Friday, January 17, 2014

No Siesta for You: Go Go Go!

The final European leg: Lisbon and Andalucia

After 2 hours of sleep, a walk and bus ride, a 30 minute wander around Victoria station at 3 AM trying to find the 1.5 hour bus to Stansted Airport, a 2 hour wait and 3 hour flight, I arrive at Lisbon airport and wait for Sharlene. Trust me, I’ve had much worse transfers. Shar and I have reunited in Prague, Cuzco, Copenhagen, Casablanca and now Lisbon. We see each other without a hitch, stash our bags at the bus station and are off to explore! Visit Sharlene's blog for more pics.

Day 12: Lisboa! Portugal I adore
After lunch, our first stop is the much anticipated Pais de Nata (egg custard tart) at Pais de Belem. It is no surprise that food (and pastries, nonetheless) is first on our to-do list.

Belem: All hail to the pais de nata in the box above
Pasteis de nata: YUM!

We meander the streets of Lisbon in the Baixa-Chiado hood. Very hilly. Working off those pais de natas.
Tram 28   

Convento de Carmo
When I read ruins, I was on it!

Street art:

Winding through non-touristy deserted backroads at night

So we booked two overnight buses from Lisbon to Seville and back. This was the worst overnight bus of all my travels (and I have done a lot)! We just won’t talk about it. Oh the dreaded return.


I finally made it! Madrid? No. Barcelona? No. Shar has already done all of those and I will eventually, so we hit up Andalucia.

Day 13: Seville
We arrive at 7 AM to a dark, deserted Seville after the night-bus-to-not-be-mentioned, and yet we still got a good impression on our 30 minute chilly walk into town. The happiest moment of this entire leg occurred when we were allowed an early check-in to our room at 7:30 AM. Yes! We showered and crashed until 11:30 AM.

What to do in Seville for 24 hours?

Seville Cathedral:

View from Giralda bell tower overlooking orange grove courtyard. Cathedral #? on this trip.
We find the Marisol Parasol, huge wooden mushroom pillar structure, before siesting and watching ...
Flamenco at the Flamenco Museum
Day 14: A Three-Town Day
There are two things on the must-see in Seville: Cathedral (check) and Alcazar. We got shut out of Alcazar (supposedly like heaven) the day before because of confusion over closing time (darn winter hours). How can we be shut out of heaven? But fear not, we finagle our way in.

Alcazar: Patio of the Maidens

we were the first into “heaven” at 9:30 the first out at 10:15 AM.
It felt like we had 2 nights and 2 days in Seville due to our crazy early morning dark arrival, but it was 28 hours.  We dash to the bus station and are off to town #2.
Town #2: Ronda
First stop after tapas ….
Bull Fighting!

OK, this set-up is not entirely accurate. The cape is hiding behind Sharlene. I’m sure that is the only thing wrong.

Picturesque Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) above the Gorge

We only had 4 short hours in the town. We longingly wish we had more time to hike down to the gorge, but instead we fled on train (and also the Korean tourists).

Shar on the Renfe Train

With chocolate croissant (#4 out of 8 on this trip).
We oh so enjoyed these trains, especially after the horror of the first bus. Train rides always included delicious pastries.

On this train, the conductor asked something about my camera. Eh? Am I in trouble? After many illegal maneuvers as a poor student on Euro trains, I still fear conductors.  He checks my camera then shows us a ton of photos on his phone. Sure… as long as you don’t kick us out of our seats or the train!

Town #3: Antequera, our fave
Shar and I like to get off the beaten path. With limited time, we chose wild-card Antequera. We walk 30 minutes uphill (why does it always seem uphill?) to the main square, check into our Hotel San Sebastian and are enthralled by this town.

Room with a view:

again spoiled with overlooking-main-square views
In Espanol, I conversed with the owners to secure shown balcony room above. The owners said it might be noisy. When? 7:30AM, but no more jackhammers. Great conversations.

We hit up tapas at the appropriate hour (9:45-11pm) at our all-time favorite Tapas joint, Rincon de Lola. The owner was super nice and explained in detail and pride all the daily specials.We'll take them all!

Side note: Tapas, tapas, tapas!
We really enjoyed these small plates of deliciousness. Here, we were inspired to make a list of
Top 5 tapas:
#1 Lomo De Orzo (marinated pork on a French fry on bread)
#2 Queso de Crema con Mermelada de Tomate (soft cheese with sweet tomato jam on toasted bread)
Queso de Crema con Mermelada de Tomate
#3 Delicias de Pato (duck leg with apple puree)
#4 Champignones a La Pancha (mushrooms w/garlic goodness)
#5 Ensalada con Langostina for me (tomato, shrimp salad)
#5 Conjonudos for Shar (black pudding, quail egg, bread)

and now back to travels...

Day 15: Exploring 'ol Antequera
The next morning we sleep in because the tourist office may open around 9, or 9:30 (mas o menos) because that’s how they roll here. After a lengthy convo in Espanol, we convince the lady that we do want to go to the national park. Yes, even though it is gray and rainy and we can’t see anything. Yes, we are crazy.

After our first and most delicious café and te con leche with traditional bread, sweet tomato jam and olive oil, we are off.

Gist of convo with cabbie before we took off:
Me: “Ruta amarilla” (yellow route – medium)
Cabbie: “Ruta verde” (green route - easy)
Me: “No ruta amarilla?”
Cabbie: “No! Verde.”

And amarillo we go! We had no idea where we were. Every time we turned the corner we saw another gorgeous valley … but no parking lot. Oops. Yeah, we were an hour late meeting our cabbie. Fortunately nothing a few extra euro can’t solve.

Ill-prepared in our zero-tread shoes, we navigated slippery rocks and mud puddles.

