Walking Tour of Madrid + Last Supper

This morning, I went to the Madrid bull ring to take a tour inside since I hadn’t been able to see a bull fight (or really want to for that fact). The tour was a little frustrating because it was in both English and Spanish since so many Spanish speakers were there. I felt like the tour was chopped in half because of the time constraint plus having to do it in both languages. However, being in the bullring and learning about the pomp and circumstance of this pasttime was really interesting to hear. It’s actually pretty impressive that they still do it so often (every Sunday!).

After the tour, I headed back to the hostel to put down my stuff and relax a bit and grab some lunch. I got a sandwich from a nearby cafe and did a little bit of walking afterwards waiting for the 3pm tour. I met a girl from Canada who also was interested in the tour, so we talked about meeting up there. At Plaza Mayor, I arrived looking for the red umbrella that was supposed to be the marker of the tour. I kept walking around looking thinking, this is not right. I saw a Minnie Mouse character with a red umbrella, but I sure wasn’t going to follow her around for a tour. Afterwards, I saw Sam, the Canadian girl, and we were both thinking that we’d been in the wrong place. We then went to the tourism office and asked an old man about the tours, and he said they started at 4pm. So we took a little stroll and got some amazing yogurt and made our way back around 4pm.

When we got back to the plaza, we saw our group waiting for the tour. Our guide was a little Israeli guy who had such a fake sense of enthusiasm. He was really informative though and took us around showing us all the stops in Madrid. We went to various landmarks hearing about Spain’s rough history and triumphs, and stopped for snacks including the natural alcohol of some berry that’s famous in trees. It was really sweet. We also stopped at a place for a ham sandwich and drink for just 2 Euro. We continued weaving our way through the streets of Madrid learning about its history too.

At the end of these ‘Free Tours’, they make it known that they only get paid in tips. In all my other tours, I typically would give the 5Euro bill, plus whatever coins I had in my pocket (Which adds up to usually 7Euro or so) which is a decent amount for a free student tour. A guy who was in front of me handed him a handful of a change and I was shocked to see that the guide started counting the change and said, keep it. I think the guy probably didn’t give much, but come on. So I handed my 5 Euro, and then gave him change as well, and when he counted the change, he said, come on I can’t even get a cup of coffee with this–and I said, I know, that’s why I gave you a bill too. He said, oh sorry, I didn’t notice. I was stunned. The rudeness of it made me want to take my money back, but Sam gave him 7Euro and he didn’t even thank her. We were both stunned and continued walking around afterwards exploring another section of Madrid, but kept coming back to his rudeness.

That evening, we went back to the hostel and got ready to go out for dinner. We found this great greenhouse type market that had everything you could want to eat. we met up with the Irish girl in my room Elaine, Sam, and she had recruited a danish and swedish guy to join as well. We all headed out to Plaza Mayor to find this market and were excited for food. We entered and it was so crowded. Everyone was hopping from stall to stall getting fresh food of everything you could imagine. We made our first stop at the Croquette station and got some fresh fried croquettes.  We then continued on and I got some amazing fresh sushi, then we went to a shishkabab place and I had fresh tomatoes with mozzarella on a stick. We then headed to a meat station, and I had a fresh cooked sausage as a mini hot dog. That was absolutely the best dinner experience I’d had.. the food was incredible. I then finished it off with Cataluyan style flan, which was a rich dulce de leche flavored mousse. So good! We then went out to an Irish bar and continued our conversations about travels and experiences and finally came back to the hostel to turn in.

This was the part of hosteling that I really enjoy. Meeting people from all different parts of the world, walks of life, and experiences yet share a common bond of being present and open to meeting others to enjoy what’s around. It really was a great group to hang out with, so I was sad it was the one and only time, but that’s the life of traveling! What a great way to end my time in Spain, which by no means, will be my last.

