Marvelous Madrid!

October 09, 2023
in Spain

First Place – Travel-International – San Diego Press Club


Marvelous Madrid!


Nathalie Taylor



“I have never been to a city where there is less reason to go to bed…”

- Ernest Hemingway


In his writings, Hemingway described Madrid as a vibrant city, so vibrant that he was driven to stay awake to enjoy every minute. When I traveled to this city so beloved by him, I too, was struck by Madrid’s vibrance.

When I stepped out of the hotel on my first day in Madrid, a sunny, buzzing street scene welcomed me. I was on my way to El Retiro Park via the Metro – Madrid’s subway. The Metro saved me from sheer exhaustion more than once during my week’s stay.

El Retiro Park is a thoughtfully contrived wonderland of trees, flowers, yew hedges and unique structures. Rose-scented air enveloped me as I approached the Rose Garden, a fragrant delight where thousands of roses encircled the fountain, stood tall in rows, and meandered up what seemed like an infinite path of trellises.

Nestled comfortably in my chair at the splendid outdoor cafe – Heladería El Ancla – I was a contented participant in the life of El Retiro Park. The congenial server brought me a manchego cheese sandwich on Spanish bread. The cheese, made from sheep’s milk, had a buttery, rich flavor. A glass of sangria was the perfect complement. It was my first taste of that marvelous drink created from red wine and orange juice with floating bits of oranges, lemons and lime.

I enjoyed my lunch while listening to the various bird songs and the happy chatter of other diners. The drink was refreshing, and the view of Retiro Lake was refreshing! This immense human-created lake was completed in the 1600s. I was so enthralled by the blue rowboats moving lazily on the lake that I honestly can’t remember how long I sat there.

Just beyond the lake is the Crystal Palace, a stunning edifice made mostly of glass. The light sifted through the hundreds of glass panes in spectacular manner. The structure, once a greenhouse, has morphed into a venue for art exhibits.

Velázquez Palace, also in the park, is an impressive building with Spanish tile columns and arches gracing the exterior.

I wandered the cobblestone streets of Old Madrid through canyons of mango and yellow-hued stucco buildings, some with intricate yellow and blue tile work. I paused to inhale the mingling of scents – enticing food aromas from restaurants, and an occasional whiff of flowers from planter boxes perched on high iron-lace balconies.

Madrid was a blur of restaurants and tapas bars, and several had been frequented by Hemingway. You can eat all day, and continue feasting well into the night. It’s a paradise for hungry insomniacs.

Tapas bars are lively eateries offering varied food delights. One was so crowded that I had to squeeze through a wall of people to get anywhere near the bar. There were plenty of seats, but each one was filled! So, I enjoyed my tapas and red wine while standing at the bar. However, it didn’t matter because the thinly sliced, savory jamón on Spanish bread, took my mind off it. Jamón, a rich, nut-flavored delicacy, is the meat of a pig that has been fed a diet of acorns.

Another surprising culinary experience happened when I took my first bite of a Tortilla Española, which translated means Spanish Tortilla. When I saw the item on the menu, I assumed I would be served something wrapped in a flour tortilla, but this was a fluffy round omelette made with egg, potato and onion. I looked for a tortilla but didn’t find one – at least not what this Californian would think of as a tortilla. At first, I thought it had been a mistake, but no, I was served the correct dish, and it was delightful.

I enjoyed a motorcoach day tour, which was an excellent way to get an overview of the city. The fountains in Madrid are enormous displays of water, and the view from my high coach seat was perfect. The 1782 Cibles Fountain is a striking art piece located in a traffic roundabout. The massive marble and stone statue depicts the goddess Cyble on a chariot pulled by two lions. The constant water rushing over the rounded sides of the two-tiered fountain is impressive. Providing the backdrop for the fountain is the magnificent castle-like Madrid City Hall. Inside, immense chandeliers hang from ceilings, creating a play of light on the ornate columns and walls. Other rooms had stunning stained glass ceilings that filled the entire room with light.

