Granada Dreams

We spent a week in Granada and stayed in two different parts of town. The first place was near Plaza Nueva in the El Albayzín, the city's old Moorish district. We had a spectacular view of the Alhambra, the majestic Moorish palaces and fortress complex on the hills.

It's easy to get lost walking through the neighborhood of El Albayzín. Lots of winding and narrow streets and alleyways teaming with white washed homes. One of the most beautiful lookout points is from La Plaza de San Nicolas, where you can see the Alhambra in the foreground of the snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountain range.

(Jackson enjoyed the view and got a good whiff of the joint the guy behind us was smoking)

We visited the city's Cathedral, a very large Gothic styled church that took over 180 years to complete. I wish we did the audio guide since it's hard to appreciate all the details of the design and architecture.

After a few days in El Albayzín, we moved to an apartment near the University of Granada, a more suburban part of town.

It was nice to be away from the more touristy areas and enjoy living amongst the locals. We (I) cooked, watched American television in Spanish and took siestas. The first apartment didn't have a washer so it was nice to be able to do laundry at the second place. I was initially disappointed by the lack of a dryer but everything dried beautifully under the sun in one afternoon, with a makeshift clothesline using a broomstick between two chairs on the deck.

One thing we noticed in the university neighborhood was the presence of graffiti on every block. Some random tags but mostly political statements including words like "Libertad", "Capitalismo", and the anarchism symbol. I wonder if this is unique to this area or if it is fairly common across Spain.

The highlight of our time in Granada came near the end of our stay - visiting Alhambra. We had to reserve entry tickets a week in advance and were only able to visit during our allotted time. We arrived an hour prior to our entry time as indicated on all guides only to find ourselves waiting outside the entrance for no good reason. I think it's a ploy to get you to browse the gift shop outside the entrance for an hour.

Alhambra is a sprawling complex of palaces, gardens and the alcazaba (fortress). The visit took us three hours! This time we did go with the audio guide. It was interesting to hear about the history but a bit cheesy as the narrator was supposed to be Washington Irving, the famous writer who started the tourist rush to Alhambra in the mid-1800s.

Nasrid Palaces (Royal quarters consisting of intricately designed facades, rooms and courtyards)

(Amazing details of the ceiling)

Alcazaba (Moorish fortress)

Generalife (Summer Palace of the royals, though only a 20 minute walk from the main palace)

Next up, Cordoba!

First Days in Andalusia: Málaga

While planning for our trip to Spain in the midst of volcano related airport shutdowns and airline strikes, we were starting to consider back up plans in case we couldn't make it. In fact, LHR was closed the morning of the day we flew out to Málaga. But somehow all the stars aligned for us and here we are, in beautiful Andalusia (province in southern Spain).

Málaga is the second most populous city of Andalusia and is one of the oldest cities in the world. It is also the birthplace of Pablo Picasso and Antonio Banderas (somehow I don't feel that they belong in the same sentence yet they are often cited together). James had first heard about the city when his former employer HP held an offsite there. He couldn't go back then and had always wanted to see what everyone was raving about.

We rented a small house near Plaza de la Merced in Málaga. I initially thought it was an empty neighborhood since all the homes had their window shutters closed. But upon entering the home, I could clearly hear my neighbors. Perhaps the shutters are closed to keep privacy or to keep the house cool, but it makes the ground level living area quite dark and depressing.

Here we are in front of our house and at Plaza de la Merced. Picasso grew up in one of the yellow apartments by the Plaza.

One of the things we really had to adjust to was the Spanish schedule. Most business hours are from 10am-2pm, then from 5pm-8pm. Restaurants are open from 1pm - 4pm, then from 8pm-I don't know when since we're never out that late. Our schedule is dictated by master Jackson, who wakes up at 6am and goes down for the night at 8pm promptly (with a morning and an afternoon nap sandwiched in). To minimize disruptions to his schedule, our daily routine consisted of eating pastries for breakfast, eat out for lunch at 1pm and dine in for dinner. Sadly we have not had a tapas night since we got here and the only take out options at night are shwarmas, pizzas and a surprisingly good Chinese restaurant. The only meals I cook are for Jackson since cooking a dinner for us would require too many basic ingredients that our kitchen lacked (like oil, salt and pepper).

The weather has been spectacular, sunny and 70s every day. We walked around the city, toured the Alcazaba (a moorish fort), walked up to the Gibralfaro castle, and visited the Picasso museum.

We also took a day trip to Marbella (1 hr by bus), a luxury resort town that's like Spain's St. Tropez. Lots of fancy cars and big yachts by Puerto Banus, along with high end shopping.

In contrast to Puerto Banus, the Casco Antiguo (Old Quarter) of Marbella was very charming, with narrow and winding cobblestone streets. We visited during siesta hours so the stores were all closed. It was actually quite nice to stroll along the empty streets.

After a week in Málaga, we took a 2 hour bus ride to Granada...

Viajes Por España

Averting the volcanic ashes and the British Airways strike, we've reached the last continent of our world tour. We flew from Shanghai to Malaga, Spain, with a short stopover in London. Our original plan was to stay in Barcelona and Madrid for two months before moving onto Amsterdam. Less travel is always better for the baby. But seeing that our baby is no longer a baby and is starting to walk and eat table food, we decided to venture around southern Spain a bit more. We'll see how things go and hopefully cover all the cities currently planned.

