Alhambra – Early morning wake up, two hours in queue and we finally made it…

Granada was next on the list. Again purely for one reason and one reason only. The Alhambra.

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I didn’t research or knew much about Granada other than that was where Alhambra garden was and Alhambra was something that was so fairy tale like and almost mythical when I started Architecture and studied history.
But we had a problem. I forgot to buy tickets in advance!! I kept thinking I need to but also kept forgetting so by the time we got to Granada I was very much stressed and was about to break down and cry. (really!) So the first thing we did when we checked in was to ask where to buy tickets and was told online tickets are sold out and we will have to try our luck early morning because they do release some at site every day. The horror!!!!

So next morning, we woke up virtually in the middle of the night… Left the hotel in the dark… The streets of Granada were completely empty, except for a lonely street cleaner spraying the cobblestones with water under the dim light of beautiful antique streetlights… A long, lonely walk up a steep hill, and finally, way before daylight hits the beautiful red-clay walls, we arrive at the ALHAMBRA!!! All of this, so we could be the first at the entrance because online tickets were sold out…. Proud as hell, we turn a corner to the ticket office……. there is a line of about hundred people!

We waited for nearly two hours and managed to get a limited access pass which meant we couldn’t go in to the Nasrid palace, guess we have to come back ;), but everything else was still pretty amazing. I will let the photos do the talking.

The Gardens

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Charles V Palace

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Alcazaba

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Towers and Higher Alhambra

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…The End…

 

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Sevilla: Where everything is a shade of yellow…

Where can I start? Seville in my head was different to Seville in front of my eyes. In my head it was this rugged farm lands with olive groves and small town with walls painted in mustard yellow. In reality it was a much bigger town. But when we went looking for accommodation, I was thrilled to find that we were yet again in other ‘old town’ area. It was amazing!!!!!

a little touristy at first with lot of eating places catering to that but nothing can beat walking in narrow paved paths with mustard yellow walls surrounding us.

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There were 100 of little roads and we got lost. Really lost. And it was fun. A place we saw once we could almost never find again. 🙂 I could Live in that old town for a long long time. I loved it. And then there were tapas. (Drool) We ate so much tapas as main meals I have forgotten what main meals look like. They were amazing and every 5 minutes after walking you will come across eateries/ restaurants/ tapas bars and deciding where to eat was out biggest problem. 🙂

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Main attractions in Seville include the Alcazar, with some saying it is more beautiful than the one in Alhambra, The Seville Cathedral, Metropol Parasol, Arena for bull fights,etc.. and even on a quiet day you will still have to stand in queue. So As we spent the first day walking around the town and appreciating the amazing architecture, the horse carts that are so unique to Seville and getting lost in the little streets we decided to leave out going inside the cathedral. Tough decision, I know but by this point we have been to so many cathedrals that were wonderful it didn’t feel appealing to wait in queue for hours to get into another. DSC_0939 DSC_0942 DSC_0991 DSC_1003

Of course that didn’t mean we didn’t appreciate the cathedral from outside. We did day and night. 🙂 It was magical atmosphere around the Cathedral and the horse carts made it extra special. (Even though at some point I did feel sorry for the horses)

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Then the  next stop was the Metropol parasol or the Mushroom. 🙂 I was quite excited to see this as I couldn’t picture the structure I have seen in photos in actual Seville town. But when I went there it was surprisingly well done. I didn’t expect to like it as I have heard Sevillians do not particularly like the structure. I understand why. It is something very different and we did question ‘why is it here’? 🙂 But I am glad I made the effort to go see it. It was structurally beautiful and the views of seville from the top was even more beautiful.

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Just as we got out of here it started pouring. We ran in to a local fish shop and had a drink while the rain stopped and called it a day. Next morning was the big day. Seeing the Alcazar. I really didn’t know what to expect but I was blown away. It was amazing.

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The architecture, the details, patterns. landscaping, colours, paintings and I could go on. It is a must see. I’ll let the photos speak for itself.

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After being awed by the Alcazar we did a night time walk around town. It was even more spectacular.

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Next day we headed to the other side of the town, where there were less tourist and not as glamorous but just as interesting. Ate some chestnuts, some ice cream, walked in and out of a few shops and headed to the Bull fighting arena.

