Madrid, Spain – What You MUST Do

Recently, I went to Madrid and loved it. I know there is a huge rivalry between Barcelona and Madrid, but honestly I think they were both equally amazing. They were too different to compare. While we were there we took day trips to Avila, Segovia and Toledo which I highly recommend. 
We stayed at the Hotel Mercure Madrid. It was great! It was in an amazing location. 

There was so much to do and see that I just made a list below of what I recommend doing while you are there:

Temple of Debod – this was really cool. It is an Egyptian temple that was relocated to Madrid.

Chocolateria San Gines – this churro place is famous but we only went here once. We preferred Churreria Chocolateria. 

Churreria Chocolateria – we went here daily. It was super clean and the staff was friendly. Their churros were delicious!

Wine tour – read my blog post to learn more: http://www.kristinagemella.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/Madrid-wine-tour/

Jardin de Sabatini – we walked through here daily on our way to the Palacio Real. Very beautiful.

Plaza Major – this plaza had plenty of outdoor patios with sangria and food and a lot of street performers. 

Palacio Real – take a tour of this palace!!! It was so beautiful. From the moment I saw it I found it captivating and we would sit across from it and just watch it for hours while we drank wine and ate tapas. 

Plaza de Oriente – also near the Palacio Real. It had amazing restaurants and views of the Palace.

Puerta Del Sol – the busiest part of the city with a beautiful center fountain and surrounded by stores and restaurants.

Walk down Calle Mayor and Gran Via – the two main streets with shopping and dining.

Go to a Flamenco Show at Torres Bermejas – beautiful decor and talented dancers

Do the hop on hop off bus- great way to see the entire city

Plaza de Cibeles – beautiful marble sculptures and architecture. 

  
Flamenco show! 

 
Calle Major  
 
Puerto Del Sol

   
Segovia and Roman Aqueduct 

 
Segovia

   
Toledo

    
Toledo

 
Toledo

   
Churros! 

Toledo    
Our favorite churro place 🙂 

Palacio Real  

Madrid Wine Tour

Imagine sitting at a picnic table in the Madrid countryside that is covered with homemade olive oil, bread and delicious wine. That is exactly what I got to experience a few weeks ago. To convince you to also go on this tour I will share this short anecdote: I asked our guide, “how does this compare to the wine we drink back in the States?” and he responded “it doesn’t.” If that’s not convincing enough, I don’t know what else is. In all seriousness, the wine tour was fabulous and I want to share a little more about my experience.
Days before the wine tour, we had lunch and dinner at numerous restaurants in the city and in neighboring towns such as Avila and Segovia. On each menu we found that there wasn’t a long list of wines. There were two choices: red wine or white wine. There were usually only two white or two reds to choose from, but if you only wanted a glass – versus a bottle – you didn’t have a choice between them. Whatever bottle was open was the one you drank. Coming from the States, we weren’t used to it, but it didn’t bother us. 

I mean, how can you be mad while drinking wine? Anyways, we found this to relay over into our wine tour experience as well.
For example, throughout the entire tour they never mentioned “this is a Cabernet you are drinking” they never mentioned the grapes at all. In fact, they never even labeled the wines with that information. They were either red wine or white wine and they only called it the name the wine makers did – which was usually named after family members. 
For example, if they made two different red wines they would have the name of the winery on the label and then the name “Antonio” or “Maria”.

If you are picky when it comes to wine, please don’t let this fact sway you! Every single drop of wine I had was the most refreshing and delicious wine I’ve ever tasted.

Now, onto the fun part: the wine tour! We started in the heart of Madrid and worked our way out into the countryside. We stopped at a beautiful palace and then continued on to the first stop on our tour.
This modern winery was high on a hill and overlooked the valleys surrounding it. The manager of the winery and the man who supervised the entire process was originally from Chile. We drank wine directly from the barrel and he taught us about the process as well as the wines we were drinking.

