Day 9 - Around Keukenhof

sometimes people will treat you like a worn out shoe
but they don't know that you can't lose
come and be a winner

Come And Be A Winner - Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

Somehow I started writing about this trip with day 0, so this last post about the trip will be day 9 or day 10 if you're counting from 1. It was my last day, I was flying back to Singapore that day. Took the bus again to Seville airport, luckily I didn't have to wait too long and get all worried that I would be late. It wasn't a long trip to the airport. I was transiting in Amsterdam and I know last year I wrote about not gonna chase visiting Keukenhof again, but I went there again. I had something that I wanted to do. I wanted to cycle around and look at the tulip fields.

Flying to Schiphol was uneventful. Good lord I can't remember if I was sitting at the aisle or the window and whom I sat with. I remember there were 3 rich Indonesian ladies on the flight though. They wore expensive things and when checking in had big luggages. I didn't say "Hi" to them because I think I'm too lowly for the rich them. Anyways, when I exited Schiphol I saw this cafe / restaurant that sells Indonesian food but the Dutch version of it. I was so curious and wondered if I should eat because I did feel a bit hungry. I looked at the food and in the end I wasn't feeling it. It didn't look correct to me. Even from the rice, it seemed wrong that it's basmati rice. What, they cannot find any South East Asian rice? No Thai rice? If there's anything that I was really interested in, it was the pork sate / satay. In the end I was thinking no because wrong Indonesian food will just make me sad. Then I went to a convenient store to get water and they happened to sell pastry too. The first time I landed in Amsterdam years ago, I was so delighted that the Dutch just speaks English well and in that store being able to ask what's in the pastry and having the staff in the counter said "Have a good day", I was just reminded of that feeling of being happy that they all speak English :) The pastry I had just had cheese inside it. It was pretty good and I ate it while walking all the way to arrival 4 which was quite a walk. It was where the bus to Keukenhof is. Previously I always booked tickets online which include admission to the garden and a round trip on the bus. However, this time I hadn't booked any ticket. I have to say I had some apprehension if I should really cycle around because as usual I worry about my ability to not get hurt or hurt other people in the process. In the end I decided to toughen it up and really cycle around. So I just bought the bus tickets from the stall near the queue for the bus. There was quite a queue, but not to worry, bus to Keukenhof departs frequently.

Arriving in the park, I found the free lockers section and I stored all my valuable inside. Next to it, they have bigger space with staff and I saw some people used it to store luggages and other big things. Then I made my way to the bicycle rental. There wasn't much of a queue, but there's only 1 staff at the counter and she had to explained the route to each customer, so it was quite a wait. The bicycle rental cost 10 euro for the whole day. The OCD studious me had studied the route and I had expectation of making it up to the sea - too high of an expectation unmatched by my physical ability and navigation skill. Anyway after paying, I went to get the bicycle. First thing I said to the guy was that I'm short and needed something low. The handsome and I think very young guy gave me their standard orange bike thinking I'd be alright. I tried and nope, I couldn't pull myself up. I blame the wind but it could also be that it's indeed too high for me or it could also be that I plainly sucked. He got me another bike, a black one, and that worked for me though my feet still couldn't touch the ground when I sat. I thought okay let's just get out of here to avoid more embarrassment. I was already embarrassed with my unskillfulness. I wonder if he thought this girl was not going to make it. He taught me how to lock the bike and off I went.

The route was marked but sometimes the signs were kinda small that I had times where I wondered if I missed any signs. All the bicycle paths are dedicated. I cycled and cycled and before long I was thinking, man this is harder than I thought it would be. Seriously I thought, why is this harder, harder than when I went cycling with dad in Taiwan last year. At first there were people renting the same bicycles with me and I tried to follow them, but at some points I think we diverged and I found myself alone. Worried I was, but I thought I was in the right path. The disappointing thing was that there's no tulip field :( I saw ponies on what looked like just a normal house garden but no tulip field.

