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”

Travel Festival Webcast on Saturday

Bacharach, Germany
Europe Through the Back Door

Rick Steves is hosting another live travel festival tomorrow.  The webcast begins at 9:00 AM Pacific Time and can be found at this link.  What seminars will he be offering?

  • 9:00 a.m. European Travel Skills
  • 11:30 a.m. Packing Light and Right
  • 2:00 p.m. France
  • 4:30 p.m. Italy
  • 7:00 p.m. Europe 101: Art and History for Travelers

I enjoy letting the webcast play as I dream about my next travel plans.  Have a great weekend!

The Life of a Centerfold

CatalogI had to share this with my fans.  If you follow Rick Steves, you know that he has a tour book that comes out each year.  His marketing team asked me to share a blurb about my favorite moment on my trip.  That little piece is now featured in the center of his tour catalog.  I’m officially a centerfold!  As I’m sure you can imagine, I am thrilled.

This is only the beginning of my thoughts being published…

Travel on my Mind

Self PortraitWhen I wake up in the morning, all I dream about is traveling, taking photos, and sharing my experiences with others.  If that is all I can think about, that is what I should do.  Life is too short to be stuck doing something I don’t want to do.  I’m not afraid of hard work.

The question is how.  How can I find something I love while still making a living that can support me?  How can I balance this passion with taking care of my family and dog (who is part of my family)?  Lately I’ve been trying to brainstorm how I could transform this passion into a career down the road:

-Author/Photographer (Guidebooks?)

-Travel Blogger

-Tour Guide

-Personal Vacation Photographer (Never worry about missing that shot again!)

Right now author/photographer is most appealing to me, but that is not an overnight change.  I am hoping to have my first book published around the end of the year, so at least I am trying.  My dream job would entail Rick Steves hiring me to take all his tours and blog about them, but I’m not sure if that is in the cards.

Do you have any ideas?  Want to hire me?  Feel the way I do?  I’d love to hear your thoughts :).

Summer 2014

PortraitI saw a post on Facebook tonight that stated the largest boost in happiness comes from planning a vacation.  I am feeling it tonight because Rick Steves posted the 2014 tours on his website.  What am I so excited about?  After looking at the dates I have realized I can definitely sign up for my tour I won, and I can tag on another tour (as long as I save).  So the plan is to go to Eastern Europe this summer and also Spain.  Seven new countries!  New experiences, people, photos, sights, the excitement is endless.  Is it too early to start a countdown?  If you request a 2014 Tour Catalog, you may find someone in there you recognize ;).

Tomorrow I return to the job that brings me great happiness and allows me to travel the way I do.  Bring on the kids and learning.  I apologize for the lack in blog posts.  The kids are my priority right now, but soon I will find a balance again and bring you awesome information and photographs.

Chartres, France

Eure River 3I took the train out to Chartres to get away from the city for the day.  Chartres is a different world compared to Paris.  The streets are quiet, air is breathable, and birds sing as the cumulus clouds fill the blue sky.    I left around 8 this morning and returned around 3:30.  It was the perfect amount of time to enjoy the town and cathedral to myself in the morning, take a tour, and then savor my lunch.

Chartres is mostly known for its cathedral.  It is the best preserved Gothic cathedral in Europe.  The relic that has made this a pilgrimage sight for so many is Mary’s veil.  Veil takes on a different meaning in this case than what we normally think.  The cloth is a portion of what Mary wore while giving birth to Jesus.  Besides the relic, the cathedral is also known for its labyrinth.  Unfortunately, it was covered by chairs, so I could not follow the path to Jerusalem.  Mary is truly the star of this Notre Dame.  She is featured everywhere, with the main theme of assumption.

The celebrity of the Cathedral is Malcolm Miller.  He is in his 57th year of providing tours of the church, and I am sure not one has been exactly the same as another.  I highly recommend joining him if you are looking for a scholarly, intellectual perspective.  He typically leads tours at 12:00 and 2:45, but check out near the gift ship on the board ahead of time because his schedule can change.  Today he had to wait for the internet man from 2-6, so he did not have his afternoon tour.  If you want to take a tour at home, he will be filming a documentary with Rick Steves next month that will be aired on public television in the future.

