Freixenet Winery - Sant Sadurní d'Anoia

Freixenet-blog Freixenet Winery

Just a 45 minute drive west of Barcelona in Sant Sadurní d'Anoia is the Freixenet winery, and the birth place of the worlds best Cava!

Freixenet produces more than 100 million bottles of Cava each year. 3 types of white Spanish grapes are used (Macabeo, Parellada and Xarello), but Freixenet uses only one type of yeast to ferment all of their Cava.

The winery was formed mid-19th century when two winemaking families joined. The Ferrers owned La Freixeneda, and the Sala family who had been exporting wine to South America since 1830. The granddaughter of the founder of the Casa Sala wine company married Pedro Ferrer of La Freixeneda. The company they formed took the name Freixenet.

Unfortunately also during the mid-19th century the Great French Wine Bligh occurred which eventually spread to Spain. In 1872 phylloxera hit Spanish vineyards. Phylloxera is a microscopic insect – like an aphid, that eats the roots of grapes. These insects were unknowingly introduced by French wine makers when they imported American grape vines to be more competitive. According to Levi Gadye: “the phylloxera preferred the leaves of imported American vines, and the roots of local French vines.” The solution to this pest problem was to graft European vines with the aphid-resistant American vines. The majority of the rootstock came from Texas.

Then in 1898 the Spanish-American war happened which decimated some of their best markets. By 1914 with the loss of the Spanish colonies in South America, they started focusing on sparkling wine, which was in short supply in Spain.

Around 1916 time the cellars in Sant Sadurní d'Anoia were built. These are the cellars you will get to tour if you visit the estate. The main building was designed by the Catalan modernist architect Josep Ros i Ros.

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Antoni Gaudí

blog-gaudi-1 Gaudi - Barcelona

There are many beautiful buildings in Barcelona, but some of the most unique and distinctive structures including the Sagrada Família Basilica were designed by Antoni Gaudí.

Born in Reus in 1852, Antoni Gaudí received his Architectural degree 26 years later. From the beginning his designs were a radical departure from traditional construct. Gaudí took his inspiration from nature and his work developed an organic style inspired by natural forms. The flow of water, grain of wood, the way tree branches grow and spread out, the symmetry and also randomness of nature – all can be seen in his work. He normally didn’t draw plans but rather preferred to create models and sculptures so he could feel the work taking shape in 3 dimensions.

Most of Gaudí’s work is in Barcelona, including his masterpiece, the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (Sagrada Família Basilica), originally started in 1883 but as of 1915 he was completely devoted to working on up until the day he died. The Basilica should be finally completed in 2026.

He also used color to a much greater extent than his contemporaries, using broken pieces of ceramic which normally would have been discarded, stained glass, and tiles. He planned every detail right down to custom door knobs. As you travel around Barcelona you will see how he used every different kind of material – they each had a purpose. From wrought Iron to curved stonework, plaster, and incredible woodwork that achieves a flowing organic feel for his interiors.

Gaudí preferred solitude, most people considered him arrogant and anti-social but the few close friends he had considered him to be a kind man who only wanted to work and be left alone. As he grew older he neglected his appearance and dressed in old, worn-out suits. Sometimes people saw him on the street and mistook him for a beggar. In 1926 just before his 74th birthday he was hit by a trolley car, and since he was dressed like a bum, he did not receive immediate first aid. Soon after he was finally taken to a hospital where he died.

Gaudí´s work demonstrated a completely new way to approach architecture. And I think to some small extent he has influenced many architects worldwide, while challenging the way we look at structures. There are still plenty of massive ugly brown square buildings – but once in a while an architect will stray from the beaten path.

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Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex at Cape Canaveral

Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center

Thanks to SpaceX, a new era of human spaceflight has begun.

On May 30th we launched Astronauts from American soil for the first time since the final liftoff of the space shuttle program July 8, 2011.  The Falcon 9 rocket carried the Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station.

I remember watching the old Sci-Fi films and even the Flash Gordon serials where they always had spaceships that could take off and land but now it feels like that technology is closer than ever with the SpaceX reusable launch system development program.

