Goryeosan Hike, Ganghwa, South Korea

Goryeosan - Trail

For my second weekend in South Korea, I wanted to hike Goryeosan (or Goryeo Mountain), located on Ganghwa Island in Incheon. Just a few days before leaving for Seoul, I had discovered Goryeosan after stumbling upon an article about last year’s Goryeosan Azalea Festival. The festival happen in April last year, so I thought I would have a good chance of seeing these spectacular azaleas during my April trip as well.

A combination of one train and two buses got me a paved road, which finally led to the trail. In total, this journey took a little over 3 hours, after some confusion over the third bus. Ganghwa does not see nearly as many tourists as Seoul, so there were very few English translations. Google Maps had led me astray, but I found another hiker at the Ganghwa bus terminal who kindly helped me figure out which bus to take, using a map as our common language.

On the road leading up to the trail, there were a number of food stands, much like the road to Bukhansan. Unlike Bukhansan, this road did not have the vast selection of high-end hiking gear retailers. Instead, there were a handful of large farms and several tiny, old women selling herbs and vegetables on blankets spread out along the side of the road. One woman was slicing off pieces of an apple to share with hikers walking by. I accepted her offer with a smile and bought another apple for a snack later on. At another farm along the road, I saw a bunch of cows enjoying a snack of their own.

Goryeosan - Cows

As the road neared the trail, I started seeing evidence of military presence in the area. Shortly after those first indications came large military buildings and vehicles behind high fences, with signs in front stating, (in Korean and English)  “No photos of military facilities!” At first it was startling to see these cold, harsh features at the forefront of the lush, flowery scenery. Yet, the location of Goryeosan is actually quite close to North Korea. Only the Han River separates the two countries. As shocking as the juxtaposition of these two worlds is, I understand the reasoning.

After a fairly steep climb up several sets of stairs and intervals of burlap-covered tree roots, the trail winds into a relatively flat tree-covered area. This trail leads you to second paved road, which you climb to another large military compound. From here, with your back to the compound, this is the view:

Goryeosan - Misty CanyonYou can see the trail toward the left side of the photo stretch up along another ridgeline in the distance. However, many hikers seemed to stop at this point, which is the geographic summit of Goryeosan. It was an odd sort of summit, as it was completely paved with a rather large, ugly building in the background, but folks were enjoying the view and their picnic spreads anyhow.

I was craving more of a hike and wanted to see the concentrated azalea area up close, so I continued on. The trail dips down quite dramatically from the summit before it rises back up. There are some steps here and there, though they are not in quite the strong, sturdy condition as the sets of stairs at the beginning of the trail. There are decks built out onto some of the flatter stretches along the trail, so you can step out to take some photos or have your picnic in slightly less company than at the summit.

Goryeosan - Look Back

Goryeosan - Azalea

When I got my fill of climbing up and down the hills along the trail and collected a satisfactory variety of azalea photos, I turned around to work my way backward toward the bus stop I had been dropped off at. It seemed like the trail continued on and might have even connected to other trails, but I had no idea where they might lead and how far I would have to walk to get to another bus stop, so I decided to play it safe.

The way down took only a tiny fraction of the way up. I stopped at one of the vendors at the summit to buy a melon ice bar for 1000 won (approximately 0.88 USD at current exchange rate), then jogged happily down the paper-lantern-lined trail all the way back to the main road.

Goryeosan - Path Down

Baegundae Peak Hike, Bukhansan, South Korea

Baegunae Peak View

I landed in Seoul around 5 PM on a Saturday, checked into my Airbnb apartment at 8 PM, and was asleep promptly at 10 PM, determined to hike Baegundae Peak first thing Sunday morning. Baegundae Peak is found in the heart of Bukhansan National Park, a beautiful and expansive park just North of Seoul. Bukhansan (or Bukhan Mountain) has three major peaks, the tallest of which is Baegundae Peak, standing 2,744 feet above sea level.

