Small European Countries – One Left to Go!

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

I admit it, I am not ashamed to share it.  It is frivolous and perhaps not terribly inspiring.  Hopefully, not embarrassing.  Or so I tell myself…  (Is there a support group, perhaps?)  Here it is…  I do want to finish the little ones in Europe; the little countries, I mean.  I don’t mean “finish them” as in “destroy them” or have them absorbed by a big neighbor (ahem, Germany…).  I mean just to see them all.  Monaco.  San Marino.  Andorra.  Luxembourg (OK, not as small, don’t want to hurt its feelings).  Vatican City.  Liechtenstein.

Before February this year, I had two of those left.  And now there is one…  Before I reveal the one left behind (you must be DYING to know), in February I visited tiny Liechtenstein.  It is as hard to get to it as it is to spell it as it has no major airport.  That means, no direct flight from JFK or Hartsfield.  For me, it was a flight into Munich, Germany and a 3 hr (or so) drive (an easy one, at that).

Liechtenstein is known for… OK, not much.  But perhaps more than anything is because they print beautiful postage stamps.  Oh, oh, has someone told them about “email”?  “Texting”?  “Whatsapp”?  Hmm… rough times ahead?  Perhaps not.  I am sure lots of money is put away there by foreigners and perhaps there are some other reputable industries…

But I surely digress.  (Do I?  Maybe someone can comment and share the wonderful economic engine in the heart of Europe called Liechtenstein.)  Anyway…

We drove in from Germany, trampling into Austria for a little bit before entering Switzerland for an even “littler” bit until we realized we had to pay like $30-40 to get a highway permit to drive in Switzerland (RIP-OFF!).  We quickly turned around and drove the two miles back to the Austrian border and (thanks to a smartphone and GPS) found a free route through Austria to Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein for the cost of a handful of extra miles of driving.  So, THERE, Switzerland.  The oddities of socialist Europe’s highways…

We entered Luxembourg, er, Liechtenstein (who can keep them straight??) after passing through customs (run by Switzerland, actually… another oddity) and made our way to the tiny capital driving through even tinier towns (not really sure if they count as towns or just urban sprawl from Vaduz?).

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I am heeere!

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

Customs into Switzerland

Not too rural really but not densely populated either.  As we got into Vaduz, we saw the castle atop the hill overlooking the town.  The high perch location of that castle may help explain why Liechtenstein has survived as its own entity.  Or not, but I didn’t really read up on it…  I just needed to check it off, you know?

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Castle perched right above Vaduz

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

View of the castle from afar

Anyway, the castle’s vantage point was impressive.  We found a road up and there were some nice neighborhoods on the way up – great spot to live with a view of Liechtenstein and Switzerland in the distance (I think Switzerland charges if you even look at their highways; mercifully for Liechtensteiners, I believe there are no highways in sight from the hill where the castle is.)Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje, palace, castle

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

Houses near the caste location

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Approaching the castle

We stopped intown and walked around the pedestrian commercial street (got our passport stamped at the tourist office) and ended up at a local restaurant.  Unfortunately, it was past regular lunch hours so we had to settle for a limited menu.  But I had a bowl of goulash that was delicious so I was not complaining!  After that, we said our fond goodbyes to Liechtenstein (auf wiedersehen!) and made our way back to Austria for our next and most phenomenal stop of the trip:  the Alpine ski town of Lech!

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

Passport stamp

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

Pedestrian shopping street at the feet of the castle

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

Around Vaduz, Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

Church and Vaduz City Hall (on the right)

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

Around Vaduz

———————————————-

P.S. – Oh, and which is the lil one I have left to visit?  ANDORRA!  Mental note:  I need to check in with my Spanish friends Mariano and Isabel so I can tag along their next New Year’s ski trip from Madrid to Andorra…

Photos of the Week – Sights of Amsterdam

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Amsterdam is such a unique city.  It is like Venice meets… meets… I am not sure what!  It is a charm typical of old cities, of cities by the water, of cities with architecture seen nowhere else, and of cities with a one-of-a-kind type of energy (and I don’t mean that in terms of the red light district!).

I first went to Amsterdam in 1999 when I had business there (most of my time in The Netherlands, though, was actually in The Hague, or Den Haag).  I had not returned to Amsterdam since then (except connecting through its wonderful airport) until earlier this year when I overnighted there on my way back home after skiing in Austria.

I took advantage of the limited time to walk out and about at night, and then do a quick morning walk before heading to the airport.  Though a short visit, it took me back to 1999 and it made me re-discover why I like the city so much.  I wish I had had time to visit the museums I have never gotten to explore (back in 1999, I wasn’t touristing – had no time for that!), and be a little more aimless in the walking around.  But, hopefully, I will have another chance!  In the meantime, here are some photos from my short visit!

 Night photos of Amsterdam

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Amsterdam, night, Netherlands, Holanda, Holland, fotos, photos, travel, viaje, Samsung Galaxy S7

Notice the not-straight door and windows on the right!

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Right outside of the train station

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Train station

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Royal Palace

Day Photos of Amsterdam

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By the train station – a bunch of bikes!

