Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Top 10 Things to do in Madrid

October 31, 2013

A couple of weekends ago, we were in Madrid for about 72 hours. I decided the Madrid tourist card was not worth it. Also, a public transit pass is definitely not worth it. You’ll really only need transportation between the airport and downtown. And for that you should use the Airport Express Bus (5 Euros and not covered under the metro pass). You can easily walk around downtown to see all of the sights.

To sum up my experience, here are my top ten things to do in Madrid:

10. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina SofiaI only put this on the list because if you are into modern art, this is a must-see. I, however, am not, and thus was not too thrilled about this museum. But it’s one of the famous trio of museums in Madrid, so we saw it anyway.

9. Corpus Christi Convent – A really neat area with lots of old buildings. At this convent, the nuns make a special selection of cakes and treats you can purchase, although they did not have anything for sale the weekend we were there (the sign said to come back on Monday).

8. Mercado de Fuencarral – On Calle Fuencarral you can have a great shopping experience. And this three-story shopping area has some really unique clothing, including absolutely adorable 50s-60s inspired pieces.

7. Mercado de San Miguel – A great market hall to wander through specializing in seafood and drinks. We tried the sherry sampler from The Sherry Corner. It definitely expanded my (very limited) knowledge on sherry. Fresh oysters were also a must in this mercado. And there is a really interesting fish tapas that looks like a bunch of cold noodles piled on top on bread, but it’s fish. I dubbed it the “fish brains” tapas. It’s called Gulas (the article mentions its made from eels, but now it’s made from fish). It’s really good!

6. Buen Retiro Park – Such an expansive park. We especially enjoyed walking around the artificial lake to the semicircular colonnade with the monument to Alfonso XII. There is also a rose garden which had roses in bloom even in October!

5. The Royal Palace – The largest palace in Europe, boasting 3,418 rooms. Excessive? Naw…  It’s certainly one of those must-sees. I think the audio guide is worth getting.

4. Museo del Prado – This museum houses much of Spain’s (and the world’s) greatest art pieces. We particularly loved works from the 18h century and Goya’s dark period.

3. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza – Art from 13th century to present day. Majority of works in late 19th century. Great collection of impressionist pieces.

2Almudena Cathedral – Ever wonder what a modern Cathedral the likes of Notre Dame would be? Wonder no more. This cathedral, officially completed in 1993, is so modern and yet is decked out in such grandeur to easily compete with famous Gothic Cathedrals around Europe.

1. See a Flamenco performance! We went to Casa Patas. An intimate performance space in a back room of a restaurant. 35 Euros gets you a seat with a drink of your choice.

I loved Madrid. Such a lively city with so much to see and do. It was my first time in Spain and hopefully not my last!

Almudena Cathedral from the visitors entrance.

Château de Chillon Converted to Haunted House

October 17, 2013

Last weekend, Château de Chillon had it’s annual “la nuit de l’épouvante” or haunted house night in celebration of Halloween. I heard haunted house and I was in. I grew up on this stuff. Walking through an old mansion converted into Halloween wonderland? Yes please. I’ve seen some freaky stuff in some of the haunted houses back in the states. It’s certainly a sure-fire way to get an adrenaline rush (at least for me). So I was thrilled to see there was a haunted house in Switzerland, as I wasn’t even sure they celebrated Halloween at all.

Now, my worry was whether it would actually be a haunted house.  All of my Google searches weren’t turning up anything on what to expect. Not even on the official website did they have sufficient information. So we decided to go evaluate it for ourselves.

Chillon covered in cobwebs

And I’ve got to tell you, going to the Château de Chillon is a great experience for everyone living in Switzerland to see. But…the consensus was: if you don’t have kids, then you should maybe plan to visit the castle another day.

In fact, they should pretty much rename this event “Children’s Night at the Castle.”

Well, at least everyone was dressed up

It is absolutely not a haunted house. At least not in the sense of an overly decorated maze through a building with gruesome sights and strangely dressed actors to startle you at every corner. No. There was none of that. Instead, there was face-painting, raclette and a couple of kid-friendly Halloween-themed activities.

So, to all of you out there who may be interested in checking this out in the future, I have saved you the time. Not a haunted house. But, hey, if you do have children and want to take them out in their costumes, this is the event for you!

Probably the best part of our night was getting this unique view of the castle.

Wine Tasting Out of Turin

July 30, 2013

This past weekend, Mr. Goat and I traveled to Turin, Italy, which is about a 5 1/2 hour train ride from Zürich — or, that is, should have been. So when we were booking the trip, I noticed there was a direct train to Milan and then a connection to Turin. Sounded like a good plan to me. Mr. Goat, however, decides that he wants to shave 25 minutes off the trip by adding in 2 more connections. Therefore, we ended up with the plan of Zurich –> Bern –> Brig –> Milan –> Turin.

