A Travellerspoint blog

May 2011

USA: New York:Newton’s Big Apple Has Hit the Ground

May 26, 2011

sunny 75 °F

We arrived into Madrid at 5:30am and immediately headed to the hotel where we had left one of our bags. We quickly grabbed it and took the Metro directly to the airport. We were so proud of ourselves when we checked in for this last flight on our around the world trip. We had made it without having paid ANY excess or overweight baggage fees . . . that is until we got to security and realized we had forgotten to move the gourmet olive oil and marmalade we had bought for Jess and David into one of our checked bags!! :( Ruby was pretty upset and really didn’t want to have to throw these expensive things away so in her state of delirium she tried to give them away to fellow passengers—LUCKILY she didn’t escorted out by security! Instead she found a girl from Texas whose friend was seeing her off all the way to the security gates and Ruby happily handed the gifts off to her.

The security guards probably looked at our passports and decided we needed an extra security check—and on the x-ray machine they noticed that our alabaster vase from Luxor, Egypt had cracked :( Luckily these were the only two hiccups we had at the end of our trip. Our flight was pretty uneventful and we contentedly watched Gulliver’s Travels (the doll house scene is hilarious) and the new Karate Kid movie until the pilot said we would be landing at JFK in 30 minutes. . . and that’s when gravity started to have its effects (figuratively and literally) as we came back down to earth.

We were happy to see Tony’s dad Jeff as he picked us up at the airport. We immediately suffered through horrendous NY traffic on our way to Queens. You guys would never guess our first meal back in the states: White Castle. Yup, that’s right White Castle. Couldn’t have picked anything worse. We felt pretty ill eating that after all the delicious fresh, natural foods we had enjoyed on our trip. We thought we were dreaming when we saw a Chase Bank, Best Buy, Target, Radio Shack, and CVS all in the same block! Never has life been this convenient. It was like paradise. Funny how our perspective had changed.

That night we met Jeff’s friend Terri and her daughter Christine for a little bit and settled down at our friend Makeda’s house. She generously was allowing us to couch surf until we found our own place in Brooklyn. As usual, we weren’t ready to relax so we drove around researching the different neighborhoods in Brooklyn to figure out the parking situation at night! Ruby instantly wanted to go to her fave Italian spot in Park Slope so we ate dinner at Tutta Pasta. It was perfect but expensive (as we’re realizing most things are going to be after visiting so many third world countries). BTW, Happy Birthday Aunt Jackie!

Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:29 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Spain: Sevilla: We are coming home and Happy Birthday Preet!

May 25, 2011

sunny 103 °F

Today was our last full day on holiday! :( Tony hadn’t skated very much in Spain so he started his day with a quick trip down to the skate park by the river. Ruby used this quiet time to updating the blog and work on the internet. After a quick shower back at the hotel we had the pleasure of knowing this would be the last time we would have to cram all our stuff into these tiny bags! We don’t know how much more the bags could handle but doing a trip like this will definitely test anything you bring . . . especially the bags. Levies was delicious yesterday so we went back and this time we tried the “berenjenas con salmorejo y miel de cana” one of their specialties. The flavors were really unique, crispy savory eggplant with salmorejo sauce mixed with fresh honey. YUM :) This would be our last lunch on a very long vacation (well other than airplane lunch we’re sure to have tomorrow). We burned off some calories by taking a walk past the Giralda Catedral, stopping to smell the orange trees and seeing if Embrujo boutique had another dress like the one that Ruby was wearing last night. Sadly, they didn’t have any that Ruby liked as much as the one last night.

We then took a leisurely walk thought the Plaza de Espana on what we think was the hottest day we’ve had in Spain. Ruby used what we think was the worst bathroom in all of Spain and we paid for it (in more ways than one). As we walked around we met two guys from New York, Eric and David who lived in Spain for school a few years ago. We had a great conversation about New York and the new adventure we would be starting tomorrow. We then tried our best to grab a late lunch but everything was closed. The only places that are open in the early afternoon are tourist destinations and bad Spanish versions of TGIF. We made a bad decision and ended up eating some fish balls instead of what we thought would be an amazing afternoon of tapas.

On our way back to the hotel we ran into our friends David and Eric again with Eric’s wife Melanie at a small bar in Plaza Alfalfa. We drank sangria and started planning her True Blood Sunday Nights with Melanie. It was so nice to meet them! Thanks for picking up the tab you guys! We must have looked so defeated as we pushed, pulled, and dragged all our stuff over cobblestone streets to the bus station. All we could think was “just one more night bus” until we get back to our comfy bed! Our new friend Melanie Bolyai is an acupuncturist in Manhattan so we may be paying her a visit when we get back to town for our backs after all these bus rides! :)

On the 6 hour bus ride to Madrid (our last on this trip) we could hardly breathe, we felt such an amazing sense of accomplishment. We had set out to do this trip while taking risks and making sacrifices to make it happen. We were able to go above and beyond everything we had hoped to do. We saw the good, the bad, the ugly AND the REALLY ugly about each other and other people. We were able to strengthen our trust in each other by infinite amounts. Ruby cried like the day she found out she matched into dermatology in New York—in a way, the sense of accomplishment was the same. We’re just so happy that this trip worked out the way we had planned and couldn’t have asked for a better experience! Looking out the window as the sun is setting we are thinking about all the amazing things we’d done, places we’ve been, and most importantly people we’ve meet. This has been an experience that will change us for the rest of our lives! Good night Spain!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 04:24 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Spain: Sevilla: Friends, Fresh Olive Oil and Flamenco

