48 Hours in Seville on Budget

With plenty of seriously beautiful streets like this, it’s impossible to resist Seville. 

The moment I stepped out of Plaza de las Armas station to catch a bus to my hostel, I instinctively knew that Seville was right for me. Unlike the grim Cordoba, Seville was gloriously sunny and warm. Watching the city go about its business from the bus’ windows, I couldn’t help but chuckle because it was just so lovely and relaxing. In fact, so much so that I couldn’t be bothered when I missed my bus stop and thus had to walk up and down the avenue to find my hostel for about 20 minutes.

Seville is the capital and the largest city in the Andalusian autonomous community. Like other cities in Andalusia, the history of Seville is tumultuous with a fair share of wars and conflicts. But that makes for a fascinating read and the utterly enchanting contemporary Seville where the influences of Muslim and Christianity as well as old and new architecture happily co-exist.

Here’s the thing, though: no amount of history can sugarcoat the fact that Seville is an expensive city for shoestring travelers, which I happen to be one. It’s very commercialized. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that tourism makes up the biggest chunk of the city’s income, although we all have to give credit to its government for being able to commercialize without selling out.

Fret not, though. I’m here to tell you that Seville is still immensely enjoyable even when you’re on a tight budget. Below are several things I did while in Seville that were either free of charge or quite affordable. You can do the same with satisfaction guaranteed 😉

1. Wandering aimlessly in the Old Town. Cost: 000.

There’s no doubt that Seville, like many other cities in Europe, is best explored on foot because the city, or at least its most important parts such as the Old Town, is quite compact. While I can’t promise you that wandering around the Old Town will give you the most authentic Seville experience, I can promise that you will get to absorb so much colors, shapes and smell along the way that you can’t help but feel happy and inspired.

Don’t these graffiti artworks put a smile on your face?

Smurf, why so sad? Don’t you know that you’re in the Disneyland of Spain?

Whoever did this to the rolling door deserves a pat on the back.

A lesson in color combination #1 (Santa Cruz neighborhood)

A lesson in color combination #2 (Santa Cruz neighborhood)

A lesson in color combination #3 (Patio de Banderas)

Flower balconies are everywhere in Europe. Charming and cost-effective to sweep people from far-flung places off their feet.

Due to time and (mostly) budget constraints, I didn’t get to go inside Seville Cathedral. So this is all I’ve got: the tower of Seville Cathedral from afar, flanked by ubiquitous orange trees. 

The ‘Adriática’ building is beautiful for sure. But I find it slightly cheesy at the same time.

I didn’t want to be sneaky, so I did ask her permission for some photos. 

And this really reminds me of Asia.

According to Matthias in Barcelona, another name for churros con chocolate is cholesterol. LOL. 

Undoubtedly the most beautiful bench I have ever seen!

So atmospheric at dusk, right? 

Right.

2. Marveling at Plaza de España. Cost: 000.

I have realized that I don’t have an affinity for plazas (or squares in English). I rarely went to Times Square when I lived in New York. When I was in Rome, I probably spent 3 minutes each at Piazza di Spagna and Piazza Navona. And when I was in Lisbon (posts are coming, by the way), I wasn’t that into Rossio Square either.

But by the time I left Plaza de España, I was so glad that I had chosen to visit. Its architecture truly is marvelous. I highly recommend you guys go upstairs for the view and some quiet time to soak it all in. 

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3. Spending an afternoon in El Arenal neighborhood. Cost: 000.

El Arenal is another neighborhood in the historical centre of Seville. Though being just a stone’s throw away from the perpetually crowded Santa Cruz, El Arenal feels conspicuously less chaotic and more real. Notable attractions in the hood include: Torre del Oro, La Real Maestranza (see below), and Atarazanas Reales de Sevilla. From what I heard, El Arenal is the place to be if you’re the nightlife type.

I feel like orange and red are two signature colors of Seville or any other Andalusian city for that matter.

One sun-drenched winter afternoon in El Arenal. No complaint.

Based on what I read, apartment buildings in El Arenal are easy on the eyes but not easy to live in. They’re expensive and cramped.

If you want to visit Seville undisturbed, do so on weekends during off-season.

Does this have anything to do with popularity? 

4. Enjoying the inspirational view from Metropol Parasol. Cost: 3 euros.

Metropol Parasol is a really peculiar structure in and of itself, but it gets even more peculiar considering that it’s put in the middle of Seville next to all the old-world buildings. It feels completely out of place. However, don’t let that deter you from paying a visit. Reason #1: It’s supposedly the largest wooden structure in the world. Reason #2: The panoramic views of Seville from the top of the structure are absolutely breath-taking. Reason #3: A free drink is included in the ticket, which is real nice.

