Beautiful Barcelona

While many first timers to Spain usually visit Madrid, its Catalonian counterpart, Barcelona, is just as magnificent. It is incredibly cosmopolitan, packed with interesting sights. There are churches around every corner, beautiful architecture on every street and Gaudí buildings hiding everywhere. It reminds me of a pristine, less compact, New York City.

Here are my Top 10 Must See Sights:

  1. Plaça de Catalunyagenerally considered to be both the city center and the place where the old city and the 19th century-builtEixample meet.  Some of the city’s most important streets and avenues meet atPlaçaCatalunya;Passeig deGràcia,Rambla deCatalunya, LaRambla and Portal del’Àngel. The large plaza is especially 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

    Plaça de Catalunya

  2. La Rambla is a street in central Barcelona, popular with tourists and locals alike. Walking on theRambla is perhaps the epitome of the Barcelona experience (but beware of pickpockets!). A tree-lined pedestrian mall, it stretches for 1.2 kilometers, connectingPlaça deCatalunya in the center with the Christopher Columbus Monument at PortVell. LaRambla can be crowded, especially during the height of the tourist season. The Spanish poet FedericoGarcía Lorca once said that LaRambla was “the only street in the world which I wish would never end”.
    McDonalds & KFC on LA Rambla

    Gorgeous buildings housing McDonald’s & KFC on La Rambla

    Vendor on La Rambla

    Vendor on La Rambla

  3. Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, (often simply referred to as LaBouqueria), on LasRamblas, a typical market unlike anything you’ve probably seen before. There are hundreds of stalls here, selling fish, meat, cheese, fruits, vegetables, candies, snails, and more, something for everyone!
    La Boqueria Entrance

    La Boqueria Entrance

    Some of the many stalls at La Boqueria

    Some of the many stalls at La Boqueria

  4. La Sagrada Familiaone of the most famous landmarks in Barcelona, the towering, still-unfinished cathedral that stands as one of the most ambitious architectural projects ever attempted, is considered one ofGaudí’s most famous works. Born in themid-1800s,Gaudí’s work culminated in the development of this basilica but it was less than a quarter completed when he died in 1926, and it is still unfinished. The work is just now over half done, with funding coming from private sources, and is expected to be finished by 2026, the centennial ofGaudi’s death at 73.  I have visited many churches, cathedrals and basilicas in Europe, but I have never seen anything quite like this, simply breathtaking!
    La Sagrada Familia

    La Sagrada Familia

    Stained Glass interior of La Sagrada Familia

    Stained Glass interior of La Sagrada Familia

    Interior of La Sagrada Familia

    Interior of La Sagrada Familia

  5. Parc Güellanother of Gaudí’s beautiful works, and my personal favorite. The park contains amazing stone structures, stunning tiling and fascinating buildings. At the top ofParcGüell is a terraced area where you get a wonderful view of the park and of Barcelona. Finding a seat in the multi-colored tiled mosaic benches can sometimes be tricky, as everyone is sitting down taking in the views, and non-stop picture-taking going on.  The vibrant colors of the tiles are truly amazing.
    Famous tiled benches in Parc Güell

    Famous tiled benches in Parc Güell

    Entrance to Parc Güell

    Entrance to Parc Güell

  6. Casa Batllómy favoriteGaudí house. This building wasn’t designed byGaudí, but in the restoration he was commissioned to perform,Gaudí made it his own. The locals call it Casa delOssos, or House of Bones. Without any straight lines, CasaBattló is unique and beautiful at the same time. It’s considered by many to be one ofGaudí’s most important works.  Make sure you visit the inside as well, it’s truly amazing!
    Casa Batlló

    Casa Batlló

    Interior wall of Casa Batlló

    Interior wall of Casa Batlló

    Rooftop terrace of Casa Batlló

  7. La Pedrera (aka Casa Milà) This is one ofGaudí’s main residential buildings and one of the most imaginative houses in the history of architecture. Known also as CasaMilà, LaPedrera translates to “The Quarry”, a name it was given due to the extensive use of stone in its construction. What sets this building apart from other Gaudí works is the curtained facade. This building is more a sculpture than a building.
    La Pedrada

