Sunday, 27 July 2014

Lisbon - Explore the city of explorers

After enjoying  the stunning southern coast of Portugal, it was time to hit the capital. I slept on the way. When I woke up, the sight was beautiful. When I looked out of the bus window, we were on a huge suspension bridge. The bridge looked exactly like the Golden gate bridge of San Francisco. Before I could comprehend the existence of this Golden gate resembling bridge, I saw a statue that looked exactly like Christ the Redeemer of Rio. For a moment I thought to myself, am I dreaming or is this the real world - Christ the Redeemer in San Francisco? Makes no sense to me.

Actually, I was in real world, and this was Lisbon. The bridge that we crossed, to reach Lisbon is suspended over the Tagus river. Its built an American company, funnily enough not by the company that built the Golden gate bridge in San Francisco. The statue of Christ standing with open arms, dominating the skyline of  is actually a replica of Christ the Redeemer statue of Rio. Its called the Cristo Rei statue.

I had only 48hrs in Lisbon, but I made sure I utilized this time in the best way possible.Capital and the largest city of Portugal, Lisbon has great historical significance. Vasco da Gama, one of the most celebrated explorers in the world, set sail from Lisbon, and reached India after crossing the Cape of Good Hope, which lead to the establishment of the great Portuguese empire.
 Lisbon, also the only European capital on the Atlantic coast, is home to over 3 million people.

Walk, walk and walk.
Its the best way to know the city. Start from the Rossio square and walk up to the Praca the Comercio.
 A lot of hustle and bustle - guaranteed. You will cross a huge arch which is beautifully carved - Augusta Rua. Don't be surprised if you cross a drug peddler. A polite no, will give the signal.
Walk to Chiado, Browse shops or just indulge in some retail therapy.

Walk to Alfama - the oldest district of Lisbon. Slightly run down, but historically very rich. A walk in this old fashioned neighbourhood is without a doubt, essential for a Lisbon visitor. Just wander and lose yourself. Walk upto the castle. The views are breathtaking. Enjoy a cup of coffee or a beer while enjoying the gorgeous views.

Soak in the vibrancy of the city. Enjoy street performances, eat, drink, shop, just have fun.

TIP: Lisbon is hilly plus the streets are made of cobblestones. Advisable to wear the most comfortable footwear you have.

    Hop on the Legendary Yellow tram of Lisbon

The experience of riding this tram should not be missed. Purchase a day pass (Eur 4) and you can travel anywhere, on the tram, metro or bus. Its definitely not the fastest means to travel, but a great way to enjoy the landmarks in the city. Tram no. 28 covers the most picturesque route. I would say a visit to Lisbon is incomplete without a ride in these trams.

TIP:  Pickpockets look like you and me, so beware. Pickpocketing is common in Lisbon, especially in the trams.

Visit Belem
Belem has some of the most important historical sights of Lisbon. Some of them are from the Age of Discovery. Hop on to a tram, and reach Belem and let the magic begin.

Jerònimos Monastery
A UNESCO World Heritage site, its an example of Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style of architecture. The Great Vasco da Gama is buried here.
The architecture is stunning. A visit to this monastery will take you back in time.

The Discoveries Monument
It is, perhaps Lisbon's most emblematic structure. It was built in the honour of Henry the Navigator. The structure has more than 30 statues of people who played an important role in the discoveries of important lands in the World.

The Belem Tower
Its a symbol of the Age of Discovery. It was built in 1515, and served as a fortress to guard Lisbon's harbour. Its made of Lioz limestone and the architecture style is Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline.

Appreciate the amazing mosaic tiles of Lisbon
Its very rare that the piece of art that we are admiring is under our feet. Thats the case with these tiles. They are all over Lisbon, on the sidewalks , on the pavements, just everywhere. These tiny pieces of tiles are put together to form stunning art. They are a combination of black basalt and white limestone. Truly stunning!

Eat the local specialities

Pastel de Nata - Portugese Egg tart

They are delicious. Remember tasting them in Macau. Macau was once a Portuguese colony, the reason why these tarts are also a local speciality there. A sprinkle of cinnamon and powdered sugar adds magic to these tiny beauties. These custard tarts are truly heavenly. Bet, you won't be able to stop at one.


