The colours of Madrid

© Louise Creely 2017

A different perspective… city view from the Caixa Forum on the Paseo del Prado

© Louise Creely 2017From museums,  art galleries, gardens, enormous monuments and stunning architecture, to delicious food and wine, and welcoming people… Madrid knows how to switch it on.

One of the things EB and I love to do when we hit a new city is to walk. A lot.

So it’s no surprise that hitting the streets with a bunch of like-minded food and wine lovers, and getting the inside goss from a local expert, is the perfect thing to do.

In many of the cities we visit, we’ll book into a foodie and vino tour, just to get a feel for the place.

food-and-wine-tour-pouring-ciderThis time we’re off on Viator’s Madrid Tapas Night Walking Tour. Apart from practicing weird cider pouring methods and learning the joys of tapas and Spanish wine on a tour like this, we often pick up tips and tour ideas from fellow travellers and have heaps of fun doing it.

Back out on the streets on our own, we soon discover some favourite places to hang out, like Vinoteca Vides on Calle Libertad (freedom street). It’s the place to be for brilliant wines, switched-on service and a great atmosphere…

With our thing for Asian-fusion food, we can’t walk past Bambubox and we’re not disappointed.

This is Thai food with a delicious modern twist, served by our lovely waiter (now friend) Thao!

Of course, there are so many great places to eat (it is Spain after all), but it’s not just about the amazing food, wine and people (well, it kind of is…).

There are wonderful – sometimes overwhelming – palaces, monuments, galleries, gardens and buildings in Madrid, and it seems that around every corner there is something divine or surreal!

© Louise Creely 2017

Divine glimpses around every corner…

© Louise Creely 2017

serenity on the streets

© Louise Creely 2017© Louise Creely 2017

A heart-warming sight…

© Louise Creely 2017

Green and blue moments

© Louise Creely 2017

Bright and delicious Mercado de San Miguel

Ah Madrid, such a colourful, welcoming and fascinating city. But don’t take our word for it – put it on your wishlist and see for yourself. We might even bump into you there…

© Louise Creely 2017


The sum of a life…

img_4431My mother passed away suddenly while I was in Spain in October.

Last week, the four of us siblings got together to sift through four lifetimes.

These words are in memory of my mum, dad, granny and poppy – a travel blog for a different journey. 


A tarnished brass ashtray,
a porcelain doll wrapped in muslin cloth,
a box of faded photographs
from times when hope was fresh…
Before the disappointments,
before the sadness and the pain,
waiting for peace,
waiting for eternal silence.

Ancient forks and steak knives
with handles carved from ivory tusks,
a dusty moss-green recliner chair
dismantled to fit into a shed,
watercolours whispered from the brush…
A jumble of moments gathered,
the sum of a lifetime.

And yet… I remember
a breath, a smile, a tear, a touch.
The deepest mark we leave
is on the hearts of those who love us.

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Resurrecting Alhambra in Spain

© Louise Creely 2016

It’s one of the most visited monuments in Europe – and with the crowds here today, I believe it. But nothing can detract from this incredible place. Come wander around La Alhambra de Granada for a while with us…

Once a thriving fortress-palace city with 2700 occupants within its walls, Alhambra or al-qala’a al-hamra (the Red Castle) had orchards and gardens, running water, factories and everything it needed to withstand any siege.

© Louise Creely 2016

As you wander through the gardens of Generalife, you are literally enveloped in the scent of flowers and fresh herbs…

© Louise Creely 2016Since its humble beginnings as a hilltop refuge and fortress in the 9th century, Alhambra has survived many changes of fortune.

By the 14th century during the Nasrid dynasty, the last Arab Muslim dynasty in Spain, the emirs had created a combination of a fortress, palace and small medina (city) that showcased their stunning architecture and artwork.

Water was integral to their design. They believed it was a gift to be cherished and belonged to no man – and that the sound of trickling water created harmony. Today, water still runs along ancient irrigation channels on the streets, into fountains, pools, palaces, houses and gardens, then into the river to start its journey again.

