Day 6 - Córdoba

we've built a city where nobody sleep
this thing is forever, it's twenty four seven
I love you so never let me, never let go

No Esperes Más - Alex Cuba feat. Anya Marina

That song above is so good, I do recommend you to YouTube it. However I don't think it's like super famous or gets traction that I couldn't find the correct lyrics for it. The one above is how I heard it. The song is in Spanish and English and it's perhaps my favorite in this trip playlist. So anyway day 6 was spent exploring Córdoba on my own. It went so much better than I expected and it was one of the best day of the trip and I took so many pictures, so this post will be filled with them.

Córdoba is not as far as Granada from Seville and the more I googled about this, the more I was convinced that I can do a day trip there on my own. So I took the train to Córdoba and the train was early at 07:00 AM. Well it's not super early, but as mentioned in the last post, when you got out and it's still dark, it felt early. The reason why I took the early train was because the main reason of visiting Córdoba was to visit The Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba. I googled around and confirmed from its official website that entry to the Mosque-Cathedral is free from Monday to Saturday from 8:30 to 9:30. I was there on a Saturday and hence I chose the early train so that I could make it there for the free period. The train station was near the hotel, but I did make sure to leave earlier because reading the train board can be not a straightforward thing for me. Luckily it was easy enough. My train was going to Madrid with a stop in Córdoba. With that settled, I thought I should get snack. There's McDonald's, but I didn't want anything heavy so I choose this filled doughnut from another cafe. It's a doughnut still with hole in it, but it's ring had filling inside. I was shocked when I found out the price. If I'm not mistaken it's 2 euro something. I straight away thought of Lisbon where things were cheaper and that nice patisserie near my hotel. Then I went to my platform in which there's staff checking the ticket there and bags must go through the machine. That was something new for me. I booked a window seat. I was hoping the train would be empty and quiet, but then a girl came to sit next to me. It was okay though.

That morning train was an express train with no stop in between. It only took 45 minutes. So I arrived at 07:45 AM. Studied the map and all before this trip and it should be like a 20-minute walk to the Mosque-Cathedral, which I'm just going to call La Mezquita now. However, the dumb me just went off walking before getting oriented first and as such I was epic-ally lost. Seriously, instead of stopping when I realized I was not in the correct street and trying to figure out where that street is, I just walked off further and further. In retrospect, I could have used the train tracks as my orientation, but I was too dumb :[ I walked through this area which I assumed suppose to be the park that I had to be in, but I was wrong. Finally I decided to ask people. It was perhaps still early on a Saturday that actually there weren't many people around. In my desperation, I asked a random lady walking her dog. She didn't speak English. Luckily I think I pronounced La Mezquita okay enough for her to understand me. She sincerely wanted me to understand her instruction, but with only Spanish, I could only get the big picture. I was thinking damn how my Italian knowledge didn't do any good there. I was hoping that my Italian knowledge can somehow help me with the Spanish, but sometime the words are so different especially when spoken. I fare better when I read Spanish I think. Anyway, I followed her general direction, but it led me to more of a city area which I thought to be wrong because La Mezquita should be in the old town. So I asked a waiter preparing to open a restaurant, thinking he surely speaks English. He did not :[ The good point is generally I was in the correct direction. The not so good point is again I could only get general direction from the waiter. So I walked, then after sometime, I asked a random lady. She somewhat spoke English, but then she wasn't sure about the direction and she said, I think it's that way *sigh*. At a certain point there's this couple walking in front of me. I thought they might be going the same way, but they could also be not. So I stopped following them after awhile and went off on my own and I got lost in like a maze of alleys. Sometime I can be so stubborn and go deeper into a mistake, but I was getting tired so I decided to track back to where I last split from the couple and then continued on to the path they took. Then, somehow, I made it. I was half convinced that I reached the place, but a part of me also said maybe not, but I made it. I made it and I was so happy!!! I made it by 08:45 AM. So that was like around 1 hour of being lost and walking? Gosh, I was so stupid but at the same time I was so happy to made it, thank GOD!!!

There's bag check before going in and there were already quite a number of people inside. La Mezquita as its English name, Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba, suggests was a mosque that is now used as a church. From the entrance I walked towards the end of one wall and hit what I think is the mihrab, but reading Wikipedia I found out that this mihrab is not the kiblat (Indonesian word for qibla), the direction which Muslims pray. So I don't know in which direction the Muslims prayed when this was a mosque. Anyway in this wall, there's a few designs such as this.

Now that it's a cathedral, there are many chapels for prayers all around. What's amazing and really beautiful for me is the many pillars, all in perfect alignment with each other. It has this block of red and white marbles, some looked older than others. Truly it's another thing that I'm truly blessed to have been able to visit.

I was planning to spend time there until the free time is up. About 10-15 minutes before 09:30 AM, the staff started to usher and shepherd all of us out. The official opening hour starts at 10 AM and in the courtyard filled with orange trees, I saw a queue started to form. There's also a bell tower, but climbing up enclosed stairs is really not my thing. After a few more pictures also from the outside, I made my way to the Alcázar. By the way, there were many entrances to the compounds, but not all of these gates are open. They also come in different design and are quite beautiful.

The Alcázar, its full name is Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos and its ticket price is 4.50 euro, which I thought was quite cheap, so I decided to go in. There was not much of a queue when I got to the ticket counter. An Alcázar as Wikipedia explains it, is a type of Moorish castle or palace in Spain and Portugal built during Muslim rule. This one is not very big and I guess that's why the ticket price is not very high. It has towers which luckily wasn't that hard for me to climb. Inside the building, there's some art works and some mosaic tiles. The garden features long fountain with flowers all around. The flowers were blooming, including my favorite red poppies. At the far end of the compound, it also has a section of walls covered in roses. I thought the blooming flowers are what made this visit so interesting even though the whole compound is not really mind blowing for me. It's just nice and relaxing walking around looking at beautiful flowers.

Here is a picture of the Alcázar which I took from one end of the long fountain and also a view of one of its long fountain.

