Donostia

San Sebastian and Bilbao

March 2016

2 Days away

Me and J

By British Airways

Stayed at the beautiful Hotel Maria Cristina

The gist of it:

I turned 30 in February. Don’t worry before turning 30 I freaked out and booked trips to Bali and Ibiza, so it is not all bad. But I turned 30. And for my birthday J took me to San Sebastian (Donostia) for the weekend.

I have wanted to visit San Sebastian for years. I clearly spoke about it a lot as well (sorry J) because he knew just where to take me. Suffice to say, he nailed the weekend. Also, it is a great place to visit and relax because there is not much to do there besides enjoy the food, wine and seaside. That said I still managed to convince J to go to the aquarium, which is great.

The main event in San Sebastian is the pintxos. The first night I convinced J to book us a tour guide to take us bar hopping. It definitely was not necessary but I enjoyed getting to know our guide and chatting about her life as a 20-something girl in Basque country. We have done a lot of traveling, J and I, but we rarely get a chance to hang out with a local that way. Our guide was very well informed, but she did tell us that txakoli (the local white wine) had so little alcohol that “you cannot get drunk” drinking it. 4 four bars in, I definitely figured out that was not true.

I feel like I should recommend bars and pintxos, but there were so many great places and so many delicious things. A few that really standout – Zeruko, recommended dish the bonfire. Borda Berri, veal cheek with red wine sauce and the grilled octopus. Martinez, stuffed pepper. Gandarias, the sirloin. We also had a lovely sit down lunch at Narru.

On Sunday we went to the airport via the Guggenheim Bilbao. I did not know what to expect, but I really enjoyed the museum. It is a manageable size and I am a huge fan of Richard Serra. We ended up having lunch in the museum because of bags and convenience. The restaurant was again great. I wonder when do the Basques eat badly?

What I read:

Original by Adam Grant (highly recommend)

What I re-read/watched:

Having a Coke with You by Frank O’Hara because San Sebastian.

Top recommendations:

Just go.

Next time:

I would definitely book one, or more than one, of the Michelin starred restaurants outside of town. They are expensive and we were only there for two days, but next time. The one we considered booking was Arzak.

Pictures:

I will fully admit that I failed photographing this weekend for the blog. I find shooting food indoors difficult and, honestly, I just wanted to enjoy every pintxos, instead of photographing every pintxos. So, I am sorry about that.

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The view from our hotel room

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J in the rain. Did I mention it rained all weekend?

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Plaza de la Constitucion

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Playa de la Concha

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Atlantic swells

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My feet in the aquarium

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Photographing strangers in the aquarium

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Lunch at Narru (instagram filtered)

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Our massive bed

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pintxos on pintxos on pintxos

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Looking back at the beautiful Hotel Maria Cristina

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So long San Sebastian

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Museo Guggenheim Bilbao

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Koons’ Tulips

 

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Andalucia – Granada

Granada, Spain

4 Days

Stayed at the lovely Cortijo del Marques

By our trusty car rental

The gist of it:

Through countless rows of olive trees, we arrived at the Cortijo del Marques, our B&B outside of Grenada. The Cortijo was a beautiful spot and very relaxed. I would have spent every day there, but I am glad J got me to get off my sunbed and into town.

Our first day in Granada, we had one of our best meals of the trip at Iberico & Alhambra. It is a tiny shop with only a few tables that served mostly cured meats and salads. I highly recommend it. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Granada and figuring out how to get to tickets to the Alhambra. I really stressed out about that before arriving but once we were there, getting tickets from the Alhambra official shop in town was very easy.

The Alhambra is incredible. But there is a lot of hype. The tickets, parking lots, signs and manicured hedgerows make it feel a little like Disney Land. That may sound cynical. But J and I were both struck by how that changed our experience of exploring the Alhambra. I am not going to try and describe its beauty or its character. The pictures below will scratch the surface for you. But, suffice to say, the Moors knew how to design a palace.

Photos:

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Blue skies and a fall moon over the Alhambra

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Palacio de Comares

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Patio de Arrayanes

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Looking up in Patio de los Leones

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Jardines del Partal

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J and Granada from the Alhambra

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A lone photographer in the Palacio de Carlos V

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Generalife

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View from the Cortijo

 

Andalucia – The Drive to Granada

This is a weird story. On the drive from Cordoba to Granada, we wanted to stop off at small towns in between. It was a great idea in theory, but in practice, was always going to be a little random.

We saw a castle/church on top of a hill that looked easy to get to, so we decided to check it out. As we pulled off the highway it started to rain. It was not raining hard but as we drove towards the castle we saw some lightning.

We decided to go up anyways, and started our hike up and up towards the castle. When we got to the top, there was a little more thunder and lightning. We decided to hang out in a turret before heading over to the church. From there James, suddenly exclaimed ‘I just saw the turret next to us get hit by lightning‘. So I am like crap. This was really stupid,why are we up here, alone, on top of hill, with an umbrella.

