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

Of laneways and street art: my tribute to Melbourne

It is a city that holds the glory of being the culture and fashion capital of Australia. It is a city has the honour of being the biggest Greek city outside of Greece. It is a city where Australia’s colonial heritage does more than just a tiny ‘peek-a-boo’ from behind lofty skyscrapers, modern architecture and leafy green avenues. It is a city where I witnessed the greatest number of youth sporting bright blue hair. A city that takes something ordinary and attempts to create something unique out of it. The hipster cool of Australia. The scene of Australia’s best coffee. The land of grungy street art. The place that made hanging out in seedy alleyways cool. Honestly, if there is a place to live in Australia and enjoy urban life to its greatest extent, it is Melbourne and there is no ambiguity about it. You love the beach? Brighton beach with its iconic bathing boxes is right there! Or make it a day trip by going down to the Great Ocean Road! You love the river? Yarra and its beautiful riverside with fancy restaurants and oh-so-stunning views are at your doorstep. You love wine? Yarra valley, Australia’s premier wine region is an hour and a half’s drive away from the city. And not just wine, the countryside is replete with beautiful forests, natural parks, mountains and stunning views. This post has been a long time coming. However, I’ve finally managed to be organised enough to present to you my small tribute to the city of Melbourne, hoping that these select photos will inspire you to pack your bags as well. Enjoy!

THE URBAN SNAPSHOTS

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Melbourne’s waterfront offering picturesque views. In photo: Evan Walker Bridge
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The iconic Melbourne yellow. In photo: Scots’ Church, Collins Street. 
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State Library of Victoria
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Shrine of Remembrance
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Contrast. As seen on Flinders Street. 
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#Loveislove

THE FOODGRAM

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Amazingly creative and delicious desserts at Dex2Rose. Tucked away in a little laneway (where else?), you have to try this little unassuming joint! Pictured above is Milky Playtime, but the star of the show is definitely ‘Mist in the Woods’. It involves a chocolate tasting plate of house made delicious lightly spiced hot chocolate, raspberries, salted caramel gelato, marshmallows and a little fire pit. There is a little glass of water, into which the waitress pours some liquid nitrogen, resulting in a ‘mist’ (rather a fog- which by the way smells HEAVENLY), all over the tasting board, reminding of crisp early winter mornings. This is the time to start toasting your marshmallows onto the little fire pit, and get lost imagining yourself camping in some secluded forest.  Address: 377-379 Little Bourke Street.
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If you are in Melbourne, you HAVE to try Greek food! Here I am at Tsindos, one of the most authentic Greek restaurants right on Lonsdale Street- the place that used to be a hub of Greek culture in Melbourne.
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If you want fancy Greek food, then definitely give ‘Gazi’ a try. Owned by star chef George Calombaris, the food at this restaurant speaks volumes about why Colombaris is one of Australia’s most well known faces. And it’s right in the city centre. Score! 
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Located on Centre Place, ‘The Little Den’ has a crazy long list of chais (if you are a chai lover that is). Tried their Rose chai and Coconut chai. Especially recommended when Melbourne weather decides to go a bit sombre.
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Random Sunday food markets be like
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Guava ice cream at Yarra Valley Chocolaterie.
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Yarra Valley Chocolaterie is stocked with delicious varieties of chocolates, many of which are combined with unusual flavours. And these weird combinations actually work! These are some of the ones I bought, but there are far more unique combinations in store. And there’s also loads of free chocolate available!

STREET GRUNGE

Hosier Lane
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The artists’ work is always in progress so you’ll always catch fresh graffiti every time you come.
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Southbank
         

YARRA VALLEY

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Warratina Lavender Farm, nestled at the foothills of Dandenong Mountain Range.

TarraWarra Winery. Stunning location, beautiful tasting wines, a free tour at one of Australia’s premium wineries.
TarraWarra Winery
Yarra Valley Chocolaterie
Maroondah Reservoir. Just half an hour up the road from Yarra Valley Chocolaterie. Entry is prohibited inside, but you can stop by to take in the picturesque views before continuing along Black Spur Drive.
Black Spur Drive, one of the most picturesque roads in Victoria.

El fin.

Cover photo: Night view of Melbourne Riverside, featuring the Yarra River and King Street Bridge.

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.
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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.

Exploring Pune: Mumbai’s lesser known cousin

India is undoubtedly a very interesting country to explore but I never knew I could use that word to describe Pune, the city of my birth. As a yearly pilgrimage, I had always been visiting Pune to catch up with my relatives but apart from that, the city held no interest for me.

However, my visit to India this year coincided with Ganesh Chaturthi- the biggest festival of Maharashtra (one of the 29 states of India, whose capital is Mumbai and whose second largest city is Pune). With public holidays in sight, my relatives and I hatched a plan to spend an entire day exploring the main part of this city.

Founded in 8th century AD, Pune only gained importance in 1700s with the birth of Shivaji- Maharashtra’s famous ruler. Pune’s second illustrious moment in history came about when the Peshwas (prime ministers) of Shivaji’s grandson Shahuji became the main residents of this city. The rise of Pune as a sophisticated urban dwelling under Peshwas continued, with many significant contributions made by them in the field of architecture, culture, art, and religion. Many of the trademarks of today’s Maharashtrian culture bear Peshwas’ copyright. It goes without saying that the Peshwas were able to maintain such exorbitant lifestyle because of their successful military campaigns to different parts of India.

