Exploring Antoni Gaudí’s Palau Guëll

Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell

I'm just going to take five photos, I thought to myself. I don't actually have to take a hundred photos of every place I visit, making it ever more difficult to choose a couple and write about it. I suspect that many readers familiar with Palau Guëll in Barcelona are already enjoying a hearty laugh at my expense. It is safe to say that this wonderful example of Antoni Gaudí design far exceeded my expectations in every way. 

The Basement in Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell

We began our tour of the palace in the basement where the horses were kept and we had a chance to see the original canine hitching posts. I loved the light in the basement which was enhanced by both the central skylight and the light streaming in from the windows at street level. 

Dog hitching post in Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell


Paraballic arches in Antoni Gaudi's Palau Guell

We moved to the ground floor next where we admired the parabolic arches above the main doors and ascended the central staircase to the mezzanine level. We admired the original wooden door, complete with the most beautiful peep hole. The lamp in the photo below is original as is the tropical red bullet wood ceiling. 

Central staircase leading up to the Mezzanine level in Antoni Gaudi's Palau Guell

Original lamp in Antoni Gaudi's Palau Guell

We took the stairs to the main floor and turned towards the Hall of Intimates. I was quite fascinated by the name of this space alone and this is where the Guëll daughters gave piano concerts and where the family dined with their closest friends. The walnut table and oak chairs finished with embossed leather are all original to the Guëll era. 

The Hall of Intimates in Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell

Outside of the Hall of Intimates, I saw an unremarkable corridor and could not fathom why I was being directed to look down it. It was only after I brought my camera to my eye and looked down the viewfinder that I saw it. The light flowing through the stained glass windows was simply exquisite.

Corridor in Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell

This corridor connected the palace with the family residence on nearby La Rambla where Guëll's father resided. 

Neighbouring buildings in Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell

We soon emerged on to the southern terrace where I admired the rear facade of the building as well as the neighbouring residences. What a difference in style!

The Room of Lost Steps in Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell

We retraced our steps and found ourselves in the Hall of Lost Steps. By now I was loving the names of all the different rooms. I am sad to admit that I have no idea why the hall has this name. I think it is because of its unique acoustic properties. What is notable about this space, apart from the fact that it leads to the Central Hall, is that Gaudí made use of the bay window area by erecting three arches and thus creating the illusion of a slightly wider space. 

The Ceiling of the Visitor's Room in Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell

I wandered next into the Visitor's Hall which afforded a view of the dressing room where female guests could prepare for occasions. The Visitor's Hall had the most beautiful oak, wrought iron and gold leaf ceiling and stained glass windows looking on to the street. To the top left in the photo below is a lattice window that allowed the Guëlls to observe guests without being seen. How intriguing!

The Visitor's Room in Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell

We moved back into the Hall of Lost steps and it was finally time to admire the Central Hall which was quite exquisite. Looking up we could see the parabolic dome as well as the pipes of the organ.

Looking up in the Central Hall in Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell

From the Musician's Gallery, we were afforded quite a view of the hall. The doors ahead are the doors to the chapel. When they were open, the halls was used for religious services and when they were closed, the hall was used for recitals, concerts and other gatherings. 

The Central Hall in Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell

The screen separating the Musician's Gallery from the central hall was made of rosewood and ebony and designed in the Arabian style that appealed to Gaudí. 

Arabian Style Screen in Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell

Ascending the stairs to the bedroom level, we found  ourselves in another Hall of Intimates, this time used by the family as a sitting room. I especially liked the painting of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary above the fireplace. It was done by Alexandre de Riquer and was done with gold and stone inlay in marble. 

St Elizabeth in Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell

From the hall of intimates, we gained a fantastic view of the organ pipes and I admired the windows that opened on to the central hall too.

Pipe Organ in Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell

Art Deco Windows Looking Out To Central Hall in Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell

On this level, we also saw the bedrooms of Eusebi Guëll, his wife Isabel López and their six children. There was an exhibition of Guëll furniture, including this art nouveau screen and a dressing table belonging to the eldest of the Guëll daughters, Isabel. 

