A Travellerspoint blog

Budapest in the rain!

a few days out and about to celebrate my mums 60th birthday!


View Budapest in the rain - 2015 on Ils1976's travel map.

20/05/15 How fast can one day go ???

As usual, my alarm clock went off at 6.30 AM, just like it does on every normal working day, but today, I left my home with a big smile on my face coz the final hours were ticking away for my trip to begin towards the Hungarian capital and nothing, not even our nagging and complaining drivers were going to ruin this day.

The day started just as it always does, slow and relax, but as the hours passed, it got all hectic again, something which is sadly enough not entirely unknown to me. One of our school buses suddenly didn’t want to start again and another one, which is equipped with a lift, decided that no wheelchairs were going on his body today but hey … not on my watch!!!

It took a while to get it all fixed, but in the nick of time, they did just what they were expected to do … drive and bring disabled kids back home safely!

With just a few hours left and everything running as smoothly as it should be, I resorted to cleaning up my desk for a bit and getting through loads and loads of invoices. Needless to say, I was glad to see the clock turning towards 5 PM and after making sure that everyone knew what to do over the next few days, I said goodbye and quickly drove home where my mum awaited me.

Our flight towards Budapest was leaving early tomorrow morning and just to be on the save sight, I booked an overnight hotel close to the airport.

Since I didn’t had time anymore to pack before our train ride towards the airport, I wisely enough did this last night, but still … I wasn’t going to leave without one last check to make sure that I had everything important with me. Not that we needed much, but still … money check, passport check and most important of all, camera check!

Just to be sure, I brought along an umbrella as well, because they expected some rain the upcoming days … you can never be prepared enough, can you!

That all being sorted out, my brother brought us to the train station and from there, it was about a 2 hours ride towards the airport ... Budapest here we come, or more correctly, Zaventem here we come!

Everything surprisingly enough went very smooth and when we arrived at the airport it was almost 8 PM in the evening. I am used to seeing the airport being one very busy place but not this evening, it was rather slow and I secretly hoped that everything would stay the same till it was our time to leave early in the morning. One can only hope of course!

We quickly made our way towards the transfer zone for taxi’s and buses, but looking at the transfer schedule, it seemed that we missed out on our earlier transfer by mere minutes. Bummer!!!

This meant that we had to wait for another half an hour. Lucky enough, the weather was nice and the sun was still shining! Before we knew it, our driver arrived and even 5 minutes earlier than the appointed hour. He could have easily left, but instead he waited the full 5 minutes, which was a nice thing coz this meant that we could leave, taking 2 extra passengers with us. As we left, we were with 8 people for a 50 seater bus. Talking about luxury!

Half an hour later we arrived at our hotel, the Ibis budget hotel. Although there is also another Ibis hotel a few meters to the right, it seems that all us 6 persons, except for the two latecomers, booked a room at the budget hotel, quite popular to say the least.

We needed to wait a while before our room was assigned to us, but this had nothing to do with the friendly guy behind the reception. In front of us was a very large group of Chinese tourists and they were bugging the poor guy with loads of impossible questions and demands. I must say, if it happened to me, I don’t know if I would behave so friendly, but he did!

Once we dropped of our stuff, we walked outside again and enjoyed the last sun rays of the day. We walked for a while into the street but besides concrete buildings on one side and meadows on the other side there was not much to see, so we just took a look at the other hotel and found a bar, which was more than good enough for one last nightcap of the day.

As it was getting darker and darker, we slowly walked the 30 meters or so back to our hotel and went back to our room to have a well deserved shower which was surprisingly hot and afterwards we went to sleep coz tomorrow morning at 6 AM my alarm clock goes off again.

21/05/15 wet, wetter, wettest!

An early rise and shine is not always nice, but when it means that you can go on a trip abroad, it is the best thing there is!

Opening my eyes wasn't the most easiest task at this early hour, but as soon as I did, I quickly showered, got all of our stuff together and checked out. Although the hotel itself provided a breakfast for only 7 euro, at the time it opened, we needed to take our ride back to the airport.

This meant no breakfast at the hotel, but luckily the airport isn’t that far away. As soon as the transfer bus arrived, us and 2 other early birds could finally leave and just like yesterday, we arrived at our destination half an hour later.

Despite the early hours, checking in went really smooth and like the day before, not all that busy either. Loved it!

As soon as we got through customs, the search for a nice „brekkie” was on. Normally you can find all sorts of food at the airport, but this time instead of loads of eateries, we saw nothing else but scaffolds and commercials like … sorry, we are renovating this place … what the heck??? See if I care!!

If you are hungry, you are destined to find something and so we did at Panos, which serves all kind of sandwiches and pastries, but they do have some healthy food as well. I can highly recommend the yoghurt with fresh fruit and granola!

We still had lots of free time on our hands before we had to catch our flight, so in a slow pace we walked towards our designated gate and upon our arrival, there was still half an hour of waiting ahead of us or maybe more since our plane hadn’t arrived yet! Not a good thing of course, but I guess it must have been 15 minutes later or so when it finally did arrive so, no more excuses … after another half an hour of waiting we could finally board. 

The flight itself didn’t take all that long, little less than 2 hours and just enough for me to get through a couple of travel guides, but as soon as we landed, I noticed that we left the sunshine behind. Although it was almost noon, it was just so dark outside that it looked like it was 10 PM in the evening, this can’t be good!!??

Since most of the people went on board with just their carry on luggage, getting of the plane was a long and slow process as well. At a given moment, I thought that I had to fake an anxiety attack, just to get out of the plane, but at long last we finally made it to the door of the plane, just to notice that it was raining outside … can I go back to Brussels please ????

Maybe it was just a fluke and in the back of my mind I hoped and more importantly wished that all the weather forecasts were wrong, we were going to have a marvelous time here in Budapest, after all it is called the Pearl of the Danube, what can possibly go wrong!?

As we got through customs, I was on the lookout for a taxi. Just a few weeks earlier to our departure, my mum saw a documentary on taxis in the city of Budapest with all the things that could go wrong and now she was a bit hazardous of taking one, but it was either that or taking the bus and the metro and to be honest, I wasn’t up for it, so she just had to tag along. Her „fear” if you can call it that, was soon gone when she met up with our senior driver, who was very talkative as well. It really was a nice older gentleman, but as we almost reached our hotel, I knew he was never going to be my friend. How on earth can you prefer rain above sunshine … please tell me how this is possible????

During our trip towards the city, which took about 45 minutes and can even go up to over an hour if there is loads of traffic, he was telling about all the hot weather of the past few days and now the rain had finally come and they predicted loads of showers in the upcoming days … his prayers were answered and the only thing I could think of … my God, I have landed in hell (without the heat that is!!) and I just wanted to back. When he saw my face, he was still very friendly and gave us some pointers of what to do during such lovely weather … go inside and have a great pint of beer!
Yeah right!!???

As soon as he dropped us off at the hotel, he smiled and wished us a pleasant trip and the only thing I could do was look at the back of the taxi with open mouth and getting wet in the process because it was still raining cats and dogs outside.

We quickly went inside to check into our room but since it wasn’t ready for another half an hour, we just decided to wait in the lobby. It still rained outside and since we were still a bit lightheaded from the flight, we just wanted to take things slow but as soon as we got seated, another lady came along and told us the room was ready … that’s quick!!!

Our room was located on the second floor of the hotel, which was great for my mum because just like me she has a thing with heights, only her fear is 10 times worse than mine! She was over the moon to notice that we had a room on this floor instead of the 8th one, where she wouldn’t be able to look through the window. As long as we are all happy, that’s the main thing!

We dropped of all of our stuff into the room and while I was looking through the window, I noticed that instead of the rain pouring down on us, it was just a light drizzle and a good time as any to go and have a look around the Pest area.

Armed with an umbrella and a guide map, we tried to find the centre of Pest, as well as a place to have something to eat, but for some reason the only restaurants we found were either closed, or no one was sitting inside. That’s not a good sign and maybe the hour had something to do with that, it was already after 2 PM, but I was hungry and needed a bit of food in my system. After walking up and down some streets, we ended up in the 6th of October street and found a local burger joint called Burgers and Love.

It’s all in the name, isn’t it!!?

The inside of the place was very basic and it was packed with youngsters and strangely enough, also working class people so, instead of wondering about it, I let my belly do the talking and ordered a burger with fries, which tasted more than delicious. Hiding from the rain made us order a cup of coffee as well and as soon as we saw a little bit more light in the sky, we pursued our discovery of the city, only to end up at the Chain bridge half an hour later.

It really is one of the most beautiful bridges I have ever seen, but taking pictures of it in the rain is something entirely different. I must say that I tried a few times but as soon as we crossed the river Danube, it started to rain even harder, so I resorted to putting away my camera and tried to hold on to my umbrella which wasn’t an easy task as well with all the nordic wind … was this really springtime???

Since we were already wet from going back and forth at the bridge, we didn’t care anymore in finding a suitable hiding place and wandered through a few streets in search for the city centre, which we found a few minutes later. Strangely enough we were walking for quite a while and didn’t came across many tourists, but now it seemed they were all hiding out at the local shops.

Going through the streets ourselves, we ended up at the market square and decided to have a rest at the biggest place in town, Bistro Gerbeaud!

More than an hour later, the rain was finally gone and for us this was a good enough sign as ever to leave the joint and in a slow pace we walked back towards the hotel. This time I had a better look at the Opera, but not for long coz it started to rain again. Having to undergo one rain shower too many, I called it quits and we just walked back to the hotel for a well deserved bath!

We weren’t up for it anymore to go outside and have diner in the centre, so instead we opted to stay in the hotel and although it was only 8 PM, it seemed we weren’t the only ones, lots of guests had the same idea and we were lucky to have the last table at the end of the room!

Bring on the food!!!

After dinner, we stayed a while to have a few more drinks. A few youngsters passed us by, ready for a fun night in town I guess, but after 15 minutes or so, they walked right pass us again soaking wet … I guess they forgot their umbrellas! We waited a while to see if they were up for a second round, but we never saw them again. I guess they had changed their minds and stayed indoors as well!

When it was almost 11 PM, we decided we had enough „excitement” for a day and called it a night. I was completely knackered and just wished that tomorrow would bring us a better day!

22/05/15 dark clouds are here again!

I must have been really tired coz I slept till it was already past 8 AM, not to worry though, one look through the window of our room and we noticed it was still raining, so in a way, we really weren’t in a hurry and instead we just enjoyed a good breakfast, after all, this is the most important start of the day.

About an hour later, we were ready for another day in the city and this time I was more than prepared with my trusty rain jacket, a big umbrella wit the courtesy of the hotel and an extra pair of dry socks coz my walking shoes were still wet from the day before! Budapest, I come prepared!!!

One of our goals of today was to cross the beautiful Chain Bridge again and discover all the major sights on the other side of the river Danube. Yesterday, we walked through some of the streets of Pest, so today we wanted to know what was lying in store for us on the other side of the river, the Buda area.

Although the river looked quite dirty because of the rain of the last day, I was thanking the weather gods for not sending anymore rain down on us and instead we had to make do with grey and dark clouds, so be it, at least it was dry, I wasn’t complaining at all!

The walk towards the bridge was easy and after just being in the city for half a day now, I was surprised to see how easy it was to find certain places.

Upon our arrival at the Buda area, we wanted to go uphill to have a look around and being the tourists that we are, we just took the Budavari Siklo or funicular for getting us up there. The ride itself was quite short, but the views along the way were amazing to say the least. Pest is really a beautiful place and seeing it from under an umbrella doesn’t really give it all the credit it deserves.

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Maybe the bad weather had something to do with it, I don’t really know, but besides a few Asian groups, there weren’t hardly any other people walking around the Royal Palace area. Maybe they were all inside the museums, something we didn’t check coz we were just too busy admiring all the statues and fountains located near the Palace when all of a sudden it started to rain and instead of hanging outside like yesterday, we just went to the nearest coffee place and enjoyed a hot cup of chocolate while gazing at more groups coming along while hiding under their umbrellas from the rain and getting all the latest details from their guide. It seems that in the end we weren’t going to be alone here on Castle hill.

With just a light drizzle and more dark clouds, we were ready to have a more closer inspection of the hill and slowly walked through the streets of Buda ending up at the main square with the most amazing church I have ever seen! Matthias Church is more than beautiful and I am not really a person who goes wild on architecture, but I was mesmerized by the roof tiles. Believe it or not, I just sat down on a bench in the freaking rain looking at the roof and enjoyed every minute of it!!!

