Escape of the Week: Benidorm by night

It was a year ago, nearly to the day, I was on #blogtripf1 in the Land of Valencia.

The five-day trip was an amazing experience, allowing me to experience yet another beautiful province in Spain, and meet some of the most amazing travel bloggers ever.

Our second night together, we headed to the super British resort town, Benidorm, for a lovely dinner together in the older part of the city.

Before dinner, our group spent some time taking in the views from the outdoor terrace of the large full moon casting light onto the Mediterranean and the city below.

Destinations Spain Travel

The best food. Ever.

I have never been a foodie. I am too picky of an eater to really go all out and sample delicacies the world over. If you asked me a year ago where the best restaurant I have ever eaten was, I would tell you simply — in Las Vegas. Because, well, let’s be real, Las Vegas has some of the best food around. Even for picky eaters like myself.

But, after a whirlwind five days on BlogtripF1, I am now convinced the absolute best food is in Spain. Paella. Fresh grilled fish. Iberian Ham. I even wrote about it for Madator Network.

Stef (@adventuregirl) and I had extended our time in the Land of Valencia. She had a change of plans, and I had no plans, so we decided to hang out in the region for a few extra days after the F1 Race. For two more days, we sampled deliciousness, shopped and sunned ourselves on the blue Mediterranean. We went from Valencia back down to Alicante to experience more of the best of Spain.

On our last night, the night Spain played Portugal in the World Cup match, we had been told dinner was arranged at our hotel, the uber-gorgeous and swank five-star Hospes Amerigo’s restaurant, Monastrell.

We dressed for dinner and met in the lobby, where we were greeted by a petite and friendly brunette. We had no idea who she was. She quickly talked about going to watch the game and then joining us for dinner.

It wasn’t until a few minutes into our conversation when we were led inside the restaurant did we put two and two together.

Lining one of the walls were photos, and there, standing in front of a kitchen, was the woman we had been chatting with.

Chef Maria Jose San Ramon. THE Chef Maria Jose San Ramon. Known as the “Saffron Queen,” she had recently returned from a gig at the White House where she had taught the chef how to prepare the ultimate paellea.

And, now there we were, standing with her in her restaurant, engaged in friendly banter and making plans to dine with her following the game (GO SPAIN!).

Stef and I headed to one of the chef’s other establishments for some tapas and tinto de verano, La Taberna Del Gourmet, a gorgeous restaurant a quick walk from Monastrell.

After watching the game, we met Chef Maria Jose back at Monastrell where we cheers-ed Espana and then settled in to our meal.

And what a meal it was.

Oysters. Pulpo. Lobster paella. Sweet, decadent desserts. Wine. Every single moment was stacked with the most amazing flavors, the most interesting taste combinations.

Pure foodie heaven.

Each time a dish was served, our eyes would grow big, light up.

I tried to savor every single bite, but when food is that good, it is hard to prolong such amazingness. Within a few hours, our meal was over. Bellies blissfully full.

My backpacker diet was absolutely ruined, trashed, spoiled rotten. It hurt me the following day to return to bread and cheap street vendors.

It also hurt to say goodbye to Stef. Like saying goodbye to the rest of the BlogTripF1 group, it was hard to utter the “see you soon” I dreaded. Her and I had spent so much time together, talking, laughing, drinking, EATING. We were friends before the trip, but being together for nearly the week we spent was so fulfilling.

But, she had a plane to catch back to America, and I had a train to catch to Barcelona. Yup. Another reunion. This time with Tina from my Monfrague week in April.

Disclosure: Land of Valencia covered all lodging, meals and activities as a part of the #blogtripf1 program.

Blog Reviews Spain Travel

F1 101: Your cheat sheet

Formula One Grand Prix. If you asked me my thoughts on it before I left for Europe, I would have looked at your  blankly and mumbled something about it being loud and like NASCAR.

It took another continent and tickets to the Formula One Grand Prix in Valencia, Spain (thank you Land of Valencia) to catch on and feel the craze that sweeps over people when the engines whirr.

