“Be Living” the Good Life in Mallorca

A simple day. A simple Tweet. And then…

And the Winner of #ILoveTenerife is… @passtheham! Thank all of you for telling us what you like the most about #Tenerife

And that’s how I won a 7-day, all-inclusive stay at one of the Be Live Hotels in Mallorca. I couldn’t believe it at the time and until I actually set foot inside the lobby months later and they gave us the key to our room, I was really doubtful that I had actually won such an incredible prize.

Even when we got to our room in the Luabay Galatzó hotel and saw our gorgeous suite and ocean view, I thought, okay, something here is just not right. All of this for us, for free, for realz? It just didn’t seem right. It seemed just too good to be true.

pool and view
In fact, on the first day, as we were sipping cold beer and eating freshly fried fish and chips by the pool, I still found myself a bit skeptical. Everything was just so damn perfect at the hotel, beautiful pools, great food, fun activities, etc. I felt like I was starring in a Spanish-version Truman Show.

pool and grounds

And then, we got it. A phone call from the reception desk saying something along the lines of, “since you’re invited guests, we’d like to offer you a special offer. Could you please come by the lobby later this evening?”

I looked knowingly at my husband. That’s it – pack your bags, cariño. “A special offer” is probably Mallorcan code for “There’s been a mistake and were kicking your culo out, guiri.”

Later that evening, as we warily made our way to the lobby, I was mentally repacking my bags. Oh well, it had been nice for the short time we had been there. We slowly shuffled through the pool area biding our time to get to the reception. We took the long way around, through the beautiful lavender garden where we taken a pilates just that morning. I thought about lovely Miguel and his professional demeanor broken only by his suave dance moves during movie night (Mama Mia) the evening before. I was going to miss Maria’s bartending skills and quick smile. And don’t even get me started on the charming Andalusian grill master who made us fish and chips and paella by the side of the pool bar.

Damn it, I had only been there a day, but I really loved these people!

We begrudgingly made it to the lobby with our heads held low and asked for the director. We were completely ready to get the boot … but you’re not going to believe what they said to us:

“Since you’re invited guests, we thought you might like the opportunity to see more of Mallorca and more of our hotels. We have a five star hotel, right on the beach at Alcúdia. Would you like to stay there a few nights?”

What the what?! I looked at my husband and we kind of shrugged as if this kind of offer comes our way all the time. Okay, sure, why not? Then we scuttled out of the lobby, found a quiet spot in a dark corner, and did the shimmy-shimmy-happy-dance like two drunken fools.

Two days later, we found ourselves here:

Palace de Muro, Mallorca Hotels Palace de Muro, Mallorca Hotels Palace de Muro, Mallorca Hotels
Palace de Muro, Mallorca Hotels

Palace de Muro, Mallorca Hotels

*Photo Disclaimer: Look, I’m sorry I don’t have better photos of the hotels, but I just didn’t take many. I know, I know, I should have taken alluring, artsy photos of all the ritzy details to really showcase all their wonderful glory. However, I only have two hands and one was holding a piña colada the whole time and the other one was waving for the servers to bring me another one. I can hardly be expected to do everything now, can I? Sheesh!

Anyway, some details on the hotels:

The Luabay Hotel Galatzó will always have a special place in my heart. Hotels in Mallorca, Hotel LuabayI really loved it here. Our room was fantastic and the ambience of the hotel is  very welcoming. While the hotel is not right on the beach, (it sits on top of a hill, with excellent ocean views) it’s close to Paguera, a small beach town right down the road. The pueblo is charming in a very beach town sort of way and has a lot of tiki bars and live music venues, etc. It certainly makes for a nice night out if the hotel gets a little too sleepy for ya.

And that’s exactly what Luabay Galatzó is: an ultra-relaxing hotel with three beautiful pools and various garden areas to stretch out and catch some rays. It’s adults only and is just a very quaint, quiet and romantic piece of heaven. Additionally, I must say that, thanks to some genius gardener, this is the best smelling hotel I’ve ever been to.

Although we thoroughly enjoyed the Galatzó, the five-star Palace de Muro was on a whole different level. The hotel was Hotels in Mallorca, Palace de Murobreathtakingly elegant and right on the beach with clear-as-glass water and soft, white sand. Simply incredible. I have to say that the ambience was a little more “stiff” here, but mainly on the part of the fancy smancy clientele and not due to the employees, who were incredibly kind and professional. Also, the beach made the difference to us as we’re more beach people than pool people. As a bonus, the Albufera natural park is nearby. We rented bikes and went exploring a bit and the entire area is really beautiful.

So after an unbelievable week in Mallorca, I’m back to Madrid and even now, I still can’t believe how lucky I was to spend a week at both of these hotels.

That darn Twitter. It may be one hell of a time suck, but if daily time sucking gets me a week long stay at places like this, well, what can I say? Yay for Twitter!

