A Love Letter to London

A Love Letter to London_11

This past January, I snuck over to London for five days (really four, on account of spending a day in Paris, too) and finally realized: I love London. On previous visits, I merely appreciated London for it’s familiarity: a vibrant, diverse city, the lack of a language barrier, and endless culture. But in the past, I got swept up in pounding the pavement and trying to visit every must-see attraction and flat out missed its character. There was also the time R. and I were visiting while managing on one salary and the exchange rate crushed most of our enjoyment (e.g., “$40 for a mediocre hamburger?!”). But, the third time was a charm: the days were leisurely paced and un-rushed, I revisited favorite museums and exhibitions, got lost among the English mansions of Notting Hill, and the food, oh, the delicious food! I get it now, London is lovely.

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3 Days in Andalucia

3 Days in Andalucia
The impressive Alhambra in Granada

I say this in the nicest way possible, but Madrid was my least favorite city of my trip through Spain last month. In contrast to Madrid’s big city vibes, the towns we visited during our 3 days in Andalucia possessed so much Old World charm in their winding streets. The allure of these towns is that there’s not as much to see, rather you’re visiting for the pleasure of experiencing long lunches, sipping Spanish wines, and appreciating the quaintness of it all. I knew the day or so spent in each place wouldn’t be enough to fully grasp their character.

 

3 Days in Andalucia
Ripening oranges in Cordoba
3 Days in Andalucia
Afternoon sunshine in Cordoba

Our first stop in Andalucia was Córdoba. As with all of the towns through Andalucia, Córdoba’s architecture is representative of the melting pot of its inhabitants. You can spot the Roman influences as your stroll along its Roman bridge and its Islamic influences are felt visiting the Mosque of Córdoba. Stay: At the swanky NH Collection Amistad Córdoba. Indulge: Casa Tollin and Casa Pepe de la Juderia. Tips: Sure, the city center looks easy enough to walk to, but the cobblestone streets coupled with your luggage make it a workout. Take the path of least resistance and hail a cab at the train station.

3 Days in Andalucia
Morning in Seville
3 Days in Andalucia
Brilliant colors of Seville

After Córdoba, we spent just a leisurely afternoon in Seville and how I regret only penciling those precious few hours. Seville is meant for exploring: we kept stopping to peak into elaborately decorated courtyards and admiring the gardening prowess of the residents who adorn their homes with flower pots. Perhaps my favorite sight of the entire trip was the Alcázar of Seville (a.k.a. Dorne for fellow Game of Thrones fans!), which is worth a 2-3 hour visit.  Indulge: Restaurante Uno de Delicias. Tips: Take advantage of the luggage storage at the Seville train station. It made spending a day here very easy!

3 Days in Andalucia
Fountain on our way to the Alcazar in Seville
3 Days in Andalucia
Crepe myrtles in Granada

Finally, we wrapped our journey through Andalucia in Granada. Granada is home to the Alhambra, a sprawling Moorish palace and fortress, and a bucket list item of mine. Our afternoon at the Alhambra did not disappoint, but the real highlight was the summer palace, the Palacio de Generalife. Stay: At the quirky Gar-Anat Hotel. Indulge: VidaXtra Restaurant and Café 4 Gatos. Tips: Book your Alhambra entrance tickets far in advance. Even during a non-peak time, our entrance choices were very limited four weeks before our visit! Unwind after exploring the Alhambra with an Arabian bath experience and massage at the Hammam Al Ándalus.

3 Days in Andalucia
Street scene in Granada
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48 Hours in Madrid

48 Hours in Madrid

My visit to Spain last month began with 48 hours in Madrid. I was most surprised by how French the city looks and feels, but after brushing up on my Spanish history, I learned that Philip V was in fact, French by birth and wanted to feel at home when he ascended to the throne! Madrid served as an excellent introduction to Spain before we made our way farther south in Andulcia.

