Sintra and the Palace of Pena

20 Oct
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The Palace of Pena and its quirky architecture.

High on a hill above Sintra, amidst gardens and above steep paths, sits the Palace of Pena. Conceived by the King of Portugal,  Don Fernando II, who lived from 1819-1895, The Palace of Pena was his dream home.  But he did not only plan the palace, he also planned for lovely gardens to surround it, bringing in plants and trees from around the world.  Creating a little world that has been named a World Heritage site.

He started building this, his summer home over the ruins of a 16th Century convent, the Convent of Our Lady of Pena, which he purchased in 1838.  It took about 15 years to complete his fairy tale home that combines German, Indian, Moorish and Portuguese styles.  A bit of the convent remains in the chapel.  The tile work and the Manueline style of decoration are definitely Portuguese.

 

You could spend days investigating this hillside extravaganza.  There are acres upon acres of gardens and kilometers of paths.  Besides the Pena Palace, there are the ruins of a Moorish castle.

As a lover of Disneyland and unusual architecture, I could not help but love the Palace of Pena.  The four modes of architecture come together in a romantic version of a palace.  Part of me wanted to ooh and aah over the building, and part of me wanted to giggle a bit and just enjoy Don Fernando’s view of the world through his enjoyable home.  But above all, I wanted to enjoy the sites and the joy of the gardens he and his second wife created on this hill.

 

When you enter the Palace area, you go over an area that was once a small draw bridge, through a tunnel that opens into a courtyard.  This side of the building is sunny and bright. No winds come through.  But when you walk through the arch in the Moorish style segment, you enter another world.  Our guide told us to zip our coats. And he was right.  With wonderful views of the Atlantic Ocean, the other courtyard also had  harsh winds!

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The guide held my hand as we walked along the narrow ledge on the windy Atlantic side of the Palace.

We walked along the  wall of the palace in a narrow pathway.  I do not like heights, so our guide held my hand along the way.  The view were worth it.

To be honest, it was not always easy walking up hill to the palace or around the palace grounds.  There are many steep area and steps.  Honestly, coming back down the hill was almost more difficult.  It had rained a bit and so the stones were slippery.  I will say my leg muscles got a good workout.  Our guide helped by letting me hold on to him. So be careful when you go to visit.  And you must go to visit!

After our time at the gardens and palace, we drove back down the hill to the picturesque town of Sintra.  We parked along a promenade and walked to the old part of town, past the official royal castle with its twin chimneys: the Sintra National Palace.  Now a museum, it once was the royal residence from the 15th to 19th centuries.

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The shopping area of old Sintra

We walked through town and its several narrow streets filled with shops.  It was the first time I actually got to shop during my vacation.  I purchased only items made in Portugal, mainly made of cork and/or tile.  I watched a woman hand painting tile in a small shop, where I found some gifts.  Then we meandered uphill to more shops and a pastry restaurant, where we purchased a treat.

There were many little restaurants and shops for the many tourists that were visiting the town.  At times, the narrow streets were almost too crowded.  But the cruise ships have discovered this town, about 25 kilometers from Lisbon, so it is a popular destination.   Our guide brought us to the Palace of Pena first thing to try to miss some of the crowding.  He was right, but the time we left more and more people were filing into the park.

After Sintra, we left town to travel to the beach and eat lunch at a restaurant, Mar do Guincho, located right on the beach.  The fresh seafood was delicious.  The waiter brings the whole fish to the table to tell you what is available.  I had a local fish caught that very morning.  While my husband and guide shared a two-person traditional seafood and rice stew.

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The ocean was very rough.

While we ate, we watched the very wild ocean hitting against the shore.  All the beaches were closed the few days we were in Lisbon due to the errant hurricane and tropical storm that arrived with us.

We were there along with Hurricane Leslie.  We actually did not experience any issues, except for some rain. But the country was not prepared for a category one hurricane.   There was storm damage along the coastal towns and in Lisbon.  Tiles were blown off roofs, causing leaks; trees and branches were down; the ocean waves were very high and strong; and there were some people injured. I am glad no one was badly injured.

