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Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

One year ago today, we boarded a plane and set off to make our dream of traveling around the world a reality. We are happy to report that we are still alive and well. Today we are wondering, how did this year go by so quickly?! But in all reality, when we revisit the past year in detail, we realize just how much we have experienced.

Our ‘Year in Review’ includes two photos from every country we have visited in the past year. One selected by Mike and one selected by Amy.  This was an insanely difficult task, since we have over 12,000 photos now! Some photos are memories of a favorite place we visited, while others symbolize our mindset at that point in time, and a few are just pictures that we really love. We hope you enjoy and thanks for reading our ramblings for the past year; there is still more to come!

Spain

Mike's Photo - Spain

Mike’s Pick – La Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain

This place is unlike any other church in the world. Our visit to el Templo de la Sagrada Familia took place on the first full day of our journey and really started things off with a bang! I can’t wait to return to Barcelona to see it again when construction is completed after 2026.

Amy's Pick - The Alhambra - Granada, Spain

Amy’s Pick – La Alhambra – Granada, Spain

When we stepped off the train in Granada, we were shocked with an unexpected bitter cold. Despite the below freezing temperatures we had an incredible day exploring La Alhambra, one of the most stunning palaces I have ever visited.

Portugal

Mike's Pick - Porto, Portugal

Mike’s Pick – Port Wine Boats on the Douro River – Oporto, Portugal

We try not to talk about work too much on our trip, but when you work in hospitality and tourism, a RTW trip is filled with very relevant learning opportunities. I have an all new appreciation for port wine after visiting several cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia.

Amy's Pick - Lagos, Portugal

Amy’s Pick – Lagos, Portugal

Lagos was the first of many improvised stops of our trip. To be honest we had never heard of it before, but it was along our bus route from Spain to Lisboa, so we stopped through for a few days. I will always remember Lagos with special sentiment because in my mind it symbolizes spontaneity.

Morocco

Mike's Pick - Our Riad - Marrakech, Morocco

Mike’s Pick – Our Riad – Marrakech, Morocco

Sipping mint tea in the refuge of our riad was one of the most relaxing experiences of our trip. I loved starting and ending our days sitting right here!

Amy's Pick - Colorful Tiles - Marrakech, Morocco

Amy’s Pick – Bahia Palace – Marrakech, Morocco

The colorful and intricate tiles in Morocco are unbelievably eye-catching. I would love to use tiles like these to decorate our house someday.

Denmark

Mike's Pick - Mike & Nils - Osted, Denmark

Mike’s Pick – Mike & Nils – Osted, Denmark

Nils (Amy’s host dad from her study abroad experience in 2006) was about as excited for our trip as we were. He and I took many trips “around the world” using these fun shot glasses printed with a world maps.

Amy's Pick - Candles - Osted, Denmark

Amy’s Pick – Candles – Osted, Denmark

These candles represent Danish hygge to me; it is a difficult word to translate into English, but generally embodies spending quality time with family & friends while being cozy, content and relaxed. There was plenty of hygge to go around during our visit with my host family.

Czech Republic

Mike's Pick - Hockey Game - České Budějovice, Czech Republic

Mike’s Pick – Hockey Game – České Budějovice, Czech Republic

During our time in České Budějovice, I had a high fever and terrible case of the flu. I spent three whole days  in bed and even considered going to the hospital, but still but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a Czech hockey play-off game.

Amy's Pick - View from Castle - Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Amy’s Pick – View from Castle – Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Český Krumlov is one of those magical places that makes you feel like you’re living in a fairytale. I love this photo because it captures the European-style architecture and lazy river that winds through the town.

Austria

Mike's Pick - Naschmark - Vienna, Austria

Mike’s Pick – Naschmarkt – Vienna, Austria

A major theme of our blog over the past year has been food. In Vienna, the Naschmarkt is one of the best places to take a stroll, grab a bite, have a beer, and see some really great artisan food and crafts.  We were in Vienna for less than 48 hours, but made two trips to the Naschmarkt during our time there.

Amy's Pick - Coin exchange at hostel - Vienna, Austria

Amy’s Pick – Coin exchange at hostel – Vienna, Austria

We only spent two days in Austria, using Vienna as a stopover for a train connection, however we found this clever coin exchange at our hostel. This photo reminds me of a game we play – whenever we leave a country, we try to use up all of the bills and coins that we have on hand, whether it be buying a piece of candy at a shop or giving it to a fellow traveler.