As I was about to leave, I met the Indian couple from the day before. We did talk about our plan of going to Córdoba the day before. They were in a tour. We just said hi hi and went on our way. Next to the Alcázar, there's this horse riding school, similar to the one I saw in Vienna. I had no interest though even back when in Vienna, so I didn't go in. Ticket is rather expensive too if I'm not mistaken. Honestly I didn't have much plan about what to do in Córdoba and I did become concerned if my trip there would get boring. What I knew I wanted to do after the Alcázar was finding this courtyard statue. When I found it, it was the start of something exceptionally wonderful.

Near this statue, there's a house and I saw people going in and out and I know they were going for the patio. I know that there's Córdoba patio festival. It hasn't started when I was there, but signs were everywhere. This year it started on May 1 for about 2 weeks. That happened to be the day I flew back to Singapore. So anyway I saw people going in and I followed them and I had a peek at the patio before and old uncle asked me for the ticket. He didn't speak English but I understood that ticket is required and he pointed me at the direction to get the ticket which I actually knew where exactly. Actually there were already people selling the tickets outside of the Alcázar, but I didn't even bother to find out more because I thought they would be speaking only in Spanish and I thought it was something to be done in group. So the house that the uncle indicated was a house that I already passed on my way to see the statue and I did see the sign. So I went in. There's a guy and I was concerned that he wouldn't be able to explain well in English when I asked, how does it work? Luckily the guy speaks English :) It worked like this, the ticket is 5 euro and you get access to 5 houses. There's a map with the ticket and all the houses are quite nearby to each other in the San Basilio area. There's like an uncle / older man in each house which will mark your ticket once you have entered. The first house was actually the house where the ticket was sold, so that was like perfect. The guy also promised to point me to the next house after I was done with the first house. So here's the start of the many pictures I took in Córdoba and why this trip became so memorable. It made up for the fact that I was super lost that morning. The patios were just breathtaking for me. I may have said this is insane or this is crazy audibly because they were just so beautiful, too beautiful. Like I so want to have this in my own house someday. It doesn't take a lot of space, but definitely a lot of effort. Pictures here are from the different houses, I forget which is which.

When I finished in house 1, there were actually many people so I thought the guy wouldn't remember me. He did though and when he saw me going out, he pointed me to the next house, but I already knew where it is. House 2 was the best I think and it has also won many prizes dating more than 2 decades. There's a lady selling some stuff there too. There are people living in these houses, I think she may have lived in one them. I think I would go crazy having many strangers entering my living space, but the patio is too beautiful and I think you do have to share beauty? I hope if I have something beautiful, I wouldn't be too selfish to not share it with others. House 3 was crowded when I passed by, so I went to house 4 first in which somehow there was a time when I found myself there all alone and it was like bliss. I wanted to stay longer but I realized there's a group outside the door. The uncle there was like talking to them, I think letting me have my time. When I went out, as the uncle took my ticket to mark it, he started talking to me in Spanish. I think he's asking me if I have had a good look and I said si, molto bella (Italian for yes, very beautiful). I don't know if he understood this. He called me mija which I always love when the father in Ugly Betty called Betty with because I thought that is so endearing. Somehow I understood him when he's telling me that house 3 was crowded and I responded yes hence that's why I went here first (in English), then he told me to go to house 5 first. His direction was different from the map, but we confirmed both paths worked. I was just amazed we kinda understood each other. I love the personal familial touch of this. Anyway, as I passed by house 3, I saw it's not very crowded anymore so I went there. After that I went to house 5, along the way finding myself alone on the street and I was so happy because I had been seeing beautiful things. House 5 was okay. Honestly all the houses after house 2 just kinda fell short. It may not be as beautiful as house 2, but if you happen to find yourself alone in the pretty patio you can't help having your heart smile. Another thing I noticed in these patios is that they have wells in them. I can't recall if all the houses have wells, but at least 2 of them do have. There were also 2 free patios that I entered too, but they're not as pretty. You can give a donation if you want to, which the stingy me didn't do. If you think about it, 5 euro for 5 houses is like 1 euro each. If you go to the free patio and give like 1 euro, it's more or less the same. Also my earlier plan was to visit Palacio de Viana's patios if I had free time and didn't know what else to do. The ticket price was also 5 euro and that was like further from the old town center or train station, so that's quite a walk. With my luck that day, very likely I would have gotten lost again.

During the Córdoba patio festival, it seems all the patios are free and there are more patios located all over. So that would be like super interesting. I wonder if it's going to be very crowded though. Honestly as I was walking between houses and the streets with not many people in them, I wondered where's the throng of Asian tourists. Asian tourists would love this, but I guess big tour groups don't really go to these patios. If I have the chance to be in Córdoba during the patio festival, I would be so lucky. After the patio, I went to cross the Roman bridge with the Calahorra Tower at its end. I didn't enter the tower, didn't feel like it. By the way, that day I've been seeing boys and girls with their parents dressed up to the nine taking pictures all over, like in Alcázar and by this bridge. I wonder if it's because they just had their catholic confirmation. It was a good day that day, the sky was blue, the weather was pleasant, not very hot. Anyway, this is the Calahorra Tower with the Roman bridge.

The day was getting more crowded with tourists especially around La Mezquita. I took more pictures of its different gates and then had lunch in one of the restaurant nearby. Then I walked around to places like Calle de las Flores, which means flower street, but there were too many people and the alley was narrow and though there's potted flower pots on the walls, it just fell short in comparison compared to the pretty patios. I also made my way to see the old city wall that enclosed this old town.

