We’ve been back in China for a few days now, and the new term is underway, but I still wanted to write about our last day of holidays. It was, after all, one of our best days in Spain!
I scheduled one day in Madrid for the end of our trip for shopping, but as it turned out, we didn’t have much shopping to do, so we went sight seeing instead.
My favourite way to see a city is on foot. You see so much more than you would if you were driving around. There are so many little things to notice when you’re up close and personal with a city.
Dave and I considered a few places for our final day. There are so many art galleries, museums and Historical buildings to explore in Madrid, but we really wanted to be outside, enjoying the sun!
Suzhou is either polluted or rainy in winter, so we wanted to take advantage of the sun and clean air as much as we could before leaving Europe.
We also walked our way through dinner, stopping at several of our favorite Tapas Bars.
By the end of the day, we had taken nearly 30,000 steps, but had seen so much more of the city. I wouldn’t change a single thing about the way we spent Valentine’s Day! It was truely a Dave and Marie sort of way to celebrate!
I’m back in Suzhou now. The pollution has been bad enough the last few days that my eyes are itchy and watering. At least the rain stopped…
I’ll be back soon with some more in depth posts about our travels. I’ll be writing about:
– Madrid City and all its sights
– Segovia, Avila & Toledo: City Walls, Castles & Cathedrals!
Living in China can be tough for a coffee lover. Our best option as far as price and size goes is, sadly, Starbucks. Most coffee shops in China make watered down, tiny cups of something that resembles coffee but doesn’t quite hit the mark.
In Europe, however, we’ve been spoiled for choice. We’ve had to change the way we drink coffee, of course. In Canada, I’d order myself a 20oz Large Double Double at McDonald’s twice a day. If they had a bigger size, I would probably order it!
In Europe, they don’t do drip coffee. They mostly do espresso, cappuccinos and cafe con leche. And their cups are small. But delicious.
Price is also a factor in China. Starbucks is double the price in China as it is in Canada, but it’s STILL better value than any of the local chains! You can get a Venti (20oz) drip coffee for $5 Canadian at Starbucks, but anywhere else, you pay $7 for 12oz. It’s crazy.
In Europe, we’ve been enjoying our €1.50 coffees a couple of times a day and we’ve been loving it. Today we found a coffee shop in Warsaw that specialized in coffee from all around the world. For about $3.50, I enjoyed a perfect cup of Guatamalan coffee in a cozy atmosphere.
I’m done rambling about coffee now.
For those of you who don’t know why we’re in Poland, my favourite band, Blue October, is playing here in Warsaw tomorrow night!!!! We added Poland to our spring festival itinerary, just so I could meet the band and see them perform live!
I’m guessing tomorrow’s post might be about that….
Although Dave would probably disagree with me, I consider markets to be a must-see whenever we travel. Our last night in Barcelona was spent on the tourist Street “La Rambla”, where we discovered one of these buzzing tourist hot spots.
The reason I like markets so much is not because I enjoy shopping. It’s more because I like seeing what different countries offer in their markets. While you’ll find wooden carvings of elephants in Thailand, you’ll find knotted bracelets in Indonesia. Even from city to city, you see differences. Luang Prabang, for example, is famous for its giant slippers!
In Spain, it was no surprise to see smoked meat, spices and olive oil for sale in the markets.
Of course, there were some surprises too. We didn’t think Spain was known for its candies but they were for sale everywhere in the market. I imagine locals also visit and stock up on their favourite sweets.
There were also a kiosk or two that really surprised me (and I don’t find many things surprising after living in China for nearly 6 years).
I can never stay in these markets for long because they tend to be pretty crowded, but they’re usually an interesting and quick stop.
Compared to Asian markets, this one was downright empty!!!!
Air BNB has been a valuable tool for us this trip. France and Spain are a lot more expensive than Indonesia or Vietnam, which has meant that this holiday has cost quite a bit more. By using Air BNB, we’ve saved a lot.
Our host in Toulouse was also a lifesaver and money saver. When we had some car trouble, it was our Air BNB host I contacted. If it hadn’t been for Anna’s advice, we likely would have paid double for the repairs needed.
