Breathing Travel: My Photo Picks; Meaningful Scenes

Choosing a favourite photo is not an easy task so I am bending the rules a little in my coursework at Breathing Travel | MatadorU and featuring three meaningful shots taken on a recent trip to Southern California, as well as a bonus image from Spain.

I am open to your critique of the shots as this is part of the learning experience so please share any feedback if you can; I am developing a thick skin.

Here goes….

I like taking night shots, though struggle with them because I am always shooting from the hip. (The tripod hasn’t had a test run yet). This first shot, of the Capitol Records building, was taken on our final day in LA enroute to the airport. I jumped out of the car to take this photo; I tried to keep a steady hand though I was shaking in my boots for standing in the middle of a downhill sloping road.

To me, the photo is symbolic of the the music industry in its heyday; the architectural design is meant to resemble a stack of records on a turntable. I also like the lit up Patron Tequila bottle, advertised in the background.

The second image was taken at Westwood Memorial Park. It is symbolic of Old Hollywood. It is in the memory of an icon that will never be forgotten. “We are all stars, and we deserve to twinkle” – Marilyn Monroe

The third image is of The Cafe at the Getty Villa in Malibu. I like this shot for a couple of reasons. It was taken at one of my favourite museums. Secondly, in composing this photo, I was drawing inspiration from the talented photographer, Julius Shulman.

This last image – a bonus shot – was taken with my Sony Cybershot of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. I was scrolling through photos today and really liked how the cranes seemed to mimic the towers of the church. A cool juxtaposition, I thought. Gaudi’s masterpiece is due for completion in 2030 (or thereabouts).

Breathing Travel: A Simple and Savvy Start…

When an article is described as ‘evergreen’, this means that its content is based on tips, resources, or other topics that do not go out of date as quickly as those of current events.

This is the objective of the first post on my Breathing Travel | Documenting the journey blog, where posts are dedicated to my coursework at MatadorU.

Inspired by my sister’s upcoming trip as a first-timer to Europe, I decided to collate a series of tips for her. Take a look and I’d love to know whether you’d add any more tips.

SOLO TRAVEL: Keeping it Simple and Savvy

Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind. ~ Seneca

Barcelona's bustling La Boqueria

My sister is embarking on her first European trip in a couple of weeks and I couldn’t be more excited for her. Living ‘Down Under’, in 200+ year old Australia, the rest of the world can, at times, seem so out of reach; a trip to Europe is definitely high on most Aussie to-do lists. My sister’s own feelings of excitement will undoubtedly give way to wonder, amazement, and awe when she steps foot into London – her first stop after a 20+ hour plane trip. Jet lag? Shelve that for the trip back home to Sydney!

That said, I cannot help but take on the role of protective sister; about 2 weeks out of my little sister’s 4 week vacation will be traveled solo as she makes her way through Mediterranean exotica. As liberating as this part of the trip will be, I wanted to share some big sister advice on pre-planning; to try and avoid any unnecessary solo-traveler anxiety. (Mum, I am doing this for you too).

Sister, and interested others – this list is yours to print out and keep by your side.

Quaint Cannes

Packing:

  1. Don’t buy a black suitcase. Buy a well-made reputable brand – preferably one that is on sale because of a low-selling design pattern, or not-so-popular colour. Why? No-one will really want to steal it, and it will be easily recognizable on the carousel.
  2. Pack clothes to look like a local. Classic basics are ideal to mix n match on a daily basis; go easy on the shoe selection. Please – no ‘I Heart Roma’ T-shirts paired with stark-white sneakers… you know why. Leave the jewels at home.
  3. Keep the toiletries to a minimum. Save room in the suitcase and head to Boots pharmacy in the UK to stock up. Buy a small sunscreen to keep in the purse – the exposed top decks of the hop on/hop off bus tours double up as rooftops for sunbaking.
  4. Be sensitive with electronics. Keep chargers and the e-book safe in your hand luggage AND buy a plug converter.
  5. Care for the Camera. Keep the compact in its case; perhaps buy a second battery and memory card that are ready-to-go in case the others run dry half way through the day. Plenty of pictures will be taken – I know it!
  6. Load up the e-book and ipod with your favourite shows, files, and songs, to make the most out of those plane or train delays. Wandering around with earphones is a no-go, especially in cities like London where crowds and traffic reign. It’s easy to get distracted.
  7. Pack miscellanea. Gather together some wet-wipes, tissues, lollies/sweets, band-aids, notebook with pen, and Panadol/Advil – stash them in your purse. They will come in handy at some point, promise.
  8. Curb homesickness. Take a few of your favourite family-and-friend photos as well as something to remind you of home. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Artful Florence

