When I first came to Europe three years ago, London was never high on my list and it wasn’t even on it for some time. However with the impending realization that I’ll be leaving Europe at the end of this school year, I began to think that I needed to go, to experience it and to see it. Maybe it goes back to my colonial routes of rejecting the crown, or maybe because I was annoyed that in the English world of Spain everything is British, from the accent and grammar they speak, to the flags and decorations they have around the classroom, or perhaps I was drawn more to different cities like Prague, Budapest and Vienna. Whatever the case was, I have friends in London and I wanted to go while they were still there. A week and a half ago we had a puente/long weekend because of the Féria, so I left for London on Thursday and came back to Jerez on Sunday.
I was really impressed by London, but even more so by the people. Every interaction I had, whether it was asking for help in the underground, or asking for directions above ground, talking to people on the train, to the staff in a restaurant/bar or to the workers on the ferry, was positive. It’s left me wondering if everybody in London is that nice or maybe I caught the right people in the right moment of their day.
It is the people that make up a city, but without buildings and spaces their would be no city, and the buildings and spaces of London really impressed me. It’s a beautiful city that feels as if it’s five cities in one, different buildings juxtapose each other one after the other. Walking along the bank of the Thames you can find the Neo-gothical Big Ben, across the modern London Eye, further along there are various bridges all ranging in different styles from the modern millennium bridge to the iconic gothic revival Tower Bridge; across from the tower bridge on one side of the Thames is the castle of London flanked by skyscrapers; the shard, the walkie-talkie and the gherkin. Each is a unique, individual building that represent the every changing architectural landscape of London.
I enjoy traveling alone, but having the opportunity to visit friends is also something I enjoy. I stayed with my friend Aoife, who is the best friend of my friend Niamh, who was one of my roommates in Costa Rica and who I spent Christmas with in Ireland three years ago. My other friend is Mike, a friend from Delaware who I did habitat for humanity with spring break sophomore year. He’s living in London and when he took a trip to Andalusia last year he stopped by Jerez and we had lunch together. Aoife was a great host and luckily I was able to combine those two worlds. Friday night Aoife, a friend of hers and me had plans to eat at a steak restaurant, called Flat Iron; 10£ for an amzing steak. It’s the only dish on their menu. It’s located in the Williamsburg of London, coincidentally right around the block from where Mike lives, so we put our names down and then met with him at his place for about an hour and a half. Once your number is called you have 15 minutes to get there or they give your seat up. It was amazing, one of the best meals in recent memory and it was affordable, cheap for a city like London (but still a lot more than what I’d pay in Jerez). After dinner we met up with Mike and his friends and we went to a divey, but awesome Jazz bar. Hearing something other than live Flamenco Music was nice for a change.
Saturday we went to Greenwich. I realized while walking around the Royal Navy College that I had learned about it in one of my architecture classes. While traveling I often stumble upon something that I’ve learned about, not knowing it is where I am and every time a wave of excitement passes over me. Also in Greenwich is the famous Cutty Sark ship, which up until that point I knew only as a cheap whisky in Spain. I had no idea it was an actual ship. We also stopped by a cute little craft market with food trucks. For lunch I ate Ethiopian food for the first time. We also went to the oldest pub in Greenwich and one of the oldest in London, the Plume of Feathers. It was established in 1691 and is just outside the touristy part of the city, it’s cozy and friendly, the perfect place to hang out in winter. It was also the first time I saw a pump tap, I don’t know if that’s the proper term, but it was like a lever that the bartender had to pull toward her a few times to fill up the pint. Later that day, Mike and his girlfriend and a friend of Aoife came over to her place and Aoife as the gracious host made a delicious dinner. We hung out and played a board game, ending my time in London.
