Blog Page 28

The Fabulous Northern Coast of Spain by Ray Raposo

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Writer Ray by the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao
Scenic landscapes, blue seas, regional foods, religious landmarks, and tremendous historical heritage, you’ll find that and so much more as you visit the cities and towns of Spain’s Northern Coastline. Exploring Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and Basque Country.
Walkway by circular Coraza Beach in La Coruña.

After taking a train from Madrid to the tip of Northern Spain, we arrive at La Coruña in Galicia. This port city in the northwestern corner of Spain is the birthplace of my paternal Grandparents.

Ray by The Tower of Hercules in La Coruña

Located on an isthmus on the northwestern corner of Spain. The Tower of Hercules, is an ancient Roman lighthouse in La Coruña, it’s the oldest known still-functioning Roman lighthouse in the world, the rectangular tower sits alone on a windy and hilly peninsula. The lighthouse was most probably built in the second half of the 1st century or the early years of the 2nd century A.D. by the Romans at what they believed to be the end of the world. The windy area offers terrific views of the coastline and the oceanfront buildings. 

The southeastern part of town also features a marina
Maria Pita Square with government buildings

The city’s attractive main square is the Maria Pita Plaza, named after the heroine of a battle in 1589, against English forces. La Coruña has a long beautiful coastline, with ocean beaches on the northwest side and busy ports on the south. A terrific 13 kilometer walkway named El Paseo Máritimo, lets you enjoy the ocean views.

Writer Ray and Peg by the impressive Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

Catching a train in La Coruña, we took a day trip to the other outstanding city in the province, Santiago de Compostela. It is located a few miles to the south of La Coruña. A beautiful town which welcomes thousands of pilgrims every year.

Fountain by the side of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

The city’s cathedral is the destination of a famous medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St James (in Spanish El Camino de Santiago). Recognized through legend as the final resting-place of the Apostle James – the first of the Twelve Apostles to suffer martyrdom at the hands of Herod. When we visited, the massive Romanesque cathedral building, witch has later Gothic and Baroque additions, numerous priests were holding mass in several languages to a large congregation of worshipers. Definitely something to behold.

The Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of the Holy Saviour or Cathedral of San Salvador

From La Coruña we drove east to the lovely city of Oviedo. Just south of the coast it is the capital city of the Principality of Asturias. The city has many medieval churches in the historic center part of town, Plaza Alfonso II is at its heart.

A monument to Alfonso II near the entrance to the Oviedo Cathedral

Several palaces and Oviedo’s Gothic Cathedral and La Foncalada, a 9th century fountain are part of the city’s charm. We enjoyed a colorful weekend street market in the old city center.

A street market and outdoor businesses around the old city center

In Oviedo’s surrounding parts of old town there are many modern and quite colorful apartments with shops and small businesses sprinkled all around. Quite a contrast to the historic part of town.

We saw a few wedding parties in the colonial area of Oviedo

We stayed in an incredibly modern building that houses the Ayre Hotel as well as Congress and a large shopping mall. Once the site of a soccer stadium, this huge ultra-modern alien-ship looking white structure is surrounded by greenery, parks and the a colorful mid century apartment neighborhood. The incredible hotel complex is by far the most contrast in architecture you could expect in this mostly historic city. It was one of the main reasons we decided to stay in Oviedo during our trip.

Oviedo’s Ayre Hotel, Congress and mall complex, all around there’s a mid century neighborhood.
Some of the colorful buildings and landscaped fountains of Oviedo
From Oviedo we continued to drive east on some very modern and very lightly traveled expressways to the coastal area of Llanes. We stopped at a little village called Naves from which my maternal grandfather’s family was from and named after. It was once voted the prettiest town in Asturias.
Signs proclaiming Naves de Llanes as the Prettiest Town in Asturias
Just 12 miles south of the coast we witness the “Picos de Europa”, a tall range of mountain peaks which also boast the largest national park and some incredible caves. Snow covers the mountain tips in winter.
Santander’s Sardinero Beach, and nearby there are Molinucos and Camello

Continuing east we reach the port city of Santander, the capital of Cantabria. We stayed by the beautiful beach cove El Sardinero on the northeastern part of the city, made up of two stunning, kilometer-long beaches backed by lavish early-20th-century architecture.

