Posts Tagged With: shopping

Madrid: Street Entertainers, Lottery Booths and Ham Museums

I was surprised with myself that I’d never visited Madrid. After 10 years of learning Spanish, I guess I’d just never got around to it. I had in this time taken three trips to Barcelona but Madrid had never happened. So I felt a sympathy for Madrid before I even boarded the plane from Lisbon. Madrid turned out to be a pleasant surprise and an arty and bohemian yet smart and classy city.

Having said goodbye to Hannah in Lisbon, I was travelling on my own for the first time since I was in hospital in Bangkok and it felt really strange! On one hand, it was easy to just trundle around but on the other hand, I was yearning for someone to point out the street entertainers to. Street entertainers. That’s something they’re not short of in Madrid. There’s the good kind – my favourite was two men coated in gold, one of whom appeared to be floating on top of the other. Then there’s the Winnie the Poohs and Bart Simpsons and Spongebobs. I’ve never seen so many! They hover around La Puerta del Sol and the parks waiting for photos to be taken with then and cash to be handed over. I don’t have a problem with this, everyone has to make a living, but some of the costumes are just awful!

They don’t directly approach you, or maybe I just didn’t look like the type who wanted a photo with Woody Woodpecker. I was, however, approached by a couple of Eastern European deaf and dumb girls with a clipboard of “donations” who I’m sure I encountered once before in Paris. Pleasure to see them again.

There’s also a lot of ‘Once’ lottery booths, which although they make for pretty urban photos, did look a little shut most of the time. I have a feeling I remember studying about the Spanish lottery at A level and I’m sure I remember it’s a big thing, but perhaps only at certain times of the year. Do you know?

Other than the obvious choices of the Reina Sofia and Prado museums (both of which have free evenings on the weekend – a great time to visit Madrid!) I had been recommended by Hannah to visit a Museo de Jamón. This translates as Ham Museum. I’m not a big meat eater but I followed her advice and entered one of the infamous ham museums one lunch time. I didn’t regret it! With rows of meat, strip lights and mirrors, the place looked like it never ended. And with a ham baguette for just 1 Euro, I was onto a winner! I sat casually at the bar as if I knew what I was doing and ordered myself the 1 Euro sandwich advertised.

“Señor? Señor, can you cut it into two, please? Gracias.” A thick American accent questioned over my shoulder, “Dos, por favor? Gracias!”

With a mouthful of ham and bread, I turned to smile at him for using Spanish. I think he interpreted that as me being Spanish because he and his friends seemed a little taken aback when I asked where they were from in a rather British accent.

Another favourite from Madrid was visitng El Rastro flea market early on Sunday morning (see, I told you the weekend was the time to visit!). Just like Marrakesh, El Rastro is a place to visit when you’re buying your first house. Full of quirky antiques, toys and comic shops it’s a real delight to meander your way through as it gets busier, before diving into a cafe for some churros for breakfast.

However, I think my absolute highlight was the terrapin pool in Atocha train station. I didn’t have to take a train, but being drawn in by the awe inspiring exterior, I felt it rude not to take a look inside. The terrapin tank proved it a worthy venture!

Overall, Madrid won me over and I think it’s a shame so many people come to Spain and don’t see it. Madrid shows a very different side of Spain to that of the other cities I’ve visited in Spain and that’s what keeps me engaged about this country – the sheer diversity. Every region, every city has it’s own story to tell, and they tell them well.

Have you visited Madrid? What were your highlights? I’d love to read about it in the comments below! 🙂

Advertisements
Categories: Europe, Spain | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Marrakesh: Foot lathes, friendship levels and feasts.

From the start of my degree, I knew I’d be heading to Spain for a week in the summer of 2013 for a summer school. I also knew I wanted to make the most of it and see some more of Europe in the process. A trip I’d wanted to do for some time gradually began to click into place.

For a number of years, I’d wanted to take the ferry between Spain and Morocco – this was the perfect chance! As things began to work out, we realized we could also hit Portugal on our travels. So this July, my friend Hannah and I set off on our Iberian (and African-ish!) adventure!

When we landed in Marrakesh, the first thing I noticed was how much French is spoken here. I had spent many a car journey listening to Arabic stuff to give me a grounding just in case French wasn’t as widely spoken as I’d hoped but it turned out you don’t always need the language of the country you’re in to survive, as we discovered in Essaouira.

