Parc Güell ~ Barcelona

The first time I visited Barcelona, I was twenty-one years old with a mission to see as much of Europe as I could. I had bought a month long eurorail train ticket and was trying to visit as many European countries as humanly possible with not much money. Back then I only spent one day in Barcelona and it was a mix of seeing the Olympic Park at Montjuic Mountain (which I found a little boring) and checking out the Picasso Museum (amazing).

But the next time (and the next time and the next time) I returned to Barcelona I had a plan. I knew what I wanted to see, which was pretty much everything created by Gaudí – Parc Güell, La Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera and Casa Battló. And all of these are so remarkable and beautiful that I must focus on each, one at a time. And first up is Parc Güell.

A little history for you – in 1890, the industrialist Eusebi Güell hired Antoni Gaudí to design the park which was originally planned to be a garden city with villas high above Barcelona in an area called Bare Mountain. It was inspired by the English garden city movement and its intent was to exploit the fresh air and enjoy expansive views of the city and the coast. There were sixty triangular lots available for luxury houses but nobody was interested. Only two homes were built on the land (neither by Gaudí), with Gaudí buying one of them and living there from 1906 to 1926, it is now the Gaudí House Museum.

By 1903 the two entrance pavilions had been constructed, as well as the main flight of steps, the shelter for horse-drawn carriages, the outer enclosure, the viaducts and part of the great esplanade, together with the water evacuation system.

The Dragon Stairway:

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The great entrance leads to the Hypostyle room, which was designed to be the market for the estate. It is made up of 86 striated columns inspired in the Doric order. The outermost ones slope in an undulating movement clearly contrary to the rules of classical composition, while reinforcing a perception of their structural role.

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Inside the room the absence of columns in some sections creates spaces that simulate three naves, like a great church. The ceiling is formed of small domes constructed using the traditional technique of clay bricks decorated with original tile-shard mosaics made by Josep M. Jujol, one of Gaudí’s assistants.

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My favorite area (and I think most people’s favorite) is the Greek Theatre but it has more recently been rechristened as Plaça de la Natura (Nature Square). Its original name was due to the fact that it was planned for staging large open-air shows that could be watched from the surrounding terraces. Although Gaudí always respected the lie of the land, this large square is artificial. Part of it is dug into the rock, while the other part is held up on top of the Hypostyle room. The focal point is the long bench in the form of a sea serpent and the views are breathtaking. The curves of the serpent bench form a number of enclaves, creating a more social atmosphere.

This bench is world famous, even Salvador Dalí called the bench once the precursor of surrealism. And he has sat there!

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I mean seriously, check out the view.

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On the eastern side of the Greek Theatre square there is an original iron door which leads to where there used to be the gardens of Casa Larrard, the former mansion that Güell adopted as his own house, but which has been a school since 1931. The route, which runs at a level higher than that of the house, passes through a pine grove with the portico backing onto a retaining wall made from unworked stone. The portico adopts the shape of a great wave atop slanting columns, with a double colonnade that acts as a buttress. It is one of the finest examples of the organic architecture upheld by Gaudí.

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While the park is completely enchanting with all of its, let’s just say “stunningness”, my favorites are always the gorgeous mosaic tiles. Which a lot of were planned and designed not by Gaudí but by his often overlooked colaberator, Josep M. Jujol.

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And the best mosaic of them all, the dragon which guards the entrance to Park Güell – El Drac. A conduit running inside the Hypostyle toom collects the rainwater that filters down from the square, sending it to an underground tank, which uses the dragon’s mouth as its overflow. Genius, I tell you.

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There is a large area of the park that is open free to the public. But all of these areas to visit mentioned above you need to buy a ticket, adults are 7.50€ and children are 5.25€. I would advise to buy tickets online to bypass the long line that sometimes happens with the beautiful park.

I would love to hear about your experience at Parc Güell if you go or if you have been before. I find this such a magical place that it always draws me to it every time I am in the fabulous city of Barcelona.