Hungary

Mike's Pick - Széchenyi Fürdő - Budapest, Hungary

Mike’s Pick – Széchenyi Fürdő – Budapest, Hungary

Whenever I arrive in a new city and hear about hot springs, thermal baths, or the like I get really excited. Who doesn’t like a nice soak? After a few months of backpacking under our belts, a day relaxing in these amazing public baths was just what the doctor ordered.

Amy's Pick - View from Castle - Budapest, Hungary

Amy’s Pick – View from the Castle – Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is one of my favorite European cities. I love how the river splits it into the Buda side and the Pest side. This day we walked almost 14 miles, exploring both sides of the city and growing our appreciation for how massive, yet accessible, it is.

Croatia

Mike's Pick - Old Town - Dubrovnik, Croatia

Mike’s Pick – Old Town – Dubrovnik, Croatia

After the Bed Bug fiasco was behind us, we really enjoyed the gorgeous walled city of Dubrovnik. I felt like I had been transported back in time.

Amy's Pick - Hvar Island, Croatia

Amy’s Pick – View from the Castle – Hvar Island, Croatia

This is my favorite self-photo of our entire trip. Somehow it captured Mike at the split second he was sneezing!

Bosnia

Mike's Pick - Stari Most - Mostar, Bosnia

Mike’s Pick – Stari Most – Mostar, Bosnia

When most people think of Bosnia, they think of the war. Few realize what an beautiful place it really is. The iconic bridge of Mostar was destroyed by bombs, but it has since been rebuilt and serves as a symbol of a country trying to heal.

Amy's Pick - War Tunnel Tour - Sarajevo, Bosnia

Amy’s Pick – War Tunnel Tour – Sarajevo, Bosnia

The Bosnian War is the first war I remember as a child, so visiting Sarajevo was very emotional. We took a tour with this man who lived through the war, and it was one of the most inspirational and educational things I did in the past year of traveling.

Turkey

Mike's Pick - Cave Church - Cappadocia, Turkey

Mike’s Pick – Cave Church – Cappadocia, Turkey

Our first day of exploring in Cappadocia included the Göreme Open Air Museum and its ancient churches and dwellings. Built by early Christians fleeing persecution, it is arguably the “birthplace” of the entire religion. Visiting was a very spiritual experience for me.

Amy's Pick - Blue Mosque - Istanbul, Turkey

Amy’s Pick – Blue Mosque – Istanbul, Turkey

The mosques of Istanbul are a sight to behold. Spending a few weeks in Istanbul taught me so much about Islam. Visiting Istanbul helped me to understand that it is possible for traditionalists, modernists, and everyone in between to coexist without surrendering their cultural identity.

China

Mike's Pick - Food Stand - Shanghai, China

Mike’s Pick – Food Stand – Shanghai, China

For me, one of the coolest parts of traveling is snacking my way through a city. We ate these rice dumplings almost every morning in Shanghai. Some cities in the US have food carts/trucks, but nothing quite compares to the street food scene in Asia. Forget what the State Department tells you; my advice, when you travel abroad EAT STREET FOOD!!!

Amy's Pick - Rice Terraces - Dazhai, China

Amy’s Pick – Rice Terraces – Dazhai, China

In the midst of China’s traffic jams, overpopulation, pollution, and noise, the rice terraces of Dazhai were the perfect escape for a few days of peace. I love this picture because we spent nearly an hour getting this shot with both of us in the air.

Hong Kong

Mike's Pick - View from Victoria Peak - Hong Kong

Mike’s Pick – View from Victoria Peak – Hong Kong

It may seem like a concrete jungle, but Hong Kong actually has some really great hikes, beaches, and islands. I really enjoyed our hike around Victoria Peak which ended with this panoramic view of the city.

Amy's Pick - Cheung Chau Island, Hong Kong

Amy’s Pick – Cheung Chau Island – Hong Kong

The stark contrast between landscapes in Hong Kong surprised me: a mega city that also has remote wilderness islands. We spent the day at the beach and hiking the perimeter of Cheung Chau island.

