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??

Hallgrímskirkja Church: The Young Icon of Reykjavik

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Olympus, travel, photo

Hallgrímskirkja Church in the heart of Reykjavik is a “young” building.  It was completed in 1986 but took close to 40 years to erect.  Its design, driving up in a pointed way to the sky with its tower, reflects on the landscape of the island country with its lava flows.  The structure is not the tallest structure in Iceland but is the tallest church.  Though young, it has become the icon of the city due to its highly visible profile and unique architecture.

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Olympus, travel, photo

Approaching the church from the back, on a slightly gray day

Outside, you can admire the structure from up close which allows for any number of neat pictures from different perspectives.  Outside you can also admire the statue to Leif Erikson, allegedly, the first European to reach North America (I mean, who knows if another Viking got there before him?!).  Interestingly, the statue pre-dates the church as it was given by the U.S. to Iceland in 1930 to commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of the establishment of Iceland’s Parliament at Þingvellir.

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Olympus, travel, photo

The statue of Leif Erikson in front of the facade of the church

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

Close up of Mr. Erikson – and the clock tower

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

A visitor and Mr. Erikson meet – as seen from the clock tower

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

The inscription that describes the gift from the U.S. of the statue on 1930

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

A visitor takes advantage of the statue’s base for a shot of the church

We went inside and, as many Protestant churches, the interior was plain.  I assume the more so to help the faithful focus on God.  Being a tourist-visited site, of course, removes some of that aura but, at the time I visited, there was an organist playing (or maybe just practicing?) which drew attention to the pipe organ at the back of the church.Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo Hallgrimskirkja,pipe organ, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

My favorite part is the observation deck at the top of the church tower.  As usual, when it is available, I always go up to gain a birds-eye view of the places I visit.  This deck did not disappoint as it helped frame the city of Reykjavik within its setting, hugged by mountains and the Atlantic Ocean.  I leave you with some of the views I enjoyed from up high in Hallgrímskirkja!

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

Detail of the roof above the altar area

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

View of the neighborhood by the church

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Olympus, travel, photo

Looking towards the area where our apartment was

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, Pearl, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

The Pearl Observatory (and restaurant)

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

View a little further away from the church

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

Looking now further away from the city center

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

Looking further away in another direction

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Olympus, travel, photo

And now in another direction!

On the Other Side of the Golden Horn

Istanbul, Estambul, Turkey, Turquia, Turkey, Galata Tower, Golden Horn, Karakoy, photos, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

A visit to Istanbul is not complete without crossing the Golden Horn to the other side of European Istanbul.  And it cannot be any easier.  A short walk from the Grand Bazaar you can cross the Golden Horn (which back in the day was closed with a long chain to prevent ships from coming in) by bridge or by a short boat ride to the Galata/Karaköy area.

Istanbul, Estambul, Turkey, Turquia, Turkey, Galata Tower, Golden Horn, Karakoy, sea, photos, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Walking to catch a boat to cross the Golden Horn (Galata Tower to the upper left)

I opted to cross by boat.  Upon landing on the other side, I went past a spot with a lot of activity where fishermen came in with their goods.

Istanbul, Estambul, Turkey, Turquia, Turkey, fish, Karakoy, photos, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Fishermen with their goods

The sea was right there, no big barrier between the sidewalk and the beautiful blue waters of the Bosphorus!

Istanbul, Estambul, Turkey, Turquia, Turkey, blue, Topkapi Palace, Golden Horn, Karakoy, sea, photos, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Looking back across the Golden Horn towards Topkapi Palace

I made my way to the Galata Tower (about 67m high) built in 1348 by the Genoese who had commercial interests in then-Constantinople.  It sits on a hillside so you will do some exercise getting there and then you will climb it.  Yes, lots of work but you will rewarded with great views of Istanbul landmarks like Topkapı Palace, the Hagia Sophia, and the Blue Mosque.

