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Discover Walking Tours, Key to Exploring Barcelona, Spain

April 23, 2013

Padrera's Rooftop (a Gaudi house)

Discover Walking Tours, a tip supported company, offers three options:  1)  Gaudi buidlings in Eixample; 2) Ramblas and the Gothic area; 3) and Picasso’s Barcelona in  The Born, the medieval section.  During our March trip to Barcelona we took all three, and found they were a great orientation to the city.  The guides were knowledgeable  and entertaining, and it was fun to converse with other travelers.

On our first day we took  the Gaudi Tour in the Eixample section.  Eixample  was built in the second half of the 18th century, when the city needed to expand north to accommodate an influx of people coming  from small villages.   Our guide met us at Batllo, Gaudi’s flamboyant  house on Passeig de Gracia, one of the major avenues running north and south.    Batllo is  bedecked with jewels, actually shards of stone from ceramic factories in the surrounding mountains, has window panes in the shape of bones, and an embellished dragon, who’s been killed by St. George, lying on the roof.  Our guide explained that the site had been owned by the Guelles, one of the prosperous families at the turn of the century. She explained how Gaudi embellished houses that were the  plainer, more typical style.   Had we passed by on our own we would not have noticed those outside details, nor would we have gotten tips on images to look for when we returned for a visit on our own.   Casa Medea next door had almond shaped windows; its owner, a chocolate maker, was was aptly nicknamed “Mr. Almond.”

As we wove around the back of Battlo and crossed back to La Pedrera, another Gaudi House on Passeig de Gracia, we learned more about the architecture of the city, the differences between Spanish and Catalan languages, and the corners with prominent beer and wine bars. Pedrera  had balconies like waterways flowing into the rocks, and chimneys like masked men (see picture at upper left).  At the Diagonal Zero subway stop our guide pointed north and told us not to miss Guelle Park with its  mosaic terraces and the Gaudi Museum.   We went down under, got on the train, and exited at the next stop: Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s phantasmagorical cathedral that may be finished within the next twenty years.  At the end of the tour, we could walk east to the water, walk west to Passiag de Gracia, or north to Guelle Park.  The map was making sense now.

The Ramblas and Gothic area and the Picasso Walk through The Born were equally informative and fun.  We may not have found the Museum of the City, the ancient Roman city of Bacino, which is located under the main cathedral, had it not been for the walks.  It’s by far one of the best archaeological museums I’ve ever been to Picasso Walk which turns out to be an excellent  way to explore The Born, the medieval section area east of the pedestrian walkway Las Ramblas. run by Andrea Albert, a Barcelona native who knows the streets and sites intimately.  Andrea and the other guides speak English fluently.


Wales B & B: Stay at Dylan Thomas’s Birthplace in Swansea

February 19, 2013

Dylan Thomas Birthplace, Swansea

Everyday life on the Wales seacoast is vivid in Dylan Thomas’s poems, stories, and radio broadcasts. You can stay at his childhood home, the setting of the popular story “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” Anne Haden, the owner, has meticoulosly restored the house to the way it was in 1914, the year tha the family moved in, and she sponsors a number of literary events during the year. The grandfather clock of the story still chimes by the hour. The velvet chaise lounge sits in front of the window with its lacy curtains. Patterned wallpaper accentuates the heavy, dark woodwork. Anne serves a fancy afternoon tea party with Welsh cakes–bun like sweets with raisins, fresh from the oven–on Dylan’s birthday, October 27, and her traditional Welsh dinner is available afterward. Anne made us a meal typical of the kind Dylan’s mother Florie cooked when we stayed there in June. We started off with edible small clams from the nearby estuary, laverbread, a highly nutritious seaweed, and samphire, sea apsaragus, which was followed by lamb, mashed potatoes, cooked celery, carrots, and lemon posset, a tart custard on top of a sweeter one. Annie is well versed on the biography of the poet, and has had the descendants visit the home on several occasions. At one point she wiped her brow, and sighed, “Dylan is my son, you know.” We slept in the back bedroom, the parents’ room, while our friends took the front bedroom, where Dylan was born. We had the advantage of a view that cascaded down over the rooftops to the sea, a vision so evident in his poetry, while the birthplace room overlooks the street. As we settled into our rooms, Anne told us that Dylan liked to recite his poems in the bathroom, as he aimed to project words and phrases as forcefully as his preacher uncle. Breakfast was self serve, with ample Welsh foods Anne had left in the fridge and cold room. The next morning we strolled through Cwmdonkin Park with its open fields across the street. “Hunchback in the Park,” the contemplation of an elderly local who lived in a doghouse, was set there. Prince Charles recently visited in his role of sponsor of the 2014 Dylan Thomas Birthplace celebrations, which will take place in a number of locations throughout the country.