My trip to Seoul was primarily for work, but I arrived a day early specifically for the purpose of hiking Bukhansan. Through a bit of pre-trip research, I learned that several park entrances are accessible by public transportation! Figuring out which entrance was best to begin the hike to Baegundae Peak was the tricky part. I read a number of bloggers’ posts describing different versions of this hike, but none of them clearly indicated where they started (at least, as far as I could tell from the Google translations of these posts.)

After cross-referencing several maps, I determined that the best place to start would be the Bukhansanseong Information Center on the West side of the park. The 704 bus conveniently dropped me off right at the entrance. From Dangsan Station, just South of the Han river, the journey took me a little over an hour between the subway and the bus. If I had any hesitation about the route, I knew I was on the right track the moment I stepped on the bus. The entire bus was packed with hikers in the some of the most professional-looking gear I’ve ever seen, the kind of gear I would expect to see on a 10,000 foot hike!

Upon arrival at the park entrance, I was surprised to find dozens of food vendors – carts, brick-and-mortar restaurants, coffee shops, even small tables offering just a few fruits and vegetables. Even more surprising was the immense selection of sporting goods stores, though this did explain the preparedness level of the hikers I encountered. The park entrance was just like a little hiking-themed town. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Clearly Korean hikers value high quality gear, a sentiment I can relate to!

After adequate snack and water gathering, we set off on the trail. There are dazzling monuments to encounter all over the park. During our journey, the trail will even lead under a dramatic old stone arch and alongside a few colorful temples with little secret altars and shrines carved out of the mountain’s natural features.

Baegundae Peak - Gate

Baegundae Peak - Temple

Baegundae Peak - Shrine

The start of the trail was a pretty easy trot, but as we approached the summit, it kept getting steeper and more slippery. There were several stretches of trail where you had to pull yourself up using thick cables anchored in solid rock. High quality hiking shoes are a must.

Baegundae Peak - Trail

Finally, after a few false summits, we approached Baegundae Peak. I was surprised to see large groups of hikers perched on many of the flat rock surfaces with a full meal of many small dishes spread out on blankets around them. They all appeared quite delighted to be snacking away near the windy summit. The bottles of soju they passed around to fill their tiny tin cups might have had some part in that look of delight as well.

At the small space on the true summit, a trio of gentlemen from the UK also celebrated their triumph with a small bottle of whiskey. My hiking companion took panoramas of the view, as well as a couple of posed photos with the Korean flag and the engraved rock displaying the elevation of Baegundae Peak. At this point, there was a line of people waiting for their moment at the top, so we climbed back down to enjoy our delicious celebratory Korean pancakes with honey.

Baegundae Peak - Elevation

We (inadvertently) took a different route on the way down and ended up bisecting the park, exiting the park from the East side into another small neighborhood where I was introduced to some goofy looking gods. I also had my first of many encounters to come with Korean Barbecue.

Baegundae Peak - Gods

Belém, Lisbon, Portugal

Belém - Jardim Botanico Tropical

The last stop on our Iberian adventure was the Belém district in Lisbon. We were only in Lisbon for a few short days and we had a suspicion that one of the destinations in Belém that we most wanted to visit might actually take us two separate visits. This was the Museu Colecção Berardo, and it did in fact take us two lengthy visits to see everything currently on display in the collection, so we planned well by selecting an Airbnb only a few blocks from the museum in the Centro Cultural de Belém. The museum is named after José Berardo, an avid modern art collector throughout his entire life. Before he died, he made plans to make his extraordinary collection of art pieces available to the public – for free! I would highly recommend visiting this incredible collection to any lover of modern art.

We picked up the Lisboa Card when we first arrived and realized quickly that since the Berardo had no admission fee, we had to visit several more museums in order to get our money’s worth. The convenience of being able to ride the Metro with counting out coins each time made it a relatively worthwhile purchase anyhow but we’re all about economizing our travel, so off we went to seek our next attraction! After doing a pretty thorough job of living like a local in the previous 4 cities we visited, now it was time to play tourist.

My favorite touristy place, which was free with the Lisboa Card, was the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. I could imagine myself reading out in the vast, sunny courtyard or perched under one of the intricate arches of the grand cloister surrounding the yard. That is, if would have been permitted to become a monk in fifteenth century Portugal. We arrived late in the day, about an hour before closing and found very few other people exploring the space. However, we walked by during other times of the day and saw rather long queues of people waiting to enter. Late on a weekday seems like the prime time to visit!

