Honeymoon Special – Part 5: Granada

By the time we got to Granada from Córdoba we were fairly bored of seeing the sights. We had our tickets for the Alhambra for the following afternoon but for our first day we went shoe shopping.

From before we left Tomoko had been looking for shoes to wear on the trip. I kept telling her to get something comfortable like a sport sandal or some Birkenstocks. She kept looking for cute sandals that would give her foot no support and prematurely cripple her. By the time we had gotten to Granada her sandals and feet were in pretty bad shape so it was necessary to get something. Eventually she settled on a pair of Birkenstocks, but not without a fight.

In the evening, after dinner. We had the best ice cream I have ever had. One scoop of Ferero Roche and one of coconut. It was amazing.

There were lots of Arabs in Granada, so it was pretty neat. The city had a feel that it was still inhabited by the Moops.

The following day we just wandered around the city, ending up near a monument to Lorca, but didn’t actually get to it. After lunch we started our trek to the Alhambra.

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The thing to realize is that the Alhambra is a fort. So naturally it would want to occupy the high ground. This meant we had to walk up to the higher ground, which was just a bit long.

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To keep it from getting too crowded, only a certain number of tickets for the Alhambra are issued in a day. Furthermore, your ticket specifies a half-hour window to visit the Nasrid Palaces. You must enter the Palaces in that time, but are free to stay for as long as you want.

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When we got to the Alhambra there was only about half an hour before our allotted time so we were suggested to go straight to the palaces. But we had time to look around the on the way.

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Then we had to wait in line to get into the palaces. Because they let everyone in at the same time, the first few rooms were really crowded as we hadn’t all been separated by our differing paces yet.

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Generally we take more time than other people because I always take a lot of pictures. I took way too many here.

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But eventually they kicked us out because they were closing for the afternoon.

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When we got back from the Alhambra I realized that I couldn’t find our guidebook. If it were just a Spain guidebook it would be OK, but it was a Europe guidebook, which meant that it had our itinerary for the rest of Spain, France and England.

That evening we were heading out to Madrid so I had one last chance to have the ice cream. Sadly we couldn’t find the place so we had to leave without having it.

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Honeymoon Special – Part 4: Córdoba

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Leaving Seville by bus, we made our way through Andalucía to Córdoba. The bus ride was really nice as we got to see lots of sunflower fields. Sadly, most of the sunflowers looked like they were dead or something. I’d say they’d been harvested, but I have no idea how they would harvest the seeds (I’m thinking it would be easier to cut the flowers down and then have the seeds removed mechanically in some machine, but the flowers were still there so I don’t really know what was going on). The bus ride wasn’t all that long, 2-3 hours maybe so we were in Córdoba by early afternoon.

The first thing we had to do was find a place to stay. We settled on the local youth hostel because a) they had availability and b) they were cheap. The main sight in the city is the Mezquita, a mosque containing a seemingly infinite number of arches in which a cathedral was inserted into the middle (which most people seem to think was a crime against aesthetics). We decided not to go there on the first day because we didn’t want to rush things. So instead we took a bus out to Medina Azahara, a Moopish palace that had become ancient ruins.

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One nice thing was that the place was pretty empty. Maybe 15 tourists in the entire palace.

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That evening we ate some Paella and watched the World Cup 3rd place game between Germany and Portugal. The restaurant where we ate the Paella had a sign saying they were showing the game, but there were “technical difficulties” and the game didn’t show. The paella wasn’t all that great either. While we were eating it, we got into a conversation with a Canadian girl who was traveling by herself. She told us about how she was robbed in Barcelona, and that we should be careful when we go there. After finishing the paella we went in search of any place that had the game on TV and eventually found ourselves watching the second half in a tiny bar that had its own Germans.

There was also a big guitar festival going on in the city, lots of famous guitarists, but we didn’t feel like going to it.

The next day our plan was to tackle the Mezquita. But before going there we decided to check out the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (In Andalucía it seemed like every city we went to had a Mezquita and and Alcázar). It was nothing special, although the gardens were pretty nice. But it was really, really hot: 45° so we didn’t spend that much time in the gardens. For lunch that day we decided on Burger King because they had Superman toys in their kid’s menus and I wanted a Superman toy. I ended up getting a blue wrist-band.

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One thing about Córdoba was the amount of beggars. There were tons of them. Women carrying their babies around, asking for change.

After lunch we made our way to the Mezquita, and spent a few hours inside. It was nice and cool in the building, very peaceful as well.

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I actually didn’t mind the cathedral in the middle. It had a really impressive pipe organ inside. Besides, it was kind of like getting two attractions for the price of one.

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Leaving the cathedral part, we just sat for a while under the arches. It was a good rest in a very peaceful place.

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That night we saw the World Cup final match between France and Italy at our hostel. There were a whole bunch of French kids (maybe last year of high school/first year of university) on a field trip and they managed to get access to a TV with the game. It was fun to watch, although being amongst that many French people made me want France to lose (Were I anywhere else I’d be rooting against the Italians). It was fun seeing their expressions when France lost on penalty kicks.