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Cascais

After lunch we drove along the coast stopping once in a while to watch the waves.  The we went to the city of Cascais where we walked along the beach promenade in town. We had a good time looking at all the expensive homes along the way and seeing the lovely marina area.  I imagine that this town of the wealthy would be a good place for a holiday.  But for us it was a quick visit and then back to Lisbon to rest for our next day’s adventure.

Dancing on a Cruise Ship

12 Oct

After 11 years of ballroom dance lessons, my husband and I stopped taking lessons when our instructor moved. We keep saying we need to find someone else or find another dance studio closer to home. But that has not happened.

We miss dancing once a week. But I do not have the patience right now to investigate and find another place.

In the meantime we watch “Dancing With The Stars”. We critique the dances and determine if there really was any part of the true dance in these routines. Sometimes I agree with Len that the dance they danced was not at all the cha cha or fox trot it was supposed to be. But we enjoy it.

However, once or twice a year, we take a cruise and then our dancing shoes come out. Some cruise lines do have wonderful dance floors and bands. And we enjoy evenings of exercise as we practice our dances. Each evening we get better since we remember additional moves the more we dance.

However, some cruises do not cater to the ballroom dancers. On a recent cruise around Hawaii, the dance floor was MARBLE and the only one who played any dance music was a pianist. Although he was great and accommodating to the dancers. But a marble dance floor is A horrible idea. Also there were only 4-5 couples who were there dancing each day.

Even still, after a few days, the dancing couples start to recognize each other. It is a friendly bond.

Dancers On the Serenity dance floor.

Recently we were on another cruise ship, the Serenity, which has a great wooden dance floor. A true band. And even ambassadors to dance with single women.

Each evening my husband and I joined with others on the 12th floor to dance our favorites: Fox trot, rumba, cha cha, waltz, tango and swing.

We sit out the salsa and jive. But enjoy watching those who dance to the faster beats.

Over the week we started visiting with other dancers on site-seeing tours and in other lounges. Those who hang out by the dance floor began to recognize each other. And those that do not dance, seem to enjoy watching. Or getting on the dance floor just swaying to the music.

We befriended one of the ambassadors, as he went on several tours that we were on. In the evenings between sets, he talked to us. Each of the ambassadors have other careers, but are all dancers who get free cruises for dancing in the evenings. I believe Crystal Cruises is one of only two that still offers ambassadors.

We danced every day. And it was fantastic! A great way to meet people, get some exercise, practice our dance moves, and joy the cruising experience.

Jose Sala Sala and the Sanctuary of Mary Magdalena in Novelda, Spain

10 Oct

The Santuario de Santa Maria Magdalena is stunning! This modernist church built in the 1900s was designed by Jose Sala Sala, a local boy who moved to Barcelona to study architecture, and ended up learning with Gaudi. The Gaudi influence is strong in this stone and ceramic building.

Standing on a hill above Novelda and sharing the mountain with the ruins of the castle Mola , the church can be seen for miles. The winding road takes you to the parking lot, so when you first approach the church, you see the back first.

Back of the church.

No worries. It is also beautiful. Our guide, David, said as he heard the group oohing and aahing, “If you think this is lovely, wait until you see the front of the church.”

He was so correct. Each side of the church is just delightful. The stone, ceramic and brink intertwined in wonderful patterns lifting your eyes to the sky and to the torrents that grace the front.

The interior is classic and simple. No gold leaf and overdone interior here. Just simple elegance and paintings and tapestries. The church was built in stages from 1918 to 1946.

But the best is not yet complete.

Where the organ will be. A special cement base was poured to hold the weight

At the back of the church, by the entrance is a giant marble base made of Alicante red marble that will hold the marble organ that has been worked on for 26 years. Large white marble ovals represent the tears of Mary Magdalena. Each hollow pipe is made of red marble. 54 are complete. There are hundreds of pipes still to be carved. But then we know that in Spain it seems great things are worth waiting for!

