Croatia, Montenegero

My travels in Eastern Europe: Croatia & Montenegro – May 2011 cont.

Croatia

Dubrovnik

Train rides into Croatia are not yet well established. We flew from Czech Republic into Dubrovnik and stayed at Hotel Grand Argentina right outside of the old town walls. It was a five-minute walk into the old city inside the walls. The city can easily be covered in one day. It’s like a small gated neighborhood surrounded by a wall. It is a lovely place, full of history and untouched by the war.

Dubrovnik - old town

from top of the wall surrounding the old town

not again...

At a cafe in old town

speechless!

Some of the locals told me that during the war, there was a ‘pact’ to not destroy Dubrovnik and its beauty; however when Montenegro entered the war and sided with the Serbs, they were the only country that bombed Dubrovnik. They still carry war wounds against their neighboring country and do not welcome visitors from Montenegro. While we were visiting, there was a protest against allowing a Montenegrian business man to attend a global conference in Croatia. I guess some things take much longer to forgive. The same sentiment was felt when I visited Bosnia a few days later.

Walking the wall around the city (only a couple of miles in length) is the highlight. There are some churches, monasteries, a castle within the walls that draw tourism, but as I mentioned before, it’s very small and easily covered in a day. Many would come to visit to enjoy the refreshing waters of the mediterranean coast. Although it was still a bit chilly, I jumped into the water and loved it.

One hint, if you arrive at the airport, save your $50 to take a cab down the hill to the old town, there is a bus which takes a couple of dollars and drops you off in the same spot as the cab with no stops in between. My friend, who is not as public transportation friendly as I am, insisted we take a cab…$50 later, she realized her mistake.

Hvar

This island off the coast of Croatia is magnificent. We didn’t plan well and allowed ourselves a 1.5 days for this trip. So disappointing. It’s a gorgeous mediterranean island with a great night life. You’ve heard of Ibiza? Try Hvar as an alternative. The crowd was young and ready to party.

Hvar

We saw a U.S. Tv show being filmed here

The ferry from the coast of Split takes about eight hours but since we were coming from the direction of Dubrovnik, we took the 1 hour ferry (after missing our first one) from Sucraj. The problem was that our resort was 2 hours away on the other side of the island than where we got out of the ferry. We had a car so we drove but OMG, my guts were in my mouth for the duration of the journey. Winding and very narrow roads around the mountain… I thought we were going to drop a few thousand feet to our death. I’d never been more glad to reach the bottom and step out of the car, even not when I went sky diving, as I was that day and on the drive back (and in Bosnia..lol).

We arrived late in the evening and had to drive back the next afternoon to catch our ferry.. that gave us one night and a morning in Hvar.. what a waste. We stayed at a beautiful hotel and we only got to enjoy the beach and the pool for a couple of hours. We dined in the city center the night before but we were too tired to even attempt the night life, which was bustling.

Our hotel in Hvar

If you go to Hvar, I recommend a few days of R&R here. I hear the ferry from Split is quiet the party scene as well.

Montenegro

Kotor

Ahhhhhh what expectations we had! A bit disappointing but we didn’t spend much time here. Just FYI, If you are driving here, you will reach a point near Kotor that you must take five-minute ferry to cross a lake. I think driving around it may be possible but will take a much longer time.

The country is poor. The only place to stay (and there’s no parking inside) is inside the walls of the old town. A smaller ‘old town’ than Dubrovnik and it’s smack in the middle of the city that doesn’t offer anything else for tourism. The old town however has beautiful old homes and churches mixed with a few modern hotels. Cruise ships dock here and the tourists can walk the city in half a day or less. It was charming to walk what seems like a one mile radius around town but we were soon bored. Our hotel was nice with friendly staff but given its location right inside the walls of this small area, comparable to a small gated neighborhood, was loud. We couldn’t sleep with all the noise from outside until 3 am and then again starting at 7 am.

Inside old town Kotor

View of Kotor

Hiking St. John's Hill

This old town is nestled under St. John’s Hill. We hiked this hill one morning – and there is a cost of about 3 euros/person collected by an old man sitting on a chair at the entrance to the trail. I actually thing we were short 1 euro and he let us go by. As we were hiking this 280 meters high hill, and huffing and puffing, a boy of about 10 years old, swiftly walked passed us while carrying four jugs of water. And we thought we were athletic.. reality set in quickly. We did reach the peak and what a sight it was. People hike up here to walk the walls on top of the hill that was designed to keep a protective eye on the old town below at dating back to 13th and 14th century. There are remains of an old church and well-kept shrine half way up the hill.

