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España – Andalusian road trip

Spain is fascinating, vast, diverse, friendly and very sunny place on Earth! If you only skip popular resorts and head to less obvious places, Spain uncovers its real charm, very rich culture, unbelievable food and quite handy infrastructure. This was our third Iberian holidays and we were more than satisfied. This is the short description of our holidays from September 2012.

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The road trip started in Seville, we drove to Cordoba, Granada, San Jose near Almeria, Carboneras and Mojacar. We flew back to Dublin from the airport close to Murcia.

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Seville:

Definately our favourite city in Spain. The unique mixture of Castilian and Arabic influences is visible in the architecture, food, lifestyle. The main restaurants are open for afternoon lunches and then after 8PM for the evenings. The Old Town will keep you occupied for at least two days. Then, there are number of sites within walking distance from the Old Town (Plaza de Espana) We stayed very close to the Cathedral Santa Maria de la Sede and Alcazar Palace, thanks to our good friend Boni.

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In most of the bars there is a possibility to order full dish or half portion, “tapas style”. Picture taken in one of the only few places open all day: Duplex restaurant on Calle Segovia.

CervezaTapas Bar beside University of SevilleCentral place of Seville with view of Cathedral Santa Maria de la SedeCathedral has visible Moore heritageHotel Alfonso XIII

One of the most spectacular sites off the Old Town is Plaza de Espana. This set up fabulous, stylish  buildings come from 1929 when Seville hosted the Ibero-American Exposition. The location is so unique that some of the movies were filmed there: Star Wars, The Dictator :

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Cordoba:

The town is famous for its breathtaking Great Mosque of Córdoba and current cathedral, alongside the Roman bridge and  the second largest Old town in Europe. It is definitely worth to see place. The prices are generally cheaper comparing to Seville, the old town is full of small cafés, bars with tables outside. It is old Roman town so from architectural point of view it is extremely interesting. Further influences of Arabic culture, Spanish Reconquista, Renaissance create mosaic of streets, buildings, mosques converted into churches. We stayed in a small, picturesque hotel in Old Town. From our experience if you drive, ask the hotel personnel where you could leave your car, most of the street parking spaces are either paid or excluded from public parking.

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The Roman Bride comes from early 1st century BC.It has 16 arcades,  and a total length of 247 meters. The width is around 9 meters

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Mosque – Cathedral of Cordoba, also known as Mezquita. It is a medieval Islamic mosque that was converted into a Catholic Christian Cathedral

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Granada:

Granada is much more compact comparing to Cordoba. Although very busy and different. We stayed in a hotel in city center, very handy with visiting the town by foot. The main attraction is definitely Alhambra but there is plenty to do apart of that. Loads of small tapas bars, shops, food stores, fountains, parks. The Old town is quite hilly so it is a photographer dream. If we add the mixture of architectural styles, typical for long Andalusian history,  we were delighted we chose Granada as the two day trip.

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The Alhambra, also called Nasrid, “palace city” This is definitely one of the most breathtaking places we have seen in Spain. It is located on the hill with panoramic view of Granada, it is surrounded by medieval walls. The complex contains the palace, mosque, gardens, residential area. It is really well and thoughtfully designed, beautifully built and up to this day, incredibly well preserved.

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San José:

We stayed in this picturesque little town for 5 days. We also used it as central base for short trip around Almeria region. This is very small but very pleasant former fishing village that over recent years had transformed into more touristic place. Still, there is this unique Spanish atmosphere with few restaurants, two medium size supermarkets, two sandy beaches and nice apartments to rent. There are no big hotels, massive carparks or anything associated with mass tourist industry. We like!

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Carboneras and Mojácar:

Those two tows are very different. Mojácar is very historical picturesque little town on a top of the hill. With very nice views, little twisted roads, loads of stairs, gift shops, restaurants and bars, it has very unique and pleasant atmosphere. Carboneras on the other hand is more like a coastal touristic town with long beach and restaurants facing the sea.