 

 

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

The cliffs of Moher in Ireland. Have you been? They are breathtaking! So beautiful. We had just finished exploring the Ring of Kerry the day before and headed northwest to check them out the day before we had to head back home. Film buffs will recognize them as the cliffs of insanity from the movie The Princess Bride. (LOVE that movie. so good)

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The cliffs are one of Ireland’s most famous tourist destinations receiving over one million tourists every year. They’re in Clare county and located at the southwestern edge of the Burren region. The cliffs consist of mainly Namurian shale and sandstone and it’s possible to see 300-million-year-old river channels cutting through at the base of the cliffs. 300 million years old? Wow.

I was really REALLY wanting to see a puffin. I think they are one of the cutest birds ever. Sadly, we didn’t see any (insert sad face) but maybe you’ll be luckier. If so, please send a picture.

You are free to walk along the cliffs. There aren’t any guard rails so if you have young children please make sure to watch them. I was astonished at so many people sitting on the edge with their feet dangling! It made my stomach drop a bit. Cuz you know, one slip and well, I’d think you’re a goner.

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The day was a bit hazy when we were there. But still gorgeous.

O’Brien’s Tower is located at the highest point of the cliffs. It was built in 1835 by Sir Cornellius O’Brien as an observation tower for Victorian tourists but is also rumored to have been built for a woman he was courting. On a clear day the view can extend as far as Loop Head at the southern tip of Clare and beyond to the mountains of Kerry. Looking north from O’Brien’s Tower on clear days, the Twelve Bens in Connemara, beyond Galway Bay can be seen, and typically the Aran Islands to the west.

The cliffs are a must see when in Ireland. Don’t forget to add them to your sightseeing list. I’m off to watch The Princess Bride again.

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Bring That Aston Down, Girl

Let me tell you. I am pretty damn proud of myself. No, I didn’t find a cure for cancer (i wish) and no, I didn’t figure out the answer for ridding the world of racism and terror (i really wish) BUT I did drive an amazingly kick-ass car down from Germany to Mallorca all by myself. Yep. Just lil ole me.

That car would be an Aston Martin and it costs a bit more than my old Ford Probe did (God, I loved that car – even had a sunroof). I won’t bore you too much with the drive because it can get a bit tiresome driving 8ish hours for two days straight. But I can also comment on two hotels, the ferry and some good tunes. Let’s hit the road!

First, I gotta fly to Germany. That’s Port d’Alcúdia you can see down there.

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Headed out on a rainy Saturday around 10 a.m. and took a sweet road which took me through twists and turns of a deep and dark German forest. Gosh, the forest can get dark so quick. I kept an eye out for deer that might jump in front of the car but only saw two of those majestic creatures in one of the farmland pastures: along with many cows, horses and some birds. I had to get on my phone navigation once before I hit the A44, then to the A7, then A5, then A63, then A6 and THEN A31. And then I would be getting into Dijon, France.

I made a few roadtrip CDs, a mash-up of songs that are new and old. One of my favorite new bands is Portugal. The Man. Have you heard of them? They seriously rock. Check out “Feel It Still”.

“Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now I been feeling it since 1966, now Might be over now, but I feel it still.” I rocked out man. The. Man.

The drive to Dijon was a lot of highway. And France has a lot of tolls. But you roll with it. When choosing a hotel I looked for a place that wasn’t too far off the highway and of course a good price. I wasn’t sure what time I would arrive and I definitely wasn’t going to be doing any sight seeing on this road trip. My hotel was in Arc-Sur-Tille, which is only 20 minutes from Dijon. And my hotel was L’Hotel D’Arc (naturally). It was super cute, good price of 95 euro for the night and the hotel dude was friendly and spoke English (thank you). The room with a view!

No restaurant at the hotel so they recommended a restaurant down the street next to the supermarket – La Table d’Arc. It was okay. There were lots of French people there eating and drinking and having a good time so it must be the place to hang out. I did find a piece of plastic wrapping in my chicken caesar salad which I did not like, they didn’t speak any English (which is okay, I AM in their country) and I had to flag down the waiter for everything after ordering my food – some water, a glass of wine, the bill. So, yeah, only okay.

Alright, it’s Sunday morning I must get myself and the car to Girona. We will be taking the A6, then the A7, then A9 and then AP-7. There was MUCHO MUCHO traffico on the roads! I had a lot of traffic jams around Lyon. And I had to drive through it, but it looked like a cool city to check out someday. Interesting architecture and the Rhone river runs through it. Also on the drive were loads of vineyards, next time defo stopping at one for some wine tasting. Starting in Narbonne and on the way down to Perpignan (I love saying all the French towns with a hard French accent). Try it – Perpignan, Montpellier, Lyon, Bordeaux. Fun, no?