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Red doorways – cool

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ilivetotravel, photo, champagne, business class, KLM

OK, not a photo of Amsterdam but of me leaving it in style!

Uppsala – Worth the Drive from Stockholm

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A long weekend in Stockholm sounded like fun.  And off I went last October with a college friend, John.  While Stockholm was the focus, I have always wanted to see something of ‘rural’ Sweden:  lakes, charming homes, and lots of green.  At least, that is how I envisioned it.  So, once in Sweden, I was eager to get on the road at least for a day of driving around.  As I looked at the map, Uppsala caught my eye:  I knew it was a university town AND it was approximately 1.5 hrs away from Stockholm so not a stretch for a day trip.

The streets of Uppsala

After veering west and exploring, the day ended in Uppsala.  It was getting dark but we got to walk around the pedestrian friendly town center where we saw the university grounds, the cathedral, and the shopping district.  Being fall made the streets by the main cathedral and university a lot more charming with all the fallen leaves.  It was beautiful.

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Around the commercial area

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Charming architecture

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Around the university

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Canal lined by yellowing trees

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Beautiful cobblestone street covered in leaves

Uppsala’s Cathedral

Erik the Holy -or Saint Erik-, patron saint of Sweden, is buried at the cathedral, the site where he was killed a long time ago (12th century if you want to know!).  The cathedral itself was finished in the 15th century and it claims to be the largest church building in the Nordic countries.

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The cathedral of Saint Erik

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Cathedral at night

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Saint Erik’s tomb

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We happened upon a recital rehearsal when we visited

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Drink, please!

We were a tad surprised that a university town did not have an obvious ‘bar scene.’  Perhaps tainted by the U.S. college town experience?  Probably.  But we were wondering where to go hang out and grab a bite to eat; a place with personality.

And an online app suggested what turned out to be the perfect spot:  the Churchill Arms gastropub.  We sat at the small bar where I ended up teaching the young bartender how to make a Manhattan.  Then the loungey chairs (just two of them) by the bar freed up and we decided to grab them instead of going to one of the regular tables in one of the wood-paneled eating rooms.  There, we could see everyone coming in and out.  I enjoyed some mussels (moules marinieres) in a white wine sauce – mmm!!

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Nice collection

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The bar

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My moules marinieres and French fries!

Once again, going off the beaten path proved rewarding.  If you ever go to Stockholm, hop over to quiet but charming Uppsala.  It was beautiful in the fall, I can only imagine how it would be in the summer and spring.  After dinner, we headed out back to Stockholm to wrap up a day of semi-aimless driving around and seeing what we came upon.  Another post will share more of what else we saw that day!

Around Katarina Church in Stockholm

Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

While I like seeing the main sights of any city I visit, I also enjoy walking around aimlessly and seeing what I discover.  Katarina Church (Katarina Kyrka) in Stockholm (Södermalm) was one of those discoveries.  Perhaps if I had done my research ahead of time, the church and its neighborhood would have ended on a ‘must-see’ list.  But it was a lot neater to run into this neighborhood by sheer luck and wanderlust!

Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Church as seen from Gamla Stan

Katarina Church

The church grounds were pretty in the fall colors and in the gray weather I experienced pretty much the entire weekend I was in Stockholm.Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

The church was undergoing renovations

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Cornelisparken – good views of Stockholm

I then walked off a side sidestreet on the opposite side of the square from where I had entered it, Mäster Mikaels gata, with quaint homes that ended with a park, Cornelisparken, that offered a great viewpoint that overlooked Gamla Stan and other parts of Stockholm.  I seemed to be on a roll discovering great spots with great views in Stockholm (another was from City Hall)!Mäster Mikaels gata, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, Gamla Stan, Cornelisparken

View towards Gamla Stan

This part of my longer walk was probably my favorite of the whole weekend and I think yielded some of my favorite photos from the trip!

 

Stockholm’s City Hall – Great Vantage Point

Stockholm, Sweden, City Hall, views, vistas, Gamla Stan, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, travel, tourism, Stadshuset

Before my recent trip to Southeast Asia, I took advantage of a cheap airfare to spend a long weekend in Stockholm. I had been there a while back on a day stop from a cruise with my family. It was summer time and it allowed us to get a flavor of this city by walking around Old Town, visiting the Vasa Museum, and enjoying a nice lunch. Of course, Stockholm was charming and I hoped for a return visit someday. And that materialized when a college friend found the special fare and asked if I’d be game for a slightly mad short trip there. Having not used vacation time in the year, I thought “why the heck not!”

The plan for the trip was to just go with the flow. I had already seen key sights so that was good with me. Serendipity can yield interesting experiences!

One place I discovered on this trip was Stockholm’s City Hall. My hotel was maybe 2.5 kms / 30 mins’ walk away and we were making our way from our hotel in Kungsholmen towards Old Town. We ran into the the City Hall and wondered what it was. It faces the water with great views of Gamla Stan (Old Town) and Sodermalm across the water – excellent photo opp spot!

