Laura Freeman

Laura Freeman

Thursday, 18 December 2014 19:01

Spain Day 6: Gran Canaria

Our last day in Gran Canaria- and Spain- brought much sadness. The weather finally stated going our way and I could hardly imagine that it was 27 degrees in New York. Our morning started at dunes of Maspalomas beach, nestled right between the nude and clothed beach. For a minute, you forget that you aren't in the Sahara, but the relaxing sound of the waves turquoise sea against the yellow shore brings you back. I lay in the dunes, creating sand angels and letting the shining sun beat upon me.

Sand dunes Maspalomas beach

We wandered down the beach and came across a quintessential beach town, filled with stalls selling beachwear, inner tubes and- bodegas selling soft drinks and bottles of Cuban rum? I could spend all day.

Maspalomas beach  Maspalomas beach

But all good things must come to an end. Luckily the island has so much more to offer. We began heading up the mountain towards the Paradores de Cruz de Tejeda. The trip up provided amazing views and overlooks. Bikers and hikers delight in the fantastic trails. The ancient road begins feeling like a canyon, but soon chills and greens with hidden waterfalls in the cascading rocks. The top of the mountain is steamy, smoky – you are living above the clouds. The Paradores de Cruz de Tejeda hotel is mistakable for a New England mountain resort.

Gran Canaria Canyon Gran Canaria Canyon Rainbow

We headed down the mountain and caught an hour on a secluded, rocky volcanic rock beach. I enjoyed climbing the clifs. The water was very blue here, remiscient of the rocky beaches of Maine.

Rock Beach Gran Canaria

In the evening, we visited the ultra-fabulous Lopesan resorts. The Lopesan Baobab is a fabulous 5-star resort with an ultra-modern, Africa theme. The ballroom is wall-less, making you event one with the beautiful natural surroundings. Steps away, you will find the Lopesan Costa Meloneras Resort, Spa and Casino, an incredible 4-star resort situated right on the ocean with a picture perfect infinity pool. There are countless pools and the grounds are impeccable. I would have killed to spend a week at either. While they are very much resorts, they differ from Caribbean all-inclusive resorts because they only do partial board. Unlike the Caribbean, Gran Canaria is safe and there is much to enjoy and incredible restaurants- and the resorts want you to do so!

Lopesan Baobab Lopesan

We celebrated our last night in Spain at Pacha Gran Canaria. Unlike the mega club in New York, this club was partially outside and much smaller; I kept looking for another room. Luckily for us, it was much cheaper! I am so happy to not spend $14 on a drink. I was a bit disappointed in the club; while I was expecting the heavy bass techno and house that Pacha is known for, this club played Spanish pop music at 3am, putting me to sleep. When we left the club at 4am, in true Spanish style, there were still loads of people just starting the night.

I had such an incredible time learning about Spain and the Canary Islands. This was my third time traveling to Spain, and each time proves to be just as incredible as the last!

Check out our Spain photos HERE!

Tuesday, 09 December 2014 22:17

Spain Day 5: Gran Canaria

It was a short flight from Tenerife to Gran Canaria and, this time, the welcoming sun greeted us. We took a quick bus to Las Palmas, the capital city and took a tour of the town; the houses were especially colorful with against the cerulean sky. I felt more like in a South American town than a European one.

Las Palmas Gran Canaria

Our first stop was the house of Christopher Columbus, which gained fame as the house where Columbus stayed while one of his ships was repaired. The house is typical of the island, with large courtyards and wooden ceilings and balconies. The museum has maps of his journeys, replicas of the ships and even original correspondence. I thought it was interesting to see coming from Segovia (you can read why here.)

Columbus house Gran Canaria Las Palmas Gran Canaria

When I travel, markets are among my favorite stops as they really give a good idea about how the culture lives and eats. The market in Las Palmas was small, but had a good representation of foods from meats and fish, to vegetables to candy. Most of the fruits and vegetables are imported to the island. In order to make up for the cost, Spain gives The Canary Islands a tax break.

