Hello Seville!

Our last stop in Spain before heading back to Lisbon in a few days. Another Alsa bus ride but this time on Supra Economy rather than Premium. The difference is that the former doesn’t have an electrical charger, no attendant, and no snacks. Same 1+2 seat configuration, though. It was an easy 3-hour trip through the lovely countryside.

We dropped our luggages at our beautiful hotel, Hostal Atenas at the Barrio Sta. Cruz neighborhood then went in search for some tostada with jamon Iberico.

Back at our hotel, the lovely girl at the reception allowed us to check-in early. Since arriving in Spain, I’ve noticed how the people working at the hotel industry are so overly friendly. Our hotel is very homey with tiled walls and plants and was built in traditional style. It doesn’t have an elevator which wasn’t really much of a problem even if it means lugging our bags 2 floors. At least, we get to work-off our calories from all the good Spanish food we’d been having.

We couldn’t get a taxi to bring us to Plaza de España so we decided to walk in the rain to the Catedral de Seville hoping there would be lots of taxis there. None. It was past 3pm already and our entrance time to the Real Alcazar was at 4pm so we headed there instead which, thanks to Google Maps, turned out to be just one minute walk away. The line for those who have bookings was a bit long but it took us less than 20 minutes to get past security and walk into the complex. The rain had stopped by then lending a fresh sheen on the palace grounds.

The buildings are beautiful with their ornate carvings and colorful tiles.

Very reminiscent of the Alhambra. Just like the other sites we’ve been to previously, it was easy to take nice pictures without anyone crowding your frame.

This painting of the Virgin Mary is so beautiful.

From the palace, we just walked around as there weren’t any taxis.

We have only been in Seville less than day but I already love it from what I have barely seen of this place.

The narrow cobbled streets are lined with beautiful houses with small balconies and grilled windows. There is beautiful architecture everywhere.

Also, there are ornate churches and leafy plazas at almost every turn.

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Granada and the Alhambra

The Alsa bus promptly pulled into the Estacion Autobus at Granada at 1:30pm. The premium class bus with its 1+2 sitting configuration, entertainment, snacks, and onboard toilet was worth the price. It was indeed a very pleasant ride that passed through endless olive tree plantations. The clouds promised rain and by the time the taxi we took from the station dropped us off at our hotel just a few steps away from Plaza Nueva, the heavens had opened-up.

We were booked at the grandiosly named Hotel Palacio del Pilar del Toro. This palace turned botique hotel was beautifully quaint with its wooden furniture, courtyard, and walls filled with paintings. After lunch at the hotel restaurant, we took a taxi to the Alhambra.

T

he rain had ceased by now and the sun was out. There were not as many people as I expected which allowed ample opportunities for photographs.

Alhambra was truly a magical place.

Back at the Plaza Nueva, we boarded the cute hop-on-hop-off tram for a quick tour of Granada. We got off at the cathedral to explore it and the surrounding area and to buy souvenirs.

Just outside the cathrdral was this guitarist playing Albeniz’s “Asturias.”

In the evening, we witnessed the start of a procession from the small church just behind our hotel.

We were only staying a night in Granada which was really too short a time to truly feel the city.

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Art Day in Madrid

Our visit to the Palacio Real Madrid was originally scheduled yesterday but a few days before our flight, I received an email from the Patrimonio Nacional, the government agency handling visits, that the palace would be closed on the 3rd of April and that they had refunded our payments. I panicked a bit because I knew that the queues were long and bookings were appropriated specific time slots. So, back to the website and fortunately, was able to get a 10:15am slot for the next day.

It took about 20 minutes to walk to the palace from our hotel near the Puerto del Sol in the crisp cold air. It was still early when we arrived so we just waited at the park to the side of the palace. A few minutes before 10, we walked to the front of the palace and stood in line at the queue for those with tickets already. It took about 30 minutes before we were able to get in due to the slow security check. (Tip: put all your stuff including your mobile phones inside your bag)

Past security, we walked across the spacious ground to the entrance.

It was my first time to enter a European palace and it was so awe-inspiring with its grand columns, arched ceilings, colorfully-tiled floors.

Unfortunately, only the first few rooms were allowed to be photographed.

I especially liked the painted ceilings.

One of my favorite rooms was the one that was inspired by the raging Chinese-theme in the 19thc (sorry, pics not allowed). The sculpted Chinese figures (made of porcelain?) were intricate and seemed to leap out of the ceiling.

