El Jefe De Jefes: The Humble Tortilla Española

Wait, I thought this was a travel blog?!’ I hear you ask yourself. Well, that it is. But since the cuisine of a place is so inextricably linked to its culture, I may as well take the liberty of justifying my culinary adventures (or misadventures for that matter) experienced during my travels, into this humble blog of mine. And experiencing a country’s cuisine is another way of travelling to that country, wouldn’t you agree?

I really should have written this post a long time ago. Given that I am a foodie, I’m surprised that it has taken me so long to actually attempt Spanish cooking at home. I do blame the Spanish bar culture though- these ubiquitous social caves where going in is often way easier than coming out; where unpretentious food, local drinks and loud conversations seamlessly merge into a good few hours of relaxed fun. It’s here that I first encountered the humble tortilla Española, or the Spanish omelette. And so began my love affair: with Spanish bars, with Spanish cuisine and with the tortilla itself.

You can’t come to Spain and not come across this dish, for it is indeed everywhere; even sold in rather unappealing plastic packaging across various supermarkets. The local bars make it the best though, fresh off the pan. You’ll be given a piece as a ‘tapa’ (bite-sized snack) with your drink, and if it’s been made correctly, with the first bite itself you’ll enter into food heaven. Having only three main ingredients: eggs, potatoes and onion, it is of an appealing yellow colour, firm on the outside and slightly runny on the inside (although it tastes just as good if you fully cook it through). This is just such a simple and comforting dish- and it really embodies the main principles of Spanish cuisine: using the freshest possible ingredients and letting them be stars of the show, whilst leaving out all the strong spices and condiments (Yikes! goes my Indian soul).

If you are itching to try something new in your kitchen because the current quarantine has inspired your inner MasterChef, keep reading my post and you won’t be disappointed 😉 Like many Spanish recipes, this one is meant to be shared and will serve four people.

Ingredients (for a small tortilla Española)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Half an onion (Spanish people fall squarely into two teams- one that prefers their tortilla with onion, and the other that prefers it without. And trust me, this rivalry is as big as Real Madrid vs Barça).
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 potatoes, small to medium sized
  • Salt
  • A small pan
    • It’s important that your pan is small in this case, because tortilla Española is quite thick in size, and if you use a medium or a large pan, then the egg mixture will tend to spread out.
Recipe
  • Chop the onion finely.
  • Cut the potatoes in quarters- extremely finely. This is important, otherwise the potatoes won’t cook very well.
The potato slices should be so thin that they should nearly be transparent.

This is where I will deviate from the original recipe in the interest of health, but I will write about both methods- the traditional and the not-so-traditional *cue Spanish protests*

Traditional method-

  • Heat a lot of oil in a wok, until it reaches its smoking point.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and fry the chopped onion first to caramelize them.
  • Once the onion is fried, take it out of the pan and chuck in the potatoes
  • Once the potatoes are fried, take them out and reserve the oil for later use.

My method-

  • Chuck the potatoes into a microwave-proof bowl, cover it with cling wrap and let it cook for 6 minutes in a 1000W microwave.
    • If you are unsure about the power input of your microwave, you can always pause it after 5 minutes and check how your potatoes are going.
    • They will be fully cooked when they will be quite soft.
Potatoes in
Potatoes out. 6 minutes; 1000W; and a little mashed afterwards.
  • Heat a little bit of oil in a pan and caramelize the chopped onion.
  • Once caramelised, remove it from the pan. Reserve the oil for later use.
  • Crack open the eggs in a large bowl and whisk them.
  • Add your potatoes and onions to the eggs and mix well. Add salt as per taste. Let the mixture rest for 15-ish minutes.
    • This is important to let the flavours mix well.
The final mixture should look something like this- THICK!
  • In a small pan, heat some oil
    • Make sure it’s a relatively generous amount- and not just coating the pan lightly. There needs to be some oil visible in the pan itself.
    • Confession time! This is where I failed. I didn’t add enough oil into my pan, and the bottom of my tortilla completely burnt. The rest of it was edible though, so you should be good as long as you have enough oil.
  • Once the pan is quite hot, chuck in the mixture and let it cook over medium heat.
Cooking in progress! Keep a steady eye on it!
  • Try moving the tortilla while it’s cooking by shaking the pan a little.
  • Check if the bottom and the sides are cooked by using a flat ladle to see if the tortilla comes off easily.
    • The top side will be undercooked and that’s okay- for now.

