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Ronda, Spain

Ronda, city number three, was really the only place I was anxious to see during our trip. I had looked up pictures of each city online before we started, and Ronda stood out among the rest. It sits on top of a huge cliff and overlooks El Tajo, a 328 feet deep canyon, and it has a gorgeous bridge called Puente Nuevo.

We had breakfast at the Córdoba train station; I had the usual toast with jam, and Casey tried a toasted sandwich with jamón and an egg. The fresh-squeezed orange juice all over Spain is just delicious. Sometimes it’s sweet, other times it’s more sour, but it’s always good. We really got spoiled with that. We plan to squeeze our own juice more often when we get back home now and treat ourselves.

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We took a relatively slow train this time and leisurely weaved our way through the hills and up the mountain to our destination. I posted a similar picture earlier, but here’s another shot of this completely white town and a tiny castle perched on top of the hill. Quite adorable actually.

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Dark clouds were starting to roll in, so we knew we’d get some rain later on in the day. It reminded us of being in Washington again with all the greenery and overcast skies.

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We finally arrived in Ronda and Casey unloaded our bikes! This was the smallest city we visited on our trip, and the tiny train platform confirmed it. We were used to bigger, covered stations, but this was quite cute. You can see the train conductor, or whatever he’s called, in the hat with a red stick. He makes sure that everyone is off or on before the train leaves again. A lot of stops are extremely quick (2-3 minutes), so you have to be ready and on the ball to get off the train in time.

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As usual, we didn’t know what the town had to offer or really where anything was located. Casey found the hotel on his phone and we rode there in style.

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Upon arriving at the hotel, they asked to see our passports so we could check in. Every hotel asks to see your passport, and some ask to see your credit/debit card. We prepaid for all of our rooms online, but they usually want a copy of the card just in case. Fortunately, this hotel in Ronda did not ask to see our debit card… because we lost it! In fact, we lost the whole wallet! (Remember the cute little wallet Casey bought me in Córdoba? That was it.) We went up to our room and unpacked all of our things to see if we had it, but to no avail. It was lost. We backtracked in our minds to try and think where it could be. I deduced that it was probably still on the train in the overhead compartment, and it had fallen out of the backpack when Casey unzipped a pocket. We had a moment of silence filled with anger, frustration, worry, and sadness. Then we decided that the only thing to do was go back to the train station, tell them what happened, and see what they could do for us.

We rode our bikes there and talked to a man on duty. Luckily, our Spanish was decent enough to describe what had happened. We told him which train we were on so he could look up where that train was at the time. He understood our problem and made some phone calls to the next station. He told us to wait a few minutes for the station to call him back. Casey and I kept going over and over what could have happened, just in case it wasn’t on the train. We had a good amount of cash in the wallet, but that could always be replaced. We were more upset at losing my debit card because that’s what we used to withdraw money in the first place. And we were also very sad about losing the wallet itself! We anxiously waited about ten minutes, and finally the man called us back over to his desk and said that they found it! It was still in the overhead bin, exactly where we thought it would be! Yayyyy! We felt a huge rush of relief. He said that the train would be back in Ronda in about two hours, so we had to come back then to retrieve it.

We left the station with smiles on our faces and thankful hearts. Since the town was so small, we could ride around the city and back to our hotel with plenty of time to spare before we needed to be back at the station. We decided to get some lunch and relax in the meantime. We found a wonderful bakery in the center of town where we got some sandwiches and drinks. Casey ordered a deli sandwich filled with jamón, tomato, cucumber, and lettuce, as well as a super thick and creamy mocha frappuccino dolloped with a heavy dose of whipped cream. That was like a mocha mousse more than a frappuccino. I ordered a simpler pastry filled with tomato sauce and cheese (like a pizza Hot Pocket) with more fresh orange juice. Mmm. Needless to say, we were happy and relieved.

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After lunch, we went back to the hotel and rested for a while. Both of us didn’t feel like venturing out into the city just yet. We wanted to get the wallet back in our possession before we could roam and be tourists again. When we returned to the station, the train pulled up, and an employee stepped out with our cute little wallet in hand. We felt like parents picking up their child who has spent a semester abroad. (I held the wallet in my jacket pocket for the rest of the day as well.)

With the deal done, we set out to explore the city in our rain pants and raincoats. The storm clouds had gradually settled over the town, so there was now a soft drizzle of rain coming down. Unbeknownst to us, we had left the lovely climate of Córdoba and come to the extremely cold Ronda. And I do mean it was COLD! I can’t remember exactly, but I guess it was in the low-40’s that day. Casey would tell you it was just cold, since he stays much warmer than I do, but to me it was COLD. Anyway.

We rode our bikes through Old Town to get the lay of the land, as usual. This took us straight to the Puente Nuevo, the New Bridge, that is the most popular photo spot in Ronda. It also gave us a great view of El Tajo, the huge canyon below. These pictures were taken looking out into the countryside from the main side of the bridge. There is a small river below called the Guadalevin River too.

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Then we crossed to the other side of the bridge where we could see more houses and the rest of the town. And one side of the massive bridge, of course! It was just amazing to see how the buildings are built so close to the edge of the cliffs. The deep green foliage really stands out against the rock face.

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Casey was all dolled up in his rain gear as well. He looked like a spy in all his black, minus the bright blue shoes. Even our bike bag wore its neon green rain cover.

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In this Old Town section, the streets were so narrow, hardly big enough for two cars, and most of the sidewalks were even narrower! Two people could not pass each other without one moving out of the way. The roads were also extremely hilly. That coupled with the narrow roads and drizzle of rain made me decide to walk my bike out of town instead of riding it.

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We left the touristy section and found ourselves by a staircase that went down to a street which led out of town. Casey wanted to check it out, and he offered to carry both bikes down the stairs, so I agreed to that proposition. The clouds were also starting to break up and let some light through, so that was a nice sign in the sky.

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There was a large stone fortress to our right that was used for military purposes since it had a vantage point of the whole south-western side of the city. It looked formidable against the stormy sky and dim lighting, but the sheep grazing in the field toned it down. Casey “bahhhed” a few times and got them to look up at us with curiosity.

