Heading to Lisbon.

I knew very little about Portugal before I booked my bus ticket from Seville. After $50 dollars and a 6 hour bus ride I arrived in Lisbon.

When I arrived it was just starting to get dark. The plaza, where we were dropped off, was empty. As soon as I was off the bus another female traveler asked where I was going and we both decided to trek to our hostels together. The first thing I noticed in Lisbon was the steep streets. My hostel wasn’t far away but I did have to catch my breath after the uphill climb.

I found my non-discreet hostel with fairly little trouble. I organized my things and was ready to meet up with Lydia, a friend I had made in Seville, who was also staying in Lisbon.

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Sometimes when you travel things just don’t go the way you want. What would have been an easy task in a familiar city was beyond difficult in Lisbon. I walked outside and it started drizzling and slowly it turned into a steady pour. I hadn’t studied the map before I left my hostel and I ended up walking in circles. With a drenched map in hand I ran by a bar where a guy smoking a cigarette outside helped me hail a cab. He spoke to the driver in Portuguese for me and I thought I would finally be able to meet up with Lydia. After a few blocks and trying to speak Spanish to the Portuguese driver I said stop and got out. It seemed I had only gone around in a circle. I was able to use the few minutes I had on my phone to tell Lydia I wouldn’t make it. I was disappointed and frustrated.

With my tail between my legs I returned to my hostel. Once inside I took a better look at the map and I decided I didn’t want my night to end on that note. Whenever I’ve been sad or lonely I’ve always treated myself to good food. I know, I know, I eat my feelings, but I’m OK with it. I scoped out the food situation near my hostel and I found myself in a small restaurant called Sol e Pesca.IMG_1504

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Sol e Pesca, is a tiny little restaurant that is decorated to look like a tackle shop. Inside there are canned fish tins that line the walls.

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I sat down alone squeezed between a group on a double date on one side, and couple on the other. There are a lot of people that would feel uncomfortable in this situation, but it’s really not bad. Be brave, eating by yourself won’t kill you I promise.

The waiter tried to speak to me in Spanish. When I didn’t understand he said, “People will probably try to speak to you in Spanish here because you look like you are from Spain”, which after being in Spain I can tell you is a major compliment. The items I ordered were amazing. I hadn’t ever eaten sardines before and didn’t think I even liked them. I was definitely wrong. Portugal is known for this canned fish, which I learned later. The food I ordered was amazing, sardines, cheese, and deliciousness.

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The waiter then went on to tell me Anthony Bourdain had eaten there and had loved it. The waiter was so nice to me and really changed my whole outlook on the night. After getting soaked and lost I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. This is why I wanted to travel alone. Here I was eating food I had never tried before and following in Anthony Bourdain’s footsteps. I left the restaurant feeling amazing and proud of myself for having deciding to take this journey alone.

 

 

Santa Barbara My New Home – Worlds Away From New York

I recently relocated from New York City to the decently sized beach town city of Santa Barbara. Needless to say Santa Barbara is beautiful. There are hills, palm trees, a long coast line, and plenty of sunshine.IMG_2524

The emphasis on the outdoors is the biggest change for me. Every hour of the day you see someone running, kayaking, paddle boarding, surfing, skateboarding, or hiking. It’s never ending. People here do Ironmans and triathlons. Classic California Activities

It’s like no one ever stops moving. I see bumper stickers that say” Swim Bike Run”. Every time I see one I think “Eat, Drink, Sleep”, take that exercise nuts.

Trying to be Californian by pretending to like running.

However Santa Barbara is more than just the waves and hills. I was very nervous moving from NY that I would be bored or the food wouldn’t be any good. Thankfully I have been wrong. There are a myriad of great restaurants. Santa Barbara is home to some very wealthy residents and because of this there are some amazing places to eat. The restaurants range from fancy Bouchon, Olio PIzzerio, The Lark, to the more authentic Californian, La Super Rica Taqueria, which makes home made tortilla’s and beers are $2 dollars.

The next best thing to the natural beauty in Santa Barbara is the Wine. Santa Barbara apparently plays a big part in the movie Sideways. They even have tours where you can replicate the tour in the movie. All I know is that my wine intake has gone way way up. I have learned a lot about California wine in the past 5 months, mostly that it tastes real good.