At the Museo Lázaro Galdiano I marveled at the varied collections, including stunning paintings by El Greco, Velázquez, and Goya. The building itself was a work of art with painted ceilings and elaborate staircases. A painting called El Salvador Adolescente (The Adolescent Savior) is attributed to Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, who worked in Leonardo da Vinci’s studio. However, for some time, the painting was actually attributed to da Vinci, and some experts still believe that it is a da Vinci work. I was drawn to this stunning painting, almost as if it were alive. The skin, though pale, had an indescribable vibrance to it. It almost glowed. Also, I felt that I could reach out and feel the soft pleats of his robe. The eyes conveyed a deep sense of sorrow.No matter who painted it, the work is truly a masterpiece.

The Royal Palace is an architectural wonder perched high on a hill overlooking Madrid with the Pyrenees in the distance. The palace is a treasure trove of ornate columns, gilded mirrors, exquisite chandeliers, and massive tapestries. The armories house impressive horse and cavalier armors, as well as boy-sized armors, and even armor for dogs!

The Prado Museum holds some of the world’s finest paintings, including works by Rubens, Rembrandt, Goya and Picasso. Goya’s paintings were fascinating. His early work featured families and royalty in happy times. However, his later paintings, after he lost his hearing, were dark and gloomy. It was an interesting transition.

Guernica is Pablo Picasso’s 1937 work depicting the horror of a bombing by the Nazis in the Spanish town of Guernica. The oil painting is wall- sized and commanding. Grey and black hues further the somber tone. I sat in front of the poignant work for quite some time.

On my last night in Madrid I attended a lengthy and spectacular stage show called Zarzuela, which featured a repertoire of dance and music ranging from opera to ballet to Flamenco. The Flamenco costumes were elaborate with several tiers of vibrant red ruffles. When the dancers twirled and clapped their castanets to the beat of the guitar music, it was a powerful and passionate display.

My time in Madrid was an explosion of color, scents and sights. Did I stay up all night like Hemingway suggested? No, but even if I had stayed awake, one week was just not enough time to fully appreciate marvelous Madrid.Madrid.NTphoto.5 Madrid.NTphoto.4

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A Royal Time in Windsor

August 03, 2022
Princess Eugenie's Wedding Procession in Windsor 12 October 2018
                                                             Princess Eugenie’s Wedding Carriage ~  Nathalie Taylor Photo
                     By Nathalie Taylor
As the Windsor Car’s Mercedes pulled up to the Langton House Bed and Breakfast, my heart welled with joy. I felt like I was coming home. The commodious Langton House, built in 1890 as a residence for Queen Victoria’s minor government officials, is located on a quiet, tree-lined road not far from Windsor Castle. For the majority of my visits to Windsor, this welcoming abode has been my anchor point – a place to return after a lively day – a place to relish the day’s experiences. A place to dream.

Famed for the largest inhabited castle in the world, the historic city of Windsor has captivated me since my first visit. Windsor Castle, with its acres of stone walls, has been home to England’s sovereigns for more than 900 years.

St. George’s Chapel, on the castle grounds, practically boasts of its stained glass windows framed by Gothic traceries. It is the keeper of much of England’s history. In 2018, more history was made – in the form of two royal weddings. My mother and I were fortunate to tour the castle a week after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s May wedding. Several wedding flowers remained, including a massive altar vase overflowing with fragrant white roses, peonies and lacy green foliage.

In October, another royal wedding – uniting Princess Eugenie of York and Jack Brooksbank – took place at St George’s Chapel. I happened to be in town and staying at the Langton House, so I walked to the castle with hopes of securing a perfect place to view the procession. First I stood in the security queue for about an hour, then I kept my spot at the railing for two hours.

The streets were crisscrossed with Union Jacks draped from building to building, and a mannequin in the Madame Posh window wore a lacy white wedding dress made entirely of frosting. The crowd waved plastic Union Jack flags that were distributed at the security queue. It was sheer royal wedding frenzy.

When the procession began, the Queen’s Guards marched, followed by the Scots Guards. Red-coated guards sitting straight on their massive white steeds preceded the carriage. Then, Princess Eugenie and her husband emerged from the castle grounds riding in the gilt-rimmed, glass-enclosed Scottish State Coach pulled by four grey horses. I was close enough to see the detail in Princess Eugenie’s diamond and emerald-studded tiara. I felt like I had stepped into a fairy tale.