South Korea

Mike's Pick - Haeundae Sand Festival - Busan, South Korea

Mike’s Pick – Haeundae Sand Festival – Busan, South Korea

There aren’t a lot of beaches in Colorado; so it’s not big surprise that I had never seen sand art like this before. These artists are ridiculously good.

Amy's Pick - Sushi Dinner - Busan, South Korea

Amy’s Pick – Sushi Dinner – Busan, South Korea

We had a hard time fitting this sushi dinner into one photograph! It included everything from raw sea squirt to mud eel. Even though we shared no common language with the couple sitting next to us, they walked us through each dish and how to eat it properly.

Japan

Mike's Pick - Restaurant - Tokyo, Japan

Mike’s Pick – Restaurant – Tokyo, Japan

When we sat down and ordered, we had no idea what we were about to eat. We just got what everyone else was having. I like this picture because it reminds me of how the cooks complimented us on our chopstick skills and Japanese table manners.

Amy's Pick - Fushimi Inari Shrine - Kyoto, Japan

Amy’s Pick – Fushimi Inari Shrine – Kyoto, Japan

I love this photo because of the sheer color!

Vietnam

Mike's Pick - Bowl of Phở - Hanoi, Vietnam

Mike’s Pick – Bowl of Phở – Hanoi, Vietnam

Phở. #enoughsaid

Amy's Pick - Madonna Rock Dive Site - Nha Trang, Vietnam

Amy’s Pick – Madonna Rock Dive Site – Nha Trang, Vietnam

SCUBA diving is one of the coolest things I have ever learned to do. This was our very first day of diving – we didn’t have the hang of buoyancy yet, so the fact that our dive master captured this photo was something of a miracle.

Cambodia

Mike's Pick - Banteay Srei Temple - Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Mike’s Pick – Banteay Srei Temple – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

What can I say about Angkor Wat? This place is just sooooo cool. Cambodia may not have delicious food like Vietnam or dreamy beaches like Thailand, but Angkor Wat is more than a good enough reason to visit.

Amy's Pick - Ta Prohm Temple - Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Amy’s Pick – Ta Prohm Temple – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

I love this picture because it allows you to actually see the thousands of years of history that has taken place at Angkor Wat. The sheer size of this tree’s roots growing into the temple walls helps you to appreciate its place in the past and present.

Thailand

Mike's Pick - Elephant Reserve - Chiang Mai, Thailand

Mike’s Pick – Elephant Reserve – Chiang Mai, Thailand

We spent a lot of quality time with animals in Thailand: riding on elephants – cuddling with tigers – fending off monkeys.

Amy's Pick - Pad Thai - Bangkok, Thailand

Amy’s Pick – Pad Thai – Bangkok, Thailand

Pad Thai with tofu is my absolute favorite Thai dish and I miss eating it every day for breakfast! Surprisingly, considering all of the times we ate it, I can’t believe this is the only photo we took.

Laos

Mike's Pick - Mekong River - Vientiane, Laos

Mike’s Pick – Mekong River – Vientiane, Laos

This amazing sunset over the Mekong in Vientiane was one of my favorite from the entire year. You wouldn’t know it from this picture, but it seemed like the entire city came out to the river that evening to watch the sun slowly disappear.

Amy's Pick - Flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane - Laos

Amy’s Pick – Flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane – Laos

After the most horrifying bus ride ever from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang, we decided to fly back to Vientiane instead of enduring another death-trap bus. This was the most beautiful flight of my entire life – the mud brown Mekong twisting through deep green jungle.

Singapore

Mike's Pick - View of Downtown - Singapore

Mike’s Pick – View of Downtown – Singapore

It may be a small country, but I was really impressed by Singapore’s modern architecture.

Amy's Pick - The Helix Bridge - Singapore

Amy’s Pick – The Helix Bridge – Singapore

The truth is that Mike stole the photo I wanted to choose for Singapore, so I picked this one instead. This photo is of the ground of a DNA helix-shaped bridge in Singapore. My nerdy science-loving side really loved this bridge:-) The A and the T represent the nucleotides adenine and thymine.

Malaysia

Mike's Pick - Salang - Tioman Island, Malaysia

Mike’s Pick – Salang – Tioman Island, Malaysia

SCUBA diving and beach-time pretty much sum up our month in Malaysia. 15 tanks each in less than 30 days. In retrospect, I think we should have stayed longer.