There were multitudes of people visiting but it wasn’t in the magnitude of the crowds during my visit to the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul last year. THAT place was really crowded. You couldn’t even spend time to admire any of the interior details. We spent about two hours wandering the different rooms.

From the royal palace, we took a cab to the Museo Nacional Del Prado which was currently getting a face lift for its 200 year anniversary. This museum was one of the reasons why we decided to go to Madrid. In its halls are two of my favorite paintings: Diego Velasquez’s “Las Meninas” and Herionymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” Both were artworks that I always discussed in class back when I was still teaching Art Appreciation. There were other masterpieces at the Prado I was familiar with but it was those two that I was so very much looking forward to seeing. I had downloaded an app on my phone that showed in which hall those paintings were so it was easy to seek them aided with the museum map and the helpful aides.

It was sheer joy finally being face to face with the two masterpieces. Being able to see every bit of detail of Bosch’s strange work was enormously thrilling. Of course, I fell in love with the “Las Meninas” all over again.

Next in my search was Goya’s riveting “3rd of May.” It was at the lower level along with his other “black paintings” such as “Saturn.” I took a seat at the wooden bench across the painting and just took in the scene of tragic massacre of peasants that Goya so vividly and metaphorically presented. I cannot forget the expression of the central figure, the man in white.

I almost missed the “La Maja Desnuda” and its dressed counterpart. Fortunately, while walking to the exit, Rhoda mentioned she had seen it. We stopped, turned back, and asked her to bring me to her. I also almost missed El Greco’s “The Resurrection of Christ.” Fortunately, I happened to look to the left at one of the rooms while walking along the main hall.

After the Prado, we took a cab to the Museo Nacional Reina Sofia for Picasso’s “Guernica.” I could just have stared at the sprawling canvas for hours. I knew that this masterpiece was huge but seeing it before me was just overwhelming. If not for the limited time we had, I could have easily spent an entire day at those 2 museums, especially the Prado which also housed works by Tintoretto, Titian Rembrandt, and Caravaggio.

The final stop for the day was Casa Cervantes and the Convento Delascalzas Trinitaries to pay hommage to Miguel de Cervantes.

TIPS

1. Get your tickets online to save yourself from lining-up to buy them.

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Beautiful Madrid

Madrid was a last-minute squeeze in our already tight itinerary. We had originally only meant to go to Granada and Seville but being just a train ride away from Lisbon, we figured might as well. Plus, the chance to see Velasquez’s “Las Meninas” at the Prado was too tempting.

As the taxi slowly made its way to the city center, Madrid unravelled her spectacular beauty of wide avenues flanked by gorgeous architecture.

It was all so breathtaking. Later on, standing at a corner of Puerto del Sol while munching on a bocadillo of Jamon Iberico, tears would well-up as I thanked God for bringing me to this place and letting me have a jamon. Seriously.

As always, we just dropped our stuff at the Casual del Teatro Madrid and headed to the plaza to just soak in the giddy atmosphere of being here.

We met a Filipino couple from Canada who were on holiday too while were talking pictures at the Oso y Madroño statue. The guy seemed surprise that we were from Manila.

The only real site we had scheduled for today was the Monasterio delas Descalzas Reales. Unfortunately (or was it my carelesness when booking the tickets and the mandatory guided tour online) the 12:45 spot was in Spanish. The inside of this royal monastery was beautiful with gorgeous paintings, religious sculptures, and interior decorations. Unfortunately, pictures aren’t allowed and the pacing was a bit too fast for my liking. I would have wanted to stay longer and look at the fine details of the statues.

It was past two by the time we emerged from the monasterio so we just decided to skip lunch return to the hotel and check-in. We were still full from all the churros and other snacks we had earlier at Los Artesanos 1902 on the way to the monasterio.

Later in the afternoon, we headed to Plaza Mayor and took an outside table at the Museum del Jamon for some sopa de ajo, bocadillo de calamares, and tortilla España. The soup was really tasty and not like the sopa de ajo I grew up with at home.

We headed to the Mercado San Miguel but didn’t eat much as it was too crowded.

I had these chorizos which were served in a tin (5€). It was very very good. Most of the food at the mercado were tapas there weren’t any proper tables.

