Tanzania: The Ngorongoro Crater Edition.

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Despite the extensive driving, once again, we made good time. We stopped for cash near the turn off for Gibb’s Farm, and then proceeded to the long dirt drive. We followed the signs and were pleasantly surprised by the tailored gardens of the hotel entry when we pulled up. We were greeted with cool towels and iced beverages, and our bags were carried off to our gorgeous suite by the staff.

We were in disbelief over our suite. It was complete with a private garden view, a sitting room, and a fire place in our bedroom that connected to the shower. Yes, the shower had a fireplace. It was extraordinary, and it was our for less than 24 hours.

We were desperate to get out to the hotel terrace that overlooked the plantation and the valley below. We sat in large comfy chairs while we were brought refreshments and snacks: nuts, olives, and popcorn. It was the first time we felt we could really relax, and it didn’t hurt that we were being waited on hand and foot. The temperature dropped with the sun, and while I could have fallen asleep there, I, also, was eager to get to dinner.

We ended up on a private patio for our meal, something Brad had arrange while we briefly separated earlier. We enjoyed an incredible 5 star meal next to a fire on a cool night in Tanzania. …and to top it off, I was serenaded with a birthday song and dessert. We still had a few nights to go, but this was so special.

DSC_0676.jpgAfter an amazing night’s sleep in a chilly room, thanks to the air conditioning, we learned that we could check out late. We spent the morning grazing on the breakfast buffet, and after packing we wandered the grounds. We walked through rows of coffee bushes and found a small but tall cactus garden. Everything seemed just as it should.

Relaxed, we decided not to head into Ngorongoro. It would cost us over $350 USD per day to visit the park, and we didn’t want to keep blowing through money. Instead, we decided to just take our time and continue enjoying our day. However, it ended up being a short lived joy.

We had a hard time finding our next hotel. According to the maps that I had seen and the descriptions I had read, I was under the impression that our next hotel was within the confines of Ngorongoro National Park. However, the people at the gate, had no idea what hotel we were talking about. Everyone was confused, and Brad & I were back to being frustrated. When we figured out where we were going, we got back in the car, and headed a different direction. It took nearly 15 minutes to get to the turn off point toward our hotel, and from there it was probably another 20+ minutes on a rough and narrow dirt road up the mountainside. When we got there I was livid while feeling completely deceived. We found out that we were the only guests staying there, and no other guests had been there in 10 days, which meant that internet was not available. If we wanted internet we had to drive back down to town.

I was floored and ready to have a meltdown. I could not believe that we had hit another speed bump in what had already been a turbulent and trying vacation. It was hot, there was absolutely nothing for us to do at our hotel, and we were literally in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere near where I had planned on us being. So, we drove 30ish minutes back into town to find a place that had internet. We stopped at a small coffee shop run by a very nice man who served us coffee and sprite (the sprite was for me). Once he got the internet working for us, we started looking for hotel options, justifying the change and additional hotel cost with what we had planned on spending on Ngorongoro for two days anyways. We were incredibly limited, but I worked fervently to rework our itinerary. We decided to only stay at our current hotel one night. We decided that tomorrow we would do Ngorongoro for a half day, then drive immediately to the Serengeti and spend the night there.  We knew it would take a lot of hustle, but we knew it would be better than staying where we were at.

With a plan in motion, and absolutely nothing left for us to do that day, we headed back to our lodge, and just tried to kill time with conversation and antics. The only saving grace that this lodge had was its dinner. It was absolutely delicious, but it wasn’t enough to change our minds. We headed back to our room, packed everything back up, and made sure our hotel knew that we would be leaving before the sun was even up. We were eager to get into Ngorongoro, and wanted to be in by sunrise.

DSC_0722Checked out after breakfast at an unGodly hour, we headed down the bumpy dirt road in the dark, and headed for the park. It took us a while to get the park permit because of all the other tour groups, but thankfully we were able to pay the hefty fees of over $350 with our card. NOTE: Ngorongoro NP claims you can only enter with a guide. We found this rule to be very lenient. Not only did we get in on our own, but we weren’t even questions until we reached the second gate at the edge of the crater.

We drove up the climbing mountain side into the fog over rough red roads lined with lush jungle trees. I was in heaven. We reached a look out point that gave a glimpse into our future. A green gleaming paradise, and I couldn’t wait any longer. We ran back to the car, and cruised. We reached the second gate at the edge of the crater. Brad jumped out to use the restroom, and I dealt with the guard, whose only question for me was if we had been there before or not, after showing our permits.

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Once we had the all clear, we began our descent. The sun was up at this point, but fresh morning light was warm. We escaped the tree line, and were greeted with almost immediate sights of buffalo and zebra. Our eagerness grew as we continued down the road.

DSC_0684It wasn’t long before we were in the flatlands. We had a full 360 view of the massive crater. Animals, appearing as small dots, were everywhere. It was a half day of bliss. We had great sightings as we drove almost the entire span of the crater in many different directions. We saw, hyenas chewing on bones and resting. Jackals. Gazelle. Cranes. Wildebeest. Zebra. Baby animals. Monkeys. Elephants. Lions. Lots of lions. I could not believe how many lion sightings we had We were ecstatic. We had close ups of lions. Lions nuzzling. Lions walking. Lions napping. It was fantastic.

We felt that we had covered the grounds well, and figured we should start our drive, so we found the road that led us out, and we left with slightly heavy hearts. We couldn’t believe how amazing the crater was, but with such unbelievable success here we were curious how the Serengeti would be.

The drive between Ngorongoro & Serengeti, was truly spectacular. The land was littered with migrating Zebra & Wildebeest, and the hills along the outer edge of the crater were visited by loitering Giraffes, and we even a camel sighting.

It took nearly two hours to reach the Serengeti National Park gates, and we were so excited to get to the other side.

…to be continued

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A Tanzanian Road Trip: The Kilimanjaro Region Edition. (Day 1-3)

DSC_0489 copyAfter our grueling journey from Cairo to Kilimanjaro International Airport, which include nearly 4 hours of layover time in the Nairobi Airport, just enough time for a nap and meal, we were in Tanzania, outside of Arusha. We hit the ATM at the airport to get all the cash we could, because despite setting money aside for the car from day 1, we had to pay $250 USD cash to Tanzania’s immigration department for our Visas. NOTE: when we visited Zanzibar in 2016, we were able to pay with card, but since then their payment terms have changed.  With this unexpected issue, we had to visit the airport ATM to get more cash, however it was still not enough for our rental car. When we met up with our car provider, for our rented 4×4 Land Cruiser for this leg of the adventure, we had to strike a deal with him to pay with credit card when we returned the car because even with the ATM withdrawl we did not have enough cash for him and what lie ahead. Thankfully, he was flexible on this issue.