Amy's Pick - Long Beach - Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

Amy’s Pick – Long Beach – Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

This is a place where two days turned into four, and four into six, and six days into two weeks. I loved living on the beach, relaxing, diving and having a blank mind.

Australia

Mike's Pick - Gnaraloo Station - Gnaraloo, Australia

Mike’s Pick – Gnaraloo Station – Gnaraloo, Australia

If you’ve been reading our blog since the beginning, then you may recognize our friends here.  It was our first time in Australia, but they really made us feel at home.  Juan wasn’t very pleased with the fishing that week, but the Coral Trout I caught is enough to keep me enthusiastic about giving it another go.

Amy's Pick - Fishing - Gnaraloo, Australia

Amy’s Pick – Fishing – Gnaraloo Reef, Australia

A memory of the first fish I ever caught in the open water!

New Zealand

Mike's Pick - Kaikoura, New Zealand

Mike’s Pick – Kaikoura, New Zealand

We almost left Kaikoiura the day before this picture was taken. I am glad that we decided to stay another night, because we would have missed out on a great hike and some unforgettable views.

Amy's Pick - Lake Wakatipu - Queenstown, New Zealand

Amy’s Pick – Lake Wakatipu – Queenstown, New Zealand

This is only one of the hundreds of beautiful scenic photos from our month in New Zealand. This road into Queenstown from the south is one of the most spectacular drives I have ever taken.

Chile

Mike's Pick - Laguna Tebenquiche - San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Mike’s Pick – Laguna Tebenquiche – San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

The water in this lake was so salty that it felt thick when I walked through it. The natural wonders of San Pedro de Atacama left me in awe day after day.

Amy's Pick - Pan de Azucar National Park - Chile

Amy’s Pick – Pan de Azucar National Park – Chile

After a week of camping at Pan de Azucar, one of the most tranquilo and beautiful places that I saw in Chile, we hitchhiked back into town to catch our bus. Our ride was from a local fisherman, and I had the luck of riding in the back of his truck along with his day’s catch. During that ride I remember thinking to myself “now this is traveling!”

Argentina

Mike's Pick - Christmas Parrillada - Escobar, Argentina

Mike’s Pick – Christmas Asado – Escobar, Argentina

I’m really going to miss this. But I always have Tio Francis in Denver, so I guess I’ll survive 🙂

Amy's Pick - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Amy’s Pick – Iguazu Falls – Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

During our second day visiting Iguazu Falls, we were graced with perfectly blue skies and a rainbow across the falls!

Uruguay

Mike's Pick - Practice for Carnival - Montevideo, Uruguay

Mike’s Pick – Practice for Carnaval – Montevideo, Uruguay

Hopefully this was just a small taste of things to come during Carnaval in Cartagena.

Amy's Pick - The Hand Sculpture - Punta del Este, Uruguay

Amy’s Pick – The Hand Sculpture – Punta del Este, Uruguay

This sculpture is just plain fun. It makes you feel like there is a giant living underneath the sand, waiting to grab you off your towel while you’re sunbathing.

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We chose to take an early morning train from Granada to Sevilla so that we could check out some of the Andalusian landscape along the way. Much to our surprise, seemingly all we saw from the train windows were endless rolling hills covered with olives trees. We had been offered olives with pretty much every meal since arriving in Spain, but hadn’t really connected the dots. Did you know that Spain is the world’s largest producer of olives?!

After arriving in Sevilla, we met up with some friends who are living there as English teachers. It was fun to connect with people we know after nearly a month of solo traveling. No, we’re not sick of each other, but a familiar face always has a way of making you feel at home.

Our main mode of transport while in Sevilla was bikes, via a bike share program called Sevici (for all you Denver people, it’s similar to B-Cycle). Thanks to Blake and Danielle, we were able to use the bikes for free!

Mike checking out a bike at the Alameda Sevici station

Riding around allowed us to cover much of the city in just a couple of days. A few of our favorite sites were the Plaza de España & Catedral de Sevilla, and we also enjoyed exploring the neighborhoods of Alameda, Santa Cruz and Triana.

La Plaza de España was built in 1928 for a world’s fair. It is surrounded by the beautiful Parque de María Luisa.

