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Ronda, Spain: The Most Romantic City in the World

Ronda, Spain: The Most Romantic City in the World

Ronda, Spain, is the most romantic city in the world. A White Hill Town in Andalusia, it seemingly sits on the edge of the universe.

Washed Ashore: Up-Cycling Ocean Waste at the Oregon Zoo

Washed Ashore: Up-Cycling Ocean Waste at the Oregon Zoo

The Washed Ashore Exhibit at the Oregon Zoo communicates a harrowing message in a plastic bottle. Only available through the end of January.

What Happened When We Got Lost in Ávila, Spain, and Why I Fell in Love with the City

What Happened When We Got Lost in Ávila, Spain, and Why I Fell in Love with the City

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small fee from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you, which helps me maintain this site.

Atop The Wall

I grab his hand, and with unquestioning trust in his sense of direction, I run along the top of the medieval wall surrounding Ávila, Spain, dragging him behind me. We had wandered perhaps a little too far from where we entered the top of the wall, lingered a little too long. We now have less than fifteen minutes to catch the tour bus, or the tour group leaves Ávila and returns to Madrid, without us.

“I think I saw there’s an exit this way,” he says.

As the minutes trickle away, we run further and further along the giant stone wall. And still, there is no exit in sight. My husband does not seem to be displaying the amount of concern or hurry I feel appropriate given the circumstances.

And then he just stops, pulling me up short.

I’m breathing heavily as he looks at me and asks me calmly, “Why hurry? Either we’ll make it, or we won’t.”

Stranded in Ávila, Spain

I know he’s right. On multiple counts. We wander on, at a slower pace this time. And we do end up finding another exit in the direction he had suggested. But the exit drops us off on the other side of Ávila. The tour bus leaves for Madrid without us. And yet, it becomes one of the best and most unforgettable adventures we had together in Spain.

When we initially discussed a day trip to Ávila, we had not decided whether to join a tour group or to venture out on our own. So luckily, it just so happened I had already looked up train departures from Ávila to Madrid the day before. Now standing lost in Ávila, we decide we might as well have a look around. So we choose a departure time, and then we set out to see the town. First stop, the gothic cathedral.

The Cathedral

There’s a lot to love about the cathedral in Ávila, Spain. For starters, it was the first gothic cathedral built in Spain. Also of interest, the back side of the cathedral happens to be part of the medieval wall surrounding Ávila. And to top it all off, the entrance fee to this cathedral is very reasonably priced, and the tour of the bell tower is unrivaled.

Why I’m obsessed with the Cathedral in Ávila, Spain

Ok, now lemme tell you why I love Ávila’s bell tower tour so much. First of all, I love old buildings, and the way you can feel they have a story, a life, a soul of their own. But every admission I pay, every tour I take, every cathedral or castle I explore, there are always locked doors, hallways cordoned off. You can feel the building holding itself back. And I am undoubtedly aware that I am a stranger, a tourist.

I yearn to know the building intimately, to see what lies beyond the tourist’s view, to know a building’s secret places. I long to feel what it was like to live and walk and breathe, to be a part of the building when it was still used for it’s initial purpose.

Expecting no more than a brief and casual peek inside the cathedral, my husband surprises me with admission tickets for the bell tower. As we begin the tour, I quickly discover that Ávila’s tower tour is every thing I have always wanted a cathedral tour to be. Yes, we climb the bell tower and see the bells. But we see so much more than that, too.

And we aren’t just given admission and told to climb 200 stairs or take an elevator to the top. We are guided in-person. The tour guide leads us to explore a walkway overlooking the cathedral, the bell ringer’s apartments, and even the top of the vaulted ceilings. I’m not sure if you’d even call it the attic. If there’s a place between the attic and the roof, that’s where the tour guide took us. You don’t get more intimate than that with a building.

My Husband’s Favorite Part of the Story

Ok, this is probably my husband’s favorite part of the story. Our guide narrates the tour in Spanish. However, audio guides are available in other languages as well, including English. I probably should have used the audio guide.

Feeling a bit brave, I decide to try the tour in Spanish. I had been practicing my Spanish listening skills on and off the entire vacation. But our tour guide speaks a bit too fast for me. And eventually I start to tune out, asking my husband to recap what’s happening for me every so often.

Next thing we know, I’m leading the tour group down a passageway and opening doors the tour guide explicitly told us <in Spanish> not to open. As I open the forbidden door, a giant gust of wind rushes past us in the narrow passage, a dizzying fifty feet off the ground. The tour guide yells frantically at me to shut the door.