After the procession, I enjoyed lunch from my window table at the Harte and Garter’s Tower Brasserie directly across from the castle. The duck confit served with braised red cabbage, mustard mash and asparagus was a meal fit for a princess. The duck was tender, and the red cabbage was a perfect blend of sweet and savory. As I enjoyed my meal, I watched a string of tourists taking selfies against the castle wall. A flock of birds soared overhead, casting winged shadows on the ancient castle stones.

The Drury House is also a wonderful lunch spot complete with wavy wood paneling and an intricate wood and stone fireplace. The structure was built in 1645 to accommodate staff from Windsor Castle. But, legend has it, that a tunnel connecting Drury with Windsor Castle was used by King Charles II to visit his mistress, Nell Gwyn. The tunnel is now barricaded. I have enjoyed several traditional English meals in the historic, fetching atmosphere of the Drury House.

My mother and I were fortunate to attend the 75th Royal Windsor Horse Show. It was our third visit, but Queen Elizabeth II has been present at the show since the event’s inception in 1943. We sat in the “Windsor Enclosure” near the Royal Box. From our front-row seats, we could hear the rhythmic cadence of hoof beats, and the gasp of the audience when a horse cleared a particularly high “jump.” Queen Elizabeth II, dressed in an elegant pink suit with matching hat, presented the trophies. Since we were not far from where the trophies were presented, I, once again, felt like I had stepped into a storybook.

How do I experience Windsor when there are no royal affairs? Oftentimes, I book Windsor Cars for private tours, including Hampton Court and Highclere Castle. A preferred destination is Royal Holloway, University of London, near Windsor. As our car passes through the massive gates, I am in awe of the extraordinary red Brick Founder’s building, built in Gothic Revival Style and completed in 1881.

Beautiful in the spring when lavender-hued blossoms surround them are the stately Roman ruins located in Windsor Great Park’s Virginia Water area. The Romans didn’t build them there, but the awe-inspiring columns were part of a Roman temple that was transported to England in the 19th century.

Flowing through Windsor is the River Thames, and a perfect way to enjoy it is the two-hour French Brothers River Cruise. From my open-air seat, I savor the view as we drift past willow trees, swans, manor houses, boathouses, and churches. The narrow boats are always a curiosity with their bold colors and fanciful decorations. They look like sea-going Gypsy caravans. The willow trees along the river banks are perfectly trimmed, thanks to the swans who enjoy nibbling at the leaves. The ride through the Boveney Lock is intriguing. The crew quickly ties up the craft; then, it’s such a strange sensation as the boat slowly sinks five feet.

The historic and castle-like Oakley Court on the River Thames was our home during the Royal Windsor Horse Show. Elegance dominates the Victorian Gothic hotel built in 1859. We were welcomed with a bubbly glass of Champagne, which we sipped from cozy chairs at the open window of our third-floor room. Birds sang sweetly as we watched boats drift along the river. The expansive green lawn, ancient trees, and trickling fountain completed the serene setting. The Oakley Court embodies all that Windsor is to me – history, elegance, and beauty – and a few bubbly surprises.

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Cannons, Cicadas and Sweet Tea ~ A West Virginia Encounter

August 03, 2022

West.Virginia. 2017


By Nathalie Taylor


While crossing a bridge over the Shenandoah River in West Virginia, I felt a John Denver song coming on… “Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River…” My mother and I were traversing country roads to get a feel for the countryside – the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as the yawning golden fields of the valleys. Most of our exploration was confined to Jefferson County, but we did stray across the county line once or twice.

Some of the valleys were dotted with hay rolls. That’s right. While we bale our hay curt and rectangular – they roll it in a highly picturesque manner. This creates a soft landscape, especially when the fields stretch on and on with no fences to bind them. Yellow butterflies flitted and twirled about. It was “almost heaven” with the sweet scent of hay and the endless blue skies.