It wasn’t long before Brad was behind the wheel on the opposite side of the car & the opposite side of the road, cruising. We were warned by the owner of our vehicle to not exceed the speed limit because of photo radar (aka a man hiding in the bushes of Tanzania with a radar gun). Well, somehow, despite not speeding, we were pulled over on the side of the road by a Tanzanian officer dressed in all white. He claimed that they had a picture of Brad (it was on the officers cell phone) & that he was exceeding the speed limit. Brad had a choice.. fight it and possibly be taken in and have to fight it in court, or be quiet, pissed, and pay up $15 USD. Well, Brad paid the man… and got his very first speeding ticket… haha. (don’t worry I have a copy)

Anyways, we continued on to Moshi. We stopped in the small town in hope of picking up some snacks, and we did find a small convenience store but the options were very limited, but we were able to get a large pack of water and KitKats.  From there, we continued onto our hotel at Lake Chala. On our way down the incredibly rough dirt road, we had to stop at the Wildlife Management Area office to register. Not just register, but pay a fee. My weaselly and stingy husband (who works in the Congo, mind you), who knew about this ahead of time because of my research, was trying to get out of it. He tried every way he could claiming that hotel covered it, the hotel said it was covered, blah blah blah. Meanwhile, I was just sitting there so aggravated and slightly taken aback at how far Brad was willing to go to try and get out of giving the Tanzanian government any of our Tanzanian shillings …which they didn’t even want. (They wanted US Dollars.) NOTE: Do I blame Brad for wanting to get out of it, absolutely not. African governments can be astoundingly shifty. …but I was exhausted, sweaty, and just wanted to rest. I WANTED TO GO. Finally, Brad had no choice but to surrender more of his hard earned shillings to the man.

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DSC_0372With Brad feeling even more irritated and ready to lose it, we got our paperwork, continued on our way & finally arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon. We were the only guests staying there (now I know why). The place was very clean, and the view over Lake Chala was stunning, but this was easily one of the most poorly run hotels we have ever stayed at (we’ll get more into that later). Before showers & dinner, we decided to take the hike down to the lake since we were already covered in travel grime. It was a bit slippery from the recent rain, but it was a beautiful short jungle trek with gorgeous views over the turquoise water below. We spent a short while on the dock overlooking the deep jewel toned waters & watching the locals a little ways down the water’s edge making a fire.

We headed back to our tent which had a deck that overlooked the lush plains below. We stood there for a little while hoping to spot some wildlife, but there was little to see.

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After washing hours of travel grime off of ourselves and changing into clean clothes, we headed over to the “lounge” for dinner. It was basic, not just basic, but dry… It was not the first meal I was hoping for in Tanzania which was a bummer since food in Africa is typically always mind blowingly delicious, and something I always miss. Not only was IMG_1741our meal not great, but the staff was telling us how horrible their boss was which made our meal a little uncomfortable. We were the only ones there for dinner and it began to rain as we ate. We made a game of counting the geckos that had joined us. Itwas their turn to feast.  They shut the area down early, before the daylight was even 100% gone because we were the only guests and the rain. We headed back for a quiet nights sleep. It seemed there was no big game in the area, and not even the baboons kept us up.

The next morning we had our bags packed early, and grabbed our breakfast. Then we headed to the main house to pay for our stay. Well, what we found out when we got there was shocking. They didn’t accept credit cards, only accepted cash. We were trying to find ways around this but there was nothing to be done. They had no way to process a credit card, The internet didn’t even work,  so wiring funds at that moment proved impossible. We weren’t willing to hand over cash because it was going to take up the vast majority of it, and holding onto cash in this country was already proving to be more challenging than anticipated. So, after probably an hour of dealing with their mess which included bad communication from the time of booking, and Brad trying to help get their internet up and running,  we left with an agreement to wire money when we returned to the states.

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Once we were back in the car, we headed back through the Wildlife Management gate, and went on towards our next adventure. We stopped back in Moshi for lunch and cash, and were going out of our way to avoid the police. We found the bank, but getting money there was a hassle. Our car had to be inspected, we had to park a certain way, and getting cash naturally was a challenge.

Needing a break, we stopped at the Coffee Union Cafe for lunch to hold us over until we got to our next hotel. The food was decent, and it was nice to have a quick meal that met our expectations, as well as a break from the Tanzanian roads where it felt like anything goes in terms of being pulled over. NOTE: …I got pulled over while driving so that the could inspect the vehicle, and verify our credentials… crazy

We had to face the roads again at some point, and once we were far from the city and reached our off road point we finally felt like we could breathe again. We were in Maasai territory, and I was in heaven. We were headed to the Maasai Lodge, a 5 star heaven in the middle of nowhere. I have nothing but praise for this hotel. For starters, the drive in was a blast! There was so much to take in… Villagers, rock scapes, livestock… I was in my African heaven. When we got there, we were greeted wit dance and song which was enchanting. They got our bags to our room for us, gave us a run down of the place and showed us to our incredible mud hut.

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It wasn’t long before we were back outside with a couple of other women who were recovering from climbing Kilimanjaro. They were a riot, and in Maasai costume, and we had a great time talking to them while we all learned about Maasai culture and got to learn spear throwing and experience the Maasai dance and song for hunting (it gives me butterflies). We were all like a bunch of little kids with huge smiles on our face as we raced the rains to the main house. We had to outrun the downpour. It was so fun. A little while later was dinner. ..and it was exceptional. We were fed a wonderful 3 course meal of soup, meat and veggies, and dessert. The perfect African meal and completely worthy of the 5 stars the hotel bares.

IMG_8176We were so lucky because the next day they let us check out at 3PM because they didn’t have anyone coming in after us. We made the most of it. We had breakfast, did a walk through the plains with Jeremiah, our Maasai guide, took in the views and rested. Then after lunch we decided to get out of their hair, but I was definitely sad to go. We were suppose to visit Arusha National Park that day, but because of the number of days we had coming up in National Parks, we opted to take it easy. NOTE: A big part of this decision was also the cost. The planned cost between park fees & conservation area fees was in the thousands, and we thought it would be wise to reduce this a bit, since we just wanted to relax anyways. Our drive back was just as exciting, we had to cross the shallow ponds created by the rains, and wait for herds of cattle to move. We met some of the local kids, and chased by others. We watched a storm move through, and embraced it.

IMG_1851When we got back to Arusha, we went straight to our hotel, Mount Meru Game Lodge. So while the rooms and bathrooms were just alright, the location was AMAZING! The outside was like a giant garden. With towering trees that monkeys going from end of the property to the other in a flash, towering cactus, and water buffalo. Yes, buffalo…. They were on the other side of a low wall, but you could get within feet of these giant beauties. There were also several species of birds. It was awesome! This hotel was far more exciting that I anticipated when booking. Despite the constant light rain & the mob of mosquitos, I couldn’t not keep myself inside. I wanted to be with the animals. Naturally, I was speaking to them constantly.

