Friday, May 8, 2015

Gaudi in Barcelona by Margot Justes















If you love architecture, and whimsical work that makes you smile, feel happy and celebrate life, then there is no better place for you than Barcelona. That is where you’ll find Antoni Gaudi’s work, and where you will commune with nature in a most wonderful way.

There are the Dali, Picasso and Miro museums, but Gaudi’s work alone is worth a trip to Barcelona, many of his buildings were designated World Heritage Sites. In 1878 upon receiving his degree, the Director of the School of Architecture of Barcelona, said. “I don’t know if we have given this qualification to a madman or a genius, only time will tell.” Time has told, an unequivocal original genius.

Gaudi is considered a major contributor to the ‘Catalan Modernism’ style of architecture, and the leading proponent of the Art Nouveau movement, but the end result refuses to be qualified as anything but ‘Gaudi’. His style cannot really be classified, it’s unique, extravagant, original, earthy, beyond whimsy, and simply stunning.  

Gaudi was born in 1852 and died in a tram accident in 1926. His last days were spent at his most famous unfinished work, La Sagrada Familia. There is hope that it will be finished by the 100th anniversary of his death, in 2026. He left enough detailed information that the basilica can be completed, and with public donations it is a work in progress.

The interior of La Sagrada Familia is now open to the public, and the use of light from above and through the stained glass windows is mesmerizing. The columns reach the top to support the structure, and it reflects his love of nature, showing a dazzling and lively interpretation of a forest with branches reaching for the light.

His use of ceramic tile, wood, wrought iron, brick, colorful paint results in a stroll through a fantasy, as can be witnessed in the Pedrera, and Casa Batllo buildings, as well as La Sagrada Familia, and Park Guell, where a serpentine bench provides a respite, along with a pure sense of joy.

His work is truly amazing, and once you’ve seen it, you’ll want to see it again, and never forget it.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Montserrat, Spain by Margot Justes














Barcelona is filled with amazing and whimsical architecture, Gaudi’s work is a prime example,  the people possess an unbound zest for life, there are world class museums, and of course delicious food.

Barcelona and the surrounding area is Catalan country, and to this day they are extremely proud of their Catalonian heritage, and many Catalonian flags could be seen flying from apartment windows in Barcelona. There was even a political movement for the Catalans to secede from Spain. 

A short hop away is the Montserrat Monastery. It is one of those places not to be missed. High in the mountains, about 38 kilometers from Barcelona, an hour by bus, and the ride itself is quite an adventure, slinking along a narrow street with twisting and tight curves that seem never ending.

There are a few ways to reach Montserrat, car, private limo, or bus. If you take the train,  you will need to take the cable car or rack railway to get to the top.  I decided it was best to leave the driving to the professionals and took a bus. Driving to Montserrat is not for the faint of heart, nor for that matter, riding in a bus.

At the highest point, about 1,236 meters above sea level, the view below is breathtaking. With steep rock formations the monastery is nestled beautifully into the mountains. The setting is glorious, and the views stunning wherever you turn.

There are quiet and peaceful garden areas, and many paths that allow for that  perfect silent, and contemplative walk. That being said, it is a huge draw, both for tourists and locals alike. It is considered a place of pilgrimage, that is what I was told by a local visiting couple.  

The monastery began about 1025, the rich archeological history dates back to 3,000 years BC. The credit for the monastery’s existence is given to Abbot Oliba, a powerful figure in Romanesque Catalonia.  An aristocrat, elected Abbot of Ripoll, and he along with a group of monks decided to build the monastery next to the chapel of Saint Mary.  

Beside the church, the monastery, a library, the meandering roads, beautiful gardens, and artistic treasures, there is also a hotel. I plan to go back and spend a night or two, the few hours I was there just wet my appetite for more.

At the time of my visit on a Sunday, the church was packed, it didn’t help that a noon performance by the boys choir happened at the same time. You could not squeeze in, it was truly filled to capacity and beyond. Packed solid-even a well oiled sardine would have had a problem. I got a glimpse of the ornate church, but couldn’t handle all the humanity, it took me fifteen minutes from the very back of the church to get out the door, and into fresh air.

There were a few tents set up on the main road, and local artisans sold their wares, the most prominent items displayed were the local delicacies, various cheeses, honey, hams and fig cakes. I can vouch for the local hams, cheeses and fig cakes. Positively yummy.