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I was still COLD, and the road was really steep, so I decided not to ride any further. The cobblestone road also made it more uncomfortable to ride since the bike vibrates so much compared to being on a smooth surface. I stayed behind while Casey rode on for a little just to see what was around the bend in the road.

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I noticed that I was standing by a haystack… a horseback riding rental place (“Horse Riding Tours”)… and three horses. They all turned their heads to look back as Casey was riding up the hill. PC033692PC033697PC033702PC033709

One of them even came closer as Casey was coming up. The white one was definitely a horse, but the black one could have been a donkey. Which means this brown one below might be a mule. (I had to do some research to figure that out.) Either way, it looked at us very seriously and curiously. PC033713

Casey was hot after riding his bike up a crazy steep hill (I walked), so he took his jacket off and then carried our bikes up the stairs again. What a guy. The bikes look kind of small in comparison to him huh!

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This church was pretty against the dusty blue sky and the bright, white moon. The cross almost looks like it’s hovering above the building rather than being attached to it.

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On our way back to the hotel, we caught a glimpse of the beautiful, white town on the other side of the bridge as well. I love how strikingly white these buildings are, up close and from afar. We ventured down into that area of town on the next day, so you’ll see those pictures in a bit.

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Once we got back to the hotel, we changed out of our rain pants to go to dinner. I was still holding onto that wallet for dear life. We didn’t know where dinner would be, so we bought a loaf of bread to nibble on while we walked around looking for a restaurant. It’s so convenient and tasty to buy fresh bread every day. I think I will also incorporate that into my “new” life back in the US. Fresh-squeezed orange juice and fresh bread. Yum. Who wouldn’t love that? We ended up at an Italian restaurant that, all-in-all, was not very good. They tried with the food, but we’ve certainly had better. We were simply not having good luck with the food in these towns! Oh well. We finished up with a slice of ice cream before going back to the hotel and getting a good night’s sleep.PC033729PC033733PC033734PC033737

The next day was a bit sunnier, a bit warmer, and a bit more exciting than the first day had been. Our usual breakfast of toast, juice, and coffee was on the menu. Then we walked through the main street of shops towards a park overlooking the countryside. All of these Spanish towns decorate their streets with lights and Christmas decorations. It’s really lovely.

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It was a glorious day, can’t you tell? :) In the picture below, the Puente Nuevo is directly to the left in between those two cliff faces. You can’t see it, but that’s where we were standing the day before looking down into the canyon and out into the valley. The building on the left is a hotel, so you can just imagine how expensive those rooms are with a view like that! It must be nice to be a farmer in these parts and be able to look up at Ronda every day as well.

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I liked the gazebo and the single, pink rose that was still blooming as winter drew near. We noticed well after the fact that we took all those pictures above while standing on a very thin platform! Look at that! We had no idea that it stuck out into the valley all on its own. I don’t know if I would have walked on it had I known how thin it actually was. Eek! Also, the foliage is something to note because there was a really interesting mix of plants in Ronda. There were dark green evergreen-like plants, but there were also plenty of cacti. I didn’t know that cacti liked cold, rainy climates. They certainly do here though. All of those light green plants below are cacti.

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There was a path leading down to the river which provided a great view of the Puente Nuevo, so we continued on and tried to find it. I knew without a doubt that I’d have to get a good picture of that bridge! That metal sign says “Warning! Way In Poor Condition” and looks about as old as the town itself. The nicer, tiled sign says “City of Ronda, Door of the Mills.” Apparently there used to be many flour mills below the bridge, so that is what that means.

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Yes, I was still COLD, even though the sun was shining and there was no rain. We didn’t think it’d be so bitterly cold in Southern Spain, so we didn’t bring our thermals, gloves, or hats. I bought some cheap gloves that morning though because my hands were still freezing, and I had to take pictures today! It was only cold and windy in certain parts of the city though, so it got much better once we descended the wide, cobblestone path and emerged into the glistening sun.

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Everywhere we looked, there were old stone relics, crumbled buildings, and piles of rock from years past. Who knew how long ago they had been built. I think this door/archway could be one of the “doors of the mills” that they were talking about. It stands alone now.

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We followed that quail-like bird up some very steep steps to reach a lookout point. I wriggled into what I imagine is an archer slit used during the days of conflict and invasions. Tiny space! Maybe it wasn’t used for that purpose after all. We took a great photo of us overlooking the valley! And then we got to the goods… the breathtaking Puente Nuevo!!

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These pictures just don’t do it adequate justice, although they are still pretty. It was huge and truly magnificent. I took many good-quality photos, so I’ll try to edit those and blow them up into large, printable sizes. Maybe you’ll want one? Hehe.

I know I posted this picture earlier, but Casey is just too cute: all blissed out, extremely happy, and warm! Lucky him.

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We kept walking on the path and went underneath the bridge to this old powerhouse of sorts. I think they used to take the water from the river here and used it to run the flour mills. Just a guess. The river was very slow here and pretty deep too. Keeping in line with the foliage discussions, there were incredibly tiny, green plants on the side of the building. I took some up-close pictures of them.

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The sun was already ever-so-slightly starting to go down, so we hiked back up the path and into the city. It was time for a snack by now, so we wandered into a sleepy café and ordered a coffee and a raspberry tart. (In case you were wondering, I don’t like coffee, so Casey is the only one partaking in all of these frothy beverages.)

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After having such a fun time at the Puente Nuevo, we decided to try and find the Puente Viejo, or Old Bridge. We went back to the hotel to get a new battery for the camera, and somehow night had fallen by the time we arrived in this side of town. The dark blue sky was just beautiful with the golden, twinkling lights!

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I took two pictures of this curvy road: one on its own and one with Casey.

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You can barely see the Puente Nuevo in this picture below. It’s the bright yellow spot far away from us. We were a good distance away from it. The Puente Viejo is the second picture below, which you can see is a much smaller bridge than the popular, new bridge near the entrance of town. This old bridge is kind of tucked away.

