California – Del Mar

Del Mar, California is a seaside village about 20 miles north of San Diego, California. It is close but feels like a world away. Del Mar is a place you go to relax and unwind.

I’ve been fortunate to visit Del Mar twice and stayed at the L’Auberge resort on both occasions.

Photo from L’Auberge website

Its location and view of the pacific ocean are ideal. The rooms, spa, dining options, and pool, and inviting spaces throughout the resort make for a perfect getaway.

I took the photo below from just below L’Auberge as I worked my way down to the ocean front for a morning run.

Arriving at the waterfront, I headed south along a still active railway. It is amazing how close this track is to the shore. It doesn’t really come through in the images below but track sits high along a seaside cliff. This is a great place to run but can feel a bit tense if a train happens to pass through while you are running. Some parts of the shoreline and track are quit narrow.

Heading out for a morning run
Returning from the run
Approaching L’Auberge with a look back to the ocean

The images below are from a visit to the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. The shoreline cliffs, rock formations, and beach were absolutely mesmerizing.

Del Mar is a destination unto itself if peace and tranquility are what you need. Beyond L’Auberge, Del Mar has plenty of additional lodging options, restaurants (from casual to award-winning), spas, and shopping to round out your relaxing days before and after trips to the beach.

If you want to fill a couple of days with more activities, you are only 20 miles from San Diego and can plan a few excursions into the city for major attractions such as Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo, and the San Diego Harbor.

Other galleries from California:

Street Art – Singapore

Street art is something I have been slow to appreciate. Lately though, I find myself taking more and more time to enjoy them. Some, like the creations below, are quite impressive and add to the surrounding area. The artistic works below were created in Singapore and located in or around Singapore’s Chinatown district.

More from Singapore:

Madrid, Spain – Calle Gran Via

At the conclusion of Madrid – Let’s Run, I left off with an image of Puerta de Alcalá. This makes for a great place to start today’s visual stroll through Madrid which focuses on Calle Gran Via (an awesome street for shopping and architecture) and Plaza de Cibeles.

Puerta de Alcala (note the couple posing for wedding photos)

Puerta de Alcala was commissioned by King Charles III and completed in 1778. It was the first triumphal arch erected in Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire. Puerta de Alcala served as one of five gates providing access to what was once a walled city. This particular gate with five passages was built on the location of an original gate dating back to the 1500s that had three passages. Each throughway once contained iron gates that were lowered at night to prevent outsiders from entering the walled city.

The gate has two unique facades. One side (shown above) is the view visitors would have seen entering the walled city of Madrid. It is adorned with sculptures representing the four virtues – prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. The other side (below) has a more militaristic feel with sculptures of weapons, breastplates, helmets, and flags. The three rounded arches are topped off with the head of a lion.

Continuing from the park, we work our way up Calle (street) de Alcala towards the iconic Fuente de Cibeles (Fountain of Cybele) which was completed in the early 1700s.

Fuente de Cibeles

In ancient mythology, Cybele was a goddess of nature, fertility, mountains, and wild animals. Her myth originated in what is now Turkey and was later adopted by the Greeks and then the Romans. Worth noting the Iberian peninsula, which includes what is now Spain, was once controlled by the Roman Empire.

Standing at Plaza de Cibeles, each corner offers buildings of historic and architectural interest. Perhaps none is more visually compelling than Madrid’s City Hall. Despite a design suggesting it might be 300+ years old, it was completed in the early 1900’s and served as Madrid’s postal headquarters and main telegraph station. It became the City Hall in 2007. The building is still known as “Casa de Comunicaciones”.

You can tell from the different sky features in the images above and below, I came by this area several times. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the building is open to the public and offers a sky view of the city. The area around this building is loaded with magnificent sights so the elevated view and photos should be well worth the time.

Looking to the left and across the street from City Hall, we see Linares Palace (below) which was built in 1876.

Casa de America (Linares Palace)

The palace was the residence of José de Murga, the Marquis of Linares, and his wife. Jose would later discover that his wife was actually his sister (same father, different mother). It seems Jose’s father had an affair. The father made the revelation just before he died. Jose’s wife had just given berth and, because of the situation, the child was sent to an orphanage where she died. It is said the little girl still haunts the house as a ghost crying, “I have no Mommy.” Linares Palace is now called Casa de America and host cultural events focused on improving relations between Spain and South America.