Sadly enough I can’t say that I did this in peace and quiet because since it was already noon, loads of tourist buses and cruise boat people had arrived as well, so it was probably the busiest place on the hill, but still …. it is a beautiful church!

While the Fisherman’s Bastion is nice to look at as well, it was just too overcrowded with people walking on it and to me it lost all it’s beauty just because of this. Not all the towers are free by the way, if you wanted to have a closer look, you had to pay a certain fee, but in the rain, it really wasn’t that appealing to me as it seems to do to loads of other people.

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From all the rain, I got hungry again and while we were hiding from it on a terrace in a small eatery, we decided to try the local delicacies as well and I went for the typical Hungarian sausage which didn’t taste all that bad I might add and in the mean time I had a nice view on my favorite part of the city, the roof tiles of the Matthias Church.

Early in the afternoon, we slowly walked all the way back downhill and instead of using the Chain Bridge again, we walked alongside the river Danube trying to reach the next bridge which is called the Elizabeth bridge and is named after Elisabeth „Sissi” of Bavaria, queen and empress of Austria-Hungary who lived during the late 1800’s.

Not far into our walk, the rain came pouring down on us again. Not even our umbrella could take all the water, so we had to hide in one of the abandoned terrace houses near the boulevard, only to found out that we weren’t the only visitors. A few homeless people were sleeping at the porch as well and since we didn’t want to wake them up, we tried to keep our voices as low as possible, after all, we all deserve a good rest once in a while.

15 minutes later, it still rained cats and dogs, but we decided to persevere and walked further into the rain while getting totally wet in the process.

As the Elizabeth bridge came closer and closer, the wetter we got and I was more than glad to notice a small pub alongside the huge suspension bridge which gave us an opportunity to hide from the rain and at the same time made sure we got an amazing view on the Gellert Hill as well.

It must have been more than half an hour later when the rain finally stopped and just like a few other people, we dared to leave the save environment of our pub's covered terrace and crossed the bridge to the other side.

With the rain gone, we walked further alongside the river, this time on the Pest side, till we reached the Liberty Bridge, which is a public road bridge and also a fine piece of art work I might add. Instead of crossing this bridge again, we slowly walked into the opposite direction and walked right inside the Central Market Hall where you can find all kinds of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as fresh meat and fish and of course local peppers in all variations as well as other stuff to bring home again after a visit to the city.

Since we weren’t really in the mood for souvenir hunting, we left the place about half an hour later and instead we walked into the shopping street and looked up a nice pastry shop to indulge the best that Hungary has to offer ... cake!!!

I have to admit that city tripping isn’t always fun when it rains, but when visiting a pastry shop abroad, everything automatically falls into place, sometimes we do live in a beautiful world that’s for sure and this is not the sugar talking!

Now that my belly was satisfied again, we decided to go and visit the Parliament on foot. It was a bit of a walk from the city centre, but since we faced all kinds of weather conditions today, I was more than sure that we could do this as well and the start of our walk on the „boulevard” of the Pest area was very pleasant. Sadly enough, along the way the weather changed on us again and by the time we reached the Parliament, it rained cats and dogs again and just like a few hours before, we needed to hide from a torrential rain shower. It seems that we weren’t going to see this beautiful building without getting wet in the process! So be it, if this is faith, we got to take it!!

It was still raining by the time the guards were taking away the Hungarian flag and this was a good as sign as ever to tell us we had to move on as well, after all … most of the gigantic square was abandoned and besides us, only a handful of other people were present. In a way I was glad, coz this meant we weren’t the only „morons” so to speak. It was nice to know that there are still other crazy people out there!

We slowly walked back towards the city centre crossing a few other streets which had temporarily war memorials and when crossing such things, you don’t think of the shitty weather you are in at that moment. The only thing that went through my mind was the same question over and over again … how could this have been possible ??? Is our world really such a beautiful place coz many people still undergo terrible things ????

I don’t really have a clear answer on all of this, but it makes you wonder sometimes.

By the time we reached „civilization” again and therefore seeing back loads of other people, we went in search for an eatery for a small bite to eat. It seemed that all day long we did nothing else but eat and drink and instead of going back to the hotel and have a nice end of the day, we still kept continuing this pace and went inside a small eatery near Vörösmarty Square and ordered another local Hungarian specialty, a schnitzel this time, but unlike the German version which I like very much, this one wasn’t all that overwhelming.

I guess I had eaten enough for one day coz by the time we walked back to the hotel, we wanted to have one more night cap, but all of a sudden I felt a bit weird. My belly ached and I wasn’t really in the mood for anything else but a hot bath and a bed and by the time it was 10 PM, I said goodnight and closed my eyes, hoping that the stomach pains would go away during the night!

23/05/15 Oh sun, sun where Art Thou ???

After a crazy night of tossing and turning and even at a given moment thinking "how on earth am I going to survive this night", I somehow did manage to sleep a couple of hours, but by the time it was a bit after 8 AM, I decided to toughen myself up and went to breakfast.

My stomach ache was gone, but still not totally sure about things, I just ate a few light stuff … better safe than sorry I always say!

Just like yesterday, the weather was not all that bad when we left the hotel. It wasn’t raining, but dark clouds were still hovering above our heads and just like the day before, we made sure we were „weaponed" with enough gear to keep us dry.

Today we wanted to make sure we saw the last of the main sights of the city, after all, it was our last full day and we wanted to make the most of it.
Our first goal of the day was Heroes Square, which was only a few metro stops away from the Opera. Whenever I am in a city I love to take the metro, I don’t know why, but it is just a thing that I like to do. Even with all the rain we had the last past days, I still managed to avoid taking the metro so to speak, but today this was also a thing on my agenda and I wasn’t exactly sorry for taking it coz although there aren’t that many metro lines in Budapest, the stations we came across when taking metro line 1 or the Millennium Underground like it is also called, it seemed like they could have come straight out of a history book. I am sure they have recently renovated everything, but the brick work is really amazing and gives it that "more than one century old" feeling.

It couldn’t have been more than 15 minutes, traveling from the Opera to Heroes Square and as soon as we had risen out of the ground so to speak, we noticed that gigantic Square. The moment we arrived at the Square, it was still quite empty and I really got some sort of majestic feeling when looking at all the sculptures … most of the time I do nothing else but talk, talk and more talk, but now for even a split moment I was speechless. Needless to say, a few minutes later that changed again and with all the tour groups coming our way, it became a really busy place, almost the entire Square was filled with nationalities from all over the world, loads of colorful flags and not to mention the hundreds of opened umbrellas coz indeed, it started to rain again.

Crosschecking my guidebooks, I found out a little bit more about the square and the Millennium Monument standing proud in the middle of it, telling more about the 1000 year old history of the Magyars with Archangel Gabriel on top of the center pillar symbolizing Christianity as well as the 7 chieftains who led the Magyars to Hungary and the one thing that strikes me the most, was the fact that although they fought a lot, they were darn good looking men for that period of time as well … I am just telling you as it is! 

As we were walking away from Heroes’ Square in the direction of the City Park, I also noticed a big yellow building I also saw in a few guidebooks. One look in my trusty guide learned us that we were looking at the Széchenyi thermal baths. The building itself has a lovely yellow colors and attracts you immediately but sadly enough, a part of the building needs some restoring works as well coz it certain places it wasn’t all that yellow anymore!

Since we weren’t equipped with swimmers, we just had a quick peek at the entrance hall, which is very overwhelming by the way and we also had a chance to see a bit of the thermal baths and I know the water is nice and hot and everything, but with the raindrops falling from the sky above, it still didn’t made it all that appealing to me.

Just across the thermal baths, there is also a real live circus and of course that other attraction that children love so much, the city zoo. We still had loads of time, so instead of walking through the enormous City Park, of which I am sure is amazing as well, we opted for a short trip to the zoo where in just a couple of hours we tried to look up as many exotic animals we could think of.

The zoo itself has a nice range of animals from all over the world, but since we had to hide from the rain from time to time, it was a bit of a task trying to find them as well.

As we left the zoo, it all of a sudden started to rain much harder and we tried to reach the metro M1 again as soon as we possibly could. In this attempt, we had to skip from one puddle to the next, so by the time we reached the underground, needless to say of course, we were soaking wet.

Our initial idea was to walk from the Opera all the way to the centre, but with this rainy weather we lost all our interest and we just stayed inside till we reached the terminal station, Vörösmarty Square. Once above ground again, we were in luck coz the rain had stopped, which was kind of a good thing coz my shoes were still soaking wet and I don’t know if they could handle another downpour like that again.

From all that running, we really got a bit hungry as well and since my mum wanted to visit that other renowned baker, Augustz Coffee House, also known for its pies and cakes, we took our chances and looked up the address in my guide book. It was almost lunch time anyway so … after a bit of searching, we found this old looking establishment and just in the nick of time as well coz as we entered the place, only one free table was left and it came with a nice enough view on the street as well.

It was a difficult task in choosing between all those yummy things, but needless to say of course … we did manage and it was really worth the detour, that’s for sure.

With our tummies filled again and the rain gone, we weren’t sure we were going to do this, but the clouds looked a bit lighter than this morning, so we dared the challenge and crossed the Elizabeth bridge for the start of our walk up hill towards the Gellért monument and the citadel a bit higher up.

Not sure which direction to go, we just followed the pathway that seemed to go higher and higher and after every bend, we were like … are we there yet ??? … and although it took a while, with a few deep breaths (yes, I am out of shape) and the help of some amazing views on the Pest area, we made it to the top in a bit over an hour and guess what … all the dark clouds where suddenly gone and even the first rays of sun showed up. We had to wait more than 2.5 days for something like that, so it goes without saying that we took a nice long rest and enjoyed every sunbeam that touched our face!

Sadly enough the sun was gone as quick as it appeared but on the other hand, it didn’t started to rain either so … in a leisurely pace we walked downhill again, said one more quick hallo and goodbye to the Gellért monument and went on our merit way again towards the Elizabeth bridge where we arrived about half an hour later.

Now that the weather cleared up, we even found a nice little coffee shop near the bridge which also served delicious wraps and with a nice hot drink and a bit of food in our system, we were up again for a bit more sight seeing.

The last past days we walked quite a distance near the river Danube and since we were also interested in tram 2, we decided to take this old looking tram all the way towards the last bridge we wanted to visit, the Margaret Bridge and with it attached, Margaret Island.

Good weather brings a lot of people up and about and that’s just the thing on Margaret Island. Traffic is prohibited so you can walk at ease on this small island, but most people wanted a bit more excitement and they resorted to running and jogging. I myself, really wanted to give it a try as well, but since I stopped jogging almost 3 months ago due to a foot injury, I felt so out of shape that I promised to myself that once the busy work period is over, I will start again … now I only hope I can keep my promise!

On the island you can not only participate in lots of sports activities, you can also rent bikes and other strange vehicles like a small car that runs on electricity and although many old people and families used such a thing, for once I wanted to do something crazy as well and even we rented such a vehicle to get along the island. It was quite fun riding such a thing and try to avoid all the people walking in the park and I am sure that we saw lots more when we just walked along the island, but hey … I was feeling like a kid in a candy store and I loved every minute of it … who says girls don’t have fun!

After a few hours of fun on Margaret Island, we decided it was time to go back towards the city centre and found ourselves a place to eat, but not before I had one more glance at the beautiful Parliament. For days I wished I could see it with a bit of good weather and now that the moment was finally there, I wasn’t going to waste it. Okay, I have to admit, maybe it is more beautiful under a clear blue sky and with lots of sun but for me this was good enough … I got my wish and to be honest, seeing this, it was worth all the hassle from the last few days. A perfect ending for a city trip I am sure we are never going to forget!

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Of course we enjoyed our evening as well. We found a nice pizza establishment near the park at Szabadsag Square and afterwards, after a relaxed walk back to the hotel, we had one last night cap at the Callas Cafe located just opposite the Opera. Instead of drinking a few not affordable glasses of Champaign, we just resorted to a nice hot cup of coffee and that was fine as well.

By the time I got my sore feet to rest, it was almost midnight and good enough time as ever to hit the sack, I was really knackered and I still needed to pack for our flight tomorrow afternoon!

24/05/15 flying home with the sun in our back!

After a good night’s rest, we slowly resorted to packing our stuff for our trip back home and afterwards enjoyed the struggle of the day on what to choose for breakfast. Sometimes it is better to have basic choices coz when a breakfast buffet is so extensive like the one in this hotel, it is more than difficult. Every day I had eaten something different and still I didn’t went through half of the selection … what can I say, it was a bliss staying here.

