Friday, May 27, 2011

Day 5: Granada

Day 5: Granada

Today was another pretty exhausting day even though it doesn't feel like we did much besides eat and go to the Alhambra.

For lunch we all went down the street to a place called Bodega, and I ordered some Paella as my first plate of El Menu del Dia. As the waitress brought it out to us, the waitress misjudged the length of the table and put only 49% of the plate on the table leaving the other %51 to tip the plate over into my lap. Shorts, RIP.

With two handfuls of Paella and rice finding ways into my socks, I am informed that paella is no longer available and that my plate was the last one (not that I believe that for a second) so I ordered something else. Not nearly as good as what my paella was going to be but it was still great.

We have tickets today to go to the Alhambra. The Alhambra is absolutely amazing, but for my tastes, it is about all I am here for in Granada. Granada is a great and unique city but is a little too much "hippie" for me...and that is saying a lot coming from someone who loves Spain.

As we made our long trek up to the Alhambra and showed our pre-bought tickets, we entered into the most majestic place I've ever been in. Majestic is a strange word and if I have ever used that word before, whatever I was describing probably didn't encompass the word as much as the Alhambra does. Beautiful and amazing. Flower after flower and tree after tree. Bush after bush and palace after palace. At the peak of the Alhambra is the lookout (Video) and it towers of the city as the Acropolis does to Athens. So pretty!

After wandering around for 3 hours we decided it was time to go. Marek and I headed headed out to find a teteria and Doug went back to the Hostel to hop on Skype.

I would say that Granada was our "catching up" city. A place that we came to having one mission: see the Alhambra. We saw, experienced and enamored in everything the Alhambra could throw our way, everything else about Granada was just icing on the cake. The shops. The Arab feel. The enormous was all great. From Granada, we will head to my beloved Madrid. Madrid, oh how I love thee..

Hasta manana, amigos.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day 4: Sevilla to Granada

We caught our first train of the trip this morning. It was the first time I had ever used a Eurail pass because usually I just buy individual tickets. I was a little skeptical of how the process would all work out. Usually, trains in Europe are extremely efficient; you just show up and you hop on.

Using the Eurail was a little bit different but overall very easy to use. We still had to pay 4 euros for some reason that none of us know, of course it was explained to us in a hurried Spanish but we've learned when to ask someone to repeat something if it's going to be useful to hear it a second time or not...this time, it wouldn't have been useful. (I still don't understand why people don't speak slower to people they know are not native to their language. People back in OKC do it all the time and it bothers me. If you are communicating with someone, try to make sure they understand you, that's a pretty important part of communication, if you can't be polite enough to slow down just don't talk to them.)

After catching our 11 a.m. train to Granada, we arrived 3 hours later and flagged a cab to take us to our hostel. Those not familiar with the rich history of Granada, click here. Those wanting the Cliff Notes version: imagine an Arab town with hookah and insense shops imagine everyone speaking Spanish...that was pretty much our first observation.

Obviously, not all parts of Granada resemble an Arab feel to it. In fact, our hostel was in the Albaicin (The famous historical Moorish neighborhood of Granada) which is a good reason that this city had a MUCH different than feel than Barcelona and Sevilla. That is why I love Spain so much, so many different cities with millenia-long histories and very proud cultures.

After we checked into our hostel, we grabbed some much needed lunch at a local tapas bar. Granada does not mess around when it comes to tapas. Like Madrid and many other cities in Spain, the tapas are free with any drink order. Granada prouds itself in being the most generous and over the top when it comes to dishing out tapas. Marek and I ordered a beer tonight and with the 1.50 Euro (roughly $2.25) cerveza came a ham and cheese sandwich on ciabata bread with french fries for each of us. Most places give you some jamon iberco or chips or patatas bravas, but not Granada, they come equipped to bring repeat customers.

After lunch, we walked around the Albaicin area looking in a couple of the numerous stalls of gifts and knock-offs/black market items (nothing too appealing unless you like realy cheap leather bags and scarves).

