Days 6 and 7 in Spain – Exploring the Festival of Patios in Cordoba!

The old streets of Cordoba are small, but they felt extra packed while we were visiting. Why? Because we visited during the Cordoba Patio Festival!

Here’s some background on the festival from Andalucia.com:

The Patio contests is sponsored by the Córdoba City Hall and began in 1918. But to really understand why a contest of this type was created in Córdoba you must know something about the local architecture.

Due to a hot, dry climate homes in Córdoba were built with a central patio even back in the days of the Romans. This tradition was continued by the Moors and persists in many homes even today. Filling the central patio with plants and water features has always been a way to keep local homes cool. But, thanks to human creativity and ingenuity, patio decoration ended up taking on a life all its own and at some point, someone realised that these hidden treasures were just too good to be kept tucked away behind heavy doors and iron grates. So, once a year, the doors open and everyone is invited in to see the wonders of Córdoba’s patios.

These patios not only offer a visual feast of colourful flowers, stone mosaics and ceramic decorations, but also bring out the classic scents of Córdoba: jasmine and orange blossom mixed with a myriad of scents from the many other flowers and plants that bring the city – and this festival – alive.

Because it’s Europe, there’s a limited schedule for when you can view the patios. Naturally, we missed most of our patio viewing opportunities.

Of course, we didn’t realize that. All day, as we walked around, we’d peek through a gate to view the decorative flowers in people’s patios. We giggled past people lined up to visit patios and explored what we considered to be the ‘undiscovered secrets’ of the Patio Festival.

Only later, once we met up with the rest of our group, did we realize that we had not visited a single officially sanctioned patio, and all those we had visited were not actually participating (which is pretty amazing to me, because they were truly well decorated). Our group then made one stop on the ‘official’ tour, so we could see what we’d been missing.

We wrapped up Sunday evening with dinner by the waterfront, followed by drinks in the ‘garden’ section at the bar upstairs. We went home around 2am, and then got up at 6am to catch the train to Madrid, and then our flight home.

It was a truly tiring few days, but so much fun. I would recommend visiting Madrid to anyone. It’s a great city, with lots to explore, and felt very safe. Cordoba was also pretty special, but the real highlight was spending so much time with my friend, and honorary baby sister, Zoya.

I’ve said it before, but it’s still true that nothing is more fun than seeing familiar friends in unfamiliar places. Making some great new friends made the weekend even more memorable. We’re all still making jokes together in our Whatsapp groups, and we’ll be remembering this trip for a long time to come.

A huge thank you goes out to Zoya and Shripal for being amazing tour guides and providing us with supremely detailed and thoughtful travel guides. Seeing Madrid through their eyes was the best thing about our trip.

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Day 5 in Madrid – Friday Night! Party time!

After our day at the museum, we squeezed in a bit of shopping to help top up Kevin’s wardrobe. Then we headed off to meet up with Zoya. We met up at her apartment where we enjoyed wine in the sunshine of her back patio. It had finally stopped raining!

On the way to dinner, Zoya took us to a couple of memorable spots. First, we went to La Conservera Delistore&Tapas, a store run by the brand Frinsa. Frinsa is one of the largest European manufacturers of canned tuna fish and seafood, and was founded in Galicia, Spain. And you can actually order their stuff online!

We were able to sample a bunch of things – clams, tuna, sardines, and razor clams. They were incredibly delicious and high quality. That type of food isn’t that popular in Canada, so we’d be hard pressed to find anything like it at home. It was the perfect souvenir from our trip.

After stocking up on seafood preserves, we headed across the street to the Mercado de San Miguel. Kevin and I didn’t love our earlier ‘mercado’ experience, so we hadn’t tried this one. However, it ended up being one my highlights from the week!

Okay, so what actually is the “Market of San Miguel”? Here are the Wikipedia details:

The Market of San Miguel (SpanishMercado de San Miguel) is a covered market located in MadridSpain. Originally built in 1916, it was purchased by private investors in 2003 who renovated the iron structure and reopened it in 2009.[1]

San Miguel Market is the most popular market in Madrid among tourists since it is located in the center of Madrid, within walking distance from Plaza Mayor. The market is not a traditional grocery market but a gourmet tapas market, with over 30 different vendors selling a wide variety of freshly prepared tapas, hams, olives, baked goods and other foods. Beer, wine and champagne are also available.[1][2]

The other market we’d been to was clearly more oriented at locals and other people interested in eating a full meal. The Mercado de San Miguel embraces the spirit of tapas, encouraging you to pick up a variety of little snacks at different stations, and then grab a standup table to snack and drink. Within minutes of arriving we were drinking glasses of vermouth and snacking on an assortment of olives, preserves, and and much more.