Our flight wasn’t until early in the afternoon, so as soon as we checked out at the hotel, made sure our luggage was safely stored in the luggage room and we ordered a taxi back to the airport, we slowly walked one more time to the centre of the city and had one last look at the river Danube, which looked so much better now that the weather cleared up.

For the first time in days, we left the hotel with sunshine and a clear blue sky and in a way that was great coz my walking shoes were completely ruined because of the bad weather conditions. Lucky for me, I brought an extra pair of shoes with me, but the ones that brought me „joy” over the last few days stayed behind in the rubbish bin of the hotel. I know that is not the right way to say thanks to my shoes, but I know they have gone to better places or so I hope anyway … rest in peace my trusty shoes!

Although it was still relatively early in the morning (read around 10 AM), lots of people were already up and about and this surprised me a bit since it was Sunday, a day people normally stay indoors or in bed till it is almost noon, but I guess the good weather had something to do with it coz all the terraces where filled with people eating breakfast or just enjoying a relaxing drink in the sun and of course we couldn’t stay behind.
It must have been more than an hour later when we finally left our cozy place at the terrace of Anna cafe and slowly walked back to the hotel where we had a quick lunch before our taxi driver came along to pick us up.

Unlike the older gentleman who couldn’t stop talking to us, this time the driver was much younger and also much more reserved. Besides hello and goodbye, he hardly spoke to us and I was a bit surprised to be honest, but at the same time I couldn’t think of something to talk about either since I didn’t really knew the fellow all that well.

About an hour later we arrived in the airport and check in went very smooth which mend we had more than enough time on our hands to explore the many shops of the airport, which on the other hand wasn’t all that bad.
Upon our arrival, we didn’t immediately received our designated gate for departure, so we had to wait till it was almost time to board before we knew where to go and although this seemed a bit frustrating, at the same it was a bit exciting as well.

With only 20 minutes left before boarding, I suddenly saw our plane landing and this was a nice opportunity as ever to make a picture of the entire plane and at the same time it was a fun game with my mum in guessing at which gate it was going to stop … I won!

After waiting about half an hour we could finally board and once airborne we touched ground again about 2 hours later, arriving back in Brussels.

Just like a few days earlier, it took forever to get out of the plane and sometimes I wonder what people need to be doing in a plane besides taking your stuff and get the hell out of there. Are they so in love with it, that they just can’t say goodbye to it ??? Talking about having a stress moment and my busiest month of the year, work wise that is, was still to come … not a good sign, believe me!!!!

As always, my brother awaited us at the arrival hall, ready to bring us back home again, where we arrived almost an hour later. I guess that is the bliss of traveling home on a Sunday and a saints day as well. It seems that almost everyone is still on holiday and I am not complaining at all, it was a smooth ride.

In a way I was glad to be back home again. A busy month awaits me and although weather wise it wasn’t always the most fun, I am more than glad to have seen this beautiful and intriguing city!

Posted by Ils1976 01:48 Archived in Hungary Comments (1)

Riga, European capital of culture 2014

first visit to this very cold capital while enjoying the opening ceremonies of it being this year's cultural capital of Europe ... talking about a bonus! :D


View Riga, European capital of culture 2014 on Ils1976's travel map.

17/01/14 onwards to the cold

Friday! If you look at it, it is simply put the best day of the entire week and today it is even a better one coz this afternoon I was leaving for a short getaway towards the Baltics.

Since I wasn’t leaving until 2 PM in the afternoon, I took advantage of the situation and decided to sleep-in, something which wasn’t really working by the way and after snoozing for about an hour, I decided to get up. After all it was already after 9 AM, a good enough hour to enjoy the best meal of the day, breakfast!

I still needed to pack all my stuff, not that I could take lots with me coz the regulations of the Wizz Air company concerning hand luggage is so strict that I had difficulties finding the right bag, but after a bit of searching (read almost an hour!!!), I did manage.
Luckily I had lots to choose from, the advantage of traveling much I guess, you keep on buying more and more bags in all sizes available!

While I was busy packing, my mum came upstairs and told me she just looked up the temperatures in the capital city of Latvia and guess what … it’s minus 14 degrees!!!! What the ****, I knew it was going to be cold, but THAT cold ???

Just to make sure I wouldn’t regret something later on, I packed an extra pair of thermal underwear and even warm gloves … I grabbed a banana for the road and as soon as my dad started the car, I was more than ready to leave towards the cold. Bring it on!

Traffic wasn’t all that bad and about half an hour later (more or less) we arrived at the small airport of Eindhoven and if I say small, I really mean small but it was cozy nevertheless and did I also mentioned busy??? It seemed that I wasn’t going to be the only one leaving today.

With a little bit of spare time on our hands, the three of us had a quick cup of coffee at the local Starbucks, which tasted yummy as always and about 1 PM it was time for me to say “adieu” to my parents.

Although there was quite a queue at the luggage control, I was glad to be out of there after waiting in line for about 15 minutes or so only to be utterly disappointed that there was only one tax free shop with the usual candy, liquor and useless junk.

It was almost time to board anyway so in a very slow pace I walked towards the gate but upon my arrival they told us there was going to be a delay. No miracle of course, our plane wasn’t even landed yet.

Luckily I found myself an empty seat and the only thing I could do was wait, wait and wait some more.

It must have been more than half an hour when I finally noticed the bright colors of the Wizz Air plane. Secretly hoping it being ours, I was more than happy to notice it coming in our direction and as soon as all the luggage and people were out of the plane, we could board as well.

Yes, finally I could leave for Riga!

Once on board, I quickly found a seat in the back of the plane and while I got settled as good as I could, I noticed the crew doing some safety checks. It looked like they wanted to get out of here as well, who could blame them, there is nothing much to see here!

The flight is a good 2.5 hours and while we are air born, I catch up with my reading. I bought a travel guide of Riga a few months ago, but I am a bit ashamed to tell that I haven’t found time to read it, now is as good as time as ever I suppose.

We’re almost in Latvia when I finish my book, so that means good timing! Since I was lucky to get a window seat, I had more than a nice view on the winter sceneries down below.

Sadly enough as we are landing, it gets darker and darker and by the time we reach our gate it is pitch dark and it is freezing cold as well. Boy, we are definitely not in Belgium anymore!

As quickly as I could, I hurried inside coz it was just too cold. I was looking forward to spending some time in real winter weather, but now that I was actually here, I was beginning to doubt myself, was this what I really wanted!?

Once inside the terminal it was really warm and as soon as I reached the luggage belt, I got a message from Tania telling me that she had a delay as well … it seems that not one airplane was going to be on time.

For the second time today there was nothing else for me to do than wait, but this time around I had the chance to collect a few brochures and tourist maps with the main sights of the city and without even realizing it, an hour went by and I could finally welcome my best travbuddy into the country!

Both not feeling up for it to seek out transportation towards the city, we just booked a taxi and within half an hour we were at our hotel which looked more than fine.

Check-in went very smoothly and as soon as we got settled, it was time to find something to eat, after all it was already after 7 PM.

Since it was just sooooo cold outside, we didn’t feel up to walking through the entire old town and instead we found something yummy to eat at the local shopping mall.

With our tummies filled and our bodies still warm of the heath inside the shopping mall, we dared the cold outside and walked for a while through the many streets of the old town till eventually we got cold again and decided to pay a visit to one of the many coffee thingies we crossed during our walk.

Double coffee is definitely worthwhile and after a glass of mulled wine with something stronger, I must admit that we almost “flew” back to the hotel.

Since it was already quite late and the both of us were really exhausted after such a long day, it didn’t took me too long to get to dreamland!


18/01/14 Cold, cold, cold!

When I opened my eyes, I was surprised to notice it still being dark inside the room and while I was thinking that maybe I woke up in the middle of the night, I knew I was wrong the minute I opened the curtains. It was quite bright outside with little to no clouds at the sky.

Mmmm, maybe it was a mistake not setting an alarm clock yesterday?

One look at our phone tells us that it is past 9 AM, which is a good enough time to get up, get dressed, have breakfast and enjoy a day outside in the cold.

If we thought that it is was cold yesterday evening, we were in a real treat today!

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The minute we opened the entrance door of the hotel, it felt like walking into a refrigerator and a real cold one I might add. There were just no words to describe what was going through our minds at that moment.
But now that we were here, we were going to make the most of it!

Our first goal of the day was central market. It was in the vicinity of our hotel and most important, it was inside, so this meant warmth as well.

It didn’t take us too long to get there and although it was almost noon, the place was still a hustle and bustle of people coming and going. I just loved the atmosphere and I was even surprised to see that there was a large market outside as well, selling all kinds of stuff. At one given point I was really interested in the hats, but I was a bit surprised to see the prices, talking about expensive!!!

From the market we walked in a slow pace towards the “Spikeri” district. Although there was not much activity at this time of the day, I must say that I loved what they had done to the old warehouses. Walking a bit further towards the water, we had a spectacular view on the railway bridge as well.

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Instead of just gazing at it, we decided to do some more walking. Standing still with these temperatures was not entirely a smart thing to do.

After walking just a couple of minutes, we noticed people going towards the Stone bridge and from a distance we even saw quite a lot of people on the bridge itself.

Yesterday we read somewhere that this weekend was going to be the “inauguration” of the city as cultural capital of Europe 2014. Not a bad thing to tell you the truth and although it came as a surprise to the both of us, it was a welcome one.

There were quite a few events going on today and it seemed that we found the first one, the Chain of Booklovers as they call it. The main idea is to hand over all the books from the old library to the new one using a human chain.

When we came closer towards the bridge, we had a better view on the “human chain” so to speak. In front of us were standing the army of Latvia and after shooting a few pictures, one of them came up to us and asked us to join.

According to our friendly corporal, lieutenant or whatever his rank was, we had to stay because the first book that was going to be passed around was some kind of “magic book”.

If this was true or not, I don’t know, but I must say that they were all eagerly waiting for the first book to arrive. We kept on waiting and waiting, but at the same time we were freezing as well. Several times we were thinking of leaving, but every time the nice guy kept on telling us we had to wait.

I guess we waited for about 2 hours or even more when finally the “magic book” came around. Like I said before, I don’t know if it really was a magic one, but if I have to be honest, there was some kind of a vibe going around, so in a way he was right and I have to admit that it was a magical experience.

Cold to the bone, me and Tania decided to go and have a cup of coffee to warm up and the first place we crossed was Golden Coffee. Although it was nice and comfy inside, we were just so cold that the only thing we did was shiver and hold our freezing hands close to a nice hot cup of coffee.

Still cold after more than half an hour, we decided to take the advice of the army guy and went to a shopping mall in the vicinity of the train station to buy some warmer clothes.

Although it took some searching, a few hours later I scored myself a new pair of ski pants and Tania found an extra pair of thermal underwear. We were more than ready to dare the cold again!

As it became darker and darker, we first went back to our hotel to drop of our stuff and then we were on our way again towards the Daugava river. This evening more events were happening, amongst them the world championship of fire sculptures, a parade of light and last but not least, a light spectacular.

Upon our arrival at the river, we had an amazing view on the illuminated railway bridge. By day it is an impressive one, but by night it is “magical”!

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As we walked towards the stone bridge again, we noticed many people in front of us, it seemed that we weren’t the only ones who got excited for the coming events.

We tried to look up the place for the fire sculptures, but it seemed we were too late for that one, instead we had to make do with the parade of lights which was already going on.

There were just so many people up and about that we could only catch a few glimpses of it, but it was sure worth it.

Now that we were still early for the next event, we tried to look for a good enough spot and I must say that we didn’t had to search long. The only downside of it all was the fact that we had to wait almost half an hour in the freezing cold and if I have to be honest, that is a freaking long time!

On the other hand we were a bit lucky that we had music on our side. That helps a bit, but a person can only jump so much you know!?

In front of us were 3 older ladies waiting for the fireworks as well, but every 5 minutes or so, they opened their fur coats and revealed the best cure there is against cold … vodka! It seemed they were a hell of a lot smarter than us two!

Promptly at 7 PM we were welcomed with a lot of noise of the fireworks. Boy, it was just unbelievable! I was even surprised it lasted longer than half an hour, they surely are proud to become the culture capital of 2014 !

After the fireworks it was amazing to see all the people leaving as quick as they could, I guess we weren’t the only ones after all who were freezing. I was glad to see there were more.

As the two of us are walking towards the statue of Big Christopher, we both decided to go and have dinner at Lido’s. According to our guidebook it is a well enough place to taste some Latvian food so … after such an evening, this was just what we were looking for, only at our arrival at the joint it was completely packed. It looked like we weren’t the only ones wanted to taste the local specialties. Bummer!