Fountain in the center of La Plaza de España

The Giralda Tower, as seen from the orange tree courtyard at La Catedral de Sevilla

View of Sevilla from the top of the Giralda Tower at La Catedral de Sevilla

Our nights in Sevilla were filled with tapas and flamenco. El Ambigú, which was recommended by Amy’s sister, Jennifer, was a casual place filled with locals and serving delicious tapas (you can read our TripAdvisor review here). Another great tapas place we found for a late night snack was El Rinconcillo, founded in 1670, and in operation ever since.

Tapas at El Rinconcillo – we love how chalk is used to keep track of tabs on the bar top!

Flamenco is part of the soul of Sevilla and can be seen everywhere; whether it be a flamenco school, a store selling traditional dresses, posters promoting  upcoming shows, or an actual Tabalo.

Our first flamenco experience was a performance held at La Carboneria, a flamenco venue in the Santa Cruz neighborhood that offers complimentary shows each night. This venue features ample seating, a fun bar and a casual setting. The show had no dancing, but highlighted the classic cante (singing), toque (guitar) and palmas (handclaps). It was very different but equally as impressive as the second, full blown performance that we attended the following night.

Palmas y Toque at La Carboneria

The second flamenco show, held at La Peña Flamenca Torres Macarena, was a much more intimate setting, with a raised stage and a few rows of seating on three sides. We were impressed by the dancer’s intense focus and incredible tranquil speed. Additionally, this show featured two singers which gave the performance a much more robust sound. In hopes of capturing the complex auditory component of flamenco, in addition to photos, we also took a short video which you can watch by clicking on the picture below.

After just under a week in Sevilla, we both agreed to add it to our shortlist of places we would consider living in the future. If you plan on visiting Spain, do not miss this city!

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From Valencia, we caught the midnight train to Granada, a first for both of us. Despite opting out of a sleeping car, we were still able to get a solid night’s sleep. When the train pulled into the station in Granada, we were shocked at the sight of snow-capped mountains. Our amazement was not because of their beauty, but due to our breath being taken away by the sting of cold air. Our general assumption had been that moving further south would mean slightly warmer temperatures. Wrong. Apparently Granada is situated at just over 2,000 feet and in a valley between Spain’s two tallest mountains.

View of the Sierra Nevada from Granada

After putting on all of our clothes (yes, that meant multiple pairs of pants, socks, shirts, jackets, hats and gloves), we managed to get warm enough for the walk to our hostel. The weather was the first of many situations to come where we had to just go with the flow. Here are some other examples of our forced flexibility while in Granada.

Example #2: We arrived at our guest house and were told that we had been upgraded to a better room! We not only got a private room and bathroom, but the room also had a balcony with a view of Plaza Nueva. Score.

View from our guest house of Plaza Nueva

After basking in the glory of these awesome accommodations, we went to plug in our computer only to find that there were no power outlets. Have you ever stayed in a hotel with no plugs in your room? This could have been expected in SE Asia, but Spain? Last time we checked, Spain was a well developed country. But, we just went with the flow, and used the outlet in the public area.

Example #3: Our main motivation for visiting Granada was to explore the famous ancient city and palaces of the Alhambra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

View of the Alhambra from Mirador de San Nicolás

View of the Alhambra from the Generalife gardens

In a perfect world, we would have explored the Alhambra all day, but when we arrived to purchase tickets, we were only able to gain access for four hours. There is a rigid structure of viewing sessions in place to limit the number of visitors so as to preserve this historical site. To visit the main attraction, the Nazarene Palaces, each visitor is provided with a 30 minute time slot. We weren’t given a choice, it was simply assigned. So again, we just went with the flow. If you visit the Alhambra during peak season, we recommend purchasing tickets in advance and visiting during the early morning session.

Patio of the Lions in the Nazarene Palaces

Intricately carved stone and inlaid wood door at the Nazarene Palaces

Daraxa’s Garden at the Nazarene Palaces

Arch decorated in traditional Moorish style

The Alhambra sits on top of a large hill overlooking the heart of Granada. It was constructed in the late 1300s, which makes it even more awe inspiring. The name Alhambra comes from its Moorish roots, literally meaning “the red one” in Arabic, due to the massive red stone walls that surround the city. Aside from the ornately decorated palaces, we were continually impressed by the extensively planned and still functioning irrigation system, which carries water from the mountains down through the city, to fill fountains, provide plumbing and nourish gardens.

