A Quick Stopover in Madrid

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Those taking un viaje to España, listen up: the capital city is not one to skip. Yeah, yeah, I know you have other places to be but trust me on this one, you will not regret a night or two in Madrid. Actually, it's more likely you'll be wishing you stayed longer! Madrid is a perfect blend of bustling metropolis with cool, vibrant culture that gives Spain its flair. If you fly Spain's national carrier, Iberia, it's an easy, direct flight and then you'll have an opportunity to relax on the Renfe Ave (aka the high-speed train)* to get to your next destination. While there are muchos activities to keep you ocupado for days in this ciudad, here's a list of 5 things you can do if you're only there a short time but want to experience some of the local culture:

  1. Soak in the grand surroundings in Plaza Mayor. This expansive space is a busy and often touristy area but no better way to get the taste of a city by visiting its most central square. Not to mention it also helps you get your bearings. 
  2. Hang with the locals at an authentic tapas bar. There's nothing more typical of Spain than its small plates culture. Bodega de la Ardosa is a popular traditional spot packed full of locals and visitors alike all socializing, imbibing and filling their bellies. (Calle de Colón, 13)
  3. Indulge in some churros con chocolate. Centrally-located Chocolatería San Ginés has been serving these delights forever and it's always a solid choice to end your evening. (Pasadizo San Ginés, 5)
  4. Skip the sangria and opt for some local craft beer instead. Spain actually drinks a lot more beer than you'd expect and chill places like Fábrica Maravillas are doing a great job with their craft brews. (Calle de Valverde, 29)
  5. Take a siesta in Parque del Retiro. What's the point of a vacay in Spain without embracing the midday rest? With dinner not starting until 9p or even later, you're gonna need it and this beautiful park is a wonderful place to relax.

Need a place to rest your head? Do it in style at the perfectly-located, beautiful Principal Hotel. Rooms are elegant and comfy and best of all you are welcomed with a glass of cava to enjoy on the rooftop terrace that looks down on the bustling Gran Vía. (Calle Marqués de Valdeiglesias, 1)

*NOTE (from experience, unfortunately): Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to go through security at the train station and get to your platform which closes its doors 5min prior to departure. You'll also want some time to watch the turtles frolic in the indoor tropical sanctuary. You're welcome. Adiós!

A Weekend Jaunt to La La Land

As many of you know, my husband and I relocated to the West Coast from Boston a couple of months ago. The original plan was to end up in Los Angeles, but our plans changed a bit when my husband got a job offer in San Diego that he could not pass up. But we are close enough to LA that it's now my new favorite for a weekend getaway. 

I know there are tons of people who can't stand LA but maybe they have not been to the right places? I dunno, because I LOVED it. LA reminds me of a sunnier, more spread out version of New York City. Lots of energy but not too much (because after all it IS California we're talking about) and made up of a bunch of neighborhoods all with their own personality. So just find your groove and you too will learn to love LA.

By no means am I an expert in this city, considering this was my first real visit (can't really count the night before my Mexican Riviera cruise in '09) but I can promise you that these things will not disappoint:

Hollywood Boulevard & the Walk of Fame - Okay so this one might disappoint. It's kinda gross (this is where Vivian was picked up by Edward in Pretty Woman...) but it's fun to look for your favorite stars. No need to spend more than an hour or two here and avoid the Chinese Theater if crowds are not your thing--it's like Times Square. TIP: To maximize your time, look up the location (by block) of your star in the search bar here so you're not wandering around aimlessly. 

Su Sussudio... 

Su Sussudio... 

Space, the final frontier

Space, the final frontier

Jessica Fletcher <3

Jessica Fletcher <3

Hollywood Sign - Nothing defines LA more than this and the best view is from Griffith Park. But if there are events being held at the park making it impossible for you to get there (need I mention the awfulness known as LA traffic?!), the next best thing is to head up into Hollywood Hills to Runyon Canyon Park. The view of the city and the mountains are spectacular and you're able to spot your famous sign.

Tough to spot in the haze!

Tough to spot in the haze!

Rodeo Drive - Don your best outfit, don't forget your wallet and take a stroll down this beautiful boulevard lined with designer shops and fancy cars. Big mistake. Big. HUGE.

Gorgeous Via Rodeo

Gorgeous Via Rodeo

Beverly Hills - Home to gorgeous parks and streets, celebs, Rodeo Drive, icons like the Beverly Wilshire Grand and the Beverly Hills Hotel, and the best show of the 90s (but if you want to see the Walsh residence, you'll have to drive to the 'burbs...Altadena to be exact).

Welcome to BH 90210

Welcome to BH 90210

Palm tree-lined streets of Beverly Hills

Palm tree-lined streets of Beverly Hills

West Hollywood - If Beverly Hills is the Upper East Side of LA, then West Hollywood is the Village. This neighborhood feels super trendy/cool and has more going on than adjacent Beverly Hills.