One of the colorful lit buildings fronting the Santander beach coast

Nearby there’s the peninsula de la Magdalena and it’s lovely palace with sunning views from its surroundings. The beautiful Magdalena Palace was initiated in 1908 by the local government of Santander for the purpose of providing a seasonal residence for the royal family of Spain. It is now a museum.

Santander’s Magdalena Palace
A monument to Santander the hero for whom the city is named

Santander’s city center is home to the Catedral de Santander, with its octagonal cupola and Gothic cloister. Not far, the Paseo de Pereda promenade runs along one side of the Jardines de Pereda, quite beautiful park and gardens. Downtown features a lively city life, a lovely park area, and a busy marina.

Downtown Santander with lovely parks and attractive buildings
A lovely pedestrian bridge in a downtown Santander park

Our last stop on this part of the trip was in Bilbao, an industrial port city in northern Spain, is surrounded by green mountains. It’s the de facto capital of Basque Country, with a skyscraper-filled downtown. The jewel one must witness is the Guggenheim Museum.

Outside Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum with bridge in background

This Frank Gehry 1997 designed architectural wonder of limestone, glass, and titanium was once hailed as “the greatest building of our time” and sits along the curvy Nervión River, with its sculptured Puente de la Salve and modern pedestrian bridge both nearby.

Inside the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, there are no 90 degree corners.
Part of the decorative design of the bridge next to the museum, houses and apartments dot the nearby hillside.

Not all of Bilbao is modern, in reality there are many typical Spanish looking structures around the city. By contrast to the new high-rises near the museum, the Iglesia de San Nicolas depicts a more serene view of Bilbao, and the entrance to the old part of town.

Ray by the San Nicolás Church
Built in 1756, this Catholic church offers a baroque facade & an octagonal interior. Located within a square with a tree lined park that runs next to the riverside, it is southeast of the more famous museum.
Modern pedestrian bridge over the Nervión River
When we arrived in Bilbao we returned our rental car while we stayed in the city, walking all around from place to place. When we left, we boarded a train quite near our hotel facing the river back to Madrid. From Madrid we also took a train ride to visit Segovia and its many historic sights. But here in Northern Spain, we neared the end of this fantastic adventure to where my family originated. An outstanding trip and visit to my family’s birthplace!
Article by Ray Raposo, all photos by Ray & Peg Raposo

Historic Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands by Ray Raposo

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Ray standing at the approach to Edinburgh Castle's entrance

Edinburgh is Scotland’s enthralling capital city and second most populous behind Glasgow. Edinburgh’s Old Town is filled with medieval charm, and its Georgian New Town with old world elegance. Scotland is part of Great Britain, and shares the mainland with England to the south. We flew from London to Edinburgh and took just over an hour. From the airport a shuttle bus can take you into the center of the city for a reasonable fee.

Peg by Edinburgh Castle’s Scots Memorial Building

Dominating the city is Edinburgh Castle, Scotland’s most visited paid tourist attraction. The historic Scottish castle built on volcanic rock easily dominates the skyline of the city. The castle dates to at least the 12th century and had been the royal residence until 1633. It houses many buildings and regalia including the oldest edifice, St. Margaret’s Chapel from the 12th century. There’s also the Royal Palace, the Great Hall, the Crown Jewels, and the Scottish National War Memorial, built after World War I.

Just part of the Edinburgh Castle’s interior

It is a most fascinating fortress and one can spend many hours taking it all in, as well as checking out it’s marvelous views of the city. History and movie buffs will enjoy seeing the statues of Scottish heroes King Robert the Bruce and Sir William Wallace (Braveheart) which are on either side of the Gatehouse entrance walls; they were added in 1929.

Peg inside Edinburgh Castle

From the Castle you can head down on the famous Royal Mile, full of local shops, restaurants and pubs as well as historic buildings, churches and monumental statues.

Some of the colorful restaurants and shops on the Royal Mile

At the bottom end of the Royal Mile you’ll find the 17th century Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is The Queen’s official residence while in Scotland.

