Tag Archives: travel list

Taipei Time!: Day 5 – Exploring Taipei

Despite this being my fifth post about my time in Taipei, I think this is the first time that I had a proper time exploring different parts of the city. Probably should have had this a bit earlier in the itinerary, but that’s just how it happens sometimes.

Breakfast was a quick grab on the way to the MRT station. For them past few days I’ve seen someone selling some great selling fried meat buns and, finally, got the courage to go and buy a beef one for breakfast. Nice, hot and peppery – exactly what I needed to start off the day.

We headed north on the red line to Yuanshan Station to get some proper temple time in. There are two big ones in the area that area handily next to each other. Since one of them opened at 10, the choice was made for us to first go for the Baoan Temple. Before that, however, was a visit to the temple’s gardens with its dragon fountain and other sweet models mixed in with the well maintained plants.

After a turn about the garden, we entered the Baoan Temple itself. There was clearly something going on today as there were a lot of food offerings being prepared, but I have to hold my hands up about my ignorance of Taiwanese folk religions. In terms of look, this has to be the first time that I have seen an East Asian temple featuring so many paintings. This was in addition to the dragons and other wonderful carvings that I have come to expect from these kinds of temples.

From here it was a quick walk down the road to the Confucius Temple complex, which is part temple and part museum explaining Confucianism (something I appreciated as I only really about it from my games of Civilisation. Since this had more of a museum feel to it, there was more freedom to have a proper wander around, point things out to each other and take a few photographs of the Pan Pond, gates and the central Dacheng Hall. We also learned a bit about the changes in form of Chinese characters, which was interesting.

It isn’t just the temple where Confucianism is found in this area. Outside of the complex there are a lot of cute bear statues. There’s a set with the classical see/hear/speak no evil post, but my favourites were the six depicting the six main tenets of Confucianism. I kinda wish a smaller version of these were sold in the gift shop as some of them would have been perfect for my desk at work.

We then ventured back to the station and, on the other side, entered the Taipei Expo Park – set up in 2010 when Taipei held an international gardening and horticulture exhibition. Now, when we entered from the Yuanshan Station side we had no idea just how huge is park was.

By the time we left the first part, which we thought was the whole park, it was a little disappointing – not least because the flower landscapes were either out of season or no longer in operation. Although it is worth mentioning the number and variety of bird species that live in these parks. I swear I haven’t heard such a cacophony of bird calls in any city that I’ve visited before.

However, before we had a explore of the coolest section of the park (sadly not the pavilion on the indigenous peoples of Taiwan as that was closed), we paid a visit to the Lin An Tai Historic House. This is an actual private house and garden built based on the concept of Fung Shui – that was relocated and rebuilt in its current spot.

Keeping in mind that this faces a large road and is in the middle of the city, the sense of calm and peace you get here is otherworldly. They’ve also done this thing with there being 9 stamps around the house and gardens and, when you enter, you can collect them as you explore every nook and cranny. Made for an interesting impetus to not leave any corner of the house and gardens unexplored – oh and the whole thing was free.

We then got back to exploring Taipei Expo Park with a visit to the only open pavilion that we could find: the Future Pavilion. This, again free, area was a series off indoor gardens containing plants from different climates – which meant some much desired air conditioning.

List Item: Successfully navigate a mazeProgress: Completed

Right so this was a welcome surprise and makes for an interesting thing to cross off of the bucket list. I’ve done a hedge maze once or twice in the past, but I wouldn’t be able to tell where and when. Thus, when I saw that there was a hedge maze in this section of the park, it felt like destiny. It took less then 10 minutes to do and we both had a lot of fun completing it – the touch about having to cross set open areas with mosaics kept it interesting. As you can probably tell from the photo, I beat my husband.

Time was marching on and we were getting hungry. I’d read a lot on the web and in a few guides about a really good place next to the Taipei Fish Market called Addiction Aquatic Development and thought this would be the perfect time. It’s more than just a restaurant, but also a place where you can buy gourmet ingredients and some live seafood of your own if you felt so inclined. Me, I had my eye on the prize.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Hairy Crab
Progress: 761/1001

Just to get this out of the way – this crab cost the equivalent of £50. I hadn’t been quite expecting that we’d need to buy a whole crab, but we’d reached a point of no return and this isn’t something you can really get in the UK. My poor husband didn’t know what to do with the implements we received, so I got my hands dirty with a lot of cutting and crushing – which was more than fine by me. It also gave me a first hand chance to understand the crab’s name – it actually feels like it is covered by soft hairs! Not going to lie, I stroked my dead crabs limbs for a bit too long.

As someone who has historically liked crab, I was really concerned about kissing away. £50 like this. Shouldn’t have worried, this crab tasted exquisite and there sure was a lot of meat to find. I finally get the idea of crab tasting sweet, especially in those claws. The leg meat was firm, not too stringy and had such a subtle flavour that I’m glad that we only had this with a squeeze of (green) lemon. We also enjoyed some of the tomalley, but it really was too rich to eat too much of. This might inspire me to give crab more of a go in the future, but maybe at a cheaper price tag.

It took us about 40 minutes to finish off the crab so we had to shift some stuff in the itinerary in order to beat the setting sun. We made our way south on the red line to Xiangshan to something rather ill advised for when you’ve been on your feet all day – climb a whole bunch of stairs.

The stairs themselves belonged to the Xiangshan hiking trail, which takes you up Elephant mountain so you can get a spectacular view of the iconic Taipei 101. I’m not exactly the fittest person, but I felt gratified that I was beating a lot of thinner people up these steps; even if I was absolutely dripping by the end of the climb. Keep in mind that it was humid and nearly 30 degrees.

Sadly it was hazy, as it had been all day, but it sure was gratifying to get a super view of those stacked noodle boxes. Seriously though, this might be my favourite looking building in world and is the reason that a visit to Taipei entered my mind in the first place. Time to go up it don’t you think?

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 84/100Sight: Taipei 101
Location: Taipei, Taiwan
Position: #448

For a few years this was the tallest building in the world and for a few years after that it had the fastest elevators – the journey up to floor 88 taking just over 30 seconds. Pat the time we got up there the sun was just finishing setting, which meant that we got to see the view at dusk and at night. Sadly the haze limited the view somewhat (just like with Tokyo Skytree) but I still got a real buzz of actually being inside and looking out over the city.

To be honest I didn’t want to leave, but all we’d really eaten today was crab and it was time for dinner. So we paid a visit to the big wind damper as we made our way down and out of Taipei 101. Even a few hours later as I write this, I can’t quite believe I’ve been inside that building.

A bus ride took us to our final destination of the day: Roahe night market. Whilst this is not as big as the night market at Shilin, this might have had the best mix of food and other stalls (although there was still a lot of stinky tofu around polluting the air space).