I just touched on Montserrat, if you find yourself in Barcelona, Montserrat is not to be missed. I still hope to spend a night-I’ll need to go back and do more research, my next hotel book is set in Barcelona.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Fire Within
and coming in June A Hotel in Venice
www.mjustes.com

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Barcelona, Spain by Margot Justes




I’m working on the fourth hotel book, and this one is set in Barcelona. It is a city filled with art, amazing architecture and an incredible zest and appreciation for life.Barcelona is exciting, vibrant and the locals know how to enjoy themselves, they possess the joie de vivre that is hard to miss, and often times hard to find.

The architecture is unsurpassed, modern and old blends well together, and of course there is Gaudi-it is worth a visit to Barcelona just to see his work. It is unforgettable. I loved it so much that I posted a separate blog about his stunning and imaginative style. The amazing thing is that once you see it, you want to do it again, and again, simply because you probably missed the marvelous details the first time through. His work is beyond whimsy.

There are museums to be sure, Miro, Dali and Picasso have a foundation in Barcelona. The stunning architecture will take your breath away, everywhere you turn you see a magnificent building, from Gothic to Art Nouveau to the indescribable Gaudi treasures, to contemporary and everything in between. Landmarks abound.

At any given time stroll on La Rambla, and you’ll see locals and savvy tourists sit down in a cafe and enjoy a beer, tapas, coffee, along with a dish of green olives, or just stroll arm in arm on the wide avenue that is both romantic, hectic and invigorating. There are many souvenirs shops that line the famous paseo, all the kitschy tourist stuff, pottery, foods and other items made locally, along with entertainment, and all of it delightful.

The street is filled to capacity, and I for one at this stage in my life don’t like crowds, and if truth be told-never did-but I really rather enjoyed the lovely walk, and a stop for the obligatory delicious coffee. I had a wondrous adventure just walking down the street. You see people smile, nod their heads in acknowledgement as you stroll along as if in a romantic dream.

The city also boasts a beautiful coast line, and one of the biggest ports in Europe, along with some beautiful parks, even one designed by Gaudi.

Have I forgotten to mention the food-it is delicious-they create a mouth watering delight   with just potatoes. Okay, I’m Polish and happen to love potatoes, but the Patatas Bravas are truly yummy, roasted potatoes, a yummy sauce with a slight bite that you feel on the tip of your tongue. The excellent bread and incredible local hams would have kept me happy for a long time.

A huge array of cheeses, hams, breads, olives, an amazing selection of fish, all that is available in many tapas bars. The offerings are small, so you can visit many places and taste the amazing variety of appetizers. A delightful and delicious way to sample the local cuisine.

Shopping abounds on Passeig de Gracia, favorably compared to other famous boulevards with prices to match. I enjoyed the walk, and window shopping, the displays are imaginative and fun, and I was grateful that I travel light with little room for souvenirs.
That being said, I managed to buy a few small trinkets for family and friends, the souvenir shop at the Gaudi Casa Batllo was amazing, and yes-all my souvenirs came from that shop.

There are many hotels and as always prices range from low to high, it all depends on your budget. You will find delicious and reasonably priced tapas bars off the main tourist areas, but if you’re in with the tourist crowds be prepared to pay. I do a bit of research  before I leave, but I always allow for a tourist trap or two.

I booked the Casa Fuster Hotel, on Passeig de Gracia 132, on my first visit, a beautiful hotel reminiscent of Gaudi’s work, the service was superb, the rooms a good size, the breakfasts superb, and  the staff always eager to help with directions and available tours, they were friendly and caring. I hope to return and stay there again.

The second hotel was the Majestic, also on Passeig de Gracia 68-70, was a little more centrally located-by just a few blocks from Casa Fuster. That being said, I would rather walk the additional 4 or 5 blocks than stay at the Majestic again, lack of overall service, and a snippy registration cured me of ever staying there a second time.

The Majestic staff lost interest after I didn’t want to book a private car to Montserrat to the tune of 600Euros. After a discussion on booking a reasonable tour failed, a short 10 minute walk took me to a travel agency, where I was able to book a round trip ride for 29EU that would take me to the Montserrat  Monastery for the better part of the day. It is a trip not to be missed. I’ll post a separate blog on the location-it is in the mountains and it is magnificent.

