Archive | December, 2012

Start spreading the news

20 Dec

Aaah. New York. New York.

What an amazing city. I arrived last night in Greenwich Village at 10pm and the place was buzzing. It’s great to be back! I’m sure The Village had just woken up. My apartment is on the 6th floor above the Pink Pussy Cat… yes, you’re right what you are thinking! Every cab driver knows it… even though I could the express A train in from JFK. Another first for me, as I have never flown in or out of JFK before. A plane lands and takes off every minute. Whoa – imagine being an air traffic controller at that airport? Actually don’t, as it’s too stressful!

Another airbnb.com find and my new housemates are Laura and Simone (her cat) named after Nina Simone, are just awesome (this is my home – https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/647896 ). 

OK, well first day spent cruising sunny NYC and found the best espresso and Murray’s Bagels. As you can see, it’s a tad cold! But the sun is out – so all is happy in the world!Image

No shoes bought at DSW so tomorrow is another day to find shoes. Maybe I’m getting too fussy. More importantly is jazz tonight, so I’d better be off. Laura tells me that The Blue Note is too touristy, so it’s The 55 Bar 1 minute away that I should be going to. So of course I listened. It will probably be half the price as well. I’m doing the 10pm show so I’m breaking out my Black Milk tights for the occasion! Gotta run. Missing tapas I must say.

I’m in love

19 Dec

Many destinations get me excited. Cairo, (Africa in general), Istanbul, Barcelona, Paris, Melbourne, Hong Kong, San Francisco, New York, Madrid, Innsbruck, Heidelberg, London, beautiful Sydney… I could go on for ages … But nothing compares to the awe I feel for Sevilla. I am overwhelmed. It is a magical city, filled with beauty around every corner. And I can tell you I’ve walked around most… A couple of times, as I always get lost! Always!

Sorry Barcelona, but Sevilla is now my favourite city,

I can not wait to return in Spring and smell the Sevilla orange blossoms.

The view of my home from Plaza Cristo de Burgos

The view of my home from Plaza Cristo de Burgos

Goodbye my wonderful home for the past week. Thankyou airbnb.com

A bleak kind of day

19 Dec

Today is my last day in Sevilla and the weather reflects my mood. I am very sad to leave this amazing city. I have had a wonderful, most marvellous stay.

I decided to walk the other way away from Jewish quarter and tourists and hit Macarena. No, not to dance but to see a famous contemporary church, the Macarena Basilica, built in 1949, which houses the most valuable treasure in Seville, the Virgin de la Esperanza, popularly known as the Macarena because of the quarter where the basilica is located.

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I then walked by the river for quite some way until it started to rain.

Not that the rain is a bother here, but hey, it was 2pm so found a Bodega. Only to realise that I was right near the Sevilla Bullring. You can imagine what was on the walls.

IMG_2358I had just ordered my wine only to look up and see Toro heads times 8 hanging on the wall. Even more un-nerving was they were dressed in Santa outfits. I know it’s part of Spanish culture (well surveys say that the majority of people over 40 would not see a bullfight today and it isn’t part of Spanish culture but introduced by the Moors in the 700s). Whatever, it’s pretty gloomy for an entertainment choice.

So, siesta time and my last night awaits. Brighten my mood with a Museum or gallery, fabulous tapas, blue cheese and vino please!

Star Wars day

17 Dec

Today I could not wait to visit one of Sevilla’s grandest of sights, Plaza de Espana. It was built in 1929 for the Ibero-American Exposition and continues to amaze everyone who sees it.

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It’s a giant semi-circle of renaissance revival architecture, several hundred metres in diameter, with a moat crossed by ornate bridges. It’s actually the size of 5 football fields.

Also being a Star Wars fan I was in awe imagining myself on set of Star Wars I or II – The Attack of the Clones or The Phantom Menace – take your pick!

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It also has on the walls of the Plaza 48 tiled alcoves, each representing a different province of Spain. These ceramics are very ornate and extraordinarily beautiful and detailed.

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It was an exotic pleasure of the senses from the breathtaking moment that you see the Plaza to wandering over its four bridges (which represent the four ancient kingdoms of Spain: Castille, Aragon, Navarre and Leon), to thinking you’re on Planet Naboo: it simply takes your breathe away.

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Oldest Tapas bar in Sevilla

17 Dec

Well today was my rest day, so what should I do? And it’s also raining in Sevilla, but not a cold rain, it’s a balmy 16 outside.