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By Train from Lisbon to Madrid

The Lusitania train which departs nightly from Lisbon for the overnight trip to Madrid is one of the most popular means to cross the border from Portugal to Spain. We ended up with turista class (reclining seats) as familia cabins were all booked out and we didn’t want to take the sex-segregated tourist cabins. We figured, if we lasted on flights strapped to a seat, what difference would it make on a train?

True enough, the seats were comfortable enough. Our coach had only less than 10 people so it was quiet.

The train was ready for boarding by 8:30pm and departed promptly at 9:25pm.

The ride was comfortable as the train didn’t shake much and it was relatively quiet. The toilet was also very clean and the water strong. I woke up at around 5am as the train pulled in to Salamanca. Didn’t get much sleep anymore and just counted the few stops until we reached the Chamartin Station in Madrid at 8:35am as scheduled.

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Fatima

We booked a taxi with our hotel for the roundtrip transpo to Fatima for 225 €. At 70 € each for a bus ticket, multiplied by 3, taking a taxi was the better deal. It would save us the trip to the bus station at Siete Rios and the walk to the shrine. We were promptly fetched at 2pm and drove through the highway flanked by fields of green. Edwardo, our English-speaking driver was pleasant. There were beautiful views on both sides of the road. The drive took an hour and a half with little traffic. Arriving at the shrine, I was awed by the sheer expanse of the complex. With everything painted white, it seemed to glow under the spring sun.

We headed to the information office just to help us get oriented on the structures that bordered the complex. Behind the office is a corner with candles of different sizes placed on trays. You get what you need and drop your payment at one of the boxes. Honesty system. Rhoda and Tita C took a a big candle and lighted it at the dedicated space to the left of the office. I took some plastic candle cup holders to give away back home.

The entire complex is very modernist except for the Church of the Blessed Trinity.

The Chapel of the Apparitions marks the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary first appeared. The exact spot is where her statue is placed. Many people were seated on the wooden benches praying silently, some including myself, with rosaries on hand.

I’ve been a devotee of the Virgin Mary so praying the rosary at Fatima was such a privilege.

Inside the spacious Church of the Holy Trinity are the tombs of the three children. Jacinta and Lucia’s on the left and Fernando’s on the right. Just like at the Church of the Apparitions, everyone was really quiet. No one was even taking photographs of the tombs.

It’s the peacefulness and serenity of the entire complex that makes it so attractive. Makes you want to imagine how it was when it was still the woods before the entire place was paved and modernized to suit the huge crowds that continue to come during the apparition’s anniversary. Perhaps, for the non-believing tourist, Fatima isn’t much. There are far more interesting religious structures in Lisbon such as the Igreja de Sao Roque. However, for a devotee, going to Fatima is a pilgrimage to one of the most spectacular moments in salvation history and the role that the Blessed Virgin Mary plays in our lives.

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Hello Lisbon!

We landed at the Lisbon airport almost 1pm. Immigrations was a breeze as there were many counters open and the line ahead wasn’t that long yet. All-in including luggage claim and the long walk from the gate where we deplaned to immigrations took less than an hour.

Bought a Vodafone travellers sim (20 €) at the booth at arrivals while Rhoda bought the Lisboa cards we were going to use much later in our trip and also booked a taxi (23 €) to our downtown hotel. Was surprised to have a distinguish-looking white haired gentleman pull-up in a Benz.

After checking-in at Hotel Americano Inn Rossio just a few steps away from Rossio Square, we headed to Confeitaria Nacional for some pasteis de nata for our first taste of Portugal.

After years of Lord Stowe’s Portuguese Egg Tarts, it was time for the real thing, the original, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It was crustier and the custard was heavier. So perfect with a cup of strong coffee on a cool afternoon.

We ditched Google Maps and just strolled the Baixa and Chiado areas starting at Praca de Commercio.

I loved the wide open square and the esplanade by the sea.

We headed up to the Chiado neighborhood for the oldest living bookstore in the world, Livreria Bertrand, where Rhoda bought a copy of Jose Saramago’s “The Tale of the Unknown Island” and had it stamped saying the copy was bought at the oldest operating bookstore in the world. How cool is that!

Unfortunately, there aren’t much English-translated books by Portuguese authors. Found 2 books on fado but were all in Portuguese.

We made our way to the Convento del Carmo which was unfortunately closed for restoration work.

