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.

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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.

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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!

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Mercado San Miguel

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¡Jamón!

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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

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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

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Cathedral of the Almudena

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The Royal Palace (Palacio Real) in Madrid, Spain

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

Congress (Congreso de los Diputados)

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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!

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One of the carriages

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

Michigan Wine Country: Unexpected and Beautiful

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I was looking forward to visiting Traverse City, Michigan and exploring the neighboring areas but little did I know my timing was going to be SO good.  You see, that weekend, the Leelanau Peninsula Spring Sip & Wine was taking place (check here for other events!).  Over 20 wineries participated and the ticket included a small appetizer and several tastings of wine at each participating winery.  Heaven!Michigan, wine, Leelanau Peninsula, Traverse City, Sip and Savor, wine tasting

I did have to mind how many places I visited as I only had one afternoon and I would not want to rush just to score more wineries!   (<- crazy talk)  Plus, it was my first time in the area so I wanted to also admire the scenery.

Upon entering Leelanau Peninsula, our first stop was the Ciccone Vineyards.

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If the last name sounds familiar, it is Madonna‘s last name:  it is her Dad’s winery.  I don’t know the full story but I know at some point (and maybe still) they are not close.  The “savor” part at this winery was the homemade chili by the owner.  It was delicious and perfect given the rainy weather at that point in the day.  We enjoyed chatting with the staff!

Michigan, wine, Leelanau Peninsula, Traverse City, Sip and Savor, wine tasting, Ciccone, Madonna

The grounds of the Ciccone vineyards

My partner-in-crime, er, fellow traveler and I moved on to Blustone Vineyards which stole a piece of my heart…  Why?  They were serving CUBAN PERNIL (pork)!!!!  As a 100% Cuban-blooded human being and cook of Cuban pork myself I was impressed with the quality of the pork.  The pork was from Georgina‘s in Traverse City (I looked at their menu online and I immediately started salivating!!  Next time in TC, I will HAVE to visit!).  Kudos!

Michigan, winery, vineyard, Traverse City,  Blustone winery, Leelanau Peninsula, wine tasting, wine tasting room

Plus, the wine at Blustone was the most impressive of the whole lot I sampled on this visit.  I also did love the space:  modern, spacious, and well lit with natural light.  It got quite packed after we arrived but there still was plenty of space to hang around.  Good job, Blustone!

Michigan, winery, vineyard, Traverse City,  Blustone winery, Leelanau Peninsula, wine tasting, wine tasting room

Random driving led us to encounter 45 North winery.  “What’s with the name?,” you may say?  Well, it is near the 45th parallel, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole!

45 Parallel, Michigan, road sign, halfway

The place was festive on the inside and out as you can see!  We enjoyed being served our tastings there and watching the “hat scene”.  Good job, 45 North!

Michigan, wine, vineyard, winery, 45 North, wine bottle, Leelanau

The tasting area and the bottle tree that greets visitors – pretty cool!

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What greeted us upon entering the testing room!

Michigan, wine, vineyard, winery, 45 North, wine bottle, Leelanau, hat, clever

One of the cleverest hats I saw!

It was time to keep on trucking along and we decided to go to Old Mission Peninsula to try a winery that was recommended, Brys Estate.  I enjoyed their reds – and the view of the east bay.  Though there was a great outdoor seating area with Adirondack chairs, because of the slightly weather, we did not partake of the outdoor.  But that was fine because we enjoy chatting with our server and some of the other visitors.

Brys, Estate, winery, vineyard, Old Mission, peninsula, Traverse City, Michigan

Brys, Estate, winery, vineyard, Old Mission, peninsula, Traverse City, Michigan

A view of the east bay

So, after this Saturday spent driving around these and other Michigan wineries, I can safely say it is a GREAT way to explore the beauty of Michigan – and enjoying delicious food and wines!  I do hope to return as there were many wineries I did not get to check out.  I love having a reason to go back to places I like!

Monticchiello: Charm in the Middle of Tuscany

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A few years ago, in one of my trips to Italy, we spent a few days in Tuscany.   We opted to rent apartments in a small mountaintop town called Monticchiello, a charming place, sandwiched between Pienza and Montepulciano (lucky folks!!!).  Montecchiello, Tuscany, La Toscana, Italy, Italia, food, pasta, truffles, Palm Sunday, photos, travel, exploring

We truly lucked out:  the town was quaint, quite small, and its location was central and offering greats views. The place we stayed at was an awesome building a few hundreds of years old (but, the landlady mis-led us in terms of it sleeping all of us – I ended on a cot by the dining room).

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What a real person’s room looked like in that apartment!

A meal to remember

One of its gems was the only restaurant up there, aptly named Osteria La Porta (the gate).  There was a wait so we went to stand outside.  Not a few minutes later, the owner came out with a bottle of wine and five glasses for us to entertain ourselves with, courtesy of the house.  Yea, like THAT would happen in the U.S.!  We immediately knew we were at the right place.

La Porta, foodie, food, restaurant, Monticchiello, delicious, pasta with truffle, Italy, Italia

THE right place!

And we were not disappointed.  We made it inside and began studying the menu.  However, the waiter advised us that the pasta with truffle was very special.  That was a plate with no meat of any sort.  Just fresh pasta, fresh truffles, and a trickle of plain butter sauce.  I decided that if it was being recommended, I ought to try despite its lack of meat or any veggies I normally like (mushrooms do not fall under that category).  It was simply a superb dish.  I can safely say top 5 ever eaten by me without any fear of exaggeration.

