Two weeks and three (technically four) cities later

Two weeks and three (technically four) cities later

It feels like such a long time since I sat down and wrote a blog post, and oh how I have missed it! My blog, I guess, has become somewhat of a diary almost, except a very public one which friends and family (and others obviously!) can come along with me on my journey. The last two weeks has definitely included many a journey. As you may already know, I have been on holiday for the last two weeks, and I really tried to make the most of my time off.

For the first week of my vacation, I was lucky enough to be invited by my French family to go with them skiing! They own a property in a small town called Jausiers, which is located in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence of France. I had an amazing time, and cannot thank them enough for taking me away on one of the best holidays of my life! Whilst there, I fell in love all over again with skiing (having been many years ago), and hope that I get the chance to do it more often in the future.

After a nine-hour car journey all the way back to Paris, an early 4.30am wake up call brought me onto my next mini adventure – around 33 hours to be precise – to Geneva with one of my best au pair friends. And what a whirlwind experience that was. Despite only being there for just two days, we managed to see and experience a lot, even making time for an Opera on the Monday night (more about that in an up-coming blog post about this particular trip!).

Following this, my final trip of the holidays was to Madrid to see Malek before he departs for his South American adventure this March. It was lovely to be back in Madrid with more days to explore the beautiful city and just to relax after my busy adventures. We also headed to Segovia, just north of Madrid. I had never been there before, but couldn’t wait, especially when Malek told me that Segovia has the highest concentration of Romanesque churches in its city. It was like being at Disneyland for me!

So there you have it. A very, very brief outline of all my adventures during my two-week holidays. I apologise for the shortness of this blog post, but I really just wanted to update all my wonderful readers, and am in the process of writing up my experiences along with the photographs I have taken on each trip to upload onto here. So watch out this space!

The beautiful Cathedral of Segovia
The beautiful Cathedral of Segovia

Farewell January, hello February!

Farewell January, hello February!

January is often a somewhat monotonous month. Christmas has come and gone, and people go back to work or university. However, for me, this January has been incredibly different to what I have become accustomed to. For the last 6 years, January has meant exams, but this year was the first time in many that I didn’t have to revise over the Christmas holidays nor panic myself during this period. So now, I have a very different view-point of this time of year.  As previously mentioned, nothing exciting normally happens around this time, but here in Paris, January has definitely been an eventful one.

One only needs to think back to the three days of terror that took the city by surprise, with the attack on the satirical paper Charlie Hebdo, and the hostage scenes taking place both outside Paris and in the very heart of the city. Everyone was shaken by these events, which ultimately led to the most attended march in French History. Within the following weeks, the hysteria subdued, and people carried on with their January. Personally, this month has been incredibly interesting, not only living within the city that endured the scrutiny of the world for three days, but being able to be a part of the historical march that took place the following Sunday.

Anyway, as we wave goodbye to January and welcome February, I cannot help but burst with excitement for this upcoming month. For me, February is all about travelling! By the beginning of March I would have travelled to three cities, in two different countries.

The beautiful village of Barcelonnette (Photo from skiinfo.fr)

My first adventure takes place in the French Apls, in Barcelonnette to be precise. I am going skiing with my Au Pair family for a week, and I cannot wait! I haven’t been skiing since I was about 13 years old, and I can only hope I remember how to do it. I remember how to snowplough, or at least I think I do, so fingers crossed. My French family own their own chalet up in the Alps, and it will be a wonderful occasion to send more time with them and to see them skiing (and letting them watch and laugh whilst I attempt to do so too!).

Straight after my week skiing, the very next day I go over the border to Switzerland for a quick two-day visit to Geneva. My friend Kate (check out her blog here, it’s awesome!), mentioned about some cheap flights to Geneva and wanted to see if I was interested in going – and of course I was! Whilst living in Paris and being on my gap year, I am desperate to make the most of being able to travel, and I jumped at the chance to be able to go to this enchanting city. Even though we’re only staying one night, I’m sure that we’ll be able to see and do plenty. I hate to admit this as well, but I actually don’t know that much about Geneva. So if anyone has any tips or knows of particular sites or places to go, please do let me know. I’ve always wanted to go to Switzerland, and I am really excited.

