International travel benefits the brain!

by Sue on March 31, 2015

A recent article in The Atlantic quotes Mark Twain, who wrote in his travelogue The Innocents Abroad that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” The article goes on to talk about how travel may help us be more open-minded and increase our creativity…

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, Spain

Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms,” says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School and the author of numerous studies on the connection between creativity and international travel. Cognitive flexibility is the mind’s ability to jump between different ideas, a key component of creativity. But it’s not just about being abroad, Galinsky says: “The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment.” In other words, going to Cancun for a week on spring break probably won’t make a person any more creative. But going to Cancun and living with local fishermen might.

Link to the full article…  For a More Creative Brain, Travel

Reading about The Innocents Abroad got me thinking about other classic travel books…

The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck – enjoyable read while traveling in Baja, Mexico.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway – enchanting memoir of Paris in the 1920’s.

In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin – in 1974 he quit the London Sunday Times Magazine via telegram (“Have gone to Patagonia”) and disappeared into the then little-known and remote tip of South America.

Thank you Nikki for sharing the article and inspiring this post!

VIEW comments and ADD your thoughts...

Barcelona, Spain – walk, dine, sleep

by Sue on March 30, 2015

Barcelona, Spain

“Barcelona bubbles with life in its narrow Barri Gòtic alleys, along the pedestrian boulevard called the Ramblas, in the funky bohemian quarter of El Born, and throughout the chic, grid-planned part of town called the Eixample. Its Old City is made for seeing on foot, full of winding lanes that emerge into secluded squares dotted with palm trees and ringed with cafés and boutiques. The waterfront bristles with life, overlooked by the park-like setting of Montjuïc. Across the city, the architecture is colorful, playful, and unique. In this vibrant city, locals still join hands and dance the sardana in front of the cathedral every weekend. Neighborhood festivals jam the events calendar. The cafés are filled by day, and people crowd the streets at night… If you’re in the mood to surrender to a city’s charms, let it be in Barcelona.”
~ Rick Steves

Hotel Praktik Rambla in Barcelona (Photo courtesy of Remodelista)

Hotel Praktik Rambla in Barcelona (Photo courtesy of Remodelista)

Late afternoon sunlight greets us as we walk out of the Barcelona Sants train station. Having just traveled up the coast from Valencia by high speed train we are tired but relaxed. Excited to grab a cab and get our first glance of Barcelona as we travel across the city to our hotel on the famous Las Ramblas Boulevard.

Hotel Praktik Rambla, Sunroom, Barcelona, Spain

Glorious sunroom at Hotel Praktik Rambla

Months before we decide to visit Barcelona I am visiting one of my favorite blogs – Remodelista – and read this:

“The next time you’re in Barcelona, soak up the city’s infamous architecture by staying in the Praktik Rambla, a budget design hotel housed in the historic Casa Climent Arola building. Constructed in the beginning of the 19th century by the Spanish architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano (the Sagrada Familia was his commission first, as in pre-Gaudi), the grand building with is modern interiors allows you to immerse yourself seamlessly into the spirit of Barcelona.”

Hotel Praktik Rambla, Barcelona

Modern and vintage design blend well at the Hotel Praktik Rambla, Barcelona

The Hotel Praktik Rambla renovation design conserved the original Art Nouveau elements of the building, such as the mouldings, the high ceilings, the mosaic floors (original 19th century tile work), and mixed them elegantly with parquet floors, modern lamps, vintage bathrooms, large, comfortable white beds, touches of design and elegance and, above all, loads of comfort… four days of elegance, comfort, and quiet are ours at a very reasonable rate in February.

Soaring marble walled courtyard in the Hotel Praktik Rambla.

Soaring marble walled courtyard in the Hotel Praktik Rambla.

Saturday morning we hear, then see, “Les Festes de Santa Eulàlia” – Barcelona’s biggest annual festival for children. The festival takes place at many venues all over Barcelona but it is mostly in the Ciutat Vella – old city of Barcelona. The program for the Santa Eulalia festival includes many typical Catalan traditions like parades with “gegants” and other fantasy figures.

Young drummers fill the streets for "Les Festes de Santa Eulàlia" parade.

