City

Paris

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For my first two days off I headed into central Paris for some sightseeing. I’ve been to Paris a few times before, on family holidays and French exchanges with school, however it’s such a huge city that I don’t think you could ever really see everything. Luckily I’ve got all the weekends from now until September to explore as much as possible. Yesterday I got the train from my suburban home straight to the Arc de Triomphe, where I was greeted by the most terrifying roundabout in history, I then walked down L’avenue des Champs-Élysées to the Eiffel Tower to meet a friend for a picnic. From here we walked along the river all the way to Place de la Concorde, through the beautiful Tuileries gardens to the Louvre. To finish the day I then hopped on the metro to Place Monge where I met another friend for some Moroccan tea (I can’t get enough) at La Grande Mosquée.

I should also mention that it was 37 degrees this weekend in Paris. It’s been boiling all week and let me tell you, the metro is the last place you want to be on a hot day. It’s basically a furnace packed full of sweaty tourists, sweaty Parisians and probably all the sweaty people in the world, and their children. I don’t think anyone quite knows if its better to walk for miles in the midday sun just to avoid the cattle-transportation experience. I was weighing up sunburn and blistered feet against extreme armit-to-face proximity and limited oxygen. A tough call. In the end I settled for the metro because at least the pain is short-term. Anyway it’s beautiful in Paris so I should stop complaining.

Here are some pictures of my day… As I only photographed the pretty things it’s like the metro never even even happened!

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Cádiz

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The Easter holidays are just one week long in Spain; as opposed to two at home (or five if you go to university!) but the time off was much needed and much appreciated nevertheless. I spent four highly relaxing days in Cádiz where I lazily flitted between the beach, the park and the town square, taking time to read my book and sunbathe. This has actually been my first Easter break without revision in about six years and it was quite blissful.

Cádiz is smaller than I expected and very easy to walk around. It reminded me of Manhattan, New York for the sole reason that its surrounded by water and the streets are in a grid formation. Its beautiful because you can get lost amongst the shops and bars then glance to the right and catch a glimpse of the turquoise ocean.

I spent most of my time being a lady of leisure, listening to podcasts, sleeping and eating frozen yogurt… However when I did get my camera out I captured these snapshots of the seaside scenery.

Cadiz2Cadizcadiz3IMG_0592IMG_0642IMG_0555It was a little sad not to be at home for the holidays, but these beautiful views certainly made up for missing the family Easter egg hunt… For now though its back to another eight weeks or so of teaching Spanish teens. I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone and I know I’m going to miss all this sunshine and traveling next year, so I’ll be enjoying every last second of the next few weeks. Happy Easter weekend!

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Madrid

Cybele Palace (City Hall)

This weekend I finally made the trip to Spain’s capital city! I’ve technically been to Madrid airport during a flight stopover, but that definitely doesn’t count as visiting Madrid for real, so this was my first time and I was really looking forward to it.

I got a 5 hour bus from my sleepy town to the big city. 5 hours may sound like a long time but I’ve become quite used to bus trips now, and it’s cheap, and I listened to a really good podcast (Serial, I’d highly recommend it) so it was a pretty good journey.

Madrid is a big place and with only two days I obviously couldn’t see everything. However, the centre is quite compact and with Emmy (my friend and Madrid expert) by my side, I managed to see a lot in just one weekend.

Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol

Puerta de Alcalá

Puerta de Alcalá

Palacio Real de Madrid

Palacio Real de Madrid

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

Parque del Buen Retiro

The temperature was about 23 degrees celsius and it was gloriously sunny so we had a great time wandering around, stopping frequently for frozen yogurt – my favourite. On this visit we made the most of the weather and stayed outside, however I’d love to go back and explore some of Madrid’s many museums and galleries (El Prado in particular) so a return trip is definitely on the cards…

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Valentines weekend in Lisbon

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This weekend was an extra long one (due to Carnaval here in Spain), so I took the opportunity to visit Lisbon!! This city is my new favourite; it was absolutely beautiful. To add to the excitement of a new city and two extra days off work, one of favourite people in the world – my friend Helena, flew out to spend the weekend with me!

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The first thing that makes Lisbon so cool is the TILES! A huge number of Lisbon’s buildings are covered in patterened tiles. There were different designs everywhere and we couldn’t help but stop for photographs every few minutes – so pretty.

Our first day was spent exploring the city on foot. We wandered around the Alfama (the old town), to see the castle and flea market. We then wound our way down through the streets, squealed whenever a tram passed, tripped on MANY uneven cobbles and tasted some delicious gelato.

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The street art in Lisbon is amazing too, there is something different around every beautifully-tiled corner.

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We found some impressive viewpoints overlooking the water…

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And I learned that trams are my new favourite mode of transport.

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It was Valentines day and Lisbon was very romantic in general. There were TukTuks with red balloons, the main square was full of people wearing ‘Free Hugs!’ t-shirts and there was even a metal ‘Love’ structure to attach hearts and padlocks. Despite Helena and I being single ladies, we found all the festivity really exciting and it was so lovely to see. We were even talked into buying our own ‘love padlock’ as the money went to a good cause (it also helped that the volunteer who persuaded us was an adorable 15 year old with BIG brown eyes).
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Day two of our wonderful weekend was spent exploring the palaces of Sintra, so more on that later!Untitled

Salamanca: Part Two

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After getting a feel for Salamanca on Day One, our second day was spent exploring the city in more depth.