Belém - Jeronimos Cloister

Belém - Jeronimos Courtyard

Directly adjacent to the monastery was the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia, which was also free with the Lisboa Card. As a lifelong admirer of archaeology, I had to stop in here. There was an interesting exhibition of items recovered from shipwrecks and another on Coptic art, which featured some truly beautiful, colorful art. The regular collection also contained an impressive array of Egyptian art.

Somewhat less impressive in my opinion, but also included with the Lisboa Card, was the Torre de Belém. This former military tower sits just beyond the shore of the Tagus River and seems to be constantly swarming with tourists. On the plus side, I did manage to squeeze past the crowd to one of the battlements just in time to catch a glimpse of this pirate ship sailing by.

Torre de Belém

Also near the Torre de Belém, we were lucky enough to stumble upon the best meal we had in Lisbon at Sabores Sobre Rodas, a tiny food truck just across the road from the tower. We enjoyed both their signature pistachio bacon cheeseburger and a delicious pesto chicken baguette, along with a couple of local craft beers that could easily stand up to any Portland craft beer. Even better was that both meals (with drinks) cost less than a single plate of nachos at said Portland craft brewery. The couple that owned the cart were also two of the friendliest, most welcoming people we met on our entire trip. They even took our picture to post on their facebook page – see if you can find us!

We strolled through a number of parks throughout the city, but the most beautiful was the Jardim Botânico Tropical, just across the street from where we were staying in Belém. We could see into the park from our balcony, but decide to it a proper visit as well. It seems like the facility is underfunded, as several of the buildings were locked up and looking a bit overrun with greenery. I didn’t mind at all, as this somewhat ruinous appearance only added to the charm and beauty of the space for me. There was hardly ever anyone there, so it felt a bit like we had discovered the lush, long-abandoned grounds of a royal palace. The only company we encountered (aside from the bored ticket-taker at the front gate) were the wandering flock of peacocks and the resident gato keeping watch over his domain.

Belém - Jardim Gato

Belém - Jardim Peacock

Belém - Jardim

Upon return to Lisbon, I would love to explore other areas of the city, as I was intrigued by what I did see of the rest of the city. During this trip though, I was delighted to get a taste of Belém, especially the Pastéis de Belém, which never lasted long enough to be photographed. I would almost certainly return to see what is new at the Berardo and stop by my new favorite food cart for lunch!

The Portuguese Atlantic Coast

Portugal - Atlantic Coast - Cabo da Roca

From our garden terrace view at Marta & Luis’ apartment, we could follow the Sintra valley stretching out toward the Atlantic Coast. Early each evening, as the sun was just beginning to set, a dark cloud would start rolling its way inland from the ocean and blanket that valley with heavy mist.

Portugal - Atlantic Coast - Sintra Valley

We took the short journey from Sintra to the Cabo da Roca (pictured in the featured photo above), which is the western-most point in Europe. You can get to Cabo da Roca by rental car or scooter, or if you want to add an extra dash of excitement, I recommend the harrowing, white-knuckled bus adventure. The bus drivers have clearly taken this route enough  to feel completely comfortable squeezing tightly between high rock walls and oncoming traffic and hugging bends in the road at a stomach-turning speed.

Cabo da Roca itself is nothing extraordinary. The view out over the ocean is lovely, but its thick with tourists. There is also an old lighthouse and an expensive cafe. That itself may not be worth the trek, however there is a network of trails that stem from Cabo da Roca that wind out toward a number of spectacular beaches.

I had done some investigation beforehand and discovered that Praia da Ursa was highly recommended as one of the most beautiful and secluded beaches in the area, so that was where we set off to!

Identifying the correct trail was something of an adventure in itself, requiring that we backtrack a short way down the road to Cabo de Roca, back to the previous bus stop. From there, we found a small parking area with one dusty trail leading out toward the cliffs. We took the trail until we got the edge of the cliffs, then found three separate trails to choose from. Luckily, I had read about this decision in my prior investigation and knew that the trail all the way to the left was the safest choice, particularly without having rock climbing gear on hand.