The next day we bought our tickets for the Alhambra (you are strongly recommended to buy your tickets at least a day in advance), had some ice cream (the ice cream in Spain was great), and made our way to Granada.

Honeymoon Special – Part 3: Seville

From London to Seville we again flew RyanAir. If all you want to do is get from A to B then airlines like RyanAir are great. I wish we had airlines like that in Canada, although the distances involved would probably mean that the flights wouldn’t be as cheap as they are in Europe. What was really great though was leaving a city where the weather was cool and gray and arriving in when where even at night it was approaching 30°. It was also nice to look down on the fields of sunflowers from above.

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Sadly this time there was no good luck at passport control as pretty much everyone had to go in the non-EU passport line. But besides the line there were no issues. Traveling with Tomoko makes airports much easier. Taking a bus into town, we then walked around for a while until we found a hotel to stay at. Then we walked around some more before going for dinner and eating that staple of Spanish cuisine – the pizza.

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There was one coffee shop that had some amazing looking ice cream, but we didn’t get any because we were pretty full.

The next day we started off at Seville’s Catedral, one of the biggest cathedrals in the world (top 3 for sure).

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Inside was the grave of Christopher Columbus. I’m pretty sure that he’s in the box being held up by these statues. It was pretty cool to see (and I didn’t have to worry about stepping on any graves, a worry I have whenever I visit a cemetery).

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The cathedral is partially made up of the mosque that was previously there. One part that remains is the minaret, which was converted into a bell tower (they now call it the Giralda). We climbed to the top of the Giralda and could see pretty much the entire city. We could also look down at the courtyard of the cathedral which was another holdover from the mosque.

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I guess due to the high ambient temperature and an apparent lack of chlorination, the water in the fountains was very, very green. But this didn’t stop tourists from washing themselves in it (a common sight throughout the trip which we both found pretty disgusting).

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After this we went to the Alcázar, a palace built by the Moops.

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It seemed like this area was set up for a viewing of some important person like the Pope or Evita. So I waited among the seats hoping someone would come. And to my luck someone did.

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It was Tomoko.

In the evening we went to see a flamenco dance. It was good. Tomoko absolutely loved it, she was totally raving about it afterwards. I think that may have been the highlight of the trip for her.

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Like most hot places, Seville is really nice in the evening. So we walked around a bit more, returning to the Catedral area.

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Next up: Córdoba

Honeymoon Special – Part 2: London

Previously: Glasgow

Because I have been to London a few times there wasn’t much in the city that I wanted to see. Instead the main thing I wanted to do was go to Stonehenge. Sadly, because of the unpredictability of British weather we ended up going to the Tate Modern instead.

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One nice thing about the museums and galleries in London is that almost all of them are free. I guess they make up for it at the gift shop.

We got hungry and noticed people eating from bento boxes. Following the trail we came to a sushi bar and decided to give it a shot. Like most food in London it was way expensive and crap. After that we went to a cathedral, maybe St. Paul’s.

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After a bit we walked by the Old Bailey (a courthouse, it was blown up in V for Vendetta)

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On our way back home I saw this sign on the underground.

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I wish the head of the TTC would write an apology for unnecessary delays. Maybe he’d just leave the sign up all the time.

Next up: Seville

Honeymoon Special – Part 1: Glasgow

Having found a cheap one-way to Glasgow we took it and figured that things would work out in the end (things always work out in the end). The flight was OK (or at least not memorable, which amounts to the same thing) and before we knew it we were in Scotland. And it was 5am.

Getting through immigration was pretty easy (I was a bit worried because we were coming in on one-way tickets and countries generally don’t like that sort of stuff). They had two lines, one for British and European passport holders and one for the rest of the world. This mean that there were like 10 people in our line while all the Scots had to wait for ages. I liked that part a lot. Asked us some basic questions, stamped our passports and then let us go. The stamp was pretty disappointing, no fancy design or anything. But never mind that, we were in Scotland!

The plan for the day then was to see as much of the city as possible and then fly out to London in the afternoon. But it being quite early we decided to wait in the airport for a while as nothing would be open for a while yet.

The first thing we noticed on leaving the airport is that it was much colder and wetter than we had anticipated. Especially coming from 30 degree Toronto. Thankfully we prepared for poor weather and so were reasonably prepared (although still a bit cold). We took a bus into town and decided to stow our stuff in a locker at the bus station as we’d have to bus out to the airport later on anyway. The only British currency we had was a 50 pound note (about a hundred bucks) and the lockers needed change. No problem, there were plenty of places to break a note at the station.

First I went to the newsagent. I asked her if she could break a 50. She said it was too early in the day and she didn’t have that much change yet. Then to the bus ticket counter. Same story. Apparently shops in Glasgow don’t have any money in the morning (which may or may not be a surprise but I’m pretty sure I’d be able to break a 100 at a Greyhound counter, and in Japan where cash is king and convenience store would do the same and thank you for it). I went to the taxi stand and asked a driver. He said he’d be happy to break the 50, but only if he drove us in his cab.

