How to spend 2 days in Seville

As the capital of Andalucia, Seville does not disappoint; although I personally think that the number of sights isn’t varied enough for a city with such an extensive history. Perhaps the reason is simply due to so much being built on or buried under; and we can’t see it. So, 2 days in Seville is enough time to enjoy the key sights. Of course I would recommend longer there if you have the time.

Seville was constructed by the Moors, Visigoths and then Christians, who all superseded the Romans. There is a lot of mixed architecture as a result this. For example, the Giralda tower, which is attached to the cathedral, has a Roman base and then is predominantly Moorish up to the level of the bell tower. Originally it had a dome which has more recently been replaced, with the bells that now reside there.

The climate in Seville during the summer months can reach temperatures of 55°C. So a visit in spring or autumn is recommended unless you like it hot.

The city consists of maze like alleyways facing in all directions, probably built to vary the shade/sun ratio throughout the day.

So, I recommend you take your time when you visit. Here’s my suggestions for a 2 days in Seville.

Day 1 – Walking tour and other key landmarks

I always recommend taking a walking tour the first day in a city, to get your bearings and a good overview. I would recommend panchotours.com which also does tours in a number of other cities in Europe. Tours are everyday at 11am and are free, but they work for tips so give what you feel it’s worth or can afford.

When you think of Seville, football or oranges perhaps, spring to mind first?

Spain winning the World Cup in 2010 resulted in Seville hitting the headlines …for the partying/riots that took place in Puerta de Jerez (Jerez Gate). Apparently this is also when the head was knocked off the statue in the fountain that is now where the Jerez Gate once stood. Today this is a good central meeting point between the old and the new areas of the city.

We were told that the oranges here are renowned by the locals for being bitter. Despite this, those that grow at the cathedral are picked each year and sent to the queen of England to make her marmalade! Whether the latter is true or not, I refrained from tasting them…

Seville of course offers so much more, and on a walking tour you will hear lots more about the city and can ask advice on places to go that are of interest. I would recommend checking out some of the sights covered after the tour in a little more detail.

Plaza de Espana

A beautiful site and probably the highlight for me. The walking tour ended here for us, so we took time to explore further before lunch. Note that in the middle of the day the heat here can be scorching, so it’s good to hang out in the shaded walkways.

The arches represent each province of Spain and the bridges represent the kingdoms. Nowadays this building houses the town hall/immigration office and has of course been the set for Star Wars Episode 2, city of Theed in Naboo (check out YouTube).

The Arabian army’s palace in Laurence of Arabia also features the plaza and more recently it featured in The Dictator – the trailer still has a Spanish flag in it which was overlooked during editing.

Cathedral

The 3rd largest in Europe. St Peter and St Paul were incorporated into the walls on the East side, by the Pope, to remind the people of the Vatican in Rome (largest cathedral) and St Pauls cathedral in London (second largest). The inside is worth a look and entrance includes the Giralda (see below) – see more details on their website. Note that entry is free on Mondays.

The Giralda

Situated within the cathedral. This tower is somewhere between 97 and 105 metres, depending on which guide or guidebook you refer to. I had anticipated a lot of steps to climb but fortunately there is just a ramp. There are 35 corridors, which were designed to accommodate a mule or horse to transport the poor guy who had to call everyone to prayer 5 times a day.

The views are of course worth it, and the ramp really does make it easier. I preferred the tower to the cathedral but both are included in the same ticket price.

Tapas tour for dinner

I highly recommend taking a food tour with We Love Tapas in the evening. A great way to suss out some of the great local places to eat tapas, on your first night and meet other travellers. If your budget can’t stretch to a tour then just stop by some of the tapas bars that take your fancy and make sure you try some of the recommended dishes in my post 5 must try tapas in Seville.

Day 2 – Alcazar and Plaza Mayor

Alcazar

You need a good couple of hours to take the Alcazar in fully, especially if you enjoy wandering around gardens. I recommend you head there early morning and avoid the crowds.

This palace has been the home of many Muslim and Christian kings. With beautiful and extensive decor which varies from the Moorish decorative arches to the more simple Christian coverings and is often a mishmash of both.

