Travel Quotes

Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” Maya Angelou

....................."One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it is worth watching." Unknown..................

I would like to welcome new readers to my travel blog. If you are reading this for the first time, then I suggest you first read my introduction which I wrote last November when I started this. It explains why I am writing this and it gives you a little about my background. And most importantly it explains about my list and how it works. To go to that post, click on the following link -

Monday, April 17, 2017

Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos Trip

We just returned home from a 24 day trip to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.  It was a great trip.  As usual, my husband wrote Trip Reports home to family and friends.  I always take those reports and put them together into one long report, add pictures, and post them under the heading on the side of this blog - Trip Reports of Trips We Have Taken.   If you go to the link below you can read all about our latest adventure.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Christmas Ornaments From Around the World

The red sphere is from Las Vegas
The embroidered fish
from China
A few years ago I did a post about my Christmas ornaments.  Whenever we travel I purchase at least one Christmas ornament from each destination.  Those are my favorite souvenirs.  I only see them once a year when the tree is up.  But when we are putting them on the tree I remember where I bought it and I remember the trip.  I originally wrote the article in 2012.  Since then we have traveled to many more places and I have added to the decorations.  I have to say that my tree is running out of room for many more.  It is a 10 1/2 ft. tree, but it is getting very full.  The decorations are not all from my travels.  Over the years friends have given me ornaments and I have some that I made.  I also put glass balls on the tree because they reflect the light and fill in spaces.  But my favorite decorations are always from places I have visited.

Below is the posting I did in 2011.  Then below that is a new posting from this year with pictures of some of the ornaments I have collected since then. 

Christmas ornaments are one of the best ways to express the cheer and meaning of the holidays in one of the simplest ways. The different themes and feelings can be conveyed merely through Christmas ornaments. A history of love and connections spoken in ornaments, hanging upon the boughs of pine-scented greenery.

Capiz Shell Angel from the PI
In a recent posting I talked about buying souvenirs.  I always tell myself I will not buy more stuff on my next trip, and inevitably I end up buying something.  My biggest weakness is Christmas ornaments, which I have collected for years, from every place I have ever visited.  It started in the Philippines when we lived there in 1979.  Up until that time my tree always just had lights and the standard balls hanging on the tree.  Then I discovered the capiz shell and hand-embroidered ornaments of the Philippines.  They were beautiful.  And my collection started.

Since then I have added to my collection.  I have a very eclectic assortment of ornaments.  I never buy something that says where it is from.  I don’t want a tree that screams tourist shop.  Even though the ornament doesn’t say anywhere on it where it is from, I can tell you where each came from.  It is part of my memories of my trip.

Silk Elephant from Thailand
The Celtic horn is from Ireland
It has sometimes been difficult to find an ornament to bring home.  Quite often we travel during the summer months, and most places do not have Christmas ornaments out in the middle of summer.  And then there are the countries where Christmas is not really celebrated.  For instance, I had a hard time finding a Christmas ornament in Thailand.  But I did find some small silk elephants in a shop, and they hang on the tree quite nicely.

Camel from Turkey
The feather ornament is a Dream Catcher from Alaska
In Turkey, last year, I was looking
for an ornament, and ended up buying a small camel which has an opening on his back, which can be a small compartment to hold something.  It is metal, and fairly heavy.  It does not have a hangar, but I was able to rig a ribbon through the magnetic opening on the back.

Nutcracker from
When we were in the Canary Islands in September 2003, I kept looking for an ornament.  The last week we were there I found a small frog with lights wrapped around him.  It also doesn’t have a hangar, but I wire him onto the branches. 

Quite a few of my ornaments are from our trip to the Christmas Markets of Germany, Austria, Hungary and The Czech Republic.  We did a cruise down the Danube, stopping at different Christmas Markets along the way.  I bought ornaments at every stop. 

Some of my favorite ornaments that I put on the tree each year are:

My angel from Rome, Italy
The pewter wreath from Athens, Greece

Straw Angel from Hong Kong
Straw angels from Hong Kong
Victorian girl on an old fashioned bicycle
     from London
The Cloisonné heart from Beijing, China
The fur clad bear paddling a canoe from Alaska
The alligator from New Orleans
Red glass bauble from Las Vegas
     (it's Las Vegas gaudy)
My pickle from Germany – it is a tradition
      in Germany that whoever finds the pickle
     on the tree first, gets to open a
     special present.

As I have said, my tree is very eclectic.  I also have glass balls, and lots of lights, and I have had friends give me ornaments over the years, so those are mixed in as well. 