Since we didn’t want to stand too long in the cold, we walked for a while through the many streets of the old town, only to end up at Friday’s. Never tried this before, we gave this one a go and since they also served Mexican food, the both of us were over the moon!

I must say that didn’t take too long though coz the food wasn’t all that good in the first place, but hey … at least we were in a warm place.

Not really tired yet, we yet again roamed through the streets of the old town, but as it was getting colder and colder, we just looked up the coffee thingy from yesterday and once again we tried one of the yummy warm fluids. This time around I went for the hot mojito and together with a piece of lemon cake … it was heaven!

Just like yesterday evening, we didn’t had any trouble with the cold anymore, I guess the key to it is to drink as much alcohol as possible!
When in Riga ….

By the time we had all our stuff organized and went through the possibilities for our sightseeing tour tomorrow, it was time again to hit the sack. It didn’t take me too long to go to sleep and I can only blame it on the mojito … but hey, it was just so delicious!!!

19/01/14 snooping around town

Today, unlike yesterday, we were a bit smarter and set an alarm clock, which went off at exactly 8 AM.

I have to admit that it was difficult to open my eyes straight away, but since we were planning of seeing as much of the old town as possible, there was no way out, so in not so many words, this meant no snoozing today or at least not long!

Although we had seen already lots of the old town,  it was always at night time, so not really the best of time to take pictures, especially not with these temperatures.

Yesterday evening, Tania and I worked out a walking route of the old town so that we could see pretty much all the sights of the city and as soon as we had some yummy things to eat and made sure we had more than enough layers on our body, we were more than ready to explore the many streets of the city.

Once back in the refrigerator that is Riga, I was amazed to feel that it wasn’t as cold as yesterday, but this might had something to do with the extra layers of course, anyway … I wasn’t complaining at all, it was a welcome change.

First sight of the day was St. Peter’s Church, but in order to reach it, we first paid a visit to the Musicians of Bremen statue located at the back of the church. This bronze statue was a gift of the German city of Bremen in the early 90’s and shows the four animals of the famous German story, to be more precise, the donkey, the dog, the cat and of course the rooster.

Upon our arrival at the church, we couldn’t go inside to have a closer look since mass was going on and instead the two of us decided to go and have a look at the observation platform.

While we were discussing if we wanted to go upstairs or not, there was one person making all kinds of sign language telling us that it was cold upstairs, but we just didn’t care all that much, after all … we came for the views!

But once taken the elevator towards the platform, I have to admit that it was just freezing cold out there and more times than one I had difficulties taking a picture, but the view … AMAZING!

Since it was impossible to stay long at the platform, we waited for the next elevator back down and from here it was but a short walk to the Town Hall Square with of course this impressive building on one side and one of Riga’s architectural treasures, the House of Blackheads on the other side.

From here it was but a short walk towards the biggest church of all, Riga’s Cathedral or Dom Cathedral, which is said to be the largest medieval church in the entire Baltics. This sounded so impressive that we wanted to have a look inside, but unfortunately it was closed. Bummer!

Nothing to do about it, but standing outside in the cold for a few hours wasn’t smart either, so we just walked on in the direction of the Daugava River where we found Riga’s most famous protector, Big Christopher.

Legend states that one day after returning home from carrying the Christ child across the deep waters of the river, the humble giant found a pile of gold which he used to build Riga. For centuries he has been a symbol of the city, and its inhabitants paid tribute to him with flowers and lit candles, asking for his blessing before embarking on a long journey.

The both of us didn’t exactly donated something,  but I secretly hoped he forgave us  and gave us his blessing anyways for travels yet to come!

Just across the street of Big Christopher, stands Riga castle, but when we wanted to take a closer look, the only thing we could see were the scaffolds placed all around the building. Too bad! Maybe this is a sign saying that we have to come back some day.

The next important “sight” was just a few blocks away and is called the three brothers. It took a bit of searching but as soon as we found the right street there was no doubt about it, we finally found it! You certainly can’t miss these “3 brothers” which is basically a housing complex consisting out of 3 of the oldest dwelling houses of this city. They all date from a few centuries ago.

I could hardly take pictures because my fingers were almost frozen and Tania had the same problem with the cold, so the smartest thing for us to do was to look up a warmer place, which we found just a few blocks away at Caif Café.

The only thing I can say about this place is that they have divine drinks. I have never tasted such a delicious warm drink like the warm apple juice with a little bit of extra in it. Of course I already forgot the extra, but it was like drinking liquid “Apfelstrüdel” (German / Austrian apple pie). What I am concerned, you can’t go wrong there coz it is my favorite dessert!  Bottoms up!

It was really cozy at Caif Café, but we still needed to see lots of things so as soon as we finished our drinks and checked the weather forecast, it was time to hit the streets again.

A couple of days ago, I was a bit surprised to notice that everything is closely situated here in the old town, so it took us just mere minutes to arrive at the Old City Walls which turned out to be the best place to buy some amber.

Passing the Swedish gate and the Powder Tower, we followed a cat all the way up to the famous Cat House, only to end up at Livu Square, where it was time to have another break.

One can’t help but have one of course when you see all those delicious sweet things from behind a window. It is just an open invitation if you ask me and the only thing I can say about it all … they have yummy things in Riga!

Back outside again, we were so much intrigued by the sparrows, that we kept on taking pictures, but just like the past couple of days we could hardly stand still for long periods of time, so we moved on towards the Statue of Liberty with a little side track to the park and the canal, only to find out that they have a bridge with love locks here as well.

Walking through the park, we ended up at a total different part of the city, we were no longer in the old town, but on our way towards the Art Nouveau streets which are more than impressive!

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As it was getting near lunch time, we tried to look up something to eat, but the only thing in the vicinity turned out to be a Double Coffee thingy. Not too bad  of course and it seems that it is our destiny to try out as many as possible!

This time we went for the pancakes with cheese and mushroom sauce and although it sounded like a weird combo, I must say that it worked and it was really yummy!

Since we still wanted to walk towards the other side of the Dauvaga river, we better made a move on coz it was going to be quite a walk, but when you see lots of nice things along the way, than for me, the distance doesn’t matter.

We were lucky to see the sun go down on the other side of the river, and after a short visit to one of the local malls we had quite a nice walk back towards the old town.

From all that walking we got hungry again, maybe the cold had something to do with that as well and since we still hadn’t got a chance to try out Lido’s, this was going to be our goal for today.

Upon our arrival, it seemed that this time we were in luck coz it wasn’t that crowded and as soon as we figured out it was a self service restaurant, we could order some Latvian food.  I have to admit that it wasn’t a total waste of time coz the dessert was very delicious, but my main course wasn’t all that appetizing and the potatoes were even cold! This was definitely a no-no for me, but at least I can say that I’ve tried it!

It was still early in the evening when we left the restaurant but since it was still cold outside and there was nothing much to see anymore, we just decided to go back to our hotel and try out the wellness part of it. The best idea we had when I am concerned and completely warmed up and relaxed a few hours later we ended up in our room again.

After ransacking the mini bar coz we were so thirsty, I relaxed for a bit on my bed while Tania was going through her work mail, but this was the worst thing I could do because just in mere minutes I dozed off. It seems that I was more tired than I could ever imagined!

20/01/14 final hours

Somewhere in the distance I hear an alarm clock going off and it takes me a few seconds to realize it is ours.

7 AM is really early and we decide to snooze for a few minutes more, but eventually we have to get out of bed because today holidays are over for my travel companion, she sadly enough has to work today.

As soon as we finish our early breakfast, it is back to our room to pick up our stuff and check out, which by the way goes very smoothly but I guess the early hour has something to do with that as well.

Tania has to visit a few travel agencies closely situated at the Vermanes park, so I decided to join her and walk her to her work so to speak … what is a friend otherwise to do! :)

While Tania was doing her thing, I walked a few blocks along the K Barona Street and ended up at the Orthodox Cathedral, which is an incredibly beautiful church if you ask me.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed  to go inside and instead I just walked around the building which was under construction. Maybe that’s the reason why they didn’t allow people inside or maybe I wasn’t allowed inside because I am not Orthodox?

Oh well, whatever the reason might be, the outside was beautiful enough to take a few pictures.

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As I was walking back towards the Statue of Liberty, I suddenly got so cold that I needed to go inside and have a cup of coffee … I could hardly move my fingers, my gosh … it seems I am never going to get used to this cold and coming from me that is just crazy coz I otherwise love the cold … go figure!?

While sitting in the warmth, I got a message from my buddy saying she was early and still had some time between “clients” so we met up again and together we paid a quick visit at one of the local shopping malls.

There wasn’t enough time to have a closer look at some of the stores because Tania needed to go to another agency closely situated at the Laima factory.

Chocolate is never a bad thing, so once again I decided to join her and as I was following the scent of chocolate, I ended up at the museum, which unfortunately was closed. Bummer again!

It seems that in wintertime not many museums are opened, so instead I just walked all the way till the end of the street and ended up at the Great Cemetery.

I must say that I was surprised to see a rather large forest / park if you can call it that, with a few graves scattered throughout the place. Very strange indeed! I must say that I expected it to be more like a real cemetery, but I guess I was wrong and so was my guide book!

While I decided to have a quick walk around, I even passed a few people who were jogging. I must say, that it is the strangest thing I ever saw, but on the other hand … why not!

As I was walking back, I yet again met up with Tania. She still had a bit of time on her hands till she had to visit her last client and together we decided to have a look at the Bergs Bazaar, which was situated in the centre of the city.

Unlike nothing I expected, I guess this place can be very cozy looking in summertime, but during winter … there is not much to see I am afraid, but I have to admit, we did find a cozy coffee place with yummy sweet things and of course we couldn’t pass on that.

About half an hour later I had to say “goodbye” to Tania again, but just like the rest of the morning it was but for a short time. While she was visiting her last client, I stayed at this coffee place and enjoyed the warmth of the place inside with some nice reading materials.

It was already way past 1 PM when Tania’s working day was finally over and we met up again shortly after. As we were walking towards the old town again, we decided to have one last drink since we were leaving the city in just a few hours.

Our destination is Livu Square and to be more precise the Black Cat House restaurant.

Yesterday, Tania noticed they had a special drink on the menu and we really wanted to try this because it was made with Black Balsam, the traditional Latvian herbal liqueur. What a better way to end our short stay here in this city!

It took us a while to find it, the drink that is, but when we did, we knew we made the right choice. I don’t exactly know the name of this delicious hot drink with black currant balsam and other spices, but believe you me … it was goooooooooooooooooood! :)

Lightheaded and with a smile on our faces, we leave Livu Square behind us and walk in a rather slow pace back to the hotel, but because the distances aren’t that big here in the old town, we arrive at our destination just minutes later.

There wasn’t much to do for us anymore than to pick up our stuff, make a quick phone call to the taxi company and half an hour later we were on the road again, towards the airport this time.

Although traffic was rather busy, we managed to arrive at Riga airport about half an hour later and as soon as Tania was checked in and got rid of her luggage, we could go through customs and find something to eat.

This was kind of a difficult task since it was a small airport, but when it concerns food, we always manage to find something to our liking … pizza it is!
Not noticing how big the pizzas really are, I stupidly ordered one, while Tania (the brains of the 2 of us) was smart enough to order just a slice. The slice on itself was big, so I don’t need to tell you how big my pizza was. Luckily true friends are there to help you no matter what and minutes, minutes and more minutes later, we almost finished this huge but delicious pizza.

I could hardly walk back towards my gate … I was really stuffed. No more food for me today, that’s for sure.

Since my flight was leaving first, I had the company of my best travbuddy till it was time to board and just like my departure a few days ago I quickly found a comfy seat in the back of the plane.

As soon as we got airborne, I closed my eyes and tried to sleep for a bit and it worked as well, coz I woke up just as we were starting to land.

Everything went smoothly and as soon as the doors were open it looked like everyone wanted to get out of the plane as quickly as possible! I guess I was lucky that I had a seat all the way in the back and within 15 minutes I was out of there and on my way towards the arrival hall to be picked up by my family.

Unlike Riga, we had lots of rain on our way back home and although I had a great couple of days in Latvia, I somehow was glad to be back home again as well … strange actually coz that doesn’t happen to me often, I guess the cold had something to do with that!?

Hours later, while enjoying a hot bad, I am reminiscing about the last few days and I must say that it was once again a pleasant trip, also thanks to my best travbuddy of course and I think that there could be a possibility that I might go back again to Latvia some day, but it definitely is going to be in summertime!

Posted by Ils1976 23:42 Archived in Latvia Comments (2)

Barcelona, a trip back to memory lane!

a few days of city tripping in the capital of Catalonia with my best buddy!


