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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Alhambra

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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. 🙂

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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. 🙂