Washington DC 2017

I was looking for a trip to take in early March, and I wanted to do something historical. One of my bucket list items is to see the Holocaust museum in DC, I missed going there the last time I was in DC back in 2012 and have been wanting to go back ever since. So, after talking to my friend Jeanine, and finding out she was interested as well, we booked our trip.

We left on March 9th after work, arrived a bit late in the day but easily found our lodging location. We stayed at VBR#553502, the location was very convenient. It was near the mall, near the train, the neighborhood was nice and there was a safeway grocery store right down the street.   There were also a few good restaurants nearby, one we especially liked called Masala Art, excellent Indian food!

On our first first full day, the weather was horrible.  We wanted to get close to the Holocaust Museum since we had 1:30 admission tickets, and I was hoping to walk over to see the nearby outdoor monuments before hand, but due to the cold and rain, we ended up wandering at the Freer gallery of Art and the African American Art museum for some time until our 1:30 time slot. Once inside the Holocaust museum, time passed quickly. There were an incredible amount of exhibits, videos and stories to read. From the rise of Hitler to freeing the concentration camps and the end of the war, there was not a moment where I didn’t feel completely engulfed in the times and lives of these people. I have been to the Holocaust museum here in Skokie, but the details and graphics in DC were far more revealing.  It’s frightening to see how Hitler rose to power, how he was able to control his followers, how he lead them to believe that Jew’s were the enemy.  So scary in fact, given today’s political climate, that I fear we have learned nothing from our past.  By the time we left the museum the weather had calmed; although it was cold, we were able to walk over to the Washington Monument, the WWII memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam Wall Memorial all before the sun finally set. Lots of walking, and a very successful day!

Our second full day was spent at the National Archives, the Capitol Building and the Library of Congress. Besides the normal touristy thing in the National Archives, we went to the “back door” and actually went into the research center. We had ID’s made and did a bit of searching on family. Jeanine found out who her true father is (jk!), and we also found my naturalization papers, very interesting. We did the obligatory free tour of the Capitol with a good guide who gave us a brief history of  some of the statues in Statutory Hall, the paintings in the Rotunda, as well as info about the crypt which is not really a crypt. Creepy.  Later that night we were treated by a good friend to dinner at a fancy restaurant called Mastro’s. We even tried escargot, I wasn’t a huge fan, but hey!  Yes, this place was fancy for us, I was afraid that we would get turned away due to the dress code (we definitely didn’t meet the dress code) but they let us in anyway!

Day 3, the entire day was spent at Newseum. I really enjoy this museum, it’s focus is entirely on the 1st amendment. Every floor is dedicated in detail to our first amendments rights: to Assemble, Speech, Petition, Religion and Press. The museum largely focuses on the press, reporting, the media and free speech. It’s fascinating how the press has shaped our lives through some of the stories we see, hear and read each day. It’s amazing to go over our history in the form of newspapers, photographs, TV, Internet, etc. and see how the world has taken shape throughout the years. This was my second visit to this museum and although many of the exhibits had not changed, It’s impossible to read through them all, so frequent return trips are a must! Later we took a walk over to the White house, strictly for nostalgic purposes (we had no intention or desire to see its current occupant) and then headed back around the house for dinner.

True to form in Chicago, we had no snow in January or February, but come March and the day we are heading home, there is a snow storm! Needless to say, we were very worried about our flight home. Many flights before ours and after ours were canceled, but we managed to get in with only a slight delay – getting in quite literally in-between snow storms as DC was hit the very next day! We are lucky ladies!

 

 

 

 

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Asheville, North Carolina 2016

We spent our 21st Anniversary week in Asheville, North Carolina  I absolutely fell in love with this town and we enjoyed every minute of our 1 week stay.

