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Archive for October, 2011

Dear Readers,

Our final Sunday in Barcelona was spent visiting the famous Sagrada Familia, the unconventional Cathedral of the Holy Family, designed by Antoni Gaudi.  He was a famous Spanish architect who worked on the church from 1914 until his death in 1926.

A very long line of sightseers greeted us as we ascended the steps from the Metro stop.  It seems everyone wanted to visit this cathedral which is still under construction and finally expected to be completed in 15 years.  Part of it was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and also the lack of funds slowed construction for many years.

Our tour guide informed us that Gaudi designed and completed only one of four facades before he died.  He added colorful mosaic tops to the numerous spires depicting grapes and wheat to represent the Eucharist along with other vibrant fruits, vegetables and flowers.  They represent just a small part of God’s creation.  Modernistic stone carvings of the life and death of Christ adorn this facade.  Gaudi flooded the cathedral interior with bright light from the numerous windows.  Many of the completed windows are made of dazzling stained glass shades of blue, red, orange, yellow and green.  The choir loft surrounding about three-quarters of the upper interior can hold up to 1,000 singers.  There were 600 choir members performing at the dedication of the cathedral in November, 2010.  Pope Benedict XVI was the official celebrant at the dedication.

From the cathedral we walked to Gaudi’s Casa Mila, usually called La Pedrera.  This famous apartment building was constructed between 1906 and 1910 and boasts a curved and rippled facade.  Let me quote directly from my tour book, “Eyewitness Travel Guides for Barcelona and Catalonia”.  “Gaudi designed this corner apartment block, eight floors high, around two circular courtyards.  In the basement he incorporated the city’s first underground car park.  There are no straight walls anywhere in the building.”

We toured one of the apartments that is furnished as it would have been in 1910 and it is incredibly modern-looking.  Gaudi was a genius and his designs were years ahead of his time.  His architectural influence permeates the buildings of Barcelona, even the curvy design of the airport roof.  If you enjoy architecture, you will love Barcelona!

It was a magical last day to a great vacation.  I hope you enjoyed reading about Madrid and Barcelona.

Remember to always

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

We departed Madrid at 10:30 AM on a very modern, super fast train for a three hour trip to Barcelona.  We sighted only a couple of small villages between the cities with plenty of barren empty spaces along the route.  The golden sunshine of Spain shone for the entire journey.

We could feel the balmy air of the Mediterranean Sea as soon as we emerged from the train station.  The surrounding area was packed with tourists ready to enjoy the relaxed bohemian lifestyle of Barcelona.  Restaurants don’t get crowded until around 10 PM and the clubs stay open until 4 AM.

As soon as we unpacked, we headed out to the long avenue known as Les Rambles which stretches from the Port Vell (Old Port) with its imposing statue of Christopher Columbus, to the Placa de Catalunya, the center for the all the tour buses.

This historic tree-lined avenue leading to the sea was jam-packed with sightseers, even on a Thursday afternoon in late September.  There were newsstands, flower stalls, rows of artwork for sale, souvenir shops and stalls, street musicians and mime artists.  The mimes were posed like statues and only “awakened” when Euros were deposited in their collection jugs.  A bronzed (even his face) cowboy would draw his gun from his holster; a black and gold Don Quixote would arise from his faithful horse and thrust his lance forward and a green-faced clown atop a green bicycle would twirl his green umbrella.  This mime made a show of applying his green make-up in front of the onlookers.  You should have seen the delight on the children’s faces as these statues performed.

Off of Les Rambles was the Mercat de Saint Josep, popularly known as “LA Boqueria”.  This is Barcelona’s most colorful food market.  Saturday morning was the wrong time to visit as the aisles became so cluttered with people, there was pedestrian gridlock.  I returned around 4 PM (or 16:00 hours as they say in Spain) and it was easier to navigate.  I enjoyed strolling the many aisles perusing the delicious foods.