So. Everyone who knows us, knows that I’m the rule follower, the square. And everyone who knows us, knows that my husband is the smooth-talking, rule-bending limit-pusher. While I hurriedly shut the door, my husband swears I am going to get us both kicked out of the cathedral. And no one back home will believe it was my fault, not his!

But luckily, they don’t kick us out. The door is safely shut again, and no one was blown off the walkway by the wind storm I released. I learn that some doors are kept closed for a reason. And we continue the tour.

Moral of the Story

So here’s the take away. If you’re practicing your shaky foreign language listening skills, maybe let someone else lead the way.

Convent of St. Teresa

The Convent of St. Teresa

Another beautiful site in Ávila is the Convent of St. Teresa. We decide not to enter the convent, simply due to time. But we do learn a few things about St. Teresa before we move on.

Teresa of Ávila was a Spanish noblewoman, born in 1515. She is one of the patron saints of Spain and the sick. In fact, in 1970, she became the first female Doctor of the Church. (A Doctor of the Church is some one who has made consequential contributions to Catholic doctrine.)

The Convent of St. Teresa is believed to have been built on the site of her birth. When you visit the convent, you can view a relic of this important Catholic Saint. You can also view another relic of St. Teresa at the convent in Ronda, Spain.

Ávila Spain

Getting to Ávila, Spain

Ávila, Spain, is a small town just an hour and a half from Madrid. Visiting Ávila makes for an excellent day trip. You can easily book a tour through one of the kiosks on Plaza del Sol in Madrid. Or if you’re feeling more adventurous, plan your own transportation. Trains leave from and for Madrid regularly and are fairly inexpensive.

If I were to do it all over again, I would book our own transportation from the beginning. The tour we booked from Plaza del Sol only gave us an hour and a half in Ávila. The first 45 minutes were guided, followed by 45 minutes of free time to explore on our own. Although the tour was interesting, 45 minutes free time is not enough to explore Ávila’s cobblestone streets and see all that it has to offer. Plan to spend at least a half day there.

Ávila Spain

Tips to Know Before You Go to Ávila, Spain

—>Check out the epic viewpoint you see above of Ávila, Spain. If you take the bus tour, ours stopped at the viewpoint of the city for pictures. Or, if you decide to plan your own visit, take a taxi to this viewpoint for a fun photo shoot.

—>If you’re short on time when visiting Ávila, be aware of the siesta hour. Staffing at some businesses during this afternoon hour is a bit lighter. So be aware, it may take longer to get through lines during this time.

Looking for more day trip ideas from Madrid? Watch for my upcoming posts about our adventures in Segovia and El Escorial.

If you’re looking for more adventures in Spain, check out my posts 15 Things to do in Barcelona, Spain or 7 Free Things to do in Barcelona.

10 Reasons You Have to Visit Seaside, Oregon

10 Reasons You Have to Visit Seaside, Oregon

Seaside has a classic boardwalk vibe, where you can explore the town on a surrey, visit the aquarium, and buy salt water taffy.

Who the Heck was Antoni Gaudí and Why Do We Care?

Who the Heck was Antoni Gaudí and Why Do We Care?

First of all, who was Antoni Gaudí? Everyone who had been to Spain told me I had to go check out the work of Antoni Gaudí. But I wasn’t at all familiar with Gaudi or his work. So I started looking at endless pictures and 

Clarice’s Travel Bucket List

Clarice’s Travel Bucket List

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small fee from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you, which helps me maintain this site.

New year, new decade, new blog, new goals. Hello, 2020! I’m so excited to be sharing this journey with you and grateful to have you here reading about my Travel Bucket List. Thank you for joining me!

After almost 9 years of marriage, I am still so in love with my husband and excited for the adventures that lay before us. I hope to have many years exploring other countries and learning other languages and cultures with him. Sometimes I fear that even if we live to be 90, we may not have enough years to explore everywhere we hope to.

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list!

Susan Sontag

I figure the first step in making a goal become our reality is to dream. And so dream away, I will. And what better way to collect those dreams than in a Travel Bucket List? So here it goes.

Top 25 Countries in my Travel Bucket List

Ok, starting out super basic. Here’s a straight forward list of places I want to go, countries I hope to visit.

  • Austria
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • China
  • Egypt
  • England
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Iceland
  • India
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Peru
  • Russia
  • Scotland
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

It will be interesting to see how many of these countries we will check off our Travel Bucket List by the end of this decade. Now moving on to slightly more specific destinations…

The complete list, maybe not in one trip.

