5 small Texas towns you must visit

Experience Southern gentility and hospitality in these small Texas towns. Each one has a unique heritage forged by its location and history.

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Experience Southern gentility and hospitality in these small Texas towns. Each one has a unique heritage forged by its location and history

Antique shops, independent boutiques, wine tasting, and water sports are some of the activities they have in store for visitors. These towns are fantastic for all kinds of trips, from a romantic weekend getaway to a family road trip.

Discover a new side to Texas!

German-Texan heritage in Gruene    

Gruene is a gem of a town located roughly halfway between Austin and San Antonio, in the Texas Hill Country. Gruene, pronounced “green,” was first settled by German farmers in the 1840s. the Gruene family introduced cotton farming, which brought prosperity to the area. Some fine examples of late Victorian architecture still stand, like the Gruene Mansion or Gruene House, both Bed and Breakfasts now. Gruene was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, which allowed it to retain an authentic turn-of-the-century look and feel.   

Antique stores, boutiques, art galleries, and a general store line the streets of Gruene. In addition, the town boasts the oldest continually operating dance hall in Texas, Gruene Hall, built in 1878. Another landmark is The Gristmill Restaurant, built in the shell of an 1878 cotton mill and has beautiful views of the Guadalupe River down below. In summer, people can rent tubing, stand-up paddle boarding, and kayaking equipment and go on the nearby Guadalupe and Comal rivers.  

19th century charm in Jefferson

Jefferson, once a bustling river port, now radiates Southern grace. The town was founded in the 1840s in Northeastern Texas. Jefferson is about 170 miles east of Dallas and less than an hour from the Louisiana border. Thanks to a giant log jam on the Red River, the water level of the Caddo Lake and Red Rover rose by several feet. This enabled commercial navigation to Jefferson from places as far as St. Louis and New Orleans along the Mississippi. The town flourished until 1873, when the Army Corps of Engineers blew up the log jam, considered a navigational hazard, thus lowering the water levels and making riverboat traffic no longer viable.

Many of the Victorian mansions were converted into Bed and Breakfasts. Jefferson has more registered historic buildings than anywhere in Texas, as well as the state’s oldest working hotel. The Excelsior House Hotel dates from 1858 and has had distinguished guests like Oscar Wilde or Ulysses S. Grant. Jefferson is said to be haunted, so visitors can learn all about local legends during a ghost walk. The Jefferson General Store, from 1879, is a must-visit. To take a break from so much history, swamp tours, canoeing, and fishing are available at the Caddo Lake close by.

Antique shops, independent boutiques, wine tasting, and water sports are some of the activities they have in store. These towns are fantastic for all kinds of trips, from a romantic weekend getaway to a family road trip. #Texas #travel

Historic Granbury

Granbury lies on the shores of Lake Granbury in North Central Texas. It all started when Tennessee emigrants came to settle on the Brazos River in 1854. Elizabeth Crockett, the widow of Davy Crockett, also settled here, on land given to the heirs of those who fought in the Texas Revolution of 1836. The settlement grew, and, in 1887, the Fort Worth and Rio Grande Railway connected Granbury with other towns.

Elizabeth Crockett also has her own statue at the Elizabeth Crocket State Historic Park, the smallest state park in Texas. Among other landmarks are the Historic Railroad Depot of 1914 or the Brazos Drive-In Theater from 1952, which is Texas’ longest continually running drive-in theater. The Hood County Courthouse, a three-story limestone building from 1890-1, dominates the square. The surrounding buildings, many of which are also registered historic landmarks, house boutiques, antique stores, and art galleries, among other businesses. The annual Granbury Wine Walk takes place in and around the square and features local wines, food, and art. Where to stay? In a Victorian B&B, where else!  

Marble Falls, the heart of the Hill Country

Marble Falls is nestled among rolling hills, vineyards, and lakes in Central Texas. Marble Falls Lake is within walking distance of the Historic Downtown area and provides a welcome respite from all that walking and shopping and visiting art galleries. Art features prominently in Marble Falls. Its main street is lined with sculptures, and the annual Sculpture on Main Fest showcases the best local artists. There are plenty of eating and drinking establishments, but one stands out: the Blue Bonnet Café. This café has been serving homestyle pies since 1929 and still draws big crowds. Be prepared to wait.

Marble Falls is surrounded by wonderful places to enjoy nature that are very close. Locals and visitors go boating, kayaking, and fishing at Inks and Buchanan lakes. Would-be speleologists should take a guided cave tour of the Longhorn Cavern. The Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge preserves the habitat of endangered songbirds. Enchanted Rock is a colossal pink granite dome that people can climb or enjoy from a distance. The star of the Pedernales Falls State Park is the Pedernales River, which flows over massive limestone slabs and can turn into a raging torrent in the blink of an eye, as flash floods are common in the Hill Country.

Sulphur Springs’ revitalized downtown area

Sulphur Springs is in Northeast Texas, about 80 miles from Dallas. Its name comes from the now dried-up sulfurous water springs and it was settled in the 1850s. The advent of the railroad in 1872 gave the small town an economic boost. Later, in the mid-twentieth century, the dairy industry became a major component of the local economy. However, it started to decline in the late 90s, along with the town’s fortunes.

Recently, the town’s authorities started a process of revitalization of the downtown area, though. Behind colorful storefronts are independent boutiques, restaurants, and bars, among other businesses. Every façade has been restored to its past splendor. And the trees that line the streets provide welcome shade in the hotter months. The town square, also newly revamped, includes the Romanesque Revival courthouse (built in 1894-5), a very moving veteran memorial and a splash pad in the shape of the Lone Star. However, the biggest attraction are the glass public toilets. Not to worry! They are covered in one-way mirrors that reflect the light and blend in with the surroundings. 