La Porta, foodie, food, restaurant, Monticchiello, delicious, pasta with truffle, Italy, Italia

5 very happy campers

A special coincidence

We traveled to Italy during Holy Week which led to a few opportunities for good timing to happen.  Such was that Sunday at Monticchielo:  we were there on Palm Sunday.  We went to church that Sunday and it was neat to hear Mass in Italian.  But  bigger surprise awaited us:  the procession around town.  All 40  or 50 of us followed the priest around this neat little town.  I normally don’t spend enough time researching places to find out if there are local events that could be of interest – I just explore once I get somewhere.  Maybe I have missed some things with this approach but, I have to say, it makes running into these local situations so much more fun.

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The faithful getting their palms before the procession

Monticchiello, Tuscany, La Toscana, Italy, Italia, Palm Sunday, Church, Catholic

The priest leading the procession

Monticchiello, Tuscany, La Toscana, Italy, Italia, Palm Sunday, Church, Catholic

Walking down the narrow streets of Monticchiello

Monticchiello, Tuscany, La Toscana, Italy, Italia, Palm Sunday, Church, Catholic

Headed back in to the church at the end of the procession

What experiences have you had were you as pleasantly surprised while traveling?  (Except the part about me in a cot next to a kitchen!)

Petra, Jordan: History on the Rocks

Petra, Jordan, Nabatean, archeology, ruins, history, necropolis, ancient site, exploring, Middle East, travel, photos, Canon EOS Rebel, donkey, ilivetotravel, canyon, stone

I first went to Petra, Jordan back in 1998 on a day trip from Sharm-el-Sheikh at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.  If you know the lay of the land, that may sound impossible.  Well, not if you take a flight from Sharm-el-Sheikh to Aqaba, Jordan and then hop on a bus.  That’s exactly what I did.  I did not have the luxury of time so it was an either do it on a day trip or not do it.  Since I could not predict the future, I had to go for it to be sure I got to see Petra in case I didn’t get to come back.

Petra, Jordan, Nabatean, archeology, ruins, history, necropolis, ancient site, exploring, Middle East, travel, photos, Canon EOS Rebel

Headed to Petra

Petra, Jordan, roads, travel

Great vistas along the way

Return to Petra

Fast forward 15 years and I return to this necropolis-turned-town-turned-movie-setting-turned-massive-tourist-site.  I was thrilled at the opportunity to return and explore it on more depth.  You see, in my first visit, I decided to walk my way in which is great in many ways but it eats away precious time for someone on a day trip there from Sharm-el-Sheikh.  The second time, while I did walk in, I walked faster knowing time was precious and I rented a donkey to take me up to save time.  That was a great idea except that the donkey preferred the edge of the path on the way up rather than risk hitting itself against the rocks at the other side of the path, making this rider a little bit worried about the way down!

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Donkey in the shade – smart!

Petra, Jordan, Nabatean, archeology, ruins, history, necropolis, ancient site, exploring, Middle East, travel, photos, Canon EOS Rebel, donkey, ilivetotravel

Giddy up!

Petra, Jordan, Nabatean, archeology, ruins, history, necropolis, ancient site, exploring, Middle East, travel, photos, Canon EOS Rebel, donkey, ilivetotravel

Look Ma, no hands!

Thanks, Nabateans

Petra is amazing due to how it has evolved over time but it was the Nabateans who deserve the credit (after God, of course) for this place.  Certainly, the landscape and topography are thanks to the Maker but what happened after that really starts with the Nabateans who carved a necropolis out of these beautiful rocks.  Others, like the Romans, continued to develop the site to what we know now.

Petra, Jordan, Nabatean, archeology, ruins, history, necropolis, ancient site, exploring, Middle East, travel, photos, Canon EOS Rebel, donkey, ilivetotravel, canyon, stone

Some of the tombs around Petra that later peoples used for other purposes – like commerce

Petra, Jordan, Nabatean, archeology, ruins, history, necropolis, ancient site, exploring, Middle East, travel, photos, Canon EOS Rebel, donkey, ilivetotravel, Roman amphitheater

The Romans put Petra to good use

More than the Treasury

You can see evidence of amazing early engineering when you see the channels that were carved into the rock to capture the rare rainfall that rolled down canyon walls and take it into a natural “holding tank.”

Petra, Jordan, Nabatean, archeology, ruins, history, necropolis, ancient site, exploring, Middle East, travel, photos, Canon EOS Rebel, donkey, ilivetotravel

Channel that collected rainwater from the canyon walls and directed to a well

Also impressive are the facades of the tombs built into the rocks such as the Royal Tombs and other areas like the Monastery and the very famous Treasury, which many think to be what the Indiana Jones movie showed.  In reality the Treasury is more of a facade.  Be sure to get a guide who explains to you what you are looking at as the Treasury, for example, shows evidence of how it was carved out of the stone.  And be sure to go all over!

Petra, Jordan, Nabatean, archeology, ruins, history, necropolis, ancient site, exploring, Middle East, travel, photos, Canon EOS Rebel, donkey, ilivetotravel, Royal Tombs

The Royal Tombs from a distance

Petra, Jordan, Nabatean, archeology, ruins, history, necropolis, ancient site, exploring, Middle East, travel, photos, Canon EOS Rebel, Royal Tombs

Some of the Royal Tombs

My advice if you are visiting Petra and don’t have but a day or two is to use a donkey for some of the climbs (unless you want or need the exercise) and then walk and explore – this way, you will maximize what you will see from this one-of-a-kind place and there is PLENTY to see and admire about this unique site.

Petra, Jordan, Nabatean, archeology, ruins, history, necropolis, ancient site, exploring, Middle East, travel, photos, Canon EOS Rebel, Treasury, ilivetotravel

My family “came along” with me to Petra!

 

During my second visit to Petra, I was a guest of the Jordan Tourism Board.  That notwithstanding, the stories I share were my real experiences and nothing else.  As they always are!

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