental and the songs are 10 minutes long, the tend to get a bit repetitive. We headed back to the hostal where I got to skype for a bit with Marco and talked for a few hours with Emy.

Today we got up around 10:30 am and had breakfast before heading to the plaza mayor to look into taking a walking tour. The one for 12pm was already full so we signed up for the 4pm tour. We made our way around a new part of the center, checking out a huge basilica and viaduct. We made out way back to the hostal and booked a rental car for the final leg of the trip from Barcelona to Madrid. We also booked the two hotels we are going to stay in along the way. I am super excited about it because it is not the typical thing to do and we will see Zaragovia as well as Guadalajara Spain in the process. The rental car is only 20 dollars a day and gas won't be more than 50 bucks each. That is definitely cheaper than taking a train from Barcelona to Madrid and the places wa are staying are more affordable too since they are not in major cities. We will, of course, be safe and not leave anything in our car at night. Both places have parking available. One of them is free!

Our tour this afternoon was given by a nice man named Rodrigo who liked to say major for the word mayor, bis-quit for the word biscuit and shadow for the word shade. He was well informed but seemed to get a little off topic at times. It wasn't an expensive tour and Emy and I learned and saw a lot.

On our way back to the hostal we stopped in a mercado that reminded me of a mix between whole foods and an open air market. There were bakeries, wine boots, tapas bars and produce available. It was a super chic mercado. The regular market where I bought some cold fighting tea was super clean and pretty. There was a vendor who had a bar as well. The smell was exactly the same as in Peru though. Meat and vegetables.

Tonight we are really going to try tapas. We weren't able to find any last night because we didn't really know where to go. We got some suggestions from the lady at the front desk today so now we know where to go tonight.

Tomorrow we head to Toledo for the day and one night. I am looking forward to seeing the Medieval town that has been home to Muslims, Christians and Jews during various times in its history. It is also the religious capital of Spain.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Spain Entry #1

I made it to Spain! The flight didn't really feel that long either. It was a nice flight and I got a decent amount of sleep. I also saw two movies. I had two full meals and lots of snacks and water. KLM took very good care of me. I am not as upset now about the 80 dollar baggage fee that I had to pay for my one checked baggage. It's still a rip off because I think I paid enough for my flights for it to be included but that is how the airlines make their money isn't it?

All right so I got into Amsterdam at 3:15pm and headed to customs where I was quickly given a stamp to enter the EU without a single question about how long I wanted to stay or where I was going. Granted, it said that my final destination for my flight was in Madrid but still, I think it is crazy how much privilege I have as an American traveler. The two Peruvians in front of me were asked how long they were going to stay and what they were planning on doing while in Europe. They probably make more money than I do and I know they have nicer electronics that I do (I saw them as they went through security.) and yet they are considered more of a threat. I think everyone should be treated equally when traveling. If someone does decide to stay in another country and is able to find work, more power to them!

I digress. My flight to Madrid from Amsterdam got in early and my bag came out right away! I found Emy and Gamaniel waiting for me at the exit. It was so great to see both of them! Emy's first comment to me was "How long has it been since we have seen each other?" My response: "We saw each other last May when I was in the States." "Oh right!" Haha. Love it. I am so excited to have 2 weeks with her. Gamaniel's driving instructor picked us up and dropped us off at Gamaniel's apartment. I met Luz Ynes, my almost 4 month old niece and her mother Luz. I had lots of presents to give Luz  Ynes including a doll of a serrana holding a baby that are typical in Cusco. She got lots of clothing from the rest of the family and Marco added oatmeal and beans that can't be found in Spain. Gamaniel cooked us a delicious chicken soup with sauteed chicken and fries as the main course. It was delicious. He works as a chef at a Peruvian restaurant here in Madrid. We took lots of pictures. It was super cute. I hope to be able to see him again before I leave. I would like to buy him a drink. It's the least I can do for his hospitality. He also accompanied us to our hostel and gave us good advice for places to see and things to do. It is always nice to have a contact in a new place. I love being that person for anyone who visits Peru. I am at your service!

We got to our hostel/hotel and started looking into reserving train tickets instead of renting the car. We ended up buying tickets in person at the Atocha train station today. It was a good idea since all the stuff online was confusing and we weren't sure we would be getting the right tickets. We are all set to go to Toledo, Valencia and Barcelona. We have yet to book Barcelona to Madrid because there is still a chance we could rent the car in Barcelona and drive it to Madrid and stop in little towns and what not along the way. I love road trips. I know Emy is itching to use her International driving permit as well.

Today we walked about central Madrid and after buying our train tickets we headed to the botanical garden. It was really nice and green and smelled delicious. Something I definitely lack in Lima is access to greenery and a variety of different plants. We took lots of pictures and had very good conversation. There was also an art gallery inside the gardens. One side was more contemporary stuff and the other was all about plants. We spent our time in the plant section.

After the gardens we headed to a restaurant called A Comer (Let's Eat, roughly translated). We had a cous cous salad, baked salmon with greens and zucchini and vanilla pudding for desert. It was a ton of food. 10.90 Euros is a good price for a menu but it is still 14 dollars and 14 dollars would get me 5 lunches in Lima. Talk about a difference in cost of living!

After lunch we headed to the Plaza de Sol and I got some money exchanged. It was a beautiful sunny day today and after all of the walking we did we were ready for a siesta so we headed back to the hostel. We noticed that most stores were closed until 4:30pm which is typical here. Siestas are taken very seriously as they should be. People should get their time to relax during the day. American companies should take note. Then again that would mean Americans would have to become more patient and relax a bit more. Emy and I were talking about how working until you drop is a part of our culture that could use some tweaking. Life is not all about a job or making money. You have to enjoy yourself and take time for yourself too. Otherwise, what is the point?

Tonight we are going to head to a place that is known for their tapas. We hope to check out some live jazz music too. I highly doubt we will be doing any bar/club hopping tonight since things don't get started until after 2am and sometimes 3am depending on the place. We prefer sleep. Haha. We will make sure to get a taste of the night life at some point on this trip though. I am currently taking antibiotics for a bug I had earlier this week so no alcohol for me for a few more days at least. No plans on going crazy with it either. I would like to try some Spanish wine though.

I am going to wake Emy up now. It is her turn to write a blog entry. Her blog is http://memyries.blogspot.com if you are interested in following it. She is going to be traveling throughout Europe for the next 6 months.

I will try and go back and add pictures when I get the chance.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Spain Here I Come!

I decided back in January to book a flight to Spain to spend two weeks with my cousin during a leg of her Europe trip. I am super excited and for the next few weeks there will be updates here and there about our time in Spain!

For now, wish me good luck with all the traveling. I just found out today that I have to pay an extra 80 dollars for one checked bag. What a rip off. Airlines love to get their money anywhere they can! Oh well, I won't let it bring me down. It's just money!

See you all on the other side of the pond!