29 April 2011

Road Trip Part II: Sites of Portugal

Sunday morning, we got up and decided to just hit the road because we had places to go and things to see in other parts of Portugal!
Our first two stops were both cities just outside Lisbon; we started our day off going to Sintra. We went to Sintra to see the famous Pena Palace (not knowing at the time it was called that, of course), which is a castle (palace) build during the 19th century and is said to be one of the best representations of Romanticist architecture.

The reason for all of the different colors is because Romanticism was all about having an eclectic mix of styles from many different time periods. The Palace basically looks like something out of a Disney movie come to life! We only paid to see the grounds and exterior of the palace, but I'm sure it would have been worth it to see the inside if we'd had more time.

(Olivia and Me at Pena Palace, Sintra)

We ended up eating lunch at an amazing Indian restaurant in the town before getting back on the road (who would have thought we'd eat Indian food in Portugal!).
Our next stop was in Cascais, Portugal where we were looking for the Mouth of Hell or Boca do Inferno.
(Boca do Inferno, Cascais)

Not only was the Mouth of Hell amazing, but we the cliffs along the coast at Cascais were just remarkable!

It was already getting to be later in the afternoon by that point and we had to drive down to the southern coast, so we spent the rest of the day in the car. We got to Sagres, Portugal, aka the end of the world, after it was already dark and found a sneaky little drive-in spot to camp for the night.

(Our make-shift camping spot)

We knew we had camped on some cliffs, but since it was dark, we didn't realize what kind of a beautiful place we'd stumbled upon. I was the first one to wake up in the morning (after a pretty terrible night sleeping on the ground) and was instantly in awe of the view I had the privilege of waking up to seeing.

(Olivia and Me at the end of the world...more or less)

We all took some time to explore the cliffs and enjoy the morning before we got in the car again, heading to Lagos. It wasn't a very long drive, but it was the one with the most reward at the end. We immediately found the beach and I think my heart stopped. The first beach we went to in Lagos is my new favorite place in the entire world.

The sand was incredible; large grains, but super soft and squishy. I could have stayed on that beach the whole day! It was great as well because we got there in the late morning and it was kinda cloudy, so there was practically no one else on the beach with us. The water was pretty rough, splashing up on the cliffs with every wave, the sound was powerful, but very relaxing.

(Colleen, Olivia and Me in Lagos)

Then we drove to the other side of town and ate a late breakfast, wandered around the town for a bit...I bought a new dress and then we went to another beach that was completely the opposite of the first. Small grain, white(er) sand, zero rocks or cliffs, tranquil waves and miles of open beach.

We goofed around on the beach for a while, practicing handstands and cartwheels, doing yoga and having a push-up contest. It's moments like the one we spent on that beach, that I will always remember and will always look back on with a smile.

(Troy showing off on the beach)

Our fun was over when it started to rain, so we ran back to the car and started on our way back toward Spain (which we didn't want to do!). We reached Cadiz, Spain a few hours later and struggled to find a good spot to camp for the night that was secluded and where we wouldn't get into trouble. In our searching though, we found yet another amazing beach...one straight out of a postcard or romantic movie. It was one of the picturesque beach of the Costa del Sol and Troy was ecstatic about finding it.

We watched the sun start to set over the ocean and basked in our luck of being able to see so many amazing places in one day.

That night we camped at a nature reserve just outside of Cadiz, it was chilly, so we ate sandwiches in the car, drank sangria and talked for hours about life before finally setting up camp.

More to come soon!


26 April 2011

Road Trip Part I: Lisbon, Portugal

All the way back in February, my best girl friends and I decided that we were going to go on a road trip for our time off during Holy Week (Semana Santa). Originally we had a big plan to go all through Portugal and Spain, but felt conflicted because we wanted to see some of the special happenings in Granada during Semana Santa. Portugal seemed the most important place for all of us to see, so we just decided that we would spend extra time there instead of driving hours upon hours (which we ended up doing anyway!). A couple weeks before we left, we talked Troy into coming with us...and thus begins the trip of a lifetime.