Anchoring the corner across the street from Madrid City Hall is Banco de Espana. I only captured the corner view of the building, but it is a massive structure and covers an entire block. The building was opened in 1891.

Banco de Espana

Leaving Plaza de Cibeles, we stay on Calle de Alcala for a short walk up to Calle Gran Via – Madrid’s most famous street. Along the way, we pass the Cervantes Institute. The organization is devoted to the study and promotion of Spanish language and culture. It is named after Miguel Cervantes (1547–1616), author of Don Quixote

CNMC (left) and Cervantes Institute (right)

The approach to Calle Gran Via is offers one of Madrid’s most famous views.

Edificio Metrópolis (left)
Edificio Metrópolis
Edificio Grassy
Edificio Grassy

Calle Gran Via is packed with retail stores, restaurants, nightclubs, cinemas, and theaters. The entire street is lined is one stunning and historic building after another and is a must-see location in Madrid.

I visited Calle Gran Via several times while in Madrid. The street was closed one day to cars for a professional cycling event call Madrid Challenge.

A few more closing photos give you a sense of the architecture lining Calle Gran Via.

If you are in Madrid, block off 4 hours or so to visit the areas covered in this visual stroll through Madrid. Visit the city gate, checkout Madrid City Hall (visit the top for a sky view), and then take a stroll up Calle Gran Via. You’ll find plenty of shopping and dining options to end this part of your excursion. If you begin your day this way and take in a lunch, you’ll be ready for more in the afternoon. And, believe me, there is plenty more to see and do in Madrid. I will be sharing more in the near future.

Other posts from Madrid:


Brazil – Rio de Janeiro

This is the third and final post from my 2019 trip to Rio de Janeiro. Previously, I shared a couple posts focused on my visits to the Christ the Redeemer statue and the Selaron Steps.

Christ the Redeemer – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Selaron Steps

Beyond those two destinations, my time was – as always seems to be the case – limited. However, I was able to take in a bit more of Rio here and there.

Enjoying a rooftop sunset from the Grand Hyatt overlooking Barra Da Trijuca.

Barra Da Trijuca

The images below are of the Rio de Janeiro Cathedral. This Catholic church was inspired by the architectural styling of Mayan temples and holds up to 20,000 people.

One area I would suggest prioritizing and staying in (though I didn’t for work reasons) is Copacabana. I wasn’t able to make it there during the day but have a couple licensed image to share:

Copacabana Beach
Copacabana Boardwalk

Copacabana beach has over 2 million visitors for New Year’s Eve and hosts, perhaps, an even bigger party – Carnival.

I made it to Copacabana for dinner one evening and dined at the famous Copacabana Palace. This is an historic hotel that has hosted some of the biggest names in Hollywood and world leaders alike during trips to Brazil.

Zacapa Rum XO is considered one of the best rums in the world and this seemed like the place and time to try it. I’m now a fan.

Even the subways are vibrant in Brazil.

The use of artistic tiles, better known as azulejos in Portuguese, have a strong presence throughout Rio. The Selaron Steps and Copacabana Beach boardwalk are additional examples. As you may know, while much of South America was settled by Spain, Brazil was colonized by Portugal and Portuguese (not Spanish) is the national language of Brazil.

South America is a continent I hope to see more of in the future and Rio de Janeiro was a great way to start.

Aganju – Bebel Gilberto

Madrid – Let’s Run (Not with the Bulls)

After a long flight, I’m finally settled into my hotel in the historic city center of Madrid and ready to explore. But, I need to workout. One of the perks of being a runner is that I can get out to sightsee and workout at the same time. There is a large park – Parque del Buen Retiro – not far from the hotel that looks like a great place to run. Let’s put on our running shoes, grab the camera, and hit the streets. I’ll grab a map from the hotel to help out with the sights of note.

First up on the run is Museo del Prado. It is considered among the premier art museums in the world. Housed within its walls is one of the world’s greatest collections of European art and, in particular, Spanish art.

A statue of Diego Velázquez is featured at the front of the museum. Velázquez was one of the preeminent painters in Spain’s golden age and served as the leading artist in the court King Philip IV. Cool. What next?