Upon entering we immediately got in line to have some of the famous baked pork buns. The wait was truly worth it, those were some flavourful and juicy pork and green onion buns. In a way, these made me think that these are like the Chinese cuisine version of Cornish pasties – just with less vegetables and a lot juicier.

This was followed up with some Taiwanese fried chicken steak (which was delicious) and a Chinese sausage on a stick (the hub misunderstood the vendor and tried to take his off then grill before they were ready). As the hub doesn’t eat chicken (apart from the bites I offered him) he had two of those sausages and a peanut ice cream roll. We ended the visit with some souvenir shopping and a juice before getting on the MRT back to the hotel.

A lot in a day right? This will likely be the busiest day of the holiday and, boy, are there a lot of good memories. This trip to Taipei is shaping up to be one of my big top tier holidays. Let’s see what a rainy Friday can bring.

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Taipei Time!: Day 2 – National Palace Museum

Woke up this morning with the following realisation: I skipped jetlag and managed to score a normal night’s sleep! The trade off? A migraine that lasted until about lunchtime which meant I had to wear sunglasses for two hours because of light sensitivity. If this had been a regular day I would have called in sick and just closed my eyes until it went away – but I’m on the other side of the world and we kinda overslept.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 83/100Sight: National Palace Museum
Location: Taipei, Taiwan
Position: #397

Now, we had planned today to spend the bulk of the morning and early afternoon in the National Palace Museum and then hike around one of the national parks. Yes, we were still going to do this despite it raining all day. This didn’t happen because we ended up spending over six hours inside the main exhibition hall – so we weren’t even able to go into the special exhibition hall or the nearby gardens (the sun had set by the time we exited).

To put it simply, the National Palace Museum is an extensive and impressive collection of Chinese culture. What they have on display is a fraction of what is within their archives and, unlike a lot of other museums, they rotate a lot of these around to the point where (if what I overheard was correct) you could visit every three months for ten years and still not see everything they have on offer. The only other museum I can think of that boasts a similar timeline for seeing everything is The Hermitage in St Petersburg.

Of course there are some particular artefacts that are never moved into storage because they are considered such national treasures. One of these is a cabbage carved out of jadeite and was the thing I was looking forward to seeing – but we missed it as it has been loaned to an event in Southern Taiwan just two days prior.

Sad cabbage times aside – this is an incredible museum. I don’t know quite how the suggested time for it on Google is 2.5 hours, unless you have very limited time and only want to see the greatest hits. However, if you have the time there is so much that can be gained from going on a proper deep dive.

The main exhibition space of the main museum is set over three nearly equally sized floors and features a seemingly comprehensive look at the different types of artefacts that an outsider would consider as quintessentially Chinese – as well as a host of other things that you would never have imagined.

By the latter statement in the previous paragraph I am referring to one of the most impressive things I saw in display – nested balls of concentric openwork free-moving spheres that had all been carved from the same piece of ivory. I know it isn’t politically correct to be wowed by a piece of ivorywork, but the work that went into this is so mindbogglingly precise that I couldn’t help but stand in awe at it (whilst nursing a throbbing migraine).

These ivory balls were part of the ‘A Garland of Treasures’ gallery which gathered some of the most impressive pieces of handicrafts within the collection. Other things including olive pit carving (like, how?), beautifully ornate curio boxes, a goose-shaped censer and a planter featuring an incredibly dynamic coral carving of a civil service deity. On average this was probably the most impressive of the galleries, and it’s one of the first you’re likely to see.

There are also multiple galleries that offer a near encyclopaedic look at the different forms of Chinese ceramics. I began to wonder if I would suffer some sort of content fatigue with there being three huge ceramic galleries one after the other, but they found new ways to engage and impress me. It really goes to show how what a westerner like myself knows about Chinese ceramics (and jade) really is the very top of the iceberg.

Before I go further into the exhibitions, just want to reap some praise onto the restaurant. We went there for lunch (where I had my first bubble tea) and the prices were incredibly reasonable. I think we paid less than 200$ (about £5) each for a hot sandwich and a bubble beverage – the latter of which I think was the cure for my migraine.

Anyway, even with the jadeite cabbage gone – three of the four big beloved attractions were still available for viewing. The most interesting (and weird) of these is the meat shaped stone – a piece of carved jasper that looks like a beautiful piece of roast pork. I knew this was here and thought the idea a bit daft, but no this is a uniquely strange piece of art that left me hungry and confused.

There other two treasures include a perfectly preserved two-tone bronze bell from the 9th century BC and a bronze cauldron that contains the worlds longest engraving in bronze. Both are very impressive pieces, but I think my memory of the meat stone will outlast both of them.

Being a museum of Chinese culture there was always going to be a bountiful supply of calligraphy, ancient books and paintings. I honestly think we spent too long in some of these rooms as the dim light (due to the perishable nature of the pieces) made me want to nod off. Also, I have no knowledge to allow me to appreciate the works of calligraphy… some of the paintings were great though, but these were some of the rare galleries that allowed no photography whatsoever.

All this and there are still the vast collections of jade and bronze work that I could go into! I hope that you can see how, upon exiting the museum, it was dark. I am aware that, when this post goes up, a number of the things I marvelled at may no longer be on display and instead be replaced by some new marvels.

So by the time we left via the gift shop it was gone six in the evening and we took the bus from the National Palace Museum to Shilin Night Market. Now, where yesterday’s night market was a bit on the small side – the night market at Shilin is vast. It’s a warren of food, clothes and tech stores where you could easily get lost or spend all your savings on the cast array of carnival games (if I had decent shooting skills I would have tried for one of the big plushies). Not to mention there is a large subterranean food court.

It was in this food court that we had the bulk of our dinner for the cheap price of 310$ (£7-8) for two. Considering that we have more night market visits to come we thought it would be worth getting the safer options out of the way first, this meant another plate of delicious steamed dumplings, pork fried rice and the quintessentially Taiwanese beef noodle soup. For the price we didn’t quite expect the large portions that we received, but boy were we happy to have our first proper meal in 2-3 days.

We roamed the streets for a while, picking up some cheese filled sweet potato puffs and sugar cane juice along the way. If we get a chance to come back here before leaving Taipei, there are a number of stores I would want to hit up for souvenirs. Not just the ones with all the Studio Ghibli and anime merchandise – but I wouldn’t be opposed to buying a bunch of things from there

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Conch
Progress: 758/1001

Now here’s something I did not expect to find on this holiday, and there were two stands selling this within spitting distance of each other. Grilled conch meat on a skewer with your choice of sauce – I went with the one with Taiwanese in its name because the others looked like they might blow my head off. The taste was somewhere between scallops and squid with quite a rubbery texture. It was also a bit gritty, but I’m guessing that more down to the conches not being thoroughly cleaned out before being slapped on the grill.

So here I am now. Two hours after starting this write up and, thankfully, migraine free. Tomorrow shouldn’t be a rainy day so we’ll be actually venturing outside. Time for sleep, Lord knows I need it.

