Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spain: Sevilla, Part II

Dad and I spent our last full day in Sevilla checking out two of its most impressive sites: the Alcazar and the Catedral with its famed Giralda tower.

I loved the Alcazar.  It had elements of old and new, and the gardens were immense!  We saw peacocks, a hedge maze, and enjoyed the fountains and walks outside.  The inside was just as impressive, with tapestries and painted tile, as well as high ceilings.  I thought that Alcazars were more like fortresses to protect royals, and there were several walls to that effect.  But the beauty inside of this one was definitely palatial.

 We headed over to the Cathedral, which was crowded with tourists.  While it is the third largest in the world, I wasn't so impressed with the building itself... until we saw the view!

La Giralda
Catedral de Sevilla
Dad and I climbed the many ramps to the top of the Giralda to see the city from one of its highest points.  We could even see our hotel.

The view
Afterwards, we enjoyed some tapas and gelato; I tried the flavor crema de sevilla, which had a hint of nutmeg.  Yum!

We finished off our trip in Sevilla with a reception at the hotel for our travel party.  There was music, a three-course meal, and lots of great conversation.  I had an amazing time in Spain with Dad, and I'm so glad he invited me to accompany him on such an amazing trip.  Thanks to Mom for giving me her spot for my 27th birthday!  :)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Spain: Cordoba

At the advice of a friend, we took a day trip from Sevilla to visit the city of Cordoba.  We weren't disappointed!

Roman Bridge

Our first stop was at the famed Mezquita, a cathedral that has maintained its Moorish mosque architecture and beauty since the 10th century!  We met this charming little old man in the garden (filled with the scent of lovely orange trees) who told us the history of the place; he didn't even work there, just wanted to talk to us.

La Mezquita
The garden in the Mezquita
I was so impressed with the arches inside, and the overall feel of the place.  It was truly unlike any cathedral I'd ever seen.  We lingered there for a long time.

We also went to the roman bridge and Puerta del Puente, a Renaissance gate at the foot of the bridge.  The effect was beautiful.

Puerta del Puente
Dad wanted to see the Alcazar, which was the site of the Spanish Inquisition.  From the outside, it looked like a walled city, but once inside it was impressive!  I really liked the gardens, and we were able to climb the tower.  It was worth the visit.

Cordoba was one of our favorite parts of our trip to Spain.  I think the photos speak for themselves.  It was just beautiful, and we bought some great ceramic souvenirs there.  Dad really enjoyed it too.  I will never forget it!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Spain: Sevilla, Part I

I can't say enough good things about Seville.  Seriously, I could have stayed there the entire week!  Our hotel, the newly-renovated Hotel Alfonso XIII, is a historic gem.  It was built to house heads of state during the Ibero-American Exposition in 1929, and opened with a banquet hosted by the king and queen! Our bedroom and bathroom were to die for... I was in heaven just in our hotel.

Hotel Alfonso XIII

The other great thing about out hotel?  Location, location, location!  We were walking distance to everything we wanted to see and visit.  The weather was much warmer than in Madrid, and we took advantage of it every day.  We took some time to sample the tapas; I really enjoyed the shopping and food near our hotel.

We did a bus and walking tour once we arrived, and one of my all-time favorite places was the Plaza de España.  Another work of art built for the Ibero-American Exposition, it was featured briefly in Star Wars: Episode I.  I just couldn't get over its beauty; Dad really loved it too.  Probably one of my favorite spots in the world, to be honest!

Plaza de España

Dad didn't get to take the tour of the bullring in Madrid, so I made sure that we took a tour of the Plaza de Toros in Sevilla!  Even though it was smaller in size (seats 14,000), I loved the bold colors; the ochre paint was my favorite.  It was a great tour with a small museum, and I learned about the history of bullfighting.  The tour guide was knowledgeable, and answered my questions patiently.  :)  I think Dad really liked seeing where the action happens.  The season opens this week, so we were able to see them preparing the ring.  One fun fact: it's an ellipse, not a circle, and you pay different ticket prices based on if you're in the sun or the shade, especially in summer!

Plaza de Toros

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spain: Madrid, Part II

(Here's Part II of our time in Madrid!)

One of the places I really wanted to visit was the inside of the Palacio Real, the official residence of the royal family of Madrid, even though it is now only used for state ceremonies.  There are 2800 rooms, with about 26 open to the public.  The palace is just immense; it's 1.5 MILLION square feet, making it the largest palace in Europe by square footage.

Palacio Real
Dad and I couldn't get over the finery of the interiors.  It definitely reminded me of Versailles, but with a Spanish feel.  It was just so ornate and rich.  We also really loved the Royal Armoury, with some of the most remarkable pieces of armor, weaponry, and other military history that we've seen.  It rivals what I saw at the Tower of London, and it was really cool to see the armor for horses and even practice armor for your royal children!

Dad wanted to see the Plaza de Toros, but we missed the tour hours!  Still, seeing the outside of the building was pretty impressive.  I'm not a fan of bullfights (those poor animals!) but understand that it is a tradition and big cultural event for many Spaniards.