May 24, 2011

sunny 88 °F

This would be our last full day in Sevilla and we were trying to make the most out of it! First thing we spent some time booking flights for Wikki, Jenny and Vicki’s weddings today and realized that the Icelandic volcano eruption could impact our flight from Spain tomorrow due to heavier particles hanging out in the air . . . hopefully not! We are ready to get back home and unpack our bags for a while :)

We started by looking for a lunch spot . . . and we found the perfect one for our budget! In Europe they always talk about the "menu del dia" or the menu of the day which is supposed to save you lots of money . . . they only problem is: we usually want something other than what they're serving that day! It was our lucky day though when we found Levie's and the sign said: "a eligir de la carta" which essentially means pick what you like from the menu! :) We had such a yummy lunch that was a total throwback to our time in Argentina because we ordered the chicken in mustard sauce!

Afterwards we wandered around town checking out all these little boutiques and tapas spots along the street until we ended up where all the tourists hang out--near the main Cathedral at the Plaza Virgen de los Reyes and Giralda tower. It is quite a sight to see, it's huge but beautiful with horse drawn carriages taking people on romantic rides around this area. We enjoyed walking in the shade of the cathedral until we came to the Alcazar. We contemplated going in there but after The Alhambra we didn't think it could compare so we opted to skip it. While walking around here Ruby had seen something about olive oil tasting in Sevilla and we were off on a hunt for a place that did olive oil tasting. Along the way a mannequin wearing a silk dress caught Ruby's eye. We ended up walking into this little boutique and she tried on all the silk dresses they had. While Ruby was trying them on two girls walked in and decided to offer their opinions of their favorites too. Both Catherine and Ruby bought dresses. Before we knew it, the four of us were heading off for some olive oil tasting together. Caitlin and Catherine are two very interesting people--Catherine lived in India for years as a baby clothes designer and Caitlin lives in LA-- both would be heading to Morocco next. We couldn't help but tell them both how much we loved it. Even luckier than us, Catherine had some local friends down there. . we'll need to compare notes and see how they like their experience.

We finally found the olive oil tasting place and sat down for some wine and sangria to go with it. It was pretty fun--we never knew how distinctive each olive oil could taste until we tasted them in sequence. Some were very grassy/green, other super olive-y and others just pure delicious! We settled on our favorite and bought some gourmet orange marmalade (Sevilla's famous for it) for Ruby's sister Jess and her fiancé David to go with it! Afterwards we were all ready for our afternoon siesta! The art of Flamenco originated in Sevilla and since we had so much fun with the girls we invited them to the flamenco show that we would be going to later that night.

After napping we got up and ready. Since it was our last night in Sevilla Ruby couldn't resist wearing the new dress she just bought. It's silk and oh so very Indian! We met up with the girls and enjoyed a truly authentic flamenco experience complete with a guitarist and intricate clapping and stomping! The costumes weren't fancy so we knew we were in an authentic spot. Some of the locals were drinking a milky looking liquid and we found out that's a local specialty: kava with whipped cream . . . we gave it a try of course. Not our favorite :)

We couldn't end the night so early. . It was only midnight! So we decided to go find a late night snack. The Plaza and Giralda were gorgeous at night and it was so warm you didn't even need a jacket. After walking around we realized that most places were closed already! Luckily we found a spot serving tapas and ice cream. After chatting it up with this crazy group of guys wearing red pants we all enjoyed some more wine and dessert before heading home. We gave the girls hugs and hope that we'll get to see them again in LA or NYC.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:40 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Spain: Sevilla: Tangier to Tapas

May 23, 2011

sunny 83 °F

Unfortunately for us, this was no better a night train ride than any of the ones we’d had previously. This silly pair of men decided to SIT in our car for their short ride in the middle of night instead of moving down to an empty car or the train car with seats. Somehow we did manage to get a few hours of sleep in. Tony slept facing one direction and Ruby facing the other on a 2 foot wide by 5 foot long bench seat. At 7am, groggy and exhausted we hauled our bags loaded with Moroccan goodies off the train and headed directly into the wall of taxi drivers. After a bit of negotiating we were off to catch the ferry from Tangier to Tarifa. Ruby would like to blame the sleep deprivation for her falling into a tout trap so early in the morning—at the ferry station some guy directed us where to go and started filling out our forms for the ferry. Of course at the end he tried to get 10 Euros out of us but little did he know that we were at the tail end of our around the world trip! Besides, do you know what you can buy for 10 Euros in some of the countries we visited!?

Instead of a restful 1 hour nap to Tarifa we were assaulted by the sound of excited school kids on a field trip. Needless to say we could not wait to get to a hotel . . . it would be a while though. Tarifa was cold and windy. Besides that, the bus was ready to drive off without us so we just took a quick photo or two and then jumped on the next bus heading to Algeciras. The 45 minute ride passed through rolling hills spotted with horses and windmills before dropping us off at the port in Algeciras. We tried to rent a car but they were all booked so we just caught the next bus up to Sevilla. On the ride we finally got some blissful rest but did see some cool statues along the way.