There are two very good options to drinking wine in Santa Barbara. The first way is to take the scenic route. Head to Santa Ynez and you will drive through the rolling valleys with views of the vineyards. Or you can head to the nearby wine tasting towns like Los Olivos. If you stay in Santa Barbara you can head to the Funk Zone and walk from one tasting room to the next without breaking a sweat. There are $10 dollar tastings and one even has cupcake sampling.

Oh yeh and there is a random ostrich farm in the middle of the vineyards that you must see.

Ostriches

For those visiting California Santa Barbara is definitely a great stop between San Francisco and LA. It’s definitely worth a few days.

 

 

Seville Changes My Travel Route

After feeling so alone in Cordoba I was eager to come out of my shell in Seville. I joined walking tours. I started conversations. I met an 80 year old woman from NY who traveled the world alone many times, a Chinese girl, who lived in Paris and wanted to take Flamenco lessons, there was a group of German med school students, and then there was Lydia who I followed around for two weeks. I went on tapas tours, saw a flamenco show, and survived a bar crawl.

Traveling Alone and Loving It

Traveling Alone and Loving It

Me Alone in Plaza De Espana - A Great Day!

Me Alone in Plaza De Espana – A Great Day!

From my experience it’s not common as an American to travel alone. While I was in Spain and staying in hostels I met only a very small number of Americans, probably around 5 or less. I personally found traveling alone really refreshing and eye opening. Since you are not in your own world with someone you are familiar with you are much more receptive to people, places, and things going on around you.

The Best Way to Make Friends, On a Bar Crawl

The Best Way to Make Friends, On a Bar Crawl. Did I Mention I Loved Seville.

Making Friends All Over the Place

Making Friends All Over the Place

I met Lydia on my second walking tour in Seville. We and a few people agreed to meet up for drinks that night. Somehow I found out she was studying to be a Sommelier, which I had to google to spell. If you don’t know, and I didn’t, a Sommelier is one of the best jobs around. A Sommelier knows wine like they’re your good friends and you make pairing suggestions at restaurants, and I’m sure much more. It seemed kind of like a dream job to me.

Me and Lydia Exploring the Bull Ring in Seville

Me and Lydia Exploring the Bull Ring in Seville

She mentioned she was going to Jerez, the next day to taste Sherry, which is where the drink comes from. I knew hardly anything about sherry, except that older people drank it.  She invited me along and I thought this is a chance to be spontaneous. Even though I had been traveling alone the whole time, I had read so much on where I wanted to go that I hadn’t veered off my route at all. So on a drizzling day we took an hour bus ride to Jerez.

Sherry My New Life Discovery in Jerez, Spain

Sherry My New Life Discovery in Jerez, Spain.

Me Loving Sherry at the Sandeman Tasting Room.

Me Loving Sherry at the Sandeman Tasting Room.

Lydia "Studying" I Loved It.

Lydia “Studying” I Loved It.

There were tasting rooms throughout the cute town. Sherry is wine mixed with brandy and after my first tasting I was ready to fall over. The day was fun and unexpected and it taught me about something I never knew before. Lydia said her next stop was Lisbon. Lisbon had been suggested to me by a few other travelers but I had been planning to head south next. But after my fun day in Jerez it only made sense to keep the fun going and head to Portugal and that’s how Lydia changed my route.

Me and Lydia Buzzed of Sherry

Me and Lydia Buzzed of Sherry

Seville and the Alcazar

February in Spain isn’t always the warmest. When I first got to Seville there were gray skies and it had just stopped drizzling. By day three I was finally able to see the sunshine and for the first time since arriving in Spain I could walk around in just a t-shirt.

Madrid was such a metropolitan city but Seville felt extremely Spanish, Andalusian, and just plain sexy. Andalusia is the area of southern Spain, which has the most Moorish influences. Here you will find Paella, Flamenco, Oranges, and Moorish style Castles.

Hotel reservations Andalusia - Venere.com

Venere.com

After shedding my jacket and showing a little skin I explored the Alcazar of Seville. The Alcazar is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a royal palace. It is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe. The upper levels are still in use by the royal family. In this palace you can see all the Moorish influence in the style and architecture.

