Thursday, 20 August 2009


Granada was our final Spanish destination and turned out to be the most loved. By far the most beautiful of the Spanish cities we've visited, it has a great mix of old and new. Granada's Moorish past is ever present from the majestic Alhambra (the most visited monument in Spain) overlooking the city to Albayzin, a district full of narrow winding streets from its Medieval Moorish past. Even the offerings at the souvenir shops are more Arabic than Spanish.

We stayed at a great little hostel called 'Funky Backpackers' which felt more like someone's home rather than a hostel. In a way we were part of that family for those four days we stayed there as we got to know the family and became friends with many travellers who we met there. In Granada the siesta is more widely enforced than anywhere else we've been to in Spain and soon we got used to the essential afternoon nap as well. We did a free walking tour of Albayzin and Sacromonte and got to know many interesting things about Granada's past thanks to our crazy Aussie guide, Sol. We climbed to a lookout in Abayzin to watch the sunset hitting the Alhambra beautifully and ended the tour at a cave restaurant in Sacromonte for Sangria. Granada has a great Flamenco tradition especially in Sacromonte and as we walked back into town we could hear many cave houses and restaurants alive with its gipsy like songs and frenzied clapping.

The next day we had lunch at a fantastic restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet which had a mix of Lebanese and Moroccan cuisine. We stopped by for some Turkish apple tea on the way back and came back to the hostel for some essential rest at the hottest time of the day. The hostel had cheap dinners on some nights and we stayed in for dinner on several occasions to enjoy Paella and Spanish omelette thanks to Manuel.

On our last day we visited Alhambra with its many palaces, gardens, military compound and towers. That same night we went back to see a special Flamenco show that came highly recommended by all the locals we had met thus far. The Alhambra has a great open air theatre in one of its gardens where many artists have performed over the years and we felt very lucky to see something there. The show was a theatrical Flamenco dance show with a cast of about 25 to 30 with many dancers, singers and musicians. The costumes were dazzling and the skill of all the dancers were breathtaking. It was a fantastic experience to see Flamenco under the starry night with the Alhambra beautifully lit as its backdrop. The show and our time in Granada as a whole is something I will cherish forever and will not soon forget.

Sunday, 16 August 2009


Everyone whose been the Madrid has described it in very unflattering terms so I had low expectations of the place. However, I was pleasantly surprised to like the city in the end. We stayed in a huge hostel in Madrid and were unfortunate enough to stay in an eight bed dorm full of Italian boys who wondered in at all hours of the night and made a ruckuss each time. So suffice it to say we didnt get much sleep there.

We did a walking tour run by the tourist office of the old Madrid and learned much about the city. As there was only one other person on the tour (a lady called Helen from Perth) it was like having our own tour guide. We made friends with Helen and went for hot chocolate and churros(deep fried bread stick things) afterwards and she invited us to come and stay with her if we are ever in Perth. She also told us about her cousin who lives near the Spanish/Portuguese border and runs an organic farm that takes in WWOOFers. We had finally found a place to WWOOF but since we had booked the rest of our days in August we couldnt accept the offer. Afterwards Pramo got a hair cut at the oldest barber shop in Europe much to his delight as his hair was starting to look much like an afro and annoy him to no end.

We visited the Prado museum in Madrid with its sizeable collection of European Art. The museum was well organised and housed in a beautiful building so we really enjoyed our time there. Afterwards we went and chilled out at the Parque del Retiro (Park of the Retreat) for a while and watched people paddling about in the man made lake.

Coincidently one of the people we met in our hostel in Barcelona (Dhileep) also happen to stay at our Madrid hostel and we had the biggest shock to see him in the room next to us when we happen to go by. That night we spent walking around Madrid and showing him some of the places we've seen and visited so far.

Madrid is a big party city and people start the day very late with lunch at about 2-3pm and dinner at 9-10pm and then partying till the wee hours of the morning everyday of the week. Apparently some people try to live the Madridian party life and do a 9-5 job but end up burnt out very quickly. Our tour guide told us that there were more bars per capita than any other European city in Madrid and the young and old alike tend to bar hop with their friends all night long. So if you like to party head to Madrid!