Here are some of the images of the building and the views from its unique spot in the city.  If you find yourself in Stockholm, go the extra distance outside of Gamla Stan to get to this spot!  (Click on the images to enlarge.)

Tour of Real Madrid’s Home: Bernabéu Stadium

Bernabeu, Madrid, museum, museo, Real Madrid, tour, Spain, tourism, travel, photo, Olympus

I may not be the world’s most serious football (soccer) fan.  Or the world’s 100-millionth most serious football (soccer!) fan.  But I know to recognize where history happened, where history happens, or where history will happen.  Madrid‘s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium is all three and I was looking forward to touring the facility.  It is well-known to be a great tour so well worth the cost to go in.  Bernabéu, which seats over 80,000 fans, is the seat of Real Madrid, a football team over 100 years old (the stadium dates from 1947).  Real Madrid is the most valuable football team in the world, valued at over $3B.  Yep, that is a “B.”   And this is their home.Bernabeu, Madrid, museum, museo, Real Madrid, tour, Spain, tourism, travel, photo, Olympus

The tour takes you through the history of the club showing famous trophies, shoes and other items in a multi-media and interactive setting.

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One can listen to stadium sounds in this exhibit

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Raul’s shoes in a display of famous players’ shoes – no favoritism here

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Exhibit showing Raul’s best goals

The museum really helps emphasize, though its interpretation, the glory of the Real Madrid club.  Beyond this, the visitor gets to see the field of play as spectators do from a high vantage point and, later, as players do:  right from the field and from their bench!

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Top seating area – not a bad seat!

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On the field!  And I sprinted across its width too

Bernabeu, Madrid, museum, museo, Real Madrid, tour, Spain, tourism, travel, photo

The lesser known but more impressive Raúl

The tour takes the visitor back door through the locker room and other spots before leading the visitor, surprise, to the stadium store – of course.

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Players’ showers

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The locker room (wonder if they need to see their photo to remember their spot…)

Bernabéu is an incredible place, I am sure, to watch a match.  I hope to re-visit it one day as a spectator!

 

 

 

2015 – A Year in Review

Torres del Paine, Chile, Patagonia, mountains, peaks, massif, outdoors, trekking, hiking, adventure, Olympus, landscape

2015 is almost over and it is time for the year in review which, I think, is an exercise not just in writing but in re-living the many blessings the year bestowed on me.  Here it goes and share with me some of the travels in your 2015!

In the city of brotherly love – Philadelphia, USA

My first trip of the year was to Philadelphia where family and friends live.  It is a place I love to visit though I do not get to do so often.  I welcome the opportunity whenever it comes though as I greatly enjoy spending time with my aunt and uncle who make me feel so at home whenever I go.  Though I got to see many, I did not get to see all my relatives nor all my friends which was a bummer – but good reason to go back!  As usual, my uncle likes to show me around places historical to both country and family.  I had not visited Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell since the early 90s and I enjoyed my visit there.  We also went to Valley Forge which had a special look since it was winter-time (and was also very cold!).

Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, freedom, history, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, sunset

Liberty Bell with Independence Hall behind it

Independence Hall, winter, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, freedom, history, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Independence Hall across the mall

Valley Forge, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, history, independence, battle, travel, Olympus, photo

Valley Forge in winter – reminder of the cost of our freedom

Now, those places are not where the family history comes from :) instead this building served as their home right after they moved up there from Miami.

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House where my parents and relatives lived

My first hike of the year – Blood Mountain, Georgia, USA

My first hike of the year was a training hike as I was going on a trek to Patagonia with Trekking for Kids.  My friend Phil who also enjoys hiking and I decided to do a hike near Blood Mountain that ended up -accidentally- in a climb of Blood Mountain.  While it was unplanned, it was a fortunate ‘accident’ as it all ended well and we enjoyed great vistas and trails.

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Entering Freeman Trail from the Appalachian Trail

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Along Jarrard Gap, the start of our hike

An amazing metropolis – Buenos Aires, Argentina

The orphanage work related to my trek to Patagonia was going to take place on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina.  So I knew I was going to be spending time in this great city – and more importantly, eating the best beef in the world paired with great wine!  I enjoyed walking about town and having nice meals with my fellow trekkers (some which I knew already and some which I met there).

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The parrillada at Campo Bravo

dessert, postre, Cabaña Las Lilas, chocolate, Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires, Argentina, food, foodie, foodporn, Samsung Galaxy

Don’t forget dessert: this beauty courtesy of Cabaña Las Lilas

But the best part was meeting the children and staff of the two homes we worked with on our projects which included repairing a very leaky roof and damaged walls and furniture.  Much as I loved spending time in BB.AA., this work was the highlight of my time there!

Buenos Aires, Argentina, zoo, Trekking for Kids, service, painting, chairs,photo

Painting new furniture with the kids was an adventure onto itself!

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These kids were hard workers and also great with the soccer ball!