Experience Southern gentility and hospitality in these small Texas towns. Each one has a unique heritage forged by its location and history
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5 pueblos texanos que no te podés perder

Viví la elegancia y la hospitalidad sureñas en estos pequeños pueblos de Texas. Cada uno tiene un patrimonio único forjado gracias a su ubicación e historia

Negocios de antigüedades, boutiques independientes, catas de vino y deportes acuáticos son algunas de las actividades que tienen reservadas para los visitantes. Estos pueblos son fantásticos para todo tipo de viajes, desde una escapada romántica de fin de semana hasta un road trip en familia.

Descubrí una cara diferente de Texas.

Herencia alemana en Gruene


Gruene es una belleza pueblerina ubicada aproximadamente a medio camino entre Austin y San Antonio, en el Texas Hill Country. Gruene, pronunciado “green“, fue colonizado por primera vez por agricultores alemanes en la década de 1840. La familia Gruene introdujo el cultivo del algodón, que a su vez trajo prosperidad a la zona. Todavía quedan algunos buenos ejemplos de la arquitectura victoriana tardía, como la Mansión Gruene o la Casa Gruene, ambos convertidos en Bed and Breakfast. Gruene fue incluido en el Registro Nacional de Lugares Históricos en 1975, lo que le permitió conservar su aspecto y ambiente auténticos de principios de siglo.

Tiendas de antigüedades, boutiques, galerías de arte y un almacén general pueblan las calles de Gruene. Además, el pueblo cuenta con el salón de baile más antiguo de Texas en uso continuado, Gruene Hall, construido en 1878. Otro hito es The Gristmill Restaurant, construido en las ruinas de una fábrica de algodón de 1878 y tiene hermosas vistas del río Guadalupe. En verano, la gente puede alquilar flotantes, stand-up paddles y kayaks e ir a los ríos cercanos Guadalupe y Comal.

Elegancia victoriana en Jefferson

Jefferson, que alguna vez fue un bullicioso puerto fluvial, ahora irradia encanto sureño. La ciudad fue fundada en la década de 1840 en el noreste de Texas. Jefferson está a unas 170 millas al este de Dallas y a menos de una hora de la frontera con Luisiana. Gracias a un atasco de troncos gigante en el Red River, el nivel del agua del lago Caddo y del Red Rover aumentó varios metros. Esto permitió la navegación comercial a Jefferson desde lugares tan lejanos como St. Louis y Nueva Orleans a lo largo del Mississippi. La ciudad floreció hasta 1873, cuando el Cuerpo de Ingenieros del Ejército hizo estallar el atasco de troncos, considerado un peligro para la navegación, reduciendo así los niveles de agua y haciendo inviable el tráfico fluvial.

Muchas de las mansiones victorianas se convirtieron en Bed and Breakfasts. Jefferson tiene más edificios históricos registrados que en cualquier lugar de Texas, así como el hotel en funcionamiento más antiguo del estado. El Excelsior House Hotel data de 1858 y alojó pasajeros distinguidos como Oscar Wilde o el presidente Ulysses S. Grant. Se dice que Jefferson está embrujado, por lo que los visitantes pueden aprender todo sobre las leyendas locales durante una caminata guiada nocturna. La Jefferson General Store, de 1879, es una visita obligada. Para tomar un descanso de tanta historia, en el cercano lago Caddo se pueden realizar recorridos por los pantanos, hacer kayak y pescar.

Viví la elegancia y la hospitalidad sureñas en estos pequeños pueblos de Texas. Cada uno tiene un patrimonio único forjado gracias a su ubicación e historia. #Texas #viajes #EstadosUnidos

Raíces revolucionarias en Granbury

Granbury se encuentra a orillas del lago Granbury, en el centro-norte de Texas. Todo comenzó cuando unos pioneros oriundos de Tennessee llegaron a establecerse en el río Brazos en 1854. Elizabeth Crockett, la viuda de Davy Crockett (quien luchó en la Batalla del Alamo contra fuerzas mexicanas), también se instaló aquí. Esas tierras fueron entregadas a los herederos de quienes lucharon en la Revolución de Texas de 1836. El asentamiento creció, y, en 1887, el ferrocarril de Fort Worth y Rio Grande llegó a conectar Granbury con otras ciudades.

Elizabeth Crockett tiene su propia estatua en el Parque Histórico Estadual Elizabeth Crocket, el más pequeño de Texas. Entre otros lugares de interés, se encuentran el histórico Railroad Depot de 1914 o el Brazos Drive-In Theatre de 1952, que es el autocine más antiguo de Texas en funcionamiento continuo. El Palacio de Justicia del Condado de Hood, un edificio de piedra caliza de tres pisos de 1890-1, domina la plaza. Los edificios circundantes, muchos de los cuales también son monumentos históricos registrados, alojan boutiques, anticuarios y galerías de arte, entre otros negocios. El Granbury Wine Walk anual se lleva a cabo dentro y alrededor de la plaza y presenta vinos, comida y artesanías locales. ¿Donde alojarse? En un B&B victoriano, ¿dónde más?

Marble Falls, en el corazón del Hill Country

Marble Falls está ubicado entre colinas, viñedos y lagos en el centro de Texas. Marble Falls Lake se encuentra a poca distancia a pie del área del centro histórico. El parque junto al lago ofrece un respiro de tanto caminar, ir de compras y visitar galerías de arte. El arte ocupa un lugar destacado en Marble Falls. Su calle principal está llena de esculturas, y el festival anual de esculturas Main Fest exhibe a los mejores artistas locales. Hay muchos establecimientos para comer y beber, pero se destaca el Blue Bonnet Café. Este café sirve pastelería casera desde 1929 y atrae a grandes multitudes. Preparate para esperar un buen rato en la vereda.

