Planning the last leg of our trip – A day in Barcelona

Sagrada Familia 01

Having hopefully been delighted of our first experience of Africa and possibly eager to return soon enough, we are going to leave Morocco and return back to Spain, arriving in Madrid Baraja airport where we’ll be in a rather tight schedule, as we’ll be having about two hours at our disposal to get to the Atocha train station, where we’ll catch a train to Barcelona. So, we’ll follow the metro Purple line to Nuevos Ministerios, then off to the blue line (towards Puerta de sur) and we get off at Tribunal. Another line change to the light blue one (towards Valdecaros) and we are finally off at Atocha Renfe.
JuanMiroMosaic

Provided everything goes according to plan, we’ll be arriving at Barcelona Sants at about 23.00 (or else its the bus for us and a tiresome nine hour ride). There we are going to check the Metro station, Sants line 3 (the green line) towards Trinidad nova and get off at Liceu station, near our hostel. That will be all for this evidently transitional day of our trip and we are probably spending the night resting (no extravagant clubbing or anything on this one, just plain old-fashioned rest) in order to make the most of our extremely limited one day shot in Barcelona.
Barcelona - Carrer del Bisbe

La Sagrada familia is first on our list (no need to describe Gaudi’s masterpiece) and from there we might move towards Picasso museum, a building that houses the painters work and is mostly concerned with his relation to the city. Then, we’ll further explore the city’s Gothic quarter, focusing on 14th century Santa Eulalia’s Cathedral, the Roman walls and temple and the four cats cafe, a place where many artists used to spend their time. Finally, we’ll move to the edge of the quarter and walk along La Rampla, the renown street of the city attempting to grasp its vibe, an effort that will be more complete later, as we’ll stroll over Passeig de gracia, one of the most expensive streets in Spain.
CasaBatllo 0170

Casa Batlio is one more Gaudi constructed architecture, which we are unlikely to enter (23 euro for a ticket is a high price to pay on our last day traveling, when our wallets will be on our last change and our enthusiasm for sightseeing will be running on its last fumes). It is supposed to depict St George, the patron saint of Catalonia (among other places), killing the dragon and we’ll appreciate it from a distance keeping our last savings away from the Saint’s lance.
Front gate - Casa Milà - Barcelona 2014

Casa Mila or La pedrera is another building designed by Gaudi, but we’ll probably limit our eyes to outside views since we find the 20 euro fee rather salty. It’s a structure that influenced our beloved hundertwasserhaus in Vienna and we’d definetely like to catch a glimpse of it.
Parc Güell Dragon Restored

Park guell seems that will be one of Gaudi’s creations that we’ll visit though, as it is a park with a small entrance fee (7 euro) and lots of interesting attractions (Alfons X metro station, line 4 the orange one, will get us there).

Montjuic castle may probably be the last attraction we’ll visit on this trip, since it seems a relaxing place while, we are probably leaving out Miro foundation and the Palace of Catalan music. Finally, we’ll definitely try the local cuisine especially deserts like crema catalana and mel i mato, before waiving the city goodbye on the following day and return to Greece, having hopefully enjoyed this years trip.

Well, that’s it. Almost everything has been planned and all we can do for now is wait for our first flight on this itinerary. We’ll probably not post much else during August, but we’ll definitely be back on track in September, providing a review of our journey. Hope you enjoy a great summer everyone!

Focusing on our forthcoming journey to Morocco

Djemaa el Fna

…Stepping foot on Marrakesh will be a first one for us, since it will mark our initial footsteps on the African continent. Celebrations of this fact will have to be put on hold though, as we’ll have to find a way to our hotel near Jemaa el Fnaa square. Bus 19 is the cheapest option at a cost of 30 MAD per person (here’s a helpful map of the route, that someone uploaded), while a petit taxi that would probably cost 70 MAD (+50%) is the convenient alternative. Since we are arriving rather late, we won’t have much time at our disposal and our tendency to explore will have to be confined within the limits of the central plaza. Furthermore, we are leaving for a short excursion outside Marrakesh early in the morning, therefore we should definitely get some rest (Since these excursions are following a rather strict schedule, there is nothing to plan, so we’ll omit the details regarding that part of the trip. We’ll gladly share our thoughts and experience once we return though).

