[Day 16] Prague Castle and other architecture

Another early morning start but this time, it started with some home cooked meal. My brother’s father and mother-in-law cooked us breakfast. While eating breakfast, I quickly checked the weather map and it was going to be a beautiful day.

We headed back to the Prague Castle for a better look. With the rain yesterday, we didn’t get to enjoy it fully. We had to go through security to get into the Castle first and once inside, we headed to the ticket office. There were several ticket choices and we decided to do Circuit B (250 CZK). This included the Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, Golden Lane, and St. Vitus Cathedral. Take a look at the different ticket types to see which one fits your interest. They also have audio guides and guided tours if you want to learn more history behind the Castle. Also, they had signs that said cash only but when we tried to walk away because we didn’t have enough cash, the staff pulled out the card reader and we were able to pay with card. I was so confused but also grateful that they took our card! When you visit, it would be best if you prepare both cash and card, just in case.

Once we had our tickets, we first headed to Golden Lane. I was also very curious about it since it also had another name: Alchemist’s Alley. Rumor has it that the king had brought in Alchemists to the castle to make gold. I’m not sure if there were actual alchemists here but if there were, they must have been pretty tiny. The houses here had displays of what it would have been like to live here and everything was small! The beds looked like it was for children and even some of the doorways, I had a bend a little to get in. Also, the houses were really cute. Each house had a unique design and color and made the street look like a fairy tale. I wish I could’ve taken a picture of all the houses but there were lots of tourists here and was impossible to get a photo of the street without anyone. I would suggest coming here early morning to have the place to yourself. Also, some of the houses were used a shops! They sold handmade goods such as pottery, art, books, and more.

We also went up the tower and this was like the barracks. They had weapon and armor displays and even sold them. The tower was connected to the wall of the castle and they still had wooden barrels on the windows that closed and opened for when they were under attack. The wooden barrel could be turned to provide an oepn slot for archers to shot out of and turned to close it for when the enemy attacked. That was so cool! The Golden Lane also had a dungeon that had several torture devices used back during the 16th and 17th century. The hardest part of the dungeon was getting out! The stairs were narrow and when a flood of people came in one by one, we just had to wait to get out.

After seeing Golden Lane, we headed to see the St. Vitus Cathedral. It was the most impressive building in the Castle and yesterday, we were only able to see the outside of it. When we got to the square, there was a long line to get into the cathedral that wrapped around the whole square. Luckily, the line moved ralatively quickly. One thing to look out for was that there were a lot of people who were trying to cut in line. We even had to tell some people to get to the back of the line. I would watch out for these people.

Once inside the Cathedral, the staff scanned our tickets and told us that no hats were allowed. We took off our hats and headed inside. The Basilica was also as grand as the outside decor. There were several architects who worked on this project and they added their own spin on this Gothic architecture. I really loved looking at the ceilings for the net-looking arches and the light coming in through the windows. They also had several stained glass windows that brought in color into the Basilica.

We visited the Old Royal Palace afterward. After seeing the Basicila, the Palace wasn’t as impressive but the Vladislav Hall was still grand. What I found interesting was that this Hall was still being used by the government to host large events! Even though Czech Republic does not have a roayl family anymore, these old royal building were serving a purpose for the current state. I really liked that and would love to see a modern event being held in a historic building. The palace also had their royal family tree? on the walls and ceilings. I’m actually not so sure if it was a family tree but the staff there told us not to take pictures so I’m not sure what it was. Regardless, it was interesting to look at.

Lastly, we visited the St. George’s Basilica. The church building was bright red and very hard to miss. Once inside, we noticed how small this basilica was. Even though it was small in size, the Gothic style continued here. I walked around and saw some interesting artwork and Gothic architecture details and walked out. This was probably the shortest time we spent inside a building.

Once we were outside the Castle, we decided to eat from the Christmas Market. We wanted to eat light because we were getting a big dinner. So we had some sausages, potatos, grilled cheese, and of course, Trdelník. This Market was also cash only! A lot of places in Czech Republic were cash only so I would recommend bringing enough. The Trdelník here did only had plain or nutella and we got the nutella. Getting one fresh off the fire was the best! Crispy outside and sofe inside. And of course, nutella made everything even better.

After our meal, we walked towards the Dancing House. We walked along the Vltava river and saw the multi-color houses. I really loved how European houses/apartments were so colorful! I wish American apartments could be as unique as these. [One thing I do wish we had done was visit the Lennon Wall. I did not know it at the time but it was fairly close to the Charles Bridge.] But the uniqueness did not compare to the Dancing House.