Reached the summit

Awww

Budva

So we heard about the beautiful beaches in Budva as well as the nude beaches and gliterazies. We got in our car and drove. We found the beach, which we had to pay the hotel to use, but not the nudity (it was a hotel after all) and no celebrities flocking to the coast of Budva. I’m sure we were not at the right location..hint hint. We did spend a few hours enjoying the sun and the water, well I enjoyed the water, my friend found it cold. Then we got in our car and drove more.

R&R

We came across a famous hotel which was off the coast, by a few feet, on a small island kind of like Alcatraz. This was supposedly where celebrities, the politicians..etc occupy or did occupy once when visiting. We couldn’t go inside but from the outside, I can see that it’s probably true (see picture below).

We packed up again and headed to Hvar and then Bosnia from here. See my next blog about Bosnia.

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Czech Republic

Traveling through Czech Republic – May 2011

Prague (Praha)

To me Prague is second to Paris in beauty of architectural design. The old buildings still stand untouched by the war and the communism era. It has that old European feeling that you find in cities like Paris or Rome. This was my second trip to Prague. The first one many years ago, and I don’t recall much from it except that it was a lot cheaper back then. Tourism has picked up and the cities surrounding Prague have been rebuilt into beautiful and colorful travel destinations. You can spend 3-6 days depending on what you would like to explore. If you are into visiting the glass museums and factories – Czech is famous for their crystals – then you will need more than three days. This wasn’t on our agenda. I did however buy some lovely crystal dishes and vases. Prices don’t vary much from shop to shop but the high-end and more selective pieces are not found in most of the stores.

walking up to prague castle

Taking a break while walking up to the Prague castle

Charles Bridge

view of prague from clock tower

View of the city center from the clock tower

prague castle view

Prague castle from across the river

Prague was my first exposure to the $8 latte from Starbucks.  Not that I look for Starbucks when I travel but this happened to be near our hotel and I was dying for an American size coffee upon arrival.  (And it was the last time)!  Food in general was more expensive because of the Euro factor but for a country, not so wealthy, it was definitely over-priced.   Though we were warned to be careful with our belongings, for the most part we didn’t feel unsafe.  The streets were crowded and full of tourists at all hours. We didn’t need to travel beyond the old town, so walking was easy.

The old castle is the most famous destination and all other attractions are in and around the ‘old town’ including the famous clock tower.  You don’t need to go far and it’s all easy walking.  Even crossing the bridge up to the castle is best on foot, even though the climb up the streets to get to the castle is a bit like walking in San Francisco..

Karlovy Vary

City of hot springs and spas.  A day trip from Prague to here will take about 2 1/2 hours.  We took a tour, which in retrospect probably wasn’t worth the price.  We thought it included a hot spring dip but instead they pointed us to a public pool up on the hill that yes, was in fact a hot spring water pool, but not what we had in mind.  Take a bus, but this charming cute town is worth a look.  The hotel where the James Bond movie Casino Royal was filmed is actually in this town and not in Montenegro as claimed previously.

On the walls of a nearby hotel where the most famous people have visited, the names of these individuals and the date of their visits are marked by a plaque on the wall.  Examples include Sigmund Freud and Ataturk, amongst many others.

The town is a long beautiful street running along a canal with homes, spas, and shops along the side walks.  As the tour guide explained, during WWII most of the homes were owned by Jews.  The Nazis took over and claimed all the houses.  Hitler even gave his one of his famous speeches from the balcony of one of these buildings. (see picture below)

It was hard to imagine what she described as a dull, grey, gloomy town as you would see in movies about the war, where everything was destroyed and no beauty could be seen.  The town has been rebuilt and most of the homes have been returned to the families of original owners.  It is a colorful scenery as you can see in my pictures. You can taste the water from the springs at different temperatures and if you have the time can even stop into the spas and take a dip in the pools, but you need an appointment ahead of time for most of them.  Hotel Grandhotel Pupp is another famous landmark here where most celebrities stay when they visit or are shooting a movie.

