Friday, May 12, 2017

Barcelona by Margot Justes


















There is an unspoken verve in Barcelona, life is meant to be lived, whether it’s the flamenco music, the whimsical architecture of Gaudi, the superb restaurants, the fantastic waterfront, the treasured moments of sipping coffee in a cafe; the magic transcends the mundane.

This was not my first visit to Barcelona, but this time I had a chance to see Barcelona’s Medieval Gothic Quarter, something I missed the last couple of times I was there.  The old part of town is in huge contrast to the stunning architecture in the ‘modern’ Barcelona, where Antoni Gaudi reigns supreme. There has been no one before him and certainly not anyone since this remarkable man, whose imagination and creativity knew no bounds. Can you tell I love with his work? I do, I really do.

I was there four years ago, and spent three days visiting Gaudi’s work, from la Pedrera, to Casa Batllo, Park Guell, and of course La Sagrada Familia. His work is unique, and exceeds  any expectation of routine, normal, it rises above all. Since my last visit, considerable work has been done to the interior and exterior of the Basilica.  It is one of the most fascinating, innovative pieces of architecture ever attempted, a true marvel. Gaudi’s work is beyond whimsy.

Gaudi died before he could complete it, and there is considerable pressure to finish it by 2026, the 100th anniversary of his death.  The Basilica must be seen to be believed. 

It is safe to say that Barcelona is a city filled with creative modern architecture, but the old is well preserved and nurtured. La Rambla, a uniquely Spanish paseo, a street lined with trees, a pavement set in blocks that resemble a wave, and street entertainers, along with souvenir shops, restaurants and café, give locals and tourists alike a fun filled time.

The Paseo de Gracias compares favorably to 5th Ave, in NY, or the Champs Elysee in Paris, and you can visit La Pedrera and Casa Batllo, two of the most well known Gaudi buildings in Barcelona are on the famous avenue.

After the visit to the Basilica, I spent the day wondering on la Rambla, where strolling along the avenue is an agreeable way to spend time, of course there are shops, cafes, street entertainment, and the greatest market of all. The Boqueria is wondrous; you can find anything from fresh fish to fresh figs and anything in between, including food stands and restaurants. I stopped for a drink made with mango and passion fruit, along with a cornmeal concoction that was amazingly tasty, also a bread, cheese and potato roll, to finish the meal some glazed assorted nuts, then a stop in a nearby café for café con leche.

If you ever visit Barcelona, one of the required stops should be the Boqueria. Barcelona as a whole is a vital and vibrant city, and has something for everyone, from museums, to theatre, to couture shopping, and everything in between.

I think it is the perfect setting for a honeymoon for Peter and Minola, and I hope this visit has inspired me to actually finish A Hotel in Barcelona.

Happy travels, wherever they may take you.

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



Thursday, April 6, 2017

Lisbon, Portugal by Margot Justes

















This was my first visit to Lisbon, I took an extended tour and also visited Sintra and Cascais. Lisbon is a big, cosmopolitan and busy port city, it is Portugal’s capital and also the largest city. The crowning glory is the Moorish St. George’s Castle, a majestic site that looms over central Lisbon. The origins of the castle date back to the 2nd century BC, originally used by the Celtic tribes, and in the 10th century the castle was rebuilt by the Moors. 

The fortified Belem Tower is one of the sites that should not be missed, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built in the early 16th Century, and is a perfect example of the Portuguese Manueline style-essentially Portuguese late Gothic style of architecture. 

This is a city I’d love to go back and actually spend a few days, but on this trip, I also booked a tour to visit Sintra and Cascais, That is the downside to cruising, visits are limited, I really hope to go back.

Sintra was described as a royal village, and is another UNESCO World Heritage  Site. A resort town at the foothills of the Sintra Mountains, along with lush vegetation, picturesque, hilly and narrow streets makes it an absolute delight to visit. A busy main square where locals and tourists visited the many restaurants, shops and cafes, the squares are the social meeting places for locals as well as tourists, and I was amazed how lively the place was.

Full of shops, cafes, touristy, and yet so charming. The claim to fame in this area is cork, purses, shoes, postcards, bookmarks, hats, all made from cork. My older daughter collects bookmarks; I bought one carved from wood in Sorrento, and one made from cork in Sintra.