   
   
From there we kept on driving to a very small town that only housed about one hundred people. The center of town was designated by a huge church and after pulling up to what looked like a house with white walls and a red thatched roof, we walked inside and met the man who owns the winery. We then went up into an attic and saw the tops of these huge clay pots that held dozens of gallons of wine. They had the attic designed it in such a way that even when it was more than 100 degrees outside it would be in the mid 50s inside the room. From there, we walked down into a basement, passing by an inside-out skinned sheep – our guide told us that wine makers used to make them into sacks to get wine up and out of the cellar to bottle it. We continued down the stairs to see even more clay pots that were about 10 feet tall. On a small table there were more bottles of wine. 

   
   
Our guide allowed us to take our time drinking it while he explained each one. Once we had a few sips (more like a full glass) of wine we were allowed to finish off every bottle!

On the way to our next winery, we stopped in another beautiful town in the countryside and they were setting up for the bull fights. We took pictures and headed on to the third and final winery.
The last winery was run by a very sweet woman who told us about the process of how they make wine. There were more clay pots here as well. We then sat outside, eating cheese, bread and olive oil while we drank more bottles of wine.
   
    
    
 After the wineries, we stopped at a quaint little restaurant where we had lunch and drank more wine! Needless to say the car ride back to the city was quiet…everyone was sleeping with a smile on their face.

Check out the tour here: http://www.gourmetmadrid.com

The Azores: The Hidden Gem of the Atlantic

  
I recently went to the Azores and loved it. It was possibly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been…and I’ve been to a lot of places. If you are a nature lover these islands owned by Portugal are perfect for you. With the untouched nature of Hawaii, the rolling hills of Ireland and the architecture of Portugal, these islands are a hidden gem.
Although the Azores are made up of nine islands, we only had time to go to two of them. We chose Sao Miguel and Terceira. Before I get into the things we did (and what you should do while you are there) I want to provide a few tips for visiting:

1. Rent a car. There is absolutely no way you can get around the island without one. Yes, they have cabs but everything is so spread out that you will spend more money on cabs than a rental car. Make sure you know how to drive a standard car. They have very few  automatic cars on the islands and the ones they do have are very expensive.

2. All over the island they have signs showing lookout points – always stop at them. Each one had an amazing view!

3. Drink Kima – a grapefruit soda they make on the island. You literally can’t find it anywhere else on earth so it’s truly one of a kind.

4. Pack for all different kinds of weather. If you are from New England you will understand this. Depending on if you are in the sun or shade you can go from sweating to shivering in one location. The Azores are prone to rain (although it only rained once in the time we were there) so pack an umbrella or rain jacket.

5. If you are from the U.S., bring Euros. Only one place on the island took credit cards.

6. Pack comfortable shoes.

Now to the fun part, what to do while you are there. If you want, you can follow our itinerary to the the T. Everything we did I recommend.
Sao Miguel – Day 1

We stayed in Hotel Talisman in Ponta Delgada. It was a beautiful hotel with very nice and helpful staff. It was in the heart of the city and close walk to local restaurants and the ocean. They had a continental breakfast every morning too. 

When we arrived we explored Ponta Delgada and went into a few shops. We then hopped into the car and drove to Cha Porto Formosso (a tea plantation) that had beautiful views of the ocean and cliffs and small village below. We went inside and drank tea while eating biscuits made by locals. We loved it here so much we ended up going back two days in a row. From here we went a few miles down the road to a second tea plantation – Cha Gorreana. This was also interesting but we enjoyed the quaintness of Cha Porto Formosso more.

   
   
After more tea, we were off again to the Lagao das Furnas (the Furnas Lake). This lake was green! When we arrived, we parked and walked on a path around the lake. We went by an abandoned cathedral which was beautiful and eerie at the same time. Here, you can opt to go paddle boarding, canoeing or kayaking too. 

