Monday, September 28, 2015


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: 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. People ponder the suffering of the crucified but I do not believe that for a religious person passion stands for direct pain but rather for a kind of experience and motion in time", according to Fridjónsson.

The organ was made by Johannes Klaes of Bonn. It is 49 ft. high and weighs 25 tons. 

Straight lines frame an arched window.

Hallgrímskirkja sits on a hill and its tower can be seen around town. There is a 360 degree view of the city and harbor from the tower which rises 73 meters (244 ft) from the ground. I used it as my point of reference when exploring the city. The fee for the elevator ride to the tower is 800 kr. Proceeds from the fee are used for church projects.


Images by TravelswithCharie

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Urban Art Reykjavik

What would you do to stave off the blues when you only get 5 hours of daylight during the winter months? Reykjavik has the answer. Colorful, highly imaginative wall art to brighten the dreariest of days. The stamp act above is at the Design Center. It is tasteful and representative of the work they do at the center.

This one is called Poor Ugly. It is elaborate. So much going on here. On Hverfisgata Street.

Urban art is sharply juxtaposed with Victorian architecture. At Dillon's Bar on Laugavegur.

Practical wall art. A refresher course on how to tie a necktie. And an arresting advertisement for Gudsteins. 

Mushrooms growing on a mushroom. Hmmm. Think what you will.

Cartoon characters with graffiti and blue sky. Rare blue sky during our stay in Iceland.

"And I will raise you up on eagle's wings." On Laugavegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavik. 

There are more murals to discover in Reykjavik. I refer to these as murals rather than graffiti (unless there are elements of the latter in the mural) because there is an attempt to create art, not just traditional scratched or scribbled graffiti. These murals have evolved from street art. It was fun finding them as we walked around the city.


Images by TravelswithCharie

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Madrid Basics

Eat well


Casa Labra has been around since 1860. This historic tapas bar still continues to draw a crowd. Follow the long line if you wish to load up on tapas and eat outside at one of the hard to get tables. Or try to secure a seat in the small restaurant indoors where you can order the specialties of the house which are the croqueta de bacalao (cod croquette) and empanadilla de carne (meat turnover). Casa Labra is on Calle Tetúan. Check their website for their menu and prices.

Gourmet Experience at El Corte Ingles on Plaza Callao
The Gourmet Experience is on the top floor of this department store. There are a number of counters offering different kinds of tapas. I ordered a pintxo of cod with a cool and light tinto de verano. There's also a gourmet store on this floor where you can find wine, Spanish olive oil, olives, chocolates, delicacies and kitchen accessories for the gourmand. The view from the balcony of the rooftops of Madrid is probably enough to entice anyone to check this place out. Drink plus pintxo at Me Voy a Tomar Una Cai equals 6,25€.

A pintxo of cod and a tinto de verano

Pastries and Hot Chocolate:

Chocolateria San Gines
I love that thick chocolate taste. It reminds me of my childhood days. And those long churros are great for dipping. It's not coated with sugar as they are in the United States. Chocolateria San Gines is the go to spot for the after theater crowd and late night revelers. This is another one of those old institutions in Madrid. It dates back to 1894. It's open 24/7.

El Riojano

El Riojano is an elegant little teahouse established in 1855. It has an irresistible array of pastries and cookies to choose from. And there's ice cream too! Great place for breakfast or afternoon merienda. Calle Mayor, 10.

La Mallorquina on Puerta del Sol

La Mallorquina is a good place to load up on pastries. They have not raised their prices much over the years. Most of their rich pastries like the plain napolitana sell at 1,20€ and 1,10€ for a rosquilla. They have a stand up counter where you can sip your coffee or drink your soda if you're in a rush. There's also a sitting area on the second floor.


Lara - Corredera Baja de San Pablo, 4 (near the Gran Via)
Lara is known for its comida casera or "home cooked" cuisine. They serve generous portions with each course. We had the fixed menu with appetizer, entrée, and dessert and I was already full with the eggplant I ordered for starters. The proprietors were gracious and we were well fed. Though the restaurant is close to the Gran Via, the neighborhood is nice and laid-back.

Mercado San Anton in the Chueca neighborhood, Calle Augusto Figueroa 24
I ordered skewered tuna from 7 Delicatessen Islas Canarias on the second level. It was a novelty for me to eat tuna marinated in adobo sauce. The adobo sauce really transformed the tuna. It was quite tasty. 12€.

Garbo Restaurante on Plaza del Carmen
I love truffles so I ordered pasta with truffles. I sat in the main dining room as it was too hot to sit in the terrace. I like the relaxed ambience of this restaurant. It's great for solo diners. Tallarin tartufo plus a glass of wine added to 16,65€. Price includes a 1,50€ cover charge. 

dNorte Taberna at C/Mesoneros Romanos 8

Merluzza Cantabrico

I ordered the Merluza Cantabrico and it was soft, moist and flavorful. With wine the bill came to 15,50€. The restaurant consists of three floors plus an outdoor terrace. Fast and efficient service.

Gino's - C/Gran Via 43

Tavola di Crostini

The Tavola di Crostini above is more than enough for three people. Our bill with wine was 33,40€ including a Pizza Pollo Marinato and a Merluzzo prezzemolo. Enter the restaurant through the VIPS bookstore on the Gran Via and take the stairs down to the basement.

People Watch

La Marinera on Plaza Mayor
For the price of a glass of wine, you can sit at any of the outdoor cafés for as long as you wish. This can be habit forming. So much going on at Plaza Mayor. I watched a group of joggers run across the square while one of them took a group selfie with his monopod as he jogged along. What will they think of next? Glass of wine is 4€. They'll give you chips to munch on for free.

Plaza Santa Ana

This is a nice neighborhood close to the Puerta del Sol but less hectic. Lots of good tapas bars in the neighborhood. 

Sleep well
Hostal Triana
Calle de la Salud, 13 (at Plaza del Carmen)
Convenient location, friendly staff and reasonable room rates. Request for a room away from the street. Close to Puerta del Sol and Gran Via, shopping, restaurants. Metro stop is Gran Via or Sol.

Free entry days and times at these museums:
Reina Sofia
Saturday from 2:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

6 to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 5 to 8 p.m. on Sunday.

Airport transportation
The Metro is a convenient and least expensive way to go to the center of Madrid. The transfer station is Nuevos Ministerios if your destination is Gran Via, Sol, or Callao. The ticket as of the writing is 5€ which can be purchased at any machine at the Barajas airport station.  It's difficult to take the Metro with heavy or oversize luggage as there are no elevators and not all stations have escalators. I had to lug my 21-inch suitcase up several flights of stairs. Though I packed light, it was still a challenge!

Alternatively, there are airport shuttles that can be arranged in advance. Check with your hotel if they can set up your airport pick-up or drop-off.  I paid 22€ for the trip back to the airport with Aerocity. 


Calle del Carmen

The biggest sale of the year in Madrid is in July.  This is also when Madrid is inundated with visitors so the shops are packed with people. Since Spain is the home of Zara, they have branches all over the city. But there are many similar boutiques to browse for clothes and accessories like Sfera, Lefties, Lft, and the popular H&M. I bought several blouses to replenish my meager wardrobe. The department store, El Corte Ingles, has clothes and accessories as well as souvenirs, home goods, electronics, and a supermarket. I fell for a leather handbag and some wallets. And they provide assistance with filing VAT forms so you can be reimbursed for the taxes you paid for your purchases. There's a minimum amount of purchase to qualify for reimbursement.


Images by TravelswithCharie