Marble Falls está rodeado de lugares maravillosos para disfrutar de la naturaleza y que se encuentran muy cerca. Los lugareños y visitantes salen a andar en bote y kayak y pescar en los lagos Inks y Buchanan. Los aspirantes a espeleólogos deberían realizar una visita guiada a las cuevas de Longhorn Cavern. El Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Balcones Canyonlands preserva el hábitat de aves en peligro de extinción. Enchanted Rock es una colosal cúpula de granito rosa que la gente puede escalar o disfrutar desde lejos. La estrella del Parque Estadual Pedernales Falls es el río Pedernales, que fluye sobre enormes losas de piedra caliza y puede convertirse en un torrente furioso en un abrir y cerrar de ojos, ya que las inundaciones repentinas son comunes en el Hill Country.

Sulphur Springs y su centro modernizado

Sulphur Springs se encuentra en el noreste de Texas, a unas 80 millas de Dallas. Su nombre proviene de los manantiales de agua sulfurosa, que ahora están secos, y se estableció en la década de 1850. La llegada del ferrocarril en 1872 dio a la pequeña ciudad un fuerte impulso económico. Más tarde, a mediados del siglo XX, la industria láctea se convirtió en un componente importante de la economía local. Sin embargo, comenzó a declinar a finales de los ’90, junto con la fortuna de la ciudad.

Sin embargo, hace poco, las autoridades del pueblo iniciaron un proceso de revitalización del centro de la ciudad. Detrás de coloridos vidrieras se encuentran boutiques independientes, restaurantes y bares, entre otros. Cada fachada ha sido restaurada a su antiguo esplendor. Los árboles que bordean las calles brindan una agradable sombra en los meses más calurosos. La plaza del pueblo, también recientemente renovada, incluye el palacio de justicia, de estilo renacentista románico (construido en 1894-5), un monumento a los veteranos muy conmovedor y una fuente con la forma de la Estrella Solitaria, el símbolo de Texas. Sin embargo, la mayor atracción son los baños públicos de vidrio. ¡No es para preocuparse! Están cubiertos de espejos unidireccionales que reflejan la luz y se mimetizan con el entorno.

Traditional food from Cordoba [Argentina]

You know when you hear people mention something, say a kind of fruit, that you had no idea existed? That’s what happened to me with cuaresmillos, the Shangri-La of candied fruit for me. I had heard family members praise these little peaches but never seen or eaten them until recently. I was visiting historic buildings in the city of Cordoba by myself. At lunchtime, I chose a restaurant that looked inviting and served traditional dishes.

I read the menu and did a double take. They served cuaresmillos for dessert! I ate a delicious empanada and some locro, a hearty white corn, pumpkin, white bean and meats stew. To cap a very tasty lunch off, I had these little sweet candied peaches with quesillo, a traditional homemade cow’s milk cheese, the perfect accompaniment because it cuts the fruit’s sweetness. They were delicious.

I wanted to buy some to bring back with me because they are not available in many places. I had to hunt high and low for a couple of jars. Not many locals knew what they were, which shocked me. I thought they were popular in Córdoba!

A traditional cuisine that is famous in Cordoba, other than traditional Argentinean, is German cuisine. Many German, Swiss and Austrian immigrants settled in the hills and their descendants keep their traditions alive. Villa General Belgrano and La Cumbrecita are two picture-perfect villages where one can eat sauerkraut, wursts, strudel and drink beer to one’s heart’s content all year round. I was there twice, in winter and in summer and I enjoyed both visits very much. The food is generally locally sourced and made on the premises and it’s good. Very good.

An overview of some traditional foods from the province of Cordoba, in the heart of Argentina: cuaresmillos, colaciones, and much more #food #Argentina
An assortment of German-style meats and sauerkraut (called chucrut here)

We Argentineans have a sweet tooth, no doubt about it. Cordoba is known for its sweets too. One delicious treat is the colación, a crispy pastry filled with dulce de leche and topped with lemon glaze. I never leave Córdoba without a box of alfajores. They are similar to sandwich cookies or whoopie pies but the pastry is more firm. They can be filled with dulce de leche or fruit preserves and are covered in glaze. Delicious with a cup of coffee or mate.

An overview of some traditional foods from the province of Cordoba, in the heart of Argentina: cuaresmillos, colaciones, and much more #food #Argentina
Colaciones and mate, a match made in heaven

Photo courtesy of Diana. P. Gemelli from Je cuisine donc je suis. Gracias!

Read previous posts about Cordoba

Church and convent of San Francisco

Self-guided walk of Old Portsmouth

I have been to Portsmouth before, on a previous visit to my in-laws. They live half-way between London and the south coast, so it’s easy for me to jump on the train and head south to Portsmouth for a day out. I’ve been to the Historic Dockyards but this time round, I visited the old town and saw a different aspect of this interesting city by the sea.

The main attraction of the city of Portsmouth is the Historic Dockyards, where visitors can see such iconic ships as Nelson’s HMS Victory or the remains of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s ship. However, there is more to Portsmouth than the Dockyards and the Spinnaker Tower.

I’m going to share what I saw and learned on my walk from the Portsmouth & Southsea railway station (1) to the seafront.

As I left the station, I turned left and walked under the railway bridge towards the Guildhall. The imposing building is now used as an entertainment and conference venue. Across the plaza from the Guildhall is the City Council, a concrete eyesore in my opinion.