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15/08/13 on our way towards Basque country

Just a few weeks before me and Tania were counting down the days for our big trip towards Asia, my TravBuddy got the news she had to go to a management meeting in Barcelona on the 17th of August. Thinking this would be a nice opportunity to see the city as well, she asked me to tag along and of course … I don’t say no to something like that! :)

Since the 15th of August is a public holiday in our country, I only had to ask one day off from work and the minute I’ve got a positive answer, we could begin to plan the whole thing.

For me this was a nice opportunity to see the city once again. 20 years ago, I visited this place while I was in high school and nowadays I just have a vague remembrance of it all.

I was happy to see that the days went by so very fast since our homecoming of Vietnam, that before even realizing it, I was on my way to Hemiksem.

The plan was to spend the night before our leave towards sunny Spain at Tania’s apartment since I didn’t like the idea of getting up in the middle of the night and drive all sleepy towards the airport.

My alarm clock went off at 6.30 AM and although I was still a little bit drowsy, I managed to get dressed and after a quick breakfast we were on our way towards Brussels.

The good thing about being early on a public holiday is the fact that you have the road almost to yourself and with the very good guidance of Tania, who is an excellent GPS by the way, we managed to arrive at the airport in no-time!

As soon as I found a space to park my car, we just needed to take our bags and then it was off to customs. Since we’ve already had our boarding passes, we could relax and enjoy our traditional cup of coffee at Starbucks.

It was almost 9 AM when we could look up the right gate and in a slow pace we walked towards our designated gate. There were already lots of people waiting in line, but to our surprise, there was no plane in sight. It looked like we weren’t going to leave on time, that’s for sure! 

Luckily for us, we weren’t in such a hurry or in need to get another plane towards a final destination, so for the first time in a while we just relaxed. To be honest, it’s a nice feeling for once, to be without stress and certainly today because we are flying to the sun, what better way to bring a smile on one’s face!

About half an hour later our plane suddenly arrived. We had to wait a few minutes till everyone was out of the plane and then it was our turn. I always assumed they cleaned a plane before the next group of passengers got on board, but obviously not with Vueling. It was loading and unloading so to speak.

It took a while for everyone to get to their seat, but as soon as that was over and done with, we could finally leave or so we thought!?

Since a couple of days, the airport has some maintenance works on one of the runways, so this meant a delay of a few minutes. To me it seemed like we were never going to leave, but as soon as I heard the noise and feel the accelerated speed, I knew that it was our time to leave … finally!

The flight from Brussels to Barcelona was going to take about 1h35 minutes, that’s not such a long time if you consider all the long-haul flights we had the last half year.

While Tania tried to sleep a bit, I decided to look up some points of interest we needed to see while we were in the city.

I don’t remember all that much of my first visit to this city except for the most famous church “La Sagrada Familia” and the most busy street “La Rambla”. That’s not much of course, but keep in mind that I was only 17! My main interest at that time was to do as many sneaky things as possible and I do have found memories of them! :)

Although we had a delay of more than half an hour, we still managed to be quite on schedule upon arrival. We didn’t have to wait for our bags to arrive because we only had hand luggage and in no-time we found our transportation towards the city centre. This was going to be a piece of cake!

The airport bus dropped us off at the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, the same street our hotel was in, it seemed we were only minutes away from getting there. While we were walking, we passed upon a small thingy called “Pasteleria Escriba”, which is obviously famous for its chocolate and small pastries. One look at the counter made us feel hungry so we went inside and ordered a ham and cheese toast, after all, we hadn’t eaten a thing besides breakfast this morning and it was already way past 12 AM.

It didn’t take too long for our food to arrive, but to our surprise, it was quite cold and although the bread was toasted, the ham and cheese looked like they came straight out of the cooler. Not the best ham and cheese toast I have eaten, but I was glad to have something in my stomach, so … I didn’t complain all that much.

After our quick lunch, we walked for another hundred meters or so when we suddenly noticed our hotel. It seemed we were closer than we initially thought. Check-in went very smoothly and the people behind the desk where more than friendly. They even gave us information of the local festivities going on. How nice is that!

Our room isn’t all that big, with just twin beds and a small bathroom, but it was clean and for me that’s the most important thing.

Because Tania wasn’t feeling all that well, we decided to have a small siesta of our own. Only a few days back, she was diagnosed with having an immune disease which is treatable, but she still needs to adjust to the medication. For the next couple of months, she has to take things slow, so that is just what we are going to do!

It’s already 3 PM when we wake up again and because of the hot temperatures outside, we quickly change into other clothes and together with a pair of sandals we are good to go and ready to see the city.

We walked all the way towards Catalonia Square and from here it is just a few meters to “La Rambla”, the most busy street of the whole of Barcelona. I remember the place from way back and things haven’t changed one bit. It is still overcrowded and lots of people still try to sell souvenirs and other clutter, the most annoying of them all being some kind of bird whistle which is hidden in once mouth. From the moment we walked on the Rambla all the way till the end of it, you hear that annoying sound and I was more than ready to hit some of the vendors who try to sell that stupid thing. It was just unbelievable and it surely “bruised” my happy atmosphere for a bit!

At the end of the Rambla, we took a rest and had a drink at one of the many terraces. We had a nice view on all the painted artists and I must say I admire their perseverance. I couldn’t do that and especially not with this hot weather!

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From here we walked towards the harbor and the shopping mall Maremagnum. This was all new to me and we were even surprised to see the shops open for business because just like in our country, it is a public holiday today. Talking about a stroke of luck!

We had a quick look at a few shops and found something interesting, but not enough to buy already, that’s for the second round!

Once back outside, we noticed the Golden Arches and hey, they are always good for an ice cream especially when you have high temperatures like we do at the moment. While Tania took a seat at the outside terrace, I managed to get us a cold threat as quickly as possible. There were so many people inside and I just hoped that this has something to do with being a public holiday, otherwise I feel sorry for the employees of that place!

We walked further along the water and discovered a few selling markets and not soon after, we even found the beach … with thousands of people on it.

The sun was still shining very brightly, even at this evening hour and from the distance we noticed an interesting construction of something that looked like a fish, so we went further down the boulevard to have a closer look. It was already quite late when we arrived at the “sculpture” and walking all the way back to the city centre was out of the question, so we tried to look for the closest metro station and for a bite to eat as well.

Tania needed to take her medication on time, so we decided to take our chances on a small diner which offered a pasta menu for little money. It looked promising, but as soon as Tania’s lasagna and my cannelloni arrived, we were more than aware, that we were screwed so to speak. If you can say one thing …. it was eatable, but that’s about it!

Still craving for something sweet, we got out at the metro station Jaume I, which was in the middle of the Gothic Quarter or old town of Barcelona and luck was on our side this time because we found a small pastry shop with more than delicious things behind the counter. We gave the “palmier” a try.

This is a puff pastry with sugar on both sides and then put in the oven to bake … yummylicious to say the least. For once we were in luck with the choice of food and I hoped that this would continue throughout our trip.

It was already starting to get real dark now and we slowly found our way from the old town to the Passeig de Colon when all of a sudden Tania receives a phone call from her boss in London, who asked us to join her for dinner. We had to refuse her offer as we already had dinner earlier this evening and as Tania was getting tired (and me as well) after such a long day, we told her we had breakfast with her in the morning.

We walked back towards the hotel in a slow pace and after a refreshing shower, it was time to hit the sack. We were both completely knackered.

16/08/13 a fairy tale capital

Yesterday evening we set our alarm clock at 8 AM just in case we would sleep through the morning, but surprisingly enough that didn’t happen at all. I slept quite all right, but not thanks to the very thin walls of the room. At a given point I even thought it was raining outside, but it was just someone taking a shower in one of the other rooms. Every time that someone walked through the corridors, you had the idea that they walked straight into your room … scary thought actually!

Not yet quite awake by the noise of our alarm clock, me and Tania snoozed for a little while longer. The idea we had to get up to have breakfast with Tania’s boss didn’t sound all that appealing to us, but there is not so much we could do about it, after all, a promise is a promise.

It was almost 9 AM when we left our room, just in time to arrive at the breakfast area. Tania's boss was already up and about and after saying hi, we could finally eat something. During breakfast, which was quite fine for my basic needs, Tania got a 3rd degree interrogation about her illness and I was surprised of all the personal questions. This woman just knows no shame and I am but glad that my boss is somewhat different, although … she has her peculiarities as well!

We were a little bit worried that she was going to join us today, but luckily she had already planned a few hotel visits in the morning and of course there was another meeting for her in the afternoon. Thank you Lord!! We were just so happy to have the entire day all to ourselves.

As soon as our tummies were filled, we said goodbye to her and off we went on our day of sightseeing. Tania really wanted to see Park Guëll and since I vaguely remember being there, I was keen as well.

Walking all the way towards the park was out of the question. It was quite a distance by foot from the city centre all the way to the park and besides, why walk if you can take the subway. It took a bit of speculation which metro station was the best to get out off, since no matter where you got off, there was always a bit of walking involved. We chose for Lesseps and once above ground again, we just needed to follow the other tourists. How easy is that!

We walked a few meters more or less downhill, but once we took the street to the left called Baixada de la glorìa, we came across a steep street. With a little bit of huffing and puffing, we managed to get to the end of the street. Once passed that, it became easier and easier to go up hill. To our surprise they even put an escalator in the middle of the street, must be something they picked up from Hong Kong, whatever is the case, I am glad they put them there in the first place … no complaining here what so ever!

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At the end of the street we noticed a metal staircase leading to a park which must be the famous one we were looking for, but no signs what so ever. We got inside, just like all the other tourists and followed some arrows towards a viewing point called “Túro de les tres creus”. From this big pile of stone with 3 crosses on it, we had an amazing view on the city. Being on top of the “calvari”, we saw tiny bits already of Gaudí’s creative mind and to me it looked like we were landed in some kind of fairy tale with a magic forest.

We quickly walked downhill again and although it took a bit of guessing in which direction we should go, within minutes we arrived at the top of the Square of Nature. Like hundreds of other tourists we are drawn to the colorful benches from where you have an equally nice view on the city as well as on the entrance of the park with its “gingerbread” houses.

It looked like we weren’t the only ones trying to look for a nice place to sit and relax for a while, but since time was flying, we needed to move on and in a quick tempo we discovered the Square of Nature a bit more, the columns and colors are all so nice to look at. We even saw an alien at Carob’s viaduct, I quickly took a picture of it to let everyone now that they actually DO walk amongst us! :)

From here we had a quick glance at the dragon and staircase and just like everyone else, we tried to take a picture of it as good as it gets, but with dozens of people standing in your way, it was a more than difficult task.

It was getting a bit too busy for the both of us and we left the park getting out at the main entrance.

Yesterday, the friendly receptionist of the hotel gave Tania a map with the location of the street festival in the Gràcia area. To us it looked real interesting and now that we are in the neighbourhood, we might as well go and have a look at it.
We were walking about half an hour when we slowly started to get hungry and once we’ve reached the main road, Torrent de l’Olla, near the street festival, we noticed a small square with equally small eateries. We gave one of them a go and tried some of the local “tapas” or small snacks like patatas bravas, croquettes with chicken in it and something fishy or should I say squid-like.

All in all they weren’t too bad and as soon as we had enough rest, we went further down the road hoping to see all the decorated streets. We had to search a bit but in the end we found them. There weren’t so many streets decorated as initially thought, but the once who were, were really a sight for the eye. At a given point we even saw a “sheep factory” and they let you show the process of making a sheep from the beginning to the end. Quite amazing when you happen to know that they all made it from plastic waste. Incredible!

Now that we were in the vicinity of the most famous church of all of Spain, we tried to walk to it as well, but not before we had a quick rest with a nice cold drink. It was nice to relax for a while because my feet were killing me, something I hadn’t experienced for quite some time now.
When we were good to go again, we walked along the Avenue Diagonal and at the corner with the Mallorca street, we took a right. After just a few minutes we arrived at a small park located at the entrance of the church. From the park you had a nice view on the “Sagrada Familia” and although I had some idea of how it looked like, I still was a bit disappointed to see all the towers in scaffolds.

Okay, I have to admit, they are working for ages at the thing, but it is time to end it now. The many scaffolds and cranes next to the building give it an ugly appearance … but that’s my opinion anyway and to tell you the truth, I was a bit disenchanted. Maybe I romanticized it too much or maybe I have to come back in another 20 years and hopefully it is finished by then … nobody knows of course!

