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When a cheeky night becomes a cheeky weekend

Madrid

sunny 25 °C
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After a successful trip to Italy in the summer, Fara and I were off for another adventure - this time to the capital of Spain, Madrid.

Although having been to Spain several times before, I had never been to the capital, and with friends in the city as well as some good flight times, it was a perfect destination for a weekend getaway in the autumn.

We had booked ourselves an early flight out on Saturday and a late flight back on Sunday, giving us almost two solid days in the city, despite it being just one night away. And with the second biggest metro system in Europe, after the stress of Central Asia, Madrid was simple to get around and wouldn't take us too long to see everything we wanted.

Arriving in Madrid by 10am, we cleared the airport and headed to the hotel to drop our bits before exploring the city. The hotel was even closer to the metro than we had expected and after grabbing some snacks at the supermarket next door, we found that our room was already ready for us, and so checked in and dropped the bags.

Puerta Del Sol

Puerta Del Sol

Our first sight was Puerta del Sol, the very heart of Madrid, and from where all distances in Spain are counted from before continuing towards Plaza Mayor - the main city square built by Philip II.

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor


Royal Palace

Royal Palace

Heading through the Old City streets we then arrived at the Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral, in the heart of Royal Madrid. After going inside the cathedral at the end of mass and taking photos of the nuns, we watched the changing of the guard outside the Palace's eastern entrance before heading past the Opera house and to Gran Via for some shopping and food.

Tapas Night

Tapas Night

After a busy morning we headed back to the hotel for some rest as this evening we would be meeting up with some of my friends. Having been part of the Erasmus programme, during my time in Germany I made lots of friends across the world. Laura, whom I had met up with earlier in the year was from Madrid, and in addition, Teresa from Granada was now living near the capital.

Coincidentally, Marianna from Greece was also in Madrid this very weekend, and so we all met up at Sol on the Saturday evening to catch up and enjoy some drinks and Tapas at a festival taking place this weekend. Meeting more Spanish people we had an enjoyable evening catching up before Fara and I headed back to the hotel for a well earned sleep after an incredibly long day.

Cibeles

Cibeles

Enjoying a very long lie in, the following day we left our luggage at the hotel and headed to Plaza de Colón, the square dedicated to Christopher Colombus, before walking down to Cibeles and then Puerta de Alcalá and the Retiro park, where we would be joined again by Laura and Marianna.

Retiro

Retiro

With Madrid experiencing an exception 25˚C, the park was incredibly busy with city residents and we had an enjoyable time walking around the lakes and gardens before saying goodbye to Laura.

Inside Retiro

Inside Retiro

We then headed back towards Sol, and after saying goodbye to Marianna, Fara and I had dinner before heading back to the hotel to grab our bits and finally the airport for our flight home - or so we thought.

Eventually getting through the incredibly long security queue, we found our flight had been delayed by 45 minutes - ok, nothing to worry about we thought. When this was extended to 75 minutes we had a gate change but everything appeared to be going well - we boarded the plane and were greeted by a less than enthusiastic Agatha, who despite appearing to be able to provide any assistance, when asked for help smiled and stepped backwards. The captain then told us that because of bad weather and landing restrictions back in Luton, we would have an 80 minute delay - in addition to the 75 minutes we'd already experienced, but they would see if they could bring it forward. Not great when it was already getting on for 11pm, but at least Agatha came around with some cups of water - even if we did have to practically wrestle her for them.

Delayed again

Delayed again

Nevertheless we waited, and after an hour we were told they hadn't been able to bring it forwards and therefore because of working hour limits, we couldn't be taken home. Great. Now we had to unbuckle, get on the airport bus, and go back through immigration, where we found a timid Spanish easyJet employee stood in the corner providing little information. With it now getting on for midnight, the plane load of people were of course quite agitated. And with her not giving out any information in English we had to rely on Spaniards translating to let us know our flight was delayed until 10:55 the following morning. Great. There goes me starting work at 8:30....

Eventually she stood on a baggage reclaim belt and announced she would tell us the information in Spanish and then English. After 10 minutes of a question and answer session in Spanish, she eventually started telling us we had a hotel. However by this point the black man next to us had become so irate he shouted at her asking how he was supposed to get his duty free back through security and how his poor wife could go to her job interview the following morning (although why she was fluting back from holiday in Madrid late the night before is another question...). Meanwhile, a Chinese man was filming the whole scene, and when she asked him to stop as it was not allowed, he replied "I know" and then continued to chase around the room; leaving the rest of us not knowing what was going on.

