Granada was next on the list. Again purely for one reason and one reason only. The Alhambra.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 😉
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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. 🙂
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)
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
So many beautiful doors and details everywhere.
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. 🙂
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.
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)
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! 🙂
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.
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! 🙂
Then we set off towards Port Arthur stopping to see the famous Tessellated Pavement, Eaglehawk Neck and finally the Port Arthur Historic Site.
Another detour and this time we ended up at a white sand beach! 🙂
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.
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!!
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.
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)
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. 🙂
Day two of living the dream in Rome. We started off at Piazza Del Popolo and from there you see few streets branching out and we started walking through Via Del Corso, THE shopping street. Yes there is a reason why I chose this street other than to satisfy the shopaholic in me. 🙂 It leads to the amazing Piazza Venezia. This however was not on my list of must see’s so I wasn’t sure what I was going to get. Let’s just say I was really glad I went there.
Within Piazza Venezia is the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II) The monument holds the ‘tomb of the Unknown Soldier’ (Ignoto Militi) and is a magnificent piece of architecture. The white marble details are unbelievable and the structure itself is evident enough to see the respect given to the tomb and the relevant exhibits inside.
It was a lucky day for us as we found out we can go to the roof top of the monument. And lucky we were. It had amazing views of the Foro Romano or Roman Forum leading all the way to the most awaited site in Rome for me, the Colosseum. It didn’t disappoint. It was everything I have seen in pictures and it was everything I have imagined it to be. I have finally seen the Colosseum and I was happy! Who can ask for more? I think I have seen everything I wanted, so we just sat on a ledge near the Colosseum and admired the beautiful architecture and people passing by and called it a day.
So now just from my truly amazing experience in Rome let me write a list of MUST see’s. These won’t take you more than two days if you have a tight schedule like I did and you can walk to most places if you stay in the city centre. If not take a bus or metro to one of the places and start walking from there. Won’t cost you much. 🙂 Also make sure you get a nice big map, won’t be a proper tourist without a map! 😉
St. Peter’s square and St. Peter’s basilica
Fontana di Trevi
Piazza di spagna
Via del Corso
Vatican Museum – This we didn’t get to see as we missed a day due to bad weather. So if you have three good days, this should definitely be on your list.
Now here are some must do’s
Eat gelato every day. You are going to be spoilt for choice so go crazy! And try the Old bridge gelataria near Vatican City as they have the BEST gelato in town. Trust me. 🙂
Drink espresso from bars like the locals do. Over the counter. No sitting down.
Walk slowly as much as you can. You experience a great deal that way.
The joy of losing weight by walking the streets of Rome started the very next day after a good night’s sleep. Where better to start than where we left off last night, St. Peter’s square. The calm, majestic place had transformed overnight in to a bustling piazza of locals and tourists, and combine that with the architecture and the craftsmanship and it becomes one of the most inspiring public spaces I have ever been to.
We queued up to enter the amazing St. Peter’s basilica and amazing it was!! The details took my breath away instantly. God is definitely in details. Colours, paintings, sculptures, high ceilings and the different architectural spaces all made for an amazing architectural and spiritual experience.
All the while admiring the interior I was thinking ‘I wish I had a fish-eye lens’ because I can just picture how amazing the interior photos would have looked. But I didn’t have that so I did what I could with what I had. 🙂
Then we walked on lovely but busy streets of cobble stones to Castel Sant’angelo, which was originally a mausoleum now turned into a museum. It is located beautifully along river Tevere and has views to St, Peter’s and the other part of the city centre.
Next move was to the beautiful Piazza Navona. It was in true Italian style a ‘piazza’ filled with tourists, local artists with some amazingly colourful artworks, street side pizzerias and restaurants with people sitting outside and sipping coffee. Total bliss!
In the centre stands Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi meaning the Fountain of four rivers and there is a story behind it that has something to do with the four largest rivers in Italy at that time, but forgive me I cannot remember! 🙂
Next place got me all excited. When I looked at the map and it was just walking distance from Piazza Navona I literally screamed with excitement. The Pantheon. The Pantheon & the Colosseum were the two main buildings I have known and studied for history since the first year of architecture school and to actually physically see one was beyond exciting. I had to stare at it for a few minutes to catch my breath before taking the camera out. It was different from what I have imagined. The building was in a tighter space and darker in colour therefore very different to the rest of the area. But it still looked like it can stand there another 100 years. The interior was again beautiful and made me miss not having a fish eye lens.
After that we went to Fonatana di Trevi, where the magic happens. Made a wish and tossed a coin in the fountain and did some people watching. Again the details of marble work and sculptures were immaculate.
Last stop for the day was Piazza di Spagna or Spanish steps. But unfortunately I didn’t manage to take any good photos worth sharing. It was crowded and I didn’t get that ‘wow’ feeling associated with pretty much anywhere in Rome and nor did the camera. But I did put one just to say I was there. 🙂
Who can complain? I enjoyed every bit of walking around the famous cobble stone streets with colourful little shops, gelatarias every 100 meters, seeing amazing architecture and mixing in with hundreds of different people.
I love you Rome! 🙂
p.s – I did do a little editing colour wise because these are the colours I associate with when I picture Rome in my head. 🙂 Hope you enjoy and don’t hesitate to leave feedback.
It took us four years to cross the border from Victoria to New South Wales. I know, that’s sad. But we did it FINALLY!! It was a short trip and we barely covered the bustling metropolitan. But here are some sites that anybody going to Sydney SHOULD cover. Let the photos speak for this beautiful city….
In a way it all began here. Moving from Colombo, Sri Lanka to Geelong, Australia was not easy and sometimes even scary. Geelong was calm and quiet. From Colombo, where there are people on the streets chatting or eating food from road side cafe’s at midnight to Geelong, where roads are deserted and no place to get food after 8pm was sometimes too quiet. But one thing that took my breath away from the first time I saw to today, after four years, was the waterfront. It is where people come on weekends, where boats sway in the wind, where there are some beautiful pieces of architecture and urban landscape and of course some delicious food. To me, this is where Geelong lives…