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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Whirlwinding through Spain

July 26, 2011

So sad to be leaving Portugal! Here is a quick synopsis on Portugal like what I did for Greece.

I'm fine with having gone to Porto and Coimbra but I could've lived without seeing them and if I were to redo the trip I would've spent more time in Lisbon and the south of Portugal instead of going to these two towns. Then again hindsight is 20/20. Hostel-wise, the Porto Downtown was the worst hostel I've stayed in on the trip but by hostel standards it was fine. I give it the absolute average of 5/10. The Sofia Chill House in Coimbra was very cute and probably more of a 7/10. The people that worked there were super nice.

As for Lisbon and Lagos I loved both of them. Definitely both major highlights of my Europe trip thus far. Lisbon Calling hostel in Lisbon is the most amazing hostel I've stayed in. The style, the people, the rooms, the lockers - everything was awesome. I could live there. The Rising Cock Hostel in Lagos wasn't necessarily the nicest hostel but it suited its purpose - party. The people who worked there were the best staff ever and Mama made me feel at home. I give a 10/10 to Lisbon Calling and an 8/10 to Rising Cock. Travellers House on the return trip to Lisbon was fine probably about a 7/10 also. The staff there was nice too.

Both Lisbon and Lagos as places were amazing. I wish I'd had more time in both. I would for sure return to Lisbon, it ranks as a top city in all my travels with so much to do and see, a great nightlife, and good food. I had an amazing time in Lagos and am glad I went while I was young to experience the craziness. Do I need to go back? Probably not :-)

So that's Portugal in a nutshell. This morning we left our hostel via the Aerobus (3 Euro per person) to the airport for our flight to Seville, Spain. Quick note for travelers that Terminal One is for international flights. We ate breakfast at Harrods where I had a pretty good ham sandwich for relatively cheap. I woke up feeling pretty awful. My sinuses have been bothering me since Lagos.

Once in Seville, we took the airport bus to the second to last stop which is just down the street from our hostel, Samay Hostel. This was one of the hostels I was most excited about but overall it was pretty average. Clean, nice, great deck on the top of the hostel but the staff is pretty lame and so are the people staying there. The rooms and common areas don't have any personality for a hostel that is relatively expensive compared to the others we've stayed at. They did give me a free towel though so that earned some points!


I was feeling seriously sick at this point so we walked down the street for tapas which were only okay and then went to bed.


July 27, 2011

We woke up late this morning (it felt really good to get a full night sleep) and wandered through Barrio Santa Cruz (the old Jewish quarter) to the Alcazar.


Along the way we stopped at Corral del Aqua restauranat at Callejon del Agua, 8, for breakfast. We had scrambled eggs with asparagus and ham. It was a little too salty and hammy for me (where are all the eggs?) but the restaurant is adorable. You walk into a little patio area that is painted pink with a ceiling of grape leaves. Very romantic! Too bad we both felt like shit and it was 100 degrees outside.


From there we wandered to the Alcazar where we found out that you had to be under 25 with a student card to get the student discount (2 Euro) otherwise it was 8.50 Euro per person. I tried to be sneaky and use my card without my I.D. but she didn't go for it. The castle didn't really seem worth the money so we went to the Cathedral instead (next door). The Cathedral was 8 Euro (couldn't get away with student discount) but was absolutely gigantic so it felt worth the money. Plus like all good cathedrals it came with a tower for me to climb. The view from the top was pretty good but not that great. I think I'm just over churches at this point.


Next we wandered down to the river and crossed San Telmo bridge to the other side to walk along the water. The views of the city from the river are beautiful and very relaxing. We stopped at a restaurant, Kiosco de las Flores, with a view for beers and fried fish. I pointed on the menu to the dish we wanted but they must have thought I pointed at the dish above because they accidentally gave us the same dish but with baby prawns fried into the cake instead of cod. I was about to swallow when I looked down and saw a little face peeking up at me from the patty. Close fucking call!


We returned to the hostel (it was getting late) and decided we had to go out (because we make terrible decisions). Up on the roof we met two girls from SF and two guys from Christchurch who now live in England named Jack and Jeremy. They said that they were from the Isle of Men but I still don't know where that is or if it indeed exists. Regardless they were hilarious with the one liners which they dutifully provided throughout the night to come.

It had been decided that we would pay 10 Euro per person to go on the hostel pub crawl (we usually avoid these) but it was a good deal and not too much that if it sucked we could just leave and do our own thing. What do you know? It SUCKED. The first two bars were terrible, the free drinks we got tasted so bad I almost poured one in the toilet and other than the two Kiwis everyone was really lame.

