Monthly Archives: April 2014

Walk through Granada’s Alhambra

DSCN1920DSCN1927 DSCN1932Without a doubt, mention Granada, and the first attraction that often comes to mind in this city in Spain’s Andalusia region in the Alhambra. Rightfully so. Talking a stroll through this UNESCO World Heritage site, a standing legacy of the region’s Moorish architecture, can make you feel like you just stepped into an Arabian Nights story.

Dating back more than a 1,000 years, this palace and fortress complex grew over time in space and structure, from once being a small fort to being first a Muslim and then Christian palace and then finally being restored to its glory after rediscovered by explorers and travelers.

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As pictures can show much more than my writing can describe you, here’s my pictorial on my recent visit to the Alhambra. Yet, with some guidance.

Being its own walled-in city, the Alhambra is primarily divided into four main parts: the Alcazaba, Nasrid Palaces, the Partal area, and the Generalife. I’ll break down each of them.

DSCN1957After going through the entrance, you’ll first pass along the Royal Water Channel and the Seven-Storied Gate to make your way eventually to the Alcazaba. It’s the oldest part of the Alhambra, and it was the military area.

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DSCN1981 DSCN1980 DSCN1973 DSCN1972 DSCN1971 DSCN1970Going inside, the Nasrid Palaces are a thing of sheer beauty. With three palaces in this collection, the ornate designs with circular patterns and colorful mosaics showcase different living periods.

DSCN1986 DSCN1988 DSCN1989 DSCN2011 DSCN2010 DSCN2007Heading onto what’s called the Partial area, this section contains a portico, gardens, the Rauda, the Palace of Yusuf III and the Paseo de las Torres along several towers.

DSCN2017 DSCN2018  DSCN2022 DSCN2025DSCN2041DSCN2047 DSCN2048DSCN2057 DSCN2062 DSCN2064 DSCN2065 DSCN2066 DSCN2073 DSCN2075 DSCN2076 DSCN2078The Generalife area was built as a leisure area for Granada’s monarchs, where beautiful gardens provided a pleasant escape from day to day living. This section includes the Alhambra’s lower and upper gardens and the Generalife Palace.

DSCN2081 DSCN2085 DSCN2092 DSCN2107As you can see, you can spend a good portion of your time here. And it’s well worth it!

5 Reasons for Going to the New York Travel Festival

Got bit by the travel bug? Want to see more places but not sure where to go next? Then spend next weekend (April 26 and 27) at the New York Travel Festival, to learn more about seeing around the world from those who are already doing it.

At this two-day event in NYC, the who’s who of experts in both consumer and industry travel will be on hand to give straight-up advice minus the sales pitch. The festival opens on Saturday, April 26, at Bohemian National Hall, at 321 E 73rd Street, and then on Sunday, April 27, switches over to Hostelling International-New York, at 891 Amsterdam Ave.


To firm up your travel plans, here are five good reasons for going to NY Trav Fest:

1) Have One-on-One Time
Seeking personal travel advice? An “Experts’ Corner” gives NY Trav Fest ticket holders the chance to pre-schedule brief meetings with participating experts. This college of travel knowledge will cover just about every destination (including Antarctica) and travel type (family, solo, budget, gay-friendly). Experts include “Nomadic Matt” aka Matt Kepnes; adventure filmmaker/TV host Ryan Van Duzer; Tawanna Browne Smith of “Mom’s Guide to Travel”; and Associated Press travel reporter Scott Mayerowitz.8701129516_a423200acd_z

2) Let’s Be Technical

From apps to maps, technology keeps changing how we travel. Mostly for the better. Open to everyone, “Travel 2.0 @ #NYTF” is a special daylong seminar with sessions highlighting the direction that travel tech is heading. Talks will focus on how mobile and social media are influencing travel such as one led by Google employees Ting Ting Yan and Sarah Robinson. Held in conjunction with Travel 2.0, a networking group for travel startups, innovation and technology, “Travel 2.0 @ #NYTF” will also welcome area travel startups that will showcase their products and services as well.


3) Get Down to Business
From travel agents to tourism board members, Saturday’s portion of NY Trav Fest will have specific content just for you. In industry-only tracks, learn more about hot business topics and trends on improving business and customer relations. Masterclasses and workshops also are part of the weekend format, with sessions also covering the professional side of travel. Learn how to market your brand wise or get better at reaching out to niche markets. Bring along extra business cards, as Saturday ends with an industry/media networking reception.


4) Listen to Travel Innovators
Sunday’s program will welcome two world travelers that have made names for themselves yet still want to help others travel too. At noon, Lee Abbamonte, the youngest American to visit every country in the world, will deliver the Sunday keynote. Then at 4 p.m., Bruce Poon Tip, founder of the tour company, G Adventures, will tell how “Transformative Travel” has made him the entrepreneur he is today.


5) Find Inspiration
Need more? During a session called “Travel Babel,” attendees will be able to hear neat stories from travelers – either in person or through a pre-recorded video – who will describe what was their A-Ha moment on the road. As every traveler’s story has a beginning and the journey goes off in many directions, there will be plenty of tales to tell. And with breaks throughout both days and a closing party on Sunday night, go ahead and swap stories with fellow attendance.

For a complete weekend schedule, visit All ticket holders receive discounts on NYC tours offered before, during and after the festival by a selection of New York City–based tour companies in partnership with the NY Trav Fest.

Ticket prices are as follows:
Consumer Weekend Ticket: $45 in advance ($60 at the door)
Industry Weekend Ticket: $100 in advance ($150 at the door)
Sunday only: $15
For tickets, visit

Editor’s note: I am on the Planning Committee for the 2014 New York Travel Festival. Photos courtesy of the New York Travel Festival.

Toledo: A City of Three Cultures

DSCN1722A short distance from Madrid, heading south, Toledo makes for a pretty good day trip. Founded by the Romans as a fortified city, Toledo carries the nickname the “city of three cultures,” due to the Jewish, Christian and Muslim populations that once had lived alongside each other for years. Like much of Spain’s southern region, this mountainside city has had its fair share of change over the centuries due to being take over by different rulers.

Toledo once had been an industry powerhouse too: everything from steel to silks and ceramics were produced here. Yet even today, this old’s city artistic and architectural legacy still attracts visitors. Plus, you can get to this UNESCO World Heritage site by car, train or bus.

DSCN1740If you’re heading to Toledo by car (I got there by bus), the hillside scenery along the route from Madrid (you travel down via the A-42 highway) is worth the “stop to take photos” scenario. It’s a panoramic view. Stare straight ahead in the distance and among this skyline you’ll find the Alcázar of Toledo, built as a stone fortress, then used as a royal palace, and then during the height of the Spanish Civil War was severely damaged. It was rebuilt and presently holds a museum and library.

Of course, you explore Toledo by foot. Very carefully. You’re walking up hills and on cobblestone streets. There are a number of churches, monuments and museums that are not badly far in distance from each other.

DSCN1756DSCN1752DSCN1754Inside the Church of Santo Tome, groups primarily come to view “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz,” a masterpiece by the artist El Greco (meaning “The Greek” in Spanish). El Greco, which is what he is referred to than his actual Greek name, spent the latter part of his life in Toledo. This quite large, oil painting hangs in a tight fit room, but from wherever you’re standing, you can take in all this painting. It’s based on a local legend involving a very pious man, and is divided into two sections.

DSCN1743DSCN1831El Greco was chosen to paint this masterpiece, which best replicates how the Spanish men looked in time this painting was created in the late 1580s. You can also spot El Greco’s self-portrait in the painting. He’s the third man from the left side.

DSCN1793Another landmark is the cathedral of Toledo, a beautiful 13th-century High Gothic cathedral that was built on top of the city’s former mosque. It’s considered to the best of this architectural style in Spain. If you walk up a street across from the cathedral, and hit just the right angle with your camera/smartphone lens, you can get a postcard snapshot like mine below.

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While walking along Toledo’s former Jewish Quarter, a thriving section up until the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, look down at the pavement. You’ll notice markers that are religious symbols, indicating that you’re following along the quarter.

DSCN1795DSCN1798 In this quarter, pay a visit inside the Santa Maria la Blanca Synagogue, considered to be the oldest synagogue in Europe that’s still standing. Seeing its interior might make you second guess this place had been built as a synagogue, as its appearance doesn’t reflect how many of them commonly look.

DSCN1814DSCN1820DSCN1819Designed by Moorish architects, the temple is was constructed using the Mudejar style (created for non-Islamic purposes). The floor plan consists of an unusual mix of aisles. There are a series of beams supported by octagon piers. Arches are graced with intricate designs, more in line with nature-inspired symbols than religious ones (my guide happened to point out a hard-to-find Star of David carvedon one beam). Now as a museum, the Santa Maria la Blanca Synagogue later went from being a temple to a monastery, and then was used as an armory and warehouse for a sword factory.   DSCN1818 DSCN1815One sweet find in Toledo is marzipan, a creamy confectionery made from almonds and sugar. It’s not hard to find a shop that solely offers this handmade treat. You can find it in its basic state or filled with chocolate and even shaped to look like little fruits or vegetables.

DSCN1763DSCN1751For a whole day or just half of one, it’s good to head to Toledo and explore its three cultures.