© Louise Creely 2016

Water still travels here along ancient aqueducts from the mountains around Granada, creating a cool, calm environment – just perfect for a frog prince to hang out!

By 1492, the combination of a civil war over the throne of Granada and the Reconquista (Christian reconquest) created the perfect storm that saw the Nasrid dynasty overthrown. Soon the mosque was replaced by a church, and a Franciscan monastery was built along with other structures including a Renaissance palace.

© Louise Creely 2016

art-destroyedIt’s hard to believe that by the late 18th century this incredible place was totally abandoned and taken over by squatters, who systematically removed and sold off most of the valuable tiles, fountains, marble and other artefacts.

But wait, there’s more. In the early 1800s, Napoleon’s troops moved in and converted the palaces into barracks.

During one retreat, they blew up parts of the towers and left the Torre de Siete Suelos and the Torre de Agua in ruins.

© Louise Creely 2016

Ruins of the village at Alhambra

It was travellers, poets and other concerned people that finally saved the rotting, overgrown ruin. 19th century American author Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra (1831), written while he stayed in the palace, put a spotlight on the crumbling monument.

© Louise Creely 2016© Louise Creely 2016

The restoration process continues…

In 1870 it was declared a national monument and the huge restoration task began.

Over a century later, in 1984, it became a Unesco World Heritage Site – and today the restoration work is still underway.

Wandering through this place, you can almost feel its spirit coming to life again… Now that’s a resurrection!


Get tickets before you go: Try Ticketmaster Spain and be aware that lines for tickets at the site are seriously daunting (even for picking up prepaid ones!).


A splash of colour in Cuenca

Autumn has arrived in Spain – and with it the rain. But nothing can put a damper on the arty, colourful city of Cuenca.

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To say we are blown away is an understatement. From colourful apartment buildings, to hanging houses that look like they will topple off the cliff at any moment…

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…to incredible art in contemporary art museums, on the streets and in ruins we stumbled across on one of the many walking trails around the mountains (and yes, EB found them all – including those endless stairs!).

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tulipsEverywhere you look, there are pops of colour – even tulips growing among the weeds.

And then there is our hotel, Parador de Cuenca, suspended on a cliff opposite the city, overlooking the River Huecar.

It was originally the Convent of San Pablo, built in 1523 in stunning late Gothic style.

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Access to the city is across a long suspended bridge that spans the ravine. I know right? Heaven can wait…

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Okay, I’m running out of adjectives here. And EB is hopping from foot to foot. There are trails to walk (or run!). And a slight downpour isn’t about to stop us!

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5 great things to do in Cordoba, Spain

It’s Friday – here in Spain anyway. So here’s our Five for Friday great things to do in the beautiful city of Cordoba (and on your travels, wherever you are in the world).

Eat…

la-furgo-1Don’t walk past La Furgo on Calle Ronda de Isasa! We found it by accident (or divine intervention) and knew we had stumbled upon foodie heaven.

Chef Manuel Morilla is passionate about creating innovative food and it shows – so be ready for divine flavours, great wine and service with attitude (in a good way).

We just had to go back for lunch the next day and Manuel invited us to taste-test a new dish. I’m a pescatarian but this could convert even me. Stunning.

And yes, there are delicious choices for vegetarians (I think I tried them all!).

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Bathe…

© Louise Creely 2016Immerse yourself in history and tranquility at the Hammam Al Andalus Arab Baths.

Once a vital part of Islamic hygiene and public health, the hammam was also a meeting place where people could relax and socialise.

When we were in Ronda, it was the weekend so the hammam was fully booked. But we booked in early at the Cordoba bathhouse – and we weren’t disappointed.

There were a few tourists unfamiliar with the routine in the bathhouse and a little anxious about what they should do.

So be prepared to go with the flow – from that first icy plunge, to the tingling lukewarm soak, on to the hot bath, then the steam room.

Along the way there is time to relax with a massage, mint tea and cool water. Perfection right there.