And now comes the trickiest step of the recipe– and is no less than doing acrobatics in my opinion. If done incorrectly, it has known to result in a very messy floor, a tortilla smashed beyond recognition, lots of tears and swearing.

  • Remove the pan from heat. Take a LARGE, FLAT plate and stick in on top of the pan. With a FIRM GRIP flip them over, so that the tortilla slides from the pan to the plate, with the top side now at the bottom.
    • Make sure you do the flipping in a quick motion and do it over the sink to avoid any mess, just in case. It helps if you have a small pan.
  • Now slide the tortilla back into the pan it came from.
  • Let it cook for a bit more- and that’s it!
How to do the perfect tortilla flip.
How NOT to do the tortilla flip.
The end result
Expectations. (The tortilla of my landlord- Ana)
Reality. (My tortilla 😦 First attempt though)

­­¡BUEN PROVECHO!

I’d love to know how it turned out for you guys! Do you have a different method of making this tortilla? If you’re not from Spain, do you have something similar in your countries- or maybe some other snack that is very typical? Let me know all this and more in the comments section, or through my IG- @navigating.without.borders 😊 

Cover photo: Tortilla de patatas, courtesy La Cocina de Frabisa

Quirky things about the Spaniards (Part 1)

It goes without saying that every country has a unique culture that is influenced by many factors, like its history, location and climate. As an expat, it can be very entertaining, and at times confusing, weaving your way through it as you try to make sense of everything new. You can do your research before moving, but nothing really prepares you fully until you set your foot in the new country- and of course, Spain is no different. These cultural differences have fascinated me so much that I decided to write about them. So, here are some things that I find quite quirky about the Spanish people.

OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: These are my own views and I’m in no way mocking the Spanish culture. Anyone who knows me well enough can bear witness that I’m obsessed with anything that is Spanish- I have my Instagram as evidence (follow me: @navigating.without.borders).
OK, here we go: 

They modify certain English words and chuck them in their sentences when speaking in Spanish.
Esmoquin hot. (Gerard Piqué, Spanish footballer) . Image courtesy: Pinterest

Sometimes it’s the meaning that’s modified, something it’s the spelling, but it comes across as rather funny to an English speaker. For eg:

  1. Footing (which actually means jogging)
  2. Tuit (tweet)
  3. Mosto Greip (which is a non-alcoholic grape drink)
  4. Esmoquin (pronounced as ‘esmokin’- a variation of ‘smoking’, which means a tuxedo..)
  5. Vater (pronounced as ‘water’, which means a bloody toilet!). I teach English to young 7- year olds here and imagine their faces when I told them in class one day ‘I like to drink water.’ HA!)
There is a certain aversion to following rules at times, like
  1. Not being too strict about picking up their dogs’ poo
  2. Trying to cut the queue
  3. Not waiting for the pedestrian sign before crossing the street

It does make you stick your head up whilst you’re out and about, rather than being glued to your phone to watch your 100th tik-tok video of the day.

This sign explains: Good luck is having a clean neighbourhood. Never took it seriously until I landed in some dog shit myself. ¡¡ME CAGO EN LA LECHE!! **swearing in Spanish**
Their profound desire to interact with humanity is what drives them from day to day:
It’s a skill guys, trust me.
  1. People ask you for directions instead of checking their google maps, although I think it’s because google maps doesn’t work very accurately at times in Spain.
  2. This one always warms my heart. People always ask you if you need help. The only exception: salespersons in retail and government officials! Those people really don’t want to have a conversation with you, which is a pain since those are exactly the people whose help you always end up requiring!
  3. You know what’s cooler than leaving text msgs on Whatsapp? Leaving voice messages! They do it as they need to express a lot and the addition of emotions is VERY important to a Spaniard.
  4. You will be subjected to conversations in a lift. There will come those glorious moments when no one will speak to you as cage yourself with strangers, but it is perfectly normal to greet each other, maybe even make small talk and not be awkward about it.
Every Spanish person has their ‘pueblo’ or village…

…which isn’t necessarily where they are from, but it’s basically where their family originated from. It’s also the place where some of them return to, every summer vacation, as some sort of an obligatory ritual.