Art Nouveau Screen in Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell

Before escaping the heat of the bedroom level, we paused only to admire these geometric bathroom tiles before rushing to the attic. 

Geometric bathroom tiles  in Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell

The servants used to stay on the attic level and laundry and kitchen tasks were performed there too. The attic seems lovely and airy today but it's hard to believe that eleven bedrooms were crammed up there together with a kitchen and laundry. 

Attic level of  Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell

I peeked out of the window and took another opportunity to admire the houses behind. I do love seeing how people live. 

Houses behind Antoni Gaudi's Palau Guell

Finally it was time to climb our final set of stairs to the roof level. If I broke my five photo rule in the house then I smashed it completely on the roof which is why it deserves its own post. Here is just a taster.

Central spire on roof of Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell

Mosaic chimney stacks on roof of Antonio Gaudi's Palau Guell

Palau Guëll costs just €12 to get in and the admission charge includes the use of an especially interesting and informative audio guide which is very helpful. Of all the places I’ve paid to enter in recent months, this was the money best spent and I would absolutely recommend a visit. Also worth noting is that Palau Guëll open their doors for free on the first Sunday of each month but tickets are naturally limited and you must be there at 10am or 3pm in order to claim tickets.

Palau Guëll
Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 3-5
08001 Barcelona

A Night at the Opera: Tosca at the ENO

ENO Tosca Company (c) Richard Hubert Smith

My love for opera is quite new. I was always in love with the idea of opera, inspired by countless films in which the characters sat in the balcony at the opera and silently wept, but my first night out at the opera was last year. Of course, that was all it took. Seeing Puccini's La Bohème at the ENO was incredibly moving and I knew then that I had become a lifelong fan.

Naturally I was delighted when the ENO contacted me to ask if I would like to see Puccini’s Tosca, on at the ENO until December. I said yes straight away and was thus treated to an evening of tragedy, colourful costumes and breathtaking sets.

The Story

Tosca is set in Rome during the time of Napoleon's invasion of Italy. It is the story of betrayal, political sabotage and a politician who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. It is also the story of a love that knows no parallel.

ENO Tosca Gwyn Hughes Jones and Keri Alkema 1 (c) Richard Hubert Smith

Tosca is an opera singer known across all of Rome for her talent and beauty. She is deeply in love with the artist Cavaradossi but her jealousy stands ever at the fringe of their relationship. When Angelotti, an escaped political prisoner, flees to the Sant'Andrea della Valle in Rome, Cavaradossi agrees to hide him but it is a decision that will change his life forever. Suddenly, sadistic police chief Scarpia has his sights on Cavaradossi but it is Tosca who he really wants.

What follows is a story of unbearable treachery and murder, sweetened only by a love that knows no bounds.

The Production

Tosca at the ENO is an extravaganza of colour, sound and incredible set design. It really was a feast for all of the senses and made for a highly entertaining evening.

ENO Tosca Gwyn Hughes Jones and Robert Winslade Anderson (c) Richard Hubert Smith

Soprano Keri Alkema is Tosca and she captures the audience’s imagination as the passionate and playful opera singer. Her lover Cavaradossi is played by Gwyn Hughes Jones, notable for his dedication to Tosca and his defiance in the face of adversity.

Craig Colclough plays Scarpia and he was utterly convincing and quite frightening as the nasty and dastardly villain. He was thoroughly horrible.

ENO Tosca Keri Alkema and Craig Colclough 1 (c) Richard Hubert Smith

The dramatic storyline is accompanied by Puccini’s powerful score and the orchestra was conducted by noted Puccini specialist Oleg Caetani.