With the church bells chiming throughout all of the old city, my day began at my local cafe next door to where I live where I try to speak Spanish. The girls who work there just laugh at me! I don’t mind!

I look at my map and think about walking for a few hours.

Today I treating myself to tapas at the oldest tapas bar in Sevilla called El Rinconcello. It is filled with old world ambiance, the staff don’t speak any English (and why would they). It was packed when I got there at around 1pm. In fact every Cerveceria and restaurant was as I walked around the city.

First I met two hilarious gentlemen who lived in the old Jewish district of Santa Cruz and spoke basically no English. It was very cool how they kept your tab written in chalk on the bar.

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Then I met the most delightful family and friends. So sympatico, which means nice and friendly in Spanish.  Alice’s son spoke English so we could chat. They made my afternoon.

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The. Best. Day. And I haven’t finished as a Flamenco show at Casa de la Memoria and after to La Carboneria awaits!

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Cordoba

15 Dec

Another amazing day. This time I decided to go on a walking tour of Cordoba. The guide was through viator.com and I highly recommend the tour company. The wonderful guide’s knowledge was incredible.

So we started exploring the Alcazar and then moved on to the many historical buildings amongst the old Jewish Quarter. Visigoths were the first to inhabit, where now stands the Palace and Cathedral, then Romans, Christians, Muslims (who built a mosque in 785) plus many others who came and went and destroyed most of the buildings. Some amazing history with Kings adding on bits to the Castle and Cathedral over 000’s of years. Alfonso the Wise even started a library as he wasn’t into fighting! The interior is a mixture of Gothic, Moorish, Christian dating back to the 1300’s.

The interesting thing is that with all of the wars and inquisitions that were held throughout the history of Cordoba (and it being an important port and considering the capital for some time), money ran out. So the architecture is a mixture of what was left lying about. It is really interesting to see.

  

I had a lovely visit. Quaint streets that you get lost in. Little tapas bars that excite you with their typical Andalusian menu’s. They have a thicker variety of gazpacho topped with cured ham. It was delicious! When I was leaving people were starting to line up for the Cordoba v Barcelona football game that was on that night!

Gazpacho Cordoba style from Bodega Taverna Rafael

The sad thing was that they were giving an eucalyptus tree a trim: only to find out that they were chopping it down. It’s branches had dropped and hurt some people. The funny thing was that there was no protest, no sadness. I mean the tree was over 200 years old, so for me it was a BIG deal. But hey, for the Spanish, they were walking around on 2000 plus year old heritage site. What’s a 200 year old tree in their big scheme of things? My picture doesn’t show how large the base of the tree was. I did feel sorry for the ol’ girl. She looked so serene there and she has watched over the port for so long.

The 'young' 200+ aged eucalypt

The ‘young’ 200+ aged eucalyptus tree made me a tad homesick

Granada’s hidden secrets

15 Dec

My day trip to Granada took around 3 hours to drive. And on our tour I met three lovely Muslim sisters from Washington State who were on University vacation. They made my day fun as they were cat lovers and there were a few, very fat and furry strays that smooched us along our expedition. I hope to see you again one day girls! That is the humans, not the cats!

The Alhambra was a fortress for the Nasrid dynasty which lived there from the 13th century. It was impressive and while there’s not much left of King Mohammed I’s buildings (1237), his wall stands firm bordering the vast layout, but there is still a lot of wonderful 13 & 1400’s Islamic art and architecture.  Recent renovations and restoration have taken place,  especially The Court of the Lions which was built in the 14th century by Sultan Mohamed V. The waterfall now works and the court is truly beautiful.

Restored Fountain of the Lions, Alhambra, Granada

My final finds of the day were discovering that when you ordered a drink in Granada, its tradition to get a small plate of tapas! Cool hey? My first bar was a bit dodgy and I thought the waitress was being nice to me. But upon finding a much more salubrious tapas bar on my way back to the bus, where they had a much better choice of vino, and a chef that spoke English, I met a lovely retired Professor of Philosophy, Luis. We shared a conversation in broken Spanish, English and French, which was a lovely conclusion to my Granada visit.

Shared a chat in a cool tapas bar in Granada

Retired Philosophy Professor Luis Villegas Forero and I shared a chat in a cool tapas bar in Granada. Many Muslims live in Granada due to their history of Mohammad I dating back to the 1200’s.

