The World from the above

Don’t we all have the obsession to see the world from the above?
Didn’t we start flying for that reason?
I love to discover each city from the above. I always search for the highest point; It can be a mountain, a tower or a building. You can tell a lot from seeing a city from the above. The roofs, the architecture, the city mapping tells a lot about the history of the city. I have a feeling that I did not “own” the city until I see it from the above.  Here are my favorite “from the above” views so far:

  1. Prague

Prague is famous for its traditional houses with the red roofs. The houses are white and all see is those red roofs pop up.

You can go on top of the towers at the end of Charles Bridge to have a view of the Prague Castle or Prague Old Town. It is worth the 200 stairs

Before entering the Castle or while walking in its garden, there are many different view points from where you get to admire the red roofs of Prague.

Prague From the above
Prague From the above
Prague From the above
Prague From the above
  1. Budapest

Climb up the St Stephen’s Basilica to have that view of the city . You can also admire the city from the above from the Buda Castle.

Budapest From the above
Budapest From the above
  1. Medellin City

Medellin is located in Aburra Valley in the Andes Mountain and it went from being an agricultural town to the second largest city in Colombia.

Take the famous cable cars to found yourself on top of the city.

Medellin From the above
Medellin From the above
  1. Guatape

The Penol of Guatape near Medellin offers a view of the paradise. When the first man was able to go all the way up the rock, he was so amazed by the view that he said he needs to share  that view with is everybody else. This is how the stairs along the rock were built. Now the 740 stairs still look rustic but they are well designed to allow people to get on top of the rock and admire the breathtaking view. What looks like paradise, is actually a view of the flooded villages and a huge reservoir of water.

From the above Guatape
Guatape From the above
  1. Bogota

Take a look at the Capital of Colombia, an urban Jungle.

Go up the Cerro de Monserrate to have the view of Bogota , Modern Capital.

  1. Los Angeles

The DTLA tall buildings are now part of the LA scenery famous postcards and it doesn’t seem the skyscrapers project is slowing down.

Go up the Skyspace LA from where you can have a view of the DTLA. You can also ride the glass slide, the latest LA Attraction.

  1. Paris

My favorite place in Paris is Montmartre. Beside the Sacre Coeur Church and the square with all the cafes and artists, you can also catch a great view of Paris.

Paris From the above
ParisFrom the above
  1. Seville

Seville stays a picturesque city even from the above. From the Giralda Tower, you can see the Alcazar Garden and the houses are so close that you can even spy on neighbors. Seville roofs are so famous that there is a “Rooftop Tour” https://www.getyourguide.com/seville-l48/seville-walking-tour-from-the-roof-tops-t35852/

Seville From the above
Seville From the above

 

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Barcelona in 3 days

If you don’t have that much time to explore the city, the best way is to take a hop-on-hop-off bus. I’m usually against those buses as I like to explore the city on my won and get lost but Barcelona is too big for that.

I was staying by Las Ramblas, the famous walking zone in Barcelona and so I started my journey there. Walk through Las Ramblas, enjoy the walking zone, but don’t stop to buy anything or eat there, it’s a major tourist trap zone. Walk all the way to Plaza Catalunya one of the major squares with all the major shops and heart of the Bari Gòtic area. You can catch the bus there. I bought a 2-day pass.

From the bus, I enjoyed the view of Camp Nou the famous football stadium for Barcelona Football Team, Bogatell Beach and Nova Mar Bella Beach. We also passed by the Forum Designed by the Swiss architects Jaques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the triangular Forum building is an urban and very curious landmark in Barcelona; I personally think it doesn’t fit in the Barcelona landscape. We also saw The Torre Agbar, or Agbar Tower,  a 33-story tower at Plaza de les Glòries Catalanes. These are stops that you can explore if you have time later on.

First stop Port Vell. This picturesque old harbor is a popular tourist area with many attractions and sea-food restaurants aplenty.

Port Vell
Port Vell

Next stop, La Sagrada Familia. The Gotic Cathedral designed by Gaudi is a must see and the line is always long so is always good to go as early as possible. The unfinished masterpiece is breathtaking. The inside, as well as the outside, is just spectacular; it’s all about the details.

