Europe, Spain, Travel

Laziness in Gibraltar

Gibraltar really is an odd place. It’s a collision of two lifestyles, two European countries, that are so inherently different, it just doesn’t seem to blend that well. I felt like I was constantly on an all-inclusive holiday for Brits abroad, but over a whole country. It was bizarre seeing numerous pubs serving up British grub and signs in English stating that Lord what’s his name lives here and there, it felt wrong. It felt like I was cheating, where was all the rain? Where was all the doom and gloom of British weather that England is most commonly known for?

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the country, I was just perplexed. Perplexed about the British culture that encapsulates this tiny area of the world which rubs shoulders with Spain, both in language and weather, even flirtatiously eyes up Morocco’s mountainous ranges, but is also still so, British. Being a fan of sunshine, Spain and people that smile, needless to say I did enjoy my time here- despite my confusion and feelings of misplacement.

The first thing you’ll spot when you land off your flight and when the warm wind blows on your face is the massive rock that stands encompassing such sheer size and volume, it is as if it looms in the distance, reminding those that surround it of the impassive power of nature. Admittedly before I arrived in Gibraltar, I shared my wishes of climbing the rock with my parents “depending on my knee” (an injury I sustained training for the Midnight Sun Marathon), however, when I finally did arrive and my eyes glanced up to the rock, I realised it wasn’t a measly hill with a rock on top, but a colossal mountain, a wall of solid rock- something not to be sniffed at. Vowing to climb it another day once my knee is fully recovered, I left the monkeys behind.

Mainly coming here for a holiday to catch up with my parents and eating and drinking ourselves merry, (as well as taking some time out to soothe the soul) meant that unfortunately I didn’t see as many tourist attractions as you might have expected. I didn’t swim with the dolphins as many tour companies advertises; or go down into the depths of St. Michael’s cave or through the Great Siege Tunnels, or ponder over history at Moorish Castle, or sip coffee and watch the world go by at Casemates Square.

Instead of spending days browsing in the Art Galleries or the Museums in Gibraltar, or exploring the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, I did in fact spend most mornings doing lengths in the swimming pool and afternoons lounging around in the sun soaking some much needed vitamin D.  I did however, pop over to Europa Point, which stands at the most southern point of Gibraltar and is seeped with memories of battles and dramatic events.

Although my trip lacked in cultural and touristic attractions and excursions, I can recommend places to eat and drink within the Ocean Village area, which is adjacent to the Gibraltar border and nestles right next to the airport. Grill 53 is a good restaurant if you are looking for a hearty meal that nails traditional dishes of steak and burgers, whilst El Pulpero has wonderful fresh seafood. A popular destination to be seen at is La Sala on the Sunborn Yacht, but just come here for an overpriced drink if you like- the food is inedible. The Bridge is heaving on its live music nights and is a place to go if you want to soak up the Gibraltar sunset amongst the bright lights of the Ocean village below.

Gibraltar is a place I could live in because to me there are aspects of a routine which you could easily adapt from countries like neighbouring Spain; swimming in the morning, a siesta after work in the evening, but I wouldn’t choose to visit Gibraltar out of sheer interest; there are many more places in the world for that.

Europe, Spain, Travel

Memories (or lack of) in Mallorca and Menorca

Coming here on a family holiday when I was very young means that my memory of both Menorca and Mallorca only still holds fragments of each. The disappointment at the rain when we were there, the bingo being played at our hotel which had lovely mosaic tables, and the fruit basket we won. Not much else remains. Despite me coming here, I only count my visit half heartedly, thus the information below is what I have been recommended.

With one in three searches on Travel Supermarket this summer (2015) being for a cheap packaged Spanish holiday and Mallorca grabbing the top spot, one can comprehend that most of those travelling to the pure shores of Mallorca are not going for the culture or history- but Magaluf. With half the people going to Magaluf to be British and the unkempt wild streets filled with debauchery and mayhem now filled with English coppers, it shows that the Spanish authorities and locals have finally made a crackdown. With more sleaze than Ibiza and similar behaviour to Malia and Aiya Napa, no wonder the Spanish people are sick of the tag that Magaluf has. Reports of rape, public sex and violence are a common issue and one that the English police are hoping to deal with. Package resorts are now upping their prices to try and “price out” people, aiming for a more sophisticated clientèle.

