Chase me around Córdoba

Okay, okay, so I’ve been getting lazy. Or what I should really admit is that I’ve been having too much fun and haven’t had a chance to sit down and write my blog. Not really something worth apologising for is it. Soz not soz.

So remind me what I was up to. Ahhhh Córdoba. By far my favourite destination of the trip so far, Córdoba is an interesting mix of activities and downtime. Due to a lack of hostels in the area, we treated ourselves to a few nights in the Hotel Macia Alfaros – the main draw-card; the pool. Arriving by train at around the hottest part of the day, we dragged our bags through what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. A huge change of pace to the lively Madrid with its busy roads, crowded plazas and bustling backstreets. Whether it was just due to the fact that we had arrived mid-siesta time or that Córdoba is just a less populated area, we instantly began to relax. So much so that after we stuffed ourselves at the first restaurant we could find with Spanish omelette and calamari boccadillo went spent the rest of the afternoon, or should I say night considering it was 8pm before we left, sitting by the pool. At first I was concerned about how white my skin was, and how bloated I’d be after our huge lunch but any insecurities were soon washed away when we saw the group of very confident and very…bootilicious European ladies that joined us by the pool.

11048741_10153552601404497_7117023523192437727_nThe next morning we rose and feasted on what we thought at the time was a complimentary buffet breakfast. With a few minutes to spare we raced off to the Plaza de Tendillas, the lively center of Córdoba, to meet our guide for a free tour. While the city is not that big, it is packed full of history. We got to see Roman ruins and modern day design. By far the most interesting part of the city is its diversity of religious influence. Originally a Muslim community, the city is scattered with incredible mosques each intricately decorated with a distinct arabic style. Probably the most famous part of Córdoba is what was originally a mosque, constructed between the years of 785 and 985 and spanning 23.400 square meters, but was converted into a Christian Cathedral in 1236. While the layout and design of the Mosque still exists, a Catholic Cathedral was designed within the buildings. Absolutely incredible and a symbol of the religious harmony that existed in Córdoba for years between the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities. The world should take note.

11742818_10153552601674497_6987987621422190945_n11695958_10153552604454497_3487990268046706739_n11752048_10153552604619497_7039441486808001222_nCrawling through the backstreets that seem to have no order, we learned that this was actually done on purpose in order to create shadows and thus shade from the boiling hot sun. Which, might I add, was much appreciated. We learned that Córdoba is the only town in Spain that has two clock towers that chime a flamenco chord of a Spanish guitar to mark the hour, and that Plaza de la Corredera, a beautiful old square, used to host gruesome bullfights and that the men involved were considered by the community to be rockstars. Further on we visited the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos and learned all about the history of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, who resided in the Palace. Married, the couple had two children together, but Ferdinand obviously had other ideas as he had a mistress on the side with whom he had eleven children with. As a result, Isabella had the mistress and all the children killed. Very “Game-of-Thrones-esque” explained our tour guide.

11146189_10153552602099497_6098492859558624878_n11703110_10153552604284497_5891193698265780699_nOverall the tour was fantastic, free tours are an absolutely perfect way of orienting yourself in a new city and learning stories and secrets a guidebook could not show you. After tipping our guide, we raced back to a few monuments to have a look inside before they closed for siesta. (Free Tour: http://www.freetourcordoba.com/en/free-tour-m-cordoba/)

With a rumble in our stomachs, we sourced a side-street off Plaza de Tendillas to find the best Tapas – around €2.50 for a tapas and drink. If my memory does not escape me, I believe we went back at least three times. It was delicious and so #instagramable. Plus I discovered my new favourite summer drink called Tinto de Verano (part red wine, part lemonade). Don’t judge until you try it. I was skeptical at first but am always eager to try new things and this one definitely paid off.

11667431_10153552604084497_7940745941933552980_nAfter a late afternoon shopping spree my bag is now filled with beautiful mementos that I have no idea where I am going to fit in my room but I will make it work! Next, a quick train ride to Seville where we are meeting Sarah’s friend from England. This trip is starting to slip through my fingers, and my University email is starting to beep at me. Better start planning my next trip before I go insane.

Adios until then.

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Roaming Rome

Okay, so either Romans were enormous or I have shrunk since I arrived in Rome. Everything is huge! The buildings, the doors, the gardens, the roads, the fountains. Everything. Oh apart from the cars, which I think they think that because they are so small they can park/leave them anywhere. They park on street corners, across pedestrian crossings (which I still don’t believe are actually pedestrian crossings), and over driveways. As long as you put your hazard lights on it’s all good to park in the middle of the street and run to the ATM. We did see a guy driving around today with his hazard lights flashing…and it was probably on purpose. Most drivers in Rome appear to be hazards. Needless to say the #fingerofshame made it to quite a few photos.

