Magical Madrid! What to see and do.

Madrid! Capital of Spain, world famous for art and home to the Prado, Real and Atletico Madrid, and the birthplace of Penelope Cruz and Enrique Iglesias.  It’s a very trendy City with a lot of history, interestingly it was the Moors who initially turned Madrid into a flourishing City before King Phillip II made it the administrative center.
It’s also one of the largest Cities in Europe, in Sobrino de Botin they have the oldest restaurant in the world, and we soon learnt that rioja wine is synonymous with the City and it was always accompanied by small tapas! Here is how we enjoyed our time in Madrid!





Arts and Museum District

First off, breakfast! Head to Plenti in the Art and Museum district for amazing tasty food and brilliant coffee.

Then wander down past the art galleries and museums, we’ll visit these later when it’s free. Nearby is Retiro Park, a huge 350 acre green space in the middle of the City.

There’s some really interesting things to see here too, such as the only statue of the devil in the world! It’s got a really eerie vibe but it’s brilliant in it’s design.


Head towards the crystal palace for amazing instagrammable moments, this 1887 structure is made almost exclusively from glass and is in the shape of a Greek cross.


When we visited there was an art installation inside which made it even more memorable! Nearby is a small art gallery that’s free to enter so definitely worth a look. Once you’ve done the cultural side it’s time to have fun on the lake, rent a rowing boat and enjoy the huge statues nearby from the water, and enjoy the sunshine, Madrid gets around 250 days of it a year!


Now you’re done with nature, walk up to the North East of the park and check out the triumphal arch Puerta de Alcala in the Plaza de la Independencia and the cute Parroquia San Manuel church.



Head along the street to Plaza de Cibeles to enjoy the gothic Madrid City Hall! That’s a lot of working so take a break at the nearby rooftop bar Azotea del Circulo and grab a glass of wine or cocktail while enjoying the incredible views. We also ordered some tapas to go with. Spot all the cool statues that sit on rooftops from here.



Now it’s time for some culture, wander back down to the museums and galleries and take your pick! Check out the Prado in the evening as it’s free between 6 and 8pm monday to saturday!

There are some massively famous paintings here but we actually found it a little too religious and classical for our taste. After this we found Tinto y Tapas, an adorable little bar nearby where we could sit back and relax with a wine after a full on day.


South and East Madrid

Breakfast today was at Pum Pum cafe, this place had a great brunch style menu and the decor inside was very hipster chic. Delicious!


Our plan from here was to check out Madrid Rio, a run down area that used to be part of Madrid’s inner ring road but has been transformed into a 6km long green space. It incudes an urban beach, relaxing walks, beautiful views and interesting architectural bridges. Check out some of the cool street art on the opposite bank to the city center.

The weather was so beautiful so it was great to leisurely wander down. At the end we passed by the old Atletico Madrid stadium and a lot of construction as they transform this area even more. It’s a bit of a walk but the weather was so good we didn’t want to use the excellent metro underground system, but we made it to the Santa Maria Cathedral and Almudena Cathedral and quickly checked out the old arabic walls nearby. 

The church was beautiful inside and out with it’s baroque architecture, make sure you check out both levels. It took 110 years to be completed and it’s believed to be built over the ruins of a mosque.


Next up and opposite the church is the Madrid Royal Palace, it’s the official residence of the Spanish royal family but is now only used for state ceremonies. The palace was also built over an old muslim era fortress and was first occupied in 1764.



It’s a little annoying as you can’t take a bag in but the rules were a bit unclear as some people got through while others didn’t. The palace itself is opulence turned up to a hundred! The main staircase was a great introduction to how grand it would be. Photos aren’t allowed in most of the rooms but we did manage to sneak a few now and again.




Behind the palace is a lovely little park to have a breather and relax and nearby is a bigger area called Montana Park which has a reconstructed egyptian temple usually there’s water around it to get some great reflection photos but unfortunately it was dry this time.


Plaza de Espana is a short walk from here and is an impressive square surrounded by interesting buildings and sculptures, including one of Cervantes who wrote ‘Don Quixote’. It was definitely time for lunch and we wanted to try one of the food markets and opted for San Anton. Located on Calle de Augusto Figueroa it’s and amazing place for the senses. Filled with small restaurants and food markets it’s a great place to try a few things. We had a huge plate of padron peppers, greek salad, hummus and pita and obviously olives, all washed down with a beer.


The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent sipping amazing rioja sat outside of various bars and cafes heading towards our hotel. Then we relaxed a little before heading over to a vegetarian restaurant where the wine was good but the food was a bit of a let down and I can’t find it now so I guess it’s gone out of business.


The Rest of Madrid

Plaza Mayor is a famous square in the heart of the City with impressive buildings surrounding it and filled with restaurants where you can sit outside. It’s cute but maybe a little too touristy, we did however leave a lock there with our initials for Valentine’s Day.
You have to check out the statue of Oso, the bear and the strawberry tree, the symbol of Madrid and found on the coat of arms. This is also near the Puerta del Sol another major landmark in Madrid. Find yourself a sweet treat in the form of Churros, and for some of the oldest and tastiest can be found at Chocolateria San Gines. This place seems like it’s always busy but we managed to bag a table outside and it was worth every Euro, it was delicious!