Game of Thrones fans in particular will enjoy hunting out the numerous locations featured in the series whilst wandering the Alcazar and it’s many rooms.

Plaza Mayor

In the afternoon head over to Plaza Mayor, also known as Plaza de la Encarnacion according to the map. Here is housed a wooden structure (Metropol Parasol). Created from 3,500 sections of wood, the viewpoint at sunset is lovely.

Underground is a very interesting archaeological site. Here the displays show life in both Roman and Moorish times, and a little of the life below the city.

There’s probably time to do more if you want to. However Seville is a city with a laid back feel. So, just take your time and enjoy these recommended sights and you will have experienced things at the local pace.

Flamenco show

Seville is a great place to experience a Flamenco show and the Devour Seville website has some great suggestions on where to go for something authentic and less touristy – check out their post Five places to see Flamenco in Seville.

Paint Matryoshka Russian dolls in St Petersburg

Matryoshka dolls are a typical souvenir from Russia and with so many different colour combinations and themes it’s difficult to pick out that unique set to take home.

These beautiful dolls are sold everywhere in Russia, so it’s important to consider the mass produced ones versus the hand painted creations. Some of the themes include favourite Disney characters and even footballers, very apt with the World Cup in Russia this year. The traditional classic colours tend to be yellow and red.

Local art and crafts and any chance to get creative on my travels always get me a little bit excited, so of course I went in search of somewhere to paint Matryoshka dolls when I was in St Petersburg last month.

Matryoshka Masterclass is run by Elena who offers classes daily where you can learn how to paint Matryoshka Russian dolls. Paint and decorate your own unique Matryoshka doll or set of 3 dolls. Of course I wanted to create a matching set so anticipated it would take a little longer than the advertised 2 hours.

Whilst Phill went off to visit more of the Hermitage museum; I’d already spent a day there. I sneaked off to do something creative, which was a lovely way to end my time in this beautiful city.

Matryoshka doll painting

Fortunately the dolls come ready painted with faces, as I’m sure this would have been the hardest bit with such tiny details. So to start, I only had to pick a set with either brown out blue eyes and select the 2 basic colours.

blank mtryoshka dolls

Base

Starting with the outline, is definitely a good way to get the hang of the texture of the paint. The guidelines make it fairly easy to brush on the chosen colours either side of the pencil lines indicating the edge of the dress/shawl.

paint matryoshka russian dolls

The painting does get slightly harder as you move from the larger doll to the medium one and then the baby. Repeating the colours on each. After the base is complete it’s time to work on the the front of the headdress which starts to get fiddly, particularly if you choose to adapt the design to one of the non standard options. I just added a point to the headdress and kept it simple, but making it symmetrical was challenging enough.

Features

Next, choosing one plait or two is a difficult decision. I opted for just the one, as wasn’t sure how balanced my freehand brush strokes would be at plaiting pig tails.

As time pushed on I was tasked with dotting on blobs of paint to create delicate flowers. Then more dots to decorate further and some help from Elena with the featured flowers. More dots followed and then a bit of blow drying, both the paint and then the varnish.

The hardest part is choosing the colours, not only for the dress and shawl but for the flowers and dots. Elena keeps the instructions simple so it’s fairly easy to just keep painting stage by stage, remembering you have to do each bit 3 times, if you are completing a set.

The class was small, just 5 of us, a mum and young son, plus a dad and his teenage daughter. All were Russian speakers, although I suspect at least one spoke some reasonable English, but the concentration on the painting didn’t allow much time for breaking the language barrier.

A wonderful experience and great souvenir. The more I get creative on my travels the more I want to travel for these sorts of experiences.

Visit St Petersburg sights safely during World Cup

As thousands plan to descend on Russia for World Cup matches next month, preparations are taking form. With Luzhniki stadium in Moscow and the Saint Petersburg stadium being the main hosts for the event, there are already plenty of signs, being set up, in those cities, which will ensure fans get themselves safely to these matches. Russia has also suspended the handling of dangerous goods for a 2 month period during this time. So safety is high priority.

