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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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.

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.

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. 🙂

Through the winding roads of Southern Italy…..

We are on our way covering southern Italy. After visiting Pompeii we are off to the beautiful Amalfi Coast. The little car (there are ONLY little cars everywhere you look) was expertly manoeuvred through tiny streets, sometimes taking almost 360o turns, passing busy locals, wandering tourists and little shops of all things Italian.

A little after the sun has set, we arrived in the beautiful town of Amalfi where on one side the glowing blue Mediterranean Sea and on the other, steep mountains covered with Mediterranean style houses. A sight like no other.amalfi and coast (7)

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The breathtaking views were only second to the experience of walking through the town of tiny cobble stone paths and alley ways peering in to little shops and admiring and tasting the local speciality, limoncello. It’s a liqueur made with lemons, as the area is a known cultivator of lemons, and there are cute little shops with bottles of all shapes and sizes. It was a typical Italian tourist town as it was filled even at night with people, chatting, sipping coffee and eating oversized pizzas. With much hesitation we drove out of Amalfi through Positano and few other breathtaking and daring coastal towns to Sorrento, our stop for the night.

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Next day we drove around Sorrento absorbing the chilled morning air and amazing views all around us while heading towards Naples, the food capital of Italy. Naples was different. The city was literally made out of houses, horizontally and vertically. But it was impressive, regardless of what the Romans have to say about Naples. 😉

Our first stop was Piazza del Municipio, the massive building with high glass roof and delicate architectural details really fascinated me. Also it was a popular spot for newly wedded couple to take photos as we saw more than a few of white gown and tuxedos posing to photographers instructions. 🙂 Unfortunately I didn’t see the typical Naples way of drying clothes above the streets as it was a cloudy day but, the experience of walking on the main street with braches of streets with similar style multi-story apartments looking in to each other was nothing unusual.

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Our final stop at Naples was San Gregorio Armeno. It’s supposed to be world famous (forgive me for not knowing) for cribs and other ornaments. Locals said during Christmas time it is impossible to walk in that area as everyone comes here to buy Christmas ornament. They weren’t exaggerating; there were shops after shops filled with different ornaments and bigger statues of pretty much everything. It was quite a colourful end to our southern Italy round up in two days. 🙂

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Rome: where the heart grew fonder…. (part 2)

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! 😉

  1. St. Peter’s square and St. Peter’s basilica
  2. The Colosseum
  3. The Pantheon
  4. Piazza Navona
  5. Fontana di Trevi
  6. Castel sant’angelo
  7. Piazza di spagna
  8. Piazza venezia
  9. Foro Romano
  10. Via del Corso
  11. 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

  1. 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. 🙂
  2. Drink espresso from bars like the locals do. Over the counter. No sitting down.
  3. Walk slowly as much as you can. You experience a great deal that way.
  4. Keep smiling. You are in Rome. 🙂