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At Temaiken, Buenos Aires’ zoo

Back in time – Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

When planning my Buenos Aires travel, I decided to add an extra day to cross the river by ferry and spend half a day exploring a town that was a good throwback to the colonial period of the region:  Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay.  I sold three other trekkers on doing this short trip with me and we had a great time walking the streets of this easy-going town.  I highly recommend making the crossing if you ever have time in Buenos Aires!

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One of the MANY vintage vehicles in town – an Austin

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Basilica del Sagrado Sacramento

My favorite spot on Earth – Chile’s Patagonia

As I wrote earlier this year, I loved Patagonia when I first visited the Perito Moreno glacier and Chile‘s amazing Patagonia in 2010.  I’d always hoped I could return some day and that did happen… in 2015, much sooner than I’d ever thought possible.  I returned to hike around Fitz Roy in Argentina, re-visit the Perito Moreno glacier, and then trek through the Torres del Paine National Park – which I had not done in 2010.  And it was a rewarding effort for sure with great vistas and a glacier hike to boot.  Memorable is not a good enough word for the experience.  And, secretly, I hope I get to return a second time for my third visit!!  (click on the hyperlinks above to see more photos from each of the visits)

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Grey glacier, where we hiked

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On the trail to Fitz Roy

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The Torres del Paine massif

The great northwest – Portland, Oregon

Thanks to work, I spent five days in Portland, Oregon.  I had never been to Oregon so it was cool that I got to go there.  I arrived at mid-day on a Sunday and decided to take a walking tour of Portland as it would be the most effective way to see the highlights of the town while enjoying the great weather.

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Portland street

Mercifully, daylight went on late so I got to take advantage of it to take a drive along the Columbia River to see the waterfalls that dot the riverside.   I also got to enjoy dinners in establishments along either side of the river which was a phenomenal day to end the workday.

Family, friends and food fest (4 F’s) – Spain, olé!

Friends of mine were going to hike the Camino de Santiago, a hike I did in 2014.  I thought it would be cool to combine my wish to meet relatives I had not met who live in the outskirts of Santiago with my friends’ arrival in Santiago de Compostela.  My grandmother has two surviving cousins she never met in person who live in Bastavales.  I had met one of them last year when I finished the Camino walk but I had not met the other.  So I met María and her son, grandkids and great-grandkids for the first time and enjoyed their warmth and sharing special memories and photos of the family.  I also visited time with Flora, the cousin I had met last year.  It was really cool.

Bastavales, Spain, family, Vilas, genealogy, farm, travel, Galicia

With Maria, my grandmother’s cousin

I then welcomed my friends and their fellow trekkers as they arrived in Santiago at the end of their Camino.  It was wonderful seeing them glow in joy as they wrapped their long walk.  After they got their Compostela and going to Pilgrim’s Mass, it was time to celebrate with some cañas (beer) and tapas in one of the many beautiful old streets of this phenomenal city.  We also took a day trip to Finisterre on the Atlantic coast, a nice place.

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Beer and tapas in Santiago de Compostela

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The left side of the Cathedral

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With friends Phil and Tommy at Finisterre

The visit with my friends continued in Madrid and, after they left, I got to spend time with madrileños friend of mine, enjoying good drinks, food, and atmosphere around town.  It was fun spending more time in Madrid (check out “6 Cool Things to Do in Madrid“!).  I love Spain but I loved more the opportunity to be there with friends!

Reuniting with dear friends – California

In late May, dear friends left Atlanta to head to California due to a job opportunity.  It was hard to see them go as I spent many a Friday night over ten years hanging out with them pre-kids and after-kids.  So, it was great when work offered me the opportunity to go to San Francisco so I could spend the weekend after the conference with them in their home outside of San Jose.  They took me to two great Mexican restaurants, one of them right by where they live.  I enjoyed a drive down Pebble Beach on the famous 17-mile drive (which I still have to write about!).  And we visited the charming coastal town of Carmel – and its impressive mission.

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Glorious skies at the Carmel Mission

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Waters along the 17-Mile drive

Up-north (WAY up north) – Duluth, Minnesota

Work took me for a brief business trip up north, to a small town 45 mins north of Duluth, Minnesota.  Driving along the coast of Lake Superior was very nice and peaceful.  We only had one night in Duluth but enjoyed a nice breakfast at a mom-and-pop type of place and dinner at a pub.  Of course, being the traveler that I am, never having gone to Wisconsin, and realizing I was just a bridge-crossing, I just had to do it… We had mostly an open morning so, along with a colleague, I drove across the water to a coffee shop I found online in the town of Superior, Wisconsin!  A coffee later, we crossed the bridge again and back in Minnesota!

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Wisconsin, here we come!