After Geneva, literally the day after, I get on a plane and head over to the west – to Madrid! I will be going to Madrid for 5 days to visit my boyfriend Malek (who’s blog is incredible, check it out if you haven’t already). When I last went over in November, we had two days of sight-seeing, so I’m particularly eager to see even more of this amazing city and perhaps take a day trip or two to places outside of Madrid. So if you’re reading this Malek, getting planning on the various things we can see and do in the city!

As you can see, this is going to be a busy month for me, and keep checking out my blog as I write about all these mini adventures 🙂 I’d love to hear your thoughts and insights about anywhere I am travelling to, or just in general.

Places to visit in 2015

Places to visit in 2015

In 2014 I was incredibly lucky to travel to some amazing places. Some were cities I was visiting again, and others were my first ever experiences. In February I went to Paris with my University (I did not know at the time that I would soon be living there!), March saw a romantic weekend away to Edinburgh as a present from my boyfriend, July included a visit to Ireland for my cousin’s wedding and August saw me and my boyfriend going to Amsterdam. After officially moving to Paris in September, October was when my family and I flew across the Atlantic ocean to New York city for a week holiday, and just after then also went to Madrid to visit my boyfriend. Just writing and thinking about all these amazing cities and countries I’ve been to in 2014, makes me feel all nostalgic.

With the New Year here, I thought I’d create a travel bucket list of all the places I hope to visit in 2015 – let me know if you’ve been there, and some great things to see and do there!

Iceland

(Photograph from Black Tomato website)

‘The land of Fire and Ice’ – Iceland is a surreal, magical and sublime place; and it almost seems like something out of a fairy tale. There’s something enchanting about Iceland, and the more I see photographs of the landscapes and nature, the more I hope to go. My boyfriend Malek is currently writing a lot about Iceland, and his interest in the country has spurred on my own. So much that this year we are hopefully going to plan our own little trip there, with the aim of attempting to see as much of the beautiful country as we can. In addition to the national parks with their amazing scenery, and the relaxing hot springs – a must for our visit is to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, something which I have been eager to witness all my life so far.

Prague, Czech Republic

(Photograph taken by Miroslav Petrasko, accessed on Flickr)

I am ashamed to admit it, but before last year I didn’t really know much about Prague. Then, during one of my modules during my third year, I learnt a great deal about this exquisite city. Now knowing all about the Medieval history, I am absolutely desperate to visit Prague and see for myself all the things and places that I have studied. Top on my agenda would be to explore to Prague Cathedral, and to say hello to Charles IV!

Barcelona, Spain

(Photograph accessed urbantimes.co)

Known for its vibrant and avant-garde architecture, Gaudí’s many architectural ‘signatures’ around the city as well as the relaxing beaches and of course paella, a city that I am yet to visit and have always longed to, is Barcelona. This year may be the year I finally get to go, as me and my friend Kate a thinking of making a visit for our birthdays in March – fingers crossed! One specific place that I would love to see is La sagrada Familia – an icon of the city of Barcelona, as well as an architectural enigma – a must-see.

Berlin, Germany

(Photograph accessed from Telegraph.co.uk)

Berlin, the capital of Germany and home to a vibrant and cosmopolitan way of life, is a definite must on my travel bucket list this year. There is something about this city that has fascinated me for a long time, and I would love for the opportunity to visit the city for the first time. Having learnt a lot about Berlin in my many history lessons and lectures during the years, it would be fantastic to be able to experience Berlin’s history first hand. One of my closest friends is actually an Au Pair in Berlin, so hopefully this year I’ll get the chance to visit her and this beautiful city.

Madrid for the Weekend

It has been brought to my attention that I may look like I am addicted to traveling. From my recent trips to New York, Liverpool and London; to the ultimate trip of my life thus far to Paris; this weekend seems to just emphasise that I may indeed have a ‘problem’. I, Roisin, am addicted to travelling. This weekend I flew across the country, and landed in beautiful Madrid to visit my boyfriend who is currently an Au Pair there. Sadly I could only stay for two nights, and thus didn’t get to see the whole of Madrid. This means that I’ll definitely have to come back again – what a hard life!

You can see all my photographs on my flickr account: https://www.flickr.com/photos/roisingrace/sets/72157648961345350/

Once landed, I made my way through the metro system of Madrid to go towards the east of the city to one of the suburbs where Malek lives. I must say, the metro is much nicer than Paris’, and it seems much cleaner! Although, who doesn’t like the smell of urine wafting around the Parisian RATP? After meeting in the city centre, we had a lovely brunch and explored the city for a while.