Air BNB also offers many different lodging options. You can book a room in someone’s home, or book an entire apartment. Sometimes you will have flatmates, and sometimes you’ll have total and complete privacy. I always try to find options that give us a private bathroom. I can handle sharing an apartment with another guest, but I prefer to have my own shower.
You can also book activities through Air BNB. Our second night in Spain was spent on a Tapas Crawl I learned about while looking for accommodations in Madrid. A couple of locals host a culinary tour. They’re self proclaimed foodies (like me!), so they knew all the best spots!
I booked with them through Air bnb and we spent the evening going from bar to bar, trying some of Madrid’s best snacks and drinks. It was one of the best things we’ve done on this trip so far!
Of course, things don’t always turn out as planned. We’ve had a bit of bad luck on the site as well, both with rooms and with activities.
Some problems aren’t a big deal. In Toledo we had a very complicated check in and terrible lighting in our room. It was all especially irritating because the price was so much higher in Toledo than it had been in Segovia or Avila.
Our worst experience to date has been in Montpellier. Our host is actually out of town, so she has a friend cleaning up for her between guests. This friend didn’t do the best job, and when you add that to the black mould on our walls, and the fact that she forgot to leave us toilet paper or clean towels, we’ve been pretty annoyed.
Worse yet was our problem with the bed. At one point last night, I rolled over and we heard something crack and fall. I moved a bit again and something else sounded like it was cracked too. We turned on the lights to investigate and discovered that this is an ongoing issue with the cheaply made bed frame. We’ll be dealing with the planks falling again tonight…
We haven’t had much luck in Montpellier with Air BNB actually. We also tried to book a vineyard tour, but the pick up location on the host’s page wasn’t correct, and he never told us. We arrived on time… He was somewhere else and left without us.
So, Air BNB, like everything else, can be flawed. Good hosts are helpful, friendly, welcoming and valuable resources. Bad hosts can have you driving around Montpellier at 10:30, looking for bath towels and toilet paper.
For my Day 13 Post, I’ll be writing about our experience with the massive protests happening across France right now! Stay tuned!
Our ninth day on holiday was spent appreciating the work of Anthony Gaudi; a Spanish architect.
We also went down to Gaudi’s park, which I’ll be writing more about later on, but for now, I wanted to mention one very specific aspect of our time in the area: gift shops.
Every country has them and they vary in every way. In Laos, there were a lot of weaving shops. In India, pashminas are sold everywhere. In Cuba, wooden figurines are popular (although we learned that this is not at all a traditional Cuban art form). Similarly, in Cambodia, wooden figurines are also very popular. Unfortunately, they’re mostly made from illegally logged wood.
The souvenir shops around the Gaudi museum were some of the more interesting ones I’ve seen. Most of the items found there followed the same artistic style as Gaudi (specifically his broken tile style), and it was all very…..colourful.
Even one of Gaudi’s houses was turned into a gift shop. I’m not sure if he’d approve. He was pretty serious about his work.
Souvenirs are a massive industry. Personally, we always try to bring back useful (scarves or clothes) or consumable souvenirs (chocolate or food from the area). If we brought back a keychain or magnet from everywhere we visited …. It might get to be a bit much!
I’ll be back soon with a post about Andorra; a tiny country located between Spain and France!
Food is such an important part of the way Dave and I travel. One of the only activities we booked ahead of time for Spain was a Tapas Crawl (where you go from bar to bar and sample different snacks). It was spectacular and taught us about all the different Tapas we like.
Last night, we tried another common Spanish way of eating: Pinchos
The idea is that bars put out a variety of food with tooth pics in it. There are usually 2 kinds of toothpicks. One is for cheaper Pinchos (usually 1€) and the other are for higher priced ones (1-1.80€).
You get full before too long, and you get to try a variety of different foods, which suited me just fine!!!
Our first stop was the best of the 3. They had a bunch of dishes with quail eggs, which I really enjoyed. As long as the bar is busy, everything moves out quickly and fresh stuff is brought out often.
I am loving Spain! I feel like this is where I belong:
– They love snacking
– They eat and sleep late
– They love eggs. Served all day, everywhere
– Cheap and delicious coffee
– Dogs everywhere! Big dogs. Big mutts! They’re well behaved and trained.
