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.

Hong Kong Costs: $125 a Day

Like most major cities, Hong Kong can easily take a dent out of your budget. But despite the cost, it’s one of those places that keeps luring us back in to explore more of its densely packed streets, search for bargains at its markets, and savor its complex and multinational food scene.

Just want the numbers? Skip to the bottom.

Predictably, lodging will be a big expense on your visit to Hong Kong. If you stay in a place like Chungking Mansions (a bit of a death trap), the nightly cost for an en suite room with a double bed is around $40. We also stayed at a hotel near Causeway Bay that cost $88 a night, but it was a much nicer room (no bugs, natural light, and we never feared for our lives!).

Transportation costs in Hong Kong are really reasonable, and public transport will get you just about anywhere in short order. Pick up an Octopus Card for use on the MRT and Star Ferry (and remember to cash out any remaining balance on your way out of town). If you take a bus from the airport, expect to pay around $5. There’s also a great Airport Express system where you can check in for your flight at Hong Kong or Kowloon Station and take a train directly to HKG in under 25 minutes, but this service will set you back around $12 per person.

[ptcPhoto filename=”HKTraffic.jpg” title=”Traffic” caption=”Taking the MRT will save time in afternoon traffic.” position=”center”]

Outside of transportation costs, you can see a lot of what Hong Kong has to offer just by wandering around in different neighborhoods and markets.

[ptcPhoto filename=”HKVeggies.jpg” title=”Veggies” caption=”Veggies for sale at a day market.” position=”center”]

Over 7 million people live in its 426 square miles, making it one of the most densely populated places in the world. It’s hard to describe the energy of the place, or to capture it in photos. If you’ve not been there, you should go. The diversity, great food, history and ease of travel have made it one of our favorite cities.

[ptcPhoto filename=”HKStreet.jpg” title=”Street” caption=”A street scene in the city.” position=”center”]

Hong Kong is full of character, with a clear sense of nostalgia for times past and excitement for what’s to come. The fact that English is widely spoken makes it a much more approachable city, even if it seems at first to be an impenetrable concrete jungle.

[ptcPhoto filename=”HKSigns.jpg” title=”Signs” caption=”Old signs on the Kowloon Peninsula” position=”center”]

The daily average cost for our visit was $125.17 (or $62.59 per person per day). Food ended up being the largest expense, but we did eat out for every meal.

Here is a breakdown of all our costs during our stay. This table does not include costs to enter the country on two occasions (we walked across the border once and used miles another time, only paying taxes). Visas are not required for US citizens, so there were no other costs associated with entering the country.

Type of Expense Total Cost
(for 12 days)
Daily Average Notes
Lodging $612.16 $51.01 Our lodging choices ranged in price from around $40 in Chungking Mansions to $88 near Causeway Bay. The use of Agoda points brought one room down to only $35 a night.
Food $702.67 $58.56 Very tasty meals can be had for as little as $20 (see our HK food article for meal ideas).
Transportation (within territory) $43.71 $3.64 Fares on the MRT are based on distance, but usually cost $1-2.
Entertainment $40.24 $3.35 Includes the Science Museum, Peak Tram, and a movie.
Alcohol $97.48 $8.12 Large bottles of beer are $2-3 in convenience stores.
Incidentals $5.77 $.48 Includes the costs for items like sunblock, internet, clothes and donations.
Grand Total* $1,502.02 $125.17 *Total reflects expenses for two people. It does not reflect costs to enter the country (i.e., visas or airfare)

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

Some Examples:

Average cost of a nice sit-down dinner for two – $400HKD (around $50)
A pint of beer at a bar – $61HKD ($8)
The cost to ride the Star Ferry – $3.40HKD ($.50)
A movie ticket – $96HKD ($12)

Snapshot Sunday: The Sun Sets on Fiji Time

[ptcPhoto filename=”FijiSunset.jpg” title=”Hammock” caption=”Swinging in a hammock at the Hilton Fiji Beach Resort and Spa, Nadi, Fiji.” position=”center”]

After three months in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s time to say goodbye and return to Asia. I’ll be honest, it’s hard to leave behind the Hilton’s crisp white sheets, cable television, and mosquito-free grounds. But we have an overnight layover tonight in Tokyo, and a sushi feast might make us feel a bit better.

