Spain in the Spring

spain mapI’ve made a slight travel itinerary adjustment.  Rather than packing everything in one trip this summer, I am going to split my travel between spring break and summer break.  I will be visiting Barcelona and Madrid with a day trip to Toledo in March, and I am eager beyond belief.  I originally thought it would be more economical to pack everything in one trip since I was already flying over to Europe, but this was a misconception.  Instead I will spread the joy throughout the year.

I’m sure many of you have been to Spain already, so I’m looking for some advice.  If you haven’t been, you are welcome to post questions here and I will do what I can to cover them.  Here is what I’d like to know:

As readers, what do you want to see most in my live posts?  It is easy to write follow-up posts later, but what do you want to read about as it is happening?

Which is better: tapas tour or cooking class?  Do you have any recommendations for companies in Barcelona or Madrid?

What is overrated and perhaps something that should not be a priority?

I’m taking a Rick Steves’ tour, so here is the basic itinerary.  Am I missing anything that I must see?

Day 1: Welcome to Barcelona

Barcelona, the proud capital of Catalunya, may be the most festive city on the Mediterranean. Meet your guide and group around 5 p.m. at our centrally-located hotel for an orientation meeting — then we’ll join the party with a stroll along the surprise-filled, people-packed Ramblas boulevard before having dinner together. Sleep in Barcelona (3 nights). No bus. Walking: light.

Day 2: Gaudí Day

Today is devoted to the swirling, Modernista architecture of Antoni Gaudí. We’ll tour the greatest works of Barcelona’s master builder, including the towering, dizzying Sagrada Família church and his Casa Milà apartment building. The remainder of your afternoon is free to explore more Gaudí delights throughout the city. This evening we’ll wrap up our day learning about what goes into Catalan cuisine including a visit to the lively, legendary La Boquería market, before setting you free for dinner on your own. No bus. Walking: strenuous.

Day 3: Barri Gòtic and Picasso

This morning, we’ll explore Barcelona’s maze-like Gothic Quarter, from its Roman foundations to the spires of its candle-, relic- (and geese-!) strewn cathedral. We’ll end our tour at the Picasso Museum, Europe’s best collection of Picasso paintings, where we’ll trace the story of this hometown boy-genius’ art as he evolved from a kid who painted like an adult…to an adult who painted like a kid. This evening we’ll toast to our last night in Barcelona with a paella dinner together. No bus. Walking: strenuous.

Day 4: Montjuïc and a Speedy Train to Madrid

We’ll start today with a panoramic bus tour of Barcelona, beginning atop the historic Montjuïc Hill. After a visit to the Museum of Catalan Art, it’s “all aboard” for one of Europe’s speediest trains (the AVE) to Madrid. Upon arrival we’ll meet our bus for a tour of Madrid’s major monuments and classy boulevards. Once we’ve settled into our hotel in the heart of Madrid, we’ll take a neighborhood orientation walk, ending with a tapas-style dinner together. Sleep in Madrid (4 nights). Train: 3 hrs. Bus: 4 hrs. Walking: moderate.

Day 5: Madrid’s Royal Palace

Today, we’ll take a historical walking tour starting at the very center of Madrid, the bustling Puerta del Sol. From there we’ll walk to — and through — the sumptuously-decorated Royal Palace. With 2,000 rooms, tons of luxurious tapestries, and a king’s ransom of chandeliers, this is truly one of the great palaces of Europe. You’ll be free for dinner on your own tonight, but first we’ll prepare your taste buds with a Spanish wine tasting. No bus. Walking: moderate.

Day 6: Masterpieces of Madrid

This morning we’ll tour one of Europe’s premier art museums — the masterpiece-packed Prado — where you’ll see paintings by Velásquez, Goya, El Greco and others. Then we’ll visit the Reina Sofía, Spain’s greatest modern art museum, home to Picasso’s Guernica. The rest of the afternoon is yours to stroll through the majestic Retiro Gardens (Madrid’s most popular park), do a little shopping, and maybe even catch a performance of flamenco. No bus. Walking: strenuous.