It still isn’t raining that hard, so we wait for 15 minutes or so then decide to run over to the church. J is holding the umbrella and I am holding his arm. When we are about half away between the two structures, there is a flash, J yells and drops the umbrella. In a flurry of rain, yelling and general chaso, we run towards the church.

I didn’t feel anything, but J’s hand that was holding the umbrella is in pain. He says it felt like someone pitching his skin really really hard and he felt a shock up his arm… His right hand is swollen. I didn’t feel anything, but definitely saw a flash. J describes the flash as a spark on/around the umbrella.

SO, it is CRAZY to say to that J was hit by lightning. Right?! But equally, what happened? It was so quick and so scary. And I feel like an idiot for insisting we head up there. I definitely insisted we head up there.

Having done some research, we found that lightning can jump. So we think maybe lightning hit the church then wasn’t diverted to the ground properly and jumped to our umbrella?

I honestly don’t know. But it was terrifying.

That night, when we got to our hotel outside Granada, we were greeted by a full rainbow. It was a day of man versus the elements. And I am still not sure how I feel about it.

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The panorama photo is from J’s iphone. This photo is from my camera.

 

 

Andalucia – Cordoba

Cordoba, Spain

1 Day

Stayed at Hotel Las Casas de la Juderia

The gist of it:

We picked up our rent-a-car on Sunday and drove from Seville to Cordoba. We arrived late and went for a quick wonder and some tapas. Cordoba was very quiet on Sunday and Monday. Also, some of the sites were closed on Monday. I would recommend going at a different time of the week, if you are staying longer, but it was fine for us because we were there primarily for the Mezquita.

I learned about the Mezquita in my AP art history class. There is a lot of focus on sacred space in art history and even in that context, the Mezquita stands out. It clearly made an impression on me because I made the journey to see the real thing! It is incredible. A room designed for meditation and peace. It has the scars of changing hands -most notably the nave trust into the middle. In some ways that adds to its intrigue, like the layers of history within Hagia Sofia. But the hypostyle hall is where the power of the building remains.

Pictures:

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Roman Temple of Cordoba

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The Mezquita

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Me in the Patio de los Naranjos

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Inside the Mezquita – not an easy place to take photos!

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Looking back on Cordoba

 

 

Andalucia – Seville

Seville, Spain

September 2015

9 days away

Me and J

By Ryan Air

Stayed all over the place

The gist of it:

J and I spent forever deciding where to go last autumn but we finally settled on the South of Spain, Andalucia. We rented a car and cruised from Seville to Cordoba to Granada to Ronda and back to Seville. It was a great trip and really inexpensive.

We were in Seville for three days, which felt like the right amount of time. The first night we arrived we went to Alameda de Hercules to find a bar that served Mahou and tinto de verano. There were loads of tables outside and people coming and going. We then headed back towards our hotel for dinner at Bar Las Teresas. Bar Las Teresas had a great atmosphere and fun interior. We thought the food was ok but great value for money. Our favorite tapas spot was Bodega Santa Cruz, which was constantly packed. I also really liked our lunch at Mama Bistro, not a tapas place, which had a unique menu. J was less enthusiastic.

My favorite part of Seville was the Alcazar gardens. There is something magical about walled gardens. The Alcazar also reminded me very much of Dorne… Or I should say Dorne (the made-up land in Game of Thrones) takes inspiration from the Alcazar. The pictures below should give you a feel for it. A lot of green and orange. I couldn’t get enough!

We walked a lot and saw a lot of corners of the city. The Plaza de Espana was impressive. Triana was buzzing. We almost went to a bullfight! But J was not so keen. Maybe next time.

Top Seville Recs:

Bodega Santa Cruz for the tapas and the atmosphere! The Alcazar gardens because I never wanted to leave.

What I Read:

I finished the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante – I cannot recommend highly enough. I also read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Next Time:

The beach! And maybe a bull fight.

Photos from Seville:

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Our first night in Seville

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Puente de Triana

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Outside the Cathedral

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Me and the gardens of the Alcazar

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J’s feet

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Alcazar Gardens (or Dorne?)

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More gardens

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I don’t remember the name of this square!

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Plaza de Espana

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Museo Arqueologico

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Bodega Santa Cruz

 

 

Berlin

Berlin

May 2015

4 Days away

Me and J

By British Airways

Stayed at the Westin Grand – This hotel was fine, but I definitely would not stay there again. Central location but nothing going on near by and a very corporate interior.

The gist of it:

We went to Berlin months ago, but I made the mistake of not finishing this post for ages and not taking notes at the time. So it’s going to be a short one.

