From Travel

Thank you for the churros


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By the end of our trip, we made a full circle back to Madrid. Madrid was the city we landed in from Canada, and after 5 planes and a train travelling through Spain and Portugal, we made it back to the Barajas airport in Madrid. Which we are quite familiar with now cause we spent so much layover time in it the day we arrived. The day we arrived in Madrid, we had some difficulties getting into our Airbnb, which resulted in Lena asking to use the wifi from the Chinese store owners nearby. (Thank goodness she can speak Chinese and that we were on a very Chinese populated street) Afterwards, we had to wait an hour for our keys that we received from a guy that couldn’t speak a lick of english, but my 6 years of required spanish classes helped me to understand some of the words, which I then managed to piece together into comprehensible phrases. By the time we were settled into our Airbnb and rested, it was already early evening. But as long as the sun was out, we told ourselves we had to explore cause we barely had a day and half left before heading back to Canada.
I really wasn’t expecting much from the city based on some friends’ experience, but rather enjoyed it. It was the perfect city for us to end our trip because all we wanted to do was relax and shop. And boy is there a lot of spending that can be done in the hustle and bustle of Madrid’s shopping district. I feel like Madrid is the only city in which I can visit 3 of the same flagship stores within walking distance. (Zara, Mango, Zara, Mango, Zara…) At the end of the day though, Madrid’s beautiful parks were perfect for evening strolls away from all the shopping chaos. So we sat along the water, watched the sunset, reminisced about our trip, and felt revived before heading back to work and responsibilities in Canada. It’s ok though, cause we had an amazing two weeks on this second euro trip of ours.

Madrid | tips and recommendations
  • Cause we spent such a short amount of time in Madrid, I don’t have a lot of tips or recommendations. My main tip (which is honestly the same for every single city) would be just to walk around. As much as you can. A lot of the lesser known streets have small interesting boutiques, cute independent cafes, or nice restaurants. So sometimes, walking in random directions will bring unique surprises. Like the small orchestral concert we saw on our way to the Palacio Real. And then to end your day, take a walk in Buen Retiro Park. This park is huge and beautifully maintained, with a lake, statues, and very well trimmed hedges (there is something oddly satisfying about a perfectly rectangular plant). Despite there being a lot of joggers, fellow tourists and the random couple having an ugly breakup amongst the lovey dovey ones, taking a stroll in that park was the perfect way to unwind.
  • Other than shopping and relaxing, we only had one must-do in Madrid. And it obviously involved food. So our first night in the city, we made sure to go to Chocolateria San Gines to have a taste of their churros. Light, crisp, buttery and golden, they were quite different from the churros I’m used to in Montreal. And it was delicious decadence. You can order a plate of 6 churros with your choice of cafe or lait or chocolate to dip. We, of course, had to try both. And as delicious as it was, believe me when I say, a dozen churros is too much for 2 people. So just chose the chocolate.

Natas the dog


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This is Natas, or so we called him, the stubby-legged mutt we befriended on our visit to the Lagoa Sete Cidades in Azores. I’m a dog lover through and through so the second I saw him walking along the empty road we were on, I immediately crouched down and tried to get his attention. To my delight, he was one of the nicest and most affectionate dogs I have ever met while travelling, leaning his head into my hands to get more scratches and pawing at me whenever I stopped. He didn’t have a collar and no one was around so I would usually assume he was a stray, but Sete Ciddades is a very small quiet village and he looked very healthy. So I figured he must have an owner and was just a very free roaming dog. So after giving him a nice long petting session, we had to go and climb a mountain.
So we started walking… and he started following us. For the first few minutes, we thought he had plans of his own and that we were just coincidently going in the same direction. But whenever we stopped and at every turn we took, there he was, strolling along and looking back at us to see where we were going.
At first I was adamant to make him stop following us. Even though I love every single four legged furry friend I see, I knew that if he really was a stray and followed us all day, the minute we would have to get on the bus to go, my heart would be breaking because we’d have to leave him. And then Lena would be stuck on the bus with me bawling my eyes out because I’d be feeling horrible that we “abandoned” him. So there I was, trying to convince a dog to stop following us. Or at least, trying to give him the least bit of attention. Nevertheless, he was always there. So we gave up and just enjoyed his company. That is, until we reached the beginning of our hike up the road to the top of the mountain. Natas ended up meeting some other tourists by the riverbank and stopped following us. So we said a quiet goodbye and started hiking up.

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However, that wouldn’t be the last we see of him. Because after two hours from seeing him last, on our walk back down the mountain, there he was, walking up the road as if to meet us again. By then, I could barely believe it. The hike up was already pretty difficult for us, so seeing that this mutt with his tiny legs managed to walk halfway up the mountain was pretty surprising. At that moment, I couldn’t leave him alone. There were no sidewalks on the road, and cars still drove by rather frequently. So we figured we had to at least get him back to the base of the mountain and off the road for his safety. So we continued to walk down and he followed suit. He made things kinda difficult though when he would go chasing and barking after the cars we were trying to make him avoid.