Eventually, though, I had to give into the idea of dinner, so I ordered a nice piece of Chicken Schnitzel with chips (French fries) which was a funny change of African eating. With bellies full, after the long, but restful day, we decided to retire to our room to prepare for day 4.

After a decent night’s sleep at the game lodge in Arusha we packed up our bags, again, and grabbed breakfast. We hung out a little bit longer so that I could get some additional pictures of the resident animals & then we checked out to head to our next stop…. We stopped and loaded up on snacks and water again for our next drive. It was about 3 hours to the Tarangire area, but we were ready. We are road trip champions after all.

…to be continued.

Yosemite National Park: The Tourist Edition.

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There is no point in me going on and on about our day to day visiting the main attractions of Yosemite… so, I’m just gonna hit you with the highlights and cover the various activities that are available…  Ready? Let’s do this.

Yosemite as a tourist (not a backpacker) in the month of June may be one of the most frustrating experiences I have had. Though Yosemite is very beautiful, and I enjoyed my time there… I have no desire to go back during the height of the tourist season. The place is packed!!! To the brim!!!   Hotels are booked solid, there is no parking and everywhere you look there are people…. in my opinion it defeats the purpose of being in nature…. You know what I mean?? That time to immerse yourself in God’s beautiful creation, find your center, and just unwind and relax.  If you think your time in YNP will be relaxing in June, you may be mistaken… It’s like Disneyland. …but there are no churros. Thankfully, it is more spread out, but the parking is an absolute nightmare, traffic is backed up, and the buses are maxed out with people trying to get from point A to point F, and the bus lines require waiting for possibly an hour.

So if you can go, go before kids are out of school, or when they are back in. Maybe, when it’s cold. The waterfalls may not be in their full glory, but there will be more room for you to enjoy them.  Winter, when the ground is covered in snow, also, sounds magical.

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 Here are some of the things we did while in the park.

  • latest iphone 138Walk around Yosemite Valley. We were fortunate enough to find parking outside of the Village store, which was almost as difficult as actually backpacking through the park. We headed through the shop full of souvenirs and groceries where we later picked up a variety of souvenir tees & camp cups.  The walk around was really enjoyable. In June it was quite warm, but nice to be out of the car. We walked down the bike/walking path stopped into the Ansel Adams Museum, visited the Visitor Center while we continued our walk toward Yosemite Falls. It was lovely & the oncoming mist was incredibly refreshing in the warm air. However, I was very excited to get past the falls. Once again, there were just too many people for my liking.  (I should note that I don’t thrive in crowds. They make me uncomfortable and can give me anxiety – so take my notes with a grain of salt if you are the opposite.)  We continued on our nature walk around the grounds and eventually headed back to find a place for lunch. We stopped in at the Mountain  Room Restaurant & Lounge. It’s safe to say the food was subpar in the lounge. I actually sent my chili back as it wasn’t even hot enough to melt the cheese on top. I was greatly disappointed, and instead of ordering anything else, I just nibbled off everyone else’s plates & decided to hold out for dinner at the hotel. The food my mom had gotten from the Yosemite Valley Lodge Food Court when we she picked us up post-backpacking was far better, and seemed fresher. …but that also, may be because I was dying for real food when I got in the car.
  • latest iphone 177.jpgVisit The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. If you aren’t staying here already, this is a great place to stop in for lunch at the Majestic Yosemite Bar or dinner at The Majestic Yosemite Dining Room. The food is far superior to that in the valley. The interior is very cabin-tastic, historical, and interesting to wander through. The grounds are beautiful & it’s easy to walk through parts of the park from there. We found our way toward Mirror Lake across from Half Dome. We were able to wade in the water to our knees to cool down our body temperatures and shrink our feet before wandering back.

  • Explore the great Sequoias. There are 3 groves within Yosemite NP that you can explore. Tuolomne Grove ( this is the one we visited), Merced Grove, and the biggest and most famous Mariposa Grove.  These light nature hikes are a great way to get some quieter time, a little work out & time away from the crowds and, of course,  marvel at some of the largest and oldest trees on the planet.

  • Just drive. See what Yosemite National Park has to offer, with miles and miles of winding roads, scenic views, and possibly some great wildlife sightings you can’t go wrong with a packed picnic lunch & a little wanderlust.

  • yosemite & cartagena 723Technically, we hiked past Vernal & Nevada Falls on the last leg of our backpacking excursion, but it’d make for a great day hike too. Be forewarned, the Mist trail is very packed. However, the closer you get to the top, the less crowded it is. The bulk of the people stop between Vernal Falls (lower) & Nevada Falls (upper) sunbathe on the flat rocks and take in the scenic views near the railings. This hike up is probably pretty tiring as it has a lot of steep steps covering the incline, but the way back down is fun. …and Vernal Falls does provide a nice cool down of mist along the way.
  • Enjoy dessert with a view. At the Mountain Room Restaurant you can sit in the dining room enjoy a sweet treat or a full meal with the possibility of watching Yosemite Falls in it’s fully glory. One of my dad’s favorite things… preferably with apple pie (they no longer serve it). latest iphone 128

There are other things that you can do while you are in the park such as climbing the rock face of El Capitan or Half Dome. You can, also, attempt the rigorous hike up Half Dome’s backside, feel free to be just an onlooker of rock climbers, get a massage at the lodge, camp in one of the camp’s campsites, day hike some of the many trails. The list probably goes on and on with things like bird-watching… but that’s the most I can come up with right now.

Hopefully this will be helpful for planning your upcoming trip to Yosemite. And hopefully you will enjoy it’s beauty as much I did… maybe even more!yosemite & cartagena 881

A Week Down South. 

Brad was coming home for a couple weeks and we figured it would be a good idea to spend part of that time with our siblings. Because of this, we started our week in Atlanta. I arrived first, and decided that I would head to the car rental facility to try and get the ball rolling. Well as it turns out, it took almost 3 hours to get our rental car. Every company was out of cars, and Thrifty was extremely backed up. It was a very frustrating start to our journey.

Once we had our vehicle, we made our moves. We headed to our hotel, Hyatt Regency Suites, so that we could drop off our baggage & refresh… Brad took a quick shower to rinse off the international grime, and then we headed over to his brother’s house. We had dinner with him & his wife while watched our nephew run around all crazy and beg for attention. Dinner was delivered from Williamson Bros., and it was pretty good. The ribs were my favorite! The meat just melted off the bones & had an incredible smoked flavor!

We didn’t stay too late because we were both exhausted from long travel days. So, when we were ready we headed back to the hotel for some R&R.