Arrival in Madrid

After my time in Granada, I headed for a couple of days in Madrid. I’m very happy with how the trip turned out — my route seemed to be flexible and brought me to little surprises. Although I had thought about going west after Barcelona, I simply loved Valencia so much more than anyone on the trip said I would. That’s where you have to take advice from other traveler’s with a little grain of salt. Sometimes what they like isn’t what you like, so take it, but don’t blindly heed it.

I walked from the hostel with my backpack and got on the train to Madrid. The scenery was great on the way there. As we were approaching Madrid, the city started feeling closer and closer, yet still not a city. Finally after deboarding, I walked through the station which had a cool tree area. There were trees all indoors where you could sit and eat. It was a little confusing because I simply was looking for a grand entrance/exit, but nothing looked very grand. I finally got out of the station and ended up where a lot of construction was, and I couldn’t quite get my bearings. After figuring out how to get to the main street, I found the hostel on the map and headed that direction–WALKING.

Usually I’m fine hoofing it, but this part of town was on a grade that made every step with the backpack seem like I was trying to climb mountains. It was hot and so I was feeling pretty tired. I eventually made it to the hostel and checked into the room. It had all single beds which was great, because bunks always make for a harder night sleep. I went to the bathroom to have a shower and clean up. When I came out, Elaine was arriving from Ireland and putting her stuff out on the bed. Elaine was fantastic. Really pretty, sweet and engaging, and we talked nonstop. We decided to wander around the streets and look for a place for dinner.

Our walk was great. Our conversation was great, and it’s these moments in travel where I simply love the serendipitous nature of meeting people. It’s a simple window to another way of life, yet commonly bound by a language. We found an Italian place to get some spaghetti and pasta, and enjoyed watching everyone on the promenade. After a long dinner, we walked around more, and found a place for yogurt — a search that made Elaine laugh. Wandering the streets of Madrid on a warm summer night was absolutely fantastic, and it was all the more special to share it with such great conversation!

Walking Tour around Abacine

This morning, I got up to join the walking tour at 11. The guide was from Argentina, but he and his brother both do tours in the city of Granada. We joined in the square and started off our walk to the Muslim section of the city. The history has been really fascinating to see how the Jews and Muslims lived peacefully here until the Spanish came in and conquered it. Granada unfortunately was instantly rebuilt with Spanish Renaissance influence in the architecture, but luckily, they weren’t able to wipe away every building that existed in these parts of the town.

We walked a lot up hill during the tour as we ascended the hillside next to the Alhambra. The Alhambra is the most visited destination in Europe, and it towers above the town below. It is definitely a sight to be seen. On our ascent up the hillside we weaved through tons of alleyways and roads that the Muslim neighborhood had built. The architecture style can be seen by the smaller windows and the thick walls keeping these houses cooler in the hot summers. We continued our route up the hill stopping at various places. One place is where the King and Queen were buried, and where Christopher Columbus had come to declare the world as being round, and received the payment for going to discover the new world. It’s amazing how much history happened here, and to be standing on the same ground as Columbus before the Americas weren’t discovered by European powers yet was really cool.

After the tour, I went to a place for a lunch with the girls from the tour. We had a vegetarian lunch and I had a great salad with avocado, pear, almonds. The strange thing was when I reached for the oil and vinegar, the oil came out fine. The vinegar however was in a spray bottle. It was weird to spray the vingar on the salad, but i admit, it was definitely an effective method.

I then headed out to see the little alley ways with shops selling the souvenirs and such of the Muslim area. Everything was pretty much the same unfortunately. After finding my way back tot he hostel, I got changed and ready to head to dinner as Shane was back at the hostel. We had a great dinner and watched a street performer a while before we headed back after a quick walk to have an early night. I have my train to Madrid tomorrow and didn’t want to be out late.

Arrival in Granada

When I arrived, I was quite tired as I didn’t sleep so well on the train. Unlike my first train ride years ago in Russia, I found that the Spanish train turned a lot and made it difficult to sleep. When I arrived, I followed the instructions provided by the hostel to find Bus #5 to no avail. No one apparently knew where this bus was, so it was pretty frustrating. I continued my walk with my backpack to the bus station that the bus was supposed to take me to. I found it luckily, and was able to catch up with the directions there.