My first experience with F1 was on a road trip from Madrid to Merida. It is about a four-hour drive and we needed to stop for lunch. However, the lunch stop HAD to be timed to coincide with the start of the race in Monaco.

For 90 minutes, my two Spanish friends and I sat at a rest stop restaurant, glued to the television watching the 70 or so laps the cars made through the winding streets of the course.  My friends tried to explain it to me, but really, all I gathered from the chat was “Alonso needs to win.”

He didn’t.

So, when I was given my lanyard to hit the race on 27 June, I immediately felt a tinge of unworthiness. I mean, my friends had stopped at a road-side restaurant to watch the race, and now here I was, an American with no real knowledge of F1, and was sitting about nine rows from the action across from the pit lane.

(See, I learned a new term, “pit lane.”)

I tried to ask questions during the race, but it is nearly impossible over the loud high-pitched hum of the engines and the ears being plugged. Most of the time, I saw mouths moving in explanation, but heard nothing.
I can tell you this — I loved it. I didn’t know what was going on, but the energy … the fans all clad in red and Ferrari logos … the experience was amazing.

BUT, these are the things I wish I would have known before being a fan in the stands for F1.

This, my friends, is your F1 101 in brief (NOTE: this in no way should serve as anyone’s F1 Bible … it’s more of a twisted interpretation of what I have gathered. Apologies to any F1 fans if I have butchered this beyond recognition):

What is it?

Formula One (AKA F1) is a series of Grand Prix races held throughout Europe and the world, on “circuits” (local roads and roads built for the race) culminating in two World Championship races — one for the drivers and one for the constructors.

What kind of cars are raced?

F1 cars are single-seat cars with open cockpits racing at ridiculously fast speeds — upwards of 220 miles per hour — and engines that top out at 18,000 rpm. The cars are technological wonders that are designed based on aerodynamics, suspension and tires.

Who races?

Drivers with a death wish. I kid. These drivers have mad skills, most of them have been racing since their early youth with visions of crossing the finish line at championship.

Typically, drivers begin in kart races, then move up through other single seater series in Europe.

Each year, drivers are contracted for a team. Teams have typically more than one driver (to serve as a backup).

Where are the circuits?

Races held each year in Valencia, Spain; Monaco; Singapore; and Melbourne are on specially designed circuits. Other races take place in Europe, Asia, Canada and South America.

How does a car qualify?

In order to qualify for the Grand Prix, drivers must run qualifying laps to set their fastest times. They have three rounds of laps where each driver races against themselves to set their fastest lap pace. The slowest drivers are knocked out and the remaining 1o drivers set their grid position (where they start on the circuit) based on their lap times. Each period, drivers are knocked out based on lap time, resulting in the fastest 10 moving on to the Grand Prix.

How does the race work?

At the beginning of the race, there is a warm-up lap where drivers simply drive the track to ensure the cars are ready for action and to get a feel for the track. They then return to their starting point on the grid and wait for the signal to start the action (five red lights that are lit one-by-one and then shut off at the same time). From there, it is all about strategy.

How does a team win the championship?

It’s all about points. The top 10 teams receive points each race, with the winner bringing in 25. At the end of the season, whoever has the most points is crowned the champ.

Resources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formula_One#The_race

http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/discovering-what-makes-formula-one-formula-one.html

Disclosure: Land of Valencia covered all lodging, meals and activities.

Blog Spain Travel Travel Tips

Why are we going in circles? And other errors in sea navigation

“OK,” I breathed. “Follow my lead. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Left. Left. Left. Left. Awww, shit.”

Isabelle (one of the writers on #blogtripf1 and my new and amazing friend) and I had stuck together when we arrived to the Mediterranean Sea and were greeted with an array of kayaks, boards and catamarans.

And now, after alerting everyone we had to share a double seat kayak, we were stuck in the sea, paddling in circles. Plunging our oars in tune, out of tune, not at all, just to get to the island a kilometer away.