Eventually we were informed that we'd be getting on a coach to take us to the hotel. Hoping that the speedy boarding policy was no longer in operation, we boarded the coach and were taken to a lovely 5* Marriott Hotel for the night and provided with food and breakfast the following morning. Although as it was now 2am, it was just an hour per star of the hotel. Had they simply cancelled the flight at the first delay we could have at least rested that night.

The next morning we were taken back to the airport, and with the same seating and same passengers, given a new crew who would take us home. Arriving just after 12, I was so determined/stubborn (delete as applicable) that I would go to work - as I should have been there this morning that I then drove straight from the airport to Hemel, despite still being in yesterday's clothes (including underwear) and with none of my work bits, including door pass in order to prove my point. What a miserable end to a lovely trip....but Madrid was nice at least.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Spain Tagged park palace city friends erasmus Comments (0)

Lookalike Lisboa

all seasons in one day 20 °C
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Having never been to Portugal, it had been on my list for a while, and after toying between a sunshine holiday in the Algarve, or a cultural experience in Lisbon I went for the latter, joining my mum and sister for our third long weekend holiday of the year to the Portuguese capital.

Unfortunately the weather for the weekend we chose wasn't great, with most of it raining but as this was a sightseeing holiday it didn't completely ruin the trip.

Because of the times of our flights, it meant that essentially we had just two whole days to see everything. And so we began the first day early planning to visit the majority of attractions in Lisbon itself.

Starting from our hotel, with some lovely views of the hills in the city we made our way to the centre, taking a quick look at the start of a race through the city, before making our way around the corner to jump on one of the trams running through the city.

After riding through the hills around the Castle of St. Jorge, we jumped off as we reached the city centre, taking a look around the pedestrianised streets, before walking past the end of the race in Praça Do Comercio.

Cristo Rei

Cristo Rei

After taking a look at the busy square, the views of the River Tagus we walked towards the ferry terminal to cross the river to Almada. Once there taking a tram up the hill we made our way to Cristo Rei, the Portuguese version of Rio's Christ the Redeemer, as we looked over the city of Lisbon next to the 25th of April Bridge, another likeness to San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Ponte de 25 Abril

Ponte de 25 Abril


Belém Tower

Belém Tower

Crossing back to the Lisbon side of the river, we got on a suburban train and made our way to Belém, to view the Belem Tower, the Monument to the Discoveries, and the Jerónimos Monastery before having dinner and heading back to the city centre and hotel via the Eduardo VII Park.

Monument to the Discoveries

Monument to the Discoveries

Having seen the majority of Lisbon's attractions on Sunday, we therefore had the majority of Monday to enjoy at Sintra. After taking a cheap and easy suburban train we arrived at the village and made our way onto a tourist circuit bus where we jumped off a regular stops to view the village's attractions.

Pena Palace

Pena Palace

After quick stops at the Sintra Palace and Moorish Castle, we eventually made our way to the Pena Palace at the very top of the hill.

Pena Palace

Pena Palace

The palace is absolutely outstanding, feeling almost like an attraction at a theme park, so much does it stand out apart from everything else. As the path from the entrance winds up, between the trees you start to see parts of the vibrantly coloured buildings, and as you get closer and the trees stop you can see it in its full awe and glory.

After taking lot of photos from all kinds of different angles, we went inside the building viewing many of the palatial rooms and views outside before walking around the edge of the palace with views of Lisbon and the Atlantic.

After taking a last wander through the grounds, with views of the palace emerging through the trees on top of a hill, we made our way back down to Sintra village, and eventually back to Lisbon.

Rossio

Rossio

Walking through Rossio square, more empty after yesterday's race, we took dinner and made our way back down towards the Praça Do Comercio, before going back to our hotel.

Praça Do Comercio

Praça Do Comercio


Trams

Trams

With its reminiscence of other cities - the trams and bridge of San Francisco, the Christ Monument of Rio, the arches of Paris and theme park palaces, Lisbon has many features present in other famous cities. But by putting them altogether it doesn't matter - Lisbon still has its uniqueness and is a very interesting city to visit for a weekend.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Portugal Tagged hills tower palace bridge city Comments (0)

"I like your T-Shirt!"