Farther on, the conspicuous Isambard Kingdom Brunel pub marks the start of the Guildhall Walk. Along the street, shops, more pubs, people going about their business, a vampire or two. Wait! What? It was Halloween and some people wore costumes all day. The New Theatre Royal, a pretty Victorian construction, is located at the opposite end of Guildhall Walk.

I didn’t have a map with me but, as it turned out, I didn’t need it. There are very helpful and easy to follow maps of the area in important intersections. I walked down Cambridge Road/A3. There are many University of Portsmouth buildings here. The atmosphere in the street was a lively one with students milling around. I continued past the University Library to the next roundabout and turned left onto Museum Road.

The building of the City of Portsmouth Museum (2) is a Victorian beauty, especially the back. Here, I learned that Arthur Conan Doyle worked as a doctor in Portsmouth for many years and this is where he started his writing career. However, the Scottish author wasn’t the only famous writer with a local connection: Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth. There’s a Charles Dickens’ Trail on Old Portsmouth. I picked up a leaflet and tried to follow it.

I walked back to the roundabout and down High Street in Old Portsmouth. The street is lined with low buildings, many Victorian but many look more recent. I later learned that Portsmouth was attacked with incendiary bombs in 1941 during World War II. Many buildings were destroyed, 930 civilians died and about 3,000 were wounded in the blitz. So were many of the buildings on the Dickens’ trail.

I stopped at the John Pounds Memorial Unitarian Church. Charles Dickens is said to have befriended and admired John Pounds. Pounds (1766-1839, voted Portsmouth Man of the Millennium), was a crippled cobbled who taught destitute children to read and write and also fed and clothed them. He is acknowledged to have set in motion the movement towards universal free education in England.

Pounds’ legacy continued in the Ragged Schools movement in the United Kingdom and the US. The chapel where he worshipped was destroyed in the 1941 blitz and was rebuilt in 1956. A very kind member of the congregation showed me the replica of Pound’s workshop, told me the whole story and asked me to spread the word.

I stopped at a Co-op to buy something to eat. I took mi picnic across the street to the cathedral green and sat in the golden light of autumn to enjoy my sandwich.

Portsmouth Cathedral has a long history. The building developed from a medieval chapel built in 1185, which is now the quire. A very knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteer took around and explained everything there is to know about the cathedral. Look out for the bit of flag connected with Nelson. The cathedral is steeped in Portsmouth’s naval history.

I went on to the end of the streets and the seawalls. Portsmouth was a walled garrison town until the 1870s under constant threat of invasion. The Square Tower, right at the end of High Street, is among the oldest fortifications and it dates to 1494. The sun was setting and its golden light bathed the stone walls. A fisherman was packing up at the end of the pier, a couple of lovers whispering sweet nothings on each other’s ears. Time to turn round and go back home.

I continued on Battery Row, where people were taking a quiet dusk stroll, enjoying the salty air. I had a look at the Royal Garrison Church (3), built in 1212. The nave lost the roof in the air raid of 1941.

Back to High Street, then on to Guildhall Walk and the station.

(1) Those interested in visiting the Dockyards should take the train to Portsmouth Harbour station.
These lines connect Portsmouth with other English cities: the First Great Western from Cardiff Central, the South West Trains from London Waterloo and Southampton Central and the Southern from London Victoria, Littlehampton and Brighton.
(2) Opening Times: April – September: 10.00am – 5.30pm. October – March: 10.00am – 5.00pm. Open Tuesday-Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays. Closed on Mondays (except Bank Holidays). Admission is free of charge.
(3) Open from April to September from 11 am to 4 pm.

Ely, a lovely medieval town in Cambridgeshire

As we were getting closer, a few stragglers were scurrying towards the cathedral in the light fall rain. We made it just in time for the 10.30 sung Eucharist at Ely Cathedral. We didn’t plan on it but went with the flow and thought it would be something different to experience.

The magnificence of the nave, with its forest of Gothic columns that rise to the painted ceiling, took our breath away. A lady volunteer handed us a service book. It was Sunday, November 2, All Saints’ Day, according to the church liturgy.

The service was a sung Eucharist. The voices of the cathedral choir and the organ music reverberated in the nave and rose up the columns towards the ceiling and beyond. It brought home to me the notion of elevating a prayer.

I understood what medieval architects were trying to achieve with their tall buildings and spires ascending to the heavens. I understood it with my head and not with my heart. I can only imagine how much more effective it must have been in an age when people were more vulnerable.

Visit Ely, a medieval town in Cambridgeshire, England, and see the cathedral and Oliver Cromwell's Museum #Ely #England #travel
The Lantern

During the service, the sun came out briefly and shone through the stained glass windows. Its fleeting magic filled the interior with colour. A religious person might think it was a miracle. I took it as a gift from nature.

There were christenings immediately after the High Church service, so the apse and the crypt were closed to the public. We still were able to see the aisles and the Norman transept from the 11th century (the transverse part across the nave that forms the shape of a Latin cross so typical of medieval churches.)

It took such a long time to build a cathedral in the Middle Ages that some parts date from different times and are built in different styles even. Ely is no exception.

Visit Ely, a medieval town in Cambridgeshire, England, and see the cathedral and Oliver Cromwell's Museum #Ely #England #travel
Altar and choir

We stopped to light a candle at the St. George chapel in memory of my husband’s father and grandfathers, who all served in the military. Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day were a few days away, so the chapel was flooded in candlelight and poppy wreaths.