The area around Calle de la Cava Bajo is filled with bars and restaurants and the nightlife is meant to be good here. We sat out on the Plaza de San Andres for a wine and snacks and it’s a stunning square with lovely little churches dotted around it.


Then just wander, stop for wine and tapas, watch the world go by. It feels like a city that’s really designed to do this.

Gay Madrid

Madrid is super LGBTQ+ friendly and has a multitude of gay bars and gay friendly hotels. Nearly all of the bars etc can be found in the Chueca district right in the heart of the City. Madrid hosts a huge Pride festival running from the end of June to beginning of July.

Gozo, Island of Wonders Pt.2

Today we were going into full on exploration mode. After another wonderful breakfast we took the bus over to Victoria also known as Rabat, the capital of Gozo.

The main sight here is the Citadel, it dominates the skyline in Victoria, and it’s just a short walk up from the bus station.

The first fortifications were built here in 1500BC and it’s believed to be the Acropolis of a Roman City called Gaulos. The buildings you see now are from the 15th century.

It once would have served as a defense against pirates, and until 1637 the Gozitan settlers had to stay within the walls at night by law.

A 5 Euro ticket gets you access to the main citadel, a few museums and a prison. It starts with an amazing digital show charting the history of the place.

From there you’re free to wander at your own leisure, the size of the place is amazing and we started by following along the huge outer walls.

From here we climbed up into the depths of the Citadel, and found ourselves in front of the magnificent Cathedral of Gozo. Unfortunately you have to pay to go inside so we just enjoyed the lovely square and baroque architecture.

We checked out some of the museums, they’re only small but the nature museum was pretty interesting, and the prison was cool.

One of the best parts was wandering the little side streets, there were a few nice shops around and the views from the Citadel walkway were unreal. You could see the Gozitan countryside for miles around, and it was such a beautiful day.

Once we had exhausted the sights inside the Citadel, it was time to explore the main town. It’s full of charming alleyways, hidden squares and lots of nice little restaurants and bars.

We tried the local pastizzi, a pastry stuffed with ricotta cheese which was delicious. After this little snack we stopped for lunch on St George’s square.

We shared a traditional platter, filled with everything I love about Mediterranean food. Washed down with a couple of cold beers.

You can also try Capitan Spriss for something more modern and for some good wine and cake.

We headed back towards the bus station through the narrow streets, stoping to admire flowers cascading down the walls and old wooden doorways.

We were heading over to Dwejra bay, but we had 45 minutes to spare so we walked around the Villa Rundle gardens. These were really pretty, and I loved the little art sculptures like the bees and the rainbow.

We noticed a gelato place opposite the bus station and it’s some of the best ice cream either of us had ever had. It was called Vanilla+ and it was soooo creamy and delicious.

We were soon on our way to Dwejra. Once famous for the Azure Window, a natural arch formation that collapsed in 2017.

Despite this I had heard it was a beautiful spot, with a sea tunnel and some amazing rock formations. Sadly the boats that take you through the tunnel weren’t running that day, but we had great fun exploring the crazy landscape.

The cliffs and rock pools are fun to wander around, and in Summer you can get a better chance to swim apparently. The Azure Window restaurant is also a good place to grab lunch or even just a beer.

The bus journey there is also amazing, you can spot Ta’pinu, the oldest church on the island, legend says that after it was ordered to be demolished, the first hammer blow to it broke the workers arm, so they left it standing!

We also passed golden fields of corn, and even the ruins of an aqueduct! If we’d had more time or a car we definitely would have stopped to explore these places.

After a long day we decided to cook for ourselves to save some money, so we stopped at the Arkadia foodstore. There was so much amazing stuff here, we had to hold back from buying too much!

Finally we arrived home, after eating a lovely little meal we took our wine down to the terrace lookout and watched the sun set on another amazing day in Gozo.

Heading to Taipei, Capital of Taiwan.

Today I was off to my next Taiwan destination, the capital Taipei! It’s an easy journey from Taichung. I took the regular train which took around 2 and a half hours, but you can also take a bus or the high speed rail which only takes around 40 minutes!

I opted for the regular train from Taichung main station to save some cash but also to enjoy the Taiwanese countryside. If you want to take the high speed just hop over to Xinwuri and the high speed rail station.

The train journey was very comfortable and I arrived in Taipei around midday. The York hotel was just a short walk south of Taipei station on Nanyang St. It was also a bit of a shock! I’d only briefly glanced at the photos when I booked my room, so when I arrived I was given a key and room number and told to go down to the basement.

When I got there it was completely decked out like a nuclear bunker! It was actually pretty cool and fun after the initial shock and for less than £20 a night to have my own room in the centre was pretty good!

I dumped my stuff and checked my lovely planet guide and found an architecture walk I could take, so thinking I’d give it a try I headed out to explore Taipei.

The start of the walk was a little further from the hotel, so I incorporated the Huashan 1914 creative park into my little tour. It’s an art and film hub located in and around an old sake factory. It was pretty interesting to wander around with some cool exhibits.