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I spotted this tree and just had to take a picture of it! I loved the little grassy plot it was in, and I loved the bright moon behind it. For some reason, the whole scene reminded me of Halloween. It took us forever to figure out what kind of tree this was too. It looked like oranges, but we really didn’t think oranges would grow here in such a frigid climate. Finally, a few days later and in another city, we realized that it is a persimmon tree! Cool!

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At this point, it was nighttime, we had done our sightseeing, and it was nearly dinnertime. So we wandered back toward town with no idea of where to go, as usual. We got lost at one point and found ourselves in a dead-end courtyard full of cats. There were at least six cats, if not more. They were running around, chasing each other, or having brief cat fights. Adorable in their own way.

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Casey pretended to drink out of this seriously old drinking fountain. We did read that the water is safe to drink from these things though. And the final picture of the night was this church or school or office building, I’m not sure. It was pretty and peaceful.

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As you might be able to imagine, we didn’t find any Spanish food that caught our eye that night. After all things were considered, we ended up at McDonald’s for a familiar meal. We might not speak highly of fast-food in the US, but it really fills the void when you’re in a foreign country with unfamiliar foods, and your mouth craves a bite of something comforting and understandable. That could be one of the hardest things about travel: not knowing what to expect from your food (or hotel room). There is something to be said about knowing how food is going to taste and knowing what you’re going to receive when you order it.

Well that was Ronda! We really enjoyed being there for the beauty, but we would have preferred to go when the weather was a bit warmer. It was definitely one of the most unique cities we’ve ever been to though, so we really loved that aspect of it. We were halfway through our trip at this point and having lots of fun! I have two cities left to tell you about, so stay tuned!

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Córdoba, Spain

And we’re back!

The second city we visited during our Southern Spain Trip was Córdoba. We took the train from Sevilla and, in only an hour, we were there! The trains really are a wonderful thing. They have all different types of trains, so sometimes we got high-speed trains, other times medium-distance trains, and other times the slow trains, but they were all very convenient and at relatively good prices. We would gladly travel by train any day, and we would highly recommend it to anyone traveling through Europe. I would imagine that the train systems in other countries function just as well as in Spain, although I can’t say definitively.

Anywho, we rode our bikes from the Córdoba train station to our hotel, which wasn’t far away. We settled in and relaxed for a while and then decided to explore. We pretty much didn’t do any research about any city before we arrived there. I think I would have liked to know a little bit about a city and its hot spots before arriving if I did it over again, but this way worked out decently for us. We always got a colorful map of the city from the hotel, and they pointed out the touristy spots. The maps actually looked like Disneyland maps with colorful drawings of the city and numbers indicating the name of each building.

We rode toward downtown and stopped along the way whenever we wanted to take a pretty picture. Amidst new buildings and modern architecture, we came across this random section of ancient Roman ruins just sitting in the middle of the city like it’s no big deal. I don’t even think there was a plaque describing what it was, but the fact that it was walled off made us think it was ancient and important. I loved the columns; I just wish I knew more about it. After a quick photo, we rode on.

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We made our way through the narrow and curvy streets to this amazing sight! The gorgeous clouds stopped us in our tracks, and we just had to take a picture of this bell tower against the beautiful sky. Little did we know that this was the outer wall of the Mezquita-Catedral, which means Mosque-Cathedral, but I’ll get to that later. I snapped Casey standing in front of an altar of sorts, and he took a picture of the bell tower with the moon in the background. It was a lovely sight.

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This is the other side of the complex, as you can see the bell tower on the left. I loved the curved arches on the right side of the building with the yellow light shining through. The dark blue sky really sets it off beautifully. In fact, look at how much the sky had changed in a matter of minutes! We were on the other side of the wall with bright pink clouds, then the sky was light blue, and then dark blue. Gorgeous.

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The picture above shows a huge gateway to a pedestrian bridge. It was beautiful against the midnight blue sky with just a hint of the glistening silver moon shining through the clouds. (I’m saying everything is beautiful here, but it really was.) A wide but low river moved along slowly beneath us. I think there were two additional bridges for cars, but this one was specifically designated for pedestrians. What a great idea! There are so many pedestrians in this area, so it just makes sense to have a bridge for them. It was clean and had tall, rectangular lights at regular intervals. Quite lovely.

On the other side of the bridge was this watch-tower of some kind. I love the triangular tops of the columns. Casey was a good sport to pose for all these photos.

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He got in the spirit by taking some long exposure shots to capture the whole bridge and the cathedral in its essence. I zoomed in for the second shot. Majestic lighting, isn’t it?

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We continued riding our bikes well past the touristy area and into the regular city. We love to explore without a map like that and just see where it takes us. This particular route took us straight to a mall with a Toys R Us! We saw some lights in the distance and could only make out the colors. Casey turned to me and said, “That looks just like Toys R Us.” It’s funny how we know the logo so well that we could tell what it was from afar. We went inside to warm up and shared a cup of ice cream. That sounds a bit contradictory! But, as a self-proclaimed ice cream aficionado, ice cream is still wonderful in cold weather. Often even better than in the summer. Mmm.

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We moseyed around the mall for a bit but didn’t find anything interesting to look at. The most intriguing thing was that the mall was called El Arcangel, which means The Archangel. What an odd name for a mall. It was getting late anyway and nearly dinnertime, so we made our way back to the hotel. It might surprise you that with all the Spanish food around, we were craving Chinese! We’re both big fans of Asian cuisine. I often get a craving for Korean food, but it’s easier to find Chinese. Luckily, there is always some Chinese delivery service in nearly every city, so we didn’t have to look far. This place was right around the corner. We ordered our usual pair of lemon chicken for Casey and kung pao or any spicy chicken for me. I like a little crunch with my meal, so I try to order wontons if they have them. All Chinese restaurants in Spain seem to serve “Wan-Tun Frito” which is basically just a fried wonton skin with a microscopic amount of mystery meat. I swear they have to place this single bite of meat with a tweezer. It’s almost negligible to even add it. But it did suffice for the crunch I desired.  We enjoyed the food and enjoyed staying in for the night.