Istanbul, Estambul, Turkey, Turquia, Turkey, Galata Tower, Golden Horn, Karakoy, photos, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

View from the Galata Tower towards Seraglio Point. You can see, from left to right, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and the Blues Mosque

Istanbul, Estambul, Turkey, Turquia, Turkey, Galata Tower, Golden Horn, Karakoy, photos, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Looking towards the Asian side of Istanbul

Along the way, I stopped at the Neve Shalom Synagogue that had been bombed a dozen years earlier (and then 5 years after my visit).  It is not an old building by Istanbul standards having been finished I 1951 but it is the largest Sephardic synagogue in Istanbul.  The guards were not sure if to let us in but they spoke Turkish and Yiddish only, languages none of us knew.  Thankfully German (which I spoke at a very elementary level) and Yiddish sort of relate a little – enough to say we were American, to understand they wanted to know what hotel we were staying at, and answering.  We were allowed in.

Beyond these places, I enjoyed a local place called Ece Bar in Tramvay Caddesi, facing the Bosphorus.  It was a three level locale with the bottom level offering a feel for traditional local music and dance.  We were hosted by the owner, Ece, and it was a neat experience.  Other levels offered more standard restaurant and bar services.  I have tried to see if it is still in operation but have had no luck.

I also meandered up some large avenue going east-ish from the Golden Horn which gave me an opportunity to see more of modern Istanbul, not just the old quarter where I spent most of my time.  Istanbul offers contrasts in so many ways:  the population reflects in its “look” the mix of peoples that have been through here; modern buildings sitting side by side structures from days long gone in one incredible juxtaposition.

Istanbul, Estambul, Turkey, Turquia, Turkey, modernity, juxtaposition, photos, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

The juxtaposition is everywhere

At the end of this walk I met my friend’s girlfriend for lunch and then I decided not to walk back as I was tired and ended up with a mini-adventure.  See, I wanted to come back by water so I could admire the grand old mansions that sit right by the shores of the Bosphorus.  However, I somehow got lost trying to find a boat stop and the locals I ran into spoke none of the languages I could communicate in at the time (English, Spanish, French and German).  After a lot of walking and beginning to wonder what to do, I ran into an older Dutch couple who had a clue and who were doing exactly what I had hoped to do – success!!

Dolmabahçe Palace, Ataturk, Ottoman, Istanbul, Turkey, Turkiye, Turquia, Estambul, architefcture, Bosphorus, photos, travel Canon EOS Rebel

Dolmabahçe Palace, an European style palace built towards the end of the Ottoman years; where Ataturk died

mansions, palaces, Ottoman, Istanbul, Turkey, Turkiye, Turquia, Estambul, architefcture, Bosphorus, photos, travel Canon EOS Rebel

Other grand buildings along the Bosphorus

mansions, palaces, Ottoman, Istanbul, Turkey, Turkiye, Turquia, Estambul, architefcture, Bosphorus, photos, travel Canon EOS Rebel

Other grand buildings along the Bosphorus

mansions, palaces, Ottoman, Istanbul, Turkey, Turkiye, Turquia, Estambul, architefcture, Bosphorus, photos, travel Canon EOS Rebel

Other grand buildings along the Bosphorus

mansions, palaces, Ottoman, Istanbul, Turkey, Turkiye, Turquia, Estambul, architefcture, Bosphorus, photos, travel Canon EOS Rebel

mansions, palaces, Ottoman, Istanbul, Turkey, Turkiye, Turquia, Estambul, architefcture, Bosphorus, photos, travel Canon EOS Rebel

Can you imagine living on the building right under the bridge??

I highly recommend the crossing of the Golden Horn and a boat ride along the shores of the Bosphorus (not just crossing the Golden Horn) as you will a glimpse of the Istanbul of today – and of yesteryear.