We rented an apartment near downtown Asheville from VBRO #661841. It was comfortable for the two of us, and it provided us with all the basic needs for our stay. In addition to being about 1 mile from downtown, we had easy access to the highway, and had 3 different grocery stores nearby as well. The price was a bit high, but since this was peak season, I guess we asked for it! Being so close to down town offered us the opportunity to dine at quite a few different restaurants and have a variety of ethnic and local food choices. Surprisingly, we managed to keep our dinner budget at each restaurant under $45 each night, except for the last evening where we splurged a bit more. There was also no shortage of places for dessert, we stopped at the Chocolate Lounge (coffee was terrible), Chocolate Fetish (very good), and Old Europe Cafe (our favorite).

We were fortunate enough to be in NC to  witness the fall foliage colors changing in the mountains and elsewhere in NC. What a beautiful site! We took many long rides along the Blue Ride Parkway and also managed to find some off the beaten path roads that were quite stunning as well.

 

Highlights:

Biltmore. Wow. This was  massive, stunning, amazing, and on and on. How could someone build something so big? Not just the size of the house, but the entire estate is about 8000 acres! The interesting point of the house though is that it was fairly modern…it actually had an indoor pool, gym and bowling alley! Also had 2 hotels on the property, a winery and active farm land. Note that the entry tickets were pricey! I did manage to get $10 off each by purchasing via Groupon link even though there was no Groupon offered.

Hiking!! We went on 3 hikes in NC, 2 trailheads were off the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). Crabtree falls was a hike off the BRP,  and it was about a 3.5 mile loop to the Waterfall. The waterfall was beautiful, although not as fluid due to the time of year. Graveyard Trails, also off the BRP was about 3.5 miles out and back to the upper and lower falls. The upper falls were disappointing, the lower falls had a bit more flow but not very full. Again, this was not the time of year for waterfalls, the fall colors were the attraction.  I was not as impressed with these hikes so much as I was the hikes we found in Colorado. Not sure if they were bad choices or the limited choices that we had for nearby options. We also drove down to Hot Springs to find part of the Appalachian trail (had to say we hiked the A.T.!). We hiked on that for about 2 miles out and back. We would have like to have done more of this trail but it was late in the day and we didn’t want to get too far out (we had no map either).

Chimney Rock State Park. I thought this was going to be more of a hike, but it turned out to be a long stair climb (built wooden stairs)! We went up to Exclamation point trail (highest lookout of the park) about 1.25 miles strait up and back, and also stopped at many other lookouts along the way. On the way down, we continued onto another trail called Hickory Nuts Falls (a very easy walking trail about 1.5 miles out and back) to find the waterfall. Again, not so stunning but we made the trek anyway!

We did take two trips out to Greenville, SC as we were considering this as a potential retirement area. Although Chris seemed to really like like the area, I was far less impressed. Chris is concerned about our return on investment, but I’m more concerned about us being happy and having access to what we need;  I didn’t get that “I’d love it here” feeling while we were bouncing about the area. It is an up and coming area, so something to consider, but it just didn’t strike me as a place I would love to live. So far, Asheville and Colorado are high up on my list though, problem is they are far more expensive and not as tax friendly to retirees.

In our travels off the beaten path, we managed to run across Wheels Through Timewhich is located in Maggie Valley, NC. This is a transportation museum which houses many antique motorcycles, vintage motorcycle memorabilia and some antique cars. Chris was in HEAVEN! We roamed around there for some admiring the vintage motorcycles, memorabilia, cars, photos, etc. before taking off on our journey back to Asheville. We also bought some raffle tickets to win an antique bike, so fingers crossed!

 

Next up this year (and on the retirement hunt) is Florida. Staying at Chris’ parents Condo, but planing a few day trips to explore the Gulf cost and looking at that area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Colorado 2016

One week vacation in Colorado 8/31-9/7, and it could not have been more beautiful. We arrived in Boulder late on Wednesday night, and after a brief issue with our room, we grabbed a bite to eat and got settled in. Our friends Bridgette and Brian came out early the next morning (September 1st) and we headed up to Estes Park for some hiking. We decided to hike the Glacier Gorge trail up to Mills Lake, about 7 miles round trip with about 850 ft elevation gain. This trail was moderate and took us past beautiful Alberta Falls, over very scenic trails, and ultimately to Mills Lake. On the return, we actually could have done a loop up to Bears Lake but by this point we were all hungry and looking for some real food beyond nuts and bars! We went to a restaurant in Estes Park town called Twin Owls Steakhouse.  We ordered Elk medallions for appetizers; for dinner the guys and me had the Bison Steak special with potatoes and veggies, and Bridgette had a 4×4 which had lobster tail and Filet. Since we were in Colorado we had to try some of the game, it was a bit expensive, but the food was delicious! A very successful first day in Colorado!

