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The Alahambra - Granada Spain

sunny 17 °C

Granada is located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in southern Andalusia. We arrived on December 11 with the intention of touring the Alahambra.
Set high above the city and the River Doro, the Alahambra holds a strategic position. It started out as a fortress - an alcazaba, in the ninth century.


A palace - alcazar - was built by the Nazrid kings in the thirteenth century and became the court of the Moorish rulers.
The palaces and surrounding gardens are masterpieces of Arabic art and craftsmanship.

In 1492 the Christian monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabel, drove the last Muslim ruler out of Granada. The Moors had been in control for 800 years.
In the sixteenth century Charles 5 of Spain also built a palace within the Alahambra.
The fortress/castles/magnificent gardens complex is a World Heritage Site and one of the most visited monuments in Spain.
We booked tIckets online and we have a time slot of 1130 am to tour the Nazrid castles.
We are staying at ABS Granada a sister hotel to Monjas del Carmen, kind of the smaller, poorer relative.
We have a room with twin beds and a narrow balcony overlooking a quiet lane. Hotel Macia Condor.


There was a pleasant girl at the front desk who gave us a map and explained where to exchange the internet printed voucher for tickets to avoid waiting in line at the Alahambra.
She also marked two recommended two restaurants near by.
We set out to look at the town. Numerous small lanes branch off and the first information centre is closed. We assumed it will open at 430 as lots of shops close for siesta.
We stopped at a recommended bar for lunch.
In Granada, if you order a drink you get a free tapas. I ordered a beer and we got a small plate of breadcrumbs and sausage. Likely Migas which is typical to the area, filling.

Tapas in North America does not compare. First they aren't free. Second, they are cheaper to buy here.
I doubt you could get much for 2 euros fifty cents (3.75 C) back home. The beer here is cheaper also and we are smack in the middle of tourist central.

Granada is the epicentre of the free tapas with drink tradition. Bars in other cities and towns may do it, but it is not reliable.

It is 17 degrees C, sunny, we go back to the tourist office and it is still closed. The map is examined, we veer left down narrow lanes.

We paused by the church of Iglisia do Santo Domingo which has some historical significance. It was originally the chapel of the Convent of Santa Cruz. Building started in 1512:

There is interesting graffiti in Granada as well:


Having had no luck in our quest to pick up tickets to the Alahambra we made our way back to the hotel.
We will get our tickets in the morning. Our room is clean and the beds are comfortable, the sink is in the room, open a door and there is a toilet, open another door and there is the shower, pretty compact.
This was our smallest room and the cost was 65 dollars per night, no breakfast, good location, friendly staff, clean - a bit awkward getting showered and dressed but better than a shared bathroom!! Very compact but pleasant.
The street is quiet but when other guests go down the hall you can hear them talking which is annoying at 130 am. Depends on the manners of other guests, earplugs and eye mask recommended so you won't be bothered by the noise or hall light activated by movement.

12 December is a bright sunny day, we are up early as we want a coffee before the tourist office opens at 9. Turns out they open at 930. Also this is not the right place so we are redirected to another little lane and discover my ticket means handicapped (not senior) and I must go to the ticket office at the Alahambra and pay the difference which is another 6 Euros. So we basically wasted a lot of time to no avail.
We hopped on a red bus that is small enough to maneuver the narrow streets and were dropped off at the ticket office. The lineup was not too daunting as it was before 10 am and it is low season.
It was a pleasant walk to the castle:

The evergreen hedge corridor with windows is so densely packed you cannot poke a finger into it.
Since we are early I quick toured the fortress. Lots of stairs to lookout points and views of Granada. I went to the bell tower last which seems the highest point. It took me a minute to recover from the climb up.

We joined the line forming up for the castle and as we entered we were overwhelmed by the opulence and detail.


Everything is intricately decorated, the ceilings are spectacular. Like other castles I have visited it is not very cozy.



The palace of the last Muslim ruler is an astounding example of delicately carved plaster, ceramic tiles (Azulejo) with geometric patterns, wood lattice, leafy courtyards, and formal gardens. Fountains and reflecting pools add beauty and harmony. It is mind-boggling when seen with a crush of other tourists from the four corners of the world. No touching!


You really must experience it in person as pictures and words cannot do it justice.

The museum is in the sturdier, blockier castle of Charles V and it is closed on Mondays. Disappointing.
There was an art exhibit upstairs by the painter Fortuny. He was the father of the famous dress designer. We walked through the exhibit but picture taking was not allowed.
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The most significant design element of the Henry V castle is the large central courtyard:

It has an dimpled, pillow-y looking exterior with benches and brass rings all around. The rings are set up quite high. Was the purpose functional or aesthetic? Did they stand on the bench to tie up their horses?