This building reminded me of Paris!
This building reminded me of Paris!
A walk through the streets of Madrid
A walk through the streets of Madrid
A beautiful road sign
Even road signs are a piece of artwork in Madrid

We spent the most of Saturday afternoon and evening just wandering around the streets of Madrid. One of the first locations that we encountered was Templo de Debod which is located in the Parquet del Oeste. It is a fully preserved Egyptian temple that was brought to Spain and reconstructed. It was originally a gift from Egypt to Spain and UNESCO in 1968. Before coming to Madrid, the temple was one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Egypt because it was dedicated to the god Isis and Amun. Sadly we didn’t get to the temple in time for the sun set, as its meant to be a great location for seeing this. However, we got to view this enigmatic temple at night, with the reflections of the building reflecting of the still water surrounding it. Whilst we were there, it was really busy – so full of people.

Templo de Debod
Templo de Debod
Templo de Debod
Templo de Debod
Templo de Debod
Templo de Debod
View behind the Templo de Debod
View behind the Templo de Debod
Some animals on the temple - Ancient Egyptian or graffiti?
Some animals (horses? or giraffes?) carved on the exterior of the temple – Ancient Egyptian or just graffiti?

Apres, we carried on exploring the streets of the city and ended up outside the Palacio Real. The Royal Palace of Madrid is a beautiful building, and although it is the official residence of the monarchy they do not live there. To be honest, the heating bill must be huge so it’s probably for the best that they don’t. Our day was brought to with some lovely dinner. Sadly, I didn’t get the opportunity to try any paella or tapas – a must for my next visit.

The Palacio Real
The Palacio Real
The Palacio Real
The Palacio Real
The Palacio Real
The Palacio Real
The Palacio Real
The Palacio Real
Dedication outside the Palace
Dedication outside the Palace

The agenda for Sunday included lots of interesting things. We decided that we would aim to get an early train to Toledo in the morning, however, because it was Sunday this meant that the trains did not run as often. Instead, we spent the first half of our day getting to see more of the city. The weather was perfect – barely a cloud in the sky and mild weather. You could not ask for a better day. We ventured to the Parque del Retiro, which is one of the largest parks in the city. It originally belonged to the Spanish Monarchy, but now it is open to all the public. For an hour or so, we experienced what it was like to be Royal (or close enough I guess…). The park is beautiful. You can enter through some magnificent gates, which lead you into a sublime landscape. Within the park are a variety of sculptures and monuments, a lake with a Monument to King Alfonso XII and the Palacio de Cristal. The Palacio de Cristal was constructed in 1887 and was originally made for an exposition. It presides next to a lovely lake, which is surrounded by beautiful nature. Throughout the year there are installations within the space, which people can come and view for free. Whilst we were there, they were in the process of setting up a new installation – this included the addition of a caravan within the space. Not too sure what that will be all about, but time will tell!

Parque del Retiro, Memorial to Alfonso
Parque del Retiro, Memorial to Alfonso XII
Parque del Retiro
Parque del Retiro
Parque del Retiro
Parque del Retiro
Parque del Retiro
Parque del Retiro
Parque del Retiro
Parque del Retiro
Parque del Retiro
Parque del Retiro
Parque del Retiro
Parque del Retiro, Monument to Alfonso XII
Malek within the Parque del Retiro
Malek within the Parque del Retiro
Parque del Retiro
Parque del Retiro
The Palacio de Cristal
The Palacio de Cristal

 

Autumn in the Parque del Retiro
Autumn in the Parque del Retiro

Next, we went to the Museo Reina Sofía, and we were delighted that we could enter and look around the collection for free. For those who do not know, the Museo Reina Sofía is the national museum of twenty-century artwork. The exterior of the museum is pretty impressive. Outside you can see the lifts that you can take to go to the various exhibitions. The museum predominately showcases Spanish art, which meant that we were blessed with a plethora of artworks by the likes of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí amongst others. One piece of art that I was especially excited to view was Picasso’s Guernica. As a commissioned piece, Picasso commemorated the 1937 destruction of the Basque town of Guernica by the German bombers during the Spanish Civil War. Even though I have written an essay on this painting (we’re talking first year here), I could not get over how large the piece is. I knew it was big, but this was on another level! The overwhelming nature of the piece serves to intensify the shocking ordeal that the Spanish town Guernica went through. I definitely recommend those visiting Madrid to make a visit to the Museo Reina Sofía. Whilst you’re there, stop and unwind in the courtyard of the museum.