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The cathedral is arguably the main attraction, it’s made up of both an old and a new part, both of which are equally impressive. The interior is stunning but I would absolutely recommend climbing the tower. You pay just 3 euros to enter and the experience is worth every cent. There were multiple viewing points all the way up; a sun terrace, a balcony overlooking the cathedral interior and, for the big finale, a huge bell tower at the top with a 360 degree view of the city. Understandably there was a lot of effort required to reach the top – in the form of a rather claustrophobic set of spiral stairs. Fortunately, unlike both York Minster and Florence’s Duomo, there was an ingenious traffic light system telling you when it was clear to ascend. This avoided the awkward must flatten self against cold stone wall to avoid personal contact with fellow tourist scenario. I was VERY grateful for this. I don‘t like invasions of personal space at any time, let alone within the restrictions of an ancient stone stairwell with limited oxygen/light/escape. In fact, the technology in place reminded me of the red and green lights you find at the top of water slides. There was a line of people, a screen on the wall, a count-down; it was a very similar setup. Fortunately the cathedral countdown was much less ominous; waiting for water slides involves the impending doom of losing your bikini or swallowing chlorine. The cathedral setting definitely decreases the risk of indecent exposure from swimwear loss, you simply have to walk down some stairs.

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Another highlight was a visit to Las Dueñas, a Dominican convent built in the 15th century.

SALALALALLAA.jpgInside was a beautiful courtyard with carved pillars, arabic archways and views of the cathedral, there was also a museum on the first floor and a nun selling handmade biscuits by the entrance below – something for everyone!SALALAAA.jpgOverall I loved Salamanca. I thought it had the right balance of beautiful architecture whilst still functioning as a modern, lively city. It was packed full of students rather than tourists and the whole atmosphere was great. Next on my to-visit list is Lisbon!Untitled

January sun

I’ve come to realise that my mood is drastically effected by the absence of sunshine. As a result, I’ll probably become one of those tanned but wrinkly pensioners who retire in Florida, wear visors and play bridge. I really miss the sun during winter and January is especially hard. Amazingly, this weekend was gloriously sunny and surprisingly warm (19 degrees!) so I caught a bus to Seville to make the most of the weather. I’ve been to Seville a few times now so for this visit I decided to hop across the river to Triana.

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Architecturally, Triana is very similar to the main city, it’s just smaller, quainter and has fewer tourists.

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Calle Betis, the street overlooking the river, is lined with coloured houses and apartments, ornate balconies and the typical Seville orange trees.

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Sunshine and blue skies all day long – oh Spain..

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Everyone was out with beers and tapas enjoying a beautiful Saturday. There were even people sunbathing topless by the side of the river. Isn’t it winter?

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I think I even got a slight facial tan, on the 10th of January. It may be harder to leave Spain than I originally thought…

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Barcelona

I finally made it to Barcelona! This city’s been on my wish list for a long time and I can report that the wait was definitely worth it.

Eight of us language assistants took advantage of the four-day weekend and took a short flight from Seville on Friday morning. Our reason for travel? Sight-seeing, a double birthday celebration and plenty of photo-taking…IMG_8483

On all trips so far I’ve been staying in hostels, however with eight of us it worked out cheaper to rent an apartment through Airbnb. We also thought it’d be nice to be able to leave our valuables safely in our own place (Barcelona is notorious for pickpockets) and enjoy the perks of our own kitchen and living area. Also, three of us had been slightly scarred from a night in a mixed dormitory at a recent hostel in which three middle-aged men snored perpetually throughout the night, one in the bunk above me, two either side. There was no escape and minimal sleep for the price of eighteen euros. This time, for just fifteen euros per night we enjoyed a lovely apartment in the Gothic quarter – it was perfect.IMG_8492

Barcelona is relatively easy to navigate and fortunately we were staying near one of the main streets, La Rambla, so we could access lots of metro stops and visit all the monuments really easily. Some highlights of the trip (which you will see below) were of course the Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell, both of which were as colourful and magical as I imagined. We also visited an amazing food market La Bouqueria, wandered along the waterfront and visited the fountain at Parc Ciutadella
IMG_8527sag.jpg IMG_8580 IMG_8599 IMG_8608 BeFunky_Tilt-Shift_2.jpg1377302_10152503138992322_9007055549522543887_nSomething that I couldn’t photograph was the Picasso Muesum. It was in a really beautiful part of the city and the museum displayed paintings, sketches and sculptures in Picasso’s amazingly diverse styles. There was also a unique collection of photography documenting parts of his personal life. It was so impressive to see the variety of his work, his early paintings are SO different from his cubism phase, it felt like you were seeing the work of about twenty different artists.

We had the best weekend exploring the city. The only downside was the constant fear of being pick pocketed; you truly have to be so careful. Unfortunately one of our group, Marissa, got her bag (containing phone, iPod, money and PASSPORT) stolen whilst we were sat inside a pretty fancy restaurant. As a consequence, we experienced the delights of Barcelona’s police station at 1am and a lot of stress trying to cancel her credit cards and sort out her journey home. She handled it really well but it was not ideal and it definitely made me appreciate the safety of other cities in comparison. Fortunately, I managed to return with all belongings intact. I was the very definition of paranoid tourist and wore a my bag across my body underneath my coat. It looked like I had a deformed left hip but it’s better to be safe than sorry right?Untitled