A Travellerspoint blog

Barcelona, Spain (2nd - 5th August)

We arrived in Barcelona early afternoon and checked in to Hotel Medium Prisma. It was another Hotwire booking, though just a 2 star this time. Still, decent enough - no complaints as far as I can recall. We got settled in and then went and met up with my friend Rachel who'd arrived in Barcelona the previous day. We went for a drink to catch up, then a bit of a wander, then another drink (in a place called Cat Cafe that had some nice ales), then for some tapas and sangria (had to be done). There was then one more drink after that as well, if I remember correctly.

On our one full day together in Barcelona, we managed to fit in a lot of sightseeing. First off, after some breakfast, we went to La Sagrada Familia, which sadly was undergoing renovation and therefore was covered in scaffolding etc. Pretty disappointing, though it's been a recurring theme during our trip so far. Paper frog was pretty sad about it:
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We then got the subway up to Park Guell where there's a lot of Gaudi architecture. We were quite fortunate with the subway station we chose - there are a few that are a similar distance from the park, but we happily chose one where you exit at the top of the hill (pretty much), so you can then walk back down through the gardens, rather than having to walk up them. The park was great, though there were tourists everywhere (damn tourists!). That was generally the case in Barcelona though - it's a popular place.

After some lunch we walked some more, taking in the Arc De Triomphe (no we weren't lost) and the funky harbour bridge, amongst other things. It then took us a while to find somewhere to eat (not unusual for us), but we settled on a place with curries and falafel where one of the waiters seemed to take a liking to us (or possibly just wanted a big tip!) and was joking with Jamie about having 2 wives and offering to take Rachel for himself. I'm assuming we left him a tip (though didn't leave him Rachel).

The last main sightseeing destination for the day was the musical fountain. I'd really been looking forward to it and it didn't disappoint. It's a pretty big fountain with a music and lights show. I was pleased we arrived while the classical music and movie soundtrack songs were still being played, as they worked much better at giving a grandiose effect than the pop songs did that they started playing slightly later. Call me crazy but I think there's something much more captivating about a large colourful fountain being backed by the music from Star Wars and ET than there is by one accompanied by Call Me Maybe.

The fountain:
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Annoyingly, some of my photos from the fountain weirdly disappeared from my camera, including one of me with Rachel, one of me with Jamie and one of Paper Frog looking happy. Grr. Not sure why it happened - my camera's never done it before. I think it's jealous that Jamie's camera's better now, ha ha.

We spent quite a while at the fountain, which did mean we missed out on seeing the phallic gherkin-esque building all lit up, but I'd imagine it would have been an anti-climax anyway. Instead we went in search of a bar and discovered that you could take a lift up to the top of the Arenas De Barcelona for just 1 Euro and get a good view out over the city. That was a great discovery. Plus there were restaurants/bars up there so we went for a drink as well.

The next morning we met up with Rachel for a farewell brunch before she had to catch her bus to the airport. It was really good to see her and it made a nice change to have a slightly different dynamic for a couple of days. After saying goodbye we headed back to the hotel for a bit (grabbing an ice-cream on the way - I'd not mentioned the weather, but it was hot) and caught up on some practical things before going out for dinner - Wok To Walk, but of course.

It was also in Barcelona that my tablet computer randomly died on me too. Literally out of nowhere it just stopped working. Some googling led us to discover it's a common fault with the Acer Iconia A100 - they'll just stop working, generally after 12 - 15 months of ownership (I'd had mine 15 months), so just outside of the warranty. Very very annoying. So at the moment I'm reliant on Jamie's netbook for blogging and general internet usage. I'm hoping I'll be able to pick up some cheap replacement somewhere - just a basic internet device that only has to last until the end of the year. Fingers crossed.

Posted by chantalpatton 13:51 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Madrid, Spain (31st July - 2nd August)

We had an overnight train from Lisbon to Madrid. The sleepers were a lot more expensive than just having a seat, so we opted to just have a seat. Unfortunately, what we'd not known in advance was that the train was seemingly constructed in the 70s and hadn't been touched since. The seats were uncomfortable and ours weren't even securely fastened to the floor, so we'd rotate about when the train turned corners. Great fun. Plus the group of guys behind us talked incessantly for most of the journey. It seemed impossible that we'd get any sleep, but we did manage small amounts once the guys behind us shut up. Still, we were pretty exhausted once we got to Madrid. Unfortunately it was quite early for checking in to a hotel, so we didn't want to make our way straight there. We killed some time in the station first of all and got some breakfast. We then made our way to our hotel, arriving there about midday. We'd thought that might still be a bit too early to check in, but thankfully it wasn't. We stayed at Gran Ayre Hotel Colon, which we'd booked through Hotwire. It was a 4 star, so pretty swish for us. There'd not been many options in Madrid though - crazily it was cheaper to stay at a 4 star hotel (albeit one booked at a reduced price) than to stay at a hostel. It was a welcome bit of luxury after our night on the train. We spent the rest of that day relaxing, doing some planning and also popping out to get food.