Visit Ely, a medieval town in Cambridgeshire, England, and see the cathedral and Oliver Cromwell's Museum #Ely #England #travel
In memory of family members

Across the street, on the cathedral green, a flock of ducks was eating lunch under a tree. There is a cannon from the Crimea war on the green as well. A plaque remembers some local protestant martyrs who were burned on that same green during Mary Tudor’s reign. It is hard to picture such violent scenes in this tranquil place.

Visit Ely, a medieval town in Cambridgeshire, England, and see the cathedral and Oliver Cromwell's Museum #Ely #England #travel
View from the top of the green

At the other end of the cathedral green is the Tourist Information Office, which doubles as Oliver Cromwell’s Museum. This house is his only residence, apart from Hampton Court Palace, still extant. I’m not too keen on Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England in the 17th century, because I do not like people who impose their beliefs with violence.

And I did not like his museum either. There is not much to see and the admission costs 4 pounds. There are life-size figures representing Cromwell and his family in different rooms. One of them is sitting at his desk in his study. It looked up when I came in. I nearly jumped out of my skin, I did not expect that!

Visit Ely, a medieval town in Cambridgeshire, England, and see the cathedral and Oliver Cromwell's Museum #Ely #England #travel
Oliver!

We ended our visit to Ely with a delicious cream tea at The Almonry, a 13th-century building along the High Street that belonged to the cathedral at one time. Nowadays, it houses offices, a restaurant and flats. The patio looks onto the cathedral gardens. The back of the cathedral is even more imposing than the front.

Visit Ely, a medieval town in Cambridgeshire, England, and see the cathedral and Oliver Cromwell's Museum #Ely #England #travel
My cream tea

Visit Ely, a medieval town in Cambridgeshire, England, and see the cathedral and Oliver Cromwell's Museum #Ely #England #travel
The back of Ely Cathedral

Visit Ely, a medieval town in Cambridgeshire, England, and see the cathedral and Oliver Cromwell's Museum #Ely #England #travel
A lovely 16th century Tudor cottage


How to get there
  • By train from London King’s Cross, Norwich, Cambridge, Midlands and Stansted airport. The station is a ten-minute walk from the cathedral.
  • By car, 20 minutes from Cambridge and 2 hours from London.

Visit Ely, a medieval town in Cambridgeshire, England, and see the cathedral and Oliver Cromwell's Museum #Ely #England #travel

Canada’s Parliament Hill

Canada’s Parliament is an iconic set of buildings located on top of Parliament Hill. This limestone cliff slopes gently towards Ottawa River in the country’s capital, Ottawa.

Parliament Hill
Parliament Hill overlooking the frozen Ottawa River

When Ottawa was declared the new capital of the United Province of Canada in 1858, a parliament building was needed to house the legislature. Thus, architects were hired, plans were approved, ground was broken in 1859 and Albert Edward, prince of Wales, laid the cornerstone in the summer of 1860. The Gothic Revival building was completed in 1876. I had the opportunity to take a guided tour of the Centre Block when we visited Ottawa in January 2011. I have to say this: I’d never been so cold in my life! But I managed to go out and roam the city anyway, of which I’m proud.

Let me show you what I saw and learned.

The tour started at 11.30. They advised us to go there a few minutes earlier to go through a security scanning like that of airports. Thankfully, there was no need to take shoes off. The group was comprised of a very nice lady guide, a middle-aged couple and I. I suppose that groups are larger during the summer (for enquiries, email info@parl.gc.ca).

The party met at the Hall of Honour, which divides the Centre Block into east and west sections and separates the House of Commons and the Senate. It also serves as ceremonial space.

Parliament Hill
The ceremonial entrance of the sovereign and his or her representative from the Senate foyer.

The Senators debate and revise bills passed by the House of Commons. The Queen’s representative, the Governor General, addresses the Parliament and gives assent to bills.

Parliament Hill
The gilt coffered ceiling of the Senate chamber and a massive chandelier

Parliament Hill

The House of Commons has green benches like the British House of Commons
The House of Commons wasn’t in session so we were able to see it.
The Peace Tower replaces the Victoria Tower that burned down in the 1916 fire and it honours the Canadian men and women who lost their lives in World War I. The clock was a present of the British government to mark the 60th anniversary of the Confederation in 1927. The Memorial Chamber has altars that hold the Books of Remembrance inscribed with the names of Canadian soldiers fallen in battle.

Parliament Hill

View from the Peace Tower

Parliament Hill

View from the Peace Tower

The beautiful Library of Parliament (1859-1876) was the only part of the building to survive the fire of 1916. Even though its interior is made of pine, it didn’t burn down thanks to the presence of mind of an employee who closed to fireproof doors. Its exterior design was inspired by the Reading Room of the British Museum. Inside, it’s flooded in natural light and has a wonderful smell of books and pinewood. Unfortunately for me, photography is prohibited inside.

Attention cat lovers! There’s a cat refuge behind the Parliament buildings overlooking the river, called Stray Cats of the Hill. It’s been there since the late 1970s. Cats have been neutered and inoculated against disease. A pensioner that goes by the mysterious name of The Catman of the Hill volunteers to feed the cats and other animals, like raccoons, groundhogs or birdies daily.

And it was cold!

Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake: day trip from Toronto

An overcast summer morning in Toronto. We decided to go even though the weather forecast called for intermittent rain during the day. I assumed we were going to get wet anyway. So we drove along the QEW, Queen Elizabeth Way, which circles Lake Ontario, to Niagara Falls.

I had great expectations for these world-famous falls. And I was curious as well. I had been to Iguazu Falls between Argentina and Brazil and I wanted to compare them with Niagara. I secretly wanted Iguazu to win. Naughty, I know.