We stayed at a Riad where Hannah had been before but they had moved buildings (sounds strange, I know!) so we’d agreed to meet someone in the main square to take us there. However, it was Ramadan and so by the time we arrived in the city and eventually got through to them on the phone, they were having their Ramadan breakfast. Not having eaten ourselves, we headed over to the food stalls in the square that was now buzzing with life. We found ourselves being called to various stalls, and eventually chose one with lots of locals and what we (wrongly) assumed to be free bread on the tables. I love Moroccan food and the food here was good. However, we were lucky enough to be invited to eat Ramadan breakfast almost everywhere we went every day in Morocco! So that tagine was the only real meal we had to buy in Marrakesh.

We headed out early the next morning with very little direction other than the loose idea of visiting souks, buying a little something and maybe chilling in a hammam As it turned out, a hammam was the first thing we found and not really having a great idea of exchange rates or normal prices of a hammam, we went for it. My God. I didn’t know I was that grubby. Or that it was possible to get that much grub off of someone’s skin. I’d bought a very modest swimming costume back home for moments like this, and felt very proud and respectful when I stripped down to it for the lady to scrub me.

She motioned her hands from her shoulders downwards. It looked like she was telling me to pull down my swimming costume! I repeated the movement and tentatively lifted the strap from my shoulder. She nodded. I pulled down my swimming costume to my waist. There’s no way I was taking it all off! I paid good money for that costume for this exact moment. I was going to get my money’s worth. A few minutes later, after a good scrub down and being covered in mud soap, I was ushered into the sauna where Hannah was already sat sweating it out.

“New friendship level.” I shrugged. Hannah had worn a bikini and so was still ‘fully’ clothed.

After various scrubs and washes, we were shown into a shower cubicle. Although we were washing ourselves at this point, the ladies stood and watched ready to indicate to me to pull the whole costume down when I turned to face them. I didn’t.

We were then given a gown along with our scrub mitt to keep as we were told to relax on the beds in the first room. Finally we were sent upstairs where we were told to relax yet again on individual beds. This bit was weird. I think there’d been some miscommunication as to which package we paid for. We didn’t pay for a massage but we kept quiet just in case they were feeling generous. After about 5 minutes, we entered the final room and were given a pot of mint tea.

We soon headed out into the heat of the day, both secretly knowing but neither wanting to admit that we’d be filling up our sparklingly clean sweat glands very soon. This is where the souks came in. Undercover window shopping with compliments of our French proved to be a very relaxing way to spend the rest of the day. Especially when one man carving skewers with a one foot lathe offered a free demonstration and made me a personal necklace before our eyes after I asked him a few questions in French.

Once filling our scrubbed pores with fresh sweat and sun cream, we decided to head back to the Riad before dinner. Best. Timing. Ever. Just as we were preparing to leave again in hunt of food, the Riad owners were preparing to start their Ramadan breakfast as dusk was approaching, and they were very adamant we join them. Wow. What a feast! It was really lovely to be involved with a personal example of the breaking of the fast up close.

Overall, Marrakesh proved to be just as beautiful, orange and sensory as I imagined, but also a lot safer and friendlier than I’d imagined before arriving. Definitely a place I’d like to go back to and would recommend.

Categories: Africa, Morocco | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments

Burmese Days – Part Four

Bagan – Sand Paintings and Sandy Feet.

Day nine.

Day nine began with a seven hour bus journey on the worst road I’ve seen in this country. I didn’t feel great before I got on the bus. I couldn’t stomach breakfast. I was sick at the first stop. I wanted to come home. I arrived here. I went to two guesthouses. Hassled by taxi  and horse cart drivers all the way. I wanted to come home. I got lucky with the third guesthouse. I slept from 3.30 to 5.30. I woke up. I felt a little better. But really, I still wanted to come home.

Day ten.

Exactly what I needed after yesterday. I’d agreed with a British guy I met on the bus, who from now on we shall call Chris for ease, to meet at 8 and if I was feeling better share a horse cart for the day – half the cost. After a solid twelve hour sleep from 5.30pm ‘til 5.30am I felt ready to take on the world! After a brilliant breakfast, I set off to meet Chris at the bus station.

There were two American girls on the bus too, who from now on we shall call Brihanna and Rebecca, and it turned out they were staying in the room next to Chris, so we decided to get two horses and spend the day as four.