Money and Documents:

  1. Photocopy documents 3 times: passport, itinerary (see * below), airline tickets, insurance papers, and credit cards. Leave one at home with always-contactable parents/friends; put another copy in your hand luggage, and the other, in the suitcase – just in case the purse gets lost. *Create a detailed itinerary with hotel, tour, train, information, airline details; as well as printing it, email to yourself and parents/friends.
  2. Convert some money at the bank before you leave, say AUD300 into pounds and Euros. Ask for low denominations (5,10,20 notes) so you don’t have to struggle with getting change back. I don’t recommend currency exchange booths – their exchange rates aren’t the best. Use a credit card when possible, and if you need to use the ATM, find one in a well lit public place.
  3. Look up destination specific blogs. When planning your itinerary, blogs are a really good resource to seek out as they can give detailed information on the who, what, where, how, why. Honest, first-hand accounts written by everyday travelers get really specific on the most intricate details, especially the watch-outs. e.g. how much to expect to pay for a taxi from the airport; the best train to catch between cities; Metro timetable limitations, surcharges, hidden fees.
A Fiat in Roma

A Fiat in Roma

Research

  1. Learn some key phrases. Write a few key words in the languages you’ll be encountering, and put these cue cards in your wallet, e.g. good morning, thank you, I’m not interested, HELP! Interest in the local language can go a long way – it can be fun trying to converse (with hand gestures too).
  2. Etiquette. Being culturally respectful and sensitive is always a good thing, especially as a first-time traveler. Even moreso if visiting sacred sites and churches. Here are a couple of good links for Italy: http://www.fodors.com/news/story_3872.html and http://www.cntraveler.com/travel-tips/travel-etiquette/2008/06/Etiquette-101-The-Mediterranean
  3. Museum Passes and Metro cards. Sometimes buying these from home, prior to travel, can give you certain privileges like jumping the queue at those line-riddled Parisian museums.Plus, you’ve just pre-paid so that saves you even more time.  e.g. The Museum Pass in Paris – Goodbye crazy long line; Hello Musee D’Orsay!
  4. Mobile/Cell Phone. You don’t want to be hit with a huge bill for roaming charges when you get home, so give the phone company a call prior to travel and find out your international options.
  5. Pre-book as many hotel nights, train passes, and tours as possible. It’s good to have a framework to travel within – it keeps you on track as time is of the essence.

Pretty Monaco

Solo Travel Tips

  1. Indulge in the café-culture. Coffee is necessary traveler fuel! Sit in an outdoor terrace of a Parisian bistro, or stand in an espresso bar in Rome; people-watch; get a feel of a neighbourhood; and, write a postcard (to me!).
  2. Always take business cards. From the hotel, café, restaurant, store – just in case you get yourself lost in Europe’s maze of streets, or need to show the address to a taxi-driver who doesn’t speak English.
  3. Make friends if you have a good gut instinct about them but don’t give out too much personal information. You can never be too sure…
  4. Going out. Hopefully with some fellow travelers, and try and keep it close by to the hotel – double check whether the lobby is serviced 24/7. Watch your drink with an eagle eye.
  5. Hotel Tips. Ask for a room that isn’t on the ground level, use the safe to stash your valuables, befriend the concierge – they are an invaluable source for maps, tour recommendations, and getting you in to a restaurant.
  6. If you can sense trouble. If you feel that someone may be following you – enter a store or café to surround yourself with people that could potentially help you out.
  7. Keep in touch regularly. Buy a phone card from each country; find out where the Internet cafes are (preferably, there is Internet access in your hotel). Call your mother, she worries! Email you sister, she worries too!

NB: Security lines at the airport – remember to wear hole-less socks and easy to remove shoes; the less metal on you, the better; buy that bottle of water after you’ve cleared the line.

Most importantly, relax and have a great trip. Bon Voyage!

A Roman Espresso

Park Güell: Gaudi’s Whimsical Wonderland

For anyone who has read Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you may have felt a sense of whimsy imparted by these stories; as if magic were interwoven between the words and pages of these books, whilst you experienced their worlds unfolding through spellbinding storytelling. Not unlike one of my favourites, The Magic Faraway Tree, these tales draw you into a world of infinite possibilities, adventure, and surprise as you take a trip on a mesmerising stretch of the imagination. Reading these books as a kid, it was easy to get caught up in the fantasy of it all. Twenty years later, I find myself where I was back then. Transported into an enchanting world – but this time it was for real. I was in Gaudi’s Park Güell.

