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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Days 6 and 7 in Spain – Cordoba for the Weekend!

In my experience, people of means who live in Europe tend to spend a lot of time travelling on the weekends. In an area that has so much concentrated history, plus cheap flights and train tickets, a weekend away is the common tradition. And from keeping in touch with Zoya, I knew already that she and her friends, and her partner Shripal, often organized weekend group trips. It just so happened that they organized one such trip while we were in Madrid, and so we tagged along!

Because my work schedule was so flexible, Kevin and I didn’t do weekend trips while we were in Portugal, so this was our first experience of what I consider to be a mainstay of middle to upper middle class European culture.

Kevin and I have a good routine that we follow when travelling, and I was admittedly nervous to jump into a 10 person travel group, but we had a really great time and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Spain has one of the most thorough rail networks in the world, including several high speed rail corridors. This makes it easy for those living in Spain to get from city to city. Zoya and Shripal and their friends have thus visited many of the historic towns and cities in Spain, and Cordoba was next on their ‘to-do’ list.

Logistically, Shripal lead the way. He researched food options and booked our reservations. He also managed “the kitty”, our group fund. We all put an equal amount of cash into the kitty at the start of our trip, and all group meals and drinks were paid from this fund. When the kitty got low, we all topped it up equally. A simple concept, expertly managed by Shripal, that made all our group outings as simple as could be imagined.

This was also probably the most sleep deprived weekend of our lives. Our Friday night outing quickly bled into Saturday morning. Most of our group had gone out together the night before, and didn’t go home until after 5am. We then had to meet at the train station around 9am for our train ride to Cordoba. To say we were all tired would be a major understatement.

Surprisingly, we all rallied and made it through most of our train ride without sleeping. That says a lot of how much fun we were all having together.

After we arrived, we checked into our rooms. There was a bit of drama with mine and Kevin’s AirBnB, but Zoya helped us get booked into a new location right away, helped me move our stuff, and AirBnB gave us a full refund. It was a rocky start, but things picked up as soon as the vermouth and tapas started flowing.

And did they ever. We were all tired, but still managed to spend nearly 3 hours in the sun sipping vermouth and snacking on an incredible selection of tapas dishes.

That afternoon we all napped, and then reconvened for a typically-European late night dinner, following by several hours of drinking and dancing in a club on the waterfront. Day 1 of the weekend was officially a success.

 

Day 5 in Madrid – National Archaeological Museum of Spain!

Thursday night got a bit crazy, so Friday was a late start. We woke up late to a rainy day and also realized we’d left one of our host’s umbrellas at the bar the previous night. Oops!

Anyways, sharing the one remaining umbrella we headed out to grab some breakfast before, obviously, going to a museum. It was our last day in Madrid, and we had plans that evening with Zoya and some friends, but we wanted to see the National Archaeological Museum of Spain. For the last 6 months or so Kevin has been on a deep dive into learning about Roman and Iberian history, so this seemed like the perfect place to spend our last day in Madrid, which also happened to be his birthday.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the museum:

The museum was founded in 1867 by a Royal Decree of Isabella II as a depository for numismatic, archaeological, ethnographical and decorative art collections of the Spanish monarchs.

The museum was originally located in the Embajadores district of Madrid. In 1895, it moved to a building designed specifically to house it, a neoclassical design by architect Francisco Jareño, built from 1866 to 1892. In 1968, renovation and extension works considerably increased its area. The museum closed for renovation in 2008 and reopened in April 2014.[1] The remodelled museum concentrates on its core archaeological role, rather than decorative arts.

The collection includes, among others, PrehistoricEgyptianCelticIberianGreek and Roman antiquities and medieval(VisigothicIslamic Spanish and Christian) objects.

This was one of the best no-art museums I’ve ever been to. The detail and expenses put into curating the collections are excellent. The impact of the most recent renovation is unmissable and it would be a great place for anyone with any level of pre-existing knowledge on Archaeology, including kids. The collections are extensive, and take you through the evolution of ancient western culture and civilizations.

The use of visual guides, including audio visual content, was quite impressive. Each new time period and/or topic was introduced with a video that illustrated what the community would’ve looked like at the time. It was a great way to understand the context of the artifacts presented, particularly with respect to the geographic movement and interactions of people. You can learn more about their collection here and here.

Check out the photos below, and add this one of your Madrid itinerary!

 

Day 4 in Madrid – Dinner & Drinks!

Included in Zoya’s guide to Madrid was this line:

Sala Despiece – this place is a MUST. get there early (like 20 mins before it opens) cause the place gets packed. Easily the most interesting take on Spanish tapas. The carpaccio will take you to heaven and back

After hours and hours in museums, we were ready for a long and indulgent dinner. As per Zoya’s instructions, we arrived a full 30 minutes early, and were fortunately the first in line. Waiting in line before a place opens is really not our style, and we were feeling pretty uncool, but it was worth getting there early. Within 10 minutes, there were 20 people in line behind us. When the doors finally opened, we scored a prime seat at the bar, and were able to watch the chefs in action all evening.

