One of my most treasured memories of Egypt was the time I spent leisurely sailing the River Nile on a simple wooden boat that the locals call a felucca. My tour group and I boarded the fuss-free vessel in Aswan, an unimposing market town that doubles as Egypt’s southern gateway to Africa.
Buoyed by gentle winds and a natural motion that was blissfully free of disruptive motor-fuelled noises, the trip was cathartic because we took our time to enjoy the journey, not just the destination.
We got to stretch out on deck and listen to, not just reflexively hear, the gentle lapping of the water as it rocked against the side of the traditional vessel. Without any pretense, I can honestly say the one-of-kind experience was a soothing balm for my body and soul.
We played cards.
Some people absorbed the changing scenery around us..
Wise man from the Nubian village
A few listened keenly to the wise old man from the Nubian village named Hamdi, who shared his knowledge of the area’s unique history and culture in hushed and measured tones. .
And collectively, in awed unison, we watched a magnificent sunset just before we closed our eyes and spent a peaceful night under the stars.
Yes, it got chilly. And no, there was no plumbing, Wi-Fi or convenient power outlets. But the surge of feel-good juice that shot through my system while I rested under the white-sailed canopy that was designed to provide shade and protection from the elements was even more electrifying. Because it felt just right.
I already shared the story of finding the cutest Coconut Body Shop I’ve ever seen but today I’ll let you in on another secret. Remember this name, Orion Creations. If you like creative products, it is another locally-based shop that you absolutely must visit when you are in the Turks and Caicos.
A young lady who doesn’t look a day over 18 is the heart and soul of the operation. Her retail outlet launched in June 2015 and it sells hand-made greetings cards, paintings and jewelry that you won’t find anywhere else. The cards, her first business venture, paved the way for this gem of a shop that also sells clothing and work of other local designers, including dolls. But think outside the box here. Don’t expect to find any Barbies or Kens there.
The owner, Melissa Willcocks, is a multi-talented Canadian who moved to Providenciales in 2006. When she first arrived, she rented a room with her friend and began job hunting. Somewhere along the way, the roomies started planning for a grand tour of Europe but their landlord died and the house they were living in went on the market – at a great price. Instead of following their powerful wanderlust urges, they decided to use their vacation savings to buy the.
Melissa didn’t know it at the time but that was her first major business decision. After that, destiny called, and she answered. That very house became the base of her growing cottage industry. An avid scrap booker, she used the same concept to make her first greeting cards. Her friends and family liked them so much they encouraged her to try to sell them commercially.
She made contact with the purchasing team at Beaches, a large all-inclusive hotel on the island and was elated when they took 100 on commission. Soon, she expanded into painting and designing unique artwork that highlight the beautiful aspects of the islands. Sand is a signature element in many of her designs.
The rest, as they say, is history. Go visit her shop! It is near the Jamaican Patty Place in Le Petit Place; walking distance from Ocean Club West, which is where I stayed.
Local cuisine is such an important component of the overall travel experience! I don’t know what grabs your attention when you visit a new destination but in my case, I remember places, interactions, activities… and the food.
I’ll be the first to confess that I’m particular about flavor, presentation and freshness, so I don’t always have the rub-my-tummy-in-foodie-ecstasy experiences I’d like to. But sometimes, to my complete surprise and utter delight, I do. In a previous post, I already declared how much I enjoyed the food in Italy. Now I’ll let you in on another big secret: I was a goner for the food in Madrid too!
Of course, everyone has heard about the Spanish dish paella. Well, the full plate of this epicurean delicacy that I devoured while in Europe met and exceeded my gastric expectations. But you cannot leave Spain and not try one or more of these other dishes as well.
Tortilla de patatas (or tortilla española)
Forget what you know about the Mexican Tortilla because this is nothing like it. More potatoes than egg, the Spanish Tortilla is a version of an omelet that is several times more filling than its American counterpart. It is served warm, cool or at room temperature and is popular at all times of the day. You can order it for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Served in most bars and restaurants, croquetas are small, lightly breaded fried rolls that are popular appetizers or tapas. (Tapas is the all-encompassing Spanish term for snacks, canapés or finger foods). There are many different varieties but the ones with cod (fish), spinach, ham or chicken fillings are most common.
