Castles in Cordoba

Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Hold on to your hats, folks, because this is going to be a long one. 

When I last left you guys my family and I had just spent a long day exploring Seville. We stayed there for the night and early the next morning, we hopped in a car and drove off to Cordoba. Again, since we weren't familiar with the city, my family hired a guide to take us around.

The first place she brought us was the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, a fortress known to be one of the primary residences of Isabella and Ferdinand - who everyone in Spain seems to know as "the Catholic monarchs". We entered the castle into their famous gardens and let me tell you, they were stunningly, jaw-droppingly beautiful. But you don't have to take my word for it; have a look for yourself.

Even though it was 43 degrees Celsius that day and therefore sweltering, we happily roamed the gardens for what felt like hours. I probably could've spent the whole day there, just soaking up the sun and admiring the beauty of the fountains, the flowers, the giant hedges. I even found myself a nice, shady little spot where I could take a break from the sun, if I so desired.

I know, I know, I really am tiny. Genetics, what can I say? 

I had to snap one last photo of the other end of the garden as we were leaving. 

It was one of the most beautiful places we went in Spain, and if you're ever in Cordoba, I'd say it's a must-see. I won't take no for an answer. 

After we left the gardens we headed up to the main towers, of which there are two, and climbed up the steps to get a better view of the surrounding area. 

We were met with a view of some ruins on the way...

But when we reached the top - or at least as high up as tourists are allowed - I managed to get a nice shot of the city. Pretty, isn't it? 

We did some more exploring through the castle after that, but we didn't linger too long in the castle itself - we had lots of other things planned for the day, like visiting the Great Mosque of Cordoba. 

It's not too far from the Alcázar, so our guide, Carmen, led us through some side streets to get there. 

Cordoba's kind of a mix of quiet and bustling. On many of the streets Carmen led us through we encountered virtually no one, and we found ourselves admiring the many ivy-covered structures and painted white walls that people in Cordoba seem fond of decorating with colorful potted plants. But then we'd turn a corner and find ourselves in a busy square filled with tourists snapping away and vendors peddling fans, postcards, and hats. There's a certain liveliness to that that I enjoy, for sure, but in those moments I'd find myself missing the quiet serenity of those little-known side streets. 

But it wasn't long before we reached the Great Mosque, which actually is partially a cathedral, and we found ourselves with our jaws dropped open again. 

The Mosque is a wonder to behold. I think we actually spent two or three hours just wandering the halls. There's just so much to see, and every aspect of the Mosque is so drastically different and beautiful and crafted with perfection, it's hard to tear your eyes away from all of it. 

It has the most fantastic domed ceilings I think you'll ever see in your entire life. 

I was so captivated by the work on the ceilings, I think those comprise the majority of the photos I took at the Mosque! And they were, naturally, my favorite photos from the visit. The halls are filled with beautiful Islamic arches and marble pillars that seem almost endless. As much time as we spent there, I think we could easily have spent another hour or two wandering around and looking at more of the rooms - I highly doubt we saw more than half of the rooms actually there. 

I guess they don't call it the Great Mosque for nothing, right? 

By the time we finished looking around it was getting late in the day, so we headed to a restaurant Carmen recommended for a late lunch.  

Look! More potted plants on walls!

We had a deeeelicious tapas lunch at El Caballo Rojo. I don't think it's actually meant to be tapas, but my family really enjoys eating family style, so we ordered a bunch of their appetizers - we didn't even touch the mains, the appetizers came in such large portions - and shared them. My favorites included the clams, the obligatory jamón, and their famous artichoke hearts, which oddly enough came with a sauce that tasted quite a bit like curry. There were quite a few people dining alongside us, so I assume it's a relatively well-known place in Cordoba. I very much recommend it for a laid-back lunch if you ever decide to visit. 

Oh, before I go, I wanted to show you the t-shirt I wore that day. I picked it up in Zara in Barcelona and I'm obsessed. I think it's adorable and hilarious, but maybe I'm just weird. 

After our lunch, we piled back into the car and headed back to Seville for the night. None of us were particularly hungry so we just picked up some fast food from a local chain and tucked in early. We knew we had to get up early the next morning to get to our next stop: Ronda, Málaga.

Seeing Seville

Monday, July 28, 2014
Last Sunday morning, we packed our bags and mournfully said goodbye to Barcelona. Luckily, our sadness at leaving the city was short-lived as we quickly piled up into a plane and set off for Seville, about an hour away from Barcelona. 

Seville is the largest city in Andalucía and the capital of the Seville province. It's also the fourth-largest city in Spain with a population of about 700,000, according to our guide. The city is filled with history as well, which is why my dad chose to come here - it is, after all, the city from which Magellan left to circumnavigate the globe. Forgive my nerdiness. I can't help it! 

