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Amazing Spain Itinerary: 7, 10, or 14 Day Plans

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El Escorial: An Epic Day Trip from Madrid

El Escorial: An Epic Day Trip from Madrid

San Lorenzo de El Escorial, or El Escorial for short: It makes for a great day trip from Madrid. But what is it? Is it a library, a palace, or a city? From what I had read of other blog posts, I couldn’t quite tell what it was or what to expect before we went. All I knew was that it had the most amazing library I had ever heard of and I had to see it for myself.

So what exactly is El Escorial? It’s kind of all of those things. Once headquarters for the Spanish Inquisition, San Lorenzo de El Escorial (the city) grew around the largest building constructed during the renaissance era. The Monastery of El Escorial (the building) housed a university, a monastery, a basilica, a palace, a library, a hospital, and a tomb.

“El Escorial” translates as ”the scholar.” From the outside, the monastery appears to be a giant, unimaginative block set upon a great expanse of concrete, an absolute fortress. All its beauty and art lies within its walls.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small fee from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.

El Escorial

A Brief History of El Escorial

I like to have some context when I visit a new place, so I understand a little better what it is I’m looking at. So I’ll share what I’ve learned with you through out this post, the beautiful along with the ugly.

A UNESCO world heritage site today, it took 21 years to build, between 1563 to 1584. El Escorial served as the residence, seat of rule, and burial place to Phillip II of the Habsburg family.

Phillip II ruled from 1556 to 1598, during the Spanish Golden Age. Major events of note during Spain’s Golden Age included the conquest of the Incan Empire, the start of the Anglo-Spanish war, and the Spanish Inquisition. Phillip II felt it was his duty to defend Catholicism from Protestants and the Ottoman Empire.

Patio of the Kings, El Escorial
Patio of the Kings

Patio of the Kings

The Patio of the Kings, or “Patio de los Reyes,” was our first look behind the walls of El Escorial. The six kings of Judah are featured in the façade here: Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, David, Solomon, Josiah, and Manasseh.

From the Patio of the Kings, you’ll move on through the Museum of Architecture, the Museum of Art, and then the Basilica of San Lorenzo. The Museum of Architecture describes the construction of El Escorial. And the Museum of Art displays Italian, Spanish, and Flemish works from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Basilica at El Escorial
El Escorial – the Basilica,” by Graeme Churchard is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Basilica of San Lorenzo

The patron saint of the basilica is San Lorenzo, or St. Lawrence. He was martyred by the Roman Empire on August 10, 258 AD.

When St. Lawrence refused to hand over the church’s wealth to Rome, he was placed upon a gridiron and burned alive. As the story goes, after he had been lying there, burning for some time, he declared, “I’m well done on this side. Turn me over!”

Today, St. Lawrence is the patron saint of archivists, librarians, scholars, cooks, chefs, and comedians. You’ll find a painting of him upon the gridiron above the altar in the basilica at El Escorial (see the photo above). In fact, El Escorial’s footprint resembles a grill.

The Palace

Continuing on to the palace and living quarters, you’ll find original furniture on display. The palace features stark white walls, and unadorned furniture. The simplicity in architecture and design was unique at the time.

Pateón de Infantes, El Escorial
“Panteón de Infantes (El Escorial). Casa de Borbón.jpeg,” by José Luis Filpo Cabana, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

The Royal Pantheon

Deep below this fortress is the pantheon, or burial place, of four centuries of Spanish royalty, including Phillip II.

The Habsburg family had significant inbreeding, due to marriage arrangements intended to keep political power in the family. If you’ve heard of a “Habsburg jaw,” this was a visible result of that inbreeding.

Why am I bringing up incest right now? There’s an entire room filled with small coffins, the “pateón de los infantes”, dedicated to royal children who had passed too soon. Only four of Phillip II’s twelve children survived past the age of seven.

According to scientists, incest may have brought about the fall of the Habsburg dynasty. This inbreeding may have been the cause of so many Habsburg children’s deaths, as well as the cause of infertility. The two-century-long Spanish Habsburg dynasty ended in 1700 with Charles II’s death, age 38 and infertile.

Library at El Escorial
The Library at El Escorial,” by John Keogh is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The Library

The tour ends in the library. This is easily the most posh library I have ever seen. And if you love a good library, you cannot pass this up.

With frescos painted on the ceiling and gold rimmed globes, it feels more like a cathedral dedicated to the worship of literature than a library. It holds over 40,000 books and 4,700 manuscripts.

As you exit the library, a sign above the door threatens excommunication to anyone who steals a book. At that steep a price, I wonder what their late fees are like!