I was not aware persimmons grow in Spain. They hang from leafless branches:

We took the red bus back downtown. The ticket costs two dollars and is good for an hour so we had time to take another bus for a circuit to see a bit more of the city.
For a late lunch we went to a busy bar I spotted yesterday. The few tables were occupied but eventually we got one.
I ordered a beer and a tapas and got a free tapas as well, this time rice and ham. I ordered another beer and the free tapas was fish, pickled, very good. Total price for two beer and three tapas was eleven dollars.

Most people are standing at the bar.


A young man with a metal instrument case walked by. I asked what he had in his case. A violin. He was an American busker. He sat with us and counted his change, there was a lot of it, he is making at least a few hundred Euros a day. I did not realize it could be so lucrative.

We walked around, picked up some souvenirs, and the day was over.

Tomorrow, 13 December, we go to Seville.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 20:09 Archived in Spain Tagged alcazar spain granada espana castle andalusia fortress alcazaba tapas alahambra azulejo Comments (0)

Cabo da Roca Portugal - Where the Land Ends

sunny 17 °C

21 December 2016: the final day of our three week trip through the Iberian Penninsula.
We are taking the train from Rossio Station, Lisbon to Sintra.

Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its many castles and manor houses.

Frequent and inexpensive trains leave from Rossio Station. The trip to Sintra is just 40 minutes, an easy day trip from Lisbon.

Right beside the Sintra Station a series of buses can be taken to the various castles.

First we took a bus to Cabo da Roca.

Cabo da Roca is the most westerly point of land on Eurasia. Cape Roca.

It used to be considered the end of the world.

The cape is located 42 km west of Lisbon. The rugged cliffs are over 100 meters above the Atlantic Ocean.

The shoreline is exhilarating - with the wind whipping our hair into spirals and a casual approach to safety along an un-fenced path, we join other tourists happily taking selfies above the crashing waves.

We are glad we came. It seems a wild kind of beauty, a bit edgy. I keep an eye on the other tourists since I don't want some psychopath to give me a little shove.


The mat of greenery is an invasive succulent
Carpobrotus edulis. Native to South Africa, it was introduced to a domestic garden about 30 years ago and has taken over the landscape.

The poet, Luis Camoes' (1524 - 1580) line, "Where the land ends and the sea begins" is inscribed on the monument:

Back in Sintra we take a bus to the most spectacular castle. Wow, the Sintra Mountains are fairly steep, the road is very narrow and twisty. The bus driver honks at frequent blind curves to warn oncoming traffic we are taking up the entire road.
After the majestic Cabo da Roca it is too pedestrian to view a castle. It is heavily treed here, colder, we are quite high up. The road where we line up to catch the bus back to Sintra is so steep it would be easy to topple over and roll back down to town.
There are so many tourists we end up standing on the ride down. This is low season!

It is late afternoon when we get back to Lisbon.

Now the longest day begins as we leave for home at five am - it has come to that point where it is past doing anything but mark time.

We wander around Rossio square, pick up a few souvenirs, have coffee, dodge the homeless who hang around the steps of the National Theatre and one last time walk down Avenida Liberdade. We have been staying near a very posh street, where the rich folks shop.

Right on the corner of our street and Avenida Liberdade is a neighbourhood bar. Rhea has tea and - I forgot to mention I fixed my own dislocated jaw the other night, long story but it worked, I had a sandwich with a nice glass of red.
My suitcase is stuffed, I am also carrying my day-pack and purse. Souvenirs fill all the nooks and crannies and Rhea has my shoes in her larger suitcase. I threw out my old sandals - (I had planned on this if necessary) since I purchased the espadrilles. Still, to choose a carry on size suitcase, which I check, limits space for souvenirs.
So we are back in the hood, cab fare is 13 Euros to the airport, so much construction or it would have been less.
On one congested corner a lone policeman was directing traffic. It turned out to be cheap entertainment as one driver kept trying to sneak ahead - 4 times the whistle blew and 4 times traffic completely stopped to enable this guy to back up and wait his turn. The cop was visibly ticked off and ignored the offending car when his actual turn came up. The driver did creep ahead again but got waved back.

I flew home from Lisbon 4 years ago and don't recall the airport being so confusing.

We are early for our flight and the KLM desk isn't manned until two and a half hours before takeoff. We have to hang around on the third level common area with other people who are laying on all the seats and using all the charging stations.
I filled out a complaint card as I had nothing to do. My cell phone and tablet both needed charging, Rhea's phone was dead too, boring!!

I wanted to look up a word I read at the information Centre in Cabo de 'Lusitania.'