Day 7: Toledo

A short bus ride after breakfast will take us to Spain’s old capital city of Toledo (and back in time about 500 years). We’ll take a traffic-free walking tour that includes Toledo’s magnificent cathedral, the historic Sinagoga del Tránsito and El Greco’s The Burial of the Count of Orgaz in Santo Tomé Chapel. This afternoon you’ll have time to enjoy the winding medieval streets of Toledo. We’ll catch the bus back to Madrid for our final dinner together to share travel memories and toast new friends. Salud! Bus: 2 hrs. Walking: strenuous.

Day 8: Tour Over After Breakfast

Madrid’s airport is an easy bus or taxi ride away — or you may want to continue your Iberian adventures on your own. Hasta luego!

 

Time to start working on my Spanish!

 

Free Writing Workshop

Cafe Hugo 3Travel writing comes in a variety of forms.  Maybe you are a travel blogger, or perhaps you jot down ideas on a coffee-stained receipt.  If you are looking for some advice to improve your writing, you might want to check out Dave Fox’s free audio workshop.  Dave Fox used to work for Rick Steves.  I bought his book a few years ago, and I still revisit it from time to time to refresh my perspective.  The first 20 minutes are about journal writing and the last half is about publishing travel writing.  Check out the blurb below for more information.

 

“Free Audio Workshop: From Personal Journaling to Professional Travel Writing

Writecamp is a series of casual, half-hour workshops offered each year at the Singapore Writers Festival. Speakers present fast-paced talks on writing-related themes. Attendees can choose from a couple of different topics in each time slot and are encouraged to drift from room to room to see what they like.
 
This year, I talked about travel writing I initially debated whether I should cover travel journaling or more polished travel writing. In the end, in the frenetic spirit of Writecamp, I decided to cover both – scrunching what is usually several hours of material into 30 high-energy minutes.
 
I recorded the session and I’m making it available for free! You can download it from iTunes or listen to it on Globejotting.com.”

10 Items You Wish You Packed

packing11. Travel Alarm Clock-Talk about a bummer if you oversleep for an important event.  A lot of you may use your cell phones as alarm clocks, but when traveling abroad, this may not be so reliable.  Spend a few bucks to have an alarm clock to get you where you need to be on time.

2. Poster Tube-Souvenirs can be expensive and take up too much space.  Posters are an easy solution to capturing moments without spending too much or taking up empty space in your bag.  I constantly look at my posters and I am instantly reminded of past adventures.

3.  Audio Recorder-This item is not only good for people considering an audio journal, but also for anyone wanting to capture the audio memories.  Maybe you hear a band playing on the street or have an opportunity to talk to someone that you’d like to record.  Sometimes I feel a stronger connection listening to the tone of my voice as I describe memorable moments than any photo or journal entry.  I love looking back at my perspective during that snapshot of time.  This small, handy device can be useful in multiple situations.

4. Copy of Important Documents-Make copies of your passport, credit cards, license, and anything else that would be important to have if it was lost.  Hopefully you’ll never have to deal with losing a passport or credit card, but being prepared for it is smart.

5. Ziploc Bags-I collect odd things sometimes.  Rocks, sand, and other little trinkets.  Ziplocs take up little to no space, are cheap, and they may be useful in the future.

6. Friend/Family Addresses-Postcards mean more than you might know.  I am a teacher and anytime I travel I ask students to jot down their info if they want a postcard.  A few minutes can make a big impact.

7. Band aids-Blisters, cuts, broken nails, and more can put a little damper on your comfort.  You will probably need a band aid, so take some with you.

8. Back-up Bag-Carry-on is the way to go, but sometimes you find cool stuff along the way.  Go with just carry-on, but have a backup bag for souvenirs on the trip home.  I typically check my original carry-on bag and use a new bag for the plane ride.  Some bags only take up about one cubic inch of space.

9. Packing Cubes-If you are traveling to multiple destinations, this can be very time-saving.  I went on a 21-day trip that involved no more than two nights in each location.  I ended up repacking each time we went somewhere new.  With packing cubes, you can pack strategically and avoid repacking each time you visit a new place.

10. Swiss Army Knife (Checked Luggage)-Corkscrew, scissors, knife, nail file, the options are endless.

What do you take with you that is an essential packing element?