Patio of the Kings, El Escorial
Patio of the Kings

No Photos

To my great disappointment, photography is not allowed inside the building of El Escorial. The only place you are allowed to take photos is outside and in the courtyard, ”Patio of the Kings.”

However, you can purchase postcards, prints, and puzzles in the gift shop, along with other souvenirs. Or you can purchase digital photos online.

Planning Your Visit

El Escorial makes for a good half day trip from Madrid. You’ll want to plan for an hour to get there, 3 to 4 hours to do the audio guide tour, and another hour back to Madrid.

We had lunch in El Escorial at a small restaurant at the train station, and arrived back in Madrid around 3pm with plenty of time for more sight seeing that afternoon and night.

The best time of year to visit is typically fall. You’ll likely enjoy nice weather, but you’ll avoid the summer tourist crowds.

*Note: El Escorial is closed on Mondays.

El Escorial

How to Get to the Monastery of El Escorial

Nestled in the foothills of the Guadarrama mountains, El Escorial lies about an hour northwest of Madrid. You can book transportation there via train or bus.

By Train

Taking the train was very easy and convenient, as trains leave about hourly from Madrid to El Escorial. Take the C3 line from Atocha or Chamartín stations in Madrid to El Escorial.

From the train station, it’s about a half an hour walk to the monastery, so we chose to take a taxi.

By Bus

The bus will drop you off closer to El Escorial than the train will. You’ll want to take route 664 from Intercambiador Moncloa bus station in Madrid. Then get off at Estación de Autobuses de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, the final stop on the route. From there, it’s only a 10 to 15 minute walk the rest of the way.

Click on the markers on the map below to highlight the walking routes from the train station and bus station to El Escorial.

Trip map created with Wanderlog, an itinerary planner on iOS and Android

Further Reading

If you’re looking for more day trip ideas from Madrid, read my posts on Segovia and Ávila.

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Featured Image is “Library in El Escorial, Spain,” by Jessica Gardner, Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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What to pack for Mexico: 20 most important items

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Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival: Tiptoeing in the Tulips

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival: Tiptoeing in the Tulips

The Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival is located just outside of Woodburn, Oregon, about an hour south of Portland. It runs each year from the middlish-end of March to the beginning of May. But before we get into that, let’s cover a brief history of the tulip.

Tiptoe through the window,
By the window, that is where I’ll be;
Come tiptoe through the tulips with me.

”Tiptoe Through the Tulips” by Al Dubina and Joe Burke
Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival

A Brief History of the Tulip

Everyone thinks of Holland and the Netherlands when they think of tulips. There might even be a famous Rembrandt painting of a Semper Augustus tulip tickling the back of your mind right now.

However, the tulip actually originated further east. It traveled to Europe in 1554 from Constantinople in the Ottoman Empire (modern day Istanbul). But interestingly, the tulip craze didn’t truly hit Turkey until it had already fizzled out in the Netherlands.

It’s said that the tulip was introduced to Holland by the theft of a seed. However, a tulip only produces true to the mother plant when you plant an offset bulb. The fact that it was brought to the Netherlands by seed is likely the reason for Holland’s incredible variety of tulips. The tulip craze climaxed in Holland between 1634 and 1637, bringing a whole new meaning to the term Spring Fever.

Later, the Tulip Era, or lale devri, lasted in Turkey from 1703 to 1730. Sultan Ahmed III was famous for his tulip garden and garden parties. He imported millions of tulip bulbs from Holland during this time, and held extravagant celebrations to highlight his prized tulip garden, complete with mirrors, candles and songbirds. Plus, guests had to dress to match the tulips!

The Price of a Tulip

The Semper Augustus tulip is the the most expensive tulip variety in history. And at the height of the Dutch tulip frenzy, the highest price paid for a single Semper Augustus bulb was 10,000 guilders. You could have bought a house on the canal in Amsterdam for that price!

Meanwhile in France, a certain miller traded his mill for a tulip bulb of the Mère Brune variety. Another man gifted a single Mariage de ma fille bulb as the dowry for his daughter’s marriage. And in Turkey, you could trade tulip bulbs for gold!

Prior to 1635, tulips were only sold between June and October, and an actual bulb was exchanged for hard cash. This is during the months when tulips can be removed from the ground and before they have to be planted again for the fall.

After 1635, a credit system developed and people began to sell and trade tulips year around. At this point, tulips not yet ready to be pulled from the ground were traded for slips of paper, an “I-Owe-You,” or a contract. Exactly like how I purchased tulip bulbs when I visited the Wooden Shoe Tulip festival last spring and didn’t receive them until fall.

