Spain: Part Three

Welcome back my darlings! I know what you must be thinking… she left us for two months and now she’s hitting us two posts in one week! And yes you are correct, when the motivation strikes and the workload finally minimizes you bet I’m going to take advantage of it. So let’s get back to the story!

After an amazing few days in Malaga and saying goodbye to our AirBnB host which was more like a cool aunt, we made our way to the beautiful city of Granada. Granada is a city where people are great, the architecture is spectacular, the views amazing, and where the bees will win the fight you for your food (more on the bees later).

The great thing about Granada is that if you are already visiting Malaga, then Granada is just a short bus ride away. So purchase that bus ticket and let’s get going. My best friend and I had only two full days to enjoy this city and man did we pack in a lot. On the first day our first stop was Basilica of San Juan de Dios. As someone who has seen so many religious buildings in my travels, this one in left me particularly impressed. Honestly, I don’t understand why this place doesn’t get more hype. According to Lonely Planet, this historic basilica was built between 1737 and 1759 and is known for this beautiful baroque decor. This place was true perfection with its gold embellishments and fresco paintings. As if this wasn’t reason enough to visit enough, let’s get into the spooky factor. Anyone who knows me by now, knows I am still not over the fact Halloween is over. I live for the spooky factor and this basilica had just that. With the dim lighting, deep tones of red and brown, and human skulls on display (yea you heard me right), it was certified spooky. Add in the random doors that are painted over and bolted, and we are having a good time. Time to get spooky!

After our spooky adventures and visiting Granada Cathedral, my friend and I made our way in search of Palacio de Dar al Horra. One thing I loved about Malaga and Granada was the Islamic influence found all over the two cities. This palace was a prime example of this. It is a 15th century palace which was the home to Aixa, the mother of a Moorish sultan named Boabdil. For those trying to find this palace, note that its entrance is hidden in an alleyway so be sure to ask some locals to point you to it to avoid wandering aimlessly like my friend and I did.

After finally got our lives together we found the place we were looking for and man were we grateful. It was like finding water in the desert, once we found this place. The Palacio de Dar al Horra has phenomenal views which overlooked the city below and its greenery. Due to it being one of the lesser known attractions in Granada, my best friend and I had lots of space to move freely throughout the residence and admire the Spanish- Islamic architecture. After some time, it was time to move on to El Bañuelo (Arab baths).

According to Go2Alhambra website, it is the oldest and best preserved Arab public bath in Andalusia and dates back to the 11th century. It was not only an important place to wash up, but to maintain social ties. When entering the chambers, take a moment to admire the striking pillars and arches. As you look above you, it is here that you will fall in love. Above your head, light filters in from star shaped cut outs in the ceiling. It truly makes for a magical experience.

After this it was getting late and we were getting hungry, it was here I was about to lose a battle to a swarm of bees. As we went on the hunt for food, we stumbled upon the Paseo de los Tristes. The Paseo de los Tristes is a street full of life and adventure with shops and restaurants lining the walkways and musicians performing in the great outdoors. This walkway is situated below Alhambra palace and so while you are enjoying your meal and entertainment, one only needs to look up to see the magnificent fortress complex we would be visiting the next day. It was almost a perfect ending to the day, until the bees came to attack. My first mistake was that I ordered honey glazed chicken. After getting a few bites of my meal, the bees honed in on the scent of sweetness and sure enough they began to arrive. As my best friend and I tried to gently shoo them away, they were not giving up without a fight. Eventually, it was too much and I had to surrender my meal to them. It’s a sad day when you’re a grown ass woman who can’t stand up to bees. I’m telling you though, those bees were something else. My best friend swears one bee even tried to breakdance in front of us just to gloat. So do yourself a favour, head down to the Paseo de los Tristes, but for the love of God do not order the honey glazed chicken. You’ll thank me later.

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Stay tuned for our trip to the Alhambra Palace complex and my adventures in Barcelona.

