Saturday, September 14, 2013

Odd, beautiful and bold Barcelona

Thursday was the day of the Gaudis, but first I dragged the girls to the cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar, which is the oldest church in Barcelona. It sports both Romanesque and Gothic features with a beautiful chapel of saints in a separate area in barrel vault style. At the high altar theres a statue of the Virgin Mary with a replica of a 16th century Spanish ship at her feet.
We walked along through the bohemian El Born section of the city, past the Picasso museum, on our way to the metro to see the Gaudi masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia. Wow! Just wow. So many different architectural elements in one building it literally blows my mind. The spires were reaching into the blue sky like they could touch it.
After a fantastic lunch we headed to two other Gaudi buildings: La Pedrera and Casa Battlo. I love Gaudi's use of color and suggestion of movement in his buildings. He definitely had vision, though possibly chemically
We had to head back to Santa Maria del Mar because we had been kicked out for siesta, which the Spaniards take seriously. We all lit candles in the different chapels for friends and family, and it was impossible not to feel a sense of serenity. Miz Brazil took a tour of the church roof and towers while we were doing that and said it was amazing.
That night we walked along Carrer de Jaume I looking for a place to eat dinner. We settled on an Irish pub which turned out to be another bad idea. We were invaded and bothered by drunk Norwegians, one of whom was aobut to get sick on the floor and was promptly shoved out. We ended up leaving. Oh..and they never brought me my dinner.=(
The next morning we all headed to the airport together since La Lopez's flight left first. We'll miss Barcelona and Granada the most, although I'll miss the beaches in the other places we visited. Miz Brazil and La Lopez went home to the US while Sister and I headed to Portugal for two days in Lisbon.
Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Wonders of Barcelona

Our last evening in Ibiza was spent having a few drinks and a light dinner so we could be rested for our flight to Barcelona. Our neighbors had other ideas, however, and decided to scream and yell through the hallways, pound on the door next to ours at 4am, CALL our room at 5am looking for someone and generally act like a-holes. We couldn't get to the airport fast enough.
Getting to our apartment took well over an hour and a half, with most of that just waiting for our luggage. A bus, a metro trip, and a walk later we were there! Its on a tree lined street in Eixample, and has lots of little shops around. No tourists around here, and we like it that way! Our apartment has a little balcony overlooking a lovely street. We had a great early dinner at this place called Tres I No Res, which oddly had the best carbonara I've had since I was in Italy last year.
This morning was rainy and grey. We headed over to Plaça Catalunya for breakfast and a trip down Las Ramblas, right into the Gothic Quarter. We hit the Cathedral of Barcelona, Santa Eulalia, which was an AMAZING gothic church. The patron saint is even buried in a beautiful crypt below the alter. Many princes and counts of the city are also buried there, and it has many chapels along the nave which are simply breathtaking. Walking through the Barrier Gothic there are cool little shops everywhere and I could write an entire post on chocolate and pastries all by itself!
We also discovered Sept 11 is a national holiday for the people of Catalunya. Everywhere we saw people with the Catalunya flag, with shirts and hats, showing their pride. They chanted their anthem and the crowd clapped and moved in a sea of yellow and red stripes. The corridors of Las Ramblas were packed and it was sort of like our 4th of July.
We ended up at the Columbus monument, and then the Palau Güell, which is one of the famous Antoni Gaudi buildings. By the time we were done we were exhausted and ready for dinner so we headed over to the Plaça Rambla. There were so many people and the outdoor square is ringed with cafes. We decided on Cafe 15 Nits, because at first glance it seemed like a good idea. First of all just waiting to be seated took forever even though there were tables open. The host was a complete d-bag, and once we were seated we were ignored for at least 20 minutes. After we received our food, we had to wait for a waiter because the chicken in La Lopez's salad not only was cold but was completely uncooked. After calling attention to it and expressing our displeasure, we were given a little discount. However I would never suggest this cafe to anyone. Unless you like ecoli. We got back to the apartment exhausted from our day and looked forward to tomorrow.

Monday, September 9, 2013

A slice of normal: Formentera

Getting away from the craziness in Playa d'en Bossa isn't always easy but we did it. Miz Brazil, La Lopez and I took one of the morning ferries to the island of Formentera while Sister took some alone time.
After landing in La Savina where the port is, we took a bus to Es Pujols which is even by the Formenterans' standards the most beautiful beach on their island. On the way we saw the many salt marshes used to make sea salt. Its a quiet laid back little island, with small towns scattered everywhere. We saw couples and families out enjoying the day. Even though it was a bit overcast it was still very warm outside. We walked through the town of Es Pujols to get to the beach.
The water was..... incredible. Beautiful clear water in all colors of blue and green had a gentle tide. We picked a spot right next to it and Miz Brazil and I hightailed it right in. It was so refreshing! It has some rocky parts but the sand is really soft and it looks very Caribbean. There is a little beach shack right behind a sand dune that sells drinks and has a bathroom. We ordered some sangria and drank it while laying in the sun. The water was so clear you can see the bottom even in 15 feet of it! We even napped in the sun and the easy relaxed nature of the area really helped rejuvenate me.
Later on that evening La Lopez and I went walking in Playa d'en Bossa to see all the famous clubs, even though we didn't go in. We decided to make our own bar hop down the street, which was really fun. We met lots of nice people from Belgium, Germany and Hungary who were just there to hear the music like us. We tried Dunes, where some awesome lounge style house music was playing, and then Murphy's where the music was a little more dancey and remixed with hip-hop.
Tomorrow is our last day in Ibiza, and we plan on just lounging at the beach and taking it easy. We leave for Barcelona on Tuesday morning. Yay!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Last day in Granada

Last night's dinner and flamenco was a hard act to follow but we gave it a shot anyway. We were up and in a taxi to the Alhambra bright and early this morning. After getting stuck behind groups, a worker saw our tickets were for an earlier time and let us in. The walk there was so nice with Cyprus trees lining the sidewalk of ruins. Our first stop was the Palacios Nazarides where we were able to view the palace of sultans who ruled Granada for 700 years. We couldn't believe all the intricate scrollwork, engraving and design of this building. I'd wanted to see it for a long time since I had art history and it definitely didn't disappoint. The palace of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V is also there, in its circular Roman revival style and houses two small museums.
We had lunch at a former artist's house, where Sister befriended a stray cat and fed him half of her chicken. It felt like being at home! Lol
After lunch, some shopping and near fist fight with some gypsies, La Lopez, Sister and I went to the cathedral which was their first time since I had gone yesterday. Sister was very moved, and it reminded her how our uncle was always telling her to travel. Indeed it was our unexpected loss of him this past Christmas that was her impetus for going on this trip.
We rounded the corner at the Capilla Real and were treated with seeing the crypts of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella! They even have his sword and her crown and sceptre.
Later on we cabbed it over to the Elvira Gate, part of the old Moorish city wall, to a little organic store for a wine tasting. Andalusia has some of Spain's finest wines and olive oil. Our hostess, a fun girl from the Basque region, entertained us with three great wines exclusive to Granada paired with awesome tapas. All three wines come from vineyards above 1000 feet in elevation, and so can only be picked and processed by hand. This makes the reserves of wine very exclusive and handled with care. Of course we all bought bottles along with different Andalusian olive oil. Hooray! After three full glasses of wine we were feeling a bit buzzed and it was definitely an adventure trying to walk down that hill in wedge shoes!
This morning we picked up our rental car and that's when the real adventure began. First of all, when its your first time to Europe, you tend to over pack (meaning La Lopez and Sister with all their shoes!). So trying to fit four suitcases in an Audi A4 was like playing Tetris. We ended up stacking two suitcases in the backseat between Sister and Miz Brazil for the three and a half hour drive from Granada to Alicante. Now La Lopez and I had not driven a stick shift in a while, and Sister and Miz Brazil don't know how to drive one at all, so there was some pressure. Couple that with crazy European traffic, scooters our of no where, and traffic circles (roundabouts), it made for a stressful situation. We accidentally killed the engine getting stuck behind a car who slammed on the breaks, ON A HILL (!), and poor La Lopez was pretty stressed out trying to get it started again. Since I was navigating, I had to throw down the dispatcher voice and keep it calm while until we got on the highway. We rolled into Alicante three hours later and to our pensione, which was tiny. But hey this is Europe and Miz Brazil and I are both used to tiny hotel rooms. La Lopez and Sister however, are having to suspend their American comfort zones for now.
We went to walk around a bit while La Lopez went to get her hair blown out straight and found the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Gracia, which is a quiet unassuming little church in the center of town (and kinda funny since our family's village in Italy has a church of the same name: Santa Maria della Grazia!). Alicante isn't really a tourist destination, but it was sufficient for a one night layover before our flight to Ibiza the next day. We had a great dinner at an Italian restaurant before settling down for the night.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Road to Granada

Last night the four of us took a recommendation from our our adorable front desk concierge, Guillermo, on where we could get some great tapas. He sent us to down the promenade to La Bodega de Venencia. The gentle hill we walked up was lined with restaurants on both sides and at 10pm was packed with people for dinner. Most of Europe eats dinner late, if you didn't know, but then they also don't wake up or start business as early as we Americans do. Also, the Spanish (along with the Italians, Portuguese and Greeks) practice siesta so many workers don't actually finish their work days until 9 or so.
A German family kindly let us have their table and when we asked the wife to take our picture she told us they used to live in San Jose. What a coincidence! We order our cava and tapas at our outside table while we watch all the people walk by. Third worlders seem to be present everywhere in southern Europe (it was annoying as hell in Santorini and Mykonos getting harassed to buy crap while Miz Brazil and I were trying to lay on the beach a couple years ago) and they're out in force hocking junk while patrons are eating. They walk right up into the seated crowds and even though you tell them "no queremos nada" sometimes they'll argue with you anyway. One man kept pushing his fake watches in my face until I nearly yelled at him! Sorry for the detour, let me get back to telling you about our kick ass dinner! Priorities, right?
We order a round of cava and soon our waiter starts bringing our food. Grilled Serrano sausage, albondigas in a red sauce, shrimp sauteed in a garlic onion broth, jamon serrano (which I love because its like the Spanish version of proscuitto), Spanish cheese, meat croquettes and the patatas brava. These oven baked potato pieces were drizzled with this mildly spicy creamy cheese sauce which was outstanding! Everything was delicious and we felt ready to take on Puerto Banus again.
Of course when three pretty American girls and a Brazilian walk through a place like that we're going to get attention. In Puerto Banus they have club workers who offer drink deals trying to get you into their club. Free shots, two for ones and everything else. We just kept going and back to Lineker's we went where I received a funny but unique complement: a man told me my teeth were so pearly white and very I asked why was this unusual and he said British girls have yellow and brown teeth. I didn't mention my own cousin is British and her teeth are definitely NOT brown or yellow and she has a great smile. But I digress... We had a blast dancing, our bartender friend was being kind to us and my new green dress was a win. Sister and La Lopez bought keychains and a picture of the four of us to commemorate our time there. We had to wake up early this morning for the 0830 bus to Granada (which didn't actually arrive until 0845..sigh.. I guess my punctuality is still so very American) so we are all dragging. The direct bus is 2.5 hours to Granada.  
Granada is an interesting city. You can see the faint Moorish influences in the architecture, especially walking through the narrow lanes of the Alcaceira. Miz Brazil and I bought some items in the former souk while we waited for siesta to be over so we could check out the cathedral. We'll see the rest tomorrow with Sister and La Lopez.
Tonight, as the request of La Lopez, we had dinner in Sacromonte which is the historic gypsy district of Granada. Gypsies have resided there for nearly 500 years in the caves among the hills. They have also developed a particular style of flamenco called Zambra. We watched a zambra gitano show after dinner and even here you can see the remnants of the Moors. Its in the way the notes are cried out in the music, and even in the dancers features. It was amazing! One dancer's feet were so fast she kept double time to the beat with identifiable distinct steps. The sadness and longing of the music brought you back to an older time.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Marbella: A jewel in the Costa del Sol

Last night in Puerto Banus was quite an adventure. La Lopez and I took a taxi to the clubs while Sister napped and acclimated to the time change. We ended up at Lineker's pub which plays really good music and has friendly bartenders. There were no other Americans there and we were so spoiled I received a bracelet to drink free all night (which I didn't really take advantage and we danced our butts off! We rolled back into our hotel at 0330 and I finally got the sleep I'd been needing for a week!
Around midday we finally got into gear to walk around see the town of Marbella. Being in Andalusia, this area was under Moorish control for hundreds of years until the Arabs were booted out in 1492. Marbella still has the remains of a Moorish fortress. The main cathedral in town, La Iglesia del Encarnacion, was built in the 16th century on the foundation of a mosque which was destroyed after the Moors were defeated.
The church sits in a pretty little piazza lined with palms. A statue of St. Barnabas keeps watch over the cafes and the entrance to the cathedral. We covered our shoulders and walked in to see this beauty of Spanish baroque architecture. The whitewashed painted ceilings soared high above us, from the organ pipes guarded by angels to the heart stopping gold painted altar. Along the sides chapels were evenly spaced, each more amazing and humbling than the next. Sister and I stopped to say a prayer at the chapel of Our Lady before we left while La Lopez went to say a quick novena.
As we walked the narrow twisting and shady lanes of the old part of the town, which reminded me a lot of Venice or Mykonos Town, we ended up next to what could only be a shield wall. It turned out to be the Moorish fortress and the shield wall was still in very good condition. The tower anchoring the corner still had its arrow slits and along the wall I could still see the scaffolding holes from when it was built.
We sat down to lunch of caprese, shrimp fritters and salad mixto. Dessert was fresh Spanish style churros drizzled with chocolate and hot out of the oven. Holy crap they were good!
When we got back to our hotel Mix Brazil had finally arrived. Tonight we'll go out to Puerto Banus and see what else we can see.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Insomnia sucks

I usually don't wait until the last minute to pack for my trips but this time I did. My work schedule was so nuts I just didn't have the time. So there I was at 11pm packing and I have to be up at 4. Which really means I woke up at 3:30am due to my ridiculous insomnia lately. Couple that with copious amounts of champagne (courtesy of La Lopez) in the limo on the way to LAX and I feel pretty buzzed right
Traveling with two "Europe virgins" has been interesting. Its hard not to have La Lopez's enthusiasm rub off on me. Sister isn't really a fan of flying so the poor girl didn't exactly have the best ride to our first stop in Toronto, but I'm sure when we get to the first class lounge (passes courtesy of the president of the travel agency I work for) things will brighten up for her. The funniest thing so far is all the text messages and phone calls telling me to look out for her, like she's five and I'm going to lose her at the she's 33! But it is kind of cute nonetheless.
This morning we rolled into Switzerland for our last stop before heading to Malaga, Spain. I forgot to tell La Lopez the Germans have no sense of humor so it was funny watching her joke with the Swiss "TSA" people, and they had no expression whatsoever. Right now we're enjoying cappuccini and espresso while smelling all the pastries. I actually took an ambien and slept 80% of the flight here! Totally unheard of since I haven't been able to sleep the past two weeks.
The flight to Malaga was mellow and we napped some more. Flying over France and the interior of Spain was interesting. So much of it is still very rural. Portioned out farmland as far as the eye can see. Some areas are very mountainous and some very green, then out of no where a pretty lake comes into view with its water twinkling in the sunlight. We land at Malaga, the entry point of Spain's famous Costa del Sol.
A half hour bus ride later takes us to Marbella and our hotel, the Princesa Playa, which is right on the beach. We walked down the stairs onto the sand and into the water. Beautiful blue and green, undulating colors with the tide and waves, its the perfect middle between too cool and too warm. Absolutely refreshing! Nearby there is a beachside restaurant grilling freshly caught fish. The smell of barbecue and the glint of their silvery scales distract you as you walk up the stairs, just in time to see a horse drawn carriage go by the beach front lane.
Tonight we'll go to Puerto Banus for dinner and a night out. We plan in visiting Lineker's and few other pubs before our collective fatigue wears us down for the night.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The future of Girl and Her Stuicase

This week has brought on a brainstorm that just won't quit. Beyond the normal "where will I travel to in the next five years"? For the record, next year is the England and Wales road trip, but after that options I've been considering are Portugal, Croatia, France, Germany and Italy again.
Among the big questions I've been pondering (mainly due to being prodded by well meaning friends) is how I can make part of a living doing this. So, after lots of research I've been in contact with a travel agency in Irvine that is willing to host me as an independent travel agent. Yes, that's right, I'll be official!
The other thing I've been thinking about is opening up my yearly trips to more friends. Normally I just travel with a few people, but there is savings in numbers. Discounts can be negotiated with more people in attendance. I'm not saying I'm leading a tour here, although those who wish to tag along with my daily jaunts are welcome, but if you're looking for a cost efficient way to see someplace, this might be the way to do it. Case in point, the trip to Italy we three friends shared a room. Our total cost was about $3200 each roughly. That included airfare, hotels in Venice, Florence, Rome and Naples (total 16 nights), train tickets for three trips, and a day tour of Tuscany with wine tasting. Having looked at many land tours, you're going to pay that without the airfare, so this seems like a good idea.
So how about it folks? What are your thoughts? Who knows, maybe some day I'll be going up against Rick Steves! (Ok, I doubt it, but its super fun to think about anyway!)
Photos of Portugal - Featured Images
This photo of Portugal is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Photos of Croatia - Featured Images
This photo of Croatia is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Monday, March 25, 2013

Rock it All Night Long, Ibiza!