The next morning we ended up sleeping in a bit, but not too late because we had to check out. With our bags packed and loaded up in the car, we headed to breakfast at J Christopher’s. Although I don’t remember the exact details of what we ordered, I remember that it was good, I remember that I thought that I would go back gladly if need be in the future.

iphone 177After breakfast, we explored the suburb of Marietta by car. We drove through the neighborhoods picking our perfect houses, which of course, all seemed to be in the millions.  We finally got a hold of his brother, and found out that our sister-in-law and nephew were at a birthday party, so, with the house mostly empty, we decided to stop at Starbucks to kill a little time. It was inevitable though, we finally just headed to his brother’s house with the intent to chill. Upon arrival, Brad’s brother was working so we decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood. It was one way to warm up in the cool spring air, and get in a little movement. (I’m one of those people that needs to move around quite a bit during the day, or I start getting moody and fidgety.)

We were excited that our sister-in-law & nephew were home when we got back to the house. We all ended up spending the bulk of the afternoon on their back porch while our nephew ran around like crazy and dressed up in costumes while pretending to attack his Uncle Brad. It was a lot of fun & good bonding time considering we don’t get to spend much time with them.

As the temperature dropped & the day began coming to a close we headed out to dinner at Camps Kitchen & Bar. It’s one of those restaurants that has a smaller menu, but a little bit of something for everyone. Our nephew was insistent on sitting between Brad & I, but eventually his wild nature got the better of him, and he had to move over to the other side with his parents. While we were there, I ordered a salad, and I wasn’t overly impressed. I think we mostly went here for convenience, but next time, I would want something a little bit better next time. Something that tickles the taste buds for sure.

iphone 184After paying the bill, and saying our long goodbyes, Brad & I climbed into our rented compact car & began our drive to Charleston. Technically, I was driving because of Brad’s jet-lag.  It was a long drive, at right around 5 hours. …and we had a few run ins with toll booths, which we were not prepared for. We were planning on getting in right around 12:30 AM. …and it was right around then that we were checking into The Dewberry in Charleston.  The cost was high, but it was so worth it. Everything about this hotel was stunning. The bed was comfortable, the room was clean, and the service was impeccable. Shortly after being escorted to our room, we were fast asleep.

2.jpgThe next morning was inevitable. We overslept. We were so tired from the last couple of day that sleeping in couldn’t be prevented. We did our best to get ready quickly so that we could make our way towards Boone Hall Plantation. However, we needed lunch first and decided to stop at Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ. I went with my usual pulled pork sandwich which to me tasted a bit gamey and dry. The mac n’cheese was nothing special, the noodles seemed a little overcooked… However, the hush puppies get two thumbs up, and the baked beans were some of the best I have ever had. I drum my meat up to a thing of chance. This place has almost a 5 star rating… You don’t get that by serving up older meat.

new 512After filling up on BBQ for the second time, we headed to the plantation. The cost of entry was $48 USD for both of us. We decided not to tour the house, but just to wander the stunning grounds. We enjoyed watching the wildlife wander around, strutting through the gardens, and we took the time to explore the old slave brick homes. In addition, I spent some time leaning up against the fence while watching the horses eat the grass. Towards the end, we decided to walk into the small butterfly pavilion, but there weren’t many butterflies inside. There were some very brightly colored lizards enjoying the small meals that resided within the cage.  From there, we checked out the small cafe/gift shop, but decided to move on.

We headed back to the car and took the long way out of the plantation down back roads that led us to the small farmer’s market. Then we decided to head to the Boone Hill Plantation market which was like a small boutique grocery store that had some yummy options from all over South Carolina, as well as main stream products.

We headed back across the bridge to our hotel,  dropped off our car at the hotel valet, and then we headed back out on foot in search of Thai food. We stopped at Tasty Thai & Sushi for Pad Thai & sushi, which proved to be worthwhile. As we cruised the main road, we stopped in at a small chocolate shop for some treats, and then proceeded on our way. We decided to head toward the coast, where we took in some lovely views of Fort Sumter,  and watch the ferries pass back and forth.

latest iphone 002In the spirit of relaxation, we headed back inland and made a stop in a souvenir/home good shop called Indigo. They had everything from cook books to baseball caps. It was a fun place to stop in for some small goodies. We kept moving and stumbled upon Carmella’s dessert bar where we proceeded to have the most moist, delectable, addicting, and delighting mini chocolate fudge cake. …and it was pretty to look at, too!  In pure satisfaction, we pressed on again. We found our way into a small park that was home to a statue of George Washington. We sat their for a little while, just enjoying each others company before we headed back to the hotel. It was a relaxing night together, that ended in a deep nights sleep.

iphone 181The next morning we did our best to be up by 9 AM. We got our bags packed up, and left them at the front desk while we headed out in search of breakfast. I wanted a juice bar, which felt like a wild goose chase. As we walked around that morning, the air was warm and the sun was bright, which made us somewhat uncomfortable. I was feeling moody, as I couldn’t get what I really wanted. Our only option was to just try to find a place to grab a quick brunch. We ended up at Caviar & Bananas, a multi-station grab and go type of place.  I got a breakfast sandwich & Brad got a french dip. We were both satisfied with our options, but I still wanted juice & Brad wanted coffee. As we made our way back toward the main road, we stopped in at Tricera Coffee so that Brad could get a quick cold brew, and then along the way I found Beech, which served up pre-bottled pressed juices ready to go. It was refreshing, and exactly what my body had been craving!

We decided it would be a good idea to head toward the Charleston City Market.  We took our sweet time wandering through, looking at everything from cooking supplies to Christmas ornaments. The only thing we left with was a sweet and delicious cup of freshly squeezed lemonade that knocked my socks off…

As the day continued on, we found ourselves wandering back down the main shopping road (Kings Street) as we passed by Savannah Bee Company. The shop looked incredibly enticing, as the bottles glowed from inside, and a tasting station lured us in. Little did we know that we would be tasting all sorts of different honeys… Who knew there could be so many types, with so many subtleties! We had a great time sampling all the products, and wandering through the shop.

As we made our way back toward our part of town we began craving lunch. Brad had a call to take around 1 PM, so we made it goal to be back to the hotel about 20 til so that he could prepare. On our way there, I picked up my two-tone South Carolina baseball cap, and we stopped for lunch at Moe’s Southwest Grill. We  decided to split some nachos which were no more than marginal. Please keep in mind that when I say this… I say this as an Arizonan who grew up on Mexican food, so I am a bit biased.

While Brad made his call, I decided to just wander and shop. I basically killed my time in Madewell, before heading back to meet Brad. At this point, we grabbed our bags from the front desk, put them in the car, and began our two hour drive to Charlotte to visit my sister.

