Historic Granada

When we initially booked our trip to Granada, the only thing in our sites was the food.

After doing a bit of research, we discovered there's actually a lot of amazing history and architecture there as well!  We did a walking tour to check out the town, visit various sites, and enjoy the sun. 

Granada is home to Alhambra ("The Red One"), a great muslim fortress built between the 9th and 13th centuries.  

Within Alhambra, you need to book a reservation to visit the Nasrid palace, so we decided to reserve the first available spot to beat the crowds. It was a great idea, but it meant that we had to start our hike up to the palace in the -1ºC darkness.  Lucky for us, a small coffee stall was open at the top so we could stay warm while waiting for the palace to open. 


The Nasrid palace is huge and beautiful.  The walls are carved with incredibly detailed geometric patterns and the gardens are perfectly manicured.  A constant flow of fresh clean water flows through the many fountains and pools scattered in and around the palace.

We exited the Nasrid palace and and proceeded to Generallife. The name sounds like an insurance company or the name of a famous general, but it’s not. Generallife is another palace that was used during the summer because it lies up the hill in an area with slightly cooler temperatures.


We finished the tour visiting the rest of fortress grounds that overlook the city.

The most impressive part of Alhambra is its sheer size which allows you to appreciate it from the different points around the city. 

Our hotel was really close - we could easily spot it from Alhambra.

For more information about the history about Alhambra and Generallife, here is a good site: https://www.alhambradegranada.org/en/info/historicalintroduction.asp


Free Tapas in Granada

Granada, the city with so much history... and free tapas! 

We love traveling to discover new foods and thanks to "Anthony Bordain Parts Unknown : Spain", Jen learned that you can get free tapas in Granada, simply by ordering a €2 glass of wine!  It was a done deal - the cool February temperatures were a non-issue - cheap wine and free food would keep us plenty warm.

Ok, free is never really free. 
For N. Americans it's hard to believe that a €2 glass of wine could possibly be an "inflated" prices to cover the tapas since we're used to paying 2-3 times that at our restaurants, but locals here say that elsewhere in Spain, a glass of wine is normally only €1 without tapas.  In our experience, this was certainly the case when we went to San Sebastian, but the restaurants that we went to in Barcelona and Seville still charged €2-3/glass and didn't include tapas.

In any case, we did indeed experience firsthand that when you order a drink at a Tapas bar in Granada, it auto-magically comes with a Tapas plate that will not be charged to your bill.  You don't even have to ask for it - it just.. shows up at your table.  The drink doesn't even need to be alcoholic - Dom loved the local €1.60 mosto ("non-alcoholic wine" aka "grape juice") and every time he ordered it, food followed.

We ended up having great weather while in Granada, the first day only reached 8ºC, but our last days reached 17ºC. We felt especially grateful after hearing from friends and family that Canada was -38ºC with windchill.  

Evening temperatures in Granada cool significantly once the sun goes down, but this made for the perfect opportunity to taste their other local treat - hot chocolate and churros!  The hot chocolate on its own wasn't the greatest, but the combo really hit the spot when we needed to stop and warm up. 

Seville

To escape the cold creeping into the UK, we went for a weekend in Seville. Seville is a wonderful European city with nice architecture, plenty of history and, most importantly, lovely food. 

We did yet another walking tour to get a good overview of the city and learn a few fun facts:
  • Sevilla is the capital of Andalucia and its main industry is tourism
  • The Moors were in Sevilla for around 500 years - it only took them 10 years to conquer the area.. it then took the Christians 500 years to take it back. 
  • When Columbus left to discover America, his departure port was from Sevilla.  
  • The city is covered with orange trees. The oranges are very bitter (which is why we didn't see anyone trying to pick/eat them) and are used for 2 things: 
    • Making marmalade for the UK (yep, we confirmed this with our UK friends)
    • Making a very sweet and delicious orange wine (vino naranja)
  • The University of Seville is located in what used to be the Royal Tobacco Factory (Real Fábrica de Tabacs) 
    • Traditionally, tobacco was ground up very fine and "sniffed" or shot up into the nostrils with a device
    • The gypsy woman character in the opera "Carmen", by Bizet, is a worker at the Real Fábrica de Tabacos. 

Seville was host to the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition (world fair).  In order to promote the city and tourism, they built the massive Plaza de Espana.  Unfortunately, the Great Depression began just months before the expo began, resulting in the exposition being a bit of a failure.  The expo building still remains and is a very impressive site to visit!


The Real Alcázar de Sevilla is a castle that was built by the Moors and survived as a royal palace through the various conquests. Today, it's still the official place where the Royal family stays when they are visiting Seville.  If you happen to come while they are visiting, the palace will be closed off to tourists. 