Returning to one my favorites – Chicago, Illinois

I first went to Chicago in a bitterly cold January in 1991 with company for training.  And I kept returning over the years mainly in winter.  This year I got to go in August for pleasure, after spending a few days in Minnesota for work.  I got to enjoy walking everywhere, getting to the lake, which I had never done.  I also explored new parts of town thanks to friends (including little gems in terms of eateries).   Overall, what I enjoyed most about this trip was a first for me in Chicago:  going to a museum!  The Art Institute of Chicago was right up my alley as very much an amateur in terms of art.  It made it all approachable and enjoyable without overwhelming.  I highly recommend it.  I look forward to returning to Chicago and having more time to see all the friends who live there (this was practically a day-and-a-half visit) – and explore a new museum or two!Chicago, Illinois, skyscraper, cityscape, photo, glass. buildings, architecture

An epic trek to close the year – on the route to Everest Base Camp, Nepal

I was not planning any other hike on 2015 after having done Patagonia earlier in the year.  However, I found out that several folks I knew from prior treks were going to do the trek to Everest Base Camp and I started wondering if I could go…  I was generally fit even if not well-trained, it was a generally good time to go from a work standpoint, and though I did not have vacation time to be able to go to base camp, the trek offered a shorter itinerary.  So, I went for it.  I had a great time and was thrilled to having seen the Himalayas, Mt. Everest, and the hamlets and people of the highlands of Nepal.  I am still writing about the trek so I will just point you to a couple of the writings:  flying into scary Lukla airport to begin the hike, day one of the hike (you can keep going from there to later days), and one of the neat sites I saw in Kathmandu.  The best part of the trek was the work done before the trek in the village of Kumari.  Check out the work we did with Trekking for Kids here.

Great Boudha Stupa, stupa, prayer wheel, Buddhist, Buddhism, Kathmandu, Nepal, Samsung Galaxy, travel, tourism

The prayer wheels

Kumari, Nuwakot, Nepal, kid, child, school, service, volunteer, Samsung Galaxy, photo, travel

Kids from Kumari

Epilogue to a year that ends…

2015 was an epic year.  From great hiking experiences, time with family and friends, new destinations, and good food and drinks, it had it all.  I got to step in South America, North America, Asia, and Europe all in one year!  However, as the year came to a close, we lost my stepdad, Rubén.  It was a bittersweet time as he had been suffering from Alzheimer‘s and his last week was one full of suffering.  So his passing offered him rest that we were thankful for, sad as it was to not have him around us any more.  Rubén, as my Mom, loved to travel.  They traveled across Europe and other places many times.  I got to travel with them and my sister and her family in several cruises to the Caribbean, Alaska, and the Baltic Sea, as well as explore places like Copenhagen, Panama, and Paris (where they visited me in 1999 when I was living there).  Though we will sorely miss him in this final journey he has undertaken, I know I will see again at the final destination.  Until then, I will continuing journeying here.  Rest in peace, Rubén!

ilivetotravel, family

In Panama in 2009

6 Cool Things to Do in Fantastic Madrid

Azotea, Bellas Artes, rooftop bar, rooftop terrace, Madrid, Spain, nightlife, photo, Samsung Galaxy

I have visited Madrid several times and, while it may not have the charm of Paris or Venice, it is a town meant to be lived, not visited.  And I don’t mean “lived” as in “live there” but a place “to live life.”  Sure, other cities are beautiful and glamorous but I find cities where life is lived to the fullest the best.  And such is Madrid.  Here are some cool things to do in the Spanish capital.

Drinks at the Westin

The Westin is an extremely well-situated hotel in the best part of Madrid.  It has incredible architectural charm – and a great lobby lounge with separate areas to sit, depending on your mood.  My favorite spot was right under the colorful and bright cupola.  If you don’t get to stay at the hotel, at minimum, go and treat yourself to a glass of wine or a cocktail.

Cupola, Westin, Madrid, Spain, architecture, design, glass, stained, blue, travel

Awesome glasswork

Tapas and drinks at Plaza Santa Ana

Plaza Santa Ana is at the heart of Madrid. Sure the Plaza Mayor officially is “the” plaza in Madrid.  But, Plaza Santa Ana is small, manageable and a great spot to sit and watch life, while enjoying tapas and beer/wine.  And the great thing is that you can do it from the plaza itself – or from above at the trendy and cool bar at the roof terrace of the Reina Victoria Hotel.  There is a charge to go up but it applies to a drink – so as long as you have a drink, entrance is free.  And the views of the Plaza at night are awesome.

Reina Victoria, Madrid, Spain, Plaza Santa Ana, travel, bar, food, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The Hotel Reina Victoria at sunset

Reina Victoria, Madrid, Spain, Plaza Santa Ana, travel, bar, food, photo, Samsung Galaxy

View from the rooftop terrace of the Hotel Reina Victoria (Teatro Español in the background)

Tapas crawl!

The Plaza Santa Ana is a wonderful place to hang out.  But Madrid is full of neighborhood plazas and other areas where you can find the most delicious spots to have a tapa and a caña (short beer).  Madrileños on a typical night out move from tapas bar to tapas bar prior to going somewhere for dinner.  A great spot for tapas is near the Calle Cervantes where the are several good establishments.  Taberna La Daniela, Cervecería Cervantes and Taberna de la Dolores are all different and great spots to eat, sip, walk, and repeat!  And my local friends actually referred me to these places so you know they are good!

Taberna de la Dolores, Madrid, Spain, España, tapas bar, food, foodie, Olympus, travel

Taberna de la Dolores

La Daniela, tapas bar, Madrid, Spain, España, food, foodie, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

About to go in!