That is where I first heard the cicadas. At first, I thought they were crickets, but it was daylight and I was puzzled as to why they were singing so loudly. There must have been millions of them – out of sight – hiding in the hay fields. They sang and sang and sang – until we were out of range.

Charles Town, West Virginia is 40 miles from Dulles Airport, but worlds away. The Carriage Inn, our home in Charles Town, is a stately historic mansion lovingly transformed into a bed and breakfast by our gracious hosts Donn and Marie Davis. Its rich history includes visits from General Robert E. Lee and General “Stonewall” Jackson of the Confederate Army. During the Union occupation of the area, General Philip Sheridan and General Ulysses S. Grant met for strategy meetings in what is now the dining room of the house.

After the war, a Confederate bullet mold was found hidden under one of the hearths, and a Confederate flag under another. (The flag is now in a museum.) If the flag had been discovered by General Grant during his visit, historians surmise that the house would have been burned. We stayed in the Shenandoah Suite, which afforded a comforting view of green lawns and towering trees. Breakfast at the Carriage Inn gives one the feeling of being a guest at a Southern plantation. I could imagine Scarlett O’Hara approaching – her green taffeta gown rustling as she enters the elegant dining room. My mother and I – two California Girls – felt like Southern Belles while enjoying cloud-like quiche, luscious fresh fruit, and other culinary delights.

Mother and I visited the place where her great-grandfather, Captain William Bristol, fought for the Union in the Civil War. He camped in the area that is now Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. (We know this because we have copies of letters he wrote describing the area.) Harpers Ferry is situated in a gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.

We sat on a bench overlooking the rivers where three states come together – West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia. It was peaceful and beautiful. The emerald-hued rivers meandered on, a light breeze tapped the leaves in the trees, and the birds sang sweetly. The cannons on the hill had long been stilled and told nothing of the battles of 1862. My mother and I sat on the bench – in silence – for a very long time. We were both in awe of the fact that her great-grandfather camped here, and fought here, 155 years ago. But, no ghosts of cannon fire shattered our peace that day.

Shepherdstown is a fascinating historical town on the banks of the Potomac River. Rough-hewn stone houses, as well as some brick buildings, line the narrow streets. We were puzzled by a wooden structure situated near the riverbank – it was tall and narrow with a door that opened to absolutely nothing. A step out that door would be fatal. It could have been a pump house, but it remains a mystery to us.

O’Hurley’s General Store, Shepherdstown, is quintessential West Virginia. A cat named Murphy wanders the store and perches where he pleases. They advertise an eclectic mix of goods, from dinner bells to anvils to frogs. Knowing this, we took our time. We didn’t just browse a bit and then go on with our day, no, we took our time to explore all the nooks and crannies. We found tools, crockery, nails, but not one frog.

O’Hurley’s is like a museum – even the toilet was photo-worthy. My mother wanted a photo because it resembled the toilet at the family ranch house where she was raised. It was wooden with a high wooden tank and a flushing chain. Yes, a finer, more picturesque toilet was never seen.

Lunch at Shepherdstown’s Blue Moon Café was marvelous. The trickle of the meandering stream welcomed us to the tree-shaded courtyard dining area. An imposing large-leafed paulownia tree bent over the patio, and tiny sparrows hopped nervously from one branch to the other. In the shadow of the trees, we sipped our “sweet tea,” (an amazing Southern elixir), and enjoyed our sandwiches. The Gobbler was a delicious choice. It was served on a Kaiser roll stuffed with turkey and bacon, then drizzled with Russian dressing. Melted provolone cheese crowned the delicious concoction. The mingling of scents – the stream, flowers, sweet tea, and delicious aromas from the kitchen, swirled into one fragrant whiff of the South.

Yes, West Virginia is far and away, and there are probably few in our area who have even thought of making it a travel destination, but it is a delightful experience, especially for those interested in the Civil War era. It’s also a fairly seamless trip from San Diego. Southwest Airlines offers flights to Washington Dulles International Airport with only one plane change.

When it came time to leave the cannons and cicadas and sweet tea, we passed the last remnant of our encounter with the captivating Southern culture…Frying Pan Road.