My friend, Jason Opheim, lived in Granada so I had him shoot me an e-mail with some "must see" things in Granada. Something he mentioned was a tetoria (tea shop) called Alboca Tetoria. the directions he gave us were probably spot on, but when the streets change names every 30 feet and are so curvy that it appears a 3-yr old drew the streets on a map, it makes it very difficult to find anything specific. At one point in his directions we were to "hop a wall"...needless to say, we didn't even find that wall.

None of that mattered because the main goal was to find the best spot possible to see what Bill Clinton once said was, "The most beautiful sunset I've ever seen," and we saw it. It was gorgeous. Nestled at the the top of a hill as if trying to compete with the Acropolis in Athens, is the Alhambra. The Alhambra was a Moorish castle-sustaining city built 1300-1400 years ago when the Moors took control of Spain (as did the Romans and many others at different points in history). It is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. It is absolutely incredible to view for the sunset.

For the sunset (VIDEO), you must climb one of the hundreds of small streets to a random plaza and look out over a canyon of crammed residential buildings and over a moat/stream. As you do so, the Alhambra stands tall shining in the sunset that falls on the otherside of the city. but it is not just the Alhambra that pulls the colors in, it is what is behind the Alhambra that makes this scene truly spectacular.

Off in the distance behind the Alhambra are snow-capped mountains which turn a shade of purple just before nightfall kicks in and the lights from below the hill are placed on the Alhambra. All of this together, along with hundreds of other spectators and locals (some playing guitars and drums and singing a language you don't understand) is what made today special.

Granada - Day 4, complete.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 3 Sevilla - May 23

Day 3: May 23 - Sevilla

We woke up at 10:45 a.m. and boy that was wonderful.

Having only one other person in the room instead of 7 like we did in Barcelona was great as it was much quieter. Our other room mate did come in at 4 a.m. but it didn't wake me up but it did wake up Doug.

Anyways, after getting up at 10:45 and showering up we set out into the streets of Sevilla for our second day. Yesterday, we visited all of the main tourist attractions and took the photos that all tourists take, but today we had a completely new agenda: get lost in a park and all windy roads.

We tried to rent bikes again from our hostel but they apparently already rented out the bikes that we were supposed to have so we asked where the nearest bike rental area (Sevici) was and headed that way. About 10 minutes later we found it and after a very confusing rental process (done completely by machine) we had unlocked three bikes and were on our way down Avenida Menendez Pelayo towards the beautiful Plaza Espana and Parque Maria Louisa.

Traveling on bikes is incredible. Forget using a subway/metro or bus. You'll pay about two euros for a one-way trip and not get there any faster. Hop on a bike, weave in and out of the people on the street. Let the older people yell at you because they don't like tourists but smile back and say "gracias" but in their native dialect which calls for the "c" to be pronounced like "th". Put on some headphones and play U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" and realize its rhetic has the same meaning to you in a foreign community where the streets might as well be called "A" "B" and "C".

Ride until you come to place so regal that you have to pull over, take off the headsets, put the kickstand down and run through a fountain (like Marek did) completely ignoring all social norms and realize that your clothes will just dry in a few hours and the memory won't.

We found such a place, kind of by accident, kind of by design, but nontheless we found something worth stopping for. This park, Parque de Maria Louisa, was built along the Southern border of the "center city" for the 1929 World Exhibition along with the Plaza Espana. This massive piece of show-off-manship is quite a site to see. We took lots of photos of both the park and the plaza but this one of those "photos just don't do it justice" type of places.

After meandering around and taking down a couple bottles of water, we headed over to a recommended bakery near Plaza Amadeo Jannone. This bakery, Las Palomas, was recommended to us by our friend Lindsay Houts who used to live in Sevilla. It was good to get over to that area, an area we would not have seen had decided to walk at the beginning of the day because it was too far for our legs/feet to endure and still have some energy for the rest of trip. This bakery was great. Small little shop on the corner of a strictly residential area. Lots of housing and cars but you could tell that this area was not used to having tourists visit. It was a great little break. After a chocolate triangle and a Cruz Campo, we set out back across the river into the "city center" to take a couple photos of the famous Torre del was at this point the knock-off sunglasses I boutht two years ago in Prague decided to snap right down the middle while I was wearing them. Right down the middle. While I had them on my face. Great time.

