[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 4] Gaudi, Gaudi, and more Gaudi

Today was our grand Gaudi tour. We started the day with a visit to La Sagrada Familia. We had purchased tickets from the official website for Sagrada Familia with Towers and picked the Nativity Facade. One of the reasons we wanted to see the Nativity Facade was that it was completed by Gaudi himself in 1935. And it was really a good thing that we purchased from the official website. I’ll explain in a bit.

We bought morning tickets and the line was pretty short. You have to go through security similar to the airport and they have several lines so it moves quickly. Once inside, you have to get in a separate line to pick up the audio guide. And with the audio guide, you are really left to venture around yourself until the time for the tower rolls around.

And wow. This place is just amazing. The gothic details on the facade are definitely a sight you don’t want to miss! Just standing here, you are facing one the world’s most prominent architecture that is still being built. We spent a lot of time here, carefully listening to the audio guide, learning about Gaudi and his masterpiece. The nativity scene here is decorated with different plants and animals and all was intended by Gaudi himself. Just wow.

And when the time for us to go up to the tower came, we realized that there was no line. At first, we were excited to the first one but saw the line was blocked off! We asked the staff what was going on and they told us that because of high wind, the towers were closed for the day for everyone’s safety. WHAT?! No!!! I was looking forward to going up to the tower but weather was something out of our control. And this is the reason for buying with the official website. They told us that within a month, we should we getting a portion refund for the towers. If you buy with a 3rd party, most of the time, you would not be able to get anything back.

We were sad that we couldn’t go up the towers but we were able to spend more time inside and see the sunlight start shining through the stained glasses and wow. What colors! I would really recommend staying longer to see the colors.

Once we were done with the inside, we came out to the other side and you see a whole new style of detailing. The Passion facade is a bit more bulky and more masculine. The scene here is the Crucifixion of Christ and the feel here is different from the nativity side but still amazing.

After seeing all around, we headed to La Boqueria. During the day time, the market was packed and they had so many different types of foods, from raw materials to cooked meals. While here, we tried all of them. From sandwiches to juices. They were all very good. It isn’t really cheap here so I would suggest that you share the snacks to try different ones together.

Afterward, we headed to Parc Guell. We did not buy tickets in advance since we were not sure what time we would head over but please buy it online. The line gets really long and during busy season, they can even sell out. When you buy tickets, there is a time of entry so make sure you buy the one that works. The staff were very strict on time. We bought our tickets when we arrived and we had about one hour to kill. We were able to look around the free parts of the park beforehand. The free portion of the park is higher up so you could get a good view.

And once our time came around, we were able to go inside and see the park. However, there were lots of construction going on and some parts were even closed off. Even with that, the park was very pretty and interesting. We first started off with Casa del Guarda, the gatekeeper’s house. Inside, they had an exhibition about the park and it was worth a look. The blue colors of the walls were really pretty.

The architecture here is interesting too. There are lots of arches and curves. I really loved their use of mosaic tiles in multiple places, including on the colorful chameleon. He was much smaller than I expected but cute regardless. And once you follow the road up to the top of the park, there is this huge open space and the view of the city from here is spectacular. The tiles on the benches and the backdrop of Barcelona cityscape is just perfect for pictures.

After spending some time here, we wanted to check out more of Gaudi’s work so we headed back to the city. We didn’t know which one we should go into since we didn’t have much time. We had to pick one between Casa Mila and Casa Batlló. They were the same price and they were only 2 blocks from each other. After some deliberation, we decided on Casa Batlló.

Casa Batlló also used lots of colorful stones on the exterior and the sunlight made the building sparkle. Even the roof was colorful. And their audio tour was very interesting. They used AR technology with their audio tour which provided a more interesting walkthrough of the building. When we arrived, the sun had already set and I think it would be better if you visit during the day.

As interesting the exterior is, the interior is also fascinating. Starting from the entrance, the floors, the walls, everything was made with intent. And t he blue tiles on the inside makes it seem like you are outside and they had snow flurries and it really looked as if you were looking into a courtyard. And through the audio tour, I learned that the tiles were placed inside to reflect light into part of the house and I really loved the idea.