St Petersburg is a Russian city unlike most of Russia. Deemed the ‘Venice of the North’, with canals and bridges which were once part of the former USSR. This former Leningrad harbours one of the largest museums in the world – Hermitage, holds the White Nights Festival where the city never sleeps and has earned UNESCO world heritage recognition for its historic centre.

So, there is plenty for visitors who are heading to St Petersburg during World Cup season to see bedsides football. Both flights and accommodation are likely to be pricey during the event but here’s a few suggestions on how to safely avoid the crowds and keep the cost down.

Museums

The most popular museum is of course the Hermitage.

Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum

The complex which consists of the main museum and the branches: the General Staff Building, the Winter Palace, the Menshikov Palace and the Museum of Imperial Porcelain, will involve queues. Enjoy reduced queuing times by considering the following:
1) avoid visiting on the first Thursday of the month when it’s free entrance, as it will be busy;
2) purchase tickets online – these are more expensive than on the door/day but you can jump the queue on arrival;
3) purchase tickets at the machines just inside the entrance gate, which will have shorter queues than the main ticket office. This also means you can avoid the secund queue inside;
4) head to the Staff Building (opposite) and purchase tickets there, again allowing you to bypass the queue at the main entrance and inside;
5) visit the Staff Building first, in the morning when the main complex is busier and head there later on in the day when it’s supposedly quieter.

It’s worth knowing that no food or drink is permitted inside the museum although purchases can be made in the cafe. It’s possible to purchase tickets separately to enter one of the branches. Note that you are required to store backpacks and other belongings in the cloakrooms.

I would also recommend planning your visit in advance. There’s a useful, albeit complicated, tool on the museum website that helps map out the exhibits you want to see, so you don’t have to backtrack or overlap your footsteps too much. Give it a try under ‘Plan your trip‘ under Explore on the museum site.

A few of the exhibits are closed for renovations currently and most of the items which were on the top floor of the Main Complex have been moved to the General Staff Building. It can be confusing but the maps below are the current ones from the information stand which we could have done with for planning in advance.

Hermitage Museum – Main complex maps:
Hermitage General Staff Building maps:

Tickets for some other museums may be discounted if you book in advance online or take advantage of reduced ticket prices from various partners. You will have to shop around for the best deals.

Cruises

There is no shortage of cruise companies offering canal and/or river trips. Even the hop on hop off bus company has extended to the water. The weather can be unpredictable but the boats are covered. The transport links are pretty good so I do recommend this as an option for getting around.

St Petersburg canal view

St Petersburg canal view

If you arrive with no plans or bookings, you can’t miss the ticket touts around town offering deals on the various boats. The choices can be a little overwhelming so another reason to book in advance, online and this will also mean discounts are available. We saved 160 Rubles each by booking with this site a couple of days before.

Palaces

The most popular are Peterhof Palace and St Catherine’s Palace (Pushkin). Both are a little out of the city centre and will require a full day to properly experience.

Tickets can be purchased on line (Peterhof; St Catherine’s palace) and there is more than one public transport option to get to each.

Check for discounts, for example City Pass is currently offering a discount on the Hydrofoil to Peterhof.

Peter and Paul Fortress

An important historical location, this is where the original citadel was founded by Peter the Great in 1703.

A gun is fired everyday at noon, but don’t underestimate how loud it is if you’re close by. The changing of the guard takes place every Saturday during the summer season.

Entrance to the complex is free but there are a number of museums, with various exhibits which incur different ticket prices. The cathedral seemed the most popular, with its burial chapel and royal tombs.

There is a Combined ticket option available for a reduced total price. Worth considering if you want to visit more than one of the exhibitions. Check out the website for more.

Churches

Probably the most iconic building in the city besides the Hermitage is the Church of the Saviour on Blood. It gets busy so head there early or late if you can. The ticket price of 250 Rubles is very reasonable. I personally really liked inside with the beautiful mosaics from wall to ceiling.

Church of the Savior On Blood can view

Church of the Savior On Blood

St Isaac’s cathedral offers visitors a 360 degree view of the city from its colonnade, with a separate ticket for the museum (entry inside). Both are worth considering at 400 Rubles each.

