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London top 20 attractions


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Whenever one hears somebody mention the word Ibiza, the first things that usually come to mind are fantastic all-night parties, music from internationally-renowned Djs, artists blaring out of the hippest bars and clubs, and of course, gorgeous sandy beaches. There is a never-ending list of activities one can do and breath-taking attractions you simply mustn’t miss when you are fortunate enough to visit Ibiza. These two certainly rate high on a list of the top ten tourist attractions of this charming Mediterranean island.

Ibiza is one-sixth the size of nearby Majorca, over five times the size of Mykonos (Greece), and ten times the size of Manhattan Island. Ibiza has become famous for the association with nightlife and the electronic music that originated on the island. It is well known for its summer club scene which attracts very large numbers of tourists, though the island’s government and the Spanish Tourist Office have controversially been working to promote more family-oriented tourism. Ibiza is the home of the noted port in Ibiza Town, a popular stop for many tourists and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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10 Astounding Facts You Didn’t Know About Madrid

Often esteemed less mentionable than flamboyant Barcelona, Madrid keeps its secrets hidden for those who do not deliberately look for them. Discover some of the amazing facts that will completely change your image of the captivating capital of Spain!

Madrid is the third biggest city in the European Union

Right after the spectacular demographics of London, home to around 8.5 million people, and the 3.6 million inhabitants of Berlin, Madrid comes in third in terms of peaking population numbers of the European Union. In 2015, an estimate of 3.1 million people were living in the buzzing capital of Spain – virtually the entire population of Armenia! Counting in its massive metropolitan area, Madrid would also attain the bronze medal in the category ‘Greatest Metropolitan Area of the EU,’ its vast district of 5,335 square meters currently housing a baffling 6.2 million people.

Puerta del Sol at night | © Laura Kauffmann

Madrid is not only a city, but a ‘state’

Often escaping notice is the fact that ‘Madrid’ is not only the name of the world-famous capital, but also one of the 17 autonomous communities of Spain. Once, these prestigious provinces were established to divide the Spanish territory into its proud historical regions in order to facilitate a centralized government. Having no true administrative power when they were classified in 1833, the communities today can be seen as politically autonomous provinces or federal states of Spain. 

Madrid lies at around 700 meters of altitude

There might be palm trees in Madrid, but fact is that the voluptuous city of Madrid lies at an astounding 667 meters above sea-level, many places in the north even surpassing the 700 meters mark! Consequently, the only humid breezes you might sense would have to be the gusts of air escaping the Metro shaft. The climate is instead defined by mountainous winds and a dry and clear air, enchanting with clear autumn days as well as blazing summers. This means, however, that in winter temperatures should not be underestimated, as they can easily drop below the frosty minus-celsius mark.

Palmtrees at Prque del Oeste | © Laura Kauffmann

The Coat of Arms of Madrid – a Bear and a Tree?

Standing broad and clear in the middle of Puerta del Sol, it can be seen: the statue of a cuddly bear reaching up to the branches of a tree. These two emblematic figures represent the official Coat of Arms of Madrid. Apparently, the bear, also adorned with the 7 stars of the zodiac sign Ursa-Mayor (the Great Bear), had represented the council of Madrid since the year 1212. The tree was added ten years later as the symbol of a treaty, which settled the ongoing dispute between the clergymen and the council over the use of the local fields and forests. It is carefully suspected, however, that the use of a strawberry tree, of all trees, had rather less to do with historical accuracy, and more with the fact that its Spanish botanical name, madroño, sounds a lot like Madrid and madrileño…

Madrid is a city of students

Madrid is home to an astonishing amount of students. Not surprisingly, this is due to the fact that Madrid is one of the unsurpassed hot-spots of university education in Europe. Various of its many universities and business schools are counted as being some of the oldest and most prestigious learning facilities worldwide. The economical Masters program of the University Charles III, for example, is ranked on the list of the ‘global top-50,’ whereas the founding of the Universidad Complutense, for instance, dates back as early as the year 1293.

Madrid was founded around the year 860 A.C.

When the Romans walked the Spanish lands 200 years B.C., no signs of Madrid were to be found. For more than a 1100 years the mountains of the Castilian Central Plateau were only scarcely inhabited, until Muhammad I, ruler of the Arabic reign of Córdoba, chose to build a small castle in the region in the late 9th century. On a majestic hill with an excellent surveillance view over the valley and in convenient proximity to the Manzanares river, this little citadel developed into a fortress with rapidly growing importance. Thus, the origins of the Madrid we know today lie in the village surrounding this ancient Arabic-then-Spanish military defense-post in the Castilian mountains.

Valley in San Lorenzo El Escorial, Madrid | © Laura Kauffmann

Madrid was – and is – a European Cultural Capital

When Madrid became the European Capital of Culture in 1992, few people who have actually been to the city will have been surprised, for the city offers a stunning variety of cultural venues and activities in all shapes and sizes. Undoubtedly, the city might first win you over with its overwhelming museums like the world-famous Prado, museum of 12th-19th century European and Spanish art, or the Reina Sofía Museum of Modern Art. However, it might also enthrall on an other level, for example through the numerous philosophical book clubs or the alternative meeting places for social and cultural debates.

Pet pig attracting attention in Parque del Oeste | © Laura Kauffmann

The name ‘Madrid’ might be over 2,200 years old

The most ancient mention of the name ‘Madrid’ is found in Arabic records: Mayrit or Magerit is taken to mean ‘place of abundant water.’ This does not necessarily mean, however, that the name was an Arabic invention. Its true origins remain the source of heated debates between linguists. While the suggestion that the name developed from a folkloric myth has now been generally discarded, there are more plausible theories that Madrid’s name actually has Roman ancestry. This is based on the fact that there had indeed been a Roman settlement called ‘Matrice’ right at the Manzanares River over 2,200 years ago!