RTW - Tokyo

sunny 32 °C
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Having left Dubai at a disgustingly early 2:50am (and being told by the air hostess that she loved my T-Shirt, not realising it was actually dedicated to Copenhagen, despite the red blob looking rather like the Japanese flag), I was flown over Afghanistan and the Himalayas and then China and Korea before touching down in Japan in the early evening.

By the time I worked out and bought all the transport cards for the entirety of my trip and made it to my hotel it was already 9pm...and so finally making it to bed was a relief, and I treated myself to an extra long lie in, getting up at around 2pm, after the maid had already called. However this was to be one of the many appreciations for the Japanese I was to encounter...the maid had left me all the essentials for night (sheets, toiletries, dressing gown) just outside my door without disturbing me! So lovely of her!

I then took the metro to do a bit of sightseeing that and I once again witnessed some of the Japanese behaviour, this time in terms of personal space - when a train is half full, Japanese people will automatically space themselves so that their is a single seat between each other. However when the train is more busy this becomes more difficult, and so if there are 3 people sitting next to each other (where there will be a visible gap between them) and the person on the end gets up to the leave the train, almost instantaneously, the middle passenger will move to the edge...such a funny thing to see!

Asakusa Shrine

Asakusa Shrine

I then arrived at my first sight, the Asakusa Shrine, a short distance away from the Tokyo Skytree - and the two could not be more different! One being a historical place of worship, and the other a modern commercial tower! This was then followed by a visit across town to the Shibuya Crossing, the busiest crossing in the world where people cross in any direction, fun to people watch!

Tokyo Metropolitan Towers

Tokyo Metropolitan Towers

On the second day I realised how warm it was in the city..despite being 10 degrees colder than Dubai, it was still over 30! More refreshing, but still pretty humid. I had first visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Towers, where free views of the city are available, and then gone through the park areas to see more Shines.

Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni Shrine

After this, I finished up at the Tokyo Tower, before eating and then going back to the Asakusa Shine to see it in darkness.

Asakusa

Asakusa


Edo Castle

Edo Castle

On my final full day I saw the very heart of the city, including the Imperial Palace grounds, which I had booked in advance and were free. For my final night I had decided to spend it in a capsule bed, which was also offered by my hotel and was only one step up from a dorm room. However being Japan, there is so much respect for others and I had an easy nights sleep before making my way to the airport for my onward flight.

Capsule Bed

Capsule Bed

The hotel I stayed in I can easily say is the best hotel ever, being so cheap, in a great location as well as friendly and helpful staff and very modern and clean - although this could easily sum up Japan in general! The small bit I have seen has been so wonderful that it makes me want to visit again, and I would recommend it to all of you!

Next stop: Hong Kong!

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Japan Tagged technology tower culture history palace city shrine rtw Comments (0)

Poland

Eastern European Kinda Fun - Warsaw & Krakow

sunny
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The coach to Warsaw (which was going onwards to Minsk) took 12½ hours and crossed the Czech-Polish border through the Krkonoše mountain range (where despite being 20˚C and in the sun, snow and frozen lakes were still easily seen), and then across the Polish countryside and through the cities of Łódź and Wrocław before finally reaching the Polish capital. Whilst at the border, our passports were checked (despite both countries being in Schengen) and a Belarussian without an EU visa was found, searched and deported.

Warsaw Old Town

Warsaw Old Town

At the coach station in Warsaw, I was met by Halina, another friend from The Party House last semester, and I was taken back to her house where I was staying for the next few days. Whilst Prague had felt very Central European and rather modern, Warsaw on the other hand felt like it was very much behind the Iron Curtain.

Stadion Narodowy

Stadion Narodowy

The next day we walked around much of the city, seeing the football stadium which is due to hold the opening match of Euro 2012, the Old Town, the Parliament and the city park, finishing off by eating dinner in the Złote Tarasy shopping centre, which felt rather like being inside the Eden Project.

Palace of Science & Culture

Palace of Science & Culture

On the second day we went to see the Palace of Culture & Science - a Soviet style building that overlooks the entire city. And then took a bus to see Wilanów Palace - second home to many Polish kings, followed by a walk in the evening down the river to see all the lit up bridges.

Wilanow Palace

Wilanow Palace

Having seen everything already, we decided to go to Krakow before taking the coach to Ukraine, and so took the train and spent the next day walking around the Old Town and the castle, which houses Pope John Paul II's former Cathedral.

Krakow Old Town

Krakow Old Town

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Poland Tagged culture history palace city poland&ukraine Comments (0)

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