But you can hear the lovely sounds that it will eventually make through a short concert of the completed pipes . We heard several minutes of Pachelbel’s Canon in D and it was astonishing. I can only image that when the full organ is completed, it’s music will not only fill the church but for miles around!

I kept thinking, what a lovely place for a wedding. When our guide told us that our bus driver and his wife were married there 12 years ago. We all congratulated him on the good choice.

The vista from the front of the church includes the town of Novelda, the vineyards and some of the marble factories that brought wealth into the area.

Bicyclists and their picture.

While we were visiting a group of bicyclist came to the top to see the church. They asked our guide to take a group photo of them in front of the church. I too needed a photo of my husband and I there. It was so beautiful.

But then even the sides of this church are so intricate. I loved every angle of it!

Gaudi is one of my favorite architects. I do not know what else Jose Sala Sala designed, but the influence of Gaudi runs strong in his work. I would love to see more. And for those traveling to Spain, go see this church!

I Do Love Gaudi! My Second Barcelona Gaudi Adventure.

8 Oct

I returned to Barcelona with one main focus — to see the Gaudi sites I missed last time and to see the new house that opened to the public less than a year ago.

Although I had see CASA Batllo in my first trip, I had not seen Casa Milo up close. Since it was just a few blocks from our hotel, we walked there our first day. It did not disappoint, even though it was not colorful! And I do like color. I loved the terraces and curving forms.

I also got to see Casa Batllo in the evening, which is another wonderful view.

The next day we had hired a private tour guide to take us on a Gaudi tour. High on my list: Park Quell and the new Casa Vincens, a house that was privately owned until just a few years ago and opened as a museum in November 2017.

Added to our agenda was Gaudi’s dragon gate at the entrance to what was once the Quell estate, then became the King’s palace and is now a convention center.

This gate is Amazing!! The dragon can move but cannot fly away!

As for Park Quell, the park was donated to the city of Barcelona when Mr. Quell died around 1919.

The gardens, paths, bridges, and buildings are wonderful to explore. The outdoor theater, market and the two houses call out to be explored. The three bigger houses on the property were big designed by him. But the two at the main entrance are probably his design.

I also loved the iron fencing, with its swans and lily pads in my opinion, which is repeated at the Casa Vicens. Gaudi’s designs were fantastic, original and amazing.

Finally Casa Vicens with its spectacular ceilings and moorish smoking room was the end to my Gaudi adventure. I especially loved the walls in the bedrooms and the little balcony off the living room. And my sojourn in the torrent on the rooftop made me feel like the queen of Gaudi!

My love of Gaudi grows with each additional site I explore.

One last photo of a Parc Güell bridge that my husband took. I love this view.

https://zicharonot.com/2015/07/06/my-architectural-love-affair-with-hundertwasser-and-gaudi/

Grandma’s Crystal Debacle

1 Oct

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Recently I had a women’s event at my home and I decided it would be nice to use some of my nicer, crystal pieces to serve the desserts. So early in the day, I went to my breakfront to remove the items I wanted in order to rinse them off and plan my settings.

I have to admit, whenever I open the door to my glass-shelfed cabinet, I feel a sense of dread.  Will something fall and break?  Will the shelf break?  Will all my crystal pieces — Waterford, Mikasa, Lenox — and other family heirlooms fall to the ground in a giant glass, crystal and ceramic mess?

Sounds a bit bizarre and as if I am over reacting, I know I do.  But I have a strong evidence that this type of disaster can happen in an instant.  It happened in my family.

Many years ago, when I was young and married, but not yet a mother, I received an extremely stressed out phone call from my mother.  It seems my paternal Grandma had decided to clean all her crystal and china in her curio cabinet.  I know that cabinet well.   It had glass doors and shelves, so you could more easily see all lovely pieces. Many piled one on top of the other.

