The Getty Center in Los Angeles

The Getty Center, Los Angeles

Driven from a desire to make their growing collections and programs accessible to more people, in 1983 the J. Paul Getty Trust purchased more than 700 acres in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. Selecting Richard Meier as architect for the Getty Center project plans evolved for a six-building campus that would bring together their programs and provide an architectural landmark for L.A.

Electric tram ascends upward to the Getty Center.
Electric tram ride up to the Getty Center.

Visiting the Getty Center is an experience that engages all the senses, and the excitement begins with the electric tram ride from the parking garage up to the hilltop campus. The brief ride is a visual treat with unfolding vistas of the campus above and the cityscape below.

The open expanse of the Getty Center’s Arrival Plaza is welcoming – full of sunlight, nature and art – and grand at the same time. Art, architecture, and gardens beckon you forward.

The Center’s main buildings rise along two intersecting ridges, providing an amazing vantage point from which to view the city of Los Angeles, Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains, and the Pacific Ocean.

Click to see panorama of Getty Center.
Click to see panorama of Getty Center.
Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV
Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV

The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Center houses European paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, decorative arts, and photography from its beginnings to the present.

From the start, the Getty Center was imagined as a place in which gardens, and other outdoor spaces would be as integral to its overall character as the architecture. The exuberant gardens among the formal buildings bring the Center to life. Various plantings cast interesting shadows, bring fragrance to the scene, and add color to the palette of beige buildings.

The desert garden on the south promontory of the Center, a hot and arid zone, is unexpected. The plants are common in Southern California, but the composition of cactus, aloe, and succulents is exceptional. By using efficient irrigation techniques and more drought-tolerant plants the Getty has been able to cut water use by more than 30 percent.

Desert garden, Getty Center, Los Angeles
The desert garden on the south promontory of the Center.

The Central Garden is the creation of Robert Irwin, who called it “a sculpture in the form of a garden aspiring to be art.” Visitors descend into the garden along a zigzagging walkway. Underfoot, coursing down a rocky bed, a stream interrupted by waterfalls flows. The stream, whose sound varies at each crossing of the path, finally cascades over a stepped stone wall into a reflecting pool with a maze of 400 azalea plants.

Rocky stream in Central Garden, Getty Center
Stream flows along a rocky bed in the Central Garden…
A flowering maze of azaleas in the Central Garden.
… then cascades into a flowering maze of azaleas.

One of my favorite features of the Central Garden are the parasols of bent industrial-steel bars overflowing with fuchsia bougainvillea. I love the inventiveness and whimsy in Robert Irwin’s Central Garden design – a living masterpiece.

Industrial steel parasols bursting with fuchsia bougainvillea.
Industrial steel parasols bursting with fuchsia bougainvillea.

There are plenty of places to eat, from elegant dining in the Restaurant, to casual meals, coffee, and snacks. And several shops… the Main Store is found just inside the Museum Entrance Hall and offers the widest offering of books, gifts, apparel, stationery, and jewelry, along with a selection of children’s books and toys.

We are enjoying our souvenir, Seeing the Getty Center and Gardens, a visual tour of the Center with beautiful color photographs, and enjoy lending it to friends who have yet to experience the Center.

The Center is open daily except for Monday. Admission is free; parking is $15 per car.

Joshua Tree National Park

Sculpture at Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center
Cool metal sculpture at the Oasis Visitor Center in Joshua Tree National Park.

Crisp winter air and clear skies shape the day as we make our way to the Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms, CA. Our first trip to this area and Joshua Tree National Park, we are eager to begin our exploration. A helpful and informed ranger at the Visitor Center guides us on what to see and do during our 5 hour visit. We follow his suggestions and drive up to Keys View, then do two loop trails – Barker Dam and Hidden Valley.

Landscape, Joshua Tree National Park
Austere landscape as we make our way into the park.
The famed Joshua Tree of the Mojave Desert.
Wild armed Joshua Tree of the Mojave Desert.