*Disclosure: I won this trip through a Twitter promotion of Be Live Hotels. It took hardly any effort whatsoever, which really freaked me out. When I got the confirmation email in November, they did say something along the lines of, “We would appreciate any social media updates during your trip.” However, no one at the hotels mentioned anything about promoting their establishment or about me writing about my stay there. It was such an amazing experience and I’m just happy to tell you about these two places on my own accord. So,  just put that in your Google disclosure pipe and smoke it, okay?

Posted in LIFE IN MADRID, Spain, TRAVELS | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Shackled Amor and Rebel Tippy Toes in Cologne, Germany

After we had explored the lovely and odd sights of Düsseldorf, we decided to take an hour-long train ride to neighboring Cologne. Cologne is a beautiful German town known for its rivalry with Düsseldorf and its impressive cathedral, which is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world, according to the people of Cologne.

And it is beautiful, I admit.

IMG_4743

However, as we made our way around the iconic cathedral taking in all of its glory, I found myself a bit distracted by the many interesting street scenes going on around its plaza.

First, I give you the ballet protest:Cologne Ballet Dancers

As we joined the watchful crowd, a young dancer told us that the local ballet academy was protesting cuts in the school’s budget. The guy in black was the director and I’m sorry, but there’s just no way to explain this man without using the word fierce.

!MG_4801
Cologne Dance Company
!MG_4793
!MG_4811

As we moved on from what has to be the most beautiful protest I’ve ever seen, we headed to the historic Hohenzollern Bridge to get a good view of the cathedral. And once again, the cathedral ended up taking a back seat to the lovely display that met us on the bridge itself.

Think you’ve seen a “love locks” bridge before?

Think again:
!MG_4848

!MG_4858
!MG_4829
!MG_4833
!MG_4840
!MG_4852
!MG_4855
!MG_4856
!MG_4846
!MG_4851

A dizzying display of passionate amor, I must say. There’s really nothing that says true love like an electric hand saw and a dingy old bra, is there?

Posted in LIFE IN MADRID, TRAVELS | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Unraveling Quirky Düsseldorf

Before my recent German “escapada” a few weekends ago, I had only been to Deutschland once on a very long road trip about five years back.

!MG_4861Since that absolutely lovely trip, I embarrassingly admit that every time I hear spoken German or see something remotely German-ish, I mockingly start speaking a self-invented gibberish German, which, if you’ve had a few beers, is actually quite boorishly funny on my part. Unless you’re German, and in which case, I really mean no harm. It’s just that the German language is really fun to imitate once in a while.

All of my childish antics aside, I would love to tell you that it just took one little trip to the goofily named city of Düsseldorf to change my silly behavior, but that didn’t happen, at all.

In fact, with a just-asking-for-it name like Düsseldorf and located in what is referred to as the Blue Banana area, it was hard not to giggle at with this little gem of a German town located on the banks of the Rhine and its small right tributary, the River Düssel.

Say “River Düssel” five times fast and just try not to giggle.

Don’t get me wrong. Düsseldorf is a charming city as are most of the few German cities I’ve visited, but if there is one German town that can stand out for its distinctly quirky atmosphere, it’s Düsseldorf.

Now, in the category of all things typically German, this city certainly offers your typical German features. You’ve got your street fairs:
!MG_4720

IMG_4688

You’ve got your pretzels. Have you ever tried a pumpkin seed covered pretzel? Divine.

IMG_4747
You’ve got your sausages:
IMG_4671
And you’ve got more sausages with sauerkraut:

IMG_4672
And you’ve got your locals doing interesting things:
man-d

!MG_4884

And you’ve got your totally normal horse-carted city tour with your own private keg in the back. (please, oh, please, bring this type of tour to Madrid….)
!MG_4914

You’ve got large groups of men chugging beer together and intermittently chanting things:
Dusseldorf “Altstadt”

And you’ve got your charming plazas:

!MG_4876

And you’ve got your wonderful river promenade walk that edges along the old town, or Altstadt:
!MG_4515

You’ve even got sheep grazing on the other side of the Rhine River. Too cute, right?

IMG_4516

But, then, things start to get a little bit odd deep down in the seemingly normal streets of Düsseldorf.

The Dukatenscheisser

I guess it’s nothing too crazy, really. I mean if Catalonia can have their Christmas shitter, Düsseldorf can have their the money pooper:
Dusseldorf money pooper

However, a Pooping Theater is really carrying it too far, don’t you think?

puppen

(Sorry about that. I couldn’t resist.)