Large whole fresh fish were displayed on beds of chipped ice.  Candies shaped to resemble various fruits and vegetables were exhibited in wooden bins.  A “sunny-side-up” egg was the most unique piece of candy shown.  I spied vegetable stands with vivid green beans aligned in neat horizontal rows, lacy bouquets of green parsley and cilantro, and bunches of long bright orange carrots with the green tops still attached.  One stand sold all types of tantalizing dried fruits, nuts and even sugar-coated nuts.  (I learned from a travel book that sugar-coated nuts were introduced to Spain during the occupation of the Moors.)  I totally fell in love with the sights, sounds and smells of this interesting food market.

To Be Continued.

Keep smilin’!

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Carmelized Turnips

Dear Readers,

I just tried this recipe for turnips from the “Southern Living Christmas Cookbook”, being sold at Dillard’s Department Store to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities.  “If you don’t like turnips, this recipe may just change your mind.”

Carmelized Turnips

2 pounds turnips, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces (about 5 cups)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1-1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Place turnips in a single layer in a large skillet.  Add enough water to cover two-thirds of turnips (to a depth of about 1/2″).  Add butter and remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes.  Uncover; cook over medium-high heat 30 to 32 minutes or until water evaporates and turnips are browned.  Add 2 tablespoons water; cook 1 minute to deglaze skillet, stirring to loosen particles from bottom of skillet and glaze turnips. Serve hot.

Makes 4 servings.

Enjoy and

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

One of the highlights of our visit to Madrid was touring “The Prado”.  This art museum, a thirty minute walk from our hotel, is one of the world’s largest and most prestigious museums.  It was opened in 1819 and the original collection of 311 paintings was housed in a magnificent palace built by Juan de Villanueva.  It was originally a royal museum until the revolution of 1868.

It showcases works by Diego Velazquez, El Greco and Goya.  We saw paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Murillo and even Fra Angelico.  His scene of the Annunciation of Mary captured on wood dates back to the 1400’s.  I recognized an illustration of the Immaculate Conception of Mary by Murillo.  It is frequently portrayed on Catholic holy cards.  It was quite thrilling to observe the original.  Many of the paintings are religious in nature as the Church was the most influential patron of the arts during the Middle Ages.

If I ever return to Madrid, I’d like to visit the Prado again and leisurely enjoy all these famous masterpieces.  Many of these works I had studied in Art Appreciation classes in school.  I never dreamed I would someday see them in person.  All of these magnificent paintings were too much to absorb and fully appreciate in just one day!

Here are a few more interesting observations about Madrid.

Spaniards love to dine outdoors.  Plazas are full of tables and chairs from the surrounding restaurants.  We observed more beer than wine drinkers; maybe because the weather was still quite warm with temperatures in the low 80’s.  Beer and wine are relatively inexpensive – beer costs $1.50 a glass and very good wine is about $3 to $4 a glass.  Food is more expensive than in the USA and there is a charge for the bread placed on the table – anywhere from $2 to $5.  Water is not free and comes in bottles priced around $5 for one liter.  Isn’t it amazing that beer and wine are cheaper than water?

The Royal Palace sits on the highest area in Madrid.  People gather at the park across the street to watch the sunset over the tree-topped horizon beyond the palace grounds.  We were lucky to witness a Madrid sunset.  From there we walked to the Casa Aberto near the Plaza Mayor to enjoy some wine and tasty tapas.  Casa Alberto has been opened for business since 1827 and is witten up on the internet with glowing reviews.  We concur with these reviews.

To Be Continued On October 25.

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

Our hotel in Madrid was across the street from a school named Colegio MM. Concepcionistas, a Catholic grade school.  I curiously watched the start of classes every morning from our hotel window.

Around 8:30 AM, groups of 15 to 20 students marched down the street from the nearest Metro stop on Gran Via.  They pulled school bags on wheels similar to carry-on luggage.  Very young boys and girls, probably kindergarten and first-graders, wore light blue checked smocks over their uniforms of dark gray pants or skirts, white shirts or blouses and navy blue sweaters.

One or two mothers carried sleepy-eyed little ones to school.  Moms would kiss their kids good bye and then stop to converse with other moms on the corner.  Many fathers as well as grandparents accompanied the students to class.

The school bell rung at 9AM and then the big white wood door was shut.  Around 8:55 AM a man emerged from behind the door and onto the sidewalk, instructing the boys and girls to hurry up and enter before the bell tolled.