Peg outside the Palace of Holyroodhouse

The most well known was Mary, Queen of Scots, who lived in the palace for her short reign. You can tour the ground’s gardens and the ornate rooms of the castle. They also have a nice souvenir shop. Located across the street is the very modern parliament building.

You can view the bay from the top of Calton Hill

Climbing to the top of Canton Hill or to the larger volcanic mountain known as Arthur’s Seat gives you a fantastic panoramic view of the city and towards the river and bay. The bay is known by the interesting name of the Firth of Forth (Firth meaning water and Forth meaning black), it eventually flows into the North Sea.

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View of Edinburgh to the water from it’s famous castle
Inside the National Museum of Scotland

History and art lovers will also enjoy visiting the National Museum of Scotland, a world class museum full of natural Scottish heritage, world cultures and technological innovations through the ages. The museum is housed in two connecting buildings, a historic front building on the Chambers Street entrance and a more modern entrance at the end of the block. It also houses the Tower Restaurant in that corner.

The cast iron interior of The Museum of Scotland

The museum also has an interesting grand central hall inspired by the Crystal House, with a Victorian style cast iron shell interior that rises the three stories of the building and features glass skylights at the top. The free museum is definitely one to take in if one has the time to spend a few hours wondering inside.

Greyfriers Bobby Restaurant Bar… the small dog’s statue is at far right of photo.

Near the museum where Chambers Street meets Forest Street and Candlemaker Row you’ll find Greyfriars Kirk (church) and the adjacent graveyard where many notable Edinburgh residents from the 16th century and later are buried. A Restaurant Bar just outside of the Kirk called Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar also features a small statue monument out front of a loyal little dog who guarded his master’s grave for 14 years.

View of Princes Street
If shopping is your thing, the city center’s shopping district of Princes and Georges Streets are really grand. There you’ll also find the Princes Street Gardens and the Scott Monument, a very striking Gothic style structure which you can climb its stairs for a terrific view of the surroundings.
Scottish highland bagpiper in the traditional dress.
There’s sure to be a Scottish highland bagpipe player nearby dressed in the traditional dress featuring a tartan pattern on a kilt. Beneath Edinburgh Castle the lively Market Street and the narrow Victoria Street are full of shops and eateries all along it’s winding path. Numerous bars and pubs line the area, featuring traditional interiors to modern designs. The are numerous American themed restaurants as well. If you’re adventurous you might want to try some Cullen Skink Soup, which tastes much better that it sounds… you can actually find just about any type of food around town, from a large tasty burger to the British favorite of bangers and mash.
By the Falls of Dochart
If you have time during your visit you should try to take in a side trip outside Edinburgh to the Scottish Highlands and some of the numerous Lochs (Lakes). We were able to visit Stirling Castle as well as Doune Castle, which you might have seen in a movie or TV show over the years. Doune Castle has been featured in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Game of Thrones and Outlander more recently. We also travelled to the see the panoramic views around Loch Lomond and the countryside mountains of The Trossachs National Park.
Ray and some sheep, with Stirling Castle in the background
Edinburgh is a most fascinating city, one that offers an enormous glimpse into Scottish history and a taste of its very proud people. When planning on places to visit… Edinburgh and Scotland, they definitely offer truly royal dream vacation locations to enjoy.
Duke of Buccleuch Walter Scott statue outside St. Giles’ Cathedral on the Royal Mile
Statue of William “Braveheart” Wallace outside Edinburgh Castle
At center is The Hub a grand 1840s building once a church, and now houses a cafe-diner.

Caribbean Dreams: Dominican Republic By: Ray Raposo

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Surrounded by nearly 250 miles of coastline on the north, east and south, the Dominican Republic’s beaches are known world wide for pristine white sand beaches that are lapped by the warm blue waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Republic of Haiti. The country is the second-largest island in the Caribbean, with a surface area of 48,198 square kilometers. Located in the heart of the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and to the south by the Caribbean Sea.

