Snapshot Sunday: The Dome of the Blue Mosque

[ptcPhoto filename=”BlueMosqueSS700-1.jpg” title=”Sultanahmet” caption=”The main dome of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.” position=”center”]

Sultan Ahmet initiated the construction of his Istanbul mosque in 1609 when he was only nineteen years old. Its beauty was meant to rival that of neighboring Hagia Sophia, which was originally built over a thousand years earlier. Most would agree that the 20,000 blue tiles which give the Blue Mosque its name accomplished that goal.

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Snapshot Sunday: Turkish Coffee and Baklava in Istanbul

[ptcPhoto filename=”IstanbulSS700-1.jpg” title=”Sweet treats” caption=”Turkish coffee and baklava in Istanbul, Turkey” position=”center”]

Offered up in tiny cups all around the city, Turkish coffee is known for its strong flavor and a half inch of “coffee sludge” at the bottom of each serving. The grounds left over are sometimes used for tasseography, a form of fortune telling that dates back to medieval Europe.

Turkey, Greece, Syria, and Lebanon all lay claim to the original baklava, but there’s no doubt that the Turks have a pretty outstanding version of it. Perfect for a rainy day in Istanbul.

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Spain Costs: $98 a Day

Ah, Spain. When we were there we felt like euros were just seeping out in every direction. Then we went to Australia and realized what an expensive place really is. With some patience and self-control, you can fit quite a lot in to a $100 USD a day budget. Our favorite aspects of Spain – the wine, olives, jamón, and flamenco – don’t have to cost that much at all.

Just want the numbers? Skip to the bottom.

That $100 budget may preclude a some sights, restaurant meals, and all-nighters out at the discotheques, but overall we found it pretty affordable by European standards. As you can see from my handy-dandy pie chart at the bottom of this post, our transportation costs took up an inordinate amount of our daily budget – if we had it to do over again we’d probably spend even less. (Incidentally, we found that renting a car in Europe might not be the best idea…more on that later.)

To save money on food, try sticking with the menú del día (the menu of the day, normally around €10/$14) and tapas. The bread and olives that come with the meal are almost always free in Spain, which is a nice added bonus. Wine and beer aren’t badly priced either – you can buy bottles of good Spanish wine for only €1-2 ($2-3) at the market. With regard to jamón…if you plan to eat as much as we did, you might want to stick to the southern state of Andalusia (it’s much cheaper there!).

[ptcPhoto filename=”BudgetPaella.jpg” title=”Paella” caption=”Paella in Barcelona. If it doesn’t take them at least 30 minutes to make it, you aren’t getting the real thing!” position=”center”]

If you’re into flamenco, there are usually free shows at flamenco bars later in the evenings. You may have to ask your hotel or locals to find out where they are. You can pay €35 ($48) to go to a fully choreographed performance but we were really happy with the free shows.

As far as daytime entertainment goes, Spanish cities are full of stunning architecture, quirky street performers and public art installments – all of which are free to enjoy. Museums do tend to be on the expensive side, so keep an eye out for free days (unfortunately you won’t be the only one, though – the queues on these days are dreadful).

[ptcPhoto filename=”DaliAbeBudget.jpg” title=”Abe” caption=”From the Dali Museum. What do you see?” position=”center”]

In terms of lodging, we were limited to a lot of dorms – one of which was probably the worst we’ve ever stayed in (ask me about Bronchitis Boy sometime). The upside to dorms is that they usually have kitchens so you can forego a few restaurant meals.

Back to transportation costs: For the two of us, renting a car just wasn’t cost effective. I didn’t conduct a thorough cost analysis on car rental until after we’d already rented one, having just assumed that since we found a great deal at only €13 ($19) per day, a car would be a better deal than taking public transportation.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SpainCarBudget.jpg” title=”Car” caption=”Our trusty rental car in Spain.” position=”center”]

The problem with a rental is that while it might seem like a great value compared to the train or bus, you still have to pay for it on the days you aren’t driving it. If you travel really quickly you might find that it’s a better value, except for the fact that fuel is extremely expensive. Plus, parking can cost up to €10 a day in the cities, and Spanish drivers…well, they can be terrifying. For a while there it looked like the cost analysis would be a close call. Besides, we were going to out-of-the-way places that we wouldn’t visit otherwise – there’s an added value, in kind, for the freedom having a vehicle can provide.

[ptcPhoto filename=”CadizBudget.jpg” title=”Side Trip” caption=”A side trip to Cadiz, which may be the oldest European city.” position=”center”]

So how did we do? Based on my research, going to all the major places (cities and sights) via public transport would have cost us around $550 USD. The total cost of the rental (including the daily fee, fuel, parking costs, and tolls) came to $893 USD. This figure even incorporates some offsets that we received by offering rides to other people. Have you heard of It’s a website where you can pay to carpool, and it’s extremely popular in Spain and Portugal. It’s a good way to save money, meet people, and cut back on your carbon footprint.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SpainBarbie.jpg” title=”Shopping” caption=”Shopping in Granada…Flamenco Barbies.” position=”center”]

A final word: Be careful with money and valuables in Spain, especially in Barcelona. We sat and watched a drunk guy try to unzip someone’s backpack on the metro (we yelled at him and he slinked away). This is also the second time in three trips to Barcelona that Eric’s had his wallet stolen there! Thankfully I carry the cash and passports, so this just cost us a lot of headaches in getting the fraudulent charges reversed and new cards ordered.