Gran Canaria Market

We drove around the island, stopping at a beautiful look out point. All I wanted to do was enjoy the beach.

Gran Canaria Beach Viewpoint

In the early afternoon, we stopped at the Painted Caves, an important archeological site describing the take over of the island from the Spanish. While it was interesting to learn more about the Spanish conquest of the Island, the museum showed a lot of movies to educate their audience. We were allowed to explore the complex and see remains of old homes.

Painted Cave Painted Cave Gran Canaria

My stomach was growling, but luckily La Finca la Laja, a vineyard- slash orangerie- slash coffee plantation was our next stop. The vineyard is one of the most beautiful places ever, despite the eminent rain. It is  also theleading coffee plantation in Europe. Vines covered walkways with draping grape vines, creating romantic paths that you would see in French paintings. We had a delicious lunch served overlooking the vineyards, filling our bellies with traditional Canarian dishes.  

Gran Canaria Vineyard Gran Canaria Vineyard 2

On the way to the coast, we stopped in a small seaside town. The town’s houses were white and connected by walkways covered in beautiful pink, purple and orange flowers. The flowers are all over the island and apparently are home to cockroaches! EEK!

Gran Canaria Seaside Gran Canaria Seaside Town

For dinner, we met the Tourism Bureau and a group of journalists at The Beach House for an amazing tapas dinner. The tapas were plentiful and amazing, but felt more American-style than Spanish. After dinner, we headed to our hotel, the AMAZING Lopesan. I felt like I was staying in a gothic cathedral. Our rooms were spacious and luxurious; they had walk in closets bigger than some New York bedrooms! 

Lopesan Gran Canaria

Saturday, 06 December 2014 21:14

Spain Day 4: Tenerife

I woke up comfortably to a sunny morning in Tenerife, though it was still unseasonably cold due to an Artic blast from Canada. At least we weren't in the 20-degree New York weather. After a delicious breakfast at the Iberostar, the 7 of us piled into our mini bus and headed up to island to the Piramides de Guimar.

pyramids pirimades de guimar

On the site of the pyramids, there is a museum dedicated to Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian explorer who hypothesized that the pyramids in Giza are linked to the pyramids in Mexico and Central America. He theorized that both societies were able to reach each other by sailing across the Atlantic. The Canary Islands were used as a stopping point between the two destinations, thus the presence of the terrace style pyramids here. Using papyrus and traditional boat building methods dictated in the pharaoh's tombs, Heredahal successfully crossed the Atlantic, proving that it was indeed possible the societies could connect.

Other historians, however, believe that the Tenerife pyramids only date back to the 19th century and were used to irrigate crops. The pyramids are made from the volcanic rock and none of the other materials suggest any specific creation date.

Poison garden pyramides de guimar poison garden pirimdes de guimar
As we were pressed for time, we were not able to go tour the pyramid park itself, but the grounds also held a fascinating poison garden, which we did see. A gate closed off the garden and pants were labeled by toxicity.

Tenerife vineyard Tenerife Vineyard

Tenerife is known for its' wine, so naturally our next stop was the Brumas de Ayose Winery. Here, we took a tour of their sparkling wine factory. The brut was processed in the traditional French method and goes through a second fermentation. I found it interesting how they rotated the bottles at different angles. We were then allowed to take one of the bottles, which was closed by a bottle cap and "birth it" (open it.) What a pop! The vineyard also makes other delicious wines and we enjoyed several in their tasting room overlooking the ocean. Our hostess at the vineyard did an excellent job of pairing the wines with different cheeses and chocolate.

Hotel bahia grand

We piled back on the bus and drove about an hour to the south side of the island, traditionally the touristy spot. We had a delicious lunch at the Hotel Gran Bahia del Duque, a luxurious 5-star resort and one of the Leading Hotels of the World. The resort was beautiful, peaceful and right on the water. I felt like I was on Hawaii. The beach was white sand, which is rumored to have been taken from the Sahara desert in nearby Africa. As Tenerife is a volcanic island, most natural beaches have black sand. The resort had rooms and villas and each villa with its' own pool. The property, like most in the Canary Islands is not all-inclusive, though it does offer partial board. Tenerife is really a doing island, and the hotels want clients to experience local restaurants.