All 50 United States of America

There’s actually a club you can join for this one – The All Fifty Club! There are different tiers for the membership, depending on if you’ve visited just the 48 contiguous states or all 50. Or you can become an associate once you’ve visited at least 35 states. They’ve got a newsletter, a pin, and even a t-shirt. They do not require proof of your visit; they will take you on your honor. Can I say #couplegoals?!

The 7 World Wonders

Visiting the 7 World Wonders isn’t as straight forward as it might seem. There are actually two lists of 7 World Wonders: the original list and a new updated list.

-The Original 7 World Wonders

  • Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt
  • Hanging Garden of Babylon
  • Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece
  • Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
  • Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
  • Colossus of Rhodes
  • Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt

Unfortunately, only one of the original 7 World Wonders is still standing today. And that’s the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. But a new, updated list of 7 World Wonders was just announced in 2000.

-The New 7 World Wonders

  • Great Wall of China
  • Christ the Redeemer Statue, Rio de Janeiro
  • Machu Picchu, Peru
  • Chichen Itza, Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico
  • Roman Coliseum, Rome
  • Taj Mahal, Agra India
  • Petra, Jordan

One of the things I love about traveling and experiencing new cultures is the perspective it gives you. I feel so small in the grand scale of the world, but it is also awe-inspiring to see what beauty humankind is capable of. I imagine seeking out these World Wonders will lead to some humbling and amazing experiences.

US Road trips

As much as I want to explore other countries, I cannot ignore what variety my own, vast country has to offer. Here’s a few of my favorite US road trip ideas for my travel bucket list.

The Birth of Jazz Road Trip

It’s the ‘20s again! Let’s live it up like it’s 1920. Are there any other big Trad Jazz fans out there, or is it just me? It would be amazing to visit some of the cities that birthed and nurtured this genre of music. During the early days of jazz, there were three major hot spots in our country that influenced it’s growth:

  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Harlem, New York

Jazz was born in New Orleans, and it migrated across the country from there. New Orleans boasts Louie Armstrong as one of its own, and a must-see destination would include Preservation Hall.

Chicago developed its own style of jazz, and it was King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton who dominated the early Chicago Jazz scene. Chicago hosts a Jazz Festival in July, and there are several jazz clubs you can visit for live music year round.

New York claims Thomas “Fats” Waller as theirs, and this is where you can visit the National Jazz Museum. This is where the Harlem Renaissance occurred, giving rise to a new genre of literature as well as nurturing the jazz movement.

Route 66 Road Trip

Route 66 was a symbol of hope during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. It was supposed to lead people out of poverty and despair to a better life, although this was not necessarily reality.

Route 66 starts in Chicago, Illinois, and ends in Santa Monica, California. It takes about 2 weeks to travel and passes through 8 states, including Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

Unfortunately, the route is no longer completely intact, but there are many sections you can still travel, and in some places the route runs parallel to current freeways in use.

Re-reading John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath would of course be a must! In this American classic, John Steinbeck tells the painfully stark story of a family’s struggle during the Dust Bowl, their search for prosperity, and what they find instead.

Halloween road trip

Ok, this may be a little macabre, but a Halloween road trip would be super unique and so fun! To be honest, there are a few books that inspired my interest in a Halloween-themed road trip.

Six Women of Salem by Marilynne K. Roach and The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff are both excellent books that explore the social, political, and religious influences that made the horror of the Salem Witch trials possible.

Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz is on my to-read list. But what I’ve read so far about Dr. Mutter’s Museum in Pennsylvania, it reminds me some what of American Horror Story’s 4th season – Freak Show.

Another story on my to-read list is an American classic, Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. These books all inspire a perfect Halloween road trip, including the following locations:

  • Sleepy Hollow, New York
  • Salem, Massachusetts
  • Dr Mutter’s Museum, Pennsylvania

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

I absolutely love lighthouses and the ocean, so a road trip following along the Pacific Coast Highway sounds like a dream. Washington has 18 lighthouses open to the public, Oregon has 7, and California has 16, for a total of 41 lighthouses you can visit along the Pacific Ocean.

However, be sure to do your research before you go. Some of these lighthouses are open year round, whereas others have seasonal hours. Some of these lighthouses can only be viewed by appointment. Certain ones only allow public access to the grounds surrounding the lighthouse, whereas others offer access to the tower and/or the dwellings. Some lighthouses even operate as a Bed and Breakfast, like the Heceta Head Lighthouse outside of Florence, Oregon!