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The day before it was the ‘final’ bull fight of the season and A was so eager to go. But I am not a fan of bull fights and will not stand and watch people kill animals so we skipped that. But as a peace offering to A we decided to take a tour of the arena. It was interesting. 😉

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All this time we were looking for a place to see some flamenco. After all this is Seville. But everything we came across was either expensive or just for tourists. As much as we wanted to see a local performance, with the amount of tourists in the area we realised it was going to be impossible. So while I was browsing online to find some info I came across a blog by some one (sorry I forget your name) talking about a very low key place so we decided that night to go on search of that. So like I have mentioned before, the old town is a tricky place to navigate. But we did well. We got there and it was just a red door with the name Carboneria. We walked in with a bit of suspicion and someone let us in to see the back was a bigger area packed with people but with a dodgy look. 🙂 We got ourselves a drink, found some amazing people, met a friend for life and got a seat to see what this was all about.

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It was definitely an interesting night with lots of fun. A good high to end our seville adventures.

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Architecture of Antonio Gaudi: aka Barcelona’s money making machine. It’s a love hate relationship…

Barcelona- Gaudi, Gaudi – Barcelona. It’s a thing. What is a visit to Barcelona without trailing all the works of Antonio Gaudi, the famous Catalan Architect? So when in Barcelona, do as the tourist do. So we did, a little bit. I was all excited about this. The crazy architecture, ideas and a pioneer in catalan modernism. His works are talked about all over the world for how quirky and weird it is and now I get to see it. So we dedicated a full day to see his work. His Art.

First was Palau Guell. This kind of work was exactly what he was known for. We didn’t get to go inside because we were short on time and I have a feeling we missed out on something important.

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Palau Guell

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Next was his ‘magnum opus’ The Sagrada Familia. We bought tickets online, a day before and still couldn’t get the ticket to go up to the towers as there were only a few a day and obviously there are much more organised and enthusiastic tourist in the business. So we get there a little earlier than the time slot printed on the ticket and had a look around. The whole area was covered with people. The streets, the park in front and the sagrada site. We could see people queued up a long way to get tickets. We saw the basilica and as usual there were a lot of construction going around it. It wasn’t a pretty site from a distance but we were still eager to go pass the gates. When we finally did, we found our selves in the middle of a sea of tourist groups holding flags, talking on to speakers and walking all around us. So getting a good look at this massive structure in front of us was hard. But when we finally managed, it was weird, wacky and wonderful. Religious stories and sculptures adored the facades. No two were alike. It was quite impressive. The towers stood so far from the ground (duh!)they were hardly visible. We were impressed. To think this up without the present computer softwares and technology was somewhat crazy! And then we went inside.

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La Sagrada Familia

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It felt like a totally different place. It was much smaller than I thought. It was just one huge room where as soon as I entered, I could see the exit. Yes it was awfully tall, yes the ceiling had another wacky design on it, yes the columns were not all the same. But it felt empty, totally a different feel to the craziness outside. The columns were smooth finished! (what?) And for me the best thing about it was the amazing stained glass windows that let the sunlight through and lit the whole place like a rainbow. And that was it, we walked out. I was somewhat disappointed. Felt ripped off to to pay a lot of money for this. I am sure the towers and the view from it must have been good but somehow I felt the inside of it didn’t justified the experience he promised from outside.

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However considering the out of this world design, the extremely long time it had taken (still taking) for construction, parts of the basilica, Gaudi’s models and workshops being destroyed by civil war and the painful process of restoring the burnt plans, reconstructing the models and getting a dedicated team of architects and researchers on board to see this nearly impossible project to an end is no easy task. Hats off to everyone involved.

So the next on the list was Park Guell. Another one of Gaudi’s most talked about and most visited attractions in Barcelona. We walked for about 30mins up and down the hills and another up finally got us there. Then there was another line. So Park Guell is a garden with a few buildings and monuments within one big park. Entrance to the park is free but to enter the monumental area, which is the colourful and playful bits you have to pay good money and wait for a time slot. Since he next available one was a little too long a wait we just decided to walk in the garden and go see Gaudi’s house which was also in there. The park was nice, with few structures similar to what termites build scattered around. 😉

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Park Guell

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Short walk later we got to Gaudi’s house. We were quite excited about this. We go in, turned back because you need a separate ticket for this. So we go back, buy it and finally we re in. It was pink outside and relatively small, downstairs there were a few chairs designed by Gaudi on display and upstairs there is a small bathroom and a bedroom ‘supposedly’ the way Gaudi kept it and a prayer room. rest is just empty and in another room there is a video playing of his work. That was 8euros for that 5 minutes of a visit. Disappointed we came out and waked a little bit more, going up in to the park to get a view of Barcelona.

