Exploring Barcelona

by Bob Hoelscher 16. November 2011 19:30

In my humble opinion, Barcelona is one of the most interesting and beautiful cities in Europe. Many Mediterranean sailings depart from or conclude at its excellent, state-of-the-art cruise ship complex, so visitors frequently have the opportunity to spend a few days visiting this incredible destination before or after their shipboard adventures. 

There is literally so much to see here that one day. As the capitol of Spain’s autonomous (since 1975) region of Catalonia (Catalunya), the city’s residents proudly consider themselves to be Catalonians rather than Spaniards. 

Barcelona has done an outstanding job of successfully combining its historic and modern elements. On one hand, the ancient cobbled streets and narrow alleyways of its Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic) lead to such incredible architectural riches as the massive Gothic-style Cathedral, the adjacent Royal Palace, and picturesque squares. On the other hand, there is the bizarre but fascinating and chronically unfinished La Sagrada Familia (Holy Family Church), the renowned creation of the city’s great architect and native son, Antoni Gaudi, as well as his equally strange Casa Milà and Parc Güell. 

The city’s historic and fascinating downtown pedestrian and shopping street, Las Ramblas, leads from the Columbus Monument to the Plaza de Catalunya, where one can find the massive and traditionally European El Corte Inglés department store. And yet, not that far away is the ultra-modern, harbor front Maremagnum shopping and adjacent aquarium complex.                   

Also among the city’s top sights are its great Picasso Museum, the incredibly ornate Liceu Opera House, and Montjuïc, the mountain park west of the downtown area, which overlooks the city.  All together, the city boasts more than 50 significant museums.

Dining (especially late dining) is also a passion here, so finding your fill of authentic tapas will pose no problem. Getting around is easy, either by taxicabs or the excellent public transportation system.  Or, if you prefer, the on/off, double-decked and brightly colored Bus Turistic provides a convenient way to see all the important sights with a minimum of hassle. Regardless, Barcelona is a city that you’re sure to enjoy exploring!

Antoni Gaudi's Holy Family Church

Antoni Gaudi's Parc Guell

Las Ramblas

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Three Great Spanish Ports

Palma de Mallorca, Balearic Islands

by Bob Hoelscher 16. November 2011 19:27

Principal city of the largest of the Balearic Islands, Palma is surely also one of the most upscale, chic resort retreats of the Mediterranean. The waterfront is lined with luxury hotels and apartment buildings, and I doubt whether I’ve ever seen a port filled with so many (literally thousands) of high-end sailing and motor yachts.

Wealth is evident here wherever one looks. The island of Mallorca itself covers some 1,350 square miles, and has a population of 800,000, a number that swells to 1.5 million during the “high” summer season.

The heart of the city is its Gothic Quarter, home to Spain’s second-largest Gothic cathedral. The interior of the structure is particularly magnificent, and contains several features added later that were designed by Antoni Gaudi.

Next door is the suitably impressive Almudaina Palace, which has been a popular retreat for Spanish kings through the centuries due to the area’s superb climate.  And from this point, the elegant shops and boutiques that line the main streets of Es Born and Via Roma are but steps away. 

Other points of significant interest on the island include the elegant resort of Port Andratx, the manor houses of La Granja and Son Marroig, the lovely village of Valldemossa, and the unusual Caves of Drach, which reportedly contain the largest underground lake in the world.

Village of Valldemossa

Cathedral's main altar

Yachts and hotels lining harbor

The Andalusian Coast’s Malaga

by Bob Hoelscher 16. November 2011 19:17

On a relaxing cruise along the Mediterranean coast, I discovered Malaga. A popular tourist destination and the largest city on the Andalusian Coast, Malaga is home to roughly 670,000 residents. If one comes by ship, it is also the usual gateway to ancient Granada and the world-famous palace of Alhambra, the last Muslim stronghold in Spain. 

Malaga, the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, is conveniently near to beautiful beaches and charming villages like Mijas and Alfarnatejo. Nearby also are the prestigious resorts of Marbella and Puerto Banús, extensive vineyards and wine cellars, as well as the picturesque town of Nerja. Nerja is home to important subterranean caves that are among the largest in Europe. Excursions to all these and more should be available aboard your ship.      

Like Barcelona, Malaga boasts a significant Picasso Museum and a splendid Cathedral, built between 1528 and 1728, which combines element of the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles. Overlooking the city and offering majestic panoramic is the imposing Castillo de Gibralfaro, constructed by the Arabs during the 14th century. 

Lovely parks and gardens can be found adjacent to the downtown area, where shopping is also a popular visitor pursuit. Although the bustling port area here is relatively close to the downtown area, there is some bad news of a temporary nature. Cruise ships dock close to very substantial freighter operations, and the entire complex is torn up in the midst of a major reconstruction project, so walking into the city is all but impossible, requiring the use of a port shuttle bus at €5 per person round-trip.

Roman ruins

Statue of Pablo Picasso in front of the building where he was born

View of city from Castillo de Gibralfaro

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Three Great Spanish Ports

Penguins, Sharks and Jellies

by Brian Jewell 10. November 2011 01:53

Aquariums are some of my favorite places to visit as I travel around the country. There's sometime about coming face-to-face with exotic ocean creatures that thrills me in a way that museums and historic sites simply can't.