Pueblo life
Spaniards have interesting naming traditions, such as:
  1. Nearly everyone having a nickname, and these nicknames are set in stone depending on their formal names. A José will always be known as Pepe to his friends and family, a Francisco is always a Paco, an Ignacio can never be anything BUT a Nacho where as good ol’ Dolores will be called Lola.
  2. The boys have the same names as their fathers’, who have the same names as their grandfathers’, who have the same name as their great- grand…you get the gist. I don’t know the history behind this lack of creativity, but it is something very common- and if you ask them if they add ‘Junior’/’Senior’ to differentiate, they roll their eyes saying ‘Of course, not! That’d just be lame.’ Ok then.
  3. People always have two last names. They use their father’s as well as the mother’s last name. Go gender equality!
‘Buenos días’ (good day/ good morning) is said right up until 2-3pm i.e. their lunchtime.
They smoke a lot.

And they might just blow it in your face accidentally and not apologise about it. I’ve always found it difficult to tolerate smoke, but now I’ve learnt to live with it. It just comes with the territory of siestas and fiestas.

And that’s it (for now lol)! There are plenty of other quirky and interesting things that I’ve noticed, and I’ll write about them soon. Are you a Spaniard or maybe an expat living in Spain? Which of these do you agree and disagree with? Do you have some quirky things from your culture that you would like to share? Let me know!

Cover photo: Viewpoint from Parque de la Alameda, Santiago de Compostela (Galicia).

6 things that I've learnt from the Spanish in 6 months

After moving to Spain in September 2019, here is a round-up of six Spanish values that I’ve learnt to incorporate in my life.

Keep calm and eat your jamon

Away from work, the emphasis in a Spaniard’s personal life is on slowing down and going with the flow. When hanging out with a group of people, you’ll never be given an exact time, or the venue might change last minute, or new people might join in. The dinner time might continue right up until 10pm on weekdays as families continue talking. When someone pushes into a really crowded escalator queue at a metro station, people barely lose their cool.

Observing this natural gravitation towards an easy pace, especially in personal life, and practising it myself has meant inviting a greater degree of tolerance and flexibility into my mind, which has ultimately led to a better control over my anxiety.

Every weeknight is a late night at Mercado de San Ildefonso in Malasaña, Madrid.
Focus on authenticity

Whether it is the women here wearing minimal makeup every day and embracing their natural selves, people being more expressive with their emotions or there being, in general, a strong focus on food that is less processed, I love how authenticity is such an innate part of the Spanish culture.

Observing all these Spanish habits has not only made me feel more comfortable about accepting my own self, but it has also made me look for authenticity in whatever I try to bring into my life- from people to consumables to experiences.

Quality over quantity

For the longest time, my formula for spending had been ‘the cheaper the better’. This meant being price obsessed and at times completely ignoring the quality, even if it was downright in shambles, or even a risk to my health. Whilst at times this has worked for me (*wink* K-Mart *wink*), many times I have simply wasted my money because that thing has completely fallen apart after literally being used twice. One habit of Spaniards that I have noted and implemented is to value quality over quantity, at least in terms of the items that I use very frequently. The initial upfront cost may be high, but because that item lasts for longer, the cost per use turns out to be negligible. Win-win.

Food without spices can be tasty (GASP!!)

Never though I’d say this, but yes, food without spices CAN be tasty. I have definitely learnt to harness the actual flavours of individual raw ingredients, instead letting the spice blends shine every single time. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my spices and use them very frequently, but I have also learnt to utilise different herbs, sauces and techniques, that have exponentially increased my culinary repertoire. I no longer have to feel like I need to rely on certain, very specific ingredients, in order to make a dish successful.

Freshly caught, roasted squid in Cádiz with a simple salad
Be opportunistic with travel

I used to always think that the only way to travel properly is to save $$$, wait for the perfect moment, book a long trip and cover a region in detail. And that was largely because travelling anywhere from Australia is generally quite expensive, unless your income bracket is in the top 5%. Due to this thinking, I missed out on a lot of travel deals and long weekend opportunities. To this date South East Asia, which is literally my backyard, remains largely unexplored by me.

Spain is a small country and travelling is comparatively inexpensive, which is great news. But due to working fewer hours and wanting to maximise my savings, I can only take 2-3 days off a month to travel somewhere inter-region. And whilst I love it, 2-3 days isn’t enough time to explore a region in detail. So instead, I have now learnt how to use weekends to plan a quick but efficient getaway, instead of waiting until Christmas or Easter or summer vacations, when everything is 10 times the regular price anyways. Some tricks include: undertaking long journeys overnight, focusing on smaller, lesser known destinations, and undertaking travel to a large region in two to three parts.