I checked in, and a bitchy German woman was the reception. I apparently interrupted her morning cigarette and I asked if this was a smoking hostel. Luckily it wasn’t, to her apparent annoyance. She did a good explanation of the town and said that I wouldn’t be able to check in until later in the afternoon, which was suspected. I put down my stuff and got out my phone to message Shane to see how we would be able to meet up. He had written saying he was going to the Alhambra at 2:30 so I wondered how I would be able to meet up. While I was looking at my phone, Shane walked up behind me–we had unknowingly booked the same hostel!

Since I couldn’t check in really, we went out for the morning and headed to the Alhambra to see if I could get tickets. The german woman said that I’d have to wait forever in line and I needed to just get a ticket for tomorrow. Good thing I didn’t listen to her. After our nice walk up to the Alhambra, we found the ticket line which had a whole 4 people in front. So within 5 minutes, I had my ticket and ready to go.  We had a bit of time before we could get in so went and had lunch. After our lunch we went to line up.

Back to the Beach, Medieval Festival, and Night Train

Today when I got up, I said bye to Davis as he was headed for London. I met up with Daniel and we slowly got our stuff together to check out and head for the beaches.  We got to the beach and stayed for a little while before we needed to get back to the city so Daniel could catch his train to Alicante this evening. My train doesn’t leave til 1am to Granada, so I had more time. After saying bye to Daniel, I continued on back to the hostel for a shower and to change. I then wandered around the city getting lost in the tiny passages throughout the city weaving in so many different directions. Usually I have a great sense of direction with city bearings, but these streets wind and zig/zag all over the place it’s hard to really tell where you are. But around every corner is a surprise of amazing graffiti, beautiful architectures, patios with tons of outdoor seating/music/food, fountains, cobblestone walkways that lead you to the next surprise.

I then made my way to the Medieval festival that was happening, and it was quite hilarious. They had hay in the streets, tons of artisans with their crafts, food, and more. I saw knights on armored horses, owls tied to grassy stumps, and food stands where I tried to get some food, but was told that the ovens weren’t hot enough yet. I went a little to the side street to find some pizza and ate that instead. I came back though because I spotted a Nutella Crepe stand :)

After continuing through the city finding more things I’d not seen in our walking tour, I feel like I got a really good sense of Valencia in such a short time. It’s a quaint town, beautiful streets and plazas, and really great weather. Definitely glad I came to Valencia!

Day Tour of Valencia

This morning I got up and tried to get ready for the 11 oclock free walking tour from the hostel, but instead it was 1 o’clock instead. So I went and had some lunch at a nearby cafe after looking through the Central Market. This one was great as well, and had fresh fruits and vegetables and pastries. I weaved in and out of the stalls looking at all the cool foods which made me even hungrier. I found a nice cookie to have for dessert and headed back to the hostel to pick up the guys.

We all then headed to the Plaza of Tossal to meet up with the walking tour. When we arrived, we saw a bunch of people waiting around for it, and an Irish guy holding the sign. I instantly got a little disappointed thinking our tour was given by a non-native Valencian who probably didn’t know anything about the city — It got worse when during his first few explanations and brief histories of the city and of Spain, he was shaking so badly that I didn’t know how he would make the tour.

Luckily, after about 10 minutes, he calmed down, and did an excellent job at informing us of a really unique history that Valencia had, and some cool insights into the buildings. My favorite tidbit I learned was of this huge house that had the virgin Mary statue above the door. It was a summer home of the king or something (See, he must not have done a GREAT job) but when they were at home, the Virgin Mary turned inward towards the house, with her back to the outside. When they left, it was facing outward. Pretty ingenious technology for back then.

After our walking tour, Daniel, Davis and I left Shane at the hostel and headed for the beach. I was excited to see the beach since my beach day in Barcelona had been ruined. After a 20 minute tram ride, we arrived at the beach and it was fantastic. After we put our stuff down, Daniel and I quickly went to the ocean to swim. It felt so good. The water was nice and warm and the beach was really nice. After a while, I let the guys go back as I wanted to check out the night lights of the aquarium.

