Monday, October 20, 2014

Research for Madrid

This post is for my traveling "amigos". (My apologies to those not interested in going to Madrid!) After perusing the Lonely Planet  on Spain, I was inspired to do a little more research on Madrid, where we will be spending a few short days before our "gig" as conversationalists in the quaint village of Pedraza.
Sherry tasting at Sherry Corner San Miguel Market

We will be arriving on a Thursday at about 3:40 pm after a lot of flying time. By the time we arrive at our apartment it will likely be about 6 pm and we will be ready for a shower and a good rest. On Saturday at about 5 pm we meet our group at a tapas reception and then hit the hay to get ready for our bus pickup first thing Sunday morning. Therefore we have all day Friday and most of Saturday to check out Madrid.

Keeping in mind our time limitations, here are a few possibilities.

  • Ground TransportationA smooth trip from the airport might be nice so perhaps we could book ahead via Aerocity Shuttle Service the cost is about 34 Euros door to door non-shared. A taxi is about 40 Euros and the Metro would be about 6 Euros each (18 for all of us). There were mixed review on Tripadvisor about Aerocity but mostly from those who chose the shared option.
  • Getting around: Speaking of transportation, it sounds like the metro is pretty easy to use. Cost per trip is 1.50 E (includes up to 5 stops I think). The website is great and you can get your route sorted out beforehand on it by entering your starting point and destination! Madrid Metro. Walking is also and option and of course taxis.
  • The Hop-on-Hop-off bus is often a nice way to get an overview of the city and you can use it as your means of transportation for a whole day or more (although it does use a specific route, likely only in the "tourist" area). The cost is $30.00 per day - a bit on the pricey side! 
  • The Centro De Arte Reina Sofia .... It takes time to visit an art gallery (and we don't have a lot of it). However, if I had to choose one, it would be this one since it is mostly 20th Century art and I would most want to see Picasso's Guernica. The cost is 12 Euros and the gallery is centrally  located .... not too far from the Prado. (Don't worry ladies, I'm not stuck on this if you're not interested)
  • 24 Hours in Madrid  This website has quite a tour planned which takes you into the wee hours of the morning! But perhaps we could do a modified version?
  • Free Walking Tours There are free walking tours given by locals interested in promoting their city and tourism. The cost is free but you are expected to give a tip at the end. The reviews on Tripadvisor are great. I wasn't able to find out how long they are though. In the Lonely Planet there is a walking tour map page 112. An interesting blog reviews their experience using this tour - Walking Tour Review by Literally Organized 
  •  San Miguel Market This looks like an interesting place perhaps for lunch? Check out the video (it's not all about fish!) The "Sherry Corner" looked interesting and I like the concept, but when I read some reviews they were mixed. Some found the head phones a bit awkward and finding a place to sit was at times challenging if you are going from spot to spot. The cost is 25.00 E which includes about 4 or 5 glasses of sherry and free tapas pared with each glass. I think it might be fun just to go there and try some food and drink on our own!
  • Tapas Walking Tour - various city tours are offered by tour companies and most are pricey. The tapas tour is about $50.00 (I think we could do this ourselves on Cava Baja (below). Anyway, here is a little video of the Tapas Tour
  • Tapas on Calle Cava Baja    This street is famous for tapas and night life etc. It is a quick walk from the Latino Metro stop and was highly recommended on tripadvisor and it sounds like a good spot to explore. The restaurants are open at lunch time as well.
Cava Baja by project cortes
So ..... I am posting this, but may make some additions or deletions as my research takes me further. At the moment, my top "must sees" would be Calle Cava Baja and San Miguel Market. I will also have to get going on some research for Barcelona!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Travelling Light


The picture above is my dream! My goal is to be able to travel like this all the time. It's not that I'm trying to avoid paying for checked bags (who cares about a measly $25.00 or $50.00 when your spending way more on the flight)? And .... I'm not really that paranoid about lost luggage (it only happened to me once on a flight from Singapore to Beijing and I got my bag the next day). My true desire is to be relieved of the stress of lugging humongous, heavy bags out of the airport, into taxi cabs, out of hotels, on to elevators, on to buses etc. etc. Oh yes, I know I should be tipping drivers and porters to do the lugging for me, but sometimes I just can't be bothered ..... I just want to grab my little bag and go!

As you may have read in a previous post, I am planning a trip to Spain. Since our flight includes two stops and two different airlines, I would like to avoid the possibility of arriving without luggage should my suitcase miss one of those stops. Once we arrive, we will be travelling to three different locations, which means toting luggage to and from taxis, buses, airports etc. So .. in my opinion, the lighter the better!

When I told my travelling companions that my goal was to make it through two weeks with only a carry-on, they laughed, rolled their eyes, and scoffed at such a ridiculous idea. They insisted that there was no way that would be possible for them. So either they are way more "high maintenance" than me, or I am fooling myself!

