A Travellerspoint blog

Madrid

sunny -17 °C
View RTW 2008 on jezems's travel map.

We arrived in Madrid to find it hotter than hot, a great city that didn't have the old world elegance of Paris and Rome but had its own edginess and vibe. We booked into a great little hotel that had a fantastic air conditioner - with 40 degree days, trust me we needed it. Upon arrival we signed up for a free city tour and got a taste for what the city had on offer. We decided to hit the Palcio Real and the Reina Sofia, as both were highly recommended by our tour guide.

Palcio Real is the official residence of King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sophia and we decided to take a tour of the palace which has 2800 rooms (however only 50 are open to the public.) To be honest I was a little disappointed with the palace. The room where King Carlos receives official visitors was in dire need of renovation - mirrors were dirty and an air conditioning unit sat awkwardly in a corner. The so-called royal pharmacy was simply a room filled with old (probably empty) jars and most of the armoury exhibit contained copies as the originals were on loan to the British museum. Having flash backs to my visit to the Governor- General's residence and being dismayed with the state of the carpets - how could one entertain the Queen in a room that had faded carpet and scratched furniture??? I decided to head to the gift shop and buy a postcard to send my grandparents. I searched high and low and couldn't find a postcard with a picture of the royal family on it.................what kind of gift shop was this??? As you can imagine Jeremy was hardly impressed with being dragged around the palace and was not interested in my rantings regarding the lack of royal paraphernalia on sale and the state of government buildings, so we decided to take a breather and head to a local coffee shop for lunch while we mulled over our next tourist visit.

We decided to take in some art and had been told that Reina Sofia was a cutting edge modern art museum and it did not disappoint.We decided to take an audio tour of the four levels of art and by the end we had learnt as much about Spanish history as we had about modern art. The exhibitions were wonderfully presented and the collection was overwhelming. By the time we got to the fourth floor we were completely exhausted so we decided to find a tapas bar that came highly recommended by our guide book. As we wondered around turning into unfamiliar streets and alleys we unexpectedly stumbled onto the main prostitutes drag. At first I thought they were just a couple of girls dressed up for a night on the town but as we walked another block we saw more and more girls in groups hanging out on the streets with their pimps close by in the shadows and curb trawlers hovering on corners. We decided that there was no way we were going to find the tapas bar in this area so called it quits and walked to a more safer area for paella and sangria.

Jeremy - We also went along to a bull fight, by all accounts a poor display as the Matadors were inexperienced, but also as it was an completely unfair fight! But as it was part of the culture we went along with all of the other tourists to see the show. And it was crowded, that is until the end of the first fight when half the audience left the arena. We stayed on till the end of the last fight, they had six in total. The basic format involved the bull being lead out and the tormented by 5 matadors on opposite ends of the arena who jump behind a wooden fence as the bull draws near. These guys wear the bull out by making him run back and forth. Next a trumpet sounds and out come heavily padded (blindfolded) horses and a rider with a spear. The bulls are enticed to charge the side of the horse so that the spear can be driven into its back. Then each of the original tormentors has a go at sticking a barbed stick in the bulls back as it charges at them (or stands still) and then after the blood is in free flow the matador enters. He plays with the bull for a while, which is impressive when done well, and then pulls out a sword is mean to drive it into the bulls back and kill it in one go. Unfortunately this only happened in one of the fights. I have some video which I won't post in which it took 5 stabs at the exhausted bulls back to bring him down, even after this the "assistant" had to twist a knife into its head with legs kicking and sad moo's echoing around the stands. After the bull dies decorated donkeys trot out and are attached to the bull which is the dragged out the the slaughter house out the back leaving a train of blood.

We left somewhat bewildered at what we had seen and I couldn't help thinking that I would like to breed some super bull to come back to let loose on them!

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Posted by jezems 22:06 Archived in Spain

Granada


View RTW 2008 on jezems's travel map.

Jeremy - The train ride from Seville passed through similarly dry country to the road to Seville but fortunately the temperature was not the same! We found our guesthouse, again at the top of a hill, after a couple of wrong turns and some directions from a local. This small guest house was a real find, it was in the old town and run by a family. We basically shared the house with the family which made for an authentic experience of Granada and a Spanish household.

