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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The Real Madrid

A hop, skip and a jump and we found ourselves flung 2000km across Europe to Madrid, Spain (more like a 40min Terravision bus ride and a Ryanair flight that managed to leave late but arrive early?). We found Sarah amongst the crowds of yelling Spaniards and jetted off in a taxi (splurge, I know) to our hostel, TOC.

With a new city, new country AND new companion, we took the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets, adjusting to the new language, smells, sights and most importantly food! We meandered into an incredible looking deli that turned out to have three levels to it and pointed at the picture of a seafood platter, a grilled cheese and jamon salad and a bottle of moscato. The English is not as good in Spain as in Italy, so we just crossed our fingers and hoped. It sort of adds to the excitement though, not being 100% sure of what you are going to get. We almost ordered two bottles of moscato “accidentally”. With a quick look around the shops near our hostel we finished the night off with a €12 bottle of Sangria. Free pour, baby!

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Supposed to wake up for a 9am free walking tour the next morning, we were lucky to make it to the 10am. Meeting our tour guide Juliana from ‘Sandemans New Madrid’ in the famous Plaza Mayor, she sent us around the corner to a supermarket to grab something for breakfast before we met the rest of the group. Oh My God. She sent us to heaven. This place put the SUPER in market. What turned out to be the shell of a church which was turned into an open market and then enclosed with glass panes, the San Miguel markets are beyond words. Like a gourmet tapas market, it was filled with a range of stores selling everything you could imagine in tapas style, so you could run around and fill try something from each shop. Needless to say we went back from dinner and breakfast the next morning.

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Once we reunited with the tour we were taken to the Worlds Oldest Restaurant, where we got the chance to look into the kitchen and see them preparing the most amazing looking suckling pig, as well as into the cellar which boasted bottles of wine from 1702. Legend has it that a girl once broke a bottle while in the cellar and her ghost is still seen in the kitchen cleaning dishes to pay for the damage. Eek!

We were treated to beautiful plazas and gardens surrounding the Royal Palace, churches, cafes, and fountains. We were shown the spot where an attempt was made to assassinate King Alfonso XIII on his wedding day by throwing a bouquet of flowers covering a bomb onto his bridal carriage. Unfortunately, while the bomb missed the King, it did kill 28 people and injured over 100. There is now a monument on the street and a bouquet of flowers placed on the balcony in which he stood to commemorate those lost.

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One of my favourite sites was the street with all the big banks. They were all such grand and beautiful buildings. In the middle of a large intersection sat a gorgeous fountain which Juliana told us could be drained through an underground passageway that linked the the bank’s gold vault as to drown anyone attempting to steal the gold. How James Bond is that!

After bidding Juliana farewell and tipping her appropriately, we headed to a supermarket, made some sandwiches (saving money!), tried to fit the rest of our ingredients in the overflowing hostel fridge, went for a shop on Gran Via (the main shopping street), and headed back to our beloved San Miguel Market for some paella among many other delicious treats.

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Around 10.30pm, when one would expect to be calling it a night if you weren’t already out, we headed to Puetra del Sol to meet Idoya, a local and friend of Sarah’s that she met on a train to Vienna a few years ago. Idoya kindly took us for the real Madrid experience, starting at a proper Spanish bar that she explained was easily identifiable by the florescent lights and €3 gin & tonics. After that we headed to a much trendier establishment called 1862 Dry Bar where I enjoyed at Singapore Sling, a type of cocktail that happens to be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, made by a bartender called Jesus. We starred in a short film that happened to be being filmed there, before heading off to the final bar where we struggled to finish one of the biggest gin & tonics I have ever seen (for only €5 of course) where we met some lovely people who had been having a bet about where we were from for ten minutes before building up the courage to ask us. Sarah ended up adding one of them on Facebook as she is moving to Sydney later in the year – what a social butterfly.

Groggy morning but made it to the station and on to the train headed for Cordoba. More on that later, loving Spain so far.

Adios!

N.B. This is a link to the free tour we did, as there are lots of different groups that meet in Plaza Mayor: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187514-d1913235-Reviews-SANDEMANs_NEW_Madrid_Tours-Madrid.html

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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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’twas the night before…

‘Tas the night before the flight, and all was thought to be packed. A t-shirt and some shorts, there was nothing that lacked. My bag, placed neatly by the stairs with care, anxious for the journey that it and I would soon share.

Okay, that is as far as my rhyming skills extend (thankfully). It is the night before the flight, and my bag is packed, though with nothing but the bare essentials. I am about to embark on my first proper adventure. Six weeks exploring the sights, smells and tastes that South-East Asia has to offer. For me, six weeks sounds like a lot (seeing as I have never been away from home for that long before), but I am excited to catch the so-called ‘travel bug’ that so many talk of, which induces symptoms such as doubt regarding the need or necessity to shower, an overwhelming acceptance that medications such as gastro-stop are to be taken on the daily, and a general reluctance to return home. But most importantly, the ability to describe the previous few weeks/months, as the best of your life.

I have spent the year studying and working (albeit, working at the cafe is often so much fun it tends not to feel like work). My Facebook feed has been full of albums and posts from friends boasting and flaunting their overseas travels. One day, in the middle of a very interesting lecture on the nature of policy and governance I decided that enough was enough and that I needed to travel. What better time to do this, I thought, than the Christmas holidays, when everyone else was returning from their trips, so I could repay the favor of spamming their news feeds with ‘from where you’d rather be’ posts.

So here I go. Come get me, travel bug.