The Huffington Post: Valencia Beyond Calatrava

Happy Labor Day!  You can see my piece on "Valencia Beyond Calatrava" here on The Huffington Post.  My late June trip to Spain was wonderful, with a week in Valencia and two days in Madrid at the Hotel Ritz Madrid (my post on the hotel is here). 

Starchitect Santiago Calatrava's masterpiece of design, the City of Arts & Sciences, has dominated the Valencia cityscape for more than a decade. While the city's pride in the work of its most famous son is well-deserved, Valencia has many other cultural highlights.

I arrived in Valencia on one of the sleek, high-speed trains that now connect the city with Madrid and Barcelona. The ride was such a pleasant experience that I wanted it to last longer.

I wandered around town and ate manchego and tomato sandwiches, which are sold everywhere like mozzarella and tomato in America. I drank glasses of fresh juice from Valencia oranges. (In a nod to local flavor, every Starbucks has an orange squeezing machine.) I craved crunchy bits of paella every day. I tasted the overly sweet local beverage Orxata, made of water, sugar and tigernuts and sold on street corners.

A tour of the City of Arts & Sciences is not to be missed for its space-age, jaw-dropping size, scope and design, but, on a closer look, the gleaming white exteriors show dirt in the cracks, like it needs a giant hose to wash it down. On every visitor's list is the Oceanografic Aquarium and the cool displays at the Museo de Las Ciencias (Science Museum), both equally appealing to both kids and adults.

Beyond Calatrava, here are 10 things I loved about Valencia.

Read more here


Happy 100 Years to the Hotel Ritz Madrid!

When I tacked on a night in Madrid to my Spain trip last week, I pictured sangria in Plaza Santa Ana, strolling through Retiro Park and exploring the world-famous Prado Museum.  I was a college backpacker on my last visit and was ready to forget the shady hostel and wobbling around with a 50-pound backpack through the Puerto del Sol.  Thanks to a friend's recommendation, I booked the Hotel Ritz Madrid (an Orient-Express hotel), which is celebrating its 100-year anniversary and within walking distance to every wonderful thing Madrid offers. 

I arrived at 3:00 p.m. to the sight of afternoon tea in the lobby.  At 7:00 p.m., when I left to go hunt for tapas, people were still enjoying their tea and treats.  The lobby just screamed out "Sit down! Stop checking your iPhone! Enjoy me! Have a coffee."

Operating for 100 years as a hotel means you have reached icon status in a city.  And the Ritz is an icon, as well as the social hub of Madrileno life today.  Was that hot Prince Felipe that just walked by? My boyfriend swears he and "Meg Ryan's boyfriend in You've Got Mail" (Greg Kinnear) used the old revolving door at the same time.  Anniversary collages showed royal families, heads of state and celebrities like Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Brad Pitt enjoying the Ritz.

View of the PradoWhen I saw the view of the Prado Museum out my window, it was a moment of traveler euphoria.  I am in Madrid and I am staring at the Prado from my hotel room, one of the greatest art museums in the world.  Pinch me!! Rooms show off original flair, including heavy keys, floor-to-ceiling closets and original fixtures.  But the guests of 1910 wouldn't have seen heated towel racks, free WiFi and DVD players.  Be aware: This is what a "king-sized" bed looks like.  Prepare to cuddle with whoever you are sharing the bed with.

The Ritz takes "breakfast buffet" to another level and it's one to linger over, as is the terrace restaurant where power lunchers and American tourists enjoy 3-hour lunches. 

Paying for a room night gives you a key to the city's history but also its carefree, socially-centered present.

Fun Fact: Mario Batali went to his prom at the Hotel Ritz Madrid!