Our tour guide was very resentful toward the communist era.  Granted every building designed in the 70s when communism ruled the country was hideous and boring, I think a great deal of the emotions she was expressing were beyond the just the dull, boxy, prison like architecture of that time.  But she made it a point to highlight every one of these buildings during our tour.

All in all, a country much worth visiting.  Full of history and beautiful architecture (not those built in the communism era of course..).

grandhotel pupp

Grandhotel Pupp

ataturk

Ataturk's date of visit

casino royal

Hotel where scenes from Casino Royal were filmed

view of this charming town

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Italy in 12 days – Part II

Italy in 12 days – Part II.

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Italy in 12 days – Part II

A great moment in life!

Traveling through Tuscany

We took a day trip to Siena, a lovely and charming city with narrow streets that come to mind when you think Europe.  Bakeries, Cheese and meat shops along the narrow streets have that inviting aroma that you can’t escape.  There are a few sites to visit here and it’s so small that you can’t really miss them. Just follow the packs.  To get to the center of the town, you should take a bus from the train station but half a day will probably be enough to see this small town, if you are rushing to see everything.  If you want to stop and smell the flowers, by all means, take your time.

Pizza!!! - Siena

We took another half day trip to Chianti, the part of Tuscany so well-known for its wine.  Unfortunately, it was mid October and a rainy day.  We had to the take the bus from Florence and the drive through the green hills and small towns was beautiful.  There wasn’t much going on the little square in the middle of the town but we stopped in for some wine tasting, coffee, and browsed through the streets.  We even walked up a hill to get a nice view of the city and the region.

Chianti

why does this happen every where I go!! – Verona

where lovers leave a note in the house of Juliet

I always wanted to rent a cottage or farm-house in Tuscany and just relax for a couple of weeks.  Kind of like that movie, Under the Tuscan Sun.  Maybe I’ll do that one and write a book as well, who knows!

Leaving Florence and Tuscany

On our way to Rome, we stopped in Verona. Loved it.  There was a farmer’s market with fresh fruit and vegetables and souvenirs in the middle of the town and was surrounded by a beautiful buildings.  We visited the castle by the river, ate some gelato and went to Juliet’s house.  In case you don’t know, Romeo & Juliet was basically a work of fiction and so is Juliet’s house in Verona.  Knowing this, we opted to take some pictures in the small courtyard and not pay for the tour of the house and balcony that wasn’t real.  But many did because they wanted a picture in the ‘famous’, yet fake, balcony.

One of our many gelato days back in Venice

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Get out in the train station and follow the people.  Don’t worry if you don’t have a map.  They are all going to the same place.

holding it up

Rome

We walked everywhere. The one thing you don’t realize often when traveling as tourists is how in close proximity all the sites in these cities are.  You can take the buses and subway, but you can easily cover Rome on foot and see all the sights and more.  So you get lost a few times, but you never go too far.  Rome is full of rich history, we even came across an area that they had just discovered ruins underneath a street.  They were still excavating not too far from the Coliseum.

the vatican

Scratch my foot! Old day pedicures

Do some shopping!! You can find all the brand name stores around the Spanish steps and you can find some better deals than you would in the States.  Since a lot of the brand names are European and/or from Italy.  The one complaint I had about our stay in Rome was actually the Ritz Hotel were we stayed.  The first room was so small and hideous – it looked like some bad print fabric threw up all over it – but it could either house us or our luggage.  It was supposedly a four star hotel.  We asked for a room change, the second one wasn’t much better and nothing in it worked but hey, we could fit.  The breakfast was as equally horrible.  We wrote a complaint regarding a few items and experiences we had there to the management, but obviously no one cared.

To the good stuff – aside from the obvious sites, which you can read about in every travel guide, stop by at a castle near the Vatican – Castle Sant ‘Angelo–  across from the bridge.  It once served as a prison and a residence to a papal.  We didn’t tour the inside but walked the grounds.  By this point we were so exhausted and cash poor that we would stop people coming out and ask them if it was worth paying for to see.  I guess it wasn’t.  History says this was a castle where all illegal and forbidden acts took place.  There is an underground passage way from the castle to the Vatican by which the clergy used to travel to come to the castle for anything that pleased their appetite.   Oh if the walls could talk!!!!!!!!!!!!