Despite our best efforts, we were not getting anywhere. Unless you count going to the left, left, left, then right, right, right.

It was frustrating. It was funny. You would think we could have paddled out to the island with little difficulty. Everyone else had made it look so easy, but nope.

There we were, just spinning around and around.

Had my dad been there, he would have laughed at his daughter trying to kayak. He has taken me before, in the Chesapeake Bay, but I apparently learned nothing about operating the large fiberglass boats of annoyance.

After 30 minutes of trying and quitting and trying again, Isabelle and I were towed to the island.

Yes. Towed.

“We are not kayaking again,” we both agreed, strong-arming our way onto the catamarans for the next leg of our little boating adventure.

The catamaran ride was bliss compared to the kayaking. The wind in our faces, the gentle splashing of water coming up onto the boat. I loved it. It felt like a mini-vacation.

We spent a few minutes at another beach, and then once again, strong-armed our way onto the catamaran again.

This time, it was different.

Isabelle, Elisa (a sweet teen writer) and I jumped onto another catamaran and headed back to the dock.

We were about half way when the winds kicked up, sending water into our faces, soaking us. Around us, white caps crashed, sails bellowed.

Elisa’s hand gripped mine as we were attacked by water and wind.

“It is OK,” I said. “Nothing is going to happen.”

But, there we were, on this tiny little boat, a thin sheet of material separating us from the sea.

If we flip, we are close enough to swim to shore. We all have life jackets on. But, I really didn’t want to flip. Or fall off. Or anything other than walk off that boat.

We flirted dangerously with the rocks jutting from the dock while a group of staff ran into the water to steady our boat.

And, then we were out. Back on dry land.

“That is not normal,” one of the boaters said. “That wind came up from nowhere.”

Isabelle and I looked at each other and smiled.

Kayaking? Been there. Done that.

Blog Spain Travel

Benidorm – the most British part of Spain

Benidorm. A city with towering hotels stacked 60 floors high above the multi-colored umbrellas lining the beaches which are packed with people.

If you are familiar with Benidorm at all, then you know it is a British hotspot. Fish and chip restaurants next to fish and chips restaurants, lobster-red people roam the sidewalks, white sands are blanketed with umbrellas and sun-worshipers.

To me, Benidorm is more like an American resort than a Spanish town, but every year, people flock there for the brilliant blue sea, the warm winds and to enjoy partying in Benidorm.

I have never seen so many people walking around in need of some major SPF in my life. Red red red.

Our fabulous #blogtripf1 gang toured the city, marveling at the unique pop architecture, and then headed onto a ferry to take us to an island for spectacular views of the skyscraper hotels lining the beach.

After the boat, we had paella and then headed to the sea to breathe in the salty air. For a few minutes, the group of us sat around, feet buried in the sand, talking and laughing. Then, we were waved back to the restaurant for our next stop … parked a few feet down the road were large yellow Jeeps decked with roll bars.

Four-wheelin’ off-roadin’ adventure!

I have never been off-roading and as soon as I saw the massive vehicles with the roll bars lined on the street, my face lit up.

We loaded into our transportation and headed up, up, up the hills of the city, bopping and smiling the entire way while a mix tape played loud above our squeals of delight.

“OK, you can stand up now,” our driver instructed.

Seat belts came off. Purses got tucked in. Heads popped out and hovered above the roll bars.

This was awesome.

Our rides stopped at the top of a hill.

My mouth dropped at what was in front of me. Blue sea. Skyscrapers. Lush green mountains. Fresh air.

Ahhhhh. What a sight.

Once our trip wrapped (too soon), we loaded back into our bus and SHA to freshen up and then back to Benidorm for a late night dinner, followed by some very quiet swimming and a quick hot tub dip.

Morning would come too quickly …

Disclosure: Land of Valencia provided all transportation, lodging, meals and activities.

Blog Reviews Spain