The following day was our only full day in Madrid, so we tried to cram in as much as we could. It was very hot though, so that slowed us down a bit. We mostly walked around and took in various parks and monuments, though we also went in some book shops with English language books (as we were lacking in reading material). One of the book shops (a second hand one) was also a bar! Brilliant combination. I bought a book and had a beer. Awesome.

We've spent so much time in hot countries these past few weeks, I've eaten more ice creams and ice lollies than I have done in years! Not complaining about that mind. I'd forgotten how refreshing Calipos were. I also got to have a Mojito Solero, which wasn't quite as awesome as I'd been hoping, but was still pretty nice. Anyway, from Madrid we took the train to Barcelona - thankfully not overnight and thankfully a much nicer train.

Posted by chantalpatton 05:16 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Lisbon, Portugal (25th - 30th July)

We had a few days in Lisbon, so got to see a decent amount of the city. We did a fair amount of walking around, as we always do, plus on one day we took the tram out to the Belem area where we saw the Belem Tower etc. It was a really nice area, though full of tourists. We went for coffee and a portuguese tart (pastel de nata) while we were there (yum). We also popped into the Electricity Museum, just because it's free. You basically walk around an old generator. Not something that would make me say 'wow, go see it', but if you're in the area and you've got a bit of time to kill... We had fun critiquing the lack of realism in some of the models of towns.

We also went into the free part of the San Jeronimo Monastery while we were in Belem. That's worth seeing:
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One of the big things to do in Lisbon is to ride the number 28 tram, which goes through all the narrow winding roads. Someone in Fez had told us about it and said it was almost like a rollercoaster and definitely worth doing. It's recommended that you get on at the first stop, otherwise you won't get a seat. What we'd not expected, however, was the huge queue at the first stop. We tried one morning but the queue was too long, so we went back in an evening when the queue was only moderately long. We still had to wait quite a while before we got on one of the trams. What was really annoying though was that a guy and his wife jumped the queue just in front of us. People like that make me so angry. Still, we eventually got on a tram, got a seat and... it was pretty disappointing. The traffic's too bad for the rollercoaster effect to really work, so you're basically just on a really slow tram travelling through a few streets. It's a nice enough route, but we'd mostly covered it by foot already and it definitely wasn't worth the ridiculous queue. Still, on the way back into the centre, we had a slightly surreal encounter. People will try and sell you things in Lisbon quite a lot - particularly hash - the amount of that being offered was slightly ridiculous. But you also get people selling sunglasses and head scarves and general things like that. What we weren't expecting though, on our walk back down into town, was a guy to appear and offer us a paper frog. Yes, you read that correctly, he was selling paper frogs. We were so used to just refusing any offer of anything, that it took a few seconds for us to even realise what it was he'd just offered us. A paper frog? Really? Who's walking down the street and hoping they can find one of those? We stood and watched him for a while, from a distance, offering paper frogs to people and being rejected every time. We kept laughing about it as we walked back to town - it's possibly something where you needed to be there, but we found it very funny. We did also start to regret not buying one, just for the novelty value.

I just realised I've not mentioned where we were staying in Lisbon. We stayed at Golden Tram 242, which was in a good central location. We stayed in an 8 bed dorm, though I don't think it was actually full at any point. It was a nice, clean dorm though, plus each bed had it's own curtain, light and plug socket, so you felt like you had some decent personal space. Breakfast was included as well, which was a good and chunky bread roll with cheese and ham, plus a slice of watermelon. There was juice, tea and coffee as well (though the coffee was pretty grim). What was slightly weird was that you had to pay extra if you wanted cereal, but as the rest of the food was pretty filling, you didn't really need it.

On our last full day in Lisbon, we did a free walking tour. The company was Pancho Tours and it was really good. The history and humorous stories about various buildings and monuments are things you just don't get when you're walking around by yourself. We also went in an old casino which looked quite Moroccan on the ground floor, but then looked more Parisien on the upper floor. However, the best part of the tour was something that wasn't actually part of the tour. We walked to the area where we'd previously seen the paper frog man and were given a 5 minute break to check out the views and grab some water etc. We'd seen the views already, but on our way to grab some water we saw the paper frog guy again! He was in the exact same spot. We wondered if he was just there all the time, but we did then return later in the day and he'd gone, so I guess not, we were just lucky to see him twice. Anyway, after regretting not buying a paper frog, we were now tempted to get one. He must have seen us hovering around and looking at him as he made his way over to us. As we were a captive audience and not just walking past, he went on to demonstrate the paper frog and all the things it can do. Yes, not only is it a frog made of paper, but you can do things with it. It can look happy or sad, it can stick its tongue out, it can... ok, that's about it, but still, it was even better than we'd realised. And the guy demonstrating it was so so sweet. We were slightly worried it would be too expensive, but it was just 3 Euros, which we were happy to part with. So yes, we now have a paper frog. The guy was so chuffed he also gave us a copy of a poem he'd written, which was really sweet, although it's in Portuguese and we therefore can't understand it (I'll have to run it through Google Translate at some point!).

The paper frog man:
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That evening we also came across an unusual sweet shop called Dream Pills, where you take a pill bottle (they come in various sizes for different prices) and then fill it with as many pick 'n' mix sweets as you can. You can then choose a prescription label for it and have it rung up by a guy dressed in a white coat. Bizarre but ace. Here's our bottle:
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On our last day in Lisbon we went to the Oceanarium - partly because it was near the train station where we were catching our train to Madrid, but also because it sounded really great. It wasn't cheap, but it was worth it, it's a really good size and there's a great variety of animals including otters, puffins and penguins, as well as the expected fish, sharks, rays etc. Also, the temporary exhibit at the time was one with sea turtles! Yay! We started off there and then moved on to the regular exhibit. As well as predictably enjoying the sea turtles and otters, there were lots of other really cool creatures too, including a variety of jelly fish, plus some sea dragons, which I'd never even heard of before. We both took a ridiculous number of photos.

Here's an otter:
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After that we still had a bit of time to kill before our train, so we lounged around on some shady grass for a while (where a little lizard came and sat on Jamie's bag), went for a drink, then went and had dinner at Wok To Walk (one of Jamie's favourite places). We actually went to 2 Wok To Walks in Lisbon and have since been to ones in Madrid and Barcelona as well! I think I'm Wok To Walked out for a while.

Posted by chantalpatton 07:22 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Algeciras, Spain and Gibraltar (23rd - 25th July)

After a long day of travelling and sitting around it was a relief to arrive in Algeciras. As it was late we just checked in to our hostel, had a cup of tea on the rooftop patio and then went to bed. We stayed at Lisboa Hostal, which was decent enough. We were only there a couple of nights and had our own room for a decent price. We only really stayed in Algeciras as we wanted to visit Gibraltar but it's really expensive to stay there.

So our one full day in Algeciras was spent going to Gibraltar. You take the bus to a stop near the border and then walk over into Gibraltar (going through a very brief passport control). It was quite a surreal place to visit; like someone took a part of the UK and plonked it down in Spain. There were red telephone boxes, lots of fish and chip shops, a WHSmith and a Marks And Spencer (amongst other things). Plus there were loads of British tourists. It would probably be a really great place to live if it wasn't for the huge swathes of tourists. I'd not realised it was such a popular place to go.

First of all we headed to the cable cars to go up the rock and see the monkeys as that's the big touristy must-do. Unfortunately that meant there was an enormous queue. As there are only 2 cable cars, which are pretty small and take 6 minutes in each direction, the queue moves quite slowly. In total it took us just over an hour and a half I think it was. Annoyingly, once we got close enough to see the ticket office, we discovered you can pre-book online and skip some of the queue. Still, we made it up there eventually. And yes the monkeys are as mischievous as you've heard. We were just off the cable car when one casually sidled up to the woman in front of me and then grabbed a bag of crisps from out of her bag, very forcefully. They weren't even obviously on display but the monkey spotted them instantly. Pretty impressive but also a tad unnerving. Thankfully none of them hassled us.

We just bought a one-way ticket for the cable car and then walked back down the rock. We then caught a bus to the coast to see the lighthouse etc. before catching a bus back to the main square and having some food. The food was decent once we got to order it - the guy serving us was useless. We then got the bus back to Algeciras.

The following morning we were catching a coach from Algeciras to Lisbon. We'd booked it online through Eurolines who are affiliated with National Express in some way. We were seriously unimpressed by the whole experience though (I can't see anyone writing jolly songs about them). It wasn't obvious where we were meant to pick the bus up in Algeciras, though we did locate the right area. At the time our bus was due, a different company's bus arrived. I went to check it wasn't our bus and the lady told me that our bus would say Linasur on it. This wasn't something that Eurolines had told us, so it's lucky we asked her. A Linasur bus eventually arrived, though it was half an hour late and just said it was going to Seville. Our bus tickets said nothing about needing to change in Seville, we were expecting a direct journey, but as it said Linasur we went and asked and were told that it was the right bus and we'd need to change in Seville. Joy.

When we arrived in Seville we had no idea what bus we were meant to be getting or what time it might be leaving. There weren't any departure boards either. So we just looked at the front of all the buses to see where they were going. Only one was going to Lisbon, though it didn't mention Eurolines and wasn't a Linasur one either. I was nervous it mightn't be the right one, but thankfully the driver accepted our tickets and we got to Lisbon safely. No thanks to Eurolines! I knew there was a reason I prefer trains...

Posted by chantalpatton 07:10 Archived in Gibraltar Comments (0)

Fez, Morocco (21st - 23rd July)

Our train arrived in Fez early evening. As the sun was going down and it was only pretty hot, rather than ridiculously hot, we decided to walk to our accommodation. It took us about 40 minutes, which wasn't too bad. We stayed at Riad Dar Rabha. Our room was just off the lounge area, which was quite handy, though not entirely private as the window and door were stained glass, so you could look into our room if you really wanted to (not that people would). The bathroom had a door though, which was a bonus, though the shower was one that just sprayed into the bathroom itself, so the whole floor would get wet. So some slight annoyances, but generally the riad was really good.

As we were there during Ramadan, the riad would put out free food after sunset, which we were welcome to help ourselves to. This was especially useful on our first night as it was already quite late and it saved us having to look up a nearby restaurant. We got chatting to 3 English girls and 3 Australian girls. The English girls asked if we wanted to join them on a tour of the Medina the following morning, so we could split the cost between us. We'd not looked up anything to do yet, so this sounded a pretty good plan.

So, on our one full day in Fez, we had our free breakfast (mostly breads and jams) then went on a guided tour of the Medina (the old town area - in case you didn't read my Marrakech blog). The guide was great, showing us all the major sights, telling us about the history of Morocco and Fez and throwing in some personal anecdotes too. In total it lasted about 5 hours! Though that thankfully included a late lunch at a family restaurant. I wasn't so fussed on the parts where we went in shops, as of course we'd get the sales pitches, but no one was pushy - it was all a lot more laid back than Marrakech. Plus some of the sales places were interesting - we got to go in a tannery and see the people working (they give you a sprig of mint to mask the smell!) - plus we went to a Berber carpet place where we could see some weaving and were given some free mint tea.

The tannery:
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All in all it was a great tour and well worth the money (about £5 each). Plus it saved us needing to find somewhere for lunch and we then got more free food in the riad in the evening.

The following morning we caught the train from Fez to Tangier (we got a taxi to the train station this time). The journey was about 4 1/2 hours. We got to Tangier at about 3pm, which gave us 3 hours before our ferry was due to leave Tangier Med port. We'd deliberately given ourselves a while to get to the port as we'd found it difficult to ascertain how we were meant to get there. A train line had apparently opened, but finding confirmation or timetables was nigh on impossible. We got to the main Tangier train station to see that a train was due to arrive from Tangier Med in an hour or two, but none were due to go there. Not very helpful. The other possibility we'd found online was a bus that ran from a street near the bus station. As it was only a 15 minute walk away we headed there. I'd assumed the bus stop would be obvious, but it really wasn't. None of them said which buses stopped at them. As we were musing over which bus stop seemed most likely, a guy asked us if we wanted a taxi. We said we were taking the bus to Tangier Med. He verified the right bus stop for us, but said it wouldn't be running for the next few hours due to Ramadan. I was skeptical, but it was also annoyingly plausible. He offered us a decent rate and as we were keen to ensure we got there, we accepted.

Unfortunately, on arrival at the port, we were told that our ferry had been postponed from 6pm to 8pm, supposedly due to Ramadan. It's not like Ramadan's a surprise though, so why not change the actual timetables in advance? Frustrating. What was even more annoying though was that it didn't even leave at 8pm. The ferry eventually left port at 9:30pm. No explanation or updates as we sat waiting (and playing Uno) for hours. Then when we could go on the boat, it wasn't obvious where we were meant to be going. Still, we had plenty of space once we were on board - we were the only foot passengers and there were just a few others with cars.

Quite a long and tiring day, even though we were just sitting around for a lot of it. But we eventually said goodbye to Morocco and headed back towards Europe.

Posted by chantalpatton 15:07 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

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