Inside the Alcazar with no winter jacket.

The day I spent at the Alcazar was probably the best day I spent solo on my trip. The palace was made of intricate gardens, beautiful tiles, and amazing rooms.

Various Tile in the Alcazar

I spent over 2 hours just wondering around. For anyone who heads to Seville going to the Alcazar is a must. If you do get there bring a picnic and plan to spend the day. My one regret is not bringing some food. On a sunny day it seems like a magical place.

Inside the Alcazar

 

There are rows of oranges and lemons and everywhere has the scent of citrus. If you can imagine the gardens from Alice in Wonderland you have an idea what it’s like.

Alcazar Gardens

So head to Seville grab a picnic basket and hang out in the gardens of the Alcazar.

Starting Off in Seville

I had just arrived in Seville and I was ready to take a look around. The Oasis hostel chain does such a great job in providing activities for it’s travelers. After my bags were locked up in my room I made it to the front lobby to sign up for the 3pm walking tour.

The tours were actually put on by a company called Pancho tours. The tour I took that day was the free afternoon walking tour. The free tours are donation based, which I think is a great concept. The idea is that you donate what you think is appropriate rather than shelling out a ton of money for something you’re unsure of.

This is the spot we met to start our tour. Not bad, right?

A group of us from the Oasis hostel gathered near the Alcazar, the royal palace in Seville, and were greeted by the cutest Scottish girl tour guide. This is where I discovered that Scottish accents are my favorite. This tour guide was of a certain variety of people I was starting to run in to. She was a modern nomad. She had spent the last year in Spain and the previous years in various spots around the globe. She is the type of person I can’t help but adore without even really knowing her.

Me in the Jewish Quarter of Seville

The tour took us through the old Jewish quarter of the city. Her tour was on the legends of Seville. It was one of my favorite tours that I took while on my trip. Her tour described love stories, the alleged affair between Columbus and Queen Isabella, and why there were so many orange trees in Seville, all fun facts about Seville. I was so impressed with the tour that I signed up for the next activity they had, Flamenco later that night.

This is not the best picture, but she was my favorite tour guide.

I had already chatted up a girl in my group and could mark at least one new acquaintance. I agreed to meet up with her later that night to watch Flamenco. I then sat and sipped Sangria at a bar and started a conversation with a  young Colombian girl who was studying abroad for Architecture. I know it may sounds strange but just having some human interaction felt really great. Human beings are not meant to spend too much time alone, which is what I learned in Cordoba. Seville was really off to a good start and I was able to shake off my worries about traveling alone.

From Lonely Cordoba to Sunny Seville

I had a little hiatus from blogging because of the craziness of traveling, attending weddings, starting new jobs, and relocating to California. However, I do not want to pass up the opportunity to rave about Seville.

After 4 days in Cordoba, Spain I was feeling pretty lonely. I didn’t make a connection to a soul there and I was just ready to move on. I even had doubts if I wanted to continue this trip alone for the next 30 some odd days. I quickly woke up that day and bought a ticket on the next train headed to Seville, hopeful that my trip would pick up. I chose to go to Seville because it had been a study abroad option at my college and I was always curious what it would have been like to have lived and studied there.

After less than an hour on the high-speed Renfe train for 31 Euro I was in Seville.

Photo: Vía Libre -http://ecomovilidad.net

Photo: Vía Libre -http://ecomovilidad.net

The buses in Seville were so easy to figure out. I hopped on a bus at the train station and got off at the last stop.  I wandered in a circle until I found the Oasis Backpackers’ Palace  hostel. The street where my hostel was located was narrow and cobble stoned. It was my first taste of what Seville was all about.

I was desperate to meet some new people after so much time alone in Cordoba. The Oasis hostel was a great choice for what I was looking for. The Oasis is a chain and they have several other hostels throughout Spain and Portugal. It was my first experience wit them but it wouldn’t be my last.

A juggler inside the hostel common room. The Oasis is a very lively place.