After that I thought let's call it the day. I had walked a lot. I reached 20,000 steps that day. I was also quite concerned about getting back to the station. Going back I did have my moment of confusion, but when I found out I was in the correct direction, I was quite relieved, but still I ended up checking the map like every 5 minutes to make sure I was on track :D Arrived in the station quite early, but it's good I guess. When I got on the train, there's a lady sitting in my window seat. I was quite annoyed because I purposely booked a window seat, but I thought it's not worth the effort to tell her that, so I let her be and I sat on the empty seat next to her. This train back was not direct, we stopped along the way and in one of the stops a guy came and said I was sitting in his seat. In English, which I don't know if he understood, I guess he did, I explained that the lady was sitting in my seat so I sat at that seat. He talked a bit with the lady, but I guess the lady just told him to sit anywhere :( He did, but this is the reason why you do need to sit at your assigned seat. I'm just glad there's no drama. I'm also so glad, so happy, that I had such a successful day trip on my own. I know for some people this may be not much, but I feel happy that I achieved something, so happy. I had a really really really good day and I thank God for that. Okay, I have so many pictures, here's the links:

:) eKa @ 2:04:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 5 - Alhambra

we'll be falling hard in the black hole of our universe
and the whole world is ours, but we won't know
'cause we're too busy loving love

Loving Love - Naaz

Day 5 was spent taking a day tour to Alhambra which is like one of the main reason why I wanted to go to Spain. Alhambra is located in Granada which is actually quite far from Seville. It was around a 3-hour drive to get there. So the day was long but it was seriously really such an amazing place and I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to finally go there. Took a lot of pictures, so there will be a lot of pictures here. There'll be more in the Flickr albums. I'll try to explain the pictures here a bit, but honestly I can't remember much. There were Sultans, a Romeo and Juliet kind of love story that ended deadly, history. The guide explained a lot but I was just relishing my time being there.

The day started early, okay well perhaps not. I was expecting to get picked up, but instead was told to meet at another hotel. I was quite concerned that I wouldn't know how to get there, but luckily it was quite near and only a straight walk. Supposed to be there by 06:40 AM so that's not that early, but the sun hadn't risen yet. So when I went out, it did feel a bit weird, it felt like 04:00 AM in Indonesia or Singapore, but it's actually not that early if you look at the number. At that hour people would be starting their day, but because it was still dark, I just felt strange. Luckily when I arrived at the meeting place, there were already other tourists waiting, so I was in the right place. Then the bubbly energetic guide arrived to walk us to the bus. We were the last to be picked up, so we didn't get much of a pick of seats. I wasn't sure if there were empty seats at the back, so I quickly chose an empty seat next to a girl. Then I got quite annoyed during this morning trip. I always can tell when people don't shower and I just couldn't stand it. My hatred towards smelly people is in direct proportion to my love towards people who smells nice. I tried to be calm and be a better person but I'm just not really that person. Anyways, got a break at a stop for toilet and breakfast before reaching Granada. I already had breakfast so I didn't get any other food and I quickly went inside the bus first so that I got to sit by the window. I thought it would make me feel better. I guess it somewhat did. I realized then that the girl was so young, like a teenager.

So arriving in Alhambra, we were split to English and Spanish speaking and we got a different guide. A licensed one who studied arts history (if I'm not mistaken) and she explained a lot. Alhambra means the Red One because the colours of the structures on the outside is reddish. She told us to think of Alhambra as a city. Yes there's palaces and stuff, but many people who supported the palace also lived within the walls. Usually I like exploring by myself, but the whole compound is so big that it's really good to have a guide to walk you through this. If I had done it on my own, I may have missed stuff. The whole tour lasted like 3 hours and we even had a break in between. It was quite a lot of walking, but the weather was good. The day before it was hot, but that day in Alhambra, it was pleasant.

So Alhambra is divided into sections (I can't think of a better term) and we started in Generalife which Wikipedia told me means Architect's Garden. There was a fountain and with it, flowers in bloom.

Here's a view of some of the structures in Alhambra. Took this as we were walking out of Generalife or perhaps it was taken when I was there, can't remember.

We then visited Palace of Charles V which I think wasn't completed. It didn't look finished. It's circular with an open space in the middle and there are 2 floors. I didn't get up to the second floor. Overall it was not much to look at I think. Nearby there's this wall to the Alcazaba section.

In this section, we had a nice view of Granada the city and the town of Albaicín.

Then it was perhaps to the most popular section, the Nasrid Palace. My ticket showed the timing in which I can enter the palace. I guess it is that popular that entrance is by timing. The palace and its halls are really stunning. There were fountains. By the way, the Moorish fountain are quite beautiful in its simplicity. They're normally quite low and the water doesn't shoot up high. At first I thought it's so plain, but I've grown to like it a lot.

One of the beautiful hall is the Hall of the Ambassadors. The ceiling as you can see below is too beautiful. I think it's like the night sky with its many stars.

Then there's the Court of the Lions with it's beautiful arches and a lion fountain. By the way, pretty much all around Alhambra, the beautiful arches, walls, doors, just pretty much everywhere are either filled with beautiful tiles or with beautiful Islamic arts sculptures. Many of them has Arabic on them and how I wish I can understand what's written. Pretty sure many of them are prayers and I think that makes it even more beautiful.

Another beautiful ceiling is this one in the Hall of the Abencerrajes. Thoughts that came to my head when I saw it was snow. I think I also thought of sugar. I don't know why, I'm weird.

All and all it was great, really really great. For more pictures, please go here. There's quite a lot, I can't help myself. Everything was just so beautiful.

My tour included a walking tour of the little town of Albaicín. We're driven there. Some people stopped their tour in Alhambra, so there were empty seats and I finally got to sit on my own. That made things so much better. Anyway, in Albaicín we were given time for lunch first. I was a bit worried with the timing because I don't think there's enough time and the restaurants were busy. I managed to sit down and next to me there's an Indian couple who was in the tour too. They're like mom and dad age. I asked if they're from India, the dad said yes, but actually they're American. The wife said she usually answers that she's from Texas when people asked. I said they should since they're Americans :D I ordered octopus which was great. Side note: went to a Spanish restaurant with la Gioia on Friday and we ordered octopus and it wasn't that great and more expensive :( End of side note. I quickly ate my lunch and then went to buy water. The shop was an ice cream shop, so I had ice cream too :D When on vacation, indulge yourself people. Anyway Albaicín was okay. It's not super cute or anything. Houses were white and some of them decorated with flowers and ceramics.