September 2nd, We spent our second day touring around Boulder, the Flat Irons, some scenic overlooks and explored some areas around route 72, Nederland, and Blackhawk. We ended up in Golden Colorado to meet up with some old friends Shirley, Steve, Mike and Jeanine. We all went out for a wonderful lunch and then a nice walk along a waterfall path at Lair of the Bear park. We agreed to meet up for another hike the next day at Estes Park. Note to self, I really loved the Golden Colorado area!!

Well, since this was Labor day weekend (September 3rd), we expected the park to be crowded. Parking is very limited and we were lucky to be able to secure spots just before everyone was denied entrance into the park. We hitched a shuttle over to Bear lake and after a brief hike (2 miles) toward Fern Lake (and storms moving in) we headed back and did the .5 mile walk around Bear Lake until the skies cleared, then we headed up toward Dream Lake and Emerald Lake. The hike was about 4 miles out and back with ~700 ft elevation gain. This was a very scenic hike with plenty of Aspen trees, wild flowers, and 3 different lakes. Each turn was more stunning than the next. I told Chris that I was never going home again…..Leaving here and heading for dinner we stopped in Estes Park town again, but this time our dinner luck was not as good. We picked a restaurant called Wild Rose and not only was there a huge delay in delivering our food, it was ICE COLD when it arrived, not to mention NOT fresh (just don’t go). We tipped the waitress and left everything on the table. We then ended up at Smoking’ Dave’s BBQ in Lyons, the food was awesome fresh and tasty! Everyone was happy, we should have just headed straight there, now we know.

 

September 4th, we decided to drive to Colorado Springs and up to Pikes Peak. Naturally I wanted to take the cog train up but since my husband refuses to plan anything in advance I didn’t purchase tickets in advance (as one should do during a peak holiday season). As a result of this, the cog train was sold out and we had to 1) wait in the entrance line for the highway for OVER 1 hr. just to pay to head up the road and 2) pray that the tin can KIA compact car we rented would make it up and down the 20 mile steep slope of the mountain. Well, after some hair pin turns and the smell of some rubber burning from the car, we finally made it up to the peak. Thankfully, I did bring pants and a sweatshirt but forgot my socks/shoes, so I had to walk in sandals and freeze my toes. Well worth it though, what a beautiful site!! We explored, took pictures, took more pictures and were just amazed to see how many people were making the trek up the mountain on a bicycle!!! The wind was so crazy that I was getting blown away just standing there, and the roads were amazingly steep. I couldn’t imaging walking up much less trying to pedal up on a bike!! After a very slow downward drive (and our brakes did not over heat, nice job Chris!), we had some lunch in downtown Colorado Springs and then made a last minute decision to drive to the Royal Gorge Bridge (RGB). This was another 1.5 hrs SW of Colorado Springs and it was already about 3 pm. I have to say this was pretty uneventful place. After paying $40 dollars to “get in”, we walked across the bridge, took some photos, watched a movie about the RGB and we were done. Now, there were other things to do that were amusement park-ish (zip line, swing, cable car), all except the cable car were about $50 per person to do and we were not interested. So, we left to take the 3 hr trek back to Boulder and hope to get on the main highway before dark. I was disappointed in this part of our trip as it was a very long drive and I felt deflated on the experience. We should have done this with a rafting trip, or something that would have had us in the area already, but not as special drive out.

