Breathing Travel: My Photo Picks; Meaningful Scenes

Choosing a favourite photo is not an easy task so I am bending the rules a little in my coursework at Breathing Travel | MatadorU and featuring three meaningful shots taken on a recent trip to Southern California, as well as a bonus image from Spain.

I am open to your critique of the shots as this is part of the learning experience so please share any feedback if you can; I am developing a thick skin.

Here goes….

I like taking night shots, though struggle with them because I am always shooting from the hip. (The tripod hasn’t had a test run yet). This first shot, of the Capitol Records building, was taken on our final day in LA enroute to the airport. I jumped out of the car to take this photo; I tried to keep a steady hand though I was shaking in my boots for standing in the middle of a downhill sloping road.

To me, the photo is symbolic of the the music industry in its heyday; the architectural design is meant to resemble a stack of records on a turntable. I also like the lit up Patron Tequila bottle, advertised in the background.

The second image was taken at Westwood Memorial Park. It is symbolic of Old Hollywood. It is in the memory of an icon that will never be forgotten. “We are all stars, and we deserve to twinkle” – Marilyn Monroe

The third image is of The Cafe at the Getty Villa in Malibu. I like this shot for a couple of reasons. It was taken at one of my favourite museums. Secondly, in composing this photo, I was drawing inspiration from the talented photographer, Julius Shulman.

This last image – a bonus shot – was taken with my Sony Cybershot of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. I was scrolling through photos today and really liked how the cranes seemed to mimic the towers of the church. A cool juxtaposition, I thought. Gaudi’s masterpiece is due for completion in 2030 (or thereabouts).


Breathing Travel: A Simple and Savvy Start…

When an article is described as ‘evergreen’, this means that its content is based on tips, resources, or other topics that do not go out of date as quickly as those of current events.

This is the objective of the first post on my Breathing Travel | Documenting the journey blog, where posts are dedicated to my coursework at MatadorU.

Inspired by my sister’s upcoming trip as a first-timer to Europe, I decided to collate a series of tips for her. Take a look and I’d love to know whether you’d add any more tips.

SOLO TRAVEL: Keeping it Simple and Savvy

Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind. ~ Seneca

Barcelona's bustling La Boqueria

My sister is embarking on her first European trip in a couple of weeks and I couldn’t be more excited for her. Living ‘Down Under’, in 200+ year old Australia, the rest of the world can, at times, seem so out of reach; a trip to Europe is definitely high on most Aussie to-do lists. My sister’s own feelings of excitement will undoubtedly give way to wonder, amazement, and awe when she steps foot into London – her first stop after a 20+ hour plane trip. Jet lag? Shelve that for the trip back home to Sydney!

That said, I cannot help but take on the role of protective sister; about 2 weeks out of my little sister’s 4 week vacation will be traveled solo as she makes her way through Mediterranean exotica. As liberating as this part of the trip will be, I wanted to share some big sister advice on pre-planning; to try and avoid any unnecessary solo-traveler anxiety. (Mum, I am doing this for you too).

Sister, and interested others – this list is yours to print out and keep by your side.

Quaint Cannes


  1. Don’t buy a black suitcase. Buy a well-made reputable brand – preferably one that is on sale because of a low-selling design pattern, or not-so-popular colour. Why? No-one will really want to steal it, and it will be easily recognizable on the carousel.
  2. Pack clothes to look like a local. Classic basics are ideal to mix n match on a daily basis; go easy on the shoe selection. Please – no ‘I Heart Roma’ T-shirts paired with stark-white sneakers… you know why. Leave the jewels at home.
  3. Keep the toiletries to a minimum. Save room in the suitcase and head to Boots pharmacy in the UK to stock up. Buy a small sunscreen to keep in the purse – the exposed top decks of the hop on/hop off bus tours double up as rooftops for sunbaking.
  4. Be sensitive with electronics. Keep chargers and the e-book safe in your hand luggage AND buy a plug converter.
  5. Care for the Camera. Keep the compact in its case; perhaps buy a second battery and memory card that are ready-to-go in case the others run dry half way through the day. Plenty of pictures will be taken – I know it!
  6. Load up the e-book and ipod with your favourite shows, files, and songs, to make the most out of those plane or train delays. Wandering around with earphones is a no-go, especially in cities like London where crowds and traffic reign. It’s easy to get distracted.
  7. Pack miscellanea. Gather together some wet-wipes, tissues, lollies/sweets, band-aids, notebook with pen, and Panadol/Advil – stash them in your purse. They will come in handy at some point, promise.
  8. Curb homesickness. Take a few of your favourite family-and-friend photos as well as something to remind you of home. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Artful Florence

Money and Documents:

