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Showing posts from 2015

Gibraltar - Stepping into British Territory

The train service between Ronda and Algeciras is limited. In Algeciras we took the bus to Gibraltar. We knew we had a tight window for sightseeing so we could make it back to Algeciras in time to catch the last train to Ronda. And the rain didn't help at all. But we managed.
The approach to La Línea de la Concepción on the Spanish side of the peninsula gave us the best glimpse of the 426 meter high limestone rock towering behind the beach and harbor. The Rock was a spectacular sight to behold!
We waited for an EasyJet flight to take off before the security barricade was lifted and we could safely cross the runway to get to the city center. Cars, buses, trucks and people moved quickly across the tarmac. In the distance we could see a lot of new construction. Gibraltar's area size is only 2.6 square miles but it's home to some 32,000 people. It's pretty crowded.
This is an active runway and as it is open to the sea on both ends, it acts like a wind tunnel. With intermit…

Something I look forward to

For several years now, on the 26th of December, I've taken a photo from my front door of the sunrise. Today there was not much to see as the fog was so thick. It wasn't until an hour after the "scheduled" sunrise when the sun finally broke through the fog to light up our day. So nice after several days of rain. We need rain though after 3 years of drought. Grateful for these blessings.
“One grateful thought is a ray of sunshine.  A hundred such thoughts paint a sunrise.  A thousand will rival the glaring sky at noonday - for gratitude is light against the darkness.”  Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway, quotes, Verse & Grumblings for Every Day of the Year  ***** Image by TravelswithCharie

San Lorenzo de El Escorial

It's been ages since my first visit to the monastery of El Escorial. What impressed me most then were the long corridors and one particular door with a low clearing so you would have to stoop so low to pass through. Or else.....
I was delighted to discover that I could go to San Lorenzo de El Escorial by taking one of the suburban trains from Chamartin. And the trip took less than an hour and costs 8.10€ roundtrip. So I took off one sunny afternoon to rediscover this old town. What struck me as we approached El Escorial were the spectacular mountains which dominated the landscape. Little did I realize that when I opted to walk to the monastery that I would be climbing up a thousand meters to the foot of Mount Abantos in the Sierra de Guadarrama. So I panted uphill all the while thinking, will I ever get there? I found out later on that I took the roundabout way along Avenida de Los Reyes Catolicos but what the heck. It was a good exercise which I badly needed after the overindulg…

Cerralbo Museum

The Cerralbo Museum is a museum palace which belonged to Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, the 17th Marquis of Cerralbo (1845-1922). He was an avid collector of art and antiques which he obtained from his travels and from art auctions in Europe. His acquisitions include paintings, sculptures, drawings, tapestries, ceramics, historical documents, books, photography, objets d'art and furniture. It was one of the finest collections of its time. The palace of the Marquis was built to be both a residence and a gallery.
The armoury was the receiving area of this aristocratic residence. The Marquis and his Marquess, Inocencia Serrano y Cerver, greeted their guests in this hall where the suit of armor belonging to the illustrious ancestor of the Marquis, Pablo Fernandez Contreras, the first Earl of Alcudía, (who was the Admiral of the Spanish Squad that defeated the Dutch fleet in 1635) is on display. The Marquis of Cerralbo also inherited the title of Earl of Alcudía.
The formal dining room…

Chinchón, Spain

The charming town of Chinchón is a quick bus ride from Madrid's Conde de Casal bus station through green countryside and somnolent little villages. For most of the passengers in the bus, it was a time to doze off after a busy morning of shopping and doctor's appointments in Madrid. But that was rudely interrupted when a race car driver in a black sedan cut in front of our bus with two feet to spare and the bus driver had to brake quite forcefully waking up the weary from their siesta. Then everyone started to talk at once about our close call and my once aloof seatmate who had gone to dream world after finishing her pastry, started to converse with me. She later volunteered to show me the way to the Plaza Mayor (which is also close to where she lives) and we had a pleasant conversation as we slowly climbed uphill to the square.


The Plaza Mayor of Chinchón is a 15th century square surrounded by white washed three storey buildings with wooden balconies called claros. The square…

Bryce Canyon National Park

The Ampitheater
"It's a helluva place to lose a cow", remarked Ebenezer Bryce about Bryce Canyon. (Ebenezer was a homesteader in the Paria River Valley around 1875 and the Park is named after him.) As I looked at the Ampitheater from Bryce Point, I couldn't agree more. It was awfully crowded down there with phantasmagorical rock sculptures shaped by water, frost and erosion over millions of years standing toe to toe into the distance.
Hoodoos from Sunset Point
Bryce Canyon is not a canyon. It is actually a series of natural amphitheaters carved by erosion. And the air is so clear at Bryce that we could see far into the horizon. The Hoodoo (Bryce Canyon's newspaper) writes that "On a clear day you can see over 150 miles and even recognize landforms in Arizona!". As we drove from one vista point to the next, I appreciated more and more the panoramic views of Escalante National Park which borders Bryce Canyon. At Rainbow Point, we had reached the highest poin…

Reykjavík Basics

Where to say:
Center Hotel Klopp Klapparstig 26, Reykjavik  Buffet breakfast included Central location. A block from Laugavegur, the main shopping street.
Foss Hotel Baron Baronstígur 2-4, Reykjavik Buffet breakfast included Across the boulevard from Sculpture and Shore Walk and a short walk to Höfdi House.
Where to eat: It is expensive to eat out in Reykjavik. If you're on a budget, it might help to buy food at the supermarket. There are several supermarkets conveniently located in the city center or try the Thai Restaurant on Laugavegur where the food is delicious and reasonably priced. 
Catfish at Sushi Samba
Samba Sushi Japanese and South American Fusion cuisine. Thingholsstraeti 5 View their menu here:  sushisamba.is This is an expensive restaurant. Prepare to pay at least $30.00 for the dish shown above.
Pearl Cafe Perlan Open from 10 a.m. To 9 p.m. www.perlan.is Perlan is a destination on its own. It sits on a hill and has a 360° view of Reykjavik. There's a bus that sto…

The Golden Circle

Thingvellir National Park
One of the closest areas to visit from Reykjavik is Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. The Park is of historical significance to Icelanders. This is where the oldest open air parliament in the world (the Althing) was established in 930 and continued to meet till 1798. Thingvellir is also of paramount geological interest. The North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates run through the Park and have created a rift which continues to expand. 
Thingvallatn is the largest natural lake in Iceland and lies south of the Park. It is the habitat of 150 types of plants and 50 invertebrates. 
Gulfoss
Gulfoss (golden falls) is fed by glacial melt from Langjökull, the second largest ice cap in Iceland. When glacier melts and flows down the river, it carries sediment with it. Hence the water is somewhat golden in hue. Gulfoss cascades in two tiers down a 32 meter canyon. Sunshine and a spray of mist in the air will create a rainbow to make your heart leap. Yes, Wor…

Skálholt

Skálholt Cathedral, South Iceland
Skálholt has been the spiritual center of Iceland since the ordination of the first Catholic bishop, Isleifur Gissurarson,in 1056 and through the advent of Lutheranism in the 16th century. The Catholic bishop from North Iceland, Jon Aráson, was captured and beheaded together with his two sons in 1550 effectively ending the Catholic faith in Iceland. The Lutherans maintained their Episcopal See at Skálholt until 1785. A major earthquake and volcanic eruptions toward the end of the century finally drove the bishop and school to Reykjavík where the See was installed in 1801. This led to the decline in importance of Skálholt as the religious, educational and cultural center of Iceland. Renewed interest in Skálholt in the 20th century saw the construction of a new cathedral on the ruins of previous churches. It was consecrated in 1963.
Excavations in the area have yielded artifacts including a stone sarcophagus and tombstones which are displayed in the ch…

Chasing Aurora

Aurora Borealis from the Grayline Iceland Tours brochure
For many years I dreamed about going to Iceland or Alaska to see the Aurora Borealis. That dream became reality in mid September of this year when I finally landed at Keflavik airport in Iceland. The first few days of our stay was marked by rain and heavy clouds. Then a storm followed. It seemed hopeless. But on Thursday the sun came out and the clouds lifted. Grayline Tours confirmed our northern lights mystery tour and I was in heaven!

We were driven to Reykjanes Peninsula which is south of Reykjavik at around 9 p.m. The sky was still shedding the light of day so we drove quite a distance away from city lights to get the best view. I kept scanning the darkened skies for traces of the aurora and finally I saw a patch of green in the sky. It wasn't big nor was it dancing but it was there. The driver stopped the bus and we all trooped out of the bus to watch the aurora from an ancient lava field. It was chilly outside and we…

Reykjavik Walks

Reykjavik is an easy city to explore because of its compact size. We spent three days discovering this charming old town and made lots of stops along the way to read all the helpful descriptions provided at each site and tried some local Skyr and pastries along the route. The Shore walk begins at Höfdi House on Borgartún, overlooking the bay. It is a beautiful stroll along the coast. The City Center walk starts at Government House while the Cathedral Square walk begins on top of the hill at Hallgrímstorg.  The Harpa Concert Hall may also be included with the Shore walk as it is at the end of the boulevard and a hop and skip from the Sun Voyager. 
Shore Walk

Höfdi House
The Höfdi House is where détente saw light. The great thawing of ice between the United States and USSR (as it was known then) began with the meeting of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in this house in 1986.
One of the former residents of Höfdi House was the poet and entrepreneur, Einar Benediktsson who lived here f…

Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran cathedral designed by Gudjón Samúelsson. Samúelsson drew his inspiration for this project from his surroundings, particularly from columnar basalt formed by lava flow in this volcanic island. It took over 40 years to complete the cathedral. Samúelsson didn't live to see the inauguration of Hallsgrímskirkja in 1986.  
The cathedral is named after Hallgrimur Petersson, Iceland's beloved poet who penned Hymns of the Passion (listen here: http://youtu.be/am04VxkReKU). He was also the pastor at Saurbaer in Hvalfjördur.

The rib vaulted ceiling reminds one of the great Gothic cathedrals. But what sets it apart from its predecessors is its clean and simple style. Sharp arches flow down to linear columns. 

The main altar is adorned with an eight-meter long painting, Five Crucifixions by Helgi Torgils Fridjónsson. "Whether this work should be regarded as religious, is really up to the spectator, however all mental conflict is by nature religious. Peop…