Thursday, 13 August 2009


As expected Barcelona was baking hot when we arrived there. We were exhausted by the time we made our way to our hostel after a 6 hour train journey from San Sebastian. The hostel had everything we needed including air conditioning which we were very thankful for.

Barcelona was full of amazing architecture everywhere you looked. Its home to many out-of-this-world Gaudi creations such as La Sagrida Familia church as well as La Ramblas - a long paved strip full of restaurants, cafes and shops as well as human statues dressed in all manner of costumes to impress the tourists walking by. While many people headed to the beach we went to see all the Guadi creations spread across the city. I liked his stuff just because he didnt believe in straight lines. We also visited the Picasso museum which contained a lot of his work leading up to & including cubism.

I remember Barcelona more for the nice people we met at the hostel more than anything. While many hostels have all the great facilities and places to hang out people dont always mix together. This was not the case in Barcelona as everyone went out together and made friends.

Barcelona is notorious for pick pockets and we were warned by everyone who has been there as well as the people running the hostel to be very careful everywhere. We heeded their advice and escaped without having anything stolen. Some of the others at the hostel weren't so lucky. One guy got his bike stolen from right in front of the hostel and his bag stolen all on the same day.

I really liked Barcelona despite the excess of dog shit & smell of urine everywhere you walked. Its one place I would like to go back to and spend more time in.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

San Sebastian

Our first stop in Spain was San Sebastian, the capital of Basque country on the north east coast of the country. San Sebastian has three beaches surrounding the old part of town which is overlooked by a mountain fortress housing a giant statue of Christ. We stayed in the old town where the party never stops. The old town is a small compact collection of streets full of pintxo bars, restaurants and shops. San Sebastian is brimming with tourists who crowd the beaches by day and bar hop by night.

A visit to San Sebastian is not complete without a visit to some of its pintxo (pronounced pinchos) bars. Pintxos are small h'ordeuvres which consist of a topping such as chorizo, seafood, cheese, omelette etc on top of a crusty piece of bread pierced by a toothpick. The bar top is packed full of plates of pintxos and you basically order a drink like sangria and have as many pintxos as you want. Once you've had enough you tell the bar tender how many you've had and then pay a fixed price for each one you had. The price varied from one to four euros. Then you go to the next bar and start the process all over again. Each bar had its own speciality. We had pintxos many times while in San Sebastian and I have to say I really liked them.

We spent the days in San Sebastian exploring the area surrounding the old town. We climbed to the hilltop fortress for great views of the town, sea and beyond. We walked along the beaches to the end of the bay to see the famous seaside sculptures. At night we would go out for Sangria and pintxos or tapas. The hostel we stayed at was really cramped but had a very friendly feel. On our last day a week long festival started in San Sebastian. Although it rained most of the day it didnt seem to deter the many bands, parades or the crowd. That night everyone in the hostel headed out together to watch the fireworks over the beach. All in all it was a nice end to our stay in San Sebastian.e

Wednesday, 5 August 2009


Bordeaux turned out to be very different from what I expected. It was a very pretty town with wide boulevards, huge squares, plazas and elegant buildings. It felt more refined than Paris in places. Apparently Paris was fashioned in the image of Bordeaux as it was already well-established when Paris was just a 'quasi-medieval' town.

We stayed in the rich area of the town in a budget hotel so ended having to walk quite a bit to get to restaurants and the main shopping strip. In Bordeaux on the banks of the river Gironne is the 'Place de la Bourse' built in the 18th century with two pavilion-like buildings behind a fountain of the three graces. The area in front of the square is dominated by a water feature called the 'water mirror' - a huge flat rectangular area that is sprayed by mist from the ground every 15 minutes or so. The 'water mirror' was a favourite with all the kids and adults alike who walked, slide and played on it for hours. The buildings and the surrounding area was lit up beautifully at night and was nice for an evening stroll. Behind 'Place de la Bourse' was a long pedestrianised walkway lined with shops, cafes and restaurants supposed to be the longest shopping street in Europe. Although I remember hearing the same phrase used to describe the main shopping street in Copenhagen.