The thing about tapas is that you’re supposed to eat many dishes of small amounts of food. Apparently ‘tapas crawls’ are the hip thing, where you go from restaurant to restaurant eating small amounts. Again, not our style. Instead, we settled in at Sala de Despiece and ordered almost every item on the menu.

As promised, the food was excellent. The view we had was also great, though it gave perhaps a bit too much insight into the restaurant operations. At open, the entire staff and flow of the team were on fire, but by hour one, things started to slow down and taper off, and you could tell operations would become sloppier throughout the evening. So perhaps there’s some logic to tapas crawls.

Everything we ordered is showcased in the photos below. The food definitely lived up to the hype, especially the beef carpaccio. We were surprised when again we were served a dish that required us to squeeze out the head of a shrimp. This time we caught it on video:

After dinner, we attempted to explore the neighbourhood for a ‘tapas crawl’, but were truly too stuffed. We hopped into a cab and went to Macera Workshop Bar, a gin bar that Zoya had recommended. These guys infuse their own homemade gins, and when they first opened you could only order gin & tonics

As regular gin drinkers, we’re fairly attached to our classic options. It was interesting to try to these artisanal gin options, but we quickly switched to cocktails. After several ‘pink panthers’, we were having a raging good time. We had a great spot at the bar, and watched place fill up with a typically European mix of people from all ages. If we’d realized how low the bill would be, we may have stayed even longer.

As it was, we left the bar and headed to another Zoya recommendation, Bar Cock. This place looks like a stereotypical old timey bankers hangout. All wood decor, and basically in a back alley. We ordered a bottle of sparkling and ended our night right.

And when we got home, I found out I’d been accepted to the MBA program at York University’s Schulich School of Business. It was the perfect way to end a long day and a great night.

 

Exploring DC – Day 1 of Adventures

We went to Washington, DC to watch my friend Komal’s documentary, Dream, Girl, at the White House, but we also took the opportunity to spend a few days on holidays in DC. My mom and I had been before, but Kevin and my dad had never seen any of the Washington, DC attractions, so we got to work quickly on our tourist experience.

Morning Adventures

We stayed at a hotel within walking distance to Capitol Hill, which also put us within a short distance of the Washington Mall.

If you’re not familiar with Washington, DC, here’s how Wikipedia describes the National Mall:

The National Mall is a national park in downtownWashington, D.C., the capital of the United States. The National Park Service (NPS) administers the National Mall, which is part of its National Mall and Memorial Parks unit.[2] The term National Mall commonly includes areas that are officially part of West Potomac Park and Constitution Gardensto the west, and often is taken to refer to the entire area between the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Capitol, with the Washington Monument dividing the area slightly west of its midpoint.[3] The National Mall receives approximately 24 million visitors each year.[4]

Here’s a photo of the National Mall, and some notes on different landmarks, relative to our hotel.

dcnationalmall

We started early in the morning with a quick breakfast and a walk around the Capitol Building. The heat was pretty intense, so my parents opted for a relaxed, air-conditioned morning at the hotel while Kevin and I rented some Capital Bixi bikes, and biked down the Washington Mall to see the Lincoln Memorial.

With Tony & Judy relaxing, Kevin and I bike in the sun along the Mall, past the Smithsonian museums. We stopped for a photo op at the Washington Monument, and then carried on to the WWII memorial. I’d seen all of this before, but it was great to see it again. The size and beauty of the National Mall is always impressive, and even Kevin agreed with that, so it was fun to see him enjoying himself so much.

The WWII Memorial in particular includes such great attention to detail. Between the carvings, and the sounds of the fountains, it’s truly a work of art.

The weather was nice and hot, but it was too early in the year for DC’s infamous humidity, so we enjoyed the sun as we biked along the reflecting pool and then climbed the steps to the Lincoln Memorial.

Because we were in DC for Memorial Day weekend, it was an especially busy spot. At every memorial and landmark, we saw different veterans and veteran groups, which added a bit of extra meaning and context to all that we were seeing. As a Canadian, American politics can sometimes be a bit bewildering, so it was interesting to see Americans expressing their meaningful politics on this set of national landmarks.

After the Lincoln Memorial we saw the Vietnam War Memorial. It’s one of my favourite things to see in DC because it’s so different from typical war memorials. Rather than celebrating achievements or supposedly high minded ideals, this memorial is a wall of stone, cut into a hill, with all the names of the American soldiers lost in Vietnam carved into it. Rather than celebrating the state, it recognizes the American soldiers who were lost in the war. It’s rather emotional to walk along, even more so when you’re walking behind and in front of Vietnam war veterans.

On our way back to the other end of the mall, we stopped for a photo op near the White House, then headed to the Museum of Native American History for lunch (which was excellent).

Afternoon Adventures

After lunch we met up with my parents at the National Air and Space Museum. The Smithsonian has a really impressive collection of things in general, and this museum was no different. We saw exhibits covering the first attempts at flight, the first launches into space, and real pieces of modern spaces stations and technology. It was a great way to see and understand the progress of travel over the last few generations.