I didn’t stay in the heart of Girona, remember I wanted to stay right off the highway. I stayed at Hotel Costabella. This place was a bit difficult to find (for me) and the room was really crappy, the sink wouldn’t drain and the room smelled cigarette smoke – even though they said no smoking and you would be fined if you did. I asked for a different room but they were completely booked for the night. The good things – very friendly staff, the dinner was excellent (i had gazpacho and then salmon for my entree) and I enjoyed the sauna. I always enjoy a sauna. Also, a big parking area which another thing I looked for in my hotel choices with such an expensive sports car.

Alright, finally Monday and the day to get home. Yipppeeee! I miss Felix and my kitties. I drove to the port in Barcelona in about an hour and a half from Girona. Got my Trasmediterranea boarding ticket for me and for the car (I reserved online about two weeks before), headed to the car area and we had to wait about 30 minutes before they let the cars on the ferry. Parked it here:

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Then headed upstairs for the eight hour journey from Barcelona to Palma de Mallorca. I didn’t have a seat or cabin reserved so it was a bit difficult to find a spot at first. But after about 20 minutes after boarding they opened the “restaurant” area and I dashed in for a seat next to the window with a table and set up camp. Got bored with that after an hour or so but enjoyed watching us pull out from the port and head into the open sea.

I read my book, cleaned up my desktop on my computer, read a little more and then ventured outside. They had this tiki bar area set up at the top so that was kinda fun but again you can only sit for so long before getting bored of that too. It overlooked other car parking and then finally we started to see Mallorca show up on the left hand side.

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And finally I was home.

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Travel Wishlist

There are so many places I am dying to go. Here are my top 5 places I cannot wait to travel to, where are yours?

Mount fuji at Lake kawaguchiko,Sunrise , vintage

JAPAN – Konnichiwa!! My first travel dream place is Japan. I picture myself walking through Japanese gardens dripping with cherry blossoms that gather at my feet, drinking rice wine and jamming out with my new Japanese friends at a karaoke in Tokyo. Did you see Lost In Translation? I had that movie on repeat for months. You will find me checking out the cool Japanese architecture, Mount Fuji and eating the freshest sushi ever.

 

iceland ICELAND – All I have seen about Iceland is how gorgeous it is. Amazing canyons, hot springs, black beaches, waterfalls and more waterfalls. And that Blue Lagoon that everyone Instagrams with clay on their face. It would be a road trip, which of course I love. In pictures it reminds me a lot of Norway. I would die to see the Northern Lights and would totally fall in love with a Puffin if I was able to find them.

 

 

portugal PORTUGAL. It is so close to me! I feel this might be the next one I actually get to visit. The others are at least a flight away while Portugal I could take the car on the ferry to mainland Spain and drive. Another road trip. I guess our family road trips from Oklahoma to Wisconsin or to Harlingen, TX drove me to love them (drove me – get it?) In Portugal I would drink port wine, explore the beautiful caves, visit a castle or two, snorkel in the Algarve and check out the forgotten temple. I’m getting excited just thinking about the possibility being there soon.

 

sa SOUTH AFRICA. My parents are planning on visiting South Africa for a month. And by golly I will be right there with them! I love traveling with my parents, we always have such a great time together. I’m not sure even a month will suffice, there is so much to see – Cape Town, a safari naturally, the amazing Blyde River Canyon, see the penguins on Boulder Beach, Victoria Falls and I’m sure soooo much more. I’m hoping this one is happening in the near future too. Maybe end of 2018?

 

 

The last one I’m struggling with because there are just way too many places I want to go! South Korea, Cuba, Hawaii, Greece, Turkey, Alaska, Australia but this one made it to number 5.

bali BALI, Indonesia – I want to live in a Bamboo house on one of their many sandy beaches and maybe just do that. But I won’t because there is just too many amazing things to see. I want to stand between the Lempuyang temple at sunset, play with the monkeys in the monkey forest, swing on the Ubud swing over the jungle, slide down the canal water slide. And so many jaw-dropping temples to gaze at for hours and hours.