The falls seen from the Canadian side. The American city of Niagara Falls is in the background
The falls seen from the Canadian side. The American city of Niagara Falls is in the background

We stayed on the Canadian side. We drove into a beautiful public park, with carefully maintained flower beds. We could see the mist rising behind the trees. The Niagara River and the falls are right there! There’s a paved path and railings along the river where visitors can walk without fear of falling into the water.

We walked to the railing to watch nature in all its magnificence. The Horseshoe fall is the biggest and most powerful. The water falls with a deafening roar; I could feel its power reverberating in my chest. The American and Bride Veil falls are on the American side. They are smaller and less powerful but nice to look at.

We walked up and down the path, taking photos and enjoying the view. We decided to forgo the pleasures of sailing on the Maid of the Mist and the trek behind the falls. The fact that this natural wonder is flanked by two cities and surrounded by concrete struck me as incongruent. To me, it is a clear example of man taming nature. I would have liked to see the area in its natural, original state.

Niagara
The American and Bride Veil’s falls

I enjoyed the experience but wasn’t awestruck. Sorry.

We moved on, driving through fruit groves and vineyards, to the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. It is a Victorian fairytale town. The streets are strewn with colourful flowers and plants in neat planters and beds, not a blade of grass is out of place. Horse-drawn carriages ferry tourists back and forth. I absolutely loved it at first, but then the hordes of day-trippers swarming about made me feel claustrophobic.

Niagara
Niagara-on-the-Lake

A cenotaph on the main street honours the fallen at both world wars. I like this about Canada, that her heroes are remembered and honoured in every town.

I took this visit as a learning experience. I discovered that it is best to travel without expectations and to allow yourself to be surprised by a new place. And, most importantly, that comparisons can ruin your experience.

Niagara

Victorian legacy in Jefferson, TX

Jefferson is a little gem of a town town with a historic Victorian core. Perfect for a weekend getaway from Dallas. #Texas #JeffersonTX #travel #getaway
It seemed like a thousand freight trains went past Jefferson.

After our little adventure on Caddo Lake, we drove a few miles to the town of Jefferson, TX, where we were spending the night. Our B&B was a lovely historic Victorian home, with lots of frilly lampshades, cushions and sundry knick-knacks. The creaky wood floors and slightly off-kilter doors spoke of old age and different construction techniques.

For dinner, I had the perfect marriage of Texas and Louisiana culinary traditions: a chicken fried steak po’boy. Jefferson lies a few miles from the state line and 168 miles east of Dallas. It is essentially Texan with a Cajun twist.

Jefferson is a little gem of a town town with a historic Victorian core. Perfect for a weekend getaway from Dallas. #Texas #JeffersonTX #travel #getaway
One of the many Victorian B&B in town.

The main reason for our trip was the Shakespeare under the Stars Festival. The company was made up of local amateur thespians and high school kids. Their enthusiasm shone through; it was lovely to watch them recite –or rattle off- their lines, sometimes with a funny pseudo-British accent.

They performed famous scenes for The Bard’s plays in the square’s gazebo-cum-stage. During the balcony scene, Romeo’s soliloquy was interrupted by a series of booms but the 14-year-old actor didn’t bat an eyelid and carried on as if he were performing at the Royal Shakespeare Company. The freight trains became a constant feature throughout the night. We had hardly any sleep later that night.

The gazebo turned stage for the night
The gazebo turned stage for the night

After the show, and feeling like a nightcap, Sean and I headed to the historic downtown in search for a watering hole. We chose a swanky wine bar. Although I‘ve lived in Texas long enough, I still find scenes like this fascinating: a tall man, whom I called Marlboro Man in my head, leaning against a wall, one booted foot resting on it, head bent with his Stetson obscuring half his face.

As is the way of small towns, the owner of the wine bar was the pilot of the boat we’d taken earlier. He stopped by our table for a chat.

Jefferson is a little gem of a town town with a historic Victorian core. Perfect for a weekend getaway from Dallas. #Texas #JeffersonTX #travel #getaway
Downtown Jefferson. The entrance to the wine bar is between those two buildings

Breakfast at the B&B was an awkward affair. We sat around a communal table with other guests. Some were silently stirring their coffee; some were whispering to their partners, some kept checking their phone. What little conversation there was, was stilted at the best of times. I couldn’t wait to get out of there, I’m not a morning person and therefore not very sociable at that time of day. A little antiquing before hitting the road changed my mood for the better.

Jefferson is a little gem of a town town with a historic Victorian core. Perfect for a weekend getaway from Dallas. #Texas #JeffersonTX #travel #getaway
One of my favourite historic homes

What to do in East Texas: Caddo Lake

If you’re looking for what to do in East Texas: Caddo Lake is the answer.

“Where are you from?”

“Argentina.”

“They just had the Carnival, right?”

“No,” scowl. “That’s Brazil, our next door neighbor.”

“Oh.”

The atmosphere on board of the wood paddle steamer cooled down a bit. I do not appreciate it when people mix up Argentina and Brazil, it’s a pet peeve of mine. I turned around and saw Sean smiling. He knows how much this small thing bothers me.

The Graceful Ghost paddle steamer.
The Graceful Ghost paddle steamer.

The captain and the pilot did not stop talking for a second. They talked about the local fauna and flora and history and tried to engage the passengers. They also had a well-studied banter going on between them. I’m sorry to say that I would have liked to be able to enjoy the serenity of the waters and the sounds of Mother Nature.

We were on a tour of Caddo Lake, about two and a half hours east of Dallas. The lake straddles the Texas-Louisiana border and is the biggest natural freshwater lake in the South. Its name comes from the Caddo Indians, a peaceful group who inhabited the area. The US government bought their land in 1835 for $80,000 and the Caddo had to relocate.