I was getting disappointed and started to wonder if I was in the wrong path. I think I was right though, but there's just nothing. Eventually I found a small field with tulips of the same colours and stopped awhile and took pictures of them. I had to admit that I was hesitant about just parking and walk around, I was afraid that the owner would get angry and chase me away. However there's no one there. That being said I did haste a bit in taking the pictures. The tulips here are in bright colours and the strong wind kinda made them all bend. I love how the colours come out in this picture. Didn't have to do any editing at all.

It was kinda sad not finding more tulip fields :( I was earlier on visiting Keukenhof than last year, but even on the 1st of May, many of the tulips were already gone from the fields. Eventually I saw a bigger field with tulips of many colours. I saw that there were some bikes from the bicycle rentals and there were quite a number of people walking on the fields, so I felt better about doing the same. There was a freaking drone though when I was there and the buzzing sound annoyed me. I wonder if the drone was just taking footages or it was really there to buzz and annoy people and stop them from walking too deep. In the end luckily it went away. Here's some pictures from the fields. There's a canal by this field and across the canal, there's a field of what I think is daffodils. As for the tulips, I particularly like the section where it seemed that they're still quite early in their bloom that their petals are still small and together. Against the many green of their stalk, it just looked pretty to me.

After that I cycled again. Couldn't find anymore field and before I knew it I was back at Keukenhof. Took a bit of a detour before returning the bicycle to take some pictures of a small tulip field nearby, but this was gated so I couldn't walk in.

After that I returned the bicycle. So in the end, I didn't make it to the sea. I wonder if it's really far. All in all, I think I spent around 3 hours cycling. Before I got on the bus to leave I took some pictures at the flower beds in front of Keukenhof's entrance. The tulips were in many different colours and they looked so pretty being different. For pictures from this trip, please go here. Dare I say that I will not chase Keukenhof again? I don't know, if the time is right and I have a substantial transit time in Schiphol, what you're gonna do, better spend it looking at beautiful flowers right?

The flight home was full so I was sad finding out I couldn't get a row for my own, but I made it back in one piece and for that I'm thankful. I had a really really really good trip and I am thankful to God. It never ceases to amaze me that I managed to do another trip unscathed. I do have very little confidence on myself and so I attribute God for everything and that all went well. Life back here straight away pulls me back down the black hole :( I had a health check quite immediate after I came back - that's the only appointment date I could get. Surprisingly I'm okay. No diabetes, something that I'm worried about. However my blood pressure at that time fell into pre-hypertension. My excuse for that was that I was getting anxious because it was taking too long, I was getting hungry, and I was getting late for class. I'm supposed to go to a doctor to really get it checked, but I haven't done so. I think I'm really just not good with stress, really don't. The thing is I have stress in life, too much than I would like to have and suffice to say these get me all moody and sad. I can't even be fully excited and happy about this long weekend *sigh* I do hope you guys are having better days.

:) eKa @ 12:02:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 8 - Seville

no hesitation, what are we waiting for?
we talk too much

Talk Too Much - COIN

I'm actually reaching towards the end of writing about this trip. It's the penultimate post people. It's taken a lot work, so after this you may expect dull stories that come perhaps only once a month. Anyway, day 8 was spent exploring Seville, another kind of chilly day. The day started in the Royal Alcázars of Seville or in Spanish, Reales Alcázares de Sevilla, or in Game of Thrones world, Dorne palace. To be honest, I couldn't remember which part of the Alcázar was featured in Game of Thrones or even thought of it when I was there. I just googled it and saw the scene captures and I thought to myself, oh yeah I was there :D The Alcázar is opened at 09:30 AM and I had a booking for the upper apartment at 10:00 AM, its first session. When I got out of my hotel, I saw a C1 bus by the red light and so I kinda ran to the bus stop and I made it. The entrance to the Alcázar was by the Lion's Gate which I had difficulty finding in Google maps. Seriously it took me days to find it. This picture was taken after I had finished actually.