La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia

I  got back on the bus and went to La Pedrera or Casa Milà, a block of flats with a wavy stone facade and sculptures on the roof. This site was designed by Antoni Gaudi and designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Next top is Casa Batlló, another Gaudi masterpiece, this site was built in the architect’s signature style where fluid lines and organic forms replace straight lines and right angles. Actually walk between those 2 bus stops as they are on the same street called Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona’s most elegant avenue.

At night, you can walk to catch the last bus to go to Barceloneta. It’s the name of the beach and the neighborhood has great restaurants especially seafood restaurants. If you don’t like seafood try Maka Restaurant right by the beach, it’s such a fun and young crowd restaurant A good place to try the typical Paella.  For the bars, you can head back towards Las Ramblas, the small streets that take you there are full of great bars like London Bar or Bar Lobo Restaurant.

Barcelonate
Barceloneta

On day 2, I took the bus to see the Catedral-Barri Gòtic (Cathedral Gothic Quarter). The Cathedral is the most important building in the Gothic Quarter.

Next stop, the must-see Park Guell. Designed by Gaudi and declared a Heritage Site by UNESCO, the park contains amazing stone structures, stunning tiling, and fascinating buildings. One can spend hours there admiring the colors and the architecture.

Then go to Tibidabo. This hill is Barcelona’s highest point so you can see the whole city from here. There is also an impressive modernist church, called the Sagrat Cor (Sacred Heart), a planetarium and the oldest amusement park in Spain (complete with original rides).

Tibidabo
Tibidabo

At Night head to the W Hotel, that you can see rise at the end of Barceloneta. That Hotel has an amazing Rooftop bar.

Barcelona W Hotel
W Hotel

 

On day 3, start your day by going to the Market on Las Ramblas, La Boqueria. You can find fresh fruits and local food.  Then, you can enjoy some of the other stops from the hop-on-hop-off bus or just walk around the city. Plaza Catalunya and Passeig de Gracia are great places for some shopping. You can also go back to one of the beaches to enjoy some sun. If you like museums, check out  Museo Picasso, MNAC Museum or Fundacio Joan Miro, said to be the best museum in the world.

South Dakota, exploring new lands

Mt Rushmore is one of the must-see US Monument. I used that as an excuse to go to South Dakota and explore the region around Mt Rushmore. What scenery.

Day1: Wall, Badlands, and Deadwood

I land in the small regional airport of Rapid City rented a car from there and start my South Dakota Road Trip. 1st stop to refresh myself, the Wall Drugstore on the I90. During the whole drive on the I90, you will see signs for the famous Drugstore situated in Wall. The place was a famous stop for travelers that needed water while going through that deserted region.  The big Drugstore offers great souvenir shops and a restaurant with famous Buffalo Burgers.

After a good lunch and some shopping, I was back on the road to go to Badlands National Park.  Wall is a few miles away from one of the parks’ entrance.

Badlands, named that way by the French that had a hard time to cross that new deserted land, is one of the National Parks in South Dakota. Enter from the Pinnacles Entrance and take the scenic byway (SD240) to cross the park. The Park, like all National Parks, has a bunch of small trails that will allow you to discover the unique mountains recognizable by their red and yellow horizontal lines. Stop at few viewpoints to admire the breathtaking view of those mountains. Be aware, the viewpoints will be most likely very windy.

The must stop trails:

  • Fossil Exhibit trail to discover the fossils
  • The Door Trail: you can get inside of those mountains. It’s an amazing feeling. You will realize that the park and those mountains are mostly mud and not rock. It’s not possible to climb them like in Joshua Tree
  • The Window Trail: it’s a small trail that ends with a window to the mountains

The longest trail is the Castle Trail that is 10 miles. It’s a good trail to take if you are spending the whole day in the park. It is said that at night you can see the stars but this is less and less true with the pollution.  Make sure to stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to get your National Park stamp.

