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Weekly Photo: Small Town Galicia

by Elena on April 22, 2010

Disappearing GaliciaSmall towns across Galicia are left deserted as their inhabitants make their way to the cities where jobs are more plentiful.

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Galicia Photo Journal

by Elena on March 26, 2010

Galicia CoastlineGaliciaGalicia Ourense StreetGalicia Ourense PlazaGalicia CastrosGalicia CoastGalicia OceanGalicia Church

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Weekly Photo: Plaza Mayor Madrid

by Elena on March 17, 2010

Madrid Plaza Mayor

The Plaza Mayor is always packed with people wandering around taking pictures or sitting down for a drink.  It is as much touristy as it is beautiful, which explains the exorbitant prices for a cafe con leche and tapas, but the Plaza Mayor still merits a visit, just go for tapas elsewhere.   We saw many people drinking a bottle of wine underneath the statue of King Phillip III, and while the practice of drinking in public (the botellon) is quite popular, it is still very much illegal, so do so at your own risk. Madrid Plaza Mayor

The Plaza Mayor is the main plaza in Madrid and is situated just a few blocks away from the Puerta del Sol, the busy square that marks the official starting point for Spain’s national roads.  The plaza is surrounded by residential buildings with balconies overlooking the plaza.  If you look closely to certain buildings, you will see painted façades.Madrid Plaza Mayor

Interested in Madrid hotels, check out Simon Seeks.

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Weekly Photo: Pulpeiro in Galicia

by Elena on March 4, 2010

Pulpo Octopus in Galicia Spain

Pulpeiro is a person who sells pulpo (octopus).  Every week, in the small towns surrounding Ourense, Galicia, there are markets where locals can buy a ration of pulpo to take home to their family.  This market is in the town of Cartelle.  People here buy the pulpo and eat it at the local bar.  The man above has been a pulpeiro for a very long time, quite the expert on these little critters.  My great-grandfather used to order octopus from him when my grandmother was a child.  He was very willing to show us his merchandise and let us taste before we made our purchase.

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Granada and The Tales of the Alhambra

by Elena on January 14, 2010

Alhambra Granada SpainWhat does it take to be first online to get into the Alhambra?  If you avoid the reasonable route of getting your tickets in advance, like other more responsible travelers, then you will have to wait in line, a really really long line.

After a couple days in Seville we made our way to Granada with a vague plan of interest and no guidebooks.  The heat of summer in the Spanish south had sucked out all of our energy, and a small part of us had no desire but to sit around drinking freshly squeezed orange juice under one of the makeshift sun blockers in the streets of Seville.  Needless to say we were not prepared for our excursion to the Alhambra.  We arrived, somewhat brazenly, to the entrance of the palace shortly after 8am.  The line was impressive, so long and winding we couldn’t see the unlucky chaps at the end of it all.  Even they were luckier than we were.  We were not getting in that day.  Our only other choice was to arrive unreasonably early the next day and wait in line.  Although many people assured us that we need only arrive a couple hours before the ticket booth opened at 8am, my cousin wanted to be one of the first people on line, hence arriving so early you might as well take a sleeping bag.  At first I felt guilty that he was ‘taking one for the team’ and going to stand in line to ensure our entrance into one of the most remarkable sights in the world just about when I was entering my REM cycle, but then the clock started buzzing at 3am.  You try waking up at 3am with jet lag, travel fatigue, and a sudden bout of I’m not a morning person.  He left the hostel sometime after 2am and was behind only two other groups, a group of hippie Spaniards who had slept at the entrance overnight and a friendly Moroccan family who offered him some coffee brewed from homegrown coffee beans.

The Alhambra is definitely worth the wait.  We were able to enjoy the benefit of entering early, as well as an early entrance time into the Nasrid Palace.  The gardens are better enjoyed if you visit them in the afternoon.  The sun can be brutal, but the flowers look their best under the sun’s rays.  Alhambra means red fortress, and it certainly looks like a fortress when viewed from lookout point San Nicolas.  You would think that this fortress would be filled with medieval Christian architecture rather than its distinctly arabesque designs.  Originally an Islamic palace, it eventually fell into the hands of the Christian kings after the fall of the Islamic Empire in Spain.

The Alhambra is big but you can easily see everything in one day.  The following are the major sites that you mustn’t miss.

Palacio Nazaries (Nasrid Palace)
The Nasrid Palace is one of the most elaborate and recognizable Islamic structures in all of Europe.  It is known for the intricate stucco work, painted tile walls, and extensive courtyards.  The palaces inside the Alhambra were erected for the Muslim sultans of Granada.  In this palace you can walk though ceremony rooms, courtyards, private residences, and offices.  As well as the time slot they give you to enter the Alhambra, you will also have a time slot for entering the Palacio Nazaries. Once you get inside you don’t have to worry about time for the rest of your visit.