Anywho, continuing on after our “puppen” show, the city’s true quirkiness really starts to shine:

So, a little bit heavy on the parking lot accessories. Why this is necessary or what this signifies, I have no idea.
IMG_4512

And then you have, of course, a bit of good old Frank Gehry’s deconstructionism to fit right in with the Dusseldorf quirk:
IMG_4544

This is Dusseldorf’s Media Harbour, which is a redevelopment project that was started quite a few years ago as a way to rejuvenate the dilapidated harbour area. And as with most Gehry buildings, the project’s stature quickly managed to convert the previously struggling area into coveted real estate. I love the fact that you can get close to the buildings and even eat in Gehry’s restaurant, which is great, by the way.

IMG_4548

IMG_4644

Most would agree that a Gehry building fits right in anywhere he wants to build it and is almost always breathtakingly bold and unusual. In many ways, his projects have become the epitome of architectural quirkiness and as such, it’s incredibly fitting that Düsseldorf would have a local Gehry design.

So, Gehry is a saint and all that he builds shines bright in the otherwise darkened sky, but …  can someone please tell me what in the ham hell is this business?

IMG_4617

IMG_4626

IMG_4640

Totally odd, right?

Well, these little guys are called “Flossis” and were designed by German artist Rosalie. I really can’t tell you any more than that other than it fits right in with Düsseldorf’s contrasting mix of random oddities sprinkled on top of a rather sophisticated city ambience.

All kidding aside, I loved my trip to Düsseldorf and would love to go back and explore more of its unique characteristics. It’s a great strolling city and the river walk through the old town to the Media Harbour is just beautiful. Beyond that, the local culinary scene has some incredibly delicious food. Apart from the obligatory sausage and beer consumption, I had something so wonderful that I haven’t stopped thinking about it for weeks. It was a German bread dumpling (Semmelknödel?) with chanterelle mushrooms. Have you ever tried this dish? I’m seriously obsessed with it and will be counting the days until I can have another one.

Posted in LIFE IN MADRID, TRAVELS | Tagged | 3 Comments

Bus Touries: A Spotlight on Group Travel, Part 2

The One-Upper

I had always thought of organized bus tours as a perfect way for non-travelers to travel. No judgement there, of course, and to each their own and all that. It’s just that organized tours, while pleasantly taking the decision-making stress out of the occasion are, as most would agree, a bit too controlled, often limiting the options of really seeing all that a city has to offer.

And however much as I hate to admit it, before joining my parents on their “We’ve Retired!” tour, I was expecting a group of stereotypical group of boring fuddy duddys and as such, probably a lot of Pauls.

I should really be ashamed of my ability to quickly assume and judge people before I’ve even met them. Where did I get off judging people for their manner of travel? After all, I was going on this very same tour myself and I’m no know-it-all, fuddy duddy, right?

Right?

However, as the tour began and introductions were made, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were a number of interesting people from all over the world on board, Australians, French, Filipinos, Canadians, etc. I quickly found myself delving eagerly into an examination process (what some normals may just call conversating) with almost every one of my co-bussers. Contrary to my hasty and arrogant assumptions, everyone on the tour was a well-seasoned traveler, but had decided, like me, to see this part of the world for some reason or other in this rather quick and controlled manner.

As the wheels on the bus carried us through the rolling Scottish hills laden with bright yellow grape seed and dotted with gozmillions of sheep, I found myself in any number of intriguing conversations with my fellow busmates.

However, within that great mix of nationalities and personalities, there was one lady who, although technically a complete stranger, seemed uncannily familiar to me. Perhaps it’s because I have met her many times before, only in many forms and under many different circumstances:

The One Upper.

What’s a One Upper, you ask? Well, it’s that person who feels the need to one up you on everything you say. While One Uppers are ubiquitous around the world, I find that they’re especially prevalent in two settings: the foodie group and the traveler group.

On this particular trip, it was a spunky single traveler from down under, Claire. Claire had done everything and seen everything everywhere and felt the need to bring it up in every conversation, relevant or not.

Now, at first, it wasn’t that noticeable and she was quite lovely in every other way. But, I soon realized that every comment someone made was met with a one up:

Me: “On our last trip to France, we took a road trip up the west coast and….”

Claire: “Oh, I was in Paris last year. In fact, I’ve been quite a few times – it’s a fantastic city. That’s why I keep going back and that’s why I’ve been to Paris so many times.”

Claire: “Yes, I’ve lived in Madrid for a while now and I really love the city.”

Claire: “If you really want to see a great city, go to Rome. Rome is a great city. I try to go there at least twice a year.”

Me: “I’m pretty excited to see Edinburgh. I’ve never been and I’m looking forward to exploring a bit of the city.”

Claire: “We’ll, I’ve seen Edinburgh before. In fact, I’ve been all over Scotland. Twice. ”

In fact, even when you weren’t talking about travel, Claire would work it into every conversation possible.

Me: “My mom got sick before the trip and we had to take her to the hospital. It was pretty scary.”

Claire: “Oh, the same thing happened to me in Paris. I got sick and had to go to to a Parisian hospital on one of my many trips to Paris. I just love Paris.”

Me: “The breakfast was very nice this morning, wasn’t it?”

