A Travellerspoint blog

May 2019

Exploring Southern Andalusia and Seville


View 2019 on mrb430's travel map.

Málaga may be the stepchild in Andalusia after the "Big Three" of Seville, Cordoba, and Granada but it is the southernmost large city in Europe and positioned perfectly on the Costa del Sol with a ton of history, culture, and ambiance all it's own AND ABOUT A THIRD OF THE TOURISTS! We've been trying to balance just enjoying the city and the beaches here with day trips. Our eldest daughter Morgan was here this past week so that gave us an excuse for a few more than normal.

LA CONCEPCÍON HISTORICAL-BOTANICAL GARDENS

Málaga is surrounded on three sides by the Montes de Málaga, low green hills. There is some development in them but mostly are still untamed. One exception is the botanic gardens that were the created in the mid-1800's. From their website:

The origins of La Concepcion Estate can be traced back to the joining together of several smaller estates along the banks of the River Guadalmedina to the north of the city of Malaga. Used for agricultural purposes, they were home to cereal crops, olive and almond trees, vines, and, most notably, citrus trees. The garden was created by the Marquis and Marchioness of the House of Loring, Jorge Loring Oyarzabal and Amalia Heredia Livermore, both of whom were born to well-known businessmen who came to the city to make their fortunes. According to the jurist Rodriguez de Berlanga, the idea for the garden originally came to them after they had visited a series of palaces, villas, parks, estates, and botanical gardens during their honeymoon in Europe seven years earlier. To bring it to life, they enlisted the services of a French gardener, Jacinto Chamoussent, whose skilled selection and acclimatisation of exotic plants was subsequently rewarded with numerous prizes.

It's a beautiful garden with many different zones, from desert to tropic, and lovely overlooks of the city. Easy to get to by bus and a short walk, it makes a great outing from the city.
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There are water courses, water falls and pools throughout and a hundred year old olive tree!
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Of course after that hot day, it was time for cocktails and complementary tapas, this time watermelon on ice and some papas.
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Birding
You may notice I had my binoculars out at the gardens. All in all, so far, birding here has been a disappointment. We did see four new birds in the gardens including this one.
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The other thing that's fun is there are a ton of parakeets in the palm trees here. Although not native, and very noisy, they sure are pretty.
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There is an estuary south of Málaga where the Guadalhorce River empties into the Med, and yes it actually still flows, so I'm hoping to see more birds there!

SEVILLE

Our big trip with Morgan was an overnight to Seville, one of the big three and the largest city in Andalusia. I had an ulterior motive for the trip in that my great friend Tania was visiting also with her boyfriend. We had drinks in the afternoon and had a chance to catch up. It was so awesome to see her on this side of the pond and I'm grateful she made time for me.
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Seville is an ancient city with a ton of history and three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I won't recount it here as it's all in Wikipedia for your enjoyment. I was there almost 30 years ago and remember it fondly but this time after comparing it with Málaga I was less impressed. It was overrun with tourists, even in mid-May, which makes it hard to enjoy. But wandering the ancient quarter and seeing the sites is still really great.

ALCAZÁR
One of the most impressive buildings I've ever seen is there - the Alcázar. It is a wonder of moorish craftsmanship.
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And it's where I fell in love with Spanish tile.
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Perhaps the highlight though are the magnificent gardens that surround it.
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And thanks to having Morgan with us we can actually get some good pictures of us together!large_IMG_0403.JPG

Morgan and Scott got a table at the garden cafe so we could have some refreshments after the tour.
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CATHEDRAL OF SAINT MARY OF THE SEE AND THE GIRALDA TOWER
The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, the third largest in the world, is truly gigantic and both the outside and inside feature incredible gothic ornamentation. The inside however, has been broken up with a great choir loft and organ and it is poorly lit so it's hard to appreciate how grand it is. There are 80 individual chapels in addition to a chapter house (small cathedral off to the side) that is bigger than many churches.
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It contains the remains of Christopher Columbus in a beautiful tomb borne by kings of Castile, Leon, Aragon and Navarre.
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The highlight though are definitely the remains of the mosque that the cathedral replaced, the Patio de los Naranjos and the Giralda.
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After relaxing in the Patio of Oranges, we climbed the bell tower. It's different than climbing many towers in that you ascend on ramps that turn at 90 degree angles as they climb the square tower. There are views from the windows on the way up and then an open bell tower with views at the top.