Plazas, beautiful buildings, cobbled streets, and the cool spring weather made for a really nice time just wandering the streets and finding something interesting such as a beautiful building

an outdoor cafe, or a nice view.

Also, it wasn’t as hilly as I thought it would be.

After all that walking, we had dinner at a buffet! The Buffet Livre de Leao was just a few steps from the hotel. For 8.99 euros, we had our fill of salads and grilled meats. My favorite was the Portuguese sausage and roast pork.

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A First Timer in Europe

After 16 hours of flying and a 6 hour layover in Dubai, we (my sister, tita, and I) finally landed in Lisbon.

“It’s your first time in Europe?” asked the immigration officer.

“Yes!”

So many firsts for this trip: first time to take an Emirates flight (nice plane, good food, excellent service), first time to get a Shengen visa, and first time in Europe. Yeah! I wanna say that again with a fist pump in the air. It’s my first time ever in Europe! Last year, it was a bit disappointing that after a USD 1300 flight and 15 hours, landing in Baku in Azerbaijan, I was still in Asia. Heading to Turkey after, the closest I got to Europe was crossing the Bosphorous Strait and setting foot on the European side of Istanbul. So, this time, it’s the real thing! I really am in Europe!

This trip was the most heavily prepared for in all my years of travelling. With just 14 days including the 3 for the conference (the primary reason for this trip), I had to make sure everything was so well-thought of so as not to waste time and money. So here’s what I did.

1. For first time visits to any place, I always craft an itinerary just so I get a bird’s eye view of my trip. We were doing Lisbon-Madrid-Granada-Seville-Lisbon. Yeah, too many places but I so much wanted to go to the Museo Nacional del Prado to see Velasquez’s Las Meninas and Madrid was just an overnight train ride away. Granada also deserved an overnight just so we could relive Washington Irving’s magical Tales of the Alhambra. The Google Trips app was so helpful in planning my itineraries as it indicated the walking time to one sight to another.

2. Bought all the museum and sight fees online to save us from the long queues at the ticket booth. Also, some sights such as the Alhambra and the the Royal Palace in Madrid have limited slots, so I needed to make sure we had reservations on the days we were there.

3. Budget! We’re talking Euros where the exchange rate is 1 Euro to Php 58. Surprisingly, pricesreally wasn’t that exorbitant as I found out, at least with food.

4. Typed “what to wear in Europe” in Google and discovered the following donts: shorts, rubber shoes, and baggy clothes. True, my first impression on seeing the locals was: “so fashionable” and that included the little old ladies having their pasteis de nata at Confeteria del Nacional or the bookworms at Livreria Bertrand.

So for the next 2 weeks, I get to find out if all my preparations were all right. In the meantime, I’m gonna enjoy every minute of this trip.

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Sleeping at Dubai Airport

Arrived at past 1 in the morning after an 8 hour and half flight from Manila (which was seriously delayed for almost 2 hours due to air traffic) on board Emirates for my connecting flight to Lisbon. The airport was really bus but at past 2, when many flights were leaving, the gates where we were (A) quieted down. Found this sweet lounge with reclining chairs and charging sockets. Didn’t need to purchase a Dragon pass anymore just to be able to lie down a bit before heading to gate A16 at 6am for the flight.

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Eating Real Food in Baguio

I call this my Baguio Real Food post because you won’t find the chic or chill dining options that Baguio has become famous for in the past few years. In the 6 days since arriving last Tuesday morning at this cold city, I purposely shied away from the Instagrammable places as I was scrimping a bit for my European trip coming-up in two weeks. The 3-day conference I attended also came with lunch and snacks so I didn’t really go out much to eat. If you’re the “I just wanna eat good real food” this is for you. Of course, I only went to local places (always always patronize locally-grown businesses).

Luisa’s Cafe

Back in those days when there was a toss-up between Luisa’s and Star Cafe, I’ve always been partial to the latter mainly because of their delicious curry pies. Unfortunately, Star shut its doors some years ago.

Nothing’s better than a bowl of very tasty broth with the signature chewy home made noodles.

The dumplings, however, were the tiniest I’ve ever seen. Quite good, though. The bola-bola siopao was forgettable. It arrived lukewarm and had more dough than meat.

Though, the soup and siopao combo satisfied my appetite, I’m not quite sure it was good value as the servings were small. Perhaps, consider it a snack rather than a meal when you come here.

Luisa’s is old-school Baguio and amidst the city’s culinary gentrification, I hope it doesn’t suffer the same fate as Star Cafe’s.

Sizzling Plate

Another Baguio old-timer. The double pork-chop (Php 219) was chunky and sizzled perfectly. The signature gravy was thick and savory. It’s the kind of meal that made one feel so manly. They could have used better quality rice for their Java rice, though.

Nevertheless, it was a dinner that hit all the right notes— filling to the tummy, satisfying to the taste buds.

Jack’s Baguio Restaurant

The lechon on fried rice (Php 80) was cheap and filling. Amidst the tourist-oriented prices in Session Road, Jack’s is a haven for the budget-conscious.

Unfortunately, the sorry-looking fried pork and the bland fried rice makes me think that’s all Jack has going for itself– cheap and filling. Maybe, I’m being too harsh. Jack’s, however, always has a steady stream of patrons everytime I pass by so I guess it’s not so bad.

Central Park Restaurant

The cool evening weather brought Chinese noodle soup cravings again and since Good Taste was full, I crossed to the other side of the road to this restaurant that always had a good number of diners inside everytime I passed by. Surprise! There was a dimsum cart. Unfortunately, only the “snowball” (meatballs with chorizo and egg white, Php 80) seemed tasty. The rest of the dumplings looked like they came from some dumplings factory. True enough, when my dumpling noodle soup (Php 110) arrived, the siomai was a mashup of flour and extenders wrapped in thick sickly yellowish wrapper. I’d take Master Siomai over it anytime.

Good soup and noodles though but not as tasty as Luisa’s. The taipao (Php 90) was hefty and chock-full of meats. Good points on this one.

The price is good value considering the big bowl of noodle soup and large taipao. Glancing around at the other tables, the plates of a la carte orders held generous servings. Perhaps next time, I should have some rice meals and just skip the dumplings. This place deserves another chance especially since the service was quick.

So I went back for dinner and had the lechon rice. 2 slabs of pork belly and a big cup of rice.

It’s just okay. The meat was tender but the skin wasn’t crisp. Also, by the look of the dark-colored meat, it didn’t seem to be too fresh. The service, however, was excellent again.

Good Taste

I finally snagged a table here even if it meant having lunch at 10am on a Sunday. Good decision as the place was brimming with people and by 10:30, large groups were arriving. Of all the rice meals I’ve had, the lechon chopsuey rice (added Php 30 to upgrade to fried rice) was the best value. It only cost Php 140 and the serving was huge. I’m not a chopsuey fan but I wanted some vegetables with my pork so I ordered the combo. Wise choice.

The vegetables were cooked just right– still crisp. It was tasty and mixed well with the large cuts of crispy skinned lechon kawali. It made me regret why I only ate lunch here just when I was taking the bus home to Manila. Now I know why people are willing to line-up here.

Pinares Pagkaing Pilipino

Such a pleasant surprise! This was just at the ground floor of my hotel and I headed here as the reviews on FB promised good Pinoy food. Promise fulfilled! The place had satisfied diners digging on heaping plates of food. My bagnet express was delicious. The pork belly was tender and fried perfectly and served over a heaping mound of Bicol Express.

You know that feeling when you’re happy putting spoonfulls of food in your mouth? Plus points too for the professional and super attentive service staff.

A Little Indulgence

I needed to work so cafes with strong coffee and even stronger wifi was my go to.

Cafe By the Ruins

It’s back and it’s just across my hotel. After dropping my luggage at 8 in the morning, I needed to stay awake. The cafe’s unique take on coffee (cardamom and cinnamon) did just that. For Php 80, you get heaven in a cup. I didn’t like the kamote bread, though. Store-bought dinner rolls were better.

Hill Station

So I rewarded myself with its decadent chocolate cake (Php 150) and good Cordillera brew (Php 80).

Because, I wanted to stay forever, I had the spinach and cheese dip an hour later. I came in around 4pm and had the place almost to myself. Bonus points for the electric outlet by my corner table by the window. Hill Station is still impeccable. Made me feel truly rich and handsome.

Il Padrino Cafe

I came here mainly because I needed to work. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The club sandwhich was hefty and had bacon!

Coffee was also good and strong. I especially liked the outstanding service. Smiley faces and staff refilling your glass with water without you needing to ask for it. Oh, and some of the tables have sockets.

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