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A Wet Weekend in Madrid

The last time I was in Madrid it was the middle of July, the temperature was around 40 degrees celsius and my biggest concern was how to stop my suncream from running into my eyes. What a difference a few months makes!

My friend Shannon is doing her year abroad in Spain so I decided to hop over for the weekend, say “hola” and see some more of Madrid.

On Saturday the weather was abysmal so we didn’t do much asides from riding on the metro, stopping to buy an umbrella and repeating the process, however in-between showers we did manage to take a quick stroll around the Parco del Retiro. These grounds were offered as a gift to the king by the Count-Duke Olivares in the 1600s and were intended for court activities.

me and shannon parco del retiro

On a nicer day it’s possible to hire a little paddle boat and take a spin the little lake here but when we visited it was reserved for ducks only.

Sunday was a much better day so we were able to explore a bit more and see the Egyptian Temple de Debod which is dedicated to the Egyptain God Amun (aptly God of the wind). The temple was donated to Spain by the Egyptian state in 1968 in order to express its gratitude for Spain’s participation in the UNESCO led effort to save the temples of Abu Simel which were put at risk following the construction of the Aswan High Dam.

I was really surprised by how well the temple and the hieroglyphs are preserved and enjoyed how surreal it was to have the opportunity to visit a genuine Egyptian temple in Spain. Before we left I couldn’t resist striking a pose to really get into the Egyptian spirit.

hieroglyphs

walk like an egyptian

Walk like an Egyptian…in Spain

Next we went to the Centro de Bellas Artes where you can pay 3 euros to go up to the rooftop terrace and see a fantastic view of Madrid. It was definitely worth it!

me and shannon in madrid

Of course no visit to Spain would have been complete without having a Smooey frozen yoghurt which I became a little addicted to whilst in Zaragoza and had almost daily. Rain or sun it still tastes great.

mmmmm

mmmmm

Despite the wash-out weather we still managed to see quite a lot of the city and I thoroughly enjoyed my little weekend break away from Paris.

Hasta luego 🙂

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10 things to do in Zaragoza

Zaragoza? Where? I’ll admit that when I decided I was going to be an au pair in Zaragoza I needed a little help from Google maps to find out where exactly in Spain it was. However, although it’s not the first choice for tourists it is still a beautiful city and is perfectly situated between Madrid and Barcelona making it a great stop off destination. It’s almost a week since I left Zaragoza now so I thought I would round up my experience by giving a few hints and tips to any tourists who are still clueless about this little known treasure.

el pilar view

The view from the top

1.) Visit the Pilar and La Seo

When it comes to Cathedrals two are definitely better than one. I have already mentioned the Pilar in a  previous post about Zaragoza but it deserves to be included here. In order to make the most of my experience I put my hygiene obsessed tendencies aside and kissed the pilar which Mary supposedly appeared upon and also took the lift up to the top dome where you can see a panoramic view of Zaragoza. La Seo is also a cathedral that is not to be missed and here there is also a very interesting tapestry museum which is definitely worth a look.

roman ruins

2.) Visit the underground Roman ruins

Zaragoza was once called Caesaraugusta and was a Roman town founded by Caesar Augustus himself. Today the remains of this great Roman settlement can still be seen under the city, just go to the big box thingy opposite La Seo.

3.) Visit the Roman Ampitheatre

If you’re interested in all things ancient the Roman theatre is also definitely worth a look. I was quite surprised when I first saw this because it is tucked away and surrounded by shops and cafés.

4.) Visit La Aljafería,la aljaferia

This is another place which I have already mentioned in a previous post but I couldn’t leave it out. If you’ve visited the Alhambra palace in Granada you might be a little bit disappointed but La Aljafería is still very pretty Moorish Palace and is worth a visit.

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5.) Visit the Centro de Historias

This is a great museum to visit especially if you have kids. I loved the origami exhibition which is part of the EMOZ (Escuela y museo de Origami de Zaragoza) and has some truly incredible figures of animals and insects all made out of paper. One of my favourites were the origami owls- so cute!