One thing I was extremely disappointed about was the Natural History Museum. People kept telling me how great it is, how you need to go and even one of the Night at the Museums was filmed there. I expected a lot and it didn’t live up to it. The building is beautiful and when you go inside there’s a glowing orb that you take an escalator through, but that’s where the excitement ends. The rooms were cramped and to me seemed poorly designed, the exhibitions were outdated and have probably been there since the museum opened, all the interactive displays seemed as if they were going to fall apart in need of a new coat of paint, and the displays were dirty and dusty. I remember looking at one of the worlds largest cut diamonds and being amazed at the large smudge over it. The dinosaur skeletons were awesome, but the room they were in didn’t allow you to appreciate them. Maybe I’m just not used to history museums.
I was however impressed by the Victoria and Albert which is right across from the Natural History museum and the Saatchi Gallery, which, with the exhibitions they had, might be one of the best galleries I’ve ever visited. One of the rooms, about the size of a 5 lane gym swimming pool had projections on each of its walls of thousands of YouTube videos of people explaining something simultaneously playing. From afar the wall looked like a bunch of little boxes of color, but as you got closer you can see the people’s faces and when you’re right in front of it you can focus on one individual box or person. At the same time the sound of all those videos together was constantly playing in the background creating a very unique feeling as if you’re in a crowd. In the gallery my favorite pieces were created by Daniel Rozin. He had two interactive works that moved according to your position in front of it. They were really fun and I spent 20 or 30 minutes interacting with them. If you go, make sure to not confuse the Saatchi & Saatchi with the Saatchi Gallery, they’re two distinct places.
Last weekend I did many things for the first time, we had a puente, long weekend and each day I did something new. Normally if I’m not traveling or trying to save money I end up doing nothing, so this past weekend was a really good one.
My first new experience: Visiting a bodega in Jerez. Jerez is the birthplace of sherry and over the last two years I have consumed liters of sherry, but until Saturday I have never visited a bodega here. Bodegas are where they produce and create the wine, which is a little different from the term bodega back home. Saturday morning at 11am Jamie and I toured the Lustau bodega. Lustau was founded in 1896 and today it is considered one of the worlds best wineries ranking 7th worldwide in 2012.
My second experience: Biking the Via Verde. Vias Verdes are greenway cycling/walking routes located throughout Spain. In 1993 the Vias Verde plan was introduced to turn more than 6,000km of abandoned railway lines into environmental friendly tourism within rural areas. So far it has been a success and the route my friend Miriam and I did on Sunday is considered the most beautiful, it was voted the best Greenway in Europe in 2009. It’s located in the mountains of Cadiz and is a 36.5km path connecting the towns of Puerto Serrano and Olvera. We only road to about the halfway point at 15km and even if we wanted to we couldn’t have gone further. About 1km from the halfway point in the middle of a kilometer long tunnel my front tire went flat. Luckily we weren’t far and only had to walk a short distance, once there I was able to get it repaired. There’s a bike rental place along with a playground and restaurant there. I was worried it wasn’t going to hold the whole way back (to walk 15km takes about 4 hours), but it did and it even got me to and from school today.
My third experience: Visiting Setenil. Setenil is a place I have wanted to go to for a long time now, we were suppose to go in December, but a couple of days before it fell through. Five months later, with no school on Monday I had a second chance! Jose, Jamie, James and I made the trip to the town under rocks. Setenil is a very small town (pop 3,000) located about an hour and a half from Jerez. Historically it played an important role as a line of defense for the Muslims region of Granada against the Christian north, its watch tower, dating back to the 12th century is one of many that dot the region. However, people don’t go to see the watch tower, they go to see the buildings tucked into the rocky cliff face.
Nestled between the Sierra and olive fields as far as the eye can see is Jaén, the forgotten city of Andalucia. Stated by our blahblahcar driver, “You know you’re in Jaén when the road starts deteriorating” and as if on cue we hit a couple of rough patches that rattled the car. There’s no highway to Jaén, at some point only a two lane local road where you hope to not get stuck behind a truck hauling olives. After all, Jaén is the olive capital of Spain.
To say Jaén is forgotten wouldn’t be completely true, to Spaniards it’s known for having the best olives and the highest quality olive oil. It also has a tapas scene that rivals, if not better than Granada. However you wouldn’t go to Jaén just for the tapas nor for just the olives, which is why when you tell somebody you are going to visit or have visited they ask why? with a confused look on their face. If it wasn’t for my friend Mitch living there, I would have never gone.