Everything about the hostel was exactly what I imagined a European hostel to be like. It was an old converted mansion with several floors of rooms. The top floor had a cafe lounge area where you could get lunch and breakfast. The top floor also became a bar at night. They had an outside roof deck with a pool, which it was still to cold to swim in and there were people everywhere. After checking in and dropping off my bags my spirits were up and I was ready to explore.

 

 

 

Lonely in Cordoba.

A view of Cordoba from across the Roman bridge.

Cordoba is a beautiful city. The Mezquita is amazing, and the narrow streets that curve this way and that are completely romantic. However, it can be difficult to be in such a romantic city when you are traveling by yourself. It can be even more difficult when it’s Valentines day.

This was my favorite plaza in Cordoba. It’s a great place to make out….. with your hand. :/

By the time I had left Madrid and settled in Cordoba I felt like I was getting the hang of traveling alone. I had made new friends and joined walking tours and filled my days with activities. Now that I was in Cordoba I was expecting a similar experience to Madrid.
One of the major influences on your trip when you travel alone is your hostel. I had booked a room at, Hospederia Luis de Gongora, and all they had were individual rooms with their own bathrooms. Originally I thought, my own room and private bathroom for the same as a hostel dorm room, score! I didn’t realize that by having a separate room it basically meant I was staying at a hotel alone.

It turned out that it was a very cute B&B, and mostly couples were checking in to this place. There was no real area to meet people and no one was looking to meet anyone anyways. Had I been traveling with a friend or my boyfriend this place would have been a great deal but it wasn’t what I was looking for and it really affected my experience in Cordoba.

I tried to not let it get me down. I walked all over the town the first two days. The third day I booked a walking tour. I thought this might be a good way to meet people, because this is how I had met friends in Madrid. I ended up being the only English speaker in the group, and the tour guide told me next time in Spain I need to know Spanish, womp, womp. Needless to say I made no friends on the tour. I did find out the tour guide was a very important professor, who wrote many books and is famous. I found this out because he told me so.

Me on my walking tour. In the gardens of the Christian Kings.

 

I now had a failed attempt at a hostel experience, and a failed tour group experience, but I was determined to enjoy Cordoba. I found a cool bar that was showing a Real Madrid game. So I figured it would a be a very lively place. I spent a few hours there and did have a great time but I didn’t talk to anyone. Even though I was spending my time alone I was still enjoying the sight seeing and exploring of Cordoba during the day. It was just my night time activities that were bumming me out.

For the most part, my nights involved eating dinner alone, wandering back through the cobble stone streets, then watching at least 2 hours of a Nickelodeon Hannah Montana rip off dubbed in Spanish. By my 3rd day I had given up on the idea of meeting people and decided to just treat myself to a nice dinner and some wine. I however didn’t realize it was Valentines day until I tried to go into a very cute Moroccan type restaurant and saw a Valentines day special menu. I quickly dashed away from that place. I ended up at a restaurant crowded with couples and families. I had a glass of wine and some oxtail stew, and headed back to my Spanish Hannah Montana.

Dinner for one anyone? This was a really good dish at least. Fried eggplant with honey.

I do not at all regret going to Cordoba, but I wish I would have picked a better hostel for my needs and I also wish I wouldn’t have stayed as long. I stayed for four nights in Cordoba and really only needed one and a half. The Mezquita, the ancient mosque/cathedral in Cordoba, is one of the most amazing structures I have ever seen and I am glad I got to see it. I definitely recommend coming to Cordoba, just not by yourself on Valentines day. I was definitely ready to move on to the next location.

Cordoba the City of the Mezquita.

Cordoba turned out to not be so bad after all. Once my debit card was working I was able to relax and enjoy the city. Cordoba is around a 4 hour drive outside of Madrid.I took the high speed train, Renfe, and was there in about 2 hours. The main reason for going to Cordoba for me, and many travelers, is to see the Mezquita. The Mezquita was a church in 600 AD, that became a large mosque, that was transformed into a Catholic church. However it resembles a mosque much more than it does a church. It’s a massive manmade creation.