We then drove to the other side of the lake and the Furnas which is an area where the lava underground heats up the earth so much that there is bubbling water, steam and sulfer. A local restaurant actually puts a tin full of meat and vegetables into the ground and lets the steam heat it up for hours before serving it for dinner.

   
    
   
At this point we had gone all day without stopping, had spent several hours at each site and driving that we were very tired so we had dinner at the hotel and it was very good.

Day 2

We woke up had breakfast and started the drive to Lagao dos Canario. This is a steep 15 minute hike up a hill but trust me the views are worth it. We had fog around us the entire time and we still thought it was an amazing experience. You feel like your on the edge of the world. With steep cliffs on either side and a narrow path across the top of a mountain, you can see for miles. On our way down we stopped at another Lagao just a 5 minute walk away. 
   
   
From here, we continued on to Sete Cidades. We stopped at the overlook point and had beautiful views of the two lakes and the village below. We then drove around looking for a lunch spot and came across Green Love. It was good and packed! So many people were there.

   
    
 After lunch, we continued on to Mosterios, a town on the west side of the island. We drove around, got out of the car and watched the waves crash into shore. We then stopped into a tiny pastry shop and had tea, coffee, Kima and pastries.

  At this point it was late in the afternoon and with about an hour drive back we headed on our way to the hotel. We then had dinner at Calcada do Cais – it was delicious!

Day 3

Everyone told us to go to Nordeste so off we went! On the way, we stopped in many lookout points and got beautiful views of the island. We stopped off and got pictures of Lagao do Fogo too. Once in Nordeste, we walked around exploring and got lunch at Restaurante Tronqueira. We were a little skeptical at first since it was a buffet but it was one of the best meals on the island. We went up to get more food at least 3 times. The waitress was so sweet too and there were great views of the ocean and palm trees.

   
   
 
 On our way out of town we stopped and got pictures of the lighthouse in Nordeste and continued on to Ribeira dos Caldeiros. This is also a must-see. There were numerous waterfalls, water mills and lush fauna everywhere.

   
 Again, on our way home we stopped at Cha Porto Formosso. 

That night we tried a restaurant called Rohta Ihla dos Verde. It was good but you must be open to different takes on regular dishes. I can see that many vegetarians love it there.

Day 4 – off to the airport to get to Terceira!

We hopped off the plane and immediately it was different. Instead of tall mountains and deep canyons, this island had more rolling hills. We stayed at Hotel Praia Marina which I highly recommend! It was right on the beach and the owner was so fantastic. They were helpful and very nice. This hotel also had a continental breakfast. 

Since we had gotten there after breakfast was served, we walked up the hill and into town to a local Cafe. I can’t remember the name but their pastries were delicious!
We then hopped in the car and went to Angra do Heroismo – which many of you know is a UNESCO Heritage site. This city did not disappoint. It was beautiful. From the bustling streets to the wonderful restaurants and beautiful architecture. We first got a view as we drove Monte Brasil before driving into the town. We went to lunch at Tasca das Tias – we also went to this restaurant twice. We loved it! After lunch, we continued walking around town, stopping in stores and exploring. We then drove around the island to see what there was, stopping at lookout points and just getting a feel for the island. 
   

 Then we had dinner at Tutti Gusti – a pizza place next to our hotel. We were exhausted!

Day 5

Everyone I asked said to go to Algar do Carvao so off we went to the lava caves. Little did we know we got extremely lucky with timing! We pulled up and people were waiting in a line for it to open. Apparently in October you need to make an appointment to go in there. We didn’t make one! They still allowed us in but if we had shown up later we wouldn’t have gotten in.

We climbed down this walkway and headed underground. 30 feet above us was a large hole in the earth where you could see the sky. The lava tubes went down close to 300 ft. We climbed down hundreds of stairs and got amazing views of this ancient cave that was made from a previous volcanic eruption. At the bottom was another small lagao. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

   

  

 After getting our fill of the beauty we went to Funas de Enoxfre which is another Furnas that has steam coming from under ground lava. We walked around the whole perimeter.

   

 From here we went to Lagao de Negro which was another lake and  lava tubes but the tubes were closed. 

We then headed off to Biscoitos and had lunch at Casa do Pasta de Pedro – it was delicious! We had a chicken dish that was sauteed, a salad, fries and rice. After a hearty lunch we walked over to the wine musuem (Museo de Vinho). The owner was very sweet and walked us around and told us the history. She then let us taste a table wine. 

We then walked along the beach (a mile!) to La Barca for dinner. Along the way we watched surfers and waves crash against the walls. We also came here twice for dinner!

Day 6

We drove to the top of the mountain overlooking Praia da Vittoria and looked at the monument to Mary. 

We then drove to Serra do Cume which is the second highest point on the island. We then drove back to Biscoitos and went to the Piscina Natural (natural pools). This was very cool. We spent an hour just hanging out watching the waves crash and the pools fill with water. In the summer it is very busy and filled with people.

   

  

 From here we drove back to Angra do Heroismo and had lunch again at Tasca das Tias and went shopping.

For dinner again we went to La Barca. 

Day 7

Sadly this was the end of our trip. If you ever get the chance to go to these wonderful islands, I highly recommend it. I would go back in a heartbeat.

My trip to Charleston, SC

A few months ago, I went to Charleston, SC for the first time. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but had always heard amazing things!
I headed down late on a Friday night over a long weekend and decided to fly into Columbia instead of Charleston (the rates were hundreds of dollars cheaper). We rented a car and drove the 2 hours to Charleston. We stayed at the Hampton Inn in the Historic District. It was perfect. Right in the middle of the action, near all of the restaurants, bars and main attractions. It was clean, the staff was welcoming and ready to answer any questions we had and they served breakfast every morning.
We had Saturday, Sunday and almost all of Monday there and it was more than enough time!
Saturday morning we woke up bright and early and walked to the local flea market that was in the park a few minutes away. Here, there was local made products such as soaps, lip gloss, ornaments, paintings, you name it.

  
Then we got on a tour bus and they brought us to every part of the city. We went through The Citadel, down to Battery Street and the park right on the water, past Rainbow Row and the 4 corners. The guide was funny and kept our attention the whole time. At the end of the tour we also got a tour of the Manigault House. That was fabulous. They showed us a free-standing staircase and told us about the family as well as the history of the house and how they would have lived back then. They also explained the architecture of the house and how they found a way to keep it cool in the summer.

   
    
 Then we drove about 20 minutes to Boone Hall Plantation. If you ever watched the movie The Notebook you will recognize this house. This was probably my favorite part of the trip. We drove the long driveway that was lined with live oak trees covered in Spanish moss and parked. The grounds were so expansive with numerous activities. For example, we took a tractor tour of the grounds. They showed us the whole property and explained how they grow crops and what life was like back then. Then we took a tour of the house which was gorgeous. It was like stepping into a movie set. The family still lives there so we could only see a section of the house. From there, we went explored the Gullah houses that were on the property. They were currently excavating most of it so we could see what they found and how they lived.

   
    
    
 From there, a woman spoke to us about the Gullahs and how her family used to work on this plantation. She was fascinating and she actually brought me to tears. I was hooked on her every word.

   
   
At this point it was getting late so we ate dinner and headed to bed. The next morning we woke up early again and headed to Magnolia Plantation. This was so different from Boone. Boone Hall was manicured and very European style. You couldn’t even see Magnolia Plantation from the road and it looked like we were driving through a tunnel of bushes just to get to it. Once we got into the plantation however, there was a mansion, walking trails, a farm, swamp tour and train tour. We opted for the train and boat tour. The train tour was very interesting. We saw so much wildlife. We saw dozens of alligators and birds.

   
   
After this we went to the Calhoun Mansion. Again, fascinating. I can’t even think of how to describe this. It was classic Victorian style decorating where they think “more is more”. The place was covered with antiques and objects from all over the world. I do highly recommend visiting this house simply because it is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

  
After this we went to Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island and got dinner at Salt. After dinner we went to a Sherlock Holmes Dinner Mystery Show. Pretty funny!

  
Monday morning we woke up and headed to the city market. This is where local artists and basket weavers show their work.

  
As you can see just 2.5 days was more than enough time to see everything we wanted to! Charleston is a historic city that is also beautiful and I highly recommend visiting. I would go back in a heartbeat.

Kennebunkport Food Tour

Recently, I took a food tour through the beautiful town of Kennebunkport, Maine. It’s a town bordering the ocean and quintessentially New England. Boats are floating in the harbor, locals are fishing over bridges, the downtown Main Street is filled with cute shops and family run restaurants – it is awesome. 

I hadn’t been there in years and decided to take a food tour. I booked with Maine Foodie Tours and our guide was Wendy. She was outgoing, funny, knowledgable and so sweet. 

We started by going to Allison’s, a local family run restaurant in the heart of down town. We ate clam chowder and Wendy discussed the history of the town and the award-winning soup. 

Then we went to the Clam Shack. It was so popular! Lines out the front door at 11am! Luckily, since we were on a tour we got to skip the line. In the back we met with a 5th generation employee. Her family has owned it for decades. Here she gave us a lot of interesting facts about lobsters, their restaurant and how the lobster industry in Maine is handled. We then tried fresh lobster. I don’t eat seafood, but from the looks around the room, it was clearly delicious. 

We then walked over the bridge where Wendy gave us more local facts and we headed to a brewery. Shipyard! They started in Kennebunkport before creating a second, bigger brewery in Portland. Here we tasted an ale, rye beer and stout. We also had handmade fudge and pretzel beer dip. 

We then moved to a local general store and sub shop. Here we ate whoopie pies. They were amazing! 

We meandered next door and ate local cheese, sausage and then got to stay for a wine tasting. 

From here we went to an amazing store called The Main-ly Drizzle. It’s gourmet olive oil and balsamic dressing. We were able to test all of them and we also had more local cheese and caramel butter. Needless to say we did not leave empty-handed! 

Our last stop was an ice cream parlor, Rococo. Wendy gave us background on the store as well as the owner. She has an interesting story! All of the ice cream is home made, locally sourced and extremely delicious. She was also very creative with the flavors. No plain vanilla there! It also is ranked #6 on the top ten ice cream parlors in the country. 

We also got a voucher for discounts for all of the places we visited on the tour. 

After the tour we went to a patio, David’s KPT, sitting over the river and had some more wine. 

I highly recommend this tour. It’s a great way to see the town and eat delicious food! 

Check out the pictures below:  

    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
 

What to do in Louisiana – New Orleans! 

A few weeks ago I went to New Orleans and it was awesome! We stayed at the Marriot on Canal street and highly recommend it. It was in the perfect location. Two blocks from Bourbon Street, one block from the French Quarter.

While we were there we were lucky enough to experience the French Quarter Festival. The entire quarter was filled with food and drink vendors and local artists. There were also bands playing on almost every street and at all times of the day.

Here are a few things I recommend doing while you are there:

  • Take a Voodoo walking cemetery tour. We went through GrayLine and our tour guide was great. Very knowledgeable and kept me interested the entire time. If you are an AHS fan, you can also see the tomb of Marie Leaveau.
  • Take a haunted history tour of the Garden District. This part of NOLA should not be missed. It is unlike the rest of the city and absolutely gorgeous. While you are there check out the Lafayette Cemetery where they also filmed Double Jeopardy. It is also home to a restaurant where Emril started cooking years ago. This is also the location of many celebrities homes such as Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, the Mannings, etc.
  • Go to Port of Call. This is located at the end of Bourbon Street and has amazing burgers and drinks. We spent a lot of time there.
  • Take a swamp tour. We saw ten alligators on our tour and went through the bayou.
  • Cafe du Monde. One word: delicious! If you know anything about Nola it’s that their beignets are famous. Don’t miss this! We recommend going in the afternoon as the morning is very busy.
  • Walk down Bourbon Street. It is the hub of activity and filled with bars and restaurants.
  • Head to Southern Candy Makers. They are famous for their tortues!


      

New Hampshire Wineries & Portsmouth

Last weekend, I went on a wine tour through New Hampshire from Boston. It was so much fun! I wanted to share the itinerary with you so that you all can take the same tour.

If you are starting in Boston, first head to Zorvino Vineyards. Address: 226 Main St, Sandown, NH 03873. This was about a 45 minute drive and the tour and tasting cost $30 or $15 through TravelZoo. Tastings on Saturday: 11-5. When we got there, they were setting up a wedding and it looked beautiful. The landscape was gorgeous. They have  a lot of wines and while on the tasting, you get to try 8-10 of them. We got to try Pinot Grigio, Moscato, Strawberry, Pineapple, Pumpkin and a few red wines. My favorite wine here was the Pinot Grigio. I don’t normally like Pumpkin flavors, but this was actually good! All of the wines were made at the winery with a few different grapes imported from Italy and California.

From there, head up to Jewell Towne Vineyards, which was about a 20 minute drive. Address: 183 Whitehall Rd, South Hampton, NH. Tastings on Saturday: 11-5. You get to taste 5 wines here for free. I tasted all of the white wines and absolutely loved all of them. I really enjoyed getting to try wines I don’t normally have, such as Vignoles, Aurore and Seyval. We also ordered a cheese plate, which was delicious. The inside of the building was beautiful- all light oak. The grapes are grown here or imported from the Finger Lakes area. My favorite wine was Vignole and my boyfriend loved the Foch.

From here, we went to Sweet Baby Vineyard, about a 15 minute drive from Jewell Towne Vineyards. Address: 14 Powwow River Road, East Kingston, NH. Tastings on Saturday: 12-5. This place was busy. It has a really fun vibe and the people who work here are really nice and keep the fun going. Here you get to taste 6 wines for free. They had 3 white wines, 3 red wines you can taste and 6 fruit wines you can try. I tried the 3 white wines and 3 fruit wines- Strawberry, Raspberry and Pear. My boyfriend tried the Apple, Apple Cranberry and Blueberry wine. My favorite was the Raspberry and my boyfriend loved the Apple Cranberry. Their cheese and crackers were also delicious.

From here we drove to The Farm Bar and Grille, which was about a 30-40 minute drive. We got drinks on the patio overlooking the river.

After lunch, we drove to Portsmouth which was about a 20 minute drive and beautiful. I loved it! I know it has been rated one of the most romantic places in the country and it definitely is! Everything was within walking distance and it was so quaint. We took a few hours on Sunday morning and walked through the whole town, stopping in every store. It is such a beautiful town and perfect for a weekend get away.

We stayed at the Residence Inn, which was in a perfect location. For dinner Saturday, we went to Radici, a nice Italian restaurant. Sunday, we went to Ri-Ra, a bank that was transformed into an Irish pub. All the old vaults are still in there. Even if you don’t like the food, stop in for a drink!

On the way home, we stopped in Newburyport, MA which was about 25 minutes from Portsmouth. We stopped in Agave, a Mexican restaurant and walked the whole downtown. Below are a few pictures:

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Saltwater Brewery

If you are heading to Del Ray Beach, Florida and looking for something to do, head to the Saltwater Brewery!

While I was there on vacation, I went with my sister to get a few drinks on a Friday night. It was a nice laid-back atmosphere while at the same time very busy. If you are looking to go out after dinner, but not head to a hot and packed  club, this is a great place to hang out. Note: it closes on the early side- 11 p.m.

The age range was from 21-30 and people were playing pool, corn hole and just lounging in Adirondack chairs. They have plenty of beer options too.

Here is the website:

http://www.saltwaterbrewery.com/