A Travellerspoint blog

Marking History in Madrid

rain 20 °C
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"The Spanish people are ungovernable" - Amadeo I of Spain

Foodie moment

Possibly not a foodie moment for Spain, but waking up tired from a night out, Mark and I craved Asian Food. Off we went to 'Wok to Walk' for a noodle fix... not bad!

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Cultural moment

We are staying in the centre of Madrid and one thing that has jumped out at us is the number of police there are around this area! You have to think of it as a preventative measure rather than caused by need, although you do hear about bag snatchings etc being pretty prevelant in the city. So far they are doing their job as everything has run supersmoothly... in fact the biggest danger is being run over by one of the numerous cop cars/vans/bikes that go shooting down the footpath! The one thing the cops do seem to spend a lot of time doing is scaring the guys who set up 'illegal' stalls to sell copy bags, hats and dvds, they are constantly on the lookout for the police and have set up their mats so that one pull of a string and they have bundled their goods up and they are off down the road out of the police's way!

Wow moment

Today we took a 'Sandemans New Madrid' free walking tour. Now I will start by saying it is not technically free because the guides do live off tips but I will also say that they are worth every cent you are willing to give!! Our guide, Sabella, was Madrid born but with great English skills and she was hilarious! The history and facts they cover are all things you want to know, not endless dates and names, but stories about the people she is speaking about which means you actually remember all of it at the end. The tour went for 3 and half hours but even me with my low attention span didn't even notice the time fly by! HIGHLY recommend the tour (particularly Sabella) and it is on in lots of cities worldwide so keep an eye out for 'Sandemans'. Oh and be generous with your tips - we tipped 10 Euro each and it was WELL worth it, but unfortunately we were the highest tippers out of our whole group (and possibly the poorest!).

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What we learnt today

We learnt SO incredibly much its going to be hard to include it all but here's some highlights -

There is a statue of one of the kings riding a horse, in Plaza Mayor. It was moved there and suddenly the locals stopped going there. It wasn't because they disliked the king (they disliked all the kings) but it was because the statue was smelly. It wasn't until years later they found out why - the horse statue had an open mouth and was hollow and over the years unfortunate birds had flown in and died :( Kind of gross. Anyway, to fix it they remodeled the horses mouth so it was now closed, and it now has a very strange expression on it!

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We learnt a brief overview of Spanish royalty - and it showed the Spanish have not followed any kind of pattern in choosing their royalty. Some were married or born into it (Habsburg's) but eventually that ended with Charles II. Charles was a perfect example of why inbreeding should not occur over generations, as he was not quite all there and incapable of creating an heir or running a country. Unfortunately the Spanish did not realise that his mental and physical disabilities were due to inbreeding and instead thought he was bewitched. Then followed many 'remedies' such as putting dead pigeons on his head, surprisingly that didn't work and to add fuel to their superstitious fire, he died on Halloween evening.

Following the end of the Hasburg line the Spainish started sending their royalty into exhile and choosing foreign leaders to come in and run their country. One of these was an Italian duke, Amadeo of Spain, who had over 20 attempts on his life in the 3 years he ran the country - needless to say he quit the job!

I won't go into the rest now, but we now probably know as much about Spanish history as Australian!

Posted by travellinglise 14:18 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Sunning ourselves in San Sebastian

sunny 23 °C
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" I like to cook for my friends, and now you are here, you are my friends " - Mario, staff member at Roger's House, and undiscovered MasterChef :)

Foodie moment

Pintxos, Pintxos, Pintxos!!!!! Our favourite food by far - just couldn't stay away!!

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A more successful 'Menu del Dia' attempt - with one exception! The problem started when we hadn't quite got up to translating the main courses on the menu when the waitress wanted our order, so Mark picked a random one that had chorizo in it. Starter was lentil and chorizo soup and spinach and salmon pie - both great! Main course was the local speciality, cod with spicy, tomato sauce and then the translation fail...... Tripe!! Probably the one thing on the menu we would never have chosen! Needless to say we had a go at it.. the sauce was nice but we just couldn't get past the idea of it! Mark said he liked it more than the cod, but proclaimed he would never order it again!! Oops!

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Cultural moment

The residents of San Sebastian love the sunshine, and have turned the act of sunbathing into an art form. As soon as it hits lunch break they head straight to the beach, strip down to many levels of undress (including completely naked) and soak up as much sun as they can before they head back to work! No Slip, Slop, Slap here!!