    La Pedreda

    Views of city from the rooftop of La Pedrada

    Views of city from the rooftop of La Pedreda

  8. Passeig de Gràcia, is my favorite main avenue in this city, located in theEixample district.  If you’re looking for authentic souvenir shops, you won’t find any here. This picturesque, wide “promenade” houses some of the top designer boutiques,  LouisVuitton, Zara, Loewe, Chanel, Mont Blanc, Yves Saint Laurent,Escada andHermès. The avenue is stunning and its beauty is enhanced by its trees and Art Nouveau street lamps, alongside decorated mosaic benches and pedestrian strips laid with hexagonal paving stones. During the 19th Century, this elegant boulevard was a showcase for Barcelona’s bourgeoisie and it also links thePlaçaCatalunya with the district ofGràcia. The presence of the city’s finest modernist buildings makesPasseig deGràcia an authentic open-air museum. It is also home to Gaudí’s LaPedrera and CasaBattló.
    Passeig de Gracia The 5th Avenue of Barcelona

    Passeig de Gràcia
    The 5th Avenue of Barcelona

    Passeig de Gracia at night

    Passeig de Gràcia at night

  9. Tibidabo The journey to Tibidabo amusement park starts with a short train ride from the center of Barcelona from there you will take the Tramvia Blau which takes you half way up the mountain. If you wish to go all the way to the top of Tibidabo, where the amusement park is situated, (and I highly recommend this if you’re traveling with kids), you will also need to catch a funicular train from the half way point. Once at the top of the mountain you will have the most magnificent views of Barcelona, a small amusement park for the kids, and the opportunity to visit a beautiful church, Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor.  Both kids and adults will enjoy the charming little theme park,built in 1889 and a lot of the rides date back to this time, giving the park a whimsical feel.
    Tramvia Blau

    Tramvia Blau

    One of the rides at the amusement park

    One of the rides at the amusement park

    Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor

    Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor

    Incredible views of Barcelona form Mount Tibidabo

    Incredible views of Barcelona form Mount Tibidabo

  10. Tapa Bar Hopping While this is not technically a favorite “sight”, it was definitely a favorite experience for all of us.  Pretty much you can find great food anywhere in Barcelona, however, our favorites were the tapas!  There are thousands of tapas bars all throughout the city, and it’s probably a good idea to try as many different ones as you come across.  Many locals like to go “tapa bar hopping”, where they can enjoy one or two tapas with a drink, and then move on to another tapas bar. This can go on for a few hours, depending how large your group is. One of our very favorite restaurants was Cervecería Catalana (Calle Mallorca, 236) which does not take reservations, and always has a line halfway around the block. You have to plan your visit there at an off time, but it’s worth it, the food is delicious!
    Yummy tapas!

    Yummy tapas!

    More yummy tapas

    More yummy tapas

    Typical Tapas Bar

    Typical Tapas Bar

In a nutshell, another one of my favorite large cities in Europe, I’m already looking forward to my next visit!  Have you been to Barcelona?  If you haven’t, make sure it’s on your travel bucket list, as I’m sure you will be delighted by this fascinating place!

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Flipping Out at Old Navy

If you’re planning on shopping this weekend, then head on over to your local Old Navy this Saturday, June 28, 2014, for their annual $1 Flip Flop Sale.  If you have a Gap, Old Navy or Banana Republic credit card you can stop in stores on Friday and get the deal a day early.

This is Old Navy’s biggest sale of the year (as you can imagine) and the stores are super busy with very long lines.  But how can you beat $1 for a pair of summer flip flops?  Unfortunately, this offer is only valid on in-store purchases, so for those of you who enjoy internet shopping (like me), the deal is not available online.

According to the Old Navy Facebook Page, each store will be opening as early as they are permitted. The stores will be updating their store hours on the store locator at oldnavy.com.  So make sure you check your local store’s opening time to be certain you don’t arrive two hours later, and be faced with much less selection. There is a limit of five pairs per person.

While you’re there, check out the mix and match bathing suits styles, which are also pretty well priced.  My daughter just picked up a few pieces for our upcoming trip!

Photo Courtesy of Old Navy

Photo Courtesy of Old Navy

Baked by Melissa

Is there a way of enjoying six cupcakes in one sitting, and not feeling guilty about it? The answer is yes, if you’ve just eaten them at one of the Baked by Melissa cupcake shops in NYC. These tiny, bite-sized cupcakes come in the most delicious and unique flavors from traditional red velvet and s’mores, to the more offbeat PB&J and tie-dye.

