Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Madrid in 4 Days: Beautiful Art, Architecture, A Royal Palace and Various Barrios

 Madrid in four days was an artsy adventure of architectural and historical highlights, a combination of modern and old scenes, and a meander through different barrios (neighbourhoods). While Sean and I both felt that something was missing - perhaps because of the massive lack of Christmas spirit we expected - we did feel that Madrid was a clean, interesting city that would be easy to live in.  Feeling too old for hostels, we opted to stay at the Ibis (regular) hotel, which meant that we had to choose the affordable one of the three - about a 15 minute metro ride from the centre. It was a great way to see the whole city!

Christmas Dinner at Metro Bistro

We arrived in Madrid on Christmas Day, as this was the most economical option when we considered the train and hotel prices!  We booked one of the few recommended restaurants on Tripadvisor which still had availability. Metro-Bistro is a beautiful restaurant - although it had limited vegetarian options, I had a pumpkin crema (soup), roasted pita chips with hummous and a dessert with dulce de leche that was way too sweet.  Christmas spirit wise, Madrid is not much better than Barcelona - and I must say that the Christmas markets were tacky and boring - and we went to three plazas! 

National Geographic's Madrid Walking Tour was where we started the next morning - Boxing Day or Sant Estevan as they call it here- and it was a beautiful overview of the old town and historical highlights, including Templo de Debod, an Egyptian temple in a large park.  We saw the architectural highlights as well, including the Royal Palace and Cathedral beside it - must-see sites!  In fact, the Royal Palace has a modern art museum inside it (check out the slideshow to see some awesome pics!)
Royal Palace, Madrid

Banker's district, Madrid

Perfumeries & Shopping

Who knew that Madrid was a perfumery haven with unbelievably great prices? It just so happened that I had run out of my Burberry Brit eau de parfum a couple days earlier - and I found it, on sale! Actually, it's lucky I did since they have apparently stopped producing that line. I also decided on Marc Jacobs Decadence after hours of roaming through the El Corte Ingles perfume department with Sean.  We also found an excellent winter coat for Sean - which he ended up buying at the Barcelona branch.
Sean musing over modern art

Malasaña - The Hipster Part of Town & Other Places to Eat

Malasaña and Chueco are two áreas that are definitely worth checking out.  We were in Chueco on the Saturday evening for some lovely, spicy (though pricey) Mexican food at Tepic. We also ate at the Chipotle-style Tex-Mex chain restaurant called Tierra Burrito the next day.  Madrid definitely has MUCH better Mexican food than Barcelona. We then visited the area Sunday during the day to see the sites. It’s best known for being gay-friendly and being an old neighbourhood that was revamped by a younger crowd. Pictures say more than words in this case - check out my slideshow below!

We spent Monday afternoon in Malasaña and then Buen Retiro Park before catching our evening train back to Barcelona. What a lovely area! It is the “hipster” area, I guess – it reminds me of Whyte Avenue in Edmonton or Kensington in Vancouver – loads of trendy cafes and places to shop. We window-shopped and had pizza on a terrace at a place right in the square - it was good, but then it started raining for we cafe-hopped for a bit.

Ojala! was our greatest find - a cute cafe with excellent specialty coffees and a neat atmosphere - it has sand in the basement to mimic a beach scene, a Beatles-inspired gender neutral bathroom and a very interesting teal and pink theme for its decor.

Cafe with Cocoa Tequila
Cafe with Baileys and Cream

Check out the slideshow below to see the best parts of our trip!  Again, it's about 50 pictures long, so adjust the speed settings in the top right hand corner if you like. If you're on a mobile device that does not support Flash, view my Flickr Set by clicking here,  - click on the first picture and then hit the play button for the show. 

Enjoy! Stay tuned for my New Year's adventures post with Kristin's visit, a night photoshoot and more to come! Happy Holidays, everyone!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Photowalk in Sarrià: A Beautiful Barcelona Barrio of Contrasts at Christmas

On a quest to meet more people in Barcelona, I've joined several Meetup  groups - one of which is Camara Creativa. As the group's very first meetup, we went on a 2.5 hour photowalk around the beautiful neighbourhood of Sarrià this morning. One of my favourite things about Barcelona is that it is a city of neighbourhoods - every barrio  has a unique feel or theme, with varied prices, architecture and people. Alessandro (a professional photographer) and Ana, the organizers, took me (I was the only one who came to the first meetup!) around the neighbourhood and through the Christmas market to give me some tips. You'll have to check out the slideshow at the end of this post for my view of the neighbourhood, but here are the tips and a couple of my favourite shots of the day:
Girl with Christmas Spirit in Sarrià Market - one of my favourite pics of the shoot!