Shar jumps for joy – no biting it in the mud!

I shimmy my way through a gorge on the Amarillo trail.
Torcal rocks in fog
We asked the cabbie to drop us off at the Dolmens below just south of town. There was a lovely visitor center, yet really no visitors. An interesting site and reminder of the history of Antequera.

Dolmens de Viera: Burial Chambers from 2500 BC.
We walk back to town, eat at Lola again, wash the mud off jeans and begin to siesta… except I double check the hours for the Alcazaba (fort) and lo and behold it’s closing in one hour! Darn winter hours. No siesta. GO GO GO!!!

View of Alcazaba (fort)

Antequera is nestled in the hills
We convinced the guy that we can zoom through in one hour (hmm, we seem to have to convince a lot of people in this town). We listen to the audio, walk and snap photos all at once. Multi-tasking!

Random bull fountain spitting water out of his snout

View of Antequera from Alcazaba

It’s one of the many white-towns in Andalucia. It's an archaeological gem.

Antequera was definitely our fave part of the trip, but, as much as we love it, Shar and I want to see something new (yeah, we have issues staying still and chilling). Where to go tomorrow? We desperately want to see the elusive Alhama de Granada but unfortunately can’t find reasonable buses or car as neither of us can drive manual (dang it! Note: put on the to-do list).

All buses seem to lead to the port city of Malaga, so there we go!

Day 16: Antequera to Malaga to Granada (another 3 town day)

Malaga: port-side city
Eh? How do these lockers work?
Travel note: we did a lot of pass through towns and did many baggage storages in stations. We put coins in and prayed that the locker didn’t spontaneously open (which it did once). Miraculously, we never loss anything!

It was slated to be rainy, and rain it did, so we didn’t mind going to Malaga where we hibernated in the Picasso and Thyssen museum.
Random cathedral #? in the old town of Malaga

This was not THE cathedral to use as the landmark. We got somewhat lost in these streets (where are the signs?) but found our fave Danish Tiger store in route.
Girl at the Thyssen Museum of Impressionism.

Throw a backpack on her and it’s totally my style, right?
We found the Picasso Museum and Picasso birth house, then headed back to the bus station. Malaga was all right. It was no cute small town we dreamed of, but based on the transportation/rain situation, it did just fine. 

Off to the finale, Granada!
We arrive just in time to madly head up for sunset at 6:21pm for the money shot ...
Alahambra at sunset from the St. Nicolas Mirador
We treat ourselves to a fantastic Moroccan meal reminiscent of our travels there. There is a lot of Moroccan influence in Granada which is probably why Shar and I liked it a lot (better than Seville).

Day 17: Granada with Moroccan hints
We rise early (OK, not that early but at 7:30 before sunrise) to hike up to the ...

Alahambra! One place not to miss.
Now we’ve seen many similar things, but I have to admit, the Alhambra is pretty impressive! Definitely go.

Last tapa madness with locals at Bodegas Castena

Cheers with Cruzcampo!

Yes, that is me with beer. What?! It was light and cheaper than water so I had to give it a go… several times.
En route, we stop in Seville for food at Vineria San Telmo, which my parents raved about, before our dreaded 11:30 pm night bus back to Lisbon. Sadness.

Day 18: Lisboa take 2!

We arrive at 5:30 am to a deserted bus station in Lisbon. With no public transport in sight, we hop into a cab to our Hotel Chiado. Best 10 euros spent! We are happy campers to get into our hotel early. Routine: shower, 2 hour nap and go for our (final) day.

Suddenly we had a ton to do in Lisbon despite our first chill day here.

National Tile Museum (fantastic!)

Lisbon has a lot of intricate azules (blue and white tilework).

Sintra: National Palace

A nice simple palace in pleasant green suburbs
We also hit up the Contemporary Berardo Museum.

Lisbon Metro

Nice warning sign. Didn’t happen here, but I was a victim in NYC

Reunion with Joe

Grad school classmates. Pic from 12 years ago?
I forgot to take a pic of us so here's an oldie but goodie. Joe moved to Lisbon 6 yrs ago to head up his own lab. He invited us over for dinner with his fiancé, Julia, her parents from Brazil and her friend from Turkey. Good company and catching up. Always nice to be invited into the home of locals and meet people from all over. Perfect end to our Lisbon day. And then we stay up to 3 am to sadly see the Niners lose. Boo.

A great city. Goodbye Lisbon!

Shar and me at Alahambra

This third leg of the trip was awesome! Portugal and Spain did not disappoint! It was a go-go-go 7 days because that’s how we roll. We saw a ton of things. Weather was off-and-on cooperative. Not terribly cold (40-50’s) and a bit rainy - a nice break from constant 75 deg LA. On the plus side, it’s off-season so we often got places to ourselves and the best rooms in the house. It was a luxury to splurge on hotels (no hostels!), which was doable since Spain is relatively inexpensive for Europe. What an upgrade from our backpacking days of 2000. Yes, we still have our backpacks, but we also have our own showers! Thanks for fun times once again, Sharlene!

It was a fantastic Europe trip! Pretty much no-hassle, convenient travel. It's incredible to understand the language everywhere (except Lisbon). Only a few crazy nights. I didn't get in trouble with authorities or get stuck in sketch situations. I saw tons of castles, forts, cathedrals and alcaza-things. I rode lots of trains, buses and a few planes.  Of course, there ended up not being as much down time as anticipated because it’s me. Even though I had internet and checked work e-mail daily, it was still a great, much-needed break from work and life in LA.

The Europe-trip-that-never-was in 2000 has now been done. It was all I hoped for. Now, as always, I am sad to be back in the states. It went by way too fast and the wanderlust that I am can always travel longer. Perhaps next time I can really go off-the-grid again. Where to … ?