Category Archives: travel

discovering seville

Olivier and I spent eight days in Seville. If I’m honest, they were quite lazy days. You could probably cover most of what we saw in a long weekend, but we preferred to take things at a slower pace. In the mornings we got up, had breakfast at the bar across the road, did some sightseeing and then went for lunch, before spending our afternoons soaking up the sun by the pool. And that was just fine with us. We hadn’t had a proper holiday for a while and we wanted it to be relaxing!

On the third day I forced Olivier to get out of bed so that we could go on a free walking tour. They’re run by a company called “Feel the City” and the idea is that afterwards you give a donation if you want to. The guides did a roundup of tourists from lots of different hotels and then we were divided into groups by language. We joined the francophone group and were led around the city by Angela, a lovely Spanish girl from Seville, who had studied French at university.

Here’s a little of what we saw…

DSC_0350

One of the main streets in Seville, with a mix of ancient and modern architecture.

DSC_0305

The world-famous cathedral. The Giralda (bell tower) in the left of this picture is the former minaret of a mosque which stood on the site when Andalusia was a Muslim region. The tower is the oldest part of the cathedral, and dates from the 12th century. The rest of the cathedral was built in the 15th century, as the city was conquered by the Castilians in the 13th century and had come under Catholic rule.

DSC_0309

This is a view of the Cathedral through the west door. This door, like the tower, was also part of the ancient mosque. If you look closely you might be able to see the distinctly non-European decoration on the inner arches. The door was left standing and incorporated into the Catholic cathedral, where it was renamed the “Door of Forgiveness”, symbolising its “conversion” from Islam to Christianity. (Ouch!)

DSC_0347

This Latin graffiti is hundreds of years old and was daubed on the walls by students in bulls’ blood to ensure that it couldn’t be washed off. More permanent than a permanent marker! (I wish I could remember what it says, but unfortunately I can’t!)

DSC_0356

This building is another extremely old corner of the city; it has been a bakery since 1385! (Although I believe it has been renovated since then!)

DSC_0365

The whole city is full of colourful winding streets which I absolutely loved.

DSC_0357

As we walked along the Guadalquivir river, the sky turned an ominous shade of grey, and seconds later the heavens opened. We took shelter under the trees, but within ten minutes we all looked as though we’d got in the shower fully-clothed! Luckily we found a shop selling cheap umbrellas, and persevered! The walking tour finished at Plaza de España, an incredibly beautiful place which I shall save for another post!

As the weather had taken a fairly dramatic turn, Olivier and I took shelter in a cafe and had thick hot chocolate with churros whilst waiting for it to pass. Luckily it brightened up again later and we had a sunny afternoon by the pool before going out for tapas in the evening.

To be continued…

the city that never sleeps

OK, I’m on a roll now. New York, Part II, coming right up!

Our last full day in the city was Easter Sunday. It was a glorious spring day, without a cloud in the sky, so we decided to check out the Easter parade on Fifth Avenue, before spending a lazy afternoon in Central Park.

We strolled through Manhattan, enjoying the sunshine and taking in some of the more famous New York sights.

Image

Image

When we arrived at the top of Fifth Avenue, we found ourselves in the middle of a crowd of New Yorkers (and their dogs) wearing some fantastic Easter bonnets. Everyone was laughing and talking to strangers, taking pictures with the people in their fancy hats, and having a great time. The smell of hot dogs wafted through the air from the many street vendors’ stands, and the overall atmosphere was that of a carnival.

Image

Image

Yes, that dog does have painted nails. Of course.

We spent a good couple of hours wandering around talking to people and taking pictures, before deciding it was about time we continued on our way to Central Park.

Image

Image

Until you’ve seen it, it’s hard to imagine just how big Central Park is. Or how surreal it is to be in the middle of an enormous, lush green park, surrounded by trees, with skyscrapers visible overhead. I can’t help but admire the fact that in a city like New York, where land is at such a premium, this massive space has been left as a park for everyone to enjoy.

After a delicious afternoon in the sun, we made our way over to the Rockefeller Center, for what was to be the highlight of our trip. I can’t resist a good view. (My favourite thing to do in Paris is go up the Montparnasse Tower.) We had been told by various people that the best view of New York is from the top of the Rockefeller Center. So we arrived as the day was drawing to a close, and stayed up there until night had well and truly fallen.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

It was the perfect way to round off our trip.