1-2When we got into the city we headed directly into downtown to our hotel, the Hyatt House.  We had some time to spare before we headed over to my sister’s apartment. She wanted to take us around to a couple of bars and then to dinner.  Once we had all convened for the evening, we walked over to Legion Brewing to grab a couple of beers for Erica & Brad, and for myself, a cup of water from the tap in the wall… Yes, they have water on tap! We hung out for a little while before heading over to Peculiar Rabbit, where we sat on the rooftop where we could watch the sun set over the Charlotte skyline. We got some incredible appetizers here to accompany our beverages. We were having a lot of fun here, and I would have been down to order more food, but my sister was insistent on taking Brad to Soul Gastro Lounge, just down the street, for a variety of scrumptious tapas. Here, the conversation got a bit heated as politics came into debate. We had a great time, and there were many laughs. I enjoyed watching my two favorite people link arms and stroll down the street ahead of me, as we headed back to my sister’s apartment to say our goodbyes until the following morning.

iphone 185When we got up the next morning, we had slept in just a little later than anticipated, but it wasn’t a big deal. We were planning on meeting my sister for breakfast, but she decided to opt out since I wanted to take Brad to Amelie’s. Naturally, when we arrived, my sister called to let us know she was on her way. She got the fear… the fear of missing out! After a couple of delicious breakfast sandwiches  & chocolate croissants, we began plotting our day. We had been planning on visiting the U.S. National Whitewater Center that afternoon, but we weren’t 100% sure on what to do first. My sister decided that she wanted to show us around on foot, so we took a long walk through her neighborhood, which took a stop at Target for bottles of water and sunblock. From there, we turned back to my sister’s apartment so that we could just chill for a little bit before heading to the Whitewater Center.

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When we got there, this includes my sister’s friend Kara, we all decided to take to the paddle board. We paid our fee, signed our waivers, got our life vests & headed down the river. This was my first time, and I was both surprised by the level of ease and difficulty. I was so worried about falling into the river if I lost my balance, and I didn’t! …but I was also surprised by how much of workout it really is. At several times, my muscles were burning, and I would do what I could to sit on the board without falling in during the process. We headed down the river and then turned back around after wandering down one of the side streams. It was such a serene day for the outing. I wish I could have brought my camera, but I was too nervous about falling in with it. You can check out some of the river photos here.

2-2Afterwards, we all went our separate ways to clean up for dinner before heading back out. We met at my sister’s apartment & made our way to Midwood Smokehouse, my favorite place to go for BBQ in Charlotte. It never disappoints. I ordered my usual, a pulled pork sandwich with a side of mac n’ cheese. We also, brought in a side of fries and baked beans, which are the bomb! This is my place to carbo-load… Just kidding… That’s all I do when I eat in Charlotte because everything is so good.

We were so exhausted that day, that we called it a night after dinner. We just wanted to head back, especially me since I wasn’t feeling well.

3The next morning, we all did our own thing for breakfast, which meant Brad & I were hitting up out complimentary hotel breakfast which turned out to be one of the grossest hotel breakfasts that I’ve ever head… The eggs didn’t taste like they were freshly scrambled.. They seemed like they may have come from powdered eggs… and well, just know that the complimentary breakfast here sucks big time.  After a quick bite to eat, we waited on the street corner for my sister & her roommate, Lauren, to pick us up. We were going to Carowinds for the day! FUN FACT: Carowinds is the theme park that sits on the NC & SC border & has some badass roller coasters.

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When we paid our admission & entered the park we grabbed some quick drinks from Starbucks & made our bathroom runs. We were all in to hit up one of the most intense rides first… Nighthawk..  As soon as you are buckled in, and just before take off, this ride turns you on your back, so in other words, you get flipped all over.  When we came back in from the wild ride, I didn’t know which way was up. I was so disoriented, and Brad & I both ended up with an intense dose of motion sickness (we normally don’t have issues), that basically ruined us for the rest of the day.. There were rides that Brad opted out of, but most of them, I muscled through.  For lunch, we stopped in to one of the dining halls & proceeded to have some nasty pizza. Honestly, we were hoping it would just help settle our stomachs, but it did no such thing. We were incredibly disappointed later on when we saw the Chik-fil-A and realized that we could have had a significantly better quality meal just a little ways away. Too late now! TIP If you are a coaster enthusiast… be sure to ride FURY. (FACT: this is one of the tallest and fastest coasters in the world.) Despite my motion sickness, I rode this one three times because it was so fun!!! You can’t help but laugh and scream!  Carowinds is a great place to spend a day or an afternoon. Depending on the time of year, you may have light crowds, in which case take advantage of the short lines, and embrace your inner kid… but save Nighthawk for last. 

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Erica & Lauren dropped us off at the hotel, so that we could break before we met back up for dinner. Brad & I were wrecked.  We both took quick showers & ended up taking an hour nap which helped to reset our bodies! We were officially behind schedule, but we didn’t worry about it. We called Erica, and let her know that we would just meet them at Tupelo Honey (if you have read my previous Charlotte post, you know how much I love Tupelo). When we got there, iphone 194we were able to get a table on the patio, so we could enjoy the pleasant weather. Much was ordered… We started with a couple plates of the fried green tomatoes and the fried okra (must-haves there). I die every time I eat those… Those two items are actually the only reasons I go  to Tupelo. Brad & I were wise & opted to split the fried chicken which is also divine. Our taste buds were in true nirvana, especially after all the god-awful garbage we had eaten earlier that day. A yummy meal was definitely welcome.

4We wrapped up dinner, and decided to head to a local brewery for trivia night. We all sipped on our drinks, and did our best to answer all the questions in all nine rounds perfectly, but despite our best efforts we ended up in 4th place, not too bad considering we are convinced team number one cheated.

It was a really fun way to wrap up our evening and our trip. We ended up bringing the girls back to their apartment building, and offered up our long goodbyes. The next morning we were headed back home to Phoenix!

 

Spain: The Madrid Edition.

Day 28 (MY BIRTHDAY!!!!) continued:

Along the three hour drive to Madrid, we made a stop at a gas station where my sister valiantly used that magic eraser to remove even more of the green paint from the side of our white Alfa Romeo from our small collision in Cordoba.  She was wildly successful, and we were feeling even more confident that we would be able to get away with it when we dropped the car off that afternoon.

When we arrived in Madrid, we planned wisely to park the car in a parking garage close to our hotel, drop off our bags, and then return the car to the rental facility.  What we didn’t anticipate is the heavy traffic in the city, along with how packed and tight the parking garage would be. Once we found a parking spot, I had to jump out of the car to guide my sister into the spot. One of the attendants came out and attempted to help as well. Really, he just “yelled” at my sister in Spanish. Finally, we had most of our bags and were able to take the escalator up the street and navigate our way to Vincci The Mint, our hotel. It was easy to get there, but we had a big scare at check-in. My passport was missing.. Thankfully, as I was panicking, the young man working the front desk helped me out by accepting my drivers license opposed to my passport. Because of this, we were able to get into our room, and I was able to dig through everything in search of my passport. It wasn’t there. It was either completely gone, or I had left it in Sevilla some how.  I was so frustrated, the last thing I wanted was to have to drive back to Sevilla for it or spend a few days more in Spain while waiting for a new one after a long visit to the US Embassy.