Here's a view from afar to give you perspective.
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And from the way up.
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And from the top.
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LAS SETAS DE SEVILLE
Las Setas de Sevilla, otherwise known as the Metropol Parasol, is a bit off the beaten path and more modern than the other sights but well worth it. It is a huge wooden sculpture with a walkway on top that has great views of the city.

Here's a pic I stole off the internet to let you see the whole thing.
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And some of ours from the top.
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And of course, while in Seville, we took in a flamenco show. I was definitely more interested in it than Morgan or Scott but they were nice enough to indulge me!
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FRIGILIANA AND NERJA

On both Morgan's bucket list and mine was a trip to one of the white towns of Andalusia. Spread throughout the hills behind the coast, they are reminiscent of greek villages but actually date back to Moorish settlements. We picked Frigiliana, which is an easy bus trip from Málaga.

FRIGILIANA
The old town is amazingly picturesque with winding streets inlaid with stonework designs, tiny doors, beautiful flowers, and views back to the Med.
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And of course amazing outdoor cafes with views.
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Cold gazpacho, sangria, and sherry on a warm, sunny balcony. All the reasons we love Spain.

As I've said, living in Málaga has made me fall in love with the Costa del Sol. The idea of being able to straddle the best of the things we love - city culture, beaches, amazing food - all in one place is an awesome combination. As we travel up and down the coast, there is town after town, some small and some larger, that provide this mix. There are endless possibilities here. And then we saw these white villages and, for me, I was all in. Of course we expect to find the same feelings in Portugal and France so no "decisions" are being made but I can say this is a truly wonderful part of the world. Scott, I think, is holding out to find a more tropical place that fits the bill.

NERJA AND FUENGIROLA
Nerja and Fuengirola are coastal towns, the first north and just below Frigiliana, and the second south, outside Málaga. They are first and foremost beach resort towns. They have the feel of a Miami Beach or Jersey Shore but with European flare and a bit of history. Filled with pedestrian-only shopping streets, tons of cafes and restaurants, and beach front esplanades, they are really vibrant and fun.
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Nerja's coastline is rocky with a great headland that has a lookout just off the center of the old town. It's beaches are smaller and darker.
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Fuengirola, on the other hand, has 8 km of beach stretched out along the city and it's "suburbs". The beaches are very nice and all along it there are restaurants and shops. But head back into the city and you find the beautiful churches and plazas with people gathering in the afternoon and the quintessential old men sitting together one benches.
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GIBRALTER

Everyone told us we needed to make time to get to Gibraltar and it turned out to be an easy day trip. Since Morgan was up for it, we did it with her.
It's about a two hour bus ride to the station in La Línea de la Concepción, which is on the Spanish side just adjacent to the border crossing. After walking across the border, you're in Great Britain!
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Then you walk across the airfield on which only flights from Great Britain land, and you're in the old town.
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We took a mini-bus tour of the main sights "on the rock" as it's either that or walking to the top. No cars or public buses are allowed.
The first stop is to view across the strait to North Africa and the other half of the Pillars of Hercules.
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Then it's on to the Cuevas de Gibralter, a large cavern with amazing geologic features. Unfortunately, they play a light show inside constantly that makes photography challenging.
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Next stop is to play with the Barbary Apes that colonize the rock. This is the highest point you can drive to and has amazing views of the front of the rock.
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And finally, the Great Siege Tunnels that were dug into the rock during the 1800's when the French joined with the Spanish to lay siege to the British. On the side of the rock facing Spain, it also had great views.
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After the tour we visited Europa Point for views of North Africa, the lighthouse, and the mosque from ground level. The spring flowers are out so I was especially happy!
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Then it was a stroll through the old town with an obligatory stop off at a pub for Shepard's Pie and their Sunday Carving.
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It was a great trip and definitely worth the effort.

Still on our bucket list are Cordoba, one of the big three, and maybe Ronda, another white town in the hills.

Make sure to follow us @arrradventures on Instagram for more frequent updates on Arrradventures!

Posted by mrb430 01:59 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Living Like a Local in Málaga


View 2019 on mrb430's travel map.

Well I promised a month of updates from Málaga and it's been close to three weeks since I posted! We've been busy!