Some of our favorite flavors!

Last summer, my daughter and I spent a week in NYC, and we had the luck of having a Baked by Melissa location directly across the street from our hotel in Times Square. Let me tell you, it’s very difficult to decide which ones to try, as there is such an assortment and they’re so small, that you want to try all of them!  Needless to say we visited the shop a few times…my daughter’s favorites were the cookie dough and cookies and cream. They also have a mini of the month which switches throughout the year, it was watermelon when we visited, and I loved it! BTW, if you’re into watermelon cupcakes you need to read this post.

Nighttime visit for tiny cupcakes!

Baked by Melissa has several locations in New York and also ships nationwide. So, even if you’re not in Manhattan, you can still enjoy the cutest, tastiest cupcakes around. Their website also has a “cupcake creator” that allows you to customize your own cupcake flavor, which is available for purchase (when you buy at least 300). But what a great idea for wedding or Sweet 16 party favors, or even a large school event?

The cupcakes start at $1 each, but go down in price as you order more. Baked by Melissa now has over 10 locations, mainly in New York City, with its most recent ones at JFK Airport and the Garden State Plaza Mall in New Jersey. I highly recommend a stop by one of their shops the next time you’re visiting NYC.

Have you ever experienced cupcakes from Baked by Melissa? If so, what flavor is your favorite?!061e8ae4d336b9efc980a28fef75f93b

¡Azúcar!

An authentic, homemade Cuban ice-cream shop, named after the trademark shout of the beloved Cuban salsa singer Celia Cruz, located in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, featuring over 40 Latin infused ice cream flavors…how could we not stop in?  Of course I’m talking about Azúcar, which in a relatively short amount of time, has become a staple of this historical Calle Ocho community. Although the shop is small, there are a few benches (covered with guayabera shirts) where you can sit down and enjoy your tasty treats.

Beautiful painting of Celia Cruz hanging inside of the shop

Beautiful painting of Celia Cruz hanging inside of the shop

Outside of  Azúcar

Outside of Azúcar

All of the extravagant flavors scream sabor latino, such as, Cuatro Leches (4 milks cake), Guayaba, Platano Maduro (Sweet Plantain), Mulatica (Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookie), Besitos (Vanilla & Pink Meringues), and Mamacita (Orange Blossom-Almond). However, Azucar’s signature flavor Abuela Maria, which consists of homemade vanilla ice-cream, infused with sweet chunks of guava, tangy cream cheese and crumbly bits of Maria cookies, was by far my favorite!

Their signature Abuela María flavor

Their signature Abuela María flavor Photo Courtesy of Azúcar Ice Cream Company

I recently discovered that this flavor has become so popular, that it’s also being offered in some Cuban restaurants throughout the city. Now I should warn you that although there is a huge list of flavors written on the chalkboard wall, only a portion are usually on offer. (I was looking forward to tasting the Balsamic-Strawberry and Platano Maduro, but they were not available that day).  But that’s not a problem, as I’m sure we will be back.  Even my daughter, who I have to sometimes bribe to try Cuban cuisine of any kind, really enjoyed her Domino (Oreo Cookies ‘n’ Cream) ice cream.

Visit Azúcar on your next visit to Miami, try one of their delicious concoctions, and let me know which flavor was your favorite!

Azúcar Ice Cream Company
 1503 SW 8th Street
Miami, Florida 33135
(305) 381-0369
www.AzucarIceCream.com

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Firefly Lane

To continue with my summer book reviews, here’s my next pick…

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah (click here for synopsis)

Kristin Hannah, the New York Times bestselling author of nineteen novels, is another one of my favorite storytellers.  I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting her at a few book signings. The first of her books that I read, Firefly Lane, happens to be her most popular novel. She herself calls it the book the changed her career.  I’ll admit, I’m the kind of person that sometimes does judge a book by its cover (shame on me), and I first picked up this book because I loved the name and was intrigued by what kind of story this would be.  It is a wonderful tale of friendship and life as seen through the eyes of two women who’ve been lifelong friends.  Truly, one of my all time favorite books to date, and the only one of her novels that has produced a sequel…Fly Away.  I have not read Fly Away yet, as I’m planning to read it on a very long flight this summer.  But I’m sure it will be as amazing as its prequel. So, pickup a copy of Firefly Lane or download it to your e-reader, and enjoy a great summer read!