Want more packing advice?  Check out my packing 101 video or packing secrets post.

 

Earning Miles with Credit Cards

Boots and Airplane-5974If you are new to the world of earning miles/points with credit cards, join me as we learn together.  This past week I got together with a friend that is an expert on making the most of sign-up bonuses and booking flights.  He is self-taught, but very successful with earning miles/points for flights.  After meeting, we came up with an action plan that will work for me.  Let me share all the cool tidbits I learned.

Airlines 101

I think I’ve only flown on three airlines my entire life: United, Aer Lingus, and Delta.  Airlines partner with many other airlines, so it is wise to join the frequent flyer clubs of some of the the majors (United, American Airlines, etc.).  It is free, so why not?

Want to earn some extra points with the big names?  Visit their shopping portals to earn extra points on items you plan on buying anyway.  This is perfect for the holiday season!

Credit Card Basics

There are some basic fundamentals that will help you with your journey into the world of earning flights.  Here are some key pieces I’ve learned:

-Be prepared to pay for your credit card balance.  Earning points is not about accruing credit card debt.  If you want the points, you have to pay your bills in full and on time.

-Do your homework ahead of time.  You will want to visit the resource section below to help you.  Consider the following questions: how much can I spend, what airlines will I be using, is this smart for domestic/international travel, and can I apply for a business card.  Let’s learn why these questions are important.

-Most credit cards have a minimum spending amount within a certain amount of time.  It can range from $0 to $20,000 within a certain period.  Make sure you can handle it.

-Decide whether flying domestically or internationally is your goal.  If you are thinking domestically, British Airways may be your best bet (oddly enough).  If you are thinking internationally, you may want to consider American Airlines depending on your destination.

-Business cards earn more rewards.  If you can handle the minimum spending amounts, be creative with using a “business” to help you earn points.

Resources

There are some great blogger experts out there ready to reveal their secrets.  Like their pages on Facebook to keep up with the word on the street.

The Miles Professor-This article is great for beginners.

Mile Value-Another great resource to get you started

American Airlines Award Chart-Major airlines have an award chart to let you know approximately how many points you will need to book a flight with rewards.  Simply search the airline name and award chart.  Here is a sample chart for American Airlines.

Award Wallet-Keep track of all your credit cards with this free, handy site.

My Plan

I’m starting small with the Barclay Arrival Card.  The minimum expense is $1,000 within three months.  Then I will branch out to the American Airlines card.  That one is $3,000 within three months for 50,000 points (at least one free flight).  From there, I will look into the business card world once I’m a little more comfortable.

I am hoping to become a pro at this someday, but until then, I will share insider tips that I learn.  Have you earned flights with points/miles?  Please share your experiences!

Travel Journey of the Week: Belgium

Yesterday’s post inspired me to take a closer look at Belgium.  I’ve only stayed in Bruges, but I’d like to know what else is worth a visit. Share your experiences with us.  Here is how you can contribute:

1. Each Sunday, a place will be set as the theme (it could be a city, landmark, national park, etc.)

2. If you are familiar with the place and would like to contribute, you will write a post and title it Travel Journey of the Week: Belgium.  If you’ve already written a post about Belgium, feel free to share it in the comments section!

3. Your post can be any medium that works for you; videos, photos, descriptions, itineraries, personal memories, poems, ticket stubs, etc.

4. Finally, be sure to provide a link back here so everyone can connect and share their own take on the place: http://liberatedtraveler.com/travel-journey-week-belgium/ ‎

Travel Journey of the Week: Belgium

Since I shared some sights in Belgium already, I’d like to provide a recommendation for a place to stay in Bruges.  A bed and breakfast is a great idea for a destination like this.  Meet some locals, talk with other travelers, taste the cuisine, and feel like you have a home in a new country.  B&B Marie Rose Debruyne is the perfect place to stay.  Here is why you should consider it if you are thinking of taking a trip to Bruges.

Friendly People-Marie-Rose and her husband, Ronny, have transformed their home to an artistic delight.  Even though it is a bit more modern, it still feels so homey.  Once we arrived, she fixed us a cup of hot tea and sat down with us to highlight all the sights to see on a map.  She made personalized recommendations based on what we were interested in.  If only we had more time to see it all.