We spent much of our time exploring the town by foot and chilling in its gardens and parks. We were there for four nights and found the whole town ghost-like over the weekend especially Sunday. Except for the tourists walking about trying to find something to do there were no locals about and hardly anything open. While there we did find a great supermarket near us with everything you could ask for and more. It had an entire aisle dedicated to cheese and two whole aisles full of wine (one for red and other for white, of course). The wine selection was so huge and cheap we ended having a bottle of wine with salmon & cheese baguettes for dinner for a couple of nights. Oh and when we went to get a baguette (french stick) from the bakery in the supermarket we had a choice from about 10 different types.. the French do love their food and wine!

While walking around town we came across an English pub and since the 3rd Ashes test was on I asked the girl behind the counter if she wouldnt mind putting on the cricket for us. After being shocked by the request (because no one had ever asked for the cricket) she obliged. So we spent a couple of hours watching cricket and sipping beer & cider - spending a very English afternoon in a French town.

Saturday, 1 August 2009


After Paris we headed south west and ended up spending a few days in Tours. Tours is a nice town in the heart of the Loire valley and we stayed in the old town very close to the Loire river. The old town is full of restaurants and bars with the main square surrounded by old terrace houses which look as they are almost leaning on one another. These houses have now of course been converted to eateries and shops.

For a smallish town Tours is quite cosmopolitan with a big variety of restaurants. We even saw a Sri Lankan restaurant there. Tours is also where we decided to have a meal at a traditional French restaurant. The waiters did not speak any English and with our very limited French ordering was a stressful affair. We knew basics like fish, pork, cheese, chicken, beef etc.. so we guessed and ordered a three course meal. The entrees started well enough - Pramo had a potato and sardine salad and I had crusty bread with tuna pate thingy. Then came the main course. Mine was a roast chicken leg with potatoes and salad with an orange glaze which tasted quite good. Pramo who ordered something pork was given a plate with a boiled pork knuckle accompanied by boiled (killed) vegetables. The pork knuckle was pink and looked gross. The look on Pramo's face was classic - he was hoping it was a bad dream. He struggled his way through the main course hurrying along to get it over and done with. Then it was time for dessert. I ordered a creme caramel which was pretty nice and Pramo had ordered a selection of cheeses. France having 256 different types of cheese we were looking forward to trying some of them. His dessert consisted of two pieces of cheese and a leaf of lettuce. One of the cheese pieces smelled like someone's foot and the other was Camembert. So our adventures into French food ended that night as you might have guessed. The next day we had Japanese followed by pizza the night after that.

The Loire valley is famous for chataeux and wine so we did a tour of the area that took us to some of the famous chataeux (Amboise and Chenonceau) as well as wine tasting. Chenonceau castle was impressive as its built on the Cher river connecting the two banks almost like a bridge. We found the huge house impressive with its richly decorated rooms, perhaps the most interesting part was the tremendous kitchen with every conceivable cooking apparatus that was used back in the day displayed for visitors to marvel at. The path leading up to the house is framed by giant plane trees providing much appreciated shade and a welcoming feel. To the left of the path there was a huge maze much to the delight of kids of all ages including myself. Next to the house on the left bank there were beautiful formal gardens layed out with care much like those in the palace of Versailles. On our way back to our tour van we went through the farm house and vegetable gardens to the edge of the property. The vegetable garden had every conceivable vegetable growing in neat rows and beds hedged by small apple trees trimmed to act like a fence. We were very tempted to pick the apples but decided against it :)

Next we visited Amboise castle and saw the grave of Leonardo Da Vinci. On our way back to the town we stopped by a winery for a quick tour and some wine tasting. The winery much like others in the region were using a limestone cave to store the wine which provides the correct level of humidity and temperature for storage. We liked the wines we tried and so ended up buying a couple of bottles.

The next day we spent walking around town and sat by the side of the Loire river having lunch and enjoying the wine we bought the previous day. The afternoon passed quickly over a bottle of wine and it was one of the most relaxing afternoons I've had in a while. That night we bought pizza for dinner and went to eat by the river again. The side of the river we were on was paved along the bank and many people enjoyed walking & picnicing along the bank. Up the river there was an outdoor cafe/bar on the river bank with a band playing to a packed crowd. We went along and sat around enjoying the great band for a long time. The band could be described as folky-funk. They played traditional French folk songs with a violin and accordion to a funk base line. People of all ages stopped by the cafe/bar to listen to the band. It was a most pleasant way to spend our last night in Tours.