Weekend

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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Granada

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I have now visited all the sights on my spring travel list! Last weekend I concluded my travels by celebrating my 21st birthday in Granada.

Granada is famous for the stunning Alhambra which sits in the centre of the city on top of a huge hill. It’s recommended that you buy tickets well in advance (we bought ours in March) because they sell out about as quickly as a One Direction concert.

The Alhambra experience was very special, and worth the planning. There are palaces, towers and gardens to visit – all with spectacular panoramic views of the city below. Like a One Direction concert there were plenty of people, however the site is so vast that other tourists are dispersed amongst the various buildings and foliage so it doesn’t feel too intense.

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You can easily enjoy many hours exploring the Alhambra, I was there all morning and I’m pretty sure I still didn’t see everything. The highlight is undeniably the Nasrid palace which is probably worth the entrance fee alone. it’s just as pretty as the alcazars in Sevilla or Córdoba but on a much bigger scale, I loved it.

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The rest of the weekend was spent eating and drinking in Moroccan style restaurants and tea rooms (another great thing about granada) and it was all kinds of wonderful. I enjoyed frozen yogurt, my favourite treat, and even had a wild night out (complete with mojitos, crazy dance moves and 5am hostel return).

I now have just two weeks left before it’s time to say goodbye to Spain..

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Plasencia

Plasencia town

This weekend I was reunited with three very important things: my Mum, my Dad and access to a car.

I have been without all three of these things throughout my year abroad and it has, at times, been tough. The three entities are mutually compatible, of course there’s always the odd moment when my Dad gets annoyed with the car, or my Mum gets frustrated with my Dad, but all in all it was a lovely treat for us to spend four days together here in Spain.

We explored the city of Plasencia first of all. We stayed in the beautiful Parador hotel where I enjoyed the luxury of a suite all to myself. After a year of hostel trips I happily slept like a starfish and maximised every corner of the double bed in all its crisp white sheet and plump pillow glory…

The Parador Hotel

We then ventured to the Jerte Valley in search of cherry blossom. Unfortunately we were about a week too early to see the valley in full bloom so we had to settle for photographing the same tree multiple times.The landscape was still wonderful though and waterfalls happen to be beautiful all year round so we enjoyed our day of adventuring anyway.

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Waterfalls in the Jerte Valley

The Jerte Valley is famous for the cherries it produces and so the nearby towns were full of cherry-related products like jams and liqueurs, there’s also the Jerte river which runs through the centre and pretty bridges all the way a long. I’d love to go back at some point in the future to see the blossoms and the cherries at their peak. It’s a lot closer to home than Japan and the airfare is definitely significantly less…

So it was another busy travelling weekend and now I’m looking forward to my Easter break for some relaxing. The hot weather is supposedly on it’s way and I am 100% ready. I’m also intruiged to see some of the Semana Santa celebrations here in my town, I have a feeling its going to be VERY different from the chocolate eggs and bunnies I usually witness – I’ll keep you posted!Untitled

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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Quinta de Regaleira

As described in my previous post, Lisbon is gorgeous. This seems to be a recurring theme with Portugal actually, because Lagos was equally stunning in an entirely different way. On our second day in the capital we took a 30 minute train to Sintra and were amazed once again, by what we saw. IMG_9791

Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site just outside of the capital and it’s magical. There’s a little village of cafes and shops at the base of the hill, then a winding path leading up to various stunning palaces and gardens. The first one we visited was Quinta de Regaleira.

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Quinta de Regaleira is comprised of a palace, chapel, towers and ruins, all set within a mysterious, woodland garden complete with caves and waterfalls. The whole place was fantastic to get lost in; there were stepping stones, hidden passages and spiral staircases leading to turrets with views over the sprawling forest below.

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One of the most incredible features was the Initiation Well, a 27 metre-deep well with a spiral staircase leading all the way down. The old stone was covered in moss and it was all very otherwordly and enchanting.

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The cloudy weather seemed only to enhance the ethereal setting and the grey skies made the forest look even greener. I’m certain that this is the type of place that will blow you away whatever the weather and I’d highly reccomend a visit to Sintra for Quinta de Regaleira alone. Keep an eye out for my next post on the Palace of Pena, featuring a TukTuk ride and a real-life disney castle… Happy Sunday! 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

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