Enchanting Park Guell

Park Güell is located on a hilltop in Barcelona, above Gracia. With a panoramic view over the city and sea, the spot is worthy of a visit based on its photographic opportunities alone. Gaudi had designed plans for this space, originally commissioned as a privately financed suburb, in his Catalan style which embraced mythology, history and liturgy. The urban development project never eventuated and to our gain, in 1923 the park became the magnificent public space that we are able to enjoy today.

A gingerbread gatehouse

Antoni Gaudi themed Park Güell on the aesthetic of nineteenth-century fairgrounds. The result has a distinct ethereal quality to it: grand stone walls are fringed with pinnacles, adorned by intricate mosaic tiles; the entrance’s gatehouses stand reminiscent of gingerbread houses – distorted in scale, with white topped roofs, tall chimneys, ginger coloured stone walls, and windows outlined in colourful tiled patterns.

Second gingerbread gatehouse

Barcelona myth tells of Gaudi parsimoniously ordering his workmen to scavenge broken tiles from nearby building sites on their way to work. There were also reports of the workmen taking delivery of carefully transported Venetian tiles and smashing them in front of the horrified delivery man.” *

Ornate Mosaic Ceiling

Mosaic Detail

Gaudi’s design allows you to conduct a tour based upon the notion similar to that of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. Whatever path you take, you know it will be filled with wonderment: whether it be to climb the Park Güell’s ceremonial staircase, guarded by the sculpture of a dragon fashioned from tiny shards of tile; or along a meandering pathway that may lead you to a long outdoor hallway flanked by stone columns, as strong as tree trunks, supporting a pathway up above. Looming palm trees and blooming bougainvillea decorate the landscape, as do sculptures made out of stone and iron.

Stone Columns and Palms

Whichever way you go, you will undoubtedly find your way to the main plaza. This is a focal point of the park and designed for social gatherings. A sculpture decorated in mosaic work outlines part of the plaza’s perimeter, just like that of a writhing serpent. Intended for seating, here you can have a drink (in this dream, I am able to enjoy a glass of sangria) and look down upon the park’s entrance; progressively taking in the view of Barcelona city and the Mediterranean Sea, beyond.

Fabulous Barcelona

Park Güell is a space unlike any other I have ever seen, or think I ever will see, again. Spending an afternoon in a world as fantastical as this one may bring you as close to a fairytale, as realistically is possible.

Guell's Emblem

Park Güell is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site. It was designed in Gaudi’s singular Catalan style, where his “deliberate programme mixed classical myth, Catalan history, Catholic liturgy and the memory of martyrdom into something completely unique.” * This program was reflective of historical gardens in Renaissance Italy as well as Gaudi’s other works, the Nativity façade of La Sagrada Familia and the crypt at Colonia Güell.

Gaudi lived in a home here from 1906 to 1926. The Gaudi Museum (Casa Museu Gaudi) since 1963, it may be visited today for a fee and contains original works by Gaudi. In 1969 it was declared a historical artistic monument of national interest.

Casa Museu Gaudi

* Gaudi. A Biography by Gijs Van Hensbergen

The Essence of La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia really needs to be seen to be believed. Whilst photographs do it some justice (even my amateur snaps), its essence is truly felt when one is standing in the thick of it all. From the intricacy of its stonework (those detailed facades!), to its Gothic inspired stained glass windows that leave the interior of the church awash in a myriad of colours as the afternoon sun streams through, to the feeling of vertigo that sets in once you’ve descended (by foot) from the top of one of those high bell towers to the base of its spiral staircase. These are the moments that leave you in wonderment… and in need for a sit down from the over-stimulation of it all.

Spiral Staircase

The grandeur of Gaudi’s vision is easy to spot from any high point in Barcelona – whether from Montjuic or from the rooftop of Casa Mila, another one of his landmarks, where the church is perfectly framed by one of the building’s undulating arches. As if watching over the city, La Sagrada Familia does not impose. Rather, it stands emblematic of Barcelona – the city and its beauty.

Overarched by the Casa Mila, La Sagrada Familia stands tall in the background

As fantastical and exquisite as La Sagrada Familia may seem to one person, there have been the obligatory naysayers… and renowned artists at that.