48 Hours in Madrid

Stay

In the barrios of  Cortes or Salamanca. We stayed in an Airbnb in Cortes within walking distance of many of the major sights. We appreciated the historic charm of the neighborhood and found it to be quiet in the evenings. Salamanca is an upscale residential neighborhood in close proximity to Madrid’s best shopping. I would avoid being anywhere near Gran Via, which was loud, dirty, and overrun with tourists.

48 Hours in Madrid

See & Do

The Prado Museum’s collection rivals that of the Louvre with European masterpieces from the 12th through 20th centuries. Not to be missed: Valezquez’s Las Meninas and Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (unfortunately off-view when we visited!).

On the opposite end of spectrum is the Reina Sofia which houses Spain’s modern and contemporary masterpieces. Not to be missed: Picasso’s Guernica (of which you cannot take pictures).

Take a stroll through the immense Retiro Park to people watch the inhabitants of Madrid and to admire the beautiful grounds.

Like Buckingham Palace, Madrid’s Royal Palace is the official residence of the Spanish royal family. It’s easy to spend a couple hours here meandering through the lavishly decorated rooms.

48 Hours in Madrid

Indulge

Catch an early dinner of tapas at Bar Tomate.

Compare Madrid’s famous churros at Chocolat Madrid and Chocolatería San Gines.

Grab a jamon y queso bocadillo for a take-away breakfast from La Mallorquina.

Have a leisurely lunch of tapas at Restaurante TriCiclo (one of the best meals of the trip!).

48 Hours in Madrid

Good to Know

Check online for free museum entry times. We visited the Reina Sofia for free as there’s no entry charge from 1:30pm to 7pm on Sundays.

While Europeans are notorious for late dinners, Spaniards take it to another level! Most restaurants open at 9pm for their first dinner seating, which can be challenging when you’re jet lagged.

48 Hours in Madrid

48 Hours in Madrid

48 Hours in Madrid

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Comparing Oahu, Kauai, and Maui

5 Days in Maui

Last year we had the chance to finally visit Hawaii. We kicked off our visit in Oahu since my brother lives there, but we wanted to visit a second island on our trip. I remember being overwhelmed with the choices of the different islands since each has its on unique draws. Ultimately, we wound up visiting Kauai simply because there was a resort I really wanted to stay at! Now that we’ve visited three islands, I thought I’d share our impressions so you can choose the island (and area!) that’s right for you between Oahu, Kauai, and Maui.

Oahu, specifically Waikiki: Waikiki is situated in Honolulu, a pretty major city by most people’s standards. That can be a huge positive or a huge negative depending on your affinity for the urban jungle. We appreciated being within walking distance to restaurants and shopping and unlike other Hawaiian destinations, there’s no need to rent a car if you’re staying in Waikiki. One downside is that Waikiki’s hotels are clustered together and the beaches can feel a bit cramped depending on when you’re visiting. Ultimately, Waikiki is best for those who want city amenities and access to excellent food. It’s also great for history buffs given its proximity to Pearl Harbor.

Kauai, specifically Poipu: Poipu is located at the southern end of Kauai. Unlike the area surrounding Waikiki, the drive to Poipu is marked by lush jungle vegetation (in fact, it’s the same island where Jurassic Park was shot!) and while Poipu has some nice restaurants and shopping plazas, it’s hardly a booming metropolis. Another note about Poipu is that it lacks many sand beaches, with the exception of where hotels have literally created them. Plan a trip to Kauai if you love to snorkel, are looking for laid-back luxury, or want true rest and relaxation with few things to do beyond your resort’s pool.

Maui, specifically Kapalua: Kapalua’s development is somewhere between Honolulu and Poipu: it’s not urban, but it’s far from an undeveloped wilderness. There’s a lot of restaurants in and around Kapalua as well as some high-end shopping. Beyond Kapalua is the Road to Hana drive, marked with many opportunities to dip in to freshwater pools or hike into the forest. If you’re looking for good surfing, boat activities (including snorkeling), or an active adventure, I’d recommend visiting Maui.

On our next visit, we’ll either go back to Oahu, but this time go to the North Shore area or we’ll head over to the Big Island since we’re dying to visit Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.

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