Portgual - Atlantic Coast - Praia da Ursa Trail

We trekked along the path, switching back and forth down the high cliffs toward the beach far below. There were a few heart-pounding foot slides and some precarious handholds on wild succulents, but we managed our way to bottom of the trail without incident. Upon arrival to the beach, we found that it was indeed rather secluded. There were perhaps 6 or 7 other beachgoers, primarily lounging about on towels. We also noted that the daring climb down may not be the only reason for sparse attendance on this beautiful beach. It turns out Praia da Ursa is also a popular destination for those beachgoers less inclined to be constrained with swimwear. Out of respect for those strolling up and down the beach, I refrained from taking photos of the spectacularly rocky landscape.

The tides were quite strong, so the two of us took turns wading out for a swim between giant, crashing waves, while the other stood watch from the beach. We were lucky to have such warm, beautiful weather that say with only a few sporadic clouds floating past. It was the perfect atmosphere for a few short sandy dozes, one of which was cut short by the shockingly cold tide rolling in to drench our towels and sun-baked skin.

After several hours of lounging, swimming, and picnicking, we decided to make the climb back up the cliffs. I found it to be a much easier trip than the descending version. Half-way up, I stopped to take one last photo of the spectacular rocks down below, to capture the beauty of this perfect day.

Portugal - Atlantic Coast - Praia da Ursa

Quinta da Regaleira

Quinta da Regaleira - Blue Sky

We spent about 4 hours exploring the Quinta da Regaleira and probably would have been there even longer if it had not closed on us. I good have easily spent days exploring every secret entrance, winding path, and water feature throughout the park. We began our self-guided journey through the palatial estate with the main house, seen in the picture above. The interior is lush and ornate, similar in some ways to the interior of Pena Palace, but far more magical and mysterious.

Quinta da Regaleira - Angel and Chandelier

If you pay close attention to the details in the house, chapel, and all other structures throughout the park, you’ll find Masonic symbolism everywhere.

Quinta da Regaleira - Mason Symbols

Quinta da Regaleira - Leda Statue

There are endless pathways and tunnels that interconnect with other areas on the grounds. There were several times we entered a building, followed a series of staircases leading, only to find ourselves landing in a mysterious underground tunnel. There seems to be a labyrinth of caves and tunnels beneath the park, which you couldn’t possibly explore the entirety of in one day.

Quinta da Regaleira - Walkways

Quinta da Regaleira - Waterfall

The cave behind the waterfall pictured above led to a series of tunnels that ended in the well below. I discovered that the other entrance to this well is inside a building, behind a rotating door which, at first glance, appears to be a solid rock wall. The well was apparently used for Masonic initiation ceremonies. Circling round and the round toward the bottom gives your imagination plenty of time to ponder what those ceremonies might have entailed and why it had to be held in such a secretive place.

Quinta da Regaleira - Initiation Well

The entire experience of exploring the Quinta da Regaleira is a feast for the imagination. I could have continued wandering around the lush gardens and mysterious underground pathways for hours more. The sun was just beginning to set when the grounds were closing. I would love to go back in the wintertime and explore after dark. I can only imagine how spectacular it would be to see the “window” inlets of the initiation well lit up with candlelight!

Quinta da Regaleira - Dusk

The Royal Mountains of Sintra, Portugal

Sintra's Castles

We took the train from Porto to Sintra and arrived late in the afternoon. We checked in to our apartment in the lovely home of our hosts Marta & Luis and were immediately wowed by the incredible view from the multi-tiered garden terrace. Also, the beautiful basket of bread, cheese, and Portuguese wine left by our wonderful hosts. I honestly felt like I had stepped directly into a dream.

We had enough time after getting settled in to our new space to head out on the town for a quick “garoto”(a new term for us at this point in our journey) and a scouting trip through the Parques de Sintra hiking trails, which connect the town of Sintra with the castles above. The hiking trails wind through the park and occasionally split off into smaller trails. One trail we found ourselves on led us along the interior of the outermost castle wall. Another allowed us to discover a series of small doors, nearly grown over with ivy and ferns, which appeared to connect with a network of underground passages. That part may also be an invention of my imagination, but hey, its a castle, why not?