One of the wonderful thing about this town is that it has a view point Mirador San Nicolás. Pause for something that I learnt, the Spanish word, Mirador, sounds close to the Portuguese word Miradouro, and both kinda mean a look-out point. So Mirador San Nicolás, though it's not very big, it offers this all encompassing view of Alhambra. On the second picture below, that white building on the left is I think the Generalife and the snowy mountain behind is the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

After the walk around Albaicín, that's pretty much it. For pictures from Albaicín and Granada, please go here. Some of the pictures of Albaicín and Granada were actually taken from Alhambra. Journey back was also a long drive, with a break at the same place as the morning trip. When I arrived back at Seville, it's most probably like 8 PM, I cannot remember, but the sun hasn't set yet. I am truly thankful to God for giving me this opportunity. This is definitely one of the things I want to do in life. I have been very lucky to have had fulfilled many things that I want to do in life that each time I got to do another thing, it's like God is too kind, too kind to me. I feel unworthy of His blessings, but our Lord God is the merciful kind with infinite kindness :)

:) eKa @ 11:57:00 AM • 0 comments

Day 4 - Leaving Lisbon And Off To Seville

he said,
why why, what a terrible time to be alive
if you're prone to over thinking and
why why, what a terrible time to be alive
if you're prone to second guessing

Pretty Shining People - George Ezra

One of the thing my mom often tells me now that she's gotten used of me travelling alone is that to stay alert and not to get into my own thoughts so much that I daydream or get dazed. Indonesian has 1 word to express that deep into thoughts, daydream, daze situation, that is melamun. In English, I need so many words to describe it. Well perhaps what she needs to be telling me now, which I realize now is a frequent occurrence with me, is to not give so little time when I need to be somewhere. I realize I may have a problem with this because of the so many, "Please God help me" that I say when I feel like I'm getting late. So that's kinda what happened when I was trying to leave Lisbon. By the way, for photos from Lisbon, please click here.

So just like when I arrived, I was also taking Aerobus to go to the airport. When I got out from my hotel, I saw there's a bus at the bus stop, but I couldn't run with my luggage and cobblestones. So it left and I had to wait at the bus stop for like 20 minutes or so, maybe more. When another bus came I was so happy. But then when it passed Praça do Comércio and Cais Sodré, the traffic was heavier and it was taking too long and I started to get worried :( I had checked in online so hence I wasn't rushing to the airport, but with the bus getting stuck in traffic I wondered if I'd miss the window for luggage drop off :( As I was sitting in the bus, I realized the bus would actually go to Rossio which was near my hotel. I could have walked to Rossio when I saw that first bus that I missed and managed to catch it there. Oh the worry, very worried. I kept on checking my watch and asking God to help me. We left city center and I didn't know how far more the airport was. Then the bus made a turn and suddenly I saw the airport and it was like hallelujah! I made it. Thank God!!! I knew the right way would be going to Rossio to catch the bus but now thinking about dragging my luggage through the cobblestone, I may have stuck to just using the bus stop nearer to my hotel. Yes, I'm stubborn and apparently don't learn well.

The airline that I took to Seville was Tap Portugal. If I'm not mistaken, that's the only airline flying there. Managed to drop my luggage on time. The guy at the counter offered in perfect English if I wanted him to print a boarding pass for me. He had difficulty scanning the one in my phone. I said yes of course, delighted to hear his perfect English. Had some time in the airport and bought a box of egg tarts, but they weren't good because they're not freshly baked. Had some of them which caused me to feel full and not eat my in-flight sandwich. The airline also gave us egg tart too. Very Portuguese I guess. The flight was full and I sat at the very back, but all was okay. By the way, I thought the whole of Schengen would be in the same time zone, but Portugal is not. It's 1 hour behind Spain. I only learned of that a few days before I left for my trip. Assumption, never a good thing. Anyway arrived in Seville, got my luggage and found the stop for the bus. There was already a queue for the EA bus, luckily I made it. The fare is 4 euro. Got to the correct stop and my hotel is short walk away. Chose this hotel for 2 reasons. I needed a hotel that's easy to access with the public transport. Except for the time I went to America and one time in London, normally I take buses or trains to get from airport to the hotel, hence I always choose a hotel that is near to the stop. The second reason is because this hotel is near the Seville train station, Santa Justa, which only now I realize is the same name as that lift in Lisbon that I had to queue for so long. As such I did know that the hotel I chose is not near the old town. I accepted that. The other hotels that the EA bus passes through are not quite city center too, so I thought the one I chose was the best one for me. This hotel was more expensive than the one in Lisbon, but I don't think it's better. It was bigger and I had so much more space. The bed could fit 3 people; when I laid in the middle and I stretched my arms, I couldn't reach the end, but overall I don't think it's value for money.

Anyways, after I put my things, I thought I should just quickly go with the plan which was to visit Plaza de España and the Parque de Maria Luisa. It's important to make the trip also because I would be trying out the C1 and C2 bus that I needed to take to go nearer to Seville old town and then to come back. Both the C1 and C2 bus stops are near my hotel, so that's good. As the bus went, I thought well Seville is quite a city city. Passed a mall, a soccer stadium, and a university before I got down at Prado San Sebastian. When I headed out, I think it was 4 pm something and it was hot. I made it to Plaza de España and it was quite interesting. It was big and actually it houses many government offices. There were many tourists. Saw a flamenco dancer in one section. Of course there were people selling souvenirs. There's also like a small waterway where people can row boats in them.

There's also these spaces along the bottom wall with unique tiles representing the different Spanish territories. By the way when I told mom I was going to Spain, she was like didn't you already go to Spain. I told her this trip would take me to a different province. Sometime the things my mom remembers surprised me. Anyway this tile below is showing Zaragoza.

Then I went to Maria Luisa park which is connected to Plaza de España. There were a lot of trees, but it was still hot. It's big and it reminded me of New York Central Park, but I know it's most probably much smaller. Saw some people riding bicycles around, I thought that must be fun, but I walked, all the while getting tired and also having to deal with the heat. The park actually has many interesting sections called glorieta. I don't know what glorieta in Spanish means. I just google translated it and google said, "space surrounded by bushes and branches or by a framework of bars, sticks, etc., interlaced with climbing plants that are in some gardens or outdoor places. Square in a garden with a gazebo in the center.". So there you go, like there's this Glorieta de la Concha which happened to have a lot of blooming roses when I was there.

Other things include a pond with lotsa ducks. Pond is a must in a park, I guess. I saw a cute baby duck. Then there's Fuente de las Ranas which I guessed from my Italian knowledge as the Fountain of Frogs. It's rather cute and in the middle it's a swan.