 6.) Visit the Ibercaja museum

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

This is a must see for any Goya enthusiasts as it houses a wide range of his works, My favourites were the engravings which include the famous work “dreams of reason produce monsters”

7) Have a Guinness in Flagherty’s Irish bar

I may be biased here but I definitely think that Flagherty’s on Calle Alfonso is one of the best bars in Zaragoza. During my stay here I became a bit of a regular and could always have a bit of “craic” with the barmen. If your Spanish isn’t up to scratch this is definitely the place to come as the staff all speak good English and you’re likely to bump into some fellow brits. Also the beers are really cheap during Happy Hour 🙂

8.) Have tapas in the Tubo

The Tubo is a lovely area full of tapas bars which can be accessed by turning left off Calle Alfonso. At night this area comes alive and includes “El Champi” which serves a variety of mushroom based tapas and “La Plata” which has a charming outdoor terrace. This is definitely the place to go if you’re in search of a good nocturnal atmoshpere

9.) Have a Smooysmooy

I hadn’t discovered Smooy until I came to Zaragoza but they are a Spanish franchise which operates internationally. They specialise in Frozen Yogurt which comes with a selections of toppings and is the most heavenly thing I’ve ever tasted! If you go to the one on Calle Alfonso there are plenty of benches to sit down and enjoy it or if you opt for the one on Via de la Independencia I would suggest enjoying your snack in the Plaza de los sitios.

10.) Go shopping near the church of the Magdalena

While I was in Zaragoza I was disappointed to discover that the church of the Magdalena and the Mudejar tower were closed for the summer. The silver lining however was that I found some really funky vintage shops nearby so if you’re a fashionista you must check out this area.

Flamingos, vintage shop

Flamingos, vintage shop

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San Sebastián

I’m back in Northern Ireland now and although it’s lovely to be home again for a while I know I am going to miss Spain and my host family. For my last weekend I decided to go to San Sebastíán and I’m so glad I did! I left early on the Saturday and took a five hour bus journey to the North coast of Spain where the landscape slowly becomes more and more mountainous and green- I almost felt as though I was back in Ireland! When I arrived I had to check into my hostel which was called “Green Nest”  and was very appropriately named as it was surrounded by trees and had lovely views of the mountains and countryside.
The green green grass of....Spain

The green green grass of….Spain

 After checking in I decided to explore the city and find my bearings. If you’ve read my previous post about brief encounters you’ll know that I love meeting new people on my travels so I was thrilled when I met three lovely girls from Denmark at the bus stop called Cecile, Emily and Nena who happened to be staying at the same hostel. The first thing we did after getting the bus into the centre was to go to the Playa de la concha and swim in the sea. The weather was absolutely beautiful and Cecile and I made the most of the lovely water in the marina. This part of San Sebastián reminded me a lot of San Tropez and the French Riviera which I suppose makes sense since it’s almost directly on the opposite side of the med.
Me with Emily, Nena and Cecile

Me with Emily, Nena and Cecile

Chilling on the beach

Chilling on the beach

After this we had the chance to peruse the shops at our leisure and stroll along the quaint little streets. We were also lucky enough to see a cycling race called the Clásica de San Sebastián which was taking place that day and has been held annually since 1981. Later we sat on the wall by the Marina at dusk and enjoyed the view before heading back to the hostel.

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La clásica de San Sebastián

The marina at dusk

The marina at dusk

The city happened to be in the midst of festivals so there weren’t that many buses and we just managed to get the last one back at 9pm. The problem was that there were so many people that we couldn’t see where we were meant to get off and missed our stop but luckily the bus driver dropped us off near to where we needed to be and after a slight confusion about where we were we managed to find our way back. I enjoyed having dinner in the hostel and chatting to people of all nationalities. (I shared a dorm with girls from France, Israel and Holland!)

The next day I headed out on my own and explored the city a little further. It really is a beautiful place! I also had the opportunity to go to mass in the cathedral which was a very interesting experience because part of it was conducted in Basco; the regional language of the Basque country. I strolled through a lovely park, saw Zurriola beach and then made my way back to the train station by walking along the river.

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Classic Carousel

san s marinafab fountain san sme in san sview of a bridge

After a long bus journey back to Zaragoza I was pretty exhausted but I really enjoyed my time in San Sebastián and would recommend it to anyone 🙂

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Back in Barcelona

“Barcelona, allá donde sus gentes saben romper el hielo, allí donde la amistad da sus frutos, hace ya tiempo que ella cultivó un estilo”-Anónimo

Barcelona, where the people know how to break the ice and where friendship reaps benefits and has long been considered stylish- Anonymous

me in barca

Me in Barcelona- near the Picasso museum

I have entitled this post “Back in Barcelona” because technically I have been in Barcelona once before but all I saw was the zoo as I was on an organised excursion from Salou. This time however I vowed to see as much of this beautiful city as possible!