After few trails and a lot of viewpoint stop, I was back on the road to go to Lead and the historic town of Deadwood. 2 hours later, after a drive through the Black Hills Forest, I found myself in that little cowboy town ready to immerse myself in one of those old cowboy movies. Deadwood Main Street is full of souvenir shops, casinos and old saloons. Make sure to check out the Saloon #10. You will see Wild Bill, Calamity Janes, Preacher Smith, Potato Creek Johnny and Seth Bullock heads over the bar. Every night, the saloon offers a show around 8pm.

For the night, I drove to the Hotel near Mt Rushmore called the K Bar S Lounge Lodge in Keystone. This lodge is very cozy and you can actually see the president’s head from the backyard.

 

Day2: Mt Rushmore

Start your day by going to Mt. Rushmore. What an impressive monument. 2016 is the 75th anniversary of the completion of Mt Rushmore, what a better occasion to go and discover this majestic monument. The Sculptor Created by Gutzon Borglum is a must stop on a US Road Trip. The Mount is overlooking the whole Black Hills, SD area. It took Gutzon and his 400 workers 14 years to crave those 4 presidents, Jefferson, Washington, Roosevelt and Lincoln in the mountain. First, discover the heads by walking through the Avenue of Flags that has all the state flags and then you will have a full clear view from the Grand View Terrace. If the weather is nice, take the 1-mile Presidential Trail to have a close-up view of the monument.

The weather is foggy, I decided to not go to Crazy Horse and drove instead to my next National Monument, the Jewel Cave. Jewel Cave is as the name indicates known for its jewel cave. You can take a tour inside of the cave to see the jewels in the rocks. It’s so beautiful. The cave has over 180 miles of passages and is still expanding with many adventurers volunteering to go into the cave and discover new passages. The Park has only a few small trails that you can take to discover the surface of the cave.

For the night I stayed at the best lodge in the middle of Custer State Park called the Sylvan Lake Lodge. That Authentic lodge is right above the majestic Sylvan Lake and if you are a hiker like you will enjoy all the trails nearby. I personally did the Sunday Glutch 4.5 miles trails that offered a great view of the mountains and the lake.  The Lounge, with a fireplace, offers you a great relaxing area after a day of hiking and exploring.

 

Day 3: Wind Cave, Crazy Horse Memorial

From the hotel, the Crazy Horse Memorial is only 30 min away. That monument is one of the lesser known monuments in the area but it’s worth stopping by. It is the worlds’ largest mountain craving still in progress. The monument represents the brave Indian Crazy Horse. For now, the head is finished and for the next 10 years, they will be working on the hand. There is a small scale version of the monument in the visitor’s center so you can see how the monument will look.

From there take the more scenic longer Iron Mountain Road to get to Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave is one of the South Dakota’s National Parks, a few hours away from Rapid City. As you can guess, the park is known for its cave. It’s called the wind cave because somehow the wind is always blowing in the cave. It has over 100 miles of know passages and you can tour few miles of it as the Park offers different tours from the regular hour-long tour to the candlelight one. The cave ceiling is covered by boxwork calcite and the walls by white popcorn! The National Park has also some trails and is known for its wildlife, especially bisons.  From the Visitor center drive take the ) Wildlife Loop Road towards Custer Park and Mt Rushmore, you will see a lot of prairie dogs, deers and bisons on that scenic drive.

For lunch or Happy Hour stop at the Blue Bell Lodge right by Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park. Their Saddle Bar is to fall in love with. A little bit further down, if Mt. Coolidge Lookout Tower is open, check out the view at 6,023 feet and on a clear day, you can even see the Badlands, which is almost 90 miles away. To go back to the hotel, I took the Needle Highway which curves and winds through 14 miles of rock formations called “Needles”. It was truly a scenic drive.

 

Day 4: Rapid City

It took me 1 hour to get back to Rapid City and before catching my flight I had enough time to explore the city. Downtown Rapid City is famous for its presidential walk. The sidewalk has a statue of each president every few feet. The neighborhood offers many shops and restaurants. Stop at the graffiti art alley and grab lunch at the famous Firehouse Brewery.