La Daniela, tapas bar, Madrid, Spain, España, food, foodie, travel, photo, Olympus

The counter at La Daniela – always hang out at the counter!

 The Mercado San Miguel

I could not believe that I had never visited the Mercado San Miguel in Madrid until I learned that it had been closed for years to open finally again in 2009.  It is a feast for the eyes – and the palate.  The structure itself is about one hundred years old with a style reminiscent of Paris metro entrances.  But the main attraction is, of course, the food!  Stop there for a bite or a meal – and a glass of wine, ¡por supuesto!

Mercado San Miguel, Madrid, Spain, España, travel, food, foodie, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Mercado San Miguel

ham, jamón, Mercado San Miguel, Madrid, Spain, España, travel, food, foodie, photo, Samsung Galaxy

¡Jamón!

fruits, frutas, Mercado San Miguel, Madrid, Spain, España, travel, food, foodie, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Color and flavor!

Drinks with a view

Thanks to my local friend, I discovered the “Azotea,” or rooftop, at the Círculo de Bellas Artes building on the Calle de Alcalá.  It offers not only a bar but all sorts of comfy spaces to just lounge.  It must be spectacular at night but it is great at sunset or just during the day time to admire the views.

Azotea, Bellas Artes, rooftop bar, rooftop terrace, Madrid, Spain, nightlife, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The Azotea terrace

Azotea, Correos, Palacio de Comunicaciones,Bellas Artes, rooftop bar, rooftop terrace, Madrid, Spain, nightlife, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The former main post office – now the Palacio de Comunicaciones

And just walking around

Walking about, aimlessly, sometimes yields the best experiences in a city.  Madrid is no different.  My friends showed me around districts I did not know with small plazas and great places to enjoy food and drinks.  This is the best way to get the vibe of a place.  You can stroll through parks like the famous El Retiro, grand avenues or tiny old streets.  cobblestone, street, Madrid, walk, walking, Spain, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy cobblestone, street, Madrid, walk, walking, Spain, travel, tourism, photo, Olympus

Also, Madrid is a great town to see monuments and buildings old and new so if you like architecture, walk, I say!

Puerta de Alcalá, Madrid, Spain, arch, architecture, tourism, travel, photo

Puerta de Alcalá near El Retiro

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain, architecture, travel, tourism, Olympus

Plaza Mayor

Cathedral, Madrid, Almudena, Spain, architecture, church, Catholic, facade, sky, Olympus

Cathedral of the Almudena

Palacio Real, Royal Palace, Madrid, Spain, architecture, travel, photo, tourism

The Royal Palace (Palacio Real) in Madrid, Spain

Congreso, Congress, Madrid, Spain, nighttime, lights, classic

Congress (Congreso de los Diputados)

modern architecture, Madrid, Spain, Olympus, photo modern architecture, Madrid, Spain, Olympus, photo

Walking unknowingly by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we happened upon the presentation of credentials by foreign ambassadors who crossed the Plaza Mayor (I assume coming from the royal palace) and dropped/picked up the dignitaries in colorful carriages.  So one never knows what one will find!

tradition, carriage, ambassador, Madrid, Spain, photo, Samsung Galaxy

One of the carriages

Hope you enjoy Madrid!  Have you been?  Any places you’d recommend??

Images of Another Northern Town – Husavik

church, Husavik, Iceland, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy, photo

Husavik is certainly not the most visited spot in Iceland as many tourists tend to stick to Reykjavik, the South Shore and the Golden Circle and Husavik lies well in the north.  But, when I visited Iceland last year, we had opted to spend three days in Akureyri, much closer to Husavik.  That was such a great call!  The north was beautiful (Godafoss was awesome) and also a great launching point for some whale watching, which we greatly enjoyed.  We picked a whale watching tour out of Husavik which afforded us the opportunity to, even briefly, see this charming northern town.  Here are some images from our brief time there.

Click on the photo to see it bigger!


 

Finisterre: The End of Earth No More!

sailboat, cross, Fisterra, cape, Finisterre, Atlantic Ocean, tourism, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, Galicia, España

A “short” 90-km walk from Santiago de Compostela, where the famous Camino (Way of St. James) ends, is Finisterre.  Finisterre is a town but the more famous Finisterre is the cape that signifies “the end of earth.”   Back when folks assumed this was the end of earth, hence the name.  (Note:  It is also known as Fisterra in the local dialect, Galician or gallego).

Finisterre, Fisterra, Spain, sea, ocean, travel, photo

The town of Finisterre from a distance

Many pilgrims who do the Camino, keep going past the end point, the city of Santiago de Compostela.  I did not when I went because the end goal of the Camino, in my book, is entering the Plaza del Obradoiro and then going to Mass at the massive and old Cathedral.

Camino, Way, Santiago, Compostela, pilgrimage, travel, mile marker

While 0k for the Camino is in Santiago, this is 0 km too

Finisterre, Fisterra, cape, Camino, Spain, España, Galicia

Posing with friends – and friendly photobombers!