After that, we rode around the Universidad de Sevilla and circled the walls of the Alcazar (Fortress) and found a bike rental place to return our bikes and headed back to the hostel for some rest. Even though we had bikes, riding around for about 6 hours and on our third day of 10, we don't want to over do it and not have energy to go out for the night.

We signed up for a tapas tour hosted by our hostel in which we would join three other hostel's participants in a bar-hoping atmosphere of tapas and sangria/cerveza/tinto verano. Considering the large amount of people we had (16), we had tons of tapas to sample at each of the three places we went tonight. We met lots of travelers from all over including a few from the States, Canada and across Europe. This tapas tour ended around 11 p.m. and we grabbed a few beverages to-go and headed to the terrace of our hostel and laid out on the beach-style lounge chairs, shared a couple laughs and then headed to bed. Our 9:30 a.m. wake-up schedule might sound like sleeping in, but on this kind of trip, you can't sleep/rest enough. First day: Barcelona. Day two and three: Sevilla. Tomorrow: Granada.

Buenos Noches.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day 2: Barcelona to Sevilla - May 22

It was the best no-sleep any of us had ever had.

After two straight nights combining of 6 hours of sleep total; we were all in bed no later than 8:30 p.m. last night.

We stayed in a hostel room that has 10 beds (bunk beds) and the three of us fell asleep well before any of them, meaning people were constantly coming in and leaving which made a lot of noise but in all seriousness, I don't think one of us cared a bit. We just wanted to be horizontal for awhile.

Around midnight, I decided to get up and walk around outside for about 30 minutes and then when I got back, it was MUCH quieter and most had come to bed for the rest of the night. We would sleep/lie in bed until about 6:45 a.m. when we woke up and checked on the Thunder game's Game 3 playoff game against Mavericks (lost) then we got ready to take off for the airport to head to Sevilla (Seville) in South Spain.

We caught our flight on Vueling with no problem. We all felt very well rested for the first time in a couple days and were anxious to get out and see "The Old City".

Sevilla, the place where the origination of Flamenco dancing is commonly placed. (In the movie "Meet the Fockers" Dustin Hoffman's character is in Sevilla learning flamenco dancing in a few scenes.) Sevilla is also commonly known for some of the oldest origins of bullfighting and the bullring here (Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de CaballerĂ­a de Sevilla) very famous worldwide and took 100 years to complete.

Sevilla is also home to the Giralda Cathedral, the world's largest Gothic cathedral and the world's third-largest cathedral of any affiliation (behind St. Peter's in Vatican City and St. Paul's in London). This cathedral is the main attraction.

When we arrived in Sevilla, we hopped in cab and headed to our hostel where we were to have room with only 4 beds and since there were three of us, having only one other roommate was a great advantage to getting lots more sleep in the upcoming couple of nights.

First let me introduce the other two people traveling with me and if any of you know me at all, these two probably won't be new. I am traveling with the wonderful Marek Freguson, my girlfriend of over a year and this is her first time overseas and hopefully not her last. Also, with me, Doug Vrooman. Doug has traveled with me in previous trips: Madrid, Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Prague, Berlin, Sydney, Melbourne and Cairns.

After we checked in, we decided to join a walking tour of leaving the hostel with other travelers. It seemed like it had lots of potential, but after 20 min, we decided to head back to the hostel to change and find something to eat.

After showers, we headed downstairs and rented bikes for the day and headed out in direction of some great local neighborhood restaurants. Mission accomplished. It is so easy to find a place to eat/drink in Spain. Tons of local Mom/Pop places on every corner of every small and skinny street.

After we ate we hopped on our bikes and headed to the river front to ride around to the bullring and other attractions. I was really shocked at all the kayaking going on there. There were rowing lanes that went on for about 200 yards and even a small boat house where there were plenty of kayaks. Riding bikes along the river lasted about 10 min until my bike got a flat. Ok, so it's time to lock all three bikes up on a nearby bike rack and go on foot from here.