Finally at long last we arrived in Sevilla but of course neither one of us had done much research on it. So we did what we normally do: look for the two most American-looking people at the bus station and ask them if they have a travel book or map of the city that we can look at! A few minutes later with our bearings gathered we were off to the old part of town. The first thing we noticed were the gorgeous orange tree-lined streets. Of course these streets are tiny and convoluted so we got lost along with tons of other tourists. It was hilarious to see everyone carrying a map, looking confused and trying their best to find a street sign. Ruby sat down for an afternoon glass of wine and some tapas while Tony looked for an inexpensive hotel in Sevilla (which by the way is not an easy task!). Eventually we settled on Virgen de La Luz Pension which was in a great location. The hotel is a little hidden but the staff is friendly and the room was nice and bright. If you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning then you know that our favorite thing to do after a long night of travel is shower, rest and go find some delicious food . . .which is easy to do in Spain!

Downstairs in the lobby we went another couple travelling and they recommended we cross a bridge to the other side of town. We had perfect timing and got to enjoy a gorgeous sunset followed by a colorful sky at dusk while enjoying our fave: “gambas al ajillo” (garlic butter shrimp) with wine. We strolled around town until we found another local spot. This was REALLY local because no one spoke English and the bartender kept track of our order by writing the total in chalk on the countertop! One of the big specialties in Sevilla is “caracoles”. We watched people scarf down these small snails, we were tempted to try them but couldn’t muster up the courage. Not quite ready to head home we decided to try one more spot. We ended up drinking sangria until one in the morning. The last place we went to did not have pimientos de padron on the menu but when Ruby asked the girl said “yeah we can do that” and promptly went to the grocery store around the corner to buy the peppers! WOW, talk about service. It was a great way to end the evening . . . content. Unfortunately in our contentment we missed the last bus but looking at the map it really didn’t look that far. You would think that by now we would have learned that paper maps are often NOT to scale! We slowly meandered our way back to the hotel stopping occasionally to ask directions; luckily we found it before passing out in exhaustion.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:35 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Morocco: Marrakesh: Exotic Spices, Soaps and Scrubs

May 22, 2011

sunny 88 °F

Today is our last day in Marrakesh and we are really sad about it. We walked around and tried to enjoy every last second while soaking in the culture. Marrakesh has to be the best place for exotic travel by far! There are lots of Europeans who live here so Tony was able to blend in instead of his usual obvious tourist appearance. We went on a mission hunting for the plates we love so much and ended up on the other side of Marrakesh in front of a closed store (Sunday) :( That was disappointing but thanks to our awesome camera we were able to zoom in on the price tags from OUTSIDE the store and take pictures for negotiating in the market later. Once we got that sorted out we noticed that we were in a very French neighborhood which makes sense since Morocco was colonized by the French for some time—this is where Tony fit in well. After gaining some bargaining power we headed back through the souk . . . along the way we could smell the spices, hear meat sizzling on the grill and see lanterns glowing on their display hooks. Ruby couldn’t resist the smells and ended buying lots of spices including the Moroccan 35 spice mix for cooking in a tagine and seasonings for chicken and fish. We hope to use these in our own cooking at home. She didn’t care for Moroccan curry though—it’s too sweet! We also picked up some black soap which is made using the oil from olives as a base.

By this time we were starved and at a rooftop restaurant we ordered chicken kebabs but ended up eating something that may have pigeon. We didn’t eat much before we walked out of there. . it was terrible! At least the view was nice . . . and we got to admire some Moroccan carpets from afar; if we got too close Ruby might be tempted to buy one and lug it around with us on the rest of the trip like our friend Carine from South Africa did!

Before we said bye bye to Morocco Ruby couldn’t leave without indulging in a classic massage at our hotel and spa. This was insane, for $35 (including a generous tip) they bathed her with eucalyptus black soap , shampooed her hair, scrubbed her with a loofah, applied a mud mask to her entire body with an herbal mask to her face and followed all that with time in the steam room. Afterwards, Ruby had a full body massage with warmed scented oils and a facial. It was heavenly and they played Buddha Bar 4 during the whole time; Ruby liked it so much that she asked to borrow it so she could play it and remember this amazing experience! Afterwards we watched the sun go down just as we boarded our night train to Tangier . . . we opted for second class again . . . fingers crossed that we don’t have to share our cabin tonight!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 13:00 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Morocco: Marrakesh:Ten Tagines Just to Start---FOODIE ALERT

May 21, 2011

sunny 92 °F

We started our day at 5am with some woman yelling at us in Arabic to make room for her and her baby while trying to squeeze her way into our cabin. Ruby was so out of it that she yelled back “GET OUT and go to another room, we’re sleeping”! After that, the lady grabbed her bags and we never saw her again. Don’t mess with Ruby at 5am! Besides that, there were several other cars with people who weren't trying to sleep. We arrived into Marrakesh and grabbed a cab going over to the medina around Jemaa El Fna Plaza and the old part of town. As we quickly learned the medina is actually a walled area containing tons of narrow maze-like streets that are easy to get lost inside! After a little walking around with a new found “friend” (aka tout) we finally found our hotel, which we love! It’s called Les Colours de’ Oriente, it’s sort of like a spa and boutique hotel. There’s a center court yard, tiled walls, and great seats for chilling outside. We dropped our stuff off and were oh so happy to take showers and start our day.