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The next day was a bit more adventurous. Since there are no continental breakfasts in Spain, Casey went out to buy something. We found a place in Valencia called “Panaria” and then realized it’s a chain all over Spain. It’s a little pricy, but the food is good. They have fresh bread, sandwiches, quiche, muffins, etc. Casey got a jamón bocadillo for a change, and I had my usual toast with jam. I took a picture of him walking back to the hotel with the goods.

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We ventured out into the world and simply walked around for quite some time. We enjoyed exploring on our bikes the day before, but now we wanted to slow down a bit and see things more closely. We had a better idea of the layout of the city, so we grabbed our things and headed downtown. I enjoyed taking some pictures of the tops of buildings with a great deal of sky. I’m not sure why.

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We ran into a cute candy shop in the middle of a courtyard. It was filled to the brim with candy, peanut brittles, roasted nuts, candied apples, popcorn, and cotton candy. A bright red candy apple struck us as being fun to try. I don’t remember ever having a candied apple; I always had caramel apples, so we bought one to give it a go.

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Casey held onto it and we kept walking through the maze of streets. We found the Calleja de Las Flores, or “Street of The Flowers,” which I mentioned in a previous post.

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I’ll admit that this street sounded much more glamorous online. It was literally just one, tiny alleyway and an incredibly small courtyard. It was pretty, don’t get me wrong, especially with the view of the cathedral in the background, but it was not at all what people have described. My guess is that this is THE street of the flowers, but there are other streets of flowers that people have found. If you go online, you’ll find pictures boasting of all the flowers and flower pots that can be found in Córdoba, and they will call it Calleja de Las Flores, but they aren’t at the official one. Alas. Outside a gift shop, I admired these pretty, mosaic mirrors (see Casey in one of them!).

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By now it was time to eat our candied apple and see what all the hype was about. The glossy exterior proved to have a desirable crunch, and a sweet, juicy apple (albiet slightly pithy) lurked underneath. The sticky candy was like glue on our teeth, but it quickly dissolved. Frankly, I enjoy caramel apples better. This crunch and soft apple wasn’t the best combo. I think chewy caramel pairs better with apples, but this was fun to try.

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At this point, we were back on the same street as the Mezquita-Catedral, so we decided to go inside the walls and take a look. The gardens were so lovely and fresh! The smell of orange blossoms was in the air, obviously from all the orange trees. (It smelled like the Atrium at the Mansion, actually.)

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Now I’ll tell you a little bit about the Mezquita-Catedral, or Mosque-Cathedral. It is exactly what it sounds like: half Muslim Mosque, half Christian Cathedral. Muslims occupied Spain for many, many years until Christians drove them out, so many buildings have references to both cultures. This is one of the definitive structures which showcases both architectural styles beautifully. This is also THE HOT SPOT of Córdoba. We figured that out the night before and decided that we better go take a look at it. Even though we’re not big museum people, we knew this was one touristy spot we couldn’t miss. You’ll soon see why.

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I don’t need to tell you that the interior was breathtaking! Arch after arch and column after column filled the hall. The two tiers of red and white striped arches were just something we had never seen before. No wonder this place is a must see!

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Percentagewise, most of the architecture is Muslim or Islamic in design with its rich browns, reds, and greys (it might be called Moorish architecture; the Muslims were called “Moors” for some reason). But then… then you have the striking white and gold juxtaposition of the Christian constructions. There is a huge altar with beautiful paintings and stained glass, as well as two enormous organs and a full Baroque choir.

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The next picture is one of my favorites because it shows both extremely contrasting styles right next to each other. They are notably exact opposites, yet they somehow work together in a strange and beautiful way.

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We reluctantly left the cool chambers of the Mosque-Cathedral and went back out into daylight. Casey is standing outside one of the doors to the building. Even the architecture on the outside is intricate in detail and color. We spotted these absolutely adorable mirrors at a gift shop too! I wanted one so badly! We packed so lightly though with only two bags that we didn’t have much space for souvenirs. On the bright side, the really pretty mirrors were the bigger ones (size 11×14 and up). Since I logically could not haul one of those around, I didn’t feel too badly about not buying it.

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We again found ourselves next to the pedestrian bridge, so we took some more pictures of it. It was still lovely in the light blue twilight.

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You probably didn’t know that there are stray cats everywhere in Spain! We saw them in every city that we visited. If you know me, then you know that I love cats! The Spanish cats we saw were always short-hair and very friendly. They would come up to us and rub against our legs. These two were particularly cute together. They let me get super close to them. And then, as I was crouched down to the ground, another cat came up to me and started rubbing against my arm. I managed to take a close up of him or her! Adorable!

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We pressed on with our evening tour of the city and had a little fun in the meantime.

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We found some delicious fruit candies in a window and proceeded to buy a few. They were the best, soft, jelly candies we ever had, and that’s saying something! The store clerk said they were sweetened with natural fruit juices and they tasted sooo good. The flavor was unlike any other candy. It was like drinking fruit juice in solid form. Yummy! We’d go back to Córdoba just for those.

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Oh, and for this. Without a heartbeat. Remember this glorious pastry? We do. I think we still have dreams about it. See Casey’s expression below? That was when he said, “Whaaatttt? How can something be SO GOOD?” He was amazed. Now I have to replicate it. I won’t mind trying.

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Casey bought me a sweet little wallet to hold my euros! Coins are used a lot more in Europe than in the US, since they have larger coins (1 and 2 euros) compared to quarters. It’s a hassle to dig through one pocket full of cash and coins, so we opted for this tiny wallet with two zippers. Casey saw a local using a wallet like this and immediately wanted one. It works really well! You fold the bills and put them in one pocket, and then the second pocket is strictly for coins. And the easiest way to sort through coins is to dump them in your hand. It works! (Remember this wallet because I have a story about it when we get to Ronda, Spain.)