Click here to view a larger, detailed image.

Six Great Meals in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is one of Asia’s great food epicenters. With the exception of maybe good Tex Mex, you can satisfy just about any craving in an afternoon of wandering the streets of Central, SoHo, or Kowloon. We spent less than two weeks in Hong Kong and certainly aren’t the leading authorities on its food scene (there are heaps of bona fide HK Foodies who could school us to Shenzhen and back). But I can tell you that this is a city where we just showed up and ate well every day, and you can too. Here are a few ideas for your next visit, including restaurant recommendations and prices (in USD).

6. Dim Sum

Eating dim sum in Hong Kong is a no-brainer, as it’s so emblematic of the territory’s geographic location and Cantonese population. For those of you unfamiliar, dim sum is a style of Cantonese food served in small or bite-sized portions, usually in steamer baskets or fancy little plates. You might also have heard it referred to as yum cha, meaning “going to drink tea”, as tea is almost always served as part of a dim sum meal.

Some of our favorites are har gow (delicate shrimp dumplings with thin, translucent skin), char siu baau (a BBQ pork bun topped with a sugary glaze), and steamed spare ribs. Remember our post on soup dumplings a while back? Xiao long bao also belongs to the dim sum compendium.

Where to Get It:

There might be a hundred places to get dim sum in the city, but you could do worse than starting with Tim Ho Wan, known as one of the cheapest – probably the cheapest – Michelin starred restaurants in the world. We went to the one located on a lower level of the Hong Kong Station. It doesn’t look like much, but you can tell it’s something special by the ever-present crowds of hungry patrons waiting for tables.

[ptcPhoto filename=”HKTHW.jpg” title=”Tim Ho Wan” caption=”We went twice and didn’t have to wait more than 20 minutes..” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”HKBun.jpg” title=”Bun” caption=”Their BBQ pork buns are sweet, savory, sticky masterpieces.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”HKSpareribs.jpg” title=”Spare ribs” caption=”Steamed spare ribs with black bean sauce. You might need two orders.” position=”center”]

What it Costs:

Dinner for two cost us less than $20 here, which is amazing. Be sure to take cash, they don’t accept credit cards.

5. Ramen

Even on a hot day, there’s something so satisfying about a big bowl of Japanese ramen. Pork belly, fish cake, half a soft-boiled egg, masses of tangled noodles, and a thick miso broth make a seriously good combination.

Where to Get It:

We liked this shop on Woosung Street near Jordan Station…not sure of the English name but there’s a giant pig out front.

[ptcPhoto filename=”HKRamen.jpg” title=”Shop” caption=”The neighborhood around Temple Street Night Market is packed with restaurants.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”HKRamen3.jpg” title=”Ramen” caption=”A spoonful of yum.” position=”center”]

What it Costs:

A bowl of miso here is about $8.

4. A Cheeseburger

Yes, a cheeseburger. American or no, don’t we all crave a big juicy burger from time to time? Truthfully, you can get a burger in just about any big city – but finding a really good one can be challenging when you’re in Asia.

Where to Get It:

Enter BLT Burger, located in the Ocean Terminal on Kowloon. They serve up all kinds of great American favorites like waffle fries, thick milkshakes (some are spiked), fried pickles, and a mean bleu cheese burger. If Hong Kong is a bit out of the way, they also have one in Las Vegas.

[ptcPhoto filename=”HKBurger.jpg” title=”Burger” caption=”It’s always good news when they ask how you want it cooked.” position=”center”]

What it Costs:

This one is a bit more indulgent – dinner for two is around $50, not including alcohol.