Mozart Bear from Salzburg
Panda from China

The goat is from Slovenia

Frog from the Canary Islands, Pewter Wreath from Greece
Reindeer is from PI
In the 4 years since I wrote this article we have traveled many places.  And even though my tree is getting very full, I am still buying ornaments.  They are the best souvenirs of my trips.  Some places have been easy to find Christmas ornaments, others not so easy.  We were in Africa in April 2013.  We were on safari and not in any big cities, so I wasn't sure I would find anything. Then while visiting a village in the Masai Mara I found 2 very different ornaments for sell.  Here are those ornaments.

The ball is hand carved with animals.  The other is beads on wire. They were both made as Christmas decorations.

We visited Australia and New Zealand and had no problem finding decorations there.  I had to have a koala, since I was actually able to hold one while there.  And the bird is a galah bird which we saw many of while in Australia.  In New Zealand I had to have a Pukeko, which is a blue flightless bird, which we also saw many of.

In Costa Rica we saw so many butterflies that I decided my ornament had to have a butterfly on it.

And a few other places we visited in the past few years,  From Portugal - the seahorse, Barcelona - the mosaic lizard, Paris - at the Opera House I got the Mouse King and from Amsterdam, a small windmill.  

Next year we have trips planned to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Italy, so I am sure I will be adding to my collection in those places.  Merry Christmas, Happy Travels to everyone in 2017!

Monday, December 5, 2016

"One day you will wake up and there won't be any more time to do the things you've always wanted .  Do it now."
Paulo Coelho
"Traveling.  It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a story teller."
Ibn Battuta

I want my life to be more than just long

Some people are happy to spend their lives doing ordinary things.  They have their family and their homes and their routines and they go about living their lives doing the same things everyday.  And if they are happy doing that, then that is great.  I also have my family and a home, and I love my life, I wouldn't change it for anything.  But part of that life is the fact that I can't just spend my life doing ordinary things all the time.  I get restless.

I have had that restless streak in me my whole life.  I don't know why.  What made me this way?  It probably has something to do with my childhood, which was a fairly average childhood in a small town.  I had loving parents and siblings, and it was very average.  But I was in a small town, and I knew there was a big wide world out there.  And from a young age I yearned to see more of it.

I loved going into the city, which for me was Portland.  It was the closest big city to us, and my grandmother lived there.  There was so much more to do and see there.  I went as often as I possibly could, even managing to live there with my grandmother during my high school summers.

But Portland, though better than the small town, was not that exciting.  There was still a huge world that I desperately wanted to explore.  I dreamed of traveling the world.  For a long time that was just a dream.  I went to college for a couple of years.  Met a man, fell in love, got married and had a child.  So travel wasn't that easy.  We were young, and just getting by financially, with a young child to raise.

My husband was in the navy, so that did help some.  He got stationed in San Diego, and then on the east coast for awhile, and then back to San Diego.  So I got to see a few new places.  I met a lot of young navy wives who were not happy about moving around so often.  They didn't like being so far from their families, etc.  But I always looked forward to where our next duty station would be, and hoped it would be someplace exotic.  But for many years we stayed stateside.

Finally, we got stationed in the Philippines.  I was so happy, we were finally going to a foreign country.  It was the great adventure. I loved being in the Philippines.  It was so different from the states.  I loved roaming the markets early in the morning.  We purchased a car, and I would go exploring the local areas.  We took trips into Manila and Bagio and to Pagsanjan Falls. 

We also were able to take trips to some nearby locations.  Our daughter was on the base swim team and they competed against the Hong Kong team.  I was able to go along on the trip.  George couldn't go, he had to work  But I went along to watch the swim mete and then Kim and I stayed on for 5 nights after everyone else left, and we explored Hong Kong together.  I felt I was finally seeing the world.

From that trip my hunger grew.  I booked a trip to Singapore and Thailand for the 3 of us.  Then I took Kim out of school and she and I caught a navy flight to Japan.  We spent 10 days over there, mostly in Tokyo, but a few days in a small town by the navy base, waiting for a flight back,  We were on standby for 4 days, but between waiting for flights we were able to do a little exploring.

While in the Philippines we also took a trip to Taiwan - all 3 of us.  And we all went back to Hong Kong two more times.  I loved Hong Kong.  It was a quick plane trip, and so much to see and do.  It is a city I could have lived in.  I felt safe there, even walking around the streets at midnight.  So many people out and about all night, it felt as safe as during the day.

But for many years after coming back from the Philippines, we were unable to travel outside the country.  We were both working, and we did not have the money to travel.  My husband was still in the navy, and he got sent places for work, but I was unable to go with him.  I was envious when he went to Australia, Sri Lanka and even Okinawa.  Places I longed to see.