Magaluf is my sort of nightmare. (I found it shocking enough that Ibiza and Puerto Banus both have strips- the supposedly sophisticated areas of Spain), so I know I will never head to this drunken destination. Instead, look to what the rest of Mallorca has to offer, and I am hoping that a large percentage of tourists flocking to Mallorca, are heading away from Magaluf, to Palma, the largest city of Mallorca.

There are many reasons why there is such a large influx of tourists that visit here; the amazing beaches hidden in wind swept coves- a mecca for beach enthusiasts, the healthy portions of delicious Mediterranean foods that are created around almonds and spicy sausages (not together of course), the honey coloured homes that are forever adapting in style and being regenerated, the architecture of the capital city of Palma, quiet churches and monasteries, or the hiking and cycling which can be done over Tramuntana’s limestone mountains. The scope and choice of activity to do here is wonderful and if you want to amble through cobbled streets soaking in the breezy atmosphere of quaint towns like Fornalutx, or pass orange vineyards on a bicycle, or relax on chalk white beaches such as Es Carbo and Cala Figuera, then head to Mallorca- but away from the pounding beats of dance music and drunken jowls of Magaluf.

But to really escape to the bliss of an island that will ease you completely of any worries, stress or irritating music in the distance, catch a 2 hour ferry to Menorca where a different pace of life is evident. With rows and rows of unspoilt and empty beaches to yourself, it makes any traveller free to relax on any beach and explore the interior of the island and its lighthouses, monuments, and ancient castles with reckless abandon. Menorca is famous for its cheese production and dish of stuffed tomatoes, so trying out the local delicacy is a must whilst here.

With the extensive fields of nature; pristine beaches, dashes of history, and delicious food, this destination should be on every traveller’s, Europe holiday list.

Europe, Spain, Travel

Lounging Around In Lanzarote

Lanzarote is part of the Canary Islands, an island off Spain and off the west coast of Africa. A friend of mine invited me on holiday to come and share the vacation with her and her Spanish family. At the mention of “Lanzarote”, tacky resorts filled with drunk Brits came to mind, but I soon found out, that this was not entirely the case.

Known for years by many as a destination for those who want all inclusive package deals, and getting a fry up by the beach, not many independent travellers have ventured here. The south of Lanzarote is still known for this: a land of potent drinks and cheap clubs, which you can easily find in; Puerto del Carmen, Playa Blanca and Costa Teguise. But not all of Lanzarote is like this. Lanzarote having such a harsh and desert like climate, means that the island is a haven of geological activity. Head away from crowded tourist beaches to the volcanic sands of La Caleta de Famara, where you can really catch glimpses at Lanzarote’s stunning natural beauty. Although the landscape is stark, the horizon is filled with an endless blue, and the scenery is juxtaposed with broken charred lava that juts out of the horizon and gravel like mountains.

Whilst here, make sure you head over to Timanfaya National Park where you can see the affects of the volcanic destruction on the land, eroding and destructing all that stood in its path. There are many fantastic walks in the area to work up a sweat with and are a great way to soak in and explore more of the nature here. If you can, hire bikes and cycle to the west coast, stopping and searching for tiny escaping vineyards from the rocky outcrops of lava as you go and explore territories that not many venture to.

However, the North and Northwest of Lanzarote is the most peaceful and naturally picturesque. With quaint villages filled with white washed farmers houses and more unnoticed panoramic views, there is more than one reason to visit this area of Lanzarote.

Unfortunately during my time here, I only visited the beautiful La Caleta de Famara beach and dined on typical Spanish dishes in her home. Although, I did one night, (being young, wild and free) grit my teeth and head out onto Puerto del Carmen, for a night on the trashy town. It was everything you expect from a town catered to tourists, drink deals, commercial music and club promoters. Although not the most stylish or even normal evenings out, it still was hilarious (only in small doses, I do not recommend staying in this area).

Remember whilst travelling from Lanzarote that although you might want to buy a lot of tax free items (booze, cigarettes, whatever) check your allowances when flying home, I was stopped because I looked “suspicious”. Thankfully, I had only bought one bottle of vodka- and not two!

