Day 25: Walking

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!

Poe is happy to have us home!

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.

A part of the Berlin Wall

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.

This building was behind a bunch of other buildings and I loved the lion.

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!

That sky!!

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 went through from a different area of the park and saw some new things. We also saw some old things from a new angle, which is always important!

We also walked our way through dinner, stopping at several of our favorite Tapas Bars.

We found ourselves back at Claxon for more pork belly!
Across the street there is a tapas bar that is more than 100 years old! They make wicked Spanish omelettes and their mushroom caps were great too!

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!

Such a romantic spot!

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…

Now I’m working on a new idea that synergizes two of my biggest passions in life: Staying healthy enough that I can continue doing awesome things and helping animals in need!
We have 43 contestants so far! Can’t wait to see how many more sign up this week!!

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!

– Our Tri-Country Roadtrip

– Poland

Stay tuned!!

Day 17: For the Love of Coffee

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.

Luckin Coffee was suppose to revolutionize coffee in China… But their prices are higher than Starbucks and their coffee is weak. They also ONLY do delivery, so you don’t have the option of bringing your own reusable mug, which I dislike greatly.

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!

Can you make that a double double?

In Europe, they don’t do drip coffee. They mostly do espresso, cappuccinos and cafe con leche. And their cups are small. But delicious.

I didn’t take pictures of EVERY cup of coffee I’ve had, but I did take one of my first cup in Madrid. T’was excellent

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.

To get my favourite specialty drink at Starbucks, I pay more than $8 Canadian!

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.

Seen here: Cozy atmosphere

I’m done rambling about coffee now.

Correction: FOR 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….

Day 16: Graffiti

As I mentioned in another post, we saw graffiti all over Spain, Andorra and France. On our way down to La Rambla last night (a popular tourist area in Barcelona), I decided to get some pictures.

Some are of it’s good… Some of it is ….. Well….

Some of the graffiti we saw was a collection of work from various “artists”

The colours really pop on the black door…

We noticed that a lot of the graffiti we were seeing was painted onto metal doors, not on the actual buildings.

I’m not sure of the reasons…

Some of what we saw could very well have been commissioned by known Street artists, from the look of it.

A lot of the best artwork is done on shop gates. When the stores close for the day, suddenly, there’s art!
This one was massive and stretched the entire length of a wall
We saw a few Vans like this. The art was obviously commissioned.

Once I made a point of photographing the graffiti I saw, I took more notice of the different styles and locations of the graffiti and even started to appreciate it.

Or, at the very least, I began to recognize the difference between street art and vandalism

There was graffiti on every pillar going down the boardwalk. Hundreds of scribbles.

So, through all this, I started to actually appreciate and learn about grafitti. When we walked to the post office this morning, before leaving Barcelona, we saw some of the best work yet.

This piece is a point of interest in Pokemon Go. The grafitti looked newer in the game, so I’m guessing this piece is a few years old now

Still….I’m left conflicted when I see things like this:

A mixture of “old/traditional” art with “new/abstract” art???

We’re in Poland now, and I’m officially caught up with blogging! I wonder what day 17 will bring!!!

Day 15: Markets

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.

People come to La Rambla to shop, eat and drink

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!

People sell these slippers all over the place in Luang Prabang, but we didn’t see them anywhere else in Laos

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 think these are sheep heads. This kiosk also sold stomach and all sorts of other organs

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!!!!

Day 16 will be up soon!

Day 12: Air BNB

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.

Air BNB hosts often offer great insight into ways to save money and know all the best local hotspots as well. Our first host, in Madrid, recommended one of the best tapas bars we visited. It was a great introduction to Spain!

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.

Small mechanics like St. Simon Automobile don’t come up on the first few pages of Google

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.

Sometimes you get lucky and get a room with a view!

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!

Pork belly and cheese! Talk about a good start to the night!

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!

Our group at the Tapas Crawl. It was such a well planned tour!!

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.

When you see a half eaten pig’s leg on the street on your way into your Air BNB … It might be a bad sign….

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.

Toledo: Overcrowded, Overpriced

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.

Dirty fridge
Mould is never fun

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…

Paper towel has been stuffed into the ends, to try to keep the planks from falling out, but it doesn’t seem to help….

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.

We went to an aquarium instead and did a bit of sight seeing. There’ll be more on that in my next post….