Casa Gaudi

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View of Barcelona from the top of Park Guell

And while walking I was thinking ‘they should have met Geofferey Bawa’ the Sri Lankan architect famous for his amazing work with landscapes. At the end we saw people lining up to go see the monuments. they looked colourful and fun but to me there were pretty much ‘gingerbread houses with icing’! After that we decided we had enough and after walking around the neighbourhood a little bit we headed back to the hotel.

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When we got out of the metro, to our surprise was another Gaudi masterpiece. Casa Batllo. Now this one was gorgeous. It’s street facade was one of the most beautiful faacades I have seen and the colours and shapes all just worked together. Again to go in it was something like 22euros pp so we didn’t even bother. I was happy looking at it from the outsde and didn’t want another disapointment. However worth mentioning is the building next to Casa Battlo, which is to date my most favourite building and the most beautiful one I have seen. It was chic, it had character and it wrapped up what Barcelona is all about.

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Casa Batllo

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And so the Gaudi day came to an end, and as I mentioned before without doubt he was one of the most talked about and brave architects of his time and definitely put Barcelona on the map with his wachy and quirky style. But it’s all a big business now where tourists pay so much money to get a chance of doing all the ‘touristy’ things. But good for Barcelona, you just have to be smart about what to see and what not to see.

Travel tip – If you are an absolute die hard fan of Gaudi by all means spend the money and go see his work. But if you are just reading a list online on what to see in Barcelona and all these buildings come up, know that every one of them cost a lot of money. Pick your favourites by doing research first so you know which ones you should pay and which ones you could enjoy from outside for free. Then buy your tickets online well in advance. The experience matters the most than ticking things off a list.

Barcelona: Chic bohemian and worthy of the hype…

Bilbao to Barcelona
Bilbao to Barcelona

Woke up in Barcelona.
First on the cards was a walk to La Ramblas. It’s the most talked about in Barcelona and I wanted to find out why. What’s so special. I saw. It’s a street that’s like the spinal cord. It’s wide with wide pavements in the middle where thousands of people walk up and down, where restaurants have their seating so people could watch people, where artists are at work while you watch in amazement, where many more narrow streets branching out and where strange people will offer you weed. 🙂

La Ramblas
La Ramblas

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While walking we had one place in mind. La Boqueria. The oh so famous fresh food market. How we regretted having lunch before coming here. It was amazing! Food food and more food. you get stalls of colourful cups of fruit juices and fruit salad stacked up on ice, jamon hanging from ceiling or sliced up and ready to eat, empanada’s of all different shapes and colours, seafood bars where people just wait to be seated on stools and fresh seafood is made to order within the small stalls, then a whole world of fresh fruits and veggies and seafood!

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After munching on a few things we got back on to Ramblas and headed straight to the waterfront passing beautiful old buildings and little streets adorn with bohemian fashion and decors. The next stop was the Barcelona cathedral. During our trip we got to see so many cathedrals and this was definitely one of the most beautiful ones and it was free! (surprise surprise) As soon as we got there it started pouring but that didn’t stop us from taking photos under an umbrella. 🙂

First day in Barcelona and it looked very promising.

The column
The column

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The Barcelona Cathedral
The Barcelona Cathedral
Barcelona Cathedral
Barcelona Cathedral

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We decided to dedicate our next day to Gaudi. What is Barcelona without Antonio Gaudi? However I will do that in the next post otherwise this is going to be too long. But worth mentioning is the best paella we had that night along the beach. Full of shellfish and big portions of food and sangria. In our happy place after the sangrias we ended up walking in the middle of the night in El Born and Barri Gotic, two neighbourhoods that are not the most safest to be walking at that time. But we had an amazing walk admiring the calmness except for the occasional drunk men out and about and seeing a whole new side of Barcelona when everything had stopped.

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Next morning we did a little day trip to Monserrat, which will also be another post. But once we got back to we walked from Plaza Espanya towards Font Magica de Monjuic or magic fountains for the night show that is not to be missed. Along the way we stopped at a few beautiful buildings and one of them was Mies Van Der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion. The Fountain area was already full of people when we got there and there was so much happening. When the show started, really late it was amazing. What a way to end the day.

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Barcelona Pavillion
Barcelona Pavilion

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Crowds waiting for the water works
Magic Fountain
Magic Fountain

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Last day In Barcelona was the best. We started off at Arc de Triomp and then a walk in Barri Gotic and El Born during day. They are undoubtedly my favourite areas in Barcelona. A little dirty, a little dodgy but full of character and full of things to see and do. Along the way we sampled everything chocolate and pastries, chatted to wonderfully friendly shop owners, watched some outdoor performances by some cool guys, witnessed a wedding at another beautiful cathedral, a peak at Picasso Museum and a taste of artsy culture. In the evening we hired bikes and rode through the tiny streets ringing the bell every two minutes and along the waterfront all the way to barceloneta beach, had a few cocktails and rode back and ended the day and our trip to Barcelona in such a high!

Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe

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Gorgeous little hideaways
Gorgeous little hideaways

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Barri Gotic or Gothic Quarters
Barri Gotic or Gothic Quarters

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Barceloneta Beach
Barceloneta Beach

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Travel tip – Hiring a bike is a must do when in Barclona. Anyone can do it as the streets are full of riders and is safe. We got our bikes from a place called Green Bikes and they are friendly and flexible. Only 3 euros an hour and their bikes are pretty good.
You are going to be spoiled for choices when it comes to food in Barcelona. But don’t eat at La Ramblas. You are going to be another one of those tourists then. 🙂

Bilbao: Hearts got warmer, smiles got wider…

It’s Bilbao time. Bilbao was put in the itinerary for one reason and one reason only. Guggenheim Museum. We thought it’s one of those things as architects we should do. And a trip to Spain will not be completed without visiting the museum. I didn’t know much about Bilbao and it was away from rest of the places in Spain we wanted to visit but we both agreed we’ll do a quick stop so we only had a day there. (one night and two half days)

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Bilbao is in the Basque country, on the Northeast side of Spain and is a 5 hour bus ride from Madrid. At first I had booked accommodation right in the centre of the city but later to cut down on spendings I booked a cheaper hostal (guest house) across the river in the ‘old city’. Nothing fancy, it’s only for one night. This was the least researched and the one with fewer facilities.
We got to Bilbao around 3pm with our backpacks, weather was nice and sunny, asked direction from the nice lady at information and was given a choice of taking the tram or walking for 40mins.(at this time we didn’t have a CIM so no internet or my best friend, google maps) By this time I was regretting my decision to find cheaper accommodation in the old city instead of a one in the centre. Nothing can be done now so we took the tram and my heart skipped a beat when it went past the museum of titanium! We went for a few more stops and then once we crossed the bridge to the ‘old city’ the difference was evident. The buildings were more dated yet more detailed, a beautiful cathedral present and narrow and dark alleyways stemming from the main road, wait a minute, this is not bad.

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We got off and the area was almost deserted. We only saw a few locals outside talking, a few old people sitting in public areas like they do here in Spain and we loved it. First time in days we are not amongst hundreds of tourists. We walked past a few of those lovely old buildings that has rooms with balconies facing each other, with narrow paved streets with medieval style lamp posts and almost gasping at how good it feels. Then we found our accommodation Pensione Serantes and surprise surprise it turned out to be in one of those amazing little streets. We enter and after about hundreds (I exaggerate) of wooden straight flight of steps later we are in our room, with a tiny balcony looking down at the beautiful scene from a movie. 🙂
Ah the joy!
We spent a good few minutes looking at each other in excitement as we couldn’t believe our luck. It was perfect. And we had the nicest host, Miguel, who didn’t speak a word of english which only added to this beautiful experience in Bilbao.

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Downstairs there were bars and cafes and we wondered into one for lunch. They had pintxo. Pintxos are bite size little morsels, traditional in northern Spain and they are mostly with a crusty piece of bread topped with all sorts of fillings or fried goodness spiked with a toothpick. Bars keep them all on display so you pick which ever you like, order a drink (no sangria in this part of Spain) and eat to your hearts content. 🙂

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After that we were ready to see the master piece. We were there just before sunset and the whole area was just big and spacious and there was a strange calmness to it. We spent the rest of the evening wandering around, taking photos and having a drink listening to some amazing jazz at a bar right in front and watching the sun set behind the Guggenheim.
Bliss!

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Oh so beautiful!

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Dinner was at another bar we stumbled upon while wandering off the main street to admire some lamp posts and it ended up being a pretty good pintxos and wine night.

Early next morning when sunlight was just getting through the curtains I woke up quickly and went and had a peak outside. Heart melted. It was still slightly dark, street was almost empty, few locals getting ready to open their shop and the lamps are still lit. It was the most beautiful sight. We both woke up and just sat outside on our tiny balcony and watched the city wake up.

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Then it was time to visit the Guggenheim. This time inside. It didn’t disappoint. It turned out to be pretty amazing and if this wasn’t inspiration I don’t know what is.

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Geeks! 🙂

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Richard Serra’s Exhibit

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One of the coolest foot bridges.

