If you’re interested in visiting, here is more about my day trip to San Lorenzo de El Escorial from Madrid.
Temples. Temples. Temples. What can I say about temples? I don’t know. Let’s just look at pretty pictures of temples instead.
Ryan and Dina are a couple of permanent travelers vagabonding around the world. Ryan is a software guy from Canada, and Dina is a chemist from Java, Indonesia. They met in Japan and then lived in Ontario, Canada. In April 2009, they closed their home and since then have been living on the road with their 2 backpacks. They focus on cheap travel and ways to get more travel enjoyment for less cash. In their blog “Vagabond Quest“, they share their stories and recommendations. Follow them on Twitter @VagabondQuest.
Ayngelina left her job, apartment, boyfriend and friends to travel solo throughout Central and South America. You can read about her adventures at Bacon is Magic, as she eats her way through Central and South America. You can follow her on Twitter @Ayngelina.
Kevin Revolinski is the author of The Yogurt Man Cometh: Tales of an American Teacher in Turkey and the Bangkok expert for NileGuide.com. His website and blog are at The Mad Traveler Online.
Dave was born and raised in small town New Zealand providing him with the perfect beginnings for a lifelong travel addiction. After graduating from university with a degree in History and Political Science he packed his meager belongings into a backpack and headed for London. The subsequent years have seen him traveling through thirty-something countries and watching my ‘must see’ list grow larger almost as quickly as I’ve watched my bank balance grow smaller. Check out Dave’s blog, What’s Dave Doing, and follow him on Twitter @driftingkiwi.
Simon is ‘wild about travel’ and as soon as possible she packs a few things and goes. Born in Italy, growing up in a small village in the Swiss mountains and at 18 back to Italy, in Milan, she remained a nature lover. Simon loves adventure travel and wilderness, and she is wild about scuba diving, hiking and skiing. She started blogging for fun, while she was jobless, but soon got passionate and continues writing her ‘Travel tales by a Travel Addict’.
Michael just completed a sixteen month, round-the-world trip without taking a single plane. His blog — One Lap, No Jetlag — is at www.mobilelawyer.blogspot.com and you can Twitter him at @mobilelawyer.
Matt Preston is an English travel photographer and co-founder of Travel With Mate. He has also created a book entitled “Portraits of Asia.” Matt is currently living in Sydney, Australia before going to Borneo.
Emily Hyndman is a recent college graduate who never leaves home without her camera. A recent trip to Beijing left her with a desire to explore Asia. A big fan of slow travel, Emily hopes to eventually live and work abroad. Until that day comes, she enjoys exploring and living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, starting with her new home in Seattle, WA. You can follow her on Twitter @eehyndman.
These pictures were taken during a mother-daughter Buddhist Pilgrimage to India and Nepal in early 2008. Follow this fabulous family of three on their inspiring blog Got Passport: Will Travel. Will Serve and follow them on Twitter @gotpassport as they prepare to move to Chiang Mai, Thailand this summer.
Jenna works as a professor in Sacramento, California, but loves to get away whenever she can. She studied and lived abroad and has traveled extensively through Europe. She has a multi-cultural family and spends time every year visiting family either in Brazil or Indonesia, or both. As the mother of a toddler, she is learning new ways to travel and looks forward to sharing her adventures with others. Check out her blog at Adventures of a 21st Century Family.
It was my first day in Madrid. I probably landed a few hours ago and since I had nothing plan for the rest of the day, I let myself get lost in the city of Madrid. I sauntered down the main streets and I walked through the hidden alleys. Then I caught a glimpse of a an angel between two tall buildings. Gut instincts told me I had to follow and so I did. At the end of the alley, I came upon this – Madrid’s Metropolis building.
My New Year’s Resolution: To be happy & healthy in mind, body & spirit. And travel a crap load more.
I started A Pair of Panties & Boxers as a reminder to myself to never conform to society’s norm in the daily grind of a 9-5. I didn’t want my job to be the reason I stopped seeing beyond four walls and I didn’t want the burden of saving for grad school keep me from seeing the world. I figured the best way to travel as much as I can is to start a travel blog because in order to write about my travels, I’d actually have to go and travel. When I start running out of things to write, that means I need to get on a plane, train, bus, boat or any type of transportation fast – not that I don’t get that urge to just jet every single day. But sometimes, we do what we have to do and not what we want to do.
