Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Pictures from Madrid and Toledo

Greetings! We returned home safe and sound on Saturday night after an amazing trip to Spain and Gibraltar. We're now doing general catch up and easing back into our routines.

First, I'd like to state that the trip was an adventure that compiled of many smaller adventures, such as arriving in new-to-us cities or towns, reading and speaking a different language, navigating foreign public transit and rail systems, getting from A to B without getting lost, eating new food at hours that were much later than what we do at home, seeing historic and jaw-dropping sights, meeting new people, using two different currencies (euros and pounds), and even operating different plumbing systems in our hotel bathrooms. My five senses were alive and optimized for the entire trip! I love it all!

Second, the trip was an awesome success 100%! In fact, in some ways, it exceeded my expectations. Looking back, there were many touch points where something could go wrong but we did not experience any mishap or mayhem throughout the entire trip. Sure, I did my best to plan for our trip but sometimes even the best laid plans would not work out so I think there was an element of luck on our side.

Last but not least, we had a happy time exploring Madrid and Toledo about two weeks ago. I'm now posting my selected pictures from these two amazing cities.

1. Plaza Mayor, Madrid's landmark and most beautiful square, celebrates its 400th anniversary this year. It is surrounded by three residential buildings, having 237 balconies facing the Plaza.

2. Sobrino de Botin, Horno de Asar, Hemingway's favourite restaurant, has been opened since 1725. It received the Guinness World Records Certificate for being the oldest restaurant in the world.

3. Statue of the Bear and Strawberry tree at Puerta del Sol, one of Madrid's best known squares. The same image appears on the city's coat of arms. 

4. The Cibeles Fountain, created in 1782, and situated in its current location since 1895. The fountain depicts Cibele, the Roman goddess, symbol of the Earth, agriculture, and fertility, atop a chariot drawn by two lions.

5. Royal Palace, home to the Kings of Spain from Charles III to Alfonso XIII, as seen from Plaza de Oriente Square. Look at that blue sky!

6. Along Paseo del Prado, known as the Art Walk, leading to the Prado Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the Reina Sofía Museum.

7. Scene from one of the pedestrian-only shopping streets in Madrid:

8. Toledo was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 for its extensive cultural and monumental heritage and historical co-existence of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish cultures. In the picture below, Toledo's Alcazar, a fortified palace with its army museum, presides over the whole city. 

9. Toledo's Cathedral, the crowning glory of the City, was completed in the 15th century and was considered one of the high points of Gothic art. The maze of streets making up the historic centre of Toledo is only bounded by walls in which many gates were opened.

10. Toledo's train station was designed to echo the historic architecture of the city. The central section is flanked by two side naves, one of which is adjacent to the clock tower, which imitates the style of Toledo church towers.

11. The next three pictures show Toledo's train station interior in Neo-Mudejar style, its hall and ceiling.

12. One of these two Renfe Avant trains took us from Toledo back to Madrid.

I hope you enjoy the pictures. I'll be posting my pictures from Cordoba, Gibraltar, and Seville in the next posts. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Have a great week!

Friday, 25 August 2017

Exploring Seville

We left Gibraltar for Seville by taxis and trains, and arrived safe and sound in Seville a few days ago. That's from point C to point D on the above map. It has been very sunny and hot in Seville, around 38C. Today is the first day that we saw clouds!

We've been exploring Seville on foot and by subway to see:
1. The Royal Palace: it is magnificent, and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
2. The Cathedral and the Giralda Tower: the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and another UNESCO World Heritage site.
3. Plaza de España and Park Maria Luisa: both are beautiful.
4. The Tower of Gold by the river.
5. Seville historic centre.

One unexpected disappointment is the unreliable and poor Internet service at our 4-star hotel. The worst we've had in our entire trip. Good thing we're returning home tomorrow.

Happy Friday and weekend!

Monday, 21 August 2017

Summer fun list progress report #2

Greetings from Gibraltar! I posted my summer fun list on June 21, and my progress report #1 on July 21. Today I'm providing my progress report #2, and linking up with several fabulous bloggers who also report on their progress. I'm in Gibraltar with very limited access to a computer. Will post my pictures from Spain and Gibraltar after we return home next week.