Aqueduct at the Alhambra, gated to divert water towards specific plant beds

The Water Stairway at the Alhambra

Example #4: One fun surprise we encountered in Granada was “tapas gratis.” In most of Spain, you pay for tapas, but in Granada tapas are provided free of charge with the order of a drink! This led us to the invention of a fun dinner activity which we call “Tapa-Hopping.” This is a twist on conventional bar hopping, where you go from place to place, having a drink (and in Granada, a tapa too) at each stop. The only tricky part about Tapa-Hopping is that you have to go with the flow, because the bar chooses your tapas for you.

We enjoyed our time in Granada, despite the cold, and the Alhambra was all we had hoped for and more (unlike our failed quest for paella in Valencia).

Enjoying the views at the Alhambra

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If you’ve read the About Us page of our blog, you know that we love food and that one of the main goals of our trip is to sample local flavors.  As the home of paella, we knew that we had to make Valencia one of our stops in Spain.

Pan of traditional Valencian paella

As expected, there was paella coming out of the woodwork in Valencia.  Every restaurant, take-out window and market sells paella.  It has become such a tourist spectacle, however, that it seemed somewhat forced.  We learned that “Paella Valenciana” is not the typical seafood paella that you commonly find in the States, but rather has chicken, rabbit, peas and beans intermingled with the saffron rice, as well as a strong rosemary flavor.  Here is a link to a traditional Valencian paella recipe.

While the paella wasn’t all that we had hoped for, the city had many pleasant surprises.  The old part of town has an abundance of quaint marbled plazas that seem to appear out of nowhere in the maze of small winding streets.

La Plaza del Ayuntamiento

Another part of Valencia that we loved was El Parque Natural del Turia, which stretches 9km across much of the city and is located in the bed of the river Turia which was diverted in following a massive flood in 1957.  The park is host to a wide diversity of trees, gardens, sports courts, paths and playgrounds and culminates at La Ciudad de Las Artes y Ciencias.  If you read our last post, Setting Sail, this architecture may look familiar.  It is the work of Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava, who was also the brains behind El Auditorio de Tenerife which we visited on our cruise.  His work is modern, yet reminiscent of Gaudi at times, and also marked by the use of chipped, white tiles.

The Hemispheric & Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia at La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias

Us in front of Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia at La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias

El Museo de las Ciencias Principe Felipe at La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias

While our visit to Valencia began as a quest for paella, we found that this city has so many other culinary delights to offer.  We first encountered cured morcilla (blood sausage) in a restaurant in Valencia and have since been addicted, eating it every chance we get.  While blood sausage was not a new concept to us, we had never seen it in this form, dried and sliced, similar to salami.

Picnic of pan fresco, manchego fuerte and morcilla

Valencia’s main market, Mercado Central, is the largest and most impressive we’ve seen in Spain thus far. Pictures do not do it justice, as the smells, sounds and flavors make up so much of the experience.  We were impressed by how specialized some vendors are, for example, one stall sold only lemons and garlic.  Somehow the 20+ produce stands, all of which sell more or less the same product, manage to not only stay in business, but thrive!  It appears that locals have their favorite vendors and ignore the rest.  Everyone gets their share.

Jamón vendor at Mercado Central

Fishmongers at Mercado Central

Not your typical seafood

This little piggy went to market…

We are beginning to appreciate that one of the best parts of traveling is encountering the unexpected. While our visit to Valencia did not lead us to the world’s greatest paella, it did provide us with some other great adventures and delicious food.

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The past nine days of our RTW trip were spent cruising on the Norwegian Jade. We know that cruising isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of budget backpacking, but while researching destinations in Spain during the planning phase of our adventure, we came across an incredible deal on this cruise.

Our ship, the Norwegian Jade

The Canary Islands were of particular interest, not only for their relative obscurity and year round temperate weather, but also because much of Mike’s family lineage prior to arrival in the Americas comes from this small group of islands.

We set sail from Barcelona just after sunset on Sunday, January 22 and headed out to sea for two days before making our first port.  It was a real treat to sail through the Straight of Gibraltar and catch our first glimpse of Africa, lit up on the midnight horizon.