The former residence of Peshwas, called Shaniwar wada (Saturday mansion), forms one of the principal highlights of any visit to Pune. An untimely fire lasting for about 15 days in the year 1828 unfortunately completely demolished this mostly teak wood built mansion, making it hard for tourists imagine its actual former glory. The only traces left now are the formidable exterior walls, the colossal entrance gate, stone foundation of the mansion and of course, your imagination as you navigate through throngs of people.

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Main part of the wada as seen from Dilli Darwaza (Delhi Gate)

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A big lunch is necessary to replenish the energy spent walking around this enormous wada, and so my relatives and I headed over to FC Road in the Deccan suburb of Pune- 7 minutes away from the wada minus traffic, 25 minutes away with traffic. The entire length of this road is dotted with restaurants serving a variety of delectable fare. For something completely different, try “Cafe Goodluck” for Parsi cuisine-the most underrated type of Indian cuisine (more on that later). Simple unassuming atmosphere, cheap prices, and big variety describe this place perfectly. Their bun-maska (specially made humungous buns slathered with melt-in-mouth soft butter) with Irani chai and biryani are out of this world. It is an absolute favourite of Pune dwellers, so be prepared to wait in long lines at any reasonable hour of the day. To beat the rush, instead of having lunch you could have a big Parsi breakfast before heading over to Shaniwar wada. 

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 Cafe Goodluck est 1935. Photo courtesy: http://thegoldensparrow.com/opinions/restore-the-past-glory

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Delicious bun maska omelette

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The famous Parsi breakfast combo: Bun maska with Irani chai

If mid-afternoon slumber doesn’t take over, there is plenty of cheap shopping to do along FC Road and Hong Kong lane that comes off it. The shops range from hole-in-the-wall-super-cloistered wooden shacks to proper showrooms, with items mostly ranging from clothing to accessories to footwear. Be prepared to haggle.

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                FC Road , Deccan.                                                                                                                                                                Photo courtesy: www.cityshor.com & http://shoppinglanes.com/pune/fc-road

While it might not be everyone’s “city of dreams”, Pune has its own charm that works on you slowly as you get to know this ambitious city. It is a place where history still echoes alongside technology; a place that is still considered the seat of Maharashtrian culture yet it is also possible to find nightlife as enticing as Mumbai. Suffice to say that while the soul of Maharashtra may reside in Mumbai, the heart still beats in Pune. 

The soul of Mumbai: Gateway of India

“Aap ka naam Mohammad hai?” (Is your name Mohammad?), I double check with the driver as I sit inside my Uber taxi that I had booked to do some last minute sightseeing in Mumbai. “Jee” (Yes), the driver responds as we drive off to see the city’s most iconic destination, the Gateway of India. I casually ask the driver how long it would take us to get there and he replies after checking his GPS “teen ghante” (three hours). My jaw literally drops. 25kms in 3 hours?! And it was already 3pm…

Tip number 1 for anyone travelling to Mumbai: please start your day well in advance, even if you are to cover short distances (25 kms is short by Australian standards). This megalopolis is home to over 22 million people (nearly the same population as Australia) crammed in an area of 603 km². The population density is immense and the traffic is notoriously slow, at any given time of the day. 

I have no choice but to accept my fate of having to sit in the taxi forever, just to see one landmark for half an hour and then Uber it back to my hotel just in time for dinner with an old friend. However, after a “mere” 1.5 hours of people watching and small-talking with my driver, I arrive at my destination. 

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The majestic Gateway of India standing amongst its humble sea of admirers

Walking through a long line of security check, the Gateway of India appears like tall, graceful sovereign ruling over its common subjects. The crowd is even more dense in this area, I note. Tip number 2 for anyone visiting Mumbai: keep your personal belongings under your DIRECT supervision. Don’t let your bag or backpack dangle off your shoulder. Pull it forward and keep one arm over it. You can relax a bit more when you get away from the crowds (which might just be your hotel room in Mumbai).    

Gateway of India was built by the British in 1924 to commemorate King George V’s visit to India in 1911. It faces Mumbai Harbour from Wellington Pier, also known as Apollo Bunder. The architecture of this building, known as Indo-Saracenic, is one of the most distinct styles of architecture to be ever found, for it symbolises the intermarriage between Indian Mughal and British Gothic design. The result is a building that has both domes and minarets as well as cusped arches. While this particular building leans more towards its Indian heritage, there are other buildings in Mumbai that have a greater degree of Gothic character with features like traceries, spires and stained glass. Of this, the main train station of Mumbai known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, is a great example. 

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Jali work: net like geometric patterns are very characteristic of Mughal architecture

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Construction of this building utilises the locally found Basalt stone

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The inside remains surprisingly devoid of any design intricacies

Gateway of India is one of the most entertaining places for people watching. Every day is a festival of sorts here: families and friends on their day out; amateur photographers trying to earn a quick buck by persuading tourists to pose; street vendors and touts selling spicy bhelpuri, chana, balloons and all kinds of trinkets. Also pickpocketers. Beware. This really is the place to be if you want to observe the character of Mumbai. Shame I did not take any portrait photos. 

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Gateway of India from Mumbai Harbour

Cover photo courtesy: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g304554-d321412-i169264241-Chhatrapati_Shivaji_Terminus-Mumbai_Bombay_Maharashtra.html