The Spanish King does not reside in the Royal Palace in Madrid

Visitors who have already entered the grand Royal Palace in Madrid might have guessed: the King of Spain does not actually inhabit these ostentatious halls. Even though the Palacio Real is still the official royal residence, the members of the royal family have been living and receiving guests in the petite Palace of Zarzuela since 1962. Situated at the outskirts of the city, all ceremonial events and official meetings with the current King, Felipe VI, have taken place in this rather modest royal mansion.

Palacio Real | © Laura Kauffmann

Madrid became the capital of Spain in the 16th century

Until the reign of Felipe II from the royal house of Austria, the seat of the Spanish monarchy had not been permanently settled. Because of the central geographical position of Madrid and the abundance of water and game in its surroundings, it seemed to him the worthiest and most useful place in which to settle his royal affairs. Some historians have suggested, however, that this decision might have been inspired more by the persuasions of the French beauty Isabel de Valois, Felipe’s third wife, rather than pragmatic reasoning, as she had apparently fallen in love not only with the King, but also with Madrid. 


By Laura Kauffmann

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10 Road-trip Apps You Can’t Live Without


Download these before you hit the road.

Gone are the days of plugging in a stand-alone GPS unit — long-distance driving has become even easier with the advent of smartphone apps that not only map your itinerary and offer driving tips but also warn of speed traps and suggest pit stops.

Here are 10 apps (free unless otherwise noted) that you should download before your next four-wheeled adventure.


You’ll need a Bluetooth- or 3G-enabled adapter to use this multi-feature app, which alerts you when you’re low on gas or if you’re about to approach a turn. You can also use it to track expenses or to split the cost of gas with a friend. Android and iOS; from $79.95.

Gas Buddy

Not only does Gas Buddy track fuel prices at gas stations in the U.S. and Canada — use it to find the cheapest options nearby — but it also calculates how much you will need based on your itinerary and the model of car you’re driving. Android and iOS.


Use your phone as a dash cam. The app’s spatial-recognition feature will alert the driver if the car crosses road lines or if you get too close to other cars. It also works similarly to an airplane’s black box in case you need to capture any accidents. Android and iOS; $0.99.


RoadTrippers uses your GPS location to find nearby detour-worthy pit stops, whether that means great restaurants, photo ops, cultural points of interest, or quirky roadside attractions (World’s Largest Yarn Ball, anyone?). Android and iOS.


By using the voice- activated feature, AutoMate makes it easy for drivers to ask for directions, check weather updates, text or call friends and family, and operate music apps without lifting a finger from the steering wheel. Android.


Fingers crossed you don’t experience any kind of engine or mechanical hiccups on your trip, but if it does happen, Openbay will help you compare repair prices based on your location — perfect for when you have no real idea of where you are. Android and iOS.


This app lets you pull up and control your music and GPS apps from one screen. It will also track where you parked your car, help you find nearby ATMs and coffee shops, and send updates to let you know how much time is left on the parking meter. iOS.

TomTom Go Mobile

See your driving route in multicolor 3-D. You can also use it to avoid getting a speeding ticket: its user community shares locations of law-enforcement cameras and speed traps. Fees apply beyond 50 miles of use. Android and iOS.


This traffic-tracking navigation app from Google is a must for gridlocked urban areas, and its real-time updates can save you time. Users are encouraged to share information, like police sightings, debris on the road, or accidents ahead. Android and iOS.


Better than a “How’s My Driving?” bumper sticker, HighwayHero tracks your driving habits (how smooth your turns, starts, and stops are, if you accelerated too hard, and if you’re checking your phone too much). It will also give you tips to improve your road skills. Android and iOS.


10 Interesting Facts about Costa Rica



  1. From northwest to southwest, Costa Rica measures only 285 miles (460 km) and at its narrowest, it is only 74 miles (120 km) wide. It is smaller than Lake Michigan.[3]
  2. In 1539, officials in Panama used the name Costa Rica (Rich Coast) for the first time to distinguish the territory between Panama and Nicaragua.[3]
  3. On September 8, 1502, Christopher Columbus became the first European recorded to land in Costa Rica. He took refuge just off the coast between tiny Uvita Island and the current port of Limón.[3]
  4. Costa Ricans claim that Dr. Clodomiro “Clorito” Picado discovered the properties of penicillin before Dr. Alexander Fleming, based on a paper Dr. Picado had published in 1927 on how penicillin inhibited the growth of streptococcus in his patients.[12]
  5. Costa Rica has a 96% literacy rate. For rural areas where children can’t make it to school, lessons are taught over a national radio station.[12]
  6. Native Costa Ricans call themselves Ticos and Ticas.[3]
  7. Costa Rican women do not take their husbands’ last name when they get married. They keep their maiden name for life along with their mother’s maiden name.[3]
  8. In Costa Rica, nearly all Catholic churches face west.
  9. Coffee was introduced to Costa Rica from Jamaica in 1779. Called the grano de oro (grain of gold), coffee was Costa Rica’s foremost export for 150 years until tourism surpassed it in 1991. More than 247,104 acres of coffee are planted in Costa Rica, making it the 13th largest coffee exporter in the world.
  10. In Costa Rica, a soda is a small, informal restaurant that serves chicken, beans, rice, and salad for US$2 or $3 a plate