Sintra's Castle - Parque de Sintra

Sintra's Castles - Secret Garden

Castelo dos Mouros

One thing to know about the Moorish Castle is that it is a primarily outdoor space. There are open-air turrets built into the inner walls and a few utilitarian buildings you can walk though, but this is a not a destination where you will find royal paintings or lavish wallpaper. The primary function of a castle is to provide protection from invading military forces, therefore the most important and interesting features are the sturdy walls, battlements, and turrets with thin arrowslits for safely defending the kingdom, and in some cases, moats surrounding the entirety of the castle. If you’re interested in military or functional architectural history, you’ll definitely want to make the trip to Moorish Castle. If you’re looking more for the history of luxurious living, you’ll be interested to learn about Pena Palace below and in my next post on the Quinta da Regaleira!

The Moorish Castle is perched on top of the Sintra Mountains, so its walls have been built into the preexisting rock. This makes for a beautiful and doubly-reinforced inner castle walls. You can climb to the top of the turrets and take in the incredible view of the surrounding area.

Sintra - Moorish Castle - Castelo dos Mouros

Sintra - Moorish Castle - Castelo dos Mouros - View of Pena Palace
In addition to enjoying the view of Pena Palace and the vast plain stretching out to the Atlantic Ocean, there is also quite a bit to learn about the history of Portugal’s flags. You can see banners representing major ruling bodies in Portugal’s past around the castle walls. The particular flag pictured above is that of King João I, who took the throne in 1385. I learned that the green fleur-de-lys cross integrated into João I’s personal banner design was a sign of the Royal Military Order of Aviz, of which he was the grand master prior to becoming king.

Palácio Nacional da Pena

In contrast to castles, palaces are built for comfort, luxury, and extravagance. It is essentially a place built to show off one’s money and power. Pena Palace is a prime example. The palace walls, both interior and exterior, are painted in bright, showy colors. There are lush gardens surrounding the palace. There are equally exuberant courtyards sprinkled throughout the palace grounds. You’ll also find some spectacular statues adorning the palace walls. My personal favorite and probably one of the most famous statues found at Pena Palace is the detailed and ever-so-slightly disturbing statue of Triton, son of Poseidon and messenger of the sea (pictured below).

Sintra - Pena Palace - Palácio Nacional de Sintra

Sintra - Pena Palace - Palácio Nacional de Sintra - Triton

You can also tour the interior of the palace for an additional charge. Inside, you’ll find rooms embellished with intricately carved walls, rooms with the grandest furniture you’ll ever see (yet oddly tiny beds), and rooms with seemingly no purpose but to showcase collections of extravagant sculptures, trinkets, hunting trophies, even pots and pans.

Sintra - Pena Palace - Palácio Nacional de Sintra - Herons

After exploring both the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace, we were exhausted and overwhelmed with royal lavishness. We had to save our visit to the Quinta da Regaleira for the next day in order to allow adequate time to explore its expansive grounds and possibly even greater level of luxury. As such, I’ll also save that story for next time.

Porto, Portugal

Porto

When deciding where to visit in Portugal it seemed only right to start with Porto, the city which Portugal is named for. There was also a pretty inexpensive flight direct from Valencia. Through said flight, I had the opportunity to learn my Ryanair lesson and will avoid flying with them again the future.

Strange and unfriendly flight behind us, we made it to Porto safe and sound. Much to my surprise, the passengers on the flight burst into applause upon landing. I can’t help but wonder if this is a common practice I have somehow not experienced before or if it was a direct sign of thankfulness for surviving the questionable Ryanair flight. I haven’t further investigated the landing-applause phenomena, but I will report back at a later date if I learn more.

Porto

The Porto Metro is easy enough to navigate and we arrived at our destination a bit early. Our Airbnb host was running a few minutes late, so we backtracked two blocks to a nearby cafe for our first pastel de nata in Portugal. After getting used to calling my espresso drink of choice a “cortado” in Spanish, I struggled to find the right word in Portuguese. I would later discover that even within Portugal, there are two different words for the  tiny, caffeinated beverage – and you better make sure to use the right one or the barista would quickly set you straight. “Pingo” seemed to be the word of choice across the board in Porto, while in Lisbon and Sintra, “garoto” was more common.

The first evening in Porto we spent several hours exploring, starting off in the hilly north side where our apartment was, making our way down to the Duoro riverfront. We stopped for a few more pingos, a bottle of vinho verde, and a francesinha along the way. The francesinha is a saucy, meaty, cheesy mess of delicious sandwich that Kat and I together could barely finish. The best one we had was from Café Santiago: a towering stack of steak, ham, sausage, and cheese between two slices of bread, smothered in a subtly-spiced tomato gravy, topped with a fried egg and more melted cheese, surrounded by a ring of french fries, with another ladle of gravy across the whole plate for good measure. I was grateful for all of Porto’s hills to climb after that meal.

In our explorations, I noticed that nearly all the buildings in Porto are very, very old. There is just one large, oddly modern building in the center of town, which looks completely strange and gaudy compared to the beautiful, historic stone architecture surrounding it. The cloudy and sometimes lightly damp weather was refreshing after the sweltering heat of Catalonia.

Porto - Old Building Blue Sky

One of our missions in Porto was also to find Kat a Portuguese guitar. After scoping out a couple of shops, he found Porto Guitarra, which had an excellent selection and exceptionally helpful luthier running the shop. Kat spent a couple of hours playing cavaquinhos, bandolas, and violas before finding the perfect instrument. I’m no musical expert, but it is a beautiful instrument, both aurally and visually. I took a few glamour shots to memorialize the occasion:

Porto Guitarra

Rua do Bonjardim

Vila Nova de Gaia

On our last full day in Porto, we set out to cross the Ponte de Dom Luis I bridge into Vila Nova de Gaia. Just across the Duoro river, this city is home to many of the Porto caves (cellars) in the country. In fact, within the European Union, for any wine to be labeled “port” or “porto”, it must be from Portugal.

Porto - Dom Luís I Bridge

Porto - Vila Nova de Gaia

With so many options, it was difficult to decide where to have our tasting session, but we ending up choosing the Ramos Pinto port lodge.

Despite the slightly snobbish suggestion of our sommelier, we opted for the “Expert” tasting selection. Since this was going to be our only port tasting in the wine’s actual place of origin, we wanted to make the most of it. This selection included a Vintage, Late Bottled Vintage, and 10, 20, and 30 year Tawny Ports. The pours were generous, more than enough to leave the two of us sufficiently swimmy for the next few hours. After following the self-guided instructions – sniffing, swirling, swishing, and all that – we agreed the 20 year Tawny Port would be the souvenir to bring home. In the interest of subjecting the wine to as little agitation as possible, we opted to wait until Lisbon to make our purchase.

València, Spain

València is a beautiful, quiet city just a few hours southwest of Barcelona by train along the coast. I immediately felt at home upon arrival, receiving an incredibly thoughtful and authentic welcome from our Airbnb host, Carles. He insisted upon picking us up at the train station and drove us to the apartment we would call home for the following few days. He showed us around his simple, clean, and comfortable space, then went the extra mile to tell us all about his favorite things to see and do in València. At one point, he tentatively mentioned that we might be interested in the Ciudad de los Artes y las Ciencias, but that it is expensive and just as impressive from the outside where you don’t have to pay. We laughed and admitted that was our plan from the beginning, so we appreciated his honesty.

Once we made it clear that we hoped to avoid any tourist traps, the recommendations got even better! He took out a map and showed us where he grew up, in one of the small towns surrounding València’s rice fields. He suggested a reputable bike rental shop nearby and showed us the path to that we could take to visit some of the most beautiful, secluded beaches in the area and find the most delicious Valèncian paella. He also told us about Las Fallas, an annual festival held in March, in case we decided to come back again. This caught my interest enough that I might consider it!

We had few specific plans for València, so Carles’ advice was much appreciated. At the top of our list were: go to the beach and eat some paella. We now knew the best places to do those two things, and had an awesome bike ride in mind as well.

