Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Spain, Part II: Mallorca

Okay, Spain... where did I leave off?  I think in the air to Mallorca...

Mallorca is the largest island in the Balearic Islands archipelago and sits east of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea.

However, it's still pretty small, and we were able to get from one end of the island to the other fairly easily.  For example, we spent two nights in Palma de Mallorca (in the west), one night in Alcudia (in the northeast), and a day in Deia (north of Palma).

Due the the horrible-ness that is flying Ryanair, I arrived after Lauren instead of before her.  We apparently just missed each other at the airport (I wasn't using my phone, so I didn't know she was there), so I hopped a bus and planned to use a really useless little map, which was missing about 70% of the street names, to get to the place we were staying that night.  [Side note: we used Airbnb for our entire trip and it was really wonderful.  Airbnb matches travelers up with hosts who either have an extra bedroom or who are out of town when the traveler is in town.  We met some really lovely people and definitely got more of the local experience.  And it's cheap!  I highly recommend it.]  I arrived at my bus stop and tried to orient myself with the Airbnb map in hand.  I headed in the direction I thought I needed to go, with all of my stuff, at about 11 pm.  Pretty quickly, I was confused.  While I was using my cell phone light to try and see the map on the back of a bus stop stand, a woman approached me and asked me, in Spanish, if I needed help.  Haha... what gave it away?!  I answered yes, and soon we were speaking English (she was French, but dating an English man and living in Spain- so European!) and she told me I was in a somewhat sketchy neighborhood.  She walked with me for about 10 minutes until I was just a block away from where I was staying.  I was just floored by how nice and helpful she was- it was just so unexpected and appreciated!

I got to the door of the apartment and realized I had no idea what unit I was staying in.  I tried knocking and was debating randomly buzzing someone, but it was pretty late at this point, so I ended up texting Lauren.  What a relief to see her and get inside!  We grabbed a beer and some ham (obviously) and caught up before heading to bed.

The next morning, we had our first (of many) cafe con leche with chocolate scones.  Lauren loved the coffee and I loved the scones, although we were both pretty satisfied with everything.

We decided to do a Hop On, Hop Off bus- one of those giant red touristy things.  It was a relatively cheap way to get around and explore, and since neither of us actually knew what we wanted to see in Mallorca, it seemed like a good idea. We walked around town a bit, and then we took the bus out to a castle and explored there.  It was so cool to look down on the city- it was much bigger than we realized, especially for a small island.  The views were really fantastic.

The next day we beached it for a while...

Lauren's feet
 ...and then caught the bus to Alcudia on the other side of the island.

We met up with our host, Elaine, a wonderful British woman, and we joined her and her dog Buddy for tea and beers at a scenic overlook.

Buddy was great at fetch until he got bored and just left the tennis balls floating in the water.

We rejoiced when we realized our room that night was air conditioned- it was in the 90-100s most of our trip and it was very humid.  We became one with the sweat.

The main reason we headed over to Alcudia was because I, being the hungry hydrologist, was hungry to see the wetlands of Mallorca.  On the east side of the island, a little south of Alcudia, is the Parc Natural de s'Albufera which contains over 4,200 acres of marsh and dunes!  I was very excited.

So that morning, after breakfast...

...we caught a bus down to s'Albufera, and we hopped off into the heat.  We hiked for a bit, and saw some cool birds and weird plants, but honestly, I was a little disappointed.  None of the channels looked natural to me- they were all wide and straight like canals.  I think only part of the park is accessible to visitors, so I hope the rest of the marsh looks more natural and healthy.

We caught a bus back to Palma, and stayed the night with another host in a different part of town.  Alessandro had an adorable puppy who kept trying to snuggle with us on the bed, although he was not allowed up there. We also had a sweet balcony!

The next day we took (yet another) bus to Deia.  It was in my book of 1000 Places to See Before You Die and described as a beautiful area with tons of olive trees.  Deia was, in fact, beautiful.  On the ride in, we saw all of these houses set into a majestic mountainside.  I loved it.

We hiked a ways down to a rocky beach that was, again, beautiful.

It was super hot, so we didn't last long on the beach, but we did admire the views from one of the nearby restaurants as we sipped wine.  I order the melon con jamon, a traditional dish that made me very happy.

We caught the bus back to Palma, where we stayed a second night with Alessandro and the puppy.

Waiting for the bus
The next day we packed our bags once again, and flew to Barcelona.  I will leave off here so you can recover from all of the photos I just dropped on you. :)


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Pizza Review: Berkeley Pizza

This post is quite delayed, but we had a lovely pizza night a few weeks months ago at Sharon's house.  Berkeley Pizza was the choice of the night, and since they don't offer a lot of seating, we decided to eat in.