If you’ve ever wanted to see the opera but aren’t sure where to start, then the English National Opera is the place to start. Their aim is to bring opera to the masses and they do everything in their power to ensure that people without an in-depth knowledge of foreign languages or famous plays can enjoy a night out at the opera. The performances are in English with surtitles above the stage to assist the audience in following the story. I’d also highly recommend the ENO programmes too, they are full of information about the writers, the social and political environment in which the operas were drafted and notable performances over the years.

ENO Tosca Craig Colclough and Gwyn Hughes Jones (c) Richard Hubert Smith

Opera Undressed

The ENO have also gone one step further with their brand new Opera Undressed events. If you sign up for a free Opera Undressed membership, you can experience your first opera for just £20 plus booking fee and also attend a pre-performance talk about the production plus a post-show party with the cast. Not only is this incredible value but we found the pre-performance talk to be especially informative and interesting.

The Trailer


Tosca at the ENO is on until 3 December 2016 and is highly recommended.

London Coliseum
St Martin’s Lane

I’d like to thank the ENO for inviting me along to the Opera Undressed event for Tosca at the London Coliseum.

All photos © Richard Hubert Smith

Inside Prague’s St Agnes of Bohemia Convent

The Cloister at Saint Agnes of Bohemia

Saint Agnes was the sister of King Wenceslas I and in 1234, she founded a convent of the Poor Clares in what is now the Jewish Quarter of Prague. It might seem unusual to visit a convent when touring the Jewish Quarter of Prague but there are three very good reasons that we did: it was cool inside and provided a welcome respite from the sweltering June heat but it was also a Saturday afternoon and many of the locations in the Jewish were closed. You would think that I would know this, given my Jewish heritage. The most important reason to visit the St Agnes of Bohemia Convent is that it is beautiful.

Built between 1231 and 1234, St Agnes is not only one of the oldest convents in Europe but it is also the oldest example of Gothic architecture in Bohemia, the former name of the Czech Republic.

Cloister St Agnes of Bohemia

We began our exploration in the cloisters which date back to the 14th century. I was particularly entranced by the Gothic vaulted ceilings and the shadows of the windows throughout the cloister.

Gothic vaulted ceilings in the Cloister of St Agnes of Bohemia

This lone man resting on the bench gives an idea of the scale of the cloisters.

I walked around the cloisters twice, once without taking any photos at all and simply taking in my surroundings. I love Gothic architecture and St Agnes is one of the finest instances I have seen to date.

Looking into the Presbytery of the Church of St Francis, St Agnes of Bohemia

We soon moved on to the Presbytery of the Church of St Francis. This is known as the ‘new’ section of the church, built only in 1261. The church was consecrated during the coronation of the Přemysl king Otakar II and was intended to become the final resting place of the Přemyslid dynasty but Otakar II was buried in St Vitus Cathedral along with his father.

Decorated capital Presbytery of the Church of St Francis, St Agnes of Bohemia

Vaulted ceiling in Presbytery of the Church of St Francis, St Agnes of Bohemia

Windows Presbytery of the Church of St Francis, St Agnes of Bohemia¬

Presbytery of the Church of St Francis, St Agnes of Bohemia

The Church of St Francis is vast and quite breathtaking. You can see that Stephen looks quite tiny in the photo above, giving some idea of its scale.

Gothic Doorway St Agnes of Bohemia

Leading off from the Church of St Francis is the Chapel of the Virgin Mary, another vast and impressive room. Agnes’s private chapel and living quarters were built into the upper floor of this space.

Chapel of the Virgin Mary at St Agnes of Bohemia

Passageway St Agnes of Bohemia

Turning back the way we had come, we walked towards the cloisters and noticed one last room to the right.

The refectory and nun's workroom at St Agnes of Bohemia

This was the refectory and nun’s work room, once two rooms and now one large space.

Statues on display at St Agnes of Bohemia

Winding our way around the cloisters again, I stopped to admire the collection of religious sculptures. 

Statue of Jesus at St Agnes of Bohemia

With one last look at the Gothic vaulted ceilings, it was time to move on to the first floor.