Kevin was pretty bummed to not see Cape Canaveral when we went to Florida, so he was quite thrilled to see some spaces ships, rovers, etc at the Smithsonian.

Next up we went to the National Gallery of Art. We only had time to see the basement floor, but we stumbled upon some Mark Rothko paintings, so we were quite excited. All in all, we had a great time on our first day exploring DC!

Evening Adventures

After the museums closed, we headed back to the hotel to shower off all the sweat and sunscreen of our day. After changing, I headed out with Kevin and my Dad. Unfortunately, my mom wasn’t feeling well so she stayed back in the room to sleep.

Before going to dinner, we went to the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art. It was “Jazz in the Garden” night, which I thought meant that it would be full of stuffy rich people doing the polite golf clap while listening to jazz. I could not have been more wrong. By the time we got there, the garden was completely full. We found a line up, bought pitchers of beer and sangria, and stood in the garden to listen to the music and enjoy the energy of the crowd. It was a great crowd of people of all ages, gathering for what was clearly a very popular Friday night social event. It also helped that we were at the season debut. If you’re in DC on a Friday night, I highly suggest you check out this awesome free event!

Next up we headed to a wine bar for dinner. I did some heavy research on WikiTravel for this trip, as I’d been advised that good restaurants were hard to find in DC due to the high amount of touristy/business-y nonsense restaurants. Fortunately, I found a great list of places, and we didn’t have a single bad meal.

On Friday night we ate at Proof. The food was excellent, and the wine was also great. The wine list wasn’t as varied as I’d been hoping, but everything we ate and drank was delicious. Unfortunately, the aesthetic of the restaurant includes lighting so lacking that you can’t even read the menu. I found this to be completely pointless, and annoying. Otherwise, it’s a top notch experience, but eating in the dark is just plain weird. That said, we ate some of the most delicious charcuterie of all time there, so it was worth going to. Still, it was the weak point of meals over our weekend, which likely says more about how well we ate in DC.

Photos are below, in reverse order for some reason:

tbt: Summer of 2015 and learning how to ‘beach’

Going to the beach is a sport in the Algarve. In the Algarve, people stay in between January and April, as it’s cold, most things are closed, and seasonal employees are out of work.

Come late April, early May, the Algarvieu (Algarvians) come out to play. And that means hitting up the beach with a level of deep seriousness.

To say the weather here is perfect is a complete understatement. As the spring and summer progress, and the weather gets hotter, you see the entire landscape becoming busy. More traffic, more people, more restaurants, and more sun!

Growing up, I’d only been to the beach a handful of times. The Page kids were not into beach life; no sand in our toes, no seaweed on our feet, no sunburns on our skin, thank you very much.

The Silva kids were the complete opposite. Spending most summers in the Algarve, with all their local friends in Alte, Kevin and his brother were total beach kids who spent many, many hours playing on the beach, swimming in the ocean, enjoying the sun.

I had a lot to learn, but luckily for me I was learning how to “beach” with the help of an expert.

In June, and July, we went to the beach almost everyday. And there were A LOT of beaches to choose from. Beautiful white sand beaches with crystal-blue water aren’t just for the Carribbean, people! Algarve beaches are famously beautiful, and we were spoiled enough to have multiple amazing beaches within just a 20 minute drive. In doing a bit of pre-writing research, I realized that some of the most “well reviewed” beaches are places we never went to, but it’s hard to justify driving an hour to a perfect beach when you have 6 almost-perfect beaches to choose from in your backyard!

So, how does one beach?

There are only a few things required:

  • water, and lots of it. My beach bag contained at least 8 water bottles at all times.
  • towels, 1.5 per person. I always had 3 towels for Kevin and I, so we could lay them out in a way that would keep ourselves and the towels sand-free
  • hats. With the Algarve sun, a hat is essential
  • euros – there’s a restaurant/bar at almost every beach, and the best way to end your day is with a bottle of wine at sunset (bars with a good wine selection are preferred).
  • paddle-ball equipment – surprisingly fun, and good exercise
  • tanning oil (for Kevin and all our Portuguese friends)
  • immense amounts of sunscreen for me (I also had a pre-departure routine that included sunscreening my entire body, head toe)
  • tanning technique – not as easy as one might think. You need to keep regular movement throughout the day to get an even tan all over your body. And pay attention to the sun, so you can angle yourself appropriately. Whether standing or laying down, you need to tack with the movement of the sun in order to get maximum rays.
  • sunglasses. duh.
  • e-readers. essential activity when you’re growing that tan on the sand
  • beer in a cooler – not required every time, but you need both together whenever required.
  • Google Maps – a required assistant when scanning the coast in search of a hidden beach!

It’s hard to get a proper list of the beaches we went to, because all our friends referred to the beaches based on local history and/or the name of the restaurant at the beach. And some of the beaches were “hidden”, aka only limited walking access, which means the only way you can find them is by carefully scanning Google Maps’ Satellite View. In any case, we did take a lot photos, which you can peruse below!

#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.