The Great EU Quest: Greece – Meteora

There aren’t many things that I would do a ten hour round trip for. Especially when it only means three and a half hours to be able to appreciate a place. However, this is exactly what we did today in order to see the precariously perched monasteries of Meteora.

So long and so infrequent are the trains between Athens and Kalabaka that you really have to make sure you book a seat and make it there on time – otherwise that’s your day gone. The train left at 8:20 from a platform that was only announced about 2-3 minutes before the train came in, so you can imagine me in a slight panic trying to work out where the hell to go.

This also meant us having to be up and out of the apartment by 7:20. Breakfast was some sandwiches I made the night before containing mortadella and some unidentified cheese that bore more than a passing resemblance to Gouda. Keep in mind that yesterday was a Sunday and that very few grocery stores are open – so we got what we got and it helped us last until the train back.

Despite being 5 hours long I must say that the trip pretty much flew by. Watching Frenzy for two of those hours definitely helped, but so did staring out at the passing scenery – something I find myself doing as I write up this blog post on the train back to Athens.

For the most part the train goes through the Greek countryside with views of rolling fields and tall mountains of all shapes and sizes being on offer if you sit on the correct side of the train. As you get closer to Kalabaka and the Thessaly Valley the more farmland you see with cotton as far as the eyes can see. I know I’ve seen cotton fields in Gone With the Wind and in a Geography textbook about lake shrinkage in Russia, but in person they look like something from a Doctor Seuss book.

At about 13:30 we arrived what Kalabaka and loaded up into a small (air-conditioned, yay) minibus for our three and a half tour around Meteora. From the station you can actually see one of the many monasteries resting atop one of the many huge rock formations that are unique to this area. According to myth, these stone structures are petrified Titans having lost in battle against Zeus and his Olympians – something that only endears me to this area all the more.

As you go up the winding roads to Meteora proper is is seemingly impossible to stop somewhere without finding an excellent opportunity for a photo (trees willing that is). The huge rock formations are, in places, pock marked by caves – which originally provided schedule to hundreds of Christian hermits prior to the establishment of the first monastery.

In total there are six monasteries open to the public, with each one closing on a different day of the week for the purposes of upkeep. We purposely chose to do this tour on the Monday because it meant the oldest and largest of them would be open – which is the place that we visited first.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 82/100Sight: Meteora
Location: Kalabaka, Greece
Position: #119

The Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoro is over 600 years old and towers above all the other monasteries in the area. Despite being the size of a small village, very few monks reside there anymore due to the tourists (tourists that they need if they are to keep it open, as it is the tourist money that now pays for upkeep). This was the first of two monasteries we were going to see today and despite having an hour here, we could have had a lot longer.

The views from the wooden balconies were spectacular and started theme of myself and the hub wanting to get back into a game like Skyrim. The wide panorama photographs really do not do justice to what you can see from there.

Inside the monastery itself there are a number of rooms set up to be mini-museums as well as a church and an ossuary. The walls and ceiling of the church itself, the first Greek Orthodox building I’ve ever been inside, were covered in frescos. Thanks to the painting method, these frescos look like they cook have been painted 5-6 years ago rather than 5-600. The only damage having been done by the Turks when the Ottomans took over Greece and scratched off a number of saints’ faces with their swords.

From here we were driven to a number of photo points in Meteora. The first, showing the landscape that Game of Thrones used to depict the Vale in Season 2 (the monasteries were removed digitally as they wanted no part in an X-rated TV show).

We were then taken to an outcrop that is a popular spot to take wedding photos. It looks a lot narrower than it is and did allow for some exceptional pictures of the area – even if I was a bit scared at first to make it onto the rocks, let alone towards the edge. I was fine though and found my inner mountain goat to be alive and well.

A few more photo stops later we got to the second monastery – which is now a nunnery because all the monks have left. The Roussanou nunnery (named after the founding monk who was either Russian or a redhead or both) is quite young for this area… having been founded in 1545. It’s a lot smaller in size, but still has a lot of stone stairs in order to get up there.

Everything about this monastery feels a lot quainter, down to the ticket office being operated by an actual orthodox nun. With this smaller size came the problem of other tour groups. When we got there an Italian school group took up all the room in the, admittedly small, church and in the way out not only did we have them to contend with but also a huge tour group coming in the opposite direction. I’m go glad that I was able to get the pictures I could when I did.

Then that was it for Meteora. The time passed in a flash and yet I feel that we saw an awful lot in the time we had allotted. It was back to Kalabaka in order to buy a late lunch/dinner for the way home. Also a final photograph so I could remember what I saw when the train pulled in.

Dinner was a big slice of spanakopita (Greek spinach pie) and chocolate cigars. Writing this has helped me to kill the first hour and a half of this journey and now, as long as my iPad battery holds up, I’ll be indulging in a second movie now that the sun has set over the Greek mountains.

The Great EU Quest: Greece – The Acropolis!

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 20/28

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I am finally crossing off Greece from the list of EU countries to visit. This really feels like the last truly major country to tick off the list and what a better way to cross it off officially than by visiting one of the major ancient wonders… more on that later.

Country: Greece
Year first visited: 2018

Getting to the apartment last night was a bit of a misadventure as a mixture of plane delays and broken ticket machines meant that we didn’t get in until gone 11. Thankfully the bed was comfortable and our temporary digs are exactly what we hoped for. It’s also cool that each apartment takes a name from a Greek god, ours being Dionysus.

Due to our late arrival, we didn’t get up until about 9 (which for me on a holiday is rather late) and we made the decision to skip breakfast in order to get a start on the day. Of course the hundreds of local Athenians we came across doing a cancer run got a better start on the day than us. Oh well.

Since our apartment is about 30 minutes walk from the Acropolis we opted to walk there so that we could start to get to know Athens just that bit better. On the way we passed an interesting landmark: the stadium that hosted the visit modern Olympic Games in 1896. Pretty cool to come across this just as an extra site! I had to photograph it later in the evening due to the sun being right overhead.

A short hop from there was the first (of many) ancient sites of the day: the Olympieion. Back in the day this was a tall temple to Zeus, but now all that remains is 15 standing columns and 1 collapsed one. It really worked to see this first thing as we could still marvel at the height and not be spoilt by what is to come.

The Olympieion area also features Hadrian’s Gate which marks the then boundary between Ancient Greek Athens and Roman Athens. It’s amazing just how intact this particular gate. Also, if you stand in the right place, it provides a perfect frame for the Acropolis in the distance – our next destination.

We got a tip online that if you want shorter queues to get into the Acropolis area not only should you pre-buy your tickets online, but go to the South-Eastern entrance. Most people tend to go to the western entrance as it is the more direct route to the Acropolis itself, but with the entrance we chose there was plenty of shrines and other ruins to see on our way up.