Fish is staple in Portuguese diet. Most dishes in Portugal are fish based. The most popular is the salted cod - Bacalhau  in Portuguese.Other fishes which are widely eaten are sea bass, sardines, octopus, squid, swordfish etc. Baked, grilled, fried and even in a stew form - choose what you like and dig in.

Beautiful & charming in more ways than one, this city definitely deserves another visit. Obrigado Lisboa !

Thursday, 17 July 2014

A Foodie's guide to Spain - Madrid, Toledo & Seville

Every time I think of Spain, the first picture that comes to my mind is a group of cheerful, vivacious people having a good time and enjoying some delicious food & Sangria. Food is one of the most important aspects of travel for me. Unless you try what the locals eat, the experience of the place is incomplete.

Tapas, I feel are synonymous to Spanish cuisine.They are referred to as pintxos  in the northern regionThey maybe small portions but they are big on taste. You can call them appetizers, starters or snacks, but for somebody who likes variety, a combination of different tapas can form a perfect meal. They can be cold or hot, cooked or uncooked, vegan or vegetarian. The list is long.

I traveled to a few cities in Spain and did not miss any opportunity to eat local spanish food.

The capital and the largest city in Spain. There is an indescribable energy to this city. The city is a beautiful mix of the old and the new.

Puerta de Sol
Located in the heart of the city, this famous square is lined with restaurants, bars, cafes, ham & cheese shops. Bustling with tourists, its charming and alive. The most fascinating are the cave bars each famous for a particular tapa and some also serve a variety.

TIP: Cave Hopping - Visit different caves and try their speciality with Sangria

Champiñòn al ajillo (Mushrooms with Garlic) at the Mesòn del Champiñòn

 Delectable mushrooms, served with a smile

                                                                                            Sangria is served in earthen jugs

The Men behind the delicious mushrooms and Sangria

    Pimientos de Padròn (Spicy peppers) - Another superstar from the caves
Fresh, salty, lemony, mild & absolutely delectable. 

    Jamòn Ibèrico (Ham from Acorn fed pigs)
Finest ham in the world. It has a delicious nutty flavor.

        In Sol, you will spot many ham shops. It is quite fascinating to see so many different varieties of  ham. 

TIP: Vacuum packed ham is an ideal thing to take back from Spain.

Mercado de San Miguel
The oldest and the most beautiful food markets in Madrid. Even if you don't want to buy anything, its a market which should be experienced, just for its lovely sights and smells.

Paella - The showstopper in Madrid
This stunning dish is a concoction of  vegetables, chicken and seafood. It can be customized as per one's choice.It is eaten with aioli (garlic mayonnaise). It can be eaten as whole meal or as a starter. Most tapas bars serve Paella as a tapa. Paella may have humble roots, but this wholesome dish is definitely the king of all dishes.

Paella at the L'Albufera restaurant at the Melià hotel

The city of 3 cultures - There was a time when muslims, jews and christians lived here in harmony. This timeless city is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is just an hours drive from Madrid. 

Spend some time strolling in the city. You will cross many souvenir shops selling medieval swords in all sizes. It is a great souvenir take back home. While walking you will spot many cafes and bars. Grab a seat and enjoy some local specialities.

Gambas al ajillo (Garlic Prawns)
The aroma was so heavenly, that I was in love with the them before eating them. Cooking with the shell elevates the taste. Slightly messy, but definitely worth it.

Patatas Bravas (Fried Potatoes with Spicy sauce)
 They are fried potatoes, served with a spicy tomato sauce called Brava. Also sometimes, accompanied by aioli (garlic mayonnaise).

A city so stunning, you will fall in love on first sight. The charm of the city lies in its architecture which is a unique combination of moorish, gothic and Renaissance styles. 

Just lose yourself  in the maze of alleys in the old quarter. There are many cafes and bars. Sample traditional dishes with some beer or Sangria.

TIP- To fully experience the old city, book a hotel around the cathedral.