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Once we got him off the road and back to “safety” (which honestly I don’t think we really kept him safe since this fearless puppy kept running after every car we saw and giving me a heart attack), we explored along the lake and enjoyed the afternoon alongside our friend of the day, Natas the dog.
Natas didn’t always stay right by our side. Sometimes he would run off towards the lagoa to get a better view of the water, run through the tall damp grass, hop onto the stone walls, or stop to say hello to other tourists. Lena and I would just keep walking because we knew that we would eventually have to part ways. Sometimes we would walk far enough to lose sight of him but once we would stop and look back we’d see him running after us. (Cue my heart melting)

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The day was ending and our bus was going to arrive soon. I started to worry again that he would follow us all the way to the bus stop and that we’d have to leave him behind. Thankfully though, our day with Natas ended in the best way. He walked through the openings of a fence into a big open field of grass… and frolicked with some cows. I swear I can’t make this up. We watched him sniff around his bovine friends and walk further away from us. So like we did before, we kept walking on our way. And this time he didn’t follow. Which was for the best because, despite us not knowing if he had an owner or not, we felt quite sure that he is a happy dog in Azores.
So if you ever visit Sete Cidades and you walk by this dog, give him a good scratch under the chin for me and you’ll quickly make a best friend.

Close to paradise


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Azores. The highlight of this whole trip. To be honest, I didn’t even know Azores existed before planning this trip. The only Portuguese city I knew I had to visit was Lisbon, cause obviously it was the capital. That was all my knowledge of Portuguese geography at the time. However, after officially deciding that we would we be travelling to the land of pastel de natas, a quick google search lead me to an incredible image of the Lagoa de Santiago. Basically, that’s all I needed to see to convince me that I needed to do whatever it takes to go there.
I’ve got to admit though, when you only have two weeks to travel and you’re trying to see as much as possible in two different countries, you end up having to keep your visits rather short, which was the case for our stay in Azores. Despite it being 2 hours off the coast of Portgual by plane, we simply could not pass up our opportunity to visit those picturesque lagoons. So we planned out two days in our trip for Azores, and frankly, we barely scratched the surface. Especially cause the Azores is actually a cluster of nine islands, yet we only visited one.
We spent our two days on the main island of São Miguel and resided in it’s largest city of Ponta Delgada. Knowing we had such a short amount of time to visit and that we would only be visiting one island, we still managed to accomplish everything we had set out to do, which involved the iron hot springs of Furnas and the dual coloured lagoa of Sete Cidades.
Despite having barely spent 48 hours in Azores, I was completely overwhelmed by it’s beauty and peacefulness. Which is why I will most definitely return to these islands in the future. I mean, breathtaking landscapes are really my thing and Azores is just that and more.

Azores, São Miguel | tips and recommendations
  • Since I didn’t do much, I don’t have that many recommendations. However, here are my tips for visiting São Miguel island. First things first, once you arrive in Ponta Delgada and are settled in your accommodation, go down to the pier and visit the tourism office. Our first morning in Azores, I barely had 5 hours of sleep, but spent my first 2 hours awake lying in bed with tourist guides and unreliable wifi reception trying to find information on how to get to the thermal baths or Sete Cidades. Everything we wanted to do was on the island of São Miguel, however, was not in the city of Ponta Delgada. So we had to figure out the easiest means of transportation to get there. But I could barely find any on my own. But with one quick visit to the tourism office, we spoke with a very welcoming guide who offered us pamphlets with bus timetables and clear instructions on where to go, which bus to take, and at what time we should take it. The tourism office doesn’t have a website but I’ve linked their location. The main form of public transportation in São Miguel is a system of buses that travels in between all of the villages on the island. You buy the ticket on the bus and it’s price depends on your destination. And there are quite a few buses, so it’s important to make sure you’re taking the right one. Which is why I suggest visiting the tourism office to get accurate information on the times and locations of the bus stops, because it’s complicated to figure out on your own even by researching online.
  • Once we had the right bus information, we headed for Furnas, a small village about an hour and a half away by bus from Ponta Delgada. Our only reason for visiting Furnas was for it’s iron thermal baths. Since we were nearing the end of our 2 week trip, we decided to go and relax in some hot springs to compensate for all the hectic travelling we had been doing. We chose to visit the Poca Da Dona Beija thermal baths. At only 3 euros for an all day entry, how could I not take this opportunity to pamper myself in hot springs. But what makes them so special though, is that they are coloured orange because of the iron sediments in the water. When you bathe in the hot springs you can practically see the tiny bits of iron floating around. And yup, all of that orange along the walls of the baths is iron too. Apparently it’s good for the skin. Is it true? No idea. But whether it is or not, I’m still gonna spend an hour soaking in that water. Last tip though, don’t wear white.
  • My last and most important recommendation is the Lagoa das Sete Cidades. This, for me, was the whole reason for this trip and what I was looking forward to the most. But unfortunately, mother nature wasn’t being very cooperative and kept us covered in thick clouds that hid the top of the mountains, and constant drizzles that forced us to wear our not so stylish rain ponchos. Despite the weather, it was amazing. What luck we did not have when it came to the weather, we had in terms of peacefulness. At times, we would be walking along the water and, other than the sound of birds, it felt like we were the only people there. Our bus to Sete Cidades barely had 10 people on it and, once we arrived, everyone seemed to head off in different directions. Granted, the bus kinda drops you off in the middle of nowhere. Don’t panic though, just follow other people or walk towards the water and you’ll find your way. We had no idea where we were headed, we just knew we wanted to hike up to get a good view of the lagoon’s green and blue waters. So we walked around for quite some time, had a staring contest with some cows (which there are many in Azores), was given a map and vague portuguese directions by some very kind cafe workers, befriended a dog (whom I will introduce in my next post) and finally found our route to the top of the mountains. Or actually, we found a road for cars, but as long as it goes up it was all the same for us. After hiking for about 2 hours along the road we found the view we were waiting for and it was worth everything. The sky even cleared up and gave us a few moments of sunshine to fully appreciate the landscape. In that quiet moment, surrounded by such vibrant green scenery, the sun peaking through the clouds, I couldn’t help but feel like this, to me, is the closest I have ever been to paradise.