There are other sights in Chartres besides the Cathedral.  There is shopping, other churches, the Eure River, and the picturesque town.  Here is the walk I went on today.  Well, it sort of is, because I went down several little passages that google maps does not show.  Take these little passages for scenic escapes from the main streets.  While walking, I recommend you step in the St. Aignan Church because the painted walls are stunning, and the stained glass is at eye level.  There was no one else inside while I was there, so I felt a very personal connection to the place.

It was a great photo day.  There was light, clouds, and blue sky.  What more could a girl ask for?  More history about the cathedral will be shared in a later post if you’d like to learn more.

Life in the 7th

feetI have a temporary home in the 7th arrondissement tonight before heading to Brugge tomorrow.  We are staying on the 5th floor in the Hotel Kensington, and it doesn’t seem right what I paid for this view.  I’m sure a flat in this area would be near a million dollars, especially with the view we have.

My aunt has not spent much time in this area, so I took her on a little tour to Rue Cler.  After seeing new areas in Paris on this trip, I can understand why Rue Cler is Rick Steves’ favorite.  If you picture Paris charm coming from cheese shops, markets, locals shopping for their daily meal, and a view of the Eiffel Tower, then this is the neighborhood for you.

We stopped for lunch at one of the Boulangeries where I like to grab a sandwich.  A meal for about 4 Euros is a pretty sweet deal in Paris.  The bread is crusty and chewy.  I felt like a cave woman gnawing away at muscles from the animal my husband just brought home.  The French must have strong jaws.  I enjoy my eating workout as I watch everyone scoot along the pedestrian street with their ingredients for the day.

I’ve got a weird sensation behind my knee (and I’m praying I haven’t torn something), so we just walked along the Seine to sit in the Tuileries.  Even though I was just there yesterday, I enjoyed the visit today just as much.

I write lying in my bed that has a view over the tree tops of the avenue.  The reflection in the open window is what I envision when I close my eyes and think of Paris.  Double-decker tour buses pass below, and I feel I should wave from my balcony.  I am spoiled today.

Rothenburg, Germany

RotenburgRothenburg is a medieval town that is one of the best preserved in Germany.  Escaping the destruction of war, it almost feels like you are visiting an amusement park look alike.

One of the great features of the city is the ramparts.  We hiked up to the top of the wall and made our way around the town.  To repair the damaged wall, people have donated money, and in return they have plaques thanking them for their donations.  Each of us was looking for our hometowns on the wall. Some of us came pretty close.​  Later that day, we heard a story from a local about his personal experience with the wall.  To celebrate his anniversary with his wife, he bought a piece of the wall as a gift.  The problem was that his wife was afraid of heights and didn’t want to go up.  He finally convinced her to go, and she was shocked when she saw their town up there.  Once she read the names above the town, she was even more surprised.

The best shop we stopped in was Anneliese Friese’s gift shop.  She has a fun mixture of Christmas decorations and Rothenburg souvenirs.  The best part about this quaint little store is Anneliese and her son (who told us the story above).  She is a bubbly little grandma full of stories that she can’t wait to share.  She shared her pictures with her and Rick Steves, and talked to us about Rothenburg and whatever else came to mind.

​A group of us decided to explore together.  Our list of sights included the wall, biergarten, crime and punishment museum, a climb to the tower, and the Christmas shops.  We achieved most of the items on our list, but were not completely successful.  The town seemed to close up early due to the big soccer game.  I guess this means we will just have to return.

Before we put on our game faces, we took a local tour in Rothenburg with the Nightwatchman.  With his hellebarde in hand, we walked with about 100 other people down the streets.  His voice immediately hooks you with its fluctuating tone.  We learned about protecting the city and other local history.  We even learned about hell (which is a bar).

As the evening approached, it was time to put on our game faces.  I felt my German blood bubble through as we cheered for Germany in the football game against Italy.  I had purchased a Germany shirt and was wearing my face paint proudly.  Although they lost, I wasn’t too disappointed.  We went to Italy next, so we got to cheer them on.  Yes, I’m one of those fans.