The inside of the Mezquita

You could easily spend an hour inside. They have displays of Catholic gold paraphernalia that they still use today, as well as items found in the excavation of the mosque, and my favorite display, a massive list of signatures found throughout the Mezquita inscribed by the builders dating from 784 AD. It’s a really impressive structure and it’s really cool to see a religious structure that was transformed rather than destroyed. There is a wealth of knowledge already out there about the history of this place. So if you are interested in knowing more do yourself a favor and use google, because my knowledge in the subject is as deep as a baby pool. The Mezquita is at the center of old part of the city. A roman wall still stands around the outside of the old quarters, proof that those Romans really got around. Cordoba has some of the narrowest roads I have ever seen and yet cars still drive down them. There were many times that I had to throw myself up against the wall in order to avoid getting clipped by a side mirror. These tiny stone paved roads, while at times hazardous, really add to the charm of Cordoba.These streets wind this way and that and then lead you into a plaza filled with orange trees and fountains. I felt like I was in Alice in Wonderland and never knew where I would end up.

Narrow street with hanging plants

Along with the winding stone paved roads you will also find tranquil patios. The houses in the old city usually have iron gates which leads to an outdoor patio covered in hand painted tile and filled with plants and flowers. You can look through the gates to take a peek. In may there is a festival where all the owners open their patios to the public and you can stroll through these beautiful spaces. I am pretty disappointed I am missing out on this.

This is the old Jewish Zouk, or market, now with people selling crafts.

Cordoba in general is an incredibly romantic place. The winding streets make you feel like you are all alone in this quaint little village. The open plaza’s filled with orange trees and the sound of running fountains make a great spot to sit and nuzzle your companion. The Mezquita is lit up at night and the light reflecting off the gold doors add a glow around the whole cathedral. This made traveling alone in Cordoba especially great for me but more about that later.

I had a cute couple take this solo picture of me in such a romantic spot, womp, womp.

The Start of Cordoba Bums Me Out.

I left Madrid on a travel high. It was a beautiful city. I made friends with a really cool girl and was ready to see some more of Spain. I packed up my bag and was on the metro to the train station. Based on advice from my hostel I decided to book my ticket at the train station rather than book before hand. This was a mistake. I hadn’t done enough research and I had thought that Cordoba was closer to Madrid than it actually was. The ticket cost me around 64 Euro, which is around $80 dollars. I have a lot of buses, trains, and flights to take on this trip and 64 was a lot for me to spend. I took Renfe, which is a high speed Spanish train line. I’m sure had I known I could have found a bus or other way to get to Cordoba that was cheaper. To make matters worse the debit card I tried to use was declined at the counter. This was pretty bad news for me because most of my money was on that card. I knew I would have to contact my bank to figure it out and worse I still hadn’t figured out why my phone wasn’t working.

The train ride was smooth but I was too focused on the fact that my debit card wasn’t working. The train got me there in 1.5 hours and according to google it is normally a 4 hour drive. So I guess the money is worth what you get for the ticket, but I still didn’t like paying it. Once in Cordoba I tried my debit card at an ATM/cash point and it still didn’t work.

("empty wallet")

I then walked in the wrong direction for a while with a heavy pack on my back. At this point the city seemed pretty ugly to be honest. I finally found my hostel and went to find Orange, which is the phone company I bought my sim card from. I couldn’t find the store and it was siesta so everything was closed. I was getting very upset by this point. I tried to use my card again just to see if it would work and this time success! I have no idea why it went from not working to suddenly working.

I then found a kebab shop and decided to eat in celebration but just as I was about to order I saw my first gypsy. I believe I have seen gypsies before when I was on a family trip around 15 but I really don’t remember. So for the most part I really wasn’t sure what to think of gypsies before I saw them. I have lived in NYC for 4 years and you do get used to seeing many homeless people. You also see street performers and many various types of people who ask for money. It usually happens on the subway. So in the US we have our similar problems with poverty and beggars as well.

Romanian Gypsies

The image above is not mine. I didn’t actually take any pictures of the gypsies I saw, but they did dress and look like the above picture. I found gypsies to be very different from what I was used to in NY. The main difference I found was that gypsies are very aggressive. They come up to you and ask for money, many times with a child in their hands. In this situation the woman came up to me and said, “a kebab please”, “please a kebab for the baby”. I didn’t give her money and it made me feel horrible. I waited to see if the worker at the kebab restaurant would give her one and he didn’t. I also recommend if you go to Europe to not give to the gypsies.

