Seville, Spain

Before I start, one thing I have to say about Seville is that I recommend, if at all possible, not to visit in the hight of summer. Although such a beautiful city, rich in culture and history, it becomes unbearably hot in July and August. We visited towards the end of August, and apparently we just missed a two week long heatwave. We missed it, meaning that the 35 degree celsius days we were experiencing were cooler than those the previous week. So, if you’re not a fan of hot weather, try visiting Seville in the spring or autumn months.

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Ok, so Seville, known as Sevilla by the Spanish, is the capital of Andalusia. The city was founded in Roman times, during which is was known as Hispalis. It was conquered by the Moors in 712 and became the capital for the kings of the Umayyad Caliphate. In 1248 it was conquered by the Christian King Ferdinand III and continued to developed under the Christian influences.
Today, Seville is a major tourist attraction for visitors of southern Spain and Europe in general. There is a plethora of places to stay, fantastic restaurants to eat in and a myriad of places to visit and explore.

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Places to visit:

The Cathedral of St Mary: This Christian cathedral was built on the foundations of the original Islamic mosque which was located on this site. Containing both Christian and Islamic design and motifs (the Giralda, which was originally a minaret and later converted to a bell tower, is a clear example of the converting and blending of the original Islamic building to a Christian church).

The Alcazar: The former Moorish Palace. A blending of Moorish, Renaissance and English traditions, the rooms and gardens of this palace are impressive and worth the visit.

Plaza de Espana: Set in Maria Luisa Park, this enormous and impressive building was built by the architect Aníbal González for the 1929 Exposicion Ibero-Americana. Today it is full of people enjoying the sunshine, admiring the building and exploring the adjacent park.

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Getting There:
There are regular bus and train services between Seville and other major towns in Andalusia, such as Cordoba and Seville. There are less frequent services to smaller towns and villages, as well as inter-city and international services to and from destinations such as Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon.

Stay:
We stayed at the Oasis Palace Hostel. Like others of this chain of hostels, it offers everything you want and more from a hostel – good location, clean rooms, organised activities, complementary breakfast, happy hour and even a roof-top swimming pool. Aside from having continuous problems with a card key to get into our room, we thoroughly enjoyed our time at Oasis Palace Seville.

Eat:
Aside from frozen yogurt (the best one is located beneath the Metropol Parasol), all three nights we stayed in Seville was had a tapas dinner at Dos de Mayo, Plaza de la Gavidia 6. This was by far the best tapas we had in all of Spain. The food, the service and the entertainment by the bar/waitstaff was second to none. Try the grilled squid, drizzled with extra virgin oil oil, garlic and parsley, or the eggplant fritters, lightly battered and drizzled with molasses syrup.

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Barcelona, Spain

Perhaps Spain’s most lively city. And possible the city most full of tourists. That was one thing so evident in Barcelona, that the city was overcrowded with tourists. Everywhere you looked there were hoards of tourist, especially on La Rambla (the main tourist drag leading from Plaza de Catalunya to the sea at Barcelonetta), Park Guell (Gaudi’s, and everyone else’s, ‘Wonderland’) and La Sagrada Familia (Gaudi’s famous neo-gothic cathedral which has a 1 km line of tourist around its periphery).

I had heard so many good things about Barcelona from friends and family prior to my visit. So I was expecting the amazing. But unfortunately, there was something about Barcelona that didn’t quite grab me. The city was extremely crowded; you had to watch out for pickpockets, especially on La Rambla, where you must make sure you don’t keep any money in your pockets and hold onto your bags tightly; the beaches at La Barcelonetta were teaming with sunbathers (if you want to go to the beach, I suggest you hire a car for the day and head north to Costa Brava. More on that in my next post), the water was murky and you were constantly harassed by someone selling jewellery, water, beers, mojitos or even coconuts; and in comparison with everywhere else I had been up until then (northern Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, BiH, Berlin), Barcelona seemed so expensive.

Aside from this, there were a few positive things about Barcelona, and a few great experiences we had in the city, which are listed and described below.