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My grandma requested that I write more about food, so I plan to do just that! Unfortunately, our food choices in Córdoba were nothing spectacular. The Chinese food was better than these Spanish dishes you see below. Our plan was to go to a highly rated restaurant in the center of town. We got there, looked at the menu displayed outside, and realized that it was a little pricier than we wanted. There also weren’t too many dishes that sounded good. The reviews said they had great food, but we realized that it was all local fair. Both of us aren’t adventurous eaters unless we know it’s good. We’ll definitely try something if one of our friends recommends it to us, but we’re just not going to waltz in and order something foreign. The main delicacy in Córdoba was bull’s tail and, well, that just didn’t sound too good at the moment. So we wandered on and ended up at a cheaper place with tapas (small Spanish dishes or appetizers) that we could relate to. We had little meatballs, a tiny hamburger, and cheese cannelloni. Like I said, it was cheap and tasted so, but it filled the void.

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On the way back to the hotel, we found a place that served 100 different kinds of tiny pizzas. We ordered two dessert pizzas: one Oreo with white chocolate, and one with cream cheese and strawberry preserves. Casey enjoyed them enough, but I wasn’t impressed. They looked nothing like the pictures in the menu and they didn’t taste all that good. Alas. We tried.

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We made it back to the hotel and turned in for the night. Even though we didn’t have the best meals in this city, we thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere and the architecture. It was a fun two days. The next day we would take the train out of town and head into the hills to a gorgeous place called Ronda.

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Stay tuned. Yours truly,

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P.S. The full gallery of photos is having a hard time uploading due to the poor internet here in Lagos (and the fact that there are a lot of pictures). I’ll try and post them later on, and I’ll let you know when they’re up!


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Don’t Look Down

Well here we are in Naija (a common nickname for Nigeria, pronounced “nigh-ja”). Casey is back at work already today. I’m here holding down the fort and trying to write.

I thought of today’s post because that’s exactly what I’ve been telling myself: don’t look down. We’ve traveled to a lot of sketchy places and stayed in a lot of sketchy hotels in our day. Mainly they were overseas, but sometimes, on our quest to save money, we’d choose a shabby hotel in the US. We were only to blame for those decisions, but we really don’t have much choice in Europe and in Africa. Their standards are just plain different. And, if we don’t want to spend a fortune, we have to settle for some less-than-average places.

We learned that almost all hotels in Spain are ranked on a scale of 1-5 stars. Some US hotels also use the star system (i.e. “this is a 4 star hotel!”) but the system is more official in Spain. They can’t give themselves the rating; they are rated by some obscure hotel officials and then they have to try and stay at that level. Anyway, 5 stars would be the best and the most expensive, so we chose various hotels on the 3-4 star level. They were decent and perfectly acceptable for Spaniards, I’d imagine, but they lacked a few things we wanted: such as, a continental breakfast, one bed, better shower doors, and cleaner showers. We learned that continental breakfast are nonexistent in Spain – they just don’t do them. So that’s fine, we would get our morning toast, coffee, and orange juice from a local bakery. We learned that the majority of hotel rooms come with two beds. One bed for one couple is a luxury. We’re used to that though because a lot of hotels in Sweden also prefer the two bed arrangement. We learned that Spain uses a half-door system for showers, meaning that the door only covers half the shower length so water inevitably spills out onto the floor. Casey and I both think of ourselves as being intelligent people, but we can’t figure out for the life of us why they wouldn’t use full shower doors. That concept completely eludes us. And we learned that clean grout/caulk in showers are not a common thing in Spain. Why? I don’t know! Yes, there are dirty showers in the US at cheap motels, but I’d be willing to say that most nice hotels that you and I would stay at have clean showers and bathtubs. Is it the climate of the US versus Europe where more mold grows in Europe? I can’t believe that’s true. Do they just not care about cleaning their grout? That seems more like it.

The moral of my story is that we’ve experienced different standards and customs throughout our travels. We put up with a lot from different foods to transportation to hygiene and the like. Most of it we can handle. We manage either by adapting or by lowering our standards. But some things are just hard to swallow. Case in point: dirty showers.

You’ve probably realized by now that hygiene is up there on my list of important things. If I had to choose, I’d say it fills my number one spot. Casey calls me “Hygiene Girl” and I call him “Gadget Boy.” Regardless, a clean shower just goes a long way for me. I can put up with dingy hotel rooms, dirty carpet, dusty window sills, and water-stained ceilings. I can put up with bad customer service, pathetic continental breakfasts, and places that look like the Bates’ Motel. What I CAN’T put up with is calcium-encrusted shower heads, rusty faucets, dirty sinks, crappy toilets, and dark, moldy grout/caulk in the shower. I have a zero tolerance policy for these things! In the US, you can usually try to look at new rooms and find a cleaner one. In Spain, it’s hit or miss. In Nigeria, it’s a miss. It’s humid here, it’s hot here, they’re still working on everyone having homes and clean drinking water, so there’s not much chance in getting spotless bathrooms. That’s why we walked around the hotel the other day to try and find a decent room that would satisfy our number one priorities: technology and hygiene.

On almost all counts, this bedroom is primo. It’s large which means there is plenty of space for our 11 bags, we have closet space, we have a living space with two chairs and our piano, two desks for our computers (we asked for a second desk and were surprised to get it), the bed is comfortable (either they’re way too hard or way too soft), the internet is pretty good, the room itself smells fine (a lot of rooms smell wet and musty like they haven’t seen daylight in a few months), and the bathroom… is okay…

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It’s fairly large so there is plenty of room to walk around, the sink is clean and has a nice under-sink storage area (I’m not using it, but it’s there), the toilet works and is clean, there is a nice-sized water heater (many rooms have much smaller water heaters so we have to take short showers), and the shower walls are clean. The good thing about dark tile is that it’s harder to tell what’s dirty. We moved a nightstand into the bathroom for extra storage space too.