 

 

 

 

Dine With A Ghost

You know there are TONS of ghosts in NOLA. Ghosts, voodoo, spirits, you name it, they got it. Some stories are down right scary and some are a bit, hmmmmm, not so sure about that one – skinned rolled back to look like a caterpillar?? You can take the stories with a grain of salt or you can fully believe or you can relax enjoy the ride and who knows! Maybe you will feel a cold hand on your shoulder or take a picture and when you look at it later you do see some kind of apparition. I believe in ghosts. One day I will tell my ghost story.

I think the ghosts tours are pretty much the same no matter which company you choose. We saw people on other ghost tours and they were all stopping at the same places we did. Now you MUST read this in a spooky and sinister voice.

Here are the stops we made:

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum – In 1823, Louis Dufilho became America’s first licensed pharmacist and opened his apothecary shop on Royal St. But he is not the one haunting this place, that would be Dr. Dupas. The mysterious Dupas bought the pharmacy from Dufilho right before he died. According to legend, Dupas did many experiments on pregnant women and slaves. It was said, you would go in healthy, and never be seen again. It seems, he was conducting experiments on people upstairs, giving them large doses of his voodoo medicine. He is usually seen in a brown suit and likes to move potions around on the shelves and sometimes throws a book. I had a strange experience there while trying to take a picture of the inside. My phone did over 60 photo bursts, I’ve looked through them and maybe I see something near the back in the middle, but I’m not sure. What do you see?

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Zach Bowen/Omni Hotel – Zach Bowen joined the military to support his wife and two children. He did a tour in Kosovo and a tour in Iraq (parts of which were spent at Abu Ghraib), where friends say he changed. Upon return he became a bartender in the French Quarter of New Orleans and soon after he separated from his wife. He met Addie Hall, a fellow bartender and the two of them liked to party – drinking a lot and doing cocaine. Also, Hall was said to be a mean drunk and abusing Bowen. Hurricane Katrina hit and they were one of the few who stayed and weathered out the storm. Many people said that going back to “real life” after the tragedy of Katrina was their downfall. On Oct. 5, 2006, they got into a fight (Hall claimed he was cheating on her) and Bowen strangled Hall to death before cutting her up into pieces. He placed her head in a pot on the stove, her feet and legs were either in other pots or in the oven where he tried to cook the body parts. During the next two weeks he spray painted messages on the walls, wrote his five page suicide note and went out drinking, getting strippers and doing drugs with friends. Late October he went to the Omni Hotel, had a drink and then threw himself out of an upstairs window where he landed on the roof of a parking garage. Police found the suicide note and where to find Hall’s body. Some claimed he had been possessed by a demonic spirit that was terrorizing them from the voodoo shop that was below their home. Was it that? Was it PSTD from his two tours overseas? We will never know. But there are still claims that people see someone jump from the Omni Hotel window. The police will show up but there is never anyone there.

Muriel’s Restaurant – Here you can dine with a ghost. The restaurant that is now Muriel’s went through many changes, owners, etc. On March 21, 1788, the Great New Orleans Fire started on Good Friday and burned 856 of the 1,100 structures in the French Quarter, and one of these was a portion of Pierre Phillipe de Marigny’s mansion that was burnt. During the next decade the city was trying to rebuild and Mr. Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan purchased the property from Marigny. We will call him Antoine from now on (why did they all have such loooooong names back then). Antoine LOVED his home but he was a huge gambler. In 1814 he wagered his home in a poker game and lost. He was devastated and before vacating the premises he went up to the second floor and hung himself. Supposedly he haunts the second floor – he can be seen as a bright glimmering light. In the past he would throw wine glasses off tables, but ever since the restaurant set up his own table, leaving bread and a bottle of wine (he prefers Cabernet) every night the “tantrums” have diminished. You can have a private dinner with Antoine but you need to call Muriel’s to set it up. Whether or not Antoine will show up, it is still one helluva a good promotion.

