The Party Never Stops in Madrid

“God worked six days, and rested on the seventh. Madrileños rest on the six, and on the seventh… go to a bullfight.” ~ H O’Shea

While in Madrid, we stayed at the IBIS Budget Madrid Calle 30, at Calle Lozano 3 for 40€ per night. The hotel room was very clean – not large but comfortable enough. I liked that there were no yucky carpets in the rooms. All the furniture was wood, very simple, clean and modern. There was not a full separate bathroom, but all the basic components were available. The bathroom sink was in a corner of the room while the toilet was in a separate nook closer to the room entrance. The shower seemed more like an enclosed capsule next to the sink, but it was comfortable. Oh, and get this, the shower head had LED color lights – makes you want to sing in the shower. I found the bed comfy enough when after a long day and a nice shower we landed on the bed and didn’t open our eyes until morning. We didn’t bother having breakfast at the hotel. Breakfast was an extra fee and did not look appetizing enough to roll out 9€ more per day for both – not worth it.

 

IBIS_InPixio
Room in IBIS Budget Hotel

We departed from Madrid as well. Therefore, after visiting Cáceres, we drove back to Madrid and stayed at another IBIS hotel – the IBIS Budget Madrid Vallecas, same budget-friendly hotel, same rate, and type of rooms. However, in this hotel, the bed was extremely uncomfortable, and the room temperature was too warm. The rooms do not have individual air conditioning or heating units, it is all controlled by management. Therefore, when the temperature dipped down to the 50’s, the heater was cranked up. For us, it was a bit too hot and a hot room and uncomfortable bed do not make a good combination. It was a good thing that it’d only be one night.

Restaurants

We quickly learned to stay away from the tourist area when eating out and head towards where the locals eat. Our first breakfast was at a place close to the Plaza Mayor. We had the “Pincho de tortilla” (potato omelet), bread, coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice. Breakfast for two was 15€. It was a good thing we spoke Spanish and were able to interact with the staff. We received good tips and suggestions.

Cafeteria Neila at Calle Santa Maria 41. The place was about a 10-minute walk from the Plaza Mayor. It’s not a fancy place, it is a small café with not much appeal to it, but the breakfast was good. We had the same as the previous day at the other “touristy” café – “Pincho de tortilla,” bread, coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice for a cost of 7€ for both! I highly recommend it.

Ciudad de Tui Restaurant at Calle Montera 22, right off of Puerta del Sol Plaza. One of the things I really wanted to eat in Spain was “Caldo Gallego,” it’s a delicious broth native to Galicia – which I didn’t know until we arrived in Spain. That’s why it was so difficult to find in Madrid, not all restaurants serve it. Anyway, while searching around for a place to eat we came upon Ciudad de Tui which was running a lunch special consisting of an appetizer, soup, salad, bread, main course, dessert, and wine for €10.95 per person. The “Caldo Gallego” was the deciding factor of us eating there and I don’t regret it because it was delicious. The environment was clean and inviting and the decor was just a tad fancy but very nice. The service was great. I would definitely recommend it.

Chocolate Y Churros – Los Nuevos Alpes, at Calle Mayor 54, close to Mercado San Miguel. You can’t go to Spain and not have their famous churros. This was one of the first places we stopped at and had churros with chocolate dipping sauce, coffee, and hot chocolate. It was good and less than €10 for both.

Restaurante San Cristobal, at Calle Marques Viudo de Pontejos, 4 was a small quaint place offering tapas and paella. We had paella and wine (of course). It was not the best out there but good. It seemed popular among the locals because it was full. The service was okay. Dinner for two was somewhere around 20€ with wine included.

Restaurante Puerta de Vigolocated at Calle Ferraz 44 in Madrid, just a few steps away from Templo del Debod. Our breakfast consisted of Pincho de Tortilla, bread, coffee and fresh orange juice for about 8€. They had other breakfast items on the menu as well. The service was not good, and the staff was neither helpful nor polite. We didn’t return after this experience.

