I’ve always wanted to go to Barcelona. I’ve traveled a ton and I had been to Spain before, but not to Barcelona, and the city had always had an allure to me that few places I’ve never been to do. Given that, when it was time to disembark from my 11-day transatlantic cruise over to Europe I was incredibly excited to begin exploring the city.
The city itself certainly didn’t disappoint. The architecture was beautiful, the city was clean, the mix of green space, urban space, and beach were lovely, and the smattering of bizarre architecture from Gaudí added just enough quirk to the city without making it ugly. The people, on the other hand, left a bit to be desired in the area of warmth and friendliness.
Take a look at the photos and videos below to get a feel for the city and I’ll do a couple more posts about some of the most notable sites over the next few weeks. FYI: the last ~4 mins of the video are of the fountain show so feel free to turn it off once you get there if that’s not of interest to you.
I’ve already given you a bit of an overview of the island of Madeira that I stopped at (as our one and only port day) on my Transatlantic cruise over to Europe in April/May (you can see how far behind I’ve gotten on my travel blog here). I wanted to give separate posts about the two highlights of the tour I took there, however: the cable car ride and the toboggan ride. I started with the cable car ride a couple of weeks ago and this week we’ll cover the toboggan ride.
When I was researching what to do in Funchal, one of the things that kept popping up was the “toboggan” rides that were offered. While reviews ranged from “It was a horrible experience and I nearly died,” to “The highlight of our trip,” I’m always down to try unique experiences and I hadn’t heard of something like this being offered elsewhere, so I decided to go for it.
The “toboggans” are actually more like sleighs and the “drivers” are actually just local men who look incredibly bored with their jobs and run behind the sleigh attempting to keep you moving without causing a serious accident. The “ride” occurs down an actual road, mind you, so I did see a close call with a car and the sleigh in front of me. Additionally, the sleighs are in no way stable and the drivers are only loosely in control (at least from my experience) so the ride itself is a bit anxiety-provoking if you’re at all concerned about toppling over and tumbling out of the sleigh onto the roadway while traveling at pretty decent speeds. It’s definitely not scary and would be a bore for thrill seekers, but it’s not like riding around in a tour bus either. I did read some accounts online of a couple of wipe-outs that left the riders with bruised ribs and broken bones.
Luckily, my sleigh remained upright and I neither wiped out nor sustained any injuries. Take a quick look at the ride in the video below (the video shows the ride at actual speed):
Just a tip for single travelers – it appeared they do not allow singles to go down in a Toboggan alone so I was stuck in a pretty tight sleigh with a random stranger and you’ll likely be in the same boat if you go.
I’ve already given you a bit of an overview of the island of Madeira that I stopped at (as our one and only port day) on my Transatlantic cruise over to Europe in April/May (you can see how far behind I’ve gotten on my travel blog here). I wanted to give separate posts about the two highlights of the tour I took there, however: the cable car ride and the toboggan ride. We’ll start here with the cable car ride.
I’m a little obsessed with cable car rides, as you’ve probably noticed since I do a post about the cable car in pretty much any city that I visit that has a cable car. I just think they’re a great ways to get a leisurely, bird’s eye view of a city and they’re usually quite inexpensive. This cable car ride in Funchal was shorter than expected and also quite a bit more expensive than most of the others I’ve been on, but that’s Europe vs. Latin America for you. Besides, it was included as part of my tour so off I went.
One of the few downsides of traveling alone is that you often end up with a travel companion for the day, whether or not you were looking for company. As I mentioned, I like cable car rides because they’re typically leisurely and relaxing. This one was less so as my cable car buddies included the man in his 60’s who talked my ear off all day and offered to meet me on the naked sunbathing deck that afternoon and bring me “room service” later that night and a pair of ladies who were rather afraid of heights and squealed for 70% of the ride. Ah well, it was still a lovely view of the island, which you can check out below:
As I mentioned in my last post, I decided to sail to Europe instead of flying so I booked a transatlantic re-positioning cruise aboard the Norwegian Epic. Our one and only port day on the journey before arriving in Barcelona was in the city of Funchal on the Portuguese island of Madeira. With just one day in Funchal, I opted for a ship-promoted tour that took me to see a bit of the city, to hike up one of the tallest lookout points on the island, to a brief tasting at a winery, and on a toboggan ride and a cable car ride. I’ll write about the toboggan and the cable car in upcoming posts but the video and photos this week are just a general overview of the city.
I was quite pleasantly surprised by Funchal and really enjoyed the brief stop there. It’s a very pretty little city and the tour I took was excellent. It appeared that the area was a popular spot for hikers and backpackers, but not being either and only having about 8 hours there, I can’t make any promises. For a day or even a weekend of just relaxing and exploring, however, I can definitely give Funchal a thumbs up.
We lucked out with gorgeous weather while I was there so the views from all of our stops on the tour were fabulous.
The only downside to the tour I took is that it took us to this lookout point over Nuns’ Valley. Some of the others visited a cliff overlooking the ocean that gave them way cooler views and better pictures.
After wrapping up my adventures in Latin America for the time being, I decided to head to Europe. Instead of opting for the boring and potentially torturous flight, however, I decided to try sailing across the Atlantic instead.
I chose an 11-day transatlantic cruise aboard the Norwegian Epic that would take me from Miami to Barcelona with one brief stop in the port of Funchal, Madeira, an island off the coast of Portugal. I chose the Epic because it is outfitted with a number of “studio” cabins designed for solo travelers, so I figured there would be a better shot of me finding some other solo cruisers to hang with, which would be somewhat important given the number of sea days on the journey. Now, I have (obviously) traveled extensively on my own and I have also been on many, many cruises. However, I had never cruised solo, so I was a bit nervous to have such a long and sea-day-filled itinerary for my first solo cruise.
As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. There turned out to be a surprising number (meaning maybe a dozen or two) of young (meaning under 40) people on the ship, so I had no problem finding people to hang out with and ended up having a fabulous time. We all formed a rather tight bond and still refer to ourselves affectionately as the Bracketeers (a reference to us being the only passengers in a particular age bracket). We’re even planning yearly reunions because we all missed each other as soon as we had to get off the ship in Barcelona.
I was also pleasantly surprised that the ship didn’t feel uncomfortably huge to me. This was the largest cruise ship I had sailed on (my first mega ship) so I was expecting to spend a lot of time wandering around lost. Surprisingly, I really didn’t feel the size difference as compared to the smaller ships I’ve cruised on in the past.
I do have to say I wasn’t super thrilled with the entertainment. In lieu of the standard, cheesy, cruise ship singers and dancers there were more specific performances including the Second City comedians, Blue Man Group, Legends in Concert, and a Cirque du Soleil dinner show. I would have preferred the standard cheesiness. They did have the normal audience participation games though, and my team and I came out on top as champions of The Quest! I also attempted to participate in the Newlywed game, but I think they spotted my lack of a ring and didn’t allow it 😉
All in all, it was a great cruise that far exceeded my expectations and I would certainly recommend it over flying to anyone who can spare 11 days to get over to Europe (or to get back from Europe as the ship will do the opposite route in October as it comes back to the Caribbean for the winter). I myself will almost certainly do it again.
As I mentioned in my last post about my hot air balloon ride, one of my weekend trips out of Mexico City took me to San Miguel de Allende. I had been hearing about this city for well over a year (since my last stint living in Mexico) and was excited to finally get the chance to check it out. I have to say, while it was a very pretty little city and I had a lovely time, I didn’t think it was anywhere near as special as I’d been led to believe. It definitely wouldn’t have been worth the trip out if San Miguel de Allende were the only attraction and I hadn’t also been able to enjoy the hot air balloons in Tequisquiapan.
Some people absolutely adore San Miguel, however, so you may still want to check it out if you ever have the opportunity. The pictures below will give you an idea of what to expect.
