Happy Sounds Video, New Zealand Redwoods and Corrugated Pets by da-AL

Turn your sound up high to listen to the ASMR happy sounds of redwood trees creaking in the wind, sounding like old-fashioned rocking chairs…

Most people know of the redwoods of California, where trees are so awe-inspiring that they’ve got names and their Avenue of the Giants. But did you know that New Zealand has its own redwood forest? For our New Zealand vacation, we’d seen a bit of Auckland and Rotorua. Now we got out of our car and hiked up, up, up…

da-AL strolls up to New Zealand’s redwood forest.

Back in the early 1900s, New Zealand officials admired our redwoods — and then planted some of their own! — resulting in the Redwoods Forest of Whakarewarewa. New Zealand soil is so dense with nutrients that the trees grew faster there than they do in the U.S. Like California’s, New Zealand’s big trees provide homes to an abundance of wildlife, including endangered creatures.

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Trees actually talk to each other, creating an ecosystem among themselves that feeds everything from below their roots to far into the air! Redwoods can live for thousands of years — unless humans cut them down or pollute them to death. Alas, the largest was felled around 1945. The most massive tree on earth now is the General Sherman, at 83.8 meters (275 ft) high by 7.7 m (25 ft) wide. The world’s oldest tree lives in California too — a bristlecone pine that’s 5,068 years old. Let’s hope we don’t kill them or their kin.

A little further along, we stopped to pet corrugated animals in the city of Tirau!…

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What’s the biggest tree you’ve ever seen?

Rousing Rotorua, NZ by da-AL

We landed at Auckland Airport early, rented a car — and learned how to drive on the ‘wrong’ (har-har-har) side of the road. A quick look around and lunch later, we headed south for Rotorua.

Rotorua is lovely, including its historic district.

Breath in! That rousing scent, which is e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e (even where no water is visible), is that of healing minerals permeating the air! In unscientific terms, New Zealand is the result of volcanic activity. Hence, the region teams with gurgling springs from where steam plumes and billows. Some are pleasingly warm to soak one’s body in, others are hot enough to cook in.

During the late 1800s, officials saw tourism money in those spas. They erected buildings, planted gardens, smoothed out sports greens, and more — all with the intent of creating a resort destination.

Here’s the historic district built in the late 1800s/early 1900s, which still attracts busloads of visitors…

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Part of the historic area pays respect to the indigenous Māori (who, by the way, fought valiantly in World War II)…

Elsewhere in Rotorua is a marae, a Māori meeting grounds complex set within a residential neighborhood. If you ever find yourself at one, remember that visitors must be formally invited inside.

A Māori meeting house in Rotorua.

Rotorua’s current mayor is Steve Chadwick, a long-time politician born Stephanie Anne Frizzell, was into her 60s when she was elected into office.

Who are the indigenous people where you live?

Part 4: Do Marvelous Madrid, Spain, Cats Pray? VIDEO by da-AL

It's magical how Wifi stands and waves his paws!... It’s magical how WiFi stands and waves his paws!

The marvels of Spain, too numerous to count (after all, my soon-to-be self-published novel is called “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat”) — were rendered all the more marvelous thanks to our kind hostess Henrietta Fielden (henriettafielden@gmail.com).

Her flat in Madrid is located within a theater building that’s over a hundred years old. Everything there is gorgeous, starting with the stairwell…

Madrid, Spain, stairwell skylight. Going up is lovely…
Madrid, Spain, stairwell. And so is going down…

…and ending with dear Henrietta herself! Starting each day at her table was a delight not merely because her breakfast spreads were feasts both eyes and tummy — she’s also fun and interesting to chat with, no matter how our sleepy bodies protested at waking early for more sighseeing …

Breakfast with hostess Henrietta Fielden and da-AL's husband.

…moreover, her little Wifi kitty could easily be a professional stand-er! According to Henrietta, he’s merited quite a few Japanese YouTube viewers since she hosted guests from there.

My husband and I are fortunate to have met WiFi’s equally handsome and charming brother. Alas, WiFi’s performance made me forget to photograph his brother who has since passed away, his life far too short.