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A Tale of Two Chinatowns: San Francisco and Toronto

August 03, 2022

By Nathalie Taylor

Python skin-layered musical instruments, jujube mooncakes, and pagoda-style roofs – all this can be found in China. However, when venturing beyond the edge of the ordinary –  a little closer to home – I seek out the boldly eclectic Chinatown neighborhoods of San Francisco, California and Toronto, Ontario.

     What is the lure of these two neighborhoods that share a common spirit? It’s the thrill of a frenzied pace of life as residents brush and jostle each other on narrow, and often uneven, walkways. It’s the fascination of the Chinese culture that has arisen in these cities – a culture that is neither faux nor contrived, but has emerged from the residents’ earnest desire to live life enhanced by the cuisine, architecture, and trappings of their distant civilization.

These two boroughs are singing centers of life for the residents, which makes them intriguing destinations for visitors.

Herbalists hawk their wares in cramped shops that emit unique scents – dried mushrooms, the woody scent of ginseng…and some unrecognizable aromas. Roasted ducks dangle from store windows.

Elderly men sit at street corners playing ancient-looking stringed instruments. Shops are crowded with wares, some of it kitschy, some authentic. It’s all meshed into two captivating and inspiring entities – each called Chinatown.


San Francisco, California – Chinatown West

The Dragon Gate on Grant Avenue heralds the entrance to Chinatown San Francisco with a roar of color. This neighborhood, established in the 1840s, is purported to be the largest Chinese community outside of Asia.

At first glance, the area might seem like a mishmash, but there are layers to uncover, and each layer has its own appeal. Look high for green pagoda-style roofs and streetlamps circled with metal dragons. Lower your gaze a bit to see flashes of neon signs and walls emblazoned with red Chinese characters.

The elaborate Grant Avenue window displays encourage loitering. Some store windows are so crammed with art objects that it would take an hour to see every detail. Other windows have just one piece as the focal point – such as a jade dragon with lustrous curves, or a pretentiously carved elephant tusk.

The aromas that emerge from the conglomeration of markets lend an earthy luster to the air. Sunlight sifting between high buildings is somehow softened as it flows to the street.

There is a noticeable predominance of the color red. To the Chinese, red symbolizes good luck and prosperity. A string of red lanterns across Grant Avenue wag their tassels in the breeze. Red paper banners bursting with gold Chinese characters welcome patrons to restaurants and shops.

Tablecloths, rice bowls, tea cups and silk brocade jackets are abundant and reasonably priced – but shopping could get a bit tedious as many of the same items exist in shop after shop.

However, before your shoe leather wears out I am sure that you will eventually discover something unique. At Old Shanghai on Grant Avenue I found vintage carved wooden plaques that were probably once part of a door or cabinet.

I never pass up the Far East Café where several generations of my family have dined for 90 years, enjoying the exotic air of this Grant Avenue landmark which opened its doors in 1920. The café retains historical ambiance with faded 100-year-old paintings and intricately carved light fixtures. The curtained mahogany booths, where up to five can dine in privacy, still carry an aura of mystery. I always expect James Bond to emerge from behind the red velvet curtains at any moment!

Sitting with friends in one of the mahogany booths, I selected the Mu Shu Pork, which is a delectable taste swirl of tender shredded pork, fluffy eggs, black mushrooms and bamboo shoots. My friends chose the Dim Sum platter and we happily shared.

After lunch we enjoyed mooncakes at the Far Eastern Bakery. These desserts are filled with jjujube (date) paste and provided a sweet finale to our savory meal. The less adventurous can’t go wrong with the bakery’s traditional almond biscuits. None of the labels are in English, so, practice makes perfect, and the point and sample method usually works… at least for me.

As night fell and cable car clangs resonated through Chinatown, the mist began to creep up from the bay like a silent dragon, edging through alleyways and around lampposts. I inhaled Chinatown’s intense scents, trying very hard to isolate, identify, and then memorize them.