Spain: Part Two

Hey there,

It’s been awhile and man have I missed you. But like some relationships in your life, sometimes you just need some space. That is not to say that I have given up on you, but rather I have been off pursuing a diploma in college. That’s right, your girl is back in school! As a result, my time has been occupied with assignments, but I can never forgot you. How can I? You are the one who has allowed me to keep this dream alive. By reading my posts, you the reader has kept me going. So thank you and let’s continue where we left off, shall we?

When I last left you, we were in the beautiful city of Malaga, admiring its botanical gardens and caves which are said to be filled of treasure. This was not the end of my journey in Malaga, however, but rather there was two more whole days in this beautiful city! So let’s get into what it is we did during the rest of our trip.

  1. Alcazaba de Malaga
    This beautiful fortress dates back to the Hammumid dynasty in the early 11th century. It’s name meaning “citadel” in Arabic. The Alcazaba is built on a hill in the center of the city and what makes this fortress so astounding is that it is not only a visual representation of Arabic influence and power, but of Roman influence which came centuries before. Adjacent to the Alcazaba one can see The Roman Theater which predates the fortress and is a relic of its era. As someone fascinated by history, I am always amazed by the footprint those before us left behind and the Alcazaba is one of those footprints you will not want to miss.
  2. Castillo de Gibralfaro
    Now, if you are already visiting the Alcazaba then chances are you will buy a joint ticket to check this fortress as well. After walking up a hill for what seemed like eternity and taking stops to enjoy the view of the bay (and so my asthmatic self wouldn’t collapse), we finally made up to the top of the hill and reached the Castillo de Gibralfaro. Upon reaching the castle, my friend and I walked along the castle walls and enjoyed the green shrubbery this castle was adorned with. It was a nice little stop, but if you are someone who struggles with uphill climbs, I would advice you to take a tourist bus or taxi to reach this destination. Trust me, you will thank me.
  3. Museu Picasso Malaga
    Now, I’m going to be real with you that this museum is great if you actually like Picasso. If you are like me, who never really understood the whole cubism thing, you may want to skip out on this place as it tends to be overcrowded and is quite pricey. For all you Picasso lovers out there, rest assured there are a lot of sculptures and paintings to make your heart fill with joy. As an added bonus, the architecture of this museum is absolutely beautiful and with my best friend dressed to impress (seriously this girl is a straight up model) , her photos came out amazing! So Picasso lovers out there, go see your boo. But for the rest of you all, maybe think twice.

 

4. Playa de la Malagueta
And finally, just relax. You’ve worked hard. You’ve killed yourself saving up for this trip and it is time to stop running around and just enjoy the beautiful weather in Spain. Vacation is not always about running around like a chicken without head, but rather it is about being in the moment. And so, sink your feet in the sand and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin as you close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the waves hitting the shore. This is why you came to Spain! And so, on our final day in Malaga, this is what we did. Breathe in…. breathe out. This is happiness.

Spain: Part One

After spending a few hours in Faro, it was time to hop onto an overnight bus to Malaga, Spain. It was here we would spend the next three days exploring this beautiful city and all it had to offer. Upon arrival to Malaga, we were met with an incredibly kind Airbnb host and her lovely cat. She was like an aunt to us and we would start our day talking to her and listening to her recommendations, as we listed our supposed plan for the day. It was great to come home each night and have someone ask us how our day had been and what we had been up to. Traveling can make your homesick, and she made us feel a little less so.

Once we did get settled in, we made our way to our first stop: Botanical Gardens of Malaga. These botanical gardens expanse 25 hectares of land and include both tropical and subtropical plants from five different continents. Over the centuries, it has been the site for politicians, artists and nobility to meet. As a lover of all things outdoors, it was the perfect start to my day. With its beautiful flora, small trails, and carefully manicured shrubbery, one could spend hours here alone.