Hotel Bahia grande villa Hotel Bahia Grand

After the tour, we drove another hour up insanely windy road to the highest point on the island, which is also the highest point in Spain, Teide National Park. The national park is breathtaking. It is atop a volcano with many beautiful rock formations. It was dusk by the time we arrived, which created a spooky, misty scene. I felt like we were on another planet. The smoky weather, however, cut our visit short as our driver felt it was unsafe for us to descend the mountain if we waited too long.

Teide National Park

I had mentioned earlier that the Parador chain builds locations in historical buildings, however there are a few based in national parks and other exotic locations. This Parador had a lodge feel and welcoming fire. We ate a delicious dinner, which I was too full to really enjoy, and then made the descent down the mountain. The long, incredibly windy descent made me glad to have reached the Iberostar.

Teide National Park

Thursday, 04 December 2014 17:11

Spain Day Three: Tenerife

Day three began before the crack of dawn. We drove an hour and a half back to Madrid to catch an early flight to Tenerife. I had never been to the Canary Islands, and had only done some light research. The Canary Islands are off the coast of southern Morocco, making them geographically more African than European. However, the people, food and wine make the islands distinctly Spanish. The Canary Islands are known for their forever spring weather, always sunny and 73 degrees. However, we were greeted with rain upon our arrival. Our super-handsome guide, immediately apologized for the bad weather; "it only rains here about 12 days a year." Just our luck!

iberostarview

We were then transported to the Iberostar Grand Hotel Mencey, the first city hotel by the resort chain. I've stayed in Iberostar Hotels before, and though this hotel is not all-inclusive, it screamed luxury. My room was lovely with a spacious balcony overlooking the gardens, pools and surrounding mountaintops. There were even surround sound speakers to connect my iPhone to.

tomatosalad paella

After getting settled, we met Pia from the Tenerife Tourism Bureau for a fantastic lunch at the hotel. I love letting locals order for the table and Pia's choices did not disappoint. She ordered a delicious paella-like dish for the table. I also ordered an organic tomato salad (tomatoes are one of the islands specialties.)

The rain cancelled our afternoon boat ride, so we took a stroll through La Laguna, a historical neighborhood. The neighborhood looked very "island;" bright colored, cement-like houses. In actuality, the houses are made from the island's natural volcanic stone.

lalaguna lalaguna2

The afternoon brought us to the AMAZING Casa del Vino- yes, you read it right, the HOUSE OF WINE- where we had a cooking class with a potato sommelier. Apparently, they exist. Potatoes are also a delicacy of the island and around the holidays the special ones sell for 9 euros a kilo. We broke into teams and learned to make several sauces from fresh ingredients. Casa del Vino is also a museum about the island's fantastic wine, which we drank a plentiful amount of.

cookingclass

By the time dinner came, I was so stuffed from the potatoes, but I managed to eat a few bites. After dinner, we went to a bar across the street. It was pricy (for Europe) but they had generous pours in giant goblets! I even had some delicious Cuban rum- yum!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014 20:14

Spain Day Two: Segovia

Day two brought us an hour away to La Granja, about 5km from Segovia. We spent the morning at a crystal factory and even got to watch students learn to make pitchers and vases. It was incredible to watch; I would have never guessed that putting the handle on was a two-person job (one person came with to the first with a rod of hot glass and attached it to the first.) We toured the factory and learned a bit about the history of crystal, different types and saw some impressive pieces. Did you know that glass can be recycled, but crystal cannot?

crystal worker la granja

Next, we toured the royal summer palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, an 18th century palace built by King Philip V. The building was modeled after Versailles and is also known for its' massive, manicured gardens. Philip V really did not want to be King and passed along the title to his sun, Louis I, before his death. The original palace was modest; this palace was meant to be his retirement home. Unfortunately, his son died and he was forced regain the throne. Thus, a more elaborate palace was built. I really enjoyed touring it in the fall as the leaves were changing. I can only imagine how beautiful everything looks during the summer when the flowers are blooming and the fountains spewing.