Photography Tips

  • Get the smallest camera you can for photographing people - it's much easier if they don't notice and you can take candid, natural pics
  • To take a closeup of someone standing in front of you, but facing you, take a photo of the architecture above, then pose as if you are checking out your photo on your digital camera and snap the pic you really want - inches in front of you. It sounds a bit strange - but it worked so well for Alessandro that I will have to try it!
  • Set up your scene even if there is a car or something blocking it - take photos, align your camera and wait  - until the obstacle disappears and the subject you are looking for walks by. It takes a lot of patience, but it makes for beautiful photos.
  • Remember to use the exposure settings! (I was on Aperture mode and used to just changing the F-stop, but the exposure definitely makes a huge difference! Then, use Lightroom for editing.
  • Look for contrasts - I especially liked the playground shot we took, as there are pieces of old walls and old doors that must have been buildings at one point - leading to a modern looking playground (see the slideshow!)
  • Reflections in windows make for excellent photos - sometimes a tree with leaves can show up in the window of a beautiful building, or flowers of a plant across the street appear in a neighbourhood window - it's incredible. (Check out my slideshow for examples)

My Favourite Shots of the Day

Scootering through the ancient door to the playground!

Pensive and Festive at Christmas!

Floral reflections in the architecture

Here's the slideshow! I hope you enjoy it... unfortunately, this won't work if you are viewing this site from a mobile device, so go directly to My Flickr album page here, click into the first photo, and press the play button in the top right hand corner. Remember, you can hover over the upper right corner to turn on/off titles and change the speed of the slideshow - there are about 50 photos in this one, so you may want to choose medium or fast!

My Good Luck Muérdago

On a holiday related note, I received a muérdago, or Besque in Catalan, from my student's mom last week. It's a traditional plant only available at Christmas time that is supposed to bring good luck. There is only one catch - you cannot buy one for yourself! It must be a gift to bring someone else luck.

I feel so happy to have received one - let's hope it works! We all know what I'm wishing for in the New Year. Here's to my first year officially "in my thirties" to being a year made of the stuff of books and movies, as I like to say ;) 

The holidays are almost here - stay tuned for my tales of Christmas in Madrid with Sean, New Year's Eve somewhere fun, and a photoshoot of holiday lights in early January and more!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Barcelona's Best Eats: Restaurants and Cafes near the University & Raval

SandwiChez Chai Latte
Until six weeks ago, if you would have asked me where to eat out in Barcelona, I wouldn't have said much, but now I have a list for you!  I usually cook at home and sometimes go to my favourite pizza place - the most delicious pizza I have ever had, which happens to be around the corner from my apartment- called Eccola   

Over the last month and a half, Robby, Marina and I have been trying to get more PhD students out to events; we've been networking, hosting workshops on Mendeley and other tricks, and trying to bring a North-American style spirit to the uni. My friends have also been kind enough to volunteer to help with my data collection (I'll blog a separate post about my qualms regarding the lack of university resources in BCN...) 

This has meant a lot of work and time at the university, long days, and dinners or lunches out. Luckily, in Barcelona, this only means 10 euros a time for a three course midday menu, but still, it adds up, so I'll have to revert back to my normal self soon ;)

SandwiChez has become my place for Chai Tea Lattes - although they are a bit pricey at 2.50 (compared to normal Spanish coffee shops). I'm sure they are super bad for you and have sugary powder in them, but when it starts getting chilly and you're waiting for a bus, this is an excellent way to warm-up!

Cosmos  has become my go-to place to study. They even let dogs study beside you! So, I've been walking Kiara 45 minutes from my place to the cafe and then letting her make friends with all the customers while I study. It's perfect! The only catch is that I am spending too much money on coffee here  *sigh*
Kiara studying with me at Cosmos Cafe, Barcelona

Photo from tripadvisor
Marina, Robby, Irene and I brainstormed the idea of the Mendeley workshop over lunch here.  Affordable and delectable, this restaurant offers a varied selection - everything from a French dish to an Indian dish - at a great price. It's just a few minutes' walk from the University - so check it out!

Vegesana  has become a go-to for a quick meal, as their midday menu is only 7 euros for two courses and a coffee.  It's completely vegan and located two steps away from the university, on Carrer Aribau. 

Shalimar   - good Indian food in BCN at last! I'd only tried a couple other places, which people I was with thought were good, but I didn't think were great. This was definitely great - not too oily, great curry - not very spicy, but other than that, good Indian food. It's in Raval, which is actually only a 10 minute walk from the university, as well!


Armonia is a great little vegetarian and vegan restaurant on Carrer Valencia that serves delicious meals. Their two course menu is about the same price as three course ones other places, but it is definitely worth a try. Delicious, homemade, healthy  - yum!

Rosa del Raval

Rosa del Raval is a great place for Mexican food  - in fact, I've only had Mexican food twice over the last few years, and the only time other than this lunch break, was with Anna at Rosa Negra, the restaurant's other location!  I do like Rosa del Raval better - it's less of a bar and more of a restaurant, less crowded (at least at lunch hour) and has cute decorations. Plus, they actually have spicy sauce!

Bun Bo has excellent Vietnamese food, with a couple of vegetarian options (they'll substitute tofu in a couple of their dishes). Their mid-day menu is 9 euros and we could barely finish it! I'd also try a daquiri while you're here - they are made with fresh fruit and not powder...mmm! We went here on a Friday  and a bunch of people came - it was great! 

Of course, I still have Happy Cow's list to work through - Dayna, I'm all ready to eat vegan when you come to visit me! I'm definitely excited that at least a handful of the PhD students - the new ones included - are ready to hang out this year. There are 31 of us and yet I've barely met half!

It's too bad eating out is so much more unhealthy and expensive than eating in ;) Enjoy these eats!