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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Gaudi in Barcelona by Margot Justes


 
 
If you love architecture, and whimsical work that makes you smile and feel happy, then there is no better place than Barcelona. That is where you’ll find Antoni Gaudi’s work.

You will also find Dali, Picasso and Miro, but Gaudi’s work alone is worth a trip to Barcelona. Many of his buildings in Barcelona were designated World Heritage Sites.

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 unique, extravagant, original, earthy and simply stunning.  

Gaudi was born in 1852 and died in a tram accident in 1926. His most famous unfinished work, La Sagrada Familia hopefully will be finished by the time of 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 branch out on top to support the structure, but it reflects his love of nature and looks like a forest.

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, as well as La Sagrada Familia, and even a park, Park Guell.

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

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

 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Montserrat by Margot Justes


 
 
Barcelona is gorgeous, and I decided to spend a couple of days before and a couple of days after the cruise in Barcelona. So much to see that four days wasn’t enough. Since the cruise ended on Sunday, disembarkation was early, ship docked at seven, and most everything was closed. It was the perfect time to go to Montserrat.

Montserrat is a monastery up high in the mountains, 38 kilometers from Barcelona and about an hour by bus. The setting is glorious, built into the mountain, with stunning views wherever you turn.

It was started around 1025, but 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, he was elected Abbot of Ripoll. The Abbot and a group of monks decided to built the monastery, next to a chapel of Saint Mary.  

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

There are a few ways to reach Montserrat, by cable car, bus, car or by rack railway. The road is narrow and winds up the mountain. I decided it was best to leave the driving to the professionals.  

Along with the church, monastery, library, meandering roads and artistic treasures, there is also a hotel, and when I go back I’d stay in the hotel for a couple of days. A few hours just wet my appetite for more.

There is a service in the church on Sunday, as well as a noon performance by the boys choir, so the church was filled to capacity and beyond. You literally couldn’t get in-it was packed solid- even a well oiled sardine would have a problem. I got a glimpse of the ornate church, but couldn’t handle all the humanity, it took me ten minutes from the very back of the church to get out the door, and 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 various cheeses, honey, hams and fig cakes. Local delicacies, and I can vouch for the local hams. Positively yummy.

I just touched on Montserrat, if you find yourself in Barcelona, Montserrat is not to be missed.

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

 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Two Hotels in Barcelona by Margot Justes


 
This was a Mediterranean  cruise that departed from Barcelona, one of the major ports in Europe. A beautiful city with stunning architecture, Antoni Gaudi’s work alone is worth a visit. I stayed two nights before the cruise, and two nights after. I picked two different hotels, both were centrally located.

The first hotel in Barcelona, and one I would highly recommend was Hotel Casa Fuster; an intimate hotel with fewer than a hundred rooms, built in the Art Nouveau style of architecture, located in the center of town on  132 Passeig De Gracia.

Service was incomparable, room was beautiful, the roof top had spectacular views of the city, and a sumptuous breakfast that included eggs any style, Spanish ham and cheeses, excellent bread and a selection of coffees, made the stay perfect. I’m a breakfast person. They even had an industrial strength Nespresso machine. I started with a pot of coffee and hot steaming milk, and finished with the self serve Nespresso coffee.

The one thing that made the stay exceptional was the service. I stopped and asked about a visit to La Sagrada Familia, and was informed it is better to book a tour, otherwise the wait would be rather long. They called and reserved the tickets, and all I had to do was walk to the Julia travel agency near the church; about a twenty minute walk from the hotel. The agency was well known and had many offices in the city. It worked out perfectly well, and the guide was informative, and we had plenty of time to stay on our own after the tour ended. The hotel staff was right about the long wait.

The second hotel, the Majestic, also on 68 Passeig De Gracia, was contemporary, all marble and glass. As I got out of the taxi, I was asked by the porter in a top hat, if I had reservations. I didn’t want to be rude, so replied that yes, indeed I had reservations; however, an entirely different response came to mind. Not a good introduction to hotel, and it didn’t improve.