Well, needless to say, we got as far as Bern before that whole plan went out the window. You will find this hard to believe, but we were actually on a Swiss train that was late. Yep, we got into Bern a grand total of seven minutes late. Which, apparently, was enough to make us miss our connection. Cue eye roll and “I told you so.”

Now what would have been arrival in Turin around 11pm Friday turned into arrival closer to 1:30am. Luckily, we made those later connections and sure enough arrived at our AirBnB apartment shortly after 1:30. Exhausted and hoping to get sleep before our next busy day, we went straight to bed.

Saturday, to our great relief, was just one of those idyllic days that you look back upon and long to recreate.

Let me begin by saying that this was a very last minute trip for us. As in, we just decided on Thursday that we were going away for the weekend. We chose Turin because it was close enough to Zurich to use the trains, which made it cheaper than most other destinations we were looking at. And because it was near a famous wine region in Italy: Piedmont. Which meant we damn well better be able to make it out wine tasting if we went to Turin. Thus, on Thursday, I spent the morning searching for wine tours. I emailed about three tour guides and one of them not only had one of those speedy replies that makes you renew your faith in the ability of humankind to integrate with technology, but said they were available! I spent some time doing what I could to evaluate them — which was actually quite easy, seeing as they were the most visible and had the most reviews out of all our options. So I booked it!

And, as I alluded to earlier, they did not disappoint. We had one of those perfect days. Where you don’t have to worry about a thing and you can completely relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery and delicious food and wine. Which is exactly what you want when exploring wine country, right? If you are curious to hear more details about the tour, see my Trip Advisor review.

But really, I cannot recommend Travel Langhe enough. If you decide you need to explore a wine region in Italy, you would do well to pick them and the Piedmont region. In fact, we’re already talking about when we’ll be back! 🙂 One weekend and one day of that in wine country was not nearly enough time.

And now for the picture section of the post:

Romantic tasting in the middle of the Pasquale Pelissero vineyards in front of ciabot Bricco San Giuliano

Favorite photo of the trip

The BEST specialty store we have been in. Lots of samples to try (which meant we bought just about all the food they were sampling), and being surrounded by laughing, happy people. This Enoteca in Neive was like a dream.

Wine country view

Turin

View of Turin from the top of the Mole Antonelliana

Me walking the magnificent streets of Turin

My second favorite photo of the trip. Taken in Parco del Valentino

Top 5 Things to do in Prague

June 26, 2013

Hello world!  Yeah, like many other bloggers I am following, it seems that the start of summer has slowed down the posting. 😉

I’m still here in Zurich; exploring parks with my dog, continuing the intensive German classes, beginning rehearsal for a musical (!!), attending Red Cross volunteer meetings, attending picnics, and just trying to enjoy summer while it’s here!

So with that quick catch up, here’s a post on my top 5 things to do in Prague — because we just spent a long weekend there.

1. The Pivo

The typical glass you will find your pivo served in

Ok, so not really a sight to see or something to explore. Not even any certain kind of pivo (beer), just the pivo in general. But in case you are looking for a few recommendations, the following places had pretty great pivo: U Sadu (very unique interior decor), U Zlateho Tygra (just one on tap, but amazing), U Flecku (also just one on tap and very touristy). We likely didn’t even make it out to all the best spots. Really, just get some beer here anywhere you go and you should be set.

2. Pražský hrad (Prague Castle) and St. Vitus Cathedral

This photo hardly does the Cathedral justice

Of course this makes it on my list. There’s so much history here that for that alone, it should be in everyone’s top 5. Plus, this Cathedral is absolutely my new favorite Cathedral in the world. I recommend taking the “short visit,” (as opposed to the more expensive “long visit” ticket with more things to see), but then again, I guess I don’t know what I missed. I just know that the short visit to Prague Castle, the Cathedral, and the Golden Lane took us about 3 hours and was quite enough to see. Mr. Goat particularly enjoyed the impressive collection of armor and weaponry dating back from the middle ages (and if I recall, even some much earlier items).

3. Malá Strana (St. Nicholas Church)

In this church, there are many opportunities to take fancy pictures like this

I’ve never seen so much gold in one place in my life. Now this is what I called getting carried away with your decor. As a bonus, nearby is the glorious Bakeshop where Mr. Goat and I got breakfast to go every morning. Really wish Zurich had something like this.

4. The Love Locks

If you look closely, every one of these locks has basically the same sort of thing inscribed on them:
A + R = (love symbol)

Ok, so I know it’s cheesy and apparently Prague is not the only city that has this, but it was my first experience seeing this, so I thought I’d at least tell you where you can find it in Prague. Apparently, there are many different theories as to why this tradition began, but the symbolism, I think, is quite romantic — adding your lock to the collection and then throwing away the key; therefore becoming bound with your partner forever in time (well, or at least until the city decides to clean it all up).

