Saturday, June 28, 2014

Questions

So, once someone finds out that you have either lived overseas or visited multiple places overseas, there is one question that is almost always asked.  "What was your favorite place to visit?"  I'll be honest, this is quite the difficult question since there is such a variety of things to see for a plethora of reasons.  All of it really depends on what you like and want to see as an individual.  For me it is an exceptionally hard decision.  I basically decided upon 5 countries that I think you should visit if you have limited time.  And choose your own adventure based on what your preferences are.

1. Austria.  Austria is, in a sense, very similar to Germany in culture, food and history.  Though, at least in the portions I've visited I've found Austria to have something special in beauty with the lakes, valleys and mountains that it possesses.  It also has spectacular sites to visit including Hallstatt, Innsbruck and the Grossglockner High Alpine Road.  If you are a big nature person and enjoy hiking/biking/driving in the mountains or skiing, then Austria is a fantastic choice.

2. Spain.  I have been to Spain twice.  While in Spain I have visited Barcelona, Pamplona (Running of the Bulls), Consuegra, Toledo, Madrid, Malaga, Zaragoza and Seville.  (Not including Gibraltar and Morocco which were visited while I was in Spain).  The atmosphere in Spain is festive in general, running late into the night every night.  You can also participate in a multitude of enjoyments from festivals, fantastic food, flamenco shows or simply just relaxing in the countryside or beaches.  So I would say that if you prefer partying and fun in the sun then you can't go wrong with Spain.

3. Ireland.  Ireland was a blast, especially due to the natural beauty of sites such as Giant's Causeway and Carrick`a`rede.  Not to mention the awe inspiring castles that are around.  As for cities, Belfast and Dublin are both great places to see.  Whether you're interested in trying the food and drinks (Guinness/Jameson) or the historical side of things (Book of Kells) it is well worth a visit.  So, if you prefer seeing nature and sites, but don't care for the strenuous hikes than Ireland is a good choice.

4. Scotland.  Scotland has man of the same benefits of Ireland, though in some cases I think it may be more "touristy".  Definitely has the beauty (Loch Ness) and is rich in castles as well.  And you can't go wrong with either the food or drink, since most people know that scotch comes from Scotland and they make fantastic Shortbread cookies.  The special feature that Scotland added, with at least our home base in Aberdeen, was an in depth look into ghost stories and myths.  So if you want nature, history and myths, then Scotland is the place to go.  Did I mention you can "purchase" a small plot of land and become a Scottish lord?

5. Italy.  Everyone I know is a fan of Italy, for a variety of different reasons.  Perhaps the top reason is simply the food and wine, some of the best is in the region of Tuscany.  It is also as rich as, if not more so, the rest of Europe in history with the plethora of monuments, cities and structures including Florence, Pisa and San Gimignano.  Basically, if you like food, wine and history then Italy is a must.  Oh, if you're a car enthusiast, did I mention that Ferrari, Lamborghini and Pagani  all have sites to visit?

Obviously I didn't really narrow it down much, though these are not the only places I've visited.  In reality, I think anywhere in Europe is worth a visit to expand horizons and experiences.  I'd suggest looking for what you want to do and start there.  There is always something else worth seeing nearby.  Safe travels!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Awesome Austria

As always, it's taken me too abysmally long to get to writing this post. Basically, back in May I decided to go for a road trip into Austria. This was actually the first trip that I had completely planned on my own, and I was the only person going.  It even unexpectedly turned into a 5 country trip (counting Germany). I left work on a Wednesday and drove down to my first stop at Hotel Lindwurm, Bad Goisern, Austria. Before you enter Austria, make sure you buy your Vignette (Toll Sticker) to be able to drive in the country. They are easy to acquire as the stations near the border all carry them. Now the Lindwurm hotel was in a beautiful location in the valley between mountains and was a perfect spot to spend the night with many photo opportunities in the drive up to the hotel. The staff even complimented my car as I pulled up in my Mustang, and provided me a delicious dinner before bed.

The next morning after breakfast I drove off to the first major site that I had wanted to see in Austria, the Hallstatt Salt Mine. Hallstatt is one of the most beautiful places that I've had the chance to see, a small town nestled next to a lake in a scenic valley. 