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Brussels Belgium

It was a very short weekend trip to Brussels in November. Thanks to our private local guide – Beata – Brussels sightseeing went smoothly without any unnecessary wondering where we should go next. Brussels appeared to be quite unusual place and far from what we expected. We imagined it would a place with European Institution on every corner. Well… there are European Institutions in one district but we didn’t have a chance to see them due to time limits. Brussels seems to be very multicultural and relaxed place, where time goes at its own pace. It also came along as an artistic town with plenty antique shops, flea market and murals around the city that we could admire as an alternative to museums. Brussels is totally walkable city which was great. One of the unusual touristic attractions was famous statue of peeing boy – Manneken pis. There is also statue of peeing girl and apparently of a peeing dog but we haven’t seen the last one.

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If you are ever in Brussels you need to check out local flea market. We went to Marolles Flea Market on Place du Jeu de Balle, where you can buy everything from junk to real bargain; from old family photographs, mirrors, mugs, pots, sofas, tables, spoons, rugs, paintings, bibelots, porcelain figures, antiques  and … lenses , yes Maciek acquired an old set old lenses that he will probably never use. It was definitely one of the most interesting shopping places we have seen. Just outside the market there was a food stall, where we could taste some local food. It looked like modified “hot dog”: a sausage in a roll with cabbage. Not too bad and not to far from our polish tastes.

Obviously for its high quality chocolate Belgium is a real heaven for all the chocoholics.  In Chocolaterie like Belgium’s famous Marcolini we could see  pralines being handmade and then packed in specially designed black -boxes – nice.

Town seemed to be very lively in the evening even for November cold evening. Lots of people were queuing for waffles and fries with mayonnaise and taking photos of a statue of peeing boy..

Off the main road US road trip wrap up.

New York, Boston, Chicago… somewhere between those famous “must see” places are those – “off the beaten path”. We planned that our NY -Chicago road trip wouldn’t only be the obvious tourist attraction.We don’t to sound cliché saying ..we saw the real America but indeed we can say NY as a State is not the same as NY City. Sleepy Liberty in Catskill mountains is far away from the 5th Ave. In Connecticut we could see houses with nicely trimmed grass in front of them. Rural states Ohio and Indiana looked very much like polish countryside. When we got hungry we were taking the nearest exit from the highway and we were looking for a local restaurant to eat.

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Some of the nerd facts:

Distance covered: 2041 miles (3284 km)

Average fuel consumption: 25.4 mpg (9.27 l/100km)

Tanks of petrol used: 6.5

Highway tolls crossed and paid: 19

Fast food restaurants visited: 1

RAW pictures taken: 1112

Awesome weddings: 1

US States visited: 9

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We are fully aware that we are among of thousands of people who travel across States every year but for us it was unique, totally amazing experience. We spent few days in NY, took a car, traveled through beautiful Connecticut and Rhode Island to Cape Cod in Massachusetts. We followed north to astonishing Boston and then back to Catskill Mountains. We smashed quite few miles though New York state to end up on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. After that we followed west through Pennsylvania to Cleveland in Ohio. We paid a visit to Amish community in Shipshewana, Indiana. We ended up in Chicago at our cousin wedding. Did we mention shopping in Kenosha, Wisconsin? That’s 9 states in about 10 days.

Absolutely amazing and endless roads, gigantic portions of food, friendly and helpful people. And unforgettable landscapes, views, sunsets, downtowns, small towns….

Chicago – where all begins and ends…

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This was our second attempt to discover The Windy City. It was our last destination of the road trip and also the first 5 years ago so it has a huge sentimental value for us.
Chicago is spectacular. First of all it’s big, secondly it’s diverse, and finally it has incredible heritage. Starting from the great and breathtaking architecture of Downtown, its unique layout across many canals and bridges. In many ways it is architectural masterpiece. We recommend the Chicago Architecture River Cruise where you can see most of the main buildings from the river perspective.
The city has quite big Polish community and people who’s ancestries came from Poland in last 150 years (5.3% of total city’s population). No surprise we had our family in Chicago!  Absolutely priceless moments and memories. And Congratulations again to Magda and Maciek on their wedding day!
Transport system is fairly well organized within the main Chicago area. Downtown is very easy to walk and it is manageable in just one day. Further down the greater area of City we have Metra the nation’s second-most used passenger regional rail network, operates commuter rail service in Chicago and throughout the Chicago suburbs (remember the movie “Derailed”?). We can’t forget about the famous CTA elevated train system, pictured in so many movies and video games…