It was so interesting to see a curved building! And there were actual people inside! We could see their shadows through the windows. I wondered what the people living there would think of the tourist who take pictures of their house. There were lots of people posing for a funny picture like kicking or punching and it was amusing to look at.

It was starting to get dark really fast. It was about 4:40pm when the sun started to go down. The parents wanted to take us to a restaurant called U Fleků and this was on my “eat here” list! From the outside, you wouldn’t notice it but inside, there were several different dining halls. The ones by the entrance was already packed when we came and we were led to a dining hall in the back. The hall had long tables with benches and a stage at the front. I asked the staff and they told me that they have live cabaret shows on certain days. We ordered several dishes including the pork knuckles (Koleno) and it was delicious! Again, they had huge portions here.

What was special about this place was their beer. They brewed their own beer here and you could not get this beer anywhere else. It was a dark beer and the test was almost velvety. Once you get hooked on this beer, you would have to come here to taste it again! And I think that is the reason why the parents wanted to bring us here. It was really good and I highly recommend it! We did not make reservation and were luckily it was non-busy season. However, if you plan on visiting during a busy time, make reservation!

Also, we did not get to see the cabaret but that doesn’t mean we didn’t get any entertainment. An accordionist made rounds through the halls and one made it to our hall. You could request songs and if he knew them, he played it. He played some old classic pop as well as newer songs. When he came by our table, he asked us what ethnicity we were and when we told him Korean, he played one of our folk song and he was actually pretty good. We tipped him and he stayed at our table for a bit and played more songs. It was actually really nice. Never had a chance to hear an accordion so close up. It was definitely a treat.

After our meal, we headed back home. However, I wasn’t done yet! I decided to go back out to the Old Town Square and go up one of the Towers to get a bird’s eye view of the square. Plus, the family wanted more Trdelník so I headed out. My sister-in-law’s sister wanted to come with and it was more, the merrier. We headed to the Old Town Square and decided to go up the Astronomical Clock Tower. Once inside, there was a line for the ticket. We tried to buy it online but the website was not working. The line moved quickly and we were able to get inside fast. We were ready to climb some staircases but was surprised with an elavator! An extremely modern looking one at that. Of course, there was a ramp along the wall that you can climb up but why walk when you can ride? So we took the elavator up and the view was amazing! You were looking right into the Square. The view of the Church of Our Lady before Tyn and the Christmas Market was spectacular. I could see why people were visting the tower. While we were up, we saw the Christmas Tree show and it was a sight! We must have gone right before closing time because when we left, we were the last few there. It was nice being semi-alone.

Once we were out of the tower, we looked for a place to grab Trdelník from. We couldn’t get any from the Market because they did not take card. We walked down the alley and found a place that took card. And this place had fillings and ice cream. We got 2 Trdelník (chocolate/vanilla swirl with pistachio spread and chocolate spread with vanilla ice cream) and rushed home to share it with the family. Best way to end the night!

[Day 15] Christmas in Prague

It was Christmas day and we started the day early. We knew a lot of things were going to be closed and decided to just roam around the city and hope for the best. A lot of “things to see in Prague” are architectures so we were in luck, in that aspect.

First, we started at the Old Town Square. It was very quiet in the morning with all the Christmas market stalls closed and only a handful of people in sight. The Christmas tree was still lit and provided some light for the Square.

The Prague Astronomical Clock was next. In the morning, it looked even better since I could clearly see all the colors and details. It was really beautiful. Even though it was early morning, there were lots of people here taking photos. If you want individual photos, I recommend coming in the morning.

And we followed the road down to the Charles Bridge. On the way, we admired the old buildings and its colors, the brick road that mixed in with the new concrete roads, and the smell of fresh Trdelnik.

The view of the Bridge and from the Bridge were both amazing! There were lots of status on the Bridge that made it interesting to cross. And from the Bridge, you could see the Prague Castle and the view was just beautiful! There were not a lot of people when we got there but there were several photoshoots happening.

Once you cross the Bridge, you see a street full of shops, cafe, and restaurants. We found a small cafe and enjoyed breakfast. We only saw trdelnik at the Christmas Market and they only had 2 options (plain and nutella) but the cafe/restaurants had several different ones, including savory options. They were making it enjoyable for all occasion.

We were slowly making our way up to the Castle when someone approached us about a concert. Since it was Christmas, the family decided to make it special and bought tickets for it.