We are working our way up Del Prado avenue towards Parque del Retiro – a 350 acre park on the edge of historic Madrid. Oh, what is this?

The Neptune Fountain

I wasn’t exactly expecting to see sculptures of ancient Roman gods in Madrid but I like it. The white marble sculpture featuring Neptune – Roman god of the sea – was completed in 1786. Seems this is also the location where fans of Atletico de Madrid come together to celebrate soccer victories. Nice.

Alright, time to get to the park and get a sweat going. Hard to get the heart rate up with so many architectural distractions around. What is that building? It’s a hotel but not like any hotel I’m used to seeing.

The Palace Hotel was commissioned King Alfonso XIII and opened in 1912. The Palace was only the second hotel to have a bathroom in each of its guest rooms which was no small feat considering there were 800 rooms. When opened, it became the largest hotel in Europe. Many distinguished guests have stayed here and the hotel has served as host to meetings of international importance. Well, that’s interesting. Time to run a little.

We are making good progress and almost at the park entrance. This building looks important. El Prado Cason Buen Retiro. Let’s see, this building is currently an annex to Museum del Prado. Actually, it has a much more significant history that adds some historical context to where we are standing and the park we are about to run through.

This is one of two buildings that remain from what was once the secondary residence and place of recreation for King Philip IV. The palace was completed in 1640 (wow, it is old) and was a complex of twenty buildings. Today only two of the twenty buildings remain. Much of the palace was destroyed in 1808 when occupied by French troops during the Peninsular War between Spain and France (1807-1814). Ah, Napoleon was here…bummer. Seems the alliance Spain made with France to attack Portugal backfired. Oh well, bygones.

Hmmm, that reminds me. We just passed a monument a few minutes ago but didn’t stop. Let’s go back and check it. Maybe there is a connection to be made. There it is – Monumento Dos de Mayo. I know Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day from Spain, but never heard of Dos de Mayo.

On May 2, 1808, the citizens of Madrid rose up against the occupying French troops. The rebellion was crushed but sparked other revolts across Spain and demonstrated the will of the Spaniards to be free from French occupation and oppression. Makes sense that this monument would be so close to what remains of the palace. Alright, to the park!

Yes, what an Impressive park entrance. These statues were formerly on the grounds of the Royal Palace and were relocated here for the people to enjoy. I am definitely enjoying them. Thank you.

Paseo de la Argentina (AKA Statue Walk)

Now this pond and monument is impressive. Love how you can get a boat and paddle on the lake or sit on those stairs and enjoy the view. We need to get over and check it out.

Monument to King Alfonso XII, completed 1922

This is fantastic! Let’s keep moving.

What is this? Palacio de Cristal del Retiro was built in 1887 in honor of the Philippines which was then a Spanish colony. It initially served as a conservatory but is now used for art exhibits. I see some folks on the stairs enjoying the view. This park definitely has some cool places to hangout.

Palacio de Cristal del Retiro

We have a nice sweat going now and could use a breather. These ruins must have significance. Let’s take a closer look and catch our breath.

Ruins of San Isidoro are the remains of a Romanesque church from the 11th century. There’s not a whole lot left but it really gives you pause to realize these stones were put together by people over 1000 years ago.

This park is a great place to run. It is incredible that Madrid has protected 350 acres for people to have such a natural oasis so close to city center.

Seems there are statues everywhere. These monuments (pictured below) have Africa and Cuba inscribed on them. Spain’s history of exploration and conquest may be unmatched in world history. From 1492 to early 1800’s, Spain claimed most of the New World minus Brazil and the English colonies in North America. Think about all of the Spanish speaking nations in the western hemisphere that still remain…it all flowed from Spain.

Deeper into the run we come across this lovely rose garden.

The statue above depicts the fall of Lucifer from Heaven. It was erected in 1922. Not sure why it is here in a rose garden. Maybe it reflects the duality of our existence – the beauty of the rose and pain of the thorn?

Even the park gate offer a well-adorned passage. Looks like our exit.

This was just a run in the park. I can’t wait to see what awaits in the actual city of Madrid and hope you will join me for more. Oh wow, look over there…definitely need to come back and see what that is about.