So I spent the evening being entertained by Jack and Jeremy. Once they found out that I did work for Disney and Pixar back in L.A. they decided to pitch me a movie idea. They mentioned that they weren't sure if it should be animated or live action but they would leave that up to my expertise. The movie would be called "Chumans" and would be about a male chimpanzee who falls in love with a human girl. They felt that it was an extremely original premise. I brought up Planet of the Apes to which they replied that chimpanzees are not apes and its a MALE monkey. They were interested in the idea of having Mark Walberg be the voice of the chimp though (If you haven't noticed yet this is all said with a thick sauce of sarcasm).

While waiting to get to the bars in the first place (we had to pick up people from some other hostels) Jeremy had commented that "man's not a camel" aka "I need a drink." This was hilarious. Once we got to the club (the night's finale) they also explained their rating system to us for girls. It is made up of three numbers - face, shag, body. Face and body go from 1-9 and shag is yes/no so 0/1. So a girl with a nice face that shaggable but has an average body would be a 8/1/6. We spent the next few hours smoking shisha, rating girls that walked by and dancing. I also spent this time avoiding "The Silver Fox" who was a guy from Australia I'd been talking to on the walk to the club. I tried numerous times to tell him I had a boyfriend and wasn't interested but he never really understood until I was down right rude to him.

One other hilarity from the night was when I ordered a beer at the first bar and the guy next to me offered me his card. In confusion I took the card (it's not like I'd been talking to the guy) and read it. It provided his name and his occupation - personal trainer. He then pointed at my stomach and made a motion with his hand to say "Call me when you get fat from all the beer you are drinking." WOW. Not the best way to attract the ladies. Best part was that from the look of him he could use some training himself.

Back at the club we actually ended up having a pretty amazing time dancing. We each gave ourselves names based on the actors/actresses we looked like. Ben didn't look like anyone so he was nameless but Jack was Leo, Jeremy was Ewan McGregor, and I was Jenny from Forrest Gump. It was a great club. It's all outdoors with an island bar, tables you can stand at to shisha, and a giant dance floor with good music. The burgers outside the club are awful but I was too drunk to care. Pretty sure the name of the club was Alfonso but I couldn't remember.


July 28, 2011

We slept in again and took a taxi to the Santa Justa rail station to pick up our rental car for the drive to Marbella on the southern coast of Spain near Malaga. Coming out of the hostel we ran into Jack and Jeremy again who convinced us to come get gelato from Heladeria Villar just down the street on Losilla Parrilla S.L. The owner and his wife, Cecilia, are adorable and take pictures of customers they like. Jack and Jeremy had returned to take their picture. We got in on the action. Yet another funny story from Jeremy - the first time they'd gone to the shop he had asked for a "cone-yo" (coño) instead of a "co-no" (cono). Uh, I'll let you look up what coño means :-)


The rental car was with Europcar and it went sooo smoothly. We upgraded to an Audi A3 for only 18 Euro for three days and I drove 150km to Cadiz for the afternoon. The beach there was covered in young people (not all of whom were wearing tops!) and we spent a good few hours there. There was also a fun park with dinosaur statutes and a seesaw that we wandered through.


For lunch we ate at Rosa del los Vientos at Corralon de los Carros, 55. I had "carrillada iberico" which was so good (meat stew) and my friend had a ham omlette which was also quite good. The chef spoke surprisingly good English and was adorable. It was actually one of the best meals of the trip thus far and so unexpected!


Late afternoon we continued the drive to Marbella. The drive through southern Spain is the most beautiful drive I've been on I think. You pass through these shockingly green valleys surrounded by massive rocky mountains. Occasionally you come around a corner to see a sparkling lake off the freeway or a glimpse of sandy white beach. If you are going to go to Marbella PLEASE drive. It is sooo worth it. The only annoyance are the THREE tolls you hit (6.10 Euro, 2.95 Euro, 4.75 Euro). You also have to pay them both ways.

We arrived late and spent an hour looking for parking. That's the only downside of Marbella. There is NOWHERE to park. We finally had to make a parking spot by parking on the sidewalk on a random side street. No way were we paying 20 Euro a night for the underground legit parking. Finally we made it to our hostel, Hostal Berlin, which was sparse but clean. The lady at the front desk was very sweet and the beds here were extremely comfortable. This place felt a little more private like a hotel.


We didn't make any friends and I was very sick at this point so we just wandered down to the water for a late dinner at La Venencia. We had cheap good wine, meatballs with salsa, and rabbit. You can find the restaurant on Avenue Miguel Cano, 15. Time to pass out!