We eventually made it to the top of the hill. There was a Starbucks here that provided a good view and also a small Christmas market here as well. While taking pictures, we had a bit of a crisis and had to take a break. I ended up using the bathroom at the Starbucks and they had a turnstile entry. If you bought a drink from Starbucks, you would get a code at the bottom of the receipt. If not, you had to pay to get in, so bring coins with you!

Once the crisis was averted, we headed back towards the Castle. It was interesting because I always thought a “castle” was a one large building. However, the Prague Castle wasn’t just one building but rather a complex. It included the Saint Vitus Cathedral, the largest church in Czech Republic.

After taking this photo, it started to pour! We wanted to see the Golden Lane but decided to come back tomorrow and headed back down. Before heading home, we wanted to grab lunch and headed to a restaurant called U Glaubiců. This place was good! A bit on the pricier side but I think that has to do with location. We were seated outside and because of this, service was a bit slow. But the food was good! We ordered duck, ribs, and pork knuckle, and shared family style. The portions are pretty big so you can definitely share.

After a filling meal, we all headed back to the house and took a nap before heading out to see the concert. There were multiple concerts happening that night (even in the Prague Castle) and ours was in the Liechtenstein Palace. It was a small venue but very pretty. Getting to see a concert on Christmas day in a different country’s palace! What a dream!

I knew all the pieces so the concert was very enjoyable. We thought it was going to be an orchestra but it was only a quartet. However, they were very good and filled the room with beautiful music. What a great way to end Christmas night!

[Day 14] Off to Prague

Today, we were moving on to Prague and meeting my sister-in-law’s family there. Again, this was a new place and I was excited to explore it. My sister-in-law’s family had been there before so I didn’t do much planning except to look for places to eat at 🙂 It took about half a day to get there so plan out your schedule wisely.

Once at the Václav Havel Airport Prague, I was amazed at all the Korean I was seeing on the signs. Usually they have their native language, English, and Chinese but here, the only Asian language they had was Korean.

I think it was because back in the early 2000s, there was a really famous Korean TV drama called Lovers in Prague. This show got really high rating and attracted thousands of Koreans to visit Prague. It was interesting to see how a TV show could influence a country.

We were able to use UBER in Prague and used it to head to our accommodation. The airport is about 40 minutes away from the city and it felt like we were driving through the country side.

Once at our accommodation, we met with the family, unpacked, and shared gifts with each other. We got each other matching tops and hats so we had some fashion coordination for the coming days.

As dinner time came close, we headed out towards the heart of the city. It was raining but we still wanted to go out. If it is your first time going to Prague, look for hotels near Charles Bridge or the Old Town Square. This felt like the main area and offered a lot of things to see and from here, everything was pretty much walking distance.

For dinner, we did not make any reservation and ended up at a burger place called Joy Burger. They had regular burgers but I wanted to try something unique so I got the Olomouc beef burger. I was interested to know what olomouc cheese tasted like since I’ve never heard of it before. It was really good.

TIP: Similar to Spain, every restaurant, bar, cafe took reservations. If you have somewhere you want to try, make reservation

After finishing our meal, we continued to walk towards Old Town Square. They were having a Christmas Market here and was said to be the most popular. And it was! The place was crowded with tourists and locals, buying food and ornaments, and looking at the decorations. They had huge Christmas trees, all covered with lights, and it looked amazing with the surrounding Gothic architecture. I believe every hour, they also had a light show with music.

And because of the food, the area even smelled good! You could definitely come to the Market and fill up on different foods. Make sure to bring cash here. Different from Spain, Prague had a lot of places, even shops, that did not take credit card.

One of the food we fell in love with was Trdlo/Trdelník. This is a must try! It’s a tunnel cake and they use nutella or marmalade jam as a spread. Since this was the Market, we were able to get one right off the grill. Super fresh. Nice and hot. This would become our go-to dessert for the duration of our time in Czech Republic.

After getting our dessert, we moved to see the Prague Astronomical Clock. We had perfect timing as it started to ring right when we got there. It is impressive, even in the dark, and at each hour, as the clock strikes, you were able to see the 12 apostles appear. The clock tower was also bigger than I expected and I found out it was a tower you can go up! However, by the time we got there, it was closed.

After seeing the Clock, we kept walking and ended up on the Charles Bridge. Even thought it was late at night and it was raining, there were lots of tourist on the bridge taking pictures and taking in the night scenery. From afar, you could see the Prague Castle. After a quick look around, we headed back to our accommodation to get ready for a full day in Prague.