The Ursuline Convent – I thought this place was truly freaky. Here is where vampires arrived from the Old World to the New World. This three-story Colonial masterpiece (no nuns live here now) sits behind a high wall with gothic gates and a big courtyard. In 1727,  France sent young women (very poor and possibly homeless) to help populate the city of New Orleans. When the girls arrived they came with casket shaped boxes supposedly holding their belongings and both (the girls and the casket boxes) were placed at the Convent for the nuns to watch over them until they found a husband for them to marry. Thereby earning them the name of the Casket Girls. After they arrived the mortality rate skyrocketed – because what was in those caskets were vampires. Once the girls found suitors the caskets were opened and were found empty. Dum dum Duuummmmmm. Fear of what had escaped from those caskets brought the Archdiocese to the convent. He had them immediately moved to the third floor, where to this day unless you are from the Vatican you cannot go up there. Plus, the shutters are continuously closed. And on top of that they have closed them with 800 screws EACH, that supposedly the Pope blessed. That’s 8000 Pope blessed screws keeping whatever needs to be kept in there! But locals have witnessed the shutters fly open in the middle of the night. I could stop there, but there is one more story to this. Back in the 70s a group of paranormal researchers came to NOLA to check out the convent. Two stayed overnight, in front of the convent to finish their research. The next day they were found dead, and drained of their blood. Drained of their blood!! Now, nothing can be found on the news about this from the 70s but the people in New Orleans say it happened.

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Alright, finalizing things up. If you watch American Horror Story you might have heard about this last one, or at least about the lady – Madame Delphine Lalaurie.

The Lalaurie Mansion – This haunted history is perhaps New Orleans most famous ghostly tale. For more than 150 years, the Lalaurie House is said to be the most haunted location in NOLA. Delphine married her third husband, wealthy doctor Louis Lalaurie in 1832. They threw lavish parties and everyone wanted to be invited inside their gorgeous three story mansion. People started wondering about all the slaves that were being bought – they saw them go in but never saw any go out. Once in 1833, a neighbor saw Delphine chase her 12-year old slave around the roof with a whip. The child jumped to her death and was buried in the courtyard. Investigators came to the house and punished Delphine with a fine and making her sell all her slaves. Unbeknownst to authorities she had relatives buy them and she got them back. In 1834 the truth came out. A fire was started in the kitchen by her cook who was chained to the stove. When authorities came they found a very grisly scene in attic – slaves chained to the walls, badly scarred and starving. It gets worse. Reports say one man had a hole drilled into his head with a wooden spoon sticking out (to stir the brains), another woman had her arms amputated and her skin rolled down making her look like a caterpillar, a woman with her stomach cut open and her intestines wrapped around her body and another had her arms and legs broken and reset so she looked like a crab. Horrifying! Gives me the creeps. After finding this an angry mob grew outside the Lalaurie mansion, soon Delphine and her children came roaring out in a carriage and Delphine was never seen again. Some say she died in France, some say she is buried in a New Orleans cemetery. After we left, Jeannie told me she had felt a very cold breeze go by her. Here is where most people do feel something or see something.

Spoooky stuff right there. And even if you don’t believe, it is still some fascinating stories. Next time I think I will do the vampire tour. Do you have any ghost stories? I would love to hear them. BOO.

 

 

Restaurant ~ Stoop Your Head in Skerries, Ireland

After Newgrange we were hungry but we wanted something with a bit of a nice view. We took the “scenic” route, scenic to us because this was all new! And tried to drive along the coast as much as possible. We came into a small fishing village on R 127 called Skerries. It was almost too perfect. We spotted a restaurant by the harbor. It’s name – Stoop Your Head. Awesome name, must be an awesome place. My friends, it did not disappoint. Everything was so delicious.

Apparently we weren’t the only hungry ones. The place was packed. It isn’t that big of a place but it does have an outside patio to eat at too. But the weather was a bit chilly so we waited for a table to open up.

Finally one did. Hooray! I had my usual Ireland drink order – Guinness with black currants. And we each ordered the seafood chowder and I ordered the Rockabill Crab sandwich on brown bread. They have quite the full menu – everything, really. From soup, salad, sandwiches, appetizers of paté and falafel to main courses of tempting fish pie, baked salmon or Irish fillet steak. My mouth is now watering thinking of the savory foods!  All of their meat is fully traceable from farm to fork. And they only use Free-Range Chicken and Eggs.

You must check this place out. It is only a 20 minute drive north of Dublin. And about the name – well, it is true, some of the doorways are a bit short. And you MUST STOOP YOUR HEAD! Enjoy. And don’t forget about the Guinness!