The narrow cobbled streets that are so prevalent in Europe are a continuous delight, no matter where I go. Some of the ones in Sintra were spectacular, narrow, aged, and beautifully kept up. The Moorish architecture is spectacular, throw in a couple of palaces, a cooler climate makes Sintra the perfect place to visit.

Lunch in Sintra started with delicious bread, cheeses, thinly cut ham, an assortment of olives, followed by kale and potato soup, all were yummy. Then came the meat, shish kabob missed the markt, tough and leathery, not seasoned at all and hard to cut even with a sharp knife, we won’t mention the chewing effort involved.  I left the meat on the plate, and focused on ham, cheese and bread.

The dessert was a total mystery, some sort of a sweet cake, and none of us at the table could decide what flavor it was, other than overwhelmingly and numbingly sweet. However, the excellent black coffee made up for any misses, once we finished the meal we were herded to the bus for the ride to Cascais.

Cascais is predominantly a wealthy fishing town, with a beautiful waterfront. I found it more reserved than Sintra. As luck would have it there was a craft fair at the main square, it was fun to see what the local artisans made, great similarities to what we find back home. The local cork product was well represented. There was the typical beaded jewelry, a bit of photography, baked goods, and a few paintings.

Happy travels, wherever they may take you.

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



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Cartagena, Spain by Margot Justes















A breezy day in Cartagena, located in the Murcia Region in Spain. It was not my first visit there, and last time I toured the relatively recently discovered Roman ruins, this time I decided to spend the day sightseeing on my own, and discover many of the delightful nooks and crannies.

The ship did not dock within walking distance of the city centre, but the town graciously provided a frequent and free shuttle service.

A long maritime past and many cultures have left an imprint and a rich heritage that the locals are very proud of, and are hoping the rest of the world will continue to discover. It is a city with a spectacular waterfront, the recently discovered Roman ruins that date back about three thousand years, potential digs for more treasures, friendly locals, and better marketing, makes Cartagena the perfect place to visit.

Since my last visit, the town has been discovered and has become a tourist destination. My first time there, there was one wonderful souvenir boutique, the Submarine Shop, that sold local wines, local pottery and other wine related items. There were a couple of the the obligatory flamenco dolls, ashtrays, all the touristy trinkets, but the Submarine Shop stood out in their offerings.  

This time as one entered the main square from the waterfront, there were temporary boutiques set up all along the street, and many other shops peppered the main street, along with many shoppers.

The Roman Theatre is a must see, along with some terrific Art Nouveau architecture, like the Grand Hotel, the Casino and City Hall to name just a few.  The ruins have seriously put Cartagena on the tourist map, and that is excellent news.

Funds are needed for additional architectural digs and discoveries. As recently as 1987 they found remnants of the Punic wall, and other treasures that date back to Hannibal.

The question of further digs to discover more ruins is twofold, there are houses, businesses, and parks that rest on top of potential archeological treasures, and many who live on those sites would prefer to continue to do so, while others want the excavations to continue. It is not so easy to start digging, yet the sense of history and preservation is desirable, and besides ancient ruins tend to bring tourists in, and of course that builds the economy, but as always there are many sides to every issue.

Along with the recent discoveries, fortunately for Cartagena, they have a wonderful moderate climate, reasonable prices, and lovely beaches to motivate the tourist industry. 

I joined the locals in a glorious paseo, the wonderful Spanish tradition of a leisurely stroll on the boulevard. The plaza is just down the street from the beautiful waterfront, after logging a few miles, I sat down in a cafe and enjoyed my obligatory coffee and the view, even a bit of rain did not mar the wonderful day.

The problem with sitting down after walking a lot, is the getting up part. Reluctantly after a delicious cafe con leche,  I made it back to the shuttle stop, and by the time I boarded the ship even dinner was an effort, but I persevered.

Happy travels, wherever they may take you.

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



Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Gibraltar, UK by Margot Justes















My first visit to Gibraltar was fantastic. I took 2 tours; the morning one was given by an Italian expat, who has only lived in Gibraltar for less than 3 years, new to the job, but knew her history rather well. She had a hard time keeping track of her people. At one point, she said. “I can’t keep losing tourists.”  Among other things, she originally counted herself and the driver in the mix, where in reality, she only had 13 tourists, but still hard a difficult time keeping us all together.