Toronto, Ontario — Chinatown East

On this July visit, it was over 100 degrees, steamy, and an unusually hot temperature for Toronto. But, I was on a mission to experience Chinatown, so I had the taxi driver drop me off at the intersection of Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue, Chinatown’s hub. Armed with my water bottle, I wove a path in and out of semi-air-conditioned shops.

Toronto Chinatown’s buildings are not as old nor as ornate as San Francisco’s, even though the community was established in 1878 when one of the first Chinese immigrants set up a laundry. However, colorful evidence of Chinese culture is still to be discovered – down the narrow alleys, I found a fish market, herb specialist, and a market with rows of bins crammed with mostly unfamiliar vegetables.

In Toronto, the color red is not as prevalent as in San Francisco. Pagoda-style roofs are also more difficult to find. Because I had come to equate both with Chinatown, it was necessary to refocus a bit in order to uncover the spokes of this neighborhood’s cultural wheel.

A street vendor peddling a wonderful drink made from sugar cane juice was a welcome sight, and something I had not experienced in San Francisco. The kiosk was framed by rows of sugar cane – like a jungle in the midst of the city. If you have ever chewed on a piece of sugarcane – this drink had the same flavor – sweet and refreshing.

Bakeries were small and looked to be family-owned. Most of the pastries were listed in Chinese, so it was a gamble, but also a taste adventure. Fortunately, everything I chose came in varying degrees of delicious, but one warning – don’t come with any preconceived notions of taste sensations.

I ordered a round, rather benign-looking bun in a Dundas Street bakery, then bit into something hard and black that tasted vaguely like fruit. After I overcame the initial texture shock, I rather enjoyed the taste. In the glass case, a pastry with a faint lavender hue caught my eye. I thought it might be a lotus seed bun, but couldn’t prove it by the label, which was written in Chinese. The pastel lavender was quite alluring and the delicate sweet flavor made the pastry even more seductive.

Toronto has fewer shops than San Francisco, however, the stores are more specialized, and the same items are not repeated over and over. Navigating narrow aisles of the Dundas Street shops was a bit like negotiating an obstacle course, but the effort was worth it. I was pleased to find brocade silk purses, a small hand-painted drum, and jade chopsticks.

After my shopping spree, I began to think it was not only time for lunch, but also time to seek an air-conditioned refuge. Roasted ducks hanging in windows have been, to me, a sign of authentic Chinese food, so when I saw the ducks drooping in the window of the House of Gourmet I knew I had come to the right place.

The hostess took one look at me, rattled off something in Chinese, then led me to a table with other solo diners. Scanning the room, I seemed to be the only tourist around – a good sign. Seated next to me was another non-Chinese – a local businessman who was fluent in both Cantonese and English. Across the table sat an elderly Chinese man and a Chinese woman about fifty.

I chose the tame Sliced Beef Fried Rice as I needed some comfort food after battling the heat. The beef was tender and the rice was enhanced by scrambled eggs, soft peas, and a hint of ginger.

The businessman who spoke Cantonese turned to me and relayed a message from the Chinese woman across the table. It seemed that she was concerned because they didn’t put enough beef in my rice dish. I smiled and told my “interpreter” to tell her thank you, but it looked just right to me. Very interesting dynamics when you share a table with three strangers, two of whom do not speak English. The elderly Chinese man was quietly enjoying his fried dumplings. I smiled, he smiled, and we were all very happy with our meals – even if mine was a bit thin on the beef, or so said the Chinese woman across the table.

     As I wandered down to the corner of Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue to wait for my taxi, exotic sounds emerged from a deftly played instrument wielded by a frail, elderly Chinese man. The music lent an ethereal aura to the frantic street corner.

     His instrument was an “erhu.” Two-stringed and violin-like, it was layered with python skin. The erhu looked well-used, with python scales curling up a bit.

As he drew the ragged horsehair bow across the metal strings, a lovely, lucid flow of music emerged — music that conjured up visions of bamboo rickshaws and placid rice fields. It was the sound of a far-away civilization, but also the same vibrant civilization that became manifest in Toronto over a hundred years ago.”

Because no city ever remains constant, and subsequent visits to these thriving Chinatowns will be a bit different, I attempted to savor each detail of my sojourn to these cultural portals that offer glimpses of a distant and ancient land called China.