Note of caution.. do as others do when passing by one of the shrines built for the popes in the Vatican.  We were nearly thrown out of the Vatican for stopping and leaning on the railing by one of the shrines/tombs to take a picture.  Apparently it’s not allowed..take your picture quickly as you are walking by..lol.  That was awesome.. I had a great laugh thanks to my cuz!

The Vatican is quite the site.  This was my second time visiting and I’m always in awe of the fortunes spent to build!  You almost do not want to pay to visit it but how can you not.  It is magnificent and over-the-top.  The Sistine Chapel, is as I recall it from the first time…. a work of wonder but bigger and more fascinating in imagination.  Silence is enforced while you are in the chapel, which adds to the mystery of the place.

We also had to charm and negotiate our way to the subway on our last night in Rome.  The banks were closed, we had only enough cash to pay the shuttle service the next day to take us to the airport at 5 am and the only place that we HAD to take public transportation was for one stop to get to our hotel as a freeway and gated forest private area separated most of Rome from we were staying.  Walking was not an option.  We begged and pleaded and flirted with the subway conductor.  I had no faith as I was holding on to six shopping bags from Gucci, etc. How could we convince this guy – who didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Italian – that we had no cash and we had to get to our hotel.  It worked.. again to my cuz’s persistence.  He reluctantly open the door for us as he was still shaking his head no and saying that it was not allowed.  Oh the Italians…

Pompeii, The Forgotten City

According to history, this town was turned into ashes and buried.  You can still see some of the ‘mummified’ bodies of the 20k people the died that day.  During our stay in Rome, we took the train south for a day trip to Pompeii.  You probably need a full day here as this lost city is so fascinating and bigger than you think.  It was raining and we had no rain coat nor an umbrella.  Of course these ruins of homes had no ceilings for us to take shelter underneath, however, the guards felt sorry for us and invited us to sit in their little hut and even gave us espresso to sip on.  We sat and chatted with these five or six guards and at the end they gave us an umbrella to carry around with us.   They were so nice!!! Again, I gotta give a shout out to Italian men…..  We ran through the ruins near dark to find them again and return the umbrella.. and I can’t recall if we succeeded.  We were soaking wet most of the day, but had so much fun.  Highly recommend it.

A ruin of one of the homes of the wealthier class

One of the mummified bodies

Italy is so rich in history and places to see and over the past decade or so, the Italian government seems to have made great strides in making the country feel more safe.  The first time I visited, I was more aware and surrounded by beggars and gypsies.  I had to be more careful and hold on tight to my purse.  I didn’t feel the same this time and was rarely approached by beggars for money near the tourist attractions, maybe I looked less rich..lol.  Of course one should always always be aware of their surroundings and proceed cautiously when traveling. I’ve traveled a great deal and I’ve been very fortunate in not having had any of my belongings stolen, but I am always aware yet comfortable when I travel.  And I felt even less threatened this time in Italy.

Twelve days wasn’t enough to see everything we wanted to see but it was a great trip and the fact that we didn’t plan most of it, made it even more exciting.

make a wish and toss a coin, you'll come back. I did come back.

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Italy in 12 days – part I

Made plans to start in Milan and work our way south without too much planning and fly home from Rome.  For the most part, the lack of planning was great.  This was mid October 2010.  Our only goal was to have gelato in every city that we traveled through or stopped in.  Sometimes we had more than one gelato a day and no regrets!

Milan in two days

Not much to see in Milan but it’s a nice and clean city and city of fashion.  Great shopping here.  Didn’t see the models catwalk on the streets as I heard I would.  Maybe it was the time of the year.  Milan doesn’t offer much in terms of sight-seeing but worth a visit.  Must check out the Duamo of course.  Gorgeous cathedral and fun square to hang out in.  There’s also a very expensive Galleria of shops where you can spend a pretty penny.  Did great gloves and boot shopping.  When I recently traveled to Spain, I must say Italy wins for shopping, fashion, and quality hands down.

We did visit the Opera house and  the room that houses the original The Last Supper of Leonardo Da Vinci in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie.  Unless you have a burning desire to see this painting, I’m not sure it was worth the $25 ticket.  We were ushered into the room and allowed to stare at it for about 10 minutes.  No pictures of course.