Since I’ve heard so many unflattering things of Jaén my expectations were low. I imagined it as a dull, deteriorating city where it’s inhabitants only ate olives and drank olive oil. That wasn’t the case, but I was told amongst the locals most conversations seemed to always come back to olives, or they were trying to get you to buy into their cooperative. I cannot attest to the validity of this, however I can say that because of my low expectations, Jaén pleasantly surprised me. The city itself isn’t much to write home about, but it has its moments. There is a long tree lined avenue that would be beautiful in Spring time with a nicely laid tram line running through it. Unfortunately there’s no tram. If there was anything that best exemplifies the Spanish government, it is this. In 2009 the city was given money by Andalucia to install the line, just as it was finished the leading political party in Jaén’s government changed and they were against it, so they sold the tram cars to Australia (I think) and since then it has not been operational.
Situated above the city is the castle of Santa Catalina. Part of the Castle route of Jaén, which contains more Castles per square kilometer than any other place in Europe. Santa Catalina is a beautiful, mostly restored castle that was started in 1492 and has now been partly converted into a hotel. It provides stunning views of the city and the surrounding countryside. Also in Jaén is a park with grass! something Jerez lacks, with a view of the cathedral and the surrounding countryside as well, though not quite the same as being at the castle, it’s more accessible and a nice place in the city center to relax.
Adding to the experience of Jaén and the reason why we went was seeing Mitch. It was also St. Patrick’s day weekend and there are a lot of Irish there. For a smaller city than Jerez, the atmosphere was good. We met his friends and his roommates and got to see the new life he’s made away from Jerez. As sad as it is to have him gone it was good to see him doing well.
Jaén definitely isn’t the most beautiful city of Andalucia, but it has beautiful aspects about it and if you go, you might just be surprised like I was.
This past weekend I went to La Palma of the Canary Islands. Going to the Canary Islands is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Since it’s not the easiest to get to, I’m not sure I would have followed through if it wasn’t for meeting Richie’s cousin Nicole, who’s from there, this past summer. When you know somebody in a place you’d like to visit, it gives you more of an incentive to go; she was also going back the same time I had thought about going (which at the time I didn’t realize it was carnival because last year it was three weeks earlier), so it came together perfectly. Also, Richie’s brother Thomas was going to be on spring break and bought a last minute flight, which then caused Richie and his other brother Andrew to follow suit. I was going to be spending a few days with one of my best friends and his brothers in Spain, with his cousin in La Palma during Carnival.
Two weekends ago we had a three day weekend so I was finally able to go to a place I’ve wanted to go for a while, the Algarve region of Portugal. The algarve region is the southernmost region in Portugal and is known for its beautiful beaches, cliff formations and whitewashed towns. I’ve had friends who’ve visited the area and I’ve come across some amazing photos of it on Pinterest, so I knew I needed to go; all I needed was a three day weekend, warm weather and a friend, luckily I had all three.
Our first stop was Faro, the capital of the algarve region. It is a small bayside town only about a two hour bus ride from Seville. We didn’t really do too much in Faro, as there wasn’t really much to do; we walked around the old city for a bit, went food shopping and cooked a stir-fry dinner, drank and went out. Coincidentally the girl sitting next to Jamie on the bus worked at the hostel we were staying at, she was coming back from a weekend in Seville, so when we arrived she showed us the way to the hostel. Unfortunately she was working until 12 so she wouldn’t meet us out until later. From what the staff told us the hostel was the most empty that night than it had been for the previous weeks, it wasn’t a problem for Jamie and I; we had a 8 person dorm for the two of us. Also after getting to know the others and the staff it didn’t matter how many there were, it was a good group. Surprisingly Faro had a good night life. Our night started out early because the staff wanted to go to a “sunset party” at this place around 8; the sun had already set and for us folk living in Spain it seemed way too early. We didn’t actually end up getting there until maybe around 9:30, which gave Jamie and I enough time to drink two bottles of wine. The bar itself was very cool, upon entering you walked through an art gallery that belongs in Exit Through the Gift Shop, the bar itself would have fit nicely as a ruin pub in Budapest, a strange eclectic mix of furniture, decoration and colors seemingly placed with no rhyme or reason, while collectively creating its own unique style. After the ruin bar we bounced around the bars in the center until we eventually ended back at the hostel.