 

Badlands National Park , South Dakota

Badlands, named that way by the French that had a hard time to cross that new deserted land, is one of the National Parks in South Dakota. Enter from the Pinnacles Entrance and take the scenic byway to cross the park. The Park, like all National Parks, has a bunch of small trails that will allow you to discover the unique mountains recognizable by their red and yellow horizontal lines. Stop at few viewpoints to admire the breathtaking view of those mountains. Be aware, the viewpoints will be most likely very windy.

The must stop trails:

  • Fossil Exhibit trail to discover the fossils
  • The Door Trail: you can get inside of those mountains. It’s an amazing feeling. You will realize that the park and those mountains are mostly mud and not rock. It’s not possible to climb them like in Joshua Tree
  • The Window Trail: it’s a small trail that ends with a window to the mountains

The longest trail is the Castle Trail that is 10 miles. It’s a good trail to take if you are spending the whole day in the park. It is said that at night you can see the stars but this is less and less true with the pollution.

Make sure to stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to get your National Park stamp.

 

Austin

Austin is an amazing city to visit during events such as SXSW  Music Festival in March, the F1 Grand Prix in October or at any other time.

Austin is not like other Texas City. You do get that Southern Texas feeling, especially when you go to the bars, but just enough of it. The people are very welcoming to a big city and most of the population is young and outgoing.

Here is how you can spend a weekend in Austin

I stayed at an Airbnb on East Austin on S Congress  Ave. The street has Antique stores on one side like the Uncommon Objects that is one of the best antique stores, and Food Trucks on the other. On a Parallel street, East Cesar Chavez St., you have the 3 famous food trucks, Le Barbecue THE place for famous Texan barbecue meat. Make sure you get there before they open as the line can get long or the meat can sold out . Next, to it, you have the perfect donut dessert place Gourdough’s. I just wanted to try all of them from the Fat Elvis to the Funky Monkey.  A little bit further they have the Taco Truck Torchy’s Tacos, great place for a late night craving stop.

From East Austin, you walk 5 minutes and you cross the bridge that will take you to Downtown Austin. Visit the State Capitol. The building is mighty and so is inside. Take a tour, visit the different chambers and see the pictures of all of the governors hang on the walls over 4 levels. Next to it, you have the University of Texas at Austin.

At night, go to the famous 6th St. It is full of bars. Pick any Piano Bar and enjoy the beer and the ambiance.  In Austin, in every bar, you have a great band signing, all you need to do is to grab a drink and enjoy the music. This is how locals like to spend their outing nights.

You have to take a cab or the bus to go towards Barton Hills and get to Barton Spring Pool which is a natural pool where you can go skinny dipping ( or not). From there continue your route to the Zilker Botanical Garden and enjoy the many gardens it has to offer; Cactus Garden, Japanese Garden and the amazing Butterfly Garden.

From East Austin, you also need to take a cab to go to the French Place which is also the Art District. During the day all the galleries are open and offer unique pieces. At Night, the bars and French restaurants like Justine’s Brasserie live up the neighborhood.

If you are a F1 fan like me you have to go to The Circuit of the Americas outside of town. That Circuit is breathtaking. If you are lucky to be there during a F1 Grand Prix or another Car Race, the Cars noise is very impressive.

 

Amsterdam Windmills Tour by Viator

The half a day tour including the Zaanse Schans WindmillsMarken Clog Maker and taking the boat to Volendam Cheese Factory. Make sure you are on time because they leave EXACTLY on time.

The bus drive from Amsterdam to the Zaanse Schans Windmills is around one hour. At Zaanse Schans, we visited one of the oil windmills and were able to go on top of the Windmill. After, we had some free time to walk around the windmill field and take a bunch of pictures. Then, we headed to Marken where we saw a Clog Maker making a Clog right in front of us. Such an interesting process; how from a piece of wood one can make a shoe. You will have the opportunity to buy clogs from them. From there we walked through the village to get to the boat and sailed to Volendam. In Volendam, we visited a Cheese Factory, learned about the Cheese tradition and were able to buy Cheese from them. The cheese was amazing. I wish I bought more. Before heading back to Amsterdam, we spent some times in Volendam Village enjoying the village and some beer.

It feels nice to spend some time away for the busy Amsterdam and see the countryside.

