Monday, October 29, 2012

Spain Part III: Valencia & Grenada

After packing the van with all of our luggage and backpacks, we drove the 3.5 hours to Valencia. Valencia is Spain's third largest city and is known for their paella-making skills, which of course we feasted on.  Upon arrival we unloaded, changed, and set our sights on walking through town.

We wanted to hit the central market, but when we got there it was closed for the day. After a late lunch, we walked towards the old town taking notice of the medieval buildings and the old cathedral. We made our way to the Torres de Serranos, the only remaining part of the city walls, then took a walk through Jardines del Turia park back to the hotel.

The Central Market

Old town in Valencia

Torres de Serranos. Entrance to the old town.

In the park.
The next day we went to the City of the Arts and Sciences, which is a huge complex consisting of five different areas including an opera house/event holder, an imax theater and planetarium, a walkway and garden, an open air oceanographic park which houses Europe's largest aquarium, and a science museum. It's a city of its own with very futuristic buildings and beautiful grounds. We only had time for one activity so we spent our time at the science museum. This museum is geared towards learning science through hands-on experiences so you are encouraged to try (and touch) everything it has to offer.

Joe & Lori with the aquarium and bridge in the background.
The Imax theater/planetarium and the opera house/theater
The Science Museum

We found ourselves excitedly running through the museum looking at the many different exhibits we could touch and play with! Among other things, we found out how many centimeters high we can jump, how hard we can kick a soccer ball, our balancing abilities, and how many decibels loud our screams are.
Joe testing out his voice
Practicing his surgical skills
How hard can Lori kick the soccer ball?
Really cool space exhibit: me, Joe, Jon 

We spent a good two hours inside, but had to leave... Grenada was calling our names and it was a five hour drive away. Driving through the countryside of Spain is gorgeous, with flat land around us and  mountains from the Sierra Nevada in the distance. We passed a few sunflower fields and always pointed out the metal bulls on top of nearby hills that seemed to show us our way.

Grenada is located in the south in the region of Andalucia. What we first noticed about this city is that while it is big, it still had that quaint feeling to it. Our hotel was located down a very narrow, car-free street with restaurants and small boutique shops around the corner. One particular store that caught our eyes (well just me and Lori) was a shop filled with new and fresh spices and teas. Grenada also seems to be a young and vibrant city, with many people dressed nicely, sitting outside having sangria with some tapas before dinner. It was also the only city where we didn't see any beggars or gypsies roaming the streets harassing people for money.

Our hotel, down a secluded street

A pretty cool streetlight making the streets glow

The next day we went to the Alhambra, an Islamic palace and fortress built in the 9th century that sits on top of a large hill named La Sabika. It is made up of gardens, streams, fountains, a mosque, and a palace, all within a fortress wall and bordered by 13 towers. Jon and I have been to our fair share of palaces, castles, and fortresses in Europe, but this was so very different from all of the others we've visited. The decoration of the Alhambra consists of Arabic inscriptions and colorful geometric patterns, along with many columns and arches. Very intricate and detailed designs cover the walls.

Columns from Palacio de Carlos V

Outside the palace

An entranceway

The Throne Room

Patio de los Leones

Patio de Arrayanes



Sala de Dos Hermanas
We were truly impressed with the intricacy and design of the palace. We can't begin to fathom all of the man-hours it must have taken to complete the beautiful details, let alone the sheer scale of the grounds. After our tour, we strolled down the long winding path to the city center where we stopped for a delicious lunch with sangria to fill our stomachs for the drive to our next destination. Next up, Cordoba and Seville!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Spain Part II: Bilbao & San Sebastian

We really wanted to go up to Bilbao and San Sebastian so we planned a day trip from Barcelona. We took a 7am flight to Bilbao, spent the day there, rented a car, drove to San Sebastian, drove back, and then took a 10:15pm flight back to Barcelona.  Quite a day trip!

Situated in the Basque region of Spain, Bilbao is a newly rejuvenated city that has housed the Guggenheim Museum since 1997. After the museum was built, the city saw a large increase in tourism and developed itself as a city dedicated to the arts. The overall structure and design of the museum is an incredible piece of artwork in itself and cannot be missed while strolling through that part of town. Many people think that the building is better to look at than the art inside!

Near the entrance
The Guggenheim

Facing some of the city from the museum

We looked at a lot of the pieces inside and many of them were... interesting. The desk turned over on its side with a cabinet glued to it really inspired us to start gluing items from our house together :/  Was there more to it that we just didn't see? Did he not have enough room in his house to have them coexist separately? (Unfortunately we could not take pictures inside, only snagged the one below when no one was looking)

Lori & Jon having fun in one of the larger exhibits
After the Guggenheim the weather started to turn sour and it ended up being our worst weather day during the entire trip. We decided to drive to San Sebastian early in hopes that the rain would clear up on our drive. It did for a little bit and we were able to walk around the gorgeous city located on the water, and hike up to Monte Urgell which gave us beautiful panoramic views.

No more stairs!

The skies opened up one minute later.
For lunch we had a Basque region specialty, pintxos (pronounced "pinchos", which we also had for breakfast in Bilbao). They are also said to be the best in San Sebastian. Pintxos are like finger food tapas. They are usually served on a slice of bread and are cold. One of the novelties about pintxos bars in the Basque region is that you don't order the pintxos, you take them right from the bar (with you taking them yourself or the waiter taking them for you) and are charged for whatever you take.  Some of the delicious pintxos we ate included eggplant, tomatoes, ham, shrimp, fish, peppers, cheese... mmm.

Pintxos in Bilbao
A small pintxos bar in Bilbao.
Pintxos bar in San Sebastian.

Since it was POURING we hopped into the aquarium to dry off.

We drove back to Bilbao and walked around the old town. It was about 6:00pm on a Sunday evening so a lot of the stores were closed, but we enjoyed looking at the old buildings and churches. We ducked into a small pintxos bar, had a couple bottles of wine with some pintxos, laughed, cried, and enjoyed each others company. We are thrilled that we were able to spend the day in the Basque region of Spain. Despite the rain we were able to explore two great cities, experience a different language (Basque), and eat some of the best food we had on our entire trip!

A lot of ham!

A nice street in Bilbao

A short flight back to Barcelona, and a good nights sleep prepared us for the next day and our next stop, Valencia!