When we came out of the museum it was pouring! We only had a couple of hours to get to the hotel, get our bags, have some lunch and catch the train. oh wait, we have umbrellas so no problem. Oh wait, I packed them with in our main bag that’s sitting nicely in the hotel. So no other way, we walked in the pouring rain and ran! We were drenched by the time we got to the hotel but boy it was fun!
We managed to get to the train and our next destination awaits.

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Bilbao Station Art

 

 

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Thank you Bilbao for an amazing experience. Barcelona, here we come!

Travel Tip – Always find accommodation in the ‘old city’ or ‘old town’. It is totally worth it. And steer away from the main road to find places to eat. In Bilbao it is pretty cheap and you can have about 3-4 pintxos and a wine for under 10euros.

Toledo: Once a walled city, now a tourists’ paradise…

An hour away from Madrid is Toledo, a UNESCO world heritage site that is an amazing example of cultural co-existence between the Christians, Muslims and Jewish. It is the most popular day trip from Madrid and the old city of Toledo is on a mountaintop surrounded by the Tagus river.  The photo below is not mine (http://madridenjoy.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/toledo1.jpg) but I thought it will give you a better idea of the overall picture of why it is a beautiful place. We did try to get this photos but we didn’t have time as it is a fair bit of travelling away from the city.

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Old city of Toledo is relatively small and you can pretty much walk through the whole thing within the day if you are pretty fit. 🙂 It is a place full of beautiful old buildings and architecture from different cultures and tiny streets between buildings and surprise surprise there are cars and taxis that manoeuvre their way in those tiny (I mean tiny) streets. Of course the people who are walking has to either get out of the way by walking quickly to a bigger street or crawl into a doorway or something. There are lot of places of interest such as the Cathedral, Alcazar, Plaza Zocodover, El Greco Museum, etc.. I am not going to say much because there are lots of photos and they will hopefully speak for themselves. 🙂

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Cathedral of Toledo
Cathedral of Toledo
Cathedral of Toledo
Cathedral of Toledo
Cathedral of Toledo
Cathedral of Toledo
Cathedral of Toledo
Cathedral of Toledo

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So many beautiful doors and details everywhere.

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Narrow alleyways
Narrow alleyways

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Some amazing entertainers
Some amazing entertainers

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View of the Tagus river
View of the Tagus river

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El Greco Museum
El Greco Museum

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From Toledo with Love
From Toledo with Love

Travel Tip – It is a beautiful place no doubt but because it is easy to reach and is on every online guide and tourist brochure it is full of tourists. So try avoid going on weekends. Also don’t try to go inside every attraction as pretty much all of them charge a fee to enter. Walking around and looking at somethings from outside is as nice. 🙂

Madrid: Where it all began…

When we were trying to decide where to go for our next big adventure, we were tossing up between a few countries and then I put my foot down and decided on Spain & Portugal. (ok maybe I exaggerated a little bit there ;))
And then after 4 months of planning and a 25 hour plane ride later we were in Madrid. After finding our hotel and leaving our backpacks we stepped out to the streets of Madrid.

After just two minutes of walking we found plenty of cobble stone streets, cute restaurants with chairs and tables out on the street and jamon hanging off the ceilings and people chatting and getting ready for the lunch rush. We decided to first get some food so wandered in to a restaurant which had ‘Paella Marisco’ on their chalk board menu but it was empty. We knew before coming here that in Spain people don’t have lunch until well past 1pm. And we were a little bit early. The guy behind the bar was nice and asked us to have a seat but food won’t be ready till 1. We were fine with that and I ordered the paella and a sangria while A ordered jamon tostadas with a beer. We saw tostadas in every lunch menu and they were pretty much slices of toasted bread with thinly sliced cured meat.

Then we excitedly waited for our first taste of Spain.

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"Paella Marisco"
“Paella Marisco” 
"Pimientos & Sangria"
“Pimientos & Sangria”
"Churros of a different kind"
“Churros of a different kind”
"Cute shops everywhere"
“Cute shops everywhere”

Then we headed back for a nap to get rid of jet-lag (unsuccessfully) and started wandering again at night. It was a different sight. The streets were completely taken over by people. We walked to Puerta de sol (Gate of the sun) one of the most known and busiest squares in Madrid. People were everywhere. There were dancers, footballers, magicians and sellers. It was somewhat overwhelming but exciting at the same time. Next stop Gran via, the street known as the Spanish Broadway. It was big. Architecture, lights, shopping, food, people, cars, all in one place. It was a shoppers paradise. From there we moved onto Plaza Mayor, where grand buildings stood on all four sides making this one of the biggest squares I’ve seen, Yet it was much calmer than Sol, maybe it was late at night. Still it had a very real european feeling with restaurants on all sides and seating out in the open.