Malek in the Museo Reina Sofía
Malek in the Museo Reina Sofía
Salvador Dalí, The Great Masturbator, 1929
Salvador Dalí, The Great Masturbator, 1929
Pablo Piccasso, Head of Crying Woman with Handkerchief (III), 1937
Pablo Piccasso, Head of Crying Woman with Handkerchief (III), 1937
A sculpture within the Museo Reina Sofía
A sculpture within the Museo Reina Sofía
Viewing Picasso's Guernica, 1937
Viewing Picasso’s Guernica, 1937

Next on the adgenda was our eagerly anticipated trip to Toledo! I had been really looking forward to going there, because during my degree I actually very briefly studied the city with its gothic architecture. Having learnt all about Spanish Gothic and medieval art/architecture last year, it was so inspiring to be able to see such works in person. Toledo is only around 70km south of Madrid and took us 30 minutes on the train – therefore, if you’re in or around Madrid, to take the time to go and visit, you will not be disappointed. Toledo is known as the ‘city of three cultures’, because it was such a mixing pot of different religions during the Middle Ages. Within this historical city, Christians, Muslims and Jewish cultures all lived together. Such closeness meant that styles and customs were influenced and transmitted within the artistic fabric of the city.

Toledo
Toledo
Toledo
Toledo
Toledo
Toledo
Toledo
Toledo
Toledo
Toledo

Furthermore, something that was not aware to myself or Malek before we went, Toledo has a long history of producing weapons. This makes a lot of sense having been there now, because when you look around the various shops or shop windows, you’ll be astounded at the amount of souvenirs that take the form of swords and knifes. In fact, one shop had an impressive collection of bladed weapons relating to the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. Even the ring was there! (Probably not the real one, only because there was no sign of Gollum).

The main highlight was visiting the beautiful cathedral, which is known as the Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo. This cathedral is amazing. Begun around 1226 under King Ferdinand III, the cathedral is a unique blend of different historical periods and styles. There you can experience grand gothic vaults, with high ceilings and long naves; whilst at the same time be surrounded by baroque and renaissance art and sculpture. The cathedral is also infused with the influence of the Mudéjar style, especially found within the cloister. It is a truly beautiful cathedral, and I could definitely see the similarities between it with those of the French Gothic style – such was obviously transferred to Toledo.

the Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, exterior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, exterior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, exterior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, exterior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, exterior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, exterior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, exterior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, interior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, interior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, interior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, interior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, interior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, interior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, interior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, interior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, interior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, interior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, interior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, interior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, interior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, interior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, interior
The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, interior

The city of Toledo itself is delightful and charming, and despite getting lost quite a lot (so much, that we dare admit it), we always found new sights around every corner. Overall, Toledo is a must for all. At some points it even reminded us a little of York with the cobbled treats. It really is a medieval city through and through, and remains so to this day.

I had an amazing time in Madrid, and was really sad to go. But alas, I will definitely becoming back again. Not only to see my dear Malek, but see more of this wonderful city.

Madrid
Madrid
Madrid
Madrid
Madrid
Madrid
Madrid
Madrid
Madrid
Madrid

Warning, diversion coming up – all about travel issues in Paris:

This is kind of venturing away from my account of my trip, but getting to airports in Paris during the early morning is hard work. My flight was due to depart at 6:30 am. However, I live in the suburbs (10-15 minutes into Paris) yet trying to get to my flight via public transport seemed to be a mission. In Paris the trains do not begin running till at least around 5:15 am, and it takes on average an hour for me to get to the Airport door-to-door. Therefore, I had a wee little problem. There were also no night buses around that would get me there on time, so I had to swallow the bullet (or whatever the saying is), and book a taxi. The first taxi company I spoke to said it would be €100! Now way. My return flights cost less than that! In the end I took a taxi with G7 Taxis (after booking via: http://www.wecab.com/fr) – for those facing similar issues to what I had, I cannot encourage you enough to book with this company. Overall it cost me €59 (I shared a taxi making the price cheaper than if taking a private taxi) and I get there on time. A massive diversion within my blog post, but I thought it would be important to put my advice out there for those who potentially have the same issue when hoping to travel out of Paris during the early hours of the morning.