Puerta de Alcalá (notice the bride and groom in the center for photoshoot)

Next up in Madrid, I visit Calle Grand Via which is a street filled with significant architectural points of interest and shopping. It is one of Madrid’s main avenues. Madrid, Spain – Calle Gran Via

Classic Rock: The Santana – Journey Connection

If you are a classic rock fan, you are familiar with Santana and Journey. Some of you (like my son) may just be getting into this genre so I’ll take this as an opportunity to provide a brief background for each band, share an interesting connection between the two groups, and make a few song recommendations along the way.

Santana is the name of a band formed by Carlos Santana, Gregg Rolie, Michael Carabello, and Michael Shrieve in 1966. Carlos Santana is considered one of the all-time great rock guitarists and has sold 43.5 million albums in the US and an estimated 100 million worldwide. The band performed at Woodstock (1969) and its first three albums feature songs that are still in rotation today on classic rock radio stations and my iTunes playlists.

The first three albums:

  • Santana, 1969 – 2x platinum (US) [2 million albums sold in U.S.A]
  • Abraxas, 1970 – 5x platinum (US)
  • Santana III, 1971 – 2x platinum (US)

In 1972, the original band split apart and only Carlos Santana remained the constant over the next few decades with ~ 15 more albums released. Several of those would reach platinum status in the U.S. In 1999, Santana released the album Supernatural which sold 15 million copies and is by far his biggest selling album. It featured the #1 hit Smooth with Rob Thomas on vocals and Maria Maria.

My favorite song from Santana is Black Magic Woman from the 1970 Abraxas album.

Black Magic Woman – Santana

Interestingly, this song was written and first recorded by the original blue-based version of Fleetwood Mac (before Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined the band). Most of us recognize the signature guitar sound of Santana on that track, but who is the singer? The Santana version features Gregg Rolie on vocals and keyboard. Other popular Santana tracks featuring Gregg’s vocals include Oye Como Va and Evil Ways.

Gregg Rolie left Santana in 1972 along with Neal Schon (who had joined Santana in 1971), and manager Herbie Herbert. Together, they formed what would become the hugely popular band we know as Journey. Between 1973 and 1977, Journey released three albums that were modestly received, at best. Steve Perry became the lead vocalist for Journey in 1977 with Gregg Rolie still performing lead or co-lead vocals on some tracks along with keyboards.

Steve Perry (left), Neal Schon (center), and Gregg Rolie (in white pants)

Have you every heard the Journey songs Feeling That Way and Anytime and wondered who is sharing vocals with Steve Perry?

Feeling That Way

The singer is Gregg Rolie – original Santana vocalist/keyboardist. Over time, Gregg’s influence in Journey would wane and he left Journey in 1980 after Journey’s Departure album and tour.

Journey would go on to sell 48 million albums in the US and an estimated 100 million worldwide. It is impossible for me to pick a favorite Journey song. They probably have 15 or so that I crank up the volume for every time they come on the radio. From the Gregg Rolie era, Wheel in the Sky (with Steve Perry on vocals) is among my favorites.

Wheel In The Sky

The Essential Journey album (greatest hits) captures many of their most popular songs. But there are always plenty of gems that never make it to these compilations. Winds of March is one example. Journey was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017 with Gregg Rolie as a member. Gregg was also inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of Santana in 1998.

Gregg may not have received the mass notoriety of Carlos Santana or Steve Perry, but I am a big fan of his vocals, musicianship, and song writing. I thank him for his contributions to the sound track of my life.

Gregg Rolie

If I were to create my all-time playlist of my 50 favorite songs, Santana and Journey certainly have catalogs worthy of close consideration. Top-50 is a tough cut though. While Journey would have quite a few in my top 500, none make the top-50 cut. Santana’s Black Magic Woman initially makes the cut for my top-50. I’m also going to include Santana’s version of the Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps in my top 50. You may have never heard this version, but I love it. I hope you enjoy it as well.

Carlos Santana

Hoover Dam – Arizona/Nevada Border

Looking at Hoover Dam from Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge

The Hoover Dam is located on the Nevada – Arizona border about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas. Completed in 1935, it harnesses enough water from the Colorado river to irrigate 2 million acres of farm land, provides municipal water for urban centers including Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, and Las Vegas. It also contributes enough hydroelectric power to serve 1.3 million people each year. With 7 million visitors a year, the Hoover Dam is the most-visited dam in the world. 