Royal Palace of La Granja Palace La Granja Garden

After the palace, we traveled to Segovia for lunch and a tour. Approaching Segovia, I was amazed at its' beauty and presence. Approaching the city, you are greeted by a giant Roman aqueduct. The aqueduct is authentic and was functional up until the last century- pretty impressive!

Segovia Aqueduct

Lunch was at Meson de Candido, a restaurant known for their suckling pig. The restaurant in itself is a museum with plenty to look at. Lunch was the usual 5 courses, beginning with bread and jamon. Spanish food makes it so hard to pace yourself! The suckling pig was juicy and tender. I've never had anything quite like it. The restaurant owner presents the pig, chops it up with a plate and then smashes the plate on the ground, making a great show! You may even end up with a leg or tail on your plate!

suckling pig segovia

We took a much-needed walk around Segovia after lunch. We saw the beautiful cathedral, built in the mid 1500s. The cathedral was built in gothic style, which was outdated at the time of building. Inside, the cathedral has many family chapels, each more adorned than the last.

segovia cathedral

My favorite part of the city tour was the Alcazar. The Alcazar was built in 1120 as a fortress, but became a palace when Segovia returned to being a Christian territory. The castle is said to have been the muse for Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle. It is most important inhabitants were Queen Isabella, who seized the throne when King Henry IV died. This in itself was a bold and progressive move. Within these walls that Christopher Columbus came and asked Isabella for the funding for his voyages that lead to the colonization of America.

Segovia alcazar

Each room in the Alcazar was more fabulous than the last. The ceilings were all different; texturized wood and gilded in gold. Our tour ended on the patio right at sunset. My head was spinning of whimsical dreams of becoming a fairytale princess.

alcazar room alcazar tower

Monday, 17 November 2014 18:46

First Day in Spain- Avila

Today I arrived in Spain for the YTP (Young Travel Professional) Fam trip with Petrabax. Upon arrival, we boarded a bus and drove about an hour and a half to Avila, a 15th century medieval town. 

Avila Town View

We checked into our amazing hotel, the Paradores, which feels like it was build into the city wall. The hotel is beautiful and has a antique vibe, which fits perfectly within its' surrounding. My room has a beautiful view of the maze-like gardens, where I can imagine knights in shining armor riding through on their horses. 

After checking in, we had an incredible and lengthy lunch at Puerta del Alcazar where we feasted on salad with soft cheese and lardon; patatas revolcolas, fried pork over mashed potatoes (that were mashed in pork!!!); and- as if that weren't enough- we were then each presented a giant juicy veal steak. The veal came with a sign telling us that it was local. Unfortunately, my stomach has not fully recovered from my food poisioning of Friday, and I was only able to eat a few bites. Just when I thought I was finished, a butter ice cream with three yemas, a local egg yolk confection, appeared in front of me. Even my insatiable sweet tooth could not make a dent. Luckily, a digestive shot and cafe came to my rescue

Avila Cheese Salad  Avila Fried Pork  Avila Veal Steak 

After I stuffed myself silly, we were greeted by our guide, Mercedes, for a tour around the city. I was a bit disappointed that the wall itself was closed on Monday, but we enjoyed exploring the cobblestone streets just the same. The dusk lighting made for incredible photos and the air smelled of a welcoming burning fire.

Avila is the birthplace of Saint Teresa, an important woman well beyond her time. We toured the church of her birthplace and I began noticing a lot of similarities (of course!) between the cathedrals that we saw in Cusco, Peru and Spain. If I had not toured South America, I don’t think that I would pick up on these similarities and it made them all the more important. Spanish churches seem to have their religious icons created from doll-like figures. My guide explained that it was because in Spain Catholicism is so strong and they wanted the images to appear real.