There was a group of young people monopolizing the three (THREE) charging stations with their laptops ???
Finally I went over and made a general announcement:

"I have to use a charging station."

I may have struck them as a little bit crazy, and who knows if anybody spoke English, but one young man acknowledged the charger I was waving around and unplugged.

I looked up Lusitanians - oh, ancestors of the Portuguese people.

Rhea covered her face with a scarf and tried to sleep while I kept one eye on the luggage and the other on solitaire and before you know it we were last in line for the KLM counter. Lucky we didn't miss our flight.

We change planes in Amsterdam, very straightforward and I spent the waiting time getting rid of all the change in the bottom of my purse. Dutch cookies, licorice and peppermints prove I spent three hours in Holland.

We had changed our seats for this leg of the journey - Rhea had an aisle seat a few rows up and I had a window seat. Why a larger person would accept a middle seat is beyond me. I had not taken my jacket off before sitting down and basically missed my chance.

KLM0677 was held up on the runway for 30 minutes. I sat scrunched in the corner pocket for 8 and a half hours.


If he folded his arms, which to his credit, he did for at least five of those hours, I shared the armrest with his stomach. He had a nap right after takeoff so I surreptitiously snapped a few pictures. I felt sorry for him also by the way, he couldn't have been comfortable either.

I am miffed at KLM. Their economy seats are too small. They crowd us in like sardines.
KLM has enhanced economy for which there is a substantial additional charge. Those seats are the size of normal economy.

Why it is acceptable for me to be sharing my seat with a stranger on a trans Atlantic flight is beyond me. Aisle would have been so much better, I could have moved one leg and arm into the aisle and had access to more air.

When things got to be too much I leaned my forehead on the window and took pictures.
This one is very interesting as it is over snow, not clouds, and I could see, but the phone camera did not really pick up, the lights of a settlement. I wondered if we were over Iceland or Greenland?
The time passed, I survived, it is 12 degrees C in Calgary, we are lucky!
And my sweet three year old granddaughter was thrilled that I was home. She loved her ladybug dress and ?

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 19:45 Archived in Portugal Tagged coast west atlantic budget europe lisbon portugal souvenirs klm sintra camoes rossio azulejo Comments (0)

The Coast of the Sun - Malaga Spain (Costa del Sol)

17 °C

Malaga, on the southwest coast of Spain, is one of the world's oldest cities. Phoenicians lived here 3000 years ago. Greeks, Romans and Visigoths followed. The Moorish alcazaba sits where a Phoenician fortress once stood.

Today Malaga is the transportation hub of the Costa del Sol tourist industry.

Bus tickets from Antequera to Malaga, less than an hour away, are five Euros. Taxi fare from the bus station to our seaside hotel was ten.
La Chancla, our hotel, is right on the beach.
December 8, 18 degrees C, a glorious sunny day.
There were torrential rain storms along the Costa del Sol on the weekend, a lady drowned in the basement of a strip club in Malaga. She used her cell phone to call for help but the rescue team failed to save her. Media pictures of the water in the streets were really disturbing. You would never imagine such an event had taken place today.
This is Thursday.
Our hotel cannot be reached by car, the restaurant and some rooms face the beach and the lobby is on a very narrow street. With no traffic the area is quiet and easy to walk.
There is a roof deck overlooking the Mediterranean right outside our room.
We were too early for check in but the front desk looked after our luggage and we spent the next few hours having coffee, walking on the beach and watching dogs and kids play in the sand.
A drum band was performing. Dec 8 is a holiday in Spain. There were two holidays this week so hotels have been in high demand. Constitution Day on 6 Dec and Feast of the Immaculate Conception on the eighth.
We have only heard one native English speaker since we arrived in Spain.

People do not pick up after their dogs on the beach where owners allow them to run off leash. Needless to say you keep a close eye on where you step if you venture out on the sand!!
The government in some cities is attempting to educate the public about poop scooping. The theft of a giant inflated dog turd commissioned by the municipality to remind pet owners to 'pickup' made international headlines.
However I digress because this was in Torrelodones near Madrid, not in Malaga.
Apparently in the summer months more of an effort is made to keep dogs off of beaches in the Costa del Sol.
The name of the beach in front of our hotel is

It is a popular city beach, six coves, a playground and fine sand.
There is a view of the harbour, very pleasant, with a good mix of locals, students and tourists. For me it is lovely in mid December. It must be wall to wall people in the summer when you can actually swim. Great for kids. The dog poop worries me though.
There is no shortage of restaurants. What is not apparent is a souvenir shop. Nice to be at a place where tourists are not so abundant!!
The hotel La Chancla terrace restaurant has a wonderful view of the sea and lots of tourists and locals stop in for a drink or a meal. We enjoy cafe con leche and churros - everyone receives a small glass of tester juice, fresh juice.
Churros are like fried dough that you dip in sugar - a type of fritter. Cafe con leche is coffee with scalded milk.
Most people who come to the coast pass through Malaga on their way to somewhere else. We are in what was once an old fishing village. Several people are fishing. There is a rowing club and a boat yard for sardine-fishing boats nearby.