Metropol Parasol has such a futuristic feel to it.

Believe it or not, I was shaking pretty violently when taking all these photos because height terrifies me.

See, I’m not lying. The views are gorgeous. 

The shape of the building is like a mushroom…

To me, it looks more like waffles. Ha!

[Read more…]

A Day In Córdoba

The Roman bridge of Córdoba on a gloomy winter day. As its name suggests, the bridge was originally built by the Romans. 

I wish I were a happy traveler. You know, someone who doesn’t sweat the small stuff and thus manages to enjoy himself no matter what. Psychologically speaking, I’m nowhere near that zen state of mind yet, but the good news is I have been actively working on it. Whenever plans go awry, I try to remind myself that I’m actually very, very lucky to be in that place at that moment.

Practicing gratitude allowed me to enjoy my visit to Cordoba a lot more than I could have otherwise.

Cordoba is one of the medium-sized cities in the Andalusia region in the south of Spain. It’s now the capital of the province of Cordoba, but going back thousands of years it was the capital of a Roman province, the capital of an Arab State (Al-Andalus) and a Caliphate. Coupled the fascinating history with the fact that it lies between Granada, where I had been spending the first two days of my time in the region, and Seville- my last destination in Spain, I asked myself why not a quick jaunt. The day I left Granada for Cordoba was exactly how it had been on my arrival, cold and drizzling and depressing. Oh Granada and your climatic sense of humor.

The bus trip from Granada to Cordoba was quick and uneventful, but the one from the bus station to my hostel was a different story. What should have been a 15-minute ride ended up taking almost an hour because I told the bus driver to inform me when we got to the very last stop instead of the seventh stop. It wasn’t until I no longer saw any hotel or restaurant but barren, leafless trees, run-down apartment buildings and highways that I began to sense something was not right. After a brief exchange with the bus driver who barely spoke any English but was very good at giving scolding looks that screamed “I knew it. Why in the hell would this Asian kid go to that area of town?”, I learned that I’d stay on the bus until the last stop and wait for it to turn around. My heart sank a little.

It must have been starvation rather than carelessness that led me to that transportation misadventure. I’d be lying to you if I said that the “oh I hate Cordoba” thought didn’t pop up in my mind because it really did. But I quickly calmed down and convinced myself that few if any visitor would get to do this “free tour” and see the real and raw Cordoba. The one that doesn’t include magnificent churches, vivid walls, flower-filled patios and inviting bars and restaurants.

Starvation had to be cured quickly before my brain continued to malfunction, so I went straight to Bar Rafalete after checking in. “Excellent” was how the hostel receptionist described the restaurant, but my lunch turned out to leave a lot to be desired. The real problem, however, was the way I was served shoved the food. No smile, no “thank you” back. I really didn’t want to believe that the waiter hated me so later that evening I googled restaurant services in Spain (yes, that’s who I am) and learned that bad services are not that unusual in Spain. Waiters there don’t live on tips like their counterparts in the States do. The knowledge surely made me feel better.

Ensalada Col al Ajillo or cabbage salad. 2.5 euros and too salty.  

Gambas al Ajillo or shrimp in some kind of sauce. 8 euros and eerily similar in look and taste to a dish we have here in Vietnam. 

The brightest spot of my short 24-hour stay in town was without a doubt the visit to the Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba, also known as Mezquita. It was originally built as a mosque in the 8th century, but was turned into a Christian cathedral later. The moment I stepped inside this impressive structure, all my doubts about whether I had made the wrong choice of squeezing Cordoba in my itinerary was dispelled. It also didn’t hurt that visitors were sparse, which allowed me to absorb every corner and detail undisturbed.

The intricate outside wall of the Mezquita. 

Some of the 856 columns inside the Mezquita. 

The excruciatingly stunning Prayer Hall.

The artificial light adds such a lovely warmness to the hall. 

A close-up of the terracotta and white-striped arches.

It isn’t an European church without some insanely intricate vaulted ceiling. 

…and spectacular dome.

Stained glass window is pretty essential too. 

In terms of general architecture, Cordoba pales in comparison to that of Granada and Seville at least in vibrancy. Or you might say I just picked the wrong time of the year to visit Cordoba.

But the city itself has no shortage of oranges. Ours for the taking or not, I’m not quite sure. 