After seeing the house, we headed back to Font Màgica de Montjuïc to see the Magic Fountain show. We arrived perfectly for the show at 9:30pm and it was very pretty but cold. The wind was strong this day and the water from the fountain got everyone wet. But the music, color, and splash of water was truly magical. They used different types of music including classical, pop songs, and traditional songs. It was really fun to watch.

The show as quite long so you don’t have to be there at 9:30pm but if you want front row, you should come early. I wouldn’t recommend it since you will get wet and even the view from the back is really good.

We headed to grab dinner at Ciutat Comtal and I highly recommend this place and you 100% should make a reservation. We had a huge party and luckily, they had a table for us. I was recommended this place by a friend and she told me that we have to try their honey cod and I agree! We had several tapa dishes including the honey cod and we ended up ordering more cod. Look for Bacalao al Allioli de Miel. We also tried their gambas, calamari, razor clams, and of course, sangria. They are all very good and the price wasn’t bad at all for the quality of the food.

After our delicious meal, we wanted to end the night on a sweet note so we made our way to a churro spot. Both my brother and I found a same place named Xurreria. It had really good reviews and we were down. What we didn’t know was that the one we picked was an outdoor stall. But do not look down on these stalls. The staff made the churros fresh in front of us. And eventhough it was cold and late, there were several locals who came by for takeout.

What a day!

[Day 16] Last day in Bolivia

Last day in Bolivia. I wanted this to be a lazy day and the accommodation I picked was the best for that. The official check out was until 1pm! I’ve never heard of a hotel’s check out time being this late. However, this was my only full day in La Paz so I wanted to check it out.

I packed my bags, checked out of the hotel around 11am, stored luggage at the hotel, and ventured out.

First, we headed to st. Francisco church to meet a new travel buddy for the day. As this trip was my first trip alone, I tried to gather people to travel with, before and during the trip. And I think I was very successful. Throughout my whole trip, I was with someone and everyone has been awesome.

So today, I met up with my new travel buddy and headed to Valle de la Luna. Before, I looked at tour agencies but could not find something that suited my schedule. So I decided to take the local bus. After some searching, a lot of people were pointing me to bus #43. However, after waiting for over 30 minutes, we asked the police for help. They told us to take #902 going to Mallas.

The bus was only 2 bol but the traffic was awful! If you are going to visit Valle de la Luna by bus, please go early in the morning. It took over an hour and the road was rough. The bus system was interesting. It was more l ike a mini van. People would fill in the seats and when it was full, the driver would not stop at any of the other stops until someone got off. And people paid the driver as they got off.

Once at Valle de la Luna, there was an entrance fee of 15 bol and there were several different trails, all marked with how long it takes, and we decided to take the 45 minute one. The trail was beautiful and presented itself with a very different kind of view than what I expected. Since it was named Valley of the Moon, I was sort of expecting craters or something similar to it. However, the Valley was filled more more sharp peaks and cliffs. Luckily, the trail had a lot of railings for safety. They also had lots of picturesque areas to take photos so even on the 45 minute trail, it took longer.

Also, it was really hot! The Valley did not provide any shade and since we were there around 1pm, the sun was really on top of us. Make sure to bring a lot of water because the trail doesn’t have any fountains. The trail is one way so you just have to keep going. There are lots of ups and downs so be ready to walk.

After finishing the trail, we decided to go back to the city. This time, we wanted to take the telefarico. So we took a cab to the closest line, which was the green line. The cab was 25 bol and at the green line, we bought tickets to Prado, which was 15 bol for 3 people.

From the green line, we transferred to the blue/celestial line and got off at Prado. From here, we walked to Witch’s Market. It was so small. Smaller than I expected. There were small, individual shops that all sold similar things like stones, perfume, incense, and items for rituals like dried animal and animal parts. I wasn’t sure what to buy here so I just took pictures. I wasn’t super impressed but very unique.

So we headed to dinner. We wanted to find some traditional Bolivian food so we searched for a place and found “Luciernagas Restaurant” and this place was amazing. It was all home cooking and tasted great. The restaurant is in a residential area so while looking for it, I thought we were so lost.

Once we were at the restaurant, we met the owner and his wife. The owner recommended our meals and the wife cooked for us. It was a family owned business and really great for home cooked meals. They had an extensive menu but there were several things that were not available, so ask! We ordered a soup and main entree to share. The portions were pretty big here.

After dinner, we wanted to see the city light up the night. I was told the best view of the city was at Killi Killi park. I was told the Park could be dangerous at night but when we were there, it didn’t seem too bad. There were several travelers taking photos there and some locals playing around. It was cold but the view was nice. The lights from the city sparkled and provided a good city view.

One thing that worried me was the ride back. Our hotel was nice enough to get us a cab when we went up to the park but the way down was different. We tried to call an Uber but they wouldn’t come. We thought about walking down but that was a long walk. Lucky for us, a tourist came up and we were able to take that cab back to the hotel.

While going back, we saw the night market and it was really lively. I wish I could have visited. It looked like there were lots of food vendors. Once we were at the hotel, I said good bye to my travel buddies and headed to the airport.

Since I was taking the night plane out of Bolivia, the airport was very empty. It took only minutes to check in and it was very simple and quick. I wasn’t looking forward to ending my trip but was looking forward to sleeping in my bed again. After checking in, I headed inside to use the lounge. It had a small selection of things but had warm food like pancakes, cold food like cereals, and drinks. They have 3 different local beers and pepsi products.

This concluded by trip to Peru and Bolivia. It was my first time traveling in South America and it was amazing. I cannot wait to come back soon.

[Day 15] Last day in Uyuni

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do another tour before leaving Uyuni but everyone I talked to said that day time is different from sunset so I decided to do a last tour. (3 tours just in Uyuni!) There are usually several tours each day and they are all separately by time.

Starlight+Sunrise is the earliest one, usually from 3am to 7:30am. Day time is 10am to 3:30pm. There is also Day time+Sunset which is from 10:30am to 8:30pm. The one I did previously was the Sunset+Starlight, from 4pm to 10pm. And lastly, there is just Starlight, which is from 11pm to 3am. The times could be slightly different for each tour agency but it would be very similar to this.

I checked the moon and sun phase to make sure I would be able to see the stars. Depending on when the sun sets and when the moon rises, you might see more stars in the Sunset+Starlight or Starlight+Sunrise. They are all beautiful.

So the day time tour was from 10am to 3:30pm and since it was our last day, we also had to check out. So we woke up early, packed our things, eat our last breakfast, checked out and headed to the tour agency. We were able to leave our luggage at our accommodation and they also told me that they can provide the shower after the tour. Score!

We requested another Photography session with As and headed out. As told us that if we go with a photographer, usually the driving route changes so that people can get more of the salt flat shot. However, since we requested it, we were able to visit the train cemetery. It wasn’t as impressive as I imagined but still very cool to look at. There were several trains that were just abandoned on the unused tracks. Interesting enough, there was actually an active track right next to the cemetery. We were able to go on the trains to take pictures but As told me that there were several accidents here so be careful.

After looking around the train cemetery, we headed into the salt flats. First, we visited the dry flats. This was our first time here since for the Sunset+Starlight, they only take you to the wet flats. The dry flats were so different. The ground was sharp and it felt more like a desert. And it was 100% less crowded compared to the wet flats. I mean, we were the only ones here.

There were 4 of us taking photos with the photographer and in between our sessions, we took pictures of each other. We were able to do some illusion shots with different props that the tour agency provided. This includes the dino shot, wine bottle shot, and the stomping shots. These are probably the most common photos you would see online if you searched Uyuni. Our driver was nice enough to take some photos of us while we waited for our photographer!

*Remember! They are your driver, not your photographer! Some of them have had this job for a long time and may have experience taking these types of photos but they are not required to take them for you. If they do take photos/videos of you, make sure to tip well for their extra service.

I thought the weather was perfect for pictures. No cloud in sight. However, we found out it was a bust when we got to the wet flats. The wind was too strong and we couldn’t get the reflections at all. You could see ripples everywhere. It was unfortunate but we still had fun. This time, the photographer brought some props along, like flower bouquets and colorful umbrella! It was different and difficult, taking pictures with props. This was my first time taking pictures like this so I felt so awkward. If you are interested in doing a photo session, make sure to practice at home!

The day time tour was short compared to sunset+starlight so we were back in the city a little past 3:30pm. When we got back to our hotel area, we realized there was a huge market outside our hotel and we wanted to check it out before flying out.

First, we decided to take a shower. However, the hotel told us that they could provide the shower but no towels. Luckily, I had brought a towel just in case and was able to take a quick shower. They even provided a rest space if you wanted to take a nap. It was a smaller room upstairs with a single size bed. Because Uyuni is a tourist town, hotels might offer such service. Make sure to ask the hotel you are staying in to see if they have such space.

After washing up, we went out to the market. This market had everything! They had live animals for sale, mostly chickens, clothing for all ages, kitchenware, and of course, food. I walked down for about 10 minutes but I was still seeing rows of shops. However, it looked like they were still setting up. So I decided to check out the city a bit more.

Walking up the main street, there was a decent size super market. From here, I got an ice cream bar and it was so refreshing! During the day time, the sun was still hot so it was nice to just chill and eat some ice cream.

Also, right across the street, there was an arcade. They had several different games from street fighter, tekken, FIFA, and more. But their biggest thing was PUMP. I was so surprised to find a PUMP machine here so I just had to play. All the games were 1 bol. I didn’t have coins on me but there was someone here that did the exchange. I wanted to play more but after 1 game I was done! Not because I was tired but because of the altitude. My lungs were just screaming for air but I had a lot of fun, walking dancing through memory lane. While I was catching my breath, I watched some of the local kids play games and did not realize time was passing so fast.

When I walked back outside, the market was now bustling with people. A lot of kids were out with their parents, shopping and hanging out with friends. I wanted to grab something to eat before heading to the airport so I looked around the market. I really wanted the fried chicken cutlet again but it was closed. I’m guessing it was because of the market being open. So I looked around the market and several of the places looked like it had lines.

I knew I didn’t have much time now and I needed to get something to-go, so I found a stall that was selling chicken and other things. I wasn’t so sure what was on the menu but I pointed at the chicken and chorizo and was able to get it to-go.

After getting my food, we took a cab to the airport. It was 15 bol per person this time. The cab ride was short and the check in process was even shorter. It took less than 5 minutes to check in. We were flying with Amazonas and they allowed 1 free checked bag. So I checked one of my bag and ate my dinner using my other bag as a table.

The chicken was cooked perfectly and the chorizo was spicy enough. As I was enjoying the food, more and more people were coming into the airport and the line was getting longer. There were only 2 people working the check in desk but it was moving pretty quickly.

Soon, they told everyone to move into the actual lounge area. Before moving, we had to pay the airport tax. You cannot fly out of Uyuni without paying the tax. It was 11 bol and they gave me change back.

To get to the lounge, you had to go through a metal detector. However, they did not have one for bags. Some of the bags were hand checked but not all of them. It was a very short process and also very interesting. They also do not mind if you bring water in. And as I stated before, it was a very small airport. We had to walk to the tarmac again to get on the plane, just as we did when we got here.

The plane ride was uneventful. Once we were out of Uyuni’s range, it was pitch black outside. It really felt like there was nothing out there but soon, the lights from La Paz started to glow. When we got to La Paz airport, we had a taxi driver waiting for us and we got to the hotel safely.

We were not planning on doing anything too crazy the next day so we decided to Netflix and chill for a bit. The Loki Boutique, our accommodation, had free Netflix, so we watched John Wick. What a good way to relax and end the night.