Barcelona: Catalonia Capital

Hola my friends and family! I have finally left Portugal. I’ve only been gone for a couple nights but already I know I’ll be going back! Such a beautiful country. Anyways, I took an overnight train to Madrid then a … Continue reading

Holy Toledo!

Hola!
It’s official: I love Spain. The food, the culture, the people, it’s all fantastic! Unlike Paris, where I felt out-of-place and intrusive, here in Madrid I feel like a welcomed guest. You smile at people, and they smile back!
Madrid is lively and sometimes chaotic, so a few hostel friends and my dear friend Pablo (from Madrid) took a day trip to Toledo: the old capital of Spain in the 6th century. It’s described as a medieval city, and yes, it is exactly what you imagine an old European city would look like.

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Te streets are tiny: some so tiny no car will fit down them, let alone be able to navigate the winding paths and sharp corners.
Toledo is a mere 25 minute trip on a high-speed train from Madrid, and only a 21 euro return ticket: well worth it! We walked 15 minutes from the station, up a steep-hill until we came to an entrance. The old city is contained behind a fortress wall, and looks more like a castle than a city from far away.

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We were immediately blown away by the old city streets. The main square was bustling with people, but the side paths were eerily quiet, and you almost felt like you were in a different time-period.

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Our first stop was the famous Catedral (above). We ventured into the free part of the building, deciding that paying 8 euros to look at an old church (filled with tourists) wasn’t worth it.

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Besides, we stumbled upon an old church and opted to go sit inside there instead. There was no one there, except for a quiet nun–observing us from afar. I have never been in a building so quiet.

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We walked through the streets, up steep stairways and then back down cobblestone hills. It was surreal. All I kept saying to myself was ‘I’m in Spain!’

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And of course we stopped for some food! First we sat at a quaint outdoor bar where we enjoyed cervaisas and tapas.

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How much do you think it was?

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Only 1 Euro each! Of course, we were still hungry, and had plenty of walking ahead of us, so we headed next door to the ‘Tavern’ and had a set menu for 11 euros: salad, cod fish, a glass of vino tinto (red wine) and a cafe con leche (coffee with milk) all for only 11 euro! Amazing! Our bellies full we continued to explore, and eventually came to rest in a small park.

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We finished our day of exploring by following a ‘parade’ of jazz musicians playing swing music. And yes, people were swim swing dancing!

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After grabbing some gelato we walked over the bridge and back to the train station where we sat around and played cards. It was the perfect way to end such an eventful day!
So, if you’re heading to Madrid, I highly recommend a day trip to Toledo. Inexpensive transportation cost (and quick) as well as relatively inexpensive food combined with old European charm make this one of my favourite destinations so far!
Next destination: Seville. Porto has proven to be a difficult city to access via train so I may not get to see it. Going to try Lisboa instead!

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Hola, I’m in Madrid!

Hola! Como estas?

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I arrived in Madrid Monday night after a very long day of traveling. And honestly, I was smelling pretty horrible. I was in need of a shower, and I really needed to do laundry. I feel horrible for those who had to sit next to me on the trains.
I’m staying at the Barbieri Sol Hostel, only a one minute walk to the main square of Puerta del Sol.
Since I am already a master of the Metro system in Paris, taking the Metro from the train station to Sol was painless. And although it was 10 at night, the square was full of people and the restaurants were full. I am not used to such late festivities on a Monday night, and I wondered if perhaps it were a holiday?
The answer: no, it was merely a Monday night in Madrid.
I have learned a lot about the culture of Madrid in the past few days.
For instance, the history of their city is quite colorful. Kings, civil war, in-breeding and drinking were all high-lights of the free walking tour, as well as an explanation of execution techniques.

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Also, the oldest restaurant in the world is located in Madrid, as well as the largest palace in Western Europe (yes, even bigger than Versailles!).
What I really want to tell you about is the food! Yummy! Tapas!
Confession: I was very confused by ‘tapas’. I had heard of it, but the customs behind it were foreign to me. In Madrid, tapas are not ‘free’ as I had expected. I was told that in cities like Salamanca and Granada, tapas are served free as they were in the old days. Here in Madrid when you order a drink you may get a plate of olives or cheese at no cost, but most places when you order ‘Calamares’ for example you must pay extra.
Sorry, let me explain.
Tapas are a customary ‘snack’ in Spain. I’ve heard two versions about their history:
1. When a king some years ago was at a restaurant, he ordered wine and a small snack. He was near a beach, and the wind was strong that day. An attentive waiter noticed that sand was blowing into the King’s wine, and decided to place a small plate with his food on top of the glass I prevent Sand from getting into the wine. The King wondered what the waiter was doing, and he said it was a ‘tapas’ or top.
2. Farmers would head into the city during their lunch to eat and have a drink. Well, most of the time they could not afford to do both. So, they chose to drink. After lunch, they would return to the fields slightly drunk as they had nothing to eat to help absorb the alcohol. Thus, productivity declined. The King at the time made a law that from then on, every drink must be served with a small portion of food at no extra cost.
The truth, I believe, lies somewhere in-between.

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After the walking tour I wanted to go on the tapas tour they offered. But, I got lost on my way, and never found where it was, so I missed it! I was tires frustrated and HUNGRY! I repeatedly walked by the same restaurant about half-a-dozen times. The waiters inside began saying ‘hola’ every time. Because they were so friendly, I decided it was a good place to sit down and have a beer and some food (pictures above and below).

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Then, yesterday, my friend Pablo took me around the lesser-known areas of Madrid. He also took me to this wonderful Tapas bar which looked like a hole-in-the-wall and was teeny-tiny! It was so busy you could barely move! But, it was delicious!

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Above:
1. A lovely waitress pouring our beer. You can see the food in the background. There was a limited menu.
2. Queso y Membrillo – cheese with quince paste. It was delicious! The cheese was very bland, but the Membrillo (fruit paste) is very sweet.
3. Fried padron peppers — deep fried peppers tossed in coarse salt. Pablo told me that while most of them are not hot, sometimes one will be spicy. I had one spicy out of the dozen I ate. It’s like a surprise! A wonderful surprise!
And are you ready:

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Croquetas de jamon y Queso — fries goats cheese with ham. And yes,
I ate a bite. GASP! It’s fairly popular, and pig is a staple in their diet here. There was trace amounts of meat, and like the bad pescatarian I am I ate it. I attempted to avoid the meet (you could see it). It was how you would imagine deep-fries cheese would taste-delicious!
I leave you now with some pictures I took while exploring with my England friends and Pablo.

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I still have 4 more days here. I will post again soon!
Tay x