We took the train from Milan to Venice.   I do recommend against purchasing the multi-day travel packages for the train unless you are traveling long distances.  It was more expensive than if we had paid for each individual trip separately and we didn’t use it for the full 7 days.  So plan carefully and do your calculations.  We also didn’t know that we were excluded from certain sections on certain trains and got ticketed on one of our trips.  The penalty was another $20-30 bucks and the train police was quiet unpleasant.  Avoid them at all cost.

Venice – one the most adventurous parts of the trip

With Gondola driver

Probably my least favorite city in Italy.  Most over-rated.  It’s expensive and dirty.  San Marco Basilica and square of course are beautiful but …  We showed up to Venice without any hotel reservations.  DON’T DO THIS..  LOL, especially if you are arriving on a weekend.  We arrived on a Friday night at 11 with our two big suitcases.   Everyone we asked for a room, laughed at us.  A man, pretending to be a hotel agent, in the train station played his part well and told us he found us a room for rent in a house with an elderly couple.  When we arrived – into the parts of Venice that tourists don’t get to see, for good reason – we realized that the room was being shared with another traveling student and it was filled with smoke and stench.  The elderly couple was ill and were renting the room for extra money.. but the smell of smoke, dirt, and medication was so nauseating that we were willing to sleep in the train station.

On top of the San Marco Basilica

We took our chance and started to walk the strip, stopping in every hotel and asking for a room.  One hotel staff actually took the time to call around for us because he felt bad for us.  We eventually found one but he could only give us one night.  It wasn’t a great hotel but the guy at the desk took a liking to us after showing us an attitude at first.  I still remember that the hotel smelled like cabbage to me.  We didn’t like the first room they gave us and luckily (sort of) they had another one in the halls behind the kitchen and cafe.  It had a window to the garden so it smelled better.  We managed to stay a second night but the manager wanted to charge us more because it was a Saturday night.  Thanks to the charms of my cousin… she woke up early Sunday am before the manager got in and while our buddy who worked the night shift at the desk was still there, and she got him to reduce the charges for us and we checked out before the manager got in.  We learned our lesson and went to an internet cafe and booked a hotel on tripadvisor for our next destination, Florence.

BTW, the service in Italy is awful.  Most, but not all of course, are rude and unpleasant.  I mostly found this with the female servers and shop keepers of course.. since we were two ladies traveling.  I had to throw my attitude back at them many times and this seemed to work.

Love Florence!

My favorite city in Italy.  This was my second visit to Italy and Florence is still my favorite place.  The history and the charm of Tuscany can’t be beat. We spend about 3-4 days here and took a side trip to Siena and the Chianti region.

We covered most of what Florence had to offer but three days is not enough if you really want to go to every museum and enjoy Florence.  We climbed the 414 steps to the top of the Giotto’s Bell Tower for a spectacular view of the city, enjoyed the fascinating Duamo, visited the Uffizi museum and took in the sights at the Ponte Vecchio (bridge).  We feasted on gelato, cappuccino and pastries.  If you’ve ever traveled to Italy (up to early 2000’s) you know that what we call pizza, is not really Italian.  I realized on this trip that the American pizza has taken over the tourist industry there.  Around all the touristy areas, we found restaurants that had included the American style pizza on their menus and guess what most people were ordering.. geeeez!  It’s Italy folks.. eat some traditional dishes.   We did.. soooo much of it.

Duamo in Florence

You will also quickly learn that each museum hosts one famous piece of art that is a must see.  Therefore, as tourists, you must visit every museum and see the additional *(&*^*&^&^%& zillion pieces of art that 80% seem to be of Jesus and some portraits of people whom you don’t care about.  Each museum also charges a nice euro fee that equals about $20-30 each.  We had become so exhausted from walking and the zillion museums that we would speed walk past most of the art to get to the piece we wanted to see. Spend five minutes in front of it and nod and walk. Fun, no? It is….

climbing to the top!

Me on Ponte Vecchio

We stayed at a very charming hotel near the Duamo, Hotel Centrale.  It was a three star hotel, that we found while in the internet cafe in Venice and wasn’t so sure about it.  But we loved it so much  and it was so reasonably priced that we continued to extend our stay there each night from 2-4.  The room was huge, clean, and have a remodeled bathroom with marble tiles all around it.  The staff was friendly, the breakfast was also great and the use of the internet was free.  The only reason this hotel was a three star is because it didn’t offer all the amenities, such as room service but in quality it was much better than some of the four star hotels we stayed at during our trip.  So read the reviews on Tripadvisor seriously.  That is how I select hotels and I do provide reviews as well.