Personally, I really love this photo because it perfectly epitomizes what capturing a moment is all about. What if I had been one second earlier or later?

 I should have gone for oranges as afternoon snack, but I couldn’t because this empanadas was too tempting.  [Read more…]

The Ultimate Reason Why We All Come to Granada?

Islamic architecture inside the Generalife, confused dasher, explore granada in 48 hours, tips to visit the alhambra, the Palacio de Generalife, the sultan's leisure palaces, pebble walkaway in the garden, white washed houses of granada andalusia spainThe very pretty white-washed houses and the stunning sky of Granada.

Saying that the Alhambra is the ultimate reason why everyone comes to Granada would be a bit of a stretch. I know several travelers who skipped it entirely when they were in town. That being said, my hunch is that 96 percent of people who go to Granada go to the Alhambra.

I am part of that 96 percent, and had a really lovely time there. But like with Granada, my visit started off on the wrong foot.

– My appointed time into the Nazrid Palaces (the most remarkable part of the attraction) was at 2PM, but through a fault of my own I didn’t set off until 1.45PM. Thus, I walked ran as fast as I possibly could. It didn’t help that Granada is very hilly (think: San Francisco). By the time I arrived, I was so exhausted that I could barely speak, let alone continuing to walk and absorbing everything.

– As a directionally challenged person, I headed to the Palacio de Generalife instead of the Nazrid Palaces where I was supposed to be first. The more I walked, the more puzzling it got because nothing looked like the Alhambra that I had seen in photos prior to my visit.

– I realized my mistake after chatting with fellow visitors, but it was almost 4PM. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown because I was about to become the only person in history of mankind who went inside the Alhambra but had no freaking idea whatsoever about the Nazrid Palaces.

– I thought about giving up, but for some reason I didn’t. I trekked toward the palaces and was denied at the entrance. I desperately pleaded my case with the guard, but he told me he wasn’t the one in charge and that I would have to go the ticket officer nearby and explained my situation.

– On the short way to the ticket booth, I tried to come up with all the excuses of why I was late. I was lost because I just got to Granada. I had a gallbladder attack and had to rest at the hostel. The stairs in the Palacio de Generalife were too slippery I tripped myself and hurt my ankles…

– I arrived and found three other visitors trying to do what I was about to do. Is it racist if I mention that all of us are Asian? Fortunately, the ticket officer sympathized and changed our appointed time slots. I was not denied entry anymore.

Without further ado, here is my visit in summary. Intricate wall patterns inside the Palacio de Generalife, the sultan’s leisure palaces.

Mirador de San Nicolas is the top spot for a panoramic view of Granada, but the view from the Generalife is quite inspirational as well. 

Islamic architecture inside the Generalife.

Pebble walkway in the garden. Yes, that is the amazingness of the Alhambra.

I counted my lucky stars that my visit was on such a gorgeous day. The following day was quite dreary and rainy. 

The kind of view that never ever gets old. 

Here is the beginning of the Nazrid Palaces tour. Islamic architecture in all its glory. 

Intricate arabesque pattern.

The obligatory shot of Patio de los Arrayanes (Court of the Myrtles) in Nasrid Palaces.

It used to be called the Patio of the Pond or the Reservoir (Patio del Estanque o de la Alberca).

The insanely stunning star-shaped ceiling in the Hall of the Abencerrajes. This is one of the places that I think no camera could fully capture the opulence and intricacy. 

[Read more…]

50 Shades of Granada Sky

Can I have this forever?

The sky in Europe never ceases to amaze me.

From RomeFlorenceVenice to Paris and Barcelona, there is something so magical and awe-inspiring about the endless sky in the old continent that has such a heady effect on me and just leaves me wanting for more. I’m not sure if it has to do with topography or pollution but since moving back to Hanoi, I have been seriously deprived of beautiful sunrise/sunset- something I had plenty of in New York. But stupid me took it for granted.

In the previous post, I recounted how Granada gradually swept me off my feet. However, I didn’t mention the defining moments, which occurred at Mirador de San Nicolas and had everything to do with the sky and light of Granada. I feel like I would do its breath-taking beauty a disservice if I didn’t dedicate an entire post to it. When you’re in Granada, you absolutely can NOT miss this spot. Yes, it’s touristy but the view is unbelievably inspirational. And it’s free.