Puerta del sol
Puerta del sol

Gran via madrid

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Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor

Day 2 in Madrid started with a walking tour. We decided to do a free walking tour just to get a glimpse of the city, to know the places we might not go otherwise. This turned out to be a good idea. We started from Plaza Mayor and went to the ‘square of the closed gate’, the oldest restaurant, Plaza de La villa, Catedral de La Almudena, Palacio Real de Madrid, Plaza Oriente and finished off at Plaza de Isabel II or the Opera Square.

walking tour

"colours of Spain"
“colours of Spain”
colours of Spain
colours of Spain
"Almudena Cathedral"
“Almudena Cathedral”
"Almudena Cathedral"
“Almudena Cathedral”
"Almudena Cathedral"
“Almudena Cathedral”
"Royal Palace of Madrid"
“Royal Palace of Madrid”
"Royal Palace of Madrid"
“Royal Palace of Madrid”

After the walk we decided to venture on our own towards the Art district which turned out to be quite different from the Madrid we have seen so far. It was big and clean with less tourists and felt more like a CBD in a western country of course except for the amazing architecture that are centuries old. First we headed towards Reina Sofia Museum, after being inspired by the works of Picasso, Salvador Dali and many alike we headed to the Prada Museum. It is Spain’s main National Museum and home to some of the finest collections. And not surprisingly there was a massive line. It was too long to wait to get in for us so we decided to take a photo of the line, say hello to the museum and move on.thumb_IMG_3942_1024

"Reina Sofia"
“Reina Sofia”
"Caixa Forum"
“Caixa Forum”
"Prada Museum"
“Prada Museum”

And move on we did. We spent an amazing Autumn evening in Retiro Park.The park was full of colours, sun was ready to set and the weather was beautiful. What better way could you end a day? Walk around the park, a quick look at the crystal palace just before it closed and ended the day sitting in a cafe near the lake, sipping coffee, watching people and writing postcards. The park was full of colours, sun was ready to set and the weather was beautiful. What better way could you end a day? Walk around the park, a quick look at the crystal palace just before it closed and ended the day sitting in a cafe near the lake, sipping coffee, watching people and writing postcards.

"Retiro park"
“Retiro park”

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"Crystal Palace"
“Crystal Palace”

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"Postcards from Madrid"
“Postcards from Madrid”

On our way back we came across the Puerta de Alcala. The light was perfect for some amazing shots. Dinner was at Mercado San Miguel. I have no photos for proof. But it’s something you have to do. There are lot of options. Buy some tapas with all sorts of fillings, a nice big glass of sangria and… The End. 🙂

"Puerta de Alcala"
“Puerta de Alcala”

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"Puerta de Alcala"
“Puerta de Alcala”

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Travel tip – Madrid is full of tourists and even more tourist traps when it comes to eating and drinking. Have meals at their times. Lunch after 1pm and dinner after 8pm. Always stay away from restaurants and bars near major sights and wander into the little streets. A tip we got from a local, if there are english menu’s, if there are signs saying’ we speak english’ or if there are photos of the dishes in the menu, especially paella, run! 🙂

Tasmania: the ‘island of inspiration’ is a hop step and a jump away…

One fine day we decided to visit Tasmania. For those of you who don’t know where or what that is, let me brief you a bit. Tasmania is one of the seven states of Australia and is an island. It is located south of the main island and is considered the 26th largest island in the world (thanks Wikipedia). However as it is detached from the main island of Australia it is not highly populated. Picture this. Tasmania is one and a half times bigger than Sri Lanka BUT the population is only 0.4% of the population of Sri Lanka! Now that tells me two things. One, how densely populated Sri Lanka is (my my we have too many people). Two, how calm, peaceful and unpolluted Tasmania is.

Hobart

Our trip was short and the weather was bad. We hardly covered the untouched wilderness of the beautiful Tasmania but however we packed as much as we can for the one day of sunshine we had. We landed in Hobart (Capital & the most populous city in Tasmania) on a cold misty morning and the much awaited drive up Mount wellington was almost ruined by the rain, mist and wind. But we decided to go to the top anyway even though we couldn’t see the beautiful view everyone talked about. It was freezing and we were not prepared for that. 🙂 The rest of the day was spent walking in Hobart in the rain, enjoying some good food and taking in the Tasmania style of life. (Very laid back to what we get in Melbourne)

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Day two forecast was the same with cloudy skies and rain but we woke up to sunshine and clear skies! Someone was definitely looking out for us! 😉 We were out on the streets in a heartbeat and decided to drive to the Tasman peninsula. What a breathtaking and amazing experience it was!! Everywhere you look its trees and water and an endless supply of clear blue skies and it was all ours to enjoy! 🙂

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We made a detour as we were feeling adventurous and ended up in a place called Lewisham. It has to be one of the most beautiful places I have seen. Clear blue water, blue sky and no one around.