La Mallorquina Bakery established in 1894. It is located at Puerta del Sol 8 in Madrid and only steps from the Puerta del Sol Plaza. La Mallorquina specializes in delicious sweets and pastries and it was fully packed to the point where there was barely any standing room during our visit.

Sightseeing

Plaza Mayor is one of the most famous places in Madrid. It is surrounded by three-story residential buildings with over 230 balconies facing the plaza. Plaza Mayor is home of restaurants, vendors, locals dressed as characters and live music, as well as a lot of tourists.

Puerta del Sol is another famous plaza where you will find the statue of The Bear and the Strawberry Tree. The statue is Madrid’s official symbol. They represent the official Coat of Arms of Madrid. At Puerta del Sol you’ll find famous name brand stores, restaurants, the metro train station, souvenir shops and lots more.

IMG_1661
The Bear and the Strawberry Tree – Madrid’s official symbol

The very famous Mercado San Miguel is a stylish covered gastronomic market located just a few steps away from Plaza Mayor. From café, bakeries and meat markets to a beer house kiosk – you’ll find delicious and varied gourmet cuisine. However, don’t expect to be seated and waited on because seating is limited. You can buy what you want and if you’re lucky, you might find an empty chair at a table.

Mercado San Antón is a three-story building with an open atrium in the enter that comprises a full traditional vegetable, fruits, seafood, meats and bakeries market where you can shop for your favorite foods. The second floor is a mix of culinary café which includes Spanish and Mediterranean foods among others. The third-floor terrace is their prized architectural restaurant which overlooks Madrid. At La Cocina de San Antona traditional Spanish restaurant, you are able to buy your choice of meat in the first-floor food market and take it up to the restaurant where they will prepare it for you as you like.

 

We wanted to visit places where the local’s shop. That is how we ended up at Plenilunio and the Alvaro Mendez shopping malls. Both are huge shopping malls in Madrid. They are very modern with a good variety of shops and some exclusive ones too. They are both very close to the airport – a great option if you have a few hours to spare before heading to the airport.

The Templo del Debod (Temple of Debod) is located at Calle Ferraz 1 in Madrid. It is an ancient Egyptian temple donated by the Egyptian government to the Spanish people in 1968 as a “Thank You” for the aid given by Spain.

 

The Parque del Retiro, located at Plaza de la Independencia 7, belonged to the Spanish monarchy until the late 19th century when it became public. It is one of the largest parks in Madrid and it’s free. There’s a lake for rowing, palaces that are now exhibition halls – one of them being the glass palace. It is beautiful and very peaceful. There is this beautiful Mediterranean Cyprus tree which seems as if it were carefully landscaped. I’ve never seen it anywhere else and don’t know if it’s trimmed to look this way or if it’s the natural form of the tree. Here’s a photo, what do you think?

Parque-El-Retiro.jpg
Mediterranean Cypress Tree at Parque del Retiro

The official residence of the Spanish Royal Family is the Royal Palace. It is actually used for state ceremonies. Campo del Moro is the beautiful garden surrounding the palace. It has a large beautiful fountain and perfectly landscaped grounds. You will probably see a wedding photography session in this area as it is a perfect place for it.

IMGP0580
Royal Palace of Madrid

Madrid is a beautiful, vibrant city. Its narrow streets and architectural structures make a perfect backdrop. I love that pedestrians are far more important than vehicles. You will see there are many lighted cross-walks with traffic lights exclusively for pedestrians. This is very important to me being that I am a grieving mother who lost a son in a pedestrian accident. I will definitely visit Madrid again.

Have you been to Madrid? If so, what places have you visited and what was your experience like?

