Viewing: Spain

2013: My Year in Travel

The plan for 2013, believe it or not, was to seriously cut down on travel. Looking back at the year in travel, that was clearly a fail.

We might have failed, but we didn’t fail miserably—we had so much fun doing it! Tala’s arrival only slowed us down for the first three months; it wasn’t long until we got itchy feet again.

Berlin Oberbaum Bridge street art

Berlin, Germany was our first trip of the year, and our first with Tala. Cheap eats, great nightlife, street art, Tala’s first museum visit, blogger meetups, and a redemptive visit to my favorite hangout, the Badeschiff, were some of the highlights that cemented Berlin as one of my favorite cities in Europe.

Monkey installation building Berlin

A monkey-covered building I saw in Mitte. Anyone know what it is?

Fueled by so much inspiration, I went on a blogging bender from just five days in Berlin. Look at all these posts!

Tala’s first flight, my first giveaway
Street art sightings in Berlin
Nhow Hotel Berlin
Breakfast in Berlin
Berlinische Galerie
Date night: Berlin edition
A walk to remember
Badeschiff: The return

Alicante Spain beach

As a couple, patience is not one of our virtues. That really showed in our spur-of-the-moment weekend in Alicante, Spain—the result of a too-long winter, a dismal spring, and a summer that seemed to take forever to get to Amsterdam.

Extra large mojito Alicante

Oversized sparkling sangrias (plus mojito o’ clock !) on the beach, cooling off in the Mediterranean Ocean and excellent restaurants mere steps from our hotel justified our spontaneous and kinda crazy getaway.

Alicante: Playa Postiguet
At the beach with baby
Out and about in Alicante
Alicante: Where to eat (and eat and eat)
Maastricht Selexyz Dominicanen

Closer to home, Maastricht was another weekend destination we revisited this year. Good food, contemporary art and a visit to one of the world’s most stunning bookstores made this a fun and fulfilling weekend drive.

Weekend in Maastricht
Selexyz Dominicanen: Heaven for booklovers
Bonnefanten Museum

Naxos port

Greece was actually the only trip we had planned to take this year. As the Big Trip of 2013, Greece did not disappoint. This country captured my heart with its warm and friendly people, mouthwatering food, picturesque villages and beautiful beaches—not to mention the underlying thrill of its epic history and ancient myths. We loved our time in Naxos…

The beautiful beaches of Naxos
Exploring the port of Naxos
Away from it all in Apiranthos
Traditional charm at Taverna Lefteris

Santorini sunset

and ticked a big one off the bucket list in Santorini—even if a sick baby and husband made our trip less than ideal.

7 great places to catch the sunset in Santorini
Oia: Postcard perfect Santorini
Atlantis Books in Oia, Santorini
Greece: a few last things

Dusseldorf Christmas market ferris wheel

In December we managed to squeeze in a visit to the Christmas markets in Dusseldorf, Germany. Gluhwein, gingerbread and gallivanting in the cold got us all revved up for Christmas and put us in the holiday mood for our trip to Manila.

Not bad for two first-time parents with a new baby, eh? What a year it’s been… and it’s not over yet! This weekend, I get to strike another long-awaited destination off our travel wishlist in celebration of our sixth wedding anniversary. I’m so excited!

Alicante: Where to eat (and eat and eat)

The credit card bills from Berlin and Alicante have just come in (happy weekend to you too!) and I need to keep reminding myself what an awesome time we had. So today I’m drooling over the food

Great food was one of my criteria in choosing our impromptu getaway destination, and Alicante did not disappoint. Traveling with a small baby, we were prepared to forego good dinners out, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that we didn’t have to.

Alicante Monastrell tapas bar

Monastrell is a favorite on Chowhound (my go-to guide for foodie research), so we were delighted to discover that it was literally on the doorstep of our hotel, the Hospes Amerigo. Just a step outside the hotel lobby put us into Monastrell’s pasaje, a passageway between two buildings that’s been turned into a terrace for light snacks, drinks and dinner.

Alicante Monastrell

Monastrell also has a bar and an acclaimed restaurant, but we didn’t make it that far. Maybe next time?

Alicante Monastrell bread and olives

Good bread is always a preview of a great meal, don’t you agree? Wrapped in a stamped brown paper bag, served with olive oil and the biggest, juiciest, meatiest and most intensely flavored olives I’ve ever had (Gordal olives grown in Sevilla), the first things laid on our table promised good things to come.

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Out and about in Alicante

This heat wave has really sapped my blogging mojo. I meant to finish my Alicante posts last week, but without the comfort of airconditioning, I just haven’t found the energy to do anything. There are a few more things I want to share from our impromptu weekend escape—proof that there is more to Alicante than just the beach, and proof that we didn’t actually lie around like beached whales the entire time.

I love how European cities and towns always seem to have a main promenade. In Alicante, it’s the Explanada de España, which runs alongside the marina and ends just before Playa Postiguet.