There's also a section with a small waterfall. I don't think I explored every single part of the park. I was getting tired and it was hot and I also had a very early day the next day, so I decided to call it the day. Took C2 bus to go back. There's a supermarket across the street from my hotel and I went there to get some water. Wasn't particularly hungry and didn't feel like sitting down in a restaurant to eat or get Burger King which was also across the street from my hotel. So I was thinking of getting something lighter to eat from the supermarket. Passed a very small instant noodle rack and I was shocked with the minimal selection. It hit me that in other countries, instant noodle may not be a thing. Anyway I got a cup noodle made in Spain because I was curious how it would taste like. Also got 6 big bottles of water and some bananas. You also have to pay for plastic bag in the supermarket. It also hit me that unlike Portugal, not many people in Spain speak English fluently, this is despite of Seville being a touristy place. Anyway, struggled with trying to put my water into the plastic bag and a kind Spanish uncle helped me with that. I don't know if I said muchas gracias correctly, so I also said thank you so much repeatedly. I think I looked so silly trying to get all my things into the plastic bag and they must have wondered, this weird Asian girl is rather silly :D

When I got back to my room, I realized the room didn't have a kettle so I couldn't actually eat that cup noodle, *sigh* :( I still have it now and haven't tried it. Side note: the day after I found there's like an Asian supermarket nearby the hotel. I didn't go in, but from the window, I saw that there were racks filled with instant noodles and brands that I knew like the Korean ones or Nissin. I didn't spot any Indomie, but somehow seeing all that made me feel like the universe is in good order again :) Anyway, suddenly there's a knock at the door. When you're a girl travelling alone, I don't know if you welcome a knock in your room. I did open the door and there's a hotel staff bringing me a free welcome tray and a bottle of water. Yay! That's a first. Never experienced something like that before. Yeah the hotel was nice, but I still don't think the hotel is value for money. The tray consisted of chocolate covered strawberries, cookies, and gummy jellies. So I had all that and the sandwich from Tap Portugal which was unexpectedly very very good (the bread was soft and there was egg) as my dinner. Gotta admit, my first impression of Seville wasn't all that warm and fuzzy and I kinda missed Lisbon that first day, but hey you're always experiencing wonderful things when you travel. Some place may capture your heart more, some may not, but it's always a good experience. At least for me. All my trips have always been good and I thank God for that :)

:) eKa @ 10:58:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 3 - Fátima, Batalha Monastery, Nazaré, and Óbidos

the sun is out, the sky is blue
there's not a cloud to spoil the view

Raining in My Heart - Buddy Holly

Day 3 was spent taking a day tour to Fátima and some other places. The guide asked me why Fátima and I said I was curious. Really, when I booked the tour, I didn't care much for all the other places. I was the first to be picked up and I was expecting the group to be bigger than the trip to Sintra, but it was much smaller. When I found out, I wasn't excited, but the day turned out to be okay. The other people in the group is an older couple from Louisiana. I sat with the lady, Kathy, and his husband, Bubba sat at the front. Maybe it's totally fine for Americans, but I felt weird having to address an older man with Bubba because the sound of that name doesn't sound very mature for me. Anyways, I pretty much talked to Kathy throughout the trip. She was quite chatty :) Upon finding out they're from Louisiana, I told her how I love Duck Dynasty :D She and I are quite in sync on a number of things except for Trump, more on that later.

So Fátima as the guide explained to us, is named after the daughter of Prophet Muhammad. Side note: I just wanted to go to Seville when I planned this trip. To make things easier, I could just have explored Spain thoroughly rather than go to Portugal. However somehow I wasn't that interested to go to Madrid and then Catalunya is having its own identity issue that though I love Barcelona, I thought I should perhaps go somewhere else altogether. Hence I chose Portugal. Without knowing much history, there is a theme in this trip, that is of Moorish influence in this area, an influence that is felt and quite visible in Portugal and the Andalusia territory of Spain. Many of the churches used to be mosques. As the guide said, put a cross and the Virgin Mary, and there you go, you convert a mosque to a church. Kinda the opposite of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul when a church became a mosque. Unfortunately though, I don't think I have learned much Moorish history from this trip. What I know about Fátima is that somehow I know it's quite an important pilgrimage place for Catholics. From the guide, I learned that long time ago 3 children had an apparition of the Virgin Mary here and hence the place became quite famous. One of the thing that me and Kathy agreed on is that our guide was quite all over the place with his explanation. I felt sometime the guide didn't finish his explanation from beginning to end. I Wikipedia-d this place to get more informed. Do the same if you want to learn more.

Arriving at the place, it was not like what I expected. The compound is big, huge. There were many Catholics of course. Saw some people crawling on their knees. I thought they're praying for something, but the guide told me it's for penance. During the time when the kids saw the Virgin Mary, I imagined this place to be more like a field, but now it's just an open place with 2 churches, Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima and Basilica of the Holy Trinity. Then there's also another structure that encloses the small chapel that was built to mark the apparition. I know all these were built to accommodate the many pilgrims, but I don't know. Maybe because I'm not a Catholic, I felt nothing. It could also be because I'm such a sinner, on my way down to hell, that I felt nothing :D Sorry God, I don't know, I really felt nothing. I felt a bit of curiosity at the people who were on their knees and crawling, but overall if you ask me if I felt an overwhelming presence, I felt nothing.

We're given time to explore on our own and I started with the modern church, Basilica of the Holy Trinity, which is the building on the left in the picture below. There was a mass going on and I watched a bit from the door. I did feel rather disrespectful for not giving more respect to this place.

After that I went to Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima which is located at the other end of the modern church. Both pictures of the 2 churches were taken when I was at one of them looking at the other. Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima was older and our guide told us the tombs of the kids are there (2 of them died a very young age, still as kids), but I didn't see it. I don't know if it could be visited when I was there. I tried, but couldn't find the direction. There was a beautiful kids choir when I was there and maybe they closed some parts because of it. Kathy said they couldn't go in as well.

Then this is the structure that encloses the small chapel that you can see behind the priest. There was a mass when I took this picture. Many of the Catholics seemed to be focused on this area.

Near this chapel, there's a place where people can light their candles, but it's such an open fire that it reminded me of the open fire in Chinese temple where people burn their offering papers. Kathy was amazed at the very long candles some of the pilgrim brought. They were like 1-metre long. The guide told us because of the many pilgrims and candles, it became open fire. I didn't go nearer to see if people still tried to light their candles or just throw their candles into the open fire. Honestly I didn't really see a place where they can put their lighted candles. So anyway, I'm kinda underwhelmed with Fátima and I do feel like asking God's forgiveness for feeling that way.