Avila Walls

I really appreciate Europe on a whole different level after seeing other areas of the world. I have very fond memories of past trips to Spain, yet I already know that my previous trips will be very different from this one. I think there is value at seeing Europe at different ages. 

Avila Dinner

Dinner brought on a whole new adventure. We ate at the hotel, which is known for impressing their guests with many courses. The first course was an amuse bouche with olives and single serving fried seafood which tastied almost like calamari. We then feasted on a plate of three dishes; anchovies, cod with canelli beans and an eggplant dish. The anchovy dish was surprising; here, the fish were large, flaky and flavorful, tasting nothing like their American salty, fishy counterparts. The cod was buttery and satisfying. Our main dish was sliced pork with a cinnamon applesauce. The showstopper of the evening was the amazing lemon sorbet dessert. We finished the night with the customary shot and conversation. I had hardly noticed that over two hours went by.

Avila at night
The evening concluded with a walk around the walled city light up at night. The stars were vibrant and the city felt empty. The walk was reminiscent of staying at Mont Saint Michel in France. The clock struck eleven and the lights illuminating the wall went dark. Returning to our hotel, that fire of wanting to continue the night was building in me, as it always does when in Spain. Knowing that it was just the beginning, I reluctantly returned to my room to call it a night.

Dave and I first started up with weekend day trips last year after realizing that in 8 years living in New York, there were so many neighborhoods we hadn't even heard of. This year's first "new neighborhood" is actually not a neighborhood at all, but a whole borough; Staten Island.

Staten Island- the forgotten sibling of the 5 Borough family. When we do remember it, we tease it; nothing good is there. In theory. But nestled in this forgotten borough lies gens fit for a Chinese Emperor.

We biked the beautiful East River bike path from our Williamsburg abode to the Staten Island Ferry. For tourists, this free ferry provides a unique way to see the city- and get a cool breeze, relieving you from the otherwise muggy air.

Staten Island Botanical Garden Staten Island Botanical Garden

Staten Island is fabulous for biking. The perimeter of the island is lined with bike paths and the roads don't have nearly as many potholes (which is really not saying much.) From the ferry station, we explored the western side of the island and stopped at Gerardi's Farmer's Market. This lively stand is packed with locals due to its beautiful fresh produce and snacks.

Further west still is the gen of the island: The Snug Harbor Botanical Garden. This giant free complex is full of secrets, including a bamboo forest, green passageways and even a castle with a secret garden modeled after the story. This property was built as retirement community for sailors, thus many original houses still dot the garden.

Staten Island Secret Garden Staten Island Botanical Garden

Further into the garden is the Chinese Scholar Garden where for a mere $5, you transfer to a beautiful Chinese oasis. The garden was the first Ming-style garden in the US. In fact, all of the pieces were originally built in China and transported to the US. After visiting China, I would not have been able to tell the difference between this garden and China.

Chinese Scholar Garden Chinese Scholar Garden

On the Eastern side of the island is the FDR Boardwalk, one of the largest boardwalks in the country. This boardwalk sits right below the Verrazano Bridge. The really fun part about this boardwalk is that if you sit on the beach, you can watch the cruise ships take off into the Atlantic.

FDR Boardwalk NYC view from Staten Island

Overall a lovely day! Looking on a map, I realized that we had only explored a tiny portion of the island. I cannot wait to explore more.

There are few products that I can really say are total game changers, but the travel flat iron from Thairpay 365 is one of them. Thairapy's line of flat irons is the first line that works to actually make your hair healthier while using. It eliminates damage from over processing and chemical treatments, reconstructs the hair follicles and works against breakage for softer, smoother hair that makes you feel like you just left the salon. Sleek, sexy, frizz free hair! And the best part? It heats up in 5 seconds! I came across Thairapy at Henri Bendel's and was in awe by the 6" mini flat iron. It is ½" wide and weighs less than 1lb. I wasn't in the market for a new iron, but once the salesperson passed it through my hair, I was hooked. The travel size is perfect and can even fit in your make up bag. It works with both 110v- 240v, so you can literally take it anywhere. Best yet- there is a lifetime manufacturers warrantee!