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Wow moment

San Sebastian has two beautiful beaches with some of the softest sand you will ever feel. On one side of the tidal river is the famous La Concha beach, and the other La Zurriola, the surf beach. Both are really beautiful beaches, which is amazing considering they are right in the city.

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Parte Vieja is the old town of San Sebastian and is where our hostel was situated. Beautiful sunny squares, winding cobbled streets, back to back cafes and bars with glimpses of the ocean between stone arch ways. So lovely!

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What we learnt today

Whilst hostels are often judged on their facilites and location, it is often something as simple as friendly staff that make it a special experience. Roger's Hostel is basically just one floor of a residential apartment block; the rooms are small, there is no common room and there are just 3 showers and toilets for all guests. Yet it is still a favourite hostel of all that visit it. This is because you are treated like part of the family from the moment you arrive. Each night one of the staff, Mario, cooks for everyone who wants to join, for just 5 Euro. As you are squashed in the 'much too small' kitchen, enjoying free sangria and chatting to all the people staying there with Mario pottering around cooking delicious food, you do feel at home. Any loneliness or feelings of detachment from the world you may feel whilst travelling just fade away! As Mario himself said, " I like to cook for my friends, and now you are here, you are my friends now". What a sweetheart!

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Posted by travellinglise 08:56 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Bilbao Baggins

sunny 25 °C
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"A fantastic dream ship of undulating form in a cloak of titanium" - The New Yorker: Guggenheim Museum

Foodie moment

Our first 'Pintxos' (traditional Basque cuisine) experience was not our best but was a great stepping stone to our discovery of these amazing snacks. Pintxos (the tx is pronounced ch) are little open sandwiches (or mini baguettes) which can be topped with ham and cheese at a basic level right up to octopus or bacon wrapped goats cheese or anything you can imagine at the more imaginative level. They are all laid out on the bar and you grab a plate, pick what you want, order a drink and pay for it at the end of the bar. They range from 1Euro for the basic at happy hour to 2E for the more complex ones. There are also hot pintxos such as croquetes and tortilla. Great as a snack or if you get enough it can be lunch or dinner, Mark loved them and wants to start his own pintxos bar in Melbourne!

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First big meal in Spain, and we decided on a Menu del Dia. Good news is that Menu del Dia´s (Set Menu of the day) in Spain are incredibly good value! They are around 10 - 15 Euros and include 3 courses, bread, a bottle of wine and a bottle of water. Bad news is that this particular meal was a Non Foodie moment!! We were very proud of ourselves for interpreting the menu enough to 'think'we knew what we were getting, using only a short list of food words in the Lonely Planet. First course was Garlic king prawns and Paella. The King prawns looked and smelt great, but on the plate was our first hint that this meal was going to be a bit strange... Mark opened a packet thinking it had a serviette for cleaning his hands after shelling the prawns but instead inside was an orange flavoured tea bag... we have NO idea what we were meant to do with that and our king prawns - if anyone can shed some light on it, that would be much appreciated! The Paella was very average (Don´t worry Barbara yours is still the best!) with some big chunks of chicken neck and bone, a sad looking king prawn and some tiny clams (not actually sure if there was a clam in there anymore!. Next course got worse... We thought we were getting pork sausages with potatoes and capsicum - nope 3 slabs of ham with chips and some strips of capsicum. The other main - Churrasco - we though was going to be 'grilled meat in a tangy sauce' - nope the worst fatty, gristly, boney steak i have ever had with chips! Just when we thought the experience was over we were offered dessert - Barbara had warned us that the Spanish are not great with desserts so after our main course experience we were VERY wary! The Flan (Creme Caramel) was ok, but the tart tasted like an asian egg tart - and i dont think it was supposed to!! All in all quite an "experience" and we knew the food could only get better!! And it certainly has!

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Cultural moment

Bilbao is full of parks and gardens and each one has a great, creative playground for children. Each one was full of famillies and children having a great time in the sun.

Wow moment

The town of Bilbao is a beautiful place, especially in glorious Basque sunshine! The river has bridges spanning it of all different styles and structures. The Guggenheim is eye catching and quite awe inspiring to look at.

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What we learnt today

Vending Machine - hostel style! This great vending machine stocked all the things a backpacker may need to self cater - chorizo, spaghetti, pasta sauce, bread, hot dogs. We're not that poor yet but may need to hit one up eventually!