Vodka

No visit to Russia would be complete without enjoying a shot or two of vodka. There are numerous bars and restaurants dedicated to the national drink and even a museum. The latter is a bunch of displays in Russian so do opt for the guided tour in English if you choose to visit, although it’s nothing special; the vodka and snacks were the highlight.

Enjoy vodka and snacks the authentic way in many places around the city. At the high end the Caviar Bar at the Belmont Grand Hotel offers a tasting set paired with caviar. Many restaurants offer a more low-key taster. We opted for the flavoured vodka tasting set at Yat restaurant where they make their own vodka and which I would highly recommend.

Vodka taster with snack

Vodka taster at Museum

Herring, salty lard and pickled cucumbers (gherkins) are typical accompanying snacks, all of which seemed to work the taste buds well. Those that don’t like fish or eggs might struggle to indulge in the full experience.

Other events

Check out the up to date In Your Pocket guide for other upcoming events.

Russian entry notes

Visas are required for many visitors to Russia, including UK residents and you need to register with immigration after arrival of there for more than 7 days, although hotels will do this for you.

Key sights in Tirana

Albania’s capital Tirana, should definitely be on your list when considering a city break as it ticks most of the boxes and is cheap.

The infrastructure is still being developed, but with its quirky buildings amidst the remnants of the communist regime, there’s little indication of its grey past.

Skenderbej Square Tirana with flag

Albania’s captial Tirana would be great for a city break

It is a very pleasant city with plenty of cultural experiences and a buzz that doesn’t exist anywhere else in Albania.

In the Summer months temperatures can reach 30 degrees. So, with the beach being an easy drive away, and an expanse of sand, there’s the potential to couple a visit to Tirana with a lot more.

The key sights in Tirana are generally accessible all year round, so here’s some of my recommendations.

Walking Tour

Always the best way to see any city and gather your bearings. A walking tour of the city is a must. We wandered on foot with a local, picking through the sights whilst getting a feel for life here.

I would recommend a free walking tour as the guides work for tips and this will suit any budget. Make sure to ask for recommendations for places to eat as well as things you like to do, as the best advice will depend on the season of your visit.

Skenderbej Square

Having seen over 100 years of protests and celebrations, this is a good place to start for first time visitors to Tirana. It’s been witness to some of the nation’s happiest and most tragic events.

skenderbej square tirana museum view

Skenderbej Square, National Museum view

It can get pretty hot here in the heat with so much open space without shade, but you can always duck into the National Museum of History (which has 3 floors of exhibits) and cool off.

Make sure you also stop by the Clock Tower and Et’hem Bey Mosque which remain from the Austro-Hungarian times.

Bunkers

Bunkers can be found everywhere in Albania. Many have been re-purposed but plenty remain unused.

bunker in Tirana park

One of the many bunkers

Bunk’Art

It’s been more than 25 years since the collapse of the communist regime, but there is a great deal of history to learn about. The larger bunkers in the city of Tirana have been renovated and opened to the public, to share some of what went on. Make sure you pick one to visit whilst you’re there.

This huge bunker built in the outskirts of the capital mixes contemporary art with history exhibitions. With just a third of the space being utilised by the museum, it will require a couple of hours to visit.

Enver Hoxha office at Bunk'Art Tirana

Hoxha’s office, Bunk’Art

A visit here works well with the cable car trip to Mount Dajti (see below) if you want to make a day of it.The rooms where the government and its officials would have stayed are displayed as they were needed at that time, but they were never actually used. As you wander through the many rooms and displays, it feels a little creepy and unnerving, especially with the endless signs indicating not to panic if the electricity goes off. Bring something warm to wear as it’s cold down there.

Bunk’Art2

The biggest bunker in the city centre, off Skanderbeg Square, this is well presented, and not cold like its big brother Bunk’Art. I actually found it hot and stuffy inside but it is significantly smaller.

The history of the gendarmerie is displayed in the first half of the rooms, but I personally felt it went on a bit too long. The second section is much better and includes an account of the secret police activities from 1945 to 1991. Although interesting, the exhibits seem to gloss over the detail, but it’s a good place to understand the basics.