  1. Photocopy documents 3 times: passport, itinerary (see * below), airline tickets, insurance papers, and credit cards. Leave one at home with always-contactable parents/friends; put another copy in your hand luggage, and the other, in the suitcase – just in case the purse gets lost. *Create a detailed itinerary with hotel, tour, train, information, airline details; as well as printing it, email to yourself and parents/friends.
  2. Convert some money at the bank before you leave, say AUD300 into pounds and Euros. Ask for low denominations (5,10,20 notes) so you don’t have to struggle with getting change back. I don’t recommend currency exchange booths – their exchange rates aren’t the best. Use a credit card when possible, and if you need to use the ATM, find one in a well lit public place.
  3. Look up destination specific blogs. When planning your itinerary, blogs are a really good resource to seek out as they can give detailed information on the who, what, where, how, why. Honest, first-hand accounts written by everyday travelers get really specific on the most intricate details, especially the watch-outs. e.g. how much to expect to pay for a taxi from the airport; the best train to catch between cities; Metro timetable limitations, surcharges, hidden fees.
A Fiat in Roma

A Fiat in Roma


  1. Learn some key phrases. Write a few key words in the languages you’ll be encountering, and put these cue cards in your wallet, e.g. good morning, thank you, I’m not interested, HELP! Interest in the local language can go a long way – it can be fun trying to converse (with hand gestures too).
  2. Etiquette. Being culturally respectful and sensitive is always a good thing, especially as a first-time traveler. Even moreso if visiting sacred sites and churches. Here are a couple of good links for Italy: and
  3. Museum Passes and Metro cards. Sometimes buying these from home, prior to travel, can give you certain privileges like jumping the queue at those line-riddled Parisian museums.Plus, you’ve just pre-paid so that saves you even more time.  e.g. The Museum Pass in Paris – Goodbye crazy long line; Hello Musee D’Orsay!
  4. Mobile/Cell Phone. You don’t want to be hit with a huge bill for roaming charges when you get home, so give the phone company a call prior to travel and find out your international options.
  5. Pre-book as many hotel nights, train passes, and tours as possible. It’s good to have a framework to travel within – it keeps you on track as time is of the essence.

Pretty Monaco

Solo Travel Tips

  1. Indulge in the café-culture. Coffee is necessary traveler fuel! Sit in an outdoor terrace of a Parisian bistro, or stand in an espresso bar in Rome; people-watch; get a feel of a neighbourhood; and, write a postcard (to me!).
  2. Always take business cards. From the hotel, café, restaurant, store – just in case you get yourself lost in Europe’s maze of streets, or need to show the address to a taxi-driver who doesn’t speak English.
  3. Make friends if you have a good gut instinct about them but don’t give out too much personal information. You can never be too sure…
  4. Going out. Hopefully with some fellow travelers, and try and keep it close by to the hotel – double check whether the lobby is serviced 24/7. Watch your drink with an eagle eye.
  5. Hotel Tips. Ask for a room that isn’t on the ground level, use the safe to stash your valuables, befriend the concierge – they are an invaluable source for maps, tour recommendations, and getting you in to a restaurant.
  6. If you can sense trouble. If you feel that someone may be following you – enter a store or café to surround yourself with people that could potentially help you out.
  7. Keep in touch regularly. Buy a phone card from each country; find out where the Internet cafes are (preferably, there is Internet access in your hotel). Call your mother, she worries! Email you sister, she worries too!

NB: Security lines at the airport – remember to wear hole-less socks and easy to remove shoes; the less metal on you, the better; buy that bottle of water after you’ve cleared the line.

Most importantly, relax and have a great trip. Bon Voyage!

A Roman Espresso

Park Güell: Gaudi’s Whimsical Wonderland

As a kid, I was often caught up in the fantasies of Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and my favourite, The Magic Faraway Tree. Twenty years later, I revisit these sensations at Park Güell.

Enchanting Park Guell

Park Güell is located on a hill in Barcelona, above Gracia, with a panoramic view over the city and sea. Artist Anton Gaudi designed plans for this space, originally commissioned as a privately financed suburb, in his Catalan style, which embraced mythology, history, and liturgy. The urban development project never eventuated; in 1923, it was turned into this park.

A gingerbread gatehouse

Gaudi modeled Park Güell on a nineteenth-century fairground: stone walls, fringed with pinnacles, are covered in mosaic tiles; the entrance combines white topped roofs with tall chimneys and windows outlined in patterned tile.

Second gingerbread gatehouse

Barcelona myth tells of Gaudi parsimoniously ordering his workmen to scavenge broken tiles from nearby building sites on their way to work. There were also reports of the workmen taking delivery of carefully transported Venetian tiles and smashing them in front of the horrified delivery man.” *

Ornate Mosaic Ceiling

Mosaic Detail

Gaudi’s design feels like a chapter from Choose Your Own Adventure. You may choose to climb a ceremonial staircase guarded by a dragon fashioned from tiny shards of tile; or meander along a pathway leading you to an outdoor hallway flanked by stone columns supporting the walkway above. Palm trees, bougainvillea, and stone sculptures serve as decoration.

