Losing your heart to Andalucía: Granada, Sevilla & Córdoba

Granada

Granada is situated at the feet of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and was under Arabic rule for centuries before it became Spanish again. It is named after the pomegranate fruit, and that is not the even the most exotic part about it. While you explore, you will discover that the city reveals these layers of history in narrow streets and big palaces.

featured
The narrow streets streets are filled with colourful Arabic textiles, leather bags and silver earrings
I stayed in the Nest hostel, which has a magical patio as a perfect place to meet fellow travellers

El Alhambra

The Alhambra was first mentioned in written texts traced back to the year 889 and its name is derived from Arabic ( «qa’lat al-Hamra’» ) refers to red-couloured castle walls. In the 13th century it became the royal palace of the Nasrid Dynasty. The Morish and Morisco Arabic architectural style in the Alhambra spans from walls mozaique tiles to detailed woodwork celings and graceful calligraphy in stone pillars. In the gardens, you will see that water is ever-present, in beautifully constructed fountains and irrigation canals dug in the middle of the a flight of stairs.

The Alhambra fortress turned palace and is made up of many different parts: the Generalife, the Alcazaba, and its gardens, the Nasrid Palaces… It is enourmous and wonderful enough to spend a full day there, yet in case you visit in summer, do take into consideration that during your visit you may want to seek cover in the shadow in the midday hours. As always, it is recommended to order tickets online to circumvent queues. When you buy a ticket to the Nasrid Palaces, you will need to visit it within the timeslot given to you. If possible, try to get the timeslot at the end of the day, so that you can visit the other parts before and hopefully have beautiful sunset light to visit the palaces.

The Alhambra is enourmous and wonderful enough to spend a full day there, yet in case you visit in summer, do take into consideration that during your visit you may want to seek cover in the shadow in the midday hours. As always, it is recommended to go early in the morning or order tickets online to circumvent queues.

The mix of architectural styles you will find in the in the Alhambra are truly unique. After the Reconquista in 1942, when Granada came under Spanish rule again, Charles V had a small part of it destroyed to built his own renaissance-style palace in the middle of the Alhambra site. From the Saint-Nicolas terrace, you have the best view on the Alhambra, especially during sunset. You can also book a table at one of the restaurants (called “carmens”) in the Albacín neighbourhood to admire the Alhambra at night.

Granada, with the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background

Sevilla

Ah, the birth place of flamenco! Make sure when you visit to go to one of the cosy bars where you can enjoy a live performance of this powerful dance.

You may want to visit the royal palace, el Alcázar Real de Sevilla, which was built in architectural style called Mudéjar, and looks a bit similar to the Alhambra as it was built by the Spanish who had looked at the Morish Arabic style for inspiration. The ceiling of the Salón de Embajadores truly is magnificent and the Patio de las Doncellas is recognized as the culmination of the mudéjar andaluz style. More recently, the palace served as the film set of several films and your favourite TV-series. Every June until September, concerts are organized in the gardens (Noches en los Jardines del Real Alcázar).

One of the famous sights of Sevilla is the Giralda tower, which once was the highest minaret (69 meters) of a mosque worldwide, yet was it transformed into a the bell tower of the cathedral after the Spanish reconquered the city. The cathedral Maria de La Sede is the biggest gothic cathedral in the world, so take your time to visit.

As Sevilla was once the main port to the explorations on the American continent, the museum Archivo de Indias bears witness to the times that the ships with objects from an undiscovered continent arrived in the city. No less than 8000 maps and drawings are stored and some descriptive letters from the first explorers are on display.

At the Plaza Espana, a very romantic square with bridges that was originally contructed for the Ibero-American exposition (Exposición Iberoamericana) held in 1929-1930 to celebrate the bond between Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Hispanoamerica and the United States. You can marvel at the 52 retables showing all 52 Spanish provinces in colourful tiles.

The retable of Barcelona at the Plaza de España
The bridge at the Plaza de España

Córdoba

Offically the hottest city in Europe, Córdoba was once (in the 10th century, the second-largest city in the world. By then, the Carthages, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Visigoths, Mores and the Spanish had all left their marks on Córdoba. A perfect emblematic example of this is La Mezquita. The mosque is impressive, not only for it’s size 23.000 m² , but also for it’s structure made of 860  pillars and outstanding decorations, inspired by Morish, Roman, Byzantan, Syrian, Persian and Gothic architectural styles. Later, also renaissance and baroque elements were added when the mosque became a church and from 1523 onwards, the contruction of the gothic hall added yet another layer of history to the building (it took 234 years to finish).

Close to the mosque-turned-church is Alcázar of Córdoba, a fortress-turned-palace. It looks very beautiful, the botanical gardens especially, but hides a dark history, as many of the rooms served as torture and interrogation chambers during the period of the Spanish Inquisition by the catholic monarchs.

Today, this city on the banks of the river Guadalquivir and at the feet of the Sierra Morena mountains still has a mixed population, but just like the weather, the locals are warm. During the Patios Festival in the 2nd and 3rd week of May, locals open the patios of their houses to the public after abundantly decorating them with flowers. In the last week of May, there is the Fair of Córdoba (La Feria de Córdoba).

Palm trees meeting orange trees in front of a historical building: a colourful synopsis of Andalucía

Proud of people who can be themselves, marching for those who can’t

In August, we celebrate pride month and the right for all beautiful people in The World We All Share to be themselves! Here you will find a series of portraits of people, representing all colours of the rainbow, that I made during the Pride Parades in Brussels and Antwerp. People are all different, yet we all want the same: to love who we love!

What you find in the journey, is much more than the destination

Exactly five years ago today, I wanted to go from the location of my one-month summer job in Alicante (Spain) to join my family on holiday in Olhão, the most southern point of Portugal.

Adélaïde and her Dad, whom I met during the summer job, offered to take me (and my big luggage) along to her grandparent’s house in Ferreira do Zêzere in Portugal and it was an unbelievable road trip. I was so lucky to be in their company while seeing the beautiful landscapes passing by the car window. Adélaïde told me how her Dad from Morocco had met her Mom from Portugal and how they had ended up living in France. During the summer, they visited their families in Morocco and Portugal.

Once arrived, Adélaïde then invited me to stay the night at the house and join them for a sardines barbecue. Having a big heart for other people was clearly a family trait and the dinner together was wonderful!

After a breakfast with a deliciously fresh bom maridos (“good husbands”) and pastéis de nata (must-try Portuguese delicacies), they dropped me off at the train station where I took the train to Faro to continue my road to the south.

On the train, I met two overly-enthusiastic guys. Pedro and Gonçalo explained me that they were coming back from a festival yet while sunburnt and tired, they were still in a party mood. As we passed by the town of Virtudes (“virtues”), they offered me a liquor drink with strawberries (from a 5 liter bottle!) and asked me to take a crazy picture of them. Pedro and Gonçalo were telling me hilarious stories of their adventurous at the festival and before I knew it, the train arrived and it was time to say goodbye to my newly made friends.

At first I thought is was a really crazy idea to go from Alicante in Spain, all the way up to Ferreira do Zêzere in Portugal to then go south again to Olhão but this trip and the people I met were totally worth the adventure!

The Road Trip Project & The Postcard Promise

I still don’t know how I overcame my self-doubts 🙂 but I challenged myself to do something I thought I would never dare to do: participating as a copywriter in a contest to win a Road Trip around Europe.

You can vote for me before 28 July at midnight via: https://apply.roadtriproject.eu/vote/fj4HT3SDyZ

The idea of the Road Trip Project is that 4 young Europeans, a photographer, a video maker, a presenter and a copywriter, drive a mini-van through Europe to discover all the diverse and unique people and places.

All videos, photographs and stories will be shared on the Road Trip Project’s website, where you can then find a lot of inspiration for your next Europe trip destination.

If you would like to read my stories during the Road Trip Project and vote for me, I will be eternally grateful for your support! I will send a postcard from the road to every single person who gives me a vote, as a heartfelt

“Thank you!”

Nanou (alias Anouk)

P.S. Just send me an e-mail with your address and a postcard will come your way 🙂 theworldweallshare@outlook.com

Changemakers: Thumbs up for Hitchfest and Social Impact Trips!

Have you ever camped outside, sleeping in a tree house, in a yurt or in a tent)? It’s a million stars hotel!

The first weekend of August, I will be going to Hitchfest, a festival in Portugal that brings together backpackers, hitchhikers and anyone who wants to join this unique experience. We will be camping in a forest close to the Sousa river by Lousada and this will be a free space to share about travel, self-discovery, activism and ecology. My tent and sleeping back are packed in my backpack and I will hitchhike from Porta to Lousada. I can’t wait to go on this adventure!

One of the co-organisers of the Hitchfest festival is Ana Rita. I met her at a conference for young changemakers, the Global Festival of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations and she told me about her projects that bring people together.

Ana Rita posing convincingly with my favourite tote bag.

Another remarkable young changemaker I met at the UN conference and who is also joining Hitchfest is Catarina. She saved for a long time to go on a trip to India. Under the name Social Impact Trips, she made a route through India that will take the participants along 10 villages/towns and 8 projects that show which social entrepreneurship initiatives already exist.