It hasn’t been a year since I started blogging but I thought I’d still wrap up 2009 featuring my top 10 most popular blog posts of the year. I hope all my readers enjoyed growing this blog with me these past 6 months. Thanks for sticking around.
So without further adieu, here are the top 10 posts for 2009.
The beauty of traveling through China is that sometimes, I feel like I’m in two places at once – the past and the present.
See #8 for related post.
The one thing I absolutely loathe about China is the lack of Western toilets. Those hole-in-the-ground-you-have-to-pee-by-squatting apparatuses make me cringe every time. I’m a girl — how am I supposed to pee that way?!
So when my roommates and I decided to trek westward for fall break, towards rural Yunnan and Sichuan, I had to put on a brave face and come to terms with the fact that I’d be using nothing but “squatties.”
Five hours into the bumpy bus ride and two bottles of water later, I was bursting with thoughts of shiny automatic-flush toilets and marble sinks.
Alas, what greeted me at the makeshift rest stop was an outhouse made out of mud and three little children asking for a 50 cents fee for using their “bathroom.”
We took the next departing train from Shanghai to Hangzhou. It was an hour and a half of smooth sailing.
The Blue Mosque sits directly across from the Hagia Sophia on the Hippodrome, also known as the Sultanahmet Square. It’s hard to say which is more impressive. They both rival in beauty. With six towering minarets, The Blue Mosque dominates the Istanbul skyline.
I paid ¥20 for a cab ride down to People’s Park (人民公园), ¥10 to see the Gaudi exhibit at the MOCA, ¥40 for lunch at Pizza Hut, ¥50 for a shuttle ride to the Oriental Pearl Tower, another ¥50 for dinner and ¥1o for extraneous expenses. I dropped ¥170 like it was nothing because in my mind that was only $10.
My friend (at the time) JC and I walked along the Huangpu River that night. We saw a boy in ripped rags and torn slippers. He looked about 10 years old. He approached us raising a flower in his hand and said…
“一块，一块。要不要花？”(One dollar, one dollar. Do you want flowers?)
He haggled a little. We politely declined. I turned around and watched him zig-zag his way down the path. He made sure not to miss a single couple. JC and I sat down on the stone-rimmed flowerbed and watched the boy pace back and forth under the moon light.
Travel Secret #1: Art of Cheap Accommodations
Travel Secret #2: Kaifeng, China
Travel Secret #3: Climb The Great Wall When It Snows
What are some of your best kept travel secrets?
JC and I walked non-stop these past two days. It was either restless leg syndrome or it was the excitement of being in Madrid. I thought we would take it a little slower on the third day but nope – not when traveling with JC.He only knows one speed – and it’s just go, go, go, go, go!
We began the day with a trip to Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, home of Real Madrid.
This was Kaifeng’s welcome to us. Fog? Pollution? Combination? I don’t know but it was one hell of a welcome. I held out my hand and saw nothing. I looked down and I had no feet. We blindly walked forward – away from the train station and closer to the sound of the road. We had a hard time crossing the street. We couldn’t see the cars and bicycles and they couldn’t see us. We played it by ear. Literally. And hailing a cab? I want to say, “Fuggedaboutit,” but we managed to do so. Till this day, it still puzzles me.
I’m a nerd. I like math and I like to plan. Excel is my best friend. I can’t live without my planner. When it comes to traveling, I get excited at the thought of creating a new spreadsheet. Budgeting is my favorite part. How low can I go?
I conquered 7,200 steps to the top of Taishan and trekked 4 hours around the West Lake in Hangzhou. Climbing The Great Wall? Sure! No problem. Except I forgot to factor in the high altitude and nearly freezing temperature. Read more…
On our last day in Madrid we slept in until the hunger pain set in. We had a buffet brunch at Fres Co, our favorite place to eat. Then we strolled around the neighborhood and ended up in Salamanca, the ritzy, snooty area of Madrid (according to Lonely Planet). We’ve seen much of Madrid in the last few days and so we decided to go wherever the wind blew and get lost in the city one last time. There’s always something to do in every corner of Madrid.