Truly, I've had time here and there but in a weird way I've felt so at home here it hasn't felt like a vacation to report on. I've fallen in love with Málaga. It's the first place we've visited that we could (both) actually see ourselves living in or near. But before we get to that, let me show and tell.

SETTLING IN

Our first few days in Málaga were all about adjusting to Spanish culture and life. We rented a small duplex apartment that overlooks the Guadalmedina "River". I put river in quotes because in the 20's after a flood they dammed the river upstream and made a reservoir. So there is only ever water in the river when they have to allow overflow from the dam. We've seen it once with a small amount of water. Other wise it looks like this - a green oasis that mostly functions as a huge dog park and graffiti art showroom.
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There are hotels along it with the riverfront as a feature area for dining, etc. On Google Maps it shows it as a blue river. We often wonder how many people get here to say..."Where's the river?!"

HISTORIC CENTER

Málaga, like most coastal towns in Spain, has a very long history. From Wikipedia:

Málaga's history spans about 2,800 years, making it one of the oldest cities in Europe and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. According to most scholars, it was founded about 770 BC by the Phoenicians as Malaka. From the 6th century BC the city was under the hegemony of Ancient Carthage, and from 218 BC, it was ruled by the Roman Republic and then empire as Malaca (Latin). After the fall of the empire and the end of Visigothic rule, it was under Islamic rule as Mālaqah (Arabic: مالقة‎) for 800 years, but in 1487, the Crown of Castille gained control after the Reconquista.

The oldest remaining structure is a Roman Theatre from the 1st century BC, right in the center of town.
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There is also the Moorish Castle of Gibralfaro and the Alcazaba, both built in the 11th century. The Moors held out very long time in Málaga; it fell just five years before Granada when the Reconquest ended. You can see the bottom portions in the photos above.

It also was an important part of the Spanish Civil War, being a Republican hold out against Franco. It was shelled heavily from the sea and this shows in the lower parts of the old town, which have wider streets and "newer" buildings. The restoration was done so well though that it's very hard to tell the old from the new. It just has a more open feel than other ancient cities here in southern Spain, which in my opinion adds to it's allure. It's easier to get to know the streets and where you are than in, say, Seville. It also allowed for an updated port with a modern pedestrian mall and a beautiful garden along the main coastal road.
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GETTING AROUND

It's true, everyone walks everywhere. We have walked miles and miles each day just finding the markets, grocery stores, pharmacies, and sights. BUT...Malagueños LOVE standup scooters! They are everywhere and lots of people ride them. Often, you see a couple riding together on one. People also ride bikes and there are many bike lanes here but scooters are the thing!
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They have a bike share program and we decided to sign up for it. I know Spain isn't known for efficiency but this was a totally crazy experience. The website says that if you are foreign, you must sign up at the office. However, it does not say where that is or what the exact process is. So after about four hours of trying to find the bus company office to get our bus pass card (step 1) and then trying to find the bike share office to show our passports and put money on our card (step 2 although we could have done step 1 here as well!), we barely had time for a ride to the beach. But we did and it will be a fun way to get around now that we're set up.
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Grocery stores are plentiful and pretty well stocked. BUT finding the things you want can be a challenge. The arrangement and order of the stores is completely random, or so it feels to us. In addition, there are aisles and aisles of canned fish, shellfish, and meat, and entire aisle devoted to ham products, including hand carved ham from the leg. There are fruits and vegetables but the best place to buy those is at the fruit stands that are on almost every block. And there are three markets, the largest Mercado Central de Atarazanas has everything. But there is also a smaller one near us specializing in fish and shellfish and another a bit further we haven't been to yet. Of course the markets are my favorite with their colorful stalls and proud vendors. They take extreme care in presentation.
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PACE OF LIFE

Because we really never settled into this time zone in Barcelona, we were very well positioned for Málaga. We rarely go to bed before 1:00 AM and if we are out it's usually around 3:00 AM. Unless we have to get up for a day trip, we don't usually get up until 9:30-10:30 AM. If we have errands, we get them done early because most stores close in the afternoon for a few hours. Then it's either to a cafe, the beach, or back home to chill out until happy hour around 8:00 PM.
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Dinner is usually around 10:00. Even if we are at home, eating before 10:00 is rare. The sun doesn't set here until about 9:30 so it's really easy to be wide awake at 10:00 PM. Evening walks are the best! The streets and plazas are full of people and everything is open super late.
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WEATHER

The weather has been amazing. Málaga has, on average, 320 sunny days a year. The average monthly high temperature is never below 62 or above 87. In May, it's 76. The skies are almost always blue and there is usually a light breeze. I got an email today announcing "Best Summer Books" and had to laugh that back home summer is just starting with Memorial Day just around the corner.