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After checking into our hostel Yellow, we wrote down everything we wanted to achieve during our time in Rome and it went a little something like this:
– Trevi Fountain
– Pantheon
– Piazza Navona
– Spanish Steps
– Vatican
– Colosseum
– Villa Borghese
– the Catacombs
– the keyhole at Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta
– Castel Sant’Angelo

We’ll see how we go.

While our hostel was close to the station, it was a little walk from the major sites…although we later worked out using the metro would have worked. Anyway, we got our walk in and felt a little less guilty about demolishing a whole pizza each, plus two gelatos that night. I also feel that the best way to see a city is by walking. Some people even go so far as to say you only really find a city once you get lost in it. Poetic, really. When scrolling back through my camera though, I have countless photos of the buildings and little corner stores that you don’t see in guidebooks. In fact, it was the big tourist attractions that sort of disappointed us on our first day.

The Trevi Fountain is under construction at the moment and while you can see a little glimpse of how incredible it would have looked normally, at the moment it is just a huge pile of scaffolding. Similarly the Spanish Steps had so much work happening all around them that it was hard to frame a shot that didn’t have some sort of construction in it. Sorry to disappoint Instafans.

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Around the corner though the Pantheon is incredible and a beautiful fountain in the foreground makes for a beautiful view. I can’t get over how in Rome you just have to turn the corner and you find some monumental church or building in the middle of a square. There is nothing in Australia that quite compares. I wish I could label all my photos but honestly for most of them I have no idea what it was, I just turned a corner and found something special, something amazing, something spectacular.

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One that I can name though is the Sant’Agnese in Agone located in the beautiful Piazza Navona. Not too busy, not too big but absolutely breathtaking. You can sit there for ages just taking in all the detail, and that’s really saying something because I’m known to be a bit of a pocket rocket when it comes to sightseeing. And even better the piazza has three beautiful fountains that help to splash away some sweat (and trust me there is lots of it).

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The next day we headed for the Catacombs, buying a 3 day pass transport card (works for buses, metro, etc) and making sure we calculated how many trips we had to make to make it worthwhile. We got a little lost and ended up in the middle of nowhere but eventually hoped on the right bus which took us out to Catacombe di San Callisto. €8 with a guided tour included, we were relieved to find that the Catacombs are at a natural 15° temperature. With 20km of tunnels, we were happy to walk the 400m tour route and managed to see the most interesting archeological discoveries, with over 500,000 people and 7 popes buried there. It was like a library of bodies!

On our way back we stumbled across the Terme di Caracalla, the remenants of Emperor Caracalla’s vast bath complex, and got our first taste of Roman ruins. They were huge and it was hot. I wish there were still baths there so I could have had a swim. But regardless we got free entry because it was a Monday? Is that a thing?

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After our siesta (arguably the most important part of the day) we headed out to Villa Borghese gardens for a bike ride. As stiff competition to New York’s Central Park, the gardens had lakes inundated with turtles that you could row in, police riding horses, beautiful flowers, lovely cafes, a carousel, an old man doing mad roller-skating tricks (you’ll have to wait to see the video), bikes, segways, go-karts and golf buggies. We got bikes for an hour and managed to see most of the park and some beautiful views of Rome. It’s so convenient having sunlight for so many hours a day as it was 7pm by the time we handed the bikes back and we didn’t even realise.

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With a grumble in our tummies we headed for home. Tomorrow is the Vatican and then the Colosseum. How fast this trip is flying…I guess we must be having fun.

N.B. A MUST do when you are in Rome. Giolitti’s gelato. Not easy to find but well worth it. The line was out the door but moved really quickly. I had three scoops for €3.50 – hazelnut, cinnamon and baileys. Oh. My. God.

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Osaka

They say the best way to see a city is to get lost. But when you’re such skilled explorers like Hannah and myself, it’s hard to get lost, so walking is our next best option. While both a means of staying warm, and saving money, walking takes you to secret parts of the city a guidebook never will. The real city.

We stayed in bed a bit longer than expected the second morning. In our defense, we had been taken to a comedy show (rorcomedy.com) and drinks by our airbnb host Mark the night before and were still blaming jetlag at this stage! Nonetheless we packed our day to the brim.

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Night out with Mark.

First stop we navigated the subways and made our way to Tempozan for a fun day of activities. This little seaside village was home to one of the biggest Ferris wheels in the world – at 112 metres high. Being the daredevils we are, we opted for a clear-bottomed pod to maximise our views over Osaka and beyond! And we were not disappointed. Although we managed to break almost every rule – Hannah seemed keen on proving the strength of the structure by shaking the pod while floating at 112m above the ground – we survived unscathed.

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View from the top of the Giant Ferris Wheel.

As we’d made the effort to get to Tempozan, we thought we thought a visit to the Aquarium would be worthwhile, as it is marketed as one of the best in the world. We got to pat stingrays, and get very very close to a whale shark. Hannah was smitten with the sloth, and I was impressed with the Great Barrier Reef exhibit which I’m pretty sure looks better than the real deal these days!

A quick train trip back into the centre of town, we revisited Dotombori, the area we’d been in the night before, and got to see a different side of it in the light. If the streams of people flowing out of each department store entrance wasn’t enough, I couldn’t believe the size of the Starbucks – which appear on every block (literally)! The one we went into was three stories and doubled as a library. It appeared to be where students went to study, as finding a seat was impossible! Move over libraries, Starbucks is taking over the world!

As we watched the sun go down and the lights come on, Dotombori emerged from behind the shadows, assaulting the eyes, ears and nose in true Japanese style. In the throngs of it all, however, we managed to tick off the first item on our food wish list: taco-yaki (grilled octopus dumplings).
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Doing Dotombori
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Taco-yaki (grilled octopus dumplings)

Escaping the hustle and bustle of the centre of town, we wandered to the outskirts to find the best ramen in Osaka (proved by a pretty solid line outside)! Without being able to speak Japanese, or the waiters English, we managed to navigate waiting for, ordering, and eating our desired ramen. Hannah was highly impressed by the assortment of condiments available and instantly thought back to Anna in South-East Asia. Meanwhile, after exposing where we were from, the waiter tried to explain that the store has a branch in Sydney, before giving us each a business card. So readers I’m Sydney, head to Shop 211 Dixon Street, Haymarket for some pretty serious ramen!

The next morning was particularly cold, making it quite a challenge to rip ourselves from bed. Mark had asked whether I wanted to join him for yoga but I was so cold I though my limbs might snap if I tried to bend them! Even more of a challenge though was trying to get ready around Mark who had then decided to start meditating right outside our room!

But today was our first ride on the Shinkansen (bullet trains) and once we worked out where we were allowed/supposed to sit we were under way! The world whizzed past us and before we knew it we were in Hiroshima. Remembering back to the books I’d studied in year 12, the city began to come alive. We managed to stumble upon a sightseeing loop bus that wad covered by our train passes, and from there ventured across the city – the Atomic Bomb Dome, the Peace Memorial Park, the Flame of Peace, Children’s Peace Monument, and Peace Memorial Museum. The museum was particularly evocative and brought to life the stories I’d read at school. The atrocities of war and the evils of mankind.
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The Atomic Bomb Dome

Hannah was keen to find some okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes) for lunch and Mark had told us that Hiroshima had a distinctive style that we should try. We managed to locate a three-storey building that contained 25 stalls all selling the pancakes, and had ours cooked on a hot plate right in front of us! It was one pimped out pancake! And another tick on our food list.

With the sun quickly descending we decided to make a quick dash out to Miyajima – a small island off Hiroshisma, home of the vermillion torii (shrine gate) of Itsukushima-jinja. Racing the sun and clock, we stopped to ask some local deer for directions before reaching the torii for sunset. The deer were everywhere and watching them stick their heads into prams and wheelchairs reminded me of the monkeys in Bali. We found one very resourceful deer, however, who had decided eating his own poop was the most economical approach. Anyway! After gawking at all the girls walking around in heels and mini skirts, we trudged our way out to the torii. The tide was out so it didn’t appear to be floating like often photographed but it meant we were able to go and touch it! Even cooler!
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Oh deer! I’m lost!
2015/01/img_0153.jpg Vermillion Torii of Itsukushima-jinja

Back to the train, we used our JR pass to its maximum advantage, going in and out of the station to ensure we found the shop with the cheapest chocolate. Dragging our tired eyes and feet, we both collapsed in bed and drifted into a solid sleep.

Our last day in Osaka was bittersweet! It had started to rain and to make matters worse, it was Australia Day back home. While keeping our portable wifi close on hand and our phones tuned to the Triple J Top 100, we explored Amerika-Mura – a hip and happening district full of trendily-dressed youths in cafés. With street art covering the walls and street lamps brightly painted, we explored secondhand clothing stores and cheap dumpling restaurants ($2 for 6! That’s Cambodian prices!) in the afternoon we explored Kuromon Ichiba, the local fresh food market, where we gawked at live crabs and lobsters, fresh fruits, and pufferfish! Although we were too scared to try. Next time though! I swear!

For dinner we visited our little Pork man around the corner from us to say good bye and have one last meal. I was a piggy and asked for a big serve and then couldn’t finish, but Mr Pork just laughed at me and put it in a takeaway container. You’re the best, Mr Pork! There’s breakfast sorted.

Off to Kyoto tomorrow morning! More adventure to come!

Check out @emmabreislin on Instagram for more pictures.

E x

P.s. Congrats Chet Faker on beating Tay Tay in the top 100!