The Dominican Republic is an incredible island paradise in the heart of the Caribbean. The country shares a border with Haiti on the second largest island in the area, “Hispaniola.” Occupying the eastern two-thirds of the island, the Dominican Republic is nestled between the Atlantic Ocean on the north and the Caribbean Sea to the south. As part of the Tropic of Cancer, it has a breathtaking topography. Mountains, valleys and beaches make up the diverse photogenic land. Three large mountain ranges run through the island, including the nearly two-mile high peak of Antilles. In fact, nearly half of the island is taken up by the large mountain ranges that run through it.

caribbean-1 

The Dominican Republic also has the lowest point in the Caribbean, Lake Enriquillo. It is one of many lakes, lagoons and rivers that accompany the Dominican Republic’s 1000 miles of beautiful Caribbean beaches.

 

There is plenty to explore, as the country is made up of more than 30,000 square miles of lush tropical islands. Surrounded by the Saona, Beata, Catalina and Alto Velo islands, the country spans 178 miles from north to south and 242 miles from east to west. 

The Dominican Republic’s sunny and warm year-round climate creates the perfect environment for sports. Whether your game is golf, diving, windsurfing, fishing or sailing on the high seas, sports are an exciting way to experience this country’s natural beauty, beaches, mountains, waterfalls and amazing countryside.

Cabarete’s beach in the Dominican Republic is recognized worldwide “as the kiteboarding capital of the world.” That’s because Cabarete offers the perfect combination of beaches, winds and waves to create the best conditions for kiteboarding. The sport is growing faster than ever. Similar to surfing, kiteboarders use a huge kite to catch the wind while they balance on the board. You will find kiteboard rental shops and experienced instructors available in Cabarete, all along the area known as Kite Beach.

Meanwhile, for surfing aficionados, there are 16 fantastic surfing sites located on the northern coast from Puerto Plata to Playa Grande and in Río San Juan, with classic or standard waves. The best season for surfing on the northern coast is from December to March, when waves reach up to 4 meters (about 13 feet).

Of course, the country has been a time-honored destination of fishermen, and for years has hosted several international bill fishing tournaments, such as the blue marlin fishing tournament at Cabeza de Toro, the ESPN Billfish Xtreme Tournament at Punta Cana Resort & Club and the new International Billfish Shootout at Cap Cana Marina, the largest marina in the Caribbean.

Traveling the countries of The Benelux: Belgium & The Netherlands by Ray Raposo

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The Grand Place is the central square in Brussels
The BeNeLux is an economic union in Western Europe. It includes three neighboring monarchies, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg.
These three small counties are in the northwestern European region between France and Germany. The name is formed from the beginning of each country’s name.  Our travels took in two of the three countries: Belgium and The Netherlands and several cities.
By the Atomium, constructed for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair (Expo 58).

Belgium is divided into three regions and three communities that exist next to each other. Besides its strongly globalized economy the country is famous for beer, chocolate, waffles and french fries. French fries were actually first made in Belgium. It’s capital and largest city is the very impressive Brussels.

Peg by the Cinquantenaire triumphal arch in Brussels.

Brussels‘ ornate Grand-Place at the heart of the city has shops and cafes inside 17th-century guild houses, and the intricate Gothic Hotel de Ville (town hall) with its distinctive bell tower. It also feature almost daily colorful flower markets. The surrounding area has numerous stores and restaurants, many specializing in delicious chocolate and waffles.

The famous Manneken-Pis the emblem of the rebellious spirit of the City of Brussels.

Brussels has many lovely parks and some ornate palaces including the Royal Palace near Brussels Park. Brussels also serves as the “de facto” capital of the European Union, hosting the major political institutions of the Union. Another impressive area includes the Cinquantenaire triumphal arch and the surrounding park and museums. The Belgium Military Museum is one of those located by the arch. Make sure to visit the Atomium, a tall modernistic structure built for the 1958 World’s Fair consisting of nine steel spheres connected by tubes. It is a model of an iron crystal cell. Brussels has over 80 museums including the impressive Royal Museum of Fine Arts.

Ray by front facade of the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula

The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula is a huge Roman Catholic church that features statues depicting the stages of the cross as well as numerous saints. The stone facade with it’s imposing Gothic style towers are 64 meters tall. Outside of the most impressive Vatican in Rome and Sevilla Spain’s incredible Cathedral, this sculpture filled Cathedral is right up there with the most impressive Cathedrals I’ve ever visited anywhere.