In LA, even the Restoration Hardware is beautiful

In LA, even the Restoration Hardware is beautiful

If you're curious about where to eat, some memorable places include Mario Batali's Osteria Mozza (reservations needed) and the Neapolitan pizzeria and craft cocktail joint Sotto (also need reservations) for dinner. Check out Bouchon in Beverly Hills, perfect for brunch or lunch on a lovely outdoor patio (don't forget to pop into their bakery for a treat and keep your eyes peeled for celebs). For top notch espresso drinks and delish avocado toast, visit Comoncy in Beverly Hills.

And lastly if you're curious about where to stay, first choose your neighborhood (like Beverly Hills or West Hollywood..really I don't know where else you'd want to be) and then see what's available in your price range, roofdeck pool a plus. We landed a good rate (and wanted the Starwood points) at the hip SLS but some other good options are the Mondrian, the Viceroy and the Montage. Enjoy!

Rodeo Drive, oh how I wish I had unlimited funds to spend...

Rodeo Drive, oh how I wish I had unlimited funds to spend...

The Beverly Wilshire Grand

The Beverly Wilshire Grand

The Walsh residence in Altadena

The Walsh residence in Altadena

Melrose Place! For Kyle :)

Melrose Place! For Kyle :)

Volare....

Volare....

Frank Sinatra (tough to read)

Frank Sinatra (tough to read)

For you Auntie Barbara :)

For you Auntie Barbara :)

I love Samantha from Bewitched!

I love Samantha from Bewitched!

Princess Grace

Princess Grace

A Weekend Getaway in Martha's Vineyard

New Englanders, rejoice! It's that time of year we all look forward to--Memorial Day weekend a.k.a. the official kick off to summer. Snow is a thing of the past (for the next several months anyway) and now it's time to enjoy the best of what New England has to offer! The island of Martha's Vineyard is one of my favorite places to do just that. While MV is one of those places you could easily spend a week or two in, it is possible to do a short little weekend getaway (carless, even!) if you can't spare the vacation time. Here's my take on the perfect MV weekend:

 

FRIDAY

4:00p: Shut-down that computer and hop in a cab to Logan. Check-in for your Cape Air flight, put to use that TSA pre-check, and make your way to the gate. If you made it with a few extra minutes to spare or if your flight is delayed, DEFINITELY take the time to have a cocktail. These planes are TINY (you're welcome).

6:00p: Arrive in Martha's Vineyard after a short (or long, depending on if you had that cocktail or not) 45 min scenic ride over Cape Cod. Hop in a cab and head to Edgartown to check into your hotel, Lark Hotel's stylish boutique inn, The Christopher. The decor is just lovely.

6:30p: Drop those weekend bags and head on over to the The Atlantic, just a short walk from your hotel, for happy hour. Grab a spot at the bar and you can have dinner with your martinis.

8:30p: End (or start) your night at the popular watering hole The Wharf. The Sox will be on at the bar up front but head to the bar in the back for the party if that is your thing.

10:00p: Call it a night and tuck into your comfy king sized bed with soft pillows and plush linens. Rest up for a busy but fun day ahead!

Edgartown Light

Edgartown Light

 

SATURDAY

9:00a: Rise and shine! It's time for some coffee and bagels at Espresso Love. So many good options to choose from but you can't go wrong with The Islander (veggie cream cheese, bacon and cucumber).

10:00a: Rent some bikes from Wheel Happy located conveniently next door to your hotel and map out your ride. Make sure you get a picnic basket which will come in handy!

12:00p: Get some exercise and pedal your way out of town to Morning Glory Farm to pick up some provisions for lunch--fresh-grown fruits, veggies, and freshly baked goods. On your way back into town, stop at Black Sheep to pick up some gourmet cheese and meats. Followed by a stop at Vintage MV Wine & Spirits for some wine. Then make your way over to Lighthouse Beach for a picnic with a view.

2:00p: If the weather's nice, enjoy the beach or better yet get on over to South Beach (MV's best beach in my opinion). If there are more clouds than you'd like (it is New England after all), not to fret. Pedal those bikes to nearby Bad Martha Farmers Brewery for some local craft brews. Best get a flight to sample them all!

5:00p: Head back to the hotel for some freshening up for dinner. Don't be afraid to pull out the Vineyard Vines. When in Rome...

6:00p: Enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail and oysters at the bar at Alchemy. (Note: this is also an excellent restaurant to dine at too)

7:30p: Sit down to a lovely candlelit dinner at L'Etoile. If it's warm enough, dine in the outdoor terrace under the string lights. It's magical.

9:30p: Finish off the night with an ice cream cone from Mad Martha's. There's always room for dessert!

Views on the bike ride

Views on the bike ride

Doesn't get any more American than that!

Doesn't get any more American than that!