Claire: “You should try breakfast in Paris sometime. They have great breakfasts in Paris.”

Me: “OMG! Look at that sweet puppy!”

Claire: “When you go to Paris, you’ll see that people bring their dogs inside the cafes. I love Paris.”

Me: “This long bus ride is making me a bit nauseous.”

Claire: “During one of my many trips to Paris, I became nauseous. Twice.”

Me: “Lady, please. I’m mentally slapping you every time you one up me. ”

Claire: “I was slapped in the face in Paris, twice. In fact, the Parisians love to slap and that’s why I love to go there so much.”

Ok, so maybe I made that last one up. But you get the idea, right? Maybe I’m just too sensitive or something, but this behavior just drives me crazy.

Am I the only one that notices the travel One Upper?

Posted in LIFE IN MADRID, TRAVELS | Tagged | 2 Comments

Window Shopping at Casa Decor

IMG_4473
So, I don’t know if you know this about me, but I’m a minimalist at heart. This means that, unless absolutely necessary, I shun shopping for clothes, furniture, and  just about anything else.

Shopping malls and markets of any kind make me uneasy and I cringe at the thought of buying nik naks, trinkets, accessories, etc.

In short, I’m just happy with what I have and don’t want any more stuff. Believe me, it just makes life surprisingly easy once you decide you don’t want any more things to clutter up your environment.

However, all of that went completely out of the window during my recent visit to Casa Decor. In fact, after wandering around this event for hours, I found myself with a big case of the “wants”. Afterwards I came home completely inspired and told the husband that we have to buy stuff.

He simply sighed knowing that as soon as I enter any store, I last about five minutes before I make a bee line out the door.

2013 Casa Decor, MadridIf you’re not familiar, Casa Decor is one of the year’s biggest design events in Europe. Alternating between Barcelona and Madrid twice a year, Casa Decor is a multi-faceted design event with not only diverse displays showing the latest in design trends, but the six-week expo is also filled with all kinds of activities and workshops like sushi making, cocktail recipes, flower arranging, etc.

Even though I’m not much of a consumer and interior design isn’t really my thing, I was really excited about attending Casa Decor. First, the word on the street was that there was a feather chandelier in one of the displays. Second, I really wanted to check out the building, which was a complete mystery to me.

Have you ever seen the former British embassy in Madrid? I had no idea this building even existed and now I’m kind of obsessed with it. Built in 1966, the circular building is all kinds of nostalgic and quirky and above all, it rocks a super British seventies vibe that you just don’t see these days. It reminded me of a more subdued, British version of the Spanish Heritage Institute.

Casa Decor transformed the 90 offices spread out over three floors into individual design displays. And as funky as the building is on the outside, the eclectic designs on the inside were, … um … interesting. Among my favorites were the feather chandelier, a trumpet light fixture, chain link “walls” and of course, a blue bathtub for the “elegant and fragile woman”.

My first stop at the expo was the outdoor garden area where I was met with “Instant Future” by MARISA:

IMG_4264
IMG_4265
Then I saw “Urban Garden” by Jesús Ibáñez Paisajista:

IMG_4463

The café and restaurant catered by Mallorca was a collaboration between Chanel and Cuca Garcia Lorente:
2013 Casa Decor, Madrid

Inside, the displays ranged from minimalistic, classic, funky, retro, and then, there were some designs that were simply uncategorizable.

“Open Living” by Beatriz Silveira was one of the few displays I could see myself living in. A lot of the designs this year focused on space efficiency for compact living areas and hers was one of the best examples. Her use of light and space conveys an open, comfortable living area.
2013 Casa Decor, Madrid

Lluïsa Deulonder and Chone de la Sotilla basically designed this kitchen and dining room as a perfect example of what I would want mine to look like.
IMG_4372

By far one of the most strategic use of design for space efficiency was “Perímetro” by Miguel Crespo Picot, Javier Guzmán Benito and Sixto Martín Martínez. By using unique design features like mirrored ceilings, light colors, chain linked “walls” and textured wall coverings, they managed to turn a studio apartment into a bright and spacious area.
IMG_4443

Can someone please buy me this feathered chandelier? “Language of Lines” by Diego Rodriguez:
IMG_4329

“Sweet Home Relax” by Alfons Tost showed a playful, seventies atmosphere that mixed a risky blend of chic with cliche and the combination really worked.
IMG_4344

“Artist Cafe” by Marie Magnol and François Magnol showed us that recycled materials really do have a place in modern design. The use of old instruments, repurposed leather and abandoned appliances was the most original use of materials at the expo.
IMG_4360

IMG_4358

“Embassy inside the Embassy” by Manuel Espejo was another design I could copy for my own home. It may have a bit of a hotel-esque feel, but I liked the sophisticated look.
IMG_4311