Overall a superb day, but I am even more keen to visit the Sevilla Alcazar as I hear it’s even better than Granada.

Sense-sational Sevilla

13 Dec

I haven’t even made it in to the main area of Sevilla yet due to my day trip to Cordoba, but I have to share with you what I experienced this morning. I read about the Arab baths at the Aire de Sevilla – but I had no idea that it would be as salubrious as it was. OK, so I did look at the photos, and yes they were amazeballs. But what I didn’t realise was that my body needed a bit of love after 10 days of pretty hard core traveling. Amazingly I didn’t get that lost, as the streets are so narrow and you lose your way very easily (and I’m hopeless with navigation), and arrived 15 minutes early. No-one batted an eye lid. To book, visit airdesevilla.com

What I also didn’t realise was the amazing healing power that water brings.

The girls who work there were just delightful and I was greeted by Mariella who didn’t speak much English but showed me around the two floors that I could use. I changed into a bathing suit that they provided – and no it was modern! No granny Bonds undies. And was left to my own devices between the choices of a warm pool (36C), a hot pool (40C) and an ice bath (16 but felt like 5). The ambience was incredible. The room had a red warmth that reflected off the walls, the flickering candles and running water made you feel totally at ease in an amazingly tranquil state. It looked better than the picture! I actually felt like an Arabian princess. The escapism factor was just incredible.

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I actually did the ice bath 3 times – I mean I was there for 2 hours which included a 15 minutes massage. Luckily I was the only one there for the first 20 minutes or so, as I did let out a little shriek. Only 4 other people came in.

Exploring the floor was like exploring a labyrinth. What was around the next corner? I went back into the main tiled area which you could have a sip of tea, sweet pomegranate juice and a fruit kebab, sitting on warm alabaster. Wow. My next find was the Lounge of 1000 jets. Oh goodness. A Spa on steroids that had a seat with special jets to get into your back. Other jets that spurted out from every angle to find every nook and cranny of your body that was screaming for attention. I didn’t know which area of my body to attack first!

My next find was the steam room. I thought this was a shower, so I’m so glad I peeked. It wasn’t like good ol’ Goodlife steam room! Ha! I couldn’t even see in it was so steamy. It had a pleasant odour of sweet Earl Grey tea (and it was the only tea that I could drink when I was pregnant with my twins – of which I haven’t been able to drink since). However, it was very pleasant and once I got settled into the steam room – which was about 10m long, and I still couldn’t see the door out, my senses really started doing amazing things!

I thought I was done but followed two people down the stairs….

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and found the Salt bath. Yes I did float!

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What an incredible experience. I thought I had gone to heaven, another world, another body! My senses were in absolute overdrive of pure pleasure and indulgence.

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Farewell Madrid – Hola Sevilla.

11 Dec

What have I been up to? Well, yesterday I went to Segovia and it was an absolute delight. The Romans built an aqueduct over 800m long end in the 1st century or early 2nd century (yes really) and most if it remains today and the highest is 29 meters. Goodness knows how they did this to make it last so long especially without mortar! Bless the Romans!

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Of course there is a HUGE Cathedral – the last built in Spain and is considered the masterpiece of Basque-Castilian Gothic churches. But the draw card is the Alcazar. I know after going to Granada, all other Alcazar’s are going to look like a poor relation, but hey it was pretty awesome. It looked like a fairy castle and housed many Kings (with awesome names such as Alfonso the Wise, Sam the Wise (on no that was the hobbit), Queens and Queen Isabella (named after my Mum and daughter me thinks).

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Anyhoo – the tapestries, artwork and furniture were amazing. As were the stained glass windows and it was cool seeing the armour that they wore. So much fighting! And of course the artwork hanging on the walls reflects this. It now houses an artillery museum.

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I like this guys armour. He had hearts where his mouth was supposed to be! Maybe he was the Queen’s favourite? The view from the top of the tower was spectacular and there were snow on the neighbouring mountains as it was fffffaa-freezing!

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They also had these really cool black & white birds that looked like and about the same size as our magpies but they obviously weren’t! There really wasn’t a lot of tourists around, a couple of small busloads but not many. I felt a bit sorry for some of the purveyors in the old city – as there wasn’t much action. There was a high street filled with exclusive stores, but it seemed to be full of locals. For the state of the economy, I’m not finding it all that cheap. A bottle of awesome red Spanish wine costs 1,50E upwards, and a glass in a tapas bar costs 2,50E plus.