Our destinations in Portugal were Lisbon, Sagres (also known as the "end of the world") and Lagos; our stops in Spain would be Cadiz and Marbella. We rented a car from Friday afternoon to Wednesday afternoon from the city of Málaga because it was cheaper than from Granada. We decided to stay in a hotel for two nights in Lisbon and then camp by the beach the other three nights we were gone. Here's a general route of our trip:
(The part along the coast is the return trip to Málaga...sorry I didn't know how to make the two lines separate colors to distinguish)

Friday morning we were all packed up and got on the bus to Málaga, picked up our rental car, stopped by a grocery store to pick up traveling food and we were on our way to Portugal around 2pm. Our first day we got lost quite a few times, we had directions on my computer, but getting through cities proved to still be challenging for us. Needless to say, we got lost just trying to get out of Málaga; we ended up on a different highway then we planned, but it ended up being great because we got to see some extra pretty parts of Spain.
(Just outside of Rhonda, Spain)

We drove all that day, getting lost periodically and making up a route as we went. It was pretty frustrating at times, but we all worked together really well. There were places we drove through that were exquisite, especially once we got into Portugal and we got to see the most beautiful sunset! When we finally reached Lisbon, we were all so excited, although tired and hungry and then managed to get lost in the big city for around two hours. We finally reached our hotel at 12:30am Saturday.

None of us really knew much about Lisbon or what there is to see there, but that made our day there kind of fun and special, we just wandered around and followed where the other people were going and ran into some great sites. Before any of that happened, we ate the most amazing breakfast at a bakery downtown...the breads and pastries in the window looked so good, we all ordered two things each and just ended up making a buffet for ourselves.

(Me enjoying breakfast! Photo Credit: Olivia Boots)

Everywhere we went in Portugal, the people were so friendly and helpful, but I think our waiter at this place was probably our favorite of all...we was just a really sweet and funny old man.

After stuffing our faces with delicious carbs, we started exploring and immediately came across a famous arch and plaza in Lisbon dedicated to famous explorers from Portugal.
(Arco da Rua Augusta)

(Olivia, Me and Colleen celebrating our sunny day in Lisbon. Photo Credit: Olivia Boots)

On our way up to a castle that we could see at the top of a hill, we wandered into one of the beautiful cathedrals of Lisbon that was getting ready for Palm Sunday and unlike churches in Spain, we were able to go in for free.
(Inside Church Santa Maria Maior)

The next site was Saint George's Castle, it had a great view of the ocean and the whole city of Lisbon. It wasn't the most interesting place we visited, but it was cool to see, maybe if we knew about the history of it then we would have done more than just walk around aimlessly. :)
(Olivia, Colleen and Troy)

Then we went to the Saint Anthony's Cathedral, an early Baroque styled cathedral with a beautiful white exterior. We spend a few minutes there taking some time to relax and recuperate energy.

Then, we embarked on a ridiculously long walk across town. On the map it didn't seem so long, but we realized about half way into it that we should have taken the Metro instead. But we walked along the water which was nice and got to see parts of the city I'm sure most tourists don't see. We were headed to la gran ola (big wave) as Troy called it, it was the only site he knew of in Lisbon and really wanted to see it.

The "big wave" turned out to be a monument to the discoveries made by Portuguese explorers and it certainly was big! Unfortunately, we got there after it closed, but there is a museum inside that tells about the history of the monument and various explorers.

Right across the street from the monument is the Jeronimos Monastary, which from the outside was gorgeous! There was a beautiful park in front with ponds and fountains and the building itself is very detailed and ornate. Also unfortunately, we got there after hours, but were able to go in the chapel because a mass was being held at the time. That chapel is where Vasco de Gama is buried, the Portuguese explorer who discovered India.

That concluded our touring of Lisbon for one day, we were all wiped out and there was a Real Madrid - FC Barcelona soccer match that night, so we found a restaurant to eat, hang out and watch the game.
It was a great and highly productive day of touristing...this post is quite long from it, but we really did see a lot of things in one day! We all loved Lisbon and like I said, the people were incredibly nice and helpful to us! Most of the time they spoke in broken Portuguese/Spanish to us, but many of the people spoke English very well and clearly.