Architectural Details:

  • Height of a 60-story building
  • 660 feet thick at its base 
  • Wide enough on top to be used as a highway (as it once was) 
  • Required 5 million barrels of cement
  • Contains 45 million pounds of reinforced steel
  • The 6.6 million tons of concrete used for the dam would pave a road stretching from San Francisco to New York City 

Additional Facts:

  • Summer temperatures were often as high as 115 degrees in the day and cooled to only 95 degrees at night as the dam was being built
  • The Colorado River is the river that carved the Grand Canyon

Just south of the Hoover Dam is the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge. It towers 900 feet above the Colorado River’s Black Canyon. It now handles the traffic that once flowed directly over top of the Hoover Dam.

The new traffic flow reduces congestion, improves safety, and increases security at the Hoover Dam. The bridge also offers incredible views from its pedestrian walkway. 

The nearby town of Boulder City was created specifically for workers on the Hoover Dam project. The city is still thriving today. Las Vegas had a population of ~ 5,000 people in 1931. Today, Las Vegas has ~ 2,700,000 residents.

If you are visiting Las Vegas, a Hoover Dam excursion is a relatively short trip and definitely worth the visit. If you are planning to visit the Grand Canyon during your trip Vegas, you’ll drive right by the Hoover Dam on your trip.

Nijo Castle – Kyoto, Japan

Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Shogun was a title given to the commander and chief/military dictator of Japan. The Shogun period spanned from 800 to 1867 AD.

Left edge of Nijo’s front wall. Nijo Castle is surrounded by a moat.
Main Entrance

While appointed by the Emperor, the Shogun served as the actual ruler of Japan with the Emperor serving as more of a ceremonial and spiritual leader. Real power was returned to the Emperor in 1867 as part of Meiji Revolution.

The castle’s exterior wall, surrounded by a moat, represents the first line of defense. Once inside the castle, there is a secondary circle of defense known as the Ninomaru. The Karamon Gate serves as the entrance to the Ninomaru.

Karamon Gate

The main feature of the Ninomaru is the Ninomaru Palace which served as the shogun’s residence when visiting Kyoto.

Ninomaru Palace

After the fall of the shogun and return of power to the Emporer, Nijo Castle was turned over to the city of Kyoto and later opened up for public access. The castle was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994 and serves as an excellent example of castle palace architecture from Japan’s feudal era.

Pompeii, Italy

Pompeii was once a flourishing as a coastal retreat for wealthy Romans. It contained a bustling marketplace, beautiful homes, taverns, bathhouses, temples of worship, magnificent architecture, an arena (older than the Roman coliseum) that sat 20,000 people, and a flourishing arts and crafts science. Life was good.

That all changed on one horrific day in 79 AD with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The eruption blasted a cloud of volcanic ash and poisonous gas 21 miles into air that could be seen from hundreds of miles away as volcanic debris pummeled the towns below. About 12 hours into the eruption, the massive cloud of gas and volcanic ash collapsed resulting in a pyroclastic flow that rolled down the mountain at 400+ mph with temperatures reaching 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. Only five miles from Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii was instantly engulfed in this searing flow and buried under millions of tons of volcanic ash and pumice.

As many as 16,000 people perished that day in the cities and villas around Mount Vesuvius. The number of dead in Pompeii is estimated at 2,000 and several hundred more in the nearby town of Herculaneum. This suggests there may have been a short window to escape. Some of Herculaneum’s citizens were possibly able to escape to Naples before the pyroclastic flow hit. Others were likely killed along the roads beyond the cities while trying to escape.

In terms of preservation, one interesting aspect of this eruption is the apparent lack of fire. The poisonous gases were oxygen free and no oxygen means no fire. Instead of burning, natural materials like wood were carbonized. In Herculaneum there are some relatively well-preserved wooden pieces such as ceiling beams, beds, shelves, and even the famous papyrus scrolls.

Along with Herculaneum, Pompeii serves as a time capsule of Roman life in the first century. While much of Rome’s cultural and architectural grandeur were destroyed as the Roman Empire collapsed, Pompeii remained frozen in time and free from vandalism and looting for 1700 years. In 1748, archeological excavation of Pompeii began and soon revealed the city and life in ancient Rome to the world.

