"Gargoyles & Graffiti"chronicles architectural elements that I find interesting or unique in my travels. Gargoyles are my passion, but today graffiti (which I hate but am learning to love as it is everywhere) is as much a part of architecture as the gargoyles and decorative railings that thrill me.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stockholm Memories: Vasa and Skansen Museums

European bison at the Skansen

Mom and baby moose at the Skansen
My husband and I went on a Baltic cruise for our tenth anniversary last year. My favorite parts of Stockholm were the Vasa Museum, Skansen Open Air Museum and the surrounding waterways. I especially loved our sail out of Stockholm to Drottningholm Palace.

The Vasa Museum centers around a warship that sunk in 1628 and was refurbished starting in 1961. But I found all the other things in the museum of far more interest - the statues and reproductions of her hull and how she looked as she sailed out of Stockholm almost three hundred years ago.

Vasa Museum wall painting

My husband Moises at the Vasa Museum

Me at the Vasa

Reproductions of the hull ornamentation circa 1628

More information about the Vasa Museum can be found at this website:Visit the Vasa Museum

Carousel at the Skansen
After the Vasa, we visited the Skansen Open Air Museum, a combination small zoo and living history museum, showing the lives of Scandinavia in times past and includes shows and entertainment. The museum is 120 years old.

 More information can be found on the Skansen open air museum at:Explore the Skansen Open Air Museum

I found this youtube video which I think is especially good about both the Vasa and Skansen Museums.


But our favorite part of that day was the view we had while up on the hill in Skansen, looking out over the water. We were hot and tired and had just bought two bottles of water and dreamed of the wonderful lunch we would have later at a Hotel in Gamla Stan (the old part of the city.) I had the traditional smorgasbord, makes my mouth water just thinking of it. 

We ate lunch at the Grand Hotel, with fabulous service and amazing surroundings. For additional information on Swedish smorgasbord, check out:
Swedish classic: the smorgasbord
information on the Grand Hotel:
Grand Hotel Stockholm

View from the Skansen

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Barcelona Barri Gothic - Walking the Crooked Line

Restaurant in Hotel Royal Ramblas

I traveled to Barcelona solo and took a few days to see some of the sites again. I wasn't in a hurry this time, didn't have my guide book out, checking maps, looking for all the tours. That is the beauty of a great place the second time around. I ate dinner at a restaurant in the Royal Ramblas Hotel. Great Italian dishes. I snapped a few photos of the street lights and decorative features along La Rambla, but the real treat was saved for the next day when I went on a tour of the Barri Gothic.

Walking tour group led by Oliver
10 am on most weekdays (you can check the schedule at the tourist office on Plaza Catalunya only a few blocks from the Le Meridien where I stayed) they have a Gothic walking  tour that takes you through the labyrinth streets of Barcelona's oldest part dating back to Roman times. I had gotten lost and ended up in Raval a few years before so I decided the walking tour was the way to see everything in a short amount of time.

I arrived with only a few minutes to spare before the tour started. We had some confusion with the headsets while Oliver stressed over somebody not replacing the batteries and finally he opened a new box and we got started on our tour. The tour lasted about 2 hours and was chalk full of great sites. We walked around with our mouths hanging open in wonder. I think per square inch Barcelona has more great Gothic sites than anywhere else in the world, but I haven't been everywhere so maybe I am wrong.

Street lamp St. Jaume Place

 According to Oliver our guide, this is the only remaining Roman ruins in all of Barcelona ... they have torn all the rest down or built things over them or changed them in some way.
Roman walls

Here are some photos of the Barri Gothic walking tour. I cannot tell you what every Chapel or Cathedral is but I saw some great architectural features. 

These are some of the places we visited along the way:

Casa de la Pia Almmoina
In addition to being a fine example of Gothic architecture, this 11th-century building is of great historical interest as well. It was first the headquarters of a charity organization that used to provide a free lunch every day to 100 of the city's deserving poor, hence its popular name - Pía Almoina (the compassionate alms). Later, in 1450, it became home to the cathedral canons.  

San Felip Neri school children
San Felip Neri is a plaza or square where children go to play. The You tube video I uploaded at the beginning of this post is about the mystical qualities of this square. When we visited, the plaza was full of children playing, the laughter and joy of their voices and the sound of the fountain. The video is in Spanish, but it is wonderful to listen to the voice of the woman with the distinctive accent from Catalonia.

Casa de l'Arcadia is where the historical archives of Barcelona are kept.
It is part of the La Seu (or Santa Eulalia) Cathedral complex.

Casa de l'Arcadia

Area around the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia (or the La Seu) is full of wonderful architectural details such as iron doors,wall plaques, walkways, decorative railings and inset tiles.
Santa Eulalia is the seat of the Archbishop of Spain. 
There are a flock of geese that live in the courtyard.

Santa Eulalia plaque on wall
Geese in the courtyard of the Santa Eulalia Cathedral

The tour was great, informative, but in my typical fashion ... I turned off the headset halfway through and just enjoyed the ambiance ... the sights of old and decaying artifacts everywhere and smells of the damp walls. It was dark through part of the tour as no light enters these narrow walls. Then we would come upon a plaza and the sun would dapple through the trees. Not hearing but seeing and touching, I dreamed of a time long ago when people walked these crooked streets for the first time .... the Romans, in the 1600 and 1700s, even the Middle Ages. And I felt exquisite peace.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Costa Concordia Accident

Bench from Costa Concordia on Giglio beach (Paul Hanna/Reuters)

I would like to extend my heartfelt sympathies to the families of the people who died from the Costa Concordia accident. I also want to express hope and prayers for those still missing. I could not imagine how hard it would be to be torn away from the ones you love to be put in a life boat, not knowing if or when you will see them again. Thankfully we are now down to 17 unaccounted for.