Science fiction authors have always set the goals for science and technology.  After all, if you can’t image something how can you create it?  There are the people who dream and there are the people who make those dreams reality.

Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel by Michio Kaku is an interesting book that explores the “science of the impossible”.  Things now that we take for granted over 100 years ago would have been dismissed as fantasy. Kaku gives examples of and discusses different technologies and the science behind them.  He uses Science Fiction to explore the future of technological advances and the possibilities of how they may come about.

Yes, the Dragon is still a capsule that floats to Earth on parachutes, but the interior finally looks like something from Star Trek.  Touch screens take the place of switches, gauges, knobs and dials. And the Space suits are sleek and modern looking whereas older suits were reminiscent of deep sea divers.

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Salvador Dalí House Museum Port Lligat

Salvador Dalí House Salvador Dalí House

One of the things that really blew my mind when I first saw Dali’s work in person was the scale of the paintings. 

It one thing to look at a plate in a book on art, but when you stand before a painting in a gallery it’s a totally different experience. It’s like the painting is suddenly a real thing and not just something left over in your imagination like fragments of a dream.  When you are looking at a photograph of a painting in a book you subconsciously imagine the size of the painting (at least I do).  And even though there is usually a size under the image,  I still had all of these predetermined dimensions in my head.   So, when I saw my first Dali paintings I discovered some that I had imagined were a couple feet wide were actually inches across, and others like The Hallucinogenic Toreador were up to 13 feet tall.

I’ve met my share of people who are disgusted by Dali, but I believe the man was a genius. Everything he did was on a grand scale – from the seemingly minuscule where he used a small brush with all but a couple bristles plucked out to the enormous ceilings at the Dalí Theatre-Museum.  He never seemed to be constrained by size.

Salvador Dali had a house in Port Lligat, He lived here for most of his life, from 1930 to 1982.  Port Lligat is a small fishing village located on the Costa Brava of the Mediterranean Sea, in the municipality of Cadaqués in Catalonia, Spain.  Currently the house is a museum - Salvador Dalí House - Portlligat Museum.  The “House” was originally several small fishermen huts that Dali bought up and used to create this incredible home which is maintained exactly as it was when he lived there.  I did notice that all books had generic assorted colored covers on them (Or possibly the actual books had been removed and these substituted).

You can see the last couple paintings Salvador was working on – his chair, paints and brushes left as they were. He had a special apparatus built where he could raise and lower large paintings through a slot in the floor.  He did the same thing in a New York hotel once.

Luckily, we had a great tour guide who was very knowledgeable and also impressed by how much I knew about Dali, and he did me a favor.  At one point he whispered that I should drop back out of view of the rest of the group and sneak up a tiny flight of stairs where I could go up on the roof.  From there I could see a large man made up of found objects that I don’t think you could see from the ground.  The view was amazing up there.

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New Orleans

New Orleans - Jackson Square New Orleans - Jackson Square

New Orleans is one of those cities I wish would never change, and to a certain extent it hasn’t changed all that much. 

There’s something about the people in New Orleans, their friendliness and generosity – it feels different from most other cities.  It’s a town where just about anywhere you find yourself, you soon feel at home. 

I first visited New Orleans in the early 90’s, and immediately fell in love with it. A couple times I even almost considered moving there.  Talk about a place with history, French and Spanish Creole architecture, phenomenal food, and great music!  Other than Nashville I can’t think of another place with so many musicians per square foot.

In 1999 I was lucky enough to catch Glynn Styler and Royal Fingerbowl at the Mermaid Lounge.  That year was also the 30th anniversary of the Jazz festival, and the musicians that year included Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Branford Marsalis, Willie Nelson, Santana, The Isley Brothers, Dave Brubeck, Los Lobos, Little Feat and Dr John.  Jazz Fest is three days full of music held at a race track in the middle of New Orleans.  2 major stages where the larger acts perform, and then about 12 smaller stages and tents.  You basically walk around the track and you’ll hear Blues, Jazz, Gospel, Cajun, folk, Latin, just about every different kind of music you can think of.

