Almost one year ago, as we traveled across China by train, we were arriving in Xi'an to see the famed Terracotta Army and its thousands of impressive underground Warriors. If you followed along that journey, or just read that post, you know that seeing the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an, although clearly amazing, was quite the harrowing experience. See, China has a lot of people. And most of those people were also trying to look into the excavated pits to see some of the Warriors when we were. To be fair that was our fault for going in August. We didn't get the best view, and it was probably the most stressed out I've ever been. Haha that's not true I'm stressed out all the time but still, wow. So when we heard that the Terracotta warriors (not all; there are thousands) were going on tour, and one of those tour stops would be Liverpool, we thought 1) jfc we went all the way to Xi'an to see them and they are coming a mere two hours from home?? 1b) it's okay Xi'an was amazing and it was worth going, and 2) we should go to Liverpool and see our old friends again! So we did. And we liked it, and we loved it.
Fourteen months ago, we embarked upon the most insane adventure yet. About 10 months ago, we ended that trip with a short jaunt through one of our favorite cities, Berlin. That's right people, this is the last post for our sabbatical adventure. After such exhilarating, exhausting travels, ending our nearly 4 months of being dirty and hungry (not really) (but kind of) in Berlin would be a relaxing treat for us. It's a city we know well and love, one we didn't have to frantically rush around in order to see all the big tourist attractions, and - most importantly - the one that would have all the vegan food I could want, including my first real vegan ice cream in almost 4 months. Yup, I went the entirety of last summer without good (non-fruit sorbet) ice cream (by the time we got to Berlin, it was fall). I'm sure I don't have to tell you that this summer I've been more than making up for that nonsense, but that's not what we're here to talk about today. No, today we are pretty much going to be looking at pictures of all the junk I ate in 24 hours in Berlin. (If you want a tourism guide, go here: Berlin Travel Guide)
When Husband and I were planning our trip through Andalusia, we were as gung-ho on going to little-known Ceuta as we were on going to our main attractions Seville and Granada, even though there's nothing to do there, it's not necessarily beautiful, and it's not known for any particularly good food or landmarks. Why would we be so determined to visit this lil baby hamlet (#yayhamlet) for barely 24 hours when we had such a tight schedule? Because Ceuta is a Spanish town, but it's in Africa. So weird right! Located across the Strait of Gibraltar at the northernmost point of Africa, Ceuta is a Spanish autonomous city, which for us means one thing - another addition on the Travelers' Century Club list. Yes we are nerds but we want to hit that 100 mark!
After a few days in Seville, Husband and I traveled to Granada, mostly to see the Alhambra. I have to admit, I had no idea about the Alhambra before this trip. How could I have known, when most of my life I thought Granada was a fake camp made up in the song I refer to in the title? (By the way, today I learned that that song won a Grammy.) (So has LeVar Burton which is my favorite random fact.) (Obama has two.) Obviously, I had no idea of the wonder that was in store for me. Not only is the Alhambra even more incredible than you can imagine, but Granada itself was probably my favorite city of our whole trip through Andalusia. Is it because it was the only one with a strong vegetarian restaurant that I really enjoyed? The world will never know. But that wouldn't change the fact that I had a very enjoyable time.
Recently, Husband and I spent a weekend in Madrid, and then two weeks later we returned to Spain for an extended trip through Andalusia, because whenever we go to Spain, we go back two weeks later. Not really on purpose, it's just how our travels always fall and it's weird but hey we like Spain. If we go to Spain once, we go twice, usually in the same month. But this part of Spain, the southern part, was new to us, although I did spend a weekend during college in Malaga at a resort I found on hostelworld.com for supercheap but I didn't leave the resort the whole time so it doesn't really count. Also I was alone at the resort, which was filled with Spanish families and lots of children and everyone stared me and it was the most awkward thing ever. Anyway, we're not here to talk about that. We are here to talk about something that finally surpassed the awkwardness of that Malaga weekend: Easter week in Seville. See, we didn't realize that Seville was the epicentre of Easter, not until we were smack dab in the center of the insane crowds and shocking costumes. I don't know if you know this, but you know Jesus? Hoo boy, he's big there. And Jesus Fever spreads at similar strengths throughout all of Andalusia, so while I'm just talking about Seville today, the rest of my Andalusia posts will feature similar levels of craycray bananapants.
Last summer, Husband and I spent a lovely vacation all over Malta, a tiny country with many beautiful sights and at least one very amazing Eurovision song. It’s just below Sicily and to the east of Tunisia so, unfortunately, it’s often overlooked when people plan vacations to the area and choose the more well-known places. They/you shouldn’t, because Malta is a wonderful spot for a holiday. It offers a calmer, smaller experience than the more famous places in the area but with natural beauty and charm and (most importantly when coming from Britain) warmth. I wrote about Valletta, the capital, a while back and I’ll be writing about all the different places we saw eventually, but today I want to talk about Gozo, the even tinier island just to the northeast of the main island. Gozo was probably our favorite part of Malta. It had stunning natural beauty and interesting archaeological sites. The seemingly endless dirt ‘roads’ and desert-like atmosphere made it seem like we were discovering new land, which is a hard feeling to have in Europe.
Not gonna lie, I didn't even know Malta was a whole country until like a few years ago. Living in Europe really teaches you about European geography! We had a few extra vacation days to use up this summer, because the UK is a place where people who take a shittonne of vacation can actually have extra, because Europe is civilized (civilised) (well the UK used to be) (it's all going to shit now). So we thought, hey, what's a warm place that we can get to fairly easily that we haven't been to yet? Husband: Malta! Me: Like where the flufferpups are?!
I first went to Madrid, Spain about a decade ago. During my study abroad year (in Florence), I took a whirlwind 18-hour trip to Madrid to visit one of my best friends from high school. All I had was a spare Saturday night in the middle of my insane solo spring break tour of Spain (it was insane because it was solo, not because I went clubbing in Barcelona because I didn't) and so hopped over to Madrid for dinner with my friend, then sleep, and then a first-in-line sprint through the Prado.
This year, I visited for the second time, and luckily was able to almost triple the length of time spent in this glorious city! That is, a regular weekend. We were there for two main reasons: to see Audra McDonald in concert (can't break my 15-year streak of seeing her live every year!) and to eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant. (The latter will come in the next post.) But Madrid is such a fun, cosmopolitan, modern city that we barely had enough time to cover the basics.
Basque country is the land of pintxos, little bar food snacks which are kind of like tapas but are mostly on pieces of baguette with toothpicks sticking out of them. All the coolest places in Bilbao have bar tops covered in pintxos and rooms packed with people drinking and socializing and helping themselves to the various pieces of decorated bread. But you cannot be one of those people if you are vegan. No sir, you will miss out.
As soon as we stepped off the airport bus near our hotel in Bilbao, the pouring rain turned to hail. It was hailing on us. Serious, scary balls of hail pounding on us like we've never before experienced. What a lovely welcome, Bilbao!
Luckily, the hail stopped that night, but the rain continued for almost our entire visit. That sucks, but although Bilbao isn't as pretty in the rain as Paris is, it was still a solid trip in a nice city. Now, those adjectives might seem decidedly underwhelming, but I mean them with all my heart without going overboard with praise. Also, Gabrielle Union was wrong and you cannot just be whelmed in Europe.
Perhaps my favorite part of the world (if only because it includes Florence), Western Europe is where I became a travel enthusiast. And a gelato enthusiast.