Young drummers fill the streets for “Les Festes de Santa Eulàlia” parade.

The Arc de Triomf

In 1888 Barcelona hosted the Universal Exhibition, and the Arc de Triomf was built as the gateway to the fair.

One of the many things I enjoy about travel is the way I become immersed in the city and area I am visiting… researching the story behind what I am seeing to satisfy my own curiosity and share in my writing.

The history of the Arc de Triomf began in late 19th century when it was built for the World Expo of 1888, which Barcelona hosted. The arch was designed by the noted Catalan architect Josep Vilaseca. The design by Vilaseca stands out from other well-known triumphal arches, in particular the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Instead of using sandstone or marble, Vilaseca decided to build the arch using red bricks.

Using bricks as the main material is a typical feature of the rather unusual architectural style the arch is built in. The arch is inspired by Muslim architecture, in particular the style is known as “Mudéjar” which emerged during the 12th century on the Iberian Peninsula. The style was created by the Moors and Muslims who remained in the area after the Christians had recaptured and repopulated the whole Iberian Peninsula.

The Arc de Triomf

Today, the arch still serves as an entrance to the great Park de la Ciutadella. The arch, with its open surroundings and relaxed environment, is a favorite spot for locals and visitors.

Walking up Passeig de Gràcia we get our first taste of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi’s work – La Pedrera.

Situated on an asymmetrical corner lot, this large apartment building was immediately dubbed “la pedrera,” or “the quarry,” because of its cliff-like walls. There are various theories regarding the source of Gaudí’s inspiration – from ocean waves to a variety of specific mountains, even a mountain crest with clouds. This unique limestone building appears sculptural, with undulating curves, and black iron balconies that contrast nicely with the lightness of the limestone.

La Pedrera or Casa Milà was constructed between 1906 and 1912. Due to its unique artistic style and heritage value it has received major recognition and in 1984 was inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List.

Gaudi’s Casa Milà, known as ‘La Pedrera’ (the stone quarry), due to the resemblance of its façade to an open quarry.

Gaudi’s Casa Milà, known as ‘La Pedrera’ (the stone quarry), due to the resemblance of its façade to an open quarry.

Barcelona is a city made for walking, a visual aesthetic feast. Window shopping and people watching are a delight… as is the casual search for the next cafe in which to enjoy a coffee, snack on some tapas, or sip a glass of wine or beer.

shopping, Las Ramblas, Barcelona, Spain

Window shopping along the Ramblas.

Enticing leather bags.

A window full of enticing leather bags captures my eye as we stroll Passeig de Gràcia.

graffiti, shopping, El Born, barcelona, spain

Colorful graffiti draws attention to this shop entrance in El Born.

The Museu Picasso in Barcelona is rich in regard to work from the formative years in the life of the artist, up to the Blue Period. Young Picasso’s genius is revealed through the over 4000 works that make up the permanent collection, and it was stunning to see his level of accomplishment as a teenager. Opened in 1963, the museum helps us realize his deep relationship with Barcelona, one that was shaped in his adolescence and youth, and continued until his death.

The museum occupies five adjoining medieval stone mansions on the Carrer de Montcada. The original palaces date from the 13th-15th centuries, undergoing major refurbishments over time, the most important in the 18th century. Today the elegant courtyards, galleries and staircases are as much a part of the experience as the collection inside.

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”
~ Pablo Picasso

Picasso Museum, La Ribera district, Barcelona, Spain

Historic outdoor courtyard in the Picasso Museum.

The Joan Miró Foundation opened to the public in 1975. Interest in a museum began after Miro’s exhibition in Barcelona, in 1968. Several figures from the art world saw the opportunity to have a space in Barcelona dedicated to the his work. The museum’s exhibits give a broad impression of Miró’s artistic development, and in accordance with his wishes, the institution also promotes the work of contemporary artists in all its aspects.

Designed by Miro’s close friend, the architect Josep Lluís Sert, the Foundation was designed in accordance with the principles of Rationalist architecture, with different spaces set around a central patio in the traditional Mediterranean style and with Sert’s characteristic skylights.