A Pacific Coast Highway road trip would run from Olympia, Washington, through Oregon, and end in San Diego, California. That’s 1,675 miles, which adds up to 35-40 hours worth of driving! The trip could be made in about a week, give or take a couple of days depending on how much sightseeing you want to do.

Travel with a Purpose

A travel bucket list can be so much more than just locations on a map. What motivates you to pack up your bags and leave the comfort of home? These are a few reasons that motivate me to explore the deeper corners of our planet.

Language Immersion

Travel is a an excellent way to improve your foreign language skills. I studied a year abroad and became fluent in German. It was an amazing experience.

Since then, I’ve tried to improve my Spanish as much as possible. But I’ve found it much more difficult to become fluent in a language without full immersion. I would love to spend some extended time in a Spanish-speaking country improving my fluency. For me, it’s proved to be the most efficient way to gain fluency.

Genealogy Trip

I believe knowing where you came from helps you understand who you are and where you’re going. I’m pretty much your basic American mutt – little bit of everything. I can’t help but wonder if it’s our mixed and vastly variable heritage in the US that drives us to search for our individual back stories. Do people from other countries feel as drawn to their ancestry as people from the US do?

In any case, I would love to explore some of the countries and towns my ancestors were from. Instead of planning a trip to visit all the touristy and popular sites around a country, I would love to hunker down in one of my ancestor’s towns, no matter how small or large. And just get to know it intimately, from the bakeries to the churches and cemeteries.

Next Steps

From close to home to the other side of the planet, that sums up the majority of the dreams I’ve collected in my Travel Bucket List. I’m sure this will only be a beginning, and I can’t wait to explore “the roads left in both of our shoes.” But dreams amount to nothing without some careful planning and action. So please stay tuned for updates on our travel plans! In the mean time, let’s play a game.

Travel Bucket List Bingo

Game time! Shout out in the comments below if you got a Bingo and mention what you did to win a Bingo! And sharing is caring, so tag a friend.

Travel Bucket List Bingo

So tell me, what motivates you to travel? And what’s on your travel bucket list? Please let me know if there’s somewhere you’ve been that I really need to add to my list!

7 Free Things to do in Barcelona

7 Free Things to do in Barcelona

Traveling can get expensive fast. One of the number one reasons I hear people list for not traveling is the cost. I get it. But travel really doesn’t have to be something so far out of reach. For those of you who are traveling Spain 

15 Things to do in Barcelona, Spain

15 Things to do in Barcelona, Spain

We landed in Barcelona after our long Amsterdam layover. We started and ended our Spanish adventure in Barcelona. I immediately loved the city. But at first I couldn’t tell if I actually loved the city, or if I just loved being on vacation. After seeing 

What to do during a long Amsterdam Layover

What to do during a long Amsterdam Layover

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small fee from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you, which helps me maintain this site.

Don’t waste your Amsterdam Layover at the Airport!

Yes, you have enough time to see a few sights on your long Amsterdam layover. And yes, it is so worth the venture. That’s the short answer to my two most burning questions I had while researching in preparation of our trip. Now lets get down to details.

We landed in Amsterdam in the tail end of April and it was still quite cool outside. <I was glad to have my jacket, especially while on the canal boat tour.> My husband and I had about an 8 to 9 hour layover in Amsterdam, and we had decided to venture away from the airport and see a bit of the city before continuing on to Spain.

Travel time from the Amsterdam airport to the city center was only about 15 minutes by subway. We hadn’t really looked up directions prior to arrival, but the signage directing us to the subway was fairly easy to follow.

I had hoped to squeeze in more than we actually did on our Amsterdam layover. But truth be told, we didn’t want to stray too far and miss our connecting flight. Plus, I had prepared little for Amsterdam and focused most of my planning energy on Spain. Unfortunately, we were a little indecisive about what to do in Amsterdam. The two main things we did do were a canal boat tour and the Red Light Secrets Museum self-guided tour.

Amsterdam canal tour

Amsterdam Canal Boat Tour

What is was, and what it wasn’t

We took an Amsterdam canal boat tour which included an audio guide available in several languages. I somehow expected the boat to be more intimate and personal, or at least have more character. Perhaps I was naively imagining something more akin to a gondola ride in Italy.

But the boats were big, crowded, commercial, and as expected, touristy. We boarded the boats in hordes. And although we had the audio guide, our boat conductor gave us a bit of his own version of the tour over microphone. I would have enjoyed either version of the tour. But trying to listen to both the boat conductor and the audio guide at the same time just meant I missed large chunks of information from both sources. Despite all that, we did learn a lot of interesting facts about Amsterdam.