Little huts are set up along the beach for the purpose of grilling sardines.
Although we have not come across native English speakers tourists (until today) most people can speak English. 'Hola do you speak English?' Shyly, 'A little' and off we go. The girl at the desk speaks excellent English and is very helpful.
It cools off after 430 but it does not get dark until 630. I post pictures on Facebook and announce it is 18 degrees on the Costa del Sol. It is minus 27 in Calgary - we just missed the bad weather - we picked the right time to get out of Dodge but it will be a shock going home.

It is relaxing to sit in the sun listening to the waves. The view from the roof deck and the restaurant is stunning and the narrow streets quaint and charming.

Breakfast at the hotel is included in our room rate. We ordered the same thing every morning although you can order anything from the menu. An omelette with ham and cheese, a dish of fresh fruit, bread, cherry tomatoes, juice and coffee. The juice is wonderful, all fresh, and the coffee, only one cup, is one third espresso and two thirds scalded milk. It packs a punch.

On Friday we decided to do laundry as there was a laundromat about five blocks away. I had been looking for my room card (key) but had not yet gone into panic mode.
Case solved.
On Saturday we took the bus to the old town.
Fabulous churches, gardens and statues and a lady singing Silent Night as we passed by:

Near the Roman ruins, just past the alcazar, a lively choir was singing folk tunes. Some people got up to dance. We spent an hour enjoying the sights and sounds of Teatro Romano Square on a sunny afternoon in the south of Spain.
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Booths were set up in the square selling items to raise money for charity. Entertainment, shopping and history all in the same place. I bought a cute doll, new and made in Spain for a quarter of what the store price would be, a steal really. There was a cute blanket, bunting bag to go with it for an extra two euros and, kicking myself now, I was too cheap to purchase it as well. The follies of a shoestring tourist!!

Near the bus stop there were more booths selling Christmas items.
Poop is one of the decorations. These have imitation flies on them:
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I know they sort of look like doughnuts here but they are plastic. We saw poop in Barcelona Christmas markets and I didn't want people to see me taking pictures and acting like an ignorant foreigner. Be respectful of the host country's customs. I didn't want to draw attention to myself in Malaga when I took a picture of the poop either!
I cannot find anything about the poop replicas on Google -there is a lot about the pooping log and the pooping figure placed in Spanish (Catalan) nativity scenes though. I think poop signifies fertility to the land, prosperity and good health in Spain so it has an accepted place in their Christmas traditions. Apparently there are cookies made to resemble poop so why not plastic poop.
In Catalonia children are given a pooping log to look after and on Dec 8 the parents keep the log under a blanket while the children encourage it to poop out candies.
On Sunday our bus to Granada left at 130. We had a leisurely breakfast and enjoyed the violin music. Every morning there is a different musician - very pleasant and civilized.
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We decided we could take city transit to save a bit of money. We did save 4 Euro but it was a hassle dragging our suitcases up the bus steps and we forgot to get a transfer so paid for both buses.
We passed by the Christmas market again and noticed a display of dream catchers - invented by North American indigenous people - we saw them in China too.

We had time for hot chocolate and churros. The hot chocolate is so thick, it is like drinking chocolate pudding!!

We enjoyed our seaside vacation so much we decided to stay on the beach in the Algarve for two days.
For now we are off to Granada to visit the Alahambra.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 19:33 Archived in Spain Tagged beach spain espana mediterranean malaga sardines azulejo seat61 Comments (0)

Travel on a Modest Budget: Spain and Portugal in Review

sunny 17 °C

If you think you cannot afford to travel, think again!

If I can do it, anybody can do it.

Although the 'grow where you are planted' team has a point, I align more with 'a rolling stone gathers no moss.'

Tips and tricks on travelling on a small budget at any age:

In December, 2016, my sister and I went on a three week budget trip to Spain and Portugal. I am 67.
All in, my trip cost three thousand Canadian dollars but it could have easily been pared down to less.
For any American readers, this would be around 2200 US dollars.
I will break down the costs and remark on further cost saving measures.

