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.

Cancun Escapade

Whether you live on the East Coast or the West Coast, Cancun is the perfect getaway vacation for a long weekend or for a Spring Break.

As soon as you land in Cancun you can feel the heat and the humidity. Cancun Hotel Zone is a street with all the hotels back to back. The Hotel Zone ends in Downtown Cancun. I stayed at Royal Solaris All Inclusive Resort. It’s the perfect combination of a budget-friendly hotel with a great pool and area.

You can enjoy Cancun at the Hotel Pool with again the all-inclusive service which means as many Margaritas and Daiquiris as you want by the poolside or at the pool bar. You can also escape the hotel and go to the Hotel Beachfront. That white sand and clear water is so tempting.

What I loved about Cancun is that it offers a tropical paradise; you can relax and tan by the pool or at the beach, but also an adventure. Cancun is the closest city to Chichen Itza, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO Heritage site.

Chichen Itza Day tour can be booked online or at the hotel, where they offer great deals. They picked us up at the hotel. First stop Sacred Cenote, Cenote Sagrado. What a natural wonder. We entered the Cenote, welcomed by locals. It was impressive to see the depth of the Cenote. Down in the Cenote, we got to assist at a traditional dance. Cenotes were used by the ancient Maya Civilization for sacrificial offerings.  A lot of people were diving and swimming; I got scared by all the small fishes that one could see in the water. We then headed to Chichen Itza. Chichen Itza which means “at the mouth of the well of Itza” is one of the largest Maya cities and our tour guide walked us around the whole archeological site. We saw the Bail Court, where they sometimes have special concerts, the Group of Thousands Columns, the Temple of the Warriors and of course dominating the site, El Castillo, the famous Kukulkan Pyramid. The tour gave us ample time to wander around on our own and take pictures. We ended that day tour at a local traditional buffet style restaurant where we had great food and great show by traditional dancers.

Cancun also offers a lot of Beach activities like Jet Skiing or snorkeling. I took a day tour to Isla Mujeres. We left the port in the morning. On the way to Isla Mujeres, we stopped for snorkeling. It was magical to see all those colorful fishes.  We stopped at a small beach for lunch and got to touch a shark. I was scared but it was a lot of fun. I wish I had more time and could actually spend a night is the island. It is definitely a little paradise on earth.

At night, even if the resort offers a lot of activities, DJ, and dancing, you need to go to Downtown Cancun. It’s a very small downtown with few clubs but a lot is happening at night. There is a party bus that stops at every hotel in the Hotel Zone and takes you to the clubs. What a way to start the night. The most famous club is Coco Bongo. You will have to pay to get in but it’s worth it. Coco Bongo is NOT your average club; it’s a club and a concert place. The main room is huge with about 5 levels and everybody has eyes on the stage. No DJ on the stage but your favorite singers’alikes coming to perform. And if you like 90’s music you will love. From Michael Jackson to the Spice Girls, all of the most famous singers alike will come and perform all night long. Oh and I almost forgot, it’s all you can drink. It is a crazy experience that you need to live while in Cancun.

 

Temecula Valley Wine and Balloon Festival

The Temecula Valley Wine and Balloon Festival is held every year in May for 3 days and it is the perfect occasion to enjoy and discover good wine, listen to great music and be wowed by the Balloon Launch show.

Temecula is only a few hours away from Los Angeles. I decided to only go on Saturday but I recommend going for the whole 3-day festival to fully enjoy the event and have a chance to see the Balloon Launch Show.

I went on Saturday and started with the wine tasting part. A lot of Temecula wineries were there to share their wine. I had the occasion to discover some amazing wines like the wine from Monte de Oro Winery and Vineyards . There are also many Beer Stations for some beer tasting. I felt in love with the Stella Artois Beer Truck.

They are 2 stages with different bands and singers playing all day. Grab your glass of wine or beer and maybe some amazing food and enjoy the music. The festival has the best BBQ Food Trucks like the Mill Greek BBQ . If you are a meat lover you will not be disappointed.