I thought July was an incredibly fun month, and guess what… so far August has been Amazing! I keep pinching myself and the word "Wow" pops up in my mind several times. So let's see how I'm doing with my summer fun list of 20.

Progress report #2 for my summer fun list of 20:
1. Take a trip to Costa Rica: Done as written in report #1!

2. Enjoy Costa Rica's "pura vida": Done as written in report #1!

3. Do wildlife spotting in Costa Rica: Done as written in report #1! I love the yellow and green  colours on this toucan.

4. Celebrate Canada's 150 with a BBQ with our extended family: Done as written here.

5. Attend at least one music festival at home. Done several times in June and July as written in my July sentence a day post.

6. Chill out with my friends with an iced drink, or ice cream in hand. Yes, many times. This is easy to do in the summer. 

7. Stroll or picnic in a park: Done at HTO Park, Sugar Beach, and Berczy Park in Toronto. I love the green maple leaves in the picture below. So soothing and rejuvenating!

8. Go to Spain and explore. Yes, we left home for Spain last week. We explored Madrid, Toledo and Cordoba before arriving in Gibraltar. We're heading back from Gibraltar to Spain, and have been enjoying our trip very much.

9. Travel by train in Spain. Yes, so far we've travelled by train from Madrid to Toledo, from Madrid to Cordoba, and from Cordoba to San Roque. Will take the train again to Seville.

10. Visit up to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites while in Spain: Yes, so far we've explored Toledo, Cordoba historic centre, Cordoba's Mosque-Cathedral, and the Fortress of the Christian Monarchs, as written here and here.

11. Savour Spanish paellas and tapas. Yes, they're delicious and having tapas is such a social activity in Spain.

12. Take a siesta to beat the heat. Yes, I've done this almost every day in Spain. Easy to do since the heat is very intense at mid-day and having a power nap is a great way to recharge for our afternoon into evening outings.

13. Watch a flamenco show. Pending. Hope to do this when we are in Seville.

14. Speak basic Spanish in Costa Rica and Spain: Yes, in both countries.

15. Cross Spain-Gibraltar border twice. Yes, in progress. We crossed it once last week to arrive in Gibraltar. We'll cross again to return to Spain.

16. Tour the Rock of Gibraltar. Yes, it was a wonderful excursion visiting Europe point, St. Michael's Cave, the tunnels, and zigzagging along the slopes of the Rock. Pictures to follow.

17. See the Barnaby macaques. Yes, we saw about 50 of them! Pictures to follow.

18. Play with sand and seashells at a beach: Done at HTO Beach, Sugar Beach in Toronto, and Caleta Beach in Gibraltar.

19. Look for dolphins in the Bay or the Strait of Gibraltar. Pending. We're planning to go on a dolphin safari this afternoon.

20. Stay fit by exercising up to one hour daily. Yes, proud to say I've been doing exercises daily, even during our travel. Where I didn't have access to a gym or a pool, I did yoga and stretches, and used a resistance band as substitute. Several strength exercises can be done using my body weight, with a towel in our comfortable hotel room.

I counted seventeen completed items, one in progress, and two pending. I have until September 20 to finish my summer fun list before posting my Fall fun list.

Be sure to visit the linked up blogs below for more summer fun updates. Enjoy! 

Friday, 18 August 2017

Happy Friday from Gibraltar

Happy Friday! I'm happy that:

1- We arrived safe and sound in Gibraltar. We had an amazing week exploring Madrid, Toledo, and Córdoba in Spain last week. On Wednesday, we took another train ride from Córdoba to San Roque La Linea station, about three hours in duration. That's from point B to point C on the above map. Click to enlarge the map. From there, we took a taxi, right across from the train station, to the border of Gibraltar, about 20 minutes long, and cost about 18€. There are buses that run every 30 minutes as well but we decided to go with the taxi ride.