Pompeii was originally developed by the Greeks around 600 BC as a port city. Over time, Greek influence receded and Roman influence rose. By 200 BC Pompeii was part of the Roman Republic. The Roman Republic lasted from 509 BC to 27 BC. By 79 AD, Rome had transformed from a Republic led by Senators to an Empire led by an Emperor. The Romans always thought highly of Greek culture (adopting much of it as their own and adding to it) so transitions from Greek to Roman control were not typically disruptive or oppressive. The influence of Greek culture is evident throughout Pompeii.

In 79 AD the world was only 79 years removed from Jesus walking the earth. His relatively recent presence hadn’t yet registered in Pompeii as Roman and Greek gods were still being worshipped. The Temple of Apollo (image below), built in 129 BC, is one example.

Apollo was a Greek god also worshipped by the Romans. He was the god of light, reason, truth, art, and healing. This temple had 48 columns surrounding the perimeter. As I understand it, these columns would have supported a roof that formed a covered walkway around the courtyard with the temple in the center.

Moving closer to the temple (image below), you can see the remains of stairs once topped with white marble and the remains of what was once an enclosed temple. As you can imagine, there is little indication of any roofing in Pompeii due to the tons of volcanic debris that nearly leveled the city.

Across from the Temple of Apollo is the Basilica of Pompeii built around 120 BC. This was a covered structure with walls and 28 interior columns. In the picture below, we are looking into the Basilica from the Forum. The Basilica was a central building for matters of justice as well as commercial activities and one of the most important buildings in Pompeii.

Below, we are looking at an outer wall of the Basilica. There was another level to this wall that would have extended the height by 50%.

At the end of the Basilica is the elevated tribunal where magistrates would sit. The tribunal gives you a sense of the Basilica’s height that would have extended around building. The bases of columns in the photo below were on the interior of the building and would have extended upward to the second-story ceiling.

Given the administration of justice that occurred in the Basilica, it seems fitting the building would be located next to the Temple of Apollo – god of reason and truth. Leaving the Basilica, you step into the Forum. This was a central area of commerce and political activity in Pompeii.

The Forum was lined with columns, statues, and other buildings of importance. The image below is looking down the western edge of the Forum. There was a second level of shorter columns on top of what we now see and a roof extending to the left that provided a covered walkway around the forum.

At the north end of the Forum sits the Temple of Jupiter. Jupiter was the chief Roman god and held a position similar to Zeus for the Greeks. Jupiter was the god of the sky, thunder, and king of all gods. Symbols associated with Jupiter include the lightening bolt and eagle. This temple has six columns across the front and five down the side. The roof would have extended from a central building out to the front columns to create a covered but open entrance. To the left and right of the temple are triumphal arches. One was dedicated to Augustus, the first emperor or Rome.

Leaving the Forum, I traveled out to the edge of the city to visit the Villa dei Misteri. I had the unique experience of imagining what it would be like to walk through the Pompeii “suburbs”.

Knowing Mount Vesuvius is still active left me with an eerie feeling while walking along the destroyed homes and quiet streets. It erupted in 1700 BC and again in 79 AD with a dormant period of 1800 years between eruptions. Knowing it has been over 1900 years since the last eruption, I had the sense that it could happen at any moment. This feeling was even stronger on the quiet edges of the city.

After a somewhat lengthy walk, I arrive at the Villa dei Misteri. A highlight of this home is that it contains frescoes depicting the secret initiation ritual for women into the worship of Dionysus. Like Apollo, Dionysus was also a Greek god worshipped by the Romans. He was associated with wine, theatre, fertility, and spiritual ecstasy. The Romans often referred to him as Bacchus.

Having run low on time, I make my way back to the rendezvous point for the tour group I had abandoned after arriving at Pompeii. The tour guide was moving way to slow, burned time on rather mundane topics, and wasn’t going to all the places I wanted to see. I could feel precious minutes wasting away so I broke from the group rather quickly. If I were to do it again, I would download one of the apps for Pompeii, get to the city as early in the day as possible, and explore it by myself.