After the gardens, it was then time to check out the Cuevo del Tesoro. For those arriving into Malaga, this cave sits in a small suburb of Malaga easily accessible by public transit. Furthermore, if you visit on Monday, you will be happy to know it is free to visit. One important reminder is to check the opening times of the caves as it closes and reopens throughout the day.  When we arrived to this small suburb, we realized just that and ended up with three hours to kill before the cave opened up again for the day. It was during this time that we simply napped on a park bench and then walked to the grocery store for some snacks.  Now a little background about the cave. Cueva del Tesoro is the only marine cave that can be visited in Europe. Legend has it that a secret treasure was hidden in this cave by the Almoravid king Tashfin ibn Ali in the 12th century. Over the centuries, people have become fascinated with the legend of hidden treasure. So much, that one Swiss man would dedicate his life to finding it and ultimately died in his quest for it.Whether there truly is treasure hidden in these caves, what is true is that the cave is a treasure in itself.  As my friend and I fell behind from the other people visiting, we were given many moments of solace to appreciate the silence that fell upon the cave. The only sounds being that of the water dripping from the stalactites and freshwater streaming through the cave. It was a humbling experience. Being part of a society in which people never seem to pause due to the busyness of everyday life, it was great to press pause and enjoy. Instead of being connected social media outlets and falsified representations of experience, we were connected to the Earth itself.

After enjoying the reprieve, it was time to head back home. It been a long journey and a day full of adventure. Now it was time to rest, and boy did it feel good.

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Stay tuned for the rest of my adventures in Malaga.

Portugal: Part Three

If you read my last post, then you will undoubtedly know that Uber in Lagos is incredibly unreliable. Before we continue into Spain, I will break down what occurred on that fateful morning on our way to the bus station to head to Faro, Portugal. A pit stop on our way to Malaga, Spain. It was one hell of a journey friends.

The Story

The day began with my best friend and I waking up early in the morning to catch our “8:30 am” bus to Faro. What started off as a regular day would soon become the most stressful morning of our entire vacation. As we stumbled out of our accommodations and opened up the Uber app we were greeted with a message neither of us wanted to see “no Ubers available in your area.” With still some time to spare we decided on walking from the bus station. Three mistakes were made that day:

  1. Relying on Uber and then choosing to walk to the bus station
  2. My outfit
  3. Not checking the time of the bus the night before

All these three things together resulting in dire consequences. As we walked towards the bus station about 30 minutes away, it was very evident I had made my second bad decision of the day with my outfit. I had decided to wear a black sweater in thirty degree heat, and the sun was merciless. As if this was not bad enough, ten minutes into walking towards the station, my right sandal broke. With my other shoes tucked deep inside my suitcase, I had a decision to make. Would I risk opening my suitcase in the middle of the street? Or would I attempt to walk the rest of the day with one sandal on. I chose the latter. As the time passed and the temperature rose, so did our tension. We were like a volcano ready to erupt and that we did. After yelling to my best friend to haul a cab which we saw in the distance, she loudly responded “NO”… or so I thought. And so, the smack down commenced. As I continued to erratically yell about my barefoot situation, she clarified she had never said no, but rather said “OK!” Whoops, my bad. As we finally hauled the cab and arrived at the bus station, we thought the worst was over…rookie mistake. As Ivgot the tickets out, I noticed that they were for an 8:00 am departure not an 8:30 am departure. It was now 8:05 am. At this point I was 100% done. I looked over to my best friend helpless as she proceeded to go to the ticket vendor to see if there was another bus available that day that headed to Faro. A few agonizing minutes later, we received the news which would salvage this terrible morning. There was one last bus available headed to Faro bus station at 8:30 am that day. We were saved. With the fantastic news that we would make it to Faro that day, I was finally given a moment to open up my suitcase and find shoes that I could actually walk in.

***

After winding through the streets of Portugal, we finally made it to Faro. Unfortunately due to time constraints, Faro was merely a transit stop on our way to Spain. However, upon arrival it is evident that this small city should at least be given 24 hours. The city was charming in its main center with its small shops and cobbled streets. As we navigated through the streets, we finally were able to just sit back for a moment and relax. Have more than a few hours in Faro? Visit Old Town Faro, known for its beautiful architecture, cobbled streets, and Faro Cathedral. In addition, this small city is also the gateway to Ria Formosa Nature Park for all you nature enthusiasts out there. The park is considered one of the 7 wonders of Portugal complete with mazes of canals, marshes, and islands. Whatever you folks, always check your bus tickets and wear sensible clothes. This has been a public service announcement.