The daily average cost for our visit was $98.27 (or $49.14 per person per day).

Here’s a breakdown of all our costs during our stay. This table does not reflect costs to enter the country (we flew into Portugal and drove over).

Type of Expense Total Cost
(for 28 days)
Daily Average Notes
Lodging $768.64 $27.45 Our lodging choices ranged in price from $17 at a dorm in Barcelona to $42 at a hotel in Burgos.
Food $689.40 $24.62 We ate a lot of meals in, although you can find great deals on tapas.
Transportation (within country) $932.21 $33.29 Our rental car was $19 a day.
Entertainment $90.15 $3.22 Includes the Baelo Claudia (Roman ruins), Jerez Alcazar, Mezquita, Alhambra, and Dali Museum.
Alcohol $204.27 $7.30 1 liter bottles of beer usually cost about $1.
Incidentals $66.97 $2.39 Includes the costs for items like sunblock, internet, clothes and donations.
Grand Total* $2,751.64 $98.27 *Total reflects expenses for two people. It does not reflect costs to enter the country (i.e., visas or airfare).

[ptcPhoto filename=”SpainPie.jpg” title=”Pie chart” caption=”” position=”center”]

Some Examples:

Average cost of a sit-down dinner for two – €30 ($41)
Entry ticket for the Alhambra in Granada – €13 ($18)
A metro ride to any station in Barcelona – €1 ($1.40), if you buy a 10-ride pass.
A 1GB SIM card for your phone – €15 ($20)

Photos from the Alhambra and Mezquita

You may or may not know this about me: I’m kind of a religious studies buff. I remember, waaay back a long time ago, when I first learned about the Moorish conquest of Spain that began in the year 711 as the Moors made the journey up from Morocco. I remember reading about the Mosque they built at Cordoba and hoping that one day I’d make it there.

[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-12.jpg” title=”Mezquita” caption=”The Mosque (Mezquita) at Cordoba” position=”center”]

Really, the Moorish conquest of Spain and the spread of Islam were all I knew about the country’s history. I had learned that Mezquita in Cordoba and the Alhambra in Granada both stand as testaments to Moorish power, architectural and artistic ability. This period of Spanish history still simultaneously draws me in and takes me back to those days as an undergrad when I first contemplated how religion has changed and shaped the world over the centuries. So here was my chance to see if these places lived up to the hype I’d built in my mind.

But enough talking. This time I really just want to show you photos (with some information in the captions).

The Alhambra

[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-1.jpg” title=”Looking out” caption=”The Alhambra is a palace and fortress complex first built in the ninth century.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-2.jpg” title=”Arches” caption=”The Muslims held control of the fortress until 1492 when they surrendered it to Ferdinand and Isabella.” position=”center”]

[ptcPhoto filename=”AlWindows.jpg” title=”Windows” caption=”Catherine of Aragon lived here until she moved to England to marry Henry VIII.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”Alhambra-3.jpg” title=”Reflection” caption=”Pools throughout the complex reflect the architectural elements.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”Alhambra-4.jpg” title=”Columns” caption=”Marble columns in the Court of the Lions support delicate and detailed filigree carvings.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-3.jpg” title=”Flowers” caption=”Images of people are forbidden (shirk) in Islam, so they create symmetrical patterns and calligraphy instead.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-5.jpg” title=”Verses” caption=”Thankfully the monarchs spared the Islamic art and intricately carved verses from the Qur’an.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-6.jpg” title=”Tiles” caption=”The tile work at the Alhambra served as inspiration for the artist M.C. Escher.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-8.jpg” title=”Generalife” caption=”Located on an outlying hill, the Palacio de Generalife overlooks the Alhambra fortress.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-9.jpg” title=”Fountain” caption=”Pumping in water for the many fountains was a remarkable achievement of engineering.” position=”center”]

The Mezquita

[ptcPhoto filename=”MezquitaOutside1.jpg” title=”Outside” caption=”The mosque is considered one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MezquitaMary1.jpg” title=”Cathedral” caption=”The building was converted to a Cathedral in 1236, with a church built in the center.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MezquitaWide1.jpg” title=”Corridor” caption=”Spanish Muslims have recently lobbied for the right to pray here again, but their requests have been rejected.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-11.jpg” title=”Tunnel” caption=”Striped arches form a tunnel effect.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-10.jpg” title=”Forest” caption=”The forest of columns attracts more than 1.5 million visitors each year.” position=”center”]

So the question remains: Did these places live up to the hype after all? Yeah. Yes they did.

Snapshot Sunday: An Amble Down Porto’s Waterfront

[ptcPhoto filename=”Porto5x7-1.jpg” title=”Porto” caption=”View of Porto from across the Douro River – Porto, Portugal” position=”center”]

They say that Portugal’s second-largest city, Porto, is hard on the feet but pleasant to the eye. Climbing through the city’s hills can be tiresome indeed, but the views and namesake port wine are worth the effort. Cross the bridge to take in Porto’s stacked hillside, which tumbles down to the Douro River in a fanfare of color.

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