July 29, 2011

Another day to sleep in. Not sure either of us would've even woke up if my friend hadn't set his alarm. We wandered down to the beach where I managed to explain to a lady at the beach bar who to make the frappe coffee drink I've been looking for since Greece. She made it perfectly and it was SO good. I asked her to write the recipe down in Spanish so that I could show it to other restaurants. Here is what she wrote - "helada combinacion de chocolate y cafe con nato montada y hielo pile." I think that pretty much says ice cream with chocolate sauce and cafe mixed with shaved ice.


We finally made it to the beach we were looking for (recommended by the hostel). The beach itself is actually Playa de Casablanca and the hotel is Marbella Club. We had thought we were looking for a beach called Marbella Club. Either way we found it and it truly was the prettiest beach on the trip thus far. Yes I know I keep saying that but they keep getting better! I made friends with the Marbella Club security guard, Lucas, who allowed me to walk out on their private pier to take pictures. He even offered to take a few of me!


Back at the hostel, we took a much needed nap. At this point I have some type of gooey eye infection, a sore throat, a cough, a massive bruise on the inside of my leg from the booze cruise and a blister on the bottom of my right foot. Let's just say this has been the worst day so far sickness wise.

For dinner we wandered down to Avenue Ricardo Soriano which is a fun street with restaurants and bars and had dinner at Medium Rare Steakhouse. Seemed a little touristy but I was totally in the mood for a steak. Turns out the steak was like 22 Euro which was a little pricey for me so I went with the 10 Euro lasagne. It was literally the best I've ever had, or at least remember ever having. It was softer than American lasagne and came in an earthenware pot that kept it hot the whole time. As a side note in Spain they charge you for the bread they bring to the table automatically. You have to ask to have it removed from the bill if you don't eat the bread. Kind of annoying. The guy gave us attitude about it which made me angry but he took it off nonetheless.


From there we walked down the street to a little Irish bar called Maggy's(?) It's owned by a German guy who has lived in Marbella for about six years. He came outside and had a beer with us. At one point he turned around to cheers us and our beers were already empty so I made a joke of saying "I can't cheers! No beer left!" He then said he'd get us free beers if I could guess how many fingers he was holding up. I said "two" and was right!

While sitting at the bar we saw a ton of young people stream by going towards the water so we eventually join the melee. I was pretty reticent to party tonight because I didn't feel well but it was technically my friend's last night in Europe AND we just happened to walk by the bus stop when the bus to Puerto Banus rolled up. My friend somehow managed to get me on the bus (2 Euro per person) and next thing I know I'm on my way to P.B. with about thirty drunk 17-year-olds.

Once we arrived in P.B. I realized why all the kids on the bus were wasted. It is like 6.50 Euro for a beer here! That's nuts! So of course we buy two of them and sit outside watching the ridiculousness. There was an awesome Mercedes parked out front that was blue matte and definitely drawing a bunch of looks. My friend was obsessed.


From there we walked to Mumbai bar on Muelle Ribera (the strip of bars and clubs on the harbor) which had great people watching. We sat on the upper floor and watched people for awhile before continuing on down the street to News Cafe. Along the way we came across a random girl dancing in front of a car in the street so I joined her just for fun. Yeah I'm a weirdo.


News Cafe is more of a club and it had GREAT music. The DJ literally transitioned from an Oasis song to JayZ so smoothly it sounded perfectly natural to mix those two songs. We had an awesome time dancing although there was a circle of B-Men on the prowl.

To end the night we took a taxi to Funky Buddha which is a massive club on the way back to Marbella. A taxi from P.B. to Marbella center is supposed to be about 13 Euro but the taxi just to that club was 10 Euro so we knew we were getting screwed by the taxi driver but there's not a lot we could do about it. The club was gigantic, packed, and really really fun. It was also extremely expensive with a Heineken being about 9 Euro. Luckily, we swooped in the front door when the bouncer wasn't looking so we got in without a cover.


We danced until we collapsed and then taxied home.


July 30, 2011

By all rights I should feel way worse today then I do. We woke up and were out of the hostel by 11:30am and started our drive back to Seville. Along the way we randomly pulled over at the first town we saw. We took a wrong turn and accidentally ended up in this tiny little mountain town called Alcala de los Gazules so we went with it and ate at a restaurant called La Parada for lunch. It was absolutely hectic. There were a couple large Spanish families having lunch with their children racing around on plastic toy cars but it felt very authentic which was cool. The customary old men smoking were there too.