Grandma was in her 80s, I cannot tell you her exact age.  Grandma lived in a small one-bedroom apartment with my grandfather in Co-Op City in the Bronx. I cannot remember if my Grandpa was still alive.  And I don’t know why she decided to clean on her own, without any help, I don’t know. Except I will say she was an extremely independent person. I assume a holiday was coming, so she wanted everything to shine!

No matter the reason, the crux of the story is that after she had cleaned all her pieces and put everything away, the very top glass shelf fell!  It must not have been put back in properly.   Does not matter.  What does matter is as it fell, everything under it was destroyed in an instant.  It was probably one of the most agonizing moments, which she watched in horror. She could do nothing but watch.

Grandma was hysterical.  These family heirlooms that she had purchased over the years, and a few that were her mother’s (my great-grandparents always lived with my grandparents) were destroyed.  They could not be fixed. They were just shards of glass. Grandma was distraught.

I believe my aunt, went over as soon as Grandma called.  But there was nothing to do but to clean up the mess as carefully as possible.

Eventually everyone knew about the great disaster.  When my mom found out, she called me and told me to call Grandma.  That Grandma needed emotional support now!  It was at a time when long distance phone calls cost money.  But Mom told me it had to be now. As soon as we hung up!

I did as ordered. But I did not mind.  I spoke to my Grandma weekly anyway.  I called Grandma.  I acted as if I knew nothing.  That I was just calling to say hello.  Usually we would speak for about 15 or 20 minutes, as I told about what was going on. And she told me about her week and gave me wonderful advice.

That tactic did not last long. As soon as Grandma heard my voice she started to cry.   I heard the entire horrible story.  She had planned to pass her crystal on to her grandchildren. Now there was NOTHING LEFT! NOTHING!  (Grandma’s emphasis.).
“Grandma,” I said.  “We don’t need anything.  It is not like someone died.  You are fine.  It is fine.  We have you.”  I thought that would help.  But it did not.  The crystal items all had memories attached to them.  Each piece had a story that needed to be told.  And memory of loved one to never forget.  But now with the destruction of her crystal was the loss of these memories. These pieces that when held brought back the essence of a person.

I just cried with Grandma. There was really nothing else to do.

Years later, when Grandma died, my parents selected a set of six glass plates for me to have from Grandma.  I have them on the bottom shelf of my breakfront.  I do worry about Where they are placed.  In fact, I worry that my children will have no idea what memories these crystal and ceramic and glass pieces have intertwined in their existence.

I have decided to tell the story of my breakfront and all its many heirlooms.  Then,  even if a crystal debacle occurs in my home, at least the memories attached to the items will not disappear. Their memory, tied up with the memories of loved ones will continue.

Puzzle Mania After Visiting the Springbok Puzzle Factory

25 Sep

It finally happened!  My husband got to visit the Springbok Puzzle Factory in Kansas City.  A member of our congregation owns it and was kind enough to let my husband come for a tour. (See previous blog below.)

It surpassed all of his expectations.

For days there was the build-up of excitement as my husband counted down to the actual visit.  When the day arrived, he was almost impatient to go to work, because he knew that afternoon was puzzle factory time.

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Puzzles resting before being cut.

But the build-up was nothing compared to his joy in actually going and seeing how jigsaw puzzles are made!  He took photos of the process; he took videos; he took photos of himself and his kind host.  The visit was beyond what he imagined.  His host went around with him for a private tour!  So kind!  To be honest, I think he enjoyed my husband’s enthusiastic excitement.

I actually told the owner that when my husband retired, I hoped that they could hire him to work in the factory, since that was all I heard about for days.  I suggested that he be hired as a tester!  Just to put puzzles together each and every day.

From that point on, my husband wanted one thing only, a 2000-piece puzzle.  Up to then he thought that 1,000-piece puzzles were the best. But while at the factory he saw much larger puzzles.  And the size that tempted him the most was 2000.