FIrefly Lane

Are there any good books you’ve read recently? I love suggestions!

Paradise in Positano

“Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you are gone.” – John Steinbeck

Positano, often referred to as the “Jewel of the Amalfi Coast” is in one word, idyllic. The landscape will completely overwhelm you.  I first visited this magical, seaside town with my husband many years ago, because a friend recommended it to us.  It was love at first sight…needless to say, we’ve visited quite a few times.

Beautiful Positano

Beautiful Positano

After flying into Rome and picking up our rental car, we started driving south. Many folks prefer to take another flight to Naples and then a train into Sorrento.  But my husband loves to drive in Europe, and we like having our own car which gives us flexibility to visit other nearby places, at our own leisure without schedules. The first time we drove there, I was a bit worried about hubby driving on these foreign highways where speed limits are mere suggestions. Well, the highway ended up being the least of my worries. Once you pass Naples and start approaching the Costiera Amalfitana, the roads become progressively narrow and begin to hug the coastline. I was happy that our rental car was super compact, as these are tiny mountain switchback roads with steep rocky cliffs, and the smaller your car is, the easier the drive (trust me). The roads twisted and turned and as we approached Positano, the switchbacks combined with the height of the coastal cliffs, the stress of the speeding Vespas cutting us off, and the questionably teetering tour buses, all on these narrow, two-way streets, made my heart stop a few times. If you don’t like stressful driving, do yourself a favor and DO NOT drive on the Amalfi Coast, especially at night.  However, I must recommend that you experience this drive at least once, the scenery is priceless, something that needs to be seen in person because no photo can do it justice.  Though it was truly stunning to take in, after a while I was glad to leave our car parked and check into our hotel.

Hotel Poseidon

Hotel Poseidon

The famous luxury hotel in town Le Sirenuse, is the place to stay (it is amazing and our dinner at Ristorante La Sponda, was delicious with again, amazing town views).  We stayed at the Hotel Poseidon, also recommended by our friend, and let me say, I don’t think it has much to envy, given rooms are one-fourth the price.  It was beautiful, our room had a large outdoor patio with a balcony facing the famous Positano views, and there were plenty of amenities as well.  Once you’re at your hotel, you might as well forget you have a car, unless you want to drive to nearby Ravello, Praiano or Amalfi, because everything you will do in Positano is by foot, it is an incredibly vertical town (get ready to have a daily workout).

Everyday we strolled the little streets and took in the shops, the food and the once again stunning sceneries. The first thing I wanted to see up close and personal was the very famous Positano landmark, the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta, with its green and yellow mosaic tiled dome.  It’s even more stunning in person.

Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta

Positano has many good restaurants and cafes.  We love to frequent Buca di Bacco, at the foot of the hill, right on the beach.  My husband loves the fresh local seafood in this restaurant (well, in all of Positano) and I of course love the pastas…gnocchi, tagliatelle, fusilli, orecchiette, you name it, all deliciously prepared with yummy sauces. We also love their fritto misto di pesce, a delicious dish composed of several types of fish, shrimp and calamari, even my picky daughter likes it!

Fritto misto di pesce

Fritto misto di pesce

Another great restaurant that we enjoy very much, not only for their amazing dishes, but also for the setting and views of the church dome, is Ristorante Al Palazzo located in the Hotel Palazzo Murat (another great hotel choice). We’ve enjoyed many dishes at this restaurant, but this is one place where we try to make room for dessert, they are just as amazing as their meals!

Dinner at Ristorante Al Palazzo

Dinner at Ristorante Al Palazzo

Shopping is another must in this cute little town, with the numerous quaint boutiques selling very stylish beachwear, custom-made leather sandals and plenty of beautiful ceramic and pottery stores. I highly recommend a quick visit to Umberto Carro (Via Pasitea, 30), they have amazingly beautifully crafted ceramics.  Art lovers in Positano can find creations by young local artists who exhibit their works in the Galleria Idee d’Arte (Via Pasitea 76), which has a wealth of original collector’s items. We did some shopping here as well. Delikatessen (Via dei Mulini 5, 13, 15)  is a gourmet haven to delight your palate. It sells local products, from wines to little marzipan fruits, biscuits and babas, but also lemon-scented handmade candles, artificial flowers, handmade dolls, limoncello bottles and table linens…something for everyone!