“I try to apply colors like words that shape poems,
like notes that shape music.”
~ Joan Miro

Juan Miro Foundation exhibit area (phot o courtesy of the Foundation).

Juan Miro Foundation exhibit area (photo courtesy of the Foundation).

Our go to place for tapas in Barcelona is Cervecería Catalana. Recommended by the hotel, it is considered one of the best places in the city. You can find all kind of tapas and “montaditos” (food on bread). The cold tapas are on display and you can order hot tapas from their menu. Several mornings began with breakfast at the bar – enjoying a tortilla (Spanish omelette) and the patatas bravas (fried potatoes served warm with aioli and a spicy tomato sauce – fantastic). The large dining area is bustling and its fun to see what others have ordered. Service is skillful and helpful… located on Carrer de Mallorca, #236.

Cerveceria Catalana - delicious tapas restaurant.

Cerveceria Catalana – delicious tapas restaurant.

Los Caracoles was recommended by a fellow foodie we meet at Catalana. He visits Barcelona often and especially enjoys the rotisserie chicken at this old family restaurant located nearby in the Gothic district. Cave-like with dark wood, murals, and tiles, we pass through the bar, then kitchen, on our way to one of several dining areas.

Los Caracoles Restaurant is near Las Ramblas in the Gothic District.

Los Caracoles Restaurant is near Las Ramblas in the Gothic District.

Los Caracoles diners pass through the kitchen on the way to the dining areas.

Los Caracoles diners pass through the kitchen on the way to the dining areas.

After sharing a house salad, we enjoy the roast chicken and lamb ribs – both finger lickin’ good, and enhanced by the elegant setting and professional service.

Los Caracoles has offered high quality cooking for four generations.

Los Caracoles has offered high quality cooking for four generations.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover.”
~ Mark Twain

Note: Spain’s RENFE rail system offers senior travelers 60 and older the Tarjeta Dorada (“Gold Card”). With the Tarjeta Dorada, you will save 25 to 40 percent on train tickets, depending on the day of the week you travel and how far in advance you buy your tickets. You can buy your Tarjeta Dorada at a RENFE station for 5.05 Euros; it will be valid for one year.

VIEW comments and ADD your thoughts...

Dining in Valencia, Spain

by Sue on February 25, 2015

Mercat Central, Valencia, Spain

Mercat Central in Valencia.

The Central Market of Valencia (Mercat Central) is filled with people bustling about when we visit mid-day. In the city’s hub, it is a great spot to to experience the local culture. Inside are close to 1000 stands, large and small, each run by a different vendor. Here you will find cured meats like the local jamon, fresh fish, local fruits and vegetables, nuts, and bakery goods. We stocked up on two of our favorite snacks… Valencia oranges and marcona almonds.

Inside the Mercat Central

Inside the Mercat Central

Known as one of the largest and oldest European markets, this wonderful piece of Art Nouveaux architecture was designed by Catalan architects Alejandro Soler March and Francisco Guardia Vial between 1910 and 1928, when it was opened to public.

The Central Market is open Monday through Saturday year round.

Mar d'avellanes Restaurante in Valencia

Mar d’avellanes Restaurante in Valencia

With its innovative concept of serving “haute cuisine at a good priceMar d’avellanes revolutionizes and democratizes the dining scene in Valencia. “Innovating from the essence” they offer a sublime dining experience through a cuisine in which quality and creativity are a premium. The decor and the culinary offerings provide a unique style and experience. At Mard’avellanes we enjoyed the most deliciously sensual meal of our trip.

Mar d'avellanes Restaurante in Valencia, Valencia, Spain

Mar d’avellanes – Huevo a baja temperatura con cremoso de patata, migas y jamón (Eggs cooked at low temperature with potato puree , bread crumbs and ham)

Mar d'avellanes Restaurante in Valencia, Valencia, Spain

Mar d’avellanes – salad with guacomole and crab dollops

Mar d'Avellanes

Mar d’avellanes – Cochinillo con reduccion de naranja (roast suckling pig with Valencia orange).

Mar d'avellanes Restaurante in Valencia

Mar d’avellanes dessert – a beautifully deconstructed fruit napoleon

Looking for a restaurante to enjoy Sunday lunch with the locals, we got a great tip from a lovely lady in one of the information centers – La Cigrona - a hidden treasure located on a quiet street close to one of the old towers of Valencia. Priding themselves on using the freshest local ingredients, they are farm to table. Arriving without a reservation, the owner graciously found a table for us among the local, multi-generation families.

La Cigrona in Valencia

La Cigrona in Valencia

La Cigrona - grilled squid

La Cigrona – perfectly grilled squid with black ink sauce.

La Cigrona - grilled vegetables

La Cigrona – fresh, local grilled vegetables

Restaurante de Ana’s specialty is Valencian cuisine. They are known for their wide range of delicious paellas and rice dishes. Located in downtown Valencia just a short walk from our hotel, the meal was good, though the restaurant is larger and more formal then we prefer… kind of like the Vincci Palace Hotel where we are staying… professional but impersonal.

Restaurante de Ana in Valencia

Restaurante de Ana in Valencia

Paella at Restaurante de Ana, Valencia, Spain

Valencian Paella at Restaurante de Ana

A note on Spanish wines… Throughout Spain, we found the diversity and deliciousness of the country’s wines impressive and the price tag very reasonable. Ranging from 3 to 4 euros for a glass of wine, an excellent price for the quality.

You may also enjoy our post:
Strolling in Valencia, Spain

VIEW comments and ADD your thoughts...

Strolling in Valencia, Spain

by Sue on February 19, 2015

Cty of Arts & Sciences, Valencia, Spain

Cty of Arts & Sciences, Valencia, Spain

Arriving in Valencia, after touring Granada and Seville, where we were steeped in history and ancient architecture, we experience our first taste of contemporary Spain. As a city, Valencia has uniquely combined its history, dating to the year 138 BC, with innovative and avant-garde buildings and ideas.

Valencia's old riverbed park is called the Garden of the Turia.

Garden of the Turia, Valencia’s riverbed park.

After a catastrophic flood in 1957 which devastated the city, the Turia river was divided in two at the western city limits. Valencia diverted its flood-prone river to the outskirts of town and converted the former riverbed into an amazing ribbon of park winding right through the city.

Historic bridges carry traffic across the park.

Historic bridges carry traffic across the park.

The old riverbed is now a lush sunken park that allows cyclists and pedestrians to travel across much of the city without the use of roads. The park, called the Garden of the Turia, has numerous ponds, paths, fountains, and flowers.

Marking the park’s eastern extreme is Valencia’s strikingly futuristic City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias) designed by Santiago Calatrava, a Spanish neofuturistic architect, structural engineer, sculptor and painter.

The complex, including an aquarium, museums, and opera house constructed over the past 15 years, is intended to help Spain’s third-largest city become a world-class tourist destination, and to
fire up the masses with enthusiasm for the arts and sciences. The breathtaking structures are enough in themselves to lure visitors in the millions. You don’t have to be an opera or science buff to enjoy a day here – in fact if you’re on a tight budget you can just wander around this incredible city without even buying an entrance ticket.

L'Umbracle, part of the City of Arts and Sciences, is a landscaped walk with plant species indigenous to Valencia.

L’Umbracle, part of the City of Arts and Sciences, is a landscaped walk with plant species indigenous to Valencia.

History and all its glory is never far from view, and heading back into the city center we find ourselves in a glorious sun-filled square filled with palm trees and old majestic buildings.

Historic Valencia architecture is a feast for the eyes.

Historic Valencia architecture is a feast for the eyes.

Architecture in Valencia, Spain.

Truly majestic.

Sunday morning we set off on foot to slowly make our way across town to IVAM, Institut Valencia d’Art Modern. Purposefully passing the Cathedral on the way, we find the area filled with locals, observing and performing traditional dances.

Dancing in front of the Cathedral in Valencia, Spain.

Dancing in front of the Cathedral in Valencia, Spain.

Dancers in Valencia, Spain

Young dancers in their colorful finery.

Street scene in Valencia, Spain

pink scooter, valencia, Spain

Sunday ride on the pink scooter?

Valencia is a large city with over 800,000 inhabitants. In the historical center are a labyrinth of cobble stone streets, very walkable and visually engaging. Next to intact or restored buildings are ruins and vacant spots often walled off for future development or restoration. These blank walls are a canvas for a the city’s street artists.

Graffiti in Valencia, Spain

Valencia graffiti 1_new

Jay snaps this photo for me just before we learn that no photos are to be taken inside the En Transito exhibit at IVAM

Sculpture from the En Transito exhibit at IVAM.

Sculpture from the En Transito exhibit at IVAM.

2 comments

Dining in Granada, Spain

February 16, 2015

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating. ~ Luciano Pavarotti Jay fell in love with Puerto del Carmen in Granada, Spain… imagining a whole evening spent puffing on a good cigar, indulging in their mediterranean inspired dishes, […]

Read the full article →

Granada, Spain – The Alhambra

February 7, 2015

The Royal City of Alhambra sits proudly on a hill above Granada. It is known as one of the most important architectural structures of the Middle Ages in Spain and the finest example of Islamic architecture left in the western world. Visiting on a cool, rainy day at the end of January it held our […]

Read the full article →

Seville, Spain – The Royal Alcazar

February 6, 2015

Originally a 10th century palace built for the Muslim governor, The Royal Alcazar (Real Alcazar), is still used today as the Spanish royal family’s residence in Seville. Retaining the same purpose for which it was originally intended, as a residence of monarchs and heads of state, it is the oldest palace in Europe still in […]

Read the full article →

How to Stream Video When Traveling Overseas

February 6, 2015

Have you every been traveling overseas and had trouble connecting to Netflix, Amazon, Skype, Facebook or other video streaming and social media sites?  That’s because the websites you are trying to get to are often restricted by (or to) the country you are traveling in.  But there is an easy way to get around the restriction. […]

Read the full article →

Seville, Spain – historic bullring

February 2, 2015

The Real Maestranza bullring is a landmark in Seville and in Spanish bullfighting. With its impressive Baroque facade, one of the bullring’s most unique features is the slightly oval shape of the ring. This 18th century arena can hold 14,000. Above the matador’s entrance to the ring is seating for the Royal family. Heading down […]

Read the full article →

Seville, Spain – Cathedral, Geralda Bell Tower, dining

January 30, 2015

Heading to Hotel Casa 1800 we catch our first glimpse of the magnificent Seville Cathedral. Legend has it that when they tore down a mosque of brick in 1401, the Christians re-conquering Spain said, “We will build a cathedral so huge that anyone who sees it will take us for madmen.” Taking about a hundred years to […]

Read the full article →

Lisbon, Portugal – Walkabout

January 27, 2015

Lisbon is described as a safe harbor – one of the remaining havens in Europe for sophisticated culture and relaxation in a time of tourist destinations. This time of year anyway, there are no parking lots full of tour buses, and reservations are easy to get or not needed. Walking miles each day around the […]

Read the full article →

Lisbon, Portugal – Mercado da Ribeira

January 24, 2015

Mercado da Ribeira (market near the river) is a Lisbon treasure, and the city’s largest open food market. Housed in a beautiful building topped with a Moorish-style dome, the food market sells everything from inky octopus and fresh seafood to fresh fruit, and funeral flowers. But, beginning in May 2014 the gastronomical area opened, representing the best […]

Read the full article →

Lisbon, Portugal – Arrival/Chegada

January 24, 2015
Thumbnail image for Lisbon, Portugal – Arrival/Chegada

From a spectacular sunrise in Vancouver, BC to a cold and gray Frankfurt morning, to a mild but drizzly day in Lisbon, Portugal… we have traveled far over the last 24 hours. Energized from the excitement of our arrival in Lisbon, the adventure begins as we take the City Centre bus #1 to our hotel – […]

Read the full article →

The Longest Road – Florida to Alaska

July 14, 2013

Feeling nostalgic this morning as I read rave reviews about a new road book in the NY Times… Two years ago we converted our Honda CRV into a camper van and drove round-trip from Washington State to Maryland. Taking a northern route out and southern path home. Read about our adventures here:  US Cross Country […]

Read the full article →