I’m a breakfast person, and tend to eat the meal at the hotel to save on time, and the breakfast at the Majestic was outstanding. I couldn’t have asked for a more varied or delicious selection, and the coffee was delicious, but the lack of care and concern from the registration staff ruined any chance of my return to the hotel.

Barcelona has it all, and is definitely worth a visit or two, or three.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com








Thursday, April 9, 2015

Tenerife, Canary Islands by Margot Justes












Tenerife, is the largest of the Canary Islands, and according to our guide has a population of about 800,000 people.

The capital and major port is Santa Cruz, that is where we docked and spent the day touring. It is a the major port of the island, and Santa Cruz has a population of about 220,000 residents.

It is bright, lively, like many tourist attraction there are beaches, high rises-at least high rises for a volcanic island-shops, gardens, restaurants along with many houses that have staircases that seem to climb up to infinity-a perfect venue for rest and relaxation. The climate and landscape are very diverse, and there are more things to see here than the other two islands I visited.

A short bus ride took us to the beautiful market, neatly laid out, one aisle after another offers produce, meat and sausages, cheeses, flowers, spices-you can stop for coffee and soak up the atmosphere. The items for sale seem never ending, and the aromas were divine, especially from the spice areas.

The next stop was the Archeological Museum that has impressive exhibits of the life and death of the Guanche society-the first inhabitants of the Canary Islands dating back to the 1st and 2nd centuries BC.

A fascinating exhibit that lists many of the plants found on the islands, reminiscent of the Audubon style, they were beautifully drawn and labeled and framed. There is a knob on each of the framed exhibits and when you pull on the knob you open a door, and it has a picture or drawing of the discoverer of the plant. Very neat indeed. This museum serves as a learning center for all the schools in the Canary Islands. 

Our next stop was La Laguna, a World Heritage Site. Designated a site because of the buildings, the intrinsic layout of the city, its colorful and distinctive architecture and beautiful patios. Smaller than Santa Cruz, it is more intimate and somewhat less touristy.

We stopped and visited another market square, this one smaller and older, but equally charming. Then on to the Cathedral and a couple of the famous interior patios. We had a few minutes to shop and stop for coffee. I opted for the coffee and a wonderful local delicacy, fried bread that I swear had custard inside, it was soft, gooey and delicious.

 Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
and coming in June A Hotel in Venice
www.mjustes.com



Sunday, March 22, 2015

Gran Canaria by Margot Justes











The second island we visited in the Canary Islands was Gran Canaria, an island much more open to the present, visible oil rigs along the shore, and a modern approach to tourists, high-rises everywhere and beautiful beaches for tourists and locals to enjoy. Colors of homes and buildings were varied and plentiful. It is larger than Lanzarote and seemed for more cosmopolitan.

The island is volcanic in origin, and part of the island was formed somewhere around 9 million years ago, give or take a million, or two, or three...suffice it to say, it is indeed old.

Maybe as far back as 500 BC, the Guanches first settled in Gran Canaria. A varied and often brutal history followed, the island was finally captured with the help of Queen Isabella I, and the conquest helped expand unified Spain.

Las Palmas, is the capital city, founded in 1478, the history is simply amazing. It is a vital sea port, where about a thousand ships visit the port a month; anything from fuel ships, to cargo and cruise ships, and all sizes in between. 

Gran Canaria is touristy, and commerce seems to be thriving. The island is far greener than Lanzarote and doesn’t quite leave such a distinct and memorable impression.  It is more commercial, still exotic but ready for the summer onslaught of tourists. It is known as a “Miniature Continent” because of the different climates and landscapes found in a relatively small, round island that is approximately 50 km in diameter.

Whereas Lanzarote was a sleepy, quaint village style of an island, with an unforgettable landscape, Gran Canaria was lively, exuberant, celebrates Carnaval in a grand style, and
is ready for tourists even in late October. The cultural side is not at all neglected, and the Museo Canario, is an important and incredible archeology museum that depicts the history of the archipelago.

There is the potential of oil development, and several rigs were already in the port. In Tenerife, I later found out that the locals are opposed to the plan, and the prospect of the oil rigs occupying their ocean coast, but as our tour guide indicated, Madrid, the seat of political power thinks otherwise.