800px-Souks_Marrakech_098.JPG

Once we are back to Marrakesh, we are having a full day in our hands, in order to do some exploration taking advantage of the fact that we are staying at such a central location. For this trip Morocco is Catherine’s eagerly anticipated destination (mine is Portugal if anyone cares) and we’ll try to make the best of it during the few days spent there. Our exploration of Marrakesh will be centered around Jemaa el Fna and the nearby souks, the city spot where everything takes place and we are bound to make a circular route centered on this plaza.
El Badi Palace from Wall 2011

Our first visit will be on the El Badi palace ruins, which will cost a mere 20MAD entrance fee and will offer us the chance to maybe spend a couple of hours admiring the ruins of this 16th century Saadian palace. It seems that the place may be a bit deserted, while some storks are taking advantage of it, nesting and that might provide us with some decent photos.

 Maroc Marrakech Saadiens Luc Viatour 2

Our next stop will be the nearby Saadian tombs (1 euro entrance fee) where we’ll try and enjoy a small visit (word has it that the place can get discouragingly crowdy), before carrying on our tour to Bab Agnaou, one of the nearly twenty gates to the city, which was built in the 12th century and getting a closer view at Koutoubia mosque (as close as non Muslims can approach that is).
Carpets in Marrakech

Later, we are moving north of Jemaa el fna, towards Bahia palace (1euro fee), where we’ll have a look at the complex of gardens, courtyards and houses that a 19th century Grand Vizier had built. The compound seems that will provide us with a taste of a blend between Moroccan and Islamic architecture and possibly with some unforgettable memories, yet not so great as the ones we are expecting from the next site we intend to visit, which is …
Majorelle Garden

…Majorelle garden, a villa and garden built by French painter Jacques Majorelle in the 20’s, who seems to have constructed quite a home for himself. He has produced such a great performance on this labor, that the predominant shade of cobalt blue that is dominant throughout the place is called after him. Anyways, Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Berge bought the place in the 80’s and Saint-Laurent’s ashes were scattered in the garden (I guess we’ll have to take care of our looks, no one wants the ghost of a fashion designer haunting him or her), while there are plans to establish a museum dedicated to the designer’s life and work on this spot in September. So, we’ll have a walk around the place (map) and keep up with our visit in the city returning to the central square, eager to experience everything we can get our minds onto during our stay in the city, before eventually getting back to Spain for the last leg of our trip.

(It is evident that we do not own any of the photos on this post, they are all originating from wikipedia. We’ll post our own once we return from our trip)

Dealing with our brief passing through Madrid (How do you spend time on a buffer zone?)

madrid-attractions.jpg

The Spanish capital is bound to be nothing more than some sort of buffer zone during our trip, nevertheless, we’ll do our best to make the most out of our short stay there. As mentioned on our previous post, we are departing Lisbon on an overnight train, that arrives at Madrid in the morning, beginning our short exploration of the place, which must come to an end in the evening, as we’ll be boarding a flight to Morocco. That leaves us with a few hours (almost half a day to be exact) at our disposal, meaning that we have to be very picky regarding our whereabouts, while at the same time we must take into account the toll fatigue will demand after our overnight trip from Portugal and the tiredness that will add up, as we’ll be strolling through the Castillian streets, lingering on the city’s attractions.

Templo_de_Debod_in_Madrid.jpg

Our first view of Madrid will be Chamartin train station (Los domingos por la tarde,
caminando a Chamartín, las mocitas madrileñas, van alegres y risueñas porque hoy juega su Madrid, as the Madrid lyrics go) and we’ll use the metro (dark blue line) to get towards the direction of puerta del sur and get off  at Plaza d’ Espana (metro map). What lies near there are the ruins of Debod temple, an Egyptian temple that originally stood in Egypt, however the construction of the Aswan dam in the sixties, threatened the integrity of many archaeological treasures and the Spanish government offered great service to the Egyptians in helping rescuing the country’s legacy, so as a reward for their efforts the Spanish were given this temple, which was dismantled brick by brick and re-erected in the Spanish capital. We’ll make an attempt to visit, but it seems that the interior is off limits since the 27th of May, until further notice, while the whole place is shut on Mondays, so, if we visit, we’ll limit ourselves to outside views.