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There, we met a friend too. I have a massive love affair with horses and this one didn’t disappoint. He saw us and even though there was a fence, he came to us when we called. It was the cutest moment ever! 🙂

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Then we set off towards Port Arthur stopping to see the famous Tessellated Pavement, Eaglehawk Neck and finally the Port Arthur Historic Site.

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Another detour and this time we ended up at a white sand beach! 🙂

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Then we decided to find our way in to the Tasman National park and the ‘Remarkable Cave’ which was said to be the shape of Tasmania and what do you know, it was!!. 🙂 The vastness was breathtaking and it was just us and the sorroundings. It was surely one of the most memorable visits.

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We decided to end the day by going to Richmond and seeing the oldest bridge in Australia. It was one full day of adventure and was simply amazing!!

oldest bridge in australia

On our last day we went to the Salamanca Market. It is on every Saturday and consists of close to 300 stalls of amazing goodies and is a wonderful experience to walk through.

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Sigiriya : the rock fortress and Sri Lankans’ 8th wonder of the world…

Sigiriya is one of those places we Sri Lankans are so proud of. It’s like the Taj Mahal to the Indians, Leaning Tower of Pisa to the Italians or the Eifel Tower to the French.

So on the second day of our road trip we paid a little visit there. I have been to Sigiriya once when I was a kid but never climbed all the way to the top. Sadly this time we only had couple of hours so missed out on that opportunity again. Next time, I am going to climb all those stairs, and going to be on top of that rock smiling down and taking lots of pictures. 🙂

Basically Sigiriya is the site of a massive rock that was turned into a fortress by King Kashyapa. He built his castle on the rock itself with elaborated construction on the rock summit including defensive structures, palaces, gardens and ponds.

For me it is unimaginable to think people without any sort of technological assistant managed to build such architecture 200m above ground. I really feel sorry for the people who had to carry materials up to the top!

However after the death of the King, the fortress was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century. Today Sigiriya is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site. It is one of the best preserved examples of ancient urban planning and is the most visited historic site in Sri Lanka.

Sigiriya, the rock fortress

The entrance to the site is through a thick forest and beyond the historic site is protected by a moat and sorrounded by gardens. These gardens are among some of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world.

Entrance to the historic site

Sigiriya water gardens

Sigiriya water gardens

Sigiriya terraced gardens

Archaeological remains

Sigiriya Archaeological remains

Sigiriya, the rock fortress

These next few photos are just to give an idea how big the fortress is. If you can find people and compare the size of them to the rock you will see what I meant by unimaginable construction.

Sigiriya rock

climbing sigiriya

climbing sigiriya

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With the thick vegetation on either side of the walkway comes monkeys. 🙂 They are as part of sigiriya as the archaelogical sites and mostly harmless. When we were there, we saw a couple of tourists walking with a small bag in hand. All of a sudden one monkey charged in and grabbed the bag from the lady’s hand and went to his tree. To see the bag had bananas in it. I am sure it was scary for the lady but hilarious to watch as the monkey sat on his tree peeling and eating bananas while trying to protect it from the rest of the gang.

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Ok so I wanted to give an idea on what’s on top and why I am excited about this place. Thanks to google and some other great photographers I found a few photos to show how amazing the art and architecture is. 🙂

Dambulla : a beautiful stopover en-route to the east coast….

I always wanted to travel around Sri Lanka, climb the mountains, run along green paddy fields, jump in the lakes and sit beside the many waterfalls that this beautiful country has, visit far away villages and eat the food they cook sitting outside a broken bench. I didn’t get to do that this time, we didn’t have time! 🙂

Instead we decided to spend a few days around the east coast of Sri Lanka and stay in beautiful hotels the country is famous for. We have never been to the east before as it was one of those areas that was under the civil war for years. The only problem in SL is the travelling. It takes AGES!!! So to make the trip interesting we decided to spend the first day at the half way point, Dambulla.