When I uploaded this short video of WiFi to my YouTube channel, Henrietta contributed this enlightening note, “There’s my WiFi! To potential fans, I should let you know he lacks discrimination. He will do this to a bare wall sometimes, too. So perhaps it is a kind of praying…”

Both of them humored my taking many pictures of them to share with you…

Henrietta and Wifi cuddling.

In the end, it’s the kindness of the people I meet on a trip that most touch my heart.

Our trip included:

Barcelona, Spain

Huesca, Spain

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France

Espelette, France

French Basque Country: Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Bayonne, and Biarritz, France

San Sebastián, Spain

Bilbao, Spain

León, Spain

Madrid — Part 1Part 2Part 3 — this  post (Part 4)

What magic have you experienced on a vacation?

Part 3: Marvelous Madrid, Spain — Flamenco by da-AL

Flamenco goddess Carmen Amaya. Flamenco goddess Carmen Amaya.

My father was from Spain, so even though I was born and mostly raised in the U.S., the music of my childhood was solely European classical and flamenco. That’s why my upcoming novel is named, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” and here flamenco my marvelous visit to Madrid merits a post of its own.

When it comes to flamenco, Seville gets all of the attention. Madrid’s Casa Patas, however, was amazing!!! My photos turned out awful — instead, here’s someone else’s video from another show. Each night features different performers. As terrific as these young girls are — the adult performers were even better!!!

How I wish young girls everywhere knew that beauty has little to do with popularity, wealth, youth, and plastic surgery. If only every single one of them was encouraged to artistically express unrestrained exuberance, anger, strength, fury, humor, and passion …

The beauty of flamenco is very different from that of Hollywood…

All-time flamenco goddess, Carmen Amaya

Flamenco star of today, Sara Baras…

Next, in Part 4, Madrid hostess par excellence Henrietta Fielden, her home, and her pets — all delightful enough to merit a separate post and a video!

Other posts about our memorable vacation:

Barcelona, Spain

Huesca, Spain

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France

Espelette, France

French Basque Country: Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Bayonne, and Biarritz

San Sebastián, Spain

Bilbao, Spain

León, Spain

Madrid, Spain — Part 1Part 2 — this post (Part 3) — Part 4

Have you ever been enchanted by a country’s special dance?

Part 2: Marvelous Madrid, Spain — Parks, Prado, and Sofia by da-AL

Madrid is such a jam-packed marvel that it deserves more than one post. Spacious parks abound. Here I posed at one that displayed Don Quixote and his devoted Sancho Panza

da-AL stands beside statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza at park in Madrid Thank goodness these aren’t the kinds of horses that need to be swept up after.

We could have spent way more than just a day at the Prado Museum, regarded as among world’s finest art museums. Outside in front of it, a bronze statue of painter Diego Velázquez made by Aniceto Marinas in 1899 greets visitors…

da-AL with Velázquez Statue at entry to Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain.

Even the gardens surrounding the Prado are amazing — my eyes were too busy taking it all in for my brain to remind me to take photos. No worries, dear readers. This short video offers a sampling of the collection … 

We also visited the National Museum Art Centre Queen Sofia, which is best for housing Picasso’s Guernica painting

Picasso's Guernica Painting.

Such is my love of Spain and Flamenco (after all, my novel-in-progress is titled, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat) that here I include this endearing small pen and ink pen drawing, “Bailaora (Flamenco Dancer)” 1945 by Enrique Herreros that was also there…

“Bailaora (Flamenco Dancer)” 1945 by Enrique Herreros

Flamenco deserves its own post — visit soon to read Part 3: Marvelous Madrid, Spain.

Our trip’s itinerary in posts:

1. Beautiful Barcelona

2. Wonderful Huesca

3. Pretty Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

4. Enchanting Espelette

5. Phenomenal French Basque Country

6. Delicious food and seaside dogs in San Sebastián

7. Breathtaking Bilbao

8. Lovely León

9. Marvelous Madrid — Part 1 — this post (Part 2) — Part 3Part 4

Are you planning a vacation?

Part 1: Marvelous Madrid, Spain — Graffiti and Royal Palace by da-AL

da-AL and her husband on the balcony of the Royal Palace of Madrid. The king of Spain and his family weren’t in when we visited, but we still enjoyed his nice house.