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As we walked around the souk (market) while catching whiffs of exotic spices, dodging speeding scooters and stray cats we realized that we had definitely made the right decision coming to Marrakesh. It was so exotic but at the same time easy. The shop owners were friendly and didn’t give us a hard time if we decided not to buy anything. All that scooter-dodging made us hungry to we headed to Dar Essalam, personally recommended by the owner of our hotel. It was just down a small alley not too far away. The restaurant was established in 1952 with amazing detailed dining rooms that look exactly like what you think of as being Moroccan. One of the first things we noticed were the gorgeous place settings at our table. The restaurant was featured in the 1956 Alfred Hitchcock film “the man who knew too much” . . . thus being a little more expensive than those on the main square. However, the place was so beautiful with wonderful service and yummy food that we couldn’t complain! We started with a Moroccan salad which turned out to be six types of salad including carrots, white beans, cucumbers, and an aubergine dish to die for! Our first Moroccan tagine prepared dish was of lamb and vegetable and it was perfect. After eating so much that we could hardly breathe we decided to continue our Spanish tradition of the afternoon siesta and headed back to the hotel.

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After waking up we went for a walk down to the medina and did some window shopping looking at hand-made lanterns, leather bags, and spices. We tried to avoid the snake handlers because we don’t like their practice of de-fanging the cobras but they were hard to avoid . . . or resist! A familiar sound was Tony getting offered another 1 million camels for Ruby. Must be an Africa thing because Tony wasn’t offered any camels for Ruby in Spain! We stopped at a beautiful area selling spices and olives where Ruby got a bag of FREE seasoned olives from one of the vendors. We wanted to pay but didn’t have any small change and he said don’t worry about it! As we walked around town we came across a shop selling the same porcelain plates we ate on earlier today at Dar Essalam. . . we couldn’t resist and bought tree serving plates. . . so when you come to New York maybe we’ll serve something on them for you! On the walk back we had some of the best fresh squeezed OJ EVER! :)

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Back at the room we got on the computer and did some “work”. We didn’t really know how we would be getting back to Spain but we had to be there soon. After doing some price comparison we decided taking the night train, then a taxi, then a boat, and then a bus to Sevilla. . .yeah, the cheap way! This was in competition with a direct flight to Madrid for $88 USD each but we didn’t want to skip Sevilla :) We had dinner at Dar Nejjarine, another personal recommendation. We got a little lost looking for this one too but after a little walking around we found another “friend” to show us the way. This restaurant was even more amazing, with 10 different Moroccan salad starters in mini-tagines, bread, and a bottle of wine. Then our main dish, a tagine of cous cous with chicken, Yum! We didn’t think we’d enjoy Morocco as much as we have but tonight with the light breeze blowing through the tented ceiling, live Arabic music and belly dancers we wish we could stay longer! Just for a moment we forget just how close we are to going home.

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Afterward we walked back through crazy alleys on a lively Saturday night and arrived into the large square with music, food and tons of street vendors. A café at Jemaa El Fna square was the site of the terrorist bombing a month back but everything seems really safe and calm now. We didn’t want to test our luck on this perfect day so we headed to bed.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:26 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Morocco: Tangier: Back on Africa Time!

May 20, 2011

sunny 85 °F

We got up this morning and man are we happy that we left one of our bags in Madrid! We didn’t think the hill was this steep when we walked down it the other day? Ruby stopped at the store and grabbed some fruit on the way up the hill and we realized that it’s cheaper to eat apples and bananas than candy! We got on a bus in Marabella and just an hour later we arrived at the port in Algeciras, Spain. Unfortunately Tony forgot to grab our backpack from the bus so instead of getting on a ferry we ran half way across town to the other bus station. Luckily, we got there just as the bus that dropped us off was pulling up and grabbed the bag :) Now Tony doesn’t have to buy Ruby all new toiletries!

We arrived at the port a little after 3pm and the next ferry was going out at 3:30, but only to the new port at Tangier MED 45 min outside of town (33 Euros per ticket). They told us that the ferry would take an hour and 45 minutes and they would have a bus there to take us into town for FREE. This sounded good and it was . . . too good! We forgot that we were now back on Africa Time! The boat didn’t even move until 4, it took over 2 hours to get into Morocco, and then we had to wait 45 min for the bus to arrive before it took us into Tangier over 45 min away. That’s a total of over 7 hours and even more if you add in the taxi to the train station. If you plan on doing this trip we suggest you pay the extra 4 Euros and got straight into Tangier (Old Port)! The ferry crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and we had some great views of the back of the Rock of Gibraltar. The Strait of Gibraltar is only 14km wide and leads to Tangier which is known as the “Gateway to Africa”. We arrived and were surprised to find that Tangier was pretty modern. There were nightclubs and McDonalds within easy reach. After exchanging some money we grabbed a sandwich and the guy didn’t even charge Ruby for the olives she asked for (so nice)! We watched the sunset on the beach and then walked up to the train station which is only a 5 minute walk from the boardwalk and got on the 9:45pm night train to Marrakesh. The trip takes around 10 hrs (Africa Time so maybe around 11 hours).