2- We saw the Rock of Gibraltar in real life! It is huge and imposing at the border. Passport control was quick. Then we walked across the airport run way to arrive in Gibraltar. After a week of hearing mainly Spanish, now we hear more English. We walked to our hotel, noticing the ocean breeze from the Bay of Gibraltar. The temperature is about 25C or 77F, definitely less hot, but more humid, than in Córdoba.

3- We have a very nicely appointed room, with unobstructed ocean view. There are large tankers, cruise ships, yachts, and sailboats in the Bay. It's peaceful with the ocean sounds, and occasional calls from the sea gulls. We're staying here for six nights and enjoying the hotel amenities.

4-Our family and friends treated us to a nice cocktail party, with great wines and delicious appetizers. We're making plans to do some sightseeing in the next few days.

5- We've savoured the food, but notably the fruit, in Spain and Gibraltar. The nectarines, peaches, kiwis, plums, apples, pears, oranges, bananas, etc. all taste so sweet. Oh and the seafood here has been freshly delicious, too.

Have a great weekend, wherever you are!

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Exploring Cordoba

On Monday, we left by train from Madrid Atocha station to go to Córdoba, or from point A to point B on the above map. You can click to enlarge it. Madrid Atocha station is a major train and metro hub so we got there early to navigate to our gate. There was security scan of our luggage, just like at an airport but less formal.

Our two-hour train ride was comfortable. No free wifi available though. The scenery along the way showed olive trees, fruit orchards, some cattle, and the occasional castle ruins in the distance.

Upon arrival in Córdoba, I picked up a map at the local tourist office in the train station. We walked to our hotel. Despite the intense mid-day heat, I liked Córdoba right away. The tree-lined avenues provided much needed shade and greenery. The town has a calm and historic feel.

We spent the next two days exploring and enjoying:
1) The amazing Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, an UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a huge complex with deep history, and beautiful interior.
2) The historic Córdoba town centre, another UNESCO World Heritage site, with plants hanging from pretty clay pots on the walls, tranquil courtyards, tiered fountains, and a maze of small streets and alleys which seemed to bring new and pleasant surprises at every turn.
3) The Alcazar Fortress of the Christian Monarchs and its beautiful gardens.
4) The local food, including the most elaborate buffet breakfasts in our hotel. I don't remember having had so many good choices at a hotel from my travel. In addition, they have a very nice private courtyard where one can sit outside, read the morning newspaper, savour a coffee, or just look at the orange trees full of fruit.

Córdoba is a charming town. I would not hesitate to return for a longer stay and more wandering. We have a family event scheduled in Gibraltar so today it's time to pack our bags, and take another train ride further south (point C on the above map). Travel days are always interesting. I'll post an update soon. Hope your week is amazing!

Monday, 14 August 2017

Exploring Madrid and Toledo

We had so much fun exploring Madrid and Toledo this past weekend. I want to do a quick post to capture some highlights. Pictures to follow after we return home at the end of August.

Exploring Madrid
- On Saturday morning, we walked to Plaza Mayor, the main public square, to meet up with our walking tour group of about 45 people from various countries. Sebastian, our tour guide, did a good story telling job.
- Spent the next two hours exploring landmarks in the west side of Madrid such as the Town Hall, Sun Gate, Viaduct, Cathedral, Royal Palace, and Opera House. I love the small streets, grand avenues, building structures, fountains, and statues.
- Had lunch and returned to our room for a siesta!
- In the afternoon, we went for ice cream before walking to the east side of Madrid to visit the El Prado and Reina Sofia museums. We selected a small number of art work to view so not to get sensory overload, and to reserve some energy for dinner and the evening stroll back to our room. The pedestrian-only streets near our place were full of local residents out and about after 9 p.m.

Exploring Toledo
- On Sunday we took the train from Madrid Atocha Renfe station to Toledo. Return ticket cost 20.60€ each. The ride was 33 minutes non stop. There are frequent trains, however, I made the right decision to book the return train in advance. It was full when we returned, and so was the next train. The Avant train was clean, spacious, and comfortable. The scenery along the route was mostly dry, brown fields, with occasional green patches. Lots of olive trees though.
- Toledo historic centre is an explorer and photographer's dream. A wonderful UNESCO World Heritage site. Even its train station is visually impressive showing influence of three cultures. Be prepared to walk uphill, and the summer sun brings intense heat. Frequent hydration and sun protection are essential!