Our three-week Spain/France adventure ended with four nights in Madrid — a city that needs far more time than that to fully appreciate all of its marvelousness — museums, architecture, public art, food (including the world’s oldest restaurant), parks (among them centuries-old gardens), nightlife, and on and on. So much so that this part of our vacation is split into more than one post!

“Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” my novel-in-progress, is titled for my love of Spain and multi-culturalism. My husband and I arrived tired and late. Driving from León took longer than we planned, and rain made finding our accommodations extra troublesome.

The next morning we slept in, and then took a leisurely stroll that quickly revealed tons of political graffiti, much of it for gender equality, amid the big city hustle-bustle…

After a stop for lunch, we started to feel ourselves again, so we ventured further to where the king and his family stay when they’re in town.

da-AL's husband stands before the palace of the king of Spain.

The Royal Palace of Madrid was built in 1764. From floors to ceilings, it’s packed with non-stop gorgeous art…

Ceiling art at the Royal Palace of Madrid. Does the royal family find their ceiling art a pain in the neck?

Ceiling art at the Royal Palace of Madrid.

Check out Marvelous Madrid, Spain, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

In the meantime, if you’d like to know about the rest of our trip…

It started with a weekend in beautiful Barcelona …

where we rented a car and stopped in wonderful Huesca

Then crossed into France to pretty saint-jean-pied-de-port

and the next day spent an afternoon in enchanting Espelette

For several days in phenomenal French Basque Country, we enjoyed Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Bayonne, and Biarritz …

Back in Spain, we enjoyed delicious food and seaside dogs in San Sebastián

followed by the breathtaking city of Bilbao

Before we got to Madrid, there was lovely León!

What’s the longest you’ve taken on a vacation?

Ancient and Modern: Lovely León, Spain by da-AL

Photo of da-AL at León book fair.
Rain can’t dampen the beauty of León’s historic district — especially when it’s got a late night book fair!

I love Spain! It’s no accident that one of my soon-to-be self-published novels is called, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat.”

A dream to sightsee on foot, León, Spain, was the next to last stop of a fun-filled vacation that my husband and I began with a weekend in beautiful Barcelona and then a stop in wonderful Huesca. We crossed the French border into pretty saint-jean-pied-de-port, enchanting Espelette, and phenomenal French Basque Country cities Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Bayonne, and Biarritz. Upon our return to Spain, we enjoyed delicious food and seaside dogs in San Sebastián, and then the breathtaking city of Bilbao.

León, founded in 29 B.C., has so much fascinating architecture that the two days we visited weren’t enough to see everything. León’s gothic Santa María de León Cathedral was constructed mostly during 1205 to 1301, its north tower and cloister during the 14-century, and its south tower in 1472. Ever see Mother Mary pregnant? (Tap on photos to see them bigger and their captions.)

It’s an important cathedral on The Way of Saint James (El Camino de Santiago) religious pilgrimage route.

Architect Antoni Gaudí welcomes company. He’s best known for Barcelona’s Sagrada Família Cathedral. In León, he designed Casa Botines from 1891 to 1892. In 1929, it became a bank but has since reverted to its original appearance. Downstairs featured a display of Francisco Goya’s political cartoons.

Photo of da-AL with employee and Susana, owner of 'a comer' restaurant.
Susana and her employee cook with love — ‘a comer’ restaurant is a must-eat-at!

Spain’s homestyle food (unlike typical restaurant fare most anywhere) is loaded with delicious veggies. I swooned when we happened into a tiny eatery that cooked like I was visiting someone’s gourmet granny — we ate there twice! Every single morning, ‘a comer’ take out restaurant owner Susana shops for the best of what’s in season, then cooks a new menu from scratch — thank you from the bottom of my stomach, querida Susana!

Photo of hosts Marco Tsitselis and Mariu Alvarez Garcia.
We’re so glad Marco and Mariu rented us a lovely room!

Our hosts, Marco and Mariu, made our stay at their home extra cozy and our visit to León extra memorable — many thanks to both of them!

It was time to hit the highway to Madrid!…