My First Real Hike: to Pawnee Pass in the Rockies

National Park, Colorado, Long Lake, Rocky Mountain, hiking, view, vista, photo, Isabelle Lake, nature, outdoors

When I went to Boulder, Colorado for my first summer internship, my college roommate drove with me the 24 hrs. it took us to get there almost non-stop (except for the St. Louis Arch from where we got a great view at night time).  It was a wild drive in a way but we made a pact to pull over if while driving we felt sleepy and the other one was asleep.  It worked well and we made it safely to Boulder.  We had dinner and downed almost a pitcher of beer each.  Then we slept about 14 hrs. straight!

My roommate had family in Boulder and I got to meet them which was very nice.  It turned out to be my introduction to hiking.  My friend’s uncle invited me to go hike with him and his not-quite-a-teen son up to Pawnee Pass passing Long Lake and Isabelle Lake along the way to get to our destination at 12,550 ft in altitude, right at the Continental Divide.  I had no training for hiking and had only spent a couple of weeks at Boulder altitude.  This was going to be FUN.National Park, Colorado, Long Lake, Rocky Mountain, hiking, view, vista, photo

The views along the way were like nothing I had seen before.  While I had just driven around the Rocky Mountain National Park a couple of weeks before, these views were more pristine as this was a hiking trail, not for visiting drivers!

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National Park, Colorado, Long Lake, Rocky Mountain, hiking, view, vista, photo, Pawnee Pass

My hiking partners and I reach Pawnee Pass

I felt the altitude and the exertion but pushed myself through all that.  Oh, to be 24 again!  “Juventud, divino tesoro, te vas para no volver…” as the famous poet wrote mourning youth’s departure to never return…

Seeing Athens from a Different Vantage Point

Athens, Greece, Lycabettus, Acropolis, Parthenon, vista, view, Canon EOS Rebel

AthensAcropolis hill is well-known around the world as the home of the iconic Parthenon, a very unique architectural gem.  However, sitting on the Acropolis has one small downside:  you don’t get to see it whole. Enter, stage northeast, Lycabettus Hill. Located sort of north of Syntagama Square, its base is surrounded by a residential area that is quite nice. The hill can be ascended on foot or via funicular.

Athens, Greece, Lycabettus, Acropolis, Parthenon, vista, view, Canon EOS Rebel

Stairs going up Lycabettus Hill to the funicular base station

Athens, Greece, Lycabettus, Acropolis, Parthenon, vista, view, Canon EOS Rebel

Leaving the funicular station at the base

At the top of the hill, sits the Chapel of St. George.

Athens, Greece, Lycabettus, Acropolis, Parthenon, vista, view, Canon EOS Rebel

Chapel of St. George

And then the best views of Athens and its surroundings from anywhere in the city as Lycabettus is the highest hill in the city.  Well, don’t take my word, take a look for yourself!

Athens, Greece, Lycabettus, Acropolis, Parthenon, vista, view, Canon EOS Rebel

A sea of white as far as the eye can see in this direction!

Athens, Greece, Lycabettus, Acropolis, Parthenon, vista, view, Canon EOS Rebel

Olympic Stadium (from the 1896 Games, first of the modern times)

Athens, Greece, Lycabettus, Acropolis, Parthenon, vista, view, Canon EOS Rebel

The Acropolis and the sea beyond

Athens, Greece, Lycabettus, Acropolis, Parthenon, vista, view, Canon EOS Rebel

Closing in on the top of the Acropolis, you can appreciate the Parthenon and other structures

Athens, Greece, Lycabettus, Acropolis, Parthenon, vista, view, Canon EOS Rebel

Where my avatar photo comes from!

 

Getting Up High in Sydney- The Amazing Bridge Climb

ilivetotravel climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia

When I got to Sydney, Australia to visit friends and finally explore that land down under, one of the first thing my friends told me was I HAD TO do the bridge climb.  The Sydney Harbor Bridge climb.  I was immediately mesmerized at the thought.  Normally, I try to go up any structure that allows me birds eye view of a city.  The Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Christ Redeemer in Rio, the medieval towers in la rossa Bologna, St. Paul‘s in London, Sacre Coeur also in Paris, the Peachtree Westin in my hometown, … you get the point.  Nothing like being high up and looking down at man’s urban creation.  I had crossed the bridge on foot and snapped a photo I really liked looking at the Sydney Opera House (and you are already high from the bridge level) but a higher vantage point… THAT would be awesome.