The second class seats are insane, with bench seat rooms built for 8 people. Everyone runs in to grab an open area to sleep. We were told that the train is usually not busy so you can usually get an open cabin and sleep all the way. I don’t know if it was because it was Friday or because the information we got was outdated but there were so many people on the train that eventually two people came into our cabin. The lady lived in Spain but was on her way to visit her husband for the weekend. She was super nice and even helped keep more than 4 people from coming in and joining us (by yelling at them in Arabic)! It was great having them in the car until these two started talk to each other. It was crazy; they were yelling to each other back and forth and talking incessantly for 3 hours of the ride. We were pretty tired from our traveling day and lucky for them the guy finally got off the train before Ruby killed them! We finally went to bed and were not disturbed for most of the night.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 15:37 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Spain: Marabella: Wandering the Streets ---FOODIE ALERT

May 19, 2011

overcast 70 °F

We certainly slept in today before heading out around noon. We decided to stay another day here when the owner offered us the room for only 20 Euros a night. . can’t beat that around here! It was chilly outside so the first thing we noticed is that Ruby’s favorite fleece was missing. . when we got to La Pesqueria the waiter from last night had it waiting and joked that Ruby didn’t need the fleece last night after all the wine we had! Afterwards we walked through this tiny town of Marabella until we ended up on the beach and were drawn in by the sign saying 1 Euro montaditos (small tapas) at El Bodegon Cafe. Thus, we ate our brunch beachside, it was FREEZING outside but we could make out the semblance of gorgeous aquamarine water in the distance. Our brunch was basically the classics, olives, manchego cheese, albondigas (meatballs), papas bravas, and Ruby’s favorite: pimientos de pardon all washed down with some sangria and red wine. We basically had to roll ourselves back to our room for a siesta after that. Along the way we stopped to check out an art gallery and do some window shopping. They really love these funky rotund bull sculptures around here! It’s a good thing Ruby didn’t really like them because I think they’re a little out of our price range! :) We stopped by a little bakery for some goodies on the way back to our room. We are running out of everything and at a little boutique Tony picked up a pair of Spanish boxers that may make him look like an exotic dancer LOL. . . this may be because we need to do laundry or because Ruby has a thing for European unmentionables ;-)

This afternoon Tony worked on his resume on the rooftop deck . . . if you’re reading this in Brooklyn, he could really use a job! :) After all this travelling we can’t believe that it’s just one week to the day we’re back to reality. We had been talking about that garlic shrimp at La Pesqueria all day and how delicious it would be for dinner, so we decided to start with that tonight. Unfortunately they only have preset menus and we couldn’t order the one thing we liked :( Instead, we stopped at another restaurant that EVERYONE had been talking about near a little church in the center of the city. We like to judge a restaurant by the smell we get when we walk in and the “vibe”. As we walked in we got no good smells, had a bad vibe, the menu had over 4 languages and everything was overpriced! By the way the number of languages on a menu in Spain = the markup on the prices! We had one round of wine, paid and walked out. We then stopped at a small restaurant called Mas Ke Pintxos that was located on the main road and I think the cook must have known Ruby personally because he used all her fave ingredients. Every dish had lots of veggies, eggplant, bacon, parmesan . . . you know all the yummy stuff! We got a few tapas items that were heavenly; thin slices of eggplant drizzled with honey, sirloin strips with goat cheese and caramelized onions, and another eggplant dish with parmesan cheeses and roasted red peppers. Let’s just say we left there happy. Tony ordered a salmon, roe, and veggie bocadito but I don’t think he enjoyed that one very much.

On the way to the next spot we passed a pretty fountain and some metal sculptures by Dali—Ruby’s favorite was the Elefante Cosmico. It’s hard not to stay out all night in Spain because no one goes out until 11 and we don’t know if you can even eat before 9pm? To top off our night we went back to El Bodegon Café where we ate brunch and savored their gambas a pil-pil which were the best ones we’ve had to date! We eventually made it back to our room and passed out. We’re thinking another bus tomorrow and maybe another country?

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 05:58 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Spain: Marabella: In Europe the Customer is Always Wrong

May 18, 2011

rain 68 °F

First thing in the morning we were packed and ready to head to Malaga the hometown of Pablo Picasso. We stopped to eat a bit of lunch and discovered “gambas a pil-pil” when Ruby had to ask “what is pil-pil?” They are shrimp in a semi-spicy garlic chili-oil type mixture. YUM! That along with some chorizo and patatas made a nice snack. We attempted to find a hotel we liked but after having spent time in Granada, Malaga just had too much of an industrial feeling with large cranes at the port. We did try to check out a few skate shops in town but they were all closed for siesta. So. . . . back to the bus station we went and while thinking of our friend Nancy Barboni we hopped on a bus heading down the Costa del Sol to Marabella. We took the comfiest bus EVER on Portillo—it was like flying first class with huge leather seats, lots of legroom and power outlets :) It was ugly outside with no “sol” to be found but we still liked Marabella right away! It’s an adorable little beach town and also the place where celebs like to spend their holidays.

Hostal del Pilar where we stayed was in a terrific location, right in the center of it all. We rested for a bit until dinner time. The owner of our hostel recommended a place just around the corner but we headed out for some tapas first. Tony’s wine was good but Ruby’s glass of wine tasted a little off so she told the waitress (in Spanish of course) that perhaps it was because it was the last glass in the bottle and there were sediments? This is when we learned that in Europe—the customer is always WRONG. The waitress brought back the bottle to show us that she had not poured the sediments into the glass—but it still tasted off anyway! Oh well! After that we headed to La Pesqueria, let’s just say that the ambiance in there is very Spanish :) We ordered a set menu including grilled meats but the star of the show was definitely the gambas al ajillo which came out sizzling! We shared a bottle of rioja and practically fell asleep at the table! On our way to our room we ran into Billy from Galway and Danny from Liverpool. They were a lot of fun. We thought we’d heard some tough accents before—but deciphering what they were saying was not easy. They treated us to a couple of canas de cerveza (beer) and we stayed up until 1 am chatting about everything from how Billy believes it is her destiny to live in the US just as Ruby believes hers is to live in Italy! We fell asleep to the sound of the storm outside with thunderclaps and heavy raindrops falling on the roof.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 05:09 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Spain: Granada: Red Wine and Red Castles ---FOODIE ALERT

