Spectacular Views in and Around Gold Coast, Australia by da-AL

Best of all Lookouts, Springbrook National Park.

“Best of All Lookouts,” located on the rim of a 20 million-year-old volcano, is aptly named. Australia has more beauty than one can visit in a lifetime. Fortunately for my husband and me, our family there was generous about sharing many sights near their home in the Gold Coast.

From New Zealand’s Auckland / Rotorua / Redwoods / Huka Falls / Craters of the Moon / Waitomo Glowworms Caves / Taupo / Pirongia / Hamilton Gardens — to Australia’s Tai Chi in Gold Coast / Birds Part 1 / Birds Part 2 / ate a delicious meal on the beach / saw wild things and cute things at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary / had fun with Rita Rigby / met the beasts of Brisbane and the beauty there / enjoyed Sydney this much and that much — our vacation was filled with spectacular beauty.

Near Best of All Lookouts is Purling Brook Falls

Purling Brook Falls, Springbrook National Park.

and this memorable tree…

Khashayar takes a break in a tree while Rita and I look on.

with remarkable bark…

Tree bark: nature is the ultimate artist.

And this great dictionary…

Terminology sign, Springbrook National Park.

Along the drive there, we stopped to admire Hinze Dam

To stand in the middle of its road.
And to stop and admire the view.

Further along, we took in views in and around Point Danger, where New South Wales meets Queensland…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What’s the most unique sight near your city?

Paradise, Fantasy, Productive: Hamilton Gardens, NZ by da-AL

Chinoise Garden at Hamilton Gardens, NZ: How non-Chinese people think of Chinese design is not altogether authentic.

Without Vicky Apps’ (more about her here) recommendation that we visit New Zealand’s Hamilton Gardens and had we not followed it, I’d have missed what’s my new fascination: Chinoiserie, namely the idea of it. The term has to do with European imitation of Chinese design during the 1600s and 1700s, and then again in the 1930s.

Replication isn’t what fascinates me, however — it’s the revelation that I’m so accustomed to seeing European-ized versions of Chinese art — that the non-real stuff looks more real than what’s authentic!

In addition, thanks to the park’s Katherine Mansfield garden, I’ve discovered that she was a pivotal New Zealand short story writer, feminist, and activist for Māori rights.

Khashayar at Katherine Mansfield’s garden.

Vacationing from Auckland to Rotorua, from New Zealand’s Redwoods to Huka Falls, from Craters of the Moon and Waitomo Glowworms Caves to Taupo, my husband and I had the good fortune of meeting kind and wise Vicky in Pirongia. (Later in Australia’s Gold Coast, we visited family and birds of Australia Part 1 of 2 plus Part 2 of 2, we marveled at the Spectacular Views in and Around Gold Coast, enjoyed a delicious meal on the beach, saw some wild things and cute things at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, had fun with Rita Rigby, met the beasts of Brisbane and the beauty there, and enjoyed Sydney this much and that much.

Created in the 1960s on an old rubbish dump, 1.1 million people a year visit Hamilton Gardens! The ongoing mission of the park is to tell the International Story of Gardens as it relates to the evolution of culture. The result is an expanding collection of gardens inspired by various nations, arts including story-telling, and our use of plants on a day-to-day basis…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What comes to mind when you think of gardens?

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?

Huntington Library, Art, and Gardens by da-AL

da-AL at The Huntington, sitting on a bench in rose garden

What better way is there to celebrate a special occasion than with an all-day excursion of gorgeous weather, strolling an array of gardens that span rainforest to desert and Japanese to Australian to more, seeing the worlds’s stinkiest (and amusingly phallic) plant, eating international fare, admiring fine art museums, and ending it all with a high tea?

My honey and I spent our special day at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens (a collections-based educational and research institution) located in San Marino, California. Tap photos for captions…

da-AL and her honey having high tea at The Huntington

What’s your favorite way to celebrate a special day?