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Hidden Coves and Medieval Towns

Hidden Coves and Medieval Towns

May 2018 – Music and Markets Barcelona Tour
Girona and the Costa Brava, Spain

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

We’ve sped northeast to Girona on one of Spain’s super fast trains, picked up a car, and headed for the sea, where the coast towards France becomes rugged and remote, with gorgeous little coves edging in to the the rocky forested hillsides. Villages are few and far between, but worth stopping by – we pause at the pretty village of Begur for lunch, wandering through the market stalls til we find a few cafes in the historic center. Expecting a simple goat cheese salad, I’m surprised with a towering creation – lots of flavors complementing the baked cheese atop the salad-filled crepe – wow!Catching enticing glimpses of vivid turquoise as we wind down the steep road to Sa Tuna, we eagerly step out of the car – glad that the rain is holding off so we can walk to the next cove, as planned – see the path on the left? Knowing that our tour guests enjoy walking, we’d given them a choice of another museum today, or a coastal walk – we’re glad they wanted the hike! Every other step demands a pause to take in the latest vista – just gorgeous! Rounding the edge, we pass a couple of walkers and beg for a foursome photo, then continue towards Cala Aiguafreda – how about that private stairway to the water?! The raindrops start as we’re nearly back to Ca Tuna, with its little chapel  – just in time! An hour or so through the rain and we’re back in Girona, with its colorful homes hanging over the river – and a snazzy Eiffel-designed bridge across!The cathedral tops the town – lots of steps up no matter which way you go! On the way we pass through the Call, the ancient Jewish Quarter, and walk by several vaulted stairways – the rain has passed so we stay out in the open. And we head even higher, walking a ways on the ancient walls that used to surround the town. Behind the church, the wall is easily accessed from the Bishop’s Garden. We have time for one more stop before catching the train back to Barcelona – the best churros ever at Montse L’artesana on Cort Reial under the arches. Dipped in thick hot chocolate they’re a don’t-miss Spanish treat – wish I had some right now!

 

Gaudi-licious!

Gaudi-licious!

May 2018 – Music and Markets Barcelona Tour
Barcelona, Spain

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

We’re back in Barcelona, and our tour guests have arrived – let’s begin with a day filled with the unique and playful designs of Gaudi, Catalonia’s Modernista (Art Nouveau) master.
Towering above the adjacent park and apartment buildings, Sagrada Familia has been under construction since 1882, and we’ve never seen it without cranes higher than the existing towers as work continues on the structure, inside and out. Will it be completed by the hoped-and-planned for date of 2028? We shall see…
It’s often compared to a giant drip-sand castle – yes, I see the resemblance!
The details are overwhelming –  look closely to appreciate the joyful musicians on one side, the peaceful Holy Family or threatening Darth-Vader-like soldiers at the crucifixion on the other.
Inside the organ is playing as we quietly take in the immense space – it feels as if one is in a forest of pale columns, lit with beams of color from the windows. When we were last here the stained glass was being installed – fascinating to watch. Now it’s completed, and bathes the space in jewel tones.Beneath the nave are the studios, with models Gaudi constructed to design his signature parabolic arches. Modern technology, with 3D printers and more, has taken the place of centuries-old methods as work continues.
Fascinating Casa Batllo on Passeig de Gracia is our next stop – a quirky charmer inside and out.
Not a straight line to be seen – Gaudi worshiped the curve, said there are no straight lines in nature, and kept it that way himself.Wouldn’t it be fun to quietly sit in this nook and read? One seat is larger than the other, designed specifically for the owners, whose daughter and her fiancée could sit on the wider seat while the dueña sat across making sure they behaved themselves.
Life goes on in the occupied houses surrounding Casa Battlo – laundry’s hung out to dry on one balcony and the table is set for family lunch on another as we pause on the upper floor terrace off the dining room. Gaudi’s artistry continues all the way to the tip top of the roof – and off in the distance we can see the spires of Sagrada Familia. Even Passeig de Gracia, the main drag in this part of town, is Gaudi designed – right down to the sidewalk beneath our feet as we walk a few blocks to Cinc Sentits (Five Senses) for a memorable lunch. A stone is set in the middle of the table…we haven’t figured out why. But we’re soon distracted with a block of wood, in which are 4 heavy shot glasses. Our waiter describes the contents – maple syrup, a sprinkle of sea salt, a zabaglione-like layer, then cream – and suggests downing it in one swig, which we do – indescribably delicious!
And there’s more to come…from succulent scallops, to luscious chocolate – yes, our senses are delighted! And now we’re ready for more Gaudi…
Trencadis, Modernista mosaic composed of broken ceramics, is a defining characteristic of whimsical Park Guell, a playground of Gaudi’s creations.
Up to the market-hall rooftop we climb, to take in the view of city and sea from the colorful benches snaking around the edge – yes, all curves again!
The interior of those Hansel and Gretel like houses below are worth a peek – a colorful playhouse feel.
We’ve sampled just one of Barcelona’s unique highlights – the Modernista creations of Gaudi.
A harpsichord concert completes the day. The tuner has his work cut out for him during intermission – harpsichords don’t stay in tune like pianos do.
More adventures in store tomorrow – we’re going to the Wild Coast – the Costa Brava!

Palm Sunday in Barcelona

Palm Sunday in Barcelona

Sunday, April 9, 2017
Barcelona, Spain

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer –  why not join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast , in Provence, or Amsterdam?

A cozy corner in Poble Sec, the neighborhood near Montjuic where we’re staying, is the perfect place for our last Barcelona  breakfast – I’m inspired to serve our yogurt and fruit at home in such an elegant goblet!We’ll fly back to France later today, and our final hours are spent in the Barri Gotic, the old quarter. Petritxol is one of my favorite strolling lanes – with several recommended chocolate shops, churrerias, and boutiques – love the over-door decor of this bookshop! And a highlight of the street is the ceramic tile vintage cartoons  – such as this one exclaiming that from dawn to dusk all the people walk by. As we’re walking to the cathedral to see the post-mass dancing of the Sardana, we’re sidetracked by the thump of drums, and find a Palm Sunday procession winding through the narrow streets. We quietly walk alongside the solemn marchers, and catch up to the heavy float being carried through the streets by a hefty group of men. Semana Santa celebrations are so beautiful in Spain – we’re glad that our travel schedule has us here on Palm Sunday!
The Sardana, a traditional Catalan folk dance, takes place every Saturday evening and Sunday morning in front of the cathedral. The band is ready on the steps, and the dancers join hands and begin to circle to the music, the steps as familiar to them as their names.
Barcelona, what a pleasure! We’ll be back in a few weeks, bringing new guests eager to experience your delights!

 

Going to Girona

Going to Girona

Saturday, April 8, 2017
Girona, Spain

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer –  why not join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast , in Provence, or Amsterdam?

Brushing up on the intriguing town of Girona, a 30 minute (fast) train ride from Barcelona, today. It’s the first time we’ve traveled on one of Spain’s fast trains, called AVE (bird), and yes, they speed us to Girona MUCH faster than we could drive there – like in a third of the time!
It’s a toss-up for my favorite view in the town – between the mountain-and-countryside vista from the cathedral, snow-capped Pyrenees in the distance, and the lazily curving river with its colorful overhanging houses. I think the river wins – spanned by several bridges, even one designed by Eiffel! Crossing the stone bridge on our way into the historic center from the train station (an easy ten minute walk) a Palm Sunday market’s spread out along the river, with elaborately fashioned palms bearing little resemblance to their simple origins. Families are eagerly  checking out the stalls, choosing just the right palms for each one to carry to church tomorrow.
We have just a few hours here before returning to Barcelona, and quickly walk through the town, enjoying the charming architecture, strolling the robust medieval wall and the Call, the ancient Jewish quarter, peeking in the shops under the arches – and finding, right under those arches, the best churros we’ve ever tasted! We’ll be back in a couple of weeks – our Music and Markets guests have to taste these!
Returning to Barcelona, we’re drawn inside a palm-frond-filled church by quiet singing – as the fronds sway, gently waved, the melodies recall the millenias – old Hosannas of the first Palm Sunday….the celebrations have already started!

Hola Barcelona!

Hola Barcelona!

Friday, April 7, 2017
Barcelona, Spain

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer –  why not join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast , in Provence, or Amsterdam?

What fun this city is! We’ve planned a quick couple of days to brush up on our knowledge of Barcelona for next month’s Music and Markets Tour. We’re adding some new adventures, and including some vintage favorites, such as a walking tour of the Barri Gotic, the old town. Plaça Reial is hopping today, with outstanding young pianists performing their award-winning choices as we choose a place for lunch. A few minutes later an opera singer steps out on a balcony and serenades us – love it!
15 Nits, on the Plaça serves a delicious lunch at a bargain price – 11 euros for three courses! A great choice for the tour…
Our “R & D” days always include LOTS of walking, and we rack up as many steps today as we do on a New York City weekend! Last stop, the Magic Fountains of Montjuic, after a quick bite at a nearby tapas place – Pa amb Tomaquet shows up on nearly every menu: coca bread (rather like a ciabatta) rubbed with tomato, drizzled with olive oil. Simple but delicious!
The fountains are stupendous –  lavishly flowing water choreographed with snippets of music. We join hundreds, if not thousands, on the steps leading up Montjuic mountain and take it in…a first for us, and an experience perfect for a Music and Markets tour!

Barcelona Bites

Barcelona Bites

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer – join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast in July?

Waking up to another beautiful day, and on the hunt for breakfast…in the Sunday morning quiet of the Barri Goti (Gothic Quarter). 05101501 barri gotic breakfastOn our first Music and Markets Tour here (2016 dates will be similar), one of our clients and I wanted the same thing I want for breakfast – churros y chocolate – and found an excellent sample on Banys Nous street (which happens to be home to several chocolate shops). I love the old ceramic signs in this quarter – here are those who gathered at the baths on this street long ago.05101501 choc lane banys nous kirk patientMy wonderful patient husband smiles as I peer into café after café, a picture in my mind of the place and the churros (xurros here in Catalonia) I want…and La Granja, here since 1872, cozy and fragrant, fits the bill. We sit in the rear near the Roman Wall incorporated into the shop05101501 la granja since 1872 roman wall

and soon my crispy treats and super thick dark chocolate arrive – oh yes, they’re as good as they look! 05101501 mothers day breakfastWhat a pleasure it is just to stroll, unrushed, no agenda,  through pretty plazas, 05101501 sightsby quirky shops (umbrellas, anyone?), 05101501 umbrellas on ramblas and down the Ramblas to the flower vendors.05101501 usually avoid ramblas but flores worth a lookIt’s still early enough that the usually raucous Ramblas is calm, and we can gaze up at the lovely façades. 05101502 facades no gaudi this timeBoth here and in the Born quarter, where we’re staying, we’ve seen sheets and banners hung from balconies begging for quiet – “Please, we need to sleep!”. 05101502 facades please let us sleepHere’s my street – Santa Anna! 05101502 my streetAnd a little further down, Carrer Comtal, where each shop boasts a cute ceramic sign  – a dress shop,05101502 signs on comtal 1a cheesemonger, 05101502 signs on comtal cheesemongera cobbler,05101502 signs on comtal cobblera clock repairman. 05101502 signs on comtal clock repairCharming, no?
And now back to the beach. 05101502 w on the beachDon’t you just LOVE Barcelona? From the gothic quarter to the artsy Born to the golden sands of the beach in just minutes! And then there are the Gaudi masterpieces a little further into town, the Miro museum on Montjuic hill, several more museums, magnificent concert halls, innumerable fantastic restaurants…Barcelona’s got it all!
We passed lots of beachside restaurants on our walk to the Olympic Port last night, and now we want to stay right here in Barceloneta, so request a table at Cavamar. As we begin to stroll away the waitress asks us to wait right here – and brings a couple of chairs under an awning. We have to stay until our table’s ready or she can’t hold it. No problem, there’s plenty to look at as we relax in the shade!
What do we order? Some more fresh-from-the-sea deliciousness….and first come the utensils,05101503 a first the toolsthen a fabulous platter for two, which keeps us busy for an hour or more. What a treat!05101503 barceloneta feast for two at cavamarWe walk it off, heading down the beach with the crowds, the Gehry sculpture gleaming coppery in the sunlight. 05101503 crowds walking copper shows better in dayThen back through Barceloneta, where the seafood in front of this restaurant could scare off the kids!05101503 scary seafoodIt must be siesta time, the plazas are quiet – here, Sant Felip Neri basks in the sun, 05101504 felipe neri peaceful nowits peaceful mien belying the terror of the Fascist bomb blast in the Spanish Civil War. 05101504 felipe neri remnants of war remain Pockmarked stones bear evidence of its violent past.
History surrounds us in this marvelous city.
Early Monday morning we board the Aerobus, not far from La Monumental bullring,05101505 early walk to aerobus by old bullringrepurposed into a mall since bullfighting has been banned in Catalonia since 2012.
A gorgeous sunrise,05101505 sunrise goodbye to bcn and we fly away east for our Prague Spring Tour!