Joshua Tree National Park is immense, covering nearly 800,000 acres. Two deserts, two large ecosystems primarily determined by elevation, come together in the park – “high” and “low” desert. Below 3,000 feet, the Colorado Desert (part of the Sonoran Desert), occupying the eastern half of the park, is dominated by the abundant creosote bush.

The Mojave Desert, higher in elevation, slightly cooler, and wetter, is the special habitat of the Joshua tree, extensive stands of which occur throughout the western half of the park. According to legend, Mormon pioneers considered the limbs of the Joshua trees to resemble the upstretched arms of Joshua leading them to the promised land.

Looking for a place to park and eat our picnic lunch we spot some massive boulders. Reading the map/guide we learn the park encompasses some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California’s deserts. Rugged mountains of twisted rock and exposed granite monoliths bear witness to the tremendous earth forces that shaped and formed this land.

Stacked boulders beg to be explored.
Stacked boulders beg to be explored.
Life survives in crevice of boulders.
Life survives in crevice of boulders.

Turns out these rock piles began underground eons ago as a result of volcanic activity. Magma rose from deep within the earth. As it rose it intruded the overlying rock. As the granite cooled and crystallized underground, cracks/joints formed horizontally and vertically. The granite continued to uplift, where it came into contact with groundwater. Chemical weathering caused by groundwater worked on the angular granite blocks, widening cracks and rounding edges. Over time the surface soil eroded, revealing heaps of monzogranite scattered across the landscape.

Perched on the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains, Keys View provides stunning panoramic views of the Coachella Valley from an elevation of 5185 feet. The southwest side of the ridge drops nearly a mile in elevation into the Coachella Valley. The San Andreas Fault, stretching 700 miles from the Gulf of California to the Mendocino Coast north of San Francisco, runs through the valley.

Panoramic at Keys View
Panoramic at Keys View

Driving down from Keys View we head to Barker Dam to walk the 1.3 mile loop trail. Built around 1900 to hold water for cattle and mining use, the dam today forms a small rain-fed reservoir used by park wildlife.

watering hole

watering hole man, Barker Dam Trail, Joshua Tree

Respite from the sun as it recedes behind the rocks.
Respite from the sun as it recedes behind the rocks.

Near the end of the trail right before you head back to the parking lot there is sign for the petroglyphs. The main area of the petroglyphs are right behind the sign in a big rock that appears to have a part cut out of it.

petroglyph, barker dam trail, joshua tree

petroglyph, barker dam trail, joshua tree

petroglyph, barker dam trail, joshua tree

bird_new As our day draws to a close, we head to Hidden Valley. A short, mile-long interpretive trail through an area rich with history, wildlife, and rock climbers.

Back in the early 20th century, the area around Joshua Tree got a lot more rain than it does these days. Before the land was protected in 1936, ranchers and prospectors tried to make a living in the region, and one of the most colorful was a man named William Keys. Keys built the nearby Desert Queen Ranch. He blasted his way through Joshua Tree boulders to let his cattle graze on the untouched grassland in Hidden Valley and made improvements to Barker Dam.

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

The current climate is much drier and the pastures have mostly vanished, but this short and easy hike into Hidden Valley will give you a nice glimpse at some of the region’s plants and animals.

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

Located just two hours east of Los Angeles, Joshua Tree National Park is a desert getaway that boasts some of the most dramatic scenery in southern California. From the weird and wonderful Mojave Desert to the vast and stark Sonoran Desert. Joshua Tree: The Complete Guide shows readers the park’s highlights and hidden gems. Fascinating chapters on the region’s history, geology, ecology, archaeology and wildlife reveal the story behind the scenery. Gorgeous color photos showcase the park’s namesake Joshua trees. Detailed maps reveal over 20 of the park’s best hikes. An indispensable travel guide for outdoor enthusiasts and travelers on a budget.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Painting in the Hotel Andaluz, Albuquerque, NM
Passionate painting in the Hotel Andaluz

Vast skies and big sun greet us as we step out into the chilly air at Albuquerque International Airport. Here to explore the city – its history, architecture and food – we head to the Hotel Andaluz in downtown Albuquerque.

