Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Return Visit to Lugano Switzerland After 18 Years

As I told you a while back, we went to visit friends Diane and Dominic at their home near Como, Italy. After spending Saturday visiting Como and nearby villages along Lake Como that I told you about here, we crossed the border on Sunday to visit Lugano, Switzerland.

Lugano is a small town (population 61,837) in the south of Switzerland, in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, which borders Italy. It is the 9th largest town of Switzerland by population, the largest town in Ticino, and the largest Italian-speaking town outside of Italy.

Lugano lies at the edge of Lake Lugano, surrounded by numerous mountains between lakes Lago Maggiore and Lago di Como. The center of town is located on the lake shore just to the west of where the Cassarate River enters the lake. The town's waterfront forms a crescent around the bay between the Brè and San Salvatore mountains.

Lugano Lakefront

As you walk around Lugano, you will come across a number of squares and parks. The town is clean, you are in Switzerland after all and the center of town is traffic free perfect for a carefree stroll about town.

Religious statue

The Town Hall of Lugano is located at Piazza della Riforma. It is a neoclassical building from 1844.

Town Hall of Lugano

Piazza della Riforma is Lugano's main piazza, and the biggest one.

Piazza della Riforma

As you can imagine, Lake Lugano and the surrounding mountains provide a wide variety of outdoor activities for visitors. The area surrounding Lugano is home to over 300 kilometers (190 miles) of mountain biking trails, the largest network of trails in Switzerland.

Lake Lugano

Fountain in Lugano

Swiss Flagg Flies Along Lake Lugano

Lugano Lakefront

Boats for Rent

At the entrance to Parco Civico on the lakeshore promenade is a statue to Switzerland's hero William Tell created by sculptor Vincenzo Vela in 1856.

Statue of William Tell

Villa Ciani is a rose colored building in Parco Civico. It was built in the 1840s by the brothers Ciani. A palazzo was here before. The brothers were supposedly liberal thinkers and politicians, and important characters in the history of the Ticino.

Villa Ciani

Parco Civico is a big park by the lake. It is often called Parco Ciani after Villa Ciani, the rose colored mansion in the park. The villa houses the Museo Civico di Belle Arti, a museum with a collection of 15th - 20th century paintings.

Parco Civico

The sculpture of a giant head, "Eros Bendato" seen below, was sculpted by Igor Mitoraj in 1999. You can step inside and peer out.

"Eros Bendato"

The Obelisk monument seen below honors the memory of the men who fell in the battle between the Luganese volunteers and the Cisalpini during the French Revolution.

Obelisk Monument

It was nice to make a return visit to Lugano with friends. Shirley and I visited Lugano back in 1986 and spent a night at one of the many hotels along the lakefront. We returned again in 1995 with friends Cluney and Tricia and our kids. The town doesn't look like it had changed at all.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Have a good rest of your week. Chat soon.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Window into Café des Sports in Sablet

Of the many things we like about Sablet - the village we are privileged to call home in Provence - Café des Sports is at the top of the list. Oh I love the unique beehive-shape of Sablet, the restored defensive walls, friendly shopkeepers and the lighted bell tower that stands like a beacon over the village to guide us home at night. It is easy to see that Sablet would not be as much fun without Café des Sports.

Village events take place at Place de l'Aire de la Croix, the main square in Sablet across the street from Café des Sports. The weekly market, the "brocantes" (flea markets), craft fairs, the Fête de la Musique (summer solstice music festival) on June 21, the Journée du Livre (the book festival) on the third weekend of July, the five-day Fête Votive in August, and much more, all take place around Café des Sports.

Café des Sports is where workers get their morning coffee or another beverage to fortify themselves for the work day ahead. Late risers wander in after that for coffee, read newspapers and catch up on the latest gossip. Worker's and tourists fill tables at lunch and eat whatever special dish owner Bruno Bordeaux has cooked for Plat du Jour.

Come the end of the day, tables fill again as friends and families meet up for aperitifs or to share pizza from La Comédie pizzeria also owned by Bruno. Café des Sports buzzes with activity throughout the evening with friends visiting, others watch whatever rugby or football match or horse race is showing on the corner TV. Groups play cards too.

Sablet's Café des Sports

We are lucky to have Café des Sports in Sablet as there are many small villages in Provence that have little going on during the off season (November through March) or are quiet and dark in the evening. Café des Sports hums with activity all day long throughout the year. The energy at Café des Sports comes from the irrepressible Bruno Bordeaux who with his wife Sylvie own the café.

On this day, we sat down at the café to wait for friend Cherry to arrive. While Shirley enjoyed a glass of local rosé wine in a very big glass, Bruno can't resist charming the ladies, I shot pictures through the open window so you could have a "window" into Café des Sports.