Funchal, Madeira – Madeira Islands (Portugal)

Our first stop was in Funchal, the capital city of Portugal’s Madeira Islands.  Despite being located in the North Atlantic, the island felt very tropical with an amazing variety of flowers and birds.  We caught city bus #21 first thing in the morning which took us up a narrow and curvy (to say the least) road leading to the mountain top village of Monte.  From here, the famous Funchal toboggan drivers set up shop.  The toboggan rides, which originated as a way to rapidly transport ice to the shore from the mountain top ice houses, have turned into a major tourist skeptical. While we did not indulge in a ride, we had a blast watching shrieking passengers skid down the mountainside.

Toboggan Ride

While most tourists take the toboggans down, we took the scenic walking route, which allowed for some incredible views of the Atlantic with Funchal in the foreground. If you’re interested in the particular route that we took, Google search “walking monte to funchal” and you’ll find step by step directions.

View of Funchal

The steep scenic route did a number on our legs but also allowed us to check out the local architecture.  We were inspired by the walled courtyards with beautiful tile work, all perfectly framed by pink and orange tropical flowers.

Tiled courtyard with colorful flowers

By the time we reached the city center, we were ready to relax. The islands of Madeira are known for producing their own variety of Port wine, so naturally, we had to try some. We picked up a bottle and headed for a nearby park to enjoy our last few hours in this island paradise.

Blandy’s Madeira Wine

Santa Cruz, Tenerife – Canary Islands (Spain)

On our second day at port we were blessed with particularly great weather, so headed for one of Tenerife’s few sandy beaches, La Playa de Las Teresitas. We heard that the beach was only a 20 minute bus ride from town and ambitiously attempted to walk instead. While walking, we discovered the Canary’s ubiquitous outdoor public gyms, but after over an hour, the sidewalk became an onramp to the interstate, and we were forced to take the bus.

Outdoor gym in the Canary Islands

When we finally made it to la playa, we were stoked to say the least! We think the picture says it all.

La Playa de Las Teresitas

After Amy’s pale skin couldn’t handle the sun any longer, we hoped the bus back to the city center to check out the city’s music hall, El Auditorio de Tenerife.

The beautifully tiled Auditorio de Tenerife

Arrecife, Lanzarote – Canary Islands (Spain)

The island of Lanzarote is best known for its picturesque and rugged volcanic landscapes, but we were drained of energy from our previous day in the sun and chose to stay in the small town of Arrecife.  While this city is noticeably smaller and less energetic than our first two ports of call, we did enjoy its captivating blue waters and small fishing town feel.

Fishing harbor in Arrecife

Málaga, Spain

Our final stop on the way back to Barcelona was the port city of Málaga, situated on Spain’s southern coast near Granada. Prior to our arrival, we knew very little about Málaga, but were pleasantly surprised. The city is very modern and well kept, but is still host to some amazing ancient structures.  To get a better view, we headed to an old roman theater known as el Alcazaba and hiked up a fantastic nearby trail. From the top we were able to view many of the city’s main attractions including the Plaza de Toros and Catedral del Obispo.

View of Málaga

On the Ship

Most of our days at sea were spent relaxing by the pool, reading, playing cards, and enjoying the Jade’s fantastic live music and entertainment. Because of Mike’s background in the hospitality industry, we were both interested in the operational aspects of running a floating hotel. After speaking with the Hotel Director, we had the opportunity to take a behind the scenes tour of the ship, including the kitchen, galley and provisions areas, bridge control room, laundry facilities, waste disposal center, and theater. We were amazed at what goes into making a cruise happen smoothly and seamlessly.

Tour of the Jade’s laundry facilities

Tour of the Jade’s massive walk-in produce cooler

The Jade’s Staff Captain explains the radar system during the tour of the Bridge

We had a fantastic time at sea and it was a great opportunity to rest up, eat three (or more) good meals per day, and prepare ourselves for the upcoming month of hostel living and a relatively unknown itinerary. We are now in Valencia and looking forward to exploring the home of paella!

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We are leaving Barcelona in the morning.  What a great time it has been.  Now that we are actually on the road, living from our packs, and exploring the unknown, we have a lot more pictures and stories to share.  So without further delay, we present to you some of our favorite parts of this amazing city.

