Seville – Lonely Planet’s #1 city to visit next year

22 12 2017

I have heard so much about Seville and how beautiful this city is. I am blessed with wonderful weather during my stay in this awesome city that makes me LOVE this place even more.

The streets were lined with orange trees or more accurately during my visit, the oranges fell onto the roads creating yet another beautiful sight. The old town is lovely with the plazas full of horse-drawn carriages, transporting one (including me) back in time to fairy tale land.

I was quite surprised when I was told that Seville (or Sevilla as called by the Spanish) is the fourth largest city in Spain. The sights are all closely gathered in the old city which misled one to think that Seville is a small little town.

The most famous landmark in the city is Real Alcázar which was the palace to a couple of Spanish monarchs in the past. The Alcázar used to be a fort for the governors of Seville in the eighth century but was subsequently converted to a palace by the subsequent rulers which resulted in a beautiful mix of Moorish, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles. If you are a Game of Thrones fan or have watched Lawrence of Arabia, you will find this place familiar as it was used to shoot some parts of the shows. Apparently, the royal family still use the upper floors when they are in Seville so keep a look out for them if you do visit.

Near the Real Alcázar is the Cathedral which you surely won’t miss with its impressive architecture. The Cathedral was built in the 15th century and is the third largest church in the world. I love to read stories about Christopher Columbus and thus was thrilled to know that Christopher Columbus remains rest in the Cathedral.

Take time to wander through the cobbled streets of the Santa Cruz quarter and along the band of the lovely river. Other nice sites to visit are the lovely gardens in Casa Pilatos.

I especially love Plaza De Espana with the beautiful buildings and tiles. Visit there during the late afternoon as the afternoon sun shining on the plaza gives it a nice colour.

Tips:

– Seville is the home of the flamenco shows so don’t miss it.

– I enjoyed the bull ring tour at Plaza de Toros which is extremely interesting and informative. The tour is free from 3pm onwards but you need to arrive early to queue for the free ticket which they only start to give out at 3pm.

– See my blog on Madrid and Barcelona for add-on to your Seville trip.

Food:

1) Carrillada de Cerdo: This is one of the most traditional pork cheek stew. One word – delicioso!

2) Serranito de Lomo: This is THE sandwich that you need to have in Seville. The seared pork loin (there’s a chicken version now) is topped with Serano ham and grilled green pepper is the signature sandwich of the city.

3) Cola de Toro: Well we heard from the bullring tour that when the bull is killed, its meat is then sold to restaurants to turn them into delicacies, one such is Cola de Toru (bull tail). I am not so sure if there are so many bull meat though and this may well be oxtail. But regardless this tapas is lovely. Sorry bull.

4) Torrijas: This bread dipped in eggs, deep fried to goodness and covered with sugar syrup, sweetened milk or honey is a must have desert. Ask if they can serve this with some ice cream which makes this already tasty desert even more heavenly.





Madrid in a day

21 12 2017

I must say my initial plan to stop by Madrid was not so much because I want to see the city but because Spain is the cheapest place to catch a flight to Morocco. I have been to Spain previously though it is limited to Barcelona and its surroundings. I mean when one thinks of Spain, the most popular city that pops up is Barcelona isn’t it? Ok this blog isn’t about Barcelona so if you are interested, you can read more in my separate blog https://thecarefreetraveller.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/barcelona/

Now talking about Madrid, the first thing that came to my mind is its football (soccer) team and of course many of my Spanish friends are from this city. I have not really researched on this city before I came as it was more of a “stopover” destination. Well I am pleasantly surprised that this city has so much more to offer than what the ignorant me has thought. Below is what I managed to cover in one full day and I surely need to go back again!

The Parque del Retiro is Madrid’s main park with the famous Crystal Palace (completely made out of glass) is a beautiful place to stroll around.

From there, you can walk to Calle de Alcalá and the Alcalá Gate, the stunning Plaza de Cibeles and Puerta del Sol, the city’s best-known square.

Plaza Mayor is another famous site. This plaza once used to have bullfights, tournaments, markets and even (scary) executions!

Another must see is the Royal palace. Though it’s the official residence of the royal family, they don’t live here and it is only used for state functions. Across from the palace is Madrid Cathedral where official state ceremonies are held. Though this may not be the nicest cathedral in terms of look, it is one of the nicest place to view Madrid’s skyline.

For those bullfighting lovers, make sure you visit the Plaza de Toros which is the home of bullfighting in Spain and arguably the world. The building is beautiful so even if you can’t get tickets to the show, it is worth a visit to see the building.

If you have the time, Casa del Campo park which has an amusement park and zoo and the Parque del Oeste where an Egyptian temple (the Temple of Debod) can be found are interesting places to visit. Too bad time does not permit me to visit these places. Next time!

Tips:

⁃ Travelling to/from the airport: There are four modes of transport – Metro, train, bus or taxi – each takes around 30–40 minutes with taxi being the fastest (and most expensive). You can ask the information counter at the airport on which mode of transport is most convenient for you to reach your hotel. If you have 4 people, the taxi may add up to a very reasonable cost for each and save you the hassle.