This trade system unfortunately set the Netherlands up for a financial crash in 1637. Seemingly over night, the tulip dropped its price and sellers could no longer find a single buyer. Somehow, there was never a clear explanation for this sudden loss in interest in the tulip market.

A Tulip by any other Name…

A tulip doesn’t strive to impress anyone. It doesn’t struggle to be different than a rose. It doesn’t have to. It is different. And there’s room in the garden for every flower.

Marianne Williamson

Today we are most accustomed to bright, single-colored tulips, soft, round, and generic in shape. Six petals, six stamen, one color. However, the Turks preferred their tulips with long, clean petals that drew to a point, sharp like a dagger. Whereas the Dutch preferred their tulip petals complex, feathered and marbled in color. That marbled color in tulips is called a ”break.” (See photos above for examples.)

Semper Augustus and other “breaks” are due to a viral infection spread between tulips by the peach potato aphid. The virus disrupts part of the tulip’s natural pigment, causing a beautiful marbled effect in the petals.

This virus also causes infected tulips to produce fewer offset bulbs. Initially, these tulips were highly sought after and far more expensive. But once the cause of a “break” was discovered in the 1920s, tulip growers quickly rid these infected flowers from their fields.

I gleaned most of this history of the tulip from The Botany of Desire. This book is written by one of my all-time favorite authors, Michael Pollan. It’s an interesting read, in which he discusses different plant’s relationship with humankind.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival

Today, when spring makes her appearance, tulip festivals are held all around the world. There are two great Tulip Festivals in the Pacific Northwest. The Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival outside of Woodburn, Oregon, and the Scagit Valley Tulip Festival outside Mount Vernon, Washington.

Admission Prices

Admission prices range from $10 to $60. Prices will vary based on what kind of ticket you choose to purchase. Some of the admission options include a day pass, a season pass, or a sunrise pass, so be sure to check out the website in advance for all details.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival, Woodburn, Oregon

Who can visit the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival?

Everyone is welcome at Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm. There are no age restrictions, and there’s something sure to entertain every member of the family here. The tulip festival is kid friendly, and even your dogs are welcome!

Where is the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival Located?

The Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm covers 40 acres of ground with 100 varieties of tulips in a vast array of different colors. Located just outside Woodburn, Oregon, it lies about an hour south of Portland.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival, Woodburn, Oregon
Shop local craft vendors at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival

What to do at the Tulip Festival

The first time I visited the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival, I’ll admit I wondered: ”What the heck am I gonna do there other than stare at a bunch of flowers? Is it really worth the drive?”

And the answer? Yes. It is 100% worth the drive. In fact, I liked it so well, I’ve visited multiple times now, and hope to visit again this year. And as I mentioned before, there really is something at the tulip festival for everyone! Just check out this list.

  • Explore the tulip fields
  • Take a tethered hot air balloon ride (available on the weekends)
  • Watch the sunrise (requires the sunrise pass admission)
  • Ride the Tulip Tour Train
  • Ride the cow wagons (for kids)
  • Jump in a bouncy house or bungee jumper (for kids)
  • Watch demonstrations: wooden shoe making and steam tractor (weather permitting)
  • Wine tasting with Wooden Shoe Vineyards
  • Take a wine wagon tour
  • Eat lunch from a variety of local food vendors
  • Shop local craft vendors
  • Purchase flower bulbs (not just tulips!) or fresh cut flowers
  • Take photos of the tulips, Mt Hood, each other (photo cut-outs are scattered through out the farm), and
  • Enter the photo contest
  • Join the Tulip Trail Run on March 19th, 2022 (5k, 10, and 1/2 marathon options available)

Just be sure to check the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival website to verify activity times and availability.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival, Woodburn, Oregon

Why Order Your Tulips From the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm

The tulips at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm are exceptional quality, and the variety they have is amazing. It far surpasses anything you’ll find in your local garden centers.

You can order bulbs for fall, bring home fresh cut tulips, or potted flowers already in bloom. Bulbs ordered in spring will ship out in October, when it is safe to remove the bulbs from the ground.

Last spring I ordered a beautiful array of purple, white, and marbled tulips, including the Purple Flag, Flaming Flag, and Mondial varities, as well as some daffodils and hyacinths. I received them in October as promised, along with planting instructions. And now I can’t wait to see them bloom.

You can order bulbs either online or in person at the farm, but I recommend ordering in person at the tulip festival. Towards the back of Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, they have a display of all the varieties of tulips they sell. Seeing the tulips in person made it easier to select exactly what I wanted versus looking online.

When is the best time to visit the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival

If you visit the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival during a week day, there are fewer crowds. However, not all vendors and activities are open during the week days. For example, hot air balloon rides are only available on weekends.