On my way to the aquarium, I walked along the Greenway which ran through the entire city where an old river used to be before it was rerouted. The Greenway was beautiful and being enjoyed by everyone. Along the way, I saw some girls dressed in traditional dresses.. It was really nice–I have no idea what they were doing.

I finally reached the aquarium and started taking the pictures as it was just dusk. I made my way to the mall nearby to get some dinner since it was already 9pm. While I looked through the restaurants, I found one that was a Brazilian Churrasscaria. This is where they bring swords of meat to your table and slice you off as much as you want. I was so hungry, so it seemed like a great option.

After dinner, I went back outside, and to my surprise none of the lights were on for the aquarium. Yet again my night photography was jinxed, and I started my long way back home.

When I returned to the hostel, Shane and Daniel were going out to get a drink before Shane headed to Granada–on the same train I’d be taking a day later. So I joined and we had a nice evening out chatting and finally bid Shane farewell. We planned to potentially meet up while I go there tomorrow.

Rainy Day and off to Valencia

Today my plans for the beach were spoiled as I woke up to rain. It apparently started raining last night and was still raining even after breakfast. So I’ve been catching up on things in the ‘office’ via my netbook and doing some emails and journal entries for my site. It’s actually a little relaxing to have the rain outside and not being hoofing it around the city for a day. My plan for this evening is to head to Valencia by train and get some use out of my train pass. It will be a 3 hour journey and I will arrive around dinner time.

Day tour of barcelona

Today I started out in the morning to catch one of those hop on hop off bus tours of the city. I’ve found these to be a really easy way to see the city an not have to think about getting to the sights yourself. The weather was amazing and being in the roofless bus made it even better. Anytime I saw something I wanted to take a closer look at, I simply hopped off and spent my time.

The Spanish plaza was really cool. The two towers at the front of this long road that leads to the palace looked very roman to me And it’s a reminder that a lot of Spanish history is there that I don’t really remember. Thanks education system.

The Park Guell was really great. It’s amazing how much architectural and artistic influence Gaudi had on the city.

Hop on Hop off bus tour of BCN

After the hop on hop off bus tour, I came back to the Gracia avenue where there are tons of shops and Tapas places. I stopped at one to have some dinner. I was pretty tired from the day but surprised that I only realized it was almost 7 by the time the tour finished. I picked out a small hamburger, potatas bravas, roasted vegetables, and a squid on top of a crusted bread. Everything was so good and I was full by the end of it. It was nice to people watch on the boulevard along with such good food.

I then headed back to the hostel to relax a bit and did some hostel research for my new destinations of Valencia and Grenada. I found some good hostels that I booked and went ahead and reserved. After this I wanted to head out to take some night photography of some buildings here that are so lit at night. There’s one in particular that is very modern and has a lot of illumination in several colors. I headed out for my night walk slowly making my way to the building. After a half hour I started to see it in the distance and was excited for some great pictures. As I approached, I kept moving around to try to get the best vantage point with the least amount of street lights and such in the way.

As I found my position to start taking pictures, right when my finger was on the button to click the shutter, it was like I had hit the light switch. All the lights went out instantly. When hey didn’t change color, I started to think, oh my gosh, it’s 11pm, and I bet they’re out for good. Sure enough they were. After waiting about 10 minutes, I turned around disappointed and headed for the Sacred Family church to hopefully see those lights as well. On my way back, I asked a girl that I passed if she knew anything about the lights but she responded that she didn’t speak Spanish. Turned out she was American and was going to check out the lights as well. Disappointed for both of us, we then decided to walk together to the church to check it out.

She was from Chicago and was doing a post-graduation European tour. We had a nice evening chatting and making our way to the church and to our surprise, the lights were still on. We went around the church aking pictures and chatting about our experiences so far in Barcelona. We then walked back toward my hostel since hers was on the way as well.

I then got back to the hostel and went to bed after a very exhausting, sightseeing-filled day in Barcelona.