London’s Foundling Museum, Compliments of Hogarth and Handel

February 5, 2013

When I first saw the Foundling Museum in a guidebook, I thought “Oh, no, we’ll view depressing images of poor emaciated orphans.” Quite the contrary. Located at 40 Brunswick Square, a short walk northeast of the British Museum, it’s one of the city’s best small collections, with vibrant and with touching connections to art and music. The building once held the administrative offices of a large, progressive orphanage started in 1759 by Frederic Handel, the musician, William Hogarth, the painter, and Thomas Corm, a shipwright and who’d seen many abandoned children on his journeys back and forth to America. Most of the income came from Hogarth’s art and Handel’s music. The benefit concerts were usually held at the Vauxall Gardens, a popular summer pleasure park in Kensington. Charity was becoming fashionable in the 18th century, and George II happily supported their efforts to help vulnerable children. The contents of the former Handel House Museum have been incorporated into the exhibit rooms: manuscripts, printed books and music, libretti, paintings and engravings. On the top floor you can ease down into comfortable lounge chairs, put in ear plugs, and relax while listening to Handel performances. Large scale Biblical paintings by Hogarth, and scenes from London hospitals by such artists as Gainsborough and Richard Wilson are displayed in the Court Room. In addition, there is significant Nineteenth Century art by Millais, and works that illustrate everyday life of the Foundling Hospital by Victorian artists Emma Brownlow and Sophia Anderson.

Within walking distance of the British Library and the John Soane’s Museum.

Sleuthing for Venice Art: Strategy and Tips

October 8, 2012

Breakfast under a Tiepolo at Ca’ Segredo

The wish list my husband Rob and I had for our eight-day trip to Venice was long and mostly included seeing in real life the major works from art history courses, guidebooks, and coffee table tomes on Renaissance painting. How could we see them all? The most well-known museums and churches were on Venice maps, but we had many more locations to scout out. Now it wasn’t that we expected to cross off paintings as we would items on a grocery list. We needed a plan so we wouldn’t go back and forth over the Grand Canal that flows through the city like a giant “S,” for even the public water bus, the vaporetto, is expensive. Like a detective planning strategies, I photocopied the clearest map, and, by referencing a number of sources, began making circles around the museums and churches we wanted to visit. Off we went to Venice to stay on the Dorsoduro with many churches chocked full of major artists and major art museums–the Accademia, the Peggy Guggenheim, and Ca ‘Rezzonico–for three days, in the center for three days, and near the Ca’d’Oro for the last few days. That way we could explore the city a section at a time, and not have to worry about crossing the Grand Canal. Details: buy a VENICE CHORUS PASS that givers entry to 16 churches (even if you are not religious you will love the famous artists). VENICE CONNECTED offeres a wide range of city passes that include entry fees and transportation.

Bloomsbury, Long a Favorite London Neighborhood for B & B and Hotel Stays

September 22, 2012

I’ve been to London eight  times, and on every visit I’ve spent at least part of the time in Bloomsbury.  Why?  First of all, the British Museum is right in the center, and the surrounding streets are filled with   very good ethnic restaurants, bed and breakfasts and hotels.  By foot, without stopping at any of the fascinating sites along the way, it’s a half hour walk to most places in Central London.  From one of the Underground stops (British for subway; they literally  come every minute) it’s a short time to get to major sites such as the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace.