So far I was impressed with Taipei, it was super quirky and futuristic but with a lot of traditional buildings around too. I started this self guided walking tour, and soon found myself extremely bored and regretting it. I’m not sure if it was my architectural ignorance or if it was just not very interesting.

The mayor’s residence art salon was ok, but probably the highlight. Luckily the tour didn’t take too long and it ended right by a much more interesting spot. First up was the East gate, a reconstruction of the old Japanese gate that once stood there.

Not far from here is Liberty Square. The central point of Taipei, not only is the Liberty Arch here but also the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall. Chiang is a controversial figure, a Chinese general who fought the Japanese in WWII but also ruled as a dictator. However he is seen as a hero on Taiwan for repelling the Communist advance from Mao.

It’s a beautifully created square, vast and open and I really enjoyed learning some history of Taiwan. It’s an interesting place as they take so much influence from both Japan and China. As you can see below the memorial building is amazing too.

From here I checked out the President’s office building and took a detour through the peace park nearby. Getting a little taste of tranquility in the big City.

My next destination was the north gate, and from here I wandered through a pretty interesting part of Taipei, with some great old buildings and a bit of street art to Ximen district and the Red house.

Built as a market in 1908 it’s now used as a theatre and for shopping, but it’s a pretty interesting building. Plus behind it is the main gay area in Taipei. Ximen as a district was also really cool, filled with little food stalls, futuristic shops and arcades and an awesome street art section.

It really reminded me of Japan, and the street art was out of this world, I probably spent an hour wandering the back streets finding more art stuff to look at, and I easily could have spent longer.

Once I’d had my fill of the graffiti, I needed my food fix. So I checked the maps and noticed a night market about 30 minutes all north. So off I went! On the way I discovered a cute little park that was a reservoir in WWII used to put out fires from air raids. A market was built on top of this and then demolished after years of decline.

Finally I made it to the market and was overloaded to the max with sights, smells and tastes. I had tasty vegetable gyoza, some more eggy pancakes, and ice cream to finish! It was late now, so I took the underground back to my hotel. After a little planning I was soon fast asleep.

Hong Kong and Victoria Peak.

After leaving Hanoi it was a short flight to Hong Kong, it’s so easy to get into the centre using the airport Xpress. I wasn’t feeling too great but I had booked a night at the Metropark at causeway bay earlier in the year so I was excited to have some more luxury.

I checked in and immediately took in the stunning views over Hong Kong Island at Victoria bay. I loved it and the rooftop pool was incredible! I decided I would go up Victoria peak for the sunset and off I went, stuffed full of anti-flu meds, I took the Subway.

It’s so easy to take the underground, you can get a 24hr pass or pay stop to stop. I went to central and then started the ascent to the tram that would hopefully take me up to the peak. Unfortunately I got a bit lost, my map apps wouldn’t work in between the big buildings, I felt like crap and it was so humid I couldn’t stop sweating.

So by the time I eventually found the tram, and realising I had walked halfway up the peak before walking back down, the queue was huge and I knew I wouldn’t make it for sunset. I was annoyed because it was a clear day and I had read they can be few and far between in Hong Kong.

I decided to make the most of it so walked along the harbour side and watched the old junks with their red sails ferry around the water. I got some Durian ice cream, I thought I would try it and it was not a good idea, definitely an acquired taste!

Night started to fall and I took the Ferris wheel near the ferry port to get an amazing view of the City. It was so cheap too, the HSBC building was the best but all the lights were insane!

I walked back along the harbour watching the lights on the mainland. I took the Subway back to causeway bay and found a dumpling shop, got a load of veggie dumplings, a few soft drinks, then found moon cake at another store.

I took it all back to my hotel, and devoured it while looking out over the City. I wasn’t sure what to think of Hong Kong after my first day, but I was looking forward to exploring more over the next few days.

I woke up the next day feeling worse than ever, with a definite case of tonsillitis. So I went to the shop and got salt, proceeded to drink gallons of water and did a load of salt rinses. I tried to enjoy the pool again but it wasn’t the same, I also had to check out of the hotel and into a tiny cheap one in the centre of causeway bay.

It was the smallest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in, but it was only £20 and the location was amazing. I stopped and had lunch nearby waiting for check in time, I was frustrated because I had lost almost a full day, but I forced myself out, and managed to get to the Victoria peak tram in time for sunset.

It’s a fun journey, very touristy but the views you get at the top are spectacular. I took a couple of the City by day, then enjoyed a gorgeous sunset over the mountains and sea before the main event. Hong Kong lights up at night in an incredible way, and Victoria peak is one of the best places to enjoy it.

Once I had taken it all in, I headed back down on the tram and wandered towards the central-mid-level escalators, the longest ones in the world! It spans 800 metres and it’s a great way to see the City without having to do the leg work, and I found a random art installation at the top of the escalators.

I found some cool street art around this area too, which I definitely want expecting. I finished the night with a beer and some more veggie dumplings. Tomorrow I was up early to head over to the big Buddha and explore mainland HK.