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Captivating Coves on the Costa Brava

Captivating Coves on the Costa Brava

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Why not join us in Bath in November for the Mozartfest?

Where were you when the world changed with the spread of Covid-19? We were happily isolated on Spain’s glorious Costa Brava, perched in a tiny but perfectly equipped apartment on the 10th floor, overlooking the bay of Roses. With views like this, we were happy to quietly keep to ourselves, stepping out of the almost-deserted building daily to wander a lonely beach or a rocky path. We’ve spent time previously on this beautiful coast closer to Barcelona, but this time we’re researching the area further northeast, almost to the French border, for an upcoming private tour…and we’ll include these enticing sights in our Wonders of Barcelona tour as well.
The flamboyant Surrealist artist Salvador Dali called the Costa Brava home for 50 years, and we’ve taken previous tour guests to the Dali museum in Figueres, which was so crowded that several of us quickly walked through, then sought out a cafe in town to relax with a drink! Our visit to Dali’s house-museum in Portlligat, a tiny hamlet on the next cove from lovely Cadaques, is a polar opposite, with only 8 guests allowed at a time. Inside and out, Dali’s quirky creativity is obvious – a polar bear in a salon? Why not? Eggs on the terrace? Why not?
Also obvious is his appreciation of a view – both outside, and in, where his bed is positioned so that he was “the first person in Spain to see the sun rise” – via a precisely positioned mirror. He knew just what he wanted to see, and to convey with his inimitable art!
Days of exploring are followed by breathtaking sunsets from our little balcony, and perhaps a moonlight stroll to complete the day.
Cadaques, adjacent to Portlligat, is often called by Spaniards “the most beautiful village in Spain”, its whitewashed buildings clustered around a delightful cove.
Cobbled lanes lead to quiet paths along the water, where we stroll before stopping for a sublime seaside lunch.
Heading west along  Roses Bay one day, we pause at Sant Martí d’Empúries, a tiny walled village crowned by a stalwart church. Flanked by a pine forest on one side, on the other spreads a long sandy beach, with views back to Roses.

We fit in one more hike along Cala Montgo before catching the last United flight to the US from Barcelona – we know we’ll have two weeks of self-quarantine ahead of us so we’re enjoying this freedom and the beautiful views as much as we can! Our hiking guide pamphlet warns of steep cliffside paths, and we scramble upward for a while, look back at where we started, and decide that the safer option would be to head back towards the flatter boulders, where we pause for a selfie to look back on until we can return to the Mediterranean  – when will that be?!?

Provençal Tastes, Sights, and Sounds

Provençal Tastes, Sights, and Sounds

Easter Week 2017
The South of France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Why not join us on our newest tour in September – Bordeaux and Dordogne

Come along for a day filled with provençal delights, beginning with the Wednesday market in St. Remy de Provence…stalls fill the charming squares,their colorful produce enticing – how about Kristin Espinasse’s (of French Word a Day) Tarte à la Tomate with a few of these beauties? 
Palest blue shutters whisper “south of France” on this boutique, one of the many enticing home-goods shops worth a visit.
Sated with sights and smells, we’re ready for lunch at Kirk’s all-time favorite, Bistro du Paradou, down the road towards Le Baux de Provence. It’s Wednesday, and rabbit is today’s main dish, but the meal begins with MY favorite of their first courses – meltingly succulent aubergine, with a side of rich tomato coulis. After the remarkable cheese basket, a meal in itself, we finish with dessert and coffee, then trundle out to the car to make our way to an olive oil mill.
With the hilltop ruins of Le Baux in the distance, we walk through the mistral-tossed olive groves before purchasing a tin or two of some award-winning oil.
Beneath that menacing fortress are the towering rooms hollowed out from bauxite quarries, now the Carrières de Lumiéres – Quarries of Images, a sound and light spectacle that is a highlight of our Provence tours. This year (the spectacle changes yearly) the artists Bosch, Brueghel and Arcimboldo are featured – a more gruesome, at times, focus than we’ve ever seen here. Not one of our favorites – but worth a visit regardless to be surrounded by art and sound – a unique experience.
Senses sated, back to Aix we go – more Provençal delights await us tomorrow!

Festive Florence

Festive Florence

Winter Holidays, December 2016
Florence, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

As we’re coasting into Italy our pilot announces that we’ll arrive not in Florence, as planned, but Bologna, due to extreme fog in our expected destination. Dreams of a delicious Tuscan lunch forgotten, we watch the hours tick by as we await our luggage (everything’s slowed to a crawl in Bologna due to all the re-routed Florence fights!), then load a couple of very cramped buses for the hour trip to Florence airport. Gasps of astonishment waft through the bus as we approach Florence and see the entire city under a heavy blanket of clouds – and this at nearly 4 pm!
We’ve kept in touch with the owner, Gianni, of the apartment we’ve rented to let him know of our delays (can we rave once again about T-Mobile and their invaluable plans?  No extra charges for texts and data wherever we travel!), and he meets us with a smile and takes us to our spacious home for the next few days. Before we even unpack we find the closest hole-in-the-wall and order a pre-dinner snack – oh those delicious Tuscan sips and tastes!
Then back to settle in to the apartment, located just over the Ponte Vecchio in the Oltrarno district – a superb location! If you’re looking for a comfortable, well-located and well-priced Florence spot, we sure recommend Guicciardini 10! After dinner we stroll across the foggy old bridge and from one favorite piazza to another, enjoying the mysteriously misty Christmas lights.
We wake up to the Florence we are familiar with – bright and sunny! Crossing the city to an old favorite, Teatro del Sale, we renew our annual membership, then stroll the fabulous Mercato Sant’Ambrogio before lunch at the Teatro. There’s something for everyone in the market – fresh fruits and vegetables outside, beautifully prepared meats, creative appetizers and cheeses inside, and out the back door the antiques stalls that used to be set up by the old fish market. Here’s Kirk’s description of a row of intriguing antipasti platters: “Found in a Florentine market: An assortment of ground meaty stuffings wrapped in thin “leaves” of dough. Cook in the oven and serve to admiring guests. Also there are tons of meaty cheesy vegetably things tied in strings with bacon or sewn together with toothpicks to be cooked and presented together. You don’t see this stuff in Italian restaurants in the US. Gotta be here for the real deal. Yum.”
We’re happy to find out that photos are now allowed at Teatro del Sale, where the chef shouts out what’s coming from the oven or stove-top from the kitchen window, dishing out ribollita, a warming stew, from a giant pot.For years the creative owner, Fabio Picchi, honored with a bust and photos above the wood-stoked oven and still cooking up a storm, would gruffly deny any photos, but now allows us to snap to our heart’s content. Baking pans and oval platters of pastas, vegetables, roasted chicken, and my favorite olive-drizzled focaccia (I could fill up on just THAT for lunch!) keep filling the table and our stomachs, with plenty of serve-yourself wine and water.
Fresh clementines, a bowl of rich whipped cream for tall twirly cookies, almond cake, and diamonds of Cibreo’s (Picci’s elegant flagship restaurant, from which all of the others developed) melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cake sate our sweet tooth.
A reviving cup of Illy coffee in the library and we’re ready to hit the streets again.
Creative shop windows catch our eye as we walk to Piazza Santissima Annunziata with it’s unique monkey fountain, then back to Piazza del Duomo, full of so many memories. We had this view when we took Kirk’s dear mother to Florence, and rented an apartment so close we could almost touch the cathedral. And the soaring bell-tower always reminds me of climbing to the top with our grandchildren a few years later. From Kirk: “Here’s 30 seconds from the center of the Roman center of Florence. Romans tended to build near a river or a spring (preferably a hot spring) in a checkerboard pattern. There was usually one main east-west street called a decumanum and a north-south street called the cardo. You can see down all four directions from this point.”
As the sun sets we make it to Piazza Santa Croce, another favorite.F-lights, a holiday celebration of creative lighting on Florence icons, delights with art-class drawings projected on the simple facade of Santo Spirito, and near Palazzo Pitti colored balloons float above the street behind a marble column erected by Medici ruler Cosimo I in 1572 to commemorate his victory over Siena at the Battle of Marciano in 1554.Our time’s gone much too quickly – just enough hours to say hello to favorite spots – but before we go we can’t miss the Mercato Centrale, where we stock up on Tuscan specialties for our New Year’s Eve feast in Rome. And before the train speeds us south we peek into Santa Felicita at a Pontormo Annunciation, walk along the river to Torre San Niccolo, and are surprised by a rhinocerous hanging from the ceiling inside a beautiful palazzo, the city’s science museum.Bye-bye balloons, thanks for the party!

 

Antwerp Celebrates

Antwerp Celebrates

Sunday, August 28,2016, continued
Antwerp, Belgium

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  How about an unforgettable holiday with us at  New Years’ Jazz in Italy?

Red booths are set up all along the main squares and streets, as Antwerp, along with many other European cities, celebrates a weekend of culture. 08281603cathedralculturefairCultural attractions and groups from all over the country advertise their offerings for the year, and music and theater fills the city as different performances take place throughout the days – what a great weekend to be here!
I can’t tell if this is an oompah band, or a mariachi troupe! Who knew they could sound so similar?
We couldn’t figure out what this giant granny was promoting – 08281603demaancan you tell?
On the other side of the Cathedral of Our Lady (whose spire is still the tallest structure in the city) is the Grote Markt square, with the hand-throwing statue (a rather gruesome Flemish folktale – google it) in the center.08281603grotemarktGilt-topped guild houses surround the square, the golden statues atop celebrating the trade associations of the city’s industries, or their patron saint – such as a sailing ship, a man on a rearing horse, or St. George and the dragon.The stately façade of City Hall dates from Antwerp’s Golden Age (the 16th century) 08281603flagsoftradeand is adorned with flags from many countries, representing the importance, even then, of international trade to the city.
Rubens left his mark, of course, on the richly decorated Cathedral, 08281603insidecathedralwith not just one, but three huge paintings, such as this Descent from the Cross.
08281603notjustonerubensThe intricately carved pulpit, a riot of birds, foliage, and angels, 08281603pulpitis an amazing piece of art dating from the early 1700s.
When in Belgium you MUST…have some chocolate, right? We oblige, with an afternoon snack, 08281603wheninbelgiumand then take in another free (for the weekend) museum, appreciating the peaceful garden courtyard 08281604freemuseums as well as the art and the aristocratic home from the 1500s.
Dinner, another Belgian “must”, 08281605wheninbelgiumis accompanied by friendly chickens – the rooster keeping an eye on things as the hen scratches the ground right by our table. 08281605dinner-with-chickensThanks, Antwerp, for including us in the party!

 

Rubens Lived Here

Rubens Lived Here

Sunday, August 28,2016
Antwerp, Belgium

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  How about an unforgettable holiday with us at  New Years’ Jazz in Italy?

One of the pleasures of Antwerp is how easily accessible the sights are – most within a 30 minute walk of the train station! It makes a great day trip from Brussels, but is so delightful that we enjoy staying here.
We’ve got a full day ahead of us, refreshing our memories with all the wonderful things we’ll introduce our Amsterdam and Flemish Treasures guests to next summer. A walk down the Meir, Antwerp’s elegant shopping avenue,08281601-elegantmeir takes us by impressive palaces, now occupied by familiar main street emporiums, such as H & M and Benetton. Turning left on Wapper, we step back in time a few centuries as we enter Rubens’b home and studio. Rubens acquired the house in the early 1600s and established his living quarters in the left wing – one of his few self portraits hangs in the dining room.
08281601diningroomThe shorter-than-expected beds, cozy behind curtains, were designed for sitting-up-sleeping, 08281601woodenbedthe prescribed healthy way to sleep over 400 years ago.
Rubens added a new Renaissance wing to the right side, housing his studio. The simple brick façade on Wapper hides a glorious work of art in the back, facing the garden. 08281602whatitalianinfluenceInfluenced by his years in Italy, he commissioned this sculpture-dotted courtyard and the loggia which connects the two structures.
The light-filled studio, now a gallery, 08281602galleryintimatestudiois just the kind of museum we most enjoy – intimate and focused. Canvases of Rubens, his studio, and his contemporaries invite a closer look – 08281602detailed-ruffmentionmetalholderoh how I love the intricate ruffs of his time! In the linen closet beside the bedroom, the wire frame that enabled these complicated frills to stand is on display – I always wondered how starch could be enough to support those elaborate neckpieces!
Isn’t this a wonderful portrayal of what still goes on today in the markets? 08281602marketshopperThe elegant chatelaine searching out the best for her home, the vendor proudly displaying her perfect wares. We see it every day in Aix en Provence.
An inviting path leads out to the garden…08281602gardenand Rubens family enjoyed it in their day!
08281602gardenrubensI’d love to just sit and enjoy the peaceful beauty….08281602wanttositbut there’s more to see today in the city of Rubens…

 

Clocks, Cakes and Steaks in Prague

Clocks, Cakes and Steaks in Prague

Monday, May 16, 2016
Prague, Czech Republic

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Why not join us on a summer tour in Provence or Amsterdam?

What’s on everybody’s must-see list when they come to Prague? The striking of the town hall clock, of course!05161601 clock So we join the crowd to watch the action (skeletons, Moors, apostles, and all) and, after all that hard work, stop for coffee at the world’s only Cubist Café. From the staircase,05161601 cubist stairway to the chandeliers, to the coat racks, 05161601 faceted cubist cafethe interior is adorned with those distinctive diamond patterns and  faceted edges, particular to Cubist design. But the coffee and cakes are pure decadence…05161601 viennese coffee black forest cakeViennese coffee and a Black Forest Cake to share, please – now we’re fortified for some shopping!
And before we know it, it’s time to continue our international cuisine theme with the best Steak-Frites outside of Paris – at the delightful little Café de Paris across the river. 051616012 best steak fritesTucked into a cobbled corner of Malta Square, it’s quite popular with the French embassy staffers, who work just around the corner. Four of us can’t finish all of the steak and fries – but oh are they fantastic! 051616012 frites steak secret sauceAnd that secret sauce….the best!
There’s more to see on this side of the river – pretty gardens, the many embassies and ministry headquarters,051616012 ministry of culture and the Lennon Wall, begun in the 1980s 051616012 neighborhood embassies gardens and walland still going strong, evolving daily.
Back at the hotel, getting ready for tonight’s event, we spy a balloon floating over the old city – what fun that would be!051616012 viewAs the sun sets,051616013 concert rudolfinum we complete our day with an interesting Spanish Baroque concert in the Rudolfinum – well, it’s certainly been an international day!