 The salt mine itself offered a great tour through the first 3 levels of the salt mine, including wooden slides between each level that were great fun, a beautiful light show with history underground, and a quick train ride out of the mountain to conclude the trip. Honestly one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had in Europe. I wrapped up my time in Hallstatt by enjoying lunch with an amazing view of the valley at the restaurant next to the mine.


As I left Hallstatt, I started towards the real reason I wanted to come to Austria, the Grossglockner HighAlpine Road. Honestly, if you have any kind of car you enjoy driving, (like a Mustang ;-) ) then you have to take at least one mountain pass. And this was was amazing. After a fee, it provided 40 kilometers of breathtaking views driving through the Alps on my way to my next bed time destination of Lienz, Austria. I still fondly think about Grossglockner.

In Lienz, I didn't do a hole lot since this was mainly a break to make sure I didn't drive too much while trying to get some relaxation in on my trip. I stayed at the Best Western in Lienz, which while very nice wasn't really that special. I ate dinner at the Goldener Fisch, which was the restaurant in another hotel. The food was good but the service was a little on the poor side. That's about all there was to Lienz besides some walking around for me.

The next day I spent driving towards Innsbruck, Austria on a route that unexpectedly took me through a portion of Italy. The entire drive, while not a fast drive, was gorgeous running though valleys and low mountains providing an amazingly scenic and an unexpected joy to look at the nature.

At Innsbruck, I stayed at the Hilton there, and was the standard level of service from Hilton. More expensive and a little nicer. I spent the first evening walking around Innsbruck and I came to the conclusion that all of Austria is gorgeous and surrounded by breathtaking mountains. In Innsbruck there were many restaurants to try, I tried a few on Maria-Theresien-Strasse but can't remember the names... They were all good choices. 

Besides walking around the big attractions that I visited were the Hungerburg Funicular, which is a lift to the top of the mountain, two stops, that provides an astounding view of all around. You have to spend a little money but it is absolutely amazing and if you do only one thing in Innsbruck, this is it. If you have enough time you can also hike up and down the mountain under where the lift goes. It looked like it would be a challenging hike, but nice in the summer.  The other big site I saw was the Alpine Zoo. It was very pleasant and nice, and how can you go wrong at a "Alpine" zoo? Though, if you're on a schedule you can skip this and be missing a whole lot.

The next day I started my trip home, and my drive took me through Luxembourg, which while it had some nice scenery there really wasn't anything special to see. My GPS also started to accidentally take me into Switzerland, which I immediately bolted since I didn't have the Vignette you have to pay before hand. I jumped back into Luxembourg and drove an uneventful trip home. Even though on my own, this was one of my favorite trips (like all of them). Austria is a must see and beautiful. Enjoy your travels!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Scotland More or Ness (Part 2)

 So... I forgot to put up the second part of my post.  :-)  Whoops.  Well here it is. 

The next day, Karl picked us up at our hotel and we were off in our adventure for the day. Karl started off by taking us to visit the Glenfiddich Distillery for a tour of how Scotch is made in Scotland. On the way we took us to a small site that felt like it was in the middle of nowhere, the Maiden Stone. Apparently there is a myth that this stone was created when the Devil chased a maiden and touched her on the shoulder (where there is a notch), turning her to stone. Karl made note that this stone, made of a pink granite, had to have been drug about 60 miles by the Pictish in order to be placed at this location since only grey granite was in this area.  Don't really believe in the Devil Myth, but it really makes you think of the effort that had to be put in for these things to be made and placed where they were..

Then after a little more driving, we reached the Glenfiddich Distillery. This was an especially neat distillery because not only do they give you a brief video and a fairly detailed tour of the facility, but it's FREE! It is neat getting a perspective of what goes into the process of making Scotch. From the barrels, to the malt and the distillation process itself. There is even a neat and tasty little cafe that is located at the distillery where you can enjoy a coffee and scone while you wait.

Once our tour of Glenfiddich was complete we started our trek towards Loch Ness. Alone the way Karl stopped us at another interesting Pictish historical site. The Balnuaran of Clava, a prehistoric cemetary or set of cairns. 

 In reality, resembling a trio of stone mounds but it oddly reminds me of the burrows from Lord of the Rings. And definitely interesting when you consider the history of the site. As an added bonus, there is a quite beautiful view of a nearby train bridge that spans the valley the cairns reside in. Definitely a worthwhile stop.