I left early in the morning from Zaragoza and the train only took about an hour and 40 mins so I had plenty of time to explore the city. I decided to buy a metro ticket as it was relatively inexpensive and much quicker than walking everywhere. The first thing I saw in Barcelona was the Arc de triomf (I didn’t even know Barcelona had one!) which was built by the architect Josep Vilanesca i Casanovas to act as a main access gate for the 1888 Barcelona world fair. The day I was here there was a roller skating competition taking place!

Arc de triomf- Barcelona

Arc de triomf- Barcelona

Next I went to the old town where I explored the lovely little streets and shops and made an essential stop for lunch. Here I also saw the Gothic Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia but I didn’t go inside as there was a long queue and I was on quite a tight schedule. However I did manage to have a quick look inside La Iglesia de Santa Maria del Mar; a beautiful Catalan Gothic church which dates back to the 1300’s.

ciutat veila

ciutat veila 2

santa maria del mar

Santa Maria del Mar

barcelona cathedral

Barcelona Cathedral

After this it was time for me to go and see the Sagrada Familia cathedral as having pre-bought my ticket online I had been assigned a specific time slot. I would recommend anyone else to do this as well as the queue for tickets was extremely long! The Sagrada Familia was designed by Antoní Gaudi and although it is still incomplete, it is a UNESCO world heritage site. Work began on the cathedral in 1882 and since then it has encountered various setbacks such as the Spanish Civil war, however it is expected to be completed in the year 2026 which will mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

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Sagrada familia- nativity facade

The Cathedral is built in a neo-gothic and nouveau style and it’s outer façades respectively commemorate the Birth, Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The interior is absolutely breathtaking and more stunning than I could have ever imagined it to be. Stained glass windows in hues of red, blue, yellow and green allow natural daylight to stream in and illuminate the cathedral whilst the columns have been designed to look like tree trunks which support a roof in the form of a forest canopy. I spent an hour in the cathedral, listening to the audio guide and drinking in the incredible spiritual and peaceful atmosphere.

stained glass 2 s familia 2 stained glass s familia 1

After this I went back to the old town and the Picasso museum where I was able to gain free entry with my student card. I loved looking at all of the paintings in the museum but my favourite part was the “Las Meninas”  (the girls) exhibition which is a series of 58 paintings and Picasso’s only entact collection. The paintings themselves are a series of abstracts which draw inspiration from “Las Meninas” by Velazquez and can be seen as a study of rhythm, colour and movement as well as a play on perspective, volume and space.

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After this I had to dash back to the train station but I was able to make a quick stop at the Plaça d’Espanya which was built in 1929 and previously used as a space for public hangings. Now it plays host to an impressive fountain and statues designed respectively by Josep Maria Jujol and Miquel Blay.

placa d'espanya

Placa d’Espanya

I thoroughly enjoyed my day in Barcelona and would say that of all the cities in Europe this is a must see. Buen viaje!

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A day in Valencia

“Valencia
Es la tierra de las flores, de la luz y del amor
Valencia
Tus mujeres todas tienen de las rosas el color”

“Valencia is the land of flowers,light and love.

Valencia; all of it’s women have rosy cheeks”

– Song by Placido Domingo

valencia

Turia fountain in Plaza de la Virgen

Whilst I was staying in Oropesa del Mar I thought I would take the opportunity to visit Valencia for the day because it was only an hour away by train. Upon arriving in the city I headed straight for the centre and the Plaza de la Reina where I visited the stunning Gothic cathedral. The entrance fee was 5 euros but this included an audio guide which was very informative. I was particularly interested to learn that the Holy grail which is encased in a glass box in the cathedral is most likely the authentic chalice which Jesus used at the last supper.

plaza de la reina

Plaza de la Reina and cathedral

After leaving the cathedral I caught the tourist bus which only costs 16 euros if you opt for the cheaper company “Tour de Valencia” as I did (Look out for the green buses!) and this allowed me to hop on and off as often as I liked. My next stop was the IVAM (Instituto Valenciano de arte moderno), a modern art gallery which houses various collections including works by Julio González and Ignacio Pinazo. My favourite pieces were in the pop art collection which included prints by Andy Warhol and Keith Haring.

