Hike the Rock

They are saying stairs workout are the best. In that case, hiking La Piedra del Peñol is the best and most beautiful workout of your life.

El Peñón de Guatapé is a must see jewel when you go to Medellin. In the 1940s, the Colombian government declared it a National Monument. It is 2 hours away from the city and the easiest to visit it is to take a tour. I took a private tour: Land Venture Travel. It is very affordable.

The rock was first climbed officially in July 1954, when Luis Villegas, Pedro Nel Ramirez, and Ramón Díaz climbed the rock in a five-day endeavor, using sticks that were fixed against the rock’s wall. When at the top, amazed by the beautiful view, they thought of a way of allowing people to get to the top and see the view. This is how the stairs were built in the middle of the rock. Luis, Pedro, and Ramon wanted to share the beauty with the whole village.

On the way to the Piedra del Peñol, the rock of Guatapé, you can stop a few times to take pictures of the rock from far. Impressive. 

Piedra del Peñol

When you arrive at the rock, you can see all the stairs you need to take to get to the top. 740 of them! Take your time, you can do it. Make the effort to go up those stairs because the view from up there is just out of this world. The summit contains a three-story viewpoint tower, a convenience store, and a seating area. Just relax and admire the view. Peaceful.

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Falling for Niagara Falls

One of the 7 natural wonders of the world, The Niagara Falls, are about 2 hours drive from Toronto.

It is said the falls from the Canadian side are more majestic than the American side. Maybe because the highest drop occurs on Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side at 173 feet (53 m).

The Falls are breathtaking. Watching close to 750,000 gallons of water a second hurtle down the curved cliffs is very very impressive.

Hear the crashing waves. See the breathtaking views. Soak up every drop of powerful spray. Take the boat, maid of the mist, to go on the Niagara River and found yourself almost in the middle of the falls.  The falls are so powerful that you will get wet even when you ride away from them. That boat ride is so much fun and a must do.

Sleep with Tequila

After a visit at the Jose Cuervo Distillery and agave field, spend the night at Tequila at the amazing Solar de Las Animas Hotel.

The newly built resort offers a great restaurant and bar downstairs, as well as a rooftop bar and pool. The perfect way to relax after a full day of Tequila tasting.

 

Santorini in a Hike

How to see Santorini? Take the scenic 10k hike from Fira to Oia.

Here is the map of the Hike with all the worthy stop points.

  • Start early if it’s a hot day.
  • Have plenty of water  There are no more than 2 snack shops on the way.

Start the hike in Fira, by the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral along the Caldera. You will pass by all the cafes, restaurants and little shops. Keep going up. The view gets better and better.

View Fira

You will pass by the Three Bells of Fira before arriving at the first village, Firostefani.

Firostefani

Next village is Imerovigli. Make sure to explore the small alleys, they all lead to the blue Caldera view. Make a stop at the Anastasia Church.

You can add a side trip by going to the Skaros Rock , it will add about an hour to your hike.

From there, keep hiking up, You will walk along the Caldera passing by the resorts like Cavoo. There will be no snack shops or any restaurant for a while. You will pass by beautiful churches like the Ekklisia Profilis Ilias on top of the hill. After that long stretch, you will finally get to a snack shop. Time to refuel.

You will then have to go up a hill; if there is a donkey, take it. It will save you some sweat. At the top of the hill, there is the Church of Panagia.

You can finally see Oia on the horizon. Oia is a smaller town than Fira but very charming. Explore the alleys and art galleries. Stop at the unique bookshop called Atlantis.

End the day at Amoudi Bay where everybody gathers to watch the sunset.

Oia sunset

Take the bus to get back to Fira at night.

 

 

Go to Guadalajara

No need to travel far for an exotic gateway. Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico is the perfect town to enjoy the Mexican culture and Tequila, of course.

Day 1: Guadalajara Old Town

Check out the Guadalajara Old Town with its beautiful architecture and its amazing food markets. Here is your free walking tour:

GDL walking guide

Have Breakfast/Lunch at the Libertad Market (San Juan de Dios Market). On the 1st floor, you have small vendors, which are perfect for souvenir shopping. On the 2nd floor, you have a huge food court with authentic Mexican food. The beef tacos are to die for.

 

Then, head out of the market, towards La Plaza de Los Mariachis. From there, take the pedestrian boulevard called Calle Pedro Moreno – The Street of Weddings, well you can see right away why it is called that way. The end of the street will take you to Plaza de Armas, Guadalajara Cathedral, and Plaza de La liberation. At the square, there is a giant sign of the name of the city; the perfect picture stop. On one side of the plaza, enter the Palace of the Governor and check out The Mural Painting “Lucha Social” by Jose Clemente Orozco depicting Miguel Hidalgo issuing the Cry for Independence. It is an impressive mural.