On one visit my grown daughter and I stayed at a bed and breakfast on Goodge Street near the Tottenham Court Road Tube.  We had Internet cafes, laundries, groceries, not to mention all the eating places on the streets leading out from the British Museum.  We felt comfortable coming home at night from the theater and getting off at the tube stop.  If I go back and stay at a B and B or small hotel,  I’d now try one of the ones around Bedford Street.

On a recent trip my husband and I got a package at the Edwardian Radisson Bloomsbury, literally one half block from the British Museum.  We were in the city with a list of places we had not been to previously.  For the second half of our week long stay we booked a room near Lambeth Bridge, across from the neighborhood of Westminster at a new hotel which also had a package:  the Park Plaza Riverside.  Though the hotel was top notch, the neighborhood was extremely inconvenient.  The nearest Underground stop was a brisk twenty minute walk away.  The only place to eat was a shopping center   and the one restaurant had a blaring TV and mediocre food.  For the rest of the time we spent the day in central London and took the Tube back after an early dinner.  On our next visit we’ll go back to our favored Bloomsbury, which, by the way,  is not far from Paddington Station and the Heathrow Express.

Immersed in Istanbul:Cemberlitas Hamami, historic Turkish bath

April 12, 2012

“You must go,” insisted my Turkish friend Sule.  “Hammans, Turkish bathhouses, are important social gathering places all over the county.  They’re like your coffeehouses.  When I go home to my village in Anatolia I ring up my girlfriends and arrange a meeting at our favorite hamman.  My husband and brother do the same.”

I hesitated, thinking of what some of my friends had reported.  Sue had Mark had slid around on dirty, oily floors when visiting Budapest.  I could not fall on this trip.  When in Germany, Kate understood enough to know that the large, well-endowed women at a German bath thought her svelte figure would prevent her from having babies.  Joan complained that a masseuse in a bath would not stop when she felt her bones were being yanked from their sockets.  Ouch.

“Americans are shy about being nude,” I said to  Sule, “strange as it may seem with all the exposed skin in movies.”

“I kno-o-ow,” said Sule.  So she’d heard this argument before. “But Cemberlitas Hamman is a good place for foreigners.  It’s right in the heart of the Old City, near the Grand Bazaar and the historic sites.”

“Do you have to go nude?”

Sule giggled.  “You can wear your bathing suit if you want.”

Deal clinched.  What did I have to lose?

“Women’s entrance?” I asked when I reached the street corner a few short blocks east of the Grand Bazaar.  I saw the Egyptian obelisk Sule had told me to look for…….READ MORE at

Philadelphia Inquirer Travel Section, Sunday, March 11, 2012.

By Emilie C. Harting

Kangaroo Island, Australia’s Paradise Island

March 30, 2012

We took the short ferry ride from Adelaide and landed 0n Southern Australia’s nature island, where purity reigns  No predators–rabbits, cats or dogs–are allowed here.  Hence the 18 native mammals, 250 bird species, and 900 plant species flourish. During our two-day stay we climbed unusual orange rock formations along the coast, visited a distillery to see  how the Eucalyptus oil is naturally extracted from the trees that grow along side the road and on special farms.  The oil is  sent off island to factories that make it into various disinfectants, decongestants and cleaners.  In addition, we sampled yoghurts and cheese at a sheep farm,  held baby kangaroos in snug lees, and patted a Kuala bear while it slept in the crevice of a tree.

At night we ate dinner at a small hotel looking overlooking the bay at Kingscote  while  the soft evening waves made their way in to the rocky shore below us.    After dark a local naturalist led us on a walk  along the cliffs to view the many penguins who march up from the beach at the end of the day and nest in the rocks.  Check out this trip at

by Emilie C. Harting