Shanghai 2010 World Expo

The 2010 World Expo is taking place in Shanghai from May through October. Shanghai was consumed with the World Expo, with the marketing slogan "Better City, Better Life" displayed on signs across the city and the local news talking about virtually nothing else. Shanghai has worked hard to prepare for the Expo, including installing metal detectors in every subway station, adding special Expo taxis, cleaning up the streets and replacing many poorly translated English street signs. The Expo's blue gumby-like mascot Haibao was also present everywhere.

We visited the Expo in Pudong during the first week of events. It wasn't as crowded as we had expected, but we also visited on a weekday. 17 Million people are expected to attend though, 95% of whom are expected to be local Chinese. The country pavilions were spectacular, especially the China Pavilion.

(China Pavilion)

(Spain Pavilion - wicker basket material on the outside)

(Serbia Pavilion - lego like color blocks)

(UK Pavilion - 60,000 fiber optic rods that sway in the wind)

(USA Pavilion - or was this an office building? underwhelmed by this one)

We expected the interior of the pavilions to live up to the outside, providing us with each country's unique culture. We were sorely disappointed. The pavilions were mostly empty halls with lame videos and a few photos.

The Spain pavilion had a giant robotic baby that moved and blew bubbles. It was cool but how was it related to Spain?

James found it interesting to see exhibits for the Republics of Sudan and Rwanda although there wasn't much of anything in either. It figures they were there since China is one of the few countries that gives substantial aid to them. James was glad to find very few people visiting their exhibits.

The concept of the World Expo may be obsolete in today's times where global travel and the internet are present. (Maybe it has greater value to Chinese locals whose Internet access is firewalled). Still, it was worth the visit to see some magnificent buildings.

Family Time in Taiwan and Shanghai

We spent the last 6 weeks in Taiwan and Shanghai. Since we've been to these places many times in the past, we didn't do much sightseeing and spent most of the time indoors with our families. Jackson got to meet his paternal great grandfather in Penghu and his maternal great grandmother in Shanghai. He also got to spend some quality time with both sets of grandparents and enjoyed his 1st birthday party in Shanghai surrounded by family and friends.

We stayed in Taipei for a few days mostly hanging out at the hotel and seeing relatives. We also visited the Shilin night market, eating our way down the streets. The bump James is carrying below is Jackson. We took him out past his bedtime but he still managed to sleep through the whole thing.

After Taipei, we spent about a week near James' parent's house in Magong, a city on the main Penghu island off the western coast of Taiwan. Penghu is a popular Taiwanese tourist attraction with beautiful beaches and has lately been trying to attract more international tourism. A recent vote to build casinos on the island was nixed by residents though. It is probably a good thing since the casinos may have change the slow paced feel of the islands.

After Taiwan, we headed to Shanghai for a month. Most of the time was spent hanging out with more relatives (...and trying to VPN our way around the great firewall to blocked sites like blogger, facebook and twitter). We also visited the Shanghai Old Town for some xiao long bao (soup dumplings), the 2010 World Expo and the Bund.

Up next: More on the Shanghai 2010 World Expo


We took the high speed rail from Tokyo to Kyoto (~2.5 hours). Since we booked everything last minute, all the hotels in Kyoto were fully reserved during the high season. Luckily, the Citadines Kyoto just opened and we were able to reserve our rooms. The hotel was really modern, zen and spacious. It is also within walking distance to many historic sights.

Kyoto is the old capital of Japan, from 794–1869. It is also the city of a thousand temples where 17 properties are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The weather warmed up during our stay and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. We managed to visit a handful of attractions.

Kiyomizu-dera (built over a thousand years ago and is one of the most famous temples in Japan):

Kennin-ji (Oldest zen temple in Kyoto):

Ginkakuji ("Silver Pavilion" - made of wood, originally intended to be covered in silver):

Kinkakuji ("Golden Pavilion" - covered in pure gold leaf):

Sanjusangen-do (Literally means "Hall with thirty three spaces between columns"):

Sanjusangen-do housed 1001 golden life-sized Buddhist statues (we think it'd be a great task for Amazing Race contestants to count the statues). In addition, this temple is the site of archery tournaments where contestants shoot arrows from one end of the temple to the other.

Philosopher's Walk (beautiful 2km stroll along a cherry blossom lined canal):

During one of our last days in Kyoto, we took a side trip to visit the Himeji Castle. The castle will be undergoing major renovations starting April 2010 through March 2014. We were very lucky to have visited before the closure. The castle is set up high on the hills and is a spectacular sight. We waited over two hours to go inside the castle.

In each city we visit, we try to bring home a small souvenir. We passed a tiny shop in Kyoto selling woodblock prints and purchased a beautiful piece from this friendly owner.

Kyoto is truly a beautiful city full of national treasures. It is hard to believe that it was once on the list of potential targets for the atomic weapons in WWII.

Our trip to Tokyo and Kyoto was both a step into the future and the past. This excursion enriched our world tour and we're thrilled to have captured so many beautiful memories.

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