Pisto Con Huevo (Spanish style Ratatouille)
Fresh vegetables stewed in tomato sauce served with egg. Delicoso!

Pimiento Rojo en aceite de oliva (Grilled Red Peppers in olive oil)
Smoky and sweet, served with tuna. Scrumptious!

Seville is a great city to wake up to. I suggest, walk up to the nearest cafe. Enjoy some Spanish breakfast before starting your day in this wonderful city.

                                 Cafè con Leche (Coffee with milk)
Start your day with a cup of frothy goodness.

Have some bread and jam or churros with chocolate sauce or just a croissant. 
Spain is a big country & there is still lots to eat. Until next time, Adios amigos.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Hola Seville!

The Spanish know how to celebrate life. The richest wealth of Spain is its warm, friendly and exuberant people. Each city in Spain is unique in its own way, but my favorite is Seville.

Seville - The capital of the richest region of Spain - Andalusia.
I went, I saw & I fell in love. I could stay there forever, but in the limited time I had in this stunning Andalusian city, I tried to see and experience as much as possible.

The following, as per me, are a must do in Seville:

1) Explore the Narrow Cobblestone Alleys of the Old Quarter

It is a maze, but it is just exciting to walk through the alleys. You will cross many plazas, each more stunning than the other. Orange trees, fountains, ceramic tiled benches are just a few elements that add grandeur to the squares.

There are many interesting boutique hotels, Tapas bars, cafes & shops. For the real experience, book a hotel right in the heart of the old town.

TIP: Some hotels are reachable only by foot. Taxis will drop you only till the main square, so choose accordingly.

2) Experience Flamenco

Experiencing any form of local art gives you a sneak peek into the culture of the place. Flamenco in Seville is very intense, but its beautiful at the same time. The rhythmic tapping of the shoes, the deep voice of the vocalist, the strumming of the guitar, and the fabulous dance moves, drive the audience crazy.
To watch Flamenco in Seville, there are multiple options to choose from - A formal sit down dinner , a casual bar or stage shows.

3) Visit the Royal Alcàzar of Seville

It was once a Moorish fort. The architecture of this palace is a unique blend of Islamic and Christian styles.This interesting mix of art is referred to as the Mudèjar style.

The are many different gardens in the palace complex. Each of these gardens has its own style. Find a bench and sit for a while to absorb the beauty of the Jardines de las Alcazares.

TIP: If you are interested to know the significance of each room in the palace, you can rent an audio guide from the entrance

4) Go for a Tapas Bar Crawl around the Cathedral

The Giralda tower is the most famous landmark of Seville. Its the bell tower of the Seville Cathedral - The largest Gothic cathedral in the World. There are many cafes and bars around the cathedral. Its buzzing with tourists throughout the day but it really comes alive at night. Tapas are small plates. On an average a Tapa would cost Eur 2.5 - 5. Sample Tapas in different bars with beer or Sangria.

   TIP: If you have small kids, a horse carriage ride as a good way to explore the city.

5) Admire the Magnificent Architecture of Seville

What makes Seville magical is its architecture which is a combination of Moorish, Gothic and Renaissance styles. Intricately carved buildings are a common site in Seville. Just amble around the city and I promise you will not be disappointed.

TIP: Walk to the Plaza de Espana. Its majestic.The building is an example of the Renaissance revival style

6) Walk on top of the Largest Wooden Structure of the World - The Metropol Parasol

Its gigantic. Its daring and quite impressive, unlike anything else in Seville, and maybe in Spain. I felt the structure resembled enormous trees which are stuck together. It did not seem like it was made of wood, until I got closer.

There is a minimal fee for entry. An elevator takes you to the top, where you can enjoy a drink, with the stunning view of Seville.

7) Walk to Triana

Triana - Its the district on the other side of the Guadalquivir river, well known for its ceramic tiles. The walk to Triana along the river is lovely. Enjoy Sangria and some tapas at a cafe or a bar along the river.

TIP: Avoid Saturdays. Most of the shops in the area are closed

 Gracias Seville for such a lovely time!