My prayers and thoughts are with you. I hope the stranded get back home safely.

Update January 20th ... we have heard all kinds of things by now. Costa and Carnival Cruises claim they are not responsible as the Captain made the decision to enter the water by Giglio Island on his own. The Captain appears to have abandoned his ship. I truly believe this accident will change cruising. I know my sense of safety and security is shaken. Never again can we say the Titanic can never happen again. If this accident had occurred in colder waters and further out to sea, I think we would see way more deaths. All of us wait to see what is going to happen. I think all the cruise lines will be forced to keep further away from vulnerable areas like Giglio, which is basically a marine park like Cozumel. Our hearts go out to the families still searching for their missing. 

We had our own tragedy this week in Cozumel. 

Our installer/drapery/upholstery guy lost his wife. She was 26 years old. She got sick and was gone in a month. Our heart goes out to our worker. Sad week all around. Lots of prayers needed.

Satellite image of the Costa Concordia

Now a guy has fallen or jumped and been killed on the Carnival Fantasy. Not a good month for the Carnival Corp.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Walk Down Memory Lane in Paris

Me and my husband Moises on the grounds of Versailles
from Monument of Arc de Triompfe
our first visit to Paris in 2002

It has been ten years since my husband and I first went to Paris. I decided to do a walk down memory lane and look for the old photos of our visit. There were so many things special about that trip. We loved the city and its people. We remember the street cleaners scrubbing down the streets every evening at 5pm. We stayed in the 8th arrondissement close to the Champs-Élysées at Hotel California. We have never paid so much per night for a hotel, except in Venice, Italy - but the trip was magical.

More information about the area we stayed, which I highly recommend, can be found here

My husband, Moises, speaks French (as well as Spanish, English and Italian) so it made it easy to navigate the city. We had been married for less than two years, so we were still almost newlyweds. It was our first trip to Europe together. We loved spending time at the Louvre, a day trip to Versailles, and our many trips on the metro - also the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the river cruise we took. Not to be missed was the private tour we took at night to see the City ablaze in lights. (They don't call it the City of Lights for nothing!)

Hop-on hop-off  bus tour with a couple from Monterrey, Mexico

Paris has the most beautiful architectural features, like the wrought iron railing below with the Sun King motif.

wrought iron railing in Paris

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Street Art or Graffiti in Porto, Portugal

Mr. Dheo is the name of a street artist in Porto, Portugal. I don't dare call it graffiti as the works are really works of art. But for the purpose of this blog, as it is called Gargoyles & Graffiti, maybe we can call it high graffiti or street art graffiti? It is really impressive. To see many of his works, click here.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Graffiti in Lisbon

This blog post will be about graffiti as I would like to keep it balanced. My last post in Barcelona was definitely more gargoyle. The place I saw the most graffiti on my trip from Barcelona to Dover was in Lisbon. (The three places in the world I remember the most graffiti are Mexico City, Athens and Lisbon.)

Check out this great article about the graffiti in Lisbon ....

Alfama District in Lisbon

They even graffiti their boats

I can't remember the first time I saw graffiti. I've heard it said that the Indian cave paintings are a form of graffiti, so I guess it goes back a long time. Along the road leaving Estoril Beach and returning to Lisbon, we saw graffiti sprawled along the walls of the obviously super expensive homes by the beach.  Graffiti was even on some of the boats in the harbor when we reached the Alfama district where we were docked.

Along the sea from Estoril Beach to Lisbon

Drive from Estoril to Lisbon
cables and wires everywhere
Now this is not pick on Portugal day or anything. For friends of mine who spent more time there, they loved it. I am talking first impressions and Lisbon and the surrounding towns take some getting used to. It is old and crumbling but I believe in the short time I was on the cruise (we did overnight, but still??) I couldn't really love it. I guess I've finally said it. I actually disliked it. It is crowded, dirty, falling down ... and I really wanted to at least like it. I really did. I have been washing the same dishes I got as a bridal shower gift from my two best friends from high school for the last 25 years, yearning to see Portugal. My dishes are called Lisboa white ... which is actually the name of Lisbon if you live there, as it is the name of Lisbon in Spanish. These beautiful, simple white dishes that I have celebrated anniversaries, birthdays, and in my divorce, we even discussed what to do with them and he got 4 sets, I got 8. I have carried these dishes from Cincinnati where I got them as a gift (where I grew up) to Florida where I lived at the time I got married to Cozumel, Mexico. I still have most of these dishes even though a maid of mine broke the top of the casserole dish and all of the bowls disappeared long ago. And sometimes I dream about moving somewhere else and I got it in my head that Portugal would be the perfect place to live ... and then I went to Lisbon ... but just when I thought that the dirt, the smog, the crowds, the wires and the graffiti were more than I could bear, I came across this, a portal to a Church ... one of the last remaining remnants from the Earthquake of 1755 and it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life.

 The Church Portal from the 1755 Earthquake

Henry the Navigator Monument

And this .... a monument to Henry who our guide said never navigated anything to the mosaic floors showing the Portuguese voyages, detailed with decorative boats and sea creatures.

Map showing the voyages of the Portuguese

And I realized that travel, like life, never turns out exactly as we plan. Some places I have thought about so long and put up so high on the pedestal that they can never be as good as I expect them to be. Lisbon is one of those places. I can appreciate it so much more now that I am back from my trip and realize that like an exotic and unfamiliar meal, Lisbon is better as I ingest it in my mind.