 

Take a break at the Teatro Degollado cafe and enjoy the architecture of the old town.

Continue your walk toward the back of the building. Another great architecture design. Walk down this other walking street, Paseo Hospocio. You will pass by the Children’s Fountain on Devils Corner and the huge flame sculpture inspired fountain at Plaza Tapatia, to get to the Chairs “La Sala de Los Magos” designed by Alejandro Colunga by Hospicio Cabanas Museum. If you have time enter the Institute Cultural Cabanas and check out the man on fire Mural on the roof and other art installations.

 

 

Day 2: Sunday Funday

Spend a day at the artsy neighborhood of Tlaquepaque. The pedestrian street has art boutiques perfect for some souvenir shopping. The restaurants are very lively and they all have Mariachis.

Tiaquepaque

If you get to be in town on a Sunday, make sure to go to the Charro show, a competitive event similar to the rodeo, at the Lienzo charro Charros de Jalisco. Charreada has become the official sport of Mexico. The charreada consists of nine events for men plus one for women, all of which involve horses, cattle or both. It is a fun Sunday event where families go to encourage their man. Boys can start as early as 5 years old.

 

Day 3: Jose Cuervo Tequila Day Tour

Refer to my worthy tours article

 

 

Eat authentic Mexican food and Dance:

For happy hour:

  • Trasfonda – Restaurant in a garden for the best guacamole

Trasfonda

For dinner :

  • I Latina is a great restaurant with a unique bar and decoration. Don’t hesitate to seat at the bar if needed. The food and the ambiance are worth it.
  • La Tequila has great food and ambiance. The Tequila Bar wall by the entrance is very welcoming.

 

Drink and Dance at:

  • La Lupita Cantina in the old town with its unique wall decoration and amazing reggaeton music is a must go place on the weekend.
  • Pare de Sufrir is the Iconic Mezcal bar. Get a shot of Mezcal to sip with a cold beer. On the weekends they have live bands. It’s an amazing local bar.

 

 

Jose Cuervo Tequila filled day

All aboard the Jose Cuervo Express train to the Magical Town of Tequila. That is right, Tequila is coming from the same name town in Jalisco, Mexico; just a few hours away from Guadalajara.

Jose Cuervo, who has its family distillery there since 1795 as well as its agave fields offers one of the best day tours. A day tour in the heart of Tequila.

La Rojena Jose Cuervo

The Tequila Train departs at 9am passing by multiple villages and spiky-blue agave fields. The tasting starts right on the train as you will be welcomed with a pink margarita and you will be offered unlimited Margaritas, Palomas or shots if you have a solid stomach.

Jose Cuervo express

Upon arrival at Tequila, you will start the fun-filled day with a visit at the distillery La Rojena where “Pepe” the Cuervo Crow welcomes you to the tasting. You will get to see some 100-year-old tequila stored at La Reserva Familia – a unique and smooth Anejo – as well as the distillation process. The tasting ends at one of the many open bars on site.

After a lunch break in the Pueblo Magico where you can enjoy some authentic tacos at Fonda Cholula and admire the colorful town, the afternoon festivities start with a colorful Mexican show. You will admire the dancers and the Mariachis while sipping on some more tequila.

Pueblo Magico Tequila

Finally, right on time for sunset, you will head to the agave fields. Anthony, one of the Jimadores, demonstrates how the agave pina is harvested. You will then have time to take many Instagram worthy pictures on the Spiky-Blue Agave Fields and dance the night away on the dancefloor installed next to the field. It all comes with an open bar of course. The perfect way of ending this magical day.

Jose Cuervo Agave Fields

For the night you can return to Guadalajara or spend the night at Tequila at the amazing Solar de Las Animas Hotel.

Pinnacles National Park

The Pinnacles National Park, home of the condor, was born some 23 million years ago when volcanoes erupted. The remains of it is a unique landscape through which you can hike; rare talus caves and towering rock spires.

Leave you can at the campground and take the shuttle to the main trailhead,  The Bear Glutch Trailhead. The Condor Gulch to High Peaks Loop allows you to walk through the heart of the Pinnacles rock formations, particularly along the Steep and Narrow section of the High Peaks trail. On the way back add the Balconies Cave trail to see the lake and the caves.