I’m on the train now to my next adventure – Sevilla. Catching the bus three stops to my new home really isn’t worth it – but my suitcase is getting a tad heavy and cumbersome! And it will be nice to get maximum temps of a sunny 15!

The view from the train is pretty spectacular – even if we do go through a lot of tunnels and are traveling at over 250kms/hr! Olive trees everywhere! Orange trees everywhere. Then some grape vines! It’s quite amazing. And so is the Spanish wine! And oranges! And olives! No wonder they have olive oil icecream – I gotta find me some of that!

Ah, life is grand.

 

The Wonderment of Life

9 Dec

How wonderful life is. One day you’re sitting in Brisbane with loved ones surrounded by familiarity. The next you’re flying for over 30 hours to get to a new experience, a new adventure, a new destination and culture to explore, seeing/hearing/smelling/tasting the most amazing (& sometimes awful smells) aspects of life.

Today it was 0 degrees when I hit the streets. Even the stall holders at el Rastro Markets were late in setting up, as I didn’t set out until around 10! The markets started at 9am!

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Was a pretty cool market – but sooooo much stuff! And was soooo busy even in such cold conditions. Did buy some nice small presents for loved ones but carrying luggage is NOT going to be my friend in European train stations. And I’m finding it quite expensive – even for a country that has 30% unemployment. However, I’m not seeing it on the streets. I’m feeling totally safe, there are not many beggars, definitely no pick pockets (touch wood) and although my host in Madrid thinks I’m crazy; the streets are clean. OK cigarette butts (everyone smokes) but at least not in cafes and bars anymore, & a bit of dog faeces, but really, it’s clean.

So today my mind was set on getting to see The Prado and it’s wonderment of treasures. And what a find. There was of course Francisco de Goya, the artist most extensively represented in the collection, but also VelázquezTitianRubens and Bosch. Rafael, El Greco, Bellino, Tiziano, Giogiorne to keep naming names! I did enjoy El Greco’s collection especially after seeing his Masterpieces yesterday in Toledo, but the stand out for me was Baroque artist Velázquez. Wow. I know that his most famous is Las Meninas but my favourite was this one below that blew my mind away and totally lost my breath. I actually had to walk to the side of the picture to see if the oil wasn’t standing out from the canvas… and of course it wasn’t (but I wanted it to be as it was so surreal). Wow. I know that you can’t see it in this photo, but the two guys in the middle were fighting a most famous battle of the City of Breda back in the late 16th Century, early 17th (in The Netherlands I am told – please correct me if I’m wrong). And yes I don’t like fighting artwork, but Velazquez painted this without the despair that I saw in so many of the paintings that I spied today. What made this even more famous was that this un-loseable battle was a lesson in strategy and proved to be quite the marketing expedition as it was an early case study on ‘how to win’. However, the opposite occurred and the guy on the left was a gorgeous thaang and allowed the losing garrison to surrender and live. The Spanish generals gave the order to the vanquished who were respected and treated with dignity, without humiliation. Anyhoo – the main point is the two main guys’ jackets, shoes and everything about them were standing out from the picture. It was mid-day ok. It really was like those pictures that the eyes follow you around the room. Amaz-ing. Total awe.

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This is the historic moment Velazquez chose to paint his picture without the vain, glory and blood. It was MY amazing Prado memory. My Madrid airbnb host Sonia tells me that Velázquez used to like to pop himself into his pics and painted himself on the right of the picture. He was a bit of alright by the pics I saw today I think. Although many of his pictures were of dwarves so I’m not sure if I would have been a good muse! 😛

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My next find was the Plaza St Miguel markets. Oh wow. Totally different to the Boqueria Markets in Barca (unless you walk right to the back and there was my favourite seafood stall) – sigh, these are more like Boston, Adelaide or Melbourne where purveyors are selling their wares to consume now. I was in food heaven – although wanted to be alot richer!

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My day has ended up drinking fabulous Spanish beer & wine, eating amazing olives, cheese and cured meats at home – I’ve got a big day tomorrow OK and I’ve been sleeping rubbish! But the best thing is my host has this: a BDO stubby cooler! More wonderment.

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Well. Stay warm. It’s going to be minus 1 here tonite! And also tomorrow when I set sail on my next day of wonderment. May your day be filled with wonderment: don’t wait for things to happen – go find them.

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