For those who are fans of the "Games of Thrones” series, this is also the location where many of the Dorne scenes were filmed.

On Saturday, we woke up early to do a Foody tour. The tour lasted 4.5 hours and we visited 3 markets, tasted some great local food, and learned all about the local culture.

Some of the things we tried:
  • Toast with olive oil, tomatoes, and fresh garlic (the "typical" Seville breakfast)
  • Salmorejo (Jen's favourite dish)
  • Fried Anemone ("Nemo’s home", according to our guide ;) )
  • Razor Fish
  • Micro shrimp
  • Jamón Ibérico
  • Manchego Cheese
  • Manzanilla (fino sherry)
  • Local Sangria (Fanta + Wine)


On Sunday, it poured all morning so we decided to sleep in and visit the Seville Cathedral in the afternoon.
  • The Catedral de Sevilla is the third largest cathedral in the world
  • It was built over-top of the previously existing mosque
  • The cathedral tower has 34 ramps (instead of stairs) that were used during mosque days by the muezzin, who would ride a donkey to the top of the tower 5 times a day to perform the Adhan (call to prayer)
  • Columbus is buried in the Seville Cathedral. Rumours say that Columbus did not want to be buried on Spanish soil, hence why his tomb sits in the cathedral atop 4 statues.

Just across the river from Sevilla is a neighbourhood called Triana.  People from Sevilla say that Triana is where the Gypsies invented Flamenco (... apparently there are several cities in Andalucia who also claim to be the "birthplace" of Flamenco :) )

We decided to check out a Flamenco show one evening and it was brilliant!  We attended a small show with only ~20 people in a tiny local pub so we felt really up close and personal with the dancers, guitarist, and singer.  We also got our first taste of vino naranja (orange wine) - YUM!!



Enjoying the Tenerife Sun

Before returning to London, we decided to spend our last 2 weeks in Tenerife, Spain.  We found a great little apartment overlooking the main plaza and the beach, for only 35euro/night.  It has been definitely one of our best "offices" so far! ;)


The town we stayed in is called El Medano.. and of course we picked that location because it has a kite surfing beach!  After a good day at the office, Dom rented a board to go kiting while Jen "relaxed" with the relatively inexpensive (and much-needed) massage therapist who helped fix some of the aches and strains that we've accumulated from working all day in not-so-ergonomic conditions over the past months.


El Medano is a cute, quiet little town.  We really enjoyed our stay and hope to come back one day!

Gaudi

The last time we were in Barcelona, we didn't have enough time to visit the famous Sagrada Familia, so this time we made sure to check out some of the Antoni Gaudí sites.  Antoni Gaudí is a famous Catalonian architect with a unique "organic" style based on natural forms.  However, if you ask Dom, he is an Architect that really like Ice Cream Sundaes - as that's what his works kinda look like.

Sagrada Familia
The Sagrada Familia is probably the most known work by Gaudi.  In 1882, he started building this church that he knew would take over a hundred years to complete.  When asked about the fact that he would never see his greatest work completed, he allegedly responded that his client (God) is in no hurry.  Gaudi sketched and modelled the church's design so that future generations could complete the construction.  Unfortunately, during the civil war, many of those drawings, maquettes, and parts of the church where destroyed, so we will never see his final work the way he originally envisioned it... but it will be grandiose none the less!
Sketches

When we walked around the Sagrada Familia 2 years ago, we thought we were viewing the facades of the front and the back of the church.  After the tour, we discovered that those elaborate facades are actually just the sides of the church with temporary entrances!  There's still plenty of work to be done on the church as 1 of the the remaining sides will eventually become the grand entrance... hopefully we'll get to return to see the finished work, which they're estimating will be completed around 2028!

As crazy as the church's exterior is, the most interesting part is definitely the inside structures and stained glass - it’s breathtakingly beautiful!


Gingerbread and Ice Cream!
Gaudi was famous for architecting several buildings in Barcelona.  We visited a few other Gaudi creations and learned about his unique approach to architecture.  

Looking at these 2 pictures you must admit that Gaudi's creations look like ice cream sundae and gingerbread houses!  

In brief, his style mimics shapes and forms found in nature because God created nature, and nature is therefore perfect.  According to Gaudi, there are no straight lines in nature, so you will rarely see any straight lines in any of his works (hence the melting-ice cream appearance :)).  

Final Port: Barcelona

We've been to Barcelona before, but only for a couple of days, so we were looking forward to spending more time exploring our final port.  In particular, Jen was excited to shop at her new favourite store, Desigual.  She isn't exactly a shopaholic, but we've probably visited at least one Desigual in every European city we've been to since our gap year!  We rarely buy anything because it's a bit expensive, but since Barcelona is where the store originated the prices are significantly cheaper here!  ...we finally purchased a few items for Jen :)

We were working during the week but on the weekends we did a bike tour, checked out the beach, and most importantly: drank sangria! ;) 

We also happened upon a festival where local "Castellers" where doing human pyramid performances.. it was really amazing to watch, especially because some of the little kids climbing to the top were so young! 