[Day 13] Day trip to Segovia

My last full day in Madrid, I decided to check out Segovia. I really wanted to see the Aqueduct of Segovia. This was as great place for a day trip and I highly recommend it. I was an 1 hour 20 minute bus ride and I booked the bus ticket using Omio. This website is super convenient for all travel in Europe!

In the morning, I made my way to Moncloa Station, which was a transit bus and train center. Once you were inside, you should see a line of people waiting by their bus gate number. I did not get my gate number on my ticket so I had to look for it. I could not find any information booth here so I went from gate to gate, looking at the signs and luckily, I was able to find the gate. The seats are the assigned so it’s first come, first serve. If you have someone you want to sit with, it is best if you get here early.

TIP: Even though it was off-peak season, the bus was filled! So I would recommend booking tickets early and getting to the transit center early, too.

This bus had two stops. The first one is Cristo Mercado and the second one is Segovia. Do not get off at the first one! This is a local bus stop by the street. They don’t really make clear announcements on the bus and lots of locals were getting off here so I can seem like this is the stop. Wait until the next stop and they should stop at a Bus station.

Once we got off, we started to walk towards the Aqueduct. The city is very small and everything is walking distance. Once you start walking towards the city, you should see the Aqueduct in the distance. And once you get close to it, you will notice how huge this is.

Walking through the arches, you are just amazed by ancient architectural beauty. Seriously, how did they built such a thing back in the days? You can walk up to the top and get a view of the city with the aqueducts. It is just spectacular.

After admiring it for awhile, we headed towards the city to find a place to eat. There were several restaurant choices but a lot of them were closed. So we ended up at Restaurante El Sitio. It didn’t look it from the outside, but it wasn’t a cheap bar/restaurante. I guess never judge a book by its cover.

We tried lubina horno (fish) and cochinillo racion (suckling pig). We didn’t get to see them actually cut the suckling pig but I was told that if we order 4 servings of it, they will bring out the whole pig.

TIP: If you are looking for something on the cheaper end, look for MENU DEL DIA. This is like the daily special menu and for a set price, you get a small course meal.

After our meal, we headed towards Catedral de Segovia. This catedral was not as grand as the one in Seville but still amazing. The gothic architecture and its details were so pretty. When we went inside, there was a ticket booth. There were two options for tickets available when we got there : General entrance fee (€3) and entrance and bell tower (€7). We wanted to get a good view of the city so we decided to do the bell tower. However, for the bell tower, they had a specific time slot and they only had the 4pm one available.

So while we waited, we decided to head over to Alcázar de Segovia first. The line for the ticket was really short but they had ropes wrapping around for busy season. General palace tickets were €5.5 and an extra €2.5 for Torre de Juan II. Since we were getting the bird’s eye view of the city from the Catedral, we decided to just do the Palace.

Before entering the palace, we spent some time admiring the outside of the Palace. Some people were saying that this place inspired Disney when they were designing the Cinderella’s castle. And I could see some resemblance in the pointy tops.

The inside was also impressive. The decors in each room were vastly different and each were unique. The Galley Room was my favorite with the gold molding. All the rooms had lots of windows that brought in sunlight and I bet the Royals living here loved to look at their land while enjoy the sunlight.

After walking through the rooms, you end up outside on the castle walls. It’s not the highest part of the castle but provides some view of the outside area.

After seeing all the rooms, we headed back to the Catedral for our tour. Unfortunately, they only provided one English tour and we had missed that one. Our tour was conducted in Spanish but our guide was able to answer questions in English and most of the signs had both languages.

We had to climb up several flights of stairs but had breaks in between which helped a lot. And once at top, you won’t regret it. The 360 view of the Catedral and the city was amazing! One really interesting fact I learned was that this Catedral’s tower was burned down due to a fire and they had to bring in another architect to rebuild. And their new architect decided that instead of a tower, he built a dome in a different style.

After seeing the view from up top, we headed back down and looked around the Catedral and found a small museum. We couldn’t take photos but they had several different Virgin and Child paintings. And as it was getting closer to sunset, we headed outside towards the courtyard and was greeted with amazing colors. It was hard to find the entrance to the courtyard and because of this, we had the whole place to ourselves. It was beautiful.

After viewing everything, we walked around the city. We needed some pick me up and ended up at Confitería El Alcázar, a sweets shop, and tried Ponche Segoviano. Guys. 100% please try this! This was amazing! It was like custard filled pastry and it was so good! I wish I could have bought a bigger size as take out! It was that good.

This was a really good day trip. Since it only took 1 hour 20 minutes, you got to spend more time seeing the city than in a bus. You can definitely make this into an overnight stay if you end up seeing both towers and doing some hikes around the city.