Owner Bruno Bordeaux with Shirley

Saturday Morning Card Game

Café des Sports

Owner Bruno Bordeaux Observes the Action

If you are in Sablet, make sure you say "bonjour" to Bruno and tell him I told you to say "hi". He will take good care of you. Don't be afraid to order one of his pizzas (evenings only); they are very good. While you wait for the pizza, go to the café and order yourself a glass of Sablet wine. They are excellent.

Have a great week! Chat soon.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Day Trip to Barcelona Spain

We were nearing the end of our sojourn in Sablet earlier this year when cousin Jean-Marc said, "why don't we go to Barcelona on Saturday?" Now I didn't know anything about Barcelona except that it's a city in Spain and Shirley and daughter Stephanie have wanted to visit Spain, so I said "sure, let's go."

We woke Saturday morning, it was raining and despite my reluctance to take a long day trip in the rain, off we went. The rain continued throughout our drive along the Mediterranean coastline. As we approached Barcelona, the skies began to lighten and by the time we parked near the port, the skies had cleared and sun was shining.

I had done some checking and discovered Barcelona is capital of Catalonia and second largest city in Spain (1,620,943 people live within the city limits). The city sits on the Mediterranean coast between the mouths of the Llobregat and Besòs rivers and is bounded to the west by the Serra de Collserola ridge.

Founded as a Roman city, Barcelona became the capital of the County of Barcelona. Barcelona has a rich cultural heritage and is a major tourist destination. Particularly renowned are the architectural works of Antoni Gaudí and Lluís Domènech i Montaner, which have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The first thing we saw when we exited the parking garage was the Columbus Monument, a 197 foot tall monument to Christopher Columbus near the port. It was constructed for the 1888 Worlds Fair in honor of Columbus' first voyage to the Americas. The monument is a reminder that Columbus reported to Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand V in Barcelona after his first trip to the new world.

Columbus Monument

Jean-Marc had been to Barcelona previously so he knew the major attractions we should see including La Rambla, a pedestrian street in central Barcelona, popular with tourists and locals alike. Tree-lined, it stretches for 1.2 kilometers between Barri Gòtic and El Raval, connecting Plaça de Catalunya in the center of town with the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell.

La Rambla

If you are so inclined, join us as we visit Barcelona.

The Gothic Quarter known as Barri Gòtic is a beautifully preserved neighborhood of Gothic buildings, medieval squares, and narrow alleys in the center of old Barcelona. It stretches from La Rambla to Via Laietana, and from the Mediterranean seafront to Ronda de Sant Pere.

Despite several changes in the 19th and early 20th century, many of the buildings date from Medieval times, some from as far back as the Roman settlement of Barcelona. El Call, the medieval Jewish quarter, is located within this area too.

A street in Barri Gòtic

You will notice that many of the building facades are decorated like the one below.

Artistic Facade on Building

A street in Barri Gòtic

There is random artwork throughout Barcelona.

Random Art

The Palau de la Generalitat is a historic palace in Barcelona that houses the offices of the Presidency of the Generalitat de Catalunya. It is one of the few buildings of medieval origin in Europe that still functions as a seat of government and houses the institution that originally built it.

Palau de la Generalitat at Plaça de Sant Jaume

Barcelona City Hall, also known as Casa de la Ciutat, stands on one side of the Plaça Sant Jaume, in the middle of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter across from the Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya. There is a tourist office on the ground floor of the building if you need help or directions.

The City Hall of Barcelona at Plaça de Sant Jaume

In ancient times, the Plaça Sant Jaume was the site of the Forum, the meeting place and stage for political debate. The square functions the same way today, connecting Barcelona’s two political power houses: Barcelona City Hall and the seat of the Catalan government, the Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya.

The City Hall of Barcelona

As I said before, the Gothic Quarter is the center of the old city. The Carrer del Bisbe Bridge seen below connects a Catalan government building with the Catalan president's ceremonial residence.

Carrer del Bisbe Bridge

Street Musician

The Monument to the Martyrs of Independence seen below depicts five Barcelona patriots calmly receiving their last rites before being strangled for resisting Napoleon's occupation of Spain. According to the plaque, these martyrs gave their lives "por Dios, por la Patria, y por el Rey" - for God, Country and King.

Monument to the Martyrs of Independence

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia also known as Barcelona Cathedral, is the Gothic cathedral and seat of the Archbishop of Barcelona. The Cathedral was constructed from the 13th to 15th centuries, with the principal work done in the 14th century.

Cathedral of Barcelona

Roman towers which once guarded the entrance gate of the ancient Roman city of Barcino flank the street below. At Barcino's peak, the Roman wall was 25 feet high and a mile around with 74 towers. The left tower has a section of the Roman aqueduct that at one time carried fresh water from the hillsides into the walled city.

Ruins of the Aqueduct and Gate of the Roman Wall

I took the picture below for my friend Josef who owns Renga Arts where they sell gifts, and accessories made from reclaimed and recycled materials. I thought he would like the fact this man was making ash trays from recycled soda cans.

Plaça del Pi is surrounded by old decorated facades, antique shops, bars and restaurants; There is also a nice little market.