When I arrived, there was already quite a queue and from the Internet I learned that the queue for people who already have tickets are at the middle, but they all seemed to blend and chaotic for me. Found what I think is the middle. Asked a couple in front me if it's the correct queue. They thought so. Then behind me came 3 Chinese aunties from Xiamen. I think in languages I can understand better than I can speak. Somehow I had a bit of conversation with one of the auntie in my very broken pretty much non-existent Chinese. They also had bookings for the upper apartment, but theirs was at 11 if I'm not mistaken. I was in awe of the aunties. I think their English is like my very broken pretty much non-existent Chinese, but they made it travelling and doing this on their own. When the queue moved and all with booking breezed through, somehow they were gone from behind me. There was a bag check through the machine when you enter and after doing that, I saw that there were free maps by the entrance for people who buy ticket on the spots. Luckily I spotted that because I used that map to make sure I visited every corners.

The upper apartment can only be visited by booking and you have to arrive 15 minutes before scheduled time. Knowing that I tend to get lost, I made it a point to get there on time. When I arrived, there's already a lady and I think her daughter talking to the staff. The staff couldn't find their booking and he finally figured that their booking was actually for the next month, but he let them enter anyway. I wondered if the lady knew but pretended not to. The booking listed people by name, so he had to check one by one. You again had to run through your bag through the machine and then deposited it in the locker. We had difficulty figuring out the locker and I had to ask the staff, how to do this and only then he told us that you need to deposit 1 euro. Gosh, why didn't he tell us earlier. Anyways so again, the upper apartment can only be visited by booking and a time slot and in a small group. There were 7 people including me in my group. Each visit is like 20 minutes or so in which you cannot take picture and cannot wander on your own. You're given an audio guide and that audio guide will tell you when to move and where to enter. Along with that, you also have a security guard who walks with you and makes sure you go to the correct room. I wonder if it's boring for the security guard. He's definitely clocking his 10,000 steps walking with group after group every day. It must be tiring too because he cannot sit.

The upper apartment was the living quarters of the Spanish royals. What I remember from my visit was that there's a small beautiful chapel or praying room. There's a long dining room. There were some antique clocks which were kinda interesting. Of course there's antique furniture and all. Overall I guess it's kinda interesting. After that I went to a nearby exhibition of tiles or ceramic on the same floor. I didn't stay long because I was more interested in exploring the compound so I can't remember what it really was. Here's a look of the upper apartment from the courtyard.

Overall I think the Alcázar was so so, that is because after Alhambra, everything would fall short. It's definitely bigger and grander than the Alcázar in Córdoba, but the garden when I was there had less flowering plants so it's mostly green. Here are some of the things that you can see in the Alcázar of Seville. You can see the standard Moorish low fountain.

Then there are beautiful designs on the ceilings. The second picture below shows the famous one from the Hall of Ambassadors.

There are also beautiful ceramic tiles on the walls. Below is an example of one of them. They make you wonder how they're put together.

One interesting thing that I really like is the Doña María de Padilla's Bath. It's kinda hidden and luckily I had a map with me that told me it exists. It's not the same, but it reminded me of Istanbul's Basilica Cistern.

The outdoor garden is big and I stumbled into a musical fountain. I didn't know what it was, I just saw a group of elderly sitting and waiting and so I waited too. The fountain wasn't exceptionally beautiful and the sound / music coming out of it wasn't beautiful too (in my opinion), but it's a water organ. So I guess that's kinda cool. It started drizzling lightly, so I walked up the sheltered balcony behind it and waited for awhile. Luckily it stopped quite quickly. Then I explored the rest of the garden. Honestly maybe my timing was off, I saw mostly green and not many flowers. The garden is big, it has a maze (a group of German boys had so much fun playing in them), a pavilion, bigger fountains with pool, and also other smaller fountains like this one.

In a corner of Jardín Inglés (which I assumed is English garden), I saw this peacock. I think there were more than 1 peacock and they were quite loud.