At Newport Aquarium, part of Newport on the Levee in Northern Kentucky, I got an up-close glimpse at hundreds of creatures, both domestic and exotic. This million-gallon aquarium features nine main exhibits, which give visitors opportunities to see marine animals from both local freshwwater and faraway oceans. The most exciting section of the aquarium is the "Surrounded by Sharks" tank, a wrap-around exhibit that has visitors walking through clear acryilic tunnels in a ginat tank as eight or nine species of sharks swim above and around their heads. It's the closest you'll ever come to deep-sea immersion without a wetsuit, and the closest you'd ever want to be to these critters without a shark cage.

I also enjoyed exhibits that showcased some of the aquarium's less ferocious residents. My co-worker Stacey and I stood mesmerized at the "Kingdom of the Penguins" exhibit, watching these lumbering birds plop off of the rocks and glide through the water with effortless ease and impressive speed. In the aquarium's aviary, we got up close to parrots and other colorful, exotic birds that pearched in low tree branches just above our heads. Some other visitors stopped to pose for pictures with the birds, who stood gently on their outstretched fingers.

My favorite display, though, was the jellyfish. These simple, translucent creatures simply amaze me — you can see right through their bodies, watching their heads undulate and their long, whispy tentatcles flutter as they ply their way through the water. The dark environment and neon lights behind the tanks give the jellies an otherworldly glow. And when you think about it, a visit to the aquarium is as close to another world as most of us will ever dare to venture.


Up close with exotic birds.

A facinating world of darkness and neon light in the jellyfish exhibit.

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Northern Kentucky

Deep thoughts at the Creation Museum

by Brian Jewell 10. November 2011 01:22

I visited the Creation Museum last week as part of a daylong editorial research trip in Northern Kentucky. There's a lot to think about in a museum that deals with such weighty subject matter as the origins of human existence and the search for absolute truth; at the end of the visit, though, two main thoughts filled my mind.

First, I was very pleasantly surprised by the scope and quality of this museum. Some museums that are closely tied to faith are also seen as haphazard or amateur, but the display design and educational content in this museum stand up to other major natural history museums in the U.S. And the museum planners didn't skimp on their vision — this $27 million facility features a planetarium, a theater, two cafes and a number of impressive dioramas and animatronic exhibits. Throughout the exhibits, the museum makes a clear, cogent case for creationism, dealing with questions about evolution, the fossil record, Noah's flood and dinosaurs, with displays that will please both casual visitors and those seeking scientific answers. The idea perpetuated by some critics that this museum is but a naive, superstitious Christian attraction is simply untrue.

The quality of the museum and its exhibits led to my second main thought as I left: If this facility were dinky, cheap, unscientific or poorly put together, it would be very easy to write it off and ignore the message of its content. But because the exhibits are thorough, compelling and well-presented, they engender a real dialogue about the origins of our universe. The Creation Museum has many enthusiastic fans — and also plenty of outspoken critics — but the fact that it is a controversial attraction doesn't diminish the importantece of its subject matter. If nothing else, the greatest success of this place may be that it forces visitors to deal with very important questions about human life, God and the search for eternal meaning. A visit to this museum makes honest thinkers seriously consider what they believe, and why they believe it.


A room-sized exhbit depicts the construction of Noah's ark.


This exhibit presents numerous natural phenomenon that seem to defy evolutionary theory.


The museum takes a firm (and controversial) stand about the source of truth and morality in the world.

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Northern Kentucky

We held our annual planning retreat at Woodford Reserve Distillery

by Mac Lacy 7. November 2011 19:52

Numerous groups toured Woodford Reserve Distillery the day we held our planning retreat there.


On November 4, we held our annual editorial planning retreat at Woodford Reserve Distillery in Woodford County, Kentucky. This is the third time we've held this retreat at this historic central Kentucky site over the past decade or so. Woodford Reserve produces premium small batch Kentucky bourbon and is owned by Brown Forman Corporation. Some buildings on this tiny, wooded site date to 1838 and the distillery was listed as a National HIstoric Landmark in 2000.

We were impressed by the number of corporate and leisure tour groups that came to the facility on this late fall day. Tim Knittel, the culinary program and meeting facility manager here, told me that this was actually a light day for groups. During football weekends, the distillery hosts up to a thousand or more guests on Fridays, he said. Ten thousand guests or more tour the distillery on busy months, he added.

Knittel and Marnie Walters, manager of sales and marketing for the distillery, are working with other entities in the central Kentucky region to package the distillery for meeting groups. We met in their creekside facility, The Dryer House. An adjacent patio offers outdoor seating for meeting attendees beside the tiny creek that runs through this property.  Tours of the distillery are complimentary for groups meeting on the premises. Catering is handled through Knittel's office and is arranged through local chef Ouita Michel, who runs another Woodford County establishment, the Holly Hill Inn.

For more information on Woodford Reserve, visit www.woodfordreserve.com.

Some buildings date to 1838 at Woodford Reserve Distillery outside Versailles, Kentucky.


We planned much of our 2013 editorial for four different publications and online editions in The Dryer House meeting facility.

The Dryer House sits on a creek and has an outdoor patio in the back for casual meetings in nice weather.

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