Dancing Houses

Amsterdam Architecture 101 from the Canal Boat Tour

My favorite sight along the canal boat tour was by far the dancing houses, named for their off-kilter appearance <pictured above>. I found the city’s architecture and its history so fascinating. For example, at the time many of these houses were built, taxes were based on the width of the property, not the total area a house occupied. As a result, the houses were built narrow.

And narrow buildings outside meant narrow stair cases inside. The narrow stair cases made it very difficult to move large furniture to the second or third floors. The solution? Large hooks were installed along the buildings’ gables with a pulley system to hoist large furniture high over head. <You might be able to make out some of these hooks on the “dancing buildings” in the photo above.> It suddenly gave me so much context to the countless cartoons from my childhood of people being squashed by pianos falling from the sky. You can’t un-see it now, can you?

Another interesting tid-bit we learned on the canal boat tour was about an Amsterdam architecture optical illusion. Notice how the windows become shorter as your eyes scan up each story of the buildings. If you were standing on the street at the bottom of one of these houses, it would give the illusion that the buildings are taller than they actually are. An illusion of grandeur.

All in all, I would say the canal boat tour is a must, whether you’re in Amsterdam for a day or a week. It was definitely the perfect way to get a small taste of Amsterdam on our long layover.

Amsterdam bridge

Red Light Secrets: Museum of Prostitution

We visited the Red Light Secrets Museum of Prostitution just before our canal boat tour. We were told it was nearby, wouldn’t have a long wait, and it was only about 10E to add it onto our canal boat tour tickets. So we figured, sure. Why not?

And they were right. The museum was only about a ten or fifteen minute walk from the main train station. We passed by some of the famous red light windows on our way there. A little bit shy, I didn’t really look at any of women standing in the windows as we walked by.

When we got to the museum, we found it to be fairly small, not very crowded, and self-guided. We wound our way through the staircases and narrow passages of an old house (not ADA accessible). We read statistics and saw example rooms of what some of these women’s working conditions might be like. The tour ended in the gift shop where you can purchase anything from benign magnets to more explicit souvenirs.

On our visit there, I learned just how different the US’s culture and attitudes regarding sex are. The museum presents prostitution in a very neutral, maybe even slightly positive light, while highlighting some of the advantages, dangers and difficulties of prostitution as a legal profession.

The women in this profession have a few requests, though. Please don’t take photographs or videos of the women in the windows. And please don’t loiter and stare. Price haggling is not an option. Show these women the same courtesy you would anyone else.

As we left the museum, I didn’t stare. But I also wasn’t awkwardly avoiding eye contact like dancing around the elephant in the street, either. Overall, the museum was interesting and very informative about one of Amsterdam’s most well known curiosities. Although I wouldn’t call it a must-see, if you’ve got an hour or two to kill, it’s an option.

Hours: Daily from 10am to Midnight

Admission: 10-15€

Note: You must be 18 or older to enter.

Amsterdam

Back to the Airport

After the canal boat tour and the Red Light District Museum, it was time to eat. We wanted something authentic, but not waffles. Funny enough, the majority of the restaurants we found in our vicinity were foreign cuisine, not local! Go figure.

So in our indecision, we headed back to the airport maybe a bit earlier than we needed to. <Security wasn’t bad at all.> And we ate dinner at the airport instead. Sad, I know, but we did at least get to try a stroopwafel at the airport! Besides, we were exhausted, ready to sit, and we couldn’t wait to fly into Barcelona. But that’s a conversation for next time!

On our Next Visit to Amsterdam

Amsterdam had never previously interested me very much until our Amsterdam layover. That’s probably because I knew next to nothing about the city. Now I’m dying for a repeat visit though, and my husband and I already have an Amsterdam Bucketlist started.

One building that I had really hoped to see, and have to see on my next visit to Amsterdam is the narrowest house in Amsterdam, AKA the “Smallest House of Europe!” Located in the old city center, it measures just 6’8” wide!

Other than impossibly narrow houses, our Amsterdam Bucketlist includes the Anne Frank House, the Rembrandt Museum, and the Torture Museum. Most of these museums we intentionally decided not to visit during our layover, as we had heard the lines at these locations can be quite long, and we were concerned about time. But the next time we’re in Amsterdam, we hope to be there for more than just a layover!

So tell me, what did you do on your long Amsterdam layover? And what’s the shortest layover you’ve had while venturing out into the city? <Just wondering how close I can push the limit next layover, wink wink>

And don’t forget to find out how our adventures continue in Barcelona, Spain! Until then, goede reis!