Returning to the wall of lockers increasingly annoyed with Scotland and all things Scottish I saw a man in a suit. A white-collar worker about 2 hours early for work. I asked him, and he could! All was right in the world again. Now possessing two 20s and a 10 I asked the newsagent for some change, and like shop clerks the world over she said she could only do it if I bought something. When the revolution comes, we will go to shops asking to break bills, and anyone who asks us to make a purchase will be summarily executed. Consider yourself warned.

So mint Aero in tow, we put our bags in the locker and made our way into the Glaswegian mist.

The first thing we did was walk around the city, this was both to orient ourselves and to kill time as it was still way early.

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A clock running late outside the bus station.

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The traffic lights were all really short.

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The official foot.

After a bit of walking we got tired and bored and hungry so stopped off at a coffee shop somewhere near the city centre. We sat there for a while, enjoying the warmth and looking at all the people walking by. We noticed two things:

  1. All males under 30 had the “Beckham” haircut, this crappy kind-of mohawk where a presumably normal head of hair is gelled to the point where a meringue-like peak made of highlighted hair forms. A few people over here have it, but in the UK it’s pretty much every white guy you see (unless they’re a skinhead).
  2. None of the women were good looking. Although there were a few who I’m sure were stunning by Scottish standards, they wouldn’t rate a second look (in a positive way anyway) in any of the cities I’ve ever visited (except maybe Cincinnatti). Maybe all the Robson Hall first years are from Scotland.

Shocked and Awed by the lack of eye-candy we made our way to Glasgow Cathedral, a wonderful example of Gothic architecture. It had nice stained glass windows and a really big cemetery on a hill.

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After that we went shopping (for the trip I’d say that half of any given day was spent shopping) and had perhaps the worst food court food I’ve ever had. I don’t even remember what I had but it was sooooo sooooo bad. Maybe a pizza slice and french fries. That sounds about right.

Then we went to look at architecture, specifically that of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I took many photos but apparently somehow the data on the card was corrupted so those ones are lost. Strangely, and thankfully, it only happened the one time, so I now think it was my fault somehow.

At about this time the weather started picking up as well and it was getting really nice outside. Also, Glasgow has these pedestrian only streets (like Queen West without any cars). I like car-free urban areas. We need more of them in North America.

But it was at this time that we had to make our way to Prestwick airport to get the hell out of Scotland. So with the weather picking up, we picked up and left Scotland and its funny money behind (Scotland has its own currency, the Scottish pound, which is exactly the same as a British pound but is printed by the Bank of Scotland and has a different picture. British pounds are legal tender in Scotland and vice versa).

Next up: London

Oatmeal Cookies

Makes about 30 cookies.

  • 3/4 cup butter, soft
  • 1 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 cups oats
  1. In a large bowl cream butter and sugar.
  2. In small bowl beat egg, water and vanila.
  3. Add egg mixture to sugar mixture.
  4. In other bowl combine flour, baking soda and cinnamon.
  5. Add into sugar mixture.
  6. Mix in oats.
  7. Place on greased cookie sheet and bake at 350F for 12-15 minutes.

Notes:

  • You can add 1 cup chocolate chips or raisins to add a little extra to the cookies. Add them before adding the flour mixture.
  • If you make the cookies flat they will be crispy, if you leave them thick they will be chewy.

Hot & Sour Soup

Whenever Pakistani people go to a Chinese restaurant they order chicken corn soup, and for good reason – the stuff is good. But sometimes you want to try something different, and in 1988 in Agra (city of the Taj Mahal) I decided to give Hot and Sour soup a try (seeing how I would add lemon juice and hot sauce to chicken corn soup anyway, something called “hot and sour” would have tempted me sooner or later). It was alright, but nothing special. I go back to the chicken corn.

Fast forward almost a decade. It’s my first year at university and my parents have helped me move my stuff into residence. As a treat they decide to take me out to dinner and we end up at a Chinese restaurant in town. Perhaps in anticipation of a new phase of my life I decide to try something besides the chicken corn, and the only soup not screaming pork was the hot and sour so I ordered it. This time it was so very, very good. Whenever the opportunity presented itself I would order hot and sour. However, with no Chinese restaurant near campus opportunities were few and far between.

Fast forward a few years. I’m off rez now and have to cook my own food. At some point an idea comes to me: I can make the soup myself. The internet is searched for recipes, many are tried. None are good enough. But combining the knowledge from the various recipes the best one is modified until I’m happy with it (not unlike the various smaller robots combining to make Voltron). But this recipe comes with a price – no longer am I satisfied with the hot and sour at restaurants, only mine will do.

When I went to Japan I had the recipe burned onto a CD along with other important files (resumes, computer account information, and so on) so that it wouldn’t be lost. It’s pretty much memorized, but something could happen causing me to forget (think blunt head trauma) and having it in front of me makes it less likely I’ll forget a key ingredient when grocery shopping.

I figure I’ll share it with the rest of the world.

Continue reading Hot & Sour Soup

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