The central location makes this convenient to visit and ideal if you are limited on time, but if time permits I would recommend Bunk’Art and the House of Leaves instead.

House of Leaves

Being the centre of surveillance in the past, this museum which opened in 2017, features some interesting exhibits. The items displayed here focus on the totalitarian control and its presence everywhere in Albania during that time. There is also a little information covering the other uses of the building.

A visit here really opens your eyes to what went on, and I would highly recommend including this on your itinerary as it’s not a big place and won’t take long. Ask for the guided tour, although everything is in English.

The Pyramid

This derelict building, which is considered an eye sore, has a love hate relationship with the Albanians. Basically Enver (the last dictator) Hoxha’s disintegrating mausoleum, but it stands for so much more.

Enver Hoxha pyramid massoleum Tirana

The crumbling Pyramid

Read up on it, stop by and see it, take pictures and maybe even climb it. This landmark may not remain, as there are some plans to develop the area, so expect things to change in the years to come.

Mount Dajti

I’ve lost count of the number of cities which I’ve visited that have a cable car to a great view. Tirana is no exception, with a trip up to Mount Dajti on the longest cable car in the Balkans (apparently). The view is good and it’s quite a nice place to spend an hour or two.

Cable car station on Mount Dajti Tirana

From the drop of point it’s about 10 minutes walk uphill through an almost residential area.To get there take a bus from near to the Et’hem Bey Mosque in the center of town. There is no bus station but you will see people waiting around, so just ask and confirm with the driver which bus and where to get off.

You can take a taxi if you want the easy option.

Have you been to Tirana, got other recommendations. Please share them.

As for the rest of the country, well, it has so much to offer, whatever your interests. Check out my posts:

Impressions of Albania

Plan a visit to Albania before it changes

Europe flight restrictions – March 2018

Following on from my Think twice before considering Ryanair post I was asked whether my old post regarding Europe flight restrictions, written back in 2014 was still up to date. Surprisingly it wasn’t too far off … it seems not a lot has changed in 4 years.

If you are planning a trip to Europe sometime soon, ensure you check the latest flight restrictions before you travel. If you are in the UK, like myself, the Gov.uk website, should provide details of the latest changes, although I have summarised the current information below.

Most of us pack far more than we need. An extra pair of shoes, a hairdryer and a jacket are all things that could probably be left at home. Just think back to your last trip: did you really use every single item you packed?

Electronic devices

Since 2014, passengers on some routes into and out of the UK have been required to show that electronic devices in their hand luggage are powered up or face not being allowed to bring the device onto the aircraft.

The electronic devices currently allowed on a flight into the UK depend on the country and airport you’re travelling from. At the time of writing flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have additional restrictions, more detail can be found on the Gov.uk website.

Cabin baggage

The weight and size restrictions on cabin baggage will depend on who you are flying with.

Below is a quick checklist for the main European airlines to help you on your way.

List of European airlines baggage allowances, size restrictions and extras

When measuring your bag, be sure to include the wheels. Softer bags may make it easier to fit into the frame at the airport, but this can result in your bag being taken and stored in the hold.

Liquids

Restrictions on the amount of liquid that can be taken on board are slowly being relaxed. The rule of thumb tends to be liquids in containers larger than 100ml generally won’t be accepted, even if the container is only part full.

EU which liquids

Prohibited items

The restrictions on prohibited items are unlikely to change. Airport security staff will not allow items they consider dangerous – even if these are normally allowed in hand luggage. So, check through your personal belongings for items such as scissors (with blades > 6 cm), penknives, matches and corkscrews. Contact the airline you are traveling with about what items are prohibited if you are unsure.

UK Airports

Airports will vary, so check with them before you fly. If you are travelling to/from the UK it’s worth noting the following airports currently have allowances in place:

  • Stansted – Anyone travelling from London Stansted Airport can take one airport shopping bag, in addition to hand luggage.

If you have any more up to date information, please do not hesitate to share it in a comment or email me at tiggerbird@gmail.com.