I went during the winter months, so of course it was a bit windy up there. But come spring or fall (summer might be unbearably hot as far as I’m concerned), I can’t imagine how heavenly it will be. I loved Mirador de San Nicolas so much that I came twice and spent a total of 7 hours there in the span of 48 hours I had in Granada. Despite the crowd, both times gave rise to grand moments of tranquility and clarity. I might be the only one I know personally who has this over-consuming desire to see this vast world and I might never be well-off because of it, but I know in my heart that I’m on the right track.

Enough of ramblings. Here come the photos. Mirador de San Nicolas sits on top of Albaycin, the Arab and Moorish quarter of Granada. With a full vista of the Alhambra and the white mountain range of Sierra Nevada as a backdrop, Mirador de San Nicolas is inarguably the best panoramic spot in town. I arrived at around 4-ish on my first day when giant patches of cloud were floating in the blue sky. I thought, “wow, this is really gorgeous”.

Half an hour later, apocalyptic clouds started forming on the other part of the sky, shadowing the sprawling city below. I thought, “oh Granada, you’re so going to get wet”.

Cloud and cross, quite a foreboding combination, right?  

Meanwhile, the sky turned a beautiful purple color on the other side. The whole scene looked more like the end of autumn than the midst of winter.

Back to that other side, angry clouds had evaporated. Rays of sunlight were peeking through layers of cloud; Granada was blessed. 

I could have gone somewhere else, but I loved what I had seen on the first day so much that I made my way back to Mirador de San Nicolas the next day. Plus, when I saw this light, I had an inkling something spectacular was going to happen. 

The golden light in Granada at 6.30-ish PM. 

It was getting dark. I was about to head down to go back to my hostel when this dramatic sunset happened all of a sudden. Saying I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. I was beyond overwhelmed. It was Granada kissing me goodbye in the most dramatic fashion…

[Read more…]

How Granada Won Me Over

This is how Granada looked this winter. New York and Paris, eat your heart out. 

Before you dive in, here is a little treat for your ears. I’m feeling utterly useless right now because I don’t have the name and address of this bar. There is this unidentified name (La Cueva Del Gato) in my journal that I have googled, but nothing clear comes up. If you happen to know this place, do say it out loud in the comment section. The internet and I would highly appreciate that. Anyway, you’ll barely see anything in the video because the room was candlelit, rendering my iPhone kind of incapable. That’s why I said it’s for the ears, not the eyes 🙂

I’m not a frugal person. Well, at least, that’s how I think about myself. But when something is so cheap that it almost sounds like free, I’m willing to scoop low and get my hands real dirty to own it. Especially if it’s airfare.

Low airfare deals give me the ultimate cheap thrill.

Seasoned backpackers to Europe keep gushing about how they occasionally bag dirt cheap airline tickets to fly between countries. Such stories always turned me green with envy because I had never ever been able to catch any travel deal in my entire life and it started making me question if there was anything wrong with me.

This time, as soon as I knew for sure that I’d travel to Europe, I made it my mission to get those elusive tickets. Partly because my budget was tight, and partly because they would be the badge of honor, the external validation I desperately needed for my self worth 🙂 So, I lurked around travel sites multiple times per day every day for two months before the departure date. Hard work certainly paid off as my Ryanair tickets from Paris to Barcelona, Barcelona to Malaga, Lisbon to Paris were all 19 euros. (The ticket itself was just 2 or 3 euros before taxes and miscellaneous charges.) “Are you fucking with me?” was the common response when I told friends and people I met.

The thing is cheap and comfort do not necessarily go hand in hand. My flight from Barcelona to Malaga taught me that very well. Since the flight left at an ungodly hour (6:15) in the morning and I didn’t want to hail a taxi at 4AM that certainly would have cost more than the flight ticket itself, I hauled ass out of Casa Consell at midnight to get on the last airport express bus of the day at Plaça de Catalunya. The bus ticket was €5.90.

I arrived at Barcelona-El Prat Airport 40 minutes later. As a naturally resourceful person, I quickly turned my backpack into a pillow, my coat into a blanket, the flat hard bench into a bed and dozed off until check-in time. Oh boy, it was a long night! But thank the high and mighty, the flight was uneventful and landed at Malaga safe and sound and on time to boot.

(Tip: To visit Granada, you can fly into Federico García Lorca Granada-Jaén Airport or Málaga-Costa del Sol Airport. Granada airport is only 12 kilometers away from the centre. You can take the shuttle to central Granada for a few euros. Malaga airport, on the other hand, is in Malaga. To reach Granada, you have to take the ALSA bus to Granada bus station for about 10 euros and then take a local bus to your hotel for about 2 euros. The whole trip takes approximately two hours. In my case, the flight ticket plus the bus tickets were still cheaper than a flight ticket to Granada airport.)