Without the tour and unless you have a car, it is impossible to go to those 3 places so it is definitely a worthy tour to take while in Amsterdam. It is only half a day so once finished you still have time to visit a few places in the city. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and you have enough free time to wander around, shop and discover these 3 unique places.

Duration: Half Day

Price: $56

Website: Viator 

Rating:   5-star-rating

 

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Ultimate Guide to Cartagena

I stayed in Boca Grande, the Miami Beach of Cartagena. The other good place to stay is inside the walled city, in the old town.

 

Day 1: The walled city and the fortress

Enter the walled city. The clock tower, Puerta Del Reloj, is the symbol of the city. When walking around, you will see colorful Fruit Ladies. Tip them and you will be able to take pictures. The old town has the most famous ice cream shops. If it’s a hot day, you will need to go to Gelato Paradiso for a threat. For lunch or happy hour stop at Plaza Santo Domingo to enjoy a drink, traditional food and at happy hour time, the Colombian dancers gather and you can admire the Maple Dance, the traditional dance by the slaves.

After the visit of the old town, head first to the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, the old fortress and then to La Popa, a cathedral on top of the city. You will need to get a cab to go to those 2 places.

At night, have dinner at the sophisticated restaurant La Vitrola. It is a dressy spot for both locals and tourists. Then walk to Café del Mar at the entrance of the walled city. The huge outdoor lounge offers the best view possible of the sunset. Grab a Club Colombia Beer and enjoy the best DJ. That lounge is my favorite lounge is the world.

 

Day 2: The Rosario Islands and Playa Blanca

You will need to book a tour to get to that beach. Every morning the boats leave for Playa Blanca from the main port. Note that you will have to pay for a port tax. It is a 45min ride and you will found yourself in paradise. The Water is clear and the sand white.  The Seafood lunch is part of the tour and it is so good. The downside is the beach is full of locals that are trying to sell you items. Be patient and politely say no.

If you want a private beach, you will have to go to a resort.

At night, you can party on a Chiva Party Bus. Book the party bus at your hotel or online. The Chiva Bus is a typical Colombian Party Bus. They pick you up at the hotel; there are music and local alcohol on the bus. Everybody is dancing and singing. After partying in the bus, all the Chiva buses stop at the walled city before dropping everybody off at a club in Getsemani. They come back around midnight to pick you up.

 

Day 3:

  • You can go to the beach in Cartagena.
  • You can go to Santa Marta Beach by boat or taxi but it is 4h away! You might want to stay the night there to fully enjoy the beach and relax
  • You can so go to the Lost City – El Pueblito, the archeological remains of a lost city in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in The Tayrona´s National park. Again, it will be better to stay in the area for the night to fully enjoy the experience.
  • You can go to the Mud Volcano and enjoy healing powers of the mud baths

 

 

Ultimate Guide to Medellin

I stayed at the Diez Hotel in Zona Rosa which is the best neighborhood for cafes, restaurants, and bars.

Day 1: Day trip to Guatape

It is 2 hours away from the city. I took a private tour. It is very affordable and Andres Munera was an amazing tour guide. I will recommend everybody to take the tour with him.

We took the scenic route to Guatape and did the first stop at the Tequendamita Fall. If you didn’t get a chance to go see the Tequendama Fall in Bogota, this is the perfect occasion to see the small replica and no bad smell here.  Then, we headed to El penol, the rock of Guatape. We stopped a few times to take pictures of the rock from far. Impressive. All Along, Andres was telling the story of Medellin, Guatape, and el Penol. 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. The view from up there is just out of this world. Just relax and admire the view. Peaceful.  After the effort, we headed to Guatape village for lunch. After lunch, Andres gave us a tour of the waterfront and Remembrance Street. I felt in love with that very colorful village.

 

Day 2 and 3: Medellin city

 I took the hop on hop off, turibus. It is the perfect way to visit the city.

The bus stops are:

Plaza Botero is the Home to 23 of Fernando Botero’s larger-than-life sculptures. That Plaza is worth an extended stop to admire all the amazing “large” people sculptures. Parque Berrio is across the street from Plaza Botero, this small park is always filled with juice vendors and local street performers playing traditional Colombian music.

Jardin Botanico is the big Botanic Garden of Medellin.