After spending just three days in Thailand a week ago, I’m still pretty templed out. You get the big ones like Borobudur in Indonesia and Wat Pho in Bangkok but once you’ve seen one mediocre temple, you’ve seen them all. Think about it, you may go and see Salisbury Cathedral, or Canterbury Cathedral on a little day trip but would you really cruise Northamptonshire for a tour of it’s village churches?

The individual temples of Bagan are just mediocre temples. Like I said, seen one, seen ‘em all. But once you climb to the top and look out, the collective view is amazing. Why you would need to build so many temples in one place is still beyond me but it makes for a good view.

I am undecided as to what I saw more of today; temples, coin collectors or sand painters…. Every big temple you go to is surrounded by stalls and people who will follow you up and inside for the chance of selling you their wares. At the beginning of the day, it’s plain annoying, by lunchtime you play the game, and by sunset it’s back to plain annoying. Our horse cart driver even found us a fab place to watch the sunset, not a tour bus in sight, not even a lone bicycle. But guess what? A family waded through the puddles and up the dark stairwell to try and sell us their lacquer ware.

Then there’s a different breed of temple-hanger-around-ers; the money collectors. I’d discovered early on that my trick of answering “Where you from?” with “No English, sorry, parlo italiano” was redundant in Bagan when a woman replied with “Buongiorno, molto bello!” This discovery was reiterated later on when I saw some Burmese kids babbling away in Spanish to a Spanish tour group! So I was trying a new tactic, picking an obscure European country they definitely wouldn’t have heard of. I’d already used Andorra, now it was Liechtenstein’s turn.

“Where you come from?” asked a little boy towards the end of the day.

“Liechtenstein.”

“I know your country. Very nice.”

“You know it?!” Damn. “Where is it?”

“I don’t know. Do you have money from your country?”

“No, I’m in Myanmar. I only have Myanmar money. I leave my Liechtenstein money in Liechtenstein.”

This is one of many examples of this conversation.

Another conversation I had a lot today;

“Hello, where you come from?”

“Andorra/Liechtenstein/England (if I liked them and was prepared for another Manchester United themed conversation)”

“Very nice country. You want to look at my sand paintings?”

“I’ve already bought two, sorry!” This was true, I had, and they came in very handy to wave at the seller at this point in the conversation.

“But one more? It is different design.”

“I’m sure it is, but I already have two!”

“But three is the lucky number!”

“I know but I have no more money. Sorry!”

These people don’t give up easily.

Despite the persistent pestering and seeing more 45 Kyat notes than horse carts and more copies of George Orwell’s Burmese Days than Waterstones’ British stock, it was a very good day, one of the best so far. I met three lovely people (Chris, Brihanna and Rebecca, not the sand painters) and it really was exactly what I needed after yesterday.

Day eleven.

I’m writing this during a second evening of power outages. Thankfully my laptop was fully charged so I’m sat here before dinner with my headlamp on typing away! But without air con. Can’t have it all I guess! I’ve decided Burma is a country they should send ungrateful school kids on a trip.

Anyway, I was going to start with an apology for 13 pages worth of reading material for you. I’m sorry. And it’s not over yet!

So without further ado, here’s a brief description of my day: I relaxed, watched some Karl Pilkington clips on my iPod, and even had breakfast at NINE! Well late for Burma. I read some Stephen Fry, I set out to meet Chris and possibly the American girls for lunch. I ate a ridiculously small amount of my noodles and then we hired bikes for the afternoon. Sadly the American girls couldn’t join us because they had to get their bus to Yangon, to arrive at 4am, to fly to India at 8am!

So in a nutshell, we got bikes, saw some temples, saw some postcard sellers, saw some money collectors, had some sugar cane juice….that was pretty much it!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Categories: Burma, South East Asia | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Burmese Days – Part One

This is two weeks worth of blogging. I’ve tried to make it as short as possible and break it up to save your eyesight and sanity! Here goes…

Yangon – The Neglected Capital.

Day..well, night one.

After a long flight with a very annoying American who reeeeeeally wants to go to Nepal behind me, I eventually arrived in Burma at about 6 in the evening. Immigration was a slow one as expected, but once through and ready to get my bag, I was met with a “Are you travelling alone?” and not from a local!

“Yes,” I replied.

“Would you like to share a taxi into town? I ask because I was travelling alone and I know how it can be quite expensive sometimes, but now my girlfriend has joined me. Do you know where you’re going?”