For pictures from the Alcázar, please go here. I think I spent too much time in Alcázar so I quickly went to my next destination, Seville Cathedral. I actually contemplated that perhaps it's okay to not book this beforehand, but how glad I was that I did. The queue was long and it felt good to just breeze through. Booking included free audio guide, but the queue was quite substantial and it wasn't moving, so I was like forget it. The cathedral is big and there's quite a lot to see and I have to say, it's quite stunning.

It has a lot of precious thing. Like this one below is just a small part of a big golden altars that was gated. You couldn't really come close. Wikipedia's caption on the picture it has is that, Pierre Dancart's masterpiece, considered one of the finest altarpieces in the world.

Another one of really interesting thing in the Cathedral is the tomb of Christopher Columbus. It's so grand, it's like I think I've never seen a tomb fancier than this. My thought went to poor old Vasco da Gama whose tomb in Lisbon's Jerónimos Monastery was like so plain in comparison. Wikipedia told me that the 4 figures in Columbus' tomb are the kings of Castile, Leon, Aragon and Navarre. I tried to find more information, but I couldn't find if Columbus' remain is on the box the kings carried or on the one below that they stood on. You have kings at your tombs. Do you think Columbus is deserving of this? I have like mix feeling about this. On one point, it's like yep, it would be so cool if my tomb is like this too. On the other hand it's like it's kinda over the top. Too much. Mix feeling I say, mix feeling :D

Moving on, I saw that the queue for the Giralda / Bell Tower is quite long, but I wanted to do this, so I quickly joined in. Me, tower? Yes I did write many times that I don't like climbing enclosed stairs but I was promised ramps for this tower. It's actually quite spacious and airy inside the tower. The windows in the tower are sufficiently big. Wikipedia told me, The tower has a ramp with 35 segments wide and tall enough to allow a person to ride on horseback to the top of the Moorish tower. Fascinating right. By the way, part of the cathedral and this tower used to be a Moorish mosque. The ramps were built to make it easier to go up the tower and make the Muslim call of prayer. While it wasn't tiring to get up, it took quite long because it was basically a queue all the way to the top. I wonder if it would have been tiring if I had walked all the way without stopping every few seconds. I think that would be more enjoyable than my experience in the queue. I hate people you see. So being with so many people and noise and not being able to just get out, I had to like calm myself. Behind me were these 2 Italian dudes, one of them kept bumping into my backpack, adding to my annoyance. One of their conversation was about how Spanish words could be misleading for Italians, like the word salida.

When I finally reached the top, it was actually drizzling. Yes the top is covered, but you could feel the water splashing. The top was crowded, I wonder if the staff counted how many people are on the top or in the tower. My thought went to safety there. So being that it was very crowded, I just quickly went around and took pictures. In the picture below, the round stadium is the bullfighting ring, Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla. For short I just call it La Maestranza.

Some of the bells rang when I was there. Being at the top, it was obviously loud. The way down was faster and a better walk. I walked inside the Cathedral a bit more and then I exited. By this time the drizzle had stopped. I took some pictures of the Cathedral and tower from the courtyard. Just like in La Mezquita in Córdoba, the courtyard is filled with orange trees.

By this time I think it's around 3 pm. I needed to have lunch, however the restaurants all around were still busy and crowded. I waited at one, but like no waiter was willing to help me out, at least to greet. So I walked to another one and again it was busy, but luckily I managed to get an attention of a waitress and she was willing to hear me out and I got a table. This place serves mostly paella. Didn't plan to have paella in this trip, because it's a Valencia thing not Andalusia, but beggar cannot be chooser. Thankfully it's a single person serving. My paella had pork, chicken, prawn, and it's pretty good. After lunch, I made my way to Church of El Salvador. The ticket for the Cathedral includes this too. However when I was there, there's no one manning the entrance or checking ticket. It's Monday though and quite late in the afternoon, so maybe it's their free time. In Seville, many places are actually free Monday afternoon. I like places that give free entrance even though only for a particular time. I like it for obvious reason because it's free, but also because it gives a chance for people who cannot afford to pay to also have access to these wonderful places. Church of El Salvador is not very big, but the altars inside it are so out of this world. I don't think I've seen anything like it before. It's in baroque style. I'm first to admit to not have any knowledge of any artistic style or how to identify one. In Wikipedia it's written, The Baroque is a highly ornate and often extravagant style of architecture, art and music that flourished in Europe from the early 17th until the late 18th century. It properly explains how extravagant the altars are. So many angels and saints, so many things, so crowded, so mesmerizing :D