Portugal: Part Two

After traversing the streets of Lisbon and Sintra it was time to head on over to Lagos, Portugal to continue our adventure. Lagos is a town in the Algarve region in southern Portugal known for its precarious cliffs and gorgeous beaches. And so, it was only natural that when we arrived our first stop was Praia do Camilo. As we descended the sandy steps, we were greeted by a golden sandy beach and beautiful aquamarine waters. While the slightly chilly Atlantic water took some getting used to, it was the perfect remedy for our tired aching bodies and the scorching heat.

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After soaking in the sun and stuffing our faces at the beach bar, we strolled around the small town where small market stalls were situated near the beach offering souvenirs and apparel. After this, an Uber took us to one of the main highlights of this gorgeous town: Ponta da Piedade. One thing to note is that while we did use Uber while there, it is not be relied on in this beautiful town as there are few drivers which results in incredibly long wait times or the inability to book an Uber to reach your destination. Trust me when I tell you that you don’t want to end up walking to the bus station when you’re running late. The unexpected happens and that sometimes means walking the streets of Lagos with one sandal on and regretting the fact you wore a black sweater in 30 degree heat. Trust me on this one. Walking on the barefoot on the pavement is far from comfortable. Save yourself the stress and get the number of the local taxi.

Now, where were we? Ah, yes Ponta da Piedade. If you want to experience the full extent of Ponta da Piedade’s beauty consider booking one of the many boat tours found in town. In doing so, you will be able to get a better look at all the hidden coves of these gorgeous cliffs and rock formations while cruising the sparkling waters. Don’t want to spend money on this? Fret not. Head on over to the viewpoint instead where you will still be able to admire the beauty of the cliffs and their assortment of colours. Nature truly is a force to be reckoned with and these cliffs are a testament to that with its various shapes and sizes sculpted by the elements.  Staring down from the top of these cliffs will leave you in awe while simultaneously giving you goosebumps as you stare down below from the sharp precipices at the unforgiving waters below.

And with that friends, we concluded our visit in Lagos. After heading back to our AirBnB and then grabbing a quick meal, we were onto our next adventure.  Portugal had welcomed us with open arms but alas it was time to leave its comforting embrace and discover all that Spain had to offer.

Portugal: Part One

Growing up in Canada and particularly in the areas I attended school, I was constantly surrounded by Portuguese people. After seeing photos of their hometowns and hearing the experience of various coworkers and old classmates, I decided that a trip to Portugal was long overdue. And so, in mid-August of last year I decided to head over to Portugal’s beautiful capital, Lisbon.  Below I will break down all the things to do in Lisbon and its surrounding areas.

1. Tower of Belem

Want to visit a 16th century tower once used as a lookout to protect Lisbon? Look no further than the Tower of Belem. Situated at the mouth of the Tagus River, this beautiful 16th century tower offers beautiful architectural design and instagram worthy backgrounds. If you are planning to head there during peak season (July-August), do yourself a favour and buy your ticket in advance to enjoy everything this little tower has to offer without the two hour wait. If you have time, make sure to visit Jeronimo Monastery complete with beautiful gardens and more stunning architecture.


Tower of Belem photos 


Jeronimo Monastery in the background 

2. The Berardo Collection Museum

While we unfortunately did not have the chance to visit the museum as it was closed during our time in the area,  this museum is a must with works from Picasso, Bacon, Warhol and many other famous artists. If you’re looking to save a couple of dollars, visit the Berardo Collection Museum on Saturday when it is free all day to the public. After your visit, relax on the museum’s terrace and enjoy the sweet sunshine.

3. Bairro Alto

Hey there foodies and cocktail aficionados, don’t forget to check out Bairro Alto before you leave Lisbon. This eclectic neighborhood has got your back for all your food and drink needs. Want to enjoy a night out without frequenting a nightclub? Check out PARK bar in Bairro Alto. This bar was recommended by our Uber driver and is a rooftop bar that is situated on top of a parking garage. It will make you feel like your sneaking into a speakeasy during prohibition.  With beautiful views of the city and great drinks it cannot be missed. To make the most of your visit to PARK bar, arrive early to get a great seat with a view as this place fills up fast!


