Sunday, July 31, 2011

Barcelona: "Hot town...

Summer in the city,
Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city"

Beautiful day, but hot! Thank goodness for the cool breeze blowing off of the Mediterranean (the same "mistral" wind we enjoyed while visiting Cassis in southern France). It was like air conditioning for the city.

Las Ramblas is a long, wide pedestrian street full of little artsy-craftsy vendors and performance artists. Keep your backpacks and purses close to you! This place is a pick-pocketer's dream because everyone has to slowly "ramble" along in a crowd of squished-together people. Check the photo below to see what I mean:

Today we walked along the famous Las Ramblas, down to the water, and then through the streets to the Picasso Museum. The coolest part of the museum was Picasso's study of another artist's work: Valasquez's Las Meninas, which we saw in person while in Madrid. How cool! (Ok, and on a side note, this huge department store in Spain also has their own ad which pays homage to Las Meninas with a modern twist. Also very cool!)

Velasquez's original, painted in 1656:

Picasso's interpretation, painted in 1957:

El Corte Ingles's promotional ad, as seen in 2011:

Saturday, July 30, 2011


We've walked and walked all over the city, and we both agree that so far, this has been our favorite. If you're planning a trip to the southern part of Europe, make sure to include Madrid! Ironically, I think I have taken fewer pictures here than anywhere else. I'd say it's a result of the fact that #1 I've been here before and that #2 I'm enjoying so much I forget to snap a picture!

Here are just a few images for you to enjoy...

Touristy things we did/saw: Museo del Prado, Museo de la Reina Sofia, Museo Thysenn Bornemisza, Palacio Real, Plaza de Espana, Plaza Mayor, Plaza Oriente, Puerta del Sol, Plaza de Santo Domingo, El Corte Ingles, and the Paseo del Prado.

We also made time to walk to the neighborhood where I lived when I studied abroad here on Calle Hilarion Eslava (near the Moncloa metro station). We tried to contact my host mother (Pili) in building #29, but the doorman said she wasn't home. Oh well!

Top food items in Spain: sangria, ham croquetas, fried eggs, pisto, serrano ham, cheese, paella, tortilla de patata, flan, and cold beer.

Total Steps: 14,305 (7/28); 14,297 (7/30)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Toledo, Spain

Toledo is just a short, 30-minute train ride from Madrid, so B and I made sure to spend some time there today. Toledo was my favorite city when I studied abroad in Spain ten years ago. The city is built upon a hill alongside the River Tagus (yes, the same one from Lisbon) and surrounded by a brick wall.

Toledo is famous for its mixture of architectural influences that resulted through many conquests and changes of power throughout the area over the centuries. There were the Romans in 192 BC, the Visigoths, the Moors in the 8 AD, and the Christians in 1085 AD. Many of the buildings--as well as the maze-like streets--were influenced by Arabics.

We walked from the train station up-hill to the main square (Plaza de Tocovar). It was h-o-t, so the first thing I did was buy a fan. In this picture, the thermometer says that it is 38 degrees Celsius, but I swear it had just changed! It said 39 before I turned my back to pose.

B loved the atmosphere and agreed that it was definitely worth seeing. We spent a long time in the Army Museum housed within the Alcazar, "one of Toledo's most symbolic buildings, whose earliest origins go back to Roman times (3rd century). It was conceived historically as a fortress, castle, or palace." I thought that this was just amazing, because inside they had uncovered and then preserved parts of the fortress that had previously been there: brick and stone walls, water cisterns, watch towers. Of course I LOVED all of the archaeological stuff! I even snuck in a few pictures, even though I wasn't supposed to.

After strolling around the city and peeking into the shops along the Calle Comercio (aka: Commerce Street), we ended up at a corner cafe. We drank beer, ate croquettes and marzipan, and enjoyed the water that misted down on us from the umbrellas over head. Life was good.

Total steps: 10,301

Overnight Train (again)!

No worries, you won't have to hear anymore complaining from me! Last night we took another overnight train (eek!) from Portugal to Spain, but thank God, this time, everything went as planned. We had our private, two-person room with a bathroom (and shower!). Dinner and breakfast in dining car were included. Heavenly!

Here, B is in the little bathroom. The curved shower is behind him, and if the train bumped a little he'd get thrown backwards onto the toilet. It was TEENY but private. We loved it.

Here, he's leaning over the two cushioned seats that were in our room. The red door to the bathroom is just behind him, and his head is nearly touching the opposing wall. The window is covered by the curtain in this picture. You can see just how small the room is!

And finally, B is peaking out of the door from our room. While we were eating dinner, the crew folded our cushioned chairs down under the bottom bunk and folded the two beds out of the wall. They made the beds with sheets and blankets and left a little chocolate by our pillows. How cool!

This morning at breakfast, I took a picture of the dining car. Very chic!

We arrived in Madrid relatively refreshed and were able to check into our hotel right away. Yay! After settling into our hotel room, B said, "I'm loving Madrid already," and that pretty much sums up how we're feeling today.

Final Lisbon Images

In Portugal, the sidewalks were never made of concrete, cement, or asphalt. Instead, in every city we visited, the sidewalks were paved with "Portuguese stones" arranged in beautiful and often intricate designs.

Additionally, many of the buildings were covered with ceramic tiles. The effect was often gorgeous.

On our last day in Lisbon, we took a bus tour around the city and saw some beautiful sights, including this "Tower of Belem," which used to be in the middle of the River Tagus but due to sedimentation run-off, now appears to be along the shore.

We returned to our hotel to pick up our luggage and then to head to the train station, but before we officially left the city, we feasted on one last "pastry meal." I'm not sure if we managed to include every food group, but who cares! There's nothing like a Portuguese pastel de nata!

Total Steps: (7/27) 10,969
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