The Balloons are launched one time in the morning where you can enjoy a free ride and at sunset, there is a balloon glow show. Unfortunately, this year, it was very windy and they were no balloon launched on Saturday night. This is why I’m recommending going for the whole weekend so you get to see the balloon launch if not at night, at least in the morning. And sure enough, on Sunday, when the wind finally died down, they were able to launch off the balloons.

The Festival is a great weekend getaway occasion. Stay at a Temecula Winery, enjoy the romantic wine county and the breathtaking balloon show.

 

Temecula Valley Wine and Balloon Festival
Temecula Valley Wine and Balloon Festival
Temecula Valley Wine and Balloon Festival
Temecula Valley Wine and Balloon Festival
Temecula Valley Wine and Balloon Festival
Temecula Valley Wine and Balloon Festival

Kutná Hora Day Tour by Sandeman’s

During your stay in Prague make sure to go to the UNESCO world heritage site of  Kutná Hora, a few hours away from the capital.

You don’t necessarily need to take a tour for it since it’s easily accessible by train, but I think you get a lot more with a tour as the guide will explain the history of the city and you will also get a tour of the churches.

I chose Sandeman’s New Europe Tour. It is the best tour out there, you will see everything and the price is unbeatable.  The tour guides are students that are passionate about the history of Prague and they are eager to make you discover the amazing cultural sites that it offers. We met by the Clock in Old Town Square and went from there to the Train Station. The Tour includes the train transportation ticket.  A few hours later we were at Kutná Hora.

We started to discover that beautiful city by walking through the medieval Ruthardska Street. As the tour guide was pointing out some interesting architecture embedded in some buildings, we started to hear the rich history of that old town that was the economic power-house of the Kingdom of Bohemia and played a crucial role in the 15th century Hussite Wars. We then visited the Splendid Italian Court. Our next stop was the restaurant for lunch. We went to Dacicky and had the best Czech food and of course beer. Again lunch is included in the tour price. In the afternoon, we headed to Saint Barbara’s Church, a Gothic masterpiece. The guide gave us a tour of the Church that is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Church is breathtaking from outside and inside.  The Baroque style, the Vault of the Church, the Stained Glasses are all are beautiful. Keeping the best for last, we went to the famous Bone Chapel, The Sedlec Ossuary. The Chapel, located in the middle of a small cemetery is filled with bones. In the middle of the Chapel, you will be attracted to that sort of art installation with bones. Very impressive and unique.

We were back to Prague around 5pm-6pm.

You can take the train and go to that town by yourself but it can be a bit confusing as you have to change train. Also, with the tour, you get a full explanation of the history of the city, the Church and Bone Chapel. For that price, it is more than worth taking the tour.

Duration : All Day

Price: 30 Euros

Website : Sandeman’s New Europe Tour

Rating: 5-star-rating

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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.

 

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree for a weekend

If you want to get away from the city, Joshua Tree is the perfect getaway if you live in SoCal. The park, located in the Mojave Desert not too far from Palm Springs, is a great retreat location in Fall and Spring until Mid May. It does get too hot during summer time.

You can camp inside of the park as they offer many camping grounds or stay at a cabin or at the Joshua Tree Inn, in Yucca Valley,  1 mile away from the park. The closer to the park, the better you will be able to admire the sunset and the stars at night. The best way to finding cabins is to go to Airbnb, they offer so many great choices but they best cabins sell out very fast.

I entered the park from Yucca Valley. Make sure to stop at the visitor’s center to collect your national park stamp and take a map of the park.

Start your day early, maybe around 9am with the most strenuous hike. Ryan Mountain is a great 3 miles hike that allows you, once at the 5,458-foot summit, to have a beautiful view if the vast park.  You can then discover the park with different short trails. The Arch Rock trail, the Skull Rock trail, the Barker Dam Trail and the Chella Cactus Garden will allow you to discover a different aspect of the park. Make sure to stop at the Key’s View, also called inspiration point, from where you can see the San Andreas Fault, Mt. San Jacinto and Coachella Valley. The Park is also known for its rock climbing spots like Hidden Valley Trail.

The Park is vast so you might explore the Hidden Valley to Skull Rock side in one day and the Cottonwood Spring side of the park the next day.

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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