The point is: if you are passionate about something, try to find ways of doing it more frequently than you normally would.

Puente nuevo, Ronda
Don’t be afraid to express your emotions

Time and again I’ve been touched by the Spanish people as they have opened their hearts and homes for me over the course of these months. From inviting me to Christmas lunches and dinners, to reducing my rental expenses, to continuously asking about my welfare- their warmth has never ceased to amaze me. By far the biggest lesson I have learnt so far from them is to value relations and to take time to maintain them. Cultural differences aside, you should never be afraid to give that extra hug, send that extra emoji, smile a bit more, ask someone how they’re doing, and in general make someone feel a part of the community. If we reach out more frequently to those around us, instead of always thinking that we might be imposing ourselves on them, it will improve the quality of life of so many of the vulnerable. You never know who needs you but might be too afraid to ask. And you also never know the last time you might get to speak to them.

Madrid Carnaval 2020

These are the top six qualities that I’ve learnt from the Spanish. Are you someone who has had the opportunity to learn something from another culture? Are you an expat in Spain who has learnt some invaluable things during their time here? Let me know in the comments below, or in my IG 🙂

Cover photo: Calle Cuevas del Sol, Setenil de las Bodegas (Andalucía). https://www.instagram.com/p/B8lzlqloKAz/

My quest for the most perfect Portuguese custard tarts

It is no secret that I have a huge sweet tooth. When planning my Portuguese sojourn, one of the items I wanted to tick off my bucket list was to try the famous Portuguese custard tarts, or ‘Pastel de Nata’ (lit: cake of cream). I had come across them in a Portuguese bakery in Perth, where the taste lingered long after they had melted in my mouth. The crunchy pastry was filled with creamy, delicious, not-too-sweet, gooey custard that oozed into my mouth as soon as I had popped them in. The downside was that they were very small in size and too darn expensive ($2 to $3 per tart as far as I remember). Unfortunately, when your desires don’t match your wallet size, you have no option but to rein in your cravings.

So obviously when I decided to explore the land that invented this perfection, I knew I had to devour as many as possible. After I arrived in Porto, probably one of the first questions I asked the hostel reception was about the whereabouts of this divine deliciousness. I was surprised to find that the ‘real’ Pastel de Nata actually came from Belém, a suburb in Lisboa (Portugal’s capital). Whilst it is easy to find a delicious and cheap Pastel de Nata all over Portugal, you have not tasted the real deal until you have visited the most famous bakery in Bélem that bakes literally hundreds and thousands of them on a regular basis.

Pastel de Nata from the streets of Porto- what I thought was the real deal, until I was told that it actually resided in Belém

History bears witness that originally, the nuns of Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (monastery of Jerome) came up with the recipe of Pastel de Nata and would make it in bulk. However, later in 1837, the recipe was passed onto someone outside of the convent and they founded the famous bakery ‘Pastéis de Belém’ (lit: cakes of Belém). This, confusingly, is also the name given to the actual tarts produced from this bakery to allow them to be differentiated from those produced in other places. Pastéis de Belém is literally a 2 minute walk from Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, making it an ideal place to get your sugar fix after you have spent a good amount of time being mesmerised by the monastery’s rich architecture.

Hard day’s work at ‘Pastéis de Belém’
Ok, it may not look very different from the tart I had in Porto, but my gosh, it was definitely more delicious. I think the pastry was definitely crunchier which produced a greater contrast between the pastry and the filling and elevated the experience to another level.
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

And of course, since you are here in Belém, and by extension in Lisboa, why not take the time to appreciate the rest of the place?

Monumento a los descubrimientos: A monument celebrating the efforts of all the Portuguese navigators, religious authorities and army generals who travelled far and wide ‘discovering’ new lands (read: colonies) for the riches and personal gains of the Portuguese crown.
As seen near Monumento a los descubrimientos. Displayed above are Portugal’s South Asian colonies.
Torre de Belém (Belém Tower)
We’re back in central Lisboa, painfully climbing uphill to Castelo de São Jorge (St George Castle).
Also, have you noticed the resplendent tilework, or azulejos, that is visible all over old buildings in Portugal?
The iconic tram of Lisboa
Somewhere in Bairro Alto (old Lisboa).
It’s THE place to be for a great night out in Lisboa as it contains the highest concentration of bars and restaurants that keep the city alive right up until sunrise hours. The steep streets can help you burn those excess calories too.
A casino in the middle of Lisboa? No. A store selling nothing but over-priced, colourful tins of Sardines? YES! Welcome to ‘O Mundo Fantastico da Sardinha Portuguesa’
Igreja de São Roque
Miradouro do Castelo de São Jorge (Viewpoint of St George’s castle)

Até já Lisboa. We will meet soon.