One of my weekends in Mexico City I decided to take a little trip a few hours away to visit Tequisquiapan, Queretaro, and San Miguel de Allende. More on the other cities later but for now we’re going to talk about the highlight: a hot air balloon ride in Tequisquiapan.
I had never been on a hot air balloon ride before but had always wanted to do one. Given that this was Mexico and it was off season, the price was just too good to pass up. My friends and I booked a package that included 1 night at a hotel, dinner, breakfast, and the balloon ride, all for less than $200. The hotel and food were nothing special but they were definitely pleasant enough and certainly adequate since we were really only there for the balloons. In fact, if I had to estimate, I would say about 98% of the guests were really only there for the balloons.
We drove to the hotel from Mexico City on Friday afternoon, explored the town of Tequisquiapan a bit, checked in, had dinner, and then tried to get to bed at a reasonable hour because we would be picked up for our hot air balloon ride before 7am.
In the morning we got up and joined the other travelers to take the van out to an open field where the sun was just starting to come up as they began to inflate the hot air balloons. After a fairly useless safety discussion (“You may not jump out of the basket,” etc.) we were split into groups of 8, loaded up into our balloon baskets, and took flight. The baskets were actually much sturdier than I expected so the flight wasn’t scary at all and was actually quite relaxing.
Once we landed, the guides allowed us to walk inside of the still semi-inflated balloon and take pictures. Then we loaded back into the vans and were delivered back to the hotel where we had a champagne toast (if you can call that stuff champagne), enjoyed breakfast, had the option of purchasing photos of the tour, and then packed up and headed on our way.
All in all, it was a very fun experience and it was extremely low-key so anyone of any age or activity comfort level should be able to enjoy.
Today’s post really isn’t all that exciting because I didn’t have any grand adventures. In fact, it was the day after I’d gone to Xochimilco, where I’d had a fabulous day drinking and spending time with friends, and I would have happily called it a night early that evening.
However, it was St. Patrick’s day and 1) I am (half) Irish-American (half Puerto Rican) 2) A good friend of mine I hadn’t seen in years was coming to town and 3) I actually happened to be in a city that was participating in Global Greening, so there was no way I was going to stay in. Global Greening is a program that the embassies of Ireland organize around the world every year on St. Patrick’s Day where they turn some of the world’s most recognized landmarks green to celebrate. They’ve done iconic structures like the pyramids in Egypt and the Eiffel Tower in France in the past and this year, it was the Angel de la Independencia smack dab in the middle of my city (my city for that month anyway).
Given all the reasons I had to celebrate, I painted my finger nails green, donned my green garb, picked up my friend at his hotel, and met up with some others at the Angel just after 7pm, the time when the greening was to happen. I have to say, it was a bit anticlimactic. I had expected a bit more fanfare and many more Irish or pseudo-Irish people to be out celebrating, but it was a bit of a dead night. Far less activity than my 2013 St. Patrick’s Day, which I also spent in Mexico City. The Angel did look cool lit up in green though, so here are some pics for your enjoyment 🙂
We’ve all heard the saying, “When you assume you make an ass out of you and me.” Well, I didn’t make an ass out of any of you but I definitely did out of myself.
After over a year in Latin America, I was ready for something new and have now settled down in Europe for a bit. To get here, I decided against a boring old flight and opted for an 11 day transatlantic cruise. Now, I have cruised many, many, many times before and so I assumed that would have internet access on the ship, albeit very expensive internet access, and would just continue to work right through. Well, I technically did have internet access, but the cruise line blocked certain sites that I need to use to share the free information I provide you all with to help you grow your businesses. That meant I basically just fell off the face of the earth for all of you for the past 2 weeks with no warning. Yup, my assumption made me a bit of ass 🙁
I’m very sorry to have abandoned you without so much as an FYI in advance. On the bright side, because the lack of internet forced me into an unplanned vacation I had a fabulous time on my ruise and I am now ready to hit the ground running here in Europe. I am on land again now though, so hit me up if you need any assistance and have no fear, New Venture Mentor and Startup Nomad (as well as my newsletter) will be back in action starting this week.
Thanks so much for your understanding and your continued support!