I lived an ordinary life, like so many.  Going to work, coming home, making dinner, cleaning the house and reading about places in the world that I wondered if I would ever see.  I wasn't unhappy, but I did long for more sometimes.

I'm reminded of the play Pippin.  In the play the character of Pippin is always looking for more.  He doesn't want to live an "Ordinary Life".  He felt he was destined for more. In the song "Corner of the Sky"  Pippin sings - "Don't you see I want my life to be something more than long.... Rivers belong where they can ramble... Eagles belong where they can fly... I've got to be where my spirit can run free... Got to find my corner of the sky."  But then at the end he discovers that the ordinary things are enough, and he finds happiness in love and just being an ordinary man. But as much as I love my ordinary life and my family, there is a part of me that has always yearned for an occasional adventure.  A chance to explore, a change in venue.  And so now that we are retired and have the financial means to do it, I have been exploring as much as I possibly can.

I find that as I get older I want to go more often.  I fear that old age will catch me before I see all the wonderful places in the world that I have yearned to see.  And I find my self wanting to do more challenging things.  Like in Costa Rica, I went ziplining, and then found myself climbing a tower and doing the Tarzan swing, by jumping off that tower.  I want to try more adventurous things, although I know that I have to be careful.  I have had knee replacement surgery and there are some things I just shouldn't do if I want to keep on traveling.  But I don't want to just watch, I want to participate in life.  I want to push a little and get out of my comfort zone and try new things.  I want my life to be a little exciting, and more than just long.

Our next adventure is Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, in the spring of 2017.  And I am looking forward to the adventure.


Monday, October 3, 2016

Haleakala National Park
And the Road to Hana
Maui, Hawaii

"Volcanoes are one way earth gives birth to itself."
Robert Gross
"As long as you're here in Hawaii you learn to have great respect for this particular goddess and you can see her work evident today at her volcanos."
Daniel Akaka

Image result for sign of haleakala national park
We recently went to Maui and drove up to the top of Haleakala Volcano to the National Park, and then the next day we drove the Road to Hana which also ends at the lower part of the Haleakala Volcano National Park.  We found both parts of the park quite interesting and I decided to add this park to my national park series.

I will start with the upper part of the park, the volcano itself. Visitors can drive to the top of the now dormant volcano.  The most popular time to go is early morning, to watch the sunrise. The Park headquarters and 10,023 foot summit can be reached from Kahului via route 37 to route 377 to route 378.  Driving time to the summit from the resort areas is about 2 hours.  Weather and viewing conditions at the summit are unpredictable and can change rapidly.  Be prepared for cold, wet, windy weather.

There are many tour companies that will pick you up at your hotel and take you to the summit to see the sunrise.  Most of those tours leave the tourist areas at around 2:30 in the morning, in order to get everyone to the summit in time to see the sunrise.  You can also drive yourself up, but be aware that you may get to the top and find no parking, because this is a very popular thing to do, even for locals.  So you need to arrive early.

The second most popular time to go is the sunset.  I read up online before we went, and so many locals said that the sunset was just as spectacular as the sunrise, and less crowded.

Botanical Garden
Botanical Garden
We decided that it made sense to go for the sunset.  We left mid-day and explored along the way.  We stopped at the Kula Botanical Gardens and walked through them. It was quite an enjoyable stroll, with some good photographic opportunities.  You can also visit a Lavender Farm which is nearby.  We stopped in the town of Kula and purchased some delicious sandwiches at the Kula Bistro, which I highly recommend.

We took the sandwiches with us to the summit and had a picnic while waiting for the sun to set.  Getting there early allowed us time to visit the Visitor Center at the summit and to take pictures into the crater before it got too dark.  We arrived around 4 PM, and we were glad we had that time.  It was also much easier to park then. The night we were there it got very crowded right at sunset and people were having a hard time finding parking.  Last minute visitors may not find a place to park, and then you would have to leave, after driving so far.  Also, it did get very chilly, we were glad we had brought our jackets.

Looking into the crater

And the sunset did not disappoint, it was spectacular.  

Us and the crowds,  enjoying the sunset

Another popular thing to do from the national park is the downhill bike tour.  Maui offers the longest downhill bike tour experience anywhere in the world! Participants are taken to the 10,000 foot elevation summit of Haleakala National Park for views into the crater, and then the ride down the mountain starts just outside the park boundary at an elevation of 6700 feet.  The ride is 26 miles, all downhill.  It can be done in conjunction with a sunrise tour, or anytime during the day.  It is not cheap, but is one of the most popular things to do on the island.