[Day 11 +12] Relaxing like the locals in Madrid

I am combining day 11 and 12 because most of the days, I just hung out with my brother and sister-in-law. After our other brother’s family left, we just wanted some time to be lazy.

My brother and sister-in-law really wanted me to try this restaurant called Taberna El Sur so we headed there for dinner. This place was really small and I would recommend that you make reservation in advance. There are lots of bar seating if you are ok with that as well.

It was tapas style and we tried different things from the menu. We all got sangria first and ordered tapas like ropa vieja (braised flank steak) and carrillada (braised pork cheeks). They were so good. And the portions were good too. We ordered 4 tapas and it was enough for us.

After our filling meal, we walked to Plaza de Cibeles to see Cibeles Palace. I saw this place while driving by so I wanted a closer look. The building is all white but during the night time, they flashed different color strobes on it, making it look green, red, and more. We tried to go inside but they were closed.

TIP: I also did not realize how close this place was to Retiro Park. I would see this Palace first and head into Retiro Park for a half day tour.

And because it was the holidays, the streets were full of decorative lights. And by the Metropolis Building, they even had a giant Christmas Ornament. While walking back to Puerta del Sol, we saw several Christmas trees as well. It was really beautiful during the night time.

Our Sunday morning started with us visiting a church. We walked most of the way to church but on our way back, I got to ride the metro for the first time. The ticket was easy to use but we ended up getting off at the wrong stop and had to buy another ticket. They had pretty bad customer service.

We didn’t know what to eat for lunch and ended up at Tierra Burrito Bar and it was similar to Chipotle. But the portions were huge! They couldn’t even roll the burrito all the way, which was better for me 🙂 I think this solved my craving for American food.

Afterwards, we headed to the Royal Palace of Madrid. I just wanted to see what it looked like. There were lots of street performers outside the Palace and many tourist and locals taking walks. It was pretty peaceful. I did not get to go inside since I did not have tickets but by the size of it, you would need to spend at least 3 hours to see the place.

I also got to see the Catedral de la Almudena and this was impressive. Even more so than the palace! The architecture was stunning. We couldn’t go in because it was too late but still amazing. I would recommend staying here and seeing the sunset. It would make a killer photo.

[Day 10] Easy day in Madrid

Today was the last day we were spending as a family in Madrid. We didn’t have a lot of time so we decided to take it easy.

First, we headed to Puerta del Sol and saw the KM 0 marker. It is easy to miss since there are no signs pointing to it and it’s in the middle of the street. It was used as a place people would come and set their odometers to zero when they were traveling. Sort of like mile markers.

Afterwards, we headed into the Square to see the statue of the Bear and the Strawberry tree. I’m not 100% what it means but it represents the coat of arms for Madrid. I know it is popular because I saw all the magnets and mug cups with the bear on it in several different gift shops.

The Square was full of people in lines to get the lottery tickets and we had to zig zag around them. For our last meal together, we decided to do something simple but impactful and ended up at Chocolatería San Ginés. My brother told me that this was his favorite spot for hot chocolate and churros. And yes! I agree. This place was the best! The hot chocolate was thicker and less sweet and the churros were hot and crispy. We also got to try the porras, which were thicker version of a churros. (Personally, I like porras better. It’s more fluffy)

After snacking on our hot chocolate and churros, we had to say good bye to one of my brother and my sister-in-law. And I had to move my luggage to my other brother’s house which was between Puerta del Sol and Mayor, a prime location. After moving all my stuff to their house, we took a small break because it started to rain.

Since it was getting chilly, we decided to get some food that would warm us up! My brother really wanted me to try the pho place in Madrid and I am also down for pho. We headed to a restaurant named Vietnam and ordered pho. Their menu was not as extensive as the Vietnamese restaurant in the US but had the essentials. The pho was pretty good but the sauces were not the best. They had a different version of sriracha sauce and it was too runny and the flavor was not the same. But it still warmed us up well.

After our meal, we walked back towards Puerta del Sol and saw a line of people headed into a building. We weren’t sure what it was but decided to check it out. We later found out it was the Real Casa de Correos building and they have an annual Nativity scene display inside called Navidad el Sol.

The display inside was amazing and I was so glad we accidentally stumbled in. The nativity scene here wasn’t just the stable but all of Bethlehem! I couldn’t fit all of it into my camera in one go. You can imagine how big it was. They also had Christmas Forest with several Christmas trees. If you visit Madrid during the holidays, this would be a must see!