However, for the first three hours, the deck was really stacked against Granada.

I was understandably frazzled after spending a total of 12 hours at airports, on airplane and 4 different buses. To put things into perspective, driving or taking the train from Barcelona to Granada takes around 7-8 hours. Flight duration is 90 minutes.

It was annoyingly cold and rainy when I arrived, a far cry from the sun-drenched Barcelona.

Funky Meridiano Hostel was a real let-down, especially when compared with Casa Consell even though the prices were essentially the same. The room was small, dimly lit thus kind of suffocating. There was no wifi in the room. The kitchen was so-so.

The lunch I had at Restaurante Al Pie de La Torre was also disappointing. I was recommended there, and it surely looked the most promising on the street. For €13, I got a three-course lunch that I ate with trepidation. It included:

Mediocre salad mix that had eggs and ham, my two absolute no-nos.

A main dish of pork, potato and veggies that was too oily and salty.

And an underwhelming dessert. 

My head kept screaming: “Barcelona I miss you. Why the hell did I leave you for this?” 

Well, it seemed like Granada was a bit insecure and didn’t like to be hated so after reading my thoughts, she quickly cleaned up her act.

The lovely Plaza Bibarrambla, filled with restaurants, sidewalk cafes and small shops.

The facade of Granada Cathedral basking in sunshine.

Once I stepped away from the centre a little bit, I began to see her sexier, edgier side, which I absolutely love.

A slightly hilly street leading to the legendary Alhambra. I promise we’ll talk about it a separate post.

Then comes Albaycin, the most charming part in my opinion. It’s the Arab and Moorish district of Granada where you feel like being straddled between Europe and Africa. Happily so, though. 

I fell head over heels in love with the picturesque narrow winding streets that I had to come back the next day when it felt and looked more like winter. No, actually, more like autumn. 

[Read more…]

10 reasons why I’m crazy about Barcelona. Number 10 is a shitty one (Part 3)

Like the way we do it here in the third world, but way more organized.

Updated: Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of the series. In 3,513 words I share with you why Barcelona is such a special city. Now your turn: what about Barcelona that you adore? What is your favorite place to eat? Next time I visit Barcelona, what do I absolutely have to see? Fire away in the comment section below 🙂

6. Travel Bound Barcelona Free Walking Tours

When I went to Europe for the first time (remember Italy?), I was advised by fellow travelers to join free walking tours whenever I visit a new city in Europe as those tours do a good job of walking us through the history and layout of the city. I didn’t get to go on one in Italy and Paris, so this time in Barcelona I marked it high priority on my agenda. To put it another way, Barcelona took my free walking tour virginity. But after what transpired, I was just happy losing it 🙂

There are several free tours running in the city as far as I know, but I opted for Travel Bound at the suggestion of my guesthouse Casa Consell and obviously the reviews on TripAdvisor. Detailed information about the tour can be found here.

Now, I don’t want to generalize and promise you an amazing time because how much fun you have will be determined by your tour guide. However, if Matthias (from Sweden who has been living in Barcelona for nearly a decade if memory serves me right) leads your group, rest assured that it’s going to be fun and informative. He’s articulate, knowledgable and energetic. And pretty funny to boot.

The tour visited Las Ramblas and La Boqueria market, both of which I had no intention of going. The fresh food and snacks at La Boqueria were awesome. But Las Ramblas, like Avenue des Champ-Élysées, I found overrated. Sorry!

Here’s a caveat: even though it’s a free walking tour, we are expected to have some tip at the ready when the tour ends. Why? Because your tour guide isn’t living on just air and water. In fact, they earn a living by guiding you. (It’s communicated clearly at the beginning of the tour though most people who go on free walking tours probably already know how it works.) The tip is NOT mandatory, and there’s no minimum amount of tip. You tip whichever amount you feel right. I personally find this tipping thing pretty great because it motivates (hopefully) the guide to do an excellent job. How do I know? Because I was once a waiter, and you have no idea how crazy hard I whored myself out every night. LOL. Bottom line is I think it’s more of common courtesy than anything else.

The reason I’m broaching this subject is because something happened in my group that made me think for the rest of my time in Barcelona. Our group consisted of 7 (or 8) persons, mostly university students and 20-something working adults from several nationalities. There was this guy, aged 30, from Slovenia who was in Barcelona for a conference and so had a day off to explore. Let’s call him X for the sake of brevity. Out of respect, I won’t share his background and other personal details he shared with me.