One hassled mother drove up in a green citroen at 8:59 AM.  Three kids rushed out of the car.  She quickly opened the trunk and three backpacks tumbled out onto the narrow street.  Her children franticly grabbed the packs and raced toward the big white door, just seconds before the bell sounded.

I couldn’t help but think how many times this very same scene plays out every morning at schools all over the United States.  Some rituals are the same no matter what part of the world you are in.

It’s interesting to note how breakfast in Spain differs from breakfast in the States.  Meats such as ham and various local sausages, varieties of cheese along with hard whole wheat rolls and crusty bread are a big part of a European breakfast.  Broiled tomatoes and baked beans were served at the hotel buffet to please the British guests.  The coffee is very strong and decaffeinated coffee is rarely served.  Eggs have a slightly different flavor and the yolks are more golden than in America.  Someone told me that’s because chickens are fed differently in Europe.  It was all very interesting.  By the way, the granola is wonderful.

To Be Continued.

Keep smilin’!

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Mimi Vacations In Spain

Dear Readers,

Just returned from an amazing journey to the cities of Madrid and Barcelona.  We experienced eight days of warm sunshine, friendly Spaniards and delicious wine with tapas.  The highlight of Madrid was touring the Prada art museum and in Barcelona it was inspecting the unusual Gaudi architecture.

Let me tell you in greater detail about all the sights and sounds in Spain.  We arrived in Madrid on a warm, sunny, Sunday afternoon in September.  Madrid has a population of over four million and it seemed as though at least a half a million pedestrians had occupied the bustling streets downtown, even though all the shops were closed.  Bullfights are scheduled for Sundays in a stadium that holds over 80,000 spectators.  Maybe that’s why we encountered these throngs of people.  With car horns blaring from the small cars impatiently driven, to the crowds moving briskly along the sidewalks and congregating at each cross walk, I was reminded of Times Square in New York City.

Large open parks and impressive public fountains dot the cityscape of Madrid.  The famous Neptune fountain situated in a plaza at the center of intersecting streets is near “The Prada”, a world renowned art museum.  Our hotel was a block away from the Plaza de Espana.  A huge fountain spewing water jets at least 20 feet in the air, featuring two bronze statues of women holding flowing water jars adorned part of the plaza.  There was concrete seating surrounding the fountain which created an excellent people-watching place.  At the rear of the plaza stood another bronze statue of Don Quizote atop his horse and one of the author, Cervantes.

My husband and I enjoyed relaxing on the benches in this plaza and watching all the people parade by.  There were passionate lovers kissing and looking fondly into each other’s eyes, families with babies in strollers out for a walk and adolescent students walking quickly and purposefully to class.  One older gentleman took an afternoon siesta, while a young woman sitting on an adjacent bench was busily texting.  For me, people-watching if my favorite activity on a vacation.

Madrid office buildings were very ornate; many with elaborate cupolas on top.  Other buildings displayed bronze figures blackened with patina on their roofs.  In contrast, graffiti marred quite a few walls in Madrid.

I have much more to tell you about Spain, so this post will be continued.

In the meantime,

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

Mashed potatoes are one of my favorite comfort foods and this recipe adds bacon and onion to the potatoes.  It’s a winning combination.  I cut it out of a Good Housekeeping magazine years ago.

Chicago Mashed Potatoes With Onion & Bacon

4 slices bacon, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

3 pounds all-purpose potatoes (about 9 medium), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 cup milk, warmed

1.  In 10-inch skillet, cook bacon until browned over medium-low heat.  With slotted spoon, remove bacon to paper towels to drain.  To bacon fat in skillet, add onion and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 15 minutes.

2.  Meanwhile, in 3-quart saucepan, heat potatoes, bay leaf, and enough water to cover to boiling over high heat.  Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 15 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender; drain.

3.  Return potatoes to saucepan.  Discard bay leaf.  With potato masher, mash potatoes with salt and pepper.  Gradually add milk; mash until mixture is well blended.  Stir in onion and bacon.  Makes 8 accompaniment servings.

Each serving contains 200 calories and 8 grams total fat.

Tip:  This entire recipe can be made ahead and reheated in the microwave oven when ready to serve.

Enjoy and

Keep smilin’!

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