However, I highly recommend hiking or somehow making it to Finisterre.  I personally loved walking the rugged terrain past the lighthouse.

Fisterra, cape, Finisterre, Atlantic Ocean, ilivetotravel, tourism, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The Atlantic Ocean at Finisterre

sailboat, cross, Fisterra, cape, Finisterre, Atlantic Ocean, tourism, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, Galicia, España

Water activities abound in the area

Camino, Atlantic Ocean, Finisterre, Fisterra, cape, Spain, Galicia, tradition

Pilgrims leave articles of clothing upon reaching the end of their Camino

It reminded me when I went to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa (check it out here), maybe just a little less spectacular here but impressive nonetheless.

Finisterre, Spain, Camino, The Way, photo, travel lighthouse

Finisterre lighthouse

If you drive from Santiago, there is an inland route, more direct, and a route that hugs the shoreline.  I recommend the latter on the way over to Finisterre so you can see Finisterre from the distance and see the beautiful coastline.  I am sure in other times of the year this coastline is slightly less hospitable but on the beautiful July day I went, it was nothing short of spectacular.  On the way back, we did take the fast route back – and that was fine with me.

Finisterre, Fisterra, Spain, sea, ocean, travel, photo, Galicia

The Cape (top left) and the town of Finisterre to its right

Finisterre, Fisterra, Spain, sea, ocean, travel, photo, Galicia

A small coastal town watched over by windmills, a common sight around there

Finisterre, Fisterra, Spain, sea, ocean, travel, photo, Galicia

Beautiful waters!

Finisterre, Fisterra, Spain, sea, ocean, travel, photo, Galicia

A small town along the route

Windmill, Finisterre, Fisterra, Galicia, Spain, coastline

Smart to rely on these guys given how windy it is!

On the way over, before getting to the coastline, we stopped at a small village by the Rio Tambre to visit a charming town right of CP-0201, not far from Santiago.  The Ponte Maceira crosses the river into the village and forms part of the Camino as witnessed by the many pilgrims we saw cross it.  The village is graced not only by the bridge but by a chapel, an old mill, and a very approachable riverside.  Definitely a “must stop.”

Ponte Maceira, Rio Tambre, Galicia, Spain, España, old mill, Olympus, travel, photo

Pilgrims crossing the Ponte Maceira (Maceira Bridge)

Ponte Maceira, Rio Tambre, Galicia, Spain, España, old mill, Olympus, travel, photo

The Rio Tambre

Ponte Maceira, Rio Tambre, Galicia, Spain, España, old mill, Olympus, travel, photo

The village by the bridge

Ponte Maceira, Rio Tambre, Galicia, Spain, España, old mill, Olympus, travel, photo

The old mill and an approach to the river

The only bummer for my visit was that there was a small festival (for the Feast of St. James) going on near the Cape and we could not stop.  I would have so loved to eat fresh seafood and mingle with the locals.  I hear any of the towns along the shore will have incredible fresh seafood.  I believe it!

If you do have time to explore the area, don’t just go to the cape.  Not that it is overly touristy or that it isn’t spectacular, but there are other parts of the coast that are well worth exploring.  The Rias Baixas (which you may know if you know Spanish wine…), just south of Finisterre, are a series of estuaries/inlets from the Atlantic Ocean that create a mini-ecosystem rich in marine life and with many beaches and water activities, a magnet for tourists from Spain.  While certainly not the French Riviera, it also lacks the over-touristed ambience of places like that, making it more relaxed.  So, give yourself an extra day or two and enjoy Finisterre and all that the area around it offers in the region of Galicia!

Finisterre, Fisterra, Spain, sea, ocean, travel, photo, Galicia

Beautiful coastline

Finisterre, Fisterra, Spain, sea, ocean, travel, photo, Galicia

More of the coastline

Images of a Northern Town: Akureyri, Iceland

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Olympus

Akureyri is the largest town in northern Iceland and it sits pretty deep in the Eyjafjörður fjord.  It is exactly at 12 o’clock if the island of Iceland were a clock (which it is not – in case you are wondering).  The town sits tight against the mountains behind it, almost being on the verge of being thrown into the water.

Where we stayed in Akureryi… or across from it

Through airbnb we found a phenomenal house sitting on a hillside directly across the fjord from the town so we got to look at it at night.  Er, in the evening hours in the daylight, since we were down there, er, up there, at the peak of summer when the sun did set, but not deep enough where it got dark (see the last two pictures in the sequence below).

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Olympus

The main “window” of the house we stayed at!

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Olympus

Looking from inside the “main window” across the fjord towards Akureyri – who cleans this window?

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

“Front” of the house I stayed at – and our nice rental vehicle

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Our house looking towards the end of the fjord; see the bridge to town on the right

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Late night in Akureyri in late June

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Late night in Akureyri in late June

My friends’ young girls loved running on the deck of the house and the field around it while we enjoyed sitting out there, soaking the view, with a beverage in hand (perhaps…).