We got to the bullring and found out there was a bullfight going on at 7 p.m. but that was something Marek definitely did not want to do, Doug and I considered going to it but decided not to later on. We headed on up to the Cathedral and took the tour. This cathedral is not only famous for the size or is also the resting place of Christopher Columbus. His casket is enshrined up on high of the shoulders of four statues in the cathedral:
Pretty cool to see.

After the cathedral, we headed back to the hostel and stopped at the Spain-wide protests happening in Plaza Mayor. Hundreds of youths are gathered with tons of signs, I'm not going to go in to all that they are protesting but I'm sure you can Google it. (I have videos of this that I will upload and link to later).

After the protests we headed back to the hostel for a bit of resting and then joined joined a group of people from our hostel heading out to a small/intimate Flamenco exhibition. It was incredible. There were about 30 of us in a small room and the three parts of Flamenco were all represented: Voice, Guitar and Dance. The guitarist on Classic guitar, the singer was roughly a 25-yr old native that could belt with the best of them and the dancer was as intense as a performer as I had seen. It was a great thing to be a part of and I have some video of this as well and will upload it at a later point.

Right now, it is time for sleep. Good night!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Spain Day 1; Barcelona - May 21, 2011

Holy cow. I am so tired. I forgot what it feels like to really travel a long ways to begin an even longer travel ahead.

It started by getting to sleep at 12:30 a.m. on Thursday night to wake up on Friday morning at 5:00 a.m. to catch a flight to St. Louis to then catch a flight to Newark (which we would have missed due to a delayed takeoff in OKC from lightning). Since Marek used to work for Southwest a few years ago, she had a few free flights built up so we decided to get free flights to NYC and then buy a flight overseas from NYC which was a lot cheaper than starting from OKC.

The problem we ran into was almost missing our flight in St. Louis to Newark. The only reason we caught it was because there were about 25-30 people on our flight that needed that connection, if we would have missed it, we wouldn't have been able to get to Newark in time to catch our flight to Barcelona and since they were separate bookings, it wouldn't have been a free rescheduling on the next flight. We almost saw complete disaster in those first few hours.

Disaster averted and we were able to fly into Newark on time. Our next flight was scheduled 5 hours later so we figured we'd try to get in Manhatten for an hour or so and then get to JFK for our over night flight to Barcelona. It (of course) took us longer to get into the city than expected and we only had time to grab a slice of pizza near Penn Station and then hop back on the A Train and head on out to the airport. We were hoping to see my dad for 30-45 minutes (he was in NYC this weekend) but our schedule was too restricting and we didn't want to chance anything.

So, after getting to JFK and getting on our flight to takeoff at 6 p.m. we sat there on the runway until 7:05 and then takeoff to the 30 impending minutes of a one-yr-old screaming. Not the easiest day...but when you plan a trip like this, it's all about taking baby steps one step at a time. Trying to make the most of it, I bust out the video camera and shoot some footage of us about to chow down on our pasta and chicken dinner on the plane, shortly after, I realize that the camera won't turn on anymore... :( Oh, well...on to plan B, use the iphone (I called AT&T and had international roaming added and had all incoming text messages and phone calls taken off so I wouldn't get charged for all the random text messages/phone calls that could cost tons in the end...the moment we arrived, two text messages come through...which told me that it wasn't turned off and if I turn my iPhone on during this trip then I will receive the data from all text messages and missed phone calls. $$$ I guess the iPhone is now out for the trip.

On to plan C, use my digital camera's video selection for videos. So far, it hasn't failed me.

After the 4.5 hours of sleep the first night and 1.5 hours of sleep on the plane's overnight flight, and all the technical difficulties...I still have to smile. After all, it is Marek and I's one-year-anniversary of meeting each other, and I couldn't be happier.

Time for an afternoon nap so that I have the energy to go see Gaudi Park and tour the Segrada Familia later this evening.

Hasta Luego.