For Picasso, Gaudi’s famous church, the Sagrada Familia, was something of a joke – more to Salvador Dali’s taste, he once commented, than his. In the living room in La Californie there used to be an enormous panettone that mice had reduced to a ruin: ‘Gaudi’s model,’ he would say.*

George Orwell thought it to be one of the ugliest buildings he had ever seen and was said to have “wondered why the Anarchists hadn’t wrecked it in the Civil War”.**

The decorative canopy of La Sagrada Familia's interior

The church “could be finished some time in the first third of the 21st century”, states La Sagrada Família website. The final result will be a variation of the artist’s vision. Though the aforementioned Anarchists had spared the building during the Civil War, in 1936 they had set fire to the crypt and destroyed the models, plans, drawings and photos in Gaudi’s former workshop. Construction goes on based on reconstructed plans and there’s comfort in the thought that perhaps Gaudi continues to watch over the building’s progress from within. After all, he was buried in the Carmen Chapel in the crypt of La Sagrada Família in 1926, where his remains still lie today.

*Taken from ‘Gaudi. A Biography.’ by Gijs Van Hensbergen ** ‘Barcelona’s 25 Best’ by Fodor’s

Amazing photos can be found within the blogs below:

Barcelona: La Sagrada Familia | Amy Davies

La Sagrada Familia photoblog by Angelo Samarawickrema.

The Nativity Facade

I heart Cava – a tour of Freixenet in Spain

If someone had asked me a few months ago what Mario Batali, Demi Moore, Antonio Banderas, Kim Basinger, and Sharon Stone had in common, I’d be very slow to hazard a guess.

But I was enlightened on a recent tour of Catalonia’s wine region, where I learned that all of these personalities were, at one point or another, the brand ambassadors for one of Spain’s most loved cava producers – Freixenet.

Freixenet

Cava could very well be the national drink of Spain. It is the beverage that is poured for every celebration, holiday, anniversary, or toast. Freixenet is renowned globally as the leading producer of sparking wine in the traditional method. Also known as Methode Champenoise this process, amongst other things, produces more of those bubbles per bottle.

Magnum to mini...

The Freixenet winery is located in Catalonia’s Penedès region, in a small village called Sant Sadurni d’Anoia. This town is the world’s top producing area of cava given the  three main grape varieties used for its production – Xarello, Macabeo, and Parellada – are native to the region’s terroir.

The exterior of Freixenet’s winery is Mediterranean- inspired with its terracotta tiled roof tiles and columns, and surrounded by manicured gardens and trees. A local train station, within walking distance of the winery, services the surrounding area which is punctuated by vineyards and houses.

The road that leads to Freixenet

Our wine tour started with a brief family history of the winery – a 150 year old, family owned company, that was for a time a local business though has since expanded its wine production to various locations around the world. The majority of the walking tour took place in the wine cellars. Weaving our way in and around the dark and damp tunnels of the underground caves where the cava is aged, it is no coincidence that cava is the Catalan word for cave.

The underground caves

Over time, Freixenet has mastered Methode Champenoise by way of technological innovation to ensure efficient production and consistent quality. A good portion of the tour was dedicated to explaining the Methode Champenoise process. Because it is pretty interesting, I’ve included the CliffNotes version here:

Methode Champenoise is a double fermentation process that has been used for centuries to make sparkling wines. The wines are aged from 1 to 5 years, during which time they are placed on special racks at a 45 degree angle. During aging, yeast sediment (called lees) settles in the neck of the bottle.

Cava's aging process

To be consolidated for removal, a process called riddling is practiced. Imagine a vintner rotating every single bottle, little by little, every single day throughout the aging process. Tough work but it’s why the process is a craft.  This continuous turning causes the lees to slowly settle in the neck of the bottle.

The lees are removed after the aging process (called disgorging) by freezing the necks of the bottles. The pressure within the bottle forces the lees out. Once this happens, the bottles are immediately topped off with the original base wine, and sugar is added (called dosage). Checked for consistency, they are then corked, labeled and packed for shipment.This part of the tour took place in the bottling plant, and the process was shown in more detail aboard a mini train that made its way from one level to the next in the 6 tiered building.

Tapas and tasting time

The tour ended with a sampling of the Cordon Negro Freixenet Cava, accompanied by a tapas lunch of cheese, salumi, jamon and plenty of the delicious traditional pan con tomate: tomato- and garlic-rubbed, olive oil drizzled, salt seasoned toasted bread, in a restaurant overlooking the grounds. It was a great way to relax and just enjoy the atmosphere.