We drove by the British and Spanish border, a rather busy place, many people cross the border daily to go to work in Gibraltar. The economy is booming, real estate is quite expensive, and it is much cheaper to live in Spain and commute. 

On the way, we crossed the runway for the airport, and when a plane is scheduled to land they simply close the road, and all traffic stops. It is also one of the most dangerous airports in the world, runway is about a mile long, and after that it is a wet landing.

We visited the Kings Bastion, a fort that unfortunately has been converted to a modern entertainment center, and little remains of the original fort. My first thought was it could have been converted using the resources already there, and to keep the integrity of the building. It would have been a far more interesting place.

We also visited Europe Point, it is the southernmost point of Gibraltar, and the views include the Strait of Gibraltar, and North Africa’s tip.  “I can see Morocco from here.”…and indeed I could.

The walk down main street, and Casemates Square was filled with tourists and locals alike, the place was bustling, and a few British pubs advertised fish and chips, and by then the smell was mightily delicious, along with many of the usual souvenir shops.

The one thing about touring like this, the appetite tends to increase. I would have loved to stay in town, but had to get back and pick up the 2nd tour. Would love a repeat visit to see more of this bustling and vibrant place.

This tour included a visit with the Barbary monkeys, the delightfully curious and friendly creatures that live up the hill. They are always looking for food and are quite brazen in their search. We were warned not to feed them, and not take any food items with us; they seem to be better at finding food than the customs agents.

The monkeys don’t object in looking in your shirt pocket if something smells particularly delicious to them.  They are protected and receive fresh water, veggies and fruit daily, that is in addition to the food source that is naturally available on the upper rock. They are friendly, but we were warned that they are wild animals and will bite if frightened and provoked.

We visited St. Michael’s Caves, I haven’t seen too many caves, so have no basis for comparison, but these seemed spectacular to my untrained eyes. The colorful lighting added to the wander.

Then we trekked up, and up in the Great Siege Tunnels, and then we made the return journey down. My knees haven’t been the same since. These tunnels were dug in the late 1700’s, by the British from solid limestone,  an incredible accomplishment given the tools used, mostly sledgehammers and crowbars were used, with the help of gunpowder, under horrific conditions. The siege was an attempt by both Spain and France to wrestle Gibraltar from the British.

Gibraltar is one of those places that is still on my bucket list for a return visit, given the history, and the fact that it is a huge inhabited rock adds to the mystique and uniqueness of the place.

By the time I was back on board the only thing I wanted to do was sit, not move, and watch us sail to the next destination.

Happy travels, wherever they may take you.

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



Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Palma de Mallorca, Spain by Margot Justes















This was my first visit to Palma de Mallorca, one of the Balearic Islands of Spain. It boasts a beautiful Catalan style Gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria, or simply known as La Seu.  Started in the early 13th century, and finally finished in the early 17th century, it is a massive structure.

Then a visit to the austere Bellver Castle that was a delight to visit, situated 403 ft above sea level, with gorgeous bay views of the city below. It is once again Gothic in style, built in the early 14th century. A rare circular castle that first housed the Mallorca  Kings, and now is a huge and central tourist draw.  

The tour included an overview of the city, along with a visit to the bull ring-a sport I find particularly barbaric-and skipped the inside visit, opted for a delicious coffee instead, but the building was quite beautiful.

Then it was to Son Amar, a 16th century Mallorca manor house, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to see a flamenco show.  I thought it would be a show geared towards tourists, but it turned out to be a professional dance group, and quite excellent. I love flamenco dancing, and the passionate music. Sadly, the imposing manor house was not open to tours, and a portion of it has been turned into a night club.

Pictures were not allowed during the show, but we were allowed to take them before the show started. They served us yummy Sangria and tapas, while we watched the graceful movements on stage.

Palma is also well known for the Mallorca pearls, and everywhere one turned there were  boutiques selling them. They are not formed in oysters, but are man-made, manufactured under strict condition, using glass balls, a lengthy and exact process, they are shiny, and quite beautiful. There are lower quality pearls available, some made with plastic, less attention to detail, and using similar names, it’s difficult for the average shopper to tell the difference, as always buyer beware. 

Happy travels, wherever they may take you.

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