The next day, we had just about enough time for one final walk around the neighbourhood, one final breakfast of bagels and fresh orange juice at the local Jewish bakery, and then it was time to say goodbye to New York, and head off to the airport.

Image

yellow taxis and skyscrapers

It’s now been three weeks since I got back from New York, although it feels like a lot longer. Still, that’s a long time to get round to writing a proper blog post about it, so I’d better do it now, before it starts to fade from my memory!

Where do I even begin?

It’s big. Everything is just very, very big, from the moment you emerge from Penn Station and you’re right on Seventh Avenue, surrounded by skyscrapers. It’s also noisy. Yellow taxis everywhere, constantly blaring their horns. People everywhere, talking and shouting. Music. Sirens. Drills. It’s just bigger and louder than anywhere I’m used to, even central London. Paris is an oasis of calm by comparison. Of all the places I’ve been before, the city it most reminded me of is Bangkok. Not in its culture or architecture, but in its sheer volume and pace of life.

Jess and I arrived mid-afternoon and lugged our suitcases ten blocks downtown until we arrived at our hotel, the Chelsea Lodge. Our bedroom was tiny, with paper-thin walls and a shared bathroom on the landing, but from our window we could see the top of the Empire State Building if we looked up, and the beautiful leafy neighbourhood if we looked down.

The Chelsea area of Manhattan is full of quiet, tree-lined streets and beautiful town houses. I was a little bit in love…

Image

On our first afternoon we went for a walk along the Chelsea High Line, an old railway line which has been turned into a sort of garden. It’s quiet and peaceful, and the noise of Manhattan is still audible, but strangely muted.

Image

Image

Dinner on our first night was in this great little organic burger restaurant called Bareburger, which I would thoroughly recommend (particularly if, like Jess, you can’t eat wheat but you miss burgers, as they have various gluten-free options). I had a Roadhouse bison burger with onion rings and it was absolutely delicious. No pictures of dinner though, because taking pictures of burgers in restaurants makes me cringe!

Our first full day was packed with sightseeing. We walked round Manhattan, checked out Times Square, and visited some of New York’s beautiful famous buildings, such as the public library…

Image

…and Grand Central Station, which was without a doubt one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever set foot in.

Image

In the afternoon we went to the Museum of Modern Art. I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t really my cup of tea. I enjoyed seeing Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, but apart from that I could pretty much take it or leave it. I’m the same in the Tate Modern and the Pompidou Centre… modern art just doesn’t really do it for me, and I just end up looking at the people rather than the art…

Image

Tee hee!

By the time we got back to the hotel in the evening, we were absolutely shattered. We had a long list of restaurants which had been recommended by friends, but we both knew we didn’t have the energy to go far, so we just looked on Tripadvisor to see whether there were any highly-rated places in the area.

What we found, I would loosely describe as a gluten-free Mexican gay bar. Chelsea is well-known for being popular with the local gay community, and in the streets near our hotel we saw more rainbow flags than American ones (and that’s saying something… the Americans love their flag!) The Rockinghorse Cafe was no exception, with its name spelt out in rainbow letters across the door. When we arrived, the atmosphere was buzzing, but as we waited to be served at the bar, a couple of guys vacated their bar stools and we gladly took their spot. We ended up eating our dinner sitting at the bar, which turned out to be the perfect place to get chatting to the bar staff and various friendly guys.

The atmosphere and people in this place were fantastic, but the food deserves a special mention. I had pan-fried sea bass on a bed of garlic mashed potato, topped with avocado salsa (and washed down with a gorgeous glass of Argentinian red). You know when you’re eating something so delicious that you try and eat it as slowly as possible because you just don’t want it to be over? When something is so good that you almost want to cry when you’ve eaten the last mouthful? Yes, that.

The next morning we decided to get out of Manhattan and explore a little further afield. We spent a couple of hours in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens…

Image

Image

… and then stopped for a spot of lunch, before walking back across Brooklyn Bridge.

Image

In the afternoon we took the (free!) Staten Island ferry, to get a closer look at the Statue of Liberty.

Image

(Fun fact: she was a gift from the French to the Americans, and I used to work for a family who live in the street where she was built.)

I still have a few more photos to share with you, but this post is now pretty long, so I think I will call it a night. But please come back for Part II, which I shall write very soon! (No, really, I will. I promise!)