I feel like we spent our four days in Berlin walking. The city is huge and not very crowded, in a nice way. J and I also like to walk, so walk we did! Berlin feels very different to any other European city I have visited. The 20th century was not kind to Berlin and as a result a lot of it is very modern. I enjoyed that. Berlin even at times reminded me of America.

Berlin’s history also feels very contemporary. The marks of the World Wars and Cold War are there to be seen. I would highly recommend the Holocaust memorial (pictures below). Unfortunately we did not make it see a lot of the Cold War monuments/museums I wanted to visit because they are somewhat outside of the city. One piece of advice we got was to be careful planning our days. Many of the monuments/museums can leave you very sad and too much sadness can weigh on a tourist.

We also had a great time exploring Berlin’s neighborhoods, shops and restaurants. We had great meals at Katz Orange and Monsieur Vuong. I would recommend both. East Berlin has a lot of great Vietnamese restaurants, unsurprisingly. I also did a lot of shopping and bought Birkenstocks (so cheap in Germany!), a dress from APC (French I know but I love it), and some jewelry from TomShot (great for inexpensive unique jewelry).

Unbeknownst to us we booked to go to Berlin on a weekend where galleries all across the city were open. We had a great time exploring and pretending to shop for art. If you are going and you like modern art, definitely book tickets for Sammlung Boros.

What I read and watched:

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (highly recommend)

The Lives of Others – I re-watched this movie before going to Berlin and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Next Time:

I would definitely stay in Alexanderplatz or Friedrichshain. I also really wanted to go to Das Lokal but did not book a table far enough in advance. The Reichstag tour was highly recommended (by everyone) but we did not give ourselves enough time to book tickets. We also did not really explore Berlin’s infamous nightlife…. So lots of reasons to come back.

Pictures

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Brandenburg Gate

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Reichstag

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The Holocaust Memorial

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The Berlin Wall

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Currywurst at Curry 66

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Postdamer Platz

Easter in Paris

Paris

April 2015

Three Days Away

Me, J, my sister and my cousin

By Eurostar

Stayed at my cousin’s apartment

What I read:

How the Universe Got its Spots by Janna Levin – I really enjoyed this book, though it’s not the easiest to get through and I was a math major. If you are looking for something thought provoking, mathematical and a little philosophical I highly recommend it.

The gist of it:

We booked our tickets at the last minute because Easter in the UK is a four day weekend (!) and we had nothing planned. My sister, J and I have all been to Paris many times, and my cousin grew up there, so we didn’t feel any pressure to join the tourist hordes outside the Musee D’Orsay. Instead we went for many long walks, ate a lot of cheese (serious amounts of cheese) and even more baguette. Paris was, as always, beautiful.

Pictures:

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Signs of spring

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Norfolk August Weekend

Norfolk, England

August 2014

Me, J and J’s Family

1 weekend away

By Train

Stayed with J’s family

What I read:

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (highly recommend)

The gist of it:

We have spent many weekends in Norfolk with James’ dad and step mom. The house and the area around are beautiful in every season. Here are a few photos of Norfolk in August.

Pictures:

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Kefalonia (V)

On our last day I was determined to go paddleboarding. I had seen the paddleboards on the rocks at our hotel on the day we arrived but for some reason waited until the last moment to take one out.

I’d only ever been paddleboarding on lakes in New England, but the ocean near our hotel was not particularly rough and it was really easy to navigate.

On our last day, we saw clouds for the first time (!). And although everyone at the hotel was like ‘I am sorry it’s such an awful day,’the clouds did not take away anything in our view.

Top Recommendations:

Our hotel! The Emelisse was a wonderful place to stay and had everything we wanted and needed.

Paddleboarding, just in general. To everyone at all opportunities.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Definitely my favorite of the books I read while I was away, but admittedly not much of beach read.

Pictures

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Paddle boarding from the rocks at the hotel.

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The view from our hotel, even beautiful with clouds.

Kefalonia (IV)

On Thursday, we tried and failed to see Myrtos beach, one of Kefalonia’s sandy beaches that is supposedly one of the most photographed beaches in the world. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos!

We drove down to the town of Assos only to find the road to Myrtos was closed. So we ended up visiting Assos, even though we hadn’t planned on it.

Assos is a beautiful town next to a castle on a peninsula that sticks out into the ocean. I am doing a bad job of describing it, but the pictures below should help. The town was quiet and the water was as beautiful and as clear as on our side of Island.

After we finished wandering through Assos we tried again to get to Myrtos (the long way round), but when we got there found the beach was closed due to falling rocks. So we ended up heading to a little stone beach around the corner from To Pefko, where we had a great lunch.

Pictures

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This is as close to Myrtos as we got! It’s right around the corner…

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Assos

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A couple fixer-uppers right in the middle of town!

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Beautiful Assos

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur second choice beach but still not too bad.