X was nice and appeared to be knowledgeable about history, religion and architecture. His knowledge made our discussions a bit more lively, I have to admit. Imagine if everyone in the group were like me and had little knowledge of Christianity and European history, the guide would definitely be discouraged.

 Dried everything at La Boqueria

When the tour came to an end with Matthias thanking us and saying goodbye, X told me that he had to leave right away because he had “this thing” to attend to. Out of curiosity, I asked him his thoughts on the tour and if he was going to tip. He loved the tour but said: “no need for tip, it’s supposed to be free. And I don’t have any money with me. I need to go to the bank.” Then he left.

I was stunned by his action. But I’m not sure if I was more bothered by the fact that he left without even saying something to our guide and tipping, the former of which was downright rude in my book, or by his excuse of not having any money whatsoever at hand. I might sound harsh here, but anyone who’s traveling and telling you at the same time that he/she doesn’t even have one or two euros (or any local currency for that matter) for change is totally bullshitting.

When someone is enthusiastic about what he does and does it well, I find it important to support him in any way I can. It can be a compliment, money or whatever; what matters is the person is aware that we appreciate what he’s doing. That’s my belief system. I went over the incident many times in my head during the following days, and the best conclusion I could come to was that not everyone thinks the same. And it’s alright. The whole point of traveling far and wide is to be less judgmental and more willing to embrace others, isn’t it?

7. Gràcia neighborhood 

A gloriously beautiful day at Plaza del Sol. 

Given my penchant for quiet, charming residential part of any city I visit, it comes as no surprise that I absolutely adore Gràcia. And so should you!

The neighborhood is only 1.5 miles away from the perennially touristy Passeig de Gracia, but the atmosphere here feels significantly more authentic, relaxing and artistic. It’s full of narrow streets, intricate terraces, small restaurants, bars, wine shops, antique stores, boutiques, thrift stores etc. Literally perfect for eating and shopping and wandering and people-watching. 

Proof that Gràcia is a magnet for street artists. I’m obsessed with graffiti arts. 

8. Nou Candanchú (Plaza De la Vila de Gracia, 9, 08012 Barcelona)

I’m definitely not a hardcore foodie but before I visit a city, I research til my eyes bleed about restaurants where I could get the best bang for the buck. I don’t remember where I read about this solid gem (perhaps the travel section of the NYTimes published a few years ago?), but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter because I’m passing it on to you now 🙂confused dasher, the perfect 3 day itinerary in barcelona, nou candanchu review, where to eat on budget in barcelona, barcelona best cheap eatsNou Candanchú is conveniently located in Gràcia– perfect for a lunch stop. I can’t say with certainty about other times during the day, but when I was there, there were only locals lunching by themselves or with families and friends. Quite atmospheric! Some might get self-conscious, but between you and me I have to confess I do enjoy being a white tiger in the zoo 😀

The restaurant garners rave reviews for its escalivada, a simple traditional Catalan dish of roasted vegetable usually garnished with some meat or fish. What went in mine were roasted peppers, eggplants, olives and anchovies. Describing food isn’t my strong suit, so I’ll just say that for around 10 euros, you get something that’s equally as good as sex, if not better. Heartily recommend! [Read more…]

10 reasons why I’m crazy about Barcelona. Number 10 is a shitty one (Part 2)

Updated: Here are Part 1 and Part 3 of the series. In 3,513 words I share with you why Barcelona is such a special city. Now your turn: what about Barcelona that you adore? What is your favorite place to eat? Next time I visit Barcelona, what do I absolutely have to see? Fire away in the comment section below 🙂

2. The architectural mix

For people like me who are interested in architectural photography, Barcelona offers plenty of actions thanks to its mesmerizing juxtaposition of old and new styles of architecture. I wish I had stayed longer because I could easily spend days strolling and snapping away the many whimsical buildings.

First, there is the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic) where we can get a quick fix of the quintessential European medieval architecture and labyrinth streets. Wandering the Quarter in early morning especially on Sundays is an absolute treat you wouldn’t want to miss. Take a cue from the man in this photo below. L’Eixample is also my favorite district to wander around as it houses some of the most interesting modernista buildings. Here is the magnificent Casa de les Punxes (the House of Spikes), a Gothic castle in the middle of Avinguda Diagonal that I came across when I was walking back to my hostel. The property is privately owned so it’s not possible to go inside, but the exterior itself is a visual treat already.On Passeig de Gràcia, the styles vary from this building filled with balconies…to this large office building with space for shops on the ground floor.