Peg by the Royal Palace in Brussels.
The picturesque Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium, in the northwest of the country.
One of the canals and buildings of beautiful Bruges
The medieval looking buildings and nob trees in Bruges

Along with a few other canal-based northern cities, such as Amsterdam and Stockholm, it is sometimes referred to as The Venice of the North. Bruges has most of its notable medieval architecture buildings still intact. A must do when visiting is to take a guided canal boat tour around the town. The numerous small boats are always filled with tourists and constantly circumvent the city’s canals.

Central Bruges Main Town Square

You can walk the beautiful pedestrian friendly streets and town square, all full of shops, numerous restaurants and later take in the enlightening canal boat tour. Visit the many historic churches, like the Church of Our Lady, as well as it’s most famous landmark the 13th-century belfry, housing a municipal carillon comprising 48 bells. Bruges is one not to miss and it’s a short train ride from Amsterdam.

Bruges canal & bell tower

Amsterdam, the Netherlands (also known as Holland), is famous for its flat landscape, many canals, tulip fields, windmills, cycling routes and free-spirited nature.

Typical central Amsterdam street with outdoor cafes and bicyclists.

The city center streets and surrounding canals with small bridges are filled with people walking and many riding their bicycles… Amazingly there are actually more bikes in the city than people! When walking make sure to look both ways, not just for cars, and not to stand in a bike lane, or you might end up getting run over.

Ray and Peg by one of the numerous Amsterdam canals

Amsterdam, is home to numerous lovely museums, two special ones are the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. For any fan of Vincent van Gogh, this is a must visit. This high-tech museum has not just hundreds of his works, but a detailed timeline history of his life as a painter.

Outside the Rijksmuseum Art Museum

The national Rijksmuseum is dedicated to Dutch history and art. Also don’t miss the Anne Frank house, now a museum, where she wrote her diary while the family hid from the Nazis during WWII. One tip before visiting, get your tickets online before you get there, with an assigned time, it will save you from a long line.

Typical buildings by an Amsterdam canal

Canal-side mansions and a many works from artists including Rembrandt and Vermeer remain from the 17th-century “Golden Age” of Dutch art. Amsterdam is also known for its coffee houses that legally serve pot, as well as the “Red Light” district, where legalized prostitution is located. Standing behind large glass windows these ladies will try to entice walkers by to go inside and join them.

Ray on top of the letters that spell out Amsterdam by the Rijksmuseum.
Peg by the large windmill in Lisse’s Keukenhof Gardens

The town of Lisse is another short train ride from Amsterdam. It is home to the world famous Keukenhof Gardens which date back to the 15th century. The focus in the park is on the 7 million spring-flowering bulbs of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths that fill over 32 hectares with color and fragrance. The best time to see the tulips in bloom starts around mid March and ends mid May. If you are planning a visit make sure it’s during this season.

Lisse’s incredible Keukenhof Gardens tulips and canal

You don’t have to be a nature lover to be fascinated by these magnificent gardens that seem to never end. Set in a forest-park atmosphere, it truly is a marvelous experience, while the flowers almost look unreal, they’re all real… really nature at it’s best.

Peg by one of the many magnificent different blooms

There’s also a windmill you can visit and restaurants to sit and enjoy the beauty. I can’t stress enough that this is one garden not to miss if you ever visit Amsterdam during the bloom season.

Ray next to yet another colorful flower bed and modern sculpture in Keukenhof Gardens in the town of Lisse.

These cities and towns of Belgium and The Netherlands make for quite a colorful and  entertaining trip, one you’ll surely enjoy visiting the counties of the Benelux.

Amsterdam Museum Store
Amsterdam row houses
An Amsterdam street flower market 
Nighttime view of an Amsterdam canal

 

Don Juan Pre Art Basel Exhibition 10.15.16

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Come join SW the Magazine Art for Cuban Artist Juan Luis Perez.  October 15, 2016 From 6:00 Pm to 10 Pm. Casa Brickell  and HOM Art Gallery 1900 Brickel, Miami Florida.