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Filomena – Snowstorm in Madrid

  • 23/Jan/2021 at 21:45

The major snowstorm in more than a century in Madrid is a good excuse to resume the blogging activity, even if that means skipping (for the moment) two years of travelling.

Although snow is not rare in Madrid, this year’s storm, called Filomena, beat all records: more than 50 cm covered the city in less than 24 hours and collapsed the city for a week.

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Everyone enjoyed this unique moment in its own way: parents went out to the street to make the first snowmen, using their kids as an excuse to play with the snow; skiers converted the avenues of Madrid in ski slopes, and the subway in ski lifts; and some others just wandered around a totally different city, with our eyes really open, and the cameras ready to record these memories.

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The first day I went out was Saturday, it was still snowing heavily since the previous afternoon, and the snow was already at my knee level in some places. We were going to have snow for some days, so I took it easy and decided to go to a nearby park (Tierno Galván) expecting it to be as pure as possible.

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The visual show started already in my neighbourhood, where snow covered completely the cars, and there was still little signs of life: it seemed a phantom city. Even more, with the cars that had been left in the middle of the big avenues by their owners, after trying to reach their homes when the snow level was too high for that. Snow plows were trying to open some roads, mainly for the emergency services. One police car went of the clean road due to lack of skills by the driver, and we had to push it back to the path… Everything was “slightly” different from usual.

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The worst part of this storm was for the trees, though. They are not used nor designed for standing so much weight on their branches, and many were breaking off as I passed by. This made me avoid walking too close to any big tree, just in case, especially from the evergreen ones.

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When I reached the park, I had already seen a few skiers exploring the city on their skis, and who were as excited as any kid could be. “I’m wearing blizzard goggles in Madrid! Who would say?”. They were right. It did not look like Madrid. The park looked like any park in places thousands of km North from where I was. It could be Scandinavia, but it was Spain.

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After the park, I started coming back home. My plan was to do a stopover and get a hot chocolate with churros, but the place I had in mind was closed, as any other place in the city that day. But that allowed me to pay a visit to the major highway in the city, the M-30. It is a ring around Madrid centre, with a length of 30 km, 6-10 lanes, and always full of cars at high speed. That morning, some teenagers were making snowmen once they recovered from their initial surprise: “I am in the M-30, Mum, I am in the M-30, look”, they said while doing a video call.

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The next day, still cold, but not snowing, it was time for a long walk downtown. Although the streets had already been stepped by many people the day before, the views were still unique, and not so many people had gotten up that early. Cars were still extremely rare, and the streets were mostly for the pedestrians. The normally beautiful sights in the city looked even better now, having replaced cars by a lot of snow.

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Just to keep record for myself, the tour started surrounding the Retiro park (closed to avoid accidents), and continued through Puerta de Alcalá, Gran Vía, Preciados, Puerta del Sol, Royal Palace, Latina, and Atocha.

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The snow weekend ended with some snow removing from the terrace, the cornice, and even the streets. The temperatures would fall way under 0 degrees from that night, and we did not want ice to be falling from the buildings, nor having an ice rink in our street.

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It has been a wonderful way to start 2021, in spite of the problems that snow also brought. Let’s see what else the year brings…


  • 18/Apr/2019 at 10:00

Dubai is a city of the United Arab Emirates, that has become one of the main Economic centres in the World, and the leader in Middle East. This has a lot to do with the oil present in the Persian Gulf area, but also to its long tradition as traders in the region, which still is their main contributor to the GDP. The city has around 2 million inhabitants, and just 10% of them are locals. The rest have come from all countries in the world, mainly India, attracted for its extremely low unemployment rate and the many opportunities it offers.

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I had already visited the city in a 24-hour stopover coming from back from Asia, and I already found few things to highlight. This time, the stay took longer, although the visiting part was close to one day as well. The main difference was the weather, as the previous time, the wind direction brought fog and haze, which was less present this time.

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Something I have confirmed again this time is that the city is not designed for pedestrians. Distances are too long to be walked and many areas do not even have sidewalks, and their public transportation network is quite limited: two lines of metro, and an insufficient bus network. Taxis are quite affordable, on the other hand. Climate might be playing a role here, as my two visits have been in winter, which is the only bearable time of the year to be outside, but in summer people do not want to be waiting for the bus outside…

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The city is spread along the Persian Gulf coastline and consists mainly of skyscrapers, which is quite surprising taking into account they do have plenty of space as it is in the middle of the desert. These skyscrapers become the main attraction of the city, where the wealth is reflected in the size and design of the buildings.