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The two downsides are that the sink is missing a drain cover (I can’t stand looking down a sink drain!), and the caulk around the bathtub is less than satisfactory. Hey, it’s been way worse in other rooms, but it’s still not all pleasant here. I’m glad that the bathtub itself is clean, so I don’t feel like I’m standing on a filthy surface. The first room we were in at this hotel had a tiled floor and some of the grout was dirty, so I would have worn sandals in the shower. I can’t feel clean if I’m in a dirty shower, ya know? That’s just one of my pet peeves. We found a couple really nice rooms with exceptionally clean showers, but we couldn’t have those rooms for one reason or another. I’m really content with this room for all of the positive reasons, but those two downsides still eat into my nerves and make me cringe. That is why I’ve been telling myself, “Don’t Look Down.” As long as I don’t peer into the abyss of the sink drain when I’m washing my face or brushing my teeth, I’m okay. As long as I don’t stare at the blackish-bluish-greenish mold underneath a clear glaze of caulk while I’m reaching for the shampoo, I’m okay. I’m okay. (You can click on those pictures and make them bigger if you so desire. Otherwise, I’m happy to keep them smaller.)

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My rant is over and I thank you for listening to it. On a brighter note, we went shopping yesterday at Goodies, our favorite store. We stopped at the ATM first to get some more cash (see Casey in the little booth). We were looking forward to having a fish burger for lunch but they were out of fish. Maybe the fishermen are on strike? We settled on a chicken sub sandwich instead which was actually pretty good. We are still impressed by the quality of their restaurant. Casey ordered a caffe latte or café con leche as it’s known in Spain (coffee with milk). He said he feels like he’s sampling coffees from around the world. It had an immense amount of milk foam on top, which we both knew his mom would enjoy! And then we shared one scoop of kiwi sorbet afterwards. Actually Casey ate most of it because it tasted strangely like a candle to me. Alas.

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After eating, we went shopping for food and other items. We had to watch our luggage weight on the airplanes, so we couldn’t buy food in Spain and bring it here. What a shame! That meant we had to buy super expensive food in Lagos. Sigh. Casey pointed out that being happy and content in Lagos is hard to come by, so pricy food is worth every penny if it keeps our moral up. I know exactly what he means, even though it’s SO hard to bear spending a fortune on the same items we’d get for less in other countries. I treated myself to some extremely expensive cereals though because I eat it every morning. Here is a copy of our receipt. I’ll tell you the prices for some items: A bag of Chex Mix: $4.20, Nature Valley granola bars: $5.30, A jar of spaghetti sauce: $4.54, Old-fashioned Quaker Oats: $10.14, Jif creamy peanut butter: $5.07, Smuckers jam: $5.30, Reese’s Puffs cereal: $8.00, Frootloops cereal: $8.00, Waffle Crisp cereal: $6.40, Basic 4 cereal: $6.94, Fiber One granola bars: $6.94. Our total bill came out to $109! Yikes! I joked that the red mark on the receipt was us signing in blood for our good food. Casey cringed. (It was actually the tape machine running out of paper.)

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We’re still surprised that the owners of Goodies have done so well for themselves. They have an amazing amount of US brands (much more than in Europe), and their store is always packed. Now the restaurant is busy and has tasty food. Even though we don’t like our hotel all that much, we’re glad to be close to Goodies and Domino’s Pizza. We would not have these places if we stayed at hotels on the other side of the city.

We enjoyed a bowl of Reese’s Puffs last night for dessert. I made Casey some PB&J sandwiches this morning to take to work. Then I had Waffle Crisp for breakfast while watching my Golden Girls. Who could complain? I feel compelled to say that I try to eat healthier cereals and I usually succeed in doing so. I only keep healthy cereals around in Camas. But I haven’t had these brands in ages and being in Lagos is all about keeping yourself happy right?? Right.

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No Man’s Land

We are in Lagos! Again.

Our trip went very smoothly. It even had a few bright spots to cheer us up. First off, we didn’t have too much food for breakfast yesterday morning, so I made biscuits. I had never made biscuits before, but I had a craving last week, so I looked online and found a spectacular recipe. It is super easy and sooo good! They were fluffy, creamy, and lightly browned on top. Just like they should be. Just perfect! Obviously, I didn’t have a round biscuit cutter, but they tasted amazing in any shape. I don’t post recipes here, but I think this one needs to be shared. I highly recommend that you try it! Click the link:

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2014/06/light-tender-cream-biscuits-recipe.html

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After indulging in honey-glazed goodness, we finished cleaning and packing up the last minute items. Our plan was to take the bus and the train (metro) to the airport. Even though we had four large suitcases and two totes, we felt like we could do it. (The picture above shows Casey in the elevator with all four bags!) However, after seeing how packed the bus was, we decided that maybe a taxi was in our best interest. Luckily, there was a taxi stand just around the corner from our apartment and the bus stop, so Casey found a taxi big enough for all of our luggage. The ride was so much nicer than hauling all our bags on public transportation!

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I never really posted pictures OF the apartment, so here are a few that Casey took just before we left. It was a nice place for us! Two bedrooms, family room, kitchen, and bathroom. It suited us well.

We left Valencia and flew to Paris. The Paris airport terminal was very cool with their curved ceiling.

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Fortunately, we had enough time to buy some food before boarding the plane for our flight to London. We bought a ham and cheese sandwich, lemonade, and a slice of banana cream pie! I had to carry the piece of pie on board, and we realized that food is a great conversation starter. The woman who checked our boarding pass said she loves it, and two flight attendants on the plane said how good it looked. They were all very friendly thanks to the pie. Perhaps we should always carry yummy looking food to soften people up!

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Casey and I both love lemonade, but we’ve had some weird and almost inedible variations overseas. One brand in Lagos tasted like PineSol to me.  Here he demonstrates his sommelier skills before tasting it, and it was decent! This French brand was not as sweet as US brands; it tasted more like pure lemon juice, but it was satisfying.

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The sunset views were gorgeous! I love flying around that time because the colors and the clouds are so pretty! Casey never ceases to remind me that he (a pilot) has the BEST seat on the plane.

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I really enjoyed seeing the rainbow colors in the sky. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such a strong color gradient before.  We were over France at the time, so maybe we were at just the right angle in the world. The streak of white is a plane in the distance as well.

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We just crossed the English Channel in the photo below and were now over England. I get so excited when I see other planes in the sky. The plane looks further away in the photo, but I swear we could see so much detail. We’ve been pretty close to planes before, especially when we fly in a small Cessna, but this was THE closest plane I’ve ever seen! Wow!