⁃ Central Madrid is very walkable but please wear comfortable shoes as you will be walking a lot. If you find it too tiring or is travelling a little further, the metro is a cheap, convenient and fast way to navigate around the city. They sell single tickets, a set of 10 tickets (which is cheaper) and tourist pass. Map out your route to determine how many times you are going to take the metro and you can do your sums on what works best.

⁃ If you are in Madrid on a Sunday, head to the El Rastro flea market along the streets between Plaza Mayor and Puerta de Toledo.

Barcelona and Seville are good extensions to your Madrid trip which I have separately blog.

Food:

– Do try the local speciality of Chocolate Con Churros. This is essentially long churros served with a big cup of melted chocolate which spells YUMMY!

– I am a paella and Sangria fan so Spain is a food heaven to me. The second photo is taken from the restaurant opposite the Central train station (just beside McDonalds) but I can’t remember which restaurant I had fo the first photo. Anyway I must say most of the restaurants that I stepped into are pretty good. Well it is Spain after all!





Hola Barcelona!

3 09 2013

Barcelona, Barcelona, Barcelona. Arh, I have heard so much about how wonderful this city is. But despite having travelled within Europe to numerous cities, somehow I have always missed this popular city. So instead of flying directly back to Singapore from London after my Iceland trip, I decided to do a little “detour” to Barcelona and flying out from there since the air ticket from London to Barcelona is much cheaper than the airport taxes that I would need to pay if I was to fly out from London back to Singapore! Killing 2 birds with 1 stone – cost savings and yet able to see this wonderful city 🙂

montserrat 2

I am so glad I made this detour. Barcelona lives up to my expectation indeed. It has just so much to offer and as someone puts it, “the city has not just one but many different worlds to explore”. I enjoyed the nice walk up the famous avenue Las Ramblas starting from the Columbia statute on one end (near the port) all the way to Plaza de Catalunya on the other. The nice street throbbed with vitality (especially on Saturdays), with artists drawing things like self-potraits, human statues, jugglers, singers, flower stalls, caged small animals and so on can be found along Las Rambas.

La Rambles

The famous Cathedral is just mid-way along Las Rambles and many other nice shops, cafes, departmental stores and hotels lined the avenue. I would say Las Rambles is one of my 2 favourite avenues amongst the different cities that I have visited so far to stroll up and down (the other being the Strip in Vegas minus the heat of course lol).

cathedral

The old Gothic Quarter with its famous narrow alleys and well preserved monuments is also another nice area within the city centre to roam around. A visit to the famous unfinished cathedral (Sagrada Família) is a must. This cathedral is one of the most impressive work of the hermit-like architect Antoni Gaudi (who interestingly was killed by a tram), with stories of Christ (eg cruxification) being portrayed on each side of the Cathedral. You can take a ride up to the top of one of the towers and enjoy the fine view. I was pretty lucky that the queue to enter the cathedral was pretty short when I visited and hence decided to see the beautiful interiors of the cathedral as well. I would say that if I get to visit Barcelona again, I would still join the queue to see the interior of this awesome cathedral again and would highly recommend anyone visiting Barcelona to plan this into their itinerary.

unfinished cathedral

inside unfinshed

Another of Gaudi’s work, Parc Güell, is a beautiful fairy-tale liked park located high up in the city. I love the way the park was designed – with Hansel-and-Gretel houses at the entrance, interesting mosaic serpent, and the Banc de Trencadís (a multi-colored ceramic bench) which curves around a spacious esplanade. I felt like I was entering a magical wonderland the moment I stepped into the park. If you climb up the park, you will get one of the most beautiful scenic views of the city. Of course, being a Gaudi fan, I also visited other of his masterpieces such as Casa Batllo and Casa Mila and felt fully satisfied after my “Gaudi indulgence”.

Parc guell

After all the “artistic immersion”, I made my way to the Olympic complex and then up the Montjuic hill for panoramic views of the city and port.

hill view

Of course, not to forget, Barcelona is one of the rare cities in Europe where you have a beach in the city itself. When the temperature is much warmer (typically from end April to mid October), many locals and tourists flock to this wonderful city for its beach and warm sunshine.

Oh, one thing that I love so much about this city is that there are still things to do at night. When night falls, make sure you head to the “Magic Fountain” (Font Màgica) located in front of Palau Nacional for a magical (and free) fountain show. I have seen many fountain shows at different cities/countries and I would say that only the famous fountain show at Bellagio in Vegas can triumph over this (ok before I get “shot”, let me caveat that this is a personal opinion lol).