“Un lugar para la sorpresa” by Francisco Cabezuela, Silvia Cabezuela and Alberto Cabezuela. Unfortunately, this photo really doesn’t do this display justice. Although dark and kind of kitsch, in person it was one of the most striking displays in the expo.
IMG_4392

“Desk-Room” by Carlos López Fidalgo was another retro throw back, but again, in person, it was creative and fun.
IMG_4424

“Tree House” by Laura García Santos, Armando H. González and Luis Henares López left me feeling a little confused. I like the whimsy of this design, but didn’t know if that was a tree house to lounge in or a wooden cage for a small child. I’m hoping its the former.
2013 Casa Decor, Madrid

I bet you couldn’t guess this was The Telva Magazine Exhibit:
IMG_4398

“Summer Time” by Fundación Carmen Pardo-Valcarce, Rafael Sitges and Marta Delgado was a showcase of various accessories and furniture.
IMG_4411

“Verbena” by Esther Moreno, Manuel Moreno and Marta Moreno was one of the designs that worked teal and gold, which apparently is the it color combination this year.
IMG_4419

Did you know that the French word, boudoir means a room where a lady goes to sulk?  “Para una mujer muy especial” by Javier Muñoz described his room as a place for a “elegant and fragile woman”. I imagined myself elegantly sulking in this room as I cried due to my fragility.
IMG_4429

All in all, I had a fascinating time wandering through the designs at Casa Decor and am already looking forward to next year’s event. The event ends on June 23rd so try to go up there if you can. Even for someone who might not be into fancy smancy interiors or refurbished furniture or feather chandeliers*, it’s an incredibly fun and vibrant expo.

*Actually, if you’re not into feather chandeliers there might be something wrong with you.

Posted in EVENTS IN MADRID, LIFE IN MADRID | Tagged | 1 Comment

Celebrating San Antonio

I know it appears as if I’m developing a very strong addiction to chulapos and I really can’t argue that I’m not. Any traditional Madrid festival or celebration and I’m there. It’s as if I’m turning into one of those weirdo storm chasers, but chasing chulapos instead of tornados.

In fact, when I was stalking some Madrileños this afternoon at the San Antonio de la Florida festival, I think I recognized the same gang of chulapos that I saw in the San Lorenzo procession in Lavapies last year. And, although I might be completely crazy, I’m pretty sure that they recognized me because the head chulapo saw me and immediately bought me over to take their photo.

Yes, that’s right – I’m in with the chulapo crowd, people.

They’re all just too damn cute, aren’t they?

San Antonio, Madrid

IMG_4485

IMG_4486

Chulapas in Madrid, San Antonio de Padua
Why, yes, that’s correct – I DID manage to capture the elusive Spanish Finger Wagger on camera.

IMG_4487

Anyway, the Fiesta de San Antonio is one of Madrid’s most beloved celebrations and will go on through the weekend.

A Bit of History and Tradition

San Antonio de PaduaAnthony of Padua was a Portuguese Catholic priest and a Franciscan friar. While he’s celebrated all over the world, in Spain, Brazil and Portugal he’s known as the marriage saint because of the legend of his ability to reconcile couples.

This leads us to the tradition today which takes place at one of my favorite churches of all time, La Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida. (If you haven’t been, it’s a wonderful place to visit. The Goya frescos are incredible. Also, no visit to this area would be complete without some chorizo and cider at Casa Mingo‘s tavern afterwards.)

Anyway, back to San Antonio. Considering he is the marriage saint, there’s a very interesting local tradition associated with his feast day on June 13th.

Single women use this day to test their chances of finding a boyfriend or husband in the upcoming year. Basically, once gathered in front of the church, ♫ all the single ladies ♫ line up to stick their palm in a fountain of stick pins. According to legend, if a pin sticks to your palm, you’ll be lucky in love.

On top of this lovey-dovey ritual, people line up around the block to receive saintly rolls from the back of the church. If I understand correctly, you don’t eat the bread, but rather save it for a year in hopes of being financially rewarded.

IMG_4501

So, while I’m normally down with local traditions, I skipped the non-edible bread line and went to the first stall with smoke billowing out of it:
San Antonio Madrid
San Antonio Madrid

Okay, okay, you caught me. I say I’m searching for chulapos, but I’m really just there for the food.

Posted in EVENTS IN MADRID, LIFE IN MADRID | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Madrid’s Royal Palace and the Changing of the Guard

So, am I the only one who didn’t know that Madrid’s Royal Palace has a formal changing of the guard ceremony? All these years living in Madrid and I had no idea this event even existed, so I was more than happy to check it out this week.

Well, I was happy until I saw this line that wrapped all the way around the palace and past the Almudena:Huge line

Yes, like most Madrid events, it was crowded and hot and full of old ladies that loved to stick their poofy hair into my shot, but I loved it all the same. All that formal military pomp always puts me in a great mood for some reason.