My first instinct from living in NYC is to not give because the truth is for the most part you don’t know what you are giving money for and you don’t know the full story. My personal opinion is by taking out your wallet in front of someone begging for money they then know where you put your wallet and they then could potentially pickpocket you because they know where you keep your money. I have since told a few travelers about my uneasiness about it. I had a French girl tell me that the current gypsies are from Romania and that many of them have a man who forces them to beg and has something they hold over them like hurting their families. So much of the money they collect gets given to this trafficker, which is another reason to not give.

So after my money scare, and then my run in with my first gypsy I was not in the best state of mind. Cordoba was not off to a great start.

 

6 Days In Madrid!

I spent a total of 6 days and nights in Madrid. There was overall nice weather, best described as brisk but sunny. I stayed at Uhostels, which was a terrific hostel and a great place to start my trip. I really enjoyed the free walking tour given by TourMeOut.com. The tour guide was the cutest girl from Sweden. She had moved to Malaga, Spain to learn Spanish because she didn’t know what she wanted to study in school and she ended up just staying and becoming a tour guide. Interesting things I learned while in Madrid: the main symbol for the city of Madrid is a bear reaching for fruit in a tree.The fruit in the tree is a unique fruit to Madrid that looks like an orange cherry; it is actually naturally alcoholic. So the bears were basically trying to get drunk and this Madrid’s symbol, which is fitting.

This is the symbol of Madrid

I learned that people in Madrid are really good looking, they like to make out a lot, and also that Madrid has prostitutes. If Paris is the city of love then Madrid seems like the city of sexy time. I found the prostitutes interesting because Madrid is such a modern and beautiful city and I was surprised that they allowed this business to happen. The street where I saw them was a main street with good shopping and it wasn’t a seedy area. There were cops everywhere as well. The cops obviously knew about it but they apparently allow it. I know that Spain’s economy is very bad right now, so maybe they figure a job is a job? Of course this is the American in me coming out. After talking to a few Europeans I realized prostitutes are a much more common thing in Europe, as well as gypsies, and I am just not used to it. It wasn’t all making out and prostitutes I visited three museums as well. The Museo De Prado, which is world famous, the Caixo Forum, and The Reina Sofia.

Vertical outdoor garden in front of the CaxiaForum.

I generally like museums, but spending too much time in a museum can be draining. I don’t know if it was because I felt somewhat tired before I went to the Museo del Prado, but I was somewhat disappointed in it.  I really enjoyed the Caixo Forum, which was free, and the Reina Sofia. I went specifically to the Reina Sofia to see the Guernica by Picasso. I had read about the Guernica in my Spain Fodors book and that was the reason I needed to see it. The painting takes up much of the wall where it is exhibited. There is also documentation of it being created, as well as documentation to all of the places it has been displayed around the world. I was really glad I got a chance to see it. Just remember that not all museums are created equal and if you don’t really like museums you don’t have to go to them. There are plenty of other things you can do when you are traveling rather than go to museums.

Another must see in Madrid is Parque del Retiro. This is the main park in the city, much like central park in NYC. The park goes on for a few miles. There is a beautiful lake where you can rent boats. When I went the entire lake was packed with little boats rowing.

One of many statues in Parque del Retiro

Also I discovered that roller blading is very popular in Madrid. There was one area where there were many groups of all ages all learning how to roller blade.  My favorite area was a rose garden. It was enormous but alas there were no roses quite yet. If you go in the spring please send me pictures. Besides my lovely site seeing I also made my first travel friends in Madrid and went on a pub crawl. The rule for traveling solo is “say yes”. You might be tired and not want to go out but you should do it. You should say yes to new adventures, new foods, and new people. Travel is all about the experience and new experiences come from saying yes to new things.

Having fun with new friends on a pub crawl.

I really liked Madrid it was a wonderful city with more than a few weeks worth of activities. It has art, culture, food, drinking, and really amazing shopping as well. The people aren’t bad to look at either.