When we got to Loch Ness, we stopped along the road that runs parallel to the loch for pictures. After that we headed to the Jacobite Loch Ness boat tour to take the boat from the main visitor center along Loch Ness to Castle Urquhart where we spent the rest of our time at Loch Ness wandering around Urquhart ruins to see what that fort used to look like. 

 
 It definitely had a beautiful view of the loch, especially as the sun went down. Following Loch Ness we drove home where Karl stopped at a couple of scenic overlooks for a photograph opportunities. All of which were beautiful.


For dinner we ended up going to Jamie's Italian restaurant, since almost nothing seems to be open after 9pm for dinner. We wandered around Belmont street after dinner to see what was going on for the night life. We ended up stopping at Slaine's Castle bar again for a beer as they were closing shop and took the time to read more of the ghost stories posted on the wall.



Our last day in Scotland was simply spend wandering around our home base of Aberdeen. We walked by the statue of William Wallace for photographs, as well as the park that is right next to it. We then headed to eat a Full English breakfast at a local greasy spoon, sit down joint called Cafe Roza. It was delicious start to the day. After breakfast we continued wandering around and looking at the local city. We stopped at the Tolbooth, near the Mercat Cross in the square. It was an interesting stop to learn about the detainment of past prisoners and offenders. After that we had lunch at The Blackfriar to round out and finish off our trip of Aberdeen. Then we picked up our luggage at the hotel and went to the airport for a safe and uneventful flight back to Germany.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Scotland, A Castley Day (Part 1

So, near the end of February I went on another excursion with my friends James and Nina. This time we went to Scotland, UK. We had originally wanted to fly to Portugal, or somewhere warm, since this was in February and we all have heard horror stories about how dismal Scotland can be in the summer, let alone the winter. As it turned out, we ended up deciding on and flying to Aberdeen, Scotland. Aberdeen, happens to be the third largest city in Scotland and has a neat trait that the majority of it's buildings were built out of a grey granite that has mica flakes in the granite itself, giving the entire city a bit of a sparkle when the sun is shining on it. It was really quite cool to see. Unfortunately, when the sky is overcast then the entire city seems to blend in with the grey clouds and it seems rather sad.

When we flew in Friday night, we took the taxi to our choice of residence for the weekend, which was the Hilton Garden Inn in the center of Aberdeen. It really was a fantastic location, within walking distance of a lot of cool sites in Aberdeen. We immediately checked in and went walking looking for something to eat, even though it was around 2130 in the evening. Unfortunately, every single place we tried to get food at, on the local popular scene on Belmont Street. Unfortunately EVERYONE's kitchen was closed around 2130 on a Friday night... Really disappointing. We again had trouble finding food after 2100 on Sunday night after getting back late from a tour. If you want to eat in any of the tavern/pub style restaurants, make sure you get there around 1900 or the kitchen's may be closed.

The next day we started our excursion around Scotland. For starters we had booked a tour through a private tour guide named Karl Fisher Executive Hire. Let me just say, that Karl was fantastic. The tour we booked on Saturday was to go to three different castles in Scotland. The first castle we visited was Dunnottar Castle, and on the way Karl gave us tons of interesting facts about Scotland, from the history of Aberdeen to stopping in Stonehaven for a picture opportunity of the coast.. 

Dunnottar is a castle ruin that sat on the edge of a cliff in Scotland with a magnificent view of the coast and looked like it would have been the place to live in it's hay day. Unfortunately... while this particular day was beautiful and almost completely sunny, it was VERY windy. And just as we arrived they closed the inside of the castle due to danger from high winds. I guess some of those ruins and stones were barely standing after so many hundreds of years. Even though it was closed, we hiked down to the castle and took some awesome pictures of everything from a waterfall, the castle, coast and odds an ends along the trail. Even with the castle entrance closed, this was a fantastic stop. Before we started off to head to the next location on the tour, Castle Crathes, our tour guide surprised us by bringing out a bottle of scotch and providing a small dram (really, only a drop) of 17 year old scotch by a distillery called Glenn Keith that was mothballed previously and in the process of being reopened. It had a pleasing flavor and was a neat and unexpected experience.