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September 5th, Labor Day. My other must do hike for this trip was the Wild Basin area Trail past Ouzel Falls (Allens Park).  This was another moderate hike about 7.5 miles round trip (we had a 1 mile walk just to get to the trail head) with a 1073 ft. elevation gain. This hike had one beautiful waterfall cascade after the next and plenty of beautiful vistas to enjoy. We stopped to take plenty of pictures along this route and sat to enjoy the sounds of rushing waters which was so relaxing. I once again told Chris I was not going home…..I hope to go back to this one day and take the extended trail to blue bird lake. After our hike we decided to explore some of the local neighborhoods (this trip was also to identify some potential areas for retirement), so we ventured out toward Longmont,  Loveland and then to Fort Collins. We stopped in Fort Collins for a while to explore the downtown area, grab a bite to eat and enjoy some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Some college girls asked Chris for his autograph, I didn’t realize he was such a superstar! Also we both really loved the Ft. Collins area, this seemed to be more affordable living; had walkability in town and also suburban-ish areas, and only a short drive to the mountains.

September 6th, Our last full day in Colorado! We drove around Boulder for a while checking out the neighborhoods and discovered (sadly) that there is no way we could afford home in that area (confirmed with a stop at the local real estate office). We then met Bridgette and Brian at the Red Rocks amphitheater and explored that area for a while, then headed down to Morrison to grab a bite to eat. Afterward, we headed back up toward Golden Colorado and up to lookout mountain and Buffalo Bill’s grave and museum and of course we spent more time gazing at the beautiful vistas Colorado has to offer. After a while we said our goodbyes and we headed back to Boulder and packing up for our trip back home.

I was very sad to leave this beautiful state, more so than I would have normally on most vacations we go to. The reason being is that I can really see us living there;  it wasn’t just a “beach vacation away from it all”. I can see it being a home, somewhere that we can establish ourselves and be happy with nature, reasonably good weather, friends nearby, and also very low traffic! Ah, we’ll see…

Here is a good web page I used to find some of the trails we  hiked called Rocky Mountain Trails. I also had printed some of the trail maps in advance so we could decided on the length and difficulty of the trail as we went along. One other note is that we purchased a 7 days pass for the National Park (only $10 more than the one time fee) and we used it all all of the hiking locations we went to. Good deal if you plan to do more than one day of hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Next stop on the home hunting and hiking trail is NC, South Carolina (foothills), and Tennessee in October.

 

 

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Charleston South Carolina 2016

We picked Memorial Day weekend to visit Charleston South Carolina, and despite the weather, it was a perfect way to spend Memorial Day.

TSA at Chicago O’Hare has been totally messed up so we arrived at the airport at 4:00 am for our 7:00 am flight (desperate for coffee). We flew into Myrtle Beach on Spirt airlines. I was nervous flying Spirt but since this was literally 1/2 the price of other options and only a 2 hour flight, I had to try it. More about this choice later.

The day we arrived was a beautiful sunny day, we drove in on the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, and then into The Battery and White Point Gardens. The Battery is an amazing historic area with great, colorful mansions and beautiful views.  We did some exploring to get our bearings, stopped at the tourist center for a map, and then headed to our hotel for check in. Our hotel was actually an old Rice Plantation called Middleton Place, located in North Charleston. We spent quite a bit of time exploring the grounds and lounged around the welcome area for a while, watched a beautiful sunset and then went to bed early since we were exhausted.

The next few days were spent in Charleston. We explored as much as we could on foot, and also drove around a bit to view some of the neighborhood and old historic homes. Parking was expensive with options either in a lot or metered, but we found that there was limited free parking near White Point Gardens and since we are willing to walk most everywhere, it became our go to parking area. Some of the places we visited were the Old Slave Mart Museum, Charleston City Market, Waterfront Park, Nathaniel Russell House Museum, Magnolia Cemetery, and Edmondson-Alston House. One of our highlights was visiting Patriots Point and touring the USS Yorktown. An amazing museum with so much to explore and so much history to absorb, we spent hours there.