Alhambra Granada Spain 2The Court of Myrtles is an iconic image of the Alhambra and the Nasrid Palace.  The Moors loved incorporating patios into their architecture.  There are many theories as to what this particular court was used for.  Some say that the sultan’s harem were kept upstairs behind the windows with wooden screens, after all, it isn’t appropriate for the sultan’s harem to be seen by other men.  Others simply believe that the upstairs was used during the cooler winter months and the outdoor courtyard was used in the summer.

Alhambra in Granada SpainThere are twelve lions around a fountain in the Court of Lions.  The twelve lions were a gift from a prominent Jewish leader at the time.  Granada had an extensive Jewish population, and a rich history of Christians, Muslims, and Jews living together, sometimes not in harmony.  As for the significance of the twelve lions, historians aren’t certain, but they probably represent the 12 tribes of Israel.  The lions were later turned into a clock that spouted water out of a different lion’s mouth according to the time of day.  The clock no longer works after the Christian conquerors took it apart to see how it worked.  Unfortunately, on my most recent visit to the Alhambra, the lions were taken away to be restored.  The good news is that they are coming back soon, sometime in 2010.

Court of Lions Alhambra in Granada SpainAlhambra Granada Spain 3Washington Irving penned his legendary story, Tales of the Alhambra, from within the Alhambra’s very walls.  Irving’s work helped introduce western audiences to the treasures of the Alhambra.

Washington Irvings Room in Alhambra Granada SpainAlcazaba
The Alcazaba is the fort of the Alhambra.  Alhambra itself means fortress, making the Alcazaba the original Alhambra.  It is the oldest and hence the most ruined of structures.  This fort was used to defend the small town within the Alhambra wall.  If you climb the high structures you will get amazing views of the Sierra Nevada, the city of Granada, and the Albazin.

Alcazaba at the Alhambra in Granada SpainGeneralife Gardens
The Generalife Gardens are a short walk away on the opposite side of the grounds.  If you have time to kill before your assigned entrance into the Nasrid Palace, you should make your way to these gardens and Generalife Palace.Generalife Gardens at the Alhambra in Granada SpainThese gardens were planted in an overzealous effort to create a paradise on earth.  The flowers, shrubbery, and fountains are all said to have kept their Moorish character.  Fruits and vegetables were also grown for the inhabitants of the palaces.  The sultan is said to have enjoyed the Generalife Palace during the summer, when he could roam around the gardens and enjoys its fruits and flowers.Generalife Gardens Alhambra in Granada Spain FlowersEl Partal is right at the entrance of the Generalife Gardens.  Here you will find another large courtyard with a pond.  I imagine these ponds help keep the area cool during the hot summer months.  They seem to do the trick.

El Partal in Alhambra in Granada SpainCharles V’s Palace
The Alhambra wasn’t always under Islamic rule.  Muslim Spain slowly came to an end, and Granada eventually fell from Islamic rule in 1492, when Ferdinand and Isabella took over Granada and the surrounding areas.  When the Christians came into the power, they built their own structures, as conquering parties often do, within the Alhambra walls.  Charles V constructed this palace with the money from the taxed Muslim population, another way of exerting Christian authority, and rubbing some salt on their wounds.

Alhambra Granada Spain Palace of Charles

Alhambra Granada Spain Palace of Charles V

Buying Tickets For the Alhambra

  • The best choice is to buy your tickets ahead of time on www.alhambra-tickets.es.  Buying ahead of time will ensure that you won’t have to wait long on the line or risk not getting in at all.
  • You could always wait in line like we did.  This of course means that you will be up inconceivably early during high season and reasonably early during low season.
  • Book with your hotel or hostel.  Sometimes hotels put aside tickets for their guests.
  • Pay for a tour.  This of course is the more expensive option, but if you have no other choice it could be well worth it.  Go to a local travel agency or hotel and see what tours are available.

When you buy a ticket, you are given an appointment time when you can enter the Alhambra and Nasrid palace.  This prevents overcrowding.  Make sure to arrive an hour before your assigned appointment to enter the Alhambra because you will most likely be waiting awhile on line (even if you bought your ticket ahead of time).

