Peñíscola, Spain

View of Peniscola, Spain

Peñíscola, Spain

Spring is just around the corner -and also happens to be the perfect season in Spain! The sun isn’t too overbearing; the air isn’t too hot and sticky. The crowds are less thick than in summer. Cafe terraces are still peaceful, waitresses still patient, beaches still quiet. Peñíscola is the perfect place to spend a spring day. The narrow, winding streets of the old town are full of hole-in-the-wall cafes, restaurants and shops. The oceanside breeze is refreshing – perfect for taking a stroll. The white-washed walls of the city are delicate and calming. The locals happily chat in the street and overhead across the balconies. As you climb, terraces criss-cross, affording great views of the town and the nearby beach. Stop for an afternoon spritzer or glass of wine before continuing on to the castle, where the views across Peñíscola are the best! Orange clay roofs, white walls and blue waves pepper the quilted landscape below the castle walls. In the city below your feet, there is the hum of life but up here, there’s nothing but fresh air and the cries of seagulls. As the afternoon sun bathes you in warm life, you lean against the ancient stone wall of Peñíscola’s fortress and let your mind wander. There’s nothing like spending a spring day atop a castle in a small Spanish town!

Balazuc, Ardeche, France

Balazuc - Gorges d'Ardeche - southern France

Sunset over Balazuc in the Ardèche region, France

Sunset cascades over the little medieval village tucked into the heart of the Gorges de l’Ardèche, nicknamed by the locals the ‘European Grand Canyon.’ The 30-km long canyon runs from the tourist hotspot Vallon-Pont-d’Arc to the less-well-known Saint-Martin-d’Ardèche. The village of Balazuc is listed on the ‘Most Beautiful Villages in France‘ (along with Pérouges and St Guilhiem-le-Désert) – as it should be. The village hugs the edge of the steep hill as narrow medieval alleyways weave and climb the hill’s slope from the shores of Ardèche River up to Balazuc’s castle. Cobblestone alleys meander through ancient dwellings, passing through echoing tunnels, climbing up uneven staircases. Well-worn steps lead up to the top of some of Balazuc’s buildings, affording breathtaking views over the clay roofs, the Ardèche River, and the Gorges themselves. In Balazuc, it’s easy to peel away the centuries to another era – all the while enjoying the creature comforts of our own!

Rynek of Wrocław, Poland

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Rynek of Wrocław, Poland

The most magical part of the day is sunrise. Some will argue that it is actually sunset, and while a sunset is beautiful in itself, sunrises often exude more beauty simply because, like a leprechaun, they are so rarely seen. If you can rouse yourself from bed at least once while travelling – or if you are required to due to an early bus/train/plane departure – take a few minutes to appreciate the soft, glowing light at the start of another day. The best way to do that is to find a place where you can sit down and enjoy the rising sun – a hilltop, your balcony, a local lake or river, a charming cafe, or in this case the market square. Settle down with a steaming cup o’ joe and a tasty local breakfast as you watch the world come to life. In Wrocław, enjoy the stunning colours, silent air, soft light and intricate facades of the spacious rynek (main square) before the day’s crowds begin to fill the plaza. One of Poland’s most spectacular cities, Wroclaw does not lack for attractions – aside from the rynek, visit pretty Ostrow Tumski or Cathedral Island, the adorable gnome statues scattered around the city, the stunning circular Racławice Panorama (a 19th century panoramic depiction of the Kościuszko Uprising, miraculously hidden and saved during WWII), the massive pile of stone that is Centennial Hall (a UNESCO site), and any one of the number of snazzy restaurants and bars in the city centre, many of them inspired by the dense student population. As an added bonus, as the year draws to a close, it’s your last chance to visit Wrocław while it is an official 2016 European Capital of Culture (which is not to say that a 2017 visit won’t be just as amazing…). While seeing Wrocław at sunrise is enchanting, the city will continue to enchant you all day long!

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Solar eclipse in Lyon, France

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Solar eclipse from Place Bellecour, Lyon, France

If you happened to be in Europe, northern Africa, or in select parts of northern Asia and you happened to be outside this morning, you had a chance to see a total or partial solar eclipse! Seen here in Lyon, France just outside the downtown tourism office is the waning effect of a partial solar eclipse (at its maximum, the sun was covered 70%)–despite belligerent clouds determined to block the view. If you were lucky enough to be in either Svalbard or the Faroe Islands, you got to experience a total solar eclipse, ie a phenomenon that occurs when the moon completely covers the sun. Fun fact: we only experience solar eclipses occasionally because the moon’s orbit is tilted at more than 5 degrees from our planet’s orbit around the sun (so the shadow normally passes us by)–but if the moon were orbiting a little closer to earth, we’d experience a solar eclipse every month! Regardless, hopefully you took a moment to appreciate this magical phenomenon because the next partial eclipse visible all over Europe isn’t until 2022–and the next total eclipse here is in 2090! Just be careful about your eyes–the sun’s rays can be very bright and dangerous. Hopefully you enjoyed the beautiful display of sun and moon, and if you missed it, here’s a website showing you upcoming eclipses, and where/when they can be seen!

 

 

Barcelona, Spain

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Plaza Catalunia, Barcelona, Spain

Orange umbrellas by orange roofs in Barcelona’s famous central plaza. Orange is surely the national colour of Spain! Spain, after all, is a vibrant, lively country despite any economic mishaps. Everything is fun in Spain – from eating to drinking to taking naps to commuting (try out one of those mopeds!). Everybody is always outside, in the streets, on the balconies, in the plazas. Thanks to the largely sunny climate, life is nearly always spent outside – except during mealtime of course (14h-16h), which is traditionally taken inside with all the family, particularly if you live in a village or small town. And despite economic troubles, you’ll see nothing but smiles!

Comunidad Valenciana, Spain

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Valencian oranges, València region, Spain.

Valencian oranges are world-famous – and they should be! Nicknamed summer-oranges because they are the only variety peaking in mid-summer, these fruits are sweet and delicious, perfect for making homemade, freshly-squeezed, pure orange juice. So delicious are these fruits, and so readily available are they in Spain, that it is difficult to consume other orange products (especially orange juice!) after leaving the country. Groves of trees such as this line the roadsides in between villages all over Spain, but especially in la Comunidad Valenciana. Nothing could be lovelier or more Spanish than breakfasting on your balcony watching the sun come up, eating a croissant and sipping freshly-squeezed Valencian orange juice.