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Dazzling the Senses in the Swiss Alps

November 11, 2021




By Nathalie Taylor


“Breathtaking!” my mother said with emotion, as our motorcoach rounded a curve and the Swiss Alps came into view. “I never thought I would see the Alps.”

Mother and I were enjoying a wonderful holiday in Zürich when we took the remarkable day tour from Zürich, Switzerland to Vaduz, Liechtenstein. It was impossible to tell when we left Switzerland and entered Liechtenstein because there were no signs or border entry points. We traveled through lush valleys framed by the massive Alps. It was spring, and the earth’s colors were exuberant and varied.

The beauty that I experienced on this tour dazzled the senses – the majestic Alps towered over valleys carpeted with wispy green grass and rainbows of flowers. The collective scent of spring flowers and unnamed grasses was intoxicating.

Our coach ambled lazily on the narrow road, which followed Zürichsee (Lake Zürich) to the town of Rapperswil on the southeast end of the lake. We stopped for a walking tour and lunch in an area called Altstadt, or in English, Old Town. Imposing buildings, with muted pastel exteriors, were designed in varied medieval architectural styles.

Mother and I walked the cobblestone streets to Rosenstadter, an engaging cafe in the Fischmarktplatz area of Altstadt. No scent of fish remained, only the fresh scent of lake water and tempting aromas drifting from the cafes.

At our outdoor table we enjoyed the Gorgonzola and Parma Ham Tarte. The pastry base was pizza-shaped, and a bit flaky. We reveled in the mix of flavors, savoring the salty rich taste of gorgonzola and the delicate savory sweetness of Parma ham. As aromatic as our tarte was, I couldn’t help but think what enticing scents emanated while it was bubbling in the oven.

We discovered it was a tradition to wash hands in the fish market fountain, so after lunch we participated, placing our hands in a stream of water that spurted from a lion head spout. The fountain was completed in 1845, so I couldn’t begin to imagine how many have participated in this cleansing ritual over the years.

Schloss Rapperswil, a castle built around 1200 AD, towers above Lake Zürich. This imposing structure, with stark grey walls and lofty, severe towers, was the last site we saw in Rapperswill.

Entering the domain of the Alps was like wandering into a storybook world. Fortunately, the road to Liechtenstein was narrow, so, at our slow pace, we were able to appreciate the timber chalets with their gabled roofs, decorative carvings, and planter boxes with cascading flowers. The road snaked and curved – up hills to enchanting hamlets – then down to valleys where sheep grazed on green hills in the muted sunlight.

The shapes of the snow-laden mountains varied considerably. Some had summits with rounded domes. Others were sheer and well-defined, with grey jagged peaks and barren rock walls. Rivulets of snow trailed down the mountainsides like silk ribbons.

As we crossed the Rhine River, vineyards came into view – rows and rows of hearty grapevines. At this point, our coach driver allowed us to view the Alte Rheinbrücke (Old Rhine Bridge), a wooden structure that spans the river. Built in 1901, the bridge connects Switzerland and Lichtenstein, and is closed to motor traffic.

Liechtenstein is ruled by Prince Hans-Adam II who resides in Schloss Vaduz, a stunning castle perched on a hillside in the shadow of the snow-laden Alps. A portion of the castle dates back to the twelfth century, and the tower walls are thirteen feet thick. We appreciated the castle’s mountainous glory from afar, as it was not open to the public.

In the town of Vaduz we were given time to shop and explore on foot. We marveled at the Cathedral of St. Florin’s lovely neo-Gothic exterior, but didn’t have time to wander inside.

The main tourist area of Vaduz is where we found the post office/shop that stamped our passports. Not all countries stamp passports now, so it was exciting to get the Lichtenstein stamp.

Cows in Lichtenstein are famous for their bells, so I was thrilled to find a souvenir cowbell. It was so colorful and kitschy, with a painting of the castle on the bell, and rainbow hues on the fringed strap, that I just had to hand over some of my Swiss francs. I also discovered some exquisite embroidered items, adorned with edelweiss and other native flowers. More francs spent.