[Day 9] Touring Madrid

Our first full day in Madrid started with some bad weather forecast. It was going back and forth between cloudy and rainy and we were prepared for both.

First stop, Mercado de San Miguel for some breakfast. The market is not as big as the one in Barcelona but it has all the offerings. It is indoors and when we arrived around 10am, it was already bustling with tourists. Similar to La Boqueria in Barcelona, they had simple take out stalls as well as restaurants. I ended up getting empanadas and they had so many different fillings.

There is a sit down area in the middle of the market and several of the restaurants also had stools for their stalls. If you missed la Boqueria, this could show you what it is like at these Mercado.

After filling ourselves, we headed to Parque del Retiro to see the Crystal Palace. Retiro Park is huge and you can easily spend half day here. We took an Uber to the park and our driver dropped us around Paseo de la Argentina. This entrance leads straight to the Retiro Park Lake and to the view of the Alfonso XII’s monument.

This would be a great spot to relax and hang around when the weather is nicer and warmer. There were lots of benches and playground for kids. We also saw a lot of signs for different gardens, art gallery, and monuments. One in particular was the Crystal Palace. My sister-in-law highly recommended it and we wanted to check it out.

However, when we got to the Palace, it was closed! There were many people waiting outside so I thought maybe it wasn’t open yet. However, the time posted outside said otherwise. We thought we could wait until they opened again since we saw a staff member inside the building. So we waited and took pictures of the exterior.

As we were taking photos, a police car came by and told everyone to leave the park. The officers started to usher people towards the exit. Without any explanation, we started to walk towards the exit. The park was so big and we didn’t know where we were so it took a bit to get to the exit. And once we were outside the park, we saw a sign that stated “PARK CLOSED. HIGH WIND” sign on the gates. So a storm was coming.

After a few moments, it started to pour! Thankfully, we brought umbrellas but we had to rethink our plan. Our original plan was to visit the Real Jardin Botanico de Madrid but with the rain, we didn’t want to walk through the garden.

After some thought, we decided to visit the Templo de Debod, an Egyptian temple that was gifted to Madrid. When we got to the temple, there was a line of people waiting to get inside. Even thought it is called a temple, it is more of a museum and entry is free. Inside, you can see different gods and goddesses, scale model of the building, and learn about the history of the Temple. The inside is really small and you can see everything within minutes. Just be prepared for that.

And it would have been nice to see the moat filled with water but it was empty when we visited. We still got to walk around the walkway after we visited the temple. And because of the rain, no one was outside. Also, if you walk to the back of the temple, you can get a nice view of the city.

After seeing the Temple, we decided to take a break and headed back home. And before we got home, we stopped at Museo de Jamon. The name says it’s a museum but it is actually a store and restaurant. We stopped by to buy some jamon and cheese. They have so many different types of jamon, from front leg to back leg, and what feed the pigs were fed. If you are not sure what to get, ask for samples! The price range is quite wide and I’m sure you can find jamon that you like.

With our hands full of jamon and cheese, we came back home and rested. We snacked on the jamon and I kept going back to its saltiness. They are similar to prosciutto so if you like prosciutto, you will surely like jamon.

After some relaxation, we headed to our dinner reservation at Botin. A friend of mine had recommended this place for both the food and the history. It is considered the oldest restaurant in the world! Wow! Almost 300 years of history.

And my friend recommended the roasted Suckling pig. We ordered several dishes including the suckling pig and filet mignon. All the food was good but they were on the salty side. Ask for less salt if you do not like salty food. Also, make reservation! We had reservation right at their opening hour and there was a line already.

[Day 8] Royal Alcázar of Seville and off to Madrid

We had one last thing we needed to see in Seville and that was the Royal Alcázar of Seville. My brother really wanted to see this since it was in Game of Throne. We booked tickets in advance again and visited early in the morning. When we got there, the regular line was starting to get long.

This time, we got the audio guide and walked around, listening to the history of the Royal Alcázar of Seville. The architecture here was heavily influence by islamic design but while listening to the audio guide, I found out that because the construction took a long time, several different styles were incorporated. I guess 500 years of construction will make you want to change your mind about what is popular then.

The Royal Alcázar of Seville is made up of several different halls, courtyards, gardens, and more. I would suggest you time your visit wisely. You can easily spend 3 hours here just looking around and taking pictures.

While looking and admiring the details in the design and decor (especially the tiles), my brother was eagerly looking forward to the Game of Thrones filming locations. He was looking for mainly three things: Mercury’s Pond (Estanque de Mercurio), Baths of Maria de Padilla (Los Baños de Doña María de Padilla), and the Fountain of Neptune (Fuente de la Neptuno) in Jardines del Principe.