València’s Beaches

The beaches in València are soft, warm, and utterly beautiful. Platja la Malvarrosa is a lovely beach within the city limits, making it easily accessible by bike or metro. There are endless vendors lined up along the beach, so if you need a towel, a pair of flip-flops, or a frozen margarita, you’re covered. I’d highly recommend haggling as the prices are inflated for tourists, which this beach does attract a great deal of. My highest recommendation is to get to the beach early in the morning. It was ideal when we arrived around 9 on Sunday morning; the water was warm and the beach was empty.

Platja La Malvarrosa

The next day we rented bikes and rode south to El Saler, one of the tiny villages surrounding the expansive rice fields that Carles had mentioned. We followed the boardwalk path until we found the perfect beach to relax on. We encountered some interesting and some shady characters along the way. Most notably, a man that tried to lure us in with stories of partying with Jim Morrison on Ibiza in order to distract us while an accomplice undoubtedly prepared to swipe any valuables on hand. As we finally managed to peel ourselves away, he shouted after us “Tomatinaaaaa!”, presumably in reference to the annual Tomato Throwing Festival in Buñol, Spain. While the interaction was a bit tense before that moment, we pedaled away laughing at the comedy of his send-off. The expression has come up many times in our conversations since then. I’ve found it especially useful to lighten the mood in moments of anguish.

Once we discovered a largely empty stretch of beach, we took turns swimming and napping in the warming sun for the rest of the afternoon.

Platja del Saler

To begin our lengthy ride back to the city center, we stopped at a tiny restaurant in El Saler and feasted on authentic Valèncian paella, snails and all. It was delicious.

After the long, straight northward leg of the ride, we decided to take the path through the dried-up La Turia riverbed for the remainder of the ride. This winding green-space cuts through the center of València and is home to gardens, sports fields, and the previously mentioned Ciudad de los Artes y las Ciencias. As Carles recommended, we rode through the paths between this maze of museums, aquariums, and event spaces. The architecture of the buildings is truly impressive and they were surrounded by shallow, glistening pools. As we were riding through the late afternoon heat, we stopped for a quick, refreshing wade.

Ciudad de los Artes y las Ciencias

Ciutat Vella

Our apartment was located within València’s city center, Ciutat Vella. Here the narrow streets lead to plazas filled with musicians, vendors scooping gelato and pouring orxata, and of course more paella. Our favorite treats by far were the chocolate and whipped cream covered gofres from the chocolateria around the corner from the apartment. We definitely went back 2 or 3 times during our stay, taking up the exactly two seats in the establishment. Another tasty discovery was Agua de València, a cocktail composed of fresh-squeezed orange juice, cava, vodka, and gin. You can find this inspiriting beverage by the pitcher at the classiest of establishments.

I noticed that while the city center is constantly buzzing with activity during waking hours, the fun seems to wind down much early than in Barcelona. The pace feels a bit slower, the plazas brighter, and the locals speak less English, all of which I found refreshing. The city center does still cater to tourists, in contrast to the neighborhoods lining Platja la Malvarrosa. Nearly all food and drink establishments along the beach had handwritten signs posted on their doors notifying patrons of closure through the month of August.

While we primarily strolled the streets without any real destinations in mind, we did visit La Lonja de La Seda (the Silk Exchange), a UNESCO World Heritage Site and former trade building built in the Gothic architectural style. We happened to be there on a free admission day, but it would be worth a few Euro to see the great hall with columns twisting up to the towering ceiling, the courtyard filled with Valèncian orange trees, the ornately decorated ceiling and walls of the merchant tribunal pavilion, and of course the slightly spooky cellar underground.

València - La Lonja

València - La Lonja

Finally, I can’t go without mentioning the real heart of the city, Mercat Central. Filled with over 400 small, fresh food vendors, this is the place to go for all home cooking needs. After more than a week of endless rich, savory, cheesey Spanish food, we were ready for a few light, home-prepared meals. We couldn’t help but picking up a few €1 fresh squeezed juices from the fruiterias to sip on as we strolled the aisles. We also discovered Retrogusto, without a doubt the best coffee roaster on our entire Iberian adventure. Even living in a coffee mecca like Portland, I still dream about that coffee.