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Things to see and do:

Seeing Barcelona with a local: Seeing Barcelona with a local is by far the best way to see the city. My friend Marc, whom I’d met in Bolivia the previous year whilst travelling around South America, lives in Barcelona and it the assistant director of an amazing hotel, Hotel Pulitzer. If you can afford it, I highly recommend this hotel. Not only is it stunning, but the staff are amazing (and no bias there). We were invite one evening to enjoy a private concert at the rooftop bar of the hotel – all food and drinks included. They have the most amazing cocktails. The perks of knowing a local. Marc also took us to some of the best, and least known, tapas bars in town – the ones that only locals know about. We were also lucky enough to experience a Barcelona verses Madrid football game with Marc and his friends. The zeal and passion of the Barcelona fans is indescribable.

La Boqueria Markets: For all those foodies out there, you cannot leave Barcelona without visiting La Boqueria Markets. These are some of the best fresh food markets I have ever seen. The variety and the quality is insurpassable. Amanda and I went every morning for a breakfast of refreshing coconut juices, fresh and dried fruits and a grand selection of nuts – oh so healthy! And so tasty too. In the markets you can also purchase fresh and cured meats, seafood, cheeses, deli goods, bread, vegetables, herbs, spices, the list goes on and on and on. Located just of La Rambla, it’s centrally situated and not easy to miss.

Gaudi’s Casa Batllo: As a lover of interior design and architecture (I completed a diploma in interior design a few years ago, but yet to work in the field), I could not leave Barcelona without visiting at least one of Gaudi’s houses. There is a bit of a debate about which Gaudi house is more worth seeing, Batllo, La Padrera or Calvert, and at first I was too sure which one to see. A friend of mine went to Barcelona a few years ago and recommended Casa Batllo, so that’s the one that I visited, and I wasn’t disappointed. The interior design of the house is utterly spectacular. So beautiful and unique. The lines, the shapes, the colours…. Gaudi was really a master of his profession. I highly recommend visiting at least one of the Gaudi houses, just to experience his genius.

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Essentials:

Stay:
Violeta Hostel: Although the location is great, being on the corner of Gran Via (the main throughfare in Barcelona) and Carrer Girona, about an easy 10 minute walk to Plaza de Catalunya, the hostel lacks character. It is neat and tidy, and constantly being cleaned, but it lacks a ‘hostel’ atmosphere – it seems more like a budget hotel. Their isn’t any air-conditioning, so the rooms can get rather hot in the middle of August. And unfortunately we had a room which faced the street, and being in the very centre of Barcelona, it was rather noisy. I would have to say that this was probably the hostel which we liked the least during our travels. It would probably be more suited to couples that are not travelling to meet other travels.

Eat:
La Boqueria Markets: My favourite, and most visited, place in Barcelona. A must for all foodies. There is everything imaginable. A great place to get a healthy breakfast of fresh juices and fruits. Try the strawberry and coconut juice – it was my favourite way to start the day.
El Vaso del Oro: My friend Marc to us to this amazing tapas bar (the best tapas we ate in Spain, except for in Seville, which you’ll have to read about in a few posts time – by far the best food in the country), located near Barceloneta metro stop. Hidden away down a dodgy looking side street, you wouldn’t find this gem without a local’s knowledge. We had a few drinks, some great food and many many laughs – there are always many laughs when both Marc and Amanda are involved. Try the fois gras (sorry to all those animal lovers, I’m also one of them, but I had to try it for the first time, and it was I have to say, delicious) or the Padron chillis (some are hot, some are not – I was a it paranoid whilst eating these, as I was afraid I’d be the one who picked out the hot one).

Getting there:
I flew direct to Barcelona from Berlin Schoenefeld with EasyJet. When leaving Barcelona, I flew to Granada with Veuling Airlines for about 80 euros for a 2 hour flight – that cheaper and more comfortable than the 10 hour bus ride.
Barcelona is also well connected with bus and rail to other parts of Spain and Europe.