Royal.Palace.Madrid.original.1884.jpg

The next thing on our list is the Royal palace, where we’ll probably enjoy some tea with Queen Sophia, as the old gall is supposed to be of Greek origin (actually her family is Danish) and the old hag will definitely be very happy to see some folks from the old country (she should be though, as the Greek people were obliged to endow her with lots and lots of money in the 60’s, in order for her to marry the Spanish king Juan Carlos. We’ll probably avoid paying the 11 euro entry fee though, limiting our view of the 18th century building to outside views, before getting on with our stroll to the nearby Plaza Mayor, where we’ll spend some more time sightseeing until we move on to another famous Spanish plaza.

sol-madrid_xoptimizadax--620x349.jpg

Puerta del Sol seems to be more interesting than Plaza Mayor, as you can find more  intriguing buildings around the place, such as the tower clock, where Spanish tradition seems to call for eating 12 grapes, when the year changes and the statue of the bear and the strawberry tree. Since both places are sure to be rather crowded locations, I guess we’ll have more sights to feast upon, as people can turn a place to a delightful experience or its opposite.

Las_Meninas_01.jpg

Velázquez’s Las Meninas is one of the masterpieces on display at Prado source

Continuing our walk, we’ll encounter Prado museum, which is the place we’ll most likely visit while in Madrid, provided we can maintain some decent level of stamina and mental vigor. The 15 euro fee seems fair, as this building houses one of the most esteemed museums in the world and will enable us to admire works of El Greco, Goya, Velázquez. There’s also a chance for free admission at 18.00, but we can’t make it on time for our flight if we do that, let alone we’ll probably be in a bad shape after roaming the streets for so long and that will prevent us from enjoying the place properly.

Monumento_a_Alfonso_XII_de_España_en_los_Jardines_del_Retiro_-_04.jpg

Not far from Prado lies Buon retiro park, a massive park where we are surely visiting in order to relax and spend some time appreciating this serene place. Finally, we ‘ll make use of the metro to get to Barajas airport, to get there, we’ll take the Red line towards Las Rosas, in order to reach Principe da Vergara station on the purple line (9) towards Paco de Lucia and we get off at Colombia station passing through some more stops (Pinar del Rey, Mar de Cristal, Campo de las Naciones), before reaching T1 terminal and begin our flight to Marrakech.

 

Planning our second day in Portugal – Sintra and the Atlantic shore

In order to get to Sintra, we’ll depart from Rossio train station (we’ll get there using the metro from Cais do Sodre to Rossio or Restaudores) and while there, we are definetely taking advantage of the 434 tourist bus, which will enable us to take a route from the train station, to the National Palace and then up to Pena Palace, the Moors castle and back to the train station. However, we are mostly interested in the Pena palace and Quinta do regaleira, while Monserrate palace and Queluz seem great as well. Furthermore, as we would like to spend some time on the beach and maybe also visit Cabo da Roca, visiting all these sites is truthfully an impossible task to accomplish. Let alone the tickets paid would be an important blow on our budget, while I know for sure that we cannot keep our interest constantly elevated after continuously visiting one site after the other.

Portugal-Sintra-Quinta-da-Regaleira-Palácio-da-Regaleira-7040.jpg

So, we’ll opt for a qualitative approach instead of a quantitative one and that means we must make difficult choices. Pena palace and Quinta da Regaleira seem to be a must see and although we might regret it, we’ll probably draw the line there. Provided everything goes according to plan, we are getting up rather early and hopefully we’ll be done with our tour by noon. Then it’s bus 403 to Cabo da Roca, where we’ll probably spent an hour till the bus returns to take us all the way to Cascais. It seems that this bus runs every half an hour between 11.00 and 18.00 and its route starting from Sintra station, passes through six stops before reaching Azoia chafariz and Campo da Roca stops. After that, the bus continues its journey through Malveira da Sera station to Cascais (detailed schedule and route here). Once there, we may visit Boca do inferno and finally catch a bus back to Lisbon.