Barcelona: Dec 2 - 6
Antequera: Dec 6 - 8
Malaga: Dec 8 - 11
Granada: Dec 11 - 13
Seville: Dec 13 - 14
Albufeira: Dec 14 - 16
Evora: Dec 16 - 18
Lisbon: Dec 18 - 22

Cost of Hotels in Canadian dollars:
Barcelona: 4 star Ayre Hotel 4 nights 387
Antequera: Hotel Toril. 2nights 102
Malaga: Includes breakfast 3 nights 302
Granada: 2 nights 129
Seville: One night 48
Albufeira: includes breakfast 2 nights 90
Evora: 2 nights 106
Lisbon: Includes breakfast 3 nights 172
Total divided by 2 is $668

The cost to fly into Barcelona and home from Lisbon to Calgary Alberta was 1023 C with KLM.

Airfare was a big chunk of my budget. There were cheaper flights to Paris and London. You could use air miles. People who live closer to Toronto or anywhere in the US would score a better deal.

I paid 248 C for trip cancellation and medical (some credit cards cover this). Also I am 67 so that ups the cost. I basically wasted $50 for phone coverage. I never needed it, wifi is widely available - but it bought me peace of mind. So there goes 300 C off my budget.
As you can see after hotels, airfares and the phone/travel insurance I have just a shade over one thousand dollars left to spend.

Opera. 42
Hop on and off bus Barcelona 2 days 50
Train Barcelona to Antequera. 75
Admission to Alhambra 40
Flamenco in Seville. 23
Buses between cities. 107
Taxis and local transit. 125
Taxi to Cromlech 35
Hop on and off bus Lisbon. 2 days 30
Odd Museum entrances 20
Total 547

We saved money by watching our food budget, dining out carefully and buying fruit, cheese, Iberian ham etc. to make our own meals. I packed a paring knife in my checked luggage for this purpose. You could buy one there but I didn't want the hastle.
I do not consider dining the highlight of my trip. I like to eat local foods like tapas and Iberian ham in Spain and custard tarts and bifanas in Portugal. I prefer a local place to eat rather than a tourist restaurant. These are not easy to find when you are staying near sites where tourists gather!! But I tried.
The price for this salad and quiche with a glass of wine was under twelve dollars:
You can get a good sandwich and a glass of wine for seven dollars in a decent but not elegant environment. Conversely you can buy a beer and a tapas in Granada and with the free tapas, enjoy a light supper or good lunch for less than seven dollars.
We bought cookies and croissants from bakeries, oranges and persimmons from fruit markets, we were not hungry.
We never held back on a good cup of coffee!! That was our treat.
Beer is cheaper than coffee so I enjoyed a few glasses of beer and also wine. Beer and wine cost fifty cents Canadian more than water, sometimes less!
This exact trip is doable for three hundred dollars less. Just replace the hop on and off buses for 'free with tip' walking tours, cut out half the cabs, forget the phone and find cheaper accommodation in Barcelona and Malaga.
If you find cheaper accommodation everywhere else and make a few tweaks you can do it for even less!!
Or you could cut back on the accommodation budget and eat out more!!