Next stop was Batalha Monastery which I thought was more interesting and I wanted so badly to explore more. However we spent little time here :( First of all, the exterior of the monastery is so interesting with its gargoyles, spires, and just all around interesting-ness. Really if only I had more time just to absorb.

Then the monastery apparently housed several important tombs. There's the tomb of Philippa of Lancaster and her husband who was a Portugal King and they're the parents of Henry the Navigator whose tombs is also in the same chamber as theirs. The chamber has a very nice ceiling and when we were there, the sun beautifully lit it and with the coloured windows, the way the colours fell on the chamber was just so beautiful.

The day I was there was 25th April which is a public holiday in Portugal. An important date, hence there's a bridge named after this. The guide told us that it marked the end of dictatorship in 1974, which means it's only been 44 years, quite young. Anyway because of the public holiday a Portugal tourists told us all the places were free to visit, but when the guide tried to bring us to another section, we couldn't enter. I'm not sure if it's free only for Portuguese. So anyway, I heard the cloister is quite nice too, but we didn't go in. Aaahh, really if only we could spend more time here :(

We had lunch nearby. All of us ate together. The couple then asked me about healthcare in Singapore :D They're annoyed with Obamacare. Them being from the red state Louisiana, I know they're likely to be Trump supporters. I did wonder if I'd get to meet a Trump supporter on this trip, what would they be like. This couple I met are very nice, but our views of Trumps are so different. I had (and still do) so much to ask, but I chickened out and I didn't. Talks about politics could turn bad and we're on vacations. It would be disastrous if we blew up. I think they chose Trump for economic reasons and they felt that the media is unfair to him. I must have made a face on that remark because Kathy said, you're so not on Trump. We laughed at that. I can't comment on their reasoning for voting Trump for economic reason because I'm not an American who live in America, so I just accepted that as their concerns. However, what about the other reasons that Trump is so awful. If there's one question I wanted to ask is that, okay forget what the media portray him to be, forget about what he did in the past with the likes of Stormy Daniels because that is years ago, Russia investigation hasn't brought definitive damaging proof, but how about what he actually says and tweets. Surely it's not right, surely that is not what you can be proud of having your president do all that. Another question would be, what are your thoughts that the rest of us in this world don't think very highly of him. All that I didn't ask. For me it's precious that God gave me the chance to meet and spend time with them. Sometime we can be so in our group that we think the other side is so different, so so different. However me and Kathy and I guess by extension her husband have things in common. We could talk about pig liver and shared the same thought of not loving the tipping culture in America and grown kids living with their parents. They are nice and friendly and they made the day interesting for me :)

After lunch we went to Nazaré. There's an interesting story regarding Nazaré, involving a cliff and the statue of the Virgin Mary breastfeeding baby Jesus. We went to the cliff and saw the beach below.

Then went to the small chapel nearby where the statue was found. The chapel is super small. The statue is not there anymore, but we could see the small tunnel hole where the statue was found. The chapel is not very interesting at all. It has this blue tiling on the ceiling.

Then the guide took us to the nearby Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazaré church where the statue is now located. The statue is of a black virgin Mary and apparently it's from Nazareth hence the name of the place if I'm not mistaken. For pictures from this part of the trip, please go here.

Last stop of the day was Óbidos. Seriously I was only focused on visiting Fátima that I didn't care much about the other places, but Batalha Monastery and Óbidos are like the nicest parts of the day. Óbidos is like this very cute village. Very touristy though, there were many tourists. There were also many shops selling souvenirs and stuff. The houses are painted white and some has interesting flowers on them. Óbidos is quite photogenic.

I didn't feel like going into the shops, so I just walked up the main street looking at alleys and such, taking pictures. Following the main street, I ended up in this castle with walls. I didn't go further than this.

Before we left, our guide treated us to shots of Ginja. It's a cherry liqueur and ours were served in chocolate cups. I chose white chocolate. Kathy and I had the same thought; our first impression of it was cough syrup :D For pictures from Óbidos, please go here. Got back in Lisbon later than expected. I wasn't that hungry so I went to the patisserie nearby my hotel that I spotted days before. Got 2 cakes and was surprised that they were cheap. Each was like 1 euro something. Had one of the cake for dinner and it was really good. I regretted not visiting this patisserie more. It was my last day in Portugal and I felt sad about leaving. Portugal exceeded my expectation and I have such fond memories of it :)

:) eKa @ 10:27:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 2 - Belém, Cristo Rei, and More of Lisbon

if it's all right
I wanna kick it with you all night, all night
have a good time
ain't gotta worry 'cause it's all right
it's all right

All Night - Big Boi

Day 2 was spent exploring on my own. I love days when I get to explore on my own. As written in the previous post, the day before I bought the transport ticket. Chose a 24-hour pass. It comes in different options and I chose the one that include ferry to and from Cacilhas because though I was getting lazy I thought I should stick to the plan of visiting Cristo Rei. So this travel card that I chose cost 9.85 euro and you just tap in and out when using public transports. Getting a day pass definitely makes things easier, but you do have to calculate if you will be making enough trips to cover the cost. I think I did.

First stop was to Belém. To go there you take tram 15 and lucky me, the tram starts just in front of my hotel. Did a lot of preparation for every trip, but there's always something I overlooked. Well I didn't look up the schedule, so when I went down to the stop, I found out that I needed to wait some time. When the tram was about to come, a staff came asking people if they had their tickets. I thought this is kinda nice You can buy tickets from him before getting on the tram rather than making the tram driver busy having to handle passengers. The good thing about hopping in on the first stop, all the seats were available. Tram 15 itself is more modern that the other trams and it's longer so it has more seats, however this gets filled out pretty much by the next stop. By the time we reached Praça do Comércio, it was so crowded that newcomers all had to stand. I couldn't remember how long the journey was. Google map would tell you it's 40 mins or so, I guess that's about right.

