Monday, April 23, 2012

Alicante, Mi Amor

Yes, I went to Alicante, again.

In my defense, it was the perfect place to stop on the way from Madrid to Barcelona, and Ken had not yet experienced lovely Alicante.

Thus, I had no choice.  I had to enjoy that quaint, pretty city yet again. Twist my arm.  (The previous visits are documented here and here.)

We took a train from Madrid to Alicante, and gray clouds loomed over the ride.  There was rain in the forecast, so we kept our fingers crossed for at least a little bit of beach time and a good view from the mountain during the few days we were there.  When we arrived, there was a light cloud cover and no rain, so we headed up the side of the mountain to Castillo de Santa Barbara right off the bat.

Pretty gardens in Parque La Ereta, which leads up to the top.

Cloudy, but still warm.  Yes, Ken is wearing his Vibram Five Fingers in public, and not during a run.  He's fully embraced them (and we're pretty sure someone laughed at him).

Looking for pirates.

Pretty colors at Castillo de Santa Barbara.

Loved these houses on the way down.  I'm sure they enjoy having the pathway to the park right outside their front doors...

The next day turned out to be sunny and gorgeous!  So, we got in some good beach time at Playa del Postiguet, just outside of the hotel (one of the best things about Alicante), and walked back up the mountain for a view with blue skies.

We met a cute new friend while enjoying a glass of wine at the top.  We named him Castillo.

Back down in they city, we learned that there would be parades for Semana Santa (Holy Week).  For about three hours each night, processions of people in robes and people playing instruments walked very slowly through the town.

Amazing paella at La Taberna del Gourmet: super tender pork, asparagus, and snap peas.

Moments of Zen: Lovely sunny beach time each day, complete with chilly dips in the sea, and a little paddle ball.  I was bracing myself for rain, but Alicante pulled through for us, as always!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Magical Madrid

I definitely have an addiction here in Europe.  It's called Spain.

I love the culture.  The plazas.  The language.  The fantastic weather.  The food.  The wine.  The fact that everyone sits outside in the plazas, enjoying the weather, food, and wine.  I also love walking around the cities for hours and checking out the pretty architecture.

All that to say, this trip was amazing, and one of my favorites by far.

We started off in Madrid, a place about which we really had no expectations.  My friend Sonia is from Madrid, and she gave us good tips on things to see, and told us about a market that became quite a gem to us.  Other than that, I read about the city during the flight there.

Madrid isn't known for being the most beautiful city in Spain.  It's stuck in the middle of the country, so it also lacks the coastal appeal of many other cities.  However, we absolutely loved it, and were ready to declare it one of our favorite cities after our first day there.

There are a few things that made Madrid really stand out.  It was decidedly Spanish.  It was a large city, but didn't feel like it.  It was very walkable, and had good public transit.  Although known for begin a heavily touristed city, it didn't feel that way outside of the main plazas and museums.  As for the museums, I visited the Prado, the Reina Sofía, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza for a total cost of 9€ ($12ish), due to the awesome free visiting hours at the Prado and the Reina Sofía.   

Overall, I'd say Madrid felt a bit like a mixture of Paris and Lisbon.  

Also, Madrid had the strangest street performers we'd ever seen.  Not quite sure how I managed to forget to take a pic of the person squatting down all day under a full cape of shiny, colorful streamers and a wooden goat's head, making clacking noises underneath the cape (herein known as "the goat"), but I did.  We walked by the goat approximately 10 times during the trip, since he was on the way to our favorite market.  Ken finally caved and put some change in the goat's cup at 11pm one night, while yelling over the clacker, "You've been out here since 9:00 this morning!".  We may have had some tequila by that point in the evening...

Anyhow, we arrived in Madrid on a Friday night, and went out for tapas at a fancier place.  I stumbled upon a Spanish restaurant review site during some trip research, and that site ended up being an extremely valuable resource for the rest of the trip, since it seemed to mostly feature reviews by people who actually lived in the cities.  

We spent all day Saturday and most of Sunday walking around the city.  It was absolutely fabulous...

El Palacio Real de Madrid.

Ken y la estatua del oso y del madroño.  

Pretty buildings + spring colors.

True blue.

Possibly the coolest street musicians we've encountered to date.

We decided Madrid would be an outstanding place to live and, should we ever move there, living on this street would be a must.

A lovely run in Campo del Moro.

Amazing berry daiquiri from Viva La Vida, a vegetarian restaurant in La Latina.  I sat in Plaza de la Paja savoring this little treasure and people watching for quite awhile.

Mercado de San Miguel...yes, please!  We stopped here multiple times per day for tapas snacks.  There were gorgeous little bites everywhere.

  (Please excuse the sunspot, but it was sunny and the building was shiny.)

Snack time.

Oh, the olives.  The possibilities were endless.

Perhaps the greatest pig in a blanket ever: hojaldre de chistorra.

We took a couple of strolls through Parque del Retiro during the trip...such a lovely place to chill, especially with the friggin' fantastic weather we got for the weekend.

And the Moment of Zen?  Really good Mexican food!  

It felt like we'd searched this continent far and wide for truly tasty Mexican food, without much luck.  Then we found a little gem called Taquería del Alamillo, and our efforts were finally rewarded.  Chips and salsa, margaritas, enchiladas, tacos...they finally all tasted as they should.  The waiters were really nice too, and filled us up with a little extra margarita and tequila goodness at the end of the meal.  This is the tequila that inspired Ken's generosity in donating some change to the goat, as mentioned above.

You might be thinking to yourself, "Shouldn't you eat Spanish food in Spain?  Not Mexican food?".  Normally, yes.  However, I've noticed that living in Norway has driven us to search for any form of delicious, familiar food when we're out traveling.  We definitely got our fill of tapas this trip, too.  

So, expats in Europe who miss Mexican food, get yourself to Madrid.  Stat.

Honorable mention awards for the Moment of Zen go to the following: 
  • Ken being narrowly missed by a car blaring Shakira's "Underneath Your Clothes", which was driven by a man singing along at the top of his lungs.
  • The fact that there's actually a bar called Latina Turner in this world.
  • Any time we visited Mercado de San Miguel. 

Thank you Madrid!  We really hope we can see you again before heading home in September.  We'll see what we can do...