One of the goals of this trip, beside visiting this beautiful historic city, was to explore surrounding neighborhoods. Chris and I have been discussing where we want live when we retire, and South Carolina is on our list of places to consider. So in-between exploring Charleston, (and dealing with a tropical depression storm) we ventured off to visit other communities as well. We stopped by Folly beach (too many people since it was Memorial Day weekend), Mt. Pleasant, Sullivans Island and Isle of Palms (very high end), Summerville and Bluffton. We really wanted to explore  Columbia and Greenville but the rain storms made it very difficult to drive around too much, so we didn’t go. I have to plan another trip for the Western end of SC and NC/Tennessee for another time.

I do not have anything good to say about my food experience in SC. I am very upset about this because I was really was excited to try some good southern cooking and have heard raving reviews about the food in SC. Unfortunately, I did not find anything worth raving about. The one good meal we had was at Angel Oak, collard greens were very tasty and our food (Fried Chicken for Chris and Salmon for me) was good, not great, but good. We did find a Belgian Gelato place that was outstanding, AWESOME actually, went there twice for ice cream.

So, back to Myrtle Beach on Tuesday for our flight home, and after waiting around for 4 hrs. finally got word that our flight was CANCELED due to a passing storm in Chicago. CANCELLED?? really? for a passing storm? After waiting in line for over an hour to get reassigned, we found that the next opportunity to get back was THURSDAY and this was not acceptable,  we checked other airlines which were leaving the next morning and the cost was outrageous!! So, we ended up talking with another couple that was driving into Chicago and decided to share the ride in and drove all night to get home. We were exhausted and ended up missing another day of work, which we really didn’t plan or want to do. I don’t think the drive would have been so bad if we would have planed for it, but since this was totally unplanned and our rest stops were very brief, it was quite miserable.

We really did like South Carolina, and look forward to when we can explore this wonderful State again!!!

 

 

 

 

 

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Turks and Caicos 2016

My family has had a rough time the last 5 months. My mother has been in critical care since October 2015, and until recently on ventilator support. The last few weeks she has shown some incredible improvement, enough where we felt comfortable going on this vacation which we had planned last September. With all the stress of the last few months between my mom and other family matters, it was such a relief to get a away for a little while.

I was able to find a direct round trip flight in and out of O’Hare/ Providenciales Saturday to Saturday and the cost was not too bad, however the lodging is crazy expensive (they also have a 30% tax on lodging to boot). I painstakingly selected our hotel for this trip some time ago. I wanted to be on the beach with a beach view (and not just in the far horizon). I wanted to be able to sit on the deck and hear the ocean crashing, have coffee, read a book and relax in my PJs if I so choose. I selected Coral Gardens at Grace Bay beach. The room was privately owned and I booked via VBRO 316291. Shortly after booking this, our friends Frank and Ginny decided to come along and they also booked a room in the same building directly above us, from the same owner.

The entire goal of this trip was to relax, so we didn’t plan much and were only looking forward to lounging, eating some good food, reading books and snorkeling. Since our hotel was directly in front of Blight Reef,  we were certainly able to do plenty of snorkeling! Lots of brightly colored fish, turtles and creatures were found in this crystal clear ocean. Ginny even saw a reef shark that freaked her and few other people out. The sand was white powder and soft and the beach long and beautiful.

We visited quite a few restaurants during our stay and I found the food to be very good, although very expensive (everything was, even the groceries). We at pizza at Lupos, Ribs at Tiki Hut, Sea food Paella at Mango Reef, Coconut Crusted Grouper at Groupers, a variety of food at Somewhere cafe (this was located right at Coral Gardens) and finally Mahi Mahi at Caicos Cafe. I can honestly say we did not have a bad meal the entire time we were in T&C.  Tip: have desert at the restaurant, it was really good each time we opted for it. A few times we went out for  ice cream and it really sucked at 3 different places except for Melt, the Ice Cream was good, but very expensive for what you get, coffee there was great though. There is also the Thursday night fish fry which is not to be missed. Local restaurants set up food kiosks at the nearby park and serve local food and beverages right there on the beach, there is a DJ and live local music which goes on until about 10 pm.