These must have been major view points because all of them were bustling with people. We had to patiently wait for people to trickle out. The signs in the Garden’s are not easy to follow but Mercury’s pond is hard to miss because it is higher up and Baths of Maria de Padilla is right next to it. Mercury’s pond is relatively small compared to how big Alcázar is but the small waterfall makes a very calming sound and I could see the royals relaxing on that balcony.

Baths of Maria de Padilla is just steps away from Mercury’s Pond and it is underground. All the arches and its reflection on the water makes the wait worth awhile. The water here wasn’t all that clean and I’m guessing they don’t use it for baths anymore 😉

And lastly, we had to walk a bit through the Gardens to find it but we located the Fountain of Neptune. There were so many small fountains around the gardens and even the gardens were huge! Luckily, this fountain was also relatively close to Mercury’s Pond.

It was fun, walking and exploring Royal Alcázar of Seville with a mindset of “I’m going to find these filming locations!” because it gave us something to look for. And we tried to take pictures similar to the casts and had a lot of fun looking for pictures to try.

We didn’t get to spend a lot of time here but we had to catch our train to Madrid so we had to cut our tour short. We headed back to our accommodation and called an uber to head to the station.

At the station, we didn’t have much time so we quickly grabbed lunch from McDonald. If you have time, there are other restaurant options in the Station. When it was time, we found our platform and got on the Renfe train. It was about 3 hours 30 minutes to Madrid. The reason why we decided on taking the train was that the cost was slightly cheaper and if you consider checking in time and the time to and from the airport, it was going to be quite similar.

Once we were at Madrid, we took a cab from the station to our next accommodation near Plaza Mayor. There were lots of cabs waiting outside the station and it was very easy to find a bigger cab that can fit all our luggage.

Our accommodation was literally across the street from Plaza Mayor and it was crowded with people who were celebrating the Holidays. There was a Christmas Market here as well but they were selling more carnival goods such as masks, wigs, and small knick knacks.

For dinner, my brother recommended an interesting sandwich called Calamares Bocadillos. Literally Calamari sandwich. He took us to Bar La Campana, walking distance from Plaza Mayor, and got one sandwich. Why? Because they only took cash and we only had enough for one sandwich. They don’t give you any sauce or seasoning. It is just calamari. So if you like calamari, this is it! Since the calamari was fresh, the crispiness of the fried calamari with the soft bread wasn’t too bad. I do with they had some sort of sauces. (Maybe sriracha?)

To grab a real meal, we headed to Gourmet Experience. This was the top floor of a shopping center and the whole floor was about food. The roof top view of the place was really nice. However, all the seats were taken and there were multiple lines everywhere.

So we took this time to just enjoy the view and headed to a place my brother recommended for tacos called Taqueria El Chaparrito. And it was pretty legit tacos here. If you are in town and are craving Mexican food, this could be your spot! Great place for some late night tacos and beer.

[Day 7] Walking around Seville

I wasn’t at my 100% yesterday but was starting to feel better. However, everyone else got sick and needed to take the day off. We all needed some food and what is better than your hometown food when you are sick. So we looked for a Korean restaurant and found one in the city. It was called Moon and we thought we would give it a try. We were hoping to get some guk, Korean style soup, but they only had spicy options. We ordered several warm dishes but they were a bit salty. Make sure you ask for less salt.

After the meal, everyone wanted to go back to the house and rest more. I wanted to walk around a bit, so we split up. I didn’t want to take too long myself so I just followed one road to the riverbed.

While walking, I saw the Plaza de Toros. It was smaller than I expected from the outside. The white and yellow really stood out. The Plaza was closed but there were carriages waiting for customers and it seemed like a known hangout place for the drivers.

And once you cross the street, you could see the river and Puente de Isabel II, one of the main bridges. The weather was so nice after the rain last night and there were several people relaxing here as well. I also sat by the water and just watched some people on kayaks, boats, paddle boards, cruises, and even rowing! It was winter but there were still a lot of people taking part in water sports.

Also, the houses across the water were so colorful and unique. I really liked that the cities in Spain had so much color to them. I walked along the river towards another bridge, Puente de San Telmo and there was a road made for biking and walking. The walk was very scenic and quiet and at the end of the road, you would see Torre del Oro. It really is a single tower by the water.