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The best example of this is the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world with 828 metres, which has become an attraction itself: not only as a viewpoint, but also with some light, sound and water spectacles that take place every evening with the building as the main character. Burj Al Arab is another famous building, due to its shape emulating a sail, and because it hosts the only 7-star hotel in the world. Sunsets are wonderful from the beach next to it.

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Dubai architecture is more than skyscrapers, though. There are several unique constructions, like the Palm Jumairah, a housing development with the shape of a palm, which is home for some of the most wealthy citizens of the world. Those that are not in “The World”, another development with the shape of the World, which is not connected to mainland, and therefore even more exclusive.

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Dubai does have an old part, which lies around the Creek, and where you can find several souks, being the Gold and the Spices ones the best known ones. Even the souks look nice, clean, and new. They have been restored, but keep the essence of a number of stalls mostly specialised in one type of goods. The gold one is quite unique, as it hosts plenty hundreds of stalls where jewels are sold.

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From here, we took the opportunity to do a boat tour around the creek, where we could see the intense traffic of boats acting as water buses, allowing people to cross from one bank to the other, yachts of locals enjoying their time, and a huge fleet of old and small cargo ships, that mainly bring goods from Iran (just a couple of hours transit from Dubai) and some small fishing ones. Aiming to revitalise this part of the city, some buildings with a resemblance to an old eastern town have been built, and are house now of many restaurants, shops and bars, where to enjoy a nice meal.

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After this second visit, I still think Dubai is not worth to visit, according to my taste. Nevertheless, numbers do not say so. During New Year’s Eve, there were 1.8 million visitors in Dubai (almost doubling their population), and during the whole year, up 18 million people visit the city. The city was full of tourists, and I still do not know what they do in a stay of, let’s say, 4 days… You’d better check it out yourself…


  • 12/Apr/2019 at 18:00

After a week in the Far West, landing in Chicago was like doing zapping on TV: from a Western movie to any urban movie in black and white. USA has always that effect on me: I am living in a movie. The train that connects the airport with downtown would qualify in an amusement park: high speed and abrupt movements and breaks, all this in the middle of the night, and with that variety of passengers that you can only see in the US.

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I soon arrived to Chinatown, as my accommodation during the first few days was there. Chinatown in any city is one of those neighbourhoods that make you think you are in an action movie. It was my third participation in a movie not that day.

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The next day, it was Sunday, I could devote it to walk the city. The first impression once I got closer to Lake Michigan was that it was a good place to live. It was a nice morning, sunny, hundreds of people runnning or walking (alone, in couples or with baby trolleys), and the boats ready to set sail for a day out in the lake. That day happened to take place one of the biggest airshows int he World, and everyone was out seizing that opportunity, in spite of the high temperature and humidity of the central hours of the day.

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From what they say, winter is not that nice here though. It is called the Windy City for a reason, and that wind in Winter is freezing. Parking signs in the city address the issue, banning parking in some areas where many centimeters of snow is expected from Autumn to Spring.

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Chicago is above all, the City of the Architecture. Its skyline has nothing to envy others like New York, and history of modern architecture can be studied in a walk in the city, or better, in one of the boat tours that take you around the canals, explaining the history of the city and the buildings.

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In one of those tours, I learned that the first settlers arrived in 1779 to Chicago, that there are 23 bridges that can be opened up, or that regulation played a major in the way the city is arranged today. I liked the fact that all buildings must leave free space for a boardwalk, making the river accessible to everyone.

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One of the things I like the most in a city is to learn about its history. Why are there canals in the city? Why so many skyscrapers? The reason for the canals seems to be a very practical one: due to the nearby industry, water could not be drunk, so they routed the industry dirty waters out to provide drinking water to the citizens. Skyscrapers have been built there due to the government policies too, although the Great Depression and the Wars provoked a break in construction between the 30’s and the 50’s.

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Among all skyscrapers, one has been known worldwide: the Sears Tower, now the Willis Tower (change of owner, change of name). Once the tallest building in the world, now just the fourth one, after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Taipei 101 in Taiwan, and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. Another key building is the Hancock Tower, which has a bar/restaurant from where you can observe the whole city.

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This city is more than buildings, though. Music is also a big thing: particularly live jazz and blues clubs. I visited Andy’s Jazz Club and Buddy Guy’s Legends, a blues club. I am not a big fan of neither of them, but I did enjoy the atmosphere in both places, and blues concert was extremely fun.