Then we headed off to the next location, which like I said was Castle Crathes. This had a number of awesome pleasures. The first thing we noticed was that there was a Sequoia tree that had been planted there. Completely unexpected, especially this is where I learned that the Sequoia has a very sponge like bark that you can punch fairly hard and not get hurt. I went all the way to Scotland to punch a Sequoia, now that's an icebreaker. After visiting the gift shop and punching the tree, we walked by Crathes' garden which looked amazing and if we had more time I would have liked to visit. We went into the castle and took the guided tour. It's interesting to note, that after visiting this castle we learned that Scotland has a definite pension for ghost stories and loves to have them. There were at least 2 distinct ghost stories that I can remember from the castle itself, one about the green lady and the other about a small boy. It's an interesting twist to the normal routine in castle tours. Going on a Scotland tour is a nice change from the rest or Europe, where english is spoken everywhere. There was also a lot of cool information about the castle. Finally, to wrap up our time here we went to the local cafeteria for lunch and enjoyed some local cuisine while getting to know the two other people that were on our private tour with Karl Fisher.

Once we were done we headed back to Karl to head to the next destination, Drum Castle. Before we left, our tour guide again brought out some beverages to share with us. This time he started with another scotch called Glen Garioch (Pronounced Glen Geary, weird right?) and Lord Lovat Ginger Liqueur. The liqueur was something I had never had before and basically tasted a lot like ginger lemonade, if you have ever tried that. In addition to these beverages Karl also gave us samples of some of the ScottishWalker Shortbread cookies, which were FANTASTIC. After we tried these tastes, we headed to Drum. This was a more modern castle grounds where the castle had actually been kept up and was currently used for weddings and as a hotel. Unfortunately a lot of the castle was currently being remodeled so we didn't get a good view of it. While wandering the grounds Karl told us a lot more history of the castle, Scotland and even showed us a little hidden cemetery near Drum that included a pet cemetery with some amusing names. Before leaving Drum, Karl once again introduced us to two more beverages made in Scotland, including Bowmore 15 year hold, which is a very acquired taste and most people probably won't like it. Also, the Scottish equivalent of Bailey's (which I thought was actually better) of Heather Cream Whiskey Liqueur.

Oh, I just remembered.  Along our trip through the castles, Karl also showed us a neat little river called the Water of Feugh which was a neat stop to use the restroom.  Back to the rest of the day plans, we started our trek back to Aberdeen. All along the way getting more history and really fascinating facts from Karl until he dropped us off at our Hotel in Aberdeen. The experience that we had was such a good experience, and we didn't have anything formal planned for Sunday, that we asked Karl if he was willing to give us another tour on Sunday, which he usually ran his "Mystery Tour". After asking if there was anywhere in particular we might like to see he agreed to pick us up the next day and take us on another adventure.

After we got back we decided to try some of the local Fish'n'Chips that we'd heard so much about in the UK. We ended up going to a pub style restaurant called Slains Castle. This was actually an old Church that had been converted into a pub style restaurant that even had a live band playing music that valentine's day weekend. Remember when I commented about ghost stories? That's how Slains was decorated, with all the ghost stories and mythos of Scotland all around it's walls. It actually made for quite a bit of enjoyable time to pass by while we wandered around reading all the ghost stories. Oh, and the fish'n'chips was actually pretty good too. I recommend visiting Slains (tavern) if you have a chance. It is just a neat experience. After that we headed back to the hotel, to get a good night sleep before heading on our next adventure.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

German Distraction



I recently realized with all my gallivanting around Europe, that I haven't seen very much of Germany in quite awhile. So last the other weekend I went with two friends, James and Nina, to visit two sites in Germany. One was Ulm M√ľnster, in Ulm, Germany. Now this isn't technically a cathedral I guess, since it was never the seat of a Bishop. I didn't know that, and apparently it's a pretty big distinction. That aside, however, it is the tallest church in the world (damn), and the 4th tallest structure built before the 20th century. I'd say that's something worth having on your resume. 












Since this was a Saturday, the local farmers market was going on in the church's square. We wandered around it for a little bit while we took pictures of building. Then we went inside and were not disappointed by the interior. Like most European churches, a lot of work had obviously gone into the design and it was beautiful.