The focus of 8 projects that are included in the trip is very diverse: omen empowerment, education for transformation, ecology and sustainable livelihoods, development of structures for people with special needs, health in rural communities… You will surely get inspired visiting India with local guides and meeting social entrepreneurs that are working towards positive changes in society!

Catarina spreading happiness and love at the festival

On the long train ride home from the conference in Bonn to Brussels, I was thinking about all the inspiring people I had met (including Ishara, whose story I share in this blog post), and the encounters made me wonder what my contribution to connecting people could be. I couldn’t really think of a project, but while I was writing keywords in my notebook on the train, I came up with the idea that I could possibly make a contribution to this planet under the stars by sharing other people’s projects. And then I decided that maybe I should try telling changemakers’ stories, which sparked this blog “The World We All Share”.

What is your passion? Every achievement starts with a decision to try, and along the way, with the perseverance to keep going

Thanks to speaking to a lot of people, I am now fluent in French, English, Spanish and Italian and I even learned some Turkish words during a life-changing exchange in Istanbul. However it can still be a challenge to talk to a stranger.

Wherever I am, I go out with my camera and notebook and just wander around. Often I end up sitting in a park or on the stairs of a square, overlooking a city and I wonder about the lives of the people all around me. What life stories could they have?

For me, every achievement starts with a decision to try, and along the way, with the perseverance to keep going. That’s how I challenged myself to start asking what I find one of the most interesting questions to people I meet on the street: “What is your passion?”

This is the beginning of a story of connecting with people in a world we all share. It’s magic when you can to someone and learn something new. So what are you waiting for? Follow your passion, go out and explore!

A big thank you/go raibh maith agat to Sophie from Ireland, parakalo to Alexandris from Greece, grazzi to Martina from Malta, vielen dank to Patrick from Germany and grazie to Manuela from Italy for sharing your passion and inspirational insights!

Best of Barcelona

I remember how nervous and excited I was to go on my first adventure solo abroad: a 5-month Erasmus study exchange in Barcelona. The experience exceeded every expectation I had beforehand. Hereby I share some of the highlights and insider tips. Besides the metro, which gets you almost everywhere, a cool way to explore the city is to rent a bike and cycle along the beach or to rent a scooter to drive all the way up to Tibidabo mountain.

Highly recommended:

To visit the magnificent Sagrada Familia designed by modernist architect Antoni Gaudí, book your tickets online in advance to circumvent the long queues. Also, if you can, visit during a bright, sunny day as the light will then shine through the beautifully coloured stained-glass windows all the brighter.

It’s best to book tickets in advance (online) to visit Antoni Gaudí’s Park Güell and I recommend going there around sunset.

Antoni Gaudí’s got inspired by dragons and other mythological creatures for the design of Casa Batlló, situated at the Passeig de Gràcia. At night, the spot lights give the building an extra magical touch.

Make sure to visit the spectacular Hospital de Sant Pau, just one diagonal street (Carrer Antoni Gaudí) away from the Sagrada Familia. The hostpital was designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, was next to Antoni Gaudí the most important key architect for the development of the Catalan Modernism (Modernisme català) style in architecture.

Another emblematic building designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner is the concert hall Palau de la Música Catalana. Even better than just to pay an entrance ticket to see the impressive inside of the building, is to book a concert and enjoy the music while admiring the ceiling.

Take your picnic for a sunset at Els Bunkers del Carmel and enjoy the best view over the entire city and the sea for free. My good friend Manuel from Peru, who had been studying in Barcelona for longer, showed me the view from the bunkers at sunset, which is the perfect time to bring your picnic and enjoy this spectacular view!

By metro to “Guinardo” (L4, yellow) + 30 min walk uphill
By bus 22 to last stop “Pl Mitja Lluna” + 8 min walk

Walk around the Mercat el Born to get the view of the archeological site of the city of Barcelona in 1700 from all sides. The guided tour in English is scheduled at 16h30. It only costs 4 EUR and lasts 1h30 min.

A little challenge for you: discover yourself where these landmarks are in Barcelona…

…while I keep looking for the exact location of this inventor’s studio, as the inventor asked me to send this photos as a postcard to him 5 years after they were taken… In case you know where exactly this studio is (in the area of Sant Pere – Santa Caterina)., do let me know 🙂

I hope you make friends along the way and enjoy your visit!

“If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul”*

Istanbul is the culmination of how cosmopolitan a city can be. It has been built by layers upon layers of history and different peoples and cultures meeting in the capital that today is the only one spread over two continents: Europe & Asia. If anything, Istanbul is a wonderful meeting point in every sense of the word.

The very best thing about Istanbul is the people. Locals are keen to interact and get to know you and even if there if you don’t speak the same language, they will invite you for a çay (tea).

Find out every other reason for which I love Istanbul and its locals in the video!