This entire trip was almost perfect with one exception, the picture perfect condo I selected with a beautiful view turned out to be infested with Roaches, primarily in the kitchen. We called the management company and they sprayed the next day and we dealt with the aftermath of them coming out to die and cleaning it up. We were good for a day until I saw a dozen or so babies flying out of the fruit basket on the counter, and then more adults emerged shortly after. At that point we were 4 days into our stay and I requested to be moved to a new room. The new room was at the very far end of the resort with a limited view, not exactly what I wanted, and now far away from our friends that were so close before. Needless to say, our first 4 days were very stressful for me as I don’t deal with these types of vermin well. I was paranoid to walk around in the kitchen, and I was scared to death of having them hitch a ride home with us. We shook the heck out of everything before packing up to come home.

I’m not sure how to avoid this situation in the future as I had read all the reviews of the condo and the resort and this did not appear as an issue. Also, our friends in the room above us did not have an issue nor did we in our new room. It seems there was something terribly wrong with the unit we had and I wasn’t interested in sticking around long enough to have them figure out what it was. The management did give us a few nights credit on our stay to compensate, although I did have to negotiate with them from what I thought was  a very insulting first offer considering the number of days we dealt with the issue.

This trip certainly didn’t start out to be relaxing but by the last 3 days, we were finally able to unwind and enjoy ourselves on the pristine beaches of Grace Bay

 

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Portugal, Spain and Italy 2015

This trip was Chris and Frank’s bucket list birthday trip.  Since they both hit 60 this year, they got to pick our trip location and then Ginny and I made all the plans. Spain has definitely been on my bucket list too, so I was thrilled to select some additional options for our itinerary. This was by far one of the longest trip we have ever taken, and definitely one of the best so far proven by over 3000 photos! Consequently, this is a very long blog post!

We arrived in Lisbon Portugal on August 15. To my delight, our former exchange student Marcelo had made the trek down from Vigo Spain with his entire family to spend a few days with us. We met them for a wonderful dinner and tried to catch up on the last 4 years. The next day, we went site seeing, exploring various areas of Lisbon and had lunch at an excellent sea side restaurant. After such a wonderful start to our trip, I knew it was going to be an amazing vacation!

We spent 5 days in Lisbon exploring the city, gaining some historic knowledge and tasting the amazing cuisine (Portugal has BEST sea food EVER. No kidding, it was really amazing)! We visited the site of Jeronimos Monistary, Monument to the Discoveries, Alfma district and the Castelo de Sao Jorge (great views at dusk!), Belem Tower and drove along the 25th of April bridge. We tried going to Sao Roque church – we went twice and both times it was closed- rotten luck on our part.

We took a day trip to Sintra to visit the Pena Palace and the Castle of the Moors. Somewhere we thought we saw that the road to the palace was only about 5K, so we decided to walk there instead of taking the bus, this was a mistake. The road to the palace, although not very far, is ALL up a never ending steep hill. We are all fairly fit individuals, so we made the trek ok, but somehow we missed the castle (took the wrong road??).  Once we realized we had passed it (by this time we were tired and crabby) no one want to go back down to find it, so we continued uphill to the palace where we waited in a long line to enter. Needless to say, the walk up and waiting in line took a large amount of time away from our day, so after we visited the palace, we took a taxi back down to the town and never ventured back to find the castle.

We also took a guided tour to the towns of Estoril, which is a beautiful town with seaside views, beaches and a casino, and Cascais a primarily touristic town with shops, beaches and some historic sites. We also went to Cabo Da Roca, the very windy western most point of Europe which had some excellent seaside views and a fantastic restaurant called Da Adraga where we stopped for lunch, the food here was amazing!

On Thursday, August 20th, we flew from Lisbon, Portugal to Barcelona, Spain for 5 days. We have traveled to Barcelona before, but only for a few hours off a cruise ship about 10 years ago. Since then, we have always wanted to go back and explore the architecture and see the inside of the Sagrada Familia (on our previous visit, we were only able to see the outside). Our 5 days were spent exploring the city, admiring Gaudi’s architecture, and venturing off to the Costa Brava and Montserrat.