Cover photo: Somewhere in Praça Dom Pedro (Lisboa).

A Travel Guide to Galicia: Spain’s Celtic connection

Picture this: Lush green land. Rain. Beautiful coast dropping abruptly as it meets the sea, while waves crash with abandon against steep cliffs. Somewhere far away you hear bagpipes. What comes to the mind? You would be forgiven to think that you are somewhere in the Scottish highlands. But you need to shift your focus about 2,500 kilometres south to Spain’s north-western autonomous community: Galicia. 

Galicia is supposed to be one of the lesser known Celtic nations of the world, the more famous ones being Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and Isle of Man. It is not a high priority for many foreign tourists visiting Spain- certainly not if they are visiting for the first time. Somehow, the absence of bulls, flamenco, searing heat or beach resorts with English speaking staff do not really entice your typical tourist into visiting this area. But if you do decide to venture off the usual tourist path, you will most definitely not be disappointed. 

Bagpipes, known in local language Gallego as ‘gaitas’ are an integral part of Galicia’s folk music. Pictured above is a man dressed in traditional clothing, playing music at Praia das Catedrais.

Itinerary and practical information

I based myself in Ribadeo and Santiago de Compostela, and from there I took day trips to the rest of the places.

In Santiago de Compostela, you can find a number of day tour operators who can take you on a guided tour along Rías Baixas. You can either enquire about them in Santiago’s Tourism Office, or often you can also see them giving out pamphlets in front of the cathedral in Praza do Obradoiro.

Recommended trip length and when to go

Around 1 to 1.5 weeks would be my recommendation, but that is easily modifiable depending on your circumstances.
Summer months (June, July, August) guarantee the sunniest weather and the coast is the best place to be. July and August are also peak months, so expect to splurge.
Spring (April, May) and autumn (September) are shoulder seasons, and you could explore the interior of Galicia, whilst still enjoying a good walk along the coast.
Avoid winter. The weather will be gloomy and so will you.

How to get to Galicia

  • By air: The cities of Santiago de Compostela, Vigo and A Coruña have international airports and serve as excellent bases to start your Galician adventure. They’re not the biggest airports in Spain, so you’ll need to double check if there’s a direct connection from your place of origin or not.
  • By land: Spain has an extensive public transport system, and you can get to Galicia using trains or buses from practically any part of Spain.
    • For trains, I use RENFE, but there’s also the option of FEVE trains that connect the northern coast.
    • For buses, I almost always rely on ALSA, when undertaking an inter-regional journey.
    • Use websites such as OMIO, Rome2Rio and Busbud to look at your options and book.
    • Another option is going to the bus or train station to check out the timetables and buying your ticket there. Depending on the day, you might even be able to reserve a seat for the same day.

How to move around in Galicia

The easiest way to access the best of the coast would be by using a car. Buses form another excellent alternative option. ALSA covers most routes, although there are a number of private bus companies that are especially good at connecting different villages to cities. Using Omio, Rome2Rio or Busbud should provide you with plenty of sufficient options. As mentioned before, an alternative option to buy tickets is to go physically to a bus station.

Where to stay

The top 3 websites that I use to book any accommodation anywhere are: Booking, AirBnB and Hostelworld. Keep in mind that smaller villages will not have AirBnb and hostels available, but you should be able to find hotels at very reasonable prices.

  • For my stay in Santiago de Compostela, I was able to book an AirBnb for 16 Euros per day, very close to the city centre.
  • For my stay in Ribadeo, I booked Hotel Santa Cruz through Booking.com. It’s a no-frills, basic hotel but quite clean and comfortable nevertheless. The breakfast is massive, the owner/ receptionist speaks excellent English and the staff is very helpful and always smiling! What else do you need?