Europe, Spain, Travel

Rambling on Las Ramblas in Barcelona

Barcelona is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It has everything a modern city needs; cosmopolitan bars, a thriving night life, traditional Catalonia food as well as hip gastro cuisine, stunning architecture, a bustling shopping environment, beaches to escape to, diverse history and an art scene that creates a stir to all that see it. Known for its iconic structure of Sagrada Familia (and its notorious pick pockets), Barcelona is one of the most well visited destinations in Europe.

The treasures of the city are dotted around streets, hidden behind commercial shops and away from the hustle and bustle of Las Ramblas. Head to the historical area of the Gothic Quarter where meandering lanes take you on a journey through time, past elegant plazas and staggering cathedrals and churches that amaze and stupefy. The Gothic Quarter is the very heart and essence of Barcelona, where the past is highlighted with pride, and the present create artisan shops and artistic cafes. Keep on strolling through town and you catch glimpse of the art scene that covers Barcelona in this whimsical and eccentric design, turning all locals into advocates of Gaudi and Dali, appreciative of the influence it has on the city’s style and culture.

If the beating sun gets to hot on your scorching back and your feet get a little too weary, rest at one of the many coffee shops down a small side street breathing in the ambiance of a collision of nationalities, tenses and history. Leave the touristic and expensive Las Ramblas behind, for a brief dip in the blue Mediterranean sea where you can look back at the city in amazement, and at the Collserola Hills that provide such a diverse cosmos to the city scape in front.

La Sagrada Familia is the most breathtaking and famous location to visit in Barcelona, not only beause of its status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also because of its unique design created by Gaudi himself. You will be taken aback by the sheer size of the site, as well as the originality in design and attention to detail. If blown away by the beauty of the exterior, make sure you book a ticket on-line to catch a glimpse of the majestical creations inside- of the curved smooth pillars resembling trees- integrating nature with man made elements, and the extraordinary array of stained glass features that are a masterpiece in itself.

To continue basking in Gaudi’s glory; head to La Pedrera, a uniquely structured building accentuating more of Gaudi’s quirky style, Casa Batllo– a museum dedicated to Gaudi, and Park Guell, where 4 million visitors a year flock to see where Gaudi has imposed his creative energies onto natural forms of beauty, merging his work with Gods work, in a flurry of bright mosaics and innovative designs. This park is my personal favourite.

If your taste buds for art are still tingling, head over to the Mount Juic Castle to catch an incredible view over the city of Barcelona, as well as entrance to Miro Museum, a museum dedicated to Joan Miro (google him and you’ll recognise who I am talking about). Carry on to the Museu Picasso and then the Teatre-Museu Dali, although not filled with his art work- head to Madrid for that, here lies his tomb hidden in an enclave of tricks and illusions that will make any bored tourist chuckle.

There are not many cities that so proudly rub shoulders with past and present like Barcelona does, and here you can see this with the differing sights of Basilica de Santa Maria Del Mar, which resembles a church similar to the Notre Dame in Paris, and the football stadium of FC Barcelona, Camp Nou, which are both different places of worship for different people.

If you are unsure where to eat, head over to Mercat De La Bouqeria where fresh produce is hanging from every stall which you can find in any traditional home or Catalan restaurant. Shoulders of cured ham hang from meat hooks, cheeses are neatly arranged in display cabinets and fresh fish rest on a bed of ice. There are small food stalls you can dine at which serve tasty dishes with fresh ingredients- and for a fraction of the price you would find at Las Ramblas. Keep in mind that Tapas is actually a southern Spanish dish, and most locals don’t actually eat this on a daily basis.

Nights out in Barcelona are the equivalent of dancing on a monopoly board, you have no idea where the night will take you or how much you will spend. Barcelona has such a wide variety of night life (one to give Manchester a run for its money) it is easy to get lost in the tourist traps of bar crawls. Instead, make your own personalised bar crawl by starting at the beach watching the sunset, bar hopping to the specific style of music or interior you prefer, and ending at a popular club. Take a look at Time Out Barcelona to see where your new favourite place will be.

(I say this also because unlike Madrid, there is a wide variety of night life that is ever changing in Barcelona and it is hard to keep track of. Also, I came here with my mum and rather popping out to bars, we drank wine in dimly lit restaurants within back streets with chequered tablecloth and murals painted on the walls).

We stayed at Hotel Serhs Rivoli Rambla for its central location to Las Ramblas. It is a pleasant and well maintained hotel with helpful staff, however if you want something more immersive towards the environment and cheaper, do avoid.