I want to look nice, of course (well as good as it can be), but besides travelling light my top priority is comfort. No cute footwear or skimpy jeans are going to restrict my old bod. My flying "uniform" is always yoga pants, a T-shirt and a zip up light fleece. On my feet I wear the bulkiest (comfortable) footwear that I am bringing ... to avoid packing them. Also, I usually wear a scarf. It dresses up my "gym" attire and I can use it  as a light blanket to block a draft.

So ..... having done my research, I am ready to begin packing. I will let you know how I make out!

Below are some interesting sites. "It's Not a Sin to Check a Bag" is from a blog created by a friend of mine's daughter (that one is for my "diva" friends!) "How to wear a Man's Shirt" is cool but not for me. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Vacation Alternatives

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I am going to Spain in November with two other friends. It is one of those "volunteer" holidays with some extra personal travel time added. We are going to be volunteer English conversationalists for six days!

Our Spanish "gig", organized by a company called Vaughan Town, will consist of a tapas reception on a Saturday night in Madrid and then an early bus ride the next day to our destination at Pedraza, a medieval town about an hour and a half outside of the city. The accommodation is a hotel located in a scenic area with lots of space to walk and sights to see. The hotel room is paid for, and our meals as well (which include red wine). The only "catch" is that we have to talk to Spanish business people, in English, for six days! Apparently there are lots of fun activities and of course interesting people to meet. I know it sounds a lot like work, especially if you've been a teacher all your life, but I believe it will be a nice vacation alternative.

Parking your butt on a sunny beach when there is two feet of snow back home is wonderful, and riding the "Hop-on-Hop-off " in a major city like New York or Singapore to take in the sights is great, but I've done that (a lot!) and it's time for something different. Making conversation for six days straight will mean that we'll have to be "up" and on our game. And we will likely be ready for some alone time at the end of it. But I'm anticipating that we will have met some pretty interesting people and gained some unique insights about life in Spain, the best places to visit, how to make the best Sangria and, who knows perhaps even establish some lasting relationships!

image of Pedazra from
 We have been planning this trip for a while. Although six days of our two weeks will be taken up with us pretending to have kissed the Blarney Stone, the rest of the time is ours. Our free time will be split between Madrid and Barcelona, taking in the sights and soaking up the Spanish culture. Since our accommodation is taken care of in Pedraza, it was up to us to find a place to hang our hats for the rest of the visit.

I have been very fortunate to be going with two ladies who have been excellent travel agents. They booked our "self catering" accommodation through Airbnb, an online agency where you can find apartments, rooms etc. for rent by their owners. The flats that they booked in both cities have two bedrooms, living space, kitchen etc. and even a washing machine! .... all the comforts of home (and probably even a place to hang our hats!) Keeping in mind that we haven't actually been there yet, I think it's going to be great (will give you the verdict when I get back).

So if your planning a trip it might be worth looking into "alternative accommodations" as opposed to a hotel, particularly if you are gong to be in one place for a while. Airbnb and Homeaway are two sights that are very popular ..... definitely worth checking out!

This is the living space in the apartment we booked in Madrid

So, needless to say I am looking forward to my "alternative" style vacation as well as our "alternative" accommodations. Now ... the important stuff ....... what to wear!

Monday, October 6, 2014

My New Beau!

There's nothing like a fall Sunday afternoon, with a roast in the oven and the satisfaction of having bottled a fresh batch of wine. Yes sir, filling up the wine cellar is kinda like gettin wood in for the winter!

On a wet, blustery fall Sunday I decided that it was time to to bottle the two carboys of wine that I've been avoiding. A few days ago I siphoned off a few liters in an act of desperation, but it was time to do the deed. I sent hubby over to the neighbors to borrow filters and corker etc. while I cleaned the bottles. The bottles we use are just those we've saved from past batches, ones that are left by guests and some from our own purchases at the liquor store. As I scoured and counted our collection I couldn't help but notice an overabundance of one particular brand - Bodacious! 

Several weeks ago I discovered this little gem at the liquor store and it was love at first sip! It is a blend of shiraz and cabernet-sauvignon with aromas of raspberry and blackcurrant. While I couldn't get enough of it, it is not to be guzzled. You need to sniff it, and hold each sip in your mouth as long as you can to enjoy its deliciousness. I know that is what real wine connoisseurs are supposed to do, but I never felt like doing that until I met Bodacious. 

As they say, "distance makes the heart grow fonder". So I'm going to drink my homemade stuff but look forward to an occasional little rendezvous with my new beau!

I've also discovered a great website called Potluck Video with dozens of little videos about food and drink. The link below will take you to a video about the size of wine bottles and how they affect the taste, but I encourage you to go to the home page and check out other cool stuff!

Potluck Video

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Perfect Guest Room

In our basement we have two rooms, previously inhabited by our children, each containing a hodge podge of furniture and often used as storage for "stuff" that we don't want to deal with. While we have a guest room on the main floor, we felt that having two other places for overflow company would be a good idea.