I’ve never been to Mardi Gras, I did visit during St. Patrick’s once and that was pretty crowded and crazy.  I normally try to visit New Orleans during the slower times of the year – which are few because there is always something going on.  I just like wandering around the French quarter popping into different bars, or walking around the garden district checking out Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. 

One of the last trips we visited St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 – for that cemetery you actually have to go with a tour guide – they just don’t let people wander Around in there anymore due to the vandalism.  The Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau is buried there.  Lots of cemeteries around New Orleans, you could spend days wandering around in them.  New Orleans is about 8 feet below sea level so bodies need to be buried above ground in marble vaults –  “the cities of the dead”.  

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Maker's Mark and Jack Daniels

Jack Daniels Distillery

For me, one of the highlights of the Kentucky Bourbon trail is the Maker’s Mark Distillery. 

Makers has been my go-to Bourbon for years now – and it was a cool experience to visit the distillery and take the tour.  Since then I’ve become an ambassador and have my name on a Barrel aging there, so in a few years I’ll have a palette of makers I guess. 

I remember my grandfather drinking a lot of Jim Bean and Old Grandad when I was young.  The story goes that when I was a baby and they wanted to stop me crying, they would give me a spoonful of bourbon and honey. Maybe that’s when I first started developing my love of bourbon.  When I was fresh out of high school everyone drank Jack and coke.  We weren’t old enough yet so we’d find one of the old bums that hung around by the train tracks and have them buy a bottle for us.  We just had to give them enough for a pint or a couple Jumbos of malt liquor. 

For a lot of years I was a fan of Wild Turkey, and when I started Bartending around 1991 that was still my drink until Jim Beam came out with the small batch bourbons – Basil Hayden, Booker, Bakers, etc.  Right around that time I also had my first Makers, and it just became the one Bourbon I liked best to drink straight. I still also drink Basil Hayden – and I really like the Caribbean Cask Rye and Port Wine Cask limited edition versions they’ve come out with recently.

I guess the older I get the less I like to mix drinks.  Maybe because I drank a lot of cheap liquor when I was young that you had to water down, or maybe because after all of these years I finally have fine-tuned my palette. But a nice snifter of Makers is just about the perfect drink for me.

A brief history of Makers: Back in 1953 Bill Samuels bought Burks' Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky, for $35,000.  He came up with the recipe for his bourbon by baking different kinds of bread – and when he came up with a loaf he liked, he then used that combination of grains for the bourbon.  I think his mom came up with the idea for the red wax on the bottle.  Supposedly there was an early advertisement that went something like “Makers Mark – Tastes expensive and it is”.  They were clearly ahead of their time when it came to advertising.

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Coral Castle

Coral Castle Coral Castle

In 1923 a 5 ft. tall 100 lb man named Edward Leedskalnin started building a Castle using large chunks of limestone weighing several tons.

The original castle was in Florida city, and in 1936 Ed decided to move to a new location. It took him 3 years to move his coral castle to its new location between Homestead and Leisure City. It took almost 30 years to complete. He continued to work on the castle until his death in 1951, and to this day nobody has been able to figure out how he accomplished it.

He worked in secret mostly at night using old farm machinery parts and homemade tools. The coral pieces that are part of the newer castle were quarried on the property only a few feet away from the castle's walls. The pool and the pit beside the southern wall are quarries.

Ed used to tell people he had figured out the secrets used to build the ancient pyramids.

The grounds of Coral Castle consist of around 1,000 tons of stones in the form of walls, carvings, furniture, and a castle tower. One of the structures - an 8 ton revolving is carved so that it fits within a quarter of an inch of the walls. So well balanced that supposedly a child could open it with the push of a finger.

Other structures include a sundial, a stone rocking chair and a 500-pound heart-shaped stone table.

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Sian Ka'an

Gate Of Heaven Gate Of Heaven

Back in 2007 a couple friends and I planned a trip to Tulum Mexico.

Being that we had to be at the Fort Lauderdale airport early in the morning – we drove from Sarasota the day before and stayed in a cheap motel that night. After a night of loud neighbors, a fight in the parking lot, and a 3:30 a.m. heroin overdose in a room below us – we made our way through fire trucks, and ambulances and headed to the airport.