5. Trdelnik

They make these sugary, crunchy bread treats reminiscent of caramel corn right in front of you. Bonus — check out the awesome Chess lady buying one!

Trdelniks, the specialty of Prague — or at least it sure seemed that way, because they were sold on the street everywhere. And they are delicious. Definitely makes my top 5 list.

So there you have it! From our weekend in Prague, I have determined that these are my top recommendations for friends.

Now to go back in the sun while it lasts!

Spring Seekers: Copenhagen at a Glance

May 9, 2013

Mr. Goat and I have had the great fortune to not only enjoy the budding leaves and flowers of Seattle in late March and early April, but also Spring V2 in Zurich for the remainder of April and now Spring V3 in Copenhagen this past week. I guess that’s what happens when it doesn’t get remotely warm/sunny until May.

Cherry blossoms blooming in May!? Who would have guessed.

Cherry blossoms in May!? Who would have guessed.

Initial impressions of Copenhagen:

1. Flattest city I’ve ever seen (elevation varies from 3ft to 299ft – on the one hill of the city).

2. Bikes everywhere!

3. Such diversity in architecture.

4. All buses should play classical music.

We stayed in what Mr. Goat dubbed a “bro-tel” (AirBnB apartment rental by a couple of dudes who totally had a bachelor pad). One of my favorite features was the bathroom, which had a toilet, sink, and then this odd looking device.

HelloShower

Thanks for taking this photo, Peter!

Yeah, that’s right. The shower was just hanging there (looking more like a phone), out in the open with the rest of the bathroom. First time I’ve had to squeegee the floor around the toilet after taking a shower. No socks allowed!

We spent a few days exploring the city, enjoying good food and beer and counted ourselves very lucky with the sunny weather. Copenhagen is definitely rated in my top favorite cities in the world now. I really fell in love with the town.

Here are my top 15 things to do in Copenhagen:

15. Christiania – no visit to Copenhagen is complete without visiting this alternative-lifestyle (read: hippies), “green-light-district” part of town.

14. Amalienborg Palace – four royal palaces flanking a square. The winter residence of the Danish royal family. Not really recommended to see the changing of the guards at noon. More like a 20-minute long staring contest of the guards.

13. Kastellet – fortification with a church, prison, windmill, Commandant’s quarters and other houses. If you walk farther along the greenery towards the water you will eventually hit the Little Mermaid sculpture, if you’re into that sort of thing.

12. St. Alban’s Anglican Church. Near Kastellet, beautiful church and fountain.

11. Climb the Church of Our Saviour spire and get the best view of the city.

10. The Royal Library – aka “The Black Diamond.” What a marvel.

9. Christiansborg Slot – This palace struck me as more grand and impressive than the more famous one mentioned at 14.

8. Støget – longest pedestrian shopping street in the world – gorgeous cobblestoned road. Pass by some lovely churches, fountains, and squares.

7. University Botanical Gardens – huge peaceful and picturesque park. Also, there is a 19th century greenhouse that felt like a sauna (in a good way) due to it being somewhere around 20 degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer than outside.

6. Mother – Italian pizza restaurant we visited twice during our visit, we enjoyed it so much. Recommended: the Prosciutto or Affumicata pizzas. Opt for wine over beer.

5. SMK (National Gallery) – Free entrance. Very interesting merging of new and old artwork right down to the very buildings they are housed in.

4. Ny Carlsberg Glypotek – primarily a sculpture museum housed in a gorgeous building (the architecture and decoration inside the building is worth visiting alone). Free entrance Sundays.

3. Schønnemann – Traditional Danish lunch. Absolutely delicious. Order a beer to drink throughout – their house brew was great. Start with a herring dish and pair it with a “snap” (schnapps), afterwards move to a fish dish. Then, if you have room, order a meat dish (we did not). We did, however end our meal with some amazing cheese. Wish I could go back. Every day.

2. National Museum – Free entrance. The museum covers 14,000 years of Danish history as well as collection of objects from the ancient cultures of Greece and Italy, the Near East and Egypt. My favorite exhibit was “Stories of Denmark,” where most rooms you walk through are representations of how a room in a Danish home would look at that period of time (from 1660-2000).

1. Mikkeller. Or their new bar Mikkeller and Friends (which I went to nearly every night of our stay). Best beer selection in Copenhagen (not to mention, much of Europe). Anything you get should be amazing, but I tended to lean towards the sours (spontan). If you ever see the fig or lychee beers – go for them!

When we were at the Ny Carlsberg Glypotek, there was a group of “Bird Women” performing. They sang for most of our visit and it certainly added to the artistic experience; to find ourselves walking through rooms of larger-than-life sculptures of Greek heroes and historic figures with the bird chorus in the background.

Here’s a snippet of what we heard: