I am in Spain now. To be more specific, Madrid. I had been to Spain so many times but only stayed in Madrid for a day or overnight. I decided to stay in the city longer and know it this time. Coming from the Philippines, Spain has a unique role in our history and culture, so it is worth exploring.
To prepare, I augmented my knowledge of Spanish (24 units in university) by learning the language online to get by when I got here quickly. This learning turned out to be very useful.
I can say that my experience of traveling to Spain during a pandemic was not stressful at all. I filled out the Health Visa form online, which was all I needed when I got to the airport. All the information they needed was there, and after submitting the form online, they sent you a QR code which you print and bring with you.
I traveled a few days before the Omicron variant surfaced. At that time, Canadians who were doubly vaccinated need not have a test to enter Spain. I did take the test just in case the airline or any other authority asked for the negative test result at transit.
I lost a piece of luggage. Losing a piece of luggage was not the first time for me, so I immediately went to the Lost Luggage counter to fill up the form. The next day, the airline delivered my luggage.
Now, I am in my new neighborhood of Santa Engracia. Ponzano Street, where people eat in its array of restaurants, is very close, an effortless walk to my delight. So, my first afternoon, a friend joined me in a cheese and wine in one of the restaurants.
This morning, I walked around the neighborhood to familiarize myself with the area. I had discovered the closest grocery store, and it has everything.
I ventured out to look for anything to make my place comfortable and relaxing, and I found a flower shop where I saw some orchids. It says it's open, but the door was closed. Seeing my hesitation, a lady came to open the door and pointed to me the door chime that I did not see.
I went in and saw there were several orchids. With my limited Spanish, I arrived at my choice and even a vase to hold it. The lady prepared it and called me where she was working. We introduced ourselves, and before I knew it, she offered me a bunch of lavender and a few flowers, which she said I could put in my bathroom. I was surprised to get all these freebies.
I went home satisfied with my purchase. Watch out for more of my adventure here in sunny Spain.
I was delighted to be here in Madrid. It was not an easy decision. I was still concerned about traveling abroad given the resurgence of covid cases in many countries, especially Europe. But I took courage, and once I had decided, I went through all the requirements and started putting together what I needed.
I thought it would be stressful, but I found out that doing the conditions was easy. I had my proof of double vaccination. Spain requires beyond this proof filling up a health form which is available online and easy to do. Just make sure you have all your documents with you. Immediately after you have submitted the completed form, Spain sends a QR Code which you can save on your phone or print.
I took a rapid antigen test to ensure that if the airline required it, I had it, but this was not the case. For my peace of mind, it was necessary. As I was transiting in Lisbon, I had to fill up the Passenger Locator Form, and just like the one in Spain, Portugal sends a QR code that you print or save on your phone. This process proved to be a bit of a hassle as I did not immediately realize that because I was transiting, I needed to put the postal code of the airport. In the end, it didn't look as if it was necessary, but I felt prepared. Someone told me to have it with me just in case someone asks for it.
When I arrived at the Adolfo Suarez Barajas airport, they only looked at the Health Form and nothing more. It was so easy as there were none of the usual lineups for the passport check.
I was pleasantly surprised. The only drawback was the loss of one of my suitcases. It was left in Lisbon during the transfer but having had this experience before, I just went to the Lost luggage and was told it was in Lisbon. I filled up the form and left confident that I would get it the next day, and I did.
The trip was far from stressful, not beyond what we usually experience on trips such as these. Now, I enjoy a different environment, sunny and pleasant with good food and, yes, coffee. I was glad I took the plunge.
This week, many countries added travel restrictions because of the new covid variant found in the southern part of Africa. I'm here now and will stay for a month or two to enjoy nice weather, different culture, a new environment, delicious food, and varied acquaintances.
Taking risks often pays off. It made me worried a bit before my departure, but I did the requirements one at a time and relaxed before my trip. It turned out to be relatively easy.
Before filling up the form required by Spain and Portugal, you need to have your Airline seat number. You can go to your airline website to choose your seat if you don't yet have it. You can do this before you check in.
It is also better for you to go to the airport early. I was at the airport three hours before my flight, so I was the first in line to check my luggage in with the airline. Even at security, there was yet no long line making it very easy to navigate.
The only thing I still haven't learned even after years of travel is the weight of my carry-on. It is within what's required, but it is heavy for me. I constantly reminded myself to bring a suitcase that I could roll, but I tended to fill this up with more things, making it hard to put it in the airline overhead bin because of my height. This time, the airline overhead bin is within my easy reach. I wish I had brought one that I could roll because carrying the bag on a long walk to the gate was a challenge. There are always people willing to help put it up anyway.
I was glad I brought an adapter, so I immediately plugged in my devices when I arrived-without hassle and stress. So, remember to prepare the things you need at your destination. Have a checklist before you pack, and make sure you have these things in your suitcase.
If you want to go somewhere new and you are allowed entry, take the risk and enjoy. It's doable, even easy.
In the Fall, Monticello is transformed into a festival of colours and the majestic view of the Blueridge Mountains that Jefferson enjoyed during his lifetime is there for you to enjoy.
Jefferson, the third President of the United States, designed this plantation. Monticello is not only a historic national landmark but also a UNESCO Heritage site together with the University of Virginia that Jefferson also designed.
Just outside of Charlottesville in the Piedmont region of Virginia, this 5,000 acres of land was first worked on by African slaves cultivating tobacco, a popular and lucrative export then. So, as you go in the place from the parking lot, there is the cemetery for the slaves.
In the Fall, it is such a beautiful place especially with the maples changing colours but beneath this beauty, the dark history of slavery lingers.
When Jefferson lived there, there were about 150 slaves working in the plantation. Today, there is a marked off are where the slaves were buried as you can see in the picture below.
Monticello during the time of Jefferson totalled to around 5000 acres planted in tobacco which was the cash crop at that time. Thus, the slaves to work on the plantation. There are still some of the dwellings of the slaves on the property along Mulberry Row. Mulberry Row was an experiment on silk making. It is along here that the slaves lived.
Along Mulberry Row were the slave dwellings and one of these is shown below.
Monticello during the time of Jefferson was almost a self-contained plantation with most of its needs produced there and the services were attended to as well. So, there are trades workshops in the place to provide these services. Some of the slaves became skilled working in these.
Below is the garden which at the time of Jefferson not only provided for the plantation needs but also served as an experimental farm where he planted plants he brought from his travel.
Jefferson also designed the basement area of the house where a wine cellar, storage places and work areas were placed. Below are some of the pictures.
Archaelogy students continue to dig in the property and more will be discovered about Monticello. We await as it reveals more of its secrets.
More information on Monticello:
Address: 931 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy, Charlottesville, VA 22902, United States
Most visitors and even city residents miss visiting the Toronto Islands. There are 15 islands in this chain dotting the western part of Lake Ontario not far from downtown. So, from downtown Toronto, you can take a ferry from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal which is at the foot of Bay St. and Queen's Quay. It will take you around 13 minutes to reach the island and the fee is $7.50 for adults and $5 for seniors and students.
Once there, you can walk or bike around the islands which are interconnected with pathways and boardwalks.
It was in Spring when I took this picture so the waves were stronger.
We were lucky to have been brought to the Island by a member of the sailing club located there so we had a delicious breakfast in the club house and even better took the boat of the sailing club. This picture was taken in the balcony of the club and the background is downtown Toronto with the iconic CN Tower.
It was quite a privilege to have been brought there by someone who has lived on the island. We got to know what it is like to live there all year long. I was surprised to see how many houses and quaint cottages there are and how difficult it is to get a place here. You have to pay to maintain your name on the wait list and it could take forever to get one. A friend just took out her name on the list knowing that she would never be able to get a place in her lifetime.
Below is a picture of one of the cottages on the island. It looks very idyllic especially in the Spring.
Toronto Islands is a 150-year old community with about with about 600 people living in 262 houses and cottages.
Toronto Islands offer interesting places to explore. In fact, if you want to do it leisurely, you can stay overnight or for a few days and enjoy the peace and quiet of the islands, a stark contrast from the busy downtown core of Toronto. There are pathways, boardwalks and bike paths connecting the islands. It is totally car free.
For those who have kids, the Amusement Park in the Centre Island would be your best destination. It offers all kinds of rides including swan boats going around a small lagoon, a petting zoo, a maze and a beach.
One of the places you can hang out in is Ward's Island. The most visited place may just be the Rectory Cafe as many people from downtown Toronto come to enjoy dining al fresco on very delicious and tasty food without paying exorbitant prices. We had lunch here when we visited and thoroughly enjoyed the food.
Below is the Willow Square, a community initiative based on the work of Maggie Howarth, a renowned pebble mosaic artist. The island residents did this to express their life, their history and their natural world. It is the heart of the community.
In summer, you can enjoy the beaches in the islands. You can have a picnic, swim, sun tan, or walk. Centre Island Beach, Gibraltar Point Beach, Hanlan’s Point Beach and Ward’s Island Beach.
Below is a recycling depot in the island. The island is tiny so every step to maintain it is taken assiduously by the residents. It would be a great help if you don't leave more garbage there.
And if you're one of those who love an adventure, go and visit one of Toronto's oldest building. Dating back to 1808, the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse on Toronto Islands is rumoured to be haunted. So, on a full moon, head there and you might just hear the scream of the first lighthouse keeper, JP Rademueller, who was murdered by two soldiers at Fort York. It seems his screams can be heard from one part of the island to the other.
For more on the interesting history of the islands, visit this site.
From the uninspiring rail yards, New York City has developed a towering sculpture that has attracted shopping malls, restaurants with celebrity chefs and millions of visitors.
This towering sculpture called "The Vessel" offers a magnificent view of New York. It's meant to be climbed with a group of your friends. There's an elevator for those who have mobility issues.
Explore The Shed and enjoy some artistic inventions. Or, go sky high at The Edge where you can enjoy a view of New York from a hundred stories up.
It is best to go there late in the afternoon to enjoy the rosy sunsets with the Hudson River. Maybe, make a day of it, and enjoy the Public Square and Gardens, the smartest park in New York. You can also stay in one of the hotels or even live there in one of the residences.
Location of Hudson Yards
Below is the map showing the location of Hudson Yards.
Climbing the Vessel
Spanish Market at Hudson Yards
While there, go to the Mercado in the basement and enjoy a jug of sangria with your friends. Below, the Lady is mixing a sangria for our table. With your sangria, have some patatas bravos, jamon iberico and some of your favourite Spanish tapas.