Relishing a slight piece of Madrid

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Arriving in Madrid after an overnight train ride from Lisbon turned out to be quite exhaustive and we were totally disorientated as we were making our first awkward steps on the Spanish capital’s metro. According to our original plans we were supposed to start our tour visiting Debod temple but we ended up visiting the nearby Royal palace instead. We opted to limit our expectations to outside views as we were physically and mentally in no condition to visit the place, while we were also in dire need of coffee. We found a nice cafe near the palace that enabled us to pull ourselves together and finally regain some much needed stamina.

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The palace was Royally huge and we were impressed by some guys (seemed like paparazzi to me) that were larking outside the huge building, all of them hanged over an iron railing waiting for a chance to get a shot. It seemed as if we were watching a bizarre National Geographic documentary. It was as if you could hear Sir Richard Attenborough describing:

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The hunters await patiently. A flock of paparazzi is setting an ambush, calmly awaiting for its pray, challenging the Royal servants, the paparazzi natural enemy, which can be seen in the distance, taking care of the Royal possessions. They are in a symbiotic relationship with the Royals and their relation to the hunters’ is a complicated one as they rush to protect their benefactors whenever the paparazzo attacks. A herd of tourists is hooting loudly nearby, while some solitary vendors are hissing trying to cut of the weakest of the herd. Suddenly tension rises as the Royal family, the paparazzi main prey leaves its nest! The flock squawks loudly sensing the impending battle and turns its attention towards its natural prey which will defend itself with its natural camouflage. Tons of money that will secure its best chance of survival and keep this ancient drama rolling for as long as time will exist. But life in the Spanish Savanna can be tough… “.

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We left the palace and made a brief stop to a souvenir shop, before continuing to Plaza de la Villa, a historical square which used to be one of the Medieval centers of the city. Some nice architecture there, but as we were too tired to appreciate what we saw, as we were also carrying our luggage for the duration of our stroll through the city, we continued onward to Plaza Mayor.

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The 17th century plaza wasn’t too crowded at the time we got there and we lingered around for a while, admiring the buildings that surround it. The inquisition used the place for its own show during the 16th century, but nothing reminds of these times nowadays. Some beautiful murals decorate the facade of the edifices around the square and I guess it would be livelier later in the day. Still, we could only experience a small taste of Madrid as our flight would take off in the evening.

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So, we made a small stop for a snack and we were lucky enough to find a shop that sold simple sandwiches with jamon or calamari. We tried them both and they were great. The popularity of calamari in a place so far from the sea surprised me, but it was a taste I’ll most certainly reproduce at home, since it was quite simple. Fried calamari rings inside bread. Who could say no to that?

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Our next stop was at Plaza del Sol, which was certainly more lively as time was passing by. Since we were visiting the country just a couple of days after the Barcelona attacks, there was a prominent presence of the police in most public places and the main plazas were no exception. There were also some signs that expressed solidarity towards the victims but life kept moving on carefree as it seemed. We stayed on the spot for a refreshment as it was a mildly hot summer day and greeted the bear that was desperately trying to taste some strawberries before we began our descent down the city’s metro, advancing to our final stop on our Madrid itinerary.

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Buon retiro park belonged to the Spanish monarchs until it became public in the 19th century. It’s quite huge and it is situated in close proximity to the Prado museum, which we opted to write off our list, since we were already too tired to appreciate its value fully. The park is truly a pleasant retreat as the name suggests. We sat on a bench to quench our thirst with some water before proceeding further into the park. After a brief exploration our steps led us to the monument of King Alfonso, where we spent some time viewing the fish and turtles that swam inside the pond. Many people were enjoying a ride on some small rowing boats and the place was full of cheerful people. We decided to join in on the cheer, so we sat on a canteen facing the monument, ordering food and refreshments. A couple of beers latter and we regained some of our lost strength. We devoted ourselves to relaxation on that spot for most of the time remaining before our flight left. We only payed a brief visit to Palacio de Cristal before hitting the metro once more to catch our evening flight to Marrakesh. We were very tired, but we could not rest yet as we still had to make our way around Marrakesh, before finding our riad and spoil ourselves with a brief four hour nap, before joining a tour to the desert…

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We are back!