We took a hair raising bus ride to Cruz Tajeda (Cross of Tajeda), up 4,800 ft.  The roads are really narrow, the curves many, and every time we came upon a bend, the bus driver sounded his horn-because the bus could not be seen from the other side, and the road wasn’t big enough to share even with the smallest vehicle, and the bus wasn’t big to begin with. The views were fantastic, we even caught a glimpse of a kitchen of a modern cave dweller, the hole was small and it was too dark to take pictures.

We saw two rock formations that were supposedly worshipped by the Guanches, the first cave dwellers of the area. They, like the ancient Egyptians embalmed their dead, for a safe passage to the new life.  The next island of Tenerife, we saw some of the mummified remains in a museum.

As many know, cruising is my preferred way to travel now, and sometimes spending a day in one port is never nearly enough, but it gives me a glimpse of the area that in many cases I would not have had. Happy travels!

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lanzarote, Canary Islands by Margot Justes















Lanzarote is a volcanic island that dates back about 15 million years ago. Located on the African Coast it is uniquely part of Spain as are the other 6 Canary Islands, and yet border the African Continent. I only visited three.

You can tell immediately that it is a volcanic island, the terrain is pure black, and there is a crunch beneath your feet because you’re walking on tiny volcanic pebbles. This island has more than 300 volcanoes, and perfect weather year round, it is eco friendly and as a result it is a great tourist destination, it’s perfect for tourists looking for serenity and an unimaginable landscape.

The history is rich and goes back to Greek writers like Homer, Plato and Plutarch. The first known inhabitants were the cave dwellers Guanches who arrived somewhere in the 1st or 2nd century BC.  The first European visitor was Lanzarotto Marcello, who settled in the early 14th century. My guess is that is why the island is called Lanzarote. By the end of the 15th century, Spain had conquered all seven islands, and to this day they remain uniquely Spanish.

The first thing you notice is the black soil, the second is that all the houses are painted white, the doors and window trim must be either painted brown or green, or if you live by the sea blue. No other colors are allowed on the island.

There is only one high rise, or what is considered a high rise by locals-maybe 12 stories-rising like a lone needle from afar-they are no longer allowed to be build anything tall because of the possibility of volcanic eruptions. 

There is a magnificent cactus garden designed by a local resident and much beloved artist, Cesar Manrique. According to our guide, he is said to be the man who gave Lanzarote a future filled with potential and hope. The garden is designed in a quarry, it has the feel of a Roman theatre, surrounded by volcanic rock, iron gates, steps leading down, up, and long narrow passages, it is modern and totally captivating. It houses over 1000 species of cactus, along with a few of Manrique’s mobiles. The garden is truly breathtaking, modern, functional, so peaceful that you never want to leave.

There is a café on top with amazing views to the gardens below, and alongside the café a few steps down is a small gift shop. The coffee was delicious,
and the view from the cafe sublime. At the time that we were there the phone lines were down, and people couldn’t charge their purchases, they had some lovely books on the design and history of the garden. I have never seen a design like this before, it’s one of the most unique places I have visited-I took picture so I can share them with you.

The tour also included a visit to Cesar Manrique’s house, designed by him on 5 volcanic bubbles, basically big holes in the volcanic land. He used each bubble to create wonderful open spaces, sitting options, each one unique and vibrant. All were connected by narrow passages, painted a bright white.  He included a pool, small dance floor, sitting rooms, all were open to the environment, with plants, creative lamps, a magical place, he even had what would for us pass as a barbeque grill.

His own art collection is now part of the museum as well. He is much beloved in the area, and our tour guide pointed out several times that he was killed in a car accident, she even pointed to the exact spot on the roundabout, as we were heading to visit his home.

As an indirect result Lanzarote has a brand new highway system that is efficient and much safer. According to her there were many deaths on the old roads. There are no traffic lights but roundabouts are everywhere. It is a small community, deeply rooted to the volcanic earth, and Cesar Manrique helped bring that closeness about. Cesar Manrique was instrumental in making the people of Lanzarote aware of their unique and wondrous heritage.

We also visited an agricultural museum, El Patio. To call it a journey to the past would be perfect. The museum houses farming equipment that dates back to the 1840’s. We were treated to local goat cheese, green olives, homegrown tomatoes, along with crackers and the local wine. After which we fed the chickens, rooster and one peacock the leftovers, they patiently waited for us to finish.

A charming place, although I found the scarecrows dressed as the local old farmers, sitting in a dilapidated, run down old house that was dimly lit downright eerie.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com