Our hotel was right across from the beautiful Catedral and in the evening we would enjoy shows provided by the street performers in this square. Many of the performers were quite good and tipping them is welcome of course! We stopped to view Gaudi’s buildings and art again on this trip but our highlight was being able to see the entire Sagrada Familia from the inside as well as from the outside this time. There are no words to describe this massive work of art. Every inch of this church is so defined, so precise, that it’s no wonder it has taken over a hundred years to complete (and is still unfinished). We spent almost 4 hrs just admiring the inside and outside of this structure, it’s really incredible.  We did use the hop on hop off bus to see some of the more far away attractions and I would highly recommend this option. We saw parts of the city that I don’t think I would have gone to otherwise and it was a great time saver too! We saw the national museum of art and explored the nearby gardens, took the cable car up to MontJuic and also explored other part of the city that were a bit too far to walk.

We also took a 1 day guided tour to the Costa Brava, and I was very excited to explore the Camino de Ronda. Our first stop was in Calella de Palafrugell, a post card beautiful little town on the coast. We set off from here to walk along the Camino De Ronda exploring the area and taking some wonderful photos and briefly stopped at a nearby beach to hang out. We left this area for L’esartit, another beautiful port area where we went on a glass bottom boat tour (the boat tour was very lame and I could have done without it). I was disappointed that our walk of the Camino de Ronda was very limited as I was expecting a longer hike with a few more seaside villages to explore. I will have to add it to my “return to” list! Our last stop was PALS, a very cool medieval town with more beautiful views, site seeing and some cool little shops too.

Another day we took the train to Montserrat to explore the monastery and hike the mountainous area. This article provides excellent information on how to take the train, purchasing tickets, and the various ticket options.  We spent the entire day hiking the trails and visiting the monastery with the Black Madonna. My friends were able to see the Basilica Choir boys (I opted to walk down from St. Jerome mountain to the monastery instead), they enjoyed the show but said it was extremely crowded during the performance.

Tuesday, August 25th, we left Barcelona by high speed rail and went to Madrid for 2 days. We had a nice hotel, which was very central to all of the sites we wanted to see. Since we only had two days, we didn’t opt to see any museums and ventured off mostly to explore building architecture, parks and fountains (Madrid certainly loves fountains!).  Contrary to Barcelona where the food was less than spectacular and everything was focused on tourism, I never felt like I was in a “tourist zone” (except at the San Miguel food Market where you will pay many Euros for virtually nothing). We did have some very good meals in Madrid and the prices were very reasonable. I would highly recommend El Caldero for a special night out, it was a bit pricey but very good!

Highlights in Madrid were Retiro Park, The Royal Palace and gardens, and the many many squares: Cibeles, Plaza Mayor, Plaza Callao, Plaza Espana, etc. etc. I especially enjoyed visiting these at night; they are all beautifully illuminated and provided a very comforting ambiance. I wish we were able to visit the Prado and Thyssen museums but doing so would have limited our time around town so we opted out. I will save it for next time!

On Thursday, August 27th, we said goodbye to Frank and Ginny who were heading home and Chris and I took off for our 5 day Southern Spain adventure of the Andalusia region of Spain.

We decided to book a tour company for this part of the trip since the cost was very reasonable compared to hotel/car/food own our own, and far less stressful than making our own plans and driving. We booked through Viator, and the trip included Breakfast & Dinner, transportation, hotel stay, entrance fees and a guide each day at the main attractions.

Day 1) Our first stop was to Cordoba, Spain.  We toured the city of Cordoba and the Holy Cathedral (Mother church of the Diocese) or Mosque (depending on the century). The Cathedral was an amazing structure inside and out. The history behind the transformation from Mosque to Cathedral and the artistic works within it made it my favorite of all the structures/Churches we had seen on this tour. Leaving Cordoba and heading to Seville, we had a late dinner at the hotel and it was not very good ;(.