Gothic cloister St Agnes of Bohemia

Visitors to St Agnes of Bohemia can also treat themselves to an impressive collection of medieval art at the National Gallery which is housed on the first floor of the old convent. The collection is vast and arranged in chronological order. Not surprisingly, no photography is allowed in the gallery but you can visit the website to see more: Narodni Galerie. My favourite section was the triptychs, including the Reininghaus Altarpiece which came from Southern Bohemia and was dated to about 1430. There is also a collection of Madonna and Child sculptures and a selection of stained glass crucifixions.

St Agnes of Bohemia
U Milosrdných 17
110 00 Prague 1 - Old Town
Tel.: +420 224 810 628

The entry fee is 300 CZK and will grant admission for seven days to all six permanent exhibitions of the National Gallery in Prague – Kinský Palace, Convent of St Agnes of Bohemia, Trade Fair Palace, Sternberg Palace, Schwarzenberg Palace, Salm Palace. My next trip to Prague will be a dedicated art tour and I will definitely be using this ticket!

Alone With My Camera in Barcelona

Sagrada Família, Barcelona

It was one of those conversations. I'm quite certain it began with the two of us communicating like adults but it had somehow become quite fraught. I began to backtrack. "Okay, Stephen, is there anything you'd like to specifically see in Barcelona?" I asked. "Well, don't you want visit Camp Nou?" he replied. Somewhat adept at this communication thing after 18 years together, I restrained myself from replying that of course I didn't want to visit a football stadium during my visit to one of the world's most architecturally and artistically important cities. I simply smiled sweetly and suggested that we part ways at Sagrada Família and that Stephen visit the hallowed grounds of FC Barcelona's football team and I'd embark on my planned 5 mile walk into the centre of the city. 

And so it was that I found myself alone on the streets of Barcelona with just my camera and a map to guide my way. 

Crowds at Sagrada Familia

Stephen and I had walked to the Sagrada Família together and once he left, I cast my eyes around for something to catch my fancy. The crowds were interesting to a point, but dissatisfied with the sheer number of selfie-sticks and mobile phones, I started walking. 

Catalan flag

Like many cities, it took a little while to get a feel for Barcelona. The first thing I noticed was the large number of Catalan flags draped over people's balconies. I was reminded of a friend who earnestly told me the last time I was in the region that Catalunya is not Spain. It made me smile to remember that. 

Man with phone in Barcelona

As I walked down the street I noticed this young man perched against the wall and I had to take his photo. I loved the relaxed vibe of Barcelona. 

Barcelona facade

Barcelona is a very pretty city and the architecture is quite spectacular. I loved how much detail each structure had. 

Monument to Narcís Monturiol, Barcelona

I quite liked this monument dedicated to Narcís Monturiol who invented the first combustion-engine-driven submarine in the mid 19th century. 

Cyclist in Barcelona

I soon learned that to cross roads in Barcelona is to take your life into your own hands. I'm happy to say that conditions seem less perilous for cyclists. 

Antoni Gaudí's Casa Milà

I soon arrived at Antoni Gaudí's Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera. Completed in 1912, Gaudí designed this building for Roser Segimon and Pere Milà. The building is built around a central space, designed so that the inhabitants can speak with each other. I wanted so badly to go inside but knew that I had to press on to make my lunch time rendezvous with Le Husband. 

Antoni Gaudi's Casa Batlló

A short walk from Casa Milà was Casa Batlló, a building restored by Gaudí and Josep Maria Jujol between 1904 and 1906. 

Casa Batlló - Gaudi

The building features Gaudí's distinctive oval Windows and reminded me, not for the first time, of Dr Seuss. 

Barceona bus stop

If you like people-watching and street photography, then Barcelona will certainly appeal to you. 

Casa Calvet

I finally arrived at the Casa Calvet. The plans for this building were initially rejected (on account of the area being exceeded) and Gaudí famously returned them, uncorrected, stating that the building would be severely compromised if not built to his exact specifications. It was built to his exact specifications. 