Gaudi

What a guy! The famous Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudi, drew much of his inspiration from nature’s constructive beauty. Through this revolutionary style of design, he made so many incredible contributions to Barcelona.  He has even made Amy’s “Top 5 list of people to bring back from the dead to have dinner with.”  We dedicated one full day to exploring Gaudi’s contributions, including two of his most famous works El Templo de La Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell.

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia – interior of basilica, stained glass projecting on columns

View from the top of the Nativity Lift at La Sagrada Familia

Gaudi’s House at Parc Güell

Open plaza surrounded by tile benches, Parc Güell

Columns by Gaudi in Parc Güell

Mercats

We spent a ton of our time in Barcelona simply walking around the city.  While not high on the list of must sees for most tourists, we found the neighborhood “mercats” in Barcelona to be a bright point of our time here.  While exploring a quaint old part of town known as La Barceloneta, we encountered our first mercat.  Imagine the produce section of Whole Foods on steroids. These are different than the make-shift, bazar style markets that you find in much of the world.  They are a well built structure, clean/sanitary, and packed with some of the best food we have ever seen.  Upon returning from Barceloneta, we found a very similar mercat just a few blocks from our hostel in the neighborhood know as El Clot. Since we had access to a full service kitchen at our hostel, we took advantage of the incredible produce, meats and seafood to cook affordable and yummy dinners.

Fish Vendor at Mercat El Clot

Cured Meat Vendor at Mercat La Barceloneta

Sitges

After a few days in Barcelona, we were eager to get out of the city and see more of Catalonya.  Based on a suggestion from Mike’s cousin, Lilli, we hopped on a train one morning headed towards Sitges.  Sitges is a pristine beach town, just 30 minutes south from Barcelona via a regional train along the coast.  Shortly after arriving, we stopped for breakfast where Mike enjoyed toast with “pata negra” ham, the most delicious cured meat he has ever tasted, and Amy a cafe con leche y croissant. We had a fabulous time strolling the beach and walking through the narrow, well kept streets.  It was a welcomed change from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona.

Cafe con Leche y Bocadillo de Jamón

Enjoying the sunshine in Sitges

Tomorrow evening we will be boarding a cruise to Spain’s Canary Islands, Portugal’s Madeira Islands and Málaga/Granada.  We found a killer deal on this cruise before leaving the States and it is an exciting change from hostel living!  Looking forward to sharing our travels upon our arrival to Valencia following the cruise.  Salud!

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Goodbye USA, Hello World

We made it to Barcelona (as locals call it: Bar”th”elona)!  The journey to get here wasn’t without a few bumps along the way though…

We spent our last few days in the US relaxing and spending time with family in Florida.  Delicious food, great company, warm weather.  What better farewell from the States could you ask for?

Ft. Lauderdale Beach

But, three days before our flight was scheduled to depart, things got a little hectic.  The airline, Air Europa, called to inform us that they were no longer providing service from Miami to Spain.  That route simply did not exist anymore. They even sent us a very helpful automated email letting us know that the alternative flight available to us had left the week prior.  Great, thanks for giving us such advanced notice! Not.

After five hours on the phone with these people and some not so pleasant verbal exchanges, our flight was rescheduled on a different airline.  In hindsight, the challenge with the airline served as a good reminder that things don’t always go as planned.

The flight itself was not so pleasant however.  The eight hours from Miami to Madrid were pure turbulence.  Picture this: Amy’s nails digging into Mike’s arm, guy across aisle cold sweating and puking into the provided barf bag, and zero communication by the pilot as to why this was happening and when it was going to stop.  On a positive note, the food was pretty decent by airline standards and there was plenty of vino tinto to go around.

After the second leg from Madrid to Barcelona landed, we hoped on a train straight to our hostel. We have stayed in many hostels in our lives and this is without a doubt the largest one we’ve ever seen.  It is literally a high-rise of bunk rooms – 14 floors with eight rooms on each.  We are staying in a room off eight and so far so good.

Urbany Hostel, Barcelona

After not sleeping all night on our bumpy flight, we were pretty exhausted.  A quick siesta turned into a four hour nap, but gave us enough energy to explore a bit and get our first taste of the Spanish tapas dining experience.  We had some great chorizo, croquetas and tortilla.   Today we are headed out to tour La Sagrada Familia and whatever else we stumble upon.  As always, let us know if you have any suggestions of must-sees in Barcelona.

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