Galleria Idee d’Arte

Galleria Idee d’Arte

Beautiful ceramics shop

Umberto Carro…beautiful ceramics shop

Positano will always be one of our favorite vacation destinations.  Here are a few more photos from our various trips to this magical town…enjoy!

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Following a bus on the drive out of town…can you tell how narrow the roads are?

Ristorante La Sponda Photo courtesy of Le Siranuse

Ristorante La Sponda
Photo courtesy of Le Siranuse

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Umberto Carro ceramics

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More ceramics and pottery

Having dinner at Buca di Bacco and enjoying the view…

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Typical clothing shop in town

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The drive on the coast, photo taken from our car!

Poseidon View 2

View from our room in Hotel Poseidon…priceless!

Poseidon View

Enjoying wine at sunset on the balcony…

Positano_Sandals

One of the many sandal shops in town

Positano-Duomo

Inside view of the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta

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Fruit stand on the road

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We love this delicatessen selling great souvenirs and food items

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Ceramics with a view…

If you’ve visited Positano or have plans to, I’d love to hear what you enjoyed most. I guarantee you will fall in love with it just like we did!

My Signature

Don’t Forget Dad

So Father’s Day is rapidly approaching us (in 6 days to be exact). Poor Dad sometimes get the shaft with the school made gifts, since school is usually finished by the time Father’s Day rolls around. Most teachers will prepare something with the kids beforehand, but in case your child’s teacher ran out of time this year, I’ve compiled a short list of cool gifts to purchase, as well as some creative gifts that your kiddos can work on this week and surprise Dad with on Sunday. Homemade gifts are always the most appreciated ones. You don’t have to be particularly crafty either, all you may need is a few supplies, which many of us usually have lying around, and you would be amazed at what you can create!

Gift my daughter prepared at school in 2nd grade for my husband.

Dad’s Day gift my daughter prepared at school in 2nd grade for my husband. Jar full of peanuts with a personalized label, and an attached Father’s Day Poem.

For the Dad that loves candy

Candy Basket with a special message Photo Courtesy of the36thavenue.com

Candy Basket with free printables
Photo courtesy of the36thavenue.com

For ice-cream loving dads (who doesn’t love ice cream?) try eCreamery’s Father’s Day Gift Packs. They offer flavors like World’s Coolest Dad and Dad’s Tub o’ Love and you can get packs of sorbet or gelato as well.

Father's Day Ice Cream Collection Gift Packs Photo Courtesy of ecreamery.com

Father’s Day Ice Cream Collection Gift Packs
Photo courtesy of ecreamery.com

Manly Gift Crates – I love the idea behind ManCrates.com. From the video-gaming dad, to the hunting dad, to the athletic dad, Man Crates has your manly-man covered. These gift bundles are like Christmas-in-a-box delivered to their door!

Legends of Baseball Crate Photo courtesy of mancrates.com

Daddy Days Father Son Activity Jar Photo courtesy of whilehewasnapping.com

Daddy Days Father Son Activity Jar Photo courtesy of whilehewasnapping.com

Mason jar filled with gummies! Photo courtesy of lilluna.com

Mason jar filled with gummies! Photo courtesy of lilluna.com

Father's Day Coupons Photo courtesy of ishouldbemoppingthefloor.com

Father’s Day Coupons Photo courtesy of ishouldbemoppingthefloor.com

Cupcakes for the griller Photo courtesy of spoonful.com

Cupcakes for dads that love to grill Photo courtesy of spoonful.com

Hanging mug necktie cookies Photo courtesy of  semisweetdesigns.com

Hanging mug necktie cookies Photo courtesy of semisweetdesigns.com

Necktie Key Ring Photo courtesy of positivelysplendid.com

Father's Day Treat & Beverage Labels Photo courtesy of elli.com

Father’s Day Treat & Beverage Labels Photo courtesy of elli.com

Happy Father’s Day to all the wonderful dads!