Ciutat Vella, Barcelona

Ciutat Vella is “old city” Barcelona. This district is made up of the Barri Gòtic, El Raval, La Ribera, and La Barceloneta neighborhoods. This area is a labyrinth of narrow streets spilling out into the occasional plaça, with effigies of gods and heroes making appearances throughout. Cafes open at a leisurely early afternoon hour, nightclubs  operate until the early morning hours, and all manner of shops cater to the constant influx of tourists.

Unfortunately, along with the waves of tourists come the prevalence of pickpockets. When going out, I would recommend taking only what you need with you. Leave your passport and the majority of your cash under lock and key wherever you are staying. I would not let this dissuade you from going out to explore this very cool part of Barcelona, just be smart about it and remain aware of your surroundings!

We did not spend much time in El Raval (except passing through) or La Barceloneta, so I’ll just focus on the two neighborhoods in Ciutat Vella that we explored at more length.

Barri Gòtic

We stayed at an Airbnb apartment in the Barri Gòtic. There are some main streets and squares that seem to be busy every hour of the day and night. Most of the winding side streets only start to get lively in the late evening, but stay that way throughout the night and into the morning. Unless the balcony doors and windows in your apartment are sound-proof or you are a very heavy sleeper,  I would bet that its unlikely you will get much rest staying in this neighborhood.

The streets are lined with 5 and 6 floor buildings, usually with shops, cafes and restaurants along the first floor. The apartments on the upper floors seem pretty consistent in their design from the outside. Each apartment has two tiny walk-out (or perhaps “step-out” would be more accurate) balconies.

Ciutat Vella Street View

La Ribera

Directly adjacent to Barri Gòtic is La Ribera, a trendy and also rather touristy neighborhood in Ciutat Vella. There are several museums in La Ribera, including the Museu Picasso.

This neighborhood is also home to the popular Parc de la Ciutadella, with its lovely walking trails, a small lake you can paddle around in rented boats, the towering golden Cascada Monumental (pictured just below), and plenty of entrepreneurial entertainers playing music, making giant bubbles, and sketching caricatures of passes-by. You can also stroll to the Castell dels Tres Dragons and the famous Arc de Triomph (last photo below).

Ciutadella Park

Arc de Triomf

I think that concludes my four-part Barcelona review, at least for this year. I’m already looking forward to my next visit, so I can explore the rest of the areas we could not fit into our four-day trip this time around.

Sagrada Família

Sorting through the hundreds of photos I took at the Sagrada Família was a daunting task. I wanted to identify only those photos that captured the constantly shifting colors and light pouring in through the stained glass windows, the structures so clearly inspired by the natural world, and the intricately sculpted scenes constructing the exterior of the basilica.

Interior

It is impossible to really understand the range of emotions evoked by a visit to the Sagrada Família by simply looking at photos of the space. For this reason, I urge you visit yourself. I was told this before I went. It’s true and I’m glad I went.

The basilica is massive and each pillar, window, wall, and statue seems to flow perfectly into the next visual space. Isolating one piece, no matter how majestic, only tells a tiny piece of the story. You really have to be there, gaze up and around you, wander throughout the space in order to understand.

Sagrada Ceiling

Sagrada Windows Yellow Green

Sagrada Jesus

Exterior

The exterior of the basilica is full of tiny, almost secretive details, like the magic square pictured below. This square can be found in many locations and various sizes through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection façade, which faces west toward the setting sun. Add up the numbers in any row, column, or diagonal line within the grid, and you’ll arrive at the magic constant of 33, Jesus’ age at the time of his crucifixion.

There is meaning in every detail of the Sagrada Família. A little research ahead of time will go along way toward noticing them as you explore the space. Try to plan your visit considering the time of day. As you’ll notice, both the interior and exterior change drastically depending on the position of the sun in the sky. I went in the late afternoon and it was pretty incredible, though I imagine early morning while the sun is just rising would be an even more fascinating experience.

Sagrada Magic Square

Que Es La Veritat?

Sagrada Exterior Statue