I'm still thinking about the sights we saw over the weekend. Simply amazing and awesome! I'd definitely return to Toledo for a longer exploration if I could.

We bid adios to Toledo and Madrid. En route by train to Córdoba, about two hours from Madrid. Stay tuned. Have a great week!

Friday, 11 August 2017

Happy Friday from Madrid

Happy Friday! A few things that make me happy today:

- We arrived safe and sound in Madrid.
- Passport control was quick.
- I activated my SIM card for Spain and it worked!
- We bought tickets at a vending machine for our metro (subway) ride from the airport to the city centre, 4.8 € each, no problem. There are several language options to help with the ticket purchase. The machine accepts cash and credit cards.
- The Metro ride was quick, clean, and comfortable. 25 minutes later we were in the city centre.
- Checked in our room, again quick, clean, comfortable, with good wifi.
- Talked to the friendly staff in Spanish while having a snack. Glad they could understand me and vice versa most of the time LOL.
- Took a siesta to recharge.
- Went out to explore on foot and already liked what I experienced.
- It was sunny, about 20C (70F) when we landed, and continued to warm up to 28C (83F) by the afternoon. No rain in the forecast and low humidity but high UV index. Sunset after 9 p.m. allowing plenty of time for an evening stroll, Sangria, and sampling tapas.

We have plans for a fun weekend. I hope you do, too!

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Going to Spain & Gibraltar

In early June, I booked our trip to Spain. That was just the flights and hotels for our stay. After comparing fares, for our flights, I booked with Expedia. For our hotels in Spain and Gibraltar, I booked with the hotels directly.

We'll be leaving for Spain on Thursday! Our itinerary includes first 5 days in Spain + next 6 days in Gibraltar + last 4 days back in Spain, before flying home.

Since we’ll be travelling independently, I’ve been researching, booking, and packing the essentials. Let’s see what I've got so far...

Trains in Spain: We plan to travel by train while in Spain. Since we know our dates at each city, and it is advisable to reserve train tickets in advance in the summer, I booked online with Trainline and RENFE (the main rail company in Spain), and received our tickets in PDF via email. The RENFE train tickets are in Spanish only so I find it helpful to see the tickets and figure out what they mean in advance. Rail Europe web site has a page that explains how to read your RENFE print-at-home ticket.

Free walking tours: We prefer to walk when we visit a new town or city. We usually pick up a map from the local tourist office or the hotel and explore on our own. In a city where the first language is not English, going on an English-speaking walking tour led by a local resident is helpful, informative, and can be quite fun. Again since we know our dates at each city in Spain, and it is summer (tourist season) when we visit, I booked free walking tours online and received prompt email confirmations.

Mobile device, WiFi, and SIM card: On this trip, the hotels that I booked all offer free WiFi.  We plan to bring one unlocked mobile phone with us. The main mobile carriers in Spain include Movistar, Vodafone, Orange, and Yoigo. After doing some research, I ordered a pre-paid SIM card for Spain for local calls and internet usage when we are not at our hotel, or in case the WiFi at the hotel is not strong enough for our needs.

I ordered from SIM Card Spain and received the SIM card in five calendar days. The company was very good at sending email notifications confirming the order and when it was shipped. The SIM card comes in different sizes, with a promotional, pre-loaded 10 euros credit, and free shipping.

I’ve used pre-paid SIM cards before in the USA and France, and they’ve worked very well for our travel needs. For Spain, I’ll insert the SIM card in my unlocked phone, and activate it by keying in a code upon our arrival in Madrid. Will let you know how it turns out once I’m in Spain.