Not the best view from PARK bar, but the only photo I took that night 

4. Day trip to Sintra

During one of my days staying in Lisbon, we made a day trip to Sintra. The trip is easily accessible via train which can be taken from Rossio station or Estação do Oriente. If you can, consider making this a two day trip as there is so much to see and so little time. Our two main stops during our visit to Sintra was Castelo dos Mouros and Pena National Palace. Castelo dos Mouros is a beautiful medieval hilltop castle and a UNESCO Heritage Site which will offer you the refreshing mountain air that us city folks are always grateful for. After this, head on over to Pena National Palace, a beautiful colourful masterpiece and also home to an immense national park. Have more time in Sintra? Visit Quinta da Regaleria estate in Sintra. While we did not get a chance to see it, the photos I have seen from acquaintances who have gone are phenomenal. It is truly like living in a fairy tale. Before heading back to Lisbon, take a moment to sit down and enjoy a glass a wine at one of the many restaurants with a view overlooking the city. Nothing better than sitting down and enjoying a glass of sangria after walking all day long.

5. Day trip to Portinho da Arrábida or Cascais

After a long night partying in the city of Lisbon, our final day in Lisbon was spent in Praia do Creoro (Portinho da Arrábida); a beautiful beach situated in a national park in the small town of Setubal. With crystalline waters surrounded by magnificent limestone cliffs, it was absolutely spectacular. Be sure to make the most of your visit by arriving early and hiking the beautiful park. For those who are not renting a car,  consider visiting Cascais instead which is more easily accessible by transit routes. While it does not offer the amazing lush green landscape of Portinho da Arrabida, it will be the little beach getaway you need away from the hustle and bustle of Lisbon.

Whatever you end up doing friends, know that Portugal is the hidden gem you wish you knew about sooner. With its pristine beaches, gorgeous architecture, delicious food, and friendly people there is so much to love about this great little country. But the adventure is not over yet, stay tuned for my next stop to Lagos, Portugal where there is more fun in the sun to be had. Until next time!

Six More Tips and Tricks for Your Next Holiday

Hey guys,

After spending some time talking to one of my closest friends about my experiences travelling, I realize that my tips and tricks did not end with my previous Top Ten post and so I here I am continuing to share my wisdom. Whether you are a solo traveler or travelling with a group of friends, let me help you navigate your way around the world.

1. Download an offline map on your cellular device before heading abroad

During one of my first trips abroad, a friend I was with had downloaded an offline map to help her navigate the country we were in. Before this, I never knew there was such thing as an offline map and was astounded by this information. And so, my advice to you is to consider downloading one before taking off. With the rise of technology these days, there are a wide range of offline maps available.Not only do these maps offer the lay of the land but are also able to give you directions on how to get to and from places. My app of choice: Maps.Me. What makes this app superior to the rest is it is your one stop shop for offline maps spanning the globe. Thus, if you are planning on visiting multiple locations on your trip simply download the app and the offline map for each country and you are ready to go!  No flipping through multiple applications on your device!

2. Get an external battery case/pack for your phone

We all know that dreaded moment when you’re travelling and having fun, and suddenly your phone dies. Not only are you now left with no means to capture the scenery that surrounds you, but you have also lost your means of communication and means to navigate the city (offline map mentioned above). The solution: an external battery pack.  For those wondering where to purchase such things, Amazon offers a broad selection, as well as your local Costco, or electronic stores. While I am guilty of not having an external battery pack, I have in more than one occasion kicked myself because of it. As a female traveler, it definitely provides you with a peace of mind when traversing the streets abroad.

3.  Heading to a country that doesn’t speak your language? Don’t fret. Google Translate is coming to your rescue…most of the time. 

If you are heading to a country in which you are worried about travelling to due to the language barrier, do yourself a favour and download the offline official language of the place you are visiting. Now while we all know that Google Translate isn’t perfect at translations, something is better than nothing. If the country your visiting has an entirely different alphabet, do not abandon ship. Rather, if you find yourself lost in a foreign country, visit a tourism office, hotel, or currency exchange business where more often than not there will be someone who speaks English.  So, take a breath, calm down, and look around for the following establishments. Do not let your fear of the language barrier keep you from travelling. If I can do it, so can you.

4. Opt for shorter tours rather than lengthy week long tours 

My advice is often to do as I say, and not what I do. And so, while I am incredibly guilty of purchasing longer tours,  it is not the most time efficient means to see all the sights in a country. The reason being is usually on these tours you spend a lot of time on buses and/or boats and have shorter periods of times to check out the cities you are visiting. That being said, the positive aspects of week long tours is the sense of comradery that is created among travelers. During my travels, I have participated in two group tours and while I do wish we did have more time checking out certain sights or were able to arrive earlier, I would not change my decision to go on a group tour.  That being said, if you are more concerned with seeing sights then consider opting for shorter tours instead and doing more individual travel.  In doing so, will maximize your time visiting the sights on your list while having a taste of the comradery among travelling strangers.

5. Do not let fear stop you from travelling alone 

As I mentioned in my previous posts, after my friend unfortunately could not join my tour in Greece I made the decision to head to Greece alone.  So how did I survive?  Just breathe. Travelling alone, especially as a female was absolutely terrifying. As I sat there boarding my flight, all I could think about was every goddamn news headline about violence towards women across the globe and atrocities committed to us. Do not let that fear stop you. Now let me ask you something? Wherever you live currently, Have you not faced unpleasant experiences and found yourself in dodgy areas every now then? And yet, here you are. Breathing and living.  Do you spend every waking minute of your daily life fearing everyone who shares a sidewalk with you? No.  So, take that leap of faith and head on out there. For those who are afraid of getting lost, consider doing your first solo trip with a tour group (I know I’m contradicting my previous point here). The website TourRadar allows you to compare and purchase tours across the globe run by various tour operators.  I have had nothing but positive experiences using them and would highly recommend utilizing their services. Want to bite the bullet and go completely solo? Consider staying in hostels.  Whereas hotels can often leave you feeling isolated, hostels are great in that you will meet other travelers like yourself who you can easily bond with. Furthermore, many hostels offer a variety of tours and events to help you mingle with travelers and make friends abroad. Whatever you decide, just take the leap and go for it!

4. Looking for suggestions and a free place to stay? Check out Couchsurfing.

This platform offers travelers a space to ask locals questions about the best places to visit in the country they are travelling to. Not only this, but as the name suggests Couchsurfing  provides a platform for travelers with a shoestring budget to meet locals willing to offer a place to stay for little to no cost.  The great thing about this app is as more people stay with these hosts, references are added to their profile to ensure they are a safe and good host. While I have not used the following app, I have met many travelers abroad who rely on this app and have had great success.

5. For the love of God, get travel insurance.

I know, I know. What are the odds that something will happen to you while on vacation, right? Well as the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.  And so, do yourself a favour and get yourself some travel insurance. You never know what will happen while zip lining cloud forests, hiking mountains, and visiting sanctuaries or simply walking down the street. Although I only had to use my travel insurance once while abroad it was at that moment I realized how important my insurance was. Furthermore, nowadays many travel credit cards already include travel insurance with them so consider getting a travel credit card to save yourself some major bucks. Those looking to get some serious protection? Look no further than WorldNomads. While many travel insurance companies only offer protection in regards to basic activities, trip interruptions, and personal belongings, WorldNomads can be customized to protect you during all your adrenaline fueled activities.  Whatever travel insurance company you choose, stay safe my friends!

6. Bring an extra credit card with you and inform your bank of your travel plans

Now, here is the thing.  You never know what might happen when you go on vacation and sometimes that might mean that one credit card you didn’t think would get lost or stolen is now out of your possessions.  As a result, you are now left with only the spending cash you brought with you and no emergency fund. As a result, I strongly urge you to consider bringing two credit cards on vacation. Before doing this, however, make sure to inform your bank of your travel plans. I know a lot of banks nowadays state this is no longer necessary due to them being able to recognize your patterns of spending but take the two extra seconds and let them know. As someone who was told two days before a trip that my credit card has been compromised and I was almost left without a backup plan, trust me when I say you will want one.