After digging, we had no choice, but to move on with the day. We headed down to the car to take it back to the rental facility. Before we left, I made it a point to check the car for my passport. I remembered that I had it when we were leaving for Tarifa, and I had set it down quickly right before I went to pay for our parking. Thankfully, I found it down on the inside of the seat. YAY!!!!!  I was plagued with relief as I waved it at my sister while she paid for our current parking.  She got back in the driver seat, and I guided her out of the parking spot as best I could. It was so intense, but she made it happen! You go, Erica!

We made our way outside of the city to the address that was on our rental car email. Funny enough, after about a 30 minute drive in traffic, there was no rental car drop off at the address we drove to. We didn’t know what to do, so we drove back into the city. We circled around the train station and pulled into a parking spot in front of a hotel, where I jumped out and attempted to ask the doorman for help. He was saying that it was right in the vicinity but he wasn’t 100% sure. So, being as it was, we drove into the parking lot of the train station. My sister jumped out & went to find it. After about 20 minutes of sitting in the car, she showed up, and knew exactly where to go. She got us there! The rep came out and looked over the car & gave us the receipt. We were not charged for any damage! WOO HOO!!!

iphone update 1870We had some of our smaller belongings with us that we had opted out of carrying to the hotel earlier, so we decided to hail a cab back to our hotel. It was a quick and easy ride. We dropped off our belongings, layered up and headed out for dinner. My sister was hell-bent on taking me to the mushroom bar, Meson del Champiñon, for my birthday. I was 100% in, but we were having a hard time finding it because Erica didn’t have the name. She knew it was right around Plaza Mayor. We did a full circle inside, and the mushroom bar was nowhere to be found. We were hangry & ready to give up, but we gave it one last try. We wandered down the stairs leading to the outside & took a look around. WE FOUND IT!!!!! We walked over to the right and headed in. They were packed! iphone update 1853There were no tables available, so as soon as a spot cleared at the bar, we moved in. We ordered a couple plates of mushrooms and a couple of beers that were so satisfying. We were also served a small plate of bread to accompany the savory stuffed fungus. You guys, oh my god. These mushrooms were the most incredible mushrooms that I have ever had, and may ever have. Despite the mushroom ecstasy, we decided to escape the crowd and find a place we could sit down. We headed back into the plaza and found an outdoor cafe where we were able to use blankets near a heater & ordered the worst paella we had the whole trip, simply because it was under-cooked… but it was hot, and that was all that was really important considering it was freezing and damp outside. Our meal was accompanied by the sounds of locals making music around us. It created a fun atmosphere that we really enjoyed.

After that, we went on a quick hunt to find a Spain patch for my sister for her back pack, and then we headed back to the hotel to sleep.

Day 29:

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iphone update 1855We woke at a normal hour and headed out into the city. It was going to be just an easy day for us. We got breakfast at a small cafe and ordered a couple of omelettes. The omelettes were completely runny inside, so we did our best to eat all that we could and split. We then headed toward Plaza Mayor. We figured we would check and see if there were any street artist… When we got there, we were completely taken aback. Not only were there street artists, there were performers, and there was a whole market lining the entire square full of vintage stamps, coins, trinkets, and more. It was awesome. It was a great place to spend the morning. We ended up buying a some vintage postcards for my dad that depicted bull fighting, and we each bought one more oil painting to add to our large collection. It was a really great way to start the day.

From there, we knew that we needed to pick up additional luggage, so we headed back toward our hotel, down one of the wide shopping roads that had several shops offering luggage. We found a couple pieces that suited our needs &, even better, were on sale! From there… we went back to the hotel & began attempting to pack up our souvenirs since we were leaving the following day. We got a pretty good start, but it still needed some work. It was a little nerve-racking packing our beautiful ceramic pottery into cheap luggage, but the good news is that it all made it a-okay.

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Anyways, back to the trip… We decided to head back out for lunch & made our way down the street to Le Pain Quotidien where we proceeded to have an incredible dish of vegetable lasagna followed by carrot cake that was divine. Not to mention, that the glass water bottles were the most incredible shade of blue, that we decided to take them with too! I know use them as vases.

iphone update 1862We began our journey toward the Palacio de Cristal which sits in the very large and beautiful Retiro Park. It was a beautiful day. The weather had finally warmed up a bit, and the sun was shining. We talked about history and life as we cruised through Madrid. We enjoyed watching the street performers entertain visitors in the park & seeing the people paddle boat in the large fountain/water feature.  We were in the park for a while, we enjoyed seeing the palace & even going in side. Then we stopped at one of the cafes to finally try the churros, a deep fried pastry dough served with chocolate sauce. To be honest, I didn’t understand the hype. I think Mexican churros are better, and the ones at Disneyland are the best… mmmm… that cinnamon sugar goodness!

We decided to explore more of the city on foot. We aimed to find the palace, but that didn’t go as planned. I think we were in the vicinity, but Erica ended up having to go to the bathroom so badly that we ended up heading back quite quickly and making a pit-stop in a Burger King.

iphone update 1868We were still hungry since our lunch was light, and decided that an early dinner was necessary. We did what any reasonable person would do, and went back to Meson del Champiñon. This time though, we beat the rush and got a table in back right next to the charming keyboardist. Not only did we order a couple rounds of mushrooms, we ordered cheese, we ordered olives, and we ordered fried peppers…. It was all so amazing!!!! I loved every minute of it. I could eat there all the time, and I wish there was a Meson del Champiñon here in Scottsdale. haha.

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iphone update 1872iphone update 1871There was one last stop that we had to make while in Madrid & that was the bull bar, La Torre del Oro. Along with its interesting history, the decorating was intriguing as well. There were heads of slain bulls on the wall along with vivid and graphic photos of bull fighting. There were also photos of celebrities and presidents that had visited. It was a really cool place, but I don’t know that I have the stomach to go back. The men working there were very kind. When we ordered the beer, they served us another small drink that was definitely comprised of beef broth & a mystery ingredient that kind of freaked me out. (Out of politeness, I finished it.) There is something about drinking beef broth drinks while look at injured bulls and injured bull fighters that really just turns your stomach a bit. I’m glad we went, and if you are up for it, go. It’s a cool place. But considering I’m not one to condone animal abuse, which I think is a category that bull fighting may fall under, I most likely won’t go back.

We decided that we should start heading back toward the hotel, but I really wanted one last crepe, so we stopped in at a cafe that had just that… a chocolate crepe… a chocolate crepe with an orange flavor… THE DISAPPOINTMENT STRUCK!!!! Orange has no place in chocolate, I don’t care what anyone says.. I did eat it anyways, but I was happy when it was gone.

We headed back to the hotel & finished organizing & packing. We were leaving super early the next morning for the airport, so we went to be early.