Adapters, Chargers, and Converters: We’re bring two of each to charge our devices. The voltage in Canada is 110V, in Spain and Gibraltar is 220V/ 240V. The prongs for power outlets are different from what we have in Canada. I downloaded a number of maps of the cities we’re visiting using to my mobile phone. offers free, fast, detailed, and entirely offline maps with navigation and directions for travellers. I’m playing with the maps to familiarize myself.

Food: Our hotel room rates include breakfasts. This leaves us to figure out where to go for lunch and dinner. We’re usually on the go during the day and will grab a quick lunch wherever we happen to be at that time. One adjustment that we’ll have to make, as I’ve learned this when I visited Barcelona, is that people eat much later in Spain, especially dinner! I plan to use Trip Advisor or ask the hotel staff for recommended dinner places close to our hotel.

Other essentials: Passports, e-tickets, hotel confirmations, contact information, travel insurance, some euros (for Spain), some pounds (for Gibraltar), small snacks, first aid kit, and summer clothing.

We'll fly non-stop from Toronto to Madrid on Thursday. We'll likely be sleepy and tired from the 7-hour overnight flight and the time difference. Still...So excited to think that we’ll be landing in Madrid, Spain on Friday morning!

I may be able to do quick posts while in Spain and Gibraltar. Stay tuned for my updates.

Have I missed anything? What are your must-have travel items? What other travel tips can you share?

Monday, 7 August 2017

TBB Asks 23 Q&As

Greetings! Today I'm joining The Blended Blog TBB Asks link-up to answer 23 fun questions. At first glance, I thought Oh my, I'm so indecisive about the choices. After taking a second look at the questions, well, I'm certified indecisive LOL. Here we go...
  1. Pool, lake or ocean? All three as long as the water temperature is comfortable, no shrieking at entry!
  2. Camping, cottage or hotel? All three as they usually involve a trip.
  3. Favorite ice cream flavor? Coconut or cappuccino.
  4. PJ's, Nightgown, T-shirt/Shorts or Birthday Suit? PJ's in the fall/ winter, and T-shirt/ Shorts in the spring/summer.
  5. Fave Summer Beverage? Cold water or iced cappuccino.
  6. Would you rather be hot or cold? Hot.
  7. Sandals with heels or flats? Sandals with heels.
  8. Shorts or skirts? Both.
  9. Sit in the sun or the shade? Shade.
  10. Water, tea or soda? Water.
  11. Fave summer fruit, vegetable: Watermelon.
  12. Sunrise or sunset? Like both but choose Sunrise since it signals a new day.
  13. Bike ride or walk? Both.
  14. Winery or brewery? Winery.
  15. Garden or no garden? Garden.
  16. Big summer concert or music in the park? Music in the park.
  17. Fave cookout food: BBQ meat and grilled veggies.
  18. Dine indoors or patio? Patio although living in Canada, we dine indoors most of the time. 
  19. Fave summer destination: A new destination.
  20. Big theme park or local carnival? Big theme park.
  21. Drinks blended or on the rocks? Both.
  22. Popsicle or freezie flavor of choice: None.
  23. Hot Dog or hamburger? Hot dog when I'm on the go, and hamburger when I can sit down.

Now be sure to hop over to the linked up blogs and find out other fab bloggers' fun answers. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

July in a sentence a day

Greetings! I started writing my month in a sentence a day in April this year. I’ve continued with May, June, and now July.

If I had to describe July with one adjective, I’d say “joyful”. Yes, July 2017 was full of enjoyable moments and events for me. The first week of July we were in Costa Rica. The last three weeks of July we explored local art fair, music festivals, parks, and farmers' markets. We were also happy to see our relatives visiting from Europe and Southern California. So here it is...

July in a sentence a day


1. Saturday: Celebrated a Happy Canada’s 150th birthday in Costa Rica after experiencing a two-hour power outage which started in Panama!

2. Sunday: Ran 5K in the morning and relaxed by the pools in the afternoon.

3. Monday: Exercised in the gym, practiced Spanish with the hotel staff, stayed indoor during the afternoon downpour, and enjoyed a yummy dinner with a cute dessert.