You could go up the tower but I think the view from the Cathedral’s Giralda would be much better. But I really liked how the tower wasn’t a square or a circle, but a dodecagon, 12 sided. It was a watch tower, a prison, and also an anchor point for chains in case invaders came with ships. This way, they could not get into the city on their ships. The history behind it was fascinating.

After the walk, I decided to head back home and rest. There were rows of gift shops on the streets and most of them had similar things including the Seville tiles. These ceramic tiles were just mesmerizing. The colors, the design, all of it. And it wasn’t in just gift shops. These tiles could be seen around the city in multiple architectures and they were just beautiful.

Once I was done shopping, I headed home, grabbed the family, and went to dinner. This time, we decided to try our other favorite food, Italian. We made reservation at La Piemontesa and tried to take it slow. I would highly recommend making reservation. It was packed when we arrived. We ordered pasta and it was really good. My brother said that it was one of the best Italian food he had so that said a lot. And the atmosphere here is really nice too. Quite romantic.

After our meal, we looked at some Christmas lights on the main street and my brothers goofed around on the motor scooter for a bit before heading home. We all hoped that tomorrow, we would all feel better.

[Day 6] Seville Cathedral and Plaza de España

Today, we were going to spend the day explore two of the City’s main attractions: Catedral de Sevilla and Plaza de España. We had purchased tickets online for the cathedral from the official website the night before.

TIP: Buy tickets in advance! Time slots sell out fast and you might have to stand in a long line to buy the ticket. If you buy them in advance, there is a separate line that is much faster.

When we arrived, the line for the regular ticket was already long but we were able to skip the line and head straight inside. While walking in, you can see all the details of the building and it will awe you. I mean, it is the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world and an UNESCO site. Everything here is grand.

When you first walk in, you enter into an art gallery. There are several Madonna and Child portraits and statues along with Crucifixion. There wasn’t any English description on the art pieces but I still enjoyed the artwork.

We didn’t get the audio guide for the Cathedral so we roamed around freely. Once you pass the art gallery, you are guided into the Cathedral. And wow! The ceiling are so tall and they had several chapels and tombs for famous people such as Christopher Columbus. There were so much to see

We walked around, saw several alters, more paintings, more tombs, and decided to walk up the bell tower, Giralda. First off, this was a walk. It’s all sloped and is about 34 floors high. I’m not sure how the tower’s numbering system worked but it goes up to #34. My brother said that we were almost there starting at 16 and I’m so thankful that he kept pushing me up because the view is breathtaking!

From the top of the tower, you can get a full view of the city in all directions. You might have to wait a little to see the view because it is a popular spot and a lot of people were taking pictures by the fences. And it was super windy and I saw a couple people chase after their hats so watch your belongings!

From a different angle, you could see the Cathedral and its orange tree courtyard. While looking at this, I couldn’t stop imaging what it would be like if we came during blossoming season. The orange blossom’s citrus fragrance would definitely reach the towers.

We were able to enjoy the views for about 15 minutes and the bells started to ring. At first, we were going to waited it out but they were really loud. 25 bells ringing in sync is not something your ears can handle. We decided to walk back down. This time, a bit slower and I was able to look out the windows and admire the architecture a bit more.

Once you are done with Giralda, you walk into the orange tree courtyard. There were several people enjoying the shade and relaxing. It was a nice pace to be at. It was also nice to see the bell tower from the bottom up this time. Different views, different perspective.

After leaving the Cathedral, we walked to Plaza de España and this was a long walk. Longer than I expected. And once we arrived, according to Google map, we were met with a fence. It wasn’t the entrance. Or at least it was closed when we got there. We followed the road along the fence and found the entrance. Once you are inside, you forget about the walk you just had to take to get here. It is beautiful.

Every corner of this Plaza is picturesque. There were families resting on benches, children playing by the water fountain, couples taking a stroll. It was just peaceful. The architecture is also unique to the region and I really loved seeing all the arches.

And because we were visiting during off season, there weren’t a lot of tourist around. We were able to enjoy time here like locals and hung around the benches and just talked and relaxed. The fountain turned off and turned on so you have to time it right for pictures. Also, walk inside the building to see the wall decors and the arches!

After all the relaxing, we were getting hungry so we took an Uber back to the Cathedral area. There were several restaurants gathered here and we decided to eat at Bar la Catedral. We ordered some Sangria for the table and more tapas and of course, paella.

And it was a good thing we decided to sit inside because right after we ordered food, it started to pour. With the sound of rain drops, the small chitchats of the restaurant, the smell of all the delicious food, we really enjoyed the food. And by the time we finished paying for the food, the rain stopped and we were able to walk home and relax.