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We had a few hours to pass before our flight to Lagos, so we walked around the airport and had a coffee and muffin. Then we went to a cute British restaurant for dinner. We enjoyed a great meal of chicken pot pie and pumpkin tortellini.

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We moseyed on over to the gate and boarded a full flight. But then the best bright spot happened! We got to sit in first class!! Yeah! Casey usually gets upgraded to first class lately when he flies alone, but for some reason it never works out when I am with him. Finally it did though! I was so giddy and didn’t know what to do with myself.

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We were able to sleep for a few hours and were much more comfortable than in economy. The seats even fold down and lay completely flat. I wish we’d get upgraded all the time.

Lagos is pretty festive, and there are always Christmas decorations everywhere. Even the airport got all dolled up!

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We had to stop at the pilot compound to pick up all of Casey’s luggage that stays in Nigeria. I admired the Christmas tree while they gathered his things. I tried to take a panoramic picture too! I think it turned out pretty well. You can see Casey in the left-hand corner, three different buildings, and the tree. Cute! You can click on the picture to make it bigger as well, if you want.

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Then the driver took us to our hotel called Devine. Casey commented that it is everything but “devine.” Tis true. Alas. The clouds were so different and pretty though!

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In total, we had eleven bags counting what we brought from Spain and what Casey keeps in Lagos. Wow right? I was leaning on the bags so they wouldn’t fall out of the van.

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Initially, they gave us a small room with two beds and a crappy bathroom. We got there so early this morning that they didn’t have any other rooms until people checked out this afternoon. There was nothing else we could do, so we managed and just took a nap for a few hours. Then, after checkout time, we walked around and looked at many different rooms to find one we liked more. Casey wanted a window facing north or east in order to have a better internet signal, and I wanted a clean bathroom! (You can see that technology and hygiene are our most important necessities, albeit very different from each other.) It took us awhile to find one room with both, but we finally did. Fortunately we were able to change rooms, and now we are much happier. We spent about an hour rearranging furniture and unpacking so that we have a very comfortable space. After all, we will be here for a month!

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I commented to Casey that choosing a new room here is like selling your soul because there is always a catch when you sell your soul. In our case, we think we’re getting a much better room and are so excited about it, but there must be something we overlooked and might be sorry for later. It’s a dramatic simile, but I think it makes my point. Our dinner further confirms the analogy because it honestly tasted like fire! We ordered chicken with jollof rice (a spicy, tomato-based rice) and it was SO spicy! It even had a slightly grilled, charcoal flavor, just as I imagine fire would have. Hopefully we won’t regret our decision to move to this room; so far, it’s wonderful and might be the best room we’ve ever had in Lagos! (We might just have a little heartburn but that’s ok, hehe.)

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Now we’re here and settled and ready for a fun-filled, fabulous, farcical month in our other home away from home! Stay tuned and I’ll be blogging about the rest of our trip through Southern Spain :)


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Onward and Upward

Greetings!

I apologize for not posting more blogs recently. I have had zero motivation to write this past week. Fortunately (or unfortunately?), I’ll have plenty of time to write in the very near future because Casey and I are flying to Lagos tomorrow! Yeahhhhh it’s that time again! We have been packing today and are pretty much all set to leave. We won’t be coming back to Valencia next month, so we had to pack up all of our things. Yikes! We have four large suitcases and two totes. It’s a lot, but we’ve carried much more luggage before. I guess you could say we’re used to it by now.

So…. tomorrow we will fly to Paris, then we will have to run through the airport to catch our connection flight to London, and then we will fly to Lagos in the evening. Travel days at their best, right? Hehe. I’ll report to you all when we arrive!

We spent the last two days with Maria and Martina, so that was great to spend some final time with them. Abel is already in Lagos, so we’ll see him soon. We hope to return to Spain sometime next year, so that will be fun to look forward to! We miss everyone already! Marisa, Abel’s mom, has been so good to us by renting us this apartment and having us over to her house numerous times. We are so grateful!

Here are some pictures of Casey at dinner last night… it’s so funny! Martina randomly started climbing on top of him, as usual. She wanted to climb up all by herself so he didn’t help her. Then she grabbed his nose in her hand. I loved it!

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Sevilla, Spain [Seville]

Now is the time to blog about our trip across Southern Spain! Casey and I have been taking it relatively easy the past few days, but I’ve been busy going through our photos and choosing the best ones. Yay! It’s a time-consuming process, I’ll be honest. It’s just wonderful to have so many pictures in the first place, but then you have to go through them, tag them, and edit them if you want. I meant to post this blog yesterday, but it took a lot longer than I expected. Anyway, let’s talk about the fun part.

We left our apartment in Valencia bright and early at 7:20 AM, although it was still pitch black at that hour. It was raining lightly and the rain made all the lights twinkle. We were prepared though with our raincoats and rain covers for our bags. Casey wanted to pack as lightly as possible so all we had was a backpack and a bike bag. Our packing situation worked out really well though since we traveled light but still had everything we needed. We rode our bikes to the bus stop and then took the bus to the train station!

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We timed it perfectly so all we had to do was fold up our bikes and check in. They have security screening at some train stations, but they are definitely not as serious about it as airports. There was always plenty of space on the trains to put our bikes; sometimes they fit in the luggage compartments and other times they had specific bike areas. Since our train ride was so early, Casey tried to get some sleep!

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The journey was about four hours long but it went by quickly. After we arrived in Sevilla, we rode our bikes to our hotel and checked in. I wouldn’t say that Spain is known for its bike lanes, but most of the bigger cities have them. We wished that more cities had better bike lanes though because they are really convenient and make riding a lot more comfortable. We always tried to stay on the bike lanes when able. Casey was very good at navigating on his phone, and he has a helpful phone mount on his bike so he can look at maps while we ride.