I changed my plan a bit the more I prepared for my trip, so instead of stopping at the main thing that I wanted to visit, Jerónimos Monastery, I decided to go to Belém tower first and then walk to the monastery. The stop to the tower is 2 stops after the monastery. Everyone mostly got off at the monastery. Some tourists I think got it wrong and got off a stop before the monastery. Anyway basically the tram was emptying out when we reached the monastery. From my stop, it wasn't that far to walk to the tower. I did have my worry that I was going to be lost, but I managed to figure out my orientation and there were other tourists too. I didn't have a plan to enter the tower, because I'm not a fan of walking up enclosed stairs. I wrote this so many times :D The tower itself is not very big and tall. A prince wouldn't have problem rescuing a princess locked up in there. By the time I reached, there was already quite a queue to enter.

After that, I made my way to the Discovery Monument which I think is an ode to the great Portuguese explorers. At the front is Henry the Navigator, which I am ashamed to say I have no knowledge of whatsoever. I am googling and reading up on him. There is also only 1 lady at this monument, she's Philippa of Lancaster and I am also googling her up. The monument is tall and at one side, you see a relief of a sword. I thought that was very cool.

On the floor near this monument, there's also this very cool tiling that shows the map of the world and the years in which I think the Portuguese explorers arrived. Indonesia has like 5 centuries of history and really back in school, it got quite tough having to memorize all the dates and such. I don't remember much anymore, but I do remember that the Portuguese arrived in Indonesia first, even before the Dutch and I remember they arrived in 1511. So when I saw this map and saw 1512, I don't know why that is. Is that the date when they completed the fort? Because there is a remain of a Portuguese fort in Maluku.

Then I made my way to Jerónimos Monastery. The queue was long and the sun was hot and thank God, I booked the ticket beforehand. This is something that I like to do these days, if there's anything that can be booked beforehand, I'll do it. So I basically breezed through. The monastery is quite big and the sculptures all around are all different and unique. The cloister is quite plain though, just grass. There's some exhibitions and there's a room where there's the tomb of Alexandre Herculano. I don't know who that is. He's just very important in the history of Portugal. There are 2 floors and at one section of the upper floor, you get to see the inside of Church of Santa Maria. I spent quite a long time here, looking at the unique sculptures.

After that I went to the church next door, Church of Santa Maria. It's free to enter and there isn't a queue. The church is quite impressive. It has high ceiling and this section of the ceiling is particularly beautiful for me.

There's a treasury and you have to pay to enter. Here I met the Canadian couple from the day before. The day before we found out that everyone in the group was planning to go to Belém that day, but I only saw this Canadian couple. They're the only one who talked to me so I guess that's why they could still recognize me and said hi. They didn't go to the monastery because they said the queue was too long and it was quite a hot day. Book people, please book if you're planning to go. There are precious items inside the treasury but I guess because I couldn't appreciate them, I didn't stay long and pretty much don't have much recollection of them now. Other interesting thing in the church is the the tomb of Vasco da Gama. I thought it's very cool to have seen that. There's a boat relief in his tomb, obviously because he's an explorer. After I got out, I took some exterior photos of the church.

I spent quite a long time there and I think it was already like lunch time, but instead of taking a proper meal, there's one more stop, the famous Pasteis de Belém. They're famous for the egg tart or Pastéis de Nata as they call in Portuguese. There's a queue for take away and the recommendation is to eat inside the shop because they have a spacious space inside. Stupid me didn't go all the way in, I just quickly sat on the first empty table I found. It was quite a busy place, the waiters were busy walking around serving people. Once one got to me, I ordered 2 egg tarts and tea. Actually there are like other tempting snacks inside the window display, but there isn't like a written menu and I was afraid it'd take too long if I asked and the main reason I was there was the egg tarts so that's the only thing I ordered. The egg tarts came and gosh they were really good. However I think the reason why they're good is because it's freshly baked and hence the cream custard was soft and crumbly. I think that's the thing why egg tart here in Singapore is not that amazing. It's rare to find fresh from the oven kind (at least for me) so when we buy them, the cream has set and coagulated and not as soft. The Belém egg tarts were so good that I embarrassingly ordered another one. I was quite embarrassed about it, really. For my third one, I sprinkled a bit of cinnamon. I couldn't have eaten more, but I had to restrain myself. I miss those egg tarts now *sigh* When I used their rest room, I found out that inside there's really a big space and it's not full. I should have gone in really. I also saw their production line. Their kitchen has windows and you can see the amount of egg tarts they produce, it's a lot and it's so interesting. I could just stand there and watch, but I thought that would be too weird so I didn't and I also didn't take any picture. Yes, I have no picture at all from Pastéis de Belém, but believe me it's good, spend some time there when you're in the area.

For pictures from Belém, please go here. After that the plan was to go to Cristo Rei. So I took tram 15 back (which was really crowded then) to Cais do Sodré where there's a metro station and the ferry terminal that has boats to Cacilhas where Cristo Rei is located. There's also the Time Out Market and though I know it's touristy and most probably gonna be crowded, I thought I'd try my luck there for lunch. To describe Time Out Market in Singapore lingo, it is an atas hawker center. In proper English, it's a more elevated or higher class food court. Higher class food courts are appearing in Singapore too and people do look at it as being snobbish though people actually eat there too, just to try it out so they say :D If Time Out Market appears in Singapore, first I don't know how successful that'll be because hawker centers are everywhere in Singapore. One that positions itself as higher class and is more expensive will most probably be met with some sort of mockery, but you know people here do buy into the hype. So anyways, being the tourist that I was, I was ... being a tourist. I can't explain it any other way why I went there. The food court was crowded and I did wonder if it's a good idea, what if I ordered and couldn't find a seat. Then the next question was what to eat. I think I went around 3 times before deciding. There's Asian food, but no please, I'd just get disappointed. Since I already had three egg tarts, my hunger level wasn't high and so I decided on octopus stew with sweet potato. Most of the places give you beeper that beeps when your order is ready. Found an empty seat nearby, so I sat there while waiting. When my beeper beeped, I quickly went to get my food hoping no one took my place and the cleaning lady nearby didn't clear my bottle of water. It was quite amazing to me that I managed to get a seat. I did have that problem of not having people watching my place when I went to get my food, but I thought if I had been with some people, it would have been difficult to get places for all of us.