FOOD

Lastly, I have to say a word about the food. Spanish cuisine has always been one of my favorites to cook and eat. And being here where everything is so fresh makes it even more so. Ironically, the fruit is fresher, more abundant, and more diverse than anywhere in Central America. I love Anchovies and Sardines, Scott not so much!, and being able to get them prepared in so many ways is amazing. Ham of every grade is everywhere and freshly cut off the leg, even in supermarkets.
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And food is generally very inexpensive. A bunch of bananas is a dollar, a tapas portion of Paella is four dollars...
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...a small Iberian ham and Manchego cheese sandwich is about 2-3 dollars. A glass of wine and a beer are both under $2. Olives are served with your cocktails on the house - what more could we want?

And the Vermouth and Sherry are amazingly good and the variety available is huge. Gin+Tonics are huge here as with other Spanish places we've been to and many bars have amazing mixologists.
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So, now that you've read this, maybe we don't have to explain further about why Málaga is "on the list". Being back in a city has been so refreshing! While we love the Caribbean and our island homes, especially Scott, having the diversity of life and experience a city offers checks more of our boxes. Make no mistake, Málaga is a beach destination. It's just also so much more than that.

Stay tuned for our next post with the amazing day trips we've taken so far and our awesome visit with Morgan.

And remember to follow us @arrradentures on Instagram.

Posted by mrb430 03:46 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

A Long, Strange Trip to Málaga


View 2019 on mrb430's travel map.

It's the start of our second full day in Málaga and we're sufficiently recovered from our adventure getting here to begin to feel normal again.

RECAPPING THE TRIP "OVER THE POND"

We had one of those "if it can go wrong, it will go wrong" trips. Really makes you appreciate when things go smoothly! I will say that I was proud of how we handled all of the misadventures. No panic, no arguing, and most importantly - no blame. At this point we know we will make mistakes, things will go wrong, and nothing is insurmountable. Of course it helps to have a credit card with a fairly high limit and some backup cash for when the budget gets crashed. The funniest part is never knowing exactly what immigration/customs will be like. I'll outline all the variations so you can see what I mean. If you just want to see pictures of Spain, skip this part.

Leg 1: Roatán to San Pedro Sula
We got up early (4 am!!) to make it to the Roatán airport early after seeing the shit show it can turn into when we dropped Courtney off to go home. We arrived at 4:45 and...the airport was still closed! Ha! When it opened at 5 am, we were among the only people there.
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Needless to say no issues getting out of Roatán.
IMMIGRATION/CUSTOMS
1. Pay airport exit tax (oh but they didn't open until 6 am)
2. Passport control
3. Go back to stand in line to give lady at desk your receipt to review and stamp - no idea why you have to do this and no one tells you that you do until you're in the line for security
4. Passport control, again
5. Security screening (I had nothing confiscated this whole trip!)

Leg 2: San Pedro Sula to Orlando
After an on-time, relatively uneventful flight, we arrived in Orlando and the fun really began.

IMMIGRATION/CUSTOMS
1. Walk to Global Entry kiosk
2. Figure out how to use Global Entry kiosk
3. Get ticket and go directly to go - aka baggage claim. No passport stamp, no customs!

Ok, so we're ready to head to our airport hotel for the night and we grab a cab, give him the address, and proceed to learn that we booked a hotel at the other Orlando airport, which is an hour away and an $80 cab ride. Decline to embark on journey, lose cost of one night's hotel room, return to go. A little background here is important. Our Honduran phone plan ended the day before we left so we only had communications over wifi. Thankfully, the Orlando airport had free wifi! This will be even more important later! So we get online, and book another hotel closer to the airport - or so we thought! Being a little sleepy, our normal process of double-triple checking each other failed and we again booked a hotel about a half hour away. Ugh! But...it was at our favorite chain from the US, La Quinta. So we called and begged them to cancel that one so we could book another one closer and they relented and took mercy on us. The hotel shuttle picked us up, all was right in the world again. We ended the day with a great meal and a few cocktails. Scott got his beloved French Dip sandwich and I had a salad that I didn't have to worry would kill me! Yay, back to the land of drinking the water and flushing your toilet paper. Day 1, over.

