Monthly Archives: November 2016

Madrid: Hiking Spain

On my third visit to Spain I was accompanied by a dear friend and it was a lovely experience introducing someone to one of my special places. I’m thrilled to say she enjoyed the trip a lot! We wanted our journey to focus on day hikes around central Spain and ended up having a magical time exploring each day. Our first two days included hikes in the Community of Madrid which were easy and cheap to reach from Madrid via the regional train system. Now I’m saying it’s easy for any normal person but we managed to get a little turned around due to our excitement and exhaustion from travel. These are the highlights of the first two days of hiking:

On day one, just outside of Cercedilla, we hiked Montón de Trigo, along the forested Roman Road within the Parque Nacional Sierra de Guadarrama. The 10 km hike is a small part of a much larger trail system. Getting to the trailhead required a 3 km uphill walk from the Cercedilla train station (nice warm up) but we quickly entered a calming pine and oak forest with the trail clearly marked. The course had us skipping over a few streams and much of the path was a challenging rocky surface that the old road was built with but it was a great first hike and were extremely excited to reach the top which offered it beautiful views of the town and nearby sub-ranges.

Most of the day was overcast but occasional bursts of sunshine came through the clouds.

Day two began with both the thrills and terrors of me driving us along the streets of Madrid to San Lorenzo de El Escorial to hike Las Machotas, also in the Sierra de Guadarrama. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more stressed on a vacation than while trying to navigate streets, conquer roundabouts and constant pedestrian ways, and park on incredibly narrow streets.

Real Monasterio

After arriving to San Lorenzo de El Escorial unscathed, we headed towards Cueva Del Oso, first passing the beautiful Real Monasterio and then following the magical hillside trail woven through massive, mossy boulders. The fun feeling of the beginning of the hike put us in a playful mood. However, we quickly found our directions were not exactly accurate, or, that the trail may have been overgrown. We lost our way but decided to explore the hills in our own way. Maybe it was the fact that we survived the car ride that emboldened us to take our hike off trail? I don’t know but it was not the greatest decision. The way “up” towards the peaks was two hours of a physically challenging climb but it was very engaging, like a puzzle and every time we turned around we were treated to stunning views if the villages below us and even of the highest buildings in Madrid. For a cloudy day the visibility was fantastic!

Sunset approaching over the village.

Eventually, exhausted and hungry, we realized there was not a way to get to one of the true peaks and focused our on navigating a way back down, over the giant slippery boulders and through prickly junipers and thorny shrubs before rain or darkness caused serious issues. We eventually made it but not without some bruises and scrapes and getting nice and muddy. We both were relieved (and shocked) that we didn’t have any falls and were just overjoyed when we reconnected with the true trail (I wanted to kiss the ground). Once it was over though, it felt like we’d gone on a true adventure and had us excited for what was to come during the rest of the week.
Thank you for reading,

Ruby

San Francisco (Part 1)

The Golden Gate Bridge from Chrissy Field East Beach.

Hello from San Francisco! I’m on day three of a long weekend and my first trip that is part work and part play. For two nights I’ve been staying downtown in the Financial District and making it out to eat some great dinners in the Jackson Square (such a variety of cuisine styles can be found here!) and Chinatown areas. I love diving into the very distinct neighborhoods, all offering their own version of San Francisco. On night one my boss took our work group to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory (in a narrow Chinatown alley). We tried a few samples and see how the cookies are made. Interesting fact: The cookies get their shape from being folded over twice while still warm, not from a mold. It was a really fun thing to watch. “Naughty” fortune cookies were available to buy in bulk so I helped myself to what I thought would be a humorous gift to friends. However, upon opening one of these cookies I saw that the fortunes didn’t make a lot of sense and if I could get a meaning out them they were still PG – not the level of sassiness expected. Edit: The bag of cookies was obviously too large to survive the weekend without getting crushed in my luggage so most of them ended up being nice snacks at the hostel.

SF

Sticker art in Mission.

I’m super excited to have found a hostel (Green Tortoise) in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood,so for the first time ever I will stay in an American hostel. I’m wondering if it’s similar to the hostels I’ve used abroad and if I will pick up any friends for the weekend.Edit: I befriended South American and Australians also traveling alone and we had great fun visiting a neighborhood beer bar, taste-testing and comparing San Franciscan coffees and exchanging travel stories and dreams. I’m so glad I got to know them.

I’m trying to look big, like a redwood.

Today centered around a visit to the beautiful Muir Woods. The National Monument,, more than 100 years old, is just fifteen miles from the city,depending on where you start. I probably could have cycled here but chose to drive; conditions were a little wet and I have heard cell service isn’t so great in the park and many visitors end up trapped and unable to call for taxis and other rides. I suspect all this is true, as I saw TWO functioning pay phones near the Muir Woods parking lot. The park visit was a nice hike along the Lost Trail and really being in awe of the towering and aromatic redwoods. The light rain helped to give a colorful pop to all the plant life and may have scared some visitors away. The entire hiking route was very peaceful and empty. I only saw two other hikers.

Tomorrow’s plan is to march up Telegraph hill for the views, then down to Chrissy Field East Beach and then up to the Golden Gate Bridge and maybe beyond if my feet aren’t destroyed. The weather is gorgeous and this city feels very safe. I’m really excited to see what the weekend brings.

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Keeping warm and dry in the boat.

Edit: I also did some whale watching, leaving with a tour from Monterey Bay (above Monterey Canyon). This was one of those things that I though could either be really cool or maybe kind of lame. I’m glad I took the chance because it totally rocked. We saw a pair of whales and they came to “play” with the boat. It was beautiful! The chilly temps and drizzle did nothing to take away the shine of the whales. The drive out to Monterey was enjoyable and the ocean geography make this place a much better option than the tours leaving from San Francisco proper. Unfortunately I have no pictures to share because I was so happy with watching the whales in real time and didn’t want to miss anything fiddling with a camera. I have an extremely solid stomach and found the more powerful waves to be a little fun but I would not recommend this kind of trip for just anyone.

Thank you for reading!

Ruby