You know how sometimes you’re soooo over this town and then, just when it seems you’re turning that amargada corner for good, something Madrid-ish happens that shows you that this town is pretty damn great? Well, this event, as touristy as it is, turned into my anti-amargada moment.

And speaking of amargada…
Lady Soldier - Madrid changing of the Guard

If you want to attend the formal ceremony, it takes place at 12:00 on the first Wednesday of the month. I overheard a guard telling a señora that the best time to see the ceremony is in October when there’s not so many tourists around and the weather is cooler.

Keep in mind that if you make it inside the Plaza de la Armería there’s very little shade so yes, it does get pretty hot. Also, if you don’t want to wait in line, the military procession passes in front of the palace and then enters the plaza on Almudena side. However, there’s a formal ceremony that goes on inside the plaza for about an hour or so. All in all, it’s worth it to see it at least once.

Also keep in mind, that, damn, Madrid has some very sexy royal guards.

IMG_4110

IMG_4124

IMG_4127light

IMG_4140
Madrid Changing of the Guard
IMG_4242
Madrid's royal changing of the guards

IMG_4171

IMG_4179

IMG_4188

IMG_4195

IMG_4206

IMG_4236

Also, if you do go in the summertime and you get overheated and faint, this guapo soldier will come sweep you away in his arms and give you a cold beer:

Madrid Changing of the Guard

It will be just like Gladiator, but more romantical.

Posted in EVENTS IN MADRID, LIFE IN MADRID | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Day Trips from Jerusalem

What was that? Yeah, yeah, I know it seems like forever since I went to Israel. But that doesn’t mean I can’t continue to drone on and on and on and…

While Jerusalem is a city I could explore for a seemingly endless amount of time, I was very excited to get out and see some of the sights outside of the Holy City.

Our first stop was the Jordan River, where we came across a baptism in the river. It was pretty emotional and although I’m not really comfortable taking photos of people, especially in personal moments, everyone else was snapping away. What can I say? I’m just a follower at heart.
Baptism on the River Jordan

Afterwards, we made our way to the Mount of Beatitudes, located above the shores of the Sea of Galilee or Lake Tiberias. The Church of the Beatitudes sits on top of the mountain and is said to be built upon the location of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The views from this church are insanely beautiful.

Church of the Beatitudes | Pass the Ham

View from the Mount of Beatitudes

Then, we made our way to Canaan, where Jesus is said to have performed  his first miracle of turning water into wine at the Marriage at Cana. Indeed, to this day, “They have no more wine” are words that require swift action.

Canaan, Israel

And while all of these sites certainly deserve a singular post of their own, I’m just going to skip on to my favorite day trip out of Jerusalem.

The Dead Sea and Masada.

And no, I’m not going to post a photo of a buoyant Hamatha fumbling around in the Dead Sea. Am I the only one in the world that absolutely hated the floating feeling? Too weird and weirdly greasy.

And don’t even get me started on the mud, which thanks to the clumsy mitts of my husband made it to my mouth and well, let’s just say that the famous skin softening mud mixture may be made up of a little something else organic-y.

IMG_3106

IMG_3107
IMG_3110

Anyway, after our obligatory float in the amazingly desolate and strangely beautiful area of the Dead Sea, we made our way to one of the most impressive sites in Israel, Masada.

Originally a fortification constructed by the Hasmoneans, Herod the Great decided to further fortify the area for his own refuge around 31 BC. Located on a steep hilltop plateau in the Judaean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea, this area was valued for its safety and thought to be inpenetrable by invading forces.

In 66 AD, at the beginning of the Great Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire, which had sieged Jerusalem, a group of Jewish extremists, the Sicarii, settled in Masada looking for protection from Roman persecution.

IMG_3095

IMG_3102

IMG_3080

Of course, like so many throughout history, they were proved wrong by pesky Roman soldiers who, starting in 72 AD, acted on orders to take control of Masada. While trapped within the fortress, the Sicarii watched as the innovative Roman army simply built a ramp to the top and subsequently invaded the “impenetrable” fortress.
IMG_3104

IMG_3086

However, when the army entered Masada, instead of a defensive battle waiting for them, they found what they referred to as “a citadel of death”. With the exception of one woman and her children, the entire Masada population was found dead.

Death before slavery.

According to the story, since suicide is prohibited in Judaism, there was a methodical killing process that had men killing each other and their respective wives and children. The only woman found alive was a widow and therefore, had no one to take her life.

IMG_3071

According to Wikipedia, “Masada has become a controversial event in Jewish history, on the one hand becoming a place of reverence, a site commemorating fallen ancestors and their heroic struggle against oppression, and on the other a stark warning against radicalism.”

I choose to believe what our guide told us: while the events of Masada may have been skewed a bit over time as a way of encouraging Israeli pride and strength, today, the idea of glorifying the mass suicide of Masada is mainly considered to be an unwanted boister to religious zealots and should not be used as a political tool.