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The waiting line to get into the church was immensely long and we couldn’t be bothered to go and have a look, so instead we just took the metro station and got out again at the metro station close to the Passeig Gràcia, where we wanted to go and have a look at Casa Mila and Casa Batlló. It wasn’t hard to search for these famous houses, you just had to follow the many tourists and once you noticed the long waiting line in front of it, you know you were at the right place.

Unlike the Sagrada Familia, these houses were a delight for the eye so to speak, especially the colors of Casa batlló, I could gaze at it forever. We planned of going inside, but the line was so long and it was just too hot to stand in line and wait for more than an hour. We passed a pharmacy a while ago and noticed it was about 39° on the thermometer, that’s bloody hot if you ask me!

Seeing it is so hot, we just opted for another drink and together with a small snack, we rested for a while at one of the Spanish fastfood thingies called Pans & companies, which had a superb apple pie … it was to die for!

It was already getting late and while we slowly walking back to the Old Quarter, we passed a few shops and of course we had to go inside and have a look.

Back in the old town, we had another stroll through the many small streets and after a while we got hungry again.

Yesterday we saw a small restaurant which served paella and today we wanted to give it a try. It didn’t took us too long to find it again and as soon as we were seated and ordered a vegetables paella and some sangria, Tania replied a message to her boss.

Earlier on, she send Tania a message letting us know that she wanted to join us, but since we weren’t really in the mood for that, we ignored the message. Now that we couldn’t ignore it any longer, Tania send a reply and surprise, surprise ... she immediately rang back telling us to order a paella for her as well. It seemed we were going to be a party of three instead of two and I was a bit surprised to see that she arrived in less than half an hour later.

Although we ordered some seafood paella for her, it turned out they forgot to make it, so in the end she had to order something else which was kind of weird because just moments after they brought our food, she still had to wait for hers to arrive. Luckily she didn’t mind one bit and she told us she was happy that she wouldn’t have to have dinner all by herself, which of course is understandable.

Tania and her talked a bit about work and of course there was a lot of small talk amongst the three of us. Still craving for something sweet, we all went for the flan and although it was good, I must say that I have tasted better, but that isn’t the most important thing. In the end we all had a nice dinner and that’s the thing that counts the most.

It was already quite late when we left the restaurant and although me and Tania planned to see the water show at the Montjuic fountain, we weren’t really up for it anymore and instead the three of us just walked back to the hotel.

After showering and putting things ready for the next day it was already way past midnight, so we both called it a night.

17/08/13 all alone with more than hundred animals

Today I had the whole morning and early afternoon to myself because Tania had to go to her management meeting today. I felt so sad for her because while I could go and discover other areas of the city, she had to go to work. On the other hand, if it wasn’t for that meeting, we wouldn’t be here and I must say that I appreciate her sacrifice. I just hoped she has a good time as well, so the day wouldn’t be a complete waste of time.

We set our alarm clock at 8 again because Tania had to be in the reception area at 9 AM. This mend we could sleep in today as well, but it seemed that destiny had chosen a different path for us. We were sound asleep when all of a sudden Tania’s phone went off. All drowsy, she answers the phone only to find out it’s her boss on the other end of the line. She doesn’t understand that we are still asleep and urges Tania to get out of bed. My god, it is only 7.30 AM, what’s wrong with that lady! As soon as Tania ends the conversation, we snooze a little while longer till it is actually time to get up.

Both feeling like a couple of zombies, we got dressed and went on our way towards the breakfast area. Tania still needed to take her medicine and couldn’t do that on an empty stomach, but she was advised by her colleague from the Barcelona office not to eat this morning. She organized everything and it looked like they were going to have some kind of brunch while having the meeting … mixing business with pleasure is always a good thing in my book!

Time flies here in Barcelona and although Tania had a quick bite to eat, it was already time for her to leave. I stayed behind to have a more extensive breakfast, but as soon as I finished my fresh fruit, it was time for me to leave as well. I wanted to go and visit the Barcelona zoo today, so being early is essential, otherwise I wouldn’t be back on time.

To my surprise, the whole bunch was still at the reception area and after saying a quick hello and goodbye to all of them, I left the hotel and went to the closest metro station Universidad. I had to get out at Arc de Triomf, which was only 3 stops and I must say that everything went very quickly. As soon as I arrived at my destination, I got pestered by a guy who was begging for money. I rudely said no to him, but he kept hassling me anyway and because of that, I walked out of the metro at the wrong exit. Instead of getting a nice view on the “Arc de triomf”, I was looking at the north train station with a small park next to it, which wasn’t all that bad either, but still!

I quickly walked a few blocks towards this monument and after a couple of minutes I arrived at the Passeig de Lluís Campagnys. Here you had an excellent view on the “arc” and I must say that the boulevard leading to the Parc de la Cuitadella, my final destination of today, wasn’t all that bad either.

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Since it was still quite early, there weren’t all that many people up and about except for a few dog owners. I had a rest on one of the benches, just to have a look at the neigbourhood I was in.

The Parc de la Cuitadella is the biggest park of the city and I was eager to stroll around the area, but first there was the zoo. I was looking forward to visiting this place. I always have a special place in my heart for animals, but especially for the apes. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we share the same ancestors, I don’t know, I just love them!

A few years back I read an old article about an albino gorilla called Snow Flake, who died in November 2003 because of skin cancer and it all happened here in the Barcelona zoo. He was the only white gorilla known in captivity or in the wild even and it goes without saying that he was the most popular animal in the whole zoo. People came from far away to see him in person. At a very young age of not more than 2 years, he was transported from Equatorial Guinea all the way to Spain after being captured while clinging to his mother’s dead body. It is such an awful story when you come to think about it. The word got out that there was a special kind of gorilla and they basically just chased a group of gorillas in the hope to find it and in the end they did, but it mend killing a whole group of beautiful animals in the process. Unfortunately the human race will never know the value of all the beauty that is around us.

Now that I read so much about “Floquet de Neu”, like the people here in Barcelona liked to call him, I wanted to see the place where he grew up and after roughly 35 years of captivity, died as well.

Upon my arrival, I was surprised to see the ticket booths still closed. It seemed I was a bit early, but I couldn’t see the opening hours anywhere. For a moment I was afraid that it wouldn’t open today, but as soon as I saw a couple of busses filled with Spanish tourists, I knew that something was about to happen and it did actually. We only had to wait for a couple of minutes and surprise, surprise, the doors opened automatically.

It seemed that both groups already had their tickets, so I was among the first ones to buy an entrance ticket. Now I just needed to hand it over to one of the staff and I could begin my discovery off all the different species housed inside this domain.

First up were the native and exotic birds and although most of them were kept in cages, it looked like they had lots of space to move around. You could even have a look at the nursery and the kitchen. Since it was still early, all the food trays were still on display and it all looked quite healthy. Next up was the gorilla exhibition and I spend quite some time here. It was nice for once to have the whole room all to yourself and learn a bit more about this amazing animal. As soon as I heard some kids yelling and shouting to their parents, I knew it was time to leave!

But unfortunately this small group seemed to follow me wherever I went. I tried to avoid them, but there was no escape possible … or so I thought. At a given point they were banging so loud on the glass window of the enclosure of the Komodo dragon, that I couldn’t let it pass. I already figured out that they were Italians and I know it was a guess whether or not they spoke English, but I took my chances and told them exactly what I thought of their behavior. Of course they ran to their mummy and daddy, but at least this dragon had some peace and quite again … for a while that is.
From here I just passed a lot of the bigger animals, like the bears, tigers and other exotic wildlife, but now that it was getting hotter and hotter, they did nothing else but look for some shade and sleep. Who could blame them!

I looked up the apes, but for some reason you couldn’t get close to them and they all stayed behind one of the many glass windows. Such a pity, because most of them were filthy and there wasn’t a good opportunity to take pictures.

As soon as a found a bar with drinks, I bought my first bottle of water, but soon many would follow. Boy, it was really hot out here and I decided to look up some shade as well. I relaxed a while at the enclosure of the pigmy hippopotamus. It was paddling in the water and I wished I could go and have a swim as well. It is such a funny animal.

But there were still so many other animals out there to see, that I needed to hurry … the giraffes and elephants were in my opinion housed in too small enclosures but as I was near the end of the trail, I saw an info about the new housing of the elephants which looked entirely different than the small thing they were in today.

It was already way past noon when I got something to eat at the Mexican restaurant. My choice of today was nachos with guacamole. Nothing to fancy, but because of the hot weather I wasn’t all that hungry anywayz … just thirsty.

At 2 PM, I was almost back at the entrance of the zoo again and bought myself an ice cream. It was more than welcome with these temperatures.

Lots of people were still going inside the zoo, but I was still wondering how the park looked like and after I finished my cold treat, it was time for a closer inspection.

I just followed the green arrows and ended up at the Parliament of Catalunya, but there was not so much going on here and I decided to walk a little further down the sand path and to my surprise, I found a big lake in the middle of the park filled with small boats and lots of ducks and geese. They were just everywhere and when I found myself a bench in the shade, I rested for a while and did some people watching.

After a while, I walked further along the lake only to discover a huge waterfall. This was just amazing and I wouldn’t have expected it here in this park. This looked like the place to be, there was an eatery and even a few artists who tried to earn a few bucks by showing their talents. It was nice to look at and I felt a bit sad that Tania had to miss all of this.

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Thinking about my TravBuddy, I had a quick glance at the time only to notice that I had to go back to the hotel. We agreed to send a message when either of us was back at the room and as it was almost 3, I slowly walked back to the metro station, only to pass a few cute birds and more artists on my way.

Once back at the room, I send Tania a message and it seemed she was as good as ready with the meeting. She asked me to wait at the room and I guess I needed a siesta because I closed my eyes and oddly enough fell asleep. Maybe the heat had something to do with it. A guess about half an hour later, Tania arrived as well and had lots to talk about. Her meeting turned out quite well except for the tons of work she received and she had eaten so much delicious food, that even I started to get hungry when she summed up all these delicious things. As soon as Tania changed into another set of clothes, we were on our way again towards the Rambla. I found a small bakery halfway and bought myself a sandwich while Tania checked out the latest news on the internet with a cup of coffee.

Once back at this busy street, we decided to do some shopping and souvenir hunting and by the time we had everything we needed it was already pretty late. We wanted to go back to the Old Quarter and moreover to the same restaurant we had dinner yesterday. It was quite a walk and we passed a lot of shops and stores which needed a more closer inspection as well. When we were almost back at the cathedral, we saw a few giant figures (puppets) dancing around and we both got a bit curious. It turned out that there were festivities going on here as well and we saw some folklore dancing.

When it slowly got dark, we walked towards the restaurant and while Tania gave the chicken paella a try, I went for the meat cannelloni. For me the platter with paella was too big and I hoped that this one would be a bit smaller, but once our food arrived, I knew I was wrong. The portion was yet again huge!

We ordered some Sangria as well and this time around it was even better … maybe we are acquiring a taste for it … who knows. Although we had eaten too much, we waited a while and ordered dessert. Yesterday we tried the flan, today we took our chances with the crème Catalan and although it wasn’t too bad, I didn’t had that OMG feeling. Our caramel was even a bit burned, but hey … it’s dessert and sweet, so not a total loss.

Yesterday we didn’t had a chance to go and have a look at the magic fountain water show in Montjuïc, but today we weren’t going to let it pass.

It wasn’t far to the nearest metro station and although we had to change lines, we were at the fountains in no time. But it seemed we weren’t the only ones as well. There was a huge crowd at the premises and we tried to get as close to the fountain as possible.

We were just in time to see the last show at 11.30 PM and it was incredible to say the least. The music was great, the colors were a sight for the eye and the height of the fountain was quite amazing at a given point. After the show we walked all the way up to the national museum of Art, but it was a pity they turned of the lights. There were still a whole bunch of people sitting on the stairs of the museum. Some of them were drunk, but most of them were just listening to the music which one of the artists was playing.

We were having such a great time when all of a sudden Doom happened. Tania wanted to give some pocket money to the artist playing, when all of a sudden she noticed that her small wallet was gone. In the beginning I thought she had misplaced it, but after a few minutes it was as clear as a whistle it got stolen. Tania felt so bad about the whole thing, but there wasn’t much she could do about it. The money was gone and whoever took it, we both hoped that he/she would choke in it. I just can’t believe those people, but I am glad they just took the money and nothing more. Nowadays you hear so many weird things about people killing other people for a handful of money, so better the money than something worse.

Because we didn’t want to go back with the metro towards the hotel, we just walked the whole distance and in a way it was good we had this walk, because now we had the chance to contemplate a bit about what just happened.

We arrived back at the hotel about 1 AM and after a nice hot bath, it was more than time to hit the sack again. I was totally knackered and I wasn’t the only one, but for once luck was on our side … tomorrow (or need I say today) we could sleep late and there was no-one to bug us either!

18/08/13 quick visit to the Jew Mountain

The joy of being on holiday is to be able to sleep in as long as you possible want. In our case it was as true as it can be, but still … we wanted to see something of the city as well, so we decided to set our alarm clock at 9 AM, but if I have to be honest, it was already way past that time when we arrived at the breakfast table.

It was going to be a relaxing day today and after having an extended breakfast, we slowly walked back to our room, packed our stuff and got to the reception area to check out. Our flight wasn’t until 6.30 PM, so we had enough time to still see a bit of the city. Because neither me or Tania had ever been up the hill “Montjuïc”, this was going to be our plan of the day.

We took the metro Universidad all the way to the metro station Paral-lel and from here it was a quick walk underground to the funicular de Montjuïc. This little tram took the both of us, as well as many other tourists to the foot of the Parc de Montjuïc.

Once outside, there was the choice of walking all the way up or take the cable car to the castle. You didn’t have to say that twice to us and we took option number 2. Before we could go and buy a ticket, we first had to let a picture taken of us two, but I don’t understand for the love of God who buys such a picture … anyway, as soon as we have our tickets, we can go up. There are a bunch of loud kids near us and because we weren’t really in the mood to share a cable car with them, we quickly jumped into one with an elderly British couple inside … much better and quieter too!

The view from inside the cabin on the city of Barcelona is quite spectacular and we tried to take a few pictures, but sadly enough our ride was over within minutes.

If you come to think of it, it saved us about a few hours of walking. As soon as we stepped outside the cable car, the sun was already burning merciless on our heads. Once again a few sellers were selling their usual stuff and I tried on one of the hats, but unfortunately enough they were too big or my head is just way too small, it is just the way you look at it.

Not too much interested in the rest of the things they brought along with, we focused our attention at the entrance of the castle. Although to me, you can’t really call it a castle, because it used to be a fortified fortress and till this day, you notice all the aspects of it … especially when you look at all the canons.

From the top of the castle you have a really nice view on the harbor and industrial area of the city and we even saw a few cruise ships which were anchored for the day.

We had a walk on the top of the castle, but the sun was still burning on our skin and I needed a bit of shade and since Tania was a bit thirsty, we looked up a small terrace on the outer part of the fortress. Tania was craving for some Horchata, a kind of almond drink and I went for a slush with lemon. It is the first time ever that I drank such a thing.

It is icy cold and more than once I got a “brain freeze” so to speak, but hey it was COLD, so I wasn't complaining, the taste after all wasn’t all that bad either.

After having relaxed for quite a while, it was time to go back to the city centre again. We could have gone back with the cable car, but to us it looked more fun to walk back and after all, walking downhill is much easer than going up!

Walking downhill was one thing, finding signposts was something entirely different. It seemed that not many people take the walk downhill, but hey … we managed. As long as the sea was on our right hand side, we were good to go.

The walk wasn’t that exhaustive and at a given time we even came across a playground. Using the slide is one way of getting down in a jiffy and at the same time it is fun as well. Yes, I know, at times I behave like a kid ... can't help it, that's just me!!

As the sun was still burning on our heads, I was glad that at times we had some trees along the way, which provided excellent coverage for the sun high in the sky.

We were about half an hour away from the top when we arrived at a small park and from here we ended up in another small area where one could buy some cold drinks. The view of the city from up here was really amazing, but that wasn’t the only thing that attracted our attention as well.

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It seemed that a lot of sellers with their typical counterfeit materials like Gucci bags, Louis Vuitton wallets as well as Ray Ban glasses had come to this place to sell their goods, but as soon as the police arrived, they rushed with their blankets and goods inside to the bushes and hide. It was quite a cat and mouse game, the running back and forth between both parties and we, tourists, were looking at it with a big smile on our faces. It looked more and more like an episode of some kind of reality show.

After a while we left the place and walked further downhill. From time to time we had a rest and I guess we didn’t walked longer than about an hour when we were back at the harbor and just minutes away from the Columbus pillar.

Not having so much free time on our hands anymore, we walked over the bridge towards Maremagnum for the very last time.
Yesterday we noticed the food chain Fresc Co and we wanted to give this a try. This basically is an all you can eat buffet and I vaguely remembered visiting such a restaurant a couple of years ago in Madrid and it wasn’t too bad.

While we were in the vicinity, Tania still wanted to have one last look at the Desigual shop as well and half an hour later she walked out of that place owning a stunning green dress.

Now the only thing left for us, was to have a bite to eat, but as we arrived at the restaurant, we noticed a waiting line of a few hundred meters long. What the heck was going on here???

We were a bit in debate what to do, but in the end we decided to wait as well and just gave the place a try. As soon as we entered, the joint we had to take our starter with us and paid for the buffet. Although it was more than crowded, we found a place to sit and after our starter, which wasn’t such a big success, food wise that is, we still had some time to have a few snacks as well as a dessert. I must say that I remember the food being better the first time around, but that is always the danger of trying something … at least we left the mall with a full stomach, our main goal in the first place.

As soon as we crossed the bridge again, we walked all the way to the Rambla to take the metro station and came above ground again at the metro station Universidad. It didn’t took us too long to get our bags and with the friendly directions of the girl behind the reception, we found the bus stop for the airport bus in no-time.

We had to wait a couple of minutes, but once we saw that big blue bus, we knew we were as good as in the airport already. The bus was completely filled, but we managed to find a few seats at the back. After one last stop at the Plaza Espanya, we drove in one straight line to the airport.

Upon our arrival, we hurried to the toilets to chance our clothes and when we were almost ready, we heard some loud music coming from the hallway. Something was definitely going on here … but what???

We were a bit too curious, so we had a closer look and noticed a few dancers making some kind of promotion for a new perfume. Some guys who had a bachelor holiday made use of the situation and with their silly acts and movements, they managed to put a smile on all our faces. Lets just say, it was quite funny to look at. They even put the groom to be in a penguin suit, poor guy!

There was still a bit of time left to have one last cup of coffee and as soon as we knew which gate was ours, we went on our way towards it. This time around we hadn’t had to wait long, it was just the opposite really, because they were already boarding the plane when we arrived.

As soon as we found our seats, we noticed the group of bachelors coming in our direction and we were the lucky ones to have them in front of us. Although they made a drunk appearance, they were actually quite quiet. Some of them even had red eyes and as soon as we were airborne, they fell asleep.

I tried to keep myself busy by looking at my pictures, but that didn’t take to long, so I decided to do the same like the guys in front of me and I just closed my eyes for a while.

We arrived in Brussels quicker than imagined, the landing on the other hand was entirely different. I guess the problems with the runway wasn’t solved yet, so we circled a few times around the area. It was already starting to get dark when we landed and as soon as we went through the "nothing to declare" area, we walked to the car park. In no-time we were out of there and with my trusty GPS a.k.a. Tania, we were on our way again towards Hemiksem, where we arrived about half an hour later.

After saying goodnight to my TravBuddy, I drove home while it was getting darker and darker, but together with some great music, the time went by very fast and before I knew it, I was in my hometown again.

I was completely knackered, but managed to have a quick shower before going to bed. It was already way past 1.30 AM when I closed my eyes and tomorrow (or should I say today) another working day awaited me. It’s a pity that holidays pass by so quickly, but than again … there is always the next one to look forward to!

Posted by Ils1976 02:06 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Impressions of Porto

just a short trip towards the south to escape the hassle of daily life!


View Impressions of Porto - 2013 on Ils1976's travel map.

23/05/13 flying to the sun

After many months of bad weather, I was happy that finally this day had arrived, so that I and my fellow companions had the opportunity to go and spend a few days in the southern sun.

At exactly 7.30 AM, our transportation arrived in front of our doorstep, to take the four of us to the airport in Brussels. In the beginning I was a bit anxious if we were going to make it on time, but the driver was very talkative as well as very inventive in choosing his way … to tell you the truth, I have never seen so much of my neighbouring villages and cities like this morning. This needs to be inspected more when I come back home, but first … onwards to some sunshine!!!

We arrived on time in the airport and after saying our thanks to the driver, we followed the usual procedure of checking in, going through customs and of course … drinking a cup of coffee while waiting for our departure, which surprisingly enough was quite on time … Yeaaahhh!!!

2 hours later, we landed safely at Francisco Sá Carneiro airport and the four of us were already in a great mood when we saw that the sun was shining … our first goal was already accomplished … ah, the simple things in life can be so good!

Lucky for us, we didn’t had to wait too long for our luggage to arrive and in no-time we were on our way to the metro station.

My best friend Tania pointed out to me that it was going to be a bit complicated to find the right zone into the city and she was right … but before I even saw the right station I was looking for, a friendly Portuguese was already there to help us out … unfortunately he didn’t speak any English, but with a little bit of sign language, everything went very smoothly and in the end, saying thanks is the same in every language!

We only had to wait a couple of minutes before boarding the train and than we had a more than relaxing ride into the city. The first views while we headed towards the city, were more than fine and I immediately fell in love with the characteristic houses.

Once we changed trains in Trindade metro station, it was only a few minutes before we arrived at São Bento train station, our goal for today.

Our hotel was situated at Praça da Batalha, which was only minutes away from this train station and I must say … thank you Google street view for making sure that we arrived in our hotel in mere minutes. It only took one steep road up to the square and there it was, red orangy as ever!

Checking into our rooms was going smoothly as well, only I made the mistake of asking a room with a king size bed for my parents and they ended up with the smallest of rooms I had ever seen, it was just so small, it took one step from the bed to the door to the bathroom. Talking about a bad start of our holiday, but luckily the woman behind the reception was so kind to change them into another room which had a nice view of the square and more importantly … you could take a breath as well!

We all quickly changed into another set of clothes and summer shoes and than our holiday really started.

It was already way past noon, so the four of us started to get really hungry and all the small pastry shops in the neighbourhood weren’t helping either. It goes without saying, that we couldn’t ignore their calling and we settled at one of them, ending up with some sweet, delicious and stomach-filling things.

With our stomachs more than filled, we were ready to behave like real tourists and wanted nothing more than to explore this old city. Because our hotel is situated at the upper part of the city, we slowly made our way down to the lower part, which is called Ribeira. The first thing we noticed besides the narrow streets, is the tranquillity of the whole place. Everything seems to go much slower than it does in our part of the country, me like this very much!

As soon as we reach the Ribeira area, we can’t but notice the iron bridge, Dom Luis 1. This is quite an amazing structure if you ask me and we immediately have the urge to cross it so that we get an equally amazing view on the typical Portuguese houses across the river Douro.

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Now that we are in Vila Nova de Gaia, we are in the centre of the many port caves and it goes without saying … the sun is shining, the many terraces are luring at us and after a small walk besides the river and the typical port boats, we give up our inner fight and find a nice place to sit down at Sandeman.

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Because we are with four people, it seems that it is the ideal combination to order all the different port wines, being white, ruby, tawny and rose. The search for the best port wine has begun so to speak!

We try not only Sandeman, but also Ferreira and than it is time to move on, because it seems that I am not the only one who is getting a little bit wobbly on my feet.

Once again we cross the metal arch bridge while the sun is setting. Walking alongside the river is quite an ordeal for me because there is more wind now and the sun is almost gone, but still we manage to wander off to yet another few narrow streets at the waterfront area only to end up there again after an hour or so.

Just like many of the other tourists, we try to look for something to eat and it doesn’t take long to find something to our liking. 3 of us go for fish, but now that I am in Porto, I want to try as much of the local dishes as possible and my first try is the local dish called "Francesinha". It is served together with some French fries, which are dipped in the sauce. I must say that it isn’t the worst thing, but to be honest, I have eaten better!  It is an acquired taste so to speak.

A nice meal and a few drinks later, we aren’t really in the mood anymore to walk all the way up to our hotel and lucky for us, they invented the funicular.

This funny thing takes you all the way up to the upper part of the city in just mere minutes. What an invention.

Because we aren’t too tired yet (which is kind of our own fault since we didn’t want to walk up the many stairs) and my father is still craving for a dessert, we end up in a small pastry shop near our hotel. We opt for one last glass of port wine and together with a whole selection of sweet things, I get the feeling that my sugar level has finally reached his highest point! My god, who invents all these delicious things!?

It is almost after midnight when we find our way back to the hotel and after a well deserved shower, I lay my body to rest … it was quite an interesting day, but my head is spinning and I am not sure that this is a good thing!!!