The big one to see is the theatre of Dionysus, whose area spans a lot more than you would first think. The ruins of the theatre is a real mixed bag. Some of it is amazingly preserved whereas others are completely missing. Still, it gave us a cool chance to take a seat in a proper Ancient Greek theatre – something that we will be doing again in a few days time… where I hopefully won’t regret not packing a cushion.

After weaving in and around a number of ruins it was time for us to hit the big ticket item itself: the Acropolis itself.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 81/100Sight: Acropolis
Location: Athens, Greece
Position: #28

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the Acropolis is the whole area at the top of rocky outcrop. The major part of this is the Parthenon, but other ruins (including the incredibly well preserved ‘Old Temple’ to Athena) can be found up here. Also feral cats, but those really are everywhere in Athens.

The weird thing about seeing the Parthenon for the first time is just how hard it is to process what you are being confronted with. Most of the times you see it in pictures you are seeing a zoom in from a nearby hill or the picture is being taken at a distance from a helicopter. Up close, it’s just difficult to parse the scale of the whole thing.

To allow the brain it’s time to process (and to get out of the way of some big tour groups) we went down to the ‘Old Temple’ to Athena (so-called because it predates he Parthenon as a place to worship Athena). It’s a bit of a marvel that is incredibly well preserved and has some interesting building quirks. This is a place that had to be built around a crack in the floor said to be where Poseidon struck the ground with his trident, the original olive tree as planted by Athena, the burial place of a mythic king and a substantial slope.

After this we still couldn’t quite process the Parthenon… so we climbed up a platform on the eastern edge of the Acropolis to take in some great views of the city (including a bird’s eye view of the Olympieion). I think it was the point where we turned around to face the Parthenon once again that it really hit us that we were here.

The Parthenon itself is truly vast. I can only imagine how it would have been to see this before most of it was devoured by the explosion in the 1600s. It will also be interesting to see how it will end up looking after the restoration work has been completed – although this really does feel like a project that will never be truly finished.

We ended up walking around the Parthenon itself two times to try and soaking he ambience as well as we could. It also afforded me the perfect opportunity to take a bunch of photos before we made our way back down the slope. I cannot over emphasise the number of great views that you get from up in the Acropolis – I can only imagine what it must be like to be there when it’s all lit up at night.

After finishing our descent it really was time for some lunch, and what could be more Greek than gyros! I feel that there is this big list of Greek food that I want it try authentic versions of whilst I am here – gyros being the top of that list equal to some proper feta cheese. We appeared to be the only people eating a meal of this size, but then again we had missed breakfast and (more importantly) who cares.

Next to the Acropolis’ slopes is the Acropolis museum – a newly built museum that houses all the findings from the Acropolis area as well as a lot of the original sculptures. However, before getting into that, we went around a temporary exhibition about Emperor Qianlong from China. This did serve as a bit of a palate cleanser for what was to come.

Sadly there is no camera policy in the vast majority of the Acropolis museum, so I’ll be brief. The sheer number of recovered statues and relics is truly overwhelming. There is so much that it makes you wonder just how much did not survive. Some of the best pieces are actually pre-Parthenon pieces that survived a massive act of arson by the Persian army. Some of these pieces still have visible paint on them!

The elephant in the room if the Acropolis museum are the missing marble pieces that are currently sat in the British museum. Being a Brit, it’s interesting to hear the Greek side of the story – especially as they characterise Elgin as essentially being an upper class pirate. Who knows if this will ever be fully resolved to the satisfaction of both sides.

It was pretty late in the afternoon when we left the museum, so we had to prioritise some sites from our Archaeological Sites of Athens ticket (with the rest to be done in a few days). We made our way down a lovely promenade and some really touristy ships to the Roman Agora.

There isn’t too much to this as most of the area compared to everything we’d seen previously, but it still had some columns and a gate intact. Also, and most interesting of all, the old observatory is nearly perfectly preserved. It really does help if a building has been buried for a long time.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Salep Ice Cream
Progress: 753/1001

We had a bit of a walk between the Roman Agora and our final site of the day. A walk which took us down some busy shopping streets and gave us the chance to cross off some ice cream. Salep ice cream has a number of names, which has made the hunt confusing. The Turks call it dondurma and the Greeks call it kaimaki. If I did not know this piece of information, I would never have found it today. The key feature of this ice cream is texture, which is like regular ice cream infused with an almost marshmallow-like stretch and chew. I really did like this ice cream and it makes me want to see if they have different flavours elsewhere.

So we ended the day at the Lykeion, which was the most far flung of the sites on our ticket. It is also the flattest as pretty much nothing behind the foundations have survived to this day. We didn’t get a whole lot of time here as it was 20 minutes before closing, but we probably got as much out of it as we could. Still interesting to beamong history, even if it wasn’t entirely visible.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Loukanika
Progress: 754/1001

For dinner, I found a place just around the corner from the apartment called Katsourbos. It was pretty high on Tripadvisor and apparently specialised in Cretan food. I guess that this sausage, which is meant to found all over Greece, can also be found there. Now, I have had a lot of different sausages for this food list, but this Greek sausage (smoked and flavoured with honey, herbs and citrus) is truly something else. Sure is nicer than both of the sausages from the French box and it gives the Cumberland sausage a run for its money. Something tells me this will not be the only time I eat this before I leave Greece.

My main was liver with skin-on fries and a honey-balsamic sauce. I didn’t get this for the liver, I got this because the sauce sounded really interesting. Man, this really was a great sauce. I hope that I’ll find a recipe to replicate this as it feels like of those that could go well with a lot of different foods.

I probably should have finished writing up hours ago as it is an early start tomorrow. How early, well we need to incorporate a 5 hour train ride. Wish me luck!

Freiburg & Forests: Day 4 – The Black Forest

Right, so the whole reason we came to Freiburg in the first place was to visit the Black Forest. My husband went through my list to see what we could hit up I’ve the August bank holiday weekend and this was his top pick (he really wanted to go walk in some nature). We had a bit of a (rainy) taste of it yesterday as we walked up Schlossberg, but today’s hikes were a bit more of what we were after.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 80/100Sight: The Black Forest
Location: South West Germany
Position: #458

Half an hour from Freiburg (by tram and bus) is a mountain in the Black Forest called Schauinsland. This was going to be our hiking playground for the day. To get up there we used the Schauinslandbahn – which is not only the longest cable car in journey but this was the first circulating cable car ever built. The journey is meant to take about 20 minutes (although it feels shorter) and takes you to 1294 metres above sea level.

There are a lot of hiking routes that can be done on and around this mountain, we decided to do the two medium difficulty hikes that added up to 13 kilometres, with a fair bit of ascending and descending. Rather than give a play by play of the walks, I figured it would be worth going over some highlights.

The first walk we did (titled as Hike 3) was about 8.8 km long and took us 3 and a half hours to complete. Early into the walk I had to keep stopping because of the recurring wow factor of the views. I took so may pictures in this first stretch of the walk compared to the rest of the day (probably because taking photos is the last thing you want to do when making a steep ascent or descent).