 
After admiring the stain glass windows and architecture we decided to try our luck climbing the steeple. Unfortunately, due to ice and the cold weather, we weren't able to go all the way to the top of the steeple. 


 However, after climbing to the 3rd gallery it became obvious to me that the 5 flights of stairs I take on a daily basis do NOT prepare you for stairs of this magnitude. Not only where there an incredible number of stairs to just the first level in the building, when I got to the level my legs gave me that feeling of “I”m done, you can go the rest of the way on your own.” The doors were open and it looked like we could go a bit further up the stairs, but Nina and I decided we didn't need too and waited for James to check out some more things before we made our way down to reality. It was quite a beautiful view. Maybe I'll have to try again after I get some more hiking and stairs under my belt. The view from 160 meters with no other tall structures around has to be fantastic. After the church, we stopped at a side curry stand for a quick lunch before making our run towards the next site, which was around an hour away.

The second site we visited was Lichtenstein Castle, the one in Germany. Wouldn't think that would be in Germany, would you? This, while not the largest castle I've seen, was one of the coolest. I had found it by googling castles in Germany and found a link to 7 most Beautiful Castles in Germany. The trait about this one that you notice right away is that this castle is perched ON the cliff. No room walk the walls, just a straight drop and with sudden stop. The view is awesome, and the picture possibilities are pretty good too.

To see the inside, we paid to go on the German tour. While I didn't understand most of what was said we were able to get a sheet with the English translation and that helped to show me how much my listening ability to German had improved, which was more than I thought. I learned the castle was named for the light stone it was built on (lich == light). And the original castle's location was actually 500 meters away, while this was was a pretender that was only built in the 1300s. One of the neat side notes was a room where there was a hole and cracks in a mirror and wall. This was apparently caused when the allies shelled the castle. Talk about leaving your impression in history... This was definitely a small castle but quite beautiful, and definitely had a claim to the neat factor.
Before we called it a day and headed home, we stopped for Coffee/Tea and Cake/Soup at the local restaurant to the castle called Altes Forsthaus. A small snack before the 3 hour drive home, really. It was quite good. The tea and coffee hit the spot with the cold weather. The soup finished off the cold with no mercy. While a delicious “Beef Noodle” soup, the only disappointing thing was that there was no beef in the soup. Just broth and noodles. Still I don't regret it at all. The cake that Nina had was a cheesecake with fruit in it, and she claimed it was very delicious. After tiding over hunger, we started our trip home. All happy and content after the sites of the day.






Monday, February 24, 2014

A Strait Adventure (Part 2)


So, the next day we started our trek, before the sun got up, to head to Tangiers, Morocco. To get from Spain to Morocco, you have to take a ferry so we headed to the port of Tarifa, Spain. Just like at an airport, you have to go through customs when taking ferry's from country to country, and even a passport check on the boat, but you don't feel anywhere near as violated as you do flying. Though it can be painful in other ways, such as a very rough turf. Luckily, since this was the first time I'd gone on a “non lake/river” body of water I was pleasantly surprised that I didn't get seasick at all, even with the boat tilting back and forth pretty drastically.


Now for what we were doing in Morocco, my friend Chris had organized a tour guide Said to pick us up from the port in Tangier to take us around. We started by walking around the old part of Tangier as our guide gave us tidbits and stories that only a local would know, even pointing out a man cover that had been made in Casablanca. 

 Pretty neat to see real world examples of places you've only seen in movies. The next adventure was to ride the bus to the Cape Spartel where we stopped at a few stops for photos like Cave of Hercules and the lighthouse on the cape.






One of my favorite parts of the trip was the next part where we were able to ride camels in Africa!! I've never ridden a horse before but camels are something else. You have to get on while they are sitting on the ground. Then as they get up the lean so far forward that sometimes another person has to help you to stay on the camel as it gets up. And boy, were they bumpy to ride, but a blast. That's one thing that I never thought I would ever do. Chris did a fantastic job organizing this trip.

Finally we were returned to Tangiers where our guide organized a special lunch and we ate local specialties like camel cheese on local bread, and were even given free samples of the local olives. Everything tasted amazing. After that we had a final wander through the main market place in Tangiers where we met with a snake charmer, heard the sales pitch of the herbs and medicine salesman, and were accosted by antiquity salesmen. Finally, we were hustled back to the docks early due to bad weather canceling the last ferry crossing the straight. It was quite a site to see us being rushed through customs by our tour guide, like he owned the place.