This will be all for now, it seems our roadtrip will take a few posts to get through it all, so I will try to post again soon!
Thanks for reading!


21 April 2011

Birthday birthday!

Even though I am pretty behind on my blogging, I thought I would also share about my 21st birthday that happened about two weeks ago on the 10th of April. The day before my birthday, Saturday, I hung out with my good friends, we ate brunch (Swedish pancakes made by me haha!), laid in the sun and then my friend Olivia made me a beautiful rainbow cake!

There was also a Falla that had been set up in a plaza downtown and that night they burned it...I decided they were just celebrating my birthday.

Fallas are normally burned in Valencia, Spain for the celebration of Saint Joseph, but for some reason they set one up in Granada just before the start of Holy Week and burned it on my birthday. It was really cool to see; there were fireworks going off and people dressed up in traditional clothing...great way to start off my birthday since the celebration didn't end til way past midnight.

On my actual birthday, Sunday, we went to a near-by beach called Nerja. It was a beyond gorgeous day and the perfect way to spend a birthday...doing nothing! We played in the sea, laid in the sun and just enjoyed our time relaxing.

Olivia, Kelsey, Troy and Me on the beach in Nerja getting ready to drink a Mimosa.

Olivia and Me

I didn't have the typical American 21st birthday, didn't get belligerently drunk at any point in time, but I'm perfectly okay with that. I think I probably had the coolest birthday of anyone I know...who can say they spent their 21st birthday on a beach in Spain?! Not many people. :)


Mom's Visit: London

To continue our story of Mom's visit, I now need to tell about our time in London. I want to start off by saying that London is a HUGE city, I think the biggest one I've ever been to in my entire life. But it was really pretty at the same time and didn't have the same sewer smell that a lot of big Spanish cities have, so that was really nice.
We arrived there Thursday afternoon and after checking into our hotel we went to the also very huge department store of Harrods.
Harrods carries everything that is expensive and luxurious, it has five stories and is just plain massive. I thought that the Macy's in Chicago was big (and it very well is), but Harrods feels a hundred times bigger; I'm not sure that it actually is, but it just has a feeling of greatness.
Every floor has it's own dinning area and not just a mall eating area, actual restaurants and cafes. All of the products are designer and there are a million sales representatives, so no one would ever be left waiting in line to be helped. It's a beautiful store overall, but also a tourist attraction in and of itself, so not the ideal shopping environment for someone with cash to blow. We ate a delicious, but very pricey, lunch there before heading over to see Buckingham Palace.
It pretty much looks like a building of political purpose and the statue of Queen Victoria in the front is very pretty with lots of depictions of Greek and Roman Gods as well. We walked around the Palace and watched the guards for a few minutes; it really is amazing that they don't move...seriously, they just stand there, not even a twitch!

Saint James' park is right next to Buckingham, so we took a nice stroll through it and watched all the funny little birds wander around. It's a beautiful park; there were tons of fresh, brightly colored flowers and a pond where the swans and ducks could swim. I was informed that it is a federal offense in London to harm or kill any swan because they are property of the Queen herself.
Then we walked over to Trafalgar Square where the National Gallery is and watched a few street performers, but we were all tired and went back to our hotel to find a place to eat. We ended up going to a pub just down the street that had amazing food. We all left so stuffed because we couldn't stop eating! I had fish with spinach and mashed potatoes and I got so full that I couldn't finish my Guinness.

The next day we got straight to touring London and first went to Westminster Abbey, unfortunately it's not allowed to take pictures in the Abbey, but it was gorgeous building with tombs and monuments of lots of historic figures. Mom was really excited to see the Abbey because of the Royal Wedding that is coming up at the end of the month. Across the street from the Abbey is Parliament and Big Ben, it was really cool to see both up close because they are so beautiful and intricately detailed.
Big Ben

Westminster Abbey

After the Abbey, we ate lunch at a cute little pub called Albert's and had more amazing food and beers! The English sure have the right idea of what comfort food is! I definitely couldn't eat it all the time, but dishes with mashed potatoes, roasted meat and cooked veggies covered in sauces and gravies are simply delicious...very different from Spanish food for sure!
Next we went to Westminster Cathedral, the largest cathedral in London and the one that still has frequent masses.
Westminster Cathedral

Inside the cathedral

The interior of the cathedral is amazing! All of the ceilings are mosaics made with tiny pieces of tile to create different scenes from the Bible and pictures of Saints. It was mesmerizing. The cathedral also has an elevator up to the top of the tower where you can get a great view of the entire city. It was really pretty up there, but I just like over-looks of cities anyway.

