Seduced by Seville

Like the iconic flamenco dancers of this city, Seville is a tantalising temptress made up to perfection. Deep red lipstick, hair tumbling in artful waves, dress swishing beguilingly, she is a flawless beauty. Every street sign here is made and displayed with care and artistry; the buildings are tiled with Moorish designs, much like Portuguese Azulejos. Church exteriors seem to be made up of paintings pinched from the Museo de Bellas Artes. The deep Andalusian sky provides the perfect backdrop for the elegantly-painted buildings – russet and ochre, white and blue, dusky pink. I was worried that Seville was one of those places I had spent too long dreaming about, and that it wouldn’t match up in reality. But in the five minutes it took for me to walk from the bus station to the cathedral, timed serendipitously with the first rays of dawn bathing La Giralda in a pale golden light, Seville had already outdone even my most outlandish imaginings. The city had seduced me in an instant, and it was no mistaken first impression of a sleep-deprived traveller. Even after a strong coffee and a mars bar (hey, after three broken hours of sleep on a night bus, there are no rules about breakfast), Seville was still unbelievably beautiful. The grand buildings – the gothic cathedral with the famous Giralda, its Moorish tower, and the crenellated, russet-toned Alcazar Palace – bask in the adoration of tourists’  cameras, photogenic at every angle, and they transport you to worlds beyond the confines of the space and time of the modern-day city. But it’s Seville’s ordinary streets which I find even more...

The Charms and Quirks of Budapest

It was a less than serene start to our first morning in Budapest. We’d overslept, owing to blackout curtains and a non-functioning alarm, and had therefore jumped out of bed, into some clothes and out onto the streets of the city before being fully awake. We were on the hunt for a hot, caffeinated beverage, but the city seemed strangely shut down and deserted. It was after 9 on a Monday morning – most capitals would be buzzing. Finally, we found a cafe open for business – after walking for 15 minutes. Soon, we were revitalised and ready to face the day – and slowly, Budapest began to rouse for the day. That first quirk of Budapest was quickly followed by its first charm: the glorious Basilica San Esteban, or St. Stephen’s Basilica. Named in honour of Hungary’s first King and patron saint, it is impressive enough on the outside, with its classical pillars and domed roof, but inside it is something else. I don’ t think I have ever been into such an ornate Church – it seems to be more or less gold-plated. Feeling satisfied that we’d sampled our first bit of Budapest culture (The California Coffee Company cafe can’t really count!) we bought tickets for a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. A sales rep along one of the main streets had told us we could have them more cheaply than the face value suggested, so my friends nominated me to go and haggle with the woman selling the tickets. I was ready to protest, but she merrily sold them at the reduced price of 4,000 ft (about £12),...

New Year Travel Plans, Pirate-Style

As we bring in the New Year, I will be more than ready to set sail once more on voyages across the seas, so perhaps it is quite apt that I will be dressed as a pirate, a costume I have to get sorted this week! However, I will be land-bound for much of this year as I train to be a teacher, so I’m going to have to plan my travel pretty carefully indeed. Now, planning ahead is not exactly my strong suit, so this is going to be a bit of a challenge. So I’m starting early, whittling down my wishlist to a few realistic destinations and thinking about short trips close to home that will nevertheless provide some unforgettable experiences. 1. Whale Watching, Scotland I have long wanted to explore the rugged Northern coast of Scotland and its even more northerly isles and I am desperate to make 2012 the year I finally get out on a boat to try and spot some whales. I have never seen any of these incredible creatures and I am hoping to change that. What could be more wonderful than windswept beaches, solitary lighthouses and time spent out at sea? I need to make this happen. 2. Culture and Wilderness, Ireland Though it is on the doorstep, as it were, I have never travelled across the Irish sea to this ancient, mystical land, beloved by so many travellers. I have scant excuse for this state of affairs and need to rectify it at the earliest opportunity. There are so many parts of Ireland I would like to see, but even...
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