 

Advertisements

I Must Return to Spain

“There is no night life in Spain. They stay up late but they get up late. That is not night life. That is delaying the day.” – Ernest Hemingway

Our trip to Spain, la Madre patria as some call it, was the only trip in which we created an itinerary and followed our instincts. It was a 15-day trip (2 of them were flying, of course). Our itinerary included various towns beginning with Madrid, Segovia, La Rioja (Logroño), Zaragoza, Barcelona, Valencia, Cáceres and back to Madrid. We visited wineries, famous landmarks, parks and whatever else crossed our path.

Spain Map
Our 3000-mile route (blue stars at each city visited)

We arrived at Madrid through Barajas Airport – very nice and modern airport, by the way. It is fully equipped with the latest technology and bamboo ceiling making it the largest bamboo project in the world. It has a huge underground tunnel. I had never seen an airport with such a deep underground tunnel. I don’t know if it was the many hours on flight or what, but we walked down so many flight of stairs, 3 or 4 floors, it seemed as if it would never end. It’s like a labyrinth of tunnel after tunnel. It is a huge airport, but we were able to get around.

photo
Barajas Airport in Madrid

We reached the vehicle rental kiosk (very difficult to find) and proceeded to pick up our vehicle – a Fiat 500 – quite small but easy to get around in. Our itinerary included a 3000-mile adventure stopping in different cities. We began in Madrid and visited Segovia, Logroño (La Rioja region), Zaragoza, Barcelona, Valencia, Cáceres and back to Madrid. While visiting the different city’s we parked the vehicle in one of many underground parking garages available and continued by foot. Those parking garages were quite expensive though, as much as 20€ for a few hours.

 

Fiat
Fiat 500 Rental in Spain

Since this was an independent trip we rented a portable Wi-Fi for about $70 for the 13 days that we’d be there. It was great to have a portable Wi-Fi. We used it for everything – finding our way around, placing Face Time calls without using our data plan, and for all our devices including tablets. Great idea if you are traveling independently and don’t want to incur in roaming charges. We used the WAZE navigation app on my iPad to get around. Good thing we speak the language because the street names are so long and difficult to understand in English that we had to change the WAZE language to Spanish which made it easier.

IMG_1543
Using WAZE Navigation app in Spain

When we arrived I was not feeling too well, probably because of the long flight. We stopped at a local pharmacy for some over the counter headache relief medication. They had the equivalent of our common Tylenol which is Panadol. It was a box of 24 at a price of .69€, that was less than $1.00! Traveling independently was wonderful. Being able to stop anywhere for photos or a bite to eat made the trip so much better. While driving to one of our destinations, in one of our many stops at a gas station for fuel, we purchased snacks for the ride – two loafs of  bread, goat cheese, “jamón Iberico” (Iberian ham), coffee and water bottles – all for less than 10€!

We stopped at old castles in non-tourist areas, in different wineries, olive tree plantations, and we even took photos of a huge display of a bull that seemed to pop up in different areas. We were just curious to find out what it was about. It turns out it was a billboard for Toro Osbourne brandy.

Our Spain trip was a great one – so much to see and so little time. It is a beautiful country with its many great architectural buildings, many monuments, easy access to the metro train and bus. Its laid-back lifestyle entices us to take a look at our hectic lives and realize that there’s more to life than just working. People in Spain still take their siesta from around 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. It has a very vibrant and bustling night life great for everyone – especially for young adults. Their foods (tapas) are spectacular and their wine exquisite! I encourage everyone to include Spain in their bucket list. It is a country worth visiting.

Have you visited Spain? If so, what did you enjoy the most?


Web Hosting

All Roads Lead to Rome

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” ~ Ambrose

IMGP0466 (2)
Assisi region of Umbria

The last leg of our trip was Rome which we traveled through the sun route motorway to the medieval city of Assisi. Assisi is a hill town in central Italy’s Umbria region. We visited the 13th century Basilica of St. Francis. The church is huge and beautiful to say the least with many of Giotto’s frescos. In the lower level are the remains of St. Francis of Assisi. Tourists and guided tours are a daily event and this particular day was no exception. There were many people visiting the basilica.