Plaza de Toros
We also took some time to explore the Museo Nacional del Prado, an ENORMOUS art museum that had some incredible pieces.  There was a temporary exhibition of pieces from the Hermitage in Russia, a great collection by Goya (including his Black Paintings) and some fantastic sculpture.  I think we both liked the Rembrandts a lot, as well as the ornate hair pieces/jewelry/trinkets in the Hermitage exhibit.

Museo del Prado

And what trip to Spain would be complete without some flamenco?  Our entire group went to a fantastic dinner at Corral de la Moreria.  (By the way, Palacio Real, Museo del Prado, and Corral de la Moreria are all mentioned in the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die!)  I wasn't a huge fan of the giant prawns (seafood freaks me out!) but I think I ate ever last grain of rice in the paella with chicken.  I also loved all of the wine I had at the restaurants in Spain; no matter what price point, I thought it was fantastic!

The flamenco was fascinating.   I didn't realize how much stomping and energy was involved!  It was a sensory overload-type experience.  The dancers had to be in incredible shape; they really put so much emotion into it.  I really enjoyed Madrid, and this was the perfect ending to that visit.

Corral de la Moreria

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spain: Toledo

Dad and I took a day trip from Madrid by train to Toledo.  It was a short train ride, plus a quick cab up the hill to the old city.
Train Station at Toledo
The first thing that struck us were the medieval walls around that part of the city   It just felt so old... you could feel the history.  The streets were winding and covered with cobblestones (no buses allowed!), and the walls were close to you.  It was labyrinthine.  We spent most of our time at the Gothic-style cathedral, considered the greatest example of this type of architecture for a cathedral in Spain.  Its size was impressive, as well as its history; like many cathedrals, it was built upon the site of the city's former mosque.  There were also three synagogues; the religious history in every Spanish city we visited really struck me.  You have a mixture of architecture from so many sources, from Moorish arches to motifs featuring the Star of David.  You can't deny that this melting pot of religion and culture is what created such a unique Spanish culture.

Cathedral of Toledo

We also stopped by the Iglesia de Santo Tome to see El Greco's painting, The Burial of Count Orgaz.  I found that visit to be a little disappointing.  The space was very small, and I think I would have enjoyed the larger El Greco museum rather than the single painting.

It started raining on us, so we ducked into a cafe for some chocolate con churros.  Now, I need to discuss this Spanish favorite!  There are so many places in Spain to sample this traditional treat, hot chocolate (very thick, almost like a pudding!) with churros (not the sugar-covered kind we have in the U.S.).  You basically dip the fried churros into the chocolate; they seem like an unlikely pairing to me, but together they are heavenly, especially on a chilly and rainy day.

Chocolate con churros
The trip to Toledo was well worth the journey!  We loved the shops with the famous swords and marzipan, the view from the city walls, and the overall feeling of the place.  It just seemed so old and full of history; we really enjoyed our time there.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Spain: Madrid, Part I

The Palace Hotel
(After a blogging hiatus, I am back in action!  I couldn't think of how to organize my week in Spain into blog posts, so I decided to do a post for each city I visited.  Dad and I stayed three nights in Madrid and Seville, with day trips to Toledo and Cordoba.  This post covers the best of Madrid, Part I!)

Dad and I arrived to Madrid after a bump airplane ride, complete with mid-air return for radar repairs before we crossed the Atlantic!  We were relieved to finally get to our room at The Palace Hotel.  It was gorgeous; we had a delicious breakfast every morning, and a central location to walk from to explore the city.

The day we arrived, I walked to Puerta del Sol to check out some shopping!  They had my favorite European-based brands, including well-known stores like Zara, H&M, Sephora, and TopShop, as well as some of the brands I used to shop in Paris like Pimkie, C&A, and Etam.

Puerta del Sol
The next day, we took a bus and walking tour of the city.  Dad loved the Plaza de España, with its statues for Cervantes and Don Quixote.  (He loves that book!)  I loved the colors as we walked through Plaza Mayor.  It was a great way to explore the beauty of Madrid.

Plaza de Espana

Plaza Mayor
We joined a few others in our group for dinner at Restaurante Botin, the world's oldest restaurant according to Guinness!  It was an intimate, classic Spanish restaurant, with a tiny staircase and tiled walls covered with old paintings.  I chose a prix-fixe menu of garlic soup, their famous cochinillo asado (roasted suckling pig), gelato, and red wine. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Life Under Construction

Hey folks, I know I haven't been blogging much lately... but it's because life is changing at a rapid pace in a GOOD way! I won't be updating as much over the coming weeks as I make career/life moves, but I promise to come back with a vengeance... especially once I start decorating my future apartment, working in a completely new field, and continuing my journey!

Thanks for being along for the ride!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

My Declaration of Independence

I've been through a lot in the past few years, but one of the most important lessons I've learned is to be myself, unapologetically.

There are always going to be people who kick you when you're down, resent you when you're up, and create negative energy in your life.

No one has to like me. I have an amazing family, dedicated and true friends, and, most importantly, I like myself. So take me for what I am. :)

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