After the church, I made my way to La Maestranza. I was so looking forward to this especially because Monday afternoon it's free, but darn that was like my big disappointment in this trip. It seemed it is free, but I think they have like limited slots and by the time I was there it was way passed 3 pm and I think they weren't accepting any visitor anymore. It's not very clear, there were a lot of people trying to get in, but all of us were turned down, very sad, very very sad *sigh* so I only have picture of La Maestranza from the outside.

Then I made my way to the nearby bridge, Puente de Triana, and took picture of the Guadalquivir river and Seville. This picture below is from just before I reached the bridge.

From here, I walked all the way to the tower, Torre del Oro, where's there's a boat cruise along the river, but I decided not to do that. I walked a bit more in the old town and then decided to call it the day. So that was how I explored Seville. I don't think I explored much. For pictures, please go here.

:) eKa @ 8:48:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 7 - Pueblos Blancos and Ronda

so come over here and sit next to me
we can see where things go naturally
just say the word and I'll part the sea
just come over here and sit next to me
it's alright

Sit Next to Me - Foster The People

I was expecting hotter days when I was in Spain, but except for the day I arrived, the days seemed to be getting cooler. I kinda form a habit of checking the weather every day when I'm on a trip now and for day 7, I found out that it was going to be cooler, so I took out the thicker sweater coat. It was rather chilly that day. Day 7 didn't start so early. I was taking a day tour to Pueblos Blancos and Ronda. I had no knowledge whatsoever about these places. I just thought it might be interesting. I was supposed to be picked up at 09:15 AM and when I got down the guide was already there. He was early. It was not a very big group and we used like a shuttle van which felt a bit crammed. We picked some more people and then we're off. It's interesting for me that there's actual Spanish people taking this tour too.

First stop was to the Castle of Las Aguzaderas. It's not very big and it's free to enter. There was no staff. There was no one but us there. It felt like it's just being left on its own. It was built by the Moors. They built a few of this kinda castle or look out points with towers and walls. I have to say there's nothing much to look at, just bricks and all.

Then we continued on our way. It was drizzling a bit that the guide decided to take us to an olive oil factory first. When I said factory, it's not industrial, it's like old-school family factory. I was surprised myself upon realizing that from all my travels, it was my first time going to an olive oil factory. I've been to vineyards with olive trees, but this is my first time learning how olive oil is made. I also learnt that Spain produces the most olive oil for the world, even more than the Italians and in Andalusia, olive picking seems to be one of the jobs that are still really done by the Spanish while other fruits or vegetables picking may have some foreign workers helping. As mentioned this family is old school, been doing it since many generations back. The olives are picked by hand in September - October, if I'm not mistaken. Then they go into a machine that will make them into some sort of paste. Then like lasagna (as the guide put it), the paste is layered between filters, layered upon layered until it reaches like very high. I forget how high, maybe 2 m or so. The filter is round like a table mat and is made of nylon rope. Then this stack is pushed into the presser and it will squeeze out all the oils. I can't remember how high the stack be after the press, perhaps it's down to half. What I learn is that because this is old school, the factory is like only getting 20% oil (if I'm not mistaken) from the olive. Industrial factory may be able to get like 35%. In fact I think this factory can still sell their used paste to the industrial factories. I saw that the paste was like brown and it made sense when I saw that the oil they have there was like darker. I'm glad I got to learn something new.