For lunch everything was definitely only in Spanish so I just pointed and guessed. I ended up ordering carne de salsa, pollo de roquefort, and picimentos relleno bacaldo. They were all delicious. We needed to get the car back by 5pm in Seville so we left shortly after we finished eating. Note - start looking for a gas station to fill up your car when you are about 30 km from Seville. You might catch the very last one before the city.

We dropped the car off back at Santa Justa rail station without a problem and I also booked my train ticket to Granada since we were already there. That went surprisingly smoothly!

We checked back into Samay and went to go grab our last dinner together in Barrio Santa Cruz which is the Jewish quarter. We wandered until we found a little restaurant called Bodeguita La Parihuela, with open seating outside (the whole area was pretty crowded). We had this queso tapa that was goat cheese with some type of marmalade on little toast crackers. It was spectacular. The rest of the tapas were fine but nothing to write home about. My overall assessment is that Spanish food is fine but not anything I'd go searching for.


From there we headed back to the hostel for an early night as my friend flies home tomorrow. Sad!!

July 31, 2011

My friend left early this morning and I took advantage of the noon check out to catch up on sleep. I need to kick this sickness before I get to Granada tomorrow and meet up with my other friend. Grr. I changed rooms to a four person dorm which is also nice although there are no lockers which really bothers me and the bottom bunk has ZERO head room so I know I'm going to end up smashing my head in the middle of the night. I'd rather sleep on the couch downstairs. Again not my favorite hostel. I'd rather have a shitty bed and be able to fit in it.


I spent today wandering around shopping for all the stuff I've run out of - shampoo, band-aids, etc. Unfortunately, everything is closed in Seville on Sundays. Literally EVERYTHING. So there went buying any new clothes (I can't stand the ones I have because I wear one of three outfits everyday)! I did manage to find a grocery where I got credit for my phone (Vodafone was closed) and a 24 hour pharmacy (go over the San Telmo bridge to Plaza de Cuba and ask someone).

On my walk back I decided to stop by the Plaza de Espana because the two German girls in my new room recommended it to me. It's a beautiful building in the midst of the park with a little waterway where you can rent boats and skim around the little manmade river. Very peaceful place.


From there I decided to go visit Casa de Pilatos since the only things open on Sunday are tourist attractions. How convenient! You can either choose to pay 6 Euro to see the bottom floor (audio guide included) or pay 8 Euro to include the top floor which is a guided private tour (you have no choice). I went with the 8 Euro because hey why not?

Basically the house is an Andalusian which served as the permanent residence of the Dukes of Medinaceli. The bottom floor was used as the summer palace and the top floor as the winter palace. They are replicate floor layouts but with the humidity the top floor was too hot in the summer so they lived downstairs and then vice a versa in the winter.

There were three phases of building the first being a primitive castle started in the early 1500s by Pedro Enriquez de Quinones (the mayor). Then Pedro's son Fadrique (first Marquis of Tarifa) went on a pilgrimage to the holy land, saw a bunch of sweet Italian architecture and returned in the late 1500s to add to the palace. He also gave the place its current name, "Pilate's House," because he determined that the distance between the original home of Pontius Pilate and the Golgotha is the same distance as his house and a temple just outside Seville city gates. This coincidence resulted in him naming the palace after Pilate. Random.

The rooms of the palace have 16th-19th century paintings from many greats like Pacheco, Goya, and Giordano and many 2nd century Roman busts. The coolest part was that one of the owners of the house was obsessed with the Apotheosis of Hercules because Hercules was the only mortal to join the Gods. Obviously a good example to follow right?

Outside of all of this, the Case de Pilatos was extremely beautiful and well worth the money. The downstairs is surrounded by two gardens and all the walls are done in the tiny mosaic tiling. The ceilings are wooden wonders of intricate carving as are the ivory facades above and around each of the doors. There was hardly anyone there when I visited so it was super quiet and peaceful to walk around. I liked it a lot!


From there I returned to the hostel to drop off my supplies and walked down to Levies, a tapas restaurant recommended by the hostel staff. I ordered fried spinach, fried chicken, chicken curry and fried Camembert cheese. They were all pretty good though nothing too special. The crazy thing was the plates were HUGE. I was not expecting that much food so I looked like a fat ass sitting there eating four giant plates of food. There were three guys sitting at the table next to me and they were splitting three plates! Oh well!

After dinner I headed back to the hostel to pack up since I'm headed via train to Granada tomorrow to meet up with my next travel buddy.

Stay tuned!

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