Our favorite hotel in Barcelona is the Hotel Jardi just off Las Ramblas, near the opera house and the city’s central market, in the oldest part of town. The rooms are small, but the location can’t be beat. Also the prices. Here’s a look from our room down into the Plaza del Pi and the outdoor tables where cafe patrons while away an evening, chatting, nibbling, sometimes picking at a quiet guitar. [And here we are, another year, a good one, come to an end. Happy New Year.]
December 30, 2014
From our hotel room in the oldest section of Barcelona, we could look down on plazas, along alleyways, even into apartments. Like this one. I am reminded of a line in a Mark Doty poem in which he describes looking from a window of a NYC YMCA into other windows and likening the vista to “a voyeur’s Advent calendar.”
December 29, 2014
December 28, 2014
December 27, 2014
We in the US of A are so used to buying shrimp, clams and such at the same places we buy haddock, salmon and other fin fish. Not so in Europe, especially not here in La Boqueria, the central market of Barcelona. Seafood (shellfish) in one place. Fin fish in another. You can see which type of vendor this is.
December 26, 2014
Whenever I return from a trip, friends ask me what was the best part of it. And the answer is always the same: the people. Here, two waiters at a Barcelona tapas bar who’ve stepped outside for a break from the lunchtime crush. The guy on the left has a girlfriend in Washington, DC, not to mention the best eyeglasses in town. And they both were so gracious when I asked to take their photo. As always, a little bit of Spanish goes a long, long way.
December 25, 2014
One of the many extravagant displays of fanciful ironwork and gold leaf within Barcelona’s massive cathedral. Imagine the poor folks who must have been dazzled by this work when it originally appeared. Were they impressed by the richness and power of their Church’s resources? Or maybe a little resentful of the outlay of more funds for this one tiny corner of the cathedral, many times more than they would earn in a lifetime? Whatever. Merry Christmas.
December 24, 2014
Visions of sugarplums, so many sweets here in Lisbon. Many of them (like all the yellow ones in this window) made primarily (or exclusively) from egg yolks and sugar. A little bit cloying for my taste. Not that that kept me from trying a few. Research.
December 23, 2014
December 22, 2014
In the center of this holy pilgrim town, it’s easy to forget that there’s “country” all around. Easier to remember when you take this shortcut from your hotel to your molecular gastronomy 13-course (tiny ones) dinner at nearby Casa Marcelo. There are merciful patches of undeveloped land all around this green Galician town.
December 21, 2014
Autumn sunlight. Beautiful no matter where in the world you are. Seen here on the up, up, upward path to the top of the hill where the beautiful Bom Jesus do Monte church is overlooking the town of Braga, often called the most religious place in Portugal. (Nice to remember beautiful sunlight on this first day of winter, the day with the least daylight all year.)
December 20, 2014
Oh, the Spanish and their musical instruments. Here in the Galician town that has attracted pilgrims from around the world for centuries, you’re just as likely to hear bagpipes being played in the streets as the Spanish guitar. We passed a harpist on several occasions. And look at this thing in the town museum. It’s called a corda and has both the strings of a guitar and a keyboard. Please note the scallop shell in the case as well, the symbol of the city and its saint.
December 19, 2014
Once at the top of the challenging uphill climb and then the even more challenging massive staircase, you reach the church of Bom Jesus do Monte (and you realize the significance of Monte in its name.) Dr. Blake has a fear of heights, afraid to look down from the top of stairs, escalators, the Grand Canyon, etc. Probably a good thing that he stayed down below and did not accompany me as I climbed the steps (not on my knees, though, as some pilgrims do.)
December 18, 2014
Europeans know how (and why) to do parks right. Take this one, for example, smack dab in the middle of this charming Portuguese university town. Spacious and spare, it’s enjoyed by relaxed locals and visiting tourists alike. So peaceful on this lazy Sunday morning.
December 17, 2014
December 16, 2014
December 15, 2014
December 14, 2014
In Spain, the rule seems to be if you can still find more room for ornamentation, then you haven’t yet completed your job. The swirly filigree of the stonework on the left. The patinated metal squares studding the door here at the town’s cathedral. And how’s that for a smart little door knocker?
December 13, 2014
December 12, 2014
One of the pleasures of having a stateroom on a lower deck of Windstar’s Wind Surf is that you really feel like you’re on the water. Sometimes in the water, actually, when the waves rise higher than the porthole, as happened very frequently on this sailing. The ship’s stabilizers neutralized so much of the “rocking” that no one felt queasy at all, allowing us to enjoy the adventure unimpeded.
December 11, 2014
None dare call it pizza. Actually, some do. “Turkish pizza.” As if such a thing existed. But I guess it’s effective shorthand for those who wouldn’t pick up on “pide with toppings.” Call it whatever you like, it’s still sensational. Seen here in a busy passageway behind the Spice Bazaar, just one of many offerings on every block in the City of the World’s Desire.