More of our trip including Siena, Chianti, Verona, Pisa, Rome, and Pompeii coming up later this week.

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About my Travel Blog

About my Travel Blog.

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Sevilla, Spain

3rd largest cathedral in the world

We arrived in Seville Spain by train from Madrid.  I had heard about the beauty of this place and in my previous visit to Spain years ago, I was always told by the Spaniards in Madrid that I looked like the locals from Seville. So naturally I was dying to see this place.

We took the train from Madrid and I was told that it’s not worth buying your tickets online and better to go to the train station.  Well it was easy enough; however, I was expecting a cheaper priced than 80 euros each way.  From memory I’d have to say that I thought traveling by train was much more cost effective in Europe.  Hmmmm. Not so much.

Well we arrived and there is no information booth in the train station in Seville.  We had no clue where our hotel was.  I’m a map person.. give me a map in any city and just follow me.  We decided to use the GPS system on my friend’s iPhone.  Well it indicated our hotel was a couple of blocks away.. we walked in a circle a few times and no hotel.  The city didn’t look like anything special or even worth the trip, until we asked for directions and realized we had to take a cab to the touristy area and where our hotel was located.    When we arrived, we fell in love with Seville.  It is a charming beautiful little town with so much history.  Cafes and crowds every where until wee hours in the morning.

Sights

The Seville Cathedral – it is huge and beautiful. The Tomb of Christopher Columbus is here.  8 euros but hold on to your ticket because you can also enter a sister cathedral – can’t remember the name but it’s on the ticket – with the same ticket.  It’s small but beautiful inside.

Tomb of Christopher Columbus

Alcazar of Seville – the royal palace.  10 euros but worth it.  This palace was unique with a lot of middle eastern influence in design but what we found most intriguing was the massive gardens.  It would take just a day to walk it all.  I think the people back then were so bored that they would build these gardens to play hide and seek in (with their lovers….).

Me in the gardens of the Alcazar palace

Casa de Pilados – Interesting smaller mansion if you the time.  Here there is a painting of who supposed to have been the mistress of the house but the story is that she gave birth in her 50s and after she had grown a full beard.  The portrait is very interesting as it looks like a man breastfeeding a baby.  Poor woman was probably suffering from menopause and the story became exaggerated..loooooool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Do

Free Flamenco show

at the La Carboneria.  It’s a simple one but if you are not looking for a extravagant show or production, walk here (in Barrio Santa Cruz) and spend a few minutes in a crowded pub style gathering and listen to some Flamenco and watch some dancing.   If you want something more formal.. you can find them at a few restaurants/hotels around the city.

Experience an Arabic Hammam

Aire de seville -this was a unique experience and so worth it.  It is not to be confused with a Turkish hammam where someone gives you a bath and a rub down.  You’re on own but can enjoy several pools at various tempratures, a jacuzzi, a sauna room, tea room where you lounge on a hot stones and tiles, and you can include a massage, which is heaven.  We paid for two hours which included a 30 mins massage (50 euros).  It was heaven.  One note.. most of the visitors to the place are couples.. so you’ll see a lot of smooching but don’t let that stop you.   Enjoy it!!!!!!!!

You can take trips here to Alahamra but we didn’t have the time.  It’s about a 3 hour train ride. Three days is probably enough time to truly enjoy the beautiful city of Seville.

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Spain for the holidays cont. in 2011

Dinning and Nightlife in Madrid

We really enjoyed the cafes, beer halls, and wine bars to relax or just see a crazy massive group of locals ordering sandwiches and beer.  It was definitely cheaper to go to one of these places and fight your way to the bar or counter to order breakfast or a beer or a snack.  Although Madrid offers a lot of great eateries and you can certainly have a nice sit down meal, if you just want to grab the food and run or as we did.. eat, drink, walk, eat, drink, walk.. then you may opt for seeing where the locals are gathered and stop for a snack in between sight seeing.  But you must of course try Tapas at a more decent place and even more importantly.. don’t eat Pallela just anywhere.  Go to a nicer place for the real experience but expect to pay.  Also remember that most places may charge three different prices.  One for: outside, inside, by the bar.  Obviously it gets cheaper as you get closer to the bar.