Alicante Explanada de Espana

Alicante Explanada de Espana buildings

Alicante Explanada de Espana mosaic

Lined with palm trees, overlooked by elegant old buildings and laid with an estimated 6.5 million marble tiles, it’s where the locals go for the paseo, (evening stroll), or to occupy the wooden folding chairs scattered around the promenade and gossip with their amigas.

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Alicante: At the beach with baby

Our weekend escape to Alicante marked Tala’s first swim in a real ocean. Marlon and I truly love the beach, so this is one pleasure we were thrilled to introduce to our baby girl. At four months, babies don’t need much for a day at the beach—just a swim nappy, swimsuit (lots of moms swear by SPF suits, but all I had was an ordinary one), sun protection (SPF 50 and a hat), a towel, and a shaded place to rest. So it was really easy.

At first, Tala was wary and had her mehhh face on, probably because we were cautious and tentative going into the water.

Tala and Daddy swim
We waded out until the water was chest-deep. Waves pick up speed closer to shore, so further out there’s less of the rocking and splashing that could upset a baby. We made sure to watch her closely for signs of distress, and when she started going a little blank we knew it was time to cuddle her all the way back to shore. Still, no tears, so yay.

Alicante beach with baby

The next time we went back in, Marlon and I decided to act super perky and excited going into the water. Our strategy worked! She definitely took to the water much better, and we were rewarded for our efforts with adorable baby laughs.

Happy baby in the ocean

In the beginning, Marlon and I really missed being able to swim and cool off in the ocean together, since one of us always had to stay and watch Tala. But when the three of us headed into the water together, things just clicked. Being with Tala in the ocean was one of those perfect moments when life exactly matches the picture you’ve always had in your head. And, baby or no baby, you know that doesn’t happen often.

Baby feet in the sand

Back on land, we burrito-wrapped Tala in her fluffy white towel (which she loves) and dressed her in her little Vespa-printed jumpsuit. We stood her up and let her dig her little toes into the sand, and watched as she charmed a herd of bikini-wearing, leathery-skinned Spanish grandmothers into ecstatic bursts of “Que bonita! Que guapa!

Tala and Mommy in Alicante

Then we just spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, napping and letting her people-watch from the safety of Mommy and Daddy’s embrace.

All together, not bad for a first dip in the ocean! I would love to bring her to the beach again. But closer to home, and the frigid North Sea? Hmmm, let me think about that.

Alicante: Playa Postiguet

“Didn’t you know you’re not allowed to act spontaneously anymore?”

This is an actual, um, thing we were told when Marlon and I let it drop that we had booked, on impulse, a flight to Alicante, on Spain’s Costa Blanca. Apparently, new parents of nearly four-month-old babies don’t just book flights three days before departure and run away to the beach for the weekend. It’s simply not done.

Well, we did it. It was the cheapest flight we could get to somewhere with a beach, hot weather, real sunshine (not the wishy-washy, nambly-pambly thing that passes for sun here in Holland) and great food. It was just for three nights (“seems like a lot of trouble with the baby for just three days,” Marlon was told at the office). But it was fantastic!

I’ve been spoiled by the horrific building codes of the Philippines, where accommodations are built right on the beach—you can practically tumble out of your door half-asleep in the morning and land on the sand. So we chose our hotel, the Hospes Amerigo, because of its proximity to Alicante’s biggest sandy beach, Playa Postiguet.

Alicante Playa Postiguet

Every morning for three days, we joined the exodus of beachlovers down the tiled promenade of Explanada de Espana, toward the beach. I loved (and envied) the casual ease of it, locals walking around town with folding beach chairs tucked nonchalantly under their arms like purses.

Alicante heading to the beach

Arriving early is key to getting a good spot. Since this is Spain, early is relative: at 9 or 10am, there’s nobody at the beach but pensionados and families with little kids, and most of the beach chairs are still empty.

Alicante Playa Postiguet beach umbrellas

Where is everyone else? All the singles and young people are still asleep after crawling home at 6am. Like I said, this is Spain.

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Churros con chocolate

Odd fact about me: once or twice a year, I am struck with a debilitating craving for churros con chocolate. (The same thing happens to me with raw oysters.) I get really picky about it: the churros must be perfectly crisp and the chocolate hot, thick and not too sweet.

When I was living in Singapore, I couldn’t find any churros that passed muster. After enduring this craving for two long years, I finally had the chance to travel to Spain and enjoy them there. I haven’t had much luck with churros in Amsterdam either, so I pounced upon the opportunity to have them on my last day in Granada.

I’m starting to think perfect churros only exist in Spain. Maybe, like Icelandic horses, genuine Spanish churros aren’t allowed to leave the country.

Churros

Expecting graceful little loops of dough, Marlon and I sat down at a churreria on the Plaza Bib-Rambla and ordered two servings with chocolate. Boy, these churros gave me the shock of my life. They were immense. Like two huge bunches of bananas!