The first thing we did after landing in Seville was head to the hotel to drop off our bags. We stayed at the Hotel Alfonso XIV, which has what I think may be the prettiest courtyard I've ever seen. We had breakfast there one morning and it was absolutely beautiful.

Once we'd dropped our stuff off in our rooms we wasted no time setting out to explore the city. Since none of us were really familiar with it, we hired a tour guide to take us around and tell us more about the city's sights and history. 

Our first stop was actually the Royal Tobacco Factory, which was the original site of the first tobacco factory in Europe. Unfortunately I don't have any photos of it because I was still fumbling around with my new camera lens and trying to figure out how to make it work for me - sorry!

Our second stop, then, was the Plaza de España, which is a essentially a really large half-circle of continuous buildings that now function mostly as government offices. There's also a sort of moat running around the inner edge of the buildings with numerous bridges that cross over to allow access from the inner plaza to the buildings themselves. The design of the Plaza is meant to represent the four ancient kingdoms of Spain, and the tiled mosaics along the buildings' walls are painted to represent the different Spanish provinces.

I wish I could have taken more photos of the mosaics because they really were gorgeous, but most of them were under restoration so it was difficult to get a good photo of them to show you guys. There were a lot of tourists there snapping photos like we were, but it was nice to see a lot of people just lounging around on the steps and by the fountain as well. It just seemed like a nice place to pass the time, even though we didn't get to spend that much time there. We still had a lot to see! 

On our way to our next stop we took a little detour through the Jewish quarter of the city. It's not really a Jewish quarter anymore, but it retains that name because the layout of that area has not changed since it was the primary home of most of the Jews in Seville during the rule of Ferdinand and Isabella.  

It was a beautiful place to walk through, filled with so much color and gorgeous alcoves and narrow spaces. And there were a ton of cafés situated around where you could see people just relaxing and chatting over copious amounts of coffee. 

Santa Cruz, the name of the Jewish quarter, is bordered by the Alcázar. The Alcázar was originally a Moorish fort but later became a royal palace, and is in fact the oldest royal palace in Europe still in use today. The palace is mainly characterized by its Muslim architecture, though over time different monarchs have built their own additions to the palace, so there are some Christian influences as well.  

It was probably my favorite place we saw in Seville. The palace was filled with so much light and color, even though a lot of the original paint has faded over time. Every room was designed differently but they were all stunning, and I couldn't tear my eyes away from the unbelievable details that were considered when the palace was built. If any of you ever visit Seville, the Alcázar is a must-see. 

The last stop on our tour of the city was the Cathedral of St. Mary. Even though it's a Catholic site it was actually built on the former site of the city's mosque, so like the Alcázar it has both Christian and Muslim architectural influences, though being a Cathedral and all it certainly has more of the former. It also happens to be where Christopher Columbus' remains are! 

Yep, he's in there. Not the statue, but the trunk he's carrying. 

Pretty cool, no? 

Again, it was stunning, and oh my god the symmetry of those ceilings. So much yes. 

After seeing all those sights we were pretty tired, so we retired to the hotel for a little bit to rest before heading out to dinner. We crossed the bridge from where we were staying into the Triana district, which today is considered one of the cultural centers of the city. And as we were walking to our restaurant we caught the beginnings of the sunset - even the people relaxing by the riverside stopped to take a look, and it sticks out in my memory even now as one of the most serene moments I've experienced. Sigh.  

For dinner we headed to a restaurant called Abades Triana, which is rather large and boasts a beautiful view of the river and the monuments of Seville across it.

The food was rather mixed - my family and I all agreed that there were some dishes we thought were delicious and others that were somewhat uninspiring, but it was a beautiful experience sitting out, breathing in the slight salty tang on the cool summer breeze and watching the sun slowly set as we ate. It was a gorgeous night, and I couldn't have asked for better.

The Weekly Edit #4

Sunday, July 27, 2014
taken in Cordoba, Spain
I think this photo sums up my week pretty well. And yeah, okay, it may have been just a little bit staged, but do you know how hard it is to get a good photo of yourself actually walking?

Normally I'd share a variety of photos from my week, but since I've been traveling overseas this entire week and I've got a ton of exciting posts about my trip planned, I thought I'd just show you guys a little snippet of what I've been up to. We've been doing so much walking this trip, touring old castles and ruins and cathedrals around various small towns and cities in Spain. It's pretty much been a road trip around Spain, which I didn't realize we'd be doing until now, and it's not something that I ever would have thought we'd be doing on a family vacation - we're very much city people, after all - but I have to admit that I've been loving it. Spain is absolutely beautiful and I've pretty much spent the last week falling in love with its history, culture, and ham while drinking my body weight in wine. But considering the fact that we've been walking for three or four hours straight (or more) almost every day this week, I think I've walked all that rich food off so it's okay!

