Three Spanish cities in one day

Granada did indeed ‘wow’ me. A stunning city with great food (the key to my heart). I did some walking and got some great views of the city and the Alhambra and ate some free Tapas. In Granada there is a local bylaw that basically means that Tapas bars have to give you free food when you order a drink (it’s a student town and if you have ever been a student you’ll understand the dilemma of having to choose between buying a drink or dinner). This makes it very cheap to go out to have food and drinks.

I spent 5 hours at the Alhambra (a fortress-palace). The palace is huge as a result of many people doing expansions and extensions since the beginning of its construction in 1238. As I mentioned in an earlier post this area of Spain was ruled by Arabs and so much of the construction was done under these rulers which means the palace is very Arabic and many parts make you feel like you are in North Africa.

On Friday was my epic cross country journey from Granada to Valencia via Madrid. I had breakfast in Granada, lunch in Madrid and dinner in Valencia. In my 4 hours of walking around Madrid I saw a few good sights and managed to get into the Museo Nacional del Prado (and the special ‘El Greco’ exhibition) for free.

Arriving in Valencia was very exciting and soon after I got to the hotel Liz arrived from the airport. I was very excited to see her as we hadn’t seen each other in about 3 years! We have a week in Valencia and thank goodness for that after rushing around for a week. We plan to spend a bit of time reading books by the hotel pool and hitting the beach so looking forward to it. I’ll writ more at the end of the week and fill you in on how the week went.

Amanda xx

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Birthday celebrations

Sunday was a travel and laundry day. I travelled by bus from Lisbon to Seville through southern Portugal. Amazing scenery!

Monday I woke late as it was my birthday and called my parents before going on a wander around the city and eating some Tapas. Tapas are great, they are a small dish so you can try a few things. I tried salmoreja (creamy gazpacho-like soup). I checked out the cathedral (which is the 3rd biggest in the world after St. Peters and St. Paul’s) and the Alcazar (royal palaces). In the evening I went to a Flamenco show and we even got to give it a go at the end, I’m not as bad as I thought I would be. Visited the Spanish square which features in Star Wars and is filming for Game of Thrones starts there later in the month.

Cordoba was up next and as a treat (thanks Tash!) I went to an Arabic bath house and had a 2 hour bath and massage session, bliss. This part of Spain was conquered by the north Africans once and their influence shows strongly. Tried a local food, fried aubergines with honey. A quick visit to the Mesquita before leaving town was mandatory, but also free as I went early in the morning before mass and I was treated to an almost empty cathedral-mosque. The building is amazing, half mosque half cathedral. The mosque was there first and in the days of city walls there was limited space to build a new cathedral when the Christians took over the city. So they simply recycled the existing mosque and built Christian elements into the building.

Unluckily I managed to miss my train and spent 3 hours waiting in the train station waiting…

Granada is the next location, and I have heard great things so am hoping I am wowed with the city. More later in the week

Amanda xx

Old stuff and rain

Coimbra is a university town with one of the oldest universities in Europe. This brings a lot of tradition like the fact the students dress in academic robes for many occasions. I was in town for orientation week so I got to see a few of these. After a little wander around the city and sneaking into student only areas of the university I was very impressed with the city. Two strange/funny things followed, one was a gathering of people at 10pm at night that turned into a running race and the other was my assumption that the large cupola on a building on top of a hill belonged to a cathedral (apparently it’s actually a prison – whoops!)

Next city on this list was Lisbon. There is a rivalry between Porto and Lisbon for who is the best city and I honestly couldn’t pick a winner, Lisbon was gorgeous.

A day trip to Sintra ended with me (and several hundred others) drenched from a freak downpour, but that didn’t dampen my mood. Sintra has been described as ‘Eden’ so it was a good place to be drenched.

Lisbon bought a few more exciting things including Vogue Night Out where whole streets are filled with people and stores throw open their doors to party goers and there is entertainment. Playing Cards Against Humanity with people who don’t have English as their first language was fun and on my final night we went to a Salsa bar in Barrio Alto and stayed up late drinking Mojitos and dancing. There was a father and his young son there (around 7/8 years old), apparently this is normal for Portugal – pretty different than when I was growing up and getting to stay up until after Shorthand Street was a treat!

Next up is a speedy 5 days in 4 Spanish cities before I head to Valencia to meet up with Liz for belated birthday celebrations. (Liz and I are birthday twins – along with Prince Harry. We are both hoping he will come along too).

Amanda xx

One week, four countries

I have wrapped up my time in the UK (for now), learning what a chukka is and going out dancing in Clapham Junction. Sunday bought a new country (both new for my trip and somewhere I had never been before). I arrived into Porto late and was instantly impressed with the country.

Two and a half days in Porto and I think I have fallen in love. You can really tell the whole old town area is a UNESCO World Heritage site. I don’t think I have ever seen inside so many churches or drunk so much beer/sangria/port. Almost every building is a church, monastery or convent and the Portuguese (like the Spanish) drink with almost every meal.

Across the river is where they make port wine (named after the city of course). Port is fortified wine, which makes it sweet but alcoholic (20%). The grapes have to be  grown in the Douro Valley near to the city for the wine to be called port.

One speciality of Portugal that I have really embraced is the yummy pastel de nata. These are little custard tarts found everywhere across the country and these must be eaten several times a day (or this is what I have been telling myself).

My next location is the university town of Coimbra, and then Lisbon. More on these locations later,

Amanda xx

Sweat baby sweat baby

Two 12 hour flights done and no jet lag to speak of. I have been resting up in Oxford with my old work mate Clare and her husband. The chocolate was much appreciated! Today I am headed to London, first stop the New Zealand High Commission to place my vote for the upcoming election.

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Keble College, Oxford

Shanghai was incredible. My first Asian city was an absolute pleasure. It was HOT, it was BUSY and it was SMOGGY. But I loved every moment. From ordering food you had no idea about, to getting treated like a celebrity on The Bund (the Chinese liked my European looks and light hair so I now feature in many Chinese peoples holiday snaps). A few sneaky antics delivered great views of Shanghai from both sides of the river. Going up to the Park Hyatt restaurant and bar on the 91st floor of the Shanghai Financial Centre tower saved 150RMB (NZD$30) compared to going to the observation deck. We also found a reasonably priced rooftop bar to have a drink.

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Shanghai: View from The Bund

Thanks for the hospitality Amber! Your knowledge of Chinese was extremely helpful.

Tomorrow I am off to a Polo match. I have no idea what to expect, but I do wish to see some royalty (In my dreams!).

Amanda xx