For this hike we were mostly in the open fields, which allowed for lots of beautiful panoramic views and a number of animal sightings. Well, we mostly saw cows (and they were glorious), but we also saw some birds of prey (I think they were red kites) soaring through the sky and making good use of the updrafts.

This hike took us past a number of hotels and guesthouse sand we were able to resist… for the first two hours. It was just after lunchtime by the time we got to the final one and we really felt the need for a snack, so I finally got to try some Flammkuchen – in the German mountains no less.

We probably should have taken more of a break between the two hikes because the second one we did (known as Hike 2) felt a lot more difficult than the first one, despite being less than half the length at 4.2km long. Maybe this was was because this was a lot steeper than the first one and that there were fewer opportunities for extended breaks… yes that’s probably it.

This hike was far more in the trees, although that did not prevent us from seeing more cows and the occasional goats. Being more in the shade meant that despite the sun being out and being quite hot, it was pretty damned cold.

Whilst there weren’t as many opportunities to have an extended sit, there were some interesting landmarks such as a small mining museum, a 400 year old house and a memorial to some English Boy Scouts who died of exhaustion on the mountain in 1936. The latter landmark is pretty interesting as it was a way that the ruling Nazi party tried to ingratiate themselves with the UK.

The highlight of the walk is right at the end when you arrive at observation tower and, with legs like wet noodles, get to the top platform that puts you at 1302 metres high. It was ruddy cold up there, but you just to let the many different views all soak in. It also served as a reminder of how near the borders Freiburg is as, on one side of the tower, you can see the Swiss Alps in the distance.

We were up on the Schauinsland for hours, but we couldn’t walk for much longer and so at the end of the second hike we made our way back to Freiburg. Sadly, because it was Sunday, there was no chance for some last minute purchases of Mezzo Mix to bring back to the UK. It did, however expedite outer search for dinner.

Right so this wasn’t the best meal we had this holiday. The soup dumplings were really delicious, but the soup itself was quite oily (and that did not sit well with my stomach). For a main, I tried sauerbraten for the first time. It came with spatzle, which really appears to be a theme for the dinners of this holiday. I really enjoyed the sauce that this came in (and therefore dredged the spatzle in as much sauce as possible), which makes me wonder if this is something that could be a pick for Germany when doing my food challenge.

As tomorrow is a ‘crack of dawn’ flight, there’ll be no real point in me doing any sort of write-up. It’s been a nice little break here in Freiburg and definitely one with a lot of variety over the three full days. Could have done with one more to check out the open air zoo, but other than that this worked out well.

I’m really pleased to say that it won’t be long until I am back in the air again to see more things outside of my native UK. Still, until then, there’s always time to make plans and fantasise about future getaways.

Christmas in Munich – Day 1: Palaces of Ludwig

It’s been 13 years, but I’ve finally gone back to my roots and am spending some time in Germany. This will be my fourth time visiting as well as being my fourth time in Munich. Why Munich? Well it’s December and that means one thing: Christmas markets!

More on that later. We arrived late on a Saturday night which meant an early night because, on our first full day, we were doing a palace tour. Why am I mentioning this? Well, I had the weird pleasure of satisfying a goal of being the first person to walk onto a plane. I know it sounds bizarre, but seeing the plane completely empty with my being the first to board made me feel incredibly important.

List item: Be the first person to board a plane
Status: Completed

Anyway, onto more interesting things.


The older I get, the happier I am to do tours. As a bit of a control freak in my everyday life there is something soothing about having an entire day sorted for me. Of course this meant an early start (5:30 when adjusted to British time) so we could get onto the coach.

So there’s me bringing a bunch of things for entertainment for these long coach stretches and then I see it: snow. When we booked ourselves onto this tour of the palaces of Ludwig II, I really hoped there would be a bit of snow for the sake of pictures and atmosphere. I did not expect to be greeted with forests and mountains covered in a blanket of snow.

If seeing this from the coach window didn’t make me feel Christmassy enough, getting out at Linderhof, and feeling that first crunch of snow beneath my feet, was just something else. Then came the walk from the parking lot to the palace itself. Bright sunshine, glistening snow and a whole lot of crunching.

With this visit to Linderhof I have now visited the three palaces of King Ludwig II (the first I visited being Herrenchiemsee back in 1999). Interestingly, Linderhof is the only of his three palaces that ended up being completed and actually lived in by the king. Sadly the grotto and the fountain of Neptune were under restoration work, but we still had a tour inside.

Since no pictures are allowed to be taken I’m going to move on to our next stop after a few thoughts: I want a gilded peacock statue, this may be one of the most consistently ornate palaces I have ever seen and I don’t think I have ever seen so many vases in my life.

After Linderhof was a quick hop to the village of Oberammergau – most famous for their tradition of holding 6-hour long passion plays. It’s also well known for having buildings painted with Germanic frescoes and traditional woodcarvings.

It’s definitely a beautiful village to walk though, and that’s all we could really do. You see, today was the first Sunday in Aadvent… meaning that nothing was open except for cafes and restaurants. I mean there was a weird wood carving place open… but they were selling very offputting crafts of babies for €60 so I kinda want to leave it at that.

From Oberammergau it was time to head to the village of Hohenschwangau – the home of Neuschwanstein Castle. This is my second time here, but my first time inside the actual caste. At least I don’t think I went into the castle 16 years ago. I honestly cannot remember… so let’s just go with this being my first time.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 73/100Sight: Schloss Neuschwanstein
Location: Hohenschwangau, Germany
Position: #159

The walk from the Hohenschwangau to Neuschwanstein should take around half an hour, but that doesn’t take into account just how often we stopped to take pictures. At this point we must have taken nearly 100 pictures of various views of the castle. Kinda wish I was kidding, but the castle is just that magnetic. Little wonder that it is one of the big inspirations for the castle in Disneyland.

As you get higher up the mountain, you also find yourself starting to peak above some of the tree line. With the entire landscape covered in snow, this view you get from near Neuschwanstein is just out of this world. Like something I can imagine Bob Ross painting, just with less mountains.

As with Linderhof there is no pictures allowed inside of Neuschwanstein itself. Considering the number of people that we were being herded around with this makes a lot of sense on the level of just getting people in and out. Still, it’s a pity I couldn’t get anything of the inside. Makes me wish that Google Glass had taken off and been more affordable. There’s so much in both of these castles that I didn’t really get the opportunity to completely digest – like the little grotto room in Neuschwanstein that seemed to make no sense other than being pretty.

The fact that there is so much in Neuschwanstein to see and yet it remains unfinished is absolutely mind-boggling. Then again, there was no way that Ludwig could complete this due to the extreme cost. Same with Herrenchiemsee, another of his unfinished palaces. To think that a man like Ludwig could be so out of touch with reality and had a high enough of a position to actually carry out his fantasies probably goes a long way to explain why few countries have a monarchy. Still, makes for some excellent landmarks.