We could have saved money by not traveling during a week that included two national holidays, Dec 6 and 8. Many Spaniards take the week off or make a five day weekend so hotel prices are higher.
Also we booked several hotels in advance with free cancelation which is more expensive than booking with no refund. Note that Seville, Albufeira and Lisbon were booked with no refund and were very reasonable.
I used hotelscombined, tripadvisor, trivago, booking.com, hotels.com, and Expedia.
All of our hotels had a tripadvisor score of over 8 out of ten.
All of our hotels had a private bathroom and a good location, either convenient to local transit or the old town. They all had elevators. When I was 63 I stayed in a place with 105 stairs (and could still do it in a pinch) but prefer not to wear myself out at the hotel.
I like to conserve my energy for all the other stairs and steep inclines I am sure to encounter during the day. Even though all our hotels came with a lift stairs were still involved in four of them - but only one flight.
You can save money by taking a room with a shared bathroom, booking a hostel dorm or a hotel room further out or look into Couchsurfing - please only select Couchsurfing if you value the cultural experience!! The intent is not just a free place to flop for the night!!
Ayre Hotel Gran Via was the nicest room we stayed in. We had an executive room as it was cheaper than a regular room at the time we booked:
However, the room I enjoyed the most was the much cheaper seafront room with breakfast in Albufeira. There is something to be said for a million dollar view!!
Also the very cheapest hotel we stayed in was in Seville and I found it wonderful, top of the list of recommended places.
We got a super rate online for the high speed train from Barcelona to Antequera but generally in Spain buses are cheaper. Therefore, our shorter trips were by bus. The Man in Seat 61 is a good train transportation site.
The buses were clean and comfortable and although seats are generally assigned we often moved to have two seats each when the bus wasn't full.
Although low cost airfare is tempting, the luggage restrictions are brutal and getting to and from the airport more daunting and sometimes more costly than getting to train and bus stations so you have to factor this in.
Actually in Portugal trains are very reasonable but the timetable for buses suited our schedule better.
We saw a lot of countryside traveling this way.
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If you are a senior or a student check if there are special rates for buses, trains and entrance fees, you can save a bit of money.
The inter-city buses in Portugal offered a seniors rate for example.
Check out the 'free admission' dates. The Picasso Museum in Barcelona is free on Sundays.
If you are walking a lot with your luggage and taking buses, trains and low cost airlines I recommend a carry on size suitcase with wheels. I took a suitcase that measured about 7 by 14 by 20 inches and had enough room for all that I needed and a few things were extraneous.
In my suitcase was:
A daypack - (only used to carry souvenirs when my suitcase got too full).
Two pair of black leggings - one was pj bottom
Black pants
Black cardigan
Five tops - used one as pj top
Underwear and socks
bathing suit - did not need the hot tub at La Chancla was too cold!!
Sandals - used once but could have got by without them
Makeup and deodorant. Flat iron
Chocolate and granola bars
Gum, polysporin, Tylenol for cold and flu, Ibuprofin.
Printouts of hotel reservations
Two pairs one dollar gloves - rarely used.
Tablet, charger and converter.
I wore
Sleeveless tank top with long sleeve black T shirt, baggy cashmere black pullover, Packable down jacket, black leggings, silk and cashmere pashmina (too big would not bring again, replace with smaller scarf), black socks, black sketchers. Remember, it was winter in Calgary.
In my jacket inside pockets: money, passport, credit card and travel documents.
A neck pouch with money, debit card, drivers license and medical insurance card.
My cell phone was in the bungee cord necklace.
I only carried a purse onto the plane on the outgoing trip.
My suitcase started out very neatly. Like items were tightly rolled and put in plastic freezer bags and all the air was removed. The short sleeve t-shirts and bathing suit all went together in a zip lock bag.
The sandals were held together with an elastic band and placed at the bottom, near the wheels.
Everything almost was knit, lightweight and stretchy.
This was my basic look no matter what I was wearing, no kidding:

If I had to give up one point of interest it would be Sintra since it was so tourist-oriented, full of tourists, touts everywhere selling tours, too much. It is cheap and easy to get there from Lisbon so an easy day trip if you are into castles.
I have reached the point where the castle has to be really historic for me to want to take a peak. I liked Bran Castle in Romania and would recommend it - the setting of Dracula which was fiction, based on a real guy, Vlad the Impaler.
The Alahambra has a castle worth seeing:

I loved this trip. My favourite hotels were Zaida in Seville and Sol e Mar in Albufeira.
My favourite town was Antequera Spain.

My number one moment was the cromlech in Evora Portugal.
Our nicest taxi driver was in Seville.
I had several good experiences buying souvenirs: a little Moroccan shop two doors away from our hotel in Granada; the shop next door to the Casa Guitarra in Seville where I purchased the flamenco shoes and dress for my grandchild and buying shoes in Lisbon.
My best purchasing deals were the Dali clock in Barcelona, the Aria baby doll in Malaga and my Handmade in Spain espedrilles from Lisbon!! For five Euros these sandal have leather uppers and a jute heel.
My best meal was at Alfama, Lisbon.
The best and cheapest cafe con leche was in a working class bar in Albufeira and the worst was in a four star hotel in Barcelona!!
I could have skipped Sintra but am grateful I stood on Cabo de Roca.
I am glad I went to the opera in Barcelona as it afforded the opportunity to experience the magic of the Palau de Musica.
I wish I had purchased a pooping log and nativity cagnere in Barcelona - at the time it seemed like two more useless souvenirs but in retrospect I would have kept them myself to trot out every Christmas and explain the significance to anybody willing to listen.
The most touristy places were Sintra, Albufeira and Granada. The least touristy place was Antequera Spain.
I wish I had purchased port in Portugal but I am happy I at least bought Ginja the liqueur with sour cherries!! I drank a shot of ginja with the locals, standing in close quarters on the street, little plastic cup in hand, purchased it from a counter, no chairs, this is straight stand up, glug, glug, pleasant.
If we had ordered one in a sit down bar it may have come in a little chocolate cup, yes, it goes well with chocolate, desert alternative. I bought my bottle of ginja at a grocery store, six euros with cherries. The cherries have pits.
I am glad I ate tortilla and Iberian ham and I am making tortilla at home: the trick is to use a lot of olive oil when pre-cooking the potatoes and then allow the potatoes to sit in the beaten eggs for an hour before cooking up the mixture.
The other trick is to use an oven proof frying pan to finish cooking the top. This makes a nice brunch dish and I can regale my guests on Spanish tortilla and tapas.