Finally, we made our way back to Spain and our hotel to relax the rest of the night before dinner. Dinner that night was spent hunting around the local town and we found a small restaurant hidden far away from the main roads. Honestly no where near where we thought it was supposed to be. It was a really neat restaurant that even had small stage, foosball table, and other neat items in the backroom. The food was great and the owner even better, challenging one of us to a game of foosball. Declaring Spain 1, USA 0 after he won. Then we went back to the hotel to finish off the night. Man I wish I remembered the name of that place...

The next day we drove to our real destination of Malaga, Spain. On the way we stopped at a beach Playa de Bolonia where we wandered the sand and stopped at a local restaurant for a snack and some drinks of water. I have to say this is one of the most beautiful sections of beach and coastline I've seen, with the exception of possibly Ireland :-). When we reached Malaga, we checked into the Sahara Sunset Resort there, which were beautiful apartments with decent views of the ocean. You don't even need to be a member of the timeshare itself to tent rooms, though they are slightly more than I would be normally willing to pay if we weren't enjoying a pre-owned timeshare. Good amenities, such as pools and other standard things like that. But they charge for every extra, such as internet. We basically just relaxed after the drive but did have dinner at a very interesting restaurant that served both Italian and Indian food. Most of us ordered Indian, and it was fantastic. I highly recommend it. 

The next day started off by enjoying an awesome Full English breakfast at a cafe right in the resort before we drove to Seville, Spain. A very beautiful and quinte city with many attractions from it's towers, to the cathedrals and the home of a building built for the world fair that was held in Spain many years ago. My favorite part was the gardens in the main palace of Seville. I could have spent half a day wandering around those gardens easily. That said, I would say in my opinion, Seville is very beautiful but almost not worth a trip by itself. If you're in the area, definitely visit. But it's not a must see to me other than the gardens, especially when compared to things like Gibraltar, Conseugras, Toledo, Pamplona, or Barcelona. Very nice visit but in retrospect I would have been fine not seeing it.

 
The last day was a bit of a rush. As soon as we got up we all piled into our rental car and drove back to Madrid to make sure we caught our flight back to Germany. The downside was that a couple of us were starting to get sick, from what we believe was food poisoning, not sure from what. Otherwise the trip back to Germany, while long and tiring, was uneventful. Make sure you look twice at the food you eat, especially if you're concerned that it might not have been cooked or cleaned properly. I doubt we would have noticed anything but it pays to double check. Over all I don't regret anything from this trip. It was all absolutely fantastic, and I even got to step foot on another continent when we visited Morocco. I loved every minute of this trip.  Aside from food poisoning...















Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Strait Adventure (Part 1)

Finally, I'm working on finishing writing up this trip.  This one is actually going to be a two part'er so I can make it look like I have more posts.  Ok, I really just want to stop posting super long posts. It begins after returning from the United States for Christmas break.  The first adventure I took in the year of 2014 was to return with friends to Spain to visit a completely different area from the last visit I had there. This time, instead of starting in Barcelona we started the adventure in Madrid,Spain. I flew there with four of my friends and we went straight to our home away where we were going to stay for 2 nights, which was Apartments Arenal in Madrid. 

Since we were arriving late at night, we did have to pay a small fee to late check-in, but for just a hair more the apartment managers offered to arrange for a shuttle to take us directly to the apartment from the airport. This was DEFINITELY worth it and prevented a lot of stress.  I will say that while this home-away was reasonable, it wasn't the best place I've stayed in.  The unfortunate part for us was that while we were there, there was a Spanish family staying below us who seemed to try very hard to be loud and annoying when we were trying to sleep.  That's not really something to blame on the apartment though.  However it's proximity to downtown Madrid (1 or 2 blocks) made any complaints we had irrelevant.  Definitely take advantage of these apartments if you can. As a side note, the Madrid airport was one of the more laid back airports I've been too. Both arriving and departing, the airport seemed to be mostly empty which also made everything a little easier to navigate and keep the process relatively stress free.