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.

Thank goodness for Geant Casino! Luckily enough … They happened to be trying out a 24 hour format for 3 days when we happened to need towels at 10:30 at night!

For my Day 13 Post, I’ll be writing about our experience with the massive protests happening across France right now! Stay tuned!

Day 9: Souvenir Shops

Our ninth day on holiday was spent appreciating the work of Anthony Gaudi; a Spanish architect.

You’re probably familiar with his unfinished masterpiece: Sagrada Familia

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.

My favourite souvenir shops are Fairtrade run, where the artisans who produce the items are paid a fair wage. From an ethical standpoint, they are where I prefer to spend my money, but also, you can find much more unique items at places like this.

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!

Day 8: Pinchos

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.

One of my favourite Tapas dishes yet. It had cheese, jam and bread. It was delicious!!!!

Last night, we tried another common Spanish way of eating: Pinchos

Excellent variety!

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€).

Shrimp was a more expensive item, whereas tuna or eggs were cheaper

You get full before too long, and you get to try a variety of different foods, which suited me just fine!!!

Croquettes are basically stuffed with ham, mushrooms, cream and butter. They taste like cheese sticks, but I was shocked to learn that they have 0 cheese in them

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.

They brought out these bad boys fresh and hot. Delicious!!
Not a meal for people who don’t do bread haha!
Quail eggs and sausage! Yum!

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…. 😂

Spanish omelettes are one of my favourite foods here so far!

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!

My only word of caution: bring an appetite!!!

Day 7: Crowds

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.

Last spring festival was spent in Indonesia. One of the most incredible trips of my life!

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!

My stack of grading right before the holiday. It took me 3 days but I was suppose to have it done in 2…

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.

I don’t mind this guy…. But I need a break from everyone else haha!!

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.

In China I would have waited ages and still never have gotten this shot without people in it

But today, in Toledo, we were reminded why we have been choosing quieter activities for the last week. Toledo was a nuthouse!

It was like this everywhere we turned

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.

Everywhere you go in Toledo, these swords are being sold. They range from 6€ to 400€, depending on the size and details…. At one point, I waited nearly 10 minutes to pay for 4 post cards, as the sales person tried convincing a young guy to drop nearly $500 Canadian on a decorative toy….

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.

I should add that the child was not shouting in awe. He was just shouting. Kids in China are basically allowed to be as loud as they want to be… That doesn’t change when they are visiting holy places or are in areas where screaming is clearly not appropriate

By 1pm we started getting grumpy with each other, so we decided to hop in the car and get out of the city.

Toledo has a great free parking area just outside of the walls. They’ve built a lot of escalators too so that tourists don’t need to climb all the way back up. On the left, the escalators are going down, and out of the city. On the right, tourists are heading into Toledo. I’m glad we left when we did

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!

Spain’ Southern Countryside

Tomorrow we head to Barcelona!

Day 6: Pit Stops

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.

Another fact about my daily posts: (almost) all my pictures come from my cell phone and are unfiltered

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.

I never actually got a shot of the castle from the highway, so I had to steal this one from the internet

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.

It’s pretty spectacular from the exterior 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.

Pieces of the building look like they’ve crumbled quite recently
Still, lots of it is still in great shape! It’s a shame that even just part of it isn’t open to the public anymore
A lot of the castle is overgrown by plants and grass. We saw several large birds’ nests on top of the towers too. It’s being reclaimed by nature

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!

Day 5: Language

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.

This photo has not been edited or filtered…

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.

This cat we saw in Segovia looks the way I felt today. I woke up this morning with an email from my school telling me they were withholding about $2000 Canadian in pay from me. No reason given. They just aren’t paying me until after the holiday…..

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.

Meanwhile, my only concern was that our sweet little rental car was safe so we could start exploring Avila!

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.

The streets here aren’t exactly built for parking…. Parking spots are expensive and coveted. We paid 20 euros to park our car the first night. Our hotel, by comparison, cost only 30.…..

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!

All I wanted was to drop off my bags so I could go and see the city walls! But of course, I couldn’t communicate that with the owner of this hotel, because she came into the situation assuming I was demanding my room early …

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.

We did make it to the wall!! We also enjoyed a very sunny day!

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!

The Wall at night! I’ll write more about Avila soon!

Tomorrow we head to Toledo! Stay tuned for more travel updates!