Leg 3: Orlando to London Gatwick
Our flight to Orlando wasn't scheduled to leave until 5:40 pm and check out was at noon so we hung out in the hotel lobby for awhile and then headed over to the airport. But it was basically it was just a day of waiting around and it turned into a night of waiting, too. Our flight was delayed almost five hours! We finally boarded about 10:15 pm! Don eye mask and ear plugs and make the best of it, I said. But the flight crew felt the need to feed everyone even though it was the middle of the night so pretty soon the entire plain smelled like beef stroganoff - and not in a good way. 8 hours later, we landed in London. Now we knew we had to get over to Stansted Airport across London and this would involve the airport train from Gatwick to London, the Tube across London, and then the airport train out to Stansted. But we weren't worried because we had until 7:25 pm to get there and it was only noon or so when we got off the flight.

IMMIGRATION/CUSTOMS
1. Walk to immigration
2. Wait in line for an hour to get through immigration, during which you realize you each need to fill out an entry form
3. Fill out entry form - not customs, entry
3. No customs
4. Wait forever for baggage

Leg 4: London Gatwick to London Stansted and on to Barcelona
After this, we figured we'd get a bite to eat, have a real cup of coffee, and head out. So we did. We found our tickets for the trains and boarded. Alas, it was the local. As in, we were stopping every five minutes for five minutes. We started to worry. About this same time, it's now about 2:30, we realize we'd been looking at our arrival time and not our departure time, which was 4:10 pm. We were never going to make it! And here again, thank goodness that the trains in London have free wifi! We called Ryan Air on Skype and got no love. If we missed the flight, we were on our own. So we quickly scrambled to find a new flight and did but it was from Gatwick, where we had just left! So jump off train, get back on train going the other way. Of course this one is an express - can't win sometimes. Get back to the airport and our tickets won't let us out of the system because we're supposed to be in Stansted. Find attendant, fall on their mercy, get released from the train station. Check into new flight.

IMMIGRATION/CUSTOMS
1. No passport check except at check-in counter - until Brexit no need for a thorough check I guess
2. Security line was uneventful

So now we're leaving at 7:35 pm. We find somewhere to eat because we have another few hours. Burgers and fish and chips, and of course Guinness, it is. The bright green stuff is smashed peas? I guess it's a British thing.
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Wait for gate to be assigned. They don't assign it until 15 minutes prior to boarding?! Board plane, fly to Barcelona.

IMMIGRATION/CUSTOMS
1. Wait in line for passport control - not too long (At first we thought it would be hours since there were a total of two agents for two large plane-loads of people but they added more and it went very quickly.)
2. No customs because we are within the EU (But seriously, what ever happened to customs? We never filled out a customs form on the whole journey and were never once asked if we were bringing in fruits and vegetables!)

Yay! We finally made it to Barcelona! It's about 11:15 pm. Day 2 over - almost!

After taking our cab to the hotel and checking in, we decided to celebrate our victory over circumstances and headed to the Irish Pub a few doors down from our hotel. We met some folks from Romania and proceeded to close the bar down at 3 am.
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You can see our partners in crime at the bar over Scott's shoulder. In our defense, it only felt like 9 pm to us. And thus started what would be a crazy few days in Barcelona.

All told, we were in transit for about 62 hours. We are gonna rethink how we cross the pond next time!

BARCELONA!

Our first day in Barcelona started about 12:30 pm when we finally woke up and got out of bed! It was a gray and rainy day - oh joy! And it was chilly! I donned my woolen leggings under my rain pants and a sweater and rain coat and we were on our way. We had tickets to see Sagrada Familia, Guadí's famous cathedral at 4:45 so we started out across town past the main cathedral - no ticket = no entry and their version of the Arc de Triomf. It was pretty dismal and I was disappointed because I wanted to see the setting sun through the stained glass and there was no sun to be seen.
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Nevertheless, after an hour or so of walking across town in the rain, we entered the line at our appointed time and...found out our tickets were for the next day. We were supposed to be at Parc Güell! Was there to be no end to our mistakes on this trip?! Guess it was okay in the end because the park would have been even worse in the rain.