I requested an early arrival, and the hotel agreed, at least according to the travel agent. I checked in and was told that checkout was at noon, and I was early. They gave me a slip for the luggage, and told me that check in was at three.

I then asked about a tour to Montserrat, and the clerk at the registration desk showed me a private five hour car tour, to the tune of $600 hundred dollars. I said, I didn’t think so. I asked about a regular tour, she then tells me they are available, but we have to prepay with cash, or at least make a cash deposit, this way if we don’t show up, they keep the deposit.  No other effort was made-she lost interest when I declined the private car.

At this point I asked where was the nearest Julia office, and was told it’s a five minute cab ride. I asked her to show me on the map, and it turned out to be a ten minute walk from the hotel. I got my ticket, and off I went to Montserrat.

You could rent a car, and go on your own, but it was Sunday, besides the narrow road up the mountain was better left to the professionals. I’m really a quirky driver, and unless I’m in my own neck of the woods, as is my neighborhood, I leave the driving to others.

The breakfast was delicious, they had the obligatory omelet station, but the rest of the buffet was tapas style, and the Spanish ham, and various sausages, and cheeses were delicious. Coffee was excellent.  The Majestic also had a spectacular view of the city from the rooftop.

The rest of the staff at the Majestic was courteous, helpful and friendly. It’s amazing how first impressions and actions of the staff altered my perception of the hotel.

More about Barcelona next week.

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

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Packing for a Trip by Margot Justes

I don’t think it’s a secret I love to travel, and given an opportunity I could live out of a suitcase, and really would love an opportunity to do just that.

I tend to travel light, I’m not as young as I used to be, and lugging heavy suitcases is a pain, literally and figuratively. I have an expanding suitcase, that for some strange reason is fully expanded on the way back. I pack carefully going, and not so carefully coming back. That is the suitcase I take for trips that are two weeks long, give or take a day or two.

I have two grandchildren, and I bring back a few souvenirs, but am careful what I buy. Books tend to make the top of the list, history of the area visited, local artists display their works around popular tourist areas, and I tend to gravitate to that, of course t-shirts and hats, Italian espresso cups; all that takes space.

I also have a gigantic purse that could pass for a suitcase, and put all my essential information in there, a passport, travel information, and anything I can’t do without should my luggage get lost. I’m allowed a carry on, and that is packed with my lap top, camera, Kindle, a spare change of clothes, travel book, and the allowed make-up accoutrements, along with anything else I’ll need.

I never, never put anything valuable in my suitcase that the airlines will handle. I don’t travel with a lot of cash, and many credits cards. I take two credit cards, only because should something happen, I have another options. I keep the telephone numbers of the cards, and use the hotel or cabin safes. It is not full proof, and I’m sure if anyone wanted to break in-they would simply destroy the safe-but it keeps the honest people out.

I have a daily budget, the rest stays in safe, and I only take one credit with me when touring, the other one remains in safe. Money belts work well, and I have a small comfortable purse that goes over my shoulder, the purse is in front, so I can see it at all times, and I hang on to the straps. Best advice, is pure common sense, be aware of your surroundings.

Over the years, I have bought clothes that I can roll easily and that takes up less room, and of course there are shoes. I love shoes, but have learned to pack them sparingly; one good pair of walking shoes, that will go with everything I brought with me or not. Gym shoes if on a cruise, because I love to walk on the jogging deck. Notice I said walk-I do not run or jog-I walk, and one pair of dress shoes. A pair of dressy black pants, and a couple of sparkly tops, and by the way, I roll them up too.

I don’t pack an outfit or two for each day, I pack mix and match outfits, and always remember there are laundry facilities in hotels and cruises-should the need arise. The laundry prices in hotels tend to be expensive, but in an emergency, it’s there. I also remind myself how much airlines charge for overweight luggage. If you cruise enough, and join their frequent cruising club, eventually you’ll get a laundry allowance or discounted prices on board ship.

I have seen people bring a few suitcases per person when boarding a ship, and always wonder where they are going to put all that stuff-the cabins are tiny.

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