Anyways the stew was interesting. The portion was surprisingly not a lot. Aside from sweet potatoes in the stew, there's also sweet potato chips. The octopus was very soft which is okay, but I realize that like squid, I would rather the octopus be more chewy. Now, this Time Out Market food court is actually located next to an actual working market. By the time I finished eating, this market was closed though. I think it's closed at 02:30 pm. I kinda regretted not going into it before I went to eat and see how the market really looks like. Anyway so then after lunch, I walked to the ferry terminal. Upon arriving I didn't see the sign for the Cacilhas ferry. I thought, gosh this is not straightforward. Luckily before I asked someone, I turned 90 degrees and saw the direction. That was silly of me, I thought of myself. I waited for a bit before the ferry came. It wasn't full and I sat on the outside looking at Lisbon, getting more sun (I got back many shades darker), but the wind was good. Upon arriving in Calcihas, I made my way to the bus terminal and when I located it, I saw bus 101 leaving. Gosh, that is the bus I supposed to take and they only depart every half an hour :( So then I walked to the nearby lighthouse looking at some old men fishing. Some also sat by the lighthouse and there I sat too wishing I could understand Portuguese so that I could understand what they're talking about. Some of the uncles fishing managed to get some fish. It's a small kind of silvery fish. Around half an hour later, I went to the bus stop. The transport card doesn't work here because it's not considered Lisbon anymore, so you need to pay to the driver directly. If I'm not mistaken, it's 1.45 euro.

What is Cristo Rei? It's this big Jesus statue. It's my first time seeing something like this. The compound is very big and when I was there were not many people. I'm not sure if the church (or is it a chapel because it's not very big) is used for worship every Sunday. Maybe it is. The statue itself is located high up this tower pedestal. It's 6 euro to take the lift up which I did because come on, I made the effort to go all the way there. The lift didn't go all the way up up, there's still some stairs you need to take. I was getting worried because stairs and enclosed space, again I don't do them well. Luckily it's not a lot. The statue still looks very big up close.

It was windy up there and you get a different view of Lisbon across the Tagus river. You also get a nice view of the 25 de Abril Bridge. The colour may remind you of the Golden Gate Bridge, but somehow when I was there and passing it from the streets, it reminded me more of New York, like the Brooklyn Bridge.

I don't think I spent a long time there. I made sure I was down to catch the bus. For pictures from this visit, please go here.

The timing was better going back that I straight away went to the ferry after the bus. Again I sat outside. Next was taking the metro from Cais do Sodré to Restauradores. It's not like I'm a fan of metro or subways, but it's nice taking this because common people take this everyday, so it's like getting a peek of the local life. Not gonna lie, there's a moment of confusion on the direction inside the metro station, but I made it. They're actually not far from each other, but I did have to change line. Getting out of Restauradores station, luckily the exit that I chose was quite correct and I didn't have much trouble figuring out my orientation. The plan was to try the 2 ascensors or funiculars nearby. First was the further up, Lavra funicular. Okay it's called ascensor or funicular, but for all intent and purposes, they look exactly like the tram. It's just these ones just go up and down a steep hill. When I arrived at the bottom of Lavra funicular, the tram just arrived. I could go in immediately and took a seat, but we had to wait awhile before setting off. On top, the exit was like a quiet neighborhood. I took a short walk around, found a small park nearby. It had quite an okay view of Lisbon, but I didn't spend a long time there. On the way up with the funicular and as I walked around, I saw a lot of graffiti which is very common in Lisbon, so I just took a few photos of the ones I thought rather interesting. The monster below looked interesting to me :D

Then it's Ascensor da Glória. Apparently this one is more popular. When I arrived there's already a queue and the tram was getting crowded that I decided to skip and wait for the next one. It was quite a wait, they don't go very fast, but standing in a crowded tram is just something that I didn't feel like doing. Also as mentioned, much has been written about pickpockets. When the next tram came, I got to sit and I thought it's better than standing. The way up the hill featured more interesting graffiti on the walks. On the top, there's like this small open market where you can find snacks and food and people were just having fun enjoying the evening and the view is quite nice. A group of string players were playing the Game of Thrones theme. That was something familiar to hear :) Anyway, I guess this kind of environment is why this funicular is more popular.

Since the tram was always full (seriously by comparison Lavra funicular felt so calm), I decided to walk down instead of taking the funicular again. It is quite steep and I had to go slow on some parts. Took pictures of the interesting graffiti and the passing tram. This is basically what they look like. It's not very big and it's graffiti all over them too.

I also decided to walk back to my last stop which is also near my hotel. The 3 squares: Restauradores, Rossio, and Figueira are quite near each other. My last stop was Santa Justa Lift. The funiculars and this lift were chosen to maximize the use of my transport day pass. This lift is not free and like the name indicates, it's literally just a lift that take you up. I was thinking how nice it was to go up nearer to sunset and when I arrived it's still quite bright. There was quite a queue, but I thought it would be going quite fast so I wouldn't get the sunset time. How wrong I was, it was going so slow that there were many times when I thought I should just give up. There were many people around me giving up and I kept on thinking if it's stupid waiting that long just to go up a lift. Somehow I didn't give up. It may have taken me more than 1-hour wait. It's quite silly, I wouldn't do this again if I have to wait that long. Nearer to the lift entrance, I saw that there's actually 2 lifts, but the other one didn't work and then they only put just a few number of people inside the lift. There are benches and most of us just sat while going slowly up. Up there, you can walk the small bridge or pay a bit more to take the stairs up to the roof. I forgot how much it cost, maybe 3 euro. I went up and in the end, I did get a bit of dusk view. It's all God's plan making me wait that long. You can see the castle and also Rossio square from above.

With the sun setting, it's getting chilly and the wind was rather strong so I just quickly took a few pictures. Another reason why I didn't want to linger is because I was afraid it's another queue taking the lift down. Luckily it wasn't so. When I got down, I saw that there's no longer a queue for the lift. It's closing it seemed. I wonder if they had to turn down people. That would suck because people waited a long time in the queue. I think by the time I reached my room, it was 9 PM, I couldn't quite remember. A long day, but a nice day spent alone :)

:) eKa @ 8:56:00 PM • 0 comments