Barcelona street scene

Soon enough, it was time to head off to my meeting point with Stephen. 

Barcelona sign

I spotted this quote upon the wall and tried my best to translate it. I think it roughly translates to "And now I leave with regret and my heart breaks because I long to leave the streets of Barcelona".  I’d love to know the proper translation!

Catalan flags in Barcelona

I encountered more Catalan flags...

Puppet heads in Barcelona

...and some eerie puppet heads in a window. 

Pastries in a shop window in Barcelona

I spotted some delicious cakes in a shop window and was reminded how hungry I was. I kid, I didn't need reminding. 

Barcelona manhole cover

I admired this quirky manhole cover outside the London Bar...

Street in Barcelona

...and peered down this tree-lined street. 

Bikes for hire in Barcelona

I looked longingly at this quirky bike-hire business and promised that next time I would hire a bike rather than walking myself ragged. 

Statue in Barcelona

At last, Stephen and I found each other and it was time for lunch and a bit of relaxation. I must say, I rather deftly positioned this photo to avoid a rather rude shop front behind the statue. This poor girl seems doomed to overlook an adult entertainment establishment for the rest of her days. 

Thank you for joining in on yet another one of my epic walks. I promise to tell you all about Palau Guëll soon.

The World Garden at Lullingstone Castle

Wisteria and vine at Lullingstone Castle World Garden

Have you ever encountered a story so big that you simply had no idea where to start? This is how I feel about The World Garden at Lullingstone Castle. I want to tell you everything and show you every single photo that I took while I was there but that would simply be impossible. Where to begin?

Perhaps it would be best to begin where it all started. In March 2000, Tom Hart Dyke was on a plant hunting exhibition in the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia when he was abducted and held hostage for nine months. Threatened daily with execution, Tom began to conceive of a garden where he would collect plants from every corner of the globe and lay them out in their respective countries of origin.

Tom returned home one week before Christmas in 2000 and immediately set about making his dream a reality. The result is The World Garden and I’m going to let you in on a spoiler: it is wonderful.

Seduction and abduction - The Story of Europa

The garden is a little bit like the British Museum – there are so many plants and there is so much to see that you could easily spend an entire day there and not see everything. Unlike the British Museum where I spent my first few visits in Ancient Egypt alone, I am proud to say that I visited every continent in the World Garden. It will surprise nobody that my favourite areas were Africa and the rain forests. I do like it hot and humid, that is for sure!

Because I’ve already spoiled everything by telling you how wonderful the World Garden is and because there is just so much to see, I’m going to tell you about my six favourite areas.

The Moon Gate at Lullingstone Castle World Garden

First, we need to enter the World Garden via the Moon Gate. You enter at the top of the world and walk through England with Asia to the left and North America to the right.

South America

Bird of Paradise at Lullingstone Castle World Garden

I loved the plants in the South America area. So many of them look familiar to me – possibly because the climate in Africa and South America can be similar and because millions of years ago, the two continents were one.

Passion flower at Lullingstone Castle World Garden

Hot & Spikey House

Cacti in the hot and spiky room at the World Garden

Walking through the Hot & Spiky House brought back so many memories. Firstly, cacti, agaves and aloes grow all over South Africa and suit our sometimes dry climate perfectly. Secondly, I once lived in a house with a massive cactus garden. Anyone who has ever collected cacti can tell you how expensive they are but luckily we inherited the garden.

Agave macroacantha in the hot and spiky house World Garden

And finally, one of my very first art projects in high school was to draw a yellow and green agave just like this. Well, we were actually meant to be drawing the entire cactus garden at school but I remember trying to get this one right.

Variegated agave

The Moroccan Blue Room

Blue Room at the World Garden

The Moroccan Blue Room was fashioned after the iconic Marjorelle Gardens in Marrakesh and the room had such a beautiful atmosphere that I could have stayed there for ages.

The Blue Room at the World Garden

The Cloud Garden

China Doll Tