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Getting to Lisbon required an overnight train from Madrid, so it was a first experience for us! The quarters were extremely spacious, as you can tell from the photos (we basically didn’t have anywhere to walk once the luggage was in the cabin). We also had a ensuite shower on the way back so that we wouldn’t be smelly on the plane, which was much fun at 300 km/hr. Anyway, we survived to tell the tale.
We started our adventure in Belém, a half hour tram ride away from the downtown core. The above picture shows Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries), which stands by the ocean and is a celebration of the Portugese Age of Discovery, which led to a global mapping of the world.
Two of the main attractions were the Jerónimos Monastery and the Belém Tower (above), both UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Belém Tower was built as a defense system and ceremonial gateway to the city. Inside, we found some great views, as well as some claustrophobia-inducing niches.
A trek up a mountain brought us to the eerily empty Palácio Nacional da Ajuda (Ajuda National Palace). Seemingly forgotten by tourists, the palace was filled room after room with untouched furniture and exquisite art. Some of the rooms were in decay, and the silence of the building makes it seem almost haunted.
Back in the city’s core, we learned that tour tips weren’t joking around when they noted that Lisbon is a very hilly city. We got quite the workout from trying to navigate the maze of back-alley streets. There are many districts, such as the festive Bairro Alto pictured above.
The benefit to walking up numerous hills is the fantastic view from the top. From the above photo, you can see Castelo de São Jorge on the hill on the left, and the Vasco da Gama bridge on the horizon. Lisbon is famous for the red rooftops on their buildings.
The best part of Lisbon was the food – the Portuguese sure know how to use butter! I fell in love with pastéis de nata, their egg tart pastries – and I would greatly appreciate a tip on where to get these in Vancouver!
Our third city on the trip was Valencia, which also happens to be the third largest city in Spain. We stayed in la Plaza del Ayutamiento, right in the city centre. Two sides of the downtown area are surrounded by Jardín del Turia, a city park alongside the Turia river. The above photo was taken in Plaça de la Mare de Déu, the plaza next to the city’s cathedral and basilica.
The city is full of old remnants, with one of the most iconic being the above Torres de Serranos from the 14th century, historically used as Valencia’s main entrance, being one of twelve gates in the old city wall.
About half an hour away from the downtown core lies a cluster of futuristic buildings known as Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències (City of Arts and Sciences). Among these buildings are Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía (Queen Sofia Palace of Arts, top left) and L’Hemisfèric (top right), an IMAX theatre, planetarium and laserium.
Mike and I went to L’Oceanogràfic, the aquarium in this area. We particularly enjoyed walking through the shark and rays tube, as well as watching penguins waddle around.
The weather forecast for our time in Valencia was thunderstorms, and I was joking that their thunderstorms sure contained a lot of blue sky…
But alas, I spoke too soon. It wouldn’t be a real Guimond vacation without a bit of rain (or in this case, buckets and buckets of rain accompanied by lightning and thunder). We were out shopping and got caught in a downpour and had to race back to the hotel. At least that held off until we had seen most of the city!
Barcelona was the city where we stayed the longest during our two weeks in Spain and Portugal. It was a lively city full of shopping and amazing architecture. As a first, we stayed in a hostel (okay, so we had a private room and washroom, but there was no hairdryer, so I was totally out of my comfort zone). We arrived on my birthday, which we celebrated by watching the flamenco singer Diego El Cigala at Palau de la Música Catalana, an absolutely gorgeous venue.
I’m really tempted to call Barcelona Gaudi’s city. Most of the major attractions were designed by Gaudi, the most spectacular of which was the Sagrada Família (above). Its construction began in 1882, and its expected completion date is not until 2026 (a full century after Gaudi’s death). Every inch is a piece of art. The stained glass windows bring in natural light in pools of rainbows, and the view from looking up is breathtaking. Gaudi said “those who look for the laws of Nature as a support for their new works collaborate with the Creator” and his belief is evident in his imitation of a forest through the large beams reaching to the ceiling.
On a smaller scale, the city is also dotted with smaller buildings designed by Gaudi, such as Casa Batlló. Common themes among his designs include use of natural light, plenty of colours, and curved surfaces, as he believed “There are no straight lines or sharp corners in nature. Therefore, buildings must have no straight lines or sharp corners.”
He also designed the whimsical Parc Güell, which felt a bit like walking through Alice’s Wonderland, and finding life-sized gingerbread houses. We were blessed with incredible weather during our stay.
Outside of Gaudi’s universe, Barcelona is incredibly modern. There are many different neighbourhoods to explore, with mazes of side streets full of shopping. We spent a relaxing afternoon in the waterfront harbour Port Vell, where we watched the bridge open for boats to pass through.
My favourite meal was in Barcelona at La Paradeta, a self-service restaurant where you point and pick raw seafood at the front, which they cook immediately and the meal is picked up at the designated window. It was a very fun experience, and the food was incredibly tasty as well as reasonably priced.
By the infamous La Rambla street is Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, a large public market with the most amazing fruit juices. It also has a large variety of fruit/vegetable stands, hams, cheese, seafood… everything.
I did not attend any bullfighting shows, as I do not agree with the idea of killing for sport, and I was pleased to learn that Barcelona (and the rest of the Catalonia community) had banned bullfighting. Not only did they pass this ban, but they turned an old ring, Las Arenas, into an awesome shopping centre. Needless to say, I have a great amount of respect for the city for being able to balance historical heritage with modern advancement.
This month, Mike and I went to Spain and Portugal to celebrate our birthdays and anniversary. Our first stop was Madrid, where despite a few language barriers, we found the locals to be extremely friendly and helpful. One thing that surprised me greatly was that the central core was much smaller than I expected, and we were able to walk everywhere, even though we were conveniently staying next to a Metro station. Another surprise was the significant number of Japanese restaurants in the area… not that we tried any, being snobby Vancouverites (and the fact that sushi was something like 20 euros for a few simple maki rolls). Our first night was spent watching a flamenco show over paella, which was just about the most Spanish thing we could think of to do. On our second night, we wandered into a tiny eight-table restaurant, and was ironically seated next to a couple also from Vancouver (it’s a small world after all). Now that we’re home, I might have to take up their tip on going to Espana in the West End to get my dose of Spanish tapas in Vancouver.
It was a particularly exciting time in Madrid due to two things – first, the World Cup (although Spain unfortunately did not do very well… neither did Portugal; we’re quite the bad luck charms). Secondly, King Juan Carlos abdicated his throne and was replaced by his son, King Felipe VI, during our visit. This meant we were unable to visit the Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace of Madrid, pictured above) as intended, but it was neat to see the troops practicing outside the massive building for the king’s arrival.
Street performers and musicians were rampant in tourist areas, especially at Puerta del Sol (above). This plaza leads to a number of shopping and eating areas. Although busy, crowds moved at a leisurely pace, which made Madrid the perfect place to start our vacation.
Madrid also boasts a relaxing park in the city, Parque del Buen Retiro, which contains the beautiful Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace, above). The park was very large (we got quite lost), and even has an artificial lake at the centre where boats were available for rent.
Madrid was great to wander even when stores were closed due to amazing shutter art. A few of my favourites are pictured above.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!
Last night, I went to Raw Canvas again with a couple coworkers (yes, I’m addicted to that place) and painted this! I have called it Moonlight Sonata =) For those who have not yet checked it out, I highly recommend visiting Raw Canvas – they currently have a socialshopper deal going on, plus an extra $5 off thanks to Vancity Buzz here.