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Chicago is not complete without its Millenium Park, mainly because of The Bean, the famous sculpture by Anish Kapoor, and which is a must in the city. No one leaves this city without taking pictures of it, or selfies through its reflecting surface. This park completes its offer with a huge open-air auditorium, where people can enjoy a picnic while the culture offering is playing.

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The last “must” is the fireworks. They are known to be impressive, so we went to the best spot to see them in our last night: the Observation Deck: the show would take place just in front of us to the right, and the skyline full of lights were to its left. Fireworks were okay (disclaimer: I am originally from a place where fireworks are a really big thing, so it is tough to be impressed so easily abroad), but skyline was gorgeous, and a really nice way to say goodbye to Chicago. See you some other time.

Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City is the capital of the State of Utah, and best known for being home of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquarters, a.k.a. mormons. The city center hosts many Church buildings, and it is not strange to see several dozens of weddings on a given Saturday morning in their Main Church alone.

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One of the main characteristics of the mormon families is their size. It is common to see families with more than six kids, and that is also seen in the kind of huge cars you see. Also, seeing older brothers and sisters taking care of the younger ones become mandatory in these cases, as they were doing during the weddings times.

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As many other American cities, Salt Lake City does not have an ancient history. The mormons were looking for a distant and isolated area where to settle in order to develop their community, and when their leader Brigham Young saw the valley, he said: “This is the place”, and you can imagine the rest of the story…

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The main sights in the city are the Church facilities, including the Tabernacle with its huge organ, their Conference Center, their HQ building, being one of the tallest buildings in the city. Also, the Utah Capitol is impressive, as it is located on a hill, where its huge size makes it visible from a far distance.

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This building makes it clear that civil and clerical powers in Utah have historically been really close to each other. The Mormons were the first settlers, founded cities, and asked to join the Union. This request was initially rejected due to polygamy being part of their accepted practices. The Church leaders accepted removing that from their principles, after a “God call” to follow the Constitution principles. In fact, from that moment and still today, the the Church principles are bound expressly the Constitution ones.

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It has proven to be a correct strategy, if we look at numbers: more than 12 million Mormons worldwide, and a major company holding directly belonging to the Church, including their own bank.

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Apart from the city, we visited the nearby Antelope Island, which is a natural park surrounded by the Salt Lake. It has a desertic look, and it provides some spots with good views over the lake. The main interest here is spotting antelopes (we managed to do it twice), or bisons, which were artificially brought here in the 19th century and they are now around 200.

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Less than 24 hours to see Salt Lake City and surroundings is enough, and just because we were flying in and out from there. Otherwise, you can skip it without regretting.

Yellowstone National Park

  • 30/Mar/2019 at 16:00

After two days around it, we finally entered in Yellowstone National Park on our third day, the main destination and purpose of the trip.


We drove North through Highway 20, so early we rarely saw any car in the middle of the vast wheat plantations, each at a different harvesting stage, presumably to optimize the use of harvesting resources all-year round.

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When we arrived to West Yellowstone, we stopped to grab a coffee, in what became the second coffee successful discovery: Expresso West, just before heading towards the Park Gate, had real and good coffee.

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Entering into Yellowstone through the most popular gate meant the first traffic jam to us, provoked mainly because some animal is near the road and people stop the cars wherever they feel like. This happened with an eagle and some deers.

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Soon, the real Yellowstone appeared: the volcanic activity in the form of hot springs, geysers and fumaroles. The Park is on the Yellowstone caldera, a 50 km diameter area, which lies on a hotspot, that is the source of the whole activity that captivates the visitors. Giving a second thought to it, it is a bit scary to think what if that activity becomes, suddenly, more violent than average…

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When we arrived to Madison, we headed North-East, We stopped in Perry Pond, Gibbon Falls, Beryl Spring and at the Norris Geyser Basin. Springs are spectacular: the water has a very bright light blue colour, and the borders usually have a bigger variety of colours, from white to brown, red, orange, … The colour depends on the bacteria that is living in that area, which are different as temperature and pH conditions vary.

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At Norris, we could walk through a number of springs, geysers, and fumaroles for 3 km. There, we could see the famous Steamboat geyser, which, although unpredictable, is the highest geyser in the world. The white rocks in most of the landscape makes you think you are in the moon, while you are constantly reminded of the volcano under your feet with the strong sulfur smell. It is impressive to see where the heat gas and liquids arrive as life disappears: one tree dies from the roots and whiten dramatically, while another one just one meter apart is tall and green.