Our final destination for the day was the Tower of London. Despite what you might think, it's not a tower at all! It's actually the old fortress of London and was also used as a jail. It is right on the Thames river and was the place where Anne Boleyn was jailed and beheaded...if you know anything about English history that might be interesting to you.
Mom and Me with the Tower of London in the background.

The Tower is also where the crown jewels are currently kept, when the Royals are not using them. Unfortunately it's not allowed to take pictures of them either, but it was cool to see them. They are way too pretty and one of the scepters contains the world's largest cut diamond!
At the Tower you can see the Tower Bridge, which is the bridge commonly mistaken for the London Bridge, but we didn't go across it.
Tower Bridge

We were pretty exhausted after that and went back to the hotel to hang out and rest before dinner. We ended up going to the same pub we went the night before and all had wonderful food and beers once again!
The next morning, I left for Spain early in the morning and had to say goodbye to Mom, Donna and Cori (their flight back to the States left later in the day). Over all it was a wonderful trip and it was so great to spend time with my Mom...it's freaken hard to be away from her for such a long period time! And since she had just had shoulder surgery when I went home after Christmas, I couldn't hug her then, so it was nice to be able to give her lots of big hugs this visit! :)

Typical London picture!

Bye for now!

* P.S. - Sorry for the lateness of this post, I started it and just had time to finally finish it now. I will be posting a lot in the next few days about my birthday, the roadtrip to Portugal and Semana Santa here in Spain. :)

03 April 2011

Mom's Visit: Spain

This past week I have had the wonderful blessing of my very own Mommy coming to visit me here in Granada! As I wrote before, she came with her best friend, Donna, and Donna's daughter, Cori. It was so good to see all of them and have a piece of home here in Spain!
They arrived here in Granada on Monday after a long day of travel and some frustrations, but it was so great to see their faces and luckily I was able to greet them at their hotel! We all went out for a late dinner, well at Spanish dinner time, and my friend Olivia came with us.
Tuesday, I still went to my normal classes because they are in the early morning and the three of them went to see the Alhambra. When we met up in the early afternoon, it sounded like they didn't have the best Alhambra experience for various reasons (which made me wish I had skipped class to go with them!), but they still enjoyed it. We went out for lunch by the river, at a place that looked up at the Alhambra. Then all went to the Cathedral of Granada and the Capilla Real, where Ferdinand and Isabella, "The Catholic Monarchs", are buried. The Cathedral is a great site to see and I think they were all pleased with that visit.
Then, we took a stroll and did some tourist shopping as well as got some tapas, to complete the "real" Granada experience, of course!

The next morning we headed off to Málaga for the day. Our flight on Thursday was out of the Málaga airport and in order to avoid a long bus ride first thing in the morning we decided to stay the night there instead. And what a great idea it was! We stayed at a hotel that was literally right on the beach; it was beyond amazing. We were up in the fourth floor and had an wonderful view of the Mediterranean.

We spent pretty much the whole afternoon and evening on the beach, enjoying the water, picking up tons of seashells and sea-glass and soaking up the warm Spanish sun. It was a perfect relaxing day and I'm so glad that Mom, Donna and Cori got to have at least one day of their vacation to relax and not worry about traveling and seeing sites.

We may have not done much in Málaga, but it was not a day lacking in excitement, we were all so happy to be at the beach and it was Mom's first time seeing the Mediterranean sea!
The next day we left for London in the late morning, but we did so much that I think I will save all of that for the next post. But I will leave you with a few amazing pictures of the sunrise we saw Thursday morning over the sea, it was breathtaking.


P.S.- In personal news, just a week til I'm the big 21.