Hello, friends!
Hello, friends!

One middle-aged lady kept saying “Where are the gators? ” I want to see the gators” over and over again. I casually said that the alligators were probably hanging out in a quiet spot far away from humans. She didn’t appreciate my comment. I felt like the Grinch Who Stole the Gators.

I actually liked the lake. It was overcast, so the combination of dark waters and Spanish moss hanging from cypresses was the ideal setting for a B horror movie. I half expected the see the Mommy thrashing about among the trees.

Watch put for monsters
Watch out for monsters

The lake is part of the Caddo Lake State Park and many people come here to camp, spend the day, kayak, fish or hike. A lucky few own a house on the shore with their own mooring.

Lake house living
Lake living

After this little excursion, we headed to the town of Jefferson to check in at our B&B and get ready for the evening’s activities.

It's a lot prettier on a sunny day!
It’s a lot prettier on a sunny day!

A guided history walk of Guildford

History walk with The Guildford Town Guides, voluntary guides who take visitors on themed walks around Guildford. #England #Guildford #travel

The first time I ever heard the name Guildford was in the 1993 film In the Name of the Father, with Daniel Day-Lewis and Emma Thompson, which I watched in Buenos Aires. The movie is about the Guildford Four, a group of people wrongly convicted of the 1974 IRA’s bombing of two pubs in Guildford, England.

In a surprising turn of events, I first visited Guildford a decade later with my now husband, who grew up in the area. I’ve been back many times in the intervening years, whether for sightseeing or shopping. Only recently did I become interested in local history, which spans from Anglo Saxon times to today.

After a little digging, I came across the Guildford Town Guides, a group of voluntary guides that take visitors on themed walks around the city, free of charge. They encourage visitors to donate money, which each guide gives to the charity of their choice.

History walk with The Guildford Town Guides, voluntary guides who take visitors on themed walks around Guildford. #England #Guildford #travel
High Street seen from the bottom

On my recent visit to my in-laws, I chose to do the Historic Guildford walking tour. The meeting point was under the Tunsgate Arch on the High Street. The arch was built in 1818 on the site of the demolished Tun Inn to protect sacks of corn from the rain, as the corn market took place on the High Street outside the Guildhall directly across the street. Guildford had been a market town since Saxon times and a market is what distinguishes a town from a village.

Our guide, Jennifer, met us there. The tour started at 2.30 on the dot. We started with a little history of the High Street. This is one of my favourite spots and I never tire of admiring its gentle towards the River Wey.

History walk with The Guildford Town Guides, voluntary guides who take visitors on themed walks around Guildford. #England #Guildford #travel
The High Street seen from the top. The Tunsgate Arch is on the left, the Classical looking construction with the columns. The clock on the right hangs from the guildhall’s wall.

The village of Guildeforde, such was its Anglo Saxon name, ran along one street, the present day High St. At the time, they used ditches as boundaries between town and country. The present-day North Street was known then as Lower Backside (cue giggles) and Sydenham Street was known as Upper Backside.

There are still passages between houses that run from north to south to the countryside. One such passage is known as Jeffries’ Passage, named after a chemist. Our guide said, rather cheekily, that it was an unfortunate name. Would any British reader kindly enlighten me as to why?

Jennifer told us a little about some of the buildings there. For example, the site of the local branch of Lloyd’s Bank was Guildford’s first bank. The original shop sold silk and other expensive goods. It was so secure that other merchants started to leave valuables there for safekeeping.

The silk merchant then came up with the idea of starting the town’s first bank. A couple of doors down from the bank is Russell House, home of portraitist John Russell (1745-1806.)

History walk with The Guildford Town Guides, voluntary guides who take visitors on themed walks around Guildford. #England #Guildford #travel
The former silk shop

In the early 17th and the beginning of the 18th century, Guildford was the centre of the stagecoach era thanks to its strategic position between London and the south coast and the west of England. There were many turnpike inns along the street, such as the Angel Hotel, a posting house and livery. The oldest part of the building dates back to the 13th century. The black and white front is beautiful.

History walk with The Guildford Town Guides, voluntary guides who take visitors on themed walks around Guildford. #England #Guildford #travel
The Angel Hotel and Posting House

Another historic building on the High Street is the Guildhall, where a medieval guild used to convene. Two charters, one from 1259 granted by Edward III and one from 1488 granted by Henry VII, allowed the town to be governed by a mayor and “men of good repute” (merchants.) Thus, 13 men and a mayor ran Guildford until elections became mandatory in the 1830s.

The bottom part of the building dates from 1588 (the year of the Armada) and was used for committee meetings and trials. The original coats of arms on the windows are those of Elizabeth I, Anne of Denmark and Guildford. In the right-hand corner is a set of original Elizabethan official measures. The other extant set is in Winchester.

The top part of the Guildhall was built in 1683 and housed the council chambers. It has the only source of heat in the building, a 1633 fireplace salvaged from a demolished house. The insert (the metal bit) is Regency. The floor is askew because of old age.

History walk with The Guildford Town Guides, voluntary guides who take visitors on themed walks around Guildford. #England #Guildford #travel
The photographer was not tipsy, the floors are slanted.

The landing was added in the 1900s and was –I believe it still is- used as a changing area for councillors and judges. This is where the robes are kept: red for aldermen, black for councillors and blue for honorary freemen. Each robe has a tag with the name of its wearer.

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Red robes for the aldermen

At the top of the High Street is Abbott’s Hospital (1619-1622.) George Abbott, a Guildford native, attended the Royal Grammar School and went on to become an Oxford don, bishop of London and Coventry and archbishop of Canterbury.