The Andalucian region of Spain inspired the hotel’s décor and architectural style.
The Andalucian region of Spain inspired the hotel’s décor and architectural style.
Hotel Andaluz, Albuquerque, NM
Unique private alcoves in the lobby.

Hotel Andaluz was originally opened in 1939 by New Mexico native Conrad Hilton, and was the fourth Hilton Hotel ever built. During the last renovation the new ownership incorporated many green initiatives into the building. Furnishings, equipment, and demolition debris were recycled and documented throughout the process. Solar energy generates approximately 60% of the guest rooms’ hot water. Interior finishes have been carefully selected to incorporate LEED approved natural and low VOC emissions products.

Besides being a visual treat the hotel offers comfort on all levels. Our room is spacious, nicely appointed and immaculate.  The lobby is inspired by the Andalusian region of Spain, and has a central area with small, intimate alcoves along one side. Staff is attentive and informed… and the rates are very good this time of year.

This is our first time exploring Albuquerque and we chose to stay downtown in hopes of walking everywhere. We soon learn the city is quite spread out. Uber becomes our best friend.

Contrasting the comfort of our hotel are the number of homeless people we observe as we walk around the downtown area. Not threatening to us but a sad reminder of how many people are falling through the cracks of our society. Doing research for this post I came across an article in the New York Times: Albuquerque, Revising Approach Toward the Homeless, Offers Them Jobs. The city is implementing a work program for those living on the street who are interested. A van goes around and picks up those who would like to work for the day. Participants are paid by the hour and provided a lunch of sandwiches, chips and granola bars. For the city, it represents a policy shift toward compassion and utility.

Albuquerque's historic Kimo theatre.
Albuquerque’s historic Kimo theatre.
KiMo Theater sconce
KiMo Theater Native American inspired sconce.

Not far from our hotel is one of the city’s best known landmarks, The KiMo Theatre, a Pueblo Deco picture palace, opened on September 19, 1927. Pueblo Deco was a flamboyant, short-lived architectural style that fused the spirit of the Native American cultures of the Southwest with the excitement of Art Deco. Native American motifs appeared in only a handful of theaters, and of those few, the KiMo is the undisputed king. We were fortunate to take in a matinee – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – part of a “Best of Bogart” series.

Kimo Theatre, Albuquerque, NM
Beautiful murals line the stairway of the KiMo Theatre.

The interior is designed to look like the inside of a ceremonial kiva, with log-like ceiling beams painted with dance and hunting scenes.

Albuquerque's Kimo Theatre lobby.
Albuquerque’s KiMo Theatre lobby.
Satellite Coffee in Nob Hill
Satellite Coffee in Nob Hill

One of the areas we Uber to is Nob Hill, a mile-long stretch along Central Avenue with shops, trendy restaurants, and nightspots. Central Avenue became part of Route 66 in 1937 as it passed through Albuquerque on its way from Chicago to Los Angeles. Today new and old businesses share a commitment to the area’s retro style, and the area remains lively in part because the University of  New Mexico occupies over 600 acres along Central Avenue, and serves more than 25,000 students. Nob Hill has been described as “the heart of Albuquerque’s Route 66 culture and also its hippest, funkiest retail and entertainment district”… and is named after Nob Hill in San Francisco.

The Guild, an independent art house.
The Guild, an independent art house.

On a cold winter afternoon, we enjoy a foreign film at the Guild in Nob Hill. A compact, retro-inspired theater screening limited release, international & art-house flicks.

Albuquerque is bordered to the east by the Sandia Mountains. Hoping to get a closer view of these spectacular peaks we plan to ride the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway—the world’s longest—to the crest, where you can look out over 11,000 square miles of magical New Mexico landscape. Unfortunately, the tram is closed on this Tuesday so we settle for a photo and decide to check out the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.

Sandia mountains
Sandia mountains

We read that the Museum’s mission is to serve as America’s resource for nuclear history and science. Exhibits and educational programs convey the diversity of individuals and events that shape the historical and technical context of the nuclear age. Having watched the series Manhattan about our country’s race to build the first atomic bomb in Los Alamos we are intrigued.

National Museum of Nuclear Science & History
National Museum of Nuclear Science & History
B52 bomber at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.
B52 bomber at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.

The Museum tells the story of the Atomic Age, from early research of nuclear development through today’s uses of the technology. In the summer the Museum runs a science camp program within the state, with 300 day-campers learning about robotics, flight, engineering, medicine and general science.

Prickly pear cactus in bloom.
Prickly pear cactus in bloom.

Prickly Pear Margarita’s are on our minds as we wind up the day and leave you with some dining suggestions… all able to accommodate a gluten-free diet.

Fork & Fig Reuben with brussels sprout side.
Fork & Fig Reuben with brussels sprout side.

Fork & Fig – specializing in gourmet sandwiches, paninis and wraps but also incorporates a fine dining element in the quality of their ingredients and creativity. For example, their Rueben… pastrami+shredded pork+green chile slaw+sauerkraut+swiss+russian dressing+marbled rye bread… delicious. And the day we dined a side of sautéed brussels sprouts with bacon and a touch of maple syrup.

Vinaigrette – a salad bistro that raises the “salad bar” with delicious entrée salads. Their perfectly dressed gourmet salads boast innovative flavor combinations from the savory All Kale Caesar to the sweet Nutty Pear-fessor and balanced Salacho taco salad. It’s healthy comfort food that is a pleasure to find when on the road.

Range Cafe on Menaul Blvd.
Fun decor at the Range Cafe on Menaul Blvd.

Slate Street Cafe – Preparing comfort foods in a contemporary style, they work with local farmers to provide the freshest ingredients… local eggs for breakfast and heirloom tomatoes for dinner. We recommend Katie’s Eggs with green chile to begin the day.

Farm & Table – Upscale and regional, offering seasonal menus featuring local-sourced foods. They have a garden and farm stand right behind the restaurant! One of the top restaurants in Albuquerque.

Range Cafe – an Albuquerque landmark serving up southwestern comfort food. Locally owned, family friendly, great service, and quality food… they are open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

As a useful guide, consider 100 Things to Do in Albuquerque Before You Die. The author, Ashley M. Biggers, is a writer and editor, as well as a native of Albuquerque. She has covered the city for several local and regional publications. Her book celebrates the top ways to (re)discover the city-from a trip 4,000 feet up on the aerial tramway to a public art walk, and includes places to hike, bike, and paddle… plus, where to dine on dishes prepared by the city’s best chefs.

Hampden, Baltimore

Bryan's Finds & Designs
Bryan’s Finds & Designs

Let me introduce you to North Baltimore’s Hampden, a 19th-century blue-collar mill town that has evolved into a hipster Baltimore neighborhood – both cool and kitschy – fun destination for a ladies day out!

Made famous for its starring role in John Waters’ films (like Hairspray) and long known as the place where everybody calls you “hon,” Hampden centers on 36th Street – known to locals simply as The Avenue. They even host a HONfest, an annual spring street festival dedicated to the beehive, cat’s-eye glasses and all things “hon.”

Hampden rowhouses
Row houses on the “Avenue” in Hampden.

spro coffee_newAfter years of living in the pacific northwest finding a good coffee shop is a habit. Soon we are in line at Spro Coffee ready to sip an espresso drink and indulge in one of their homemade pastries (several of which are gluten-free). Spro Hampden is unique in the industry. They offer a variety of coffees from multiple coffee roasters and offer those coffees in multiple brew methods: vacuum pot, pour over, chemex, eva solo, aeropress, french press, clever and cold brew drip tower. Their approach comes from the Hawaiian teaching: A’ohe pau ka ‘ike i ka halau ho’okahiNot all knowledge is taught in one school.

Hot drinks in hand we head to Bryan’s Finds & Designs which caught our eye as we parked the car. Handmade silver spoon bracelets downstairs and vintage clothing and hats upstairs, plus lots of other stuff, kept us entertained for awhile.

The guys at Bryan's Finds & Designs.
The guys at Bryan’s Finds & Designs.
The Alchemy Burrata.
The Alchemy Burrata.

Soon it is time for lunch. My sister suggests Alchemy – a true gem – delicious food and comfy atmosphere. The Crab Bisque was excellent; salads were fresh, creative, and the perfect size for lunch. My sister ordered one of the Chef’s Recommendations – Burrata – fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream – served with smoked tomato honey, sun dried tomatoes, pesto, crushed spiced pecans, crostini and microgreens. Wow.

Trohv, Hampstead, Baltimore.
Two floors of artful object to discover in Trohv.

Time for a little more shopping… Trohv (full of stylish home goods), Wild Yam Pottery (where they have throw your own sessions), and Paradiso (exceptional furniture, lighting, contemporary jewelry, and fine crafts).

Wild Yam Pottery
Wild Yam Pottery
Paradiso, Hampden, Baltimore, MD
Paradiso is the place to go for antiques to mid-century modern furnishings.

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City

The Whitney Museum of American Art

Walking to the Whitney Museum on a mild winter day is a treat. Eager to be out and about in Manhattan, we begin our trek from The Marcel at Gramercy Hotel on East 24th Street near Gramercy Park. Walking down 23rd we make our way to the High Line – a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side that will deliver us to the Whitney.

Approaching the High Line.
Approaching the High Line.
Walking on the High Line.
Walking on the High Line.

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew on the out-of-use elevated rail tracks during the 25 years after trains stopped running. Species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees were chosen for their hardiness, sustainability, and textural and color variation, with a focus on native species.

Italian architect and engineer, Renzo Piano, designed the new Whitney Museum. From a piece in the New Yorker I read:

  “He (Piano) expressed pride in the startling mismatch of the museum’s eastern and western fronts”. On the east, the building descends in tiers—“to bring down the scale,” he said—toward the historic low-rise buildings of the neighborhood. The side that faces the river is “more massive, more strong,” Piano said. A truncated-pyramid profile with jutting banks of large windows, it “talks to the rest of the world” from an attitude of confident majesty. Immodestly, but with proof in the product, the architect cited the elements that he had sought to incorporate in the design: “social life, urbanity, invention, construction, technology, poetry, light—an immense rich bouillabaisse.”

Whitney Museum
On the east side the Whitney descends in tiers.

Popular even during the week on a winter day, we wait in line outside for about 20 minutes to enter the Whitney. Observing the action in the Museum’s restaurant Untitled we decide to begin with an early lunch. Occupying a long, narrow space with glass walls on three sides, the restaurant, like the rest of the museum, was designed by Renzo Piano.

Untitled restaurant at the Whitney Museum.
Untitled restaurant at the Whitney Museum.

Untitled is a new restaurant from Chef Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern and its menu is inspired by the seasons and the creative environment of the museum. While waiting we look through his cookbook – V is for Vegetables – delicious doable recipes with short ingredient lists and color photos, designed for home cooks.

Sitting at the Untitled bar, lunch was delicious and social. Our waiter was knowledgeable and guided me through what turned out to be a fairly gluten-free menu, and highly recommended their acclaimed chocolate chip cookie (entirely gluten-free). Turns out the recipe was born when pastry chef Miro Uskokovic took it upon himself to create the ultimate chocolate chip cookie – one combining a soft, gooey interior with a toothsome, crunchy exterior. Playing with varieties and ratios of sugar and butter, he settled on a combination of brown and white sugar with clarified browned butter. Then, to see if the cookie could be made gluten-free on special request, he tested the cookie with Thomas Keller’s Cup4Cup gluten-free flour. The result? The staff actually preferred the GF version.

Food truck in front of Whitney
Business is slow for artful food truck in front of the Whitney.

The Whitney Museum of American Art was born out of sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s advocacy on behalf of living American artists. At the beginning of the twentieth century, artists with new ideas found it nearly impossible to exhibit or sell their work in the United States. Recognizing the obstacles these artists faced, Mrs. Whitney began purchasing and showing their work, thereby becoming the leading patron of American art from 1907 until her death in 1942. Today the Whitney’s collection includes over 21,000 works created by more than 3,000 artists in the United States during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Blues, 1929, Archibald J. Motley Jr.
Blues, 1929, Archibald J. Motley Jr. (Courtesy of Nasher Museum of Art)

At the time of our visit a special exhibit –  Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist – caught my attention and was the highlight of my visit. Archibald John Motley Jr. (1891–1981) was a bold and highly original modernist and one of the great visual chroniclers of twentieth-century African American life. As the Whitney exhibition notes of Motley’s artistic interest in these portraits: “On the one hand, he believed that seeing themselves in art would help African Americans feel pride in their own racial identities; on the other, he hoped that seeing beautiful contemporary black subjects would dispel stereotypes and undermine racism.”

View of the Hudson River from the Whitney .
View of the Hudson River from the Whitney .
View of the High Line from the Whitney.
View of the High Line and the neighborhood from the Whitney.

Savoring Motley’s paintings of jazz and blues, we end our day at Jazz Standard. Home to world-class jazz, warm Southern hospitality, and award-winning Southern cuisine and barbecue. Finding the setting intimate and comfortable we settle in to enjoy Children of the Light, two-thirds of the legendary Wayne Shorter Quartet. The music is clear and beautiful. Acoustic sound with some electric touches, simple but also majestic. Danilo Perez is the excellent pianist, John Patitucci is the great bass player and Brian Blade is called “one of the best drummers in this moment”. Amazing day… and only a 10 minute walk back to the Marcel at Gramercy Hotel!

Children of the Light at Jazz Standard
Drinks all around as we settle in for Children of the Light at Jazz Standard.

International travel benefits the brain

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!

Barcelona, Spain – walk, dine, sleep

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.

Dining in Valencia, Spain

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

Strolling in Valencia, Spain

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

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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.

You may also want to check out the New York Times, 36 Hours in Valencia, Spain, for more artistic and culinary innovations in this sunny city.

Dining in Granada, Spain

Puerto del Carmen in Granada, Spain
Puerto del Carmen in Granada, Spain

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, sipping wine, people watching… As it is, we enjoy two meals there during our day and a half in Granada. A common gesture in Spain is to bring a free tapa after you order drinks, and here our gift was a small plate of shrimp with delicate tempura vegetables on top. First class. Then came the entrees…

Salad of smoked salmon, hearts of palm and tomatoes at Puerta del Carmen.
Salad of smoked salmon, hearts of palm and tomatoes at Puerta del Carmen.
Puerta del Carmen Pork Shoulder
Puerta del Carmen Pork Shoulder

For simpler fare the young woman at Hotel Casa 1800 Granada  suggested a lovely little cafe – Carmela. Open all day, a blessing for weary travelers, we find our way there late afternoon and enjoy the potato prawn salad and a sublime vegetable moussaka.

Carmela Restaurante, Granada, Spain
Carmela Restaurante, Granada, Spain
Deliciously delicate vegetable moussaka at Carmela's.
Deliciously delicate vegetable moussaka at Carmela’s.

Taken with the local wine and olive oil served at Carmela, the waitress gives us a tip on where to find them, which leads us to Jamoneria Casa Diego. An old world charcuterie not far from the restaurante with hams, meats, cheeses… and the Muñana Rojo from Sierra Neveda we sipped with lunch, as well as the olive oil! We leave with two bottles of wine and olive oil to bring home… and stock up on our favorite snacks – dark chocolate, marcona almonds and fresh walnuts.

Granada has an edge, maybe due to its large student population (70,000), and is delightfully cosmopolitan for a city of its size. Ethnic restaurants are more plentiful than in other Andalusian cities, and its Islamic past is still present with Muslim North Africans making up about 10% of the population. Much to explore in addition to the Alhambra.

Read about our visit to the Alhambra, and see the photos and video:
Granada, Spain – The Alhambra

Granada, Spain – The Alhambra

Alhambra

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 attention for the entire afternoon.

Water, rare and precious in most of the Islamic world, was the purest symbol of life to the Moors. Coming from the deserts of the south, the Moors celebrated water and its abundance in their new home.

Alhambra walls

The Alhambra was once a city of a thousand people and covers an area of over 32 acres. Its enclosed by more than a mile of walls reinforced by thirty towers, many of which are in ruins.

Gardens in the Alhambra.

Alhambra fruit tree

The Generalife was a retreat where the monarchs of Granada could relax, away from the bustle of the court. Yet close enough to the palace to attend to any urgent matters that might arise.

View of Generalife in the distance.
View of Generalife in the distance.
Generalife and its gardens.
Generalife and its gardens.
Courtyard in the Generalife .
Courtyard in the Generalife .

The Alhambra’s Palacios Nazaries, the Moorish royal palace, was built mostly in the 14th century.

Alhambra - palace

I read that space in the Alhambra is open, like in the desert. The Courtyard of the Lions isn’t a house with a garden, but a garden containing a house. Refreshing water flows from the mouths of the twelve white marble lions.

Alhambra - palace courtyard
Courtyard of the Lions.
Ceiling detail in the Palace.
Ceiling detail in the Palace.
Palace door surrounded by intricate plaster design.
Palace door surrounded by intricate plaster design.
The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life crowns the line of inscriptions written around the wall. This type of plasterwork motif spreading downward from an apex is an allusion to the inverted tree that sustains the celestial bodies in the heavens and buries its roots in paradise.

Alhambra - The Hall of the Kings
The Hall of the Kings.
Window with a view.
Window with a view.

After an amazing afternoon at the Alhambra, our brains totally saturated with history, our bodies damp and chilled, we return to our slice of history – Hotel Casa 1800 Granada. Located at the foot of the Alhambra, in a charming Old Granadian house from the XVII Century, we are ready for a siesta.

Hotel Casa 1800 Granada
Hotel Casa 1800 Granada

You may also enjoy our post:
Dining in Granada, Spain

Seville, Spain – The Royal Alcazar

Wooden cupola ceiling recreating a starry night sky.
Wooden cupola ceiling recreating a starry night sky.

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 use.

Moorish architecture is a variation of Islamic architecture. There are many motifs, or repeated patterns, in Moorish architecture – different styles of arches, calligraphy, vegetative design, and decorative tiles.

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Glass ceiling illuminated by the sunlight.
Glass ceiling illuminated by the sunlight.

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Built and rebuilt from the early Middle Ages right up to our times, the Royal Alcazar consists of a group of palatial buildings and extensive gardens. Within the walls and gardens you can experience the historical evolution of Seville.

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Moorish architecture is named after the Moors, North African people who conquered the Iberian Peninsula and many islands in the Western Mediterranean beginning in the 700s. The Moors controlled what is now Spain, Portugal, and the Pyrenees region of France for hundreds of years. The Moors were Muslim and influenced by the Islamic architecture that developed in the Middle East.

In Rick Steves Spain, you’ll find an inviting mix of cities and towns, including the lively cities of Barcelona and Sevilla, and the Andalucían countryside. We appreciated the self-guided walks through the castles, cathedrals, and villages – very helpful, informative, and fun!

During our travels in Portugal and Spain, I wrote other blog posts, click on each title below to view photos and read about our adventures:

 Seville, Spain – historic bullring

Seville, Spain – Cathedral and Geralda Bell Tower

Lisbon, Portugal – Walkabout

Lisbon, Portugal – Mercado da Ribeira

Seville, Spain – historic bullring

Statue of bullfighter_newThe Real Maestranza bullring is a landmark in Seville and in Spanish bullfighting.

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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.

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Above the matador’s entrance to the ring is seating for the Royal family.

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Heading down to the stables… there are no bulls, horses, or bull fights this time of year.

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The Chapel dedicated to the Virgen de la Caridad, where matadors pray before entering the ring.

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Quick sketch I did from a poster.

 

The Real Maestranza bullring has a small and interesting museum where we learned more about the world of bullfighting through the exhibitions of costumes, photographs, posters, and paintings. Our guide explained that bull fighting has historically been controversial in Spain, and was banned in Barcelona a few years ago.

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Finishing up our tour early evening, we went for a walk around that area. Walking around Seville is a pleasure – a feast for the eyes.

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Historic tower along the riverfront.

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Residential area across the river.
Residential area across the river.
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Temptations abound…
Carefully wrapping up our chosen chocolates.
Carefully wrapping up our chosen chocolates.

Seville, Spain – Cathedral, Geralda Bell Tower, dining

Night church
Seville Cathedral with the Giralda (Bell Tower) aglow.

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 build, it is the third largest church in Europe, and the largest Gothic church in the world.

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The next morning we rise to sun, clear blue skies, and make our way to the Cathedral… take a stroll with us…

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The tomb of Christopher Columbus is located inside the Seville Cathedral in Spain. It was designed by the sculptor Arturo Melida. Originally installed in Havana, it was moved to Seville after Spain lost control of Cuba.

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Harvest time in the Cathedral’s Patio de los Naranjos (oranges).

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Spectacular views as we make our way up the 308′ high Giralda (bell tower). There are no stairs but a gently sloping ramp which ends just below the belfry. It is one of the very few buildings of Islamic Spain left unscathed by Christian intervention, and it is said that the Castillian king, Ferdinand III, rode to the top of the bell tower on horseback on the day he entered Seville on horseback.

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orange harvest
Quite a harvest from the Patio de los Naranjos!

In the distance is the Real Maestranza, Seville’s historic bullring, which we will visit tomorrow…

view with bullring

Gourmet tapas bars are the current trend in Seville and plentiful in our Santa Cruz neighborhood. Young staff at the Hotel Casa 1800, where we are staying and highly recommend, suggest two tapas bars near the hotel – both delicious – and for paella the more traditional, Cuna-2 Restaurante.

La Azotea is a stylish, small restaurant, with good service and delicious food. Innovative and beautifully presented tapas are the norm. Our first night in Seville we are spoiled by their tapas… a beautiful roll of salmon tartare, grilled octopus on a potato puree, rice triangles filled with crayfish and cheese. We return another morning for a comforting american style breakfast of omelet, meats, bread (including gluten-free).

Our last night in Seville we dine at El Pasaje. Another gem for tapas, small and cozy with an outdoor terrace in the rear of the restaurant which is enclosed and heated for the winter. Another feast of tastes is enjoyed… artichokes with almonds and ham in a vinaigrette, octopus with rustic potatoes, grilled salmon with a tasty sauce, and chicken masala with black rice. We drink glasses of the house Rioja – inexpensive and delicious (most wines by the glass are 3 to 4 euros in Spain).

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On the other end of the dining spectrum is Cuna-2. Housed in a four-story mansion designed by the great Ánibal Gonzalez. It’s been beautifully restored – a cool mix of old world beauty and ultra modern designer furniture that creates a uniquely stylish ambiance. Lovely tapas and traditional entrees like paella (which we enjoyed), are attractively presented in a number of pretty moorish tiled small dining areas flowing from a fountained central courtyard. Service was impeccable, friendly and informed. Their lovely roof terrace and cocktail bar would be a glorious in warmer weather.

You may also enjoy our other post on Seville:
Seville, Spain – The Royal Alcazar