Day 29:

When we woke it was dark and raining. We were schedule on the 8:25 AM flight, and therefore wanted to ensure that we had plenty of time to get there. We wanted to leave the hotel by 6 AM. We were originally planning on taking the train, but opted for a cab instead. After checkout, we headed outside & quickly hailed one. The drive took longer than expected because of heavy traffic.

Once we got to the airport, a man came up and grabbed our bags and placed them on the trolley and began pushing them toward the American Airlines counter. He insisted that we tip him, and we declined. We thought he worked for the airport initially, and were a little frustrated that a stranger would just come up and assume that you want there help and would pay them for it. He was angry with us, but we didn’t care… We were way to exhausted to care. Instead, we got our tickets, checked our bags, and headed to our gate.

We were worried that we wouldn’t make our first flight because it would be too full and we were flying standby… but that wasn’t the case. We got on the first flight out headed for NYC without any issue. We even got to sit next to each other.

Just like that, it was bye-bye, Europe. Hello, home! I was okay with that. 29 days exploring other countries was more than enough. I was excited to be back in my own bed with my dog in my family’s home.

THE END.

Spain: The Sevilla Edition (Part 2). 

Day 27:

We slept in after the strenuous day we had prior. We were excited about what possibilities awaited us that day. We were in agreement that it would be a great day to head to the Alcazar, but our first order of business, as usual, was breakfast. We headed to the local Starbucks nearby, where we ordered our hot beverages and each of us got a pastry. I was really excited to be able to get a cinnamon roll because that option is not available in the United States, and it was amazing!

We started off by doing some light wandering around the city, passing by tourist shops, clothing shops, and cozy cafes.  We found ourselves along the the exterior wall of the Alcazar again, Here, we found a street artist selling his very small paintings of orange trees & homes for 15 Euro. Erica was quick to pick one up, and then we decided to get a move on to the Alcazar. When we got the gate we saw that line extended almost the length of a football field from the ticket counter. We got in line, but we wanted to be sure that we were in the right spot to purchase the tickets, so I headed to the left and into the large courtyard, Plaza del Patio de Banderas, attached to the Alcazar. In there I found the exit of the Alcazar and various street artists. One of which was woman doing beautiful watercolor work of the mosaic designs from various Moorish buildings in Andalusia and elongated cityscapes. Her work was captivating, but I knew I had to get back to Erica and the line. I told my sister what I had found out & we decided to check out the art after our tour.

iphone update 1804Eventually, we were at the ticket counter. We bought our tickets, walked through the metal detector, and then headed on in to grab our free audio guide. We did our best to click through in unison, but between looking at things & listening to things, we ended up separated several times. This meant, half the time I was trying to listen to my audio guide, I was, also, wandering around looking for my younger sister which ended up with me giving up on the audio guide because I couldn’t focus and ended up in a different room with no clue of what was being discussed. I’m the type that would rather admire the beauty and try to imagine it in all its splendor than listen to the mundane audio anyways. It just doesn’t hold my attention.

iphone update 1810iphone update 1817We explored the halls, and admired the gardens… We even laughed when we saw that someone had placed an orange on one of the pedestals where a piece of art had been removed from. We constantly trying to figure out which part of the Alcazar was used in the filming of Game of Thrones… Yes, that’s right… FUN FACT: The Alcazar is Dorne! We enjoyed letting our nerdy side out for a bit, and relaxing in the stunning gardens. The outside was as beautiful as the inside. And the Baths of Maria De Padilla were really extraordinary to be able to walk into. They were simple, but the architecture was very beautiful. I am not sure which part I loved most at the Alcazar. Everything was exquisite. The carvings, the mosaics, the gardens…. there was constantly something catching my eye. It’s truly remarkable to think of what this place has seen since the 14th century, and how much history has taken place there.

With a feeling of satisfaction in terms of experiencing the Alcazar, we decided to head out. We did not want to miss the artist with the water color paintings. When we got to her, we were both mesmerized by her work, and we ended up buying 6 pieces all together. Four for me, and two for Erica.  We were feeling so ecstatic about another acquisition. We were at 16 paintings total, and we hadn’t even been to Madrid yet!

We headed right when we made our final exit. I was hungry, so we headed to a street cafe, Alianza Restaurante & Cafe,  and took a seat outside even though it was freezing. The cafe was busy that sitting outdoors seemed like our only option. I just ordered a simple pizza, and naturally as I was almost finished, my sister decided she was hungry. She didn’t want to order there since I had just finished so we decided to find something else on the way back towards the hotel since we wanted to drop off our paintings. We stopped in at a street side cafe for Erica. She ordered something & I got a crepe. (I just love crepes so much.) We hung out watching the group of girls in front of us, and exchanged light conversation and goofed off on our phones. As soon as Erica was finished, we grabbed the tab, and hit the street. It wasn’t too long of a walk back to our hotel.

iphone update 1839While there, we did a full inventory of all of treasures and the numbers were truly funny.  1 Moroccan Rug, 16 paintings, 2 large Moroccan bowls, 1 teapot, 1 pitcher, 1 spoon rest, 2 bone inlay boxes, a small dish, 4 vases, & two baskets…. and i was still toting around my finds from Zimbabwe & South Africa, as well. It was safe to say that we needed to buy additional suitcases when we got to Madrid.  We got a handle on our packing by getting everything mostly organized, and ready to go to the car the next morning.  It was time for us to head back out.

We decided that we wanted to go to a roof top bar, and there just happened to be one right by the Cathedral de Sevilla, La Terraza de EME. The view of the cathedral from the room was extraordinary It glowed golden in front of the deep blue back drop that slowly turned darker with the minutes.  We each had a cocktail and discussed the plan for the following day: my birthday. This drink was a little bit of a precursor considering a bulk of my birthday would be spent driving again.

With a couple drinks down, we decided to move on, and try to find a place out of the cold. We both wanted to go to a Flamenco show, but didn’t book anything in advance. We were pleasantly surprised when we came across Milagritos, a tapas bar with a flamenco special. We got to watch flamenco & get a tapas dinner that included 3 tapas, a salad, and a small dessert. It was soooooo good. The paella they served which was only about 1 cup worth was some of the best paella I’ve ever had. I also finally tried croquettes, which kind of looked like a tater tot, but were cheesy & yummy. I was kind of bummed that I hadn’t ordered them before, but I guess it’s wise not to eat too much fried food! haha. As we ate we listened the young Spanish woman sing her lungs out. Her voice was deep and strong and it resonated throughout the small cafe. The male flamenco dancer stomped and moved quickly around the small dance floor. It was so exciting to watch. Between the thundering sound of his feet hitting the floorboard & her voice blaring throughout the room, my senses were so overwhelmed that part of me wanted to run away & I wanted to laugh with enjoyment.  TIP: In a nutshell, I would go back to this place to dine but I would take in another Flamenco show elsewhere, maybe one with more elaborate costumes. 