The main purpose I wanted to stop in Madrid for was to take our obligatory Sandeman's New Europe Madrid walking tour. As usual the tour provided a fascinating insight into the history of not only Madrid but the history of Spain. Definitely, a different perspective into Spanish history than the walking tour we took in Barcelona. Our tour guide made it very fun as well. One of the historical trips she took us on was a role playing adventure with the kings of Spain's past. From King Charles V to Philip the IV.  Drawing a few volunteers up front to pretend to be the king who brought Spain to it's height of power, the king who died because he was too lazy to remove a bed warmer, and wrapping it up with the kings that lost it all. It is what made the tour really special and added that personal touch. Beyond that we enjoyed wandered around and trying out some foods in Madrid to round out the experience.  I remember trying Mueso del Jamon and Cafeeke Cervezas y Tapas.  The Museo was tasty but very overcrowded.  The first time we tried it, we gave up getting a seat.  My favorite place was Cafeeke where we had dinner.  Basically a Belgian beer with tapas (and other meal items) restaurant when you wanted to relax.  We sat upstairs which was neatly set up with low rafters and a cozy feeling.  The waiter was very helpful at Cafeeke as well. I have to admit, while Madrid was nice, Barcelona was a much more enjoyable city for me to visit.

 The next day we picked up a rental car from Sixt and drove to our next destination of La Linea de la Concepcion, Spain. On the way we visited two locations. The first was Toledo, Spain. I have to admit it fascinated me quite a bit. Part of Toledo's access were controlled by escalators external to the city with some impressive gates. To be honest, it might be the perfect place to hide from a Zombie Apocalypse, but that's the nerd in me. Aside from that, Toledo was definitely a quaint feeling city. We ate Tapas at a fantastic little place in the middle called Lizarran .  The hostess was extremely friendly even though she didn't know that much English.  After lunch we explored Toledo and checked out the local Cathedral. I happened to be the only person willing to spend money to visit inside, and it was breathtaking to see like the Basilica in Zaragoza in my last Spanish trip.  Unfortunately photographs were not allowed so I can't share the views of that location. Well worth it if you like cathedrals, so I recommend a look inside.

The other place that we stopped was a small town called Consuegra, Spain. If you don't happen to know, this is the town that has some of the best examples of the windmills that inspired the story of Don Quixote.  The town is very small and probably not worth a day trip by it self, but the windmills make it a neat stop on the way to somewhere else.  Definitely beautiful and picturesque. If you can, I highly recommend a stopover to wander around the windmills, ruins and castle on top of the hill.

 Finally we reached our destination of La Linea de la Concepcion, Spain. We stayed at a nice hotel  AC Hotel La Linea for one night, as our stopping point for visiting Gibraltar. The next day we walked through the border crossing into Gibraltar and took the bus into the center of town. Right now, while short, this is a neat drive. The main road into Gibraltar passes through their airport runway (Yes the country smaller than most towns has it's own airport, 3rd most dangerous in the world. Just saying).

As we wandered Gibraltar we were accosted by a tour guide who in the end convinced us to join him on a guided tour throughout the island of Gibraltar. He turned out to be a fantastic guide who was basically the monkey whisperer. As he drove us up the Rock and guided us to the various sites there from St. Michael's Cave to the Great Siege Tunnels built by the British to help fight against the Nazi's if they ever successfully took the Rock.
 
Through the whole trip the guide continually brought monkeys right up to the van, took us to their feeding ground, and even let us play with them. One climbed on my shoulder and took a break for a minute. All of it was absolutely amazing. Once we were done with the Rock, our guide pointed us to the place where we could get the best fish'n'chips place in the country. Not hard to say for a country that small.  It was a little place at the side of the plaza where we started our tour called Roy's Cod Place.  You could even chose from a couple of types of fish they would will make for you.  Now I'm not a fish and chips expert, but these were REALLY good.  I definitely recommend eating here if you want to stop of dinner.

After Gibraltar we again crossed the 3rd most dangerous airport in the world and went through the small customs point to return to Spain and travel to our next hotel of AC Hotel Algeciras, in Algeciras, Spain. This hotel was basically the same as AC Hotel La Linea. Both were decent, almost a Hilton level hotels. Nice to stay at if you want a little nice place or are a Marriott member.  So that's as far as I'm going to get on this post.  Stay tuned for the next portion of our trip.  Our visit to Morocco, Malaga and Sevilla, Spain!