This is a combination of sunny-side up eggs spread over french fries or regular fried potatoes and ham. (Yes, the Spanish LOVE their eggs and potatoes). The secret to the recipe lies in getting the run of the yolk just right. I heard that THE place to try them is at a traditional restaurant frequented by the in-crowd (i.e. actors, bankers and bullfighters ) called Casa Lucio where it is the signature dish.
Believe me, there is ham… and then there is Spanish ham. There are several types served in various parts of the country but here is a little tip: ask for jamón ibérico, the five-star crème de la crème of hams. The equivalent of the Peking Duck to the Chinese, this specially cured variety has been a part of Spanish culture for centuries. What makes this ham so prized and tasty is the origin of the meat – the pigs that are raised solely on sweet acorns in Jabugo, a town in southwestern Spain.
Berenjenas con Miel
I am not a lover of eggplant but I included this option so that strict vegans would have something to look forward to as well. Non-diary and non-meat eaters can try fried eggplant drizzled with honey. It is a dish that originated in Málaga, the southeastern region of Spain
In case you haven’t realized this yet, I am a HUGE sucker for cheese. I went wild trying tons of Dutch cheese while in Holland and this sheep milk blend that I was introduced to in Madrid was mouthwateringly delicious with crackers. Hailing from the region of the famous Don Quixote, Manchego is to Spain what cheddar is to England – a popular staple in many households and dining establishments. Its taste is rooted in the unpasteurized process and in its aging that can last any time between 60 days and two years.
So there you have it. You’re now sufficiently prepared to order like a local when going out to eat in one of the many bustling terrazos (open air cafés) around town. You can accompany your meal with a Clara, a drink that tastes a bit like Shandy. If you are not familiar with than brand, it’s like a combination of a light beer and lemon. Or, if that kind of beverage does not appeal to you, there is always the refreshing and satisfying options of red or white sangria.
You may not believe this but I was able to try all of the above-mentioned dishes in one night. The secret to achieving that kind of feat is to order sampler plates that allow you to share the contents with your dining buddies and taste to your heart’s content.
Please note I used internet images to illustrate what the dishes looked like because this trip was some years ago – long before I started this travel blog – so back then I was more concerned with hanging out than snapping pictures. Nowadays, I know I must master the art of doing both.
If you ever go to Madrid, I recommend a day trip to La Granja. It was the favorite summer palace of Spanish Royals from 1766 to 1966 and according to the history buffs, Henry IV initially purchased the site in the fifteenth century to use it as a hunting lodge. After that, it was a farm and hostel run by monks. The land continued to change hands throughout the years but it eventually went back to the Crown via Charles III in the mid to late 1700’s.
In its hey day, many royal weddings and burials, state treaties and political events took place at La Granja. As you walk around the grounds, it is easy to see why.
The palace is gorgeous. Its imposing architecture and furnishings were clearly designed with prestige and decadence in mind. Everything about it, including the frescoes started by Giambattidta Tieplo and completed by Francesco Bayeu, is A – M – A – Z- I – N – G.
I also was blown away at the private art collection and statue gallery. Unfortunately, I can’t show you what they looked like because we were not allowed to take pictures inside.
But when you think the sensory experience can’t get any better, it does. The most striking takeaway from your visit will be your memory of the immaculately landscaped gardens that stretch across 1,500 acres and the compound’s 25 sculpted fountains. Designed to represent themes from classical mythology, they are stunning. The water features were built from lead to minimize corrosion and either painted over to give the appearance of a bronze finish or coated to imitate marble.
Today, the foutains are not active on a daily basis. I heard that twice a year, on the feast days of San Fernando and San Luis, all of them kick into full operation to provide a grand show. Surely, that will be the best time of year to visit.
Take a good camera!
If you don’t have a car, don’t worry. For a little over 20 euros, you can take the train to get to Segovia (the nearest town) from Chamartin Station, which is north of Madrid. The ride lasts about 30 minutes.
When you get there, you can opt for audio guides or a guided tour.
October to March: weekdays, weekends and holidays – 10:00am to 6:00pm.
April to September: weekdays, weekends and holidays – 10:00 to 8:00pm.
Closed on Mondays
Royal Palace (€9.00), Tapestry Museum (€5.00). Free entry for children under five.
When you plan to travel, please check for the most recent costs.