Stone Columns and Palms

All paths lead back to the main plaza, the focal point of the park designed for social gatherings. A writhing serpent sculpture slithers along the plaza’s perimeter. Here you can enjoy a glass of sangria and look upon the park, Barcelona, and the Mediterranean Sea.

Fabulous Barcelona

Park Güell is a space unlike any place I have seen. Spending an afternoon here was as close as I’ve ever get to living in a fairytale.

Guell’s Emblem

Park Güell is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site. It was designed in Gaudi’s singular Catalan style, where his “deliberate programme mixed classical myth, Catalan history, Catholic liturgy and the memory of martyrdom into something completely unique.” * This program was reflective of historical gardens in Renaissance Italy as well as Gaudi’s other works, the Nativity façade of La Sagrada Familia and the crypt at Colonia Güell.

Gaudi lived in a home here from 1906 to 1926. The Gaudi Museum (Casa Museu Gaudi) since 1963, it may be visited today for a fee and contains original works by Gaudi. In 1969 it was declared a historical artistic monument of national interest.

Casa Museu Gaudi

* Gaudi. A Biography by Gijs Van Hensbergen

The Essence of La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia must be seen to be believed. Photographs do it some justice (even my amateur snaps), but its essence is felt when standing in the thick of it all. From its intricate stonework (those detailed facades!), to its Gothic stained glass windows, to the high bell towers, to the vertigo-inducing spiral staircase, you’ll be filled with wonder… and in need of a sit down after being overly stimulated.

Spiral Staircase

Gaudi’s grand vision is easy to spot from any high point in Barcelona. I saw it from the rooftop of Casa Mila, another one of his landmarks. La Sagrada Familia does not impose. Rather, it watches over Barcelona and is emblematic of the city’s beauty.

Overarched by the Casa Mila, La Sagrada Familia stands tall in the background

As exquisite as La Sagrada Familia seems to one person, there have been naysayers including renowned artists.

For Picasso, Gaudi’s famous church, the Sagrada Familia, was something of a joke – more to Salvador Dali’s taste, he once commented, than his. In the living room in La Californie there used to be an enormous panettone that mice had reduced to a ruin: ‘Gaudi’s model,’ he would say.*

George Orwell thought it to be one of the ugliest buildings he had ever seen and “wondered why the Anarchists hadn’t wrecked it in the Civil War”.**

The decorative canopy of La Sagrada Familia’s interior

The church “could be finished some time in the first third of the 21st century”, states La Sagrada Família website. The final result will be a variation of the artist’s vision. Though the aforementioned Anarchists had spared the building during the Civil War, in 1936 they had set fire to the crypt and destroyed the models, plans, drawings and photos in Gaudi’s former workshop. Construction continues based on those reconstructed plans. For some, there’s comfort in the thought that Gaudi watches over the building’s progress. In 1926, he was buried in the Carmen Chapel in the crypt of La Sagrada Família, where his remains still lie today.

*Taken from ‘Gaudi. A Biography.’ by Gijs Van Hensbergen ** ‘Barcelona’s 25 Best’ by Fodor’s

Amazing photos can be found within the blogs below:

Barcelona: La Sagrada Familia | Amy Davies

La Sagrada Familia photoblog by Angelo Samarawickrema.

The Nativity Facade

I Heart Cava – Freixenet Tour, Spain

Prior to taking this trip, if someone had asked me what Mario Batali, Demi Moore, Antonio Banderas, Kim Basinger, and Sharon Stone have in common, I wouldn’t have been able to guess.

But, on a recent tour of Catalonia’s wine region, I learned that they have all served as brand ambassadors for one of Spain’s much-loved cava producers, Freixenet.


Cava could be the national drink of Spain. It is the beverage that is poured for every celebration, holiday, anniversary, or toast. Freixenet is the leading producer of sparkling wine made as la Methode Champenoise, a process that produces more bubbles per bottle.

Magnum to mini…

The Freixenet winery is located in the Penedès region, in a small village called Sant Sadurni d’Anoia. This town, the world’s top cava producer, uses three main grape varieties: Xarello, Macabeo, and Parellada.

The road that leads to Freixenet

Our wine tour started with a brief history of the 150-year-old family-owned company. The majority of the walking tour took place in the wine cellars, where we wove in and around the dark and damp tunnels of the underground caves where the cava is aged. Cava is the Catalan word for cave.

The underground caves

Over time, Freixenet has mastered Methode Champenoise with technology to ensure efficient production and consistent quality. A good portion of the tour was dedicated to explaining the production process; I’ve included the CliffNotes version here:

Methode Champenoise is a double fermentation process that has been used for centuries to make sparkling wines. The wines are aged from 1 to 5 years, when they are placed on special racks at a 45 degree angle. During aging, yeast sediment (called lees) settles in the neck of the bottle.