3. A Picnic at the IFC

Here’s a good option if you don’t want to dish out $25 for a cheeseburger. Pick up some carry out and drinks and make your way to the roof of the IFC Mall in the Central District, which is open to visitors and even has tables and chairs for you to use. Why do this? Aside from saving some HKD, you’ll also get one of the best views across the bay to Kowloon.

[ptcPhoto filename=”IFCView.jpg” title=”View” caption=”The view over to Kowloon.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”IFCRoof.jpg” title=”Roof” caption=”The rooftop at night.” position=”center”]

Where to Get It:

The City Super market on the first level has a great selection of deli meals and drinks. Also, there’s a Garrett Popcorn stand next door!

[ptcPhoto filename=”HKGarretts1.jpg” title=”Garretts” caption=”A very happy Eric.” position=”center”]

What it Costs:

Around $15 for half of a roasted chicken, a salad, and two beers (add another $6.50 for popcorn).

2. Peking Duck

Ok, so we may have mentioned duck one or two times before. It’s one of those meals we wish we could have all the time, but unfortunately most of the world hasn’t caught on to roasting ducks in the Chinese style. Maybe that’s because it’s a long process that involves pumping the duck full of air, soaking, drying, roasting, and finally frying it to achieve that perfect crackly skin and wonderful intense ducky flavor.

Where to Get It:

Empire City Roast Duck. This place. This. Place. They make the best duck we’ve had yet.

[ptcPhoto filename=”HKDuck.jpg” title=”Wrap” caption=”All the makings for duck wraps.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”HKDuck2.jpg” title=”Close up” caption=”Reach out and touch some duck.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”HKGreenBeans.jpg” title=”Beans” caption=”Try the green beans with pork – they’re crunchy, fresh and delicious.” position=”center”]

What it Costs:

If you want to splash out on dinner here, half a roasted duck, green beans and tea will set you back around $50.

1. Indian Breakfast

Hong Kong has long been a place of settlement for Indians, so it’s a good place to find your favorite dishes from the subcontinent. For me, few breakfasts are more satisfying than a proper lachha paratha served up with some chana masala, achar (pickle), and sweet, hot cups of chai.

[ptcPhoto filename=”HKIndian2.jpg” title=”Chicken” caption=”Chicken curry for breakfast? Yes, please.” position=”center”]

Where to Get It:

Chungking Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon is not only a great place to find Indian food – going there is what we would consider an essential Hong Kong experience. Chungking is sometimes called “The Little United Nations” due to the many ethnic minorities that call the buildings home (it is estimated that some 4,000 people live there). The first three levels are packed with shops and restaurants – many of which are Indian and Pakistani.

[ptcPhoto filename=”HKChungking.jpg” title=”Chungking” caption=”Approximately 6,000 people will try to sell you a tailor-made suit as you’re going in.” position=”center”]

[ptcPhoto filename=”HKIndian.jpg” title=”Chana” caption=”Paratha, aloo gobi and chana masala from a vendor on the first floor.” position=”center”]

If you want to make a Chungking breakfast easier, you can stay in one of the many small guesthouses there. Just be aware that the buildings are difficult to navigate and pretty run down – you might have some cockroaches, the rooms are tiny (like, touch all four walls at once tiny), and there’s no way they’re up to fire code. You’ve been warned…but being first in line for this breakfast might just well be worth the risk.

What it Costs:

We paid $15-20 – probably inflated, but they kept us coming back.

Snapshot Sunday: Fire Dancing on Mana Island

[ptcPhoto filename=”FireDance1024.jpg” title=”Hot” caption=”Fire Dancing on Mana Island, Fiji” position=”center”]

Fire poi is a dance for the most daring of performers, often found in the South Pacific. Here Patrick from our resort surrounds himself in a ring of fire and swings around a flaming baton for dramatic effect. The motion, music, and bright orange fire against the night sky make for a captivating performance.

Click here to view a larger, detailed image.