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Like Japanese Onsens, photos aren’t allowed in the bathhouse…

Play…

Okay, these aren’t exactly playmates – but they are fun to watch. This was another unplanned visit (because we like to discover stuff along the way), but Zoo de Cordoba is so worth it!

I’ll let the pictures do the talking with these content, cute and sometimes crazy creatures…

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Walk…

Be sure to get out on the streets at dusk and into the night. It’s safe, beautiful – and you never know who you’ll meet out there!

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Be…

2016-10-11-18-17-17It’s too easy to just tick off all the tourist attractions – and to get caught up in the dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out).

I’m sure we’ve missed so much along the way – but we’ve also discovered amazing places, met great local people, and had exceptional experiences.

So wherever you are in the world, be there.

It’s the difference between being a traveller on this planet – or a tourist.

Happy travels!


What’s so great about Ronda?

So what’s at Ronda? EB asks as we train our way to another Spanish town. I shrug. I know it’s unique and incredible but I can’t remember why.

And then we get there. Oh.

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Breathtaking

Perhaps it’s because it’s perched on the edge of a cliff that plunges over 100 metres to the river below. With so many places to stand on the very edge of the abyss, it takes your breath away…

Breathless

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The mineshaft, which was about mining water not minerals, looks almost apologetic for being so deep

Perhaps it’s all those terraces and winding alleyways that involve endless incline and stair climbing.

Wait, there’s a bonus ancient Islamic mine with a million stairs (well, it felt like a million!).

And EB has spotted a path down the cliff, so his eyes are glazing over as he plans tomorrow’s walking adventure…

Breathe

Or perhaps it’s being at a tapas and wine bar in the town square people-watching.

It seems like the entire community comes out at dusk (around 7.30) to hang out together.

From the very old to the very young they are there… running, jumping, chatting, laughing, flirting or just watching and remembering their younger crazier days.

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No huddling around the goggle-box with dinner perched on laps for them. This is full-on, multi-generational socialising at it’s most inspiring.

Can’t wait to explore this incredible place.

Ah, Seville, Granada, now Ronda. I’m feeling deeply shallow as each place steals a piece of my heart… but how can you not love this Spanish life?


Off-piste in Granada

I know what you’re thinking… but I’m not talking about Granada’s legendary nightlife. Although I’m told there are 60,000 students at the university here. And they didn’t just come for the studying bit (but don’t tell their parents!).

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This is about getting off the tourist trail, high up in the ‘hills’ above Granada, where a network of precarious tracks meander around the steep edges of slopes – and making way for mountain bikers (jealous!) and trail runners is an interesting balancing act.

We started in the historic centre and walked up past Alhambra, one of the most visited monuments in Europe. We thought we’d take a little wander up the dusty track to check out the mountain biking trails.

Three hours later, we’d wound our way up and down steep hills on some breathtaking trails – and discovered the ancient water channel above the Rio Darro.

Built by the original Arab settlers, the network of channels carried a fresh water supply down to irrigate the extensive Generalife orchards and gardens, through to the Alhambra palaces and back into the river system.

2016-10-06-12-21-29-hdrWe followed the water channel for a while, until it came to a private olive grove – with a full-on sprinkler system going.

After running the gauntlet of water jets turning the steep track to a slippery slide, we decided to head back up and find a drier way down the slope.

This involved a bit of scrambling and, of course, a rather inelegant butt slide by moi.

But we finally found our way back down to civilisation, a well-earned snack… and a drink or three.

…because going off-piste is thirsty work.


Something fishy in Portugal

 

productsSimple, cheap and tasty, tinned sardinha is a favourite across Portugal, for the poor and the wealthy alike – as a healthy basic, fast food or gourmet cuisine.

The riches of the sea have long sustained the Portuguese, so it’s no wonder the humble sardine has become a bit of an icon around here.

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Forget those three flying ducks on the wall at grandma’s place. Here, it’s ceramic sardines up there.

The ubiquitous fish also features in paintings, accessories, homewares and every imaginable type of souvenir.