24/05/13 Porto city and beyond

Although it was early in the morning, I was thanking someone high above that my headache was over, I was ready for another day!
After a sturdy breakfast, we were ready to “hit” the city.

Because she had been to this city a couple of years ago, Tania gave me some pointers and one of them was to explore the place by using a hop on / hop off bus, which sounded more than interesting to me.

We were in luck, our hotel was selling tickets and with a bus stop in front of our hotel it was like winning the lottery.

It was still early though and we had to wait quite a while till the first bus would arrive … there goes my hope of ever winning that damn thing, but what better way to make use of lost time with a small walk to the local market.

In just mere minutes we arrived at Mercado do Bolhão. The entrance looked magnificent, but once inside, it looked like we were too early. How is that possible? There were only a handful of people and the same story goes for the selling booths. Most of them were closed, just a few were open, talking about a strange thing. Because the local women only speak Portuguese and we don’t, it was hard to ask what was going on here … but as soon as we walked a little further inside the building, we saw the many scaffoldings and everything fell in place.

Half an hour or a bit later we were back outside again and after walking back to the hotel in a very slow pace and doing a little bit of window shopping in the process, we just had to wait for another few minutes before our bus adventure could finally begin.

After receiving our headsets and finding a more than suitable place to sit down, we were ready to do some speed sightseeing.

The sightseeing hop on / hop off bus has 2 lines, a red one and a blue one. We decided upon doing the red one today because it also went outside the city.  My fellow travel companions really wanted to go to the sea and this was the way to get there.

We first did the “grand tour” and passed through numerous old buildings like Câmara Municipal do Porto and many others. As soon as we passed Monumento aos Heróis da Guerra Peninsular or in plain English, the monument to the heroes of the Peninsular War it was one long drive towards the sea coast.

Along the way it was still pretty windy and chilly, so we decided to go back to the city and hoped that during the day, the weather would change.
We got off in the neighbourhood of Ingreja Torre dos Clérigos and hoped to reach the most famous cathedral a.k.a. the Sé Cathedral. We followed a few tourist groups and after a walk of a few minutes we ended up at a small viewing point with a great view on the cathedral.

Now it was just a matter of getting there. We followed numerous little streets downhill just to end up at the São Bento station again. It looks like everything begins and ends here in the neighbourhood of our hotel … or is it just me thinking that!?

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The sun is already way up high now and we started to become real thirsty. The bad thing that happens when you stop at a local bakery, is that you get the opportunity to try out some more local delicacies!

With our tummies filled, we took a quick look inside the São Bento train station with its famous tile panels. Boy, they knew what they were doing in the old days, it was quite pretty to say the least.

We still wanted to go and have a look at the cathedral and now that we are finally close to this place, we don’t want to miss out on it. We only have to go up the street and pass a funny statue and than there it is … the Sé Cathedral! The view from here is magnificent and after a group has left the cathedral, we try our luck as well, but what a bummer … they closed the doors. Oh well, there’s always another day! :)

Our next mission of course is still the ocean and we walk all the way down again and try to catch the next bus towards the coast.

Although we have to wait for a few minutes, we don’t complain … the sun is shining and the temperatures are really to my liking!  As soon as the bus arrives, we are lucky to have the upper deck all to ourselves and even if it is just for half an hour … me like this very much!

We hitch a ride all the way up to the coast, passing the cheese castle, which sadly enough is closed and we get off at the next stop. Apparently this is the most photographed place of Foz do Douro, or so I have been told.

The sun is shining, but the wind is surely the winner here at the coast. Although I am apparently the only one, I am really getting cold just standing out here and I am only here for what … five minutes!!!????  Where is that damn bus if you need it!!!???

Instead of waiting till it comes back again … we decided upon a coastal walk and boy, it feels like heaven … I slowly start to get warm again and as soon as we are out of the windy area the hot temperatures are back … thank the Lord, that’s more like it!!!

It is quite fun walking along the coastline and it seems that we aren’t the only ones enjoying the warmth, lots of local fishermen are out here and I even try a little conversation with one of the fishermen asking for their catch of the day … luckily my pointing helps as well and soon one of them proudly shows all the small fishes … live can be easy if you try! :)

We are almost back at the Ponte Da Arrábida and have to wait for just a few minutes before we can catch the next bus … is this timing or what!!??

Before we know it, we are back across the river Douro and the port caves are calling us once again. We get off at the bus stop and this time around we opt for a nice Vallegre port wine. I give the Vista Alegre Dry White a go and I am not lying … this one is extremely yummy!

A bit woozy in the head, but still doing fine, we go up the streets and try to find the Offley cellars. It is almost 6 PM, but we manage to get inside and the friendly guy behind the counter even allows us to go along with the last guided tour … love him so much!!! :)

It’s a very quick guided tour with an explanation of the different kinds of port wines, the production and so on, and before we know it, we are already at the end of the tour and are allowed to sample three different kinds of port wines … I thought it was just going to be 1 sip in every glass, but noooooo … there was more than enough to go around! :)

We even tried a rose one, this one being even better than the others … we sort of closed the joint, bought ourselves a couple of bottles and felt very happy when we left the “building”!

Through lots of small cobbled streets we ended up again at the beginning and tried to look for a good place to have something to eat … after so many drinks, this was after all the best thing to do!

This time around I went for another typical Portuguese dish called Bacalhau com Natas. It’s basically cod fish cut in small pieces, previously boiled potatoes, cream on top and parmesan cheese to top it all of. This goes into an oven and to me it tasted just fine! Really worth repeating, that’s for sure!
It was already pretty dark and after yet another few glasses of white wine it was saver to go back to the hotel with the funicular. We had one last night cap in one of the small thingies near our hotel and although it was once again a nice port wine, I have no clue of the brand whatsoever, but after all who cares … it was a perfect ending of a more than beautiful day!

25/05/13 Discovery of Vila Nova De Gaia and much, much more

Once again we woke up early and we were more than ready to start yet another day in this city.

Knowing that our bus wasn’t going to arrive another hour or so, we slowly started to walk to another bus stop. Almost arriving at the spot, we noticed an antique market and that of course asked for a more closer look. It was still early, so we had more than enough time.

Because of the good weather, we decided to walk some more, after all, there are enough bus stops to go around. Crossing the famous Carmelite Church we ended up a little further down the road in a small park called “Jardim do Carregal”, known for its statue of Abel Salazar, who was a famous physician, researcher, writer and many more and here I was thinking of one of the characters of a the Harry Potter novel. Me and my thoughts ???
We only had to wait for a couple of minutes before we could catch our next bus towards the Crystal Palace, where we arrived like …. 10 minutes later! :)

Had we known it was that close, we surely walked all the way, but hey, we still had some valid tickets, so why not using them!

Crystal palace is said to be one of the most beautiful gardens which overlook the Douro river and they aren’t wrong. It is truly beautiful with lots of different levels and in the same time you have had a good exercise. No matter how you look at it, it’s a win-win situation! :)

Our initial thought was to cross the garden and get out at the other entrance at the lower streets, but sadly enough there were some maintenance works going on and although we tried many roads, every time it lead us back to the same entrance. After a few tries we gave up the “fight” and went on with our sightseeing tour through Porto.

Now that we were at the other end of the city, we slowly followed our way back to the river, even at one given time following a group of people who were demonstrating for one thing or another. It was fun being one of the locals, but sadly enough we didn’t understand a word of what they were saying and English wasn’t something they mastered as well, so we quickly said “adieu” and hoped to reach the river soon.

We still had some tickets for a six bridges cruise and lucky us, as soon as we reached the boats we could go on board. The first one we cross is the Dom Luis 1 bridge and than it looks like we are in some sort of competition with all the other tour boats to see who is first at the Arrábida bridge … sadly enough we loose. A few others are way in front. From here we make an u-turn and once again we cross the famous iron arch bridge. Than it is onwards in one straight line underneath the other bridges being the Infante bridge, D. Maria Pia bridge and S. João bridge of which the two last ones are solely for trains. The last one we reach in under 10 minutes is known as the Freixo bridge and although we get an amazing view of the houses along the water, to me it looks like we hit some kind of speed record, but as soon as we are back in the city centre area, the boat goes straight to Gaia instead of Porto. It seems we have one big group on board and they are late for a cellar visit. We make use of the opportunity and get out as well.

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We want to see as much of Vila Nova de Gaia as possible, but first we need some food in our stomach.

That seems to be tougher than expected. We wanted to eat something light and found ourselves a small diner near the waterfront which serves sandwiches, but as soon as we order, the waiter tells us they are out of it. Can you believe it … how can you be out of food???

This is just too weird to be true, but sadly enough it is. Still hungry we find something across the street, but they only have typical Portuguese dishes. We all go for the Franceshina and this time around it’s much more edible. The sauce is thicker and spicier … it is simply YUMMY!

Now that our stomachs are filled, we opt for visiting another port cellar, after all … it’s already way in the afternoon and we still haven’t tried a glass of Port today … shame on us! :)

We have some free entry tickets for Ramos Pintos and after we visited the small museum of the founder, we arrive at the cellars.  First there is a short movie and than the most important thing of the tour is there … the tasting!

Although the port isn’t that bad, I found the others more to my liking … but hey, there is still some time left to taste some more!

First we go for some more sightseeing though. We only have to wait a couple of minutes before our hop on hop off bus arrives and it takes us all the way into the backstreets of the city.

As soon as we arrive at the Monestary of Serra do Pilar, we get off to have a closer look. Unfortunately they turned the monestary into a museum of some sort and because we don’t want to spend a lot of time inside, we opt for skipping the museum and instead we absorb the beautiful views from this area.

Getting out of here turns out to be tougher than initially thought. After a long wait of almost an hour, we finally notice our bus again. It seems that there are some problems with the routes because of the upcoming running race tomorrow. Quite unexpected to tell you the truth, but now that we are on the bus … we are smart enough to be on it till we are back in Porto again.

As soon as we arrive at the city centre, we notice the many city workers as well as the many detours we have to face. At long last we get off again at the Sé area and because the weather is quite nice, we take another set of small streets towards the water where we found a nice terrace and the enjoyment of a glass of port.

The sun was already setting when we began our walk up the stairs all the way towards the Batalha area. Today we planned of having dinner close to the hotel. We noticed a small place where locals come to eat some BBQ food and it looked quite delicious, so we gave it a try and it was actually quite good. We didn’t have to wait all that long and the meat was very tender, what more can you ask for.

A night cap perhaps, but we had that as well and it was already way after midnight when I found my pillow again

26/05/13 flying home again

Sadly enough we are heading towards rainy Belgium again. Our little break is almost over and there is still so much to see and do. First thing on our agenda is the Sé cathedral. I still haven’t had a chance to have a look inside and now is as good as time as any other.

A few days ago, it was closed, but today we are in luck. The church is open, but for such an important place of interest, the inside is quite dull and black, unlike the other churches we have seen the last couple of days. The only thing really interesting are the stained glass windows, go figure!

As quick as we arrived, the quicker we left again. We didn’t have much time to spare anyway, so on our way down the river, we did some souvenir hunting as well and than the last thing on our mind was finding that right bottle of port wine.

We crossed the river again and found a nice little shop at Gaia which sells all kinds of port wine. Because we still hadn’t had a clue about what to buy, the poor fellow decided to poor us a few glasses of other brands like Kopke, Calem, Taylor’s, Burmester … at this rate we were never going to make a choice … there are just sooooo many wines and they all taste good … OMG the hardship! :)

At long last we crossed the arch bridge for the very last time, as well as that funny transportation thingy called funicular dos Guindais.  Once our souvenirs and liquids are safely secured into our bags it is time to say goodbye to the Batalha area.

In no time really we arrived at the airport again. 4 days seem to have gone by so very fast, but isn’t this always the case when you are on holiday.
We still have to wait a little while for our flight, so in the meantime we grab a bite to eat and after one last cup of tea it is time to go back home.

About 2 hours later we are back in Brussels again and it finally hits us … our “break from daily hassle” is finally over.

Our driver from the travel agency is waiting for us and it is just so funny to see your name on a piece of cardboard. Not something I am used to actually.

It turns out that she is from Portugal as well, but living over 20 years in Belgium. I don’t need to tell anyone that the ride back home was full with stories of the things we saw, ate and the things we missed out on. So there you have it, there is always a reason to go back again.

Although I forgot her name, she was a very pleasant person to talk to and before we even knew it, we were in my hometown again. I have to admit, the trip was short, but the memories will last for a very long time!

Posted by Ils1976 01:06 Archived in Portugal Comments (2)

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