Nothing to do but learn how to use the Metro and head back to the Gothic Quarter (old town where our hotel was). The beautiful market of Mercado de La Boqueria was just across La Rambla from our hotel so we headed there for refuge. The market is amazing and it's surrounded by tapas bars. Not a bad place to wait out the weather!
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Later, we found ourselves in another bar having gin+tonics, yep it's a thing here too just like in Medellín. Another night up until 2 am and another morning not up until 11 am. We were not settling into our new time zone very well. Although, it was working okay for us because nothing happens very early in Spain anyway. Dinner is at 9-10 pm for most people. Since that's our normal bedtime we had been worried. But with the jumpstart of six hours, we were right in the groove!

And we woke up to a beautiful day. Sunny and warmer. No Happy Pills needed!
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GAUDÍ
We went on another long walk through the city in search of the buildings designed by Gaudí. One was under wraps for a remodel but here are two others.
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And then it was on to the cathedral, again.
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What an amazing experience. I visited almost 30 years ago and remember a construction site. "Inside" you could see the sky and there was dirt under foot. It's come A LONG WAY in thirty years. It was breathtaking.
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And I got my wish to see the sun streaming in through the Passion windows.
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We also added the Towers on the Nativity facade to our tour and it was so worth it. The views of the city and the up close and personal views of some of the tower details were not to be missed. You get to ride an elevator up but must walk back down about 400 steps in a narrow, winding stairwell. There are view points and overlooks along the way.
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After the tour, we headed back to the Mercado for more tapas!
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Fried baby anchovies!

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We've learned it's not a proper tapas bar if there aren't legs of ham hanging from the rafters.
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We only skimmed the surface of Barcelona but it was enough to know we will come back someday, although maybe in true off-season (if we ever have a winter wardrobe again). Here are a few of our lasting impressions.
1. Barcelona was very crowded with tourists - even in early May. Lines were long and you needed tickets to get into everything - even the cathedral!
2. It is a British destination and the majority of tourists were British - of the drink lots of beer and scream at soccer matches variety. By late in the evening you could pick them out stumbling down the narrow streets.
3. The Gothic Quarter is a gem of pedestrian-only, winding streets that lead to amazingly old buildings at every turn. It's a wonderful place to "get lost".
4. The city at large is full of wide, tree-lined boulevards with amazing architecture and is well worthy of a few days just walking about.
5. The Metro is super easy to use and a great way to get back home after a long walk far afield.

We left the next morning for Málaga. Stay tuned for a month of updates from our new home in Spain! And don't forget to follow us @arrradventures on Instagram.

Posted by mrb430 01:53 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

Back In The US of A

Briefly!

Just a quick update from the Orlando Airport as we wait for our flight to London and then on to Barcelona.

GOODBYE NEW WORLD

After eight months in Baja, Colombia, Panama, and Honduras, we ended up feeling like "locals".

We could navigate the roads, airports, and sidewalk-less streets. We figured out the money, the indiosyncracies of shopping and transportation, and how to work around the quirkiness of housing. Nothing felt weird anymore - it all felt very familiar. We will miss the palm trees, the beaches, the blue waters, and the warmth of the places and people. We will miss shorts, tank tops, bathing suits, and flip flops. We will not miss the ridiculous rules of the telecom systems, the power outages, or the the diarrhea!

It's been weird to be back in the US for 24 hours. I had a salad that I didn't have to worry would kill me, Scott had an awesome French Dip (his favorite sandwich), and we both had proper Manhattans and Egg McMuffins! But wow! This 24 hours cost us about as much as three weeks in Roatán! Won't miss that!

HELLO OLD WORLD

So now we're off for our European adventure.

See the itinerary of this trip, and details about each destination.

I'm envisioning these two very tan gringos landing in London/Barcelona and looking like refugees from some Caribbean island thrown back into "civilization"! We are gonna stick out for sure and probably be freezing! Hope Europe is as welcoming to us as all of our Latin American friends have been. Wish us luck!

Remember to follow us @Arrradventures on Instagram.

Posted by mrb430 12:21 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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