I really enjoy history and loved my visit to Pompeii. If you are visiting cities like Naples, Sorrento, or the Amalfi Coast you will be within striking distance of Pompeii. This is a trip should make. Also, the city of Herculaneum is about 10 miles away and said to be even better preserved than Pompeii. Designing a day that gives allows 4-6 hours in Pompeii and 3 hours in Herculaneum is how I will do it…next time.

Barcelona, Spain – The National Palace

If you are in Barcelona and mapping out one of your days, Montjuic (a large hill/small mountain on the southwestern edge of Barcelona) is a great location to spend a day. You will be able to visit an old castle, the National Palace (shown below), Poble Espanyol, and facilities from the 1996 Summer Olympics.

The view from Montjuic Castle, built in 17th century, offers a sweeping view of Barcelona and the mediterranean. I’ll share of a visual stroll of the Montjuic Castle in the near future. Just having that view is enough to warrant a visit. However, there is a lot more to do on Montjuic.

Poble Espanyol is a village that was built for the 1926 World Fair should be one of your stops during a trip to Montjuic. It captures the spirit and the architecture of the various regions throughout Spain. You can have a mid-day meal and drink here. Another option is to enjoy a flamenco performance over dinner. I shared a visual tour of this area here – Poble Espanyol.

Then, there is the Palau Nacional (National Palace). It was constructed for the 1929 Word Fair and is now the location of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (National Art Museum of Catalonia). Its façade was inspired by St Peter’s of the Vatican. It has two smaller domes on each side and four towers inspired by the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella.

During my first visit to the museum (the photos above), I really focused on the National Palace. You can go inside and check out the exhibits and elaborate interior design. You can climb higher and higher to get good looks at the towers and domes which I really enjoyed. You’ll also have some wonderful views of the city from this elevation.

During my second visit to the National Palace, I approached from Plaza de Espana (pictured below) and was greeted by the Venetian towers (second photo below). They frame the entrance to the avenue leading up to the National Palace.

I enjoyed stopping briefly at the National Palace during my second visit to Barcelona but was primarily focused on getting to Poble Espanyol which I didn’t get nearly enough of during my first visit.

I feel like I know Barcelona a bit better now and, looking back, I could have certainly been more efficient during my visits. I’d suggest you set aside a day to focus on the Montjuic area – the castle, National Palace, and Poble Espanyol. If you have more time during that same, the Olympic site (1996 Summer Olympics) is also on Montjuic as well as an old cemetery. You will notice the cemetery on the mountain side of Montjuic as you are traveling from the airport into Barcelona.

How does Montjuic measure up to other options in Barcelona? Before visiting Montjuic, I would prioritize the Gothic Quarter (El Gotic) and the waterfront area on the edge of the Gothic Quarter as my first stop. This really immerses you Barcelona’s rich history and fills you with the city’s vibe. Next, I would make Sagrada de Familia a must-see on your to-do list. Then, if you have more time in Barcelona, head to Montjuic.

Neuschwanstein Castle – Bavaria, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle is a Romanesque Revival palace built in the late 1800’s by King Ludwing II of Bavaria. It sits high above the village of Hohenschwangau in southwest Bavaria, Germany. If the castle looks vaguely familiar, it is because Neuschwanstein castle was the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Professional photo taken from mountain across from Neuschwanstein Castle

King Ludwig II intended the palace to serve as a retreat from his palace in Munich and personally paid for its construction rather than using public funds. At least some of the inspiration for the castle’s design is attributed to Richard Wagner – a dear friend of King Ludwig’s. Richard Wagner was a composer and theorist whose operas and music greatly influenced the evolution of music in the western world.

When King Ludwig passed away in 1886, the castle was opened to the public and more than 61 million people have visited. A few of my favorite photos from Neuschwanstein Castle:

Scenic vistas walking up the steep road to Neuschwanstein Castle and the road going up beyond the castle:

Historical Context

The region known today as Bavaria was originally settled by Iron Age Celts. The Roman Empire took control of the region around 100 BC. As the Western Roman Empire collapsed, Bavaria become part of the Kingdom of Germany around 600 AD and later became a sovereign kingdom.

King Ludwig II ascended to the Bavarian throne at age 18 in 1864. Several years later, Bavaria joined the Prussian-led German Empire in the Franco-Prussian (French-German) War of 1870 and, became a German state.