I posted my first Europe recap earlier this week, so if you want to know more about my trip, be sure to check that out! I've got another one going up tomorrow telling you guys all about my time in Seville, so be on the look out.

What have you been up to this week?

Some Mid-Year Blogging Resolutions

Saturday, July 26, 2014
I've been blogging for about eight months now, and if there's one thing I've learned about blogging in that time, it's that you're always learning. Even though it's getting close to one year, I still don't feel as though I know everything about blogging and networking and being successful in that, however you define success. The internet is such a vibrant and ever-changing place, there are no set rules, and sometimes it feels as though nothing is for sure, you know what I mean?

That being said, if there's one thing I do know, it's that I've got a long ways to go. Don't get me wrong, I adore blogging more than I ever thought I would, and I'm so happy with the state of my blog right now. But the fact is that I want to continue improving and growing my blog - I want to get to know other bloggers better, I want to go to events, I want to start working with companies. I'm far too much of a realist to believe that any of that is going to happen overnight, and since I didn't really make any blog-related new year resolutions, I figured now wouldn't be a bad time to sit down and figure out what it really is that I want to do when it comes to this space.

I want to get a new design. I technically already did this a couple weeks ago, but it was something that I wanted to do for a long time. My previous design was something I did entirely on my own and I'm very proud of myself for learning all the code necessary to make it look the way it did, but there was something about my layout that I just wasn't happy with. I wasn't totally sure what it was, and it was difficult because I knew I wanted it redone but I don't know enough code to build it up myself, so the other day I was browsing templates for inspiration and I found this one on Etsy that I adored so much, I bought it then and there. It fits so well with my vision for the site and even though it's not 100% original, I think it's a good place to start.

I want to get other people involved. I'm so lucky that my friends all know about my blog - what with the fact that it was my senior project and all - and they're so supportive! I've talked really briefly with a couple of them about maybe doing something with me on the blog, but we've never really gotten around to it. One of my resolutions, then, is to stop mucking around and get to it. My friends are wonderful, wonderful people and I know you guys would love them.

I want to do more lifestyle posts. This blog originally was meant to be a beauty blog, but recently I've found myself doing more lifestyle-type posts and really enjoying them. I find them more dynamic and interesting to read, and considering the fact that I'm heading off to college in a couple weeks and I won't have as much makeup with me, I think now would be a great time to try and incorporate a few more lifestyle, and maybe fashion posts so that my content is more varied. I love sharing bits and pieces of my life with you guys, and it seems like you guys really like seeing what I get up to as well, so hopefully this goes well.

I want to get more involved with the blogging community. A couple weeks ago I participated in my first Twitter chat and it was so much fun! I'm never able to do them because they're always at like, 3am my time, but that night I was waiting up to watch the World Cup and I figured I might as well seize the opportunity while I could. I had never been very active in the blogging community before, taking more of a backseat approach, but it was tons of fun seeing what you guys think and getting the chance to actually interact with you, I really want to do it more. Ultimately I would hope that these blogging friendships could turn into real-life friendships too! So from now on, I'm going to try to start interacting more with others - responding more consistently to blog comments, replying to others on Twitter, commenting on more blogs, etc. I want to be a present, not just...I don't know, there.

I want to experiment with video. I know lots of bloggers have YouTube channels as well, and while that was never something that I seriously considered when I started Love, August, I don't think it would be a bad idea to give it a go. I wouldn't do a beauty channel, but I would love to post challenge and tag videos because those are some of my favorites to watch! They tell you so much about the person behind the camera, and sometimes I worry about whether or not I'm really being authentic to my personality on this blog - not in the sense that I'm not being myself, but rather that you guys don't really get to see all aspects of my personality - and I think that doing videos like that would show you guys a lot more of who I am. I'm not really sure about this yet, but it's something I'd like to attempt, at the very least!

I know this is a long post, but I hope you guys enjoyed it anyway! I always like reading little personal things like this because I think it tells you a lot about a person and it's always interesting to see how others feel about their blogs. I've had so many of these resolutions floating around in my head for so long, it feels great to get it out on paper (in a manner of speaking) and now that I've actually written them out, I think I'll have the motivation I need to start actively working on them.

What do you guys think? Do you make blog resolutions?