magic fountain

Just an hour by train from Barcelona is Montserrat. A cable car ride will take you up the hill to the monastery (alternative is to drive up). Every year, many pilgrims come here to see the “Black Madonna”, which is a 12th-century Romanesque carving of the Black Virgin, with long queue forming up to see the statute. It is believed that by touching the ball held by the Black Madonna, you will be cured of your illness and whatever your wish will come true. Even if you are not a Catholic, the monastery is a great tourist attraction as it is nestled high up in the mountains with beautiful landscape and architecture. The Black Madonna is just so famous that regardless of your belief, it is really amazing to be able to come up close to her. Everyday before noon time (except for Saturdays), the boys choir will sing in the mass. Even though I am not a Catholic, I was captivated by their awesome voices and would highly recommend that you plan your trip so that you will be able to hear the choir sing. Apart from the monastery, there are a couple of cog-wheel trains that can take you and the one that will bring you to the top of the mountain is the “Sant Joan Funicular”. If you have the time, do take this funicular as the hilltop will give you great view of the monastery below and the beautiful mountain range.

montserrat

Tips:-
– To avoid the long queue to see the Black Madonna up close (where you will be able to touch her), step out of the sanctuary a few minutes before the mass ends and wait outside the right door to the sanctuary. There is a sign to say that this is the place to queue so just queue there. Once the mass ends, the door will be opened and you will be lead right through the walkway to the end of the sanctuary where the Black Madonna is.

montserrat 3

– Overall, Barcelona is pretty safe but do exercise the general traveller caution and beware of pickpockets especially at crowded areas.
– For Picasso fan, the Picasso Museum is something that should not be missed.
– Take note that the timing of the Magic Fountain shows varies depending on the time of the year (but typically operates from Friday to Sunday, and during the summer months there are shows on Thursday as well). You may want to check with the hotel or information counter on the specific timing. The place is easily reached by the Metro (take to Plaça Espanya on either the Green or Red Line).

Transportation:-
– To travel between the airport and the city, there is a shuttle service (called Aerobus) that takes you to Plaza de Catalunya, with stops in between. For details of the stops and timetable of the bus, you can visit http://www.aerobusbcn.com/index.php/en.html.
– All parts of the city are pretty much accessible via Metro. Don’t be intimidated by the metro system which looks complicated but is in fact pretty simple. The rule of thumb is to identify which station you are at, which station you want to go to, the train lines (including transfer that will take you to your destination station), and then board the train heading towards the last station along the train line (same thing when you need to transfer to different lines).

Food:-
– It would be a pity if you are in Spain and yet have not tried out the tapas. There are many tapas bars around and the one that I really love (like is an understatement) is Cuidad Condal at Rambla de Catalunya, 18. I have to give credit here to a Spanish friend who recommended this place to me hahaha. The price is reasonable and the food is great so it’s not surprising that this place came in first in the Traveler’s Choice 2012 Restaurants by tripadvisor. Spanish typically eat tapas more like a snacks in between meals and not as a full lunch or dinner. However, for tapas lovers or those that prefer to have an earlier dinner, there is nothing wrong in having just tapas for dinner (which I did as Spanish dinner typically starts after 8pm and I am used to an early dinner). To make my tapas indulgence even better, I happened to bump into some F1 engineers from the UK who came to Barcelona to prepare for the upcoming F1 race and they bought me more tapas and drinks :)

Condad
– There’s another tapas place that I have tried out called “Lonja de Tapas” at Pla Palau, 7 which is near to the Picasso Museum. It’s also pretty good (or is it that I just love Spanish food) and the presentation was cool. The price is pretty acceptable, not expensive but not cheap either.
– As I wandered down La Rambles, I realised that there are many cafes and restaurants along the avenue especially near to the port area. The price looks really cheap (like a main plus drinks cost around 10 euros) so for anyone who want to catch some bargain meals in the touristy area without resorting to a grab-and-go food, this may be the place to go. I must caveat (again) that I have not tried the food here so don’t ask me if they taste good =P
– Another must-try Spanish dish for many tourists is paella. A nice one to try out is “7 Portes” at Pg. Isabel II, 14. This place opens at 1pm till 1am and is an old-fashioned restaurant that locals have been frequenting for over 100 years. You can check out their website www.7portes.com to read about their history and see their menu.

Shopping:-
– Things in Spain are generally much cheaper than the rest of western/central Europe. You will get most of the different labels lined up along the La Rambas and Plaza de Catalunya area. So be forewarn – you can literally shop till you drop in Barcelona.
– The popular “must-buys” in Spain are labels such as Zara and Mango, to the high end designer products such as Loewe, which you can find them all along La Rambas or Plaza de Catalunya.

Accommodation:-
– I would highly recommend that one stay along La Rambas and Plaza de Catalunya are as it is centrally located and easy to navigate around from there. Remember that the airport shuttle stops at Plaza de Catalunya so if you stay there or within walking distance from there, it will be really convenient as you will not need to lug your luggage too far.
– I stayed at Hotel 1898 located at La Rambla, 109 which is just a short walk from Plaza de Catalunya. It is a 4 star hotel with great location (along La Rambas) and the rooms are comfortable and clean. The price is also pretty good. After much research, I have shortlisted 3 hotels namely Le Meredian, Royal Ramblas and this. The reviews on tripadvisor of this hotel is much better than the other 2 and cheaper than Le Meredian so I decided to give this a try. Gosh, I was glad that I found this gem! No wonder the tripadvisor review of this hotel is outstanding.