The floors of the Palace of Charles V are rather slippery.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Alhambra Granada Spain Palace of Charles V 2

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Weekly Photo: Alhambra in Granada Spain

by Elena on January 13, 2010

Alhambra in Granada SpainThe Alhambra is a Moorish palace that sits atop the Spanish city of Granada and is by far one of the most spectacular sites to see in Spain.  The inside of the Alhambra is impressive even for the most seasoned traveler.  The view from afar, at the Mirador de San Nicolas, is also memorable.  If you are lucky, you may get the chance to hear some flamenco.The Alhambra is a Moorish palace that sits atop the Spanish city of Granada and is by far one of the most spectacular sites to see in Spain.  The inside of the Alhambra is impressive even for the most seasoned traveler.  The view from afar, at the Mirador de San Nicolas, is also memorable.  If you are lucky, you may get the chance to hear some flamenco.

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Move Over Busker

by Elena on September 9, 2009

Well the rest of my life lay in front of me
I was pedaling down the road
When I saw nell gwynne and her oranges
And I’ll have one of those
She said move over busker, don’t bang your drum
Move over busker, your time will come
-Paul McCartney

After posting about street performers, I perused through my photo collection and picked out some more of my favorite busker photos.

In the southern Spanish city of Granada there is a rich amalgamation of three very different cultures, histories, and religions: Islam, Catholicism, and Judaism. Home to the Moorish palace La Alhambra, Granada has a flavor that sets it apart from the rest of Spain. The Mirador de San Nicolas (lookout point) faces the magnificent Alhambra, and I highly recommend to anyone visiting this small city to go here just before sunset. The lookout is located in the Albayzin, a neighborhood with small winding streets and white-washed houses with colorful gardens. Set upon a hill, the Albayzin is a perfect location to view the old palace.

Flamenco Performers sing near Alhambra
At Mirador San Nicolas there are always people singing and playing guitar. The group we saw this particular day really epitomized every stereotype I was looking forward to: the raspy voices (most certainly due to years of heavy smoking), the incredible strumming of the Spanish guitar, the rhythmic clapping, and the melodic improvisation of flamenco singing. Those c

ouple of songs, played to accompany the sunset, were enough to send a chill down my spine, and toy with the idea of quitting my day job in order to sit around these hills, smoke cigars, and learn to play flamenco guitar.Flamenco performers near Alhambra
No one else could wear a mullet and a white turtleneck cutoff and still look as badass as this man right here.

Flamenco Performer near Alhambra One of my favorite things to do in Mexico, or in any place for that matter, is to roam around the local markets. They are full of life and delicious food. I also find that they are a great way to see the people of the city go about their daily routine. I took this picture in Tepotzlan, Mexico around the time of the Day of the Dead. You can see a bushel of marigolds in the foreground of the photograph. These neon orange flowers are prevalent around this time, when people use them to decorate altars and pay homage to those who have passed. Right after I took this shot, the guy in the bright yellow shirt chased me down for a small tip and some friendly flirtation.

Performers in Tepotzlan Mexico MarketJust outside of Vancouver, about an hour or so on bus, you will find Capilano Park, home to the 450 ft long and 240 ft high Capilano Suspension Bridge. When we finished crossing the bridge and exploring the park we noticed a 3 person band getting ready to play. They weren’t buskers in the traditional sense, (look at the name tags) but rather park employees. Nonetheless people gave them tips after they sang some Elvis, Johnny Cash, and other crowd favorites.

Vancouver BuskersBarrio La Boca in Buenos Aires is known for its brightly colored facades, its Italian immigrant population, and a slightly dodgy reputation. If you ignore the obvious tourist traps and souvenir shops, you can almost imagine the immigrants painting the houses bright colors, in order to give life to this rundown part of town. Nowadays it has become somewhat commercial, but you can still enjoy the tango performances at one of the many cafes.

Tango Dancers in La Boca Buenos AiresTango Dancers in Buenos Aires La BocaGrauman’s Chinese Theatre is exactly what you picture it to be, tacky, commercial, over the top, and just a bit uncomfortable. My discomfort is mostly due to an overzealous Elvis impersonator who got a little handsy. Nonetheless there is probably no other place you can see Jack Sparrow, Elvis, Zorro, Spiderman, Minnie Mouse, Jessica Rabbit, and even Chucky (you know the maniacal, homicidal plush toy that made you fearful that your toys would come to life in the middle of the night) all in the same place.

Los Angeles Chinese Theater Olvera Street in Downtown Los Angeles provides quite the contrast to the massive structures that crowd around the business sector. The performers, street vendors, restaurants, and cafes serve as a taste of Mexican culture a small tribute to a community with such a large population in this city. It is small and unassuming, but I tend to love areas such as these. I really enjoyed the fact that I could get a peeled mango on a stick, a massive dulce de leche stuffed churro, and agua de jamaica at one of the nearby vendors. The headdress of the performer below was amazingly massive, and from what I can tell there are many performances such as this one taking place nearby.

Downtown Los Angeles

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