[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 ūüôā 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 8] Royal Alc√°zar of Seville and off to Madrid

We had one last thing we needed to see in Seville and that was the Royal Alc√°zar 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 Alc√°zar 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 Alc√°zar 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 Ba√Īos de Do√Īa Mar√≠a 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 Alc√°zar 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 ūüėČ

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 Alc√°zar 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 5] Off to Seville

Our last day in Barcelona. We were lucky that our airbnb had a late checkout. We left our luggage and headed into the city for the last time. A lot of the places were closed on Sunday and because of this, a lot of cafes had lines out the door. So if you had a place in mind, make sure to make reservations!

We ended up at a Korean style cafe called Bing Bing Cafe and it was pretty legit. They had several bingsu flavors that are authentic to Korea which was pretty rare. We wanted to try some bingsu but we were here for brunch. And their brunch menu was also pretty good. They had several different bowls, smoothies, pancakes, hamburgers, and more. I got their poke bowl and it wasn’t too bad. If you are looking for something with a kick, I would recommend the Benedict Thai.

After our brunch, it was time for us to head to the airport to fly over to our next location, Seville. The check in line was long but we were able to check in online and only needed to tag our bags and send them off. The check in desk lines were long here so please check in online before coming to the airport. After we checked out bags, we headed through security. Weirdly, the line for the security seemed long but moved really fast.

Once we were inside, we headed to one of the lounges to relax before boarding our flight. There were several lounges but we settled in Canudas VIP Lounge. They had a decent food selection, mostly finger foods and snacks, as well as their drink selection. One thing about their drinks were that they were all bottles and you could not take them with you. It was weird to see glass bottles but also felt fancy.

When you are at the lounge, just check the time of your flight gate frequently. The airport is rather large and it might be at the end of the terminal. We had to run at the end and we were practically the last ones on board. But we made it to Seville safely.

We took an Uber to our airbnb and the driver could not get us to the front of the house. He ended up dropping us off a block away and told us which way to walk. So if you plan on bringing a lot of luggage, ask the airbnb if a cab can drop off at the front of the house.

Once we settled in, we started to look for a place to eat. We were pretty close to all the major attractions and had an array of restaurants to choose from. We didn’t want to go too far so we ended up at place called La Bartola. It was a small bar and we were lucky to have gotten the last seats at the bar. And this place was really good! They had an extensive wine list and a full list of tapas. Again, we wanted to try everything so we ordered one of each. They did have several tapas that also had meal size available. One that we really wish we got the meal size was the pork cheek stew. Carrillada Iberica con Parmentier de Patata. This was so good. We definitely need more. Everything here was good and I would recommend it. It is small so make reservation if you would like to try their pork stew!

With the travel, we wanted to be at our best condition the next day, so we decided to relax at home. We bought some snacks and wine from the local store and headed home. Nice day to relax a bit.

[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 Batll√≥. They were the same price and they were only 2 blocks from each other. After some deliberation, we decided on Casa Batll√≥.

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 M√†gica de Montju√Įc 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 13] Off to Uyuni

We woke up early in the morning, packed up, and headed to the airport at 6:30am. The hotel was able to get us a taxi fairly quick. The city of La Paz at sunrise was beautiful. The pink tone building with the early morning light was a sight to see. The road was clear so we were able to get to the airport in no time. Check in was a breeze too and headed to grab some breakfast.

Not all the restaurants in the airport were open and we had limited options. And since we were in Bolivia, I wanted to try something Bolivian. So I got Huminta, a Bolivian style tamale, and Tikimanas, a Bolivian style empanada. They were both really flavorful and filling. I actually couldn’t finish both of them because of their size. I didn’t realize how big they would be. But my travel companions were there to help me. For both, it was 17.5 bol. Not bad for breakfast at the airport.

The airport was so small that even the check point took only about 5 minutes and they didn’t take my water away. Once we were inside, we wanted for our boarding time. It was interesting since the boarding time was the same as the last call. There were a lot of people getting to the gate at the last minute, including us!

The plane that we took was really small and the ride was pretty bumpy. Once we got to Uyuni airport, we all got off at the tarmac. The Uyuni airport was TINY. It was the smallest airport I’ve seen. They did not even have a baggage claim belt. It was just this one corner they used as the baggage claim area. They don’t check tags or anything so keep your eyes open for your bag.