The market was packed, and is clearly a favourite destination for tourists, so it’s both hard to move around, and easy to get jostled by others. If that’s not your jam, I’d stay away from this place. However, if you’re looking for place to stop and experience great energy and excitement as you get ready for a long night out, then I highly recommend stopping by the Mercado de San Miguel!

After the market, on to dinner!

That night we dined with Zoya and Shripal, and two of their friends (who later came with us to Cordoba), including the friend who introduced them in the first place! We ate dinner at a place called Parrila Del Mago, famous for their barbecue, steaks in particular. The food was great and the company was even better. Since it was Kevin’s birthday, we embarrassed him with a loud rendition of ‘happy birthday’ when dessert arrived.

After dinner, onto dancing!

We started out our evening at some kind of live rock show type bar. The music was so bad it was amazing, but we quickly left for a more ‘discotheque’ type experience. We loaded up with gin & tonics and hit the dancefloor to the latest in hip Spanish music, including the now-inescapable Despacito and this banger about bicycles from Shakira. Obviously they also played Drake, he’s everywhere!

By 5am we realized we needed to get home and sleep before our train to Cordoba. Photos below of our Friday afternoon adventures!

 

#tbt – Friendship reunion in Cannes!

In the time that I’ve been travelling, the glorious technology of iMessage & Group Chats has been a complete lifesaver, helping me keep in constant touch with some of my best friends in Canada. I have a group chat with 2 of my friends, Julie and Komal, that is essentially a haven of love, positivity, and support as we share each others fears and excitement while building our lives and careers from three different cities.

Komal is currently producing a documentary about female CEOs and entrepreneurs called “Dream, Girl“, and thus was invited to speak on a panel at the Cannes Film Festival this year in Cannes, France. You know France… just around the corner from Portugal? In a series of events that still seems to good to have been true, we all decided to go to France together in support of Komal and in search of sunshine.

The trip was four women in total: me, Julie, Komal, and Taylor (another very good friend of Komal’s and overall talented woman).

Cannes was all booked up by the time we planned this trip, so we opted to stay in Nice, which is just a 30 minute train ride away from Cannes.

Four women. Five days in France. Here are the numbers on what we got up to:

  • number of delayed flights: 0 (win!)
  • number of hours spent on the beach: at least 24 – we made a point of clocking hours in the sun
  • number of small children that we saw poop into a bag while on the beach: 1 (gross.)
  • number of parties that we snuck into: 1 (Komal said, “act like you belong”, and we went with it)
  • number of parties we tried and failed to sneak into: 1
  • number of creeps that we met: 2
  • number of wonderful people that we met: many, many, many
  • number of ways we tried to sneak in: 5
  • number of celebrities that we saw: at least 10
  • number of reunions with a friend from Cambodia: 1
  • number of friends that Julie and I made while dancing till 7am: more than I can remember, that’s for sure.
  • number of minutes that Julie and I were on the Cannes-to-Paris train instead of the Cannes-to-Nice train: 45
  • number of panelists on the “Cutting Edge Collaborators: Women Achieving in Film” panel discussion: 5
  • number of red carpet photos taken between the 4 of us: 20+
  • number of vlogs recorded: 10+
  • number of times we used the word “glam”: 50+
  • number of times we were glam: always
  • number of times we felt immense gratitude for this trip with these people: constant. Still feeling grateful as I relive the memories now
  • number of photos we took: surprisingly few, and all the best are below.

Leaving Kevin to go to France just a week after his implants surgery (and on an expired travel visa!) was actually pretty scary. But it was worth every second of it to enjoy the unique experience of travelling to be a cheerleader for Komal. Also pretty cool because it means that Julie and I had 2 European-adventures together in 2015! It was a rough year, but the bright spots were very, very bright.

#tbt – My friend Anne came to visit us in Portugal!

One of the loveliest benefits of spending time in Portugal was the proximity to some of my fellow Canadian friends. One such friend, Anne, was working in London for the first half of 2015. Before she headed back to Canada, she took a quick jaunt to Alte, where we spent a few days enjoying the sunshine.

Between her travels and my travels, Anne and I don’t get to see each other too often. And yet, we’ve been friends since we were 11, and that means that when do get together, it’s like we were never apart. I was acutely reminded of this when she came to visit us in Portugal. With Kevin laid up in bed, suffering through his recent implants surgery, Anne and I had plenty of time to explore Alte together. Activities included long walks, sitting in the sun, and drinking espressos, going for a trail run, and talking constantly.