1200px-Cascais01.jpg

Or, we might as well skip Cabo da Roca, if we are too tired, and try to visit one of the beaches near the area. We’ve searched for a while and we have come to a small list to choose from and the way we see it, Rio Tejo divides the beaches near Lisbon to Southern and  Northern ones. Since we are visiting Sintra, the beaches up North seem to be the most convenient choice and that’s where we’ll enjoy the Portuguese sea and sun.
This photo of Praia da ursa is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Praia da Ursa and Praia da Aroeira seem to be some good options near Cabo da Roca. However, although Praia da Ursa seems great, it takes some effort to get there (even if you take the left path, as everyone suggests). Aroeira beach seems to be a challenge to get to as well.

This photo of Adraga Beach is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Praia da Adraga beach is another option further north, along with Praia das Maçãs – bus 441 gets you there from Sintra – which seems to be the most easily accessible of these beaches. My heart is set to Ursa though, but I can’t drag Catherine into this narrow, steep path.

praia-guincho

Our last choice between Sintra and Cascais is Guinco beach, situated 6km north of Cascais, but it seems it is mostly addressed to surfers and we’ll probably skip this one. Our other options North of Rio Tejo, include Tamariz beach in Estoril, São Pedro beach and Praia do Carcavelos. All of them are too close to Lisbon, so they will probably be very crowded, but they are the most convenient to get to.

tamariz-beach-01

Tamariz seems to be a lovely choice,  as it includes a medieval styled building, constructed in the 19th century and I think it’s where Catherine might enjoy the sea more, as the place is easily accessible and may have warmer waters than the sea north of Cascais. There seem to be lots of places to go and enjoy a snack or a drink as well, so our stay around the place can be a boring comfortable affair.

Carcavelos beach is a 20 minute train ride away from Lisbon and what applies to Tamariz, probably applies here as well. Many options for a snack or some coffee, lots of people (probably more than Tamariz) and some guaranteed quality time on the beach, under the bright sun (pretty much what we can do around home though). I am a bit concerned over the water quality, since this beach is so close to Lisbon, but we won’t let that worry us. Another option is plan B, which we won’t follow probably, since it involves hitting the praias south of Rio Tejo, but, since some research is done, I’ll post these options here:

Beach_Railway_Costa_da_Caparica_03.JPG

Costa da Caparica seems to be a nice option across Lisbon, as it is a more than 30 km long sandy beach, easily accessible by bus or a combination of ferry and bus, while one can make use of a small mini train to reach the more distant sections of this beach.

 
This photo of Borda D’Agua is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Praia Morena is one of these distant sections and i guess you can find a useful guide to the place here, while another interesting place could be Da Cabana do Pescador (the fisherman’s hut). The thing about a 30km beach is that we do have one just in our backyard, (well, not literally, but still, it’s only a ten minute drive there), so we would rather experience something entirely different.

MECO_(Sesimbra)_2.jpg

Praia do Meco is another beach, further south, near Sesimbra, 40 km away from Lisbon (some info can be found here), but the longer the distance, the least becomes the possibility we’ll visit places like this one or Praia do ouro.

N4.PRA1359D.jpg

Finally, Portinho da Arrabida seems to be the prettiest option south of Lisbon, at least according to our standards, but it seems as if it will be a real hassle to get to, since it seems that we’ll have to travel to Setubal first, before finding some means of transport there. I won’t even discuss the option of visiting Praia do Troia, besides, the last time Greeks visited Troia (Troy) things got out of hand and eventually both sides suffered greatly. We won’t go to Praia do Troia, but we’ll bear them a gift instead…

IMG_6828.JPG

Our back yard, guess in Portuguese it would be called Praia do nosso patio posterior

In conclusion, I kind of feel that we are obliged to come to terms with the fact that our time is limited, while our desire to visit many places knows no boundaries. That means that we must lessen our desires and it obviously feels like a bitter defeat since reason suggests that in order to enjoy a country, you must divide the precious time at your disposal wisely. We know for sure that our bodies will be grateful if we don’t push them too hard, yet, our minds might hold a grudge. No matter where we go in Portugal though, we cannot have any regrets, as we’ll enjoy a country that seems to be stunning and is the place I mostly long to discover during this trip (Catherine eagerly anticipates to view Morocco). Still, we will also be having another day to spend in Lisbon, before departing on a night train to Madrid and we’ll make use of that time in order to relax and visit any place we missed during the previous days of our stay.