Plaça del Pi

Plaça del Pi

Santa Maria del Pi Church, meaning "St. Mary of the Pine Tree" is a 14th-century Gothic church on the Plaça del Pi, in the Barri Gòtic district of Barcelona.

Saturday morning market sets up in front of Santa Maria del Pi Church

The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, usually referred to as La Boqueria seen below is a large public market hall in the Ciutat Vella district of Barcelona and one of the city's foremost tourist landmarks, with an entrance from La Rambla, not far from the Liceu, Barcelona's opera house.

The displays of food were amazing, unlike any I have ever seen elsewhere. Unfortunately, the hall was jammed full of people and it was impossible to really enjoy the hall. Also, I was worried the entire time we were there that one of the sticky-fingered pickpockets that Barcelona is known for would try to take my wallet but I got out without any damage.

La Boqueria Market

La Rambla

Plaça de Catalunya seen below, in English, "Catalonia Square" sometimes referred to as Plaza de Cataluña, is a large square in central Barcelona that is generally considered to be both the city center and the place where the old city and the 19th century-built Eixample meet.

Some of the city's most important streets and avenues meet at Plaça Catalunya: Passeig de Gràcia, Rambla de Catalunya, La Rambla and Portal de l'Àngel. The plaza occupies an area of about 50,000 square meters. It is known for its fountains and statues, its proximity to some of Barcelona's most popular attractions, and for the flocks of pigeons that gather in the center.

Plaça de Catalunya, Francesc Macià Memorial.

The inverted-staircase monument represents the shape of Catalunya, honors its former president Francesc Macià who declared independence for the region in 1931. The monument was designed by the sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs.

Francesc Macià Memorial

Fountain in Plaça de Catalunya

Children play with the pigeons at Plaça de Catalunya

Plaça de Catalunya

Plaça de Catalunya

Els Quatre Gats, Catalan for "The Four Cats", is a historic café in Barcelona which opened on 12 June 1897. Els Quatre Gats became one of the main centers of Modernisme in Barcelona. The artist Ramon Casas i Carbó largely financed this bar on the ground floor of Casa Martí, a building by the architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch. Pablo Picasso visited this pub–restaurant often in his early art career.

Els Quatre Gats

“Four Cats” is a colloquial Catalan expression for “only a few people” and the name of Els Quatre Gats is derived from this saying. The four founders of the café, Pere Romeu, Santiago Rusiñol, Ramon Casas, and Miguel Utrillo, also chose this name as a tribute to Le Chat Noir, “The Black Cat,” a celebrated Parisian café. They modeled Els Quatre Gats largely after the Parisian café.

Interior of Els Quatre Gats

The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família is a large Roman Catholic church designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926). Although incomplete, the church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site,and in November 2010 Pope Benedict XVI consecrated and proclaimed it a minor basilica, as distinct from a cathedral which must be the seat of a bishop.

Sagrada Família

Construction of Sagrada Família commenced in 1882 and Gaudí became involved in 1883, taking over the project and transforming it with his architectural and engineering style, combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms. Gaudí devoted his last years to the project, and at the time of his death at age 73 in 1926 less than a quarter of the project was complete.

Sagrada Família's construction progressed slowly, relying on private donations and was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, only to resume intermittent progress in the 1950s. Construction passed the midpoint in 2010 with some of the project's greatest challenges remaining and an anticipated completion date of 2026, the centenary of Gaudí's death.

View of Passion Façade of the Sagrada Família

Gaudí's original design called for a total of eighteen spires, representing in ascending order of height, the Twelve Apostles, the four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary and, tallest of all, Jesus Christ. Eight spires have been built as of now, corresponding to four apostles at the Nativity façade and four apostles at the Passion façade. The completion of the spires will make Sagrada Família the tallest church building in the world.

Spires of the Sagrada Família

Park Güell is a garden complex with architectural elements on the hill of El Carmel in the Gràcia district of Barcelona. It was designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí and built in the years 1900 to 1914. It is one of the largest architectural works in southern Europe. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Works of Antoni Gaudí".

Building at the entrance to Park Güell

The park was originally part of a commercially unsuccessful housing site, the idea of Count Eusebi Güell, after whom the park was named. It was inspired by the English garden city movement; hence the original English name Park. The park was another area that was jammed shoulder to shoulder with people.

The view past the entrance to Gaudi's Park Güell over Barcelona

Panoramic view over Barcelona from Park Güell

The Gaudi House Museum

Jean-Marc, Shirley and I pause for picture

This sculpture created for the 1992 Summer Olympics by American artist Roy Lichtenstein brings together the colors of Miró, the tiles of Gaudi, the Cubism of Picasso and the comic-newsprint trademark of Lichtenstein.

Barcelona Head

Barcelona is a beautiful and very busy city; crowds of people everywhere. Although we saw a lot, there is so much more to see and do so we will be going back...soon.

Have a great day. See you soon.