4. Tuesday: Got in my yoga time to stretch, learned Spanish, and went out to admire the tropical plants in the sunshine.

5. Wednesday: Exercised in the gym, practiced Spanish, and was thrilled to see a toucan up close, as well as many other animals.

6. Thursday: Enjoyed yoga, learned Spanish, and spent time reading June Sentence-a-day posts while lounging by the pool.

7. Friday: When you hike in a rain forest, expect rain and powerful water sprays from waterfalls!

8. Saturday: Stretched in the morning to prepare for a five-hour flight home this afternoon, and was absolutely delighted to breeze through Toronto International airport in 15 minutes after landing (fuzzy picture but the CN Tower is always a welcoming sign that we're almost home).

Toronto at dusk
9. Sunday: Ran 5K, learned Spanish, unpacked, and got organized after being away for nine days.

10. Monday:  Exercised one hour in the gym, learned Spanish, and posted 10 pictures from Costa Rica that brought back nice memories of our wonderful trip.

11. Tuesday: Practiced yoga, learned Spanish, and booked train tickets for our travels in Spain in August (yep, another trip).

12. Wednesday: Exercised one hour in the gym, learned Spanish, and booked free walking tours in Spain.

13. Thursday: Practiced yoga, learned Spanish, and enjoyed a cool Thursday at a Farmers’ market while listening to Oh Susanna's "cool" performance.

14. Friday: Exercised one hour in the gym, learned Spanish, and walked to City Hall to browse at the wonderful Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition.

Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition

15. Saturday: Swam 55 laps, learned Spanish, did grocery shopping, and visited HTO Park and the Waterfront Artisan Market.

HTO Park beach

16. Sunday: Ran 5K, learned Spanish, chatted on the phone with a dear friend, before going to the Shield to Shore music festival for The Sadies’ fantastic concert.

17. Monday: Exercised one hour in the gym, learned Spanish, booked more train tickets, and ordered a pre-paid SIM card to use in Spain.

18. Tuesday: Practiced yoga, learned Spanish, and read about various destinations in Spain.

19. Wednesday: Exercised one hour in the gym, learned Spanish, and visited the lush green park at Sugar Beach.

Park at Sugar Beach

20. Thursday: Practiced yoga, learned Spanish, and enjoyed a slice of summer fun at the Farmers’ market and Mike Ferfolia’s music.

Peaches and sweet peppers

21. Friday: Exercised one hour in the gym, learned Spanish, posted Summer Fun List progress report #1, and enjoyed reading other bloggers’ updates.

22. Saturday: Swam 55 laps, learned Spanish, did grocery shopping, and had a yummy picnic lunch by the waterfront, before attending Sarah MacDougall’s concert at the Northern Passages festival.

23. Sunday: Ran 5K, learned Spanish, and took public transit to the suburb for a joyful family BBQ.

24. Monday: Exercised one hour in the gym, learned Spanish, and tidied up our home.

25. Tuesday: Practiced yoga, learned Spanish, and hosted our visiting relatives with ordered-in Thai food dinner.

26. Wednesday: Exercised one hour in the gym, learned Spanish, and had fun riding a bike as part of my 6 new experiences.

27. Thursday: Practiced yoga, learned Spanish, and enjoyed time outdoors at the Farmers’ market and Sol de Cuba's engaging music.

28. Friday: Exercised one hour in the gym, learned Spanish, and attended Kiosk the band's rocking concert at the Tirgan festival.

29. Saturday: Swam 55 laps, learned Spanish, and showed our visiting relatives a few local sights before a nice dinner together.

Fountain at Berczy park

30. Sunday: Ran my first 6k (woohoo!), learned Spanish, shopped groceries, and attended the lovely Tio Chorinho: Brazil Soul Music show at the beautiful Toronto Music Garden.

Brazil Soul Music
31. Monday: Exercised one hour with a friend in the gym, learned Spanish, and wrapped up July with feelings of joy and gratitude.

I’m linking up with several fabulous bloggers so be sure to scroll down and visit their blogs for more fun July reviews.

Make August a great month wherever you are!