Again, trying my best to avoid any political nonsense on this nonsensical blog, but I have to say that Masada is one of the most fascinating day trips from Jerusalem and totally worth the time it takes to get there.

And yes, if you must, go float in the Dead Sea first, but beware of that damn funky mud.

Posted in LIFE IN MADRID, TRAVELS | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Bus Touries : A Spotlight on Group Travel

Paul

“My friend, Paul. He travels a lot, you know, and when I told him I was going to Europe he told me to not advertise that I’m American. Like, he said that I shouldn’t eat like an American. You know – hold my fork and knife like Americans do. Well, shoot, I ain’t gonna hide that from no one, I told him. I’m gonna eat like an American, damn it.”

Three days into our bus tour of England, Scotland, and Wales and this was the most fascinating moment of the trip so far. Paul and his intriguing travel advice certainly piqued my interest as I sat eavesdropping on Margaret’s dinner conversation.

Just who was this Paul who charades as a non-American through his deft cutlery skills, I wondered? Is this undercover American really so travel savvy that he actually manages to go unnoticed by the astute spot-an-American radar all too prevalent nowadays in Europe? Similar to the many missile shields planted all over the Old Continent, I envisioned Paul relying on his wits to conceal his American roots from all potential attacks while abroad and returning to the homeland to share his many expert tactics for newbie travelers.

Just how does this charitable comrade do it, I wanted to know. And should all of us Americans follow his tricks of the hide-the-american trade?

Not eating like an American. I’m guessing that refers to anything involved in the eating process like no ranch dressing, holding your fork and knife a certain way, not drinking directly from the can, etc. And for Christ’s sake, Margaret, don’t even think about ordering a sweet tea with Splenda® and a lemon on the side!

What’s that, Beth? You want a cheeseburger? Sigh. Better stay home, darlin’. You’re never gonna make it in Europe, girl.

Maybe this Paul is really on to something. Certainly, his worldly advice is already used by international spies along with other useful chameleon practices, I’m sure. What must his routine entail before he hops on that flight to the European danger zone? I can just picture Paul burning off his own fingerprints and capping his teeth with a protective glaze just to go the extra mile. Of course, DNA will always get you in the end, but “better safe than sorry,” Paul always says.

I began to contemplate about what else Paul might advise in order to to evade the ever-so-present anti-Americanism that Americans seemed to have invented for themselves. So, I’ve compiled a list of what will be forever referred to as WWPDTHHA: What Would Paul Do To Hide His Americanness?

- No American flag shirts or hats. Unless it’s Ralph Lauren, which, obviously, are internationally accepted as non-labels.

- When ordering food, one must eat like a local. Callos? Yep. Haggis? Yep. Sweet and Sour goat nuts stuffed with umbilical fluid, roasted cricket butt and caramelized onions? Yep. And under no circumstances are you to order Freedom Fries, thinking that you are fighting the good fight. The local McDonalds cashier might be a double agent. Trust no one.

- Stop smiling so damn much.

- Your fanny pack must be on very tight. And please, under the clothes, rookies! Those sticky Europeans fingers are swift and agile. May be best to just staple it to your hip a bit. Personal security is sometimes painful.

- Americans never wear scarves. Get yourself a damn scarf ASAP.

- American mullet wearers may be met with hostility by European mullet wearers. Contrary to popular belief, there is no underlying brotherhood here. This is a unique situation among a unique class of people that can lead to potentially dangerous confrontations. It’s advisable to go mullet-less to reduce risk.

- Don’t ask anyone anything, ever.

- If you find yourself under intense scrutiny, it’s advisable to shout out something like, “Brilliant, old chap!” or “Bob’s your uncle!” or “Bollocks!” to throw them off your American scent.

- Fashion. Look, Margaret, I don’t want to insult you, but this is for your safety. Those mom jeans have to go. And no, you can’t replace them with khakis, Bill. You both should buy some skinny leg jeans, preferably in a bright color. What’s that, Mags? No, you can not have a matching purse to go along with your tight, pink jeans. It’s all about contrast in the Old Country. In fact …

- No matching anything, ladies. Tiger prints with neon something or other is a good rule to follow.

- Look, if someone inquires about your nationality, it’s best to avoid that age-old counsel that says you should respond that you are Canadian. It’s a dead giveaway and you can bet your boottom dollar that Canadians are on to us and they’re not happy aboot it. Best to play the offensive at the get go and proudly say that you are American Samoan. Just to screw with their European heads, you know?

- Money. If you have a hard time paying with unfamiliar currency and especially, those pesky coins that keep popping up, just pay with bills only. Don’t want to alert anyone to your lack of knowledge about the local currency, do we? Collect the coins as weapons in a tube sock that you can carry around with you for protection. You know, just in case your cover gets blown.

So, there you have it: The ultimate WWPDTHHA list that every American should carry with them when traveling. Never leave home without it!

Posted in TRAVELS | Tagged | 5 Comments

Jerusalem, Part Twosalem

So, this spring has just been crazy busy so far, hasn’t it? Isn’t it time to be sipping cold beer and claras on terraces or something? Because no one has informed me. I’ve been here and there and guiri running and visitor hosting and a little bit of pretending to work in between.

With all of the April and May madness, I’ve barely even thought about my trip to Jerusalem. I started out with a post on a visit to the Western Wall with high hopes of writing a bit more about the trip, but got sidetracked along the way.

Then, I remembered the awesome title I came up with a few weeks ago (most likely after a glass of wine or two) and thought, “how can I just ignore such title greatness? Somebody upload some photos already!”

Via Dolorosa | Jerusalem
The Via Dolorosa is, of course, the path that Jesus walked with the crucifixion cross, 12 stations in all. The first 6 stations run along the via and the last 6 stations are in the site of the crucifixion, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The Sixth Station on the Via Dolorosa
The Third Station on the Via Dolorosa
church of the holy sepulchre
The church of the holy sepulchre, the site of the crucifixion. Also, the church where you always see those crazy fights break out between the six different Christian sects who claim rights to the site.
immovable ladder
See the ladder under the window on the right? Its appropriately called the immovable ladder. It’s believed that the ladder has been in the same exact spot since around the 1750′s. It’s called “the immovable ladder” due to the fact that no property at the church may be moved, rearranged, or altered without the consent of all six Christian orders. Kind of makes you want to move it and put a big, fluffy teddy bear in its place just to freak them all out, doesn’t it?
Stone of Anointing, Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre really deserves its own post, but the history is just so complex and my feeble mind and limited time mean I really wouldn’t be able to do it justice. Anyway, this is the Stone of Anointing, where many people come to pray directly on the stone. According to tradition, the body of Jesus was laid on this stone after it was removed from the cross.
Roof top at the austrian hospice | Jerusalem
I took this photo from the top of the Austrian Hospice located in the muslim quarter. The views from the rooftop are incredible as were the coffee, Sachertorte and apple strudel we devoured on the terrace. If you ever find your way to the Holy City, a rest stop in this place is a great option.
Jerusalem- Crusades Cross
The Crusaders’ Cross is the symbol of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem during the crusades and can be found throughout Israel. We heard quite a few versions of its origen. Due to its combination of five crosses, some think it symbolizes the five wounds of Jesus.  The four smaller crosses are said to symbolize either the four Gospels or the four directions in which the Word of Christ spread from Jerusalem. Our guide told us that the four smaller crosses represent four of the five countries that comprised the Crusades (England, France, Spain and Germany) and the center cross represents Italy and the Pope.
Damascus Gate Jerusalem
The Damascus Gate opens up into the Arab market and is the most imposing of the eight gates in the old city. The gates were built by Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent as protection. All the gates are still in use today with the exception of the Gate of Mercy, which was closed off by the Sultan for fear of the traditional Jewish belief that the Messiah will one day pass through this gate.
The Dome of the Rock
The only thing I regret about our trip is that we didn’t get to go into the Dome of the Rock area. Non-muslims can’t go in the mosque itself, but they do let a limited number of people per day enter the surrounding area. It’s  supposed to be just spectacular to see in person. We arrived too late to go in and I’ve been kicking myself ever since. Oh well, just an excuse to go back.

Here are a few more random photos of the city:

Streets of Jerusalem
Doesn’t matter where I am in the world, I’m fascinated with people carrying food on their head. I’m going to start carrying pata negra on mine through the streets of Madrid. What do you think?
Spices Jerusalem market
To be honest, I’m not really big into food and spice markets. I’m fine to wander though one now and then, but I get bored pretty quickly. Jerusalem’s market was pretty interesting though and it made for a good stroll.
Jerusalem Spice Market
Dates!
Muslim Restaurant
Our lunch in the muslim quarter was unbelievable. It was such a simple, non descript place, but damn, they brought out so much food to our table that we couldn’t keep up. The hummus and bab ghanouj were so addictive that I needed hummus detox when I made it back to Madrid.
Mount of Olives
Studies have shown that Jerusalem’s historic Mount of Olives have the oldest olive trees in the world.
Studies have also found that this is the saddest looking donkey in Jerusalem.
Interestingly, studies have also found that this is the saddest looking donkey in Jerusalem.

Anyway, I’ve got a few more things to tell you about Israel. I’ll try to keep it brief, but it’s not easy. Despite its constant conflictive state and the distinct tension that is innate to the country itself, Israel is just so damn intriguing that it’s incredibly hard to describe my experience of traveling there.

Oh well, maybe I’ll just stick with ‘your mom’ insults and silly donkey jokes…

Posted in LIFE IN MADRID, TRAVELS | Tagged , | 2 Comments