The following day, we boarded a two hour train to Lagos. The minute we stepped off the train, the saltwater air assaulted our nostrils and the ocean breeze gently slapped our cheeks, I knew I was going to like Lagos a lot more. Like Faro, Lagos is on the water, but instead of it being a bay it’s the ocean! beautiful Caribbean-like beaches with crystal clear water, incredible rock formations and cliffs all a short walk from the old town. After arriving to the hostel we set off towards Praia de Porto de Mós, the furthest walkable beach; an easy 25 minutes on the road. Once there we hiked to the top of the cliff, which provided stunning views of the surrounding beach and area, then we hung out on the beach for a couple of hours and made our way back to the hostel.
On the way back we took a different route, a small path that wound its way along the cliff and shore, a path we had trouble finding at first and one which we were told was closed because it was too dangerous; two people had died by falling into the water. It wasn’t too difficult, but if you weren’t careful you could have definitely fallen off or at least gotten injured. At one part we thought the trail had ended because there were a few stairs going down, but we weren’t able to see beyond them and the cliff-part we could see looked as if it had been washed away; we decided to go for it, follow the stairs and…. there were more! That path still continued. We kept following and made it to the lighthouse for the sunset, we found a spot and basked in the last rays of warmth from the sun. When we got back to town we had dinner at this small extremely adorably run Portguese restaurant. For 6€ you got a big bowl of soup, a freshly baked stuffed bread of your choice, a drink (wine of course), rice pudding and a coffee. We would go there the following night for dinner too. Once back at the hostel we met some of the other people who were staying there, drank and went out. Lagos was built for tourism, so there are a lot of places to go out all within the same block of each other, we visited all of them.
The next day after having probably the strangest combination of breakfast I had ever eaten (offered by the hostel), rice pudding and hard boiled eggs Jamie and I went to go check out another beach, Praia de Pinhão. Pinhão is one of the closer beaches to the city, yet one of the least crowded. I think its because you can only get there by walking while others you can drive to. It was nestled between the cliffs and filled with beautiful women. We could have stayed there all day, but eventually we had to leave to eat lunch. We stopped by a non-touristy Portuguese place outside the old town. I had delicious fish Portuguese style while Jamie had meat Portuguese style, which we washed down with a liter of red wine.
Since we already started drinking we decided to continue, after lunch we bought some more wine and made our way to a new beach, Praia de Camilo. Further outside of the city, but connected to the road and with a parking lot, the beach was packed. It was high tide and the shadows were getting increasingly larger as the sun made its way across the sky, like a door being shut the light turned into a sliver and eventually disappeared. We were the last people on the beach, except a couple that came down to take wedding photos. At around 6ish we left and headed back to a spot where we wanted to watch the sunset. After eating we joined another hostel, the Rising Cock (a party hostel if you couldn’t tell) to drink and go out. It was a great night, I ended up on the beach watching the sunrise. Jamie and I had a bus to catch at 2 that day, so I slept only a couple of hours if even that and were on our way around 1. An awesome long weekend full of sightseeing two beautiful cities, wine and fun.
During Semana Santa or “Holy Week” (the week before Easter) a friend of mine, Mitch and I traveled to Granada; a city both of us have been wanting to visit for a long time. It’s funny because for many outside of Spain (mostly those from the US) Granada isn’t seen as a must visit; but among the Spanish it is considered to be one of Spain’s most beautiful cities and one that shouldn’t be missed; there you can also find Spain’s most visited tourist attraction, the magical and enchanting Alhambra.