Also, Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival’s website provides a field report. This field report is updated regularly and will tell you what percentage of the tulip fields are in bloom, and can also help you decide when to plan your visit.

How to Prepare for your Visit During COVID

  • Purchase your tickets online in advance.
  • Bring a face mask.
  • Please be respectful of those around you and maintain 6 feet distance, especially if your mask is off while eating or taking that perfect photo.

Where to stay

If you’re traveling a distance or just looking to make a weekend get-away out of the tulip festival, then you’ll need lodging. The Oregon Garden Resort located in Silverton is an excellent choice. It’s just a 15 to 20 minute drive (11 miles) south of the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm.

The Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival and the Oregon Garden Resort will be partnering again this year to offer a Tulip Festival Package. Plus, the Oregon Garden Resort is pet friendly and includes a hot breakfast with your stay. Top off your weekend get-away with a visit to the resort’s Moonstone Spa for a massage or facial.

What to Wear to the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival

First of all, be sure to wear good shoes, as it may be muddy. Secondly, dress warm, and in layers. Although I thought I dressed warm enough with a scarf and rain jacket, I still found myself shivering most of the time. However, this being spring in Oregon, any weather is possible. So it’s best to prepare for a possibility of rain or sunshine, or both!

Further Reading

If you’re looking for more outdoor adventures in the PNW, Oregon has countless beautiful gardens to explore. For example, start by checking out the Lan Su Chinese Garden or the Japanese Gardens.

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14 Travel shows to binge watch when you can’t travel

14 Travel shows to binge watch when you can’t travel

I didn’t travel much in the traditional sense that first year of the pandemic. And any traveling I did, I kept pretty local and low-key. Instead, I stayed home for the most part, binge watching too many travel shows on Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu, adding to my bucket list daily.

Now, here we are, almost 2 years later. We’ve all lived and re-lived through multiple stages of lock down, variant after variant. While some of us became experts on safe-travel-in-the-time-of-COVID, others of us became professional social-distancing channel surfers.

So whatever your situation, here’s a comprehensive list of travel shows to safely scratch that itch for adventure from the comfort and safety of your own couch. I’ll even tell you where to find them. Happy binge-watching!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small fee from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.

Rick Steves

Tour guide Rick Steves is one of the first resources many people think of when they’re looking for travel advice. His shows are highly informational and cover many major tourist sites, a bit of history, and where to eat and sleep.

Although I may not sit and binge watch this series for entertainment sake, I have gotten some good tips here when planning trips in the past. For example, we stayed at Hotel Europa on Rick Steve’s suggestion. The price was very reasonable, the service good, and the location amazing!

Available on: Amazon Prime

Length: 25 minutes

Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain’s best known travel shows have become quintessential holy grails of their genre—the gold standard of everything a travel show can and should be.

I’ve listed Anthony Bourdain travel shows (plus a movie) in the order I would suggest watching them. First, I’d start with No Reservations and Parts Unknown. These two travel shows will give you insight into the host’s philosophies and a respect for his work.

Next, I’d check out A Cook’s Tour. The contrast between this show and No Reservations really highlights his beginnings and growth through out his career. Lastly, I’d watch Roadrunner.

So many of the good times traveling this world relate directly to finding a human face to associate with your destination, the food you eat, and the memories you’ll keep with you forever. The best times are when it’s impossible to be cynical about anything. When you find yourself letting go of the past, and your preconceptions, and feel yourself and your basic nature, the sneakiness and suspicion, the irony and doubt, disappear, at least for a time. When, for a few moments or a few hours, you change.

Anthony Bourdain

No Reservations

On the surface, Anthony Bourdain seems a bit rough around the edges with a bad-boy reputation. In his series No Reservations, he explores other cultures through their cuisine. He gives a raw and honest look at other countries , both the good and the bad, all while expressing a deep respect and sensitivity. And he doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics.

No Reservations originally aired on the Travel Channel and the Discovery Channel. This series ran for 9 seasons, from 2005 to 2012. My favorite episodes of No Reservations were of places I never would have thought to visit.

Available on: Discovery+

Length: 45 minutes (60 minutes with commercials)

Parts Unknown

Anthony Bourdain isn’t the type to show you all the major touristy sites. Instead, he will take you into the homes and the lives of people all around the world. His series Parts Unknown originally aired on CNN and ran from 2013 to 2018. Being a CNN show, this series focuses more on civil and political topics, with food more as a side note.