Tips on Language and other things:
- a lot of Europeans are fluent in English
- learn at least hello and thank you in each country's language
- use the word station not depot, train station, bus station
- use the word taxi not cab
- use the word pharmacy not drug store
- be aware that your suitcase, jacket, etc may go through a scanner at train stations as well as airports.
- get familiar with local currency and have some with you as you may not be able to use credit at some smaller stores or stations
- always remember you are a guest in a foreign country.
- if you want to eat the same food prepared like back home, maybe you aren't cut out for travel.
- MacDonalds and Starbucks are in most cities, if you must, go there.

Embrace the differences, enjoy.


Posted by CherylGypsyRose 19:19 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona culture travel bus train gaudi canada budget discount cheap europe bargain tips deal sale affordable senior customs frugal low-cost economical shoestring moderate cheapskate megaliths azulejo testimonial penny-pinching low-income seat61 Comments (0)

Lisbon, Portugal - The Second Oldest City in Europe

sunny 16 °C

Lisbon is stacked on seven hills beside the Tagus River. It has been inhabited by Neolithic people, Celts, Phonoecians, Visigoths, Greeks, Romans, Moors..... Only Athens, in Europe, is older.
Lisbon is definitely older than Rome and London but there are arguments that Plovdiv, Bulgaria, for example, pre dates both Athens and Lisbon! So what, Lisbon is very old.

There is an enduring legend that Ulysses founded Lisbon and named it 'Enchanting Port', Ollissipo. He loved the location on the Tagus River estuary. It flows west to the Atlantic and provides my favourite interpretation of the word Lisboa: safe harbour.
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The metropolitan area has a population of over 3 million people. One third of Portugal's population live in or around the capital city.

It is bustling with tourists the past few years. With the bombings in Paris and Turkey the British, Dutch and Germans have flocked to the warmer weather in Portugal.
I was in Lisbon in December 4 years ago and I do not recall so many tourists. The other thing I notice are the cranes. They are everywhere. I was told by someone at my hotel that the workers are Portuguese but the owners are foreign. 'We don't own our country anymore.' Yes, we can empathize.
It is 16 degrees C the day we arrive, December 18. Lisbon has the mildest winter of any Western European city.
We are staying at Marino Boutique Hotel just one block uphill from the wide and relatively flat vistas of Ave Liberdade, the 37th most expensive street in the world.
We are an easy walk from Rossio Square.
A buffet breakfast is included in our rate. The breakfast room is a pretty, enclosed roof terrace with balcony options. The hotel has a lift but it only goes to the 4 th floor. The terrace is on the fifth.
Our room is clean and bright, with a balcony, not too shabby for about fifty-seven Canadian dollars per night including a good breakfast.
We book hop on and off tickets on the yellow bus line for Dec 19 and 20. At twenty Euros each the ticket includes access to the trams, the aero-bus, city buses, funiculars and two elevators for two full days.
Our first route takes us to Belum Tower.
Torre Belum opened in 1521 as a defensive fortress.
A busker is playing violin, street sellers are flogging scarves, necklaces and selfie sticks, tourists are posing to get the river and tower in the background. We are not allowed into the tower. It is closed on Mondays.
We enjoy Belum Tarts, pastéis de nata, (custard and cinnamon baked in flaky pastry) and cafe au lait on a patio by the river. It will reach 17 C today.
It is easy to while away an hour in this setting.
Hopping back on the bus we get to the end of the line. Everybody must get off the bus. Five minutes later the bus rolls forward about twenty feet and you can get back on.
There is a cemetery by the stop. Instead of headstones there are little houses. It seems we are in a village of the dead.
On this pleasant blue sky day the cemetery is calm and peaceful. We sit on a bench on a quiet, leafy street and enjoy the sunshine.
Cemitério dos Prazeres is on the routes of both Trams 25 and 28.
We rode the yellow hop on and off bus to a more modern side of the city where there are the requisite shopping centres and high rise apartments. Some buildings have stunning modern architecture.
The Oriente Train Station, pictured below, was designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, who, coincidentally, designed the Peace Bridge in Calgary:
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Lisbon has a suspension bridge, the 25 Abril Bridge, that resembles the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco:
Near the Bridge on the east side of the Tagus River is a statue modeled after a statue in Rio de Janeiro:
There are decaying buildings here as well even on the tourist route:
Lisbon also sports world class street art:
We hopped on tram 25 to see the hilly sections, rattling and swaying up and down narrow steep streets.
It is coming into rush hour, The tram is packed you can't see a thing. I was glad to get off near Rossio to walk home.
I had a couchsurfing contact meet-up arranged to learn more about the culture. His name was Antonio and he met us at our hotel. We went for a two hour walk down Liberdade to Commercio Square and when we stopped for ice cream he gave us some sightseeing tips.