The very first thing that indicted the trip would be interesting was arriving in Cancun and experiencing red light green light. Basically, as they let you into the country there is a completely random system of green and red lights – green light you pass through, red light you get searched. I got the red light and got searched. No problem – I had nothing illegal on me – just a bunch of camera equipment and electronics, but it’s always a strange feeling watching someone rifle through your belongings.

On that trip we stayed with a crazy German expatriate who lived close to the beach in Sian Ka'an. Sian Ka'an is a biosphere reserve in the municipality of Tulum that covers over 5,000 km (part on land – part in the Caribbean). The name means “gate of heaven”. Sian Ka'an has about 23 archaeological sites/ruins of the Maya civilization.

We stayed on a beautiful stretch of beach in the biosphere, but every morning there was trash that had washed up on the shore. The majority of the trash was from cruise ships – water bottles, shoes, barbie dolls, toys. Apparently at night the cruise ships hose off the decks and anything a guest leaves behind is blown off into the water. There is also trash from neighboring islands that operate open land fills. Wherever there is a storm – all that trash is flushed out to sea. But the most disturbing thing was seeing medical waste from New York. Medical biohazard bags with the names of New York Hospitals, syringes, gloves etc. It’s appalling that someone can dump medical waste in North America and it ends up on a beach in Mexico.

Sian Ka'an is amazing, and the fishing was phenomenal. You need to sleep in a hammock, or if in a bed -don’t let the covers touch the floor. You want to minimalize ways the various critters can get up into your bed during the night. In the mornings there would be small scorpions scurrying around in the kitchen. The German would stomp on them with his bare feet. But when a large black centipede showed up one morning he carefully chased it out with a broom. “Don’t want to mess with those guys” he said.

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Ponce, Puerto Rico

Ponce, Puerto Rico Ponce, Puerto Rico

On the southern coast of Puerto Rico is the city of Ponce.

Outside of San Juan it’s Puerto Rico’s most populated city. Ponce is names after Juan Ponce de León y Loayza, the great-grandson of Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León.

Founded in 1692, Ponce is full of magnificent architecture and is considered one of the most beautiful places to visit in Puerto Rico.

Some of the highlights include From the Plaza Las Delicias, the Parque de Bombas (an old fire station which has been converted into a museum), Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Serrallés Castle, and Museo de Arte de Ponce.

In the Plaza Las Delicias sits The Ponce Cathedral (Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe) which dates back to the 17th century. The centuries old plaza is full of vendors selling food, coffee, and different crafts. At night it is full of live music.

The Serrallés Castle was formerly the home of the Serrallés family, owners of the Don Q rum distillery. As I’ve found during my many trips to Puerto Rico , Don Q seems to be the favorite rum of Puerto Rico. On my last trip I enjoyed much Vermouth Cask Don Q which was incredible, but sadly not available in the continental states yet. You can take a tour of the mansion and check out the extraordinary architecture and gardens while you learn a bit about the Serrallés family.

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Mackinac Island

Overlooking Mackinac Island from the fort Overlooking Mackinac Island from the fort

Formed along with the Great Lakes as the last ice age glaciers melted, Mackinac Island covers a little over 4 square miles.

The Island is on Lake Huron between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Fort Mackinac was built by the British during the American Revolutionary War. And the island was also the site of a couple battles in 1812 before the U.S. eventually took over.

Most of the original buildings on the island have been preserved or restored and the entire island is listed as a National Historic Landmark. There are no motor vehicles allowed on the island except for an ambulance and a fire engine. I think there about 600 people who live on the island year-round, and over 500 horses. Horse or Bicycle are the mode of transportation there.

The first time I visited Mackinac Island was in 1980 and it was a school trip. Also, in 1980 the film Somewhere in Time was shot on location at the Grand Hotel – Staring Christopher Reeve who was also in Superman II that year. Being 14 Years old at the time – I saw Superman II at the theater but didn’t watch Somewhere in Time until a few years later. Somewhere in time is definitely the better of the two films.