They were so big that we started giggling in embarrassment when the plate was served. People actually turned to stare; I’m sure they thought we were complete pigs. And we were. We finished every last one of those churros, because they were perfect: golden, crisp, light and airy.

Don’t even get me started on the hot chocolate.

Churros con chocolate

Goopy, rich, and perfect for dipping—the Spanish sure know how to make hot chocolate. One decadent cupful can almost make one forgive them for centuries of oppression. I kid, I kid.

This ends the week on a sweet note, but be sure to drop by on Sunday for this month’s installment of Let’s Do Brunch. Till then, have a great weekend!

The Alhambra: Colors and patterns

From yesterday’s post, you would think the Alhambra is all pale stone and gleaming serenity. But in reality, it’s full of two of my favorite things: color and pattern!

The most eye-catching surfaces are tiled with rich colors, and the Nasrid Palaces are full of them.

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Alhambra tiles and leather chair

I’m loving these many-pointed stars; I’ve been obsessed with stars lately and this is an unusual way to do them.

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Color and pattern are everywhere: on the walls, ceiling, floors, doors, windows. I can’t be sure, but it almost seems like no two patterned surfaces are alike.

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Even without much color, the carved surfaces compete for attention. Including inscriptions in praise of Allah, repeated over and over, the level of detail is just mind-boggling.

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To think that these were carved by hand, before there was a way to light spaces sufficiently—more than one master carver must have gone blind creating these works of art.

Alhambra niche carvings

Of course, why do just tiles or patterns when you can combine both?

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I mean, if you have an empire, more is certainly more.

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And heck, if that that’s not enough, just throw in a few kickass doors with an awesome nail-head pattern. Just because you can.

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Graceful serenity on the one hand, an explosion of color and pattern on the other. Can you see why the Alhambra is one of my favorite places in the whole world?

Granada: The Alhambra

Alhambra is one of those magical places that never fade. Built as a defensive bastion in the 10th century, then transformed into a palace by both the Moors and their conquerors, the Catholic monarchs of Spain, al-Qalʻat al-Ḥamrāʼ , the red fortress, has truly lived up to its name. Standing proud throughout history, unbowed by time, and defying all forgetting, it is one of my favorite places in all the world.

I first visited the Alhambra in 2006 and have been unable to forget it since. That’s why I insisted that Marlon and I make the uphill trek (okay, I might have forgotten about that part) to see it despite forbidding dark clouds…

Granada view from Generalife

and later, despite pouring rain. But even the elements couldn’t diminish the Alhambra for me.

Patio de los Leones Alhambra rain

The dark gloom of storm clouds, the clatter of raindrops dripping off tiled roofs, the slick shine of water on marble floors, even the weak light of a rainy day may not be ideal for sight-seeing. But for memory-making, these imperfections are the catalyst that make a place come alive… and somehow, your own.

So you take it all in, damp scarf, cold hands, foggy camera lens and all, and vow to remember.

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Granada: Carrera del Darro

Right on the doorstep of our hotel in the Albayzin, a UNESCO World Heritage district with a medieval Moorish past, was the Carrera del Darro—a narrow, scenic path that runs along the Rio del Darro.

Granada Rio del Darro

Lined with centuries-old buildings, punctuated by picturesque stone bridges and paved with cobblestones, the Carrera del Darro is a lovely place for a stroll—especially in that magic hour before sunset, when the sun bathes everything with a sheer golden coat. As you can see, quite a few people seem to agree.

Granada Carrera del Darro

Remember this dress from my first trimester? Something about the colors and print just made it seem like something I should wear in Spain. Thankfully, it still fits and the peplum falls right over the bump.

Maternity style Week 23 Spain

So, come walk along the Carrera del Darro with me! And let’s see what we can find along the way.

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People-watching in Granada

For me, the best trips have the luxury of time: time to do nothing and soak up everything. In Granada, I could have gone to a museum or visited the Capilla Real to see the tombs of the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella (and Juana and Philip—yes, the one they named the Philippines after). Instead I chose to just sit down, walk around and watch people.

Oh, and photograph them, of course… with my new 60mm lens! Every shot is a small victory in my war against shyness; maybe one day I’ll actually be bold enough to ask someone if I can take their photo. For now, I stand from a distance, fascinated by people and charmed by the many surprises of daily life elsewhere…

… such as a retro-cool jazz ensemble singing dixie and swing hits from the 1920s and 30s, right in the middle of Plaza Bib-Rambla. Listening to them felt like being in an episode of Boardwalk Empire. 

Granada jazz ensemble

So much fun, and so stylish too!

Granada jazz singers

In the streets of the Albayzin: the Hogwarts Rondalla.

Granada street musicians3

I kid, I kid. I don’t know what else to call a band of merry old men in long black capes, playing the guitar and singing with such gusto that they attracted an impromptu street party around them, with lots of laughing, dancing…

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… even advertising. This enterprising fellow was waving his signboard in time to the music, hoping to draw the street party into his bar. Funny.

Granada street musicians1

Some of my favorite subjects, after the jump…

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