Important links

Navigate the post

Page 2– Travel guide of the Galician coast
Page 3– Travel guide of Santiago de Compostela
Page 4– Travel guide of Galician food

The beautiful melody that is Sevilla

Sevilla (Seville) presents itself as a beautiful flamenco dancer, gracefully twirling to the rhythm of a guitar- the ruffles of her skirt flowing elegantly with each move. Sevilla lingers in one’s memory as a refreshing cirtus scent of orange blossom that permeates through the lanes of its old city. Sevilla is a fine Andalusian horse trotting its carriage along, against a backdrop of cheerful coloured buildings and lush palm trees. Sevilla is the modern Andalusian capital, whilst still retaining its glorious Moorish past. It is a city that is so richly endowed with beauty, poise and flamboyane all at once, that even with many legitimate contenders within Spain, Sevilla manages to rise to the occasion time and again and does it so effortlessly that it almost seems unfair.

A walk through the historical centre of Sevilla

The historical centre of Sevilla, also known as ‘Casco Antiguo’, is home to everything you ever imagined Sevilla, or indeed Spain, to be. It worth taking a slow walk through here, forgetting about your bucket-list for a while. You will be rewarded with stunning architecture, beautiful hidden lanes, spontaneous flamenco, a spirited ambience and some amazing views to devour the best of Andalusian cuisine.

Horse carriages can be seen all around the old city centre. Andalusian horses are a very famous breed, but I’m not sure if this is the best use of them.
The old neighbourhood of Santa Cruz, that is impeccably maintained
Although a modern city now, Sevilla traditionally has been an important religious centre of Southern Spain.
Abanico de pericón, or the Spanish fan. It is used to cool down from an excessively hot Andalusian summer, and is also a prop in the local dance form Flamenco.
Flamenco in Seville 3
A Flamenco performance in progress. Contrary to popular beliefs, flamenco isn’t the national dance form of Spain. It is actually a local dance form of Andalucía. In fact, there are three places where it is said to be originated: Sevilla, Cádiz and Jerez de la Frontera. A Flamenco performance in Sevilla, therefore, is especially not to be missed.
A glimpse into Plaza de España

Plaza de España was built for the Ibero-American Expo of 1929 in order to showcase Spain’s industrial and technological strengths to different participating countries. These days it houses various government offices. Nevertheless, it is a very impressive building that serves as one of the finest examples of Neo Mudéjar architecture. This style incorporates Moorish design elements (geometric patterns, extensive tilework, calligraphy, horseshoe arches) into more traditional European forms of architecture like the Gothic or the Renaissance style.  Tiny alcoves representing different provinces of Spain line the Plaza’s semi circular body, while its most distinguising feature is a circular moat that carries small boats filled with tourists around the Plaza.

Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Sevilla (The Bullring of Seville)

Completed in 1881, the Maestranza de Sevilla is one of the most iconic structures of the city. A synchronised life and death dance between a handsome, feisty Andalusian bull and a ruthlessly fierce torero (bullfighter) comes out on full display for a total of 14,000 avid spectators to see. Inside, there is a bullfighter’s chapel (Virgen de la Caridad) as well as an infirmary, for obvious reasons. The entire complex also houses a museum detailing Spain’s passionate love affair with this sport.  Although now quite controversial due to its stance on animal rights, the sport nevertheless still enjoys popularity in many parts of Spain.

Catedral De Sevilla (The Cathedral of Seville)

Built on the site of Muslim (Moorish) Sevilla’s grand mosque in 1528, the Catedral de Sevilla is the largest cathedral as well as the largest Gothic church in the world. It is a major UNESCO heritage site, and is also the final resting place of Christopher Columbus (a claim contested by the Dominican Republic). Some structures of the old mosque still remain incorporated into the cathedral’s architecture, such as: the famous Giralda (former minaret) and Patio de los Naranjos (former sahn, or big mosque courtyard with ablution facilities).

La Giralda, which later became an inspiration for Hasan II mosque in Casablanca, Morocco
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View of La Giralda from Real Alcázar de Sevilla.
View from Patios de los Naranjos and Sevilla from La Giralda.
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Retablo Mayor (Major Altarpiece).
Considered to be the largest altarpiece in the world, this gigantic structure bears 28 different scenes from the lives of Prophet Jesus and Virgin Mary (peace be upon them both), as per the Christian tradition. The extensive use of gold for decorating significant buildings was possible due to Spain’s colonial control over Central and South America.
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The remains of Christopher Colombus (a claim contested by Dominican Republic).
Real Alcázar de Sevilla (The Alcázar of Seville)

The Alcázar de Sevilla was built in 913 AD by the ruling Moors as a residential palace for the royalty. In fact, the upper levels of this breathtaking UNESCO heritage monument still serve as residences for the current royal family of Spain, thereby making it one of the oldest functioning palaces. Interesting fact: the word ‘Alcázar’ derives from the Arabic word ‘al-qasr’, which means a castle, a palace, a fort.