When he got home that day and for the next few days, he spoke continually about the puzzles. He watched puzzle videos of people putting together large puzzles, including some guy who used his entire basement floor to do an 18,000-piece puzzle.  That was out of the question for our house.  Although he did ask if he could order it.  I think he was joking, but I said ‘NO’ emphatically.

When my daughter and her husband were in town in June, she and I went to a store where she purchased a 2000-piece Springbok puzzle for my husband’s Fathers’ Day gift.  It was a grand success.  He could not wait to get going on it!  But had to wait for a few days as we had an out of town wedding to attend.

Our usual puzzle table was not big enough for this monster puzzle, so I allowed him to use our dining room table with the caveat that he had to be done by early September.  Every evening after work and on weekends, he worked on it.  I sat with him and worked part of it as well. I like the blue pieces.

Labor Day weekend was a puzzle feast.  We had company who helped as well.  But my deadline was not fulfilled even with all the help.  Those white pieces were impossible.  They even stumped an engineer!

I needed my table. But we could not take the puzzle apart.  It was a stressful situation!  I even posted our dilemma on Facebook.  Thank goodness I did.  A friend had the answer in the genius idea of us putting our table pads over the puzzle!  It was an excellent idea, saving the puzzle, my holiday meal, and probably our marriage!

The puzzle kept him busy for three entire months, till mid-September.  It is now packed away in two one-gallon ziplock bags to go to the home of another puzzle addict.  I plan to let him work on his 1000-piece puzzles for a few months before I surprise him with another giant Springbok jigsaw puzzle to feed his mania.

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One piece left. He always leaves the last piece for me.

https://zicharonot.com/2018/01/13/jigsaw-puzzles-and-true-love/

China Pieces Connect Two Grandmothers

22 Sep

It amazes me that two women living a 1000-miles apart, who never knew each other, could have such similar tastes.  Perhaps it was their age, the world they inhabited.

My maternal grandmother grew up in Poland and moved to the United States when she was 16 years old.  She was born about 1906. With my grandfather, she built a wonderful business and life. And she loved china tea cups and other items.

Among my maternal grandmother’s items was a lovely little Limoges leaf.    I always loved the gold edging and bright flowers decorations that adorned it.  When I was asked what I wanted, I chose this little dish, and added it to the collection in my breakfront.

I assumed it was a little candy dish. In later years, I looked on line at antique Limoges pieces, and found a similar shaped dish described a trinket pin dish.  Which makes it perfect.  I love trinkets!

Grandma also had an English china bouquet of flowers that seem to be sitting in a bowl or basket.  Handcrafted in England, this little piece also intrigued me.  And I chose to have it in my home as well.

Meanwhile in the St. Louis, Missouri, area, another woman was born about 1903.  This woman was the mother of my husband’s step mother.  I knew her for a few years before she died.  My daughter was a toddler, who loved to sit in Gretchen’s lap and visit with her.

When Gretchen died, my mother-in-law, asked me to choose something from the collection of items she inherited from her mother.  She felt that since we knew Gretchen, we should have some pieces.

In the basement were several boxes filled with pieces wrapped in newspaper. Imagine my surprise when I found a small Limoges Leaf that was an exact match to my grandmother’s leaf.  I chose it.  It seemed to me that I was meant to take it.

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Among the other wrapped items was an English china bouquet of flowers in a basket…handcrafted in England.  It called out to me as well.

I brought both pieces home and set them with to the items from my grandmother.

My mother in law told me she wanted someone to look at her mother’s pieces and remember her.  I try.  I close my eyes and I see my daughter sitting on Gretchen’s lap and petting her arm.  My daughter never knew my maternal grandmother.  I have no images of them together, but I have many memories of my grandmother.

My grandmother passed away in the early 1980s.   I met Gretchen a few years later.  Through these two pieces of china, I imagine that they would have been friends.  For me these four china pieces connect them forever.  May their memories continue as a blessing.