May 17, 2011

sunny 83 °F

Ruby cursed the hotel receptionist under her breath when he knocked on the door at 5:40am to wake us up in time to get tickets for the Alhambra today. Ruby was so exhausted she tried to make Tony shower with a flashlight. We were out of the room by 6:45am, on the bus at 7am and in line by 7:15am . . and already the line was long. They open at 8am and only sell a few hundred tickets every morning; luckily we squeezed by and got our tickets for the afternoon slot. While waiting in line we met Esmeralda and Rachel, two girls from Denver studying abroad in Barcelona. We all walked down the hill together and since we would all have to be back by 2pm we asked them if they’d like to meet up for lunch at our fave spot :)

Ruby was ready for a nap and went right back to bed while Tony went to the local skatepark down by the river. Sorry guys, I was too tired to go with Tony and be his personal skate photographer so there are no pics :) Meeting up with the girls for lunch may have been a good or bad idea. . we don’t know because afterwards we all left Salinas very happy and very tipsy. The new dish we added to our favorites was the vegetable wok which was kind of like vegetable tempura but more flavorful. The free range chicken croquetas were amazing too. We know this sounds super gross but the mango, goat cheese and crunchy bacon salad was just way to playful to pass up—it ended up being really really good.

As for the Alhambra, it takes its name from the Arabic “al-qala ‘at al-hamra” which means red castle. It was built in the 11th Century and is a palace and fortress as well as the only surviving large medieval Islamic palace complex in the world. There are 23 towers and the Alcazaba is a fort inside the Alhambra which is also a fort. We walked the gardens and wish you could smell the blooming roses throughout the Generalife (perfectly manicured gardens). The Dutch artist M.C. Escher visited the Alhambra early in his career (1922 and 1936) and used the repetitive geometric designs as inspiration for some of his work. We loved going inside the Palace of Carlos V and see the temporary M.C. Escher exhibition called Infinite Universes; the best was a video showing how he made some of his artwork.

The architecture of the Alhambra is insane and we couldn’t get enough of the gorgeous colorful geometric designs and intricate carvings seen inside the Palacios Nazaries. We were very disappointed to see that the fountain of 12 lions has been dismantled and is currently being restored. We did see tons of other fountains throughout the rest of the grounds—in fact there were so many that eventually we stopped shooting photos of them! This would be Spain’s equivalent to being “Buddha’d out” (see Thailand). Granada is Spanish for the word pomegranate and on our way out Ruby spotted a beautiful one carved into a fountain; it is also the symbol for the city of Granada. After about 5 hours of walking around we were ready to head down the hill. We listened to the sound of running water along the channels on the side of the road under lush green trees overhead. We thought we’d try another place for dinner tonight since Rachel had recommended a dish called carne con salsa. We found some of that along with hazelnut gelato just down the road from the hotel and went to bed contented.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 04:35 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Spain: Granada: The Maze of the Albayzin ---FOODIE ALERT

May 16, 2011

overcast 76 °F

Ruby woke up early to try and get advanced tickets online to the Alhambra but they’re sold out for a few days so we’ll try to go in person first thing in the morning tomorrow! After that we just chilled for a bit until we motivated enough to head out for a self-guided walking tour around town. We wanted to explore the Albayzin area of town which stretches and twists its way up the hill that faces the Alhambra. We got an awesome workout walking up the steep winding streets! This area was once where the Muslim rulers (7th century BC) lived before they started to develop the Alhambra in the 13th century. We stopped multiple times to admire the many remaining relics of the Islamic period; these can be seen in the gates, houses, ceilings and statues of this area. One of the most distinct is the wooden detailed “mudejar” style ceilings which are of Islamic origin and geometric in pattern which can be found in some of the buildings.

Our favorite part of the walk was the Mirador San Nicolas where a band was playing some covers of the gypsy kings (which always reminds Ruby of Neej) and other flamenco music while people danced in the square. We loved the gorgeous vistas of the Alhambra from here and can’t wait to explore the interior tomorrow. The low point was when we stopped for a snack and ordered patatas bravas with our wine—as Tony said “these patatas bravas are what I would get if I ordered them at a truck stop in Texas” LOL! When we walked down the other side of the hill it was easy to find our place because it’s just next to the huge cathedral in the center of town! When we finally made it back to the hotel, Ruby stopped for a siesta while Tony went to find a skate shop to set up his new board. With his board all set up, he’s ready to find a park.