 

 

Dealing with our forthcoming first taste of Lisbon

Belém_Tower,_Lisbon_(11977319704)

This post is mostly focused on an attempt to make up for being so idle as bloggers over the past month or so. It is some sort of note regarding our trip next month and a way to put the things we plan to do in some sort of order. We are both working long hours, but since I do all of the writing, I’ve been trying desperately and – obviously – with inadequate success, to find some precious time to keep you informed.This photo of Lisbon Oceanarium is courtesy of TripAdvisor

 

Anyways, so far we have booked almost everything that was a necessity and our itinerary will start once we land on Lisbon. We do not own any of the pictures in this post, hopefully we’ll get plenty of our own pics, once we are back home, but for now these will have to suffice, don’t get me wrong, they are great, but I prefer the ones Catherine shoots. We’ll be arriving near midnight, so all we can do during our first day is get acquainted with the city’s metro and get all the way to Alameda station and then to Cais do Sodre, where we’ll catch a taxi to our hostel.

monasterio-jeronimos-lisboa.jpg

Image via lisboando.com

After a good (hopefully) night’s rest, we’ll hold onto our freshly started relations with the metro and begin our second day at the Lisbon Oceanarium (Cabo Ruivo or Oriente stations are pretty close) and probably have a closer look at Vasco da Gama bridge while there, before getting acquainted with the man himself, as we are going to pay a visit to Jeronimo’s monastery where he is buried along other prominent Portuguese people, like the poet Luís Vaz de Camões.

PT_AMLSB_LSB_1009631.jpg

While in the area, we are going to visit Padrão dos descobrimentos and the Belem tower, the place that signified the dawn for many of the voyages undertaken by brave sailors of older times and also the place where many would set down their eyes on their homeland for a last time. We may also visit the nearby modern art exhibition of Berardo museum, since these places are all conveniently located cose to each other. That would bring our first leg of our exploration of the city to a break, before venturing forth to the next part, probably after some more rest while we’ll wait for the sun to abate its aggression.

Convento_de_Lisboa_(Carmo).jpg

For our second part of our first attempts to get familiar with Lisbon, we may climb to Sao Jorge castle and visit the Cathedral and the ruins of the Convento da ordem do Carmo. This church is a remainder of the 1755 earthquake that destroyed the city and the spark that ignited the creation of some philosophical and literary works, among them Voltaire’s Candide and DeSade’s Justine, a mockery of Leibnitz’s view that this is the best of all possible worlds.

Next we will be visiting Bertrand, the oldest bookstore in Europe, where I intent to buy a couple of books in Portuguese (maybe Os Lusiadas or the anarchist banker or both, well… I certainly hope Catherine will be able to pull me out of my book infused state of trance once there). Afterwards, we’ll head to Sao Roque church and head to Miraduro Santa Catarina to enjoy the views of the city, before visiting a place to enjoy a beer or two.

ELEVADOR_DE_SANTA_JUSTA_III.jpg

We’ll also ride one of the elevadores, probably the one most convenient for our routes.  Elevador de Santa Justa seems to be the most prominent among them, connecting rua do ouro (gold street?) to largo do carmo (Carmelite square? Large Carmelite?) and would seemingly be a good choice to reach cafe A Brasileira, where we could enjoy some coffee in the company of Fernando Pessoa’s statue. On the other hand elevador da Bica runs between largo Calhariz and Convento de Sao Pedro de Alcantara, while Ascensor da Gloria, connectsR. São Pedro de Alcântara, near S.Roque church to Praça dos Restauradores.