From the West end of the park, you can use the Chaparral trail to see the amazing Balconies Caves. Flashlight required and be ready to truly emerge in a cave. I really thought I’m going on an expedition.  You can loop it back to the parking lot on continuing the trail to the high peaks.

 

 

 

Athens and Greek Mythology

Athens, the city of Gods, is where many myths and Greek mythological legends were born. Here are some of them as we are walking through the remains of that ancient world. Here is a guide on how to wander in Athens and relive the Greek Mythology stories in 2 days.

The name Athens is coming from Athena, the goddess of wisdom, intelligent activity, arts, and literature. Athena was the daughter of Zeus, she came out of Zeus‘ forehead. She became the city’s patron goddess after winning a contest against Poseidon. The victory came to the one who will offer the best gifts to the Athenians and Athena with her offering of the olive tree, a symbol of prosperity and peace, won and became the patron goddess.

Electra palace sunset

Day 1: Objective Acropolis

Practical advice: get a 2-day pass at one of the sites that will allow you to go to all the must-see archeological sites without having to wait in line and pay for each separately. And of course, it does come out cheaper as well.

Start your day at Syntagma Square where, every hour, you can witness the change of Evzones, a special unit of the Hellenic Army, in front of the parliament. Their old fashion guard outfit is what makes those guards unique. Other info, they are doing this for free. It is a service to the nation.

Behind the square, you have Athens beautiful and peaceful National Garden. It is a Greek heaven in a middle of a busy city. Take a morning walk through the park and when you get out from the opposite side you will found yourself in front of The Panathenaic Stadium.

The Panathenaic Stadium, which means “beautiful marble”, was built by Herodes. The stadium steps and seats are indeed made out of marble. It held the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and the latest one in Greece in 2004. Today, you can visit it and take a seat where the emperors used to seat. I will talk later on about Herodes, as he has other monuments dedicated to him.

Next stop, The Temple of Zeus. Tall columns and ambitious layout, the temple of Olympian Zeus reflected the height of the god of the sky and ruler of the Olympian gods. The ruins are still impressive. You can take a close look at the Doric Column, a vertical fluted column shaft, thinner at its top, with no base and a simple capital below a square abacus. It is one of the marks of Greek Architecture. The Temple was built over several centuries starting in 174 BCE and only finally completed by the Roman emperor Hadrian in 131 CE.

Hadrian was a Roman emperor from 117 to 138. As an admirer of Greece, he wanted to make Athens the cultural capital of the Empire.  Between 124 and 132 CE a monumental arch, 59ft high, Hadrian’s Arch, was built by the entrance of the temple of Zeus, in honor of his many benefactions to the city.

Hadrian Arch

From there, head to the Acropolis Museum. How amazing it is to visit a museum and have under your feet the ruins of an ancient world. The museum is filled with the ancient history statues.

Acropolis museum

Acropolis museum

Take a Break: The small streets around the museum will lead you to Plaka, where you can have lunch or do some souvenirs shopping.

Plaka stairs

You can finish the day by going to the Acropolis. Start from the bottom and make your way to The Parthenon. You will pass by:

Athens

Dionysus is the god of the grape harvest, wine, and theater in ancient Greek religion and myth. The Theater of Dionysus in Acropolis was built at the time when ‘drama’ or ‘theater’ was first being created in the late 6th Century BCE. The plays were performed during the Dionysiac festivals, as part of the cult celebrations of Dionysus.

Theatre of Dionysus

Herodes Atticus, the “patron of the arts and letters” built the amphitheater below the Parthenon in 161 AD in memory of his wife. It is one of the rare ancient constructions that is still used today; one of the best places to experience a live classical theater performance.

Herodes Atticus Odeon

Asclepius, the God of Medicine as told in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, was a physician to soldiers wounded on the battlefield at Troy. By Hippocrates’ day, he had become elevated to the status of a god. His temple, on Acropolis, was a healing temple, a place where patients would visit to receive either treatment or some sort of healing, whether it was spiritual or physical.

The Parthenon, like all temples in Greece, was designed to be seen only from the outside; no need to step inside to see the statue of Athena it once housed. As you can notice, the Greeks loved marble. When you walk around the Parthenon you will realize the floor was in marble. The best marble came from the islands of Naxos or Paros.

The Temple of Athena built in Acropolis was to honor Athena Nike, the goddess of victory and Athens’ patron goddess.

Athena

 

Day 2: Agoras

The discovery of different Greek Gods and Goddesses continue with a visit from the Ancient Agora and The Roman Forum – Agora which means market-.