We could hardly wait for dinner but we didn’t leave until 9pm which is the standard Spanish time to start eating. We strolled over to Salinas Gastrobar (where we ate last night) and ordered our first round of wine. .along with it came a delicious de-constructed hamburger YUM! Ruby was suffering from “the grass may be greener” so Tony sent her off to check out some other tapas spots while we waited for our shitake mushroom salad. She came back cured of her affliction and could now thoroughly enjoy our meal when she realized that all the other places around here served the same classic tapas at unreasonable prices! On round two came our fave “costillas de cero” for free again- YUM! We’d been eyeing the lobster risotto and couldn’t resist. It came out with the lobster tail on top. . Tony promptly took that out of Ruby’s eyesight and placed all the lobster meat on the plate. The lobster meat was super fresh! We were tempted to get dessert at Salinas again but decided to check out the pastry shop around the corner . . . so glad that we did. They had the most amazing chocolate cream puffs . . . we had to buy some extra to go with coffee in the morning :) We love the streetlamps here in this city and were glad for the light they provided on our walk back.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:35 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Spain: Granada:Who Eats an Apple Vertically? ---FOODIE ALERT

May 15, 2011

sunny 88 °F

We were ready to leave Madrid and head for the South of Spain. The ALSA bus to Granada cost us 20 Euros each and on the way we met four American girls studying abroad. We chatted all about their experiences in Spain and got some information about Granada since they’re living there. On the 5 hour drive we passed by gorgeous rolling hills spotted with olive trees, colorful fields, and the snow capped Sierra Nevadas. By the way, you know you’ve been spending too much time together when you notice AND comment on something like the way a person eats their apple. Can you believe Ruby eats her apples vertically? The girls helped us get on the correct bus into town and we hopped off in the center of town next to the main cathedral. After only a few blocks of walking around we saw a sign saying Hostel Zacatin above some little boutiques. It was in a great location but just hard enough to find that it would make it in our price range (35Euros/night)! :) We dropped our stuff off and headed out for some well-deserved tapas and vino. On the way we encountered some protestors on the street, nothing to worry about though compared to Egypt this was a mellow parade.

Granada is known for their free tapas when you order drinks--this only applies to the local spots so if you order a round of drinks and don’t get anything, grab your bill and move on! This is exactly what happened when Tony picked out the first spot on Navas. when we told them that we just wanted drinks to start, they moved us inside to make room for the “big spenders”. This certainly made us feel like second class citizens so we had to move on ASAP!

Luckily we were in store for much better. We wandered around adorable narrow alleys with tons of tapas spots until we came to Los Diamantes also on Navas. They’re known for their seafood so we ordered the gambas fritas (fried shrimp) with our wine. They were so flavorful and the large helping of fried scallops that came for free were also delicious. We were trying to make our way over to Calle Elvira when Ruby saw a menu she just could not resist at Salinas Gastrobar—there’s three, we liked the modern looking one. The complexity of the dishes was like nothing we had seen in Spain yet they still had the traditional tapas formula. We LOVED the warm shitake salad with caramelized mushrooms, gorgonzola sauce and garlic crystals. The home-grown wild asparagus with romesco sauce was amazing too. As a bonus our first free “tapita” as our favorite waitress Christina called it was a plate of “costillas de cerdo”, pork ribs in a delicate chive pesto sauce. YUM! We don’t know how they could give away such a great dish for free. The chocolate brownie dessert with a tangerine sorbet on top was amazing too! Our bill was about $20 U.S. with two rounds of drinks and all that food . . . we don’t know how they do it but whatever the case, we’ll be back soon!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 04:42 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Spain: Madrid: Another Earthly Delight---FOODIE ALERT

May 14, 2011

all seasons in one day 78 °F

It started out as a gorgeous, sunny day, not a hint of wind, with clear blue skies. We got up late so we headed out to find some tapas for lunch . . . we wandered around the old part of town, we immediately walked into one of those traditional Iberian ham shops and got to tasting! The guy in the shop sliced off slivers of different hams for us to try; Tony loved it so much he wanted to bring back a whole leg. We don’t think it would pass the customs test though! We window shoppped and watching musicians perform on the street until we found a cheap tapas spot. We ordered a few things but it was mostly disappointing except for the “patatas bravas” which were actually french fries. By the way, don’t be fooled into thinking that tinto verano is the same thing as sangria . . . it is a poor substitute consisting of some sort of red wine with soda water.

We knew we’d have to do better later so we continued our meanderings around this beautiful city full of colorful buildings, narrow alleys, and tons of outdoor cafes. Inside Retiro park we checked out the Crystal Palace with black swans gracefully swimming outside. We could feel the clouds gathering overhead but tried to ignore them. We walked around a beautiful rose garden before the downpour started and we had to head for cover. By the way, the only statue of the devil in Madrid looked perfect with the stormy background. We found cover in the 2nd museum of the “Golden Triangle”—El Prado. They have thousands of paintings, everything from Picasso, to Rembrandt and Dali. We had two highlights, the first was Bosch’s painting of the “Garden of Earthly Delights”, we had no idea how large it would be in real life! The second was an exhibit of absolutely ethereal watercolors by Jose Villegas and Jose Tapero depicting scenes from North Africa and Andalucía. We would buy these if we could afford them! Surprisingly, we were not impressed with Goya (who is the big draw at this museum).

By this point we had worked up quite an appetite so we headed back to La Cava Baja. We wanted to feel like Madrilenos so we moved from one small tapas bar to the next in a “tapeo” in the rain. Several rounds of wine later we found an amazing spot called Taberna Tempranillo serving really fresh seafood—we had the squid with caramelized onions and the tuna belly with roasted red peppers—YUM! Will definitely be returning . . . on our next trip to Spain.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:31 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Spain: Madrid: Killing the Night!