Barcelona Days

Friday, July 25, 2014
Last week my family and I set off for a ten day vacation in Europe. I'm a lucky gal, I know. 

Apart from my trip to London a couple months ago, I've only been to Europe once, and I was quite young so I don't really remember much of it. I have vague memories of visiting museums and famous landmarks, but you know how all you want to do when you're ten is watch movies and play with your friends? It meant I never appreciated everything that I was able to see and experience, so this trip, I wanted to do it all over again. 

The first stop on our trip was Barcelona, Spain.

We arrived in the city mid-afternoon, so there was still time to get a little bit of walking around done. My mom and I set off to do a little shopping, stopping at a cafe around six to get a little snack in.

I know what you're thinking - snacking at a cafe, at six in the afternoon? Normally I wouldn't, but in Spain, time almost seems to move slower, and people aren't as rushed to fit everything in. Six o'clock in Spain is like three o'clock anywhere else in the world. 

For dinner, my dad made a reservation at a restaurant called Botafumeiro, which is a seafood restaurant not too far from where we were staying. 

Dinner was unbelievable. We gorged ourselves on endless seafood platters and paella and the best Iberico ham I've had in my life. Everything there was incredibly fresh and simple, which really let the seafood shine and speak for itself. The restaurant was filled with noise - good noise, like laughter and chatter and music - and had the most wonderful lively feel to it, so my family and I had a blast there. I highly recommend it if you're ever in Barcelona. 

The next day was one of our most anticipated: we got to eat lunch at El Celler de Can Roca, which last year was voted the #1 restaurant in the world. We ate with some of my dad's colleagues, who treated us to the meal, and I have to say, it was fantastic. 

You're probably wondering, where are all the food photos? Well, our lunch was five hours long and I had so many photographs of the food, I decided to dedicate an entire post to the restaurant, so keep an eye out for that in a couple days!

In the afternoon we drove to La Roca, which is an outlet mall about half an hour outside of the city. I didn't end up buying much because most items were unavailable in my size, but it was still nice to walk around and see what Barcelona had to offer.

The next day is when we did the bulk of our sightseeing. We went to see the famous Sagrada Familia and Park Güell, both of which I saw last time I was in Europe but didn't pay much attention to. Stupid ten-year-old me. 

The Sagrada Familia is absolutely stunning. I didn't really realize it last time I was here, but the architecture and design is impeccable. So much detail has gone into the design of the church, it's truly a wonder to behold and so beautiful to explore. 

If you know me at all you know that symmetry just gets me, and I almost cried at the beauty of all the symmetry in the church. And there was stained glass for daaaays. 

We also took the little elevator to the spires around the main church, and I got this gorgeous photo of the city. 

After seeing the Sagrada Familia, we headed over to Park Güell, which Gaudi also had a hand in designing. It's famous for its mosaic sculptures, and I was so excited to see them again because even though I didn't quite recall what the park looked like, I remember really loving it. 

The park is gorgeous, with lots of natural beauty to supplement the mosaic sculptures around the park. I thought it was nice that there were a mix of tourists and locals there, it seemed like the sort of place people went to just relax and enjoy the beautiful weather and maybe a few drinks. The mosaics were so intricate, it was just really cool to see. They made the park so bright and vibrant! 

I couldn't resist taking this classic photo of the park. It was a bit difficult with all the people walking in front of me, but I think it came out wonderfully, don't you?  

For dinner we headed to a restaurant called ABaC, which is supposed to be the next El Bulli (if you're not familiar with that name, it was the #1 restaurant in the world for several years before it closed down in 2011) so we were all really excited to try it out. The meal was several courses long so I didn't include all the photos from the dinner, just some of the ones that came out best! 

"Pina colada" ice cream starters, made in front of you with liquid nitrogen. 

"Gnocchi" with mushrooms and broth - one of my absolute favorites of the night! The gnocchi was actually these little mozarella-shaped balls that burst into liquid in your mouth, which was so cool and incredibly yummy. The mushrooms and broth were both the perfect accompaniments to the mock gnocchi as well, and overall it was a very hearty, warming dish. 

Egg yolk with jamon, potato puree, a parmesan crisp.

Roasted baby goat shoulder.

Bailey's ice cream with chocolate rocks, caramel, vanilla cream. 

All in all, the night did not disappoint. We sat outside on the terrace at a beautiful long table which was perfect, because it was cool and breezy throughout the evening. It was a really wonderful night and I had a great time with both the food and the company I had! The food was interesting and innovative and most importantly delicious - I don't think there was a single dish on the menu that we didn't enjoy, which is always a plus!

Not a bad start to our Eurotrip, huh? Check back on Monday to see what I got up to in Seville!
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