It’s a beautiful city and to me is most famous for the Kandalama Lake and Kandalama Hotel, a beautiful piece of architecture. However this time we drove along the lake to ‘Amaya Lake’ another unique hotel overlooking the Lake. little private chalets set amongst a beautifully maintained garden and the lake within few meters. Good food, good views and a good swim at the end of the day, what else could you ask for? 🙂

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I have a love for photographing fishing boats. 🙂 I found some on my morning walk and had a nice walk along the lake all by myself to get to these.

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And then we decided to play around a bit. Where else could you get a such a place all to yourselves? 🙂

Catching the last glimpse of summer….

One good thing about Melbourne is that you have a few good beaches and waterfronts available during summer or whenever you want a change of scenery or a mini road trip.
This summer I was busy doing ‘nothing’ and didn’t go anywhere. So to change that I decided to go see Brighton Beach before it hits winter. Luckily for me we still have a few sunny days left. Brighton and Brighton beach is some of the nicer parts of Melbourne and when we got there it felt like California. (Never been to California but felt like it) 🙂 narrow straight road, on one side the beach and on the other holiday houses. Ah the life of the riches!
What’s special about here for me is the colourful little huts lining the beach. They are tiny but create great attraction and are so cute. You can apparently rent them if you want to spend a day at the beach. What was more interesting was, it turns out Brighton beach is the place for photo shoots for newlyweds and models. 🙂

sea shellsshadowsbrighton beachcloudscolours colours colourshuts in linecracksbackstagesunset photo credit – Ashan Dias

Venice: my ‘WALK’ through the city of water…

This is a sad day. After so many posts I have come to the end of my amazing Italian journey and Venice is the last stop.

From Florence we took a train to Venice. Venice! I am finally going to see Venice. Excitement was building up, hopes high, eager to explore; we finally got to the ethereal ‘city of water’. I was instantly disappointed! Why? How? I actually don’t know. It just didn’t feel welcoming enough. So I took a deep breath and watched hundreds of people move around me, busier and faster than anywhere else in Italy, water buses taking in as many tourists as they can, people getting lost with their luggage and decided it’s time to move on.

The best way to travel in Venice is by water taxies, which make sense since the whole city is on water and you would think it’s cheap. No, it was expensive! We are just a couple of graduates on a budget, so what did we do? We decided to ‘hike’! I say hike because we literally walked from one end of the island to the other and crossed so many bridges, climbed so many steps up and so many steps down with our back packs, at the end of it we felt like we have climbed a decent size mountain.

venice (8) venice (6) venice (20) venice (12) venice (4) venice (3) venice (10) Yes we were tired but we saw Venice in a total different way. The tiny alley ways that takes the whole of Italy to another level is still prominent in Venice maybe more so than anywhere else. It’s pretty much like walking through a maze. You don’t know where you are going but every corner, every turn there is something wonderful.

It was more ‘touristy’ and expensive than anywhere else I have been to and that put me off a bit but the more you go inside the island away from those crowded areas, Venice had a nice charm, nice homely feeling about it that one can’t but feel good about.

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venice (45) venice (46) venice (51) venice (78) venice (52) venice (79) venice (86)So this was my ‘walk’ through the city of water. Hope you enjoyed the pictures and from now on I have to start going around Melbourne to come up with some decent photographs. 🙂

Pisa: words not needed….

This is another one of my favourite places and i still can’t believe I was there. The architecture mind-blowing, the weather wonderful, the place mesmerizing and the experience unforgettable. I don’t think any more words are necessary to describe how amazing Pisa was/is. So here are some photos, hope you will enjoy them as much as I did. 🙂

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Florence: If there is a heaven, this is it…..

I found my favourite city in the WORLD! Ok so I haven’t seen most of the cities in the world so let me be fair to all other cities that are frowning at me, Florence is my favourite city SO FAR. I fell in love and I still can recall the feeling when I woke up in the hotel room and looked out on to the beautifully calm streets, when I walked the narrow streets filled with gorgeous people, taking in the fresh morning air after climbing hundreds of steps to get to Piazzale michelangelo, the smell of coffee when I passed a tiny cafe or the taste of freshly baked pastries on the side of the road. If that is not love, I don’t know what is. 🙂

I think that is enough explaining, here are some photos. Hope you see what I saw….

Ponte Veccio (old bridge)

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Piazzale Michelangelo – you will never forget the view you get of all of Florence from this place and you would not want to leave. The bus drive back down from top of piazzale michelangelo was one of the most scenic and best drives I have ever had in my life. That’s when I knew I was in love. 😉 If you are in florence don’t forget to climb about 200 stept up to this place and then take a bus ride back down. Trust me you will LOVE it. Oh and do it in the morning too. 🙂

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