Day 2) Lots to see in Seville. Our first stop was the Spanish Square; a very beautiful square with amazing tile artwork and walkways. We were there very early in the morning, so it was nice to experience it without too many crowds. We walked through Maria Luisa’s garden, the Santa Cruz quarter, saw the cathedral from the outside and spent quite a bit of time wandering around town on our own near the river and admiring the many old buildings. Late dinner at same hotel and once again it was not good. ;(

Day 3) Ronda, my favorite of the villages we visited. Ronda is a vibrant little town famous for is bull fighting and sits above a deep gorge called El Tajo. The views from the Puente Neuvo bridge were stunning and I couldn’t take enough picture of these views! We also found (off the beaten path) an artist shop with etchings. All were originals and we watched the artist as he completed one of his art sketches. Of course this was my take home present from the trip. I don’t usually buy much when I travel, but I do try to find one or two nice pieces of original art if possible as a momento.

Leaving Ronda and arriving at Costa Del Sol, Torremolinos.  I was expecting to have an opportunity to explore this area, but was disappointed. The distance from Ronda to Torremolinos was short but it was over mountainous areas, thus it took almost 3 hours to arrive. I was disappointed that we arrived so late. It was our only evening here, so by the time we cleaned up and had dinner we only had a few hrs to walk the promenade, have some coffee, etc. Naturally, this was the best hotel with the best food from the entire trip, would have preferred to have stayed longer!

Day 4) Granda and the Alhambra. The Alhambra is yet another artistic marvel with a very interesting background in both Muslim and Christian history. The carvings and artwork were simply amazing and the central court an incredible site. The exterior of the Alhambra was quite plain, so it was amazing to see such a transformation on the inside! We also visited the Generalife Gardens, a brief walk from the Alhambra with very beautiful scenic views as well as very interesting plants, flowers and fountains.

Day 5) Toledo and return to Madrid. Leaving Granada today and after a long drive, we finally reached Toledo. Set up on a hill, it is known for medieval, Jewish and Christian monuments. It has an old Jewish quarter and beautiful large cathedral among many other sites. The entire city is walled and quite a site to behold from the outside as well as the inside. It was an interesting city to explore with much history and monuments, many of which we didn’t get an opportunity to explore fully. Since this was our last day on the tour, we were dropped off back in Madrid and off to our hotel. We were exhausted and hungry, so we decided to return to Lamucca, a familiar restaurant from our previous visit which did not disappoint!

Tuesday, September 1st, we arrived in Bari, Italy. My dad picked us up at the airport and his first suggestion was “let’s go to the beach tomorrow”! I was thrilled! After weeks of walking around site seeing, packing and unpacking, I was looking forward to having no agenda and lazying around for a little while. We ended up at the beach the next two days, with perfect weather and nothing else to do! We also ran into my cousins who arrived in Bari the day before we did. They suggested having a day at their farm, making pizzas and hanging out. My uncle has a brick oven right on the farm and my cousins make the most perfect pizzas! It’s one of our most favorite things to do while we are in town, so of course we jumped at the chance!  We did this on Sunday, our last day of vacation. It was a perfect ending to an awesome trip!

 

 

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Cabo San Lucas 2010

Cabo San Lucas 2010

We stayed at an all inclusive resort at Los Cabos, about 5 days, I don’t even remember which one, they all seem to blur into each other. Our location was away from most of the spring break crowd in the main town of Cabo, so the setting was much calmer that some other areas! Met up with my friend Bridgette while we were there and enjoyed some relaxing time at the beach and pool. We also went to visit Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo bar in town (the highlight for me). I was hoping we might run into him, but no such luck! We tried to go snorkeling and sea kayaking but the water was so rough, we didn’t get very far on the Kayak and it was impossible to snorkel with the water so turned up and rough. We don’t seem to have much luck with the water conditions  in Mexico when we go. Anyway, it was a nice relaxing time away, great to hang with Bridgette and enjoy some quite time too. Fun times!

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