This was the end of the tour and meant a two hour ride back to Munich. En route we caught a glimpse of a blood red supermoon and it started to snow. King Ludwig would have really been in his element tonight. I only wish I was sitting on the right side of the coach in order to capture this scene on film.

On our way back to the hotel we took out first proper browse through the Munich Christmas Market. Whilst it isn’t as large as the one in Vienna, this holds a special place in my heart because it’s the first one I ever visited.

The falling snow made the walk home so special that I was feeling giddy (or that might have been the hot chocolate). This isn’t the clumpy snow we get in the UK, but proper beautiful powder snow that crunches beneath your feet as you walk through the street.

I’m sure we’ll have a proper go at the market in the next few days when we are less tired from a long day being guided around. I’ve seen a few decorations that I want to purchase, but I’m going to just see where the days take me.

The Great EU Quest: Estonia – The Old Town

Oh man after minimal sleep there was a well deserved lie in today. Aside from a rather weird pillow that kept re-inflating itself as you got comfortable this bed at the Palace Hotell in Tallinn is one of the most comfortable I’ve ever slept in.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 70/100Sight: Tallinn Old Town
Location: Tallinn, Estonia
Position: #112

So today is the day that we properly covered the Old Town. There are still places like St Nicolas Church, the KGB museum and Kiek in de Kök to check out but that’s what the final full day is for.

One thing that continues to completely astound me about the Tallinn Old Town is just how well preserved it is. A huge proportion of the city wall is still intact in some shape or form and there are gates and towers that still survive to this day. Similarly, it would appear that the Tallinn Town Hall is 600-700 years old and is the oldest hall of its type in Northern Europe. Just, wow.


As a nice link with my trip to Vilnius, we first sought out the plaque symbolising the northernmost point of the ‘Baltic Way’ – a protest in 1989 where over 1 million citizens of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania formed a human chain through their capitals. As of now I have now stood at both ends of the chain. I guess I’ll need to find out if there is a similar commemoration in Riga when I end up visiting.

After this we were originally headed for the walkable section of the city walls… but being the eager beavers that we are we got there s bit before they opened. So we instead headed for Toompea (a small hill within the old town that overlooks everything). It is here that you can find the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and Toompea Castle.


I say Toompea Castle, but this is not a castle as we had expected. Instead, what we have today is the very pink Estonian parliamentary building that has been build into some of the surviving castle walls and towers. The tallest tower has the beautiful Estonian flag hanging from the top. Yes, I am still enamoured with this flag and I have already bought a number of souvenirs containing the flag.

So from here we mooched around Toompea for a while. Getting lost in the winding streets and pastel buildings whilst entering way too many souvenir shops. Some embassies are up on Toompea including those of Ireland, Canada and the Netherlands. honestly, I cannot fault any nation that managed to snag a spot on Toompea, this is where you can get some beautiful views.


Such as this one. From up here you can really appreciate just how close the sea is, which goes a long way towards explaining all the cruise ship holidaymakers you see roaming the streets of Tallinn in large groups.

By the time we were done with Toompea a drink was in order for whatever reason we decided to go to the cafe built into the walls around the Danish King’s Garden. Oh my god the steepness and winding of the the stairs. It’s shameful to admit just how much my knees ached after climbing up these and I very much deserved a slice of apple pie.

We eventually made our way back to the walkable walls and took a walk along them. It isn’t a long walk despite the length of walls that are still around, but I guess not enough of them are connected or stable enough to allow a longer walkway. The people of York really should count themselves lucky there.


From this vantage point of the walls it is clear that the Estonians are very proud of their city and all the buildings within it. Honestly I can’t blame them. I have yet to go too far into their more recent history, but if it’s anything like what the people of Lithuania went through then they deserve every inch of national pride.

We dipped into a beautifully decorated Russian Orthodox church (that sadly didn’t allow any pictures, but trust me it was beautiful with its starry ceiling and gilded iconography) before venturing outside the city walls. You see, tomorrow we booked a trip on a ferry across the Gulf of Finland to visit Helsinki – so we did a hint of reconnaissance to try and find the port.


I knew that Tallinn is close to the sea, but I had never realised just how close. It’s not a beach city like many others, but there’s something about being close to the sea that just adds to a city.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Food item: Zander
Progress: 647/751

Dinner time! With the sun setting around 10pm it does feel weird to be having dinner in complete daylight.

Thanks to a happy coincidence after walking through St Catherine’s Passage I managed to find a restaurant that served zander! For the uninitiated this is a fish that is related to perch and is also known by the name pike-perch.

Honestly, I was expecting something a bit plainer for some reason. They way that the good people of Munga Kelda prepared this (pan fried with salt, pepper and dill before adding a bit of cheese on top) was absolutely gorgeous.

I guess I would say that The taste of the fish is the fish version of gamy. You can also tell from the taste how this is a predator fish like pike and black scabbardfish. Still, it’s a white fleshed fish with larger flakes than the scabbardfish.

So yes, that the first full day done. Early start tomorrow to catch an 8am ferry over to Helsinki. I’m really excited about visiting Finland… hopefully I don’t spend too much on weird souvenirs and squeaky cheese.

The Great EU Quest: Spain – Figueres

For our final day in Spain we ventured out of the city of Barcelona towards the town of Figueres some 70+ miles away. We booked tickets on the highspeed train so the journey only took 55 minutes each way (regular trains take 2.5 hours, so this was a no brainer).

Breakfast was a feast after we confused the server at the train station’s sandwich kiosk… being the English person I am I felt that I would rather pay the extra 4€ than make a fuss at there being an extra sandwich. The sandwich I asked for (which was Spanish omelette) was perfect for breakfast and has inspired me to make my own when I am back in the UK.

So, why did we go to Figueres in the first place? Well…

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 69/100Sight: Teatre-Museu Dalí
Location: Figueres, Spain
Position: #361

 

It’s the home of the Dalí Theatre and Museum. The final Lonely Planet check of this trip and something of genuine interest. I remember back when there was the Dalí Experience in London and have since enjoyed seeing anything of his that I come across. Even his sketches and lesser known pieces are inherently interesting because of the surreal nature of things.

So it’s little wonder that this museum was incredibly interesting. The only issue was the abundance of tour groups. Mostly school groups. It just meant that, at times, it was hard to navigate around the narrow corridors of the museum or get a good view of all the artworks.

Still, that didn’t overly detract from the unique experience that having so much Dalí in one place affords. I mean where else can you have an entire room with furniture set up to show the face of Mae West if you see it from the right angle?

How about corridors filled with paintings of rocks that look like naked women, gilded money skeletons and busts crowned with bread? It’s a truly unique experience that I would recommend – just make sure to seek out Galatea of the Spheres. It’s a great painting that few people were paying attention to… which is a shame.