1200px-Cafe_Brasileira_in_Lisbon.jpg

Some things worth seeing are probably the two large bridges connecting both shores of Rio Tejo and the Christ the King statue, as well as the Calluste Gulbenkian museum, but we’ll have to see if time and stamina will be on our side during this effort, since we’ll leave this places on our bucket-list for our last day in Lisbon, alongside any other places we fail to visit during day 2,  since we are planning to spend day 3 near Sintra…

Regrettably, crappy customer support is spelled Ibis hotels…

namban.jpg

Well, that was a disappointment, but we will certainly not linger on this wasting more time. Long story short, we have taken care of our needs on accommodation regarding our trip in August, with one disappointing exception. While trying to book a room to our much esteemed Ibis hotels, we never got a confirmation and when we asked them for one, we were informed that they had taken care of our request for a cancellation! So far, they haven’t even replied to our e-mails, so we’ll cut our loses and book somewhere else. Needless to say, they will probably never see us again.

IMG_6806.JPG

So, the final form of our itinerary regarding our accommodation shapes as follows:

  • Days 1 to 3 We stay in Lisbon, for a total of 80 euro
  • Day 4, as told in a previous post, we catch a night train to Madrid
  • Day 5, We’ll be staying in Marrakesh, 15   cost
  • Days 6 and 7 we are taking a tour to the Atlas mountains and the desert, an excursion that will amount to 180
  • Days 8 and 9, we were going to stay at an Ibis, at a cost of 72 , but we’ll stay somewhere else for 30
  • Days 10 and 11, were also intended to be spent in an Ibis at Barcelona, instead, after their lousy customer service, we are staying in a hotel at the center for 110

Total cost of accommodation comes to 415 .

IMG_6807.JPG

Apart from that, our plants are happily growing strong and we’ve already tasted our first aubergines, peppers and tomatoes. I’m also making some progress in my Portuguese and I’m currently trying to translate extracts of Fernão Mendes Pinto‘s book Peregrinação. It intrigued me greatly that this man was a traveler at a time when voyages were not as easy as in our time. The stories he shared with his contemporaries seems that were too outrageous for them to believe and his was scorned by them as a fabulist (Liar, liar! Pantaloons on fire!). They even made a joke about his name. You see in Portuguese mentes stands for lie, so they would ask: “Fernão, mentes?” (Fernão, are you lying?) and consequently they would respond: “Minto!” (I am lying) instead of Pinto.

IMG_6809.JPG

Apart from that, Catherine is working all day, while I’m taking advantage of my limited free time to finally begin working on some pet projects. An hour ago, I started studying some ancient Greek texts in order to detect some info regarding ancient physics. There are some more things to be done, regarding our trip, but the hard part is over.

IMG_6810.JPG

IMG_6811.JPG

Gains and losses – An update on our summer plans

index2.jpg

It has been quite a while since we last posted anything regarding our forthcoming trip. Last time we did, we declared our intention to visit Zaragoza. Well, cross that off! Surely, it is an interesting city but we mostly wished to visit in order to rest on our way to Barcelona, since our time will be limited. However, we opted to spend a bit of our budget on train tickets and we will reach Barcelona after a three hour trip. So, as we have taken care of every transport needs necessary here’s the final form of our itinerary.

  • Day 1 We arrive in Lisbon late at night, therefore, a nap will be our sole experience of Portugal for the day
  • Day 2 sightseeing in Lisbon
  • Day 3 A visit to nearby Sintra and one of the nearby Praias for a swim
  • Day 4 We check out of our hotel and continue sightseeing in Lisbon, till we catch the night train to Madrid
  • Day 5 Spend the day in Madrid until we board an evening flight to Marrakech
  • Days 6 to 9 are spent in Morrocco
  • Day 10 Returning to Madrid after noon, where we catch the evening train to Barcelona
  • Day 11 Sightseeing in Barcelona
  • Day 12 some more sightseeing, before departing in the evening

To sum up, we are done with the main structure of our trip. So far the cost comes to 100 euro flight from Greece to Lisbon, a 23 train ticket to Madrid, a 50 € air fare to Morocco, the same amount for the return to Spain, a 40 € train ticket to Barcelona and a 35 € flight back home. Total amount of 298 euros each for our main transports (We haven’t included smaller fees, such as public transport or taxis in the cities and the train ticket to Sintra). As far as our accommodation is concerned, we’ve already booked our stay in Lisbon and a couple of days in Morocco, so, we need to reserve rooms for another couple of days in Marrakesh and a couple more in Barcelona.

We’ve also quite determined which places to visit during our stay in Lisbon, but we’ll present those once this list is conclusive.