As our coach left Vaduz, we traveled through a pastoral region of eastern Switzerland known as Heidiland. We could understand why the stunning countryside had provided inspiration for Johanna Spyri as she wrote the classic story, Heidi.

After the coach stopped, mother and I explored the countryside alone, while others walked in the opposite direction. We ambled along crooked pathways lined with flowers and tall grasses. Clusters of dogwood blossoms and a variety of mountain blooms punctuated the green valleys, blending in colorful harmony. A slight breath of wind carried an earthy scent from the meadows.

Our last coach stop was an inspiring vantage point overlooking the placid turquoise waters of Lake Walenstadt where the Churfirsten mountains rose sharply above the water’s edge.

As our coach moved farther and farther from the Alps, and raindrops began to cling to my window, I felt a pang of regret. My alpine journey was over much too soon. But, the glorious countryside, alive with craggy mountains, vibrant wildflowers, and tranquil lakes, left me forever transformed.


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Escape to the Inspiring and Captivating Mission Inn!

August 28, 2014

Bougainvillea brightens the Mission Inn’s Spanish Courtyard

“The best part of beauty is that which no picture can express.”  — Francis Bacon

Imagine sitting in a 100-year-old patio courtyard surrounded by vibrant red bougainvillea twining and twirling around static iron balconies.  You look up and see a Della Robbia-style Madonna and Child plaque on a high Moorish-type wall with a thousand intricate curves.  Red Spanish tile walkways show slight dips from a hundred years of footfall.  Twittering birds flit to a fountain trickling small streams of water to separate basins.  Does this sound like a peaceful, somewhat exotic destination?  Does it make you want to reach for your passport and be whisked off to Spain or Morocco?


Even though this courtyard with its terra-cotta tones resembles a captivating destination like Spain, it is right here in Southern California – Riverside to be exact.  For me it is reminiscent of a trip to Spain. Others might be taken back to a time in Morocco or Italy – but most will probably just revel in the immediate beauty of this historic hotel called the Mission Inn.


One of the joys of traveling is to be transported to a world that is inspiring and beautiful…and will serve to awaken the senses. A visit to the Mission Inn will do just that.


The Mission Inn is close enough for lunch, and distant enough for an overnight stay.  Built in “Mission Revival” style, the hotel has had various construction phases, but the first wing was completed by Frank Miller in 1903, over a 100 years ago.


This architectural showpiece is furnished with priceless treasures and unique objects that Miller collected during his world travels. He amassed a staggering amount of bells, 400 of which can be found on the grounds of the inn.  Tiffany stained glass windows, Chinese vases and various architectural accoutrements unite in a delightful array of the eclectic – like a small-scale Hearst Castle.


Guests are free to wander most of the property and discover a myriad of architectural wonders – a Spanish-style chapel, fountains, reflecting pools, intricately fashioned doors and colorful tiled roofs.  Like the Hearst Castle, there is something fascinating around every corner.


Dining at the Spanish Patio restaurant is a delightful and satisfying experience.  Beauty is everywhere, and it’s almost enough to distract you from your fantastic feast – almost.  The lunch buffet is inviting with a counter laden with such delicacies as fresh salmon, flat iron steak and a marvelously crisp cheddar lavosh.  The savory choices vary daily, but the dessert table remains fairly constant.  That is where guests find a stunning array of petit fours and tea cakes – with chocolate or without – but always fresh.


In the guest rooms differences abound. This is not a uniform hotel – it is marvelously eclectic.  Our suite was comfortable and sparkling clean. A balcony afforded a view of the pool, and at night we could look down on a vine-covered arch with bells in lighted niches. The bells rang melodically and were not at all intrusive.


A visit to the Mission Inn will awaken your senses to appreciate this oasis in the midst of a bustling world – this place where art, architecture, fine food and delicious scents intermingle beautifully.

Mission Inn Courtyard

Moorish architecture lends an Old World feel to the Mission Inn


Mission Inn Desserts

Petit fours and tea cakes are offered during the Spanish Patio Lunch Buffet


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