Since its inauguration as a royal residence, the Alcázar has undergone several renovations under both Moorish and Christian kings to achieve its present day form. As a result, this palace is a beautiful amalgamation of Moorish, Mudejár as well as purely European architecture.

The imposing entrance to Palacio de Don Pedro within Patio de la Montería.
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Stunning roof detailing everywhere.
Patio de las muñecas.
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Arabic inscriptions along the walls of the doorways around Patio de las Doncellas.
Patio de las Doncellas.

So, what do you think? Has this post made you wanderlust enough to go get lost in Sevilla’s alluring streets? If so, then don’t forget to like this post, subscribe to my blog and also, follow me on my Instagram.

Cover photo: Plaza de España, Sevilla.

Capturing the essence of Ciutat Vella, Barcelona

Exploring the oldest district of Barcelona, Ciutat Vella, and wandering through its different neighbourhoods was an experience that really helped me get a feel of the urban culture of this bustling Catalan city.

Ciutat Vella comprises of four neighbourhoods: La Barceloneta, El Raval, El Gòtic and Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i La Ribera. It also has La Rambla- the (in)famous avenue that dissects through the old district with El Raval on one side and El Gòtic on the other. This street has always had more than its fair share of petty crime, naive tourists, overpriced products, and unwarranted client solicitation. The seediness continues into the adjacent suburb of El Raval, which gives it a distinctly urban, gritty feel. 

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La Rambla

From the streets of El Raval

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MACBA: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona

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Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu (14th century): Barcelona’s first hospital to admit female patients was also the biggest of its time. Incidentally, it also became the place where Gaudí passed away. Notice the red and yellow striped Catalan flag. 

La Boqueria
Mercat de la Boqueria

A walk through El Barri Gòtic

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Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi 

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Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar

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Parc de la Ciutadella and Arc de Triomf

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Parc de la Ciutadella

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Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf was modelled after L’Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile in Paris, although its design derived some inpiration from Southern Spain’s Moorish past. It was constructed for 1888 Barcelona World Fair as the main entrance gate. 

La Barceloneta

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The man made beaches of Barcelona: these beaches were only constructed when the city decided to host Olympics in 1992. They are very popular though- with around 7 million people visiting them each year (not sure why, as they are nothing compared to Aussie beaches).

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Gaudí’s canvas: Barcelona

My trip to Barcelona recently in March 2017 began on a sour note.  I was on a 2-week whirlwind tour of Spain- a country that I had been aching to visit for the last 7 years. My travel agent had sold me a tour package under the garb of it being ‘very culturally enlightening’. It was heading towards the end of the first week and we had covered the Basque and Navarra regions. But I hadn’t personally come across anything that had blown my mind, or excited me to my core. Our entry into Barcelona on a dull rainy late afternoon only made me feel worse. I was really beginning to think whether the trip was worth the hype.

But I was glad that Barcelona proved me wrong.

If I had to describe Barcelona in one word, it would be quirky. The city quite clearly has Antoni Gaudí’s legacy written all over it. Gaudí (1852-1926) was Spain’s famous architect and interior designer, whose ideas and creations are still considered one of the most unique in the world- quite simply because he defied conventions. At a time when the world was obsessed with staid Victorian and Revival architecture, Gaudí’s work spoke of a union between nature and religion. As a result, his works feature ergonomic designs, recycled materials, symbolism and dazzling colours.

The effect is breathtaking.

Park Güell, for example, looks like something right out of Alice in Wonderland.

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Atop Park Güell’s amphitheater terrace, overlooking the rest of Barcelona

Park Güell was initially designed by Gaudí as a living area for the city’s elite on Barcelona’s Carmel Hill. He had conceptualised it with the idea of humans living amidst nature- a simple communal life, away from the smoky atmosphere of the then- newly industrialised Barcelona. The original plan was for 60 families to live in the area, with each family being allotted a triangular piece of land. However, there were certain conditions that the families had to agree upon in order to maintain the fragile balance between man and nature. Families could only build over one-sixth of their alloted land and these plots’ positions were predetermined in order to prevent obstructing sunlight as well as the city’s view. Such rigid rules meant that even though the location was highly lucrative, none of the elite families wanted to build there. In the end, it was Gaudí himself and Count Güell who moved in there with their respective families.