Take a Break: On your way there, you will pass by Monastiraki Square. It is a colorful square with a beautiful old church. You can head to the small streets from some flea market shopping or go towards the water for relaxing at one of the cafes.

Monastiraki

Hadrian, he again ordered the construction of Hadrian’s Library that was created in AD 132 by the Ancient Agora.

 

Hephaestus was the Greek god of blacksmiths, sculptors, metallurgy, fire, and volcanoes, has his temple on top of the Roman Agora. There were numerous potters’ workshops and metal-working shops in the vicinity of the temple, as befits the temple’s honoree.

A stoa, another mark of Greek Architecture, is a long, narrow row of columns backed by a plain wall and roofed. It is often placed at right-angles to create an enclosed open space. The Stoa of Eumenes in the Roman Forum is the perfect example of it.

Stop Ancient Agora

 

Last Mythology Story:

If you go towards the port of Athens, you can take the boats to go on the Aegean Sea. The city was also the starting point for the story of Aegeus and Theseus. Aegeus was the king of Athens; When the son of King Minos of Crete was killed,  Minos waged war against Athens, emerging victorious. As punishment, Athens was forced to send young men and young women to Crete annually, in order to be sacrificed to the Minotaur, who dwelt in the labyrinth under the palace of Minos. At some point, though, Theseus, son of Aegeus, decided to go as part of the sacrifice, planning to kill the Minotaur. He was successful in his quest, but upon returning to Athens, he forgot to change his ship’s sails to white; when Aegeus saw the black sails, meaning that Theseus had died in the labyrinth, he fell into the sea, and drowned, giving his name to what now is called the Aegean Sea.

 

Istanbul in 3 days

“If one had but single glance to give the world, one should glance on Istanbul” Alphonse De La Martine

Here is how to follow La Martine in 3 days

I think the best place to stay is in the Sultan Ahmet neighborhood by all the must-see attractions. Beside Dolmabahce you can walk everywhere.

Day 1: 

Take a cab to Dolmabahce

Dolmabahce, that means filled garden, has, of course, a beautiful garden with gates that open to Bosporus. How crazy it is that you can see another continent, Asia, on the other side of the water. Take time to walk around the garden and admire the architecture of the palace. The Palace and the Harem can only be visited with a tour and no pictures can be taken. The last room of the Palace, Ceremonial Hall, with the chandelier that was offered by Queen Victoria is majestic.

 

 

From there head to Galata Tower. The tower situated on a hill will give you the perfect 360-degree view of the city. Don’t you feel like you conquered the beauty of a city when you get to view it form the above?

 

 

View from Galata Tower

From the tower take the small streets, enjoy the small shops and cafes and head to Galata Bridge. Under the bridge, you have all the fish restaurants. During lunchtime, it smells like fresh fish … so tempting.

On the other side, you have the Bosphorus tours boats. It’s a 1h30 minute ride on the Bosporus. Take the boat and you will get to see Istanbul in the best way possible. You will pass by all the monuments. Especially if you don’t have to go to all the sites this is the best way to admire the architecture of that city.

Bosphorus Boat Tour

Day 2:

Start the day by a walk at the Gulhane Park. The imperial park will lead you to Topkapi Palace and Museum. Topkapı Palace is part the Historic Areas of Istanbul, a group of sites in Istanbul that was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Enter the museum from the Imperial Gate. The back garden gives you a breathtaking view of the Bosphorus as it is overlooking the Golden Horn, where the Bosphorus Strait meets the Sea of Marmara. The Harem section of the museum is gorgeous. Topkapı Palace

 

 

 

After Topkapi, head to Hagia Sofia that Mosque that was a Cathedral before. You can see signs of both religions under one roof. It was a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal Basilica until 1453, later an Ottoman imperial Mosque until 1931, and now a museum.

Hagia Sophia

 

On the other side, you can see the Blue Mosque. Its official name is The Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It has five main domes, six minarets, and eight secondary domes. Impressive.

 

 

snapseed-7

Along the Blue Mosque, you have on one side the Hippodrome with the German Fountain, the Serpentine Column and the Obelisk of Thutmose III. Hippodrome of Constantinople was a circus that was the sporting and social center of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire.

 the Serpentine Column and the Obelisk of Thutmose III

On the other side the Arasta Bazaar. It is a small bazaar that has great stores for souvenirs shopping especially if you love Swirling Darvish or evil eye objects.