The main attractions here were the old town and the Alhambra and of course the tapas (and a massive church). The old town was a maze of streets winding their way up hill and opening in to small squares that were surrounded by restaurants, churches and tapas bars. The Alhambra (red fortress) sat atop the hill opposite (supposedly like a ship grounded on the hill top). The Muslim rulers lost Alhambra (and Granada) in 1492 when King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile took the surrounding region. After this the Moors all but fled and the Christians took over the fortress. Like the Alcazar in Seville it was the Islamic architecture and landscaping that made the Alhambra special. My favorite part was the private gardens (see picture below). Despite warnings to book in advance we rocked up early in the morning and walked up and bought a ticket with ease. It was like a hill top oasis with running water everywhere and greenery all around. Its was strange to look out from the hill top across the dry sierra Nevada and the hot summer scorched city while we stood, shaded, on a stair case that had water running down the banisters! Water is a central feature of the Islamic architecture though I'm not sure how
it would deal with modern water restrictions.

Now the tapas is all we had heard about even before we arrived in Spain. In Seville we tried in vain to find free tapas but alas the was none. Although we did pay for some great tapas our thirst for all that is free had yet to be quenched, here we were not disappointed in Granada. Despite being lost in the old town again we found numerous places serving beer with a free tapas. The notion being that tapas should be free and is offered to encourage you to drink more is alive and well here. After a few days here we where ready to stay longer but resisted and pushed on towards Madrid via a little place called Toledo.

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Posted by jezems 05:00 Archived in Spain

Lisbon to Seville


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Lisbon
Jeremy - We arrived to a beautiful sunny Lisbon on a Saturday afternoon. It was a little busier here but still had that laid back feeling, like a large town rather than a city.

In the days before we arrived there had been a huge music festival held in Lisbon and our hostel seemed to be bursting with fans with musical talent. On each of the nights we stayed there, the common room was filled with great singing and music.

The city centre was located down the hill from our hostel and on the other side was another hill with the local "Castelo" dominating the skyline. It was a city of big monuments and big squares and streets arranged in a grid. The buildings, like in other parts of the country were decorated with tiles on the outside. They also take particular pride in their pavements here, they are all made of small square stones that are arranged in numerous different patterns (see pic below).

After discovering that the bullfighting we thought was going to be on that day was actually on a Thursday (it was Sunday) we decided to set about exploring the city, the castle and the old streets around it before heading in to the Alfama (an ancient part of town with narrow winding streets), which we covered by the end of the day.

One thing we noticed about all of the towns we had been in in Portugal is that the distances are not great. We kept getting disorientated because we would often walk past our destination in a matter of minutes when we were expecting a longer walk. It means we got to see everything!

The bullfighting in Portugal is a little different to the Spanish, the bullfighter is on horseback, there is a lot more pomp and ceremony, the bull is not killed in the ring and there are about 8 guys that get charged by the bull and then wrestle it to the ground to end the fight! We only managed to see this sceptical on the local TV but prefer this style over the Spanish, though both are a bit antiquated.

There seemed to also be a disturbing trend in this part of Europe that we saw again and again later in Spain and France. A phenomenon where homeless people who are begging on the street are accompanied with a pack of up to 10 dogs all tied together. They would then drag the dogs around town and use them as a begging tool. It really annoyed me to see these poor dogs starving and being on leashes all day!

On our second day we headed to Sinatra, an hours train ride from Lisbon, which was used as a summer retreat by portugal's kings and has a really cool Moorish "Castelo" on the top of a hill with view across the countryside. We spent the afternoon climbing to the top and then enjoyed the famous gardens as we walked back through the town.

The next day we went to the beach! Another hour trip on a train took us to the town of Cascais for a lazy day on the beach. We hired an umbrella and set about relaxing with the locals that had all come out for the public holiday. I only managed one swim and Emily decided against it after noticing the amount of rubbish in the water. So we mostly cooled off under the near by shower :)

Belem was the last area we visited, this area is on the water front and is where some of the major monuments are located. We indulged in a couple of custard tarts (Portuguese speciality) and sausage rolls (an actual sausage wrapped in pastry) at the recommended cafe, despite the poor service the tarts were tasty!

We didn't head out to the fancy nightclubs they have here, besides not having the cool threads the possibility of a 180 euro cover charge was a little rich for us! But we had a great time and made it out to the bus station "amazing race style" two minutes before the bus left for Lagos.

The Bums in town seemed to have a habit of carting around a pack of sickly looking dogs, the more dogs the more successful the bum I guess
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On top of the castle in Sintra
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Monument to people who built portugals empire
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Another monument in Blem
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Enjoying some tarts
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Lagos
Jeremy - After a 5 hour ride on a bus, with its own hostess selling snacks, we arrived to a hot afternoon with a 3km walk to our hostel located at the top of the old town (up hill!). The old town is surrounded by an old city wall and is mass of whitewash buildings and houses. Each similar but shapped to fit the space avalible and sprialling upwards as rooms and terraces are added to accomodate the growing population. Real estate agents seem to be specifically geared towards the British retiree market and there is a sense that the city has a higher proportion of foriegners than locals. We were particularly taken aback by the number of Australians there, it's like we had all floated down to the bottom of the continent!