We visited the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana where they had a malaria exhibition. Unfortunately it was all in Spanish and I didn’t understand a thing. It didn’t take us very long to see the entire exhibit. When we came out, it was rainy and windy. We ducked into what we thought was a train station. It was actually the entrace to the Teatro Fernan Gomez. There was an exhibition called “Etiopia”
This exhibition was done by Juan Manuel Castro Preito over the span of four years and four trips to Ethiopia. His pictures show Ethiopia’s culture and diversity in it’s people due to the blend of Christians and Muslims. Castro highlights his focus by blurring out certain aspects of the photo, regardless of the perspective of distance.
When we walked out of the exhibition, the rain was gone and the sun was out. Mother Nature was kind of temperamental that day. We sat in a circle dedicated to Christopher Columbus, basked in the sun and watched kids skateboard around us. There was a statue in the circle that tells the story of Christopher Columbus and his voyage with the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria.
Throughout our entire trip, we were so exhausted at the end of the day that we just collapsed in the hotel. We never got to see Madrid at night so we decided to stay out late tonight. We spent the rest of the day getting lost in the small cobblestone streets of Madrid. I wanted to buy souvenirs but I didn’t want the usual postcards and shot glasses. I wanted one with a story.
I remembered the fans the Chinese migrant workers were selling. It’s not something that would be considered authentically Madrid but it’s one with a story that no one else who has visited Madrid would have. We set out on a mission to find them. We walked toward the Plaza Mayor and retraced our steps from the day before but no luck. Then we realized that they were probably selling fans the other day because the weather was so warm.
As dusk began to set, we made our way to the Plaza de Oriente. We sat down on one of the stone benches facing the Palacio Real and absorbed everything around us. This was our last night here. Adios Madrid.
To get to San Lorenzo de El Escorial JC and I took the Cercanias, Madrid’s rural trains. The El Escorial is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that serves as a monastery, a royal place, a museum and a school. King Philip II, the most pious king on all of Spain, built the El Escorial for his father as a place to rest his tomb. Now, it is where all of Spain’s royal families are laid to rest. The El Escorial is jaw-droppingly massive and a visit is definitely a must.
JC and I bought an audio tour and spent the whole day roaming around in the El Escorial. They say you only need about two hours for the entire tour. They were wrong. We were there for 4 hours and that still wasn’t enough. JC and I had to rush a little toward the end to make sure we saw everything we wanted to see before the El Escorial closed at 6PM. Photos were forbidden and out of respect to the dead, I didn’t take any. If you want to see what the El Escorial looks like without having to visit San Lorenzo, watch the movie Elizabeth starring. The movie was shot inside the El Escorial.
The photos below were all grabbed from Google Images.
The Basilica is the central part of the El Escorial consisting of two churches. King Philip II was so pious that he built a secret pathway that connected his bedroom to the Basilica.
The library holds over 40,000 of King Phillip’s personal collection of books. They were stacked neatly and locked safely behind meticulously carved wooden shelves. The floor was made of marble and the frescoes on the ceiling were beautifully painted. I almost broke my neck staring at it.
This tomb holds all of the royal infants who didn’t make it past puberty. There were many more who died post-puberty but I’d have to say that the tomb chamber for the royal families were most impressive in every way possible. The royal families, at the time of the construction of the tomb, had an enormous amount at their disposal. Everything was gilded in gold. The intricate marble stones were meticulously carved. Every room in the tomb was spacious and decorated with crowns and marble statues. It looked like a fairytale palace with marble guards that came to life.
Adjacent to the tomb chamber of the royal children is the chamber where the Kings of Spain and their wives were laid to rest. This picture does it no justice but it’s the best one I’ve got. Everything in the El Escorial is so airy and grand and majestic. The voluminous amount of things to see completely blew me away. The El Escorial is one of those places where I went with no expectations of and left with an incredible rich impression.