Cava’s aging process

Throughout the aging process, a vintner rotates every single bottle, daily, in a process called riddling.  This continuous turning causes the lees to slowly settle in the neck of the bottle.

The lees are removed after the aging process (called disgorging) by freezing the necks of the bottles. The pressure within the bottle forces the lees out. Once this happens, the bottles are immediately topped off with the original base wine, and sugar is added (called dosage). They are checked for consistency, corked, labeled, and packed for shipment.

This part of the tour took place in the bottling plant, and the process was shown in detail from a mini train that made its way from one level to the next in the six-storey building.

Tapas and tasting time

The tour ended with a sampling of the Cordon Negro Freixenet Cava and a tapas lunch of cheese, salumi, jamon and traditional pan con tomate — toasted bread rubbed with garlic and tomato, and drizzled with olive oil. Relaxing in a restaurant with a vine-filled view made for a relaxing experience.

A perfect meal

Freixenet, Spain’s top beverage exporter, produces over 100 million bottles of the sparkling wine every year. Its frosty black bottles are all stamped with a black-and-gold label. The mastermind behind this successful packaging idea was José Ferrer Sala – son of the family that started the Freixenet legacy – who also pioneered the brand’s use of TV advertising and marketing sponsorships featuring those aforementioned personalities. Today, the company’s annual holiday commercial is one of Spain’s most anticipated television events of the year. Shakira was the face of 2010 – I wonder who will be the face of 2011. Do you know?

TIPS: I would recommend combining this tour with another as there are a number of nearby wineries.

Freixenet’s on-site store stocks cava and branded memorabilia, such as this mascot tray we purchased.

Freixenet Mascot Serving Tray

Barcelona’s Bustling La Boqueria

When I am in a new city, I always visit the market. Bustling and lively, markets immerse you in the destination’s food scene and culture, where you taste the fresh produce, mingle with purveyors, rub shoulders with residents, and bond with other tourists. It’s also a great excuse to put those foreign language skills to use.

Bustling La Boqueria

La Boqueria is one of Barcelona’s most visited landmarks. Built in the mid-nineteenth century, the market is housed in a beautiful iron and glass building arched by an impressive iron entrance. Formally known as The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, the market is affectionately referred to as La Boqueria.

Located on La Rambla, La Boqueria welcomes a steady stream of pedestrian traffic every day except for Sundays, when the market is closed. Some places hold their weekends sacred!

Market entrance

Here, all sorts of Mediterranean treats are available: meats, seafood, breads, pastries, freshly squeezed juices, aromatic edible flowers, and green, black, and brown olives. Frutas y verduras, colourful candied fruits, and mixed nuts are piled high, begging to be sampled.

An abundance of candies

The market is also home to a few wonderful tapas spots. We visited  Pinotxo Bar, helmed by the bow-tied ever-smiling owner, Juan. With a wink, we were seated for breakfast.

Pinotxo’s Logo

Leaning against our high stools, we constantly peered over the counter to see how the dishes were prepared. Our order included vegetable frittata, sauteed spiced chickpeas, snails, garlic-and-tomato-rubbed toast with olive oil and salt (a typical recipe in Catalonia), and of course, smooth espressos with caramel crema.

Tomato-rubbed toasted bread, frittata, espressos

Since we missed taking a photo with Juan on our May 2011 visit, I was so glad to have come acroos Rick Steves’s blog, where a photo of Juan was pasted from Rick’s visit in October.

Rick Steves: Blog Gone Europe » Blog Archive » Barcelona Tumbles Down to Its Port.

Here’s a link to another blog that describes La Boqueria: Barcelona: La Boqueria | Amy Davies.

La Boqueria’s charcuterie

Williamsburg’s Street Art

Every day, after my yoga practice, I walk a different route home, if only to uncover something new about Williamsburg.

Ever since visiting Barcelona this year, I’ve been taken with street art. The Barcelona-based fashion brand, Desigual, even takes inspiration from it – their T-shirts and sweaters and logo and display windows pay testament to the art form. But, I digress.

Early morning. Street art on show. Ali in front of a pastry shop in La Rambla, Barcelona

I’d never paid much attention to street art and graffiti when I moved to Brooklyn, but I seek it out on my everyday strolls. Or maybe I’m more conscious of it because it is top of mind. Some neighbourhoods are subject to “clean up” initiatives, but Williamsburg feels like an open-art gallery where graffiti, stencil drawings, posters, sidewalk art, stickers and murals are part of its landscape. I wonder if street art inspires people to get tattoos?

Street art off of Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg

My current finds are in the slideshow:

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