Despite being in pain and needing rest, Kevin was also generous enough to drive us for a wonderful sunset/dinner combination. Kevin is an outstanding host, who puts quite a bit of thought into showing guests the very best of the Algarve, so we were lucky that he got out of bed to entertain us. The next day we spent laying out on the beach with several of our Portuguese friends, which is a classic Algarve experience. In retrospect, it was asking way too much of Kevin to take us around like this. Never have I regretted so much my inability to drive standard/manual.

In any case, Anne’s visit was a lot of fun. With Kevin’s injuries/dental work, our time in Portugal was a bizarre combination of amazing and stressful. It was so relaxing for me to have one of my oldest friends check in help me review all the things that were on my mind. Moral of the story? Never underestimate the the goodness your friends can bring to your own mental health. With this experience in mind, I was so stoked when Kevin’s best friend Mark came to visit a couple of months later – and for that, I actually did learn to drive standard. There’ll be much more on that adventure soon 🙂

Anne and I were having too much fun to take many photos, but I’ve snagged a few of Anne’s from Facebook, which you can see below:

Back in Grimsby :: An update on what’s happening with this here blog

If you’re reading closely, 2 things are clear:

  1. Kevin and I are back in Canada
  2. Most of the posts about our travels are describing things have taken place a few months ago

At the end of July, Kevin and I booked one-way tickets back to Canada. We’d been in Portugal since early 2015, and had been travelling/living in Southeast Asia before that.

We didn’t anticipate coming back to Canada nearly this soon, but here we are. So, what happens to a travel blog when you’re no longer “travelling”?

The immediate plan is to continue writing. There are still tons of photos and stories to share from our adventures in the first half of 2015. I’ll be posting those as a “Throwback Thursday” entry, once a week.

Alongside the Thursday posts, I’ll be writing about what we’re doing and exploring in Canada, along documenting with any other shorter trips that we get to.

When we left Toronto and set out on our ‘big international adventure’, we chose to plan a long period of travel because we like to take our time. In Portugal, we *really* took our time, exploring many nooks and crannies of the Algarve, often seeing the same place or thing many times, and yet appreciating it all the same.

One thing that we learned very quickly is that it’s next to impossible to see all the incredible and beautiful and interesting things/places out there, because the opportunities to do so are limitless. If the opportunities to explore beautiful experiences abroad are so numerous, it stands to reason that the same thing applies wherever life finds us. Right now, we’re living in Grimsby, the quickly growing small-ish town where I grew up. Much to my surprise, there are plenty of things to see and explore here, as long as you look for such opportunities.

As someone who has started and abandoned many projects, I’m still a bit shocked that I’ve maintained this blog for so long. Though I’m geographically back where I started, I’ll keep documenting Kevin’s photos and our stories. (Beside, this blog was started to share our adventures with friends and family. With most of our friends in Toronto, being in Grimsby can feel so far away that we might as well still be in a foreign country 😉 )

I’m not at all looking forward to winter, but Kevin and I will be doing our best to get into some winter sports and activities, making sure we get the most out of the unique experience of a Canadian winter.

Road Trip Days 2 & 3: Visiting Marvao

Ok, so the last few posts have detailed some fairly magical sights. But to be honest, there’s more to come here. This trip was pretty surreal, and we saw many memorable places.

The driving on the trip may also have been a bit much, but in this case it turned out to be worth it. After driving 2.5 hours to Piodao, we spent a couple of hours exploring this small yet remarkable village. And then we got back in the truck and Kevin drove us another 3 hours to Marvao, a city on a hill right on the border of Portugal and Spain. About an hour into this trip, I was really questioning this decision, but when we drove up to this walled-city on a foggy night, all doubts were forgotten.

Here’s what you need to know about Marvao (courtesy of Wikipedia):

Commanding spectacular views across the Tagus basin (the same river to connects Lisbon to the Atlantic) and Serra de Estrela (highest point in Portugal) to the north, the fortified rock of Marvão has been a site of significant strategic importance since the earliest human settlements. Today lying on the ‘raia’ that divides Portugal and Spain, Marvão has consistently stood on a frontier zone between peoples: Celtici, Vettones and Lusitani (4th-2nd century BCE); Lusitanians and the Romans ofHispania Ulterior (2nd-1st century BCE); migratory Suevi, Alans, Vandals and Visigoths (5th-7th century CE); conquering moors and Visigoths (8th century); muwallad rebels and the Cordoban emirate (9th-10th century); Portuguese nation-builders and Moors (12th-13th century); Templars and Hospitallers (12th-14th century); Portuguese and Castilians (12th century-present day); Liberals and Absolutists (19th century); the fascist regimes of Salazar and Franco (20th century).