Lastly, we stayed at a really cute B&B called Ally's Guest House.  The room we were staying in had red furniture and decor.. we left for lunch one afternoon, and when we returned in the evening the entire room had changed to blue including all of the furniture, the decorative pillows/bedding, and even the paintings&frames!  We had a good laugh as it was quite the surprise.

Working on a cruise

It's been on our wish list since we began our digital nomad lifestyle - working on a cruise ship.  

Until recently, the internet on cruise ships was so painfully slow that it was impossible for us to even consider.  Last year, Royal Caribbean came out with a new ship boasting internet speeds fast enough to stream Netflix.  With a little help and convincing from Jen's mom, we decided to book our tickets and put the new ship to the test.

Here is the Quantum of the Seas, the most technologically advanced boat on the seas today:
Robot bartenders:
80 inch virtual balconies:

We flew to Newark, NJ and spent the next 11 nights floating toward Barcelona, Spain.

..but hey, wait.. weren't you already just in Spain?  

Right.. yes we sure were, but since Jen’s parents and their friends were taking the cruise and celebrating their 65th birthdays, we decided to join in on the fun :)

Dom had done 1 cruise in the past and found it fairly... boring.  Taking a cruise while working at the same time was quite a bit more hectic with trying to juggle everything in around work hours...

Activities: Bumper cars, ping pong, napkin folding class, iFly, FlowRider, volleyball, the shows (Mamma Mia, the Beatlemaniacs, Star Water, Sonic Odyssey, and Claire Vinkesteijn).


Plus 3 ports: Ponta Delgada, Portugal
Cartagena, Spain
Mallorca, Spain

And lastly all of the food, drinks, and socializing

It made for quite the busy trip, but overall we really enjoyed ourselves.

So, did the internet speeds stand up to the challenge?  Sadly, no... it seems the technology is still new and they've still got a LOT of bugs to work out of their system.  The internet wasn't anywhere close to what they claim - we think they must have tested Netflix when there was only 1 person on the ship!.  If you just need to surf the internet and you have patience, it is much better in comparison to other cruise ships out there.  However don't expect to be able to do any kind of streaming or have decent Skype calls.. we got lucky once or twice and managed to connect our calls, but often times we could barely even sign in.

Pintxos in San Sebastian

After our week with Jessica, we continued our trip down the Basque coast and ended up in San Sebastian, Spain.  San Sebastian, also known as Donostia, is a really cute coastal town which also happens to be one of the top culinary places in the world.  They are known for their Pintxos - small snacks, similar to tapas, that are traditional in Northern Spain. 

We stayed in the old part of San Sebastian where there are no cars and multiple Pintxos bars on every block.  We quickly learned that the thing to do around here is "pinxtos-bar hopping".  That is, you peek into the bar to see if anything catches the eye, grab an item or two (~2 euro per item) plus a glass of wine (1 euro), and enjoy... once you're done, hop off to the next pintxos-bar that catches your eye and keep repeating until you are so full that you need someone to roll you home.

And that pretty much summarizes how we spent all 5 of our days here - working by day and pintxos-bar hopping by night :)

Occasionally, we ate so much that we had to walk it off, so we checked out the rest of the city and surrounding beach areas :)

2 days in Barcelona

What do you do when you have 2 days in Barcelona..?  Most would probably visit the famous buildings, churches, and other tourist sites.  For us, after being abroad for a year, we decided to do a bit of shopping!! 

We did most of our shopping in one store: Desingual.  A store that we first discovered in Cartagena, Columbia, where Dom fell in love with a pair of really cool shorts.. but didn't want to pay the outrageous $300USD price tag!  Since Desingual is actually from Barcelona, the prices are still sorta high but significantly more reasonable.. and there's a store every 2 blocks.... crazy... but we like their stuff.  Unfortunately for us, we're still travelling light, so we limited ourselves to window shopping plus a couple of items.

After our short stint of retail therapy, we also checked out some of the beautiful architecture that Barcelona has to offer.

We also happened to be in Barcelona during Saint Jordi's Day (Catalonia's version of Valentines day).  The story is that Saint Jordi slew a dragon to save a princess, and then plucked a red rose for the princess from a rose bush that sprouted on the exact spot where the dragon's red blood had spilled.  Now the tradition is that the boy gives his sweetheart a red rose, and in return, the girl gives her sweetheart... a book.