So I got to feeling guilty about not blogging for a couple of months. In my defense, we went through some work drama and I couldn't even think about traveling for a little bit. Now that my normal is back, it's back to planning and blogging.
When I asked Sister Suitcase if she wanted to go to Spain over instant message, she typed one word: IBIZA. I checked with my friend, La Lopez, to see what she thought. A resounding "Hell YES!" was heard from her cubicle. Ah yes, Ibiza. Known the world over for it's non-stop partying, beautiful beaches, and general summertime debauchery, I set out to see what there was to this wild gem of the Balearic Islands.
Photos of Ibiza - Featured Images
This photo of Ibiza is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Photos of Ibiza - Featured Images
This photo of Ibiza is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Wild might be a bit of an understatement. Ibiza is known as a world class venue for house music DJ's the world over. In fact, the music scene here is so big, they post the scheduling months ahead, and people arrange their plans to see their favorites. The clubs are open all night long and there is no such thing as being too tired. The phrase "sleep when you're dead" comes to mind.  The two most popular clubs on the island are Space and Pacha.This year Space kicks off it's season with the ever popular We Love party on June 9. This place is MASSIVE and has been rated the best club in the world this year. Get out your candy necklaces, beach clothing, hope you don't mind getting sweaty and dance until your heart leaps out of your mouth! There is no pretense here, its all about the music, so get down! Don't think it stops for daytime, either. Many beaches have clubs with music going all day long, like the infamous Bora Bora Club at Jet. If you're looking for a good place to stay without families around, stick to the Playa d'en Bossa area. It just so happens we are staying at Jet, since its right on the beach and good proximity to everything.

Photos of Ibiza - Featured Images
This photo of Ibiza is courtesy of TripAdvisor
So you have your night of partying and want to relax the next day. What else is there? In Ibiza Town there is a castle fortress called D'alt Villa. You can take your time strolling up the streets to the top where you can see out over the port. You can visit the old rustic Iglesia de San Rafael if you fancy some old buildings (which I totally do!). However, this island is known for its beaches. Hidden coves, wide expanses of sand, and heavenly waves greet you as you watch all the massive private yachts cruise by on the water. If you crave a day away, you can catch the ferry to Formentera out of Ibiza Town's port.
Pictures of Formentera - Traveler Photos
This photo of Formentera is courtesy of TripAdvisor

I've written about Formentera before. It's a stark departure from the wild partying of Ibiza but this may be just what you need to recover from it. Its an island filled with spas, yoga retreats and a slow, easy atmosphere intent on refreshing you. Clothing is optional at many beaches on these islands, so take care not to get offended. This is the Mediterranean after all, and most people in this part of the world do not give a hoot about our delicate Western sensibilities.
After napping in the soft sand all day, letting all the tension melt out of you in the sun, its time to head back to Ibiza. What to do tonight? hmmm... that's a tough call. Let's head off to Ushuaia, which is one of the hottest new clubs/beach hotels on the island. Getting tickets to these clubs isn't cheap, and unless you're used to paying the prices in Vegas, it might come as a shock. Tickets are on average 60 euro, for one person. You can check the club websites to buy ahead of time or check with your hotel. Some of the bigger ones have a ticket desk right there. Obviously the normal warnings to watch your surroundings and all that, do apply. Be prepared to see lots of drunken yobs from all over Europe hanging about, too. If you're not into being at something akin to Vegas on steroids, then stay away from Ibiza.

Photos of Ibiza - Featured Images
This photo of Ibiza is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Getting there: You can go by ferry or plane. We'll be flying, since the Spanish airline Vueling is super cheap and flies right to the island. For Formentera you can only get there by ferry.
Here's a small info article on the island with some pertinent numbers you might need or want.

So where will I be? I'll tell you. You can find me sitting under a palapa, with a giant drink in my hand listening to whoever is spinning. Either that or in the warm, clear water with my drink. After this spring and all my hard work, I sure as hell deserve it!