After dinner, we just headed back to the room. All we wanted was to escape the brutal cold.

DAY 28 (MY 29th BIRTHDAY!!!):

We got packed up, bundled up, and made one last Starbucks run. Thankfully, we beat the mob of students into the Starbucks, but that didn’t stop a few from trying to cut the line. Funny enough, one of the other young people in the line (unaffiliated with the mob), totally started calling people out & telling them to go back. It was hilarious and awesome!! (You go, dude!!!) We got our coffee, tea, and pastries. …and, then headed to  check and see if the watercolor artist was in her same spot from a couple days before. We were wanting to get a painting for my dad, but, sadly, she was not there. Nor was she there the night before.

After our small dilemma, we just headed back to the hotel. We dropped our drink & food in the car & headed up for our luggage.

We checked out & then were back on the road. Madrid, here we come!!!

…to be continued…

Spain: The Sevilla Edition (Part 1). 

Day 25 continued:

Our drive into Sevilla was pretty easy. It was an hour and half, and we only missed our turn off once because as usual, we were hoping to park close to our hotel, Hotel Alcázar. That wasn’t happening, so we found some metered parking nearby, parked our car, grabbed our bags, and wandered toward the main road & on into the lobby. The guy at the front desk was a little rude, and made it clear that we couldn’t get into our room until check-in time.  So, in order to apply pressure, we sat in the lobby for about 45 minutes until we could get into our room. We were dead set on being able to get cleaned up & drop our bags off before we headed out.

iphone update 1707Thankfully, he did give us directions on where to park the car for a nightly fee. The hotel had a small parking garage just around the corner. So, while we were waiting, we headed over to grab the car from our metered spot, and navigated our way to the garage. I jumped out to press the button to open the door, and Erica pulled the car in. I had to jump out and guide her because the ramp and spaces were so narrow that it was almost impossible to do alone.

Finally, about 15 minutes before check-in time, we were given our room key. We grabbed our bags out of the storage closet, and headed to the elevator & up to our room. It was the smallest room that we had on the whole trip. We were having to rearrange things just so that we could somewhat fit. ..but it was comfortable, and we had a large balcony with an awesome rooftop view of the city.

iphone update 1709We headed out in the early afternoon. We needed to grab some grub, but also, wanted to make our way toward Plaza de España by way of the Alcázar & the Sevilla Cathedral (Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See). We took the long way there because we could not find the entrance to the Alcázar. We walked along the beautiful outer wall as we wound through the narrow cobble stone streets finding our way into the charming tourist areas. We explored the shops, and found an incredible shop filled with ceramic pieces dating back to the 14th century, and yes, you can buy them but at a hefty price. We grabbed lunch at some small street cafe where we got who knows what. The details were not important…

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What was important, was that we eventually found ourselves face to face with the beautiful Cathedral in the heart of the city, just near the train tracks (it’s more of a cable car situation).  FACT:  The Sevilla Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral and the third-largest church in the world. We had no choice, but to conquer the Cathedral first. We made our way around the massive structure, and purchased our tickets inside, from there we made a long walk into the heart of the church. It was overwhelming as most churches can be. There were tourists everywhere, and everything was so ornate. (Sadly, many of pictures that I took on my Nikon from Sevilla onward have disappeared, I assume it happened while trying to transfer.) We made our way through quickly, somewhat turned off by the amount of gold that was stashed behind the partitions because the gaudiness of old Catholic churches has always been repulsive to me, and I say that as a practicing Christian. We were in a rush because the church was closing soon, and we needed to reach the top of the bell tower, the Giralda. FACT: The Giralda is 104.1 meters tall, and you must climb 35 sets of ramps to the top, and then a small section of stairs to access the city views, and get a look at the beautiful & very loud bells, which will ring right over head.  It was worth the calf-burning climb to the top. It was a beautiful day to take in the city of Sevilla. (I’m so disappointed that so many of my photos have vanished.) We spent about 10 minutes at the top making it all the way around, and waiting for the mobs of Asian tourists to make clearings so that we could squeeze in too! “I WANT TO SEE!!!”  iphone update 1714

 

We made our way down somewhat quickly, trying to get away from the crowds in the spacious hallways of ramps leading from the top to bottom and vice versa, and found our way back out of the cathedral. The weather seemed to be changing from sunny to partly cloudy to cloudy as the day went on. It didn’t seem like their was a chance of rain so we made our way toward Plaza de España.

iphone update 1719Plaza de España is an incredibly beautiful structure near a park. The rounded building is one truly captivating. We enjoyed promenading around the center, as we felt the wind pick up the mist and dust it over us. We loved watching the horse drawn carriages circle the fountain and exit the grounds as we tried to snap photos with them as they quickly passed by. As we were getting photos of one of the bridges, the rain began… It was light rain that pushed many people onto the veranda of the building. We parked ourselves on the floor against the wall so that we could overlook the grounds and watch as the rain gently fell.  After about 10 minutes, it stopped.

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We headed back out under the cloudy sky to try and get some great photos of the stunning architecture. The task was achieve shortly before and after snapping a couple photos for other tourists like ourselves. As we were leaving the park it began to sprinkle again and the sprinkle began to turn into rain. Neither of us were prepared for the weather, so we moved as quickly as possible & then took cover in the bar of Restaurante Oriza where we ordered some hot beverages to help take away our cold. iphone update 1748We removed our damp outer layers, but the moisture had seeped into our skin, and warmth eluded us. As I drank my hot tea, I felt as though I would never get warm. The cold from outside had made its way indoors, and the hot cup in my hands wasn’t enough to heat back up. We finished our drinks, and waited for the on and off again rain to finally steady itself into a tame mist before we headed back out onto the streets.

 

We were freezing, and had no choice, but to head back to the hotel to grab a couple more layers. We wound ourselves back a new direction, and found ourselves back in our room adding additional layers for warmth, and grabbing our umbrellas just in case… (Turns out, we didn’t need them… the umbrellas that is.) With dinner on our minds and coming up quick we decided to explore the older part of the city. We posed for pictures in front of the Alcázar, and snapped photos of the Cathedral glowing in the warm city lights. We continued wandering through somewhat aimlessly looking for dinner.

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iphone update 1762I don’t know which direction we headed or where we ate specifically, but I recall sitting on the patio in the freezing cold, under a heater & ordering a lasagna and pizza while being serenaded by a local woman with an very raspy voice. Though cold, the ambiance was perfect! It was a long meal, we considered moving  in doors at one point, but didn’t want to be the high-maintenance Americans, so we just stuck it out. I followed up my meal with some Nutella flavored gelato (i know, it was too cold for gelato), only to find out that it had an orange flavor to it which I was not keen on.  I ate it anyways while Erica finished off her glass of wine. We grabbed our check, and decided to take the long route back to the hotel. We called it an early night because the next morning we had a long drive & early start.  We were going to Morocco…

…to be continued…