Barcelona or Madrid, Tough Decision!

Barcelona and Madrid, two very different cities, each with its own vibe. Barcelona is playful and child like, where Madrid feels like the mature, older sibling. The influence of Antoni Goudi is vividly present in Barcelona, where as Madrid has a much more elegant feel with its grand boulevards. Both cities have much to offer, and are popular tourist destinations for people from all around the world.

We visited in October, 2013, and were welcomed by bright blue skies and temperatures hovering in the high 70s. After checking into our Airbnb, we headed out to explore the neighborhood. The narrow streets open up onto plazas and squares where you will find restaurants, buskers, shops, churches, monuments and so much more. We entered one such plaza after dark and I had to stop to take in the variety of activity. There were cafes, bars, restaurants, musicians, acrobats, police officers on horseback, people dressed up in various costumes, venders selling light sticks, it was an amazing site to see.

Normally, my husband and I go to bed fairly early, but we had so much fun bar hopping, that we were out until midnight every night. This is quite out of character for us. On our third day there, our daughter arrived from the US. We all went out that night and at one point she looked at us and said: “Who are you and what have you done with my parents!?!”

We visited the beach the next day and even though it was mid October, people were swimming and sunbathing.

The influence of Goudi is prevalent in Barcelona. His unique style can be seen in many areas in the city, including the famous temple, Sagrada Familia.

The Picasso Museum is also an interesting place to visit. As you work your way through the building, you will see how his works changed as he got older.

The Mercado de La Boqueria on La Rambla is filled with almost everything imaginable, restaurants, vendors, food, clothing, the list goes on.

After an intense five days in Barcelona, we headed to Madrid. We were greeted by our Airbnb host, who gave us a tour of the neighborhood and local market. There are many things to do and see in Madrid, museums, local art, restaurants, shops, cultural activities, and quite a few markets. I highly recommend visiting at least one of the markets while you are there.

The famous museum, Museo Nacional de Prado has a vast and numerous collection of paintings, sculptures, and so much more including works by Francisco Goya and Peter Rubens.

The Royal Palace of Madrid is a must see as well. It has many works of art, beautiful rooms and gardens.

And, of course, the food is amazing. We enjoyed croquettes, sardines, potatoes with aioli, olives, shellfish, tomatoes on bread, Spanish ham, all deliciously paired with cava. We enjoyed hot chocolate and churros for dessert, yummy!

We sat in an outdoor cafe in Plaza Mayor where, like in Barcelona, there was so much going on! Again we saw costumed characters, police officers on horseback, children chasing pigeons, shops, restaurants, waiters encouraging you stop for a snack or meal, artists, photographers, you name it and it was probably there.

Both cities have so much to offer, and are filled with history, culture and so much more. I didn’t find the people to be as friendly as they are in the UK or France, but they were not unfriendly either, just indifferent. In Barcelona, we stopped for a drink at an outdoor cafe, and the waiter told us to be careful, his friend had her cell phone stolen right out of her hand by a man riding a bike. We had heard that petty theft was a big problem in there, but we were surprised to be warned. The residents of Barcelona are experiencing tourist fatigue, something to consider when plannng a trip there. I am certainly not suggesting that you don’t visit, I would go back in a heartbeat. If you do go, use common sense and be a considerate guest.

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy, oh my, what an amazing place! It is the hub of the Renaissance, rich with literature and architecture, and has been a top destination for tourists for centuries. I believe it was Charlotte Bartlett in A Room With a View who said, “When one comes to Florence, one must have a view.” Here is the view we had from our hotel window.

We stayed at Hotel Bigallo Florence, a perfect location for exploring the city on foot. The hotel is quiet, comfortable and comes with breakfast.

The most popular attraction in Florence is the Duomo. It is an absolutely amazing cathedral both inside and out. It was designed by Fillippo Brunelleschi and dates back to the 13th century. The combination of pink, white and green marble adorn the outside of the structure.

This famous clock was designed by Paolo Uccello in 1443, and is still a highlight.

There is so much more to see in Florence, including the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, a historic library containing ancient manuscripts and books. It was designed by Michelangelo, and finished by Tribolo, Vasari and others. I was interested in one of the many documents here, this one was written by Leonardo Bruni in the 15th century, and was titled “Oration against a foul mouthed scamp.” I guess some things never change.

Pitti Palace is another interesting place to visit. It was the home of the Medici family beginning in the mid 1500s.

It is a beautiful place to visit with some amazing views of Florence.

Florence is a large city, but easily walkable with so many other beautiful sites to see. The river Arno, cuts through the city and has with many bridges, including the oldest bridge in Florence, Ponte Vecchio.

I haven’t even mentioned the amazing restaurants and food! We had so many delicious meals, including seafood, pasta, pizza, there are too many options to mention.

Florence is a major tourist destination, it has been for centuries, and probably will be for many more years, but don’t let that put you off. It has so much to offer, and you’ll be glad you visited.

San Gimignani, Tuscany, Italy

San Gimignano is a walled village in Tuscany that is famous for its medieval architecture and towers houses, which are stunningly evident in its skyline.

We visited in October, 2017, as part of our five week European holiday. We took the train from Nice to Florence, then rented a car. It took several hours to get to the village, but the drive through the countryside was relaxing and enjoyable. Even though it was late October, the weather was warm and we were greeted by bright, blue skies.

We stayed at Agriturismo II Casolare di Bucciano, a working vineyard located in the quiet countryside not far from the village. This historic farmhouse has beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and the village.

Our quiet, comfortable room had wood beamed ceilings and a view of the vineyard and olive trees. They have a large garden and also make their own olive oil.

Breakfast is included in the price of the room, and dinner is also available for an additional fee. We enjoyed a delicious, Tuscan meal there one evening that included wine and olive oil made on site; and tomatoes and basil from their garden. The food was delicious and filling. We also enjoyed an interesting conversation with other travelers from Holland and China. I highly recommend staying at an agriturismo when visiting Tuscany, it was an enriching experience for us.

The village of San Gimignano is an interesting place to explore. Torre Grosse built in the early 1300s is the tallest tower in the village, and the only tower open to the public. There are 218 stairs to the top, but the views make the climb well worth the effort!

There are many other historical things to see in the village including Spezieria di Santa Fina which is a reconstruction of an ancient pharmacy. The Duomo di San Gimignano is a beautiful place to wander and has lovely frescos. There are many art museums, monuments, plazas, and of course, there are many shops and restaurants as well. The village is easy to walk, and offers many photo opportunities.

Tuscany and its beautiful villages are a popular tourist destination, so I suggest visiting in the off season, when the throngs of tourists have disappeared. As I mentioned earlier, we went in October, and the weather was beautiful, and the crowds had gone.

Have you been to San Gimignano? If so, please leave a comment and let me know about your time there.

The Backies

The Backies is a region in the Highlands of Scotland where you will find charming villages, castles, distilleries and the crazy, fickle weather that is typical of Scotland. A colleague said to me “people don’t go to Scotland for the weather!” The locals say, “just wait 10 minutes, and the weather will change.” We certainly found this to be true; rain, wind, sun, repeat.

We went to the Backies in October, 2017 to visit some dear friends who live there. Scotland was our first stop on our five week European adventure. We had a delightful three days with them, and enjoyed many activities. One of our first stops was a hike to Loch Brora. Luckily, it didn’t rain while we were hiking, but the wind was fierce!

The next day we toured Clynelish Distillery. If you enjoy Scottish whiskey, I highly recommend this tour. It’s informative, educational and really interesting as well.

In the afternoon we visited a broch. Brochs are ancient, stone-walled structures, found in northern Scotland, that provided shelter and safety for people and livestock during invasions. As you can tell from the photo below, the weather was quite intense. The wind was so strong, I thought I was going to topple over!

The next day we visited Dunrobin Castle, the home of the Sutherlands. It’s a beautiful place where you can tour much of the castle, and the gardens as well.

The weather was sunny that day, and the wind wasn’t quite as strong as it had been, so it was a perfect day to stroll through the gardens.

My husband and our friend even played a quick game of croquet.

Dunrobin Castle is growing in popularity, and is experiencing greater numbers of tourists each year. We visited on a weekday in October, and the place was pretty much empty. However, summer months bring large crowds.

Have you been to the Backies? If so, I would love to hear about your time there.

Doors and Windows of Europe

Today’s post includes photos of doors and windows in various locations in Europe, that I have found interesting. They were taken in the Cotswolds, Provence, Brugge, Barcelona, Madrid, Dores and Castle Douglas (both in Scotland), Florence and Lyon.

As always, please leave a comment and share your thoughts.