“Ooo, that would be good. Not really, I just wrote the first one in the book on the visa form! Do you?”

“We were thinking of trying this one.” Out came the Lonely Planet. It looked like a pretty good hotel so I accepted, and we even managed to barter the taxi price down from $12 to $9 so it was a right old saving! When we arrived at the hotel, I offered if they wanted to meet for dinner later.

We followed the guidance of our hotel man and found ourselves in a Burmese cuisine restaurant with buffet trays of various, ominous looking meats. I opted for the vegetables. Not wanting to be caught out before I’d begun, I checked the price before settling down, it was 500 Kyat for the veg, 500 for rice and another 500 for a lime juice. 1500 = just over a quid! Not bad.

When the food came, wow. A feast is the only way to describe it. We were given a plate of vegetables (for free), a selection of fish pastes and chillies (for free) and a bowl of soup each (for free). The table was full!

Day Two

I agreed with Daniel and Sarit to meet at half nine the following morning for breakfast, and what a breakfast it was! As far as hostel breakfast goes, you’re lucky if you get a choice of jam. Here however, you’d be hard pushed not to have a different jam each day for a week!

After that brilliant start to the day, we headed for a stroll around the city. We soon found ourselves in the midst of a market full of the biggest prawns I think I’ve ever seen, the weirdest looking vegetables I think I’ve ever seen and the most adorable little badminton players I’ve definitely ever seen! This led to Aung San Market, where you can indulge the tourist within with jade, longyis and tat to gather dust on your mantelpiece. The thing that I can’t get my head around is how these people make money when their neighbouring stall is selling exactly the same thing. I’ve been baffled ever since Bali on this one. The most confusing was four shops in a row in Kuching selling personalized rubber stamps. How much demand can there be in one city for personalized rubber stamps? Are four shops really necessary? And if so, would it not be better for the customers so they don’t have to travel so far and the shop owners so they had cornered a gap in the market if they spread themselves out a little? Just a thought.

Next stop was Sule Paya, a monument of some description in the middle of a roundabout. It cost $2 to get in and a “donation” to leave your shoes. When you’ve seen one mediocre temple, you’ve seen them all, so we gave it a miss. Not before almost having a sparrow thrust into my hand by a woman sat on the pavement with a closed basket full of the birds.

“It’s lovely but I can’t take it home! What am I going to do with it?!”

Seriously, why was she trying to sell me a bird?! That’s worse than the ones who try and sell you an oversized wooden dragon that would definitely be classed as excess baggage on Air Asia. How do they think we can get these things home?!

After a chat to decide whether or not we’d go in, I turned back around to be offered another sparrow by another girl. What’s going on here?!

“I can’t get a bird home! I travel for a long time. And my country won’t let it in!”

“No, you take and it fly away. For good luck. Please, you want. Take it.”

Now there’s a business plan – rubber stamp sellers take note – collect something from nature that will cost you nothing, cage it, sell it to a tourist to put it back where it came from. Dragon’s Den would love that one. No spending, 100% profit! Needless to say, I didn’t buy a bird.

In the afternoon, after Daniel and Sarit had left for their bus, I headed to Shwedagon Paya, which is supposedly where eight of Buddha’s hairs lay. I decided to get the bus, which was nice because someone gave up their seat for me – people are genuinely lovely here. The Paya was very impressive! A big gold stupa surrounded by uncountable individual temples. Oh – and there’s an elevator, just as Buddha would have wished.

When I got the bus back, someone gave up their seat for me again! It seemed too early to go back to my hostel so I headed back to the market for some food and found a little noodle woman, who gave me a big bowl of noodles, fried onions, chili sauce and two bowls of soup for 300 Kyat! 30p! My phrasebook came in very handy when locals gradually made their way over. I can’t help but think I did wonders for her business that night. I left just after dark, thinking my chatter with the locals had brought in the night – it hadn’t – it was only 6.15pm, but pitch black! I walked back through the market, the fish heads now stuffed with candles to illuminate their goods, and came back for some rest ready for my bus tomorrow night to Inle Lake.

Day three

Day three was spent in a supermarket getting food for a long bus journey, relaxing in my room before a long bus journey and trying to get comfy on a long bus journey. Nothing much happened of interest other than my iPod lasted well over its stated battery life and we stopped for dinner at a restaurant where all the waiters and waitresses were children, they must have been aged between 10 and 16. Is that child labour?!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Categories: Burma, South East Asia | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.