Unique Accommodations-As soon as you walk through the massive door in the front you will be stunned.  Looking all around, you will see something new and stimulating to take in.  According to Marie-Rose, “On this piece of land there was a house as early as the 16th century. It was the only house in the street. 100 years ago our house was a local brewery.”  In 1992 they bought the home and renovated.  Her most recent project has been the house out back which she has turned into an apartment that can be rented for travel.  What an amazing combination of history and creativity.  And all of this for a price that can’t be questioned.

Good Location-Bruges can be a bit crowded at times.  The B&B is located in the Northern part of the city, just a short walk to the Markt.  Make sure you have a map while walking around because it is easy to get misplaced in this city.

*If you’d like to see more photos of Bruges, check out my portfolio.

 

Venice of the North: Bruges

Brugge3Bruges (Brugge) is a quiet town in Northern Belgium.  It is easily accessed from Brussels, which makes it possible to visit if you are staying in Paris.  Bruges is physically possible in a day trip, but it is well worth an overnight stay or longer.

Getting to Bruges

If you are coming from Paris, you will want to take the Thalys high speed train from Paris Gare du Nord to Brussels Midi, and connect to a train that will take you to Bruges.  You should book your Thalys tickets ahead of time because you can save money.  I booked directly through their website and was able to get a deal for 44 Euros round trip.  You cannot reserve seats on the train from Brussels to Bruges, so it is easiest just to get the tickets at the station.  The journey is just under 2.5 hours and cost me under 75 Euros total.  If I would have gone through Rail Europe, I would have spent over 100 Euros.

*Tip: I received a better deal when I switched the language to Belgium/English.  Be sure to test this out if you are purchasing a ticket.

Sights in Bruges

The town itself is a sight to see.  It offers crow-stepped gables architecture lining the canals.  I highly recommend that you get lost wandering around the town.  You are surrounded by a large canal, so you can’t get too lost as long as you don’t cross over it.  I struggled to ever take a direct route to where I wanted to go, but the quiet backstreets and canals offered a view past the touristy center.  Here were my top five favorite sites:

1. Markt Square-Belfort Tower-City Hall-Although this area is touristy and a bit pricey, it is the main square in Bruges.

2. Burg-This square is the neighbor of the Markt Square.  The variety of architecture provides a unique collage of Renaissance, Baroque, and more.

3. Church of Our LadyThis church holds the only Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime.  The church is undergoing restoration, but your visit will help support their efforts.

4. Begijnhof-Stroll past the peaceful homes and courtyard for nuns and quiet visitors.

5. Canal Cruise-Seeing Bruges from the water is just as important as seeing Venice from the canals.  Float past the major sites as you glide on the water with the swans.

*This short list provides some highlights, but there is much more to see.  For more ideas about sites to visit, check out the Bruges Official Tourism Website.

Eating/Drinking in Bruges

Belgians are known for chocolate, beer, waffles, and fries (along with many other specialties).  Plan on walking around a lot to burn off all these calories.  If you order fries, don’t forget to order it the way they like them: with mayonnaise.

Staying in Bruges

I think my favorite part about Bruges was the bed and breakfast we stayed at.  It was one of the most unique, comforting places I’ve ever been to.  The husband is an architect and the wife is a retired teacher.  Their creative style creates an environment that is welcoming.  If you are looking for an affordable place to stay with lots of charm, stay at B&B Marie Rose Debruyne.  I will share more about my experience with them in a post tomorrow.

*If you like the photos you see here, check out my portfolio.

 

 

 

Take a Peak

WanderMy new site is up and running, but I’m still working on switching over my subscribers.  If you have not signed up for e-mail notifications, please do stop by to stay updated with new content!  Next week I plan on starting the Venice by Vaporetto series.  I hope you will join me on my journey as I strive to create a blog with useful and fun information.

If you haven’t joined yet, here is what you missed this week:

Travel Journey of the Week: Cinque Terre

Transferring a Blog to WordPress.org (Just in case you are interested in expanding your options)

I will miss the community with wordpress.com, but I feel like I have made some amazing connections that will continue to be part of future.  I hope you find yourself visiting soon :).