The llamas at Ernie Boch's seaside mansion

The llamas at Ernie Boch's seaside mansion

Edgartown Light

Edgartown Light

Mansions on the way to the beach

Mansions on the way to the beach

 

SUNDAY

9:00a: Back to Espresso Love. It's just that good.

10:00a: If the weather is nice, you can't say no to some sun and some waves at South Beach. Hop on that bike and burn of the previous day's imbibing.

1:00p: Head back to town for some lunch and drinks on the roofdeck at the Seafood Shanty. It's an institution not to be missed. Lobster roll, obvi.

4:00p: Return the bikes, grab your bags and sadly head back to the airport. With a smile of course because you just lived it up all weekend on MV.

South Beach

South Beach

Edgartown Harbor

Edgartown Harbor

I mean, Jaws was filmed here...

I mean, Jaws was filmed here...


Accommodations: The Christopher (24 South Water Street Edgartown); thechristophermv.com

 

Our cozy room at the Christopher

Our cozy room at the Christopher

Views, Views, Views in Trentino

If you want a real change in scenery from the Italy you're used to (I mean I could go to Tuscany 1000x and never get sick of it but change is good), then may I suggest the South Tyrolean region of Trentino Alto-Adige located in Italy's alps, also known as the Dolomites. Located in northeastern Italy, this region borders Austria and Switzerland and sometimes has you fooled that you're actually in those countries! Many people speak German and as a matter of fact all signage is in German, Italian & English. The food is even more like that of Austria (strudel, yum!) but don't worry, you will still be able to find a dish of pasta. 

The capital city of this region is Trento, which is a lovely, medieval town to visit. It is pretty small in terms of Italian cities go but it's friendly and those mountains are a lovely backdrop to your aperitivo. In the fall it's not too busy, but I would imagine that things pick up a bit in winter, seeing as how this is a perfect jumping off point to explore & ski the Dolomites. Trento is well connected by smaller airports and train stations, but the closest major airport is Venice. So the next time you take a trip to La Serenissima, consider venturing off into the mountains for a little taste of something different! Plus, Trento hardly makes it on the tourist map making your stay an authentic one which deserves brownie points in my book.

You don't need much time in Trento to be able to see it and experience what it has to offer so a night or two should be enough unless you're looking for some extra relaxation or plan to do some skiing. There are plenty of boutique hotels, B&Bs and inns to choose from, none of which will break the bank. Our hotel, B&B Luxury Heart of Trento even had a jacuzzi on the balcony incase you needed to soak some sore muscles after a day on the slopes or if you were just looking to relax with the mountains in the background (btw, spas in this town seem to be as abundant as espresso!) TIP: Don't miss the Funivia Trento-Sardagna, which is a cable car/gondola that brings you from the city center of Trento up to the hilltop town of Sardagna for some sweeping views of the city below and the mountains in the distance.  

The medieval city of Trento

The medieval city of Trento

A must-do if you're visiting Trento is to take a day trip to nearby Bolzano which is a lively town located about 45min to an hour north. Bolzano is even further into the mountains and only an hour south of the Austrian border making it feel more Austrian than Italian (just look around and admire all of the chalets...all that's missing are some yodellers!) TIP: Don't miss the Funivia Soprabolzano, which is a cable car/gondola that brings you from Bolzano way up into the mountains to the tiny little town of Soprabolzano. Grab a coffee and homemade strudel at Trattoria Babsi before heading out on the Renon railway for some amazing views of the Dolomites. 

The streets of Bolzano

The streets of Bolzano

The quaint town of Soprabolzano

The quaint town of Soprabolzano

And lastly, here are some food & drink reccos for your hungry bellies. Enjoy!

Trento

Enoteca Il Libertino for a casual dinner

Ai Tre Garofani for a more upscale, modern Italian dinner

Bar Pasi & Duomo 34 for aperitivo and people watching

Casa del Cioccolato & Casa del Caffe for the best coffee and pastry

Cafe de la Paix for craft beer and live music in a cozy setting

Birreria PedavenaForst for pretzels & beer in a German brewhaus

Bolzano

Pasticceria Hofer for gourmet coffee and pastry

Piazza delle Erbe for some market snacks 

Bar Caffe da Té for some liquid courage in a small, local's hole-in-the-wall before getting on the funivia 

Panificio Hackhofer for some authentic pretzels

The view of Trento from the top of the funivia ride 

The view of Trento from the top of the funivia ride 

A quick, fun ride for some breathtaking views

A quick, fun ride for some breathtaking views

Piazza Duomo in Trento

Piazza Duomo in Trento

View of the Dolomites from Soprabolzano

View of the Dolomites from Soprabolzano

The Renon Railway

The Renon Railway

Austria in Italy

Austria in Italy

The Funivia Soprabolzano gondola arriving in Soprabolzano

The Funivia Soprabolzano gondola arriving in Soprabolzano

The valley below (taken from the gondola)

The valley below (taken from the gondola)

The craggy Dolomites

The craggy Dolomites