May 13, 2011

sunny 82 °F

“Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night.”—Ernest Hemingway

Well, we feel as if we have just killed the night as we arrived in Madrid! We both have that groggy and grainy-eyed post-call feeling as the plane lands in Madrid at 4am this morning. We decide to wait the hour for the Metro to start running and take it into town. Our hotel, Centro Norte, is the easiest walk out of the Chanmartin subway stop EVER! Just around the corner we found our shiny, new hotel . . . we didn’t even need to stop for directions!! Unfortunately our room wouldn’t be ready until noon so we did a quick wash-up and dropped off our bags before heading out. After looking at a few local magazines we decided to head over to the center of town to the Puerta del Sol. When we got off the subway we saw that they had a silly statue of an overly muscular bear eating what looked like a large piece of broccoli. . hmmm don’t know what that’s about because there wasn’t a plaque! We were starved and started hunting for breakfast spots—we ended up at a place that served “desayuno Americano”. . . Unfortunately it was nothing like an America breakfast, the eggs tasted like salmon and the bacon was undercooked. . yuck! It’s Friday the 13th so our expectations are not too high.

Madrid is a strikingly busy city with people bustling all around. Quite different from the pace we’d gotten used to in Egypt. . which felt deserted (pardon the pun) most of the time. As we walked around we felt a little out of place; everyone is dressed very professionally . . . and we’re in the same clothes we’ve been dragging through the desert and the tropics! Never have we missed our wardrobes so much! After eating breakfast we walked around enjoying the beautiful architecture and figuring out how we were going to stick to our budget!

Madrid is of course known for its museums and there are a lot of theater, art, and cultural festivals going on right now so we hope to take advantage of some of those. We’d already decided that we were not going to go see a bullfight—animal cruelty (no matter how ingrained in a culture it is) is not something we are interested in. We contemplated taking Morocco off our list because we’ve had a fair amount of Islamic and desert countries but we’ll see. After borrowing a travel book we finally figured out what the bear with broccoli was about: it’s actually a bear with the strawberry tree and is Madrid's coat of arms and city symbol! That’s the equivalent of a foreigner coming to the states and saying “what’s that silly bald bird doing holding a twig in his claw?”

We had brought a few articles from Ruby’s fave travel magazine AFAR and decided to check out the tapas spots they recommended. We ended up walking down an adorable narrow alley lined with apartments with flower-boxes on top and a variety of tapas spots to choose from. This area is near the La Latina subway stop and is on the Calle Cava Baja. We used it as an opportunity to peruse menus and pick out some places for later.

Sticking to our budget did involve some coordination of our schedule so we showed up at 7pm just in time to enter the Sophia de Reina museum for free :) We got to see Picasso’s famous work: the Guernica—we’re glad we had an audio guide to interpret all the complex sections of the painting as well as fill us in on some Spanish History regarding the war! Tony was so not impressed with the works of Joan Miro—-“Head and Spider” painting left Tony thinking he could be a world famous artist too! Ruby loves Salvador Dali and they had several works for her to enjoy. Some of the works were much more surreal than others. There was also a crazy temporary exhibition featuring Yayoi Kusama. This female Japanese artist was a hippy in the 60’s and a lot of her work almost has a hallucinatory quality to it, the artist is also just as obsessed with polka dots as Ruby so you know she enjoyed this exhibit.

By 9pm we were pretty exhausted so we headed directly for the Plaza Mayor in Viejo Madrid. It’s beautifully lit at night with streetlamps and nine large arched exits to choose from. By the end of our time in Madrid I hope we’ll go through each of them. We’ve been talking about tapas and sangria all day and after the long day, we enjoyed it thoroughly. Right away we realized something was missing. . . Christel and Brenda, we wished they could have joined us as we enjoyed some pimientos de padron (one of their favorites). We sat outdoors people watching and even caught some performance artists doing their thing.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:06 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Egypt: Cairo: Go Taxi Go to the Go Bus!

May 12, 2011

sunny 88 °F

We got up today ready to get on a bus unfortunately our tour guide had different plans for us. Our driver was supposed to pick us up at 8am but when he didn’t show by 8:40am we hopped into a taxi to get us to the bus station as fast as possible! As our luck would have it, the bus had left already! The Go Bus employee called the next stop and had the bus wait for us there. The taxi raced us to the next stop and got there minutes before 9am. Taxi drivers in Egypt drive crazy to begin with but when given a sense of urgency (and a little more money) they’ll turn a half hour ride into a ten minute roller coaster!

Our bus ride back to Cairo was great, just six hours with no road blocks or burning tires this time. The cheesy Arabic action movies playing on the TV were a bit of a downer. Also, the guy in front of Ruby decided to recline ALL the way back practically putting his chair on Ruby’s nose . . . so this time it was Ruby complaining about legroom. As a plus, they did serve great guava juice and chocolate cake as a snack. The rest stop on the way back was also exceptionally nice with clean bathrooms. Given all of that, we’d recommend Go Bus over the local company we took on the way to Sharm.

It was a gorgeous day in Cairo and we were welcomed with the classic traffic jams common to the city. We had a few hours before our flight to Spain so Ruby “convinced” our tour company to give us a driver for the day since our driver didn’t show up in Sharm. Instead of taking us to the airport we told him to take us to the Khan el Khalili bazaar which is next to a beautiful mosque for some last minute shopping. Cheap stuff really is cheap in Egypt. Within one day of buying a pair of sunglasses and a watch, the sunglasses were cracked and the watch didn’t keep time! The driver did eventually get us to the airport with a few hours to spare—we caught up on the blog and grabbed some terrible airport food. At the beginning of our trip, Ruby probably would have sent the food back or refused to eat any of it but this trip has had made her a little more tolerant of bad food. I’m sure she’ll be back to her high standards once we’re back in NY.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 09:23 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

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