Available on: Buy on Amazon Prime, or coming soon on CNN+

Length: 60 minutes

A Cook’s Tour

Anthony Bourdain’s first travel show, A Cook’s Tour, originally aired for two seasons on the Food Network, running from 2001 to 2002. We quickly learned while watching this that he wasn’t a natural born travel guru. Anthony Bourdain fumbles a bit in this series with the newness of other cultures. This is not the well-traveled Tony we all came to know, who is shocked by nothing!

Available on: Free on Amazon Prime

Length: 20 minutes

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

Ok, be prepared to cry with this one. This biographical film was released in 2021, and it does Anthony Bourdain a great honor. Like his later travel shows, this movie examines both the good and the bad. His loved ones discuss his genius without glossing over his struggles.

Roadrunner references all of Anthony Bourdain’s travel shows. And although the movie easily stands on its own, I did feel having watched his shows gave us deeper insight.

Available on: Rent or buy on Amazon Prime

Length: 2 hours

Somebody Feed Phil

With a theme song reminiscent of a ‘90’s sitcom, this travel show will give you all the feel-good vibes. The host, Phil Rosenthal, exudes a child-like wonder and excitement about new foods and cultures. Four seasons of Somebody Feed Phil are currently available for streaming, with rumors of a fifth season.

“I’m exactly like Anthony Bourdain—if he was afraid of everything.” -Phil Rosenthal -9 Travel shows to binge watch when you can’t travel Click To Tweet

Available on: Netflix

Length: 45-60 minutes

Travel Man

Richard Ayoade, the host of Travel Man, gives off a somewhat jaded, are-we-done-yet vibe with a dry British humor. In this show, he explores new cultures in whirlwind 48-hour weekend visits. Many of the activities they highlight in this show are a bit quirky and off the beaten path. This show has eight seasons currently.

Available on: Free on Amazon Prime

Length: 20 minutes

Restaurants on the Edge

This inspirational show is what would happen if a cooking show, a travel show, and a home remodel show got together and made a baby.

The three hosts of this show discover struggling restaurant owners in breathtaking locations all over the world. And then they give these restaurants an unbelievable make over.

Karin redesigns and redecorates, Nick finds locally sourced ingredients, and Dennis reviews the menu. All the while, they remain mindful to highlight and accentuate each restaurant’s cultural ties. Two seasons of this series are currently available.

Available on: Netflix

Length: 40 minutes

Dark Tourist

Warning: This one-season travel show is definitely not for the faint of heart or the easily offended. And even the not-so-easily-offended may find themselves, well…offended.

An oddly upbeat, quirky, and dissonant theme song sets the tone for this travel show quite accurately. The show feels a bit like a train wreck that you just can’t look away from. And although I’m not exactly jumping to add this show’s “tourist sites” to my next travel itinerary, it is extremely interesting.

Available on: Netflix

Length: 40 minutes

Street Food: Asia

This inspirational documentary series is narrated in the protagonist’s own voice, dubbed over by an interpreter in English. The narrators tell their stories full of pride, of how they overcame adversity through sharing their culture and their food. Travel to locations including Thailand, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam. One season is currently available.

Available on: Netflix

Length: 30 minutes

Street Food: Latin America

Street Food: Latin America is produced in the same style and format as Street Food: Asia. These series give you a glimpse of what daily life looks like for people in the food industry in countries around the world. In the Latin America series of Street Food, they travel to countries including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. One season is currently available.

Available on: Netflix

Length: 30 minutes

World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals

The hosts of this show, millennials Megan, Jo and Luis, explore vacation rental homes around the world. The three categories they investigate include budget friendly options, interesting designs, and luxury homes. You can find many (if not all) of the vacation homes they highlight on VRBO and AirBnB.

Available on: Netflix

Length: 30 minutes

Jack Whitehall: Travels with My Father

English comedian Jack Whitehall hosts this irreverent travel show, in which he convinces his upper-class, stuffy father (who’s never traveled before), to get outside his comfort zone.

The two men have very different ideas about how this is going to go down, though. Jack wants to rough it and backpack through their travels. His father wants only the highest luxury hotels and restaurants. It’s a bit absurd at times, and clearly scripted, but it did get a few laughs out of me.

Available on: Netflix

Length: 30 minutes (seasons 1&2); and 45-60 minutes (seasons 3-5)

We Speak Dance

This unique, one-season travel show is hosted by a dancer and former UN advisor, Vandana Hart. She travels all over the world, exploring cultures through learning and performing street dances. In season one, she travels to countries like Vietnam, Nigeria, and Indonesia.

Available on: Netflix

Length: 20 minutes

Further Reading

Watching these travel shows inspired in me a desire to visit places I may not have considered otherwise. Check out my bucket list here!

Have a favorite travel show I didn’t mention? Tell me about it so I can check it out.

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