Marvão’s natural assets have contributed to the ‘uniqueness’ of this remote village as perceived by visitors today: (i) as nigh-impregnable ‘eagle’s nest’ fortress – perched high on a granite crag, and bordered on the south and west by the Sever river; (ii) as vital lookout-point towards the Alcántara Bridge (70 km (43 mi) away), a wide stretch of the Tagus basin and the Serra de Estrela; (iii) as a gateway to Portugal from Spain via the Porta da Espada (‘Sword Gate’) mountain pass of the Serra de São Mamede. These assets have ensured its status as the ‘Mui Nobre e Sempre Leal Vila de Marvão’ (Very Noble and Ever-Loyal Town) into the present day.

As with other 11th-13th-century castles, the early medieval improvements and development of Marvão castle reflect the innovations brought back by crusading orders from the near east (notably the highly influential Hospitaller castle in Syria, the Krak des Chevaliers). The medieval castle seen in Marvão today mostly post-dates the year 1299, and features numerous characteristic features of a crusader-era castle: a tall central keep with raised entrance on the first floor; a series of lower, outlying turrets (some semi-circular); high-placed arrow-slits; open spaces to aid the sheltering and assembly of villagers and troops; a well, and huge rain-collecting cistern to supply water to both keep and the wider castle in the event of siege; bent entrances (both on the village and castle gates) to slow down invaders in the event of breached gates; a series of narrow killing zones (notably, in the triple gate on the village-side of the castle); extensive crenellated battlements and curtain walls that enhanced the natural defences provided by the escarpments of Marvão’s rock.[22]

That’s only a smattering of interesting information about Marvao, as this place is filled with historical significance. When we arrived at night fog filled the town, we had to park the truck just outside of the gates in order to walk to our hotel (we stayed and ate at the the Casa do Alentejo, where we were welcomed with the traditional and impressive Alentejo hospitality). With the characteristic preservation of the buildings’ historical style, it felt like we were walking back in time. After a lengthy dinner, we got some sleep, then woke up early for breakfast and further touring. We explored all through the town and the castle, and were constantly in awe of the view and the spirit of the region. Similar to Sintra, looking across the hills you could easily imagine what it was like to look across that view 1000 years ago. A very cool feeling that won’t soon be forgotten.

Check out our photos below!

Roadtrip Day 2: Piodao

When I say that Kevin researched and planned our road trip with Tyler, I don’t mean that lightly. As soon as Tyler booked his tickets to visit, the research began. And not just some simple google searches of ‘best sights in Portugal’. If Kevin has ever helped you with anything, you know that his research-style is all-in and he stops at nothing to get the best possible outcome. Nothing exemplifies this more than our stop off in Piodao.

A few weeks before the trip, Kevin showed me a photo of a place that looked amazing, and told me that it was a must-do stop. When I convinced him to shorten the road trip from 6 days to 3, Piodao was one of those places that was a must-see, not to be compromised. And he was so, so right.

After our morning at the Knights Templar’s Convent of Christ in Tomar, we got back into the truck and embarked on what I can honestly say is the wildest, most breathtaking and most nerve-racking road trip of my life. Before I get into too many road trip details, let’s talk about why Piodao is special and worth seeing.

Piodao, known as the “nativity village” is a small collection of stone buildings, tucked into a mountain side. Unlike most of the places we’ve visited on this trip, Piodao, due to its remote geographic location, was almost entirely disconnected from Portuguese history. How disconnected? This village didn’t have electricity until the 1970s. This geographic isolation is what makes Piodao so unique – because they were limited to local resources, which is reflected in the architecture of the town itself, their traditions were well-preserved over the years, due to a lack of outside influences. Entering Piodao, picturesquely placed in between 2 hills in a mountain range, feels like entering a fairy tale. As you stand on the hillside, you can even hear the echo of jingling bells from the goat herds. My only regret of this entire trip is that we didn’t stay longer.

Now, about that road trip. It was long and a bit harrowing. And as the trip went on, we felt increasingly alone. There were long stretches (on this 2.5 hour drive) without seeing other people and cars, though we did see a herd of goats crossing the road. We climbed up into the mountaintops, driving along winding roads, on the edge of cliffs, surrounded by clouds. I was both in awe of the view and in awe of Kevin’s patience & composure while navigating these roads. There’s absolutely no way that a bus could have made this journey.

Visiting Piodao was a truly surreal and magical experience. I recommend it very much. And beyond being beautiful, the town itself offers great food and friendly people. Check out our many photos below!