Emily -Lagos is a great beachy resort whose only drawback was that it was filled to the brim with tourists but that's not thier fault.....................right? We spent most of our time at the beach and when we weren't there we were devouring spicy portugeuse bbq chicken. Yum!

We stayed at a great hostel and got heaps of great tips from the manager who was super keen to help us enjoy his town. The only sad thing was that the town was filled with tourists yet it seemed that only a certain segment of the locals were reaping the benefits of increased tourism while the some viewed the tourist influx from their shanty townships just outside the old town walls.

Jeremy- The best beaches were to the north of the town and were small sandy beaches at the bottom of sandstone cliff faces. On one of our beach days it was incredably hot, the type of heat that turns the sand into a hotplate and renders unprotected skin in the sun blistered after five minutes. A perfect day to be at the beach! Anyway, we decided to get a spot in as much shade as posible, which happened to be right next to the cliffs (silly place to sit i know, but we survived with out any rock falls). Over the next few hours we were then entertained as the tide began to come in and those closer to the water slow became swamped by the incoming waves. One by one sunbakers were being soaked by the rough wave sneaking up on them, it was funny from where we were. We left before it reached our spot :)

Sunny days
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Wlaking the cliffs
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Roof top sunset
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We could have stayed a few more days in Lagos but decided to keep going and head in to Spain as time was a wasting. We boarded an early morning bus to Seville passing through some amazingly dry country, it looked like sences from a Western.

Seville

Emily- Once we stepped off the bus from Lagos we were hit by the 40 plus heat wave that was hitting Spain - it must of been pretty bad as Jez wanted to catch a cab to our hostel but after talking to the local tourist office I was reassured that it was only a 15 min walk and that we could manage it.
Suprisingly, we managed to find the place without much trouble and checked into our dorms. We soon realized how stingey this hostel was when we realised our eight bed dorm was really the size of a shoe box and that the hostel manager only turned the air con on during the nights. However, we did meet a lot of interesting fellow travellers - a couple of blond americans that could talk your head off, an Aussie who was planning to canoe his way from Spain to Portugal in an inflatible canoe he'd ordered off ebay and a bunch of rugby loving canadians. All in all not a bad bunch of kids to have a drink and a laugh with.

While in Seville we had our first taste of tapas - which started our spanish obsession with locating free tapas (which you can't find in Seville by the way), our experiences ranged from really bad; fried pieces of fatty ham, to delicious; bowls of smoked ham, fried sardines and lentil dips. We also went to see a flamenco show which was fabulous - the dancer really emboddied the passion and drama of flamenco. Having had a great night of flamenco and tapas the next day we headed to the Alcazar of Seville which today serves as a summer royal palace for King Carlos and Co but was originally built by the Moors to be used as a fort. Due to its Moorish heritage the palace draws on a lot of Islamic architecture which makes it quite distinct from the various other palaces and churches we had visisted in Europe. As you can see from the photos the architecture was stunning, the use of water and precision carving (all by hand) really lifted this palace into a league of its own and was merely a taster of what we were to see in Granada.

Cool building
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Outside the Alcazar
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Inside
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The road to Granada
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Posted by jezems 09:08

Coimbra - University City


View RTW 2008 on jezems's travel map.

Coimbra was a pretty quiet and laid back university town with a great vibe. Jez and I walked around the old town a few times and discovered a local restaurant that cooked the perfect grilled sardines and bbq chicken. We loved it so much we went back again the following night. The following day we were advised by the local tourist office that a fado concert would be held in the old town as a part of the cultural festival so we spent our last night soaking up the soulful ballads of fado.

Unfortunately, as I'm a member of Generation Y I was bored after five minutes (it didn't help that the Fado started an hour later than scheduled), so we headed back to our hostel which was caught in some type of hippy timewarp - the workers were too busy sleeping in beanbags, drinking with friends or meditating to serve guests. Thankfully, we left the following day - heading to the big smoke Lisbon.

On the streets of the old town
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"Where did that beer go?"
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View from hostel window
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Sardine special
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Traditional dress (these guys came down from the mountians just for the fado!)
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Fado in action
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Posted by jezems 13:56

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