So the Sydney Bridge climb was right up my alley.  Of course, I had to be OK parting with a good amount of dough, well north of US $100 (truth be told, around $200…).  But WHEN would I return to Sydney to do this?  I am not scared of heights when I feel secure and being on a walkway was good enough for me (vs. walking out on some diving board-like piece of something hanging of a needle or other such skyscraper structure).

A friend of mine who is also a travel blogger (Erin, from The World Wanderer) was telling me she wanted to do the climb.  I encouraged her to do it and she encouraged me to write about my experience (it was on the long to-write-about list).  The bridge climb is a fairly recent offering having been started in the mid 1990s or so.  They claim over 3 million participants so far – become one, like Erin will some day, and help them get to 4 million!

The prep

So I made my way to the place where they brief you on the entire process and suit you up on this very not glamorous attire.  The important thing, though, is that you part ways with ANYTHING that could POSSIBLY fall off you during the climb.  It is not only that you would lose the whatever-it-is.  It is that there are likely cars right under you that could be hit by anything falling off!  If it is not covered completely by the suit – it comes off.  Your sunglasses, mercifully, are given a contraption so you can keep them and they won’t fall off – whew.  They go through some instructions and -voilà- off you go!

Modeling the jumpsuit used in the Sydney Harbor Bridge climb

Notice all the gear on the model

The hike

Once you are ready to go, the first step is to hook yourself up to the “cord”.  This cord thing runs the ENTIRE route you will walk and you will be hooked to that cord the ENTIRE time you are out there either UNDER the bridge or climbing up.  Yes, that is why you should not fear doing the hike.  You are tethered to the bridge.  The only way you are falling to your death is if the bridge falls into the harbor hundreds of feet below.  And then it does not matter if you are climbing the bridge, on a bus crossing the bridge, or a pedestrian on the sidewalk on the bridge.  So no fear!

ilivetotravel climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia

Notice how I am strapped to the bridge

Once you start climbing, yes, the effort could be significant for some.  I exercise frequently so the physical effort was not extraordinary.  But I think you don’t have to be in great shape to go up.  Just don’t have serious heart issues or other serious illnesses.  Oh, and don’t be intoxicated.  They check and won’t let you go up!

The guide will make stops along the way but she/he is explaining things along the way.  The headphones you get are AWESOME.  They don’t go in your ear but over the rear of your cheek close to your ear – the sound vibrations emitted by the thing get to your eardrum and you hear perfectly fine – how cool is that?!  Our guide was phenomenal – great explanations, great humor (I am sure the same jokes he  and his peers say every tour but nevertheless funny), and great Aussie attitude and friendliness.

Say cheese!

As you hike the bridge, they will be taking photographs.  Remember the bit about not being able to bring a camera?  (You leave your stuff in a locker.)  Well, they know you want a picture or two.  And they know we will buy them so they won’t be cheap.  But since you already dished out a couple hundred buckaroos, what’s another limb, right?  The photos will be great – admire mine but do not laugh at the suit cause you will be wearing one too!

Climb of the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia with Opera House in the background

One of the worst smiles I’ve given in a photo but, overall, I can’t complain!  And it’s windy up there if you can’t tell!

“Closing arguments”

If I ever return to Sydney, I am likely to splurge again – but this time to do the night climb which I hear is also phenomenal (and cheaper!).  Hopefully, I’ve had enough time by then to save up for the cost of another climb.  But one thing I know, it will be WELL worth it!

I give this a completely certain thumbs up even if it feels gimmicky.  Gimmicks like this, though, have to be gone for (here is where English teachers cringe).  They pay you back with an incredible view of this great city by the water!  Did I convince you to do it??

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