It’s the perfect place to visit on a cold and rainy day. This enormous castle sitting in the small and quaint town of San Lorenzo makes it seem like it’s straight from a fairytale. The streets are narrow but I love how you can see the landscape hidden between earthly pastel buildings. The day was gloomy but the town was still so charming. I’d definitely come back to visit the El Escorial again. I knew that it was going to be a big palace, but I had no idea how grand it would be. It definitely took me by surprise.
Tired and hungry, JC and I took the last train back to Madrid. This night, like every other night, we’re ready to feast. All that walking burned so much calories. We were always hungry. Always. We took the metro to Alfonso Martinez and accidentally discovered FresCo – an all you can eat buffet! Jackpot! Most of the time when I travel, eating healthy is the last thing on my mind. But since we discovered FresCo, we ate there at least once a day – usually for dinner. I got my daily doses of meat, fruits, veggies, dairy and dessert. Then I happily let comatose override my body and I’d drag my behind back to the hotel.
After the visit to Iglesia de San Gines, we walked along Calle de San Martin and took a left onto Gran Via. There were plenty of theaters, retail shops, tall buildings, hotels and pollution. It reminded me of Times Square minus the lights. Perhaps it’s the New Yorker in me but New York City does it better.
At the very end of Gran Via is the Plaza de Espana. Located in central Madrid it is a large square and a popular place for tourists to come and lounge around. It’s also a short walk from the Palacio Real. Plaza de Espana has a beautiful fountain, common in many parts of Madrid, and a statue dedicated to the Madrid’s beloved Spanish writer, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Cervantes wrote the famous story of Don Quixote de la Mancha and his antics with his mule Sancho Panza. The Plaza de Espana was no comparison to the Plaza Mayor but it’s still a very relaxing place to visit during the day. You just have to close your eyes and pretend you can’t hear the traffic. I thought the highlight of my day was the Plaza Mayor but that was until JC and I discovered the Parque de la Montana.
The Parque de la Montana is located northwest of Plaza de Espana. An Egpytian temple, Templo de Debod, is hidden in the park. The view from the park overlooks the teleferico (cable cars) and the Catedral de Nuestra Senior de la Almudena. The temple was saved from the rising waters of Lake Nasser in southern Egypt and was sent block by block to Spain as a gesture of gratitude to Spanish archaeologists in the UNESCO team that worked to save the monument. It’s a beautiful park to get away from the masses and the view is quite exquisite, especially around 9PM because that’s when the sun sets. JC and I sat in the park for an hour or so to rest our sore and worn feet. After a long day of walking, we were ready to feast.
After we left Juan Valdez Cafe we continued our walking tour of Old Madrid toward the very picture-esque, Plaza de la Villa. It’s Madrid’s oldest plaza and contains three main buildings, each with a different architectural style. The Casa de la Villa, also known as City Hall, is designed in Castilian-baroque style. It’s the home of the City Council of Madrid. Directly across from the Casa de la Villa is the Torre de los Lujanes. This was the home of one of Madrid’s most aristocratic families. It’s been said that King Francis I of France was held captive here. Then there’s the palace, Casa de Cisneros, which was built in 1957 for the nephew of Cardinal Cisneros, Benita Jimenez de Cisneros. Today the building has been converted to municipal offices.
We sauntered down Calle Mayor, which leads to the Plaza Mayor. The Plaza Mayor is Madrid’s main square surrounded by pricey cafes and restaurants. Many grand events in history have taken place in this plaza. There were bullfights, soccer games, public executions, inquisitions and royal coronations. Today, you’ll find plenty of tourists and madrileños, people from Madrid, sprawled out across the cobblestone floor. Some were reading, most were chatting and many were enjoying the nice weather and a nice cup of coffee – now that’s European.
A short walk from the Playa Mayor is the Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, the heart of Madrid’s historic center and the center of Madrid’s most well known landmarks. It is the location of Madrid’s most bustling city scene. Around the corner of Puerta del Sol is the Iglesia de San Gines, one of the oldest churches in the city. The church holds El Greco’s most famous masterpiece, “The Purification.” El Greco is one of Spain’s most reknown painter who produced his most famous work after he moved from Rome to Toledo.