Thairaphy hair straightener

Tuesday, 06 May 2014 18:40

Sniffapalooza Spring Fling 2014

It's been almost 9 years that I've lived in New York City and it never ceases to amaze me how many different kinds of events happen here. I recently had the pleasure of attending the biannual event; Sniffapalooza. Sniffapalooza unites the fragrance industry and fragrance fanatics in a weekend-long fragrance frenzy!

Our day started bright and early with breakfast at Bergdorf Goodman's café. The intimate setting allowed us to speak openly and learn more about the other guests. Sniffapalooza is not something that you go to by accident.

During breakfast, reps from some of the best perfume houses spoke to us about upcoming launches. Fragrance and travel are two industries that are highly memory-based. Many fragrances are based on travels, experiences and even memories as simple as a good night kiss.

Sniffapalooza 4 sniffapalooza5

We were lucky enough to have acclaimed perfumer, Roja, come speak to us. Each of his scents has a story and we were fortunate to hear several. His Cologne, Impearl, is about man at a fancy party dressed in jeans and smoking a cigar, while everyone else dons tuxedos. The man gregariously entertains the partygoers to the point where they think, "who is he!" both disgustedly and with intrigue. Roja is such an engaging speaker that I felt like I knew him, I saw a window in his soul. I wanted nothing more than to drink tea with him in his budding garden in England.

sniffapalooza Laura and Roja

Me and Roja

After presentations at Bergdorf, we had time to to wander the floor and meet with the representatives. Like a high-end cocktail bar, the reps don't ask you for your drink order, but ask you more of the types of scents that you love. I love to layer scents to create something custom and satisfy my complex palate.

Thankfully, after we sniffed to success, a 3-course lunch at Brasserie 8 ½ was waiting for us. During lunch, other perfumers spoke of their innovations including the first perfumer-chef collaboration and a perfume primer to make your scent last longer.

Sniffapalooza fragrances

Our loot from Sniffapalooza

Our afternoon was spent enjoying the fine scents at Henri Bendel and sipping absenthe drinks that inspired Francois Damide of Absolument Parfumer.

Other stops on the trail included Krigler Perfumery at the shops at the plaza. This famous old school perfumer is the creator of scents worn by JFK, Jackie O and Audrey Hepburn.

Last stop was Molton Brown for a champagne party and to test out their luxury soap and body products.

The entire day was beyond my expectations! There is nothing better than experiencing something you like with others that feel the same. I definitely plan to return to Sniffapalooza Fall Ball.

Sniffapalooza Laura and mom

Mom and I at the Molton Brown party
Thursday, 24 April 2014 15:24

The Re-Opening of the 1964 World's Fair

The 1964 World's Fair was the third World's Fair to be held in New York. Taking place in Queens Corona Park, this World's Fair embodied the space frenzie of the 1960's. What was really important about this fair is that it was the first to give fair-goers direct interaction with computers! The most notable features of the fair were the giant globe called the Unisphere and the New York State Pavillion with the UFO-looking observation towers and "Tent of Tomorrow." 

The fair grounds have been abandoned since the 1970's, but on April 22, 2014, they opened the grounds of Tent of Tomorrow to visitors for a few hours.

Unisphere Laura at World's Fair

My girlfriend and I got there right at 11 when the park opened and the line was already down the promenade of the park into the parking lot. 

New York State Pavilion  New York State Pavilion

Three hours later, we got to what we thought was the front of the line, only to find out that it was just the line to get tickets to go inside and that we would have to wait another two hours!!!! 

New York State Pavilion  New York State Pavilion 

I was very upset to hear that we couldnt go in the actual towers and the opening was just to the inside of the tent. Needless to say, we didn't wait. It was still fun to be around the enegry of the opening. I had only seen the towers from afar and although they are rusting, they make for some great photo taking! There are also many other great things to do in the park; The Queens Museum, which was recently renovated, The New York Hall of Science and the Queens Botanical Garden. 

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