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Hey there! What a great adventure that was! This year’s project turned out to be tremendous and we had lots of fun, having the opportunity to admire sites in three countries as we moved in airplanes, metro, buses, trains, taxis, even camels. Of course given the limited amount of time at our disposal and the rather large sum of places we wished to visit, some places were left out of our itinerary, but that was expected, albeit sadly. We also had some tough luck regarding our equipment, as Catherine’s phone got a screen crack, her tablet broke and her camera had a minor malfunction that we managed to overcome a few seconds ago and succeeded in moving our photos in a hard drive (MY hard drive, so I guess they are safe from what ever curse has befallen my beloved girl’s electronic devices- and I have to say, I’m very glad I am not a cyborg).

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We encountered many people, hanged out with a few, chatted in some Portuguese in Lisbon, had some laughs with a wannabe gangsta crew on our way to Madrid, even got acquainted with the ambiguous tactics of strangers offering guiding instructions while in Marrakesh and also visited Barcelona after the tragedy on La Rampla, which added a bitter tone to our trip.

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We’ll add detailed descriptions of this year’s journey on the following posts over the next weeks, so, stay tuned…

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

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Regrettably, crappy customer support is spelled Ibis hotels…

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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.

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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 .

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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.

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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.

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Gains and losses – An update on our summer plans

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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.

The latest inclusion on our summer trip

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Yesterdays, after finishing my coffee, I grabbed the camera and marched towards the nearby ruins of the ancient city of Nicopolis and the adjacent museum. I was pretty disappointed to find out that everything was closed, but that didn’t prevent me from visiting the site for a couple of photo-shots and some exploration of the seemingly abandoned place. Some insects were uttering their eerie cries as I was unknowingly approaching their spots while I was walking on the tall grass and their lament sounded as if rattlesnakes were roaming the ground beneath my feet. Although there are no rattlesnakes residing in Greek lands, vipers don’t mind defending their territory, so I didn’t press my luck.

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What’s this got to do with our summer trip you might ask? As we are compiling the last pieces of the puzzle, we have to fill the gap between our last stops. We are leaving Morocco and reaching Madrid on the tenth day of our journey, which leaves us a couple of days before departing from Barcelona to return to Greece. Therefore we need to get from Madrid and reach Barcelona. We could probably stay in Madrid and leave on the last evening of our stay on a bus, but as we wish to at least catch a glimpse of Barcelona, it is imperative that we stay there at least for a day.

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Two options seem to be available. Both include taking advantage of Alsa or Eurolines company buses. We are landing on Madrid early in the evening, so the most instantaneous way to reach Barcelona is to catch an evening bus and arrive there at about 4.00. That will enable us a good night’s refreshing sleep and will renew our strength allowing us to enjoy the city for a day and a half. On the down side, arriving that late at night is a costly option, as we’ll have to take a cab, possibly pay an extra fare to the hotel due to the late arrival, not to mention that accommodation in the city is too expensive.

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The second option seems more relaxed. We are breaking the trip down to two legs. Thus we travel for four hours, spending the evening in another city and resume our travel plans in the morning arriving in Barcelona at 11.00 the latest. The most obvious option for an overnight stay is Zaragoza, a city that seems lovely and shares a great similarity with Nicopolis as they were both founded by the same man: Emperor Octavian. The ruins I visited celebrate Octavian’s victory that established his reign, while Zaragoza was originally named Caesaraugusta to honor the Roman emperor.

So, all things considered, we’ll add another jewel to the crown of this year’s travel and have a chance to view – albeit for a swift visit, another place.