There are even street art fish (although sardines have a bit of competition here).

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2016-09-16-03-39-32Of course, bacalhau (salted cod, right) is another staple – but I’m guessing it missed out on the fishy audition because it’s not quite as sleek as sardines.

Surprisingly, we saw very few fish in the rivers and close to the coast – except mullet slithering all over themselves in the rivers.

Where do you catch the sardines, we ask a local.

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The fish that met the pescatarian… and lost

Out there, he says pointing way out to sea.

There are a lot out there, he adds with a grin.

Considering tinned sardines are exported to about 70 countries around the world, I believe him.

Later, as we crossed the border into Spain, the words of Douglas Adams were circling in my head:

So long and thanks for all the fish.

Indeed!

 


Night moves in Seville

It’s been a few years (um, decades) since we’ve been out on the streets past midnight – but Seville does that to you.

This city literally comes to life at about eight o’clock at night. And by ten, the locals come out to move from bar to bar with friends, enjoying one tapas and one drink at each place (well, that’s the idea anyway).

It takes bar crawls to a whole civilised and delicious new level – and it’s a way of eating, drinking and socialising that fits us perfectly.

Even the late nights feel early, perhaps because the sun stays up late too.

And there’s always those ‘recovery’ sleep-ins, because nobody emerges until at least ten in the morning. Except a few of the keen tourists of course.

More about this fabulous city later. It’s getting late – which means it’s time for us to hit the streets… adiós for now!

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Tasty tip: We went on the excellent Seville Gourmet Wine and Tapas Tour with Manuel from Pancho Tours (booked with Viator). A great way to get familiar with the tapas scene and hang out with like-minded vino and food lovers.


Turning on the Autumn heat in Lagos

If you love water sports and beach chill time then Lagos, in the beautiful Algarve region of Portugal, is the perfect place to hang out. Especially when the Autumn temperature feels a lot like summer.

First on the list for us was a Days of Adventure cruisy kayaking trip, where a catamaran took us to the kayaking spot… no hardcore paddling involved (poor EB!).

We paddled along the coastline, past the most stunning beaches and into eerie grottos and sea caves.

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2016-09-27-12-47-12Along the way, we passed towering cliffs that looked like they would completely crumble at the slightest puff of wind, and rock stacks crafted by tides and time into shapes like elephants, camels and even the Titanic.

The perfect end to the trip for me was diving off the boat into the deep, chilly aqua-blue waters.

It was sheer bliss to swim away from the boat, relax in the water… and not have the theme music to Jaws playing in my head.

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EB all at sea…

In Australia, the whole shark thing always lurks in the back of your mind (or the front, if you’re a tiny bit neurotic like me), but here you just go with the flow…

Are you up for dolphin watching, snorkelling, surfing lessons or paddle boarding? There’s so many options for getting wet or awestruck here and all easily booked in town or at the marina.

Soaking up the sun at the beach is also de rigueur here – with not a sun-smart slip, slop, slap routine in sight.

Of course, people-watching is endlessly entertaining too.

streets-of-lagos-1All that activity definitely works up an appetite (and a thirst).

It’s time to stop at one of the beach or marina restaurants, or head to the historic town centre.

Inside the town’s ancient Moorish walls you can meander along narrow streets passed a charming patchwork of crumbling, life-worn and revamped buildings and some incredible street art, to chill at one of the many great eating places and bars there.

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The Garden

We loved The Garden, a bohemian-style bar and restaurant with delicious barbequed meat (EB assures me) and great choices for pescatarians and pure veggos.

A short stroll away is the fascinating Mar D’Estórias, where it’s easy to get caught up in the arty retail area and galleries as you wind up each narrow staircase until you reach the Terraço Bar.

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Quick snap from the Terraco Bar

Here you’ll find great food and wine, a relaxed atmosphere and views stretching along historic streets to the ocean.

With only one more day here, we’re off explore more of this delightful town – which will possibly involve me annoying EB as I stop to take more photos of street art.

Assim é a vida.

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