Pueblito Paisa is small traditional village recreated atop Cerro Nutibarra, a small hill in the center of the valley. The hill offers terrific, near 360-degree views of the city. It also has a church and souvenir shops.

El Castillo Museo y Jardines was Inspired by the castles of the French Loire Valley, El Castillo was constructed in 1930.

Parque Arvi: take the famous Medellin Metro cable to get to that Park, one of the region’s largest nature reserves.

Parque de los pies descalzos : this park in the middle of the city offers relaxing activities that can be done barefoot, hence the name of the park.

 

At night stay in Zona Rosa. The Park is surrounded by restaurants. Pick any, they are all good

For the dance and drink part, head to Mojito Bar, one street away from the park. The little bar runs on mojito and they have salsa classes some nights. Don’t be shy and dance.

Ultimate Guide to Bogota

Bogota in 3 days

I’m staying in the old town, La Candelaria neighborhood. It is perfect for the touristy activities during the day but it is a dead neighborhood at night. For the night festivities, you have to head to Zona T.

Day1: Monserrate and Usaquen

Cerro Monserrate is a few blocks away from old town but unless you love hiking, you are better off taking a cab to the cable cars that will take you all the way up. At Monserrate, you can have a 360 view of Bogota, visit the Monserrate Church and you can also see from there el Cerro de Guadalupe which is a huge statue of Guadalupe. If you have extra time, you can also cab it all the way there.

For lunch, head to Usaquen, a colonial town near Bogota. They have really good restaurants and cafes. You can relax by the park and check out the Iglesia Santa Bárbara (Santa Barbara Church). If you go there on a Sunday, they have their famous flea market, the perfect place to buy souvenirs made by locals.

At Night, head to Andres Carne de Res. It is in Chia, an hour outside of Bogota but you won’t regret it. It is a huge restaurant with amazing food and after dinner time the music becomes loud and everybody will be on the dancefloor. It is the best restaurant I’ve been to.

Day2: Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira and the Mystic Lake Guatavita

Start the day early and go the Salt Cathedral a few hours away from Bogota. You will need to get a tour or cab it there. I got a private chauffeur for that day.

After the visit of that breath-taking cathedral built in a salt mine, I headed to Lake Guatavita. On my way there, I stopped at a small food cart to get the traditional Arepas con queso which is special bread filled with Cheese. So Yummy.

Lake Guatavita and the village are 1 hour away from the Salt Cathedral. You will fall in love with the lake and the little village.

At night, Zona T is an area famous for its abundance of good food, and a plethora of pubs and bars, including the famous Bogotá Beer Company and Andrés DC. Andres DC is the most stop for drinks and dancing. It is a 4 story building with a bar and dance floor on each level. This is where the young crowd is.

Day3: The Tequendama Fall and La Candelaria

La Candelaria is the name of the Old Town. It is full of museums from Museo de Oro to Museo Botero and Museo de la Esmeralda (Emerald Museum). The one that is worth going to is the Botero Museum. Botero is a Colombian artist and you will see his work in every city. He is famous for his paintings and sculptures of people in “large” and they actually call that “boterismo”.

Head to the main square, called Plaza de Bolivar. The Plaza is surrounded by Capitolio Nacional, which serves as the seat of both houses of the Congress of Colombia, Palacio de Justicio and Palacio de Nariño (the official office for the executive branch of the Colombian government). At the Plaza, you can feed the pigeons and make sure you take a picture. Walk along the Palacio de Nariño and take a picture with the guards at the entrance to the Palacio de Nariño, cross the street and check out the 17th century Iglesia de San Augustín. Few streets away, you will see one of the oldest cathedrals of Colombia, Catedral Primada de Colombia.

If you need a break, enter any of the typical coffee shops and try the traditional Chocolate con queso. It’s Hot Chocolate with Cheese! It’s actually not that bad.

If you have some time left head to Tequendama Falls and the Abandoned Hotel that are 2 hours from Bogota with cab or bus. I was told by locals that it smells very very bad and it is actually not that impressive.

If you have extra time, you can also take a Coffee Plantation Tour. After all, Colombia is famous for its coffee.