IMGP0449
Basilica of Saint Frances of Assisi

After visiting the Basilica, we went for an uphill stroll through the beautiful medieval streets. We stopped at various small souvenir shops and cafés, grabbing a bite to eat through a tiny door leading to a corridor which seemed like a temporary make-shift café. The roads were narrow and there were many arch entry ways to adjoining streets that made beautiful backgrounds for pictures. We reached the top piazza where the Basilica di Santa Chiara stood tall. It was a long, long walk up hill. Thankfully the walk downhill was much easier and faster. It was then time to continue onto Rome.

We arrived in Rome and to our hotel after dusk. We stayed at the Grand Hotel Palatino  located at Via Cavour just 600 meters from the Colosseum and a little more from the ruins and other interesting points. It is an excellent location with the Cavour metro station just a few minutes away. The staff was very helpful and accommodating. The room was clean, well-organized and stocked, and the bed was comfortable. The breakfast was included offering both, hot and cold choices.

On the following day we visited the Vatican Museum and Michelangelo’s breathtaking Sistine Chapel. I was not impressed with the Vatican tour guide. Much of the morning hours were spent in the courtyard of the Pine cone near the Vatican museum and the Sphere listening to the guide narrate the Vatican story and showing us images of what we were to see. I would have much preferred to walk while listening to the narration instead of the still images on cardboard. We strolled through St. Peter’s Square and Basilica, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon and so many other wonderful places.

The most captivating moment for me was when we viewed Michelangelo’s Pieta, the marble structure of Mary holding the body of Jesus in her arms after the crucifixion. It was a personal moment for me. I just stared in awe for quite a while. As a grieving mother, I felt the anguish she felt. It really hit home. Okay, no more tears!

IMGP0497 (2)
Michelangelo’s La Pieta

We continued shopping in many local shops for souvenirs (needed to bring the family souvenirs). We enjoyed our walk and just took in every detail of the building’s architecture and cobblestone streets. The Colosseum is one of the most impressive structure I have ever seen. It is mesmerizing even with all the scaffolds around it (it was being meticulously cleaned).

IMGP0560_pp (2)
Colosseum and us

That night we ate at Restaurante Gli Angeletti a small restaurant located at Via dell Angeletto and very close to the hotel. We chose to sit at their outdoor terrace. The weather was perfect for it. Besides the appetizer and drinks, we had Spaghtetti a la Carbonara; a delicious blend of bacon, egg yolks and pecorino cheese at a price of 9.00€ and Spaghetti Pomodoro with fresh tomatoes and basil for 8.00€. It was delicious, the service was great, and it was priced moderately. I highly recommend Restaurante Gli Angeletti.

Our last day was cut short since the shuttle was scheduled to pick us up at noon. But, it did not stop us from adventuring out to the most famous Trevi Fountain. The hotel was less than a mile away so we made our way to the fountain bright and early in the morning. I was surprised at the amount of people surrounding the fountain at that time. We did our backward coin toss, took a few snapshots and were on our way to return home. It was a wonderful and memorable trip! ‘Til the next time Rome!

IMGP0562
Fontana de Trevi

What are your thoughts about Rome? If you’ve been to Rome, any other recommendations that I missed? If you haven’t visited Rome, is it a place you’d visit?

Next stop, Paris!

 

From Venice to Florence

“We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” ~ Hilaire Belloc

After our fabulous two-day stay in Venice, we hopped on a bus to continue our tour to Florence (Firenze) through the panoramic roads of Tuscany. On the way we made a small detour to the city of Pisa’s famous Piazza dei Miracoli (Pisa Miracle Square) to see the leaning tower of Pisa and the Baptistery.  By the way, did you know that it took about 200 years to build the tower? No wonder it started leaning. Well, that’s not the real reason it started leaning but you can learn more of its interesting story at Tower of Pisa History.