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Posted by travellinglise 12:08 Archived in Spain Tagged bilbao Comments (3)

Cheers to Colchester

sunny 21 °C

Foodie moment

For the first time this trip I am giving the foodie moment to us! In order to enjoy the red wine we brought back from Bordeau for Barbabra, she decided roast lamb would be a good match. We cooked Roast Lamb on the bone in a honey, garlic, mustard, balsamic and rosemary marinate/crust. For our first attempt i thought it was quite good!

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Another traditional English food is the Cornish Pastie. Although these were not probably as good as the authentic ones they were still pretty great! We had one traditional (beef, potato and onion) and one lamb and mint

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Fish and chips on the beach - the haddock and scampi were great!

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Cultural moment

A bit of a scary one - whilst at the pier we visited the fair. Full of rides and games we came across a selection of machines set up just like pokie machines.... but for children. The sight of the children sitting in front of the screens feeding in 2p coins from their little cups was really disturbing! Not the best habits to be establishing one would think!===

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Wow moment

Our arrival back in Colchester coincided with two things: a wonderful sunny spell and the Colchester Beer festival. So many local and Belgium beers to choose from, we had to be picky or not survive the day (especially as the tastings were half pints!). We liked some, struggled with others (Stout!) but it was great day sitting sipping on beers, eating roast pork rolls in the sun......in the graveyard!

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A day trip to Frinton (A beach town for mainly the retired, about 40 minutes from Barbaras) was a great way to spend a sunny Sunday. There were lots of families out enjoying the sunshine and we walked all the way along to the pier in the next town.

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What we learnt today

The sun comes up at 4am!!! I woke in a panic as i thought we must have slept in but it was just 4am! You think they might want to add more hours to daylight saving to prevent this but then it would be light in the evenings till after midnight - which I can imagine would be hard for getting the kids to bed!!

Posted by travellinglise 01:17 Archived in England Comments (0)

Riding the Royal Wave

rain 14 °C

"I have to be seen to be believed." - Queen Elizabeth II

Foodie moment

Foody heaven in London can otherwise be known as the Borough Market. Although we went on a day when not all stalls were open, the selection of multicultural foods was amazing, and the results delicious! Mark and I enjoyed a Spit roast Hog marinated in rosemary and fennel, Salt cured Beef with pickles and mustard and Chicken Gyoza as well as fresh fruit juice. Wendy and Eric bought some Thai curry, white truffle oil, honeycomb and some wonderful Spanish wine from the Rioja region.

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Tonight, a trip to North East London to meet up with my Aunt, Barbara, for a Turkish Feast at Mangal Ocakbasi. As you step in the door of the restaurant, you are faced with huge skewers of raw meat, and someone cooking them over a flaming barbecue. We had a starter of humas and Cacik, main courses were Yogurtlu, kebabs (chicken, lamb or spicy lamb mince) prepared with yoghurt and a massive side of salad. A dessert of Baklava finished off an amazing meal! Did i mention it was BYO with no corkage!! Two thumbs up!

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Cultural moment

The English will do anything to avoid sitting with other people on public transport. We all like our space when on trains or buses but in London I saw people actually leave seats when someone sat down, and squeeze past the person next to them when another seat became available! Makes you feel a little self conscious.

Wow moment

We saw the Queen!!!!!!!!!! Sorry had to start with that, as even though I'm not a Monarchist, its kind of like seeing a movie star and very exciting!! We went to Buckingham palace to watch the changing of the guard, the crowds were huge and the weather wet but we stuck it out. We saw the new guards march past us with their marching band, and into the gates of the palace. From that point we couldn't see much as all the shouting and marching was coming from beyond the palace gates (plus half a dozen umbrellas had popped up in front of us). What we did notice was a lovely car pull up to the side gates and make their way through to the palace, we didn't think much of it until Wendy commented that the changing of the guard seemed to be stalling, and taking longer that it should. Next thing we know a car pulls out of the palace, the guards jump to attention and the trumpet player bursts out in a fanfare. We look through the back window of the car, and there is Queen Lizzie waving back at us!! The one quick photo I could snap shows a little queen shaped blur...enjoy! :) "Say hi to Lizzie for us", Mark's grandpa had said that morning on Skype... well we did, Wes and Edie, we did!!

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Look, its the Queen!

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What we learnt today

The up and coming English band IYES (https://soundcloud.com/weareiyes) are great to listen to! Barbara is a big supporter of the band and took us along to the pub to hear them sing. A night of great music, company and beer was had by all!

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Posted by travellinglise 11:32 Archived in England Tagged london buckingham_palace the_queen queen_elizabeth_ii Comments (1)

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