We tried going to one famous cafe, also very touristy, where Ernst Hemingway wrote the last two pages of his famous book, The Sun Also Rises, and where Goya was once a dishwasher.. but the reservation list and line was much too long.  You can try going in during the day and they can accommodate you much easier, however prepare to have a pricey meal.  Ordering dessert and coffee is also not an option..lol.  The ‘cafe’ is called, Sobrino de Botin Horno de Asar.  All travel books, I’m sure list this place. I can’t speak to the food, we didn’t eat here.   And my recommendation is unless you’re a real history buff or fan.. take your picture outside and skip it.

me in front of famous cafe where Goya was a dishwasher

Goya was a dishwasher here

As for the nightlife, most people were in the streets long after midnight and would pop from one bar to the next.  We enjoyed many sangrias and cervezas this way.   There are a lot of young men trying to invite you into the clubs all over the center of the town.  For the ladies, they will offer you a couple of complimentary drinks.   We only took advantage of these once but wasn’t really our cup of tea.  The shots of vermuth are yummy though.  Try these.

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Spain for the holidays – December 2011

A last-minute decision to take off for Spain.  So I probably paid a bit much for my ticket given the last-minute decision and the holiday season.  I found some great deals on five-star hotels in the center of Madrid and Sevilla and it made the high flight ticket price worth it.  I don’t know if it was unseasonably sunny and beautiful but it was gorgeous.  The chill air was very similar to the Bay Area.

My hotel recommendations for location and great staff: Hotel Villa Real and NH Hotel Paseo del Prado.

I don’t think Madrid has as much history and sights to offer as maybe Paris or Rome but we made up for it by taking a more relax and easy-going approach in our stay there.  With all that, we still didn’t get a chance to go to any of the museums, even though we were staying right across the street from them all.  One note about the museums, they offer some free visiting hours usually in the evenings if you are not planning on spending the entire day there  -which you easily could.  Paseo del Prado for example has free admission from 6-8 pm on daily basis – but don’t try going on December 31st, as we did.  lol

For the most part though, I would say you probably need 3-4 days to fully explore Madrid and some of the museums.

New Year’s Eve tradition in Spain

Buy a wig – fun wigs are everywhere around that time.  Shop around for prices but they are usually about 3-5 euros. Get 12 grapes and a bottle of champagne.  They’ll be easy to find as everyone is buying them for the occasion and some hotels provide a complimentary pre-packaged 12 grapes to their guests.  If you are in Madrid go to Peurto Del Sol by 11 pm and just hang out unless you don’t like crowds.  It’s a similar gathering like Times Square.  Get your grapes ready for the final 12 seconds of the year.  The clock will begin to sound off 12 times (so it seemed).  Eat one grape per sound – note, the grapes have seeds.  I even read it’s best to put your right foot forward as you eat them as a sign of better luck for the coming year but I asked a local about it and he wasn’t aware of the last part of the ritual.

us wearing wigs

Wear wigs for NYE in Spain Peurto Del Sol

Shopping in Madrid

I wasn’t very  impressed with the shopping options in Spain.  I couldn’t stop shopping while in Italy but found Spain’s fashion to be very limited.  I usually hate to shop in stores that I can find here in the US but since Zara is a Spanish company, we had to explore, and as it turned it I did most of my shopping – which wasn’t much – at Zara.  Their boutiques in the center of town anyway, was targeted to the younger audience.  So shops were very similar to Zara and H&M.  We never found the high-end stores but later heard that they were quite far from the center of town.  It was easy to not think of the high-end shopping stores since we didn’t really notice the locals to be label or brand conscious group of people.

More to come on food and travel to Sevilla….

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Hello world! Intro to my blog…

This site will be dedicated to my travels around the world. Hope that you find my posts useful or at least entertaining.  But most importantly, I hope that my posts motivate you to begin your own adventures and travels. 🙂

I have traveled extensively around some continents for the past couple of decades and I wish I had started writing about them sooner.  But it’s never too late to begin, right?  So here we go.  I will begin with my most recent trip to Spain and move backwards to the past couple of years to highlight a few other countries.  As I jet set around the globe, I will be providing you with more entertaining news and facts about traveling.

 

on a camel in front of the pyrmids

Camel ride in Egypt

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