IMGP0367
Leaning Tower of Pisa

Anyway, there were many tourists visiting the tower. We didn’t have much time to wander around since we had other prearranged stops, but were able to capture some spectacular views of Piazza Miracoli and its buildings on camera. All are beautiful and impressive. Its history is interesting and worth the tour. There are many restaurants to choose from with great views. The street vendors were a bit too aggressive trying to push their merchandise on tourist to purchase. At one point we were surrounded by quite a few but managed to get through to our bus.

IMGP0369
The Baptistery

Our tour continued towards a local Tuscan farm in Montecarlo, Fattoria Il Poggio in the countryside where we enjoyed a wine tasting with local food specialties. The meal and wine were delicious. We had a great group – with some quirky folks. We met a woman who decided to drink beer instead of tasting the wine. We could tell it didn’t sit well with the host. Among the group was a Franciscan Priest who tasted a bit too much wine. He grabbed a bottle and took it with him on the bus. I don’t recall all he said and did but I do remember laughing at his actions. There was a lot of singing on the bus as well – Volare, Que Será, Será, That’s Amore and other famous Italian songs.

Restaurant and Winery Fattoria Il Poggio

We arrived at Florence after 5:00 p.m. and checked in to the Gran Hotel Cavour.  It’s a beautiful hotel. The rooms were lovely, well maintained and clean and the service was great. We had spectacular views of two church towers. The hotel was just about 1400 feet from Piazza del Duomo, so we headed out to wander the beautiful streets of Florence. We had dinner at a restaurant within a few feet from the hotel by the name of Yellow Bar. It was packed with happy people. That told us that it was a great place for dinner. The service was okay – not good but not bad either. Our meal was quite large which consisted of the antipasto (starter) the primo (appetizer), the secondo (main course), the contorno (side dish) and the dolce (dessert). We were so hungry that we went for ravioli as our appetizer, steak with caramelized onions as our main course, Spring risotto as our side dish and of course, we could not leave out their delicious tiramisu for dessert. I don’t remember what the starter was. It was a lot of food and so delicious. With full tummies there was nothing else to do but take a walk and then go to sleep. *Note: not a good idea to eat dinner after 9:00 p.m.

IMG_1071
Steak with balsamic vinegar caramelized onions

The next day began with a Florence city tour. We visited the Galleria dell Accademia and saw Michaelangelo’s famous statue of David. The tour was nice, but the tour guide was a bit on the boring side. He focused so much on how Michaelangelo was Catholic yet created a statue of David without circumcision. I really did not care for that and don’t think it was part of the history. Other than the tour guide, it was a great experience. We then walked to the Duomo whose dome was designed by Brunelleschi and viewed the baptistery’s Gates of Paradise. We continued with our tour guide, Simoné, to the museum of Signoria Square ending at Ponte Vecchio. After Ponte Vecchio we continued towards Luciano’s Leather Factory in Piazza di Santa Croce with a beautiful collection of bags and wallets – a bit pricey but great quality. We also made our way to Mercato de Porcellino in Piazza del Mercato Nuovo – a great place to visit for leather, tapestries, tableclothes, silk ties, scarves, jewelry, souvenirs, etc., at great prices.

That night we gathered with our group and drove through a panoramic view towards an authentic Tuscan restaurant in the countryside, Ristorante i Tre Pini, for dinner. We were greeted with their very own Prosecco Azul and live music. Dinner was served in courses and it was a lot. That dinner was delicious, the atmosphere was great, the music was entertaining and fun – overall a wonderful experience and night. Florence was  amazing! Next stop Rome!

Just in case you’re asking, besides using the most convenient way of photography (cell phones), we also used our old Nikon and our new Go Pro. Yes, we need more training on this unique tiny camera, but even without proper training on how to use it we took amazing photos and best of all, it’s so small it fits any where!