Then it was to the first white village. Pueblos Blancos actually means white villages. White because the houses are mostly white, but it's been white everywhere in this trip right, like in Portugal too. Anyway first stop was Zahara de la Sierra. It's not very big nor very interesting for me. There's a church, Santa Maria de la Mesa. It's like the only building not in white. Since I had nothing to do, I went in. It was kinda nice. After that, since it was rather cold that I started to wonder if I was under dressed, I had hot chocolate in one of the cafe.

Then it was to the next village, Grazalema, which was also not very big nor interesting. So far the trip hadn't been going amazing. We were given time for lunch. When I was waiting for my change, this uncle / older guy just came and sit in my table and talked to me. I think he might be American. I thought it was kinda weird, but okay the place was crowded, there's witnesses if something bad was going to happen. He asked where I'm from. Upon knowing Indonesia, he mentioned Jogjakarta, which amused me because that's not the first thing people normally say about Indonesia. He said he'd been there during his hippie days :D Then it got weird when he said he's thinking of buying a hotel nearby. Mind you this uncle dressed so normally, like didn't look not rich at all. By that time my change came, so I just said okay, well nice talking to you, bye :D Then I walked around a bit, but really there's nothing much.

Then we're off on our way to Ronda by way of passing forest of cork trees. I'm not sure how corks are made. I just googled it. Turned out they take the bark to make corks. Good I guess, because I wondered if they have to cut down the entire tree. The trees I saw in the forests were not tall, so I wonder if those were really the cork trees. Anyway Ronda, it seemed it's quite famous though I have never heard of it before now. As we walked towards the town, there's a bullfighting ring with a bull statue. We didn't go in though and I didn't as well during my free time. Nearby there are statues of Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles. They liked it there in Ronda. The lookout point nearby provided a view of the mountains.

Then we're given map and a free time to explore. Up to this point, the day was just going so so for me. Even arriving in Ronda was just so so, I thought there's nothing much too. I saw the bridge, Puente Nuevo, but the view wasn't that great for me so I was rather disappointed.

Not knowing what to do, I just followed the suggested walkabout in the map. First stop was Plaza de María Auxiliadora and at the end of this look out point, there's like many steps down and I saw some Korean tourists coming up. An uncle in particular who's like breathing through his mouth. I figured the hike down will give you a good view of the bridge. Seeing the uncle, I wondered if it's really hard or if it's because he's older. Since I had nothing to do, I went down. Obviously going down was easy, though with my luck I was afraid I was going to trip and roll over and fall. I have this kinda illogical fear sometime and one of them is like I'm not good in this kinda thing, which is basically just walking. I'm not good at walking, that's how silly I am. I like don't have confidence in myself and I'm always thinking I'm bound to fall. Anyway, reached (in one piece) a place where it provides a really good look of the bridge and what I didn't know looking at pictures before this was that there's a waterfall under the bridge and it was pretty. The water pooling under it has a nice colour.

From this point, you can go further down, but the path was looking narrow and steep and again I had no confidence so I decided to go back, but instead of going all the way back up, I followed up another path which I think would lead to a better view of the Guadalevín river. However the path again was getting treacherous and so then I decided to really go back. Going back up wasn't easy, heart rate was up, was almost breathing through my mouth, but I made it all the way without stopping. I sat down at the bench in Plaza de María Auxiliadora first waiting for my heart rate to go down. Then I followed the rest of the suggested walking path in my map. Nothing interesting to report. At one point, I took a wrong turn and ended up at the center again and so I decided to just go find a toilet and then go around the shops. On the walk back to the shuttle van, a Spanish girl in the group chatted me up. She asked if I was from the States. That was interesting because that's the first time anyone thought I'm from America :D She was travelling alone too and she's currently living near Madrid (I forget which city). In my head I was like, girl, why are you only talking to me now, you could have helped me with my boredom in the morning. Why didn't I start talking to her in the first place, you ask? Well she's always in the Spanish group. Then I was being the anti social shy me. I'm glad she talked to me even though for only a short while. That's pretty much day 7. The best part was the hike down to see the bridge in all its glory with its waterfall. For pictures, please go here

:) eKa @ 11:36:00 AM • 0 comments