So the task of creating two guest rooms out of the space and "stuff" we have began. At first I thought a paint job was due in one room, since our son had chosen to paint it red some years ago, but that would have been a lot of work (and paint) so I decided to spruce it up by painting the trim white. Then we decided that twin beds would be a good idea for guests, especially if they are two people who are not a couple, or two old farts like us who get a better sleep when we're not snoring in each other's ear! I bought some new sheets, a few new pillows and a couple of inexpensive bed covers and that's it. I wasn't planning to spend a lot of time and money for accommodations that will only be used one or two nights a year.

Guest Bedroom Tips:

So here are my tips for creating the perfect ..... okay adequate, guest room. The obvious is a reasonably comfortable bed, clean sheets, pillows etc. However there are things that I really appreciate when I'm staying in a strange room for the night.

Must haves:
  • a night table with a lamp is a must (to put a glass of water on, eye glasses, medication etc. and to have the ability to turn on a light in the middle of the night without stumbling around)
  • a mirror (preferably with a plug near by for hair dryer, curling iron etc.)
  • a box of tissue
  • a garbage can
  • extra pillow(s), blanket(s)
  • towel, face cloth set out
Nice touches:
  • a digital clock (set in a location where it can be seen from the bed)
  • a luggage rack or raised surface to put a suitcase on (this is especially good for older folks!)
  • a basket of travel size toiletries like shampoo, tooth paste etc.
  • a small flash light on the night stand (so you don't have to hunt for light switches on a trip to the loo) 
You don't have to get too carried away and provide Egyptian cotton sheets, bathrobes and slippers or your guests will never leave. But a few little touches can make things a tad more comfortable. Below is a great and inexpensive idea from Good Housekeeping for your guests to hang up their clothes should your closet space be limited.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Best Gardening Tip of the Season

 So officially summer is over and Halloween candy is everywhere. My petunias and pansies, however, have no idea what the date is because they are thriving!
 A month ago my hanging petunia basket was looking very poorly, ready for the compost heap in fact! So I took the advice of the video that I posted at the beginning of the summer about caring for these showy blooms and I hacked them back. Yikes! I mean I really did a number on them. It was really hard to chop off the few blooms that were left but it was worth it. A few weeks later ... voila! I  guess professional gardeners know what they're talking about.

These pansies were a great investment this year. I bought them last Easter if you can believe it and they have been thriving ever since! The secret? Yep you guessed it ..... deadheading like crazy. When the blooms start to close up I'm ready with the snippers to cut them off. I love to prune and trim and these little lovelies have certainly satisfied my need in that area!

 I bought these fall mums a few weeks ago and hopefully they will take over when the pansies and petunias bite the dust (or should I say frost). However, they are not in full bloom as much as I would like. So ...... time to do a bit of Googling to discover how to get the most out of these babies. What Mr. Google told me was to give them lots of sun and keep them well watered. The website below was very useful - check it out!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Time to Switch it Up!

Another great weekend at our favorite resort! 

It's hard to believe that we have been doing this for eighteen years! We began in 1996 with a tent and limited camping gear to spend a "girls" weekend in the beautiful outdoors of Fundy National Park. Early September has always been the preferred time as the weather is usually sunny, not too hot, and perfect for hiking in the woods or along coastal trails. Besides burning calories, which we make up for with our consumption of pasta and wine, our goal has simply been to escape the rigors of work, and demands of family and home ownership. Over the years we have traditionally spent this weekend doing little else than wandering the trails of the park and enjoying each other's company.

Our humble beginnings with a tent and a cooler evolved over the years to a two story, two bathroom, fully equipped cottage on a cliff over looking the Bay of Fundy. Our epiphany came during a continuous downpour that flooded our campsite and gave us all a bad hair day. We looked at each other eventually resting our gaze on the one who had the fewest sips of Chardonnay and informed them that they were driving us to the nearest hotel. After grabbing our personal items, and leaving the drenched tent right where we pitched it, we checked into a motel unit a mile or so up the road. Clearly our camping days were over! For many years we spent our weekend getaways at the efficiency units in the park, but eventually upgraded to a lovely cottage that we return to every year.

In the past our girls' weekend has focused on the physical activity of hiking, after which our reward was a good foot soak and pedicure. We've traded beauty secrets, weight loss plans, and fashion tips (as you can see by our radiance in the photo below). Two years ago some of us even tried zip lining! As time evolves, and our bodies as well, we are no longer feeling the need to do an all day hike up steep coastal terrain. Other adventures await us; like sea kayaking around the Hopewell Rocks or attending a local "kitchen party" complete with fiddle music and story telling. This year and last I've taken it upon myself to bring a "craft" like wire wrapped jewelry and felted soap. After years of a predictable routine, we think it might be time to "switch it up" and try at least one new thing each year ..... like deep fried clams for supper Friday night! (At this stage of the game who cares about calories!)

Above is our group minus one - We missed you this year Sherry, but take comfort in the video below of the windy conditions that made our Saturday hike less than desirable!

View from the cottage on a calmer day!