He was grateful to his hometown for the education he received and founded this hospice for the poor. It was modelled after Oxford colleges with a quadrangle (yard) in the centre, a warden and a porter.

The quadrangle at Abbott's Hospital, which is not an actual hospital but a home.
The quadrangle at Abbott’s Hospital, which is not an actual hospital but a home.

Although men and women slept separately, there were common rooms for meals and a chapel. The place was financed by rents coming in from farms owned by the hospice. The building still functions as a hospice; an extension was built on the original garden in the 1980s.

Prospective residents have to meet one or more of these conditions nowadays: having lived 20 years in Guildford, having served the country or have nowhere else to go.

Abbott's Hospital at the top of High St.
Abbott’s Hospital at the top of High St., opposite Holy Trinity church

We ended the visit to the Undercroft. This one dates from the 1290s and is located under a croft (Scots for house) near the bottom of the High Street. In the Middle Ages, undercrofts were used for storage: dairy in the north end because it was cooler and animals at the opposite end.

This undercroft was thought to have been used as a shop, possibly selling wine from France. The borough rents the undercroft from the shop above and is open to visitors on Wednesday and Saturday afternoon from May to September.

History walk with The Guildford Town Guides, voluntary guides who take visitors on themed walks around Guildford. #England #Guildford #travel
View of the undercroft. Robert is wearing 13th-century clothing. Guildford was a wool town and has a blue dye named after it. Guildford blue was made with local yellow flowers and urine.

There were people from all walks of life and ages in my group: locals who were interested in the town’s history, as were a couple of pensioners, tourists and university students (I was the only non-European, though.) I thoroughly enjoyed the walk and I sincerely recommend it.

Guided visit to the Colón Opera House in Buenos Aires

What do vanilla wafers and the Colón Opera House have in common?

Opera!

Teatro Colón (Colón Opera Hoouse) is Argentina’s leading opera house, opened in 1908. Opera is also a popular brand of vanilla wafers made by a company called Bagley. They were launched in 1906 under a different name but the manufacturer decided to change it to Opera to honor the magnificent new opera house. Both have delighted generations of Argentineans to this day.

My mother and I took three of my nieces on a guided visit of “el Colón,” as it’s affectionately known. Our guide, Javier, was a delight. The tour started at the main entrance hall, on Libertad Street. This is where the other half makes a grand entrance. The more humble ticket holders go in through the Tucumán and Viamonte side entrances. It’s been this way ever since the opera house was opened in 1908.

Guided visit to the magnificent Colón Opera House (1908) in Buenos Aires, Argentina #buenosaires #travel #argentina
Main entrance hall

The main focal point of the hall, the grand Carrara marble staircase, symbolizes the link between the mundane and the world of the arts. The columns that support the ceiling are covered in different kinds of marble: red from Verona, yellow from Siena and pink from Portugal. The stained glass window is from Paris. The building, eclectic in style, was inspired by the great opera houses of Europe.

We mounted the stairs, worthy of the scene where Cinderella loses her crystal slipper, towards the Hall of Busts. Theatre-goers use this area during the intermission to stretch their legs, have drinks, chat, while Bizet, Beethoven, Rossini, Gounod, Mozart, Bellini, Verdi and Wagner look down from high up.

Javier told us that, in the past, the season was very short; it lasted for the winter only. The reason was that only time the European companies were able to travel to South America was during their summer. When the season finished, the Teatro Colón was closed until the following year. All this changed in 1920, when the Colón’s orchestra and ballet company were created and the season lasted from March to December. However, the Teatro Colón hosted a number of internationally renowned artists like Luciano Pavarotti, Igor Stravinsky or Maya Plisetskaya.

The lavish Golden Room sparkles, glitters and glimmers. Every surface is covered with gold leaf, gold dust paint and big mirrors. The floor is Slavonian oak. Thanks to the restoration undertaken between 2001 and 2010, the name of the artist that painted the linen ceiling was discovered. It was a Monsieur Romieu, forgotten or unknown for decades. The Golden Room is used for master classes, auditions and more intimate concerts.

Guided visit to the magnificent Colón Opera House (1908) in Buenos Aires, Argentina #buenosaires #travel #argentina
All that glitters is gold

We then moved on to the splendid concert hall. Our guide asked us to be very quiet. There was an audition going on and we didn’t want to disturb the candidates. We silently filed into one of the boxes, sat down and enjoyed part the audition. It felt like a privilege.

We were in an official box used by various authorities on special occasions. The President and the Mayor have their own boxes at either side of the stage, in a location called avant-scène. In the past, the widows could not be seen in public, so if they wanted to enjoy the ballet or the opera, they had to sit behind black railings inside enclosed boxes. Of course, widowers had carte blanche to have a merry old time.

Guided visit to the magnificent Colón Opera House (1908) in Buenos Aires, Argentina #buenosaires #travel #argentina
A candidate belting out during the audition. The widows’ boxes can be barely seen in the bottom right-hand corner.

The hall can seat up to 2,400 people. 300 more people can stand in the upper levels. Its horseshoe shape and open boxes mean that the sound can travel freely, making for almost perfect acoustics. The giant chandelier weighs a ton, literally. The renowned Argentinean artist Raúl Soldi painted the inside of the dome. There is a narrow corridor around the dome, well hidden from view, where musicians and singers can create special effects, like a chorus of angels coming from above. I wouldn’t be able to climb up there, let alone carry an instrument!

And for good measure, an old Opera commercial. I shouldn’t say old because I can remember watching it! The quality isn’t very good, I’m afraid, but the sentimental value is there.