On 20 December we used our hop on bus pass to ride a funicular and elevator. The Gloria funicular is close to our hotel and takes riders to Bairro Alto. The tram going down pulls the tram going up.

Right beside the Eiffel Tower lookalike, Justa lift, I spotted a sale at a shoe store.

I bought a pair of Spanish Espedrilles and real suede leather dress shoes for four Euros and ninety cents each - about 15 C for 2 pairs of shoes.
The Santa Justa lift was designed by a student of Gustavo Eiffel. You can climb to a lookout tower on top of the elevator. The stairs are narrow and winding, whew I made it. We were really quite high up and I felt a bit dizzy.

Lisbon is a very pretty city with the river and hills. Lots of white stucco and red tiled roofs interspersed with church steeples.

It seems Roma beggars like to set themselves up on church steps. I wonder if they do better with people who are coming out or with those going in.

Right next to Justa Elevator the roof-line skeleton of Carmo Convent stands as a reminder of the 9 point earthquake which devastated the city in 1755.
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Central Lisbon was rebuilt on a grid system with street-scapes modern for the time. Thus the wide main streets like Avenida Liberdade with its park-like central plazas follow the plan that was developed just a month after the catastrophe.
It was a tremendous undertaking to clear the rubble and start anew and the successful result is credited to the Marquis of Pombal whose statue dominates the square with his name.

The aqueduct survived the earthquake even though it was on a fault line, a tribute to the engineers and architects of the mid eighteenth century:
The earthquake was felt all over Europe. In addition to its massive scale it occurred on the morning of a religious holiday. Mass was underway when the quake hit and most church roofs collapsed. Thousands of worshipers perished in the packed cathedrals on All Saints Day 1755.
The candles burning in the churches started fires that were as destructive as the earthquake and tsunami. Two thirds of the city was destroyed by the fire that burned for five days.

The Royal Palace and its treasure trove of Art and historical documents burned to the ground.
Commercio Square was built where the palace once stood. Coincidentally the second last monarch of Portugal was murdered in Commercio Square.
Libraries and archives crumbled, burned or were swept into the sea. Three quarters of the city needed to be rebuilt,

The impact of the earthquake had wide reaching effects on the traumatized people of the time. The king, who was not in Lisbon
when the earthquake struck, developed claustrophobia so intense that he lived out his days in a royal court composed of tents and pavilions.

The poor area of Alfama was built on high rock so withstood the tsunami and did not have much earthquake damage.
Alfama is the oldest neighbourhood in Lisbon and displays a strong Moorish influence
The tiles decorating so many doorways and walls in Lisbon were adopted from the hundreds of years of Muslim rule. The Arabs brought Azulejo, tile making, to Portugal and Spain.
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Winding narrow streets trudge up from the river. It is the place to enjoy Fado, the morose, blues-like music of Portugal. It is here you will find the Fado museum.
Fado was the music of the poor. Prostitutes, sailors and the lower class.
It became mainstream and an accepted musical form for all classes through the performances of Amalia Rodrigues. (1929 - 1999).
We did not go to Fado but had lunch at a charming restaurant with a TripAdvisor sticker on the door.

We now maneuver our way downhill to link up with Tram 28. More tourists are out and about as it is later in the day plus the tram is part of the regular transit system so locals use it as well. It is standing room only but eventually we get a seat.
Tram 28 is a vintage wooden tram and a tourist attraction itself. It screeches and sways as the warning bell rings, maneuvering sharp turns and steep hills. It has a very long route but you can hop on and off.
We decided to switch to tram 25 and it is rush hour. May I suggest this is not an optimum time for a tourist to be using city-transit. We wait 45 minutes for a tram that has room for us. It really cools off when the sun goes down.

Although Lisbon appears to be full of white buildings with red tile roofs it is a multi-coloured city, the yellow exteriors of Commercio Square come to mind.
The number of pink buildings is worth a mention.
The former Royal Palace, now the Palacio Nacional de Belum, official residence of the Prime Minister, is pink.
The first shopping mall in Lisbon, very central for tourists to access, is pink and blue.
Amoreiras Shopping Centre opened in the mid eighties and its post modernist style was controversial. Today it is a Lisbon icon:
There are Pinterest pages devoted to the pink buildings of Lisbon!

Still when I think of Lisbon, my mind's eye sees red tile roofs over white buildings, marching up and down hills against a bright blue sky:

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 19:10 Archived in Portugal Tagged history travel cemetery pink budget lisbon portugal lisboa earthquake calatrava belem tile rossio liberdade iberian azulejo lusitania seat61 Comments (0)

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