Day 3:

Start your day at the Spice Bazaar. Enjoy the colorful alleys of that market. For shopping head to the Grand Bazaar where you can found anything you need, want or didn’t want. Wonder in the alleys, you will for sure found something to buy.

 

 

Finish your day at the Hamam for a relaxing afternoon. Enjoy the bath, the massage, and the Turkish coffee after it. One of the oldest one and most famous one is Cagaloglu Hamami by the Blue Mosque. It is truly a relaxing place.

Cagaloglu Hamami

If you have time:

  • Visit the cistern
  • Go to the Busy Taksim Square
  • Go see a Sufi Dance Session

http://www.istanbullife.org/whirling-dervish-sufi-ceremonies-in-istanbul-turkey.html

Must Eat:

  • Baklava from Hafiz Mustafa
  • Turkish Coffee
  • Try to drink Raki – 40%  alcohol!
  • Have Simit Bread

 

 

 

 

Florence in 2 days

Florence, the symbol of the renaissance is an open-air museum. No need to go inside any monument; the walk through the city is the way to see the beauty of the 600 years of artistic work. Here is a 2-day walking guide to admire that chef-d’oeuvre.

My travel App: Ulmon. It has all the sightseeing places saved and most of the restaurants and bars as well. It can be used offline which is very practical.

My booking site: Tripmasters.com . This is my 3rd time going through them to arrange my travel plans and I love the site. They have a great itinerary suggestion, hotels and all for a great price.

My Hotel: Hotel Vasari Palace, a former monastery, is a beautiful traditional hotel situated by the train station in a pedestrian zone.  I love to stay in traditional hotels where I can feel the charm and the history of the city. Great location, great service, great room and great price.

Must eat : Hotel Chocolate at Café Rivoire. Lunch at Le Volpi e L’Uva. Happy Hour at Caffe Cibreo . Dinner at Cantinetta Verazzano. Gelato at la Carraia.

Day 1

Start at the Train Station from where you can see the Church of S Maria Novella. Take the small pedestrian streets to get to San Lorenzo Basilica and Palazzo Medici. You can quickly go inside both monuments if you want, but again I don’t think it’s worth it. However, take a moment to admire the San Lorenzo Basilica from outside and go to the courtyard of Palazzo Medici to see the David by Donatello. Then, head to San Lorenzo Food and Flea Market. The covered food market is the perfect stop for lunch and the flea market is the perfect place for some souvenir purse shopping. After that cultural break, walk to the Duomo and the Baptistery. The entrance to the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore is free but to go up the Duomo you will have to get tickets in advance. In front of the Duomo, in the middle of the Piazza you will see the Baptistery and the east door of it called Gate of Paradise. The Duomo Piazza and the Cathedral are just breathtaking. The Piazza next to it via the pedestrian passage of Via de Calzaiuoli is where is Piazza Signoria with Palazzo Vecchio and Loggia dei Lanzi, a lodge full of inspiring statues. Palazzo Vecchio is not an impressive palace if you have been to Versailles. You can easily skip it. You can seat at one of the cafes on that square like the Rivoire Café to take a moment to absorb all that beauty. Walk then towards Ponte Vecchio by passing by Uffizi Gallery Courtyard where you can admire statues and check out the work of the painters in the courtyard.  You can admire the sunset from there or even better from the bridge next to it Ponte Trinite. The neighborhood of San Spirito next to those bridges is not that touristy yet and is full of great locals’ restaurants and bar. Great way to finish that first walking tour day.

Day 2

Start your day at Galleria dell Academia. Make sure you bought your ticket in advance as the line can get very long very fast. The museum is fairly small and the main attraction is the Statue of David by Michelangelo. David is enthroned in the middle of the museum.  You should then walk towards Via de Tomabuoni the shopping street of Florence for why not shopping session. Then cross that Ponte Trinite to go to Pitti Palace. The ticket will allow you to visit the palace, the exhibition, the Boboli Garden and the Bardini Garden. The only attractions worth visiting, I believe.  The palace is beautiful and you will get the feel for the grandeur of the Italians monarch. The Boboli gardens are beyond beautiful and as you go up you get to see more and more of that legendary Florence from the above view. There is a cave on the corner of the garden; don’t miss it. It is one of the unusual things to see in Florence. You can go up the small narrow street of old Florence, classified UNESCO World heritage to go to Giardino Bardini Gardens. The Building is a museum and has a very interesting exhibiting. The gardens are bigger than Boboli garden and majestic. Finish your walk uphill at the Forte di Belvedere where you will have the best view of Florence and the sunset. For dinner, you can head across the Arno River to Santa Croce.