We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel. The interesting thing at Uyuni was that the taxi charges per person! So they try to fill the car up before leaving. The cost from the airport was 10 bol per person. With that, no one has to worry about if you are getting cheated on your taxi fare.

I wanted to try something new while at Uyuni and decided to stay at the salt hotel. We stayed at Hotel de Sal – Casa Andina. This is not the famous salt hotel but it had salt components in the hotel and the location was decent. We were a bit early for check in, so we left our luggage here and headed to book our tours.

There were several different tour agencies in Uyuni that specialized in Salt Flat tours. We decided to go with Brisa Tours. They had a tour with a photographer (extra cost) and I wanted some good photos with the stars. I had never done night photography before and since I was already here, I thought I wanted to get some nice photos.

At these tour agencies, they have papers outside that have different type of tours that are available and how many people can sign out. Anyone can come and write their name down and pay inside to make the reservation. We planned on doing the “Sunset + starlight” tour with Photographer As, who was part of Brisa Tours. The tour itself was 130 bol and we had to pay the photographer extra $120.

After we booked our tour, we decided to venture around a bit and grab something to eat before heading out on the tour. We found the local market and noticed that it was very similar to Peru’s market. And while following our nose, we found a fried chicken booth on the back side of the market. It was a bit hidden but those are the best, right?

The fried chicken was amazing! It was close to a chicken cutlet since it was so flat. It came with rice and veggie and the best part. It was only 8 bol.

After our meal, one of my travel companion decided to cut all our hairs! She is a hair designer in South Korea and she brought most of her tools to volunteer in Peru and Bolivia. I wanted to go super short and she just chopped it all off! After my hair cut, she asked around the hotel to see if anyone else wanted a cut and ended up cutting the receptionist’s hair too.

Our tour was at 3pm so after our haircuts, we headed back to the agency. They had a 8 seater van waiting for us. We drove about 20 minutes outside the city to this house to pick up rainboots and drove another 40 minutes to the salt flats. The ride was bumpy and we were told that some parts of the salt flats have sink holes so we all have to be careful. At first, the area was just dry flats and I was really worried we wouldn’t see water since it was dry season. But once we were out there, the view just made me speechless.

The weather was just spectacular with no clouds in sight. Also, the wind wasn’t too strong so we were able to get some good reflections. There was enough water to make the reflection too. Even though it was dry season, the tour agencies all know how far to go in to get the water so you do not need to worry about it.

It was just so pretty! When we got there, it was still very bright. But the sun started to set and the view just became even more amazing. The colors of the sunset seemed different here. And it really felt like we were the only ones here. It was so quiet, so surreal. I took the time to just bask in the sun.

Once the sun was gone, we had to wait for the stars to come up. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to see a lot of stars because the moonrise timing wasn’t that great for us. But slowly, stars were coming out and I was surprised that we were able to see so much of it with our naked eyes.

You could even see the Milky Way with your eyes. This picture was taken with my camera (Sony 5a) on a tripod on a timer. No filter whatsoever. Our photographer brought props that made the photos more interesting. The stars were just memorizing. I couldn’t believe I could see so much with my eyes. When I wasn’t taking photos, I was just looking up in awe. And the camera doesn’t do it justice. It was more mysterious in person and I cannot recommend the Starlight tour enough!

And one thing for sure. Make sure to wear layers or bring more clothes. Especially socks! While taking photos, we had to take off our shoes to get on the roof of the vehicle and in the process, our clothes, mostly our socks, got wet. So next time, extra socks! Also, it was extremely cold outside. Cold enough that my camera lens froze and wouldn’t focus. I had to take it inside the van to heat it up a bit before taking more photos.

After all the photos, we headed back to Uyuni. Even though it was late, everyone was so excited to have seen such a view that we kept talking about it. I definitely was amazing and worth it. I was not 100% satisfied with the pictures I took because it was my first time but it is a learning curve.

I did not plan much of Uyuni because everyone had said that everything is up to chances and luck. You might get lucky with day time weather, but not with night time weather. I heard so much of “what if” that I wanted to give myself a lot of buffer to work with.

I was debating doing a full day tour but I decided to wait to see what my body thinks the next day.