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Gaudi’s house in Park Guell

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Greek Doric columns in the lower court, which also served as a marketplace. The roof actually formed the amphitheater mentioned above.

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Gaudi’s work often featured recycled materials. The roof of the lower court utilises broken ceramic items, like teacups and saucers.

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Top left depicts one of the many walkways winding through the park. Bottom left and right photos depict the same feature: the communal washing area. Notice the “washing women” in the bottom left photo. Also notice the ergonomic design of the “washing board” on the right, resembling sea waves.  Nature was one of the strongest influences on Gaudi’s work. It is not a coincidence the manner in which these rocks were arranged on the features- the aim was to make them look like tree barks.

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Another example of employing an ergonomic design: Gaudi made a workman sit on the wet cement of these benches of the amphitheater. The workman’s body moulded the shape of wet cement, which was then used to model the rest of the benches. The zigzag design of the benches ensured privacy in conversations, even though it was a public space.

Gaudí’s famous masterpiece is La Sagrada Família (The Sacred Family). Its construction began in early 1882 and it is still nowhere near completion! As a cathedral, it does not have a brooding, orthodox character. Instead, the sculpted exterior is full of lively details about the life of Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him), from Christianity’s perspective.

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The nativity side of La Sagrada Familia

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The nativity scene on the facade of the cathedral

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The differences between the nativity side and the passion side of the cathedral are striking. The passion side is nowhere near as intricate, but instead, reflects the sombre mood of the event.

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Even though these sculptures are far from being “conventional”, Gaudi has been extremely particular about them emoting through their facial expressions and body language. The muscular strain on this sculpture signifies the physical exhaustion leading up to the crucifixion.

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The interior design allows a sense of freshness to permeate through via the skillful use of natural light and bright colours from stained glass. It is vast, spacious and delightfully airy.

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The nave of the cathedral

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The columns in this cathedral are shaped to resemble tree branches

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                                    View of a sunny Barcelona from the Passion Tower.                                      Out of its four towers, La Sagrada Familia has two towers on each side which offer brilliant views of the city at a height of 65 metres. The elevator gets you up, but you do have to climb down yourself. The descent itself is narrow and highly   claustrophobic. The stairs are made of stone that offers little or no grip. 

There are other examples of Gaudí’s buildings dotted throughout Barcelona, like La Pedrera/ Casa Milá, Casa Batlló, Torre Bellesguard and Casa Vicens to name a few. And there’s always next time. 

Paris Is Always A Good Idea

Ajoutez deux lettres a Paris et c’est le paradis.

Jules Renard, writer

Add two letters to Paris and it is paradise.

When Jules Renard uttered this famous quote, he could not have been more correct. There are very few places in the world that are able to justify the hype surrounding them. Paris not only justifies that hype but threatens to challenge it, mock it, as if describing its beauty and sophistication is beyond the realm of human intellect.

I found myself in Paris in April 2012- an unexpected and impromptu trip. This was a time when photography and the creative arts barely interested me. It was also a time of great, many personal tragedies and I credit Paris for coaxing me out of my shell, for making me believe at the time that beauty still existed in the world. 

I apologise in advance for the quality of photos, but I do hope they capture a sense of allure that Paris has to offer to any traveller lucky enough to visit. One day, I hope to go back again. 

Amidst Nature
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Jardin Des Tuileries
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Jardin Du Palais Royal
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Jardin Du Palais Royal
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Jardin Du Luxembourg
Parisian Streets
Casual shot of Parisian street life
As seen on Place De La Concorde
Cartier showroom...
As seen on Avenue Des Champs Elysees
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As seen outside Cite (Paris Metro): Hire a bike for 20 euros per day
French street signs lol.
Near Cathedrale Notre Dame De Paris
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Unknown street, Paris
Architectural Details
Details of the fountain
Fontaines De La Concorde
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Cathedrale Notre Dame De Paris
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Cathedrale Notre Dame De Paris: mass in progress
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Opera National De Paris
Iconic Buildings
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Palais De Justice
Me and sister posing lol.
Arc De Triomph
Grand Palais
Grand Palais
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Palais Du Luxembourg
Cathedrale de Notre Dame
Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris
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Le Tour D’Eiffel

So, what do you think? Does Paris sound like a good idea to you?

Cover photo: View of Pont Alexandre III and River Siene, Paris.