If I had only five words to describe my trip to Granada they would be: tapear (the verb in Spanish meaning to have tapas), falafels, fun, Alhambra and soreness.
Granada is the last frontier of free tapas. You can of course find tapas in other cities, but you need to pay for them; you can even find free tapas places in Madrid, Seville and Malaga, but in Granada every place gives you them for free. It’s part of the culture, something that has remained unchanged until now and hopefully never will. Tapas can come in all shapes of sizes and range from pinchos, or finger food; cosas de picar, or things to nibble-olives or cheese; and lastly cazuelas, or little dishes. Each tapas bar is different offering different tapas-each new drink ordered bringing something new. It’s exciting, the anticipation of a new tapa; unless you are a vegetarian, like Mitch. There aren’t many options for vegetarians in Spain, the Spanish have yet to consider that as a way of eating and even when you tell them you are vegetarian they may still give you fish. It’s not their fault, they’re still behind on the times.
It’s difficult to convey the liveliness of a tapas bar because they’re not just about drinking, they are a place to meet your friends after work or before lunch, or make a quick stop on your way to doing something; a tapas bar is more of a window into the soul of Spanish lifestyle and eating. They are usually crowded with little room to move, and few places to sit with everyone standing against the bar or using overturned sherry barrels as tables. While there , Mitch and I took advantage of this opportunity to explore this unique and amazing aspect of Granada. After getting lunch the first day (falafels), it started raining and we did what any sane person would do, we found shelter in a tapas bar and ordered a drink. Our first taste of the tapa experience came in the shape of a montadito, or little sandwich of ham and cheese with a side of chips. After this Mitch would learn to tell the bartenders he was a vegetarian after receiving the drinks (they give you the drinks then serve the tapas), so this first time I was able to walk away with two, while they brought Mitch a vegetarian friendly one.
We couldn’t stop with just one bar and being that it was our first hour in the city we decided to explore and find some more (which isn’t difficult at all). On our walk , Mitch was telling me how his favorite chief Anthony Bourdain had gone to Granada during Semana Santa (just like us) and visited some tapas places, but he didn’t remember which ones he had gone to. We eventually found our way to a street full of bars and packed with people; while walking we get next to this bar and Mitch stops, saying Anthony Bourdain went there and he was sure of it. How couldn’t he be; the bar was like no other and unforgettable. In Bourdain’s words, “As best as I understand an Easter-Jesus-and-Mary-themed drinking establishment, where between drinks one can ponder the agony of the Christ. But with sausages!” Adorned from wall to ceiling are pictures of Mary and Jesus, pictures of Semana Santa processions, medallions from the different hermandads “brotherhoods” and Semana Santa music playing in the background with the smell of incense in the air. Who needs to go to church when you can find god in a bar? If anything, sitting there drinking wine, we were closer to him. After spending more time with God than I have in the past year we made our way to another tapas bar and indulged in more drinks accompanied by more free tapas. That would be the end of our tapas experience that day.
accompanied her and took her to the one and only place you can feel closer to God than church, the Jesus bar. We talked about the Jesus bar to everyone we met telling them they had to go if they hadn’t been. It is the perfect representation of Andalusia’s love for Semana Santa during Semana Santa and to be there felt right-as long as you didn’t mind being watched by hundreds of Jesus’s and Mary’s. After feeling as if we were blessed by the pope we made our way to another tapas bar right across from the Jesus bar. It specialized in fried seafood so every tapas (minus Mitch’s) was seafood, really good seafood. The last place we adventured to was recommended by my friend Maria, who went to Delaware and is now living and teaching in Spain (we would spend the next day with her). The place she recommended was called Bodegas Castaneda because of a specific wine she loved there. The wine was a moscatel made from oranges and it was divine; it was similar to a sherry of Jerez, but accompanying each sip was a hint of an almost almond-like flavor; sweet but not too sweet, like drinking nectar from the gods.
And that is the sum of my tapas experience, more will be coming about our other experiences in Granada , such as our visit to the Alhambra, making new friends! and everything else outside of tapaendo.