So, what do you do after all that? Well, we decided to go on a bit of trek to the Sant Ferran Castle. The museum of antique typewriters wasn’t quite tempting enough.

For a reasonable price (and some collateral) you can get access to the castle with its free audio guide. The audio guide is a brick where you need to press play and pause (because it is one continuous track) and actually speaks to you out loud rather than through earphones. Honestly, it all felt rather comical as images of groups of tourists with different guides all playing at the same time immediately sprang to mind. What an awful cacophony that must be.

I say must be because we were the only tourists there at the time. Other than people who actually worked at the castle we were on our own. This castle is massive and is, at least according to the guide, the biggest fortress of its kind in Europe.

Vast and empty. So it felt like we were playing a sandbox version of Uncharted with the audio guide acting as director’s commentary. We clambered up the parapets, observed the plains from high vantage points – which reminds me:

List item: Visit a Spanish plain to see if it rains there
Status: Completed

 

I think what we had was a pretty unique experience that others who come to the fortress in the summer time wouldn’t have. I mean, this is a site that was only in the triple figures for Facebook check-ins. I would find it hard to recommend this enough should you fine yourself in the Figueres area. The free audio guide alone (the interesting information, not the comical size) would be enough. The ability to explore in isolation is a bonus.

We still had a few hours left until our return train to Barcelona, so we figured it was time for lunch. It’s the first time I have ever had someone make fideua for me… And I have to say that I prefer the one I make more. Not just because of the fiddly shelling of prawns, but because I put chorizo in mine. It may not be as authentic as the one we had… but sometimes authenticity needs to give way if something tastes better.

Our final moments in Figueres were spent in the jewels section of the Dalí museum. Originally we were going to give this a miss because it didn’t sound as interesting, but boy were we wrong. I never realised just how much he did in the way of jewellery design.

So many of the pieces were exceptional. Some of them were able to move, including a beating heart of rubies within a golden casing. My favourites are the two pictured above: an elephant with a giant crystal on its back and a lapis eye that can be used to tell time. Truly this man was an amazing talent. I always felt this, but now I definitely know it.

An hour or so later and we were back in Barcelona. We took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe area of the city, just because it can be nice too see what remnants are left over from World Fairs. I mean, sure, this is no Eiffel Tower but this promenade has its own calming charms.

From here we, finally, managed to gain admittance to the Santa Maria del Mar. We tried a few days earlier, but it was during the 2-3 hour where you needed to pay and we didn’t see the point. So glad that we were able to get in for free as it was mighty impressive on the inside.

It was never going to beat the Sagrada Familia, but looking at the columns and ceiling work it feels like Gaudí might have got at least some inspiration from here. Even if it was the number and thinness of the columns used to support the structure. On the who it felt very pure and uncluttered… something I know Gaudí would have appreciated.

So here I am now. We polished off a dinner of paella and chocolate covered churros and now it it time to pack for the flight tomorrow afternoon. Thanks to EU customs I have 6 food list items that will be coming home with me and will likely become their own blog post incredibly soon.

I wish that we didn’t have to leave here so soon, but that’s the issue with not spending a full week somewhere. Somehow I doubt it will take another 27 years before I am back in Spain. Already the precursors of itineraries are springing up in my head – so maybe I’ll be visiting Grenada, Madrid or Seville at some point in the near future. I hope so.

The Great EU Quest: Spain – Sagrada Familia Day

For me it feels like the sites of today share the similar theme of different forms of worship. It’s a bit of a tenuous link, but one I think can apply to the first three things saw today.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 67/100Sight: Sagrada Familia
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Position: #16

How do I start talking about the Sagrada Familia? I mean this is something that is the definition of breathtaking and the damned thing isn’t even finished yet. 9-10 years until completion and its construction has taken the work of generations of architects, planners and builders.

The outside of the church is amazing enough. It’s absolutely massive and the tallest towers are nowhere near completion yet. Hell, only two of the three facades are nearly done – the other just looked it had barely been started.

The sheer level of detail on the facades themselves are incredible. At the moment we can see those dedicated to the nativity and the crucifixion (the third and final facade is still under construction as of writing this). They completely contrast with the other – the nativity side being more exuberant with its carvings of animals and beautifully designed leaf doors.

It’s things like the incredibly ornate doors and the cryptogram on the side of the passion facade that show just huge this project is. With most of the original designs lost due in a fire started by rioting citizens the design and building of the Sagrada Familia really has become a group effort. Oh and this is all just the outside.

That first time I stepped into the basilica itself was literally breathtaking. I just stood there covered in goosebumps and had to take a minute to register as much as I could. If I believed in that sort of thing I guess it would be called a ‘religious experience’, but for me I’ll just say that I was incredibly overwhelmed by the beauty.

Because of the vastness of the interior it is impossible to find one picture that truly showcases what it looks like. It doesn’t help that, thanks to Gaudí’s amazing use of light, the colour inside the basilica changes throughout the day.

Why? Because of the stained glass windows. The colours and positioning of the windows have been done for maximum effect – cooler colours on one side and warmer shades on the other. When we were inside there was a lot of light coming from the warmer windows which gave the space above the alter a soft golden glow.

To be honest, I did not want to leave. I wanted to just stay inside and keep exploring the nuances in Gaudí’s design. Like how the columns were all slightly different in colour and ridging. The jewelled names of the Evangelists. The long list of names that can be found within the windows themselves. Just wow. I now know what a real life version of the stone forest of Nausicaa looks like – and I know I have to come back when it is complete.

Alas, we still had many things to see so it was goodbye and onto the second place of worship some 9 stops away on the Barcelona Metro – which I want to pay a massive compliment to. We bought a 10 trip ticket and that’s really going to see us through the whole trip.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 68/100Sight: Camp Nou
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Position: #470

So yes, when I said worship I don’t think I was too out of order to put football under that umbrella. Under the insistence of the guide we went to visit Camp Nou. I drew the line at the the 25€ to do the tour since I have no interest in football. I know it’s a bit of a cop out, but that’s expensive for something you don’t really want to do.

Still, that’s another Lonely Planet site ticked off… just not one that I found too interesting.

So, hitched another ride on the Metro and got off at the southern end of La Rambla – but first we took a turn around the marina, because why not. I keep forgetting that this is a seaside city. I had colleagues telling me to go to the beach, which I didn’t do because I have no real interest in beaches. I do love the water though, even if this was a wee bit cluttered by all the port buildings.

We eventually made it up La Rambla and into what would best be described as my place of worship: the food market. In this instance La Boqueria. It’s not as big as Borough Market or Tsukiji Fish Market, but it was so interesting to look around the place!

Sadly I fell short of my aim to find a place that sold fried bull testicles (or criadillas), so I guess I’ll have to wait for another trip to Spain before crossing that food item off the list. Still, I managed to purchase some list chorizo and cheese that I need to somehow get back to London in one piece. The list of food items that I am bringing back to the UK just keeps on growing.

After a short rest in the hotel room we were back on the road, well the metro, funicular and cable car, but you know what I mean. Our final destination was Montjuïc Castle so we could get some good views over the city.

The first thing that struck me was a weird smell that was very much like the smell of cooking Heinz Spaghetti Hoops. I guess there was a restaurant nearby and the wind was in the right direction? Or maybe a tomato field was on fire? I have no idea, but what I DO know is how gratifying it is to still qualify as a reduced fee for some of these Barcelona attractions.

This is possibly the best view you can get of the city of Barcelona. The seagulls appear to really appreciate it as they circle above the sea-facing parts of the castle. Be careful of their divebombing – the hub had a misadventure with one of them crapping very near him and just clipping his forearm. Gross.

We walked down the mountain, taking in the views of Barcelona on the way down and coming across the famous site where the Olympic diving competitions took place 25 years ago. I completely get how those fantastic pictures were taken now of those divers with the city skyline in the background.

Dinner was another tapas affair – this time at Cerveceria Catalana. I mention this restaurant by name because the food here was beautiful. We ordered 7 different dishes and the bill still came out to under 40€. Some highlights were the fried artichokes, the Spanish omelette and goats cheese with escalivada (that last one was the hub’s pick, and the boy did well there).

So yea, I really think we should have been here for longer. I mean, Barcelona is one of THE cities in Europe and we only had two full day to explore it. Still, we sure made the most of it. For our final day in Spain we are venturing to the nearby town of Figueres to take in the Dalí museum. Bit nervous about this considering the Picasso Museu yesterday… but I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

The Great EU Quest: Spain – Gaudí and Barcelona

So here we are with the first of two full days in Barcelona, or should I say Gaudíville considering how much of his handiwork I will end up seeing and just how in love this city appears to be with its native son.

The first stop of the day was the Casa Battló (although I really do prefer the nickname ‘house of bones’ considering the balconies look like jawbones and vertebrae. I’ve been inside a lot of residences when in vacation, but I don’t think that I have seen or will ever see anything like this ever again. It is extraordinary, with plenty of kudos going to go the people who now run this as the augmented reality audio tour helped bring this sublime house to life.

It’s hard to adequately describe this building. Many people have tried, but I guess the best way would be that this house feels alive. The flying turtles of the guide might have helped with that… but so much of this house was utterly astonishing. Not only is this house a masterpiece on an artistic level, but it was made to be incredibly liveable with innovative and practical solutions for light and temperature regulation.

The chimneys and flourishes on the roof were another thing altogether, but I think I have spent long enough on Casa Battló – after all this isn’t the only Gaudí build that we saw today.

So off we went on our first trip on the Barcelona Metro to visit Park Güell… where we had no idea of the steep walk that was awaiting us. Whilst I would have made it up the hill without the use of escalators, I was very appreciative of their existence.

I was also appreciative of some of the views of Barcelona that we managed to get from the top of this mountain. I know that I saw the Sagrada Familia from the airplane as it started in its descent, but it still shocks me just how much this basilica in construction dominates the Barcelona landscape. I just cannot wait until we pay it a visit tomorrow.

Park Güell is one of those things I might not have gone straight for if it wasn’t for Yuri!!! On Ice. Sad but true. There was a pretty sweet scene in the show with Yurio and the Kazakh skater, which made me want to check out the Monument Park section. It wasn’t exactly the most representative of the crowds that gather there, but hoards of tourists would have spoilt the mood.

Speaking of hoards, it really was a good thing I booked the tickets to the Monument Zone in advance. By the time we got there the only tickets left were for the final window some 5-6 hours later. After the problems we had getting into the Anne Frank Huis I think I have well and truly learned my lesson about pre-booking certain attractions.

Some of the stuff that Gaudí planned and executed for this park are worthy of many a roll of film. A lot of photos were taken of the iconic staircases and the open theatre sections. I, however, heavily fell for some of the rockwork in the free section of the park. It’s extraordinary to see how he was able to use the contours of the mountain to then advantage of his work. It just feels like the mountain has chosen to sprout this terrace with its walkways, vaulted ceilings and twisted columns. Just amazing.

Sadly it was time to say goodbye to Gaudí, at least for the moment, and go for lunch. Nothing major, just some really nice sandwiches from a cafe en route to the metro station. The botifarra blanca sandwich was my favourite of the two – sadly it isn’t the botifarra dolca from the food list, but I know of a butcher that sells this and is next open on our final day in Spain… so watch this space I guess.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 66/100Sight: Museu Picasso
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Position: #371

Our last main site of the day was the Museu Picasso. Finally, a Lonely Planet thing to be ticked off! Now, considering this is on the list and Casa Battló is not, I was very disappointed.

I think the problem is that in order to have a museum dedicated to a particular artist you really need to have some of the major masterpieces. Especially if you are going to rate it among the top 500 world sites to be visited. I mean, sure the Van Gogh museum didn’t have all of them, but there were so many in that museum to make it an extremely worthwhile visit.

However, there is nothing here that I recognised. Also, which was rather telling, this museum appeared to be missing works from 10-20 years of Picasso’s life. This was the time where he painted things like Guernica, The Weeping Woman or (my favourite) Three Musicians. It was interesting to see just how talented he was as a painter from an incredibly young age… but much like some of the works on display, this museum feels a bit unfinished.

We did a bit of wandering until ultimately heading back to the hotel. Seeing how it was both Sunday and Father’s Day a lot of things were closed. Not the Ham Museum though. As tempting as it was our feet were aching and some pre-dinner chilling was needed.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

Food item: Cadi Butter

Hooray! I can tick off a food list item. It was one of those I was really hoping to find as well. You cannot get this in the UK and this now leaves me with just one butter to find. Sadly it’s Russian butter and whilst I would love to try that… I know I won’t be exactly welcome.

Cadi butter is pale and highly spreadable. Compared to other butters I have tried the flavour fairly muted. It’s nowhere near as creamy and doesn’t have as intense a flavour profile as I am used to. It’s really nice on a Tuc biscuit as the butter is unsalted and the salt on the Tuc gives it that extra punch. So yes, this needs salt.

Dinner ended up being just off La Rambla (a proper shifty will be done tomorrow) because literally no restaurant on that street scores higher than 2.5-3/5 on Trip Advisor. I mean I know tourist traps are a thing, but this is ridiculous.

Still, we were directed to a restaurant where we had our first authentic paella.

Food item: Fasolia Gigandes

Two in one day. Phew. You can’t see the beans from the picture. But they were most certainly there buried among some of the best tasting paella I’ve ever had. Apparently this restaurant is known for having good paella, so who am I to disagree. According to the menu this was a Valencian paella, which means I probably just ate my first rabbit meat.

So yes, some hazelnut gelato later and I am sat in the hotel typing up the day. I am really looking forward to what I will be seeing tomorrow morning. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some half decent pictures!

Progress: 631/751