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After the walk among geysers and basins, we had lunch in the Canyon Village (nothing to highlight), and headed to the Yellowstone River Canyon. Although it was easy to imagine, seeing the canyon carved in yellowish stone made it evident where the naming came from. We only stayed in the North Rim, and did part of the trail, with the characteristic sound of a high flow of water falling a few hundreds of meters.

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Before leaving the Park through the West entrance, we explored the Firehole area a bit. Yet another area with geysers and painting pots (basins with mud). One of the fumaroles here was formed just a few years ago by an earthquake more than 100 km away (panic mode here!).

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After this, we took our way back to Ennis, in Montana, where we stayed in a movie-like road motel. I had time (and some energy left) to run in the surrounding residential area, and I was surprised by some deers who preferred to eat the shiny green grass of some gardens rather than anything else.

The next morning, apart from grabbing a coffee in our new favourite place in the area, we started where we ended the day before: Firehole area. We drove through the Firehole Canyon Drive to see the Firehole Falls, and start the day with nature, life (and less people), before heading the sulphur world. The colder temperatures in the morning drastically changed the views: the Grand Geyser had just erupted and the vapor cloud could be seen from several km away. This might be one of the best tips: go early to this area. It is worth it.

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This areas has not only the Grand Geyser, but a couple of other colourful basins, like the Grand Prismatic Spring, or the Turquoise Pool, that create small rivers that disembogue in the Firehole River, creating a beautiful effect, when boiling water from the springs, meets the river cold one.

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In any case, our planned goal was to see the most famous geyser in Yellowstone: Old Faithful. It is a big attraction, with thousands of people waiting for the well scheduled eruptions, which sometimes are bigger than others. Ours was not so impressive, especially considered the hour we spent waiting for it.

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After a very joyful morning (in spite of this disappointment), we headed to the North Entrance to visit the Mammoth Hot Springs, which is a different and unique view in the park. Here, the hot water coming from the ground has limestone in it, which in contact with the air transforms into a solid mineral, travertine. Travertine forms impressive terraces of different colours (again bacterias having a word here), becoming white when they dry.

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We called it a day, and left the park through the North Entrance, heading back to Ennis. As a memory from this driving back, we crossed some mountains, and witnessed a persecution of a police car to a car the resembled the one at Knight Rider TV series. The police car appeared from nowhere, probably from behind an advertisement after a curve…

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The last day in Yellowstone was devoted to the non-caldera part. We entered through the North Entrance, and drove East towards the Lamar Valley. This is out from the caldera, so it is plainly a nature area. The main objective of this day was to spot some bisons.

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Before seeing any animal, we saw the Undine Falls, which did not impress us at all, after what we had seen the days before. Suddenly we saw first bison calm in a small meadow. We were happy, we had managed to see one, and we spent 15 minutes there, looking at it, and taking pictures. We thought there would be no more. After a few kilometres, we saw a group of around 20 bisons at certain distance, and we repeated the operation: park, pictures, … We were really fortunate… But that was just the beginning: after the Tower junction, where we had lunch, the bisons started to be common next to the road. We could see them grazing, mostly in pairs, and stirring on the floor. They seeed to be extremely pacific animals (although huge), and crossed the roads without any consideration, provoking traffic jams and some panic to the drivers.

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After having been more in contact with bisons, than we had ever figured out, we headed South, stopping at the Tower Falls, the Mud Volcano and the Sulphur Cauldron. Nothing new in essence, but with different shapes that give the naming.

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We briefly stopped at the Yellowstone Lake, as the fog and the sunset made it a ghost place, not the supposed beauty it should be. Then we continued our way to our accommodation near Dubois, in the middle of nowhere at the Shoshone National Forest.

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It was a long drive back, tired, but the next morning we were thankful, as there were several amazing spots in the Shoshone Park, like Wind River Lake. It was also an opportunity for us to learn about the Continental Divide, which is the geographical line that divides rivers than end in the Atlantic Ocean and in the Pacific Ocean. The Rockies are the main divide in North America, and this was already an important aspect for the native tribes that lived here before European arrives. That played an important role in the split of the lands.

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After enjoying this bonus in the Shoshone Park, we had our last views of the Teton Range, and started our way back to Salk Lake City, stopping for breakfast in the known place “The Bunnery”, in Jackson Hole, and had lunch at the Bear Lake, in Garden City. Their ads about the raspberry ice cream made us give it a try…and good that we did.

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Just before crossing to Utah state, we saw our last cowboys and cowgirls riding their horses and moving their herds os cows from one place to the other. Nice way to say goodbye to the Wild West.

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