A perfect meal

Freixenet produces over 100 million bottles of the sparkling wine annually. Being Spain’s top beverage exporter, Freixenet’s cava is available worldwide and identifiable by its frosty black bottle, stamped with a black and gold label. The mastermind behind this successful packaging idea was José Ferrer Sala – son of the family that started the Freixenet legacy – who also pioneered the brand’s use of TV advertising and marketing sponsorships featuring those aforementioned personalities. Today, the company’s annual holiday commercial is one of Spain’s most anticipated television events of the year. Shakira was the face of 2010 – I wonder who will be the face of 2011. Do you know?

TIPS: I would recommend taking a winery tour that combines a few regional wineries as this makes the trip worthy of a full day spent drinking and eating.

The Winery also has a store where Cava is available for purchase as well as branded memorabilia such as this tray we purchased, with Freixenet’s mascot.

Freixenet Mascot Serving Tray

Barcelona’s Bustling La Boqueria

One of the first stops I love to make when I’m in a new city is at their fresh food market. Always bustling and lively, markets are one of the best places to get immersed in a destination’s food scene and culture. Not only an opportunity to see and taste the produce, this is also a good time to mingle with the local purveyors, residents, token tourists and put those foreign language skills to use.

Bustling La Boqueria

So it isn’t hard to believe that La Boqueria in Barcelona is one of the city’s most frequented landmarks. Built in the mid nineteenth century, the market is housed in a beautifully constructed iron and glass building with an impressive gaping arch marking its entrance. Formally known as The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, it is simply referred to as: La Boqueria.

Located off of the central boulevard, La Rambla, pedestrian traffic ensures a steady stream of visitors in and out of the market hall all day (except on Sunday, when the market is closed. Some places do hold their weekends sacred!)

Entrance to the market

All sorts of foods from the Mediterranean are available – meats, seafood, breads, pastries, freshly squeezed juices, aromatic flowers, green-black-brown olives. Frutas y verduras, candied fruits and nuts are piled high in an assortment of bright colours, begging to be sampled.

Abundance of candied everything

Also home to quite a few wonderful tapas bars, we visited the Pinotxo Bar for breakfast one morning. The bow tie toting, always smiling owner Juan was manning the helm and with a wink, we were seated.

Pinotxo's Logo

Leaning against our high stools, we were constantly peering over and above the counter to see what Catalan fare was being prepared. We let the dishes speak for themselves and ordered plates until we were too full to continue. Vegetable frittata, sauteed spiced chickpeas, snails, garlic- and tomato-rubbed toasted bread seasoned with olive oil and salt (a typical recipe in Catalonia). And of course, smooth espressos with caramel coloured crema sealed the meal.

Tomato-rubbed toasted bread, frittata, espressos

Since we missed taking a photo with Juan on our visit in May 2011, I was so glad to have stumbled upon Rick Steves’ blog recently. Also a fan of Juan and his food, he photographed him whilst on vacation this past October. Here’s a snapshot of the infamous Juan from Rick Steves’ blog.

Rick Steves: Blog Gone Europe » Blog Archive » Barcelona Tumbles Down to Its Port.

Here’s a link to another blog that is a great depiction of the foods you can buy at La Boqueria: Barcelona: La Boqueria | Amy Davies.

The Boqueria's charcuterie

Williamsburg’s Street Art

Every day when I walk home from my yoga practice, I try and take a different route if only to uncover a new find within the labyrinth of streets of my neighbourhood, Williamsburg.

After a trip to Barcelona earlier this year, I became inspired by street art and how it gave the cosmopolitan city its edgy appeal. The Spanish fashion brand: Desigual, headquartered in the city, seems to have been inspired by the street art with its graffiti style apparel. Think T-shirts and sweaters designed in graffiti-esque prints and splashes of colour. Furthermore, their logo and storefronts pay testament to the art form. But, I digress…

Early morning. Street art on show. Ali in front of a pastry shop in La Rambla, Barcelona

Not really having paid much attention to it when I moved to this part of Brooklyn, it was after my Spanish trip that I started to appreciate whatever street art was surrounding me every day. I really started to take notice of it and seek it out on my daily jaunts. Other neighbourhoods may be subjected to some type of “clean up graffiti/street art initiative”, yet Williamsburg feels like an open-art gallery where graffiti, stencil drawings, posters, sidewalk art, stickers and murals are very much a part of its landscape. And here, the street art seems to have inspired the stylistic aethetic of the community in the form of tattoos.

Street art off of Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg

There hasn’t been a day that I haven’t come across a new artwork to admire. Whether the result of an artist trying to make his mark, or a store using a previously bare brick wall for its signage, or new scaffolding simply offering itself up as a blank canvas, the artistry is eye catching, interesting and contributes to Williamsburg’s personality.

My current finds are in the slideshow:

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