Next I soaked up some more culture by visiting the fine art museum (Museo de bellas artes) which is free to get into and includes collections by Goya,Barjola and Sorolla. I particularly liked Sorolla’s paintings which I think really show his affinity with his birthplace, Valencia.

on top of torre de quart

 

valencia 2

 After this I quickly climbed the Torres de Quart and took in a stunning panoramic view of the city before hopping back on the tourist bus and heading to the marina. Here I had some patatas bravas (potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce) in a cafetería and enjoyed the pleasant breeze which was coming in from the sea. After marvelling at the boats which which only the rich can afford I made my way back to the train station and Oropesa.

valencia marina

Valencia Marina

So that was my day in Valencia; A beautiful city where modernity and tradition live in harmony and there is plenty to see and do. I would definitely recommend a visit here to anyone. 🙂

 

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Oropesa del Mar – Sun, sea and lots of sand

oropesa 3

Playa del morro de gos

After stopping overnight near Albarracín it was time for us to continue on to Oropesa del Mar where I would be spending a week with Inés, Miguel and their Great Aunt and Uncle. After about an hour and a half drive we arrived at the seaside and I was introduced to Julio and Teresa who have a nice little apartment right in front of the beach. We didn’t waste any time in unloading our stuff and we were all soon enjoying swimming in the sea and soaking up the sun. The apartment block also has its own swimming pool and I soon got used to the routine of going to the beach in the morning and the pool in the afternoon,

My stay was also made very pleasant by Julio who taught me how to play Escoba (a Spanish card game which means “broom”) and could often be heard singing Spanish classics such as “Y Viva Espana” and “María Isabel”

oropesa 4 oropesa oropesa 2Oropesa del Mar is a small town but it has everything you could possibly want and although it’s relatively touristic, it caters mostly for Spanish holiday makers so hasn’t been Anglicised like Benidorm. The other side of the town is known as Marina D’or (Golden Marina) and here there are some lovely gardens which are home to a few peacocks and other exotic birds. I enjoyed going for a stroll here under the shade of the trees when I wanted to escape from the sun for a while.

black swan jardines peacocks jardines 2

By pure coincidence my friend Shannon was staying in nearby Benacassim for the FIB music festival so we were able to meet up for a day. Benacassim is ony 10 mins away from Oropesa by train and is a lovely little town with nice shops and a seemingly endless beach. We had a look round the Thursday market and joined the hoards of other British tourists who had flocked to the town for the festival.

me and shannon

Me and Shannon in Benicassim

I’m back in Zaragoza now but I really enjoyed my week by the seaside and am glad to say that I’m thoroughly more tanned than I was before!

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Albarracín- Prehistoric, picturesque and perfect.

I haven’t posted for a week because I haven’t had an internet connection so here’s an update on my latest travels – Last Saturday I went to a little town called Albarracín with my Spanish family and we stayed overnight in nearby Gea before continuing on to the coast and Oropesa del mar. Upon arriving we visited the Roman aqueducts at the Barranco de los Burros ( Donkey gorge) and at Azud de Gea (Gea’s weir). We all had fun exploring the various tunnels and Inés and Miguel tried without much success to scare me by jumping out from behind the rocks.

barranco 2

Barranco de los Burros

barranco 1

Rocking view

aqueduct

View from inside an aqueduct at Azud de Gea

After this we drove up into the pine woods where we went for a walk in order to see the various remnants of prehistoric cave paintings which are dotted around the area. I’ll admit that some of the “paintings” require a little bit of imagination to discern but I found them interesting nevertheless. The end of our walk brought us to the edge of a cliff with a beautiful view of the woods, mountains and nearby Albarracín; the perfect spot for a group photo!

pine wood

Everything is just pine

we are family

We are family

After a brief rest and refreshment in a lovely little bar called “El Molino del Gato” (the cat’s windmill) it was time for me to be introduced to the lovely town of Albaraccín. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is one of the nicest places I’ve ever visited in Spain. With its terracotta rooftops, winding streets and almost completely intact fortified wall or “muralla”, Albarracín is a perfect example of authentic and unexploited Spain. I could have spent hours just walking around the streets which have been so beautifully preserved. Even the Santander bank has been adapted to blend in effortlessly with its rustic surroundings!  alabrracinmolino del gato albarracinAfter a perfect day it was lovely to spend a night in a really old little house which belonged to Marian’s Great Grandmother in Gea and after breathing in so much fresh air none of us had any trouble sleeping. I didn’t remember my dreams but I’m sure they were of narrow cobbled streets and whitewashed casitas…..