December 10, 2014
Yes, Spanish will get you by in Barcelona. But the official language is Catalan, closely related but not the same. The written language is one thing, the pronunciation quite another. Here’s the daily menu at Tapas, 24, a wonderful place to eat in the Eixample neighborhood of the city. Count the Catalan Xs. As their napkins say, "ñam, ñam!"
December 9, 2014
December 8, 2014
As I write this in summer 2013, Turkish Airlines has just announced that it will begin a new non-stop, Boston-Istanbul flight starting next May. Yippee! No more changing planes in New York, Frankfurt or Zurich. Does this mean that another welcome trip to the City of the World’s Desire is in my future? I hope so. (Seen here, our 2011 Windstar cruise leaving the Bosphorus, Topkapi Palace on Seraglio Point in the background. Update: We did return to the City of the World’s Desire, and on Turkish Airlines, in September 2014. Yippee again!)
December 7, 2014
RISD business. Get it? This exhibit at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum was great, filled with signs made of marker on cardboard, blurring the lines between privileged and less so. You can just about read some of the signs behind the window. For more, google "Alejandro Diaz artist" or click here.
December 6, 2014
Nick had asked me to bring home some pimentón from Spain. No problem. This stand in Barcelona’s fabled market, La Boqueria, had plenty. And so many kinds, that I had to ask (repeatedly) to make sure I bought the right stuff. Sweet and hot, both smoked. I also got some for myself, which I have been using in every chili, curry, stew and soup I’ve made all year. It adds such a lovely smoky enhancement to them all. And even though I’ll only be in Barcelona for a few hours on our next trip this autumn, La Boqueria and this stall are definite stops. (I hope the lovely, patient lady from Ecuador is still working there.)
December 5, 2014
Weeds anyone? This summer’s weather has alternated between rain and high heat and humidity, making yard work almost impossible. The weather has also delivered a perfect combination to encourage the proliferation of weeds, allowing the few tomato, parsley and bush bean plants in my raised bed to be infiltrated by many, many unwelcome and thirsty neighbors. What a mess! Today, with relatively cooler and drier weather, I managed to do the first of many (alas) weedings. Onward. [Actually, I found an easier, softer way. Click here.]
December 4, 2014
Working the steps. After years of climbing a flight of distressed wooded stairs to my front door (careful paintings did little to mask their lack of integrity), I’ve followed the example of the third little pig and upgraded to a brick-and-granite solution. Interesting to watch the progress, especially as I had no idea how involved and precise this construction would be.
December 3, 2014
Ruby is the alpha dog these days in the home of Simon and David. In spite of the fact that they now have two stronger and more active whippets. Alas, Ruby is an old dog, much thinner now than she was. But possessed of every ounce of dignity that she has always had. She sleeps with Weasel, her Siamese consort, and would have it no other way. [Update: Sadly, she is no longer with us, no longer sleeps with Weasel...but maintained her dignity until the very end.]
December 2, 2014
On the Sunday after All Souls Day (November 2), Tucson unleashes its annual All Souls Procession. Snaking its was through the city after dark, accompanied by the sounds of mariachi, thousands of living souls pay homage to thousands of dead ones, parading with photos of their lost loved ones. Some dress in costumes. Many paint their faces to resemble the famous Mexican Day of the Dead skulls. The parade winds up at a stage set up in a huge field where videos of beating hearts, acrobats suspended from cranes, fire jugglers, Aztec dancers, singers, you name it perform this spectacular finale. At the close, a huge geodesic urn, filled with paper prayers and the names of the dead collected from the crowd, is ignited. No wonder it’s the city’s largest and most popular festival of the year. (To see the finale from the 2006 procession, click here.)
December 1, 2014
One of the things that makes me the happiest is realizing that I have truly wonderful friends. And I love it when I can introduce them to each other. For instance, here. Christian (right) was in Tucson to run a half-marathon. And I was also in this great city, visiting my friends Simon and David, and eating every bit of Mexican food that wasn’t nailed down. So naturally I wanted them to meet. And they did, and they hit it off easily. Of course. Here they are in S&D’s garden, poolside, at sunset. See how everyone is smiling?
November 30, 2014
Up early to run on our first morning here in the university town of Coimbra. Such fog. Spooky. It lessened somewhat. Then faded away to bright sunshine. “Fog at 7, sun by 11,” as the Gloucester fishermen say, many of whom are from Portugal.
November 29, 2014
When I entered the art museum here in this Galician town, I was expecting something more, well, Spanish. Old and Spanish. Instead, there was an installation (shown here), and an exhibit of American photographers (Starn Twins, Mark Morrisroe, et al.) and a portrait of John Waters’ star Cookie Mueller. Another moment in my lifelong series of unrealistic expectations.
November 28, 2014
This pilgrim destination is close to Spain’s northwest Atlantic coast and delights in fresh seafood. Among the most fabled dishes, Pulpo al la Gallega. Octopus, boiled, served with potatoes. Also served grilled, also with potatoes. Dr. Blake and I had it both ways. More than once. So good.
November 27, 2014
Pilgrims have been trekking from the French Pyrenees to this Spanish town for centuries. And they still do it. Here’s a group, recently arrived, dropping their bags and walking sticks to gather in prayer and thanksgiving outside the big cathedral at the end of their journey.
November 26, 2014
The stark vistas from the hilltop fortress of Segovia made it clear why Ferdinand and Isabella had chosen this spot for their castle. You could see for miles in every direction. And so could their lookout guards way back when. Fortunately they let Columbus approach, as this is the place where he sought their backing to sail to the New World.
November 25, 2014
Dr. Blake may have thought I was crazy, wanting to arrive in Segovia as early as we did. The fast train from Madrid got us there in 30 minutes, just as the sun was inching above the horizon. But later that morning, when the dozens of tour buses, filled with hundreds of tourists, descended upon the small town, I think he saw the wisdom of my ways.
November 24, 2014
November 23, 2014
Meet my friend Rich, a guy who gave up his number-crunching job to do what he really loves: painting. After working hard at his craft for years now, he recently had his first solo show at the DeLuca Gallery in Provincetown, and lots of his Boston friends headed down for Rich’s premiere. He is the sweetest man, an excellent artist, and it was great to be there to wish him well. (I could not resist telling him the story of saucy Tallulah Bankhead’s suggestive telegram to prim Ethel Barrymore on the night of one of Ethel’s Broadway premieres: “A warm hand on your big opening.”)
November 22, 2014
My friend Nick recently had to move from his Greenwich Village apartment that he’d occupied for 33 years. There were 153 boxes to move to his new apartment in Brooklyn, and when I headed down to help him unpack at the end of September, I didn’t know what to expect. I loved his new neighborhood. And even better, he loves his new neighborhood. It’s got a real hamish feel to it, lots of ethnic shops and restaurants (including the wonderful Turkish place, Hazar) and just feels like a place where people treat their neighbors like, well, like neighbors. Here’s a Bay Ridge view of the Verrazano Bridge, not far from Nick’s new place.
November 21, 2014
I first read about this early Sunday morning market in my Istanbul friend Cenk’s blog several years ago and I’d been jonesin’ to go ever since. So Dr. Blake and I set the alarm, woke up and took a taxi to this section of the city that sees few tourists. Farmers and other vendors drive eight hours from their villages in the Kastamonu Black Sea area of Turkey, hauling their homegrown produce and home-baked breads. It was funky and fine and just what we were hoping. From this vendor, we bought that flat bread stuffed with a chard-like vegetable and took it back to our hotel to include with our breakfast. So good.
November 20, 2014
Cafeteria. Rosticceria. Briocheria. Patisseria. All these (and their variants) we were accustomed to from earlier trips to Italy, France and Spain. And it wasn’t too hard to make the leap required by the Catalan language. But sandwitxeria? Good luck pronouncing that.
November 19, 2014
November 18, 2014
The fabled La Boqueria, though filled with stalls (and tourists), is not the only market in town by a long shot. A short walk east, just beyond the cathedral, brings you to the Mercat Santa Caterina, a calmer, more neighborhood-y market where you can find just about anything you’re looking for. Even charcuteria spelled with a Catalan X.
November 17, 2014
November 16, 2014
Communal biking has caught on in so many cities now (including Boston and New York), that it’s caused me to remember that several years ago Barcelona was the first place I’d seen such a novel endeavor. Happy to see it continuing to thrive on a recent visit.
November 15, 2014
On a 1972 visit to the French Riviera, I remember having a grilled dorade meal at a tiny, family-run restaurant overlooking Monaco’s harbor. Long gone that lovely restaurant, and the stretch of seaside street where it lay is now super-developed into high-rise, pricey real estate. But the dorade lives on, or maybe lives isn’t le mot just. Here are some on offer in the central marché in Cannes seen on a more recent Riviera visit. Sauvage no less.
November 14, 2014
After we’d signed up for our now-annual Windstar cruise, we learned that it was (somewhat embarrassingly) called “Glitter and Glam of the Riviera.” This photo of Dr. Blake against the lights of Monte Carlo may explain why. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is glitter, which glam.
November 13, 2014
I had last been in Monaco in 1972, 40 years earlier! No wonder I was so disappointed that the place had become so developed and built up. Disney-fied to a certain degree in its clean and precise regularity. All of it conveying extravagant wealth. Look at this pretty harbor tucked away in a private cove behind the royal palace. These folks don’t want their yachts mixing with the general riff-raff of the main harbor. Oh, I shouldn’t think so.