In any case, I digress.  The town is small and is quite charming but is large enough to have a small airport for those who do not want to drive there from Reykjavik – which would be a crime if you skip the drive on the ring road!

Akureyri was a site for Allied forces in WW II which seems quite interesting given it is still a town of under 20,000 yet one that was first settled in the ninth century!  Something must have been right about it to be picked by the Allies during WW II given how far it is from Reykjavík.  You’d think they would have picked somewhere easier to get to.  In fact, Keflavík, where the modern Reykjavík international airport is located, was a U.S. air force base in WW II.

But I digress.  One night, we were wanting to be sure to have a good bottle of wine to have at the house so we rushed into town after we looked online where to buy some.  We knew we were tight on time as we had learned that liquor sales ended soon that day (I think maybe it was at 7PM but can’t recall) so we rushed out with a map on the phone marking where we needed  to go (thanks wifi!).  The drive over was nothing short of spectacular, rushing downhill, crossing the end of the fjord via the short bridge and then driving into town trying to find our way to the store (without wifi or GPS!).  We made it on time, like 10 minutes before it closed.  My friend ran in to get the wine while I stayed in the car – no time to find parking.  I sat there and watched people literally running into the store to make sure they could get their alcohol before liquor sales ended for the day.  People are people no matter what country you are in!!!

So what does Akureyri look like up close?

Alright, here are some images of this very northern town to close up this post…

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Hof Cultural and Conference Center by the waterfront

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Akureyrarkirkja (church)

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Akureyri Junior College

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The town from the house I stayed at

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

“Downtown”

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

“Downtown”

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

“Downtown”

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

“Downtown”

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

“Downtown”

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Sculpture in the image of a ship

Of pylsur, ice cream and pastries…

And of course, a post here cannot leave out a mention of something food…  Icelanders love their hot dogs or “pylsur”.  They are everywhere.

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, hot dog, pylsur

They love their hot dogs (“pylsur”)in Iceland!

And, when in Iceland, well, have ice cream!  Brynja is one of the national brands.  We indulged.

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, Brynja, ice crea,

After the liquor store, we found the ice cream store. Priorities.

And, when everything else fails, go pastries!

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, foodporn, pastries, bakery, food

Pastries at a local bakery

Akureyri is definitely a place far away but, having spent three days staying there, it is like any other place on earth:  food and drinks matter and, where there are good views and you are in good company, it is all perfect!  Even if my family is only with me on a photo :)

Akureyri, Iceland, fjord, mountains, beauty, nature, travel, photo, Olympus

My family always travels with me…

——– More on Iceland ——–

My itinerary for my week visit to Iceland

A stroll around Reykjavik

Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavik

Þingvellir:  Where History and Nature Meet in Iceland!

The Blue Lagoon

Goðafoss:  The Waterfalls of the Gods

Whale Watching in Iceland

Iceland’s South Shore:  The Dyrhólaey Peninsula and Vik

Postcards from Iceland:  Dalvík

Goðafoss: The Waterfalls of the Gods and Water Art

Godafoss, Iceland, waterfall, travel, photo, water

Goðafoss, (“Godafoss” for ease of my typing!), or “Waterfall of the Gods“, is one of the must-see waterfalls in Iceland.  The Godafoss waterfalls are about 36 ft high (12 m) and are located at the Skjálfandafljót River.  It is located somewhere between the northern towns of Akureyri and Husavik.  More precisely, it is on the ring road going east from Akureryi, right after the road to Husavik branches off (route 85).  The story goes that a key Icelandic chieftain in the year 1,000 AD was trying to decide whether Icelanders would adopt Christianity.  After deciding in the affirmative, he returned home and threw his images of the pre-Christianity pagan gods into the waterfall and, hence, the name for the waterfalls.

Godafoss, Iceland, waterfall, travel, photo, water

The waterfall from the highway

The water was gushing generously, as one would expect a proper waterfall would do.  Perhaps this time in June was still a time of heavy melt?

Godafoss, Iceland, waterfall, travel, photo, water

Fast-flowing!

Godafoss, Iceland, waterfall, travel, photo, water

Godafoss, Iceland, waterfall, travel, photo, water

Yours truly

Godafoss, Iceland, waterfall, travel, photo, water

Looking from the waterfall back towards the road along one of the trails

Godafoss, Iceland, waterfall, travel, photo, water

Majestic!

Godafoss, Iceland, waterfall, travel, photo, water

The main part of the waterfall

Not only was the waterfall impressive but the flow over the one closest to me drew my eye as the following pictures attest… I need to figure out how to turn some of these into neat art pieces for my home!Godafoss, Iceland, waterfall, travel, photo, waterGodafoss, Iceland, waterfall, travel, photo, waterGodafoss, Iceland, waterfall, travel, photo, water

Godafoss, Iceland, waterfall, travel, photo, water Godafoss, Iceland, waterfall, travel, photo, water Godafoss, Iceland, waterfall, travel, photo, water Godafoss, Iceland, waterfall, travel, photo, water Godafoss, Iceland, waterfall, travel, photo, water Godafoss, Iceland, waterfall, travel, photo, water

 

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