Where to get lost and find something wonderful in Istanbul:

  • Sultanahmet area

The Aya Sophia or Blue Mosque is of course the most emblematic building in the historical city center (the Sultanahmet neighbourhood). However, the building has not always been a mosque and underwent many transformations. The name Hagia Sophia comes from the Greek language and means “holy wisdom”. It was originally built as an orthodox cathedral in the year 360 during the Byzantine rule, when Istanbul was still called Constantinopolis. When the Ottoman Empire ruled in 1453, the Aya Sophia became a mosque. Today the building no longer functions as a mosque, but it is a museum and UNESCO World Heritage site.

Next to the Aya Sophia is the Sultanahmet mosque. You should definitely go inside to see the ceiling and carpet. To visit a mosque inside, you need to take of your shoes (but don’t worry, there is always a soft and often wonderful carpet on the floor) and as a woman you are requested to cover your hair with a shawl. You can often loan a scarf from the mosque to visit it inside, yet I recommend you to buy a hand-crafted shawl and have it with you as you then won’t have to queue for one.

From Sultanahmet, you can walk to the Grand Bazaar in just 15 minutes. You will feast your eyeballs on the colourful carpets, lamps and spices in the Bazaar. Speaking about spices, the Egyptian Spice Bazaar near Galata Bridge is also only 10 minutes from the Grand Bazaar and the same distance from the Aya Sophia and is truly worth a visit as well.

A 10 minute walk from Grand Bazaar brings you more marvelous impressions. I visited many mosques in Istanbul, but the one that I found most beautiful is the Sulemanye mosque designed by architect Mimar Sinan. At first sight you may see the similarities between all the different mosques, but I recommend you to walk around and go inside to admire all the brilliant details.

Right next to the mosque, in a side street is the tomb of the architect Mimar Sinan and around the corner there’s a café that will lift your experience of the city to whole new level. The view from Mimar Sinan terrace is unbelievable as you can see from the pictures I took there!

From the terrace, you can easily spot the Galata Tower on the other side of the river bank.

  • Galata area

When you climb the steps of the medieval Galata tower (or take the elevator), you get a 360 degree view on Istanbul, that will make you fall in love with this city 🙂

I really hope that you can experience Istanbul fully and inteact with locals, because you will find that it is a unique gem!

*The title of this blog post is a quote by Alphonse de Lamartine, a French poet, historian and politician who is the author of “Histoire de la Turquie” (1854). He also wrote the following quote: “There is no man more complete than the one who travelled a lot, who changed the shape of his thoughts and his life 20 times”.

When adventure is calling already inside the airport

Once I missed my flight. The train had been delayed while I was on it.  I ran through the airport to still make it, but the plane was already boarded and ready to go. My attempts to convince the airline staff to “simsalabim” the doors open and let me get on the plane were to not as successful as I had hoped. So, the best option was then to take a flight the following morning at 6 am. Going home to sleep was risky because I had to be back at the airport at 4 am to, this time hopefully, catch the flight.

But where would I sleep around the airport? By that time, it was almost 10 pm and I had to decide what to do. I eventually decided it would be better to stay for the night. Looking for something to eat, I ended up in a supermarket just before it closed and in the queue at the check-out, I saw two police officers. I asked them where would be the best place to spend the night and they recommended going to one of the hotels close by. That, however, was above my travel budget. They then suggested me to see if I could sleep at the chapel of the airport. A chapel at the airport? I didn’t even now it existed! In a faraway corner, I found a rectangular room filled with long wooden benches. They looked nice but were a bit hard, yet I was fine spending the night there. I was on my way to the bathroom to brush my teeth and on the way there, I came across a mosque room. There was a soft carpet on the floor, and I thought that if someone came in, they would understand that I didn’t show any disrespect by quietly sitting and resting in the room. I was right, as throughout the night people came to pray, but they seemed to understand and several people smiled when they saw us.

Us, indeed, because in the bathroom I met a girl who was brushing her teeth as well. Her name was Julieth and she was spending the night at the airport. I invited her to join me and before we rested in the mosque room, we talked about her home country Colombia, our travel experiences, and the people we had met. We formed a wonderful human connection, all because of missing my flight.

The travel essentials I recommend to everyone are a reusable water bottle, a multifunctional towel/blanket, a notebook, a camera, and most of all an open mind. Making the best of unexpected circumstances is really all about your mindset, the way you look at the situation and how to make the best of it. I take my camera everywhere, but since that trip I am proudly carrying the camera around in a tote bag on which is written: “A passionate woman is worth the chaos”.

Julieth in the mosque room with the world map that led us to interesting conversation about her home country Colombia, our travel experiences, and the people we had met.