3. Casa Consell (Consell de Cent, 324, Principal 2, 08007 Barcelona)

Casa Consell is NOT the most expensive place I have stayed during all my travels. On the contrary, it’s one of the cheapest (20 euros per night for a single room) but has wound up being my most favorite accommodation to date. It’s a stone’s throw away from Passeig de Gràcia where Casa Batlló and La Pedrera are situated (you can shop until you drop at the likes of Chanel, Ferragamo, Dolce & Gabbana etc to boot). It was spotless. However, the reason why I fell in love with Casa Consell is it made me feel like I was in my future apartment.

I mean, how could I not love a sun-drenched living room like this? This is the kind of living room I always have in mind for my own apartment.And a sun-drenched terrace right outside where I enjoyed my french toast and fruit every morning. The spacious kitchen was certainly the cherry on top.  [Read more…]

10 reasons why I’m crazy about Barcelona. Number 10 is a shitty one (Part 1)

Updated: Here are Part 2 and Part 3 of the series. In 3,513 words I share with you why Barcelona is such a special city. Now your turn: what about Barcelona that you adore? What is your favorite place to eat? Next time I visit Barcelona, what do I absolutely have to see? Fire away in the comment section below 🙂

Hello/Bonjour/Hola/Óla bomdia you guys.

I’m back. Really, really back. Actually, I was back last Tuesday evening, but haven’t got around to blogging until now because: #1. I always need at least a week to regroup after I come back from somewhere amazing and especially this time to make peace with the cold reality that my savings have been reset to zero and thus Europe won’t happen again until…I-have-no-fucking-idea when, and #2. I had to go back to my dead-end job the following morning. Being chained to the desk for 9 hours has proved to be exceptionally helpful in impeding the readjustment process.

All excuses aside, I have to say that I couldn’t be any happier about being broke because I really had one unforgettable trip. In fact, it’s quite likely the most memorable traveling experience I have had to date. Neither because I got to stay in luxurious hotels (reality: I stayed in hostels, 10-person dorms, guesthouses and yes, 2-star hotel for a night) nor because I got to try Michelin-starred restaurants in any of the city I visited (reality: my eating was all over the place, but no meal cost me more than 15 euros. In fact, most meals cost around 10 euros or less.) Nevertheless, meeting people who mustered up all their courage to leave established careers and material possessions behind and are leading unconventional lives and seeing all the sights that I saw truly created great memories and lingering food for thoughts. I was incredibly lucky to not get sick at all throughout the trip. Getting sick was my (and the family’s) top concern because I have a very unreliable digestive system. Eating the wrong food (wrong in my dictionary is normal in yours. Two prime examples are eggs and cheese) could make my stomach violently sick.

Admittedly, I had no idea what I was talking about when I said I would do my best to blog on the road. For me, that truly is mission impossible as I usually passed out when I returned to my hostels. But I was smart enough to note down things I experienced and stories fellow travelers shared with me, so rest assured that there will be stories to be told, personal thoughts to be shared and obviously many photos to be uploaded in the coming weeks. It’s funny how now I’ll deem a trip incomplete if I don’t write anything about it. 

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Now, back to the main stuff. I have another confession to make: I wasn’t always curious about Spain. My passing knowledge of the country consisted of: #1. Spanish is their language & #2. David Beckham supposedly penetrated his assistant a few times while he was playing for Real Madrid in Spain. (LOL. Though I really wish it had been all fabrication. I love Victoria too much). Anyway, what else? Nothing. I wasn’t even sure of their capital. Madrid or Barcelona? There was just no limit on my ignorance 🙁

Towards the end of last summer, I met up with a friend over coffee on a rainy day who was living in Barcelona at that point and we chit-chatted about traveling and Europe. I remember very vividly him telling me with excitement and pride that “Barcelona is the best in Europe. Affordability, weather, food, lifestyle, architecture…the city has it all.”

Now, when someone makes such a bold statement, I’ll just nod until my neck hurts and forget about it the instance the meeting is over. But given that he had traveled around Europe a fair bit and was actually living there then, I did give him the benefit of the doubt. So my curiosity was piqued. And the idea of Spain being the next destination in Europe after Italy and France began auspiciously.