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We spent two days in each city, so the first day we usually just rode our bikes around town to get acquainted with the area and see the layout. It was a good plan since we could figure out what we wanted to see and then spend more time there during the second day. Sevilla was just beautiful. The air was crisp with the feeling of early winter in the air (and we both love fresh, crisp weather), and there was the pretty Guadalquivir River surrounding the city. They love designing cities around rivers here in Spain, but I imagine that that is the same in most of Europe. If I think about it, Portland, Oregon is also situated around the river just like Sevilla, so I guess it’s similar all over the world!

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We rode on the outskirts of town and stopped at various places to take pictures. There were a lot of awesome buildings to admire!

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We ended up at a gorgeous park called Parque de Maria Luisa. It looked almost like an open-air museum because it was filled with fountains, statues, gazebos, ponds, orange trees, and flowers. On that note, I should mention that Sevilla itself is bursting with orange trees! I’m not exaggerating. They line almost every street in the whole city. The trees make the streets more enjoyable, and sometimes we could smell a faint fragrance of orange essence in the air. Mmm.

Anyway, getting back to the park… it was so beautiful and majestic. I felt like I was in someone’s private backyard garden. (Actually it was someone’s private property until the late 1800’s when the owner, Maria Luisa, donated it to the city.) There were benches with ornate vases propped next to them and arbors with vines creeping upward. There were numerous birds and ducks but we only saw one swan.

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There were two museums on the premises, but we didn’t go into them. We’re not big museum people, so you’ll notice that we didn’t go into very many along our trip. We prefer to see cities from a local’s perspective and find hidden gems that might not be on a tourist’s map. That being said, we did spend a lot of time in touristy sections and we did visit the most prominent sites because, well, we had to. We couldn’t quite visit a city and not see its most famous landmark!

While riding through the park, we came across the Plaza de España, one of the popular spots in Sevilla. It was built to mark the Ibero-American Exposition World’s Fair of 1929. It’s a HUGE semicircle with two large bell towers at either end and a main building at the very center. There is a moat in front of it, so you can only get to the buildings by crossing bridges. There is also a large fountain in the very center of the plaza. It was breathtaking to see, and we got there at the perfect time just as the sun was setting.

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The plaza is lovely in itself, but there are also very ornate, tiled alcoves all along the walls of the semicircle. Each alcove represents a different province of Spain. We were told that the tradition is to take a picture in your home province, so we did just that for Valencia!

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The sun set and we made our way to the downtown area to check out THE MAIN HOT SPOT: the Cathedral of Sevilla. It was impressive!! My pictures definitely do not do it justice since I couldn’t get a good vantage point for the life of me. We went back the next day to take more pictures, and I still could not find a good spot to photograph the cathedral in all its glory. Of course, there is a reason for this: it is the largest Gothic building in Europe and the third largest church in Europe. I just looked up the statistics online and some sites differ about its rank in the world, but regardless, it’s huge! Apparently it took 104 years to build! From 1402-1506. WOW! That’s crazy. I absolutely love Gothic architecture, so I was in awe the whole time. I love all the ornate details and immense decorations that it possesses. The details like flying buttresses, arches, spires, and towers are just glorious!

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Sigh. I really really wanted to get a better view, but we didn’t make time to climb the bell tower, which is called La Giralda. I read that if you go to the top, you could see a good amount of the cathedral from above. (Either that, or rent an airplane hehe.) I guess this gives us something to see again if we ever want to go back to Sevilla. We also didn’t go inside of the cathedral, so that is something else we could do. Also, take a good look at that photo above and you can see Casey among the crowd!

The rest of our second day was spent riding around town and taking pretty [and quirky] photos of the city and of each other. We didn’t find any more monuments that we wanted to see, so we mainly relaxed and just enjoyed the day.

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All-in-all, we really enjoyed Sevilla! It treated us well. I think it was one of my favorite cities just because of the Cathedral alone, but it also did have a nice vibe to it. The people were nice, it felt modern enough, but it also had a deep feeling of antiquity which some cities just have and others do not. It was a great start to our tour of Southern Spain!

I’ve decided to post a new blog about each city that we visited instead of combining it all into one post. That way it’s shorter, and it will be easier to differentiate between all of the cities (for you and for me). Normally I post all of my pictures in the blog, but I have way too many to post in this usual fashion. Therefore, I’m going to try something new and put all of our photos into a gallery at the end of each post. I only chose the best photos to actually showcase in the blog, but there are still many good ones in the gallery. Click on a picture and it will become larger. Then you can scroll through all of them and see bigger images. I also captioned some of the photos so you can read those descriptions if you click on a picture. Please do it! :) Enjoy!


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Back to Our Home Away from Home, Away from Home… Away from Home…

We made it to Valencia! Unfortunately, the train ride was much worse than we expected. Based on the descriptions online, we thought the seats would recline a lot and we would have a decent amount of leg-room. The truth of the matter was that only one train coach contained seats like that. That was the “business class coach,” if you will. We were in the crappy economy tourist coach with crappy seats and crappy room between rows. We also ended up in the four-seat configuration where two seats face each other, so we had another couple sitting across from us and facing us. Sigh. The upsetting part was that we picked our seats online and it didn’t show anything about the four-seat configuration, so we felt misled. Anyway, we learned the hard way and won’t be taking that particular train again, unless we definitely get better seats, or even a bed. It was a seven hour train ride, but at least it went by quickly for both of us since we fiddled around on our phones the whole time. We also ate dinner on the train and that was reasonably tasty.

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We arrived at the nice, ripe time of 4 AM! And we rode our bikes back to our apartment! It was dark, chilly, but the streets were devoid of cars, which was wonderful. We got home in no time at all. The train station was pretty at night.

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Now we’re back to the old routine of Casey playing computer games and me doing laundry and cleaning and complaining about cleaning. Hehe. I plan to blog about the whole trip and post the good photos soon though. We took 1,659 pictures!! Isn’t that awesome? I’m proud. I hope we got some good ones!

Anyway, I have a question for you all. Did you enjoy the smaller, more frequent posts? Do you prefer the less frequent but longer posts? Any preference? I could try and post smaller posts more often if you like that, or stay with my usual long posts… let me know if you have any comments about that.