I don’t know if I’m going to leave. I might just stay here…. 😂
If you want to try this style of food in Barcelona, I highly recommend hitting up Blai Street or Carrer de Blai. There are more than a dozen restaurants and bars serving food in this style!
Working in China can mean a lot of great things. The number 1 perk of living abroad is the amount of traveling Dave and I can do. With 3 months off annually, we’ve seen at least 4 countries per year for the last 5 years. It’s been a pretty amazing ride.
Of course, living in China also has its downsides. I work every day of the week to keep up with my insane courseload. I work on average 60-70 hours per week, often finishing my grading at midnight. I also work most weekends, preparing for Monday’s classes. Please believe me when I say I work very, very hard for these holidays!
Of course, living in China also means constantly being surrounded by people. Even China’s small cities have 2 million people, and Suzhou has 8 million. By the time our holidays arrive, I’m so tired of crowds that I just want to get away from every human other than Dave.
So far, Spain has been an amazing break from the hoards of people we’re used to. Even in Madrid, we were able to choose activities that kept us away from the masses.
But today, in Toledo, we were reminded why we have been choosing quieter activities for the last week. Toledo was a nuthouse!
Toledo is less than an hour from Madrid, so it’s an easy getaway from the capital. The town is cute but MUCH more geared towards tourists than either Avila or Segovia. Both of the smaller towns seemed to have a local life of their own, whereas Toledo seems to just exist for tourism.
We tried to enjoy ourselves in spite of the masses, but when we walked into the Cathedral to hear a Chinese kid scream “whaaaaa!!!!”, I knew our day was circling the drain.
By 1pm we started getting grumpy with each other, so we decided to hop in the car and get out of the city.
We didn’t see anything too spectacular, but we enjoyed the ride, the quiet and the fresh air. Today, it was warm enough to have the windows rolled down!
Our destination today was Toledo. It’s a beautiful and historical city, but as always, my daily posts aren’t about our major stops; they’re about the small things that otherwise might not make it into my blog.
One of the best parts of taking a roadtrip is the ability to stop and smell the roses if you so wish. Today, during the 2 hour drive from Avila to Toledo, we were presented with one of these opportunities, when a massive Castle appeared on a hilltop ahead.
We did a quick uturn and drove into a tiny town called Escalona, where the castle (or what’s left of it) is located. We were sad to learn we couldn’t go in, but we took some pictures from the outside anyway.
The castle was built nearly 1000 years ago, as a Moorish defense system. It was meant to protect Toledo from sieges. Of course, it changed hands throughout history and had undergone several restorations. Still, this castle isn’t exactly tourist-friendly.
My favourite shot of the stop was of Dave. He climbed up to an area that wasn’t sectioned off, and the castle looked so large and grand behind him…. It’s to good of a picture not to share!!
Tomorrow we have a full day in Toledo!! Stay tuned for post #7!
We arrived in Avila today and saw the most beautiful Cathedral yet. I’ll be dedicated an entire post to Segovia, Avila and Toledo later on, but for now, I’ll send a spoiler photo I took with my phone.
The people in Spain have been great. Our Air BNB host in Madrid was beyond helpful. The owner of our hotel in Segovia was so friendly, I don’t think he ever stopped smiling. But today, when we arrived in Avila, I had my first crummy experience with a local.
When we arrived, we weren’t sure where to park (the area isn’t exactly ideal for parkades), so I ran inside to ask where to leave the car. The owner proceeded to yell at me because we were A.) Early and B.) Too daft to speak Spanish.
My Spanish comprehension is pretty good, but I can speak about 10 words total, so this was all very frustrating for me. I could understand her easily enough… But I couldn’t explain that she needn’t worry and that we didn’t need to check in. Just find parking.
Language troubles are hardly new for me. I deal with them on a day to day basis living in China, but to understand without being able to respond was very frustrating!
Eventually we were able to work everything out, and when she realized I wasn’t just some jerk foreigner demanding early check in, she warmed up very quickly. We’re basically pals now.
Language is so integral to the human experience. It’s what many psychologists say defines consciousness (you can’t think without language….try!). Without language, we wouldn’t be nearly as special among all the species on earth… I just wish there was a way to upload all new languages into my brain! It would make traveling so much easier!
Tomorrow we head to Toledo! Stay tuned for more travel updates!