Back in ’80 on that first trip I was a dumb kid looking for any excuse to get into trouble, and the beauty of the island was lost on me that time. I spent most of the afternoon clowning around with a couple friends, eating junk food, and buying some worthless souvenirs. During that trip we got to tour the fort and I remember one of the things that struck me was how small the barrack beds were – and how short the uniformed mannequins where. The average man’s height back then was a few inches less than it is now. A few of us also got inside the Grand Hotel and rode the elevator up and down until we got kicked out. Now they charge you if you just want to go inside and look around.

Among other things to see while on Mackinac Island besides the fort is Arch Rock. It’s an often photographed natural wonder standing 140 feet above Lake Huron looking a little bit like the Guardian of Forever time portal from the original Star Trek series. Of course the Grand Hotel is pretty amazing as well – you can view the Straits of Mackinac from the world’s longest porch.

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La Boqueria Market (Las Ramblas Market) in Barcelona

Fresh Seafood - La Boqueria Market La Boqueria Market

La Boqueria is a world famous market in Barcelona on the edge of the Barri Gòtic

It’s located in El Raval with an entrance to the market right off La Rambla.  An incredible place full of just about every kind of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat cheese and fish you could imagine.  One table even had 30 different kinds of eggs – everything from Quail to Ostrich.  When I go back to Barcelona I will not stay in a hotel again, instead I’ll find an apartment somewhere near the Gothic quarter where I can pick up fresh food and make it myself.

I did manage to do quite a lot of tasting while I was there – different kinds of ham, sausage and cheese. Prosciutto hams hanging over my head while enjoying a cold Estrella Damm - Little wax paper cone cups attached to the bottom of the hams so the warm liquified fat doesn’t drip on peoples heads.  

The fresh seafood was amazing, oysters the size of baby heads, razor clams oozing out of their shells, hundreds of fish lined up on ice looking almost too beautiful to eat.  The Market is huge and it’s easy to spend the better part of an afternoon just wandering around and watching the different chefs working.

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Arc de Triomf - city of Barcelona in Catalonia, Spain

Arc de Triomf Arc de Triomf

The Arc de Triomf is a triumphal arch in the city of Barcelona, Spain.

It was built by architect Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas as the main access gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair. The arch crosses over the wide central promenade of the Passeig de Lluís Companys, leading to the Ciutadella Park that now occupies the site of the world fair.

The monument is classical in shape and proportions and features ground-breaking sculptural and decorative finishes replete with symbolism. It has become one of the city's iconic landmarks. The frieze overlooking the Passeig de Sant Joan depicts Barcelona welcoming the nations and the frieze facing the park shows the city presenting medals to the exhibition participants. There are reliefs on one side symbolising agriculture and industry, and commerce and art on the other. At the top of the arch the shields of the 49 Spanish provinces are presided over by the coat of arms of the city of Barcelona. Parc de la Ciutadella Barri Gòtic:

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Castillo San Felipe del Morro in Old San Juan - Puerto Rico

Castillo San Felipe del Morro Castillo San Felipe del Morro

Castillo San Felipe del Morro, also known as El Morro, is a fort that was built in San Juan in the 16th century when Puerto Rico was under Spanish rule.

A trip to San Juan isn’t complete without visiting this iconic structure. Castillo San Felipe del Morro is named in honor of King Philip II of Spain. The fort was designed to guard the entrance to the San Juan Bay, and defend the Spanish colonial port city of San Juan from enemy ships.

In 1898, as a result of the Spanish-American War, the island changed hands from Spain to the United States. El Morro was designated as part of Fort Brooke and actively used as a military installation during the First and Second World Wars.

In 1961, the US Army retired El Morro, passing it on to the National Park Service to establish as a museum. And in 1983, El Morro and the walled-city of Old San Juan were declared Unesco World Heritage Sites.

The Gate of San Juan The main entrance of Old San Juan when it was entirely walled in is a giant doorway carved right into the city wall. From there you can head right to Paseo del Morro or left to Paseo de La Princesa.

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16 April 2020
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Just a 45 minute drive west of Barcelona in Sant Sadurní d'Anoia is the Freixenet winery, and the birth place of the worlds best Cava! Freixenet produces more than 100 million bottles of Cava each yea...
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