Fast forward 5 months later, I was in Barcelona and having a major Vicky Christina Barcelona moment. Kidding 🙂 But the magical architecture of Barcelona he mentioned? Check!What I used to do was telling you all the nitty-gritty details of each day on the road like the time I woke up, the weather when I woke up, what I ate for breakfast, yadda, yadda, yadda. I mean, c’mon, seriously, did I really do that? It has since dawned on me that the format could be helpful to some but not friendly to most and extremely time-consuming for me. So, that kind of writing won’t ever happen again. Instead, the new format will be determined by my experience in each place.

Here, I will let you in on 10 highlights of my time in Barcelona, which is one of the very few cities that makes me feel a burning desire to return. Up to this point, Paris and Barcelona are the only two in Europe in the list. (Italy, I love your beautiful and charming cities and would be over the moon excited if I get to come back. But if not, I’m totally cool with that.) I didn’t stay in Barcelona long enough to start seeing its less flattering qualities, so there won’t be things-I-really-hate-in-Barcelona post to counteract this one. In addition, this love letter to Barcelona will be divided into 3 parts simply because it’s impossible to condense the entire content and around 90 photos into one. Without further ado, let’s delve into all the awesomeness that is Barcelona.Sagrada Família amazing ceiling , confused dasher, ultimate guide to gaudy architecture in barcelona, barcelona 3 day itinerary, 10 best things to do in Barcelona, barcelona in winter1. The mind-blowing genius of Gaudí

Photography, especially architectural photography, figures prominently in my travels, so the second-to-none masterpieces of Antoni Gaudí remain the number one highlight for me. Gaudí’s work alone has made Barcelona unique, plain and simple. I visited some out-of-this-world churches and museums in Italy and France, and while their grandeur completely blew me away, their heavy religious themes more often than not fall outside my realm of knowledge. Coming from South East Asia with the upbringing that I had, I know too little about God or Christianity as a religion to fully apprehend and appreciate many things I saw.

But with most of Gaudí’s work in which nature was the origin, things begin to make a bit more sense and become more relatable though how he managed to incorporate flowers, plants, ocean, dragons among other things into his mesmerizing architecture is still beyond me. His work also challenged my photography, for which I’m very grateful. I tend to look for lines, shapes, textures and patterns to photograph but when lines are curvaceous rather than straight or objects are not shaped the way they usually are, you are forced to see with new eyes and alter your approach.Casa Batllo ceiling, confused dasher, ultimate guide to gaudy architecture in barcelona, barcelona 3 day itinerary, 10 best things to do in BarcelonaGaudí left his marks all over the city, but due to time and mostly budget constraints, I only hit the big three- La Sagrada FamíliaCasa Batlló and La Pedrera. Before the influx of photos, if there is one thing I don’t necessarily like about Barcelona and Spain in general, it’s the exorbitant entrance fees. Those three places alone already set me and you back 57 euros. I later learned that for La Sagrada Familia, the money from visitors go to where it should go- the church’s maintenance and construction fund. But for Casa Batlló and La Pedrera, your money goes to the bank(s) who owns the buildings. Oh and you definitely should book the ticket to La Sagrada Família in advance online because the line is crazy long. You certainly don’t want to stand outside yawning while you can be inside marveling at this electrifying ceiling: The church is undoubtedly an architectural dream. I have never seen one that is more original. And earthly and magical at the same time. I visited the church in the middle of the afternoon when shafts of sunlight poured in from all directions. Combined with the electric lights inside, they made for an astounding visual feast. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I stepped outside to be stupefied by this unbelievably intricate facade. Here is his another intriguing masterpiece, Casa Batlló which was originally designed for the residency of the relatively well-off Batlló family. Casa Batllo ceiling, confused dasher, ultimate guide to gaudy architecture in barcelona, barcelona 3 day itinerary, 10 best things to do in BarcelonaAtrium that gives off a palpable, dreamy ocean vibe. Casa Batllo ceiling, confused dasher, ultimate guide to gaudy architecture in barcelona, barcelona 3 day itinerary, 10 best things to do in BarcelonaPart of the roof that looks like fish scales.Beautiful Barcelona at dusk viewed from the building’s roof top.Casa Batllo ceiling, confused dasher, ultimate guide to gaudy architecture in barcelona, barcelona 3 day itinerary, 10 best things to do in BarcelonaThe building’s facade is beautifully lit at night.Lastly, the equally quirky but fantastic La Pedrera. The building’s rooftop with surrealistic chimneys offers inspirational views of Barcelona especially on days with limpid blue sky. I don’t know how people interpret those chimneys, but I saw full human faces in them.

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