Sharon and Ben's place is spectacular.  It's a really cool space and they've done a fantastic job decorating it.  I wanted to move in the minute I saw it, but seeing as it's a studio, that might have been awkward. :)

So if you're spent much time in the Berkeley area, you probably know Zachary's pizza.  Berkeley pizza is pretty much the same.  Don't get me wrong- that is a wonderful, wonderful thing.  Both places make exceptional deep dish pizza, filled with delicious toppings (insidings?), on a solid crust.  I think it was Sharon who told me that the owner used to work at Zachary's, before he started his pizza place down here...hmm...

We got plain cheese, spinach, and sausage pizzas.  All were big hits, all though the cheese was not as exciting as the others.  It's so hard to compare deep dish pizza with the other places we've been too because it's almost like a different item altogether.  It's like comparing a good burrito with a good pasta dish- totally different categories!

But needless to say, Berkeley Pizza is well worth it!

Pizza this way...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Spain, Part I: Madrid

I just got back from a last minute vacation to Spain!  I spent 12 days exploring Madrid, Mallorca, and Barcelona with my good friend Lauren. It was so nice to get away for a while and to explore such a beautiful place.

I spent the first two days in Madrid on my own.  I had never traveled abroad by myself before, so I thought it would be fun to try it out.  There is something so rewarding and pleasing in being able to get around a foreign city by yourself when you don't really speak the language.  After traveling for 18 hours, taking the metro and then the bus, and walking to where I was staying in Madrid at 10 am, I felt like a million bucks for finding the place on my own.

I quickly dropped off my stuff and headed out to see as much of the city as I could in a day.  First, I went straight to the Museo del Prado and enjoyed all of the Goya's and other wonderful art.

When I left, I was starving, so I headed over to Mallorca, a take-out tapas place.  Such a cool restaurant!

They had quite the array of macaroons!  I had an orange one and a purple one. :)

I also loved how they boxed up all my stuff.  I felt so European!

I ate my stash of food in Parque del Buen Retiro, where I took off my shoes and rested my feet for a bit.

The park was nice, but it was pretty hot out, so anytime I left the shade it was uncomfortable.  After some exploring, I found this beautiful glass exhibit hall.

It was stunning.  The trees in the lake were really cool too.  They were some kind of cyprus tree and live underwater like that.  Bizarre.

After some further exploration, I found the rose garden, which was quite lame.  I think the roses were about as fried as I was feeling at that point.

I grabbed myself a Fanta (love those so much) and headed over to Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, which is home to Picasso's Guernica.  I'm going to write another post about all of the art and architecture I saw, because it seemed to be a continuous theme throughout my trip.  So more on the actual art later!

After a few hours at el Centro, I was ready for dinner.  To continue cramming as much as I could into my day, I ate dinner at a Flamenco venue.

I had a lot of fun practicing my Spanish with my waiter- he was very nice and patient with me.  I ordered these delicious spinach and pine nut stuffed ball things.  Quite good.

The show was fun too.  The dancers are kind of scary though- they never smile and look so serious!

But man, they have great butts!

I know, inappropriate...

Anyway... I had made it my goal to make it to midnight.  I was pretty wiped, but the rest of Madrid was hopping.

This was at 11pm... I think I was the only one ready for bed.

I headed over to a roof-top bar for a drink.  I got a fabulous mojito that accidentally cost me a fortune.  Oh well.  At least they brought out some rockin' bar snacks.

And yep, that's ham with some bread sticks.  Funny.  Ham is totally a condiment in Spain.

After my 12 euro mojito (yeah, that's like $18...oops), I had one last stop to make...chocolate con churros!  I headed over to Chocolateria de San Gines, which reminded me a lot of San Francisco, strangely.  The alleyway just reminded me of one of my favorite SF bars, Irish Bank.  The only difference was Madrid was still a million degrees outside.

I know this might sound crazy, but the chocolate was almost too rich for me.  And I had eaten so much by that point (and slept so little), I was not feeling so hot.  But it had to be done. :)

I made it back to where I was staying a little after midnight and crashed hard.

In the morning, I couldn't figure out how to turn the hot water on in the shower, so I only took a quick dip after about 48 hours of no shower. Sick.

I had one of the best breakfasts of my life at Cafe de Oriente near Palacio Real. It was so simple- a ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg, and a cup of Rooibos tea.  But they cut the top of the sandwich so that the egg could peak out. So awesome.  And it came with french fries.  Best. Breakfast. Ever.

I did a quick walk around the palace...

 ...and then took a look at Plaza Major.

I could have spent a lot more time in Madrid, but I had to high tail it back to the airport for my flight to Mallorca (which I can't talk about- such a disaster.  NEVER fly Ryanair. Trust me.)

I think I've photo-bombed enough for one post, so Mallorca and Barcelona will be coming soon!