There are also many hiking trails from the summit area of the park.  There is some camping available and some cabins.  The cabins must be reserved ahead of time.  Pets are allowed in the national park, but of course, must be restrained at all times and you must pick up after them, which is always important no matter where you are.

Admission to the entire park is $15 for a three-day pass, this will get you into the summit area as well as the lower area near Hana.  Make sure you save your receipt.  Also, seniors who have the Lifetime Senior Pass may use this pass to get in.  If you are a senior and do not have the pass, you can purchase it there for use there and in other parks in the future - that pass is $10.
Just before sunset - the clouds rolling in over the top of the crater

Roadside stand, selling banana bread and
other things.
The other section of the national park is the lower section, which can be reached by driving the road to Hana.  There are CD's which can be purchased from any ABC store, which will give you information about where to stop along the road, and what you will see if you take a short hike into the rainforest.  You might also check with your resort before you go, our resort had CD's to loan and we just borrowed there CD.  They will also be able to tell you before you go if there is a problem with the road.  It is occasionally closed due to landslides during storms.  So check for driving conditions before you leave.  Leave early, it is a long drive, with lots to see.  Also, make sure you have a full tank of gas, the last place to purchase gas is Paia.  Take drinks with you, and maybe some sandwiches, although there are places to buy food along the way.  And one of my favorite things to do along the road, stop at some of the food/produce stands.  People are selling coconut candy, fruits, home-made banana bread and other things.  There are barbecue places, and at one of the falls a man was making baskets and grasshoppers out of palm fronds.

Sign on the road
The road to Hana is approximately four hours of driving time from your resort.  That doesn't include all the stops you will make along the way, so that is why it is important to leave early.  There are 617 switch back turns,54 one lane bridges where you have to stop and wait for oncoming traffic.  The road is 15 to 30 mph in most places.

There are many places to stop along the way, but sometimes hard to find a place to park as the road is narrow with only a few places to pull off, and those fill up quickly.  You will find lots of waterfalls, some are not visible from the road, but the CD will give you ideas of where to stop, and you can take a short hike into the forest, and if the conditions are right you can go for a swim.

One of the falls and pools at Ohe'o
The town of Hana is not the last stop on the trip, make sure you go on to the national park.  If you have already visited the summit you may show your receipt to receive admission to the park.  Otherwise you pay the $15 park admission (unless you have a yearly pass or a lifetime pass, see the red note above.)  Make sure you keep your receipt to visit the summit of the park.

So, you’ve probably heard this place referred to by many names, and you may be asking: “Which is it? ‘Ohe’o Gulch, Haleakala National Park Kipahulu, or Seven Sacred Pools?” The proper name of this attraction is ‘Ohe’o (Oh-Hey-Oh). “Seven Sacred Pools” is a name coined decades ago by the owner of what is now Travaasa Hana (previously Hotel Hana Maui) for the purpose of marketing this deservingly spectacular (but then unknown) remote location to tourists. Since this is part of the Haleakala National Park, the NPS has also added their own name to the mix “Haleakala National Park, Kipahulu.”

Another pool and falls
The most famous park of this park are the pools and waterfalls.  They are very popular, so you should expect the place to become more and more crowded as the day progresses – and there is such a difference between a crowded ‘Ohe’o madhouse and the less crowded majesty offered to the few that get here earlier in the day. There are a number of ways to avoid the crowds at ‘Ohe’o – all involve getting there before noon. Staying in, or along the Road to Hana (or in the campgrounds at the park) can get you there well before the afternoon rush.  There are also some excellent hiking trails in this part of the park.

If you drive straight through to the park and do the pools and waterfalls first, you can always explore the road on the way back.  That is hard though, you see all these places to stop and to just pass them by is hard, however the pull off places are crowded early in the day, and less so later in the day.

Now you may ask about driving on through the park and out the backside.  It is possible to do a circular trip which will not take you back to Hana and the curvy road.  It is actually much shorter and straighter and people do take this road all the time.  When we were here years ago we went that way, and it wasn't bad, and did leave us more time to explore and still get back to the resort early enough for dinner.  However, you must be aware that if you are driving a rental car and you break down on that section of the road, your rental contract does not cover you.  The roads are not paved in areas and there is no cell phone availability in some parts of this area.  So, you do so at your own risk.  This said, we did it the first time and considered doing it this time, but there had been some recent storms and we were told by our hotel that it would not be advisable, so this time we turned around and came back the same way we had come.  Always check with the locals before you do take that road.

Enjoy the park, both the summit and the Kipahulu section, and the Road to Hana.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Home From Our Trip to Barcelona and France

We just returned home from our latest adventure.  This time we started in Barcelona and then went over to the south of France and Monaco.  Then we took a river cruise up the Rhone River from Arles to Lyon and ended our trip in Paris.  As usual, George wrote home to family and friends while we were away.  I have taken those emails that he wrote and combined them into a Trip Report on our trip and added pictures.  If you would like to read about our latest adventures you can go to the side column under Trip Reports and click on the Barcelona to Paris link, or you can click on the link below.  I hope you enjoy reading about our trip, we had a great time.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"Traveling enables us to see the world through the eyes of someone else, and to understand their aspirations and assumptions.  It's about empathy, which is not only important to the work of our diplomats but to all of us as we seek to understand different cultures 
as well as our own."
John Kerry

"Travel literally forces us out of our routines and, in doing so, gives us the freedom to see things with fresh eyes."
Annabelle Selldorf

Where we are headed next 
From Barcelona to Monte Carlo and Beyond
In my last posting I wrote about Barcelona as a destination.  We plan to spend a week there in the near future.  But after that week we will rent a car and explore the nearby region.  Below are some of the places we are planning to visit. 
I am hoping to take a side-trip to Andorra while we are in Barcelona.  Andorra is the 6th smallest country in the world.  It is located on the border between Spain and France.   Andorra La Velia is the capital of Andorra.  It is nestled in a picturesque valley at the junction of two mountain streams.  With its charmed cobblestone streets and small stone houses, it is like being transported back in time to the 13th century.  It is home to the country's parliament building, Government Exhibition Hall, and a piazza that is used for various cultural events throughout the year.  The entirety of Andorra is renowned amongst tourists for being a tax haven because of its independence from the European Union.  Neighboring Europeans and visitors from all over flock to Andorra to take advantage of the tax-free prices on clothing and other luxury items.

Nearby El Serrat is one of the many picturesque mountain villages in Andorra. Many stay here while hiking or skiing nearby, but the breath-taking views of the Pyrenees supposed to be fantastic.  The  Madriu Valley, which cuts through about a tenth of the principality of Andorra, with its jagged cliffs and dramatic glaciers, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As well as stunning views, the region abounds with traditional shepherd’s cabins and quaint hamlets, which are the precious remains of an ancient Pyrenees farming culture.  

Besalu, Spain
Besalu is a Medieval village  which is close enough to Barcelona that it makes an easy side trip from the city.  It has the old world charm that makes you feel like you've stepped into a time machine.  The village dates back to the 11th century.  The village has restored the picturesque bridge and maintained the areas of the Jewish quarter that make the village a walking museum.

Bridges of Europe

Besalu is fairly small, and we could walk around the village in an hour, but there is so much history to see, we will want to take our time and explore.  We plan to explore some of the cobbled alleys and stroll along the banks of the river.  The area is known for its seafood paella, and there are quaint cafes to enjoy the paella or other foods.  There are artists shops and other shops to explore and a museum of miniatures.  Also - while walking around the city, I have been told to keep an eye out for the odd chair or two. Look up, down and behind things - the city has a strange and fun fascination with chairs!

Rupit, Spain

Rupit, Catalonia, Spain
Rupit is another small medieval town not far from Barcelona.  Instead of the stone bridge it has a suspension bridge you can walk across.  All of the buildings are made of stone.  It also has cobblestone streets and wonderful little shops to explore.  And some wonderful bakeries and shops to wander through.  They produce a drink called ratafia, which you can purchase there.  It is a sweet liquor made from green nuts and herbs.  It is the perfect beverage for winter and goes great with pastries and desserts..

Our first overnight stop when we leave Barcelona will be Carcossone, France.  Since the pre-Roman period, a fortified settlement has existed on the hill where Carcassonne now stands. In its present form it is an outstanding example of a medieval fortified town, with its massive defences encircling the castle and the surrounding buildings, its streets and its fine Gothic cathedral. Carcassonne is a UNESCO world heritage site.  It is one of the few sights in the world that genuinely justifies the epithet "breath taking."  Many movies have been filled here, including Camelot.

The old  town is famous for its double walls and 53 watchtowers.  It is also France's second most visited tourist spot (after the Eiffel Tower).  So it can be quite touristy.  The fortified old town of Carcossone is on a hill above the more modern town below.  The best time to visit the walled city is in the evening after the crowds of tourists have left.  We actually have hotel reservations within the walled city, so we plan to spend the night.   We are looking forward to exploring the city when there are less tourists.
plages-toulonOn our trip from Barcelona, we will spend our second night in Toulon.  Why Toulon?  We are headed toward Monte Carlo and don't want to just drive straight through from Carcossone.  We plan to spend some time stopping along the way to see the sights.  This seemed like a good place to stop.  It is not a real touristy spot, but it is on the Mediterranean Sea, with nice beaches and a good half way point to our next stop.  So what is there to do in Toulon?

As I mentioned above, it is on the water, so there are some nice beaches if we decide we just want to relax and enjoy the beach for awhile.  There is also a cable car, which I definitely plan to take to the top of Mount Faron to see the views over the Bay of Toulon.

Our next overnight stop will be in Menton, which is on the French/Italian border.  To get to it we go through the small country of Monaco.  I chose Menton because of its location near Monte Carlo, and because it is less expensive for hotels in Menton.  And a friend of mine had stayed in Menton and said that it was a charming place that she enjoyed.  Menton is known as the "Pearl of France."

We will probably explore Monaco on our way to Menton, but will have the evening and the next morning to do a little exploring of the city.  It will be a short stop-over.  On our way back through Monte Carlo, we will probably explore a little more. I may wish I had more time in Menton, as there are things to see, and there is always the wonderful beaches of the French Riviera.

Monte Carlo, Monaco
Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, just behind the Vatican which is the smallest.  It is also the most densely populated country in the world.  It is surrounded on 3 sides by France and the 4th side is on the Mediterranean Sea. Monte Carlo is the largest ward in Monaco.  Famous for its casinos, the Grand Prix, and for being the playground of the rich and famous.  Monaco is a constitutional monarchy ruled by Prince Albert II, who is the son of our former movie star Grace Kelley.

We will only have one day to explore.  There is an old town which is up on the hill with good views of the harbor below, considered to be one of the prettiest harbors in the world.  We could tour the palace, which allows us to see the throne room and main courtyard.  We can watch the changing of the guard which takes place daily at 11:50 a.m.   We may walk through the casino, just to see it.  Neither of us are really casino people.  Mostly I just want to wander around, have lunch by the harbor or in old town, and maybe drive up through the hills of Monaco.
Aix en Provence
 Aix en Provence is on our way to our next stay, and we plan to make an afternoon stop there.  It is known as the "City of Counts" because the Counts of Provence once lived here.  It has several impressive old aristocratic palaces and hundreds of fountains.  Cezanne is from this area, and you can visit his atelier and gardens and take a walk in his footsteps.   Outside of the historic city center, about a ten-minute walk from the Atelier Cézanne, is the beautiful hillside park Terrain des Peintres (Painters Park) popular among Impressionist painters including Cézanne.  It is now a public park.
After we leave Aix en Provences we will be headed towards Arles, but I hope to stop and see the Roquefavour Aqueduct. on our way.  It is an old Roman aquaduct, built in 1842.  It is in perfect condition, and would make a nice stop along the way.

Arles is our next stop. It is on the Rhone River. Arles is famous for being the home of Van Gogh, and where he cut off his ear to give to a prostitute.  We will spend the night in Arles and the next morning we will board our ship, the AmaDagio for a 7 night cruise from Arles to Lyon.  Our stops along the cruise will be Avignon, Viviers, Tournon, Belleville and finally Lyon.  From Lyon we take the train to Paris where we will spend 4 nights before heading home.

While in Arles we will be taken to the village of Les Baux de Provence to see the castle and their exhibit of medieval weapons.  We will also visit an olive farm.  We will also be given a tour of the city, and we will visit the cathedral and amphitheater.

From this point in our trip to Lyon we will be on the river cruise and will be seeing whatever the cruise people have planned.  I know I missed a lot of famous areas along the French Riviera.  If I had more time we would explore Nice and Marseilles and even check out the nude beaches of St. Tropez.  But this will be our trip, and we will leave those places for another time. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Destination - Barcelona
 "Visiting Barcelona is not just going to touristic places but discovering the hidden corners not listed in the travel guides."
"My favorite thing is to go where I've never been."

Lonely Planet

I haven't added anything to my destination series in quite awhile.  But we are planning a trip to Barcelona, Spain in the spring.  Our friends from Scotland will be meeting us there. I have been looking at things to do while there.  So I figured that while I am looking, maybe I should put some of that information into the blog, and have that information available to anyone who reads this blog.  And even though I will be listing all the touristy spots that everyone should see while in Barcelona, remember that you haven't really seen a place if all you do is explore the tourist spots.  Its important to take the time to wander off the beaten path, into neighborhoods, and back streets.  Get into areas where the people of the city live and work and eat.  Try to make some time to talk to the people who live there, to make that contact with another person from another country.  It is how we learn more about each other. 

We will probably spend a week in the Barcelona area.  I am thinking that at least 2 of those days we will make day trips to nearby areas.  So I will be researching those also.  Below are the most popular tourist things to do in Barcelona according to my research.

Basilica de la Sagrada Familia :
#1 of Tourist Attractions In BarcelonaThe most popular and probably most famous attraction in Barcelona is the La Sagrada Familia which attracts nearly 2.8 million visitors each year. It is a large and intricate basilica designed by Gaudi. Construction began in 1882 and continues to this day. The building is predicted to be completed within the next 30 years.  A glorious exterior and interior make this a place you have to visit.

However, it is such a popular place that the lines can be long.  It is not unusual to be in line for 2 or more hours.  In addition to the problem of long entrance queues, if the Sagrada Familia reaches capacity it will not permit more visitors to enter for safety reasons. This means that even after standing in a long queue for hours you could be further delayed while the Basilica empties to a safe number of visitors.   There is a way to avoid those lines.  You can purchase your tickets online.  Here is the link for the Skip the Line tickets :

La Rambla:
This is probably the city’s most famous street and is a bustling hive of activity. It is often called Las Ramblas, because it is actually a series of several different streets that all have a distinct feel. Located just off Plaza Catalunya and leading right down towards the port and beach, visitors will find street performers, lots of bars and restaurants and the fabulous Boquería Market.  For a tourists' first visit, sitting on the Ramblas with a jug of sangria is an absolute must.

La Rambla is primarily pedestrianized with only two narrow one-way traffic roads which run on either side of the central Ramblas Boulevard. Barcelona city council have restricted traffic flow through this region and you have the overwhelming feeling that pedestrians rule in this area (which makes a welcome change). Unlike other cities that have huge roads running through the middle Barcelona has chosen to structure the road system such that the heart of the city centre is primarily pedestrianized with larger roads that service the periphery.

If you are looking for some speciality items, practically anything, from an electricity adapter, special camera batteries, clothing, or even stationary items difficult to find in a regular shop you will probably find  it in El Corte Inglés, which is a large department store in the Plaça Catalunya square  If you can't find what you're looking for in El Corte Ingles, you can't find it anywhere.

The Las Ramblas is also famous for its many street artists.  It is an interesting area to just wander around in, and is the heart of the city.

Casa Mila:

Casa Mila is popularly known as‘La Pedrera’ (the stone quarry).  The colorful building is considered one of the artist’s most eccentric and enticing architectural creations with not one straight edge on the exterior.  It was constructed between 1906 and 1912 by Gaudi.  In 1984 it was inscribed on  the UNESCO World Heritage List, for its exceptional universal value. Tours of the interior and the incredible roof structures are available. It also hosts a large exposition of Gaudi works, covering Sagrada Familia and Casa Batlio, not only La Pedrera itself.

Parc Guell:

Located in the city of Barcelona, the ​​Park Guell is one of the most beautiful icons of the city.  It is the work of Antoni Gaudi  and is located in the upper part of Barcelona, which has wonderful views of the city.  It was originally meant to be a residential property development with Gaudi doing much of the planning and landscape design. Only two houses were built and the land was later sold to the city of Barcelona and turned into a park. It is home to the famous Salamander sculpture, as well as other buildings and structures designed by the architect.  The park has amazing stone structures and stunning tiling.

Antoni Gaudí Park Güell Entrance Dragon Fountain
Parc Guell.
At the top of Güell park is a terraced area where you get a wonderful view of the park and of Barcelona City. Here you will find multi-coloured tiled mosaic seats.  The vibrant colours of the tiles are truly breathtaking.

Like other famous places, there can be long lines to get into the park.  You can purchase your tickets online ahead of time and avoid the lines.  Here is the link to purchase tickets:

The Casa Batllo:

Casa BatlloThe Casa Batlló, a remodeled nineteenth century building, is one of Gaudí’s many masterpieces in Barcelona. Often overlooked for La Pedrera, La Casa Batllo is equally as stunning with its unique architecture and infamous two ornamental pillars in the entrance to the terrace. Its unique interior is just as extraordinary as its fairytale-like exterior.

Casa Batlló is one of the two great buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí on Passeig de Gràcia, the other being La Pedrera.

From the outside the façade of Casa Batlló looks like it has been made from skulls and bones. The "Skulls" are in fact balconies and the "bones" are supporting pillars. Gaudí used colours and shapes found in marine life as inspiration for his creativity in this building.

This building is a stunningly original work and well worth the visit. If you decide to take a look around inside you will learn how much attention to detail Gaudí spent on his designs thinking about such things as varying window size depending on how high the window is from the top of the building. In this way he could ensure uniform lighting conditions in each room of the house. The audio tour that comes with the entrance ticket gives you fascinating insights into Gaudí and his influences when designing this house.
Santa Maria del Mar Church:
Santa Maria del MarThe church of Santa Maria del Mar, built in the 14th century, is one of the landmarks of Barcelona.  It is located in the middle of the La Ribera district.  It is considered one of the most beautiful Gothic style churches in the world.
While Barcelona's cathedral was the centre of the old city, this church became the main building of what was then the new part of the city, next to the sea, in which a nucleus of merchants and shipowners settled. The speed at which the new church was built – 55 years - was an incredible feat at a time when most churches took longer than a century to construct, and makes it a rare example of pure Gothic architecture.  The unique harmony and elegance of this church's interior will take your breath away.  The inside of the Santa Maria del Mar is particularly worth a visit.

La Boqueria market:

Boqueria marketAbout two thirds of the way up the Ramblas, on the left, you will see one of Europe's largest and most famous food markets.  Food plays a big part in Catalan culture, and there's no better way to get a taste of local cuisine than exploring the city's markets.

 The Boqueria's grand iron entrance leads to a fully functioning world of food that throngs with both tourists and locals. The floors are slippy with melted ice and fruit skins and the stall holders are loud, but this all adds to the charm of the experience. You will find foods of all varieties and nationalities under one roof.

It is best to get to the market in the morning, as this is when the market is in full swing.  Dotted around the market there are bars selling both food and drink. It is a great place to get lunch or a light snack.  The Boqueria Food Market is a must-see during a trip to Barcelona. Specialist stalls selling many and varied options of olives, seafood, fruit, meats, cheeses and much more are all on offer. Whether you buy some picnic ingredients, feast at one of the tapas bars or simply take a look, you are guaranteed to have a memorable experience.


Monjuic is a scenic wooded hill in the South West of Barcelona.  It gets it's name from the  Catalan meaning 'Jewish Mountain', and was once the home of the city's Jewish community
The eastern side of the hill is almost a sheer cliff, giving it a commanding view over the city’s harbor immediately below. The top of the hill was the site of several fortifications, the latest of which remains today.

On the hill you will find the fabulous Palau Nacional, a majestic palace which now hosts the the Museum of Catalan Art and the Font Magica - an impressive waterworks which spurts to the tune of classical music and still functions today, and Poble Espanyol, a mock-Spanish village designed to showcase the various regional styles of archictecture on the peninsula, which has subsequently become one of Barcelona's most popular  tourist attractions. 

The best way to get up to Monjuic is to take the cable car.  The cable car links the city to the top of Montjuïc. To do so, its glazed cars climb 84.5 metres on a 750-metre run that shows the whole of Barcelona, from the Serra de Collserola to the sea. The cable car has three stations: Parc de Montjuïc, Miramar and Castell de Montjuïc.  There is much to see when you get to the top of Monjuic, and you could easily spend most of a day and evening there.
Font Magica:
Font MàgicaFont Màgica is a fountain located below the Palau Nacional on the Montjuïc hill and near the Plaça d’Espanya and Poble Espanyol de Barcelona. The fountain, like most of the surrounding developments, was constructed for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition.  More than 100 hydraulic valves are used to spout water and some 4,000 lights illuminate the fountain

On selected evenings, when the fountain is activated, it attracts hundreds of visitors who watch the spectacular display of light, water and music. At the same time, the Palau National is illuminated, providing a beautiful background.

There are many more things to see in the city of Barcelona.  Just exploring the city and taking some time to wander down side streets, have a beer and watch the people, and do some shopping, I am sure we will have no problem filling up our week.  But I would also like to take a couple of side trips before we leave that area.

There are so many places near Barcelona to explore.  There is the Costa Brava area,  Girona, Figueres, Bealu, Rupit, Carcossone & Andorra.  Since we are going with another couple (our Scottish friends), where we go will be decided by the group, and we will probably decide while there.  After our week in Barcelona, our friends will head home.  We will then pick up a car and drive up the coast of France, exploring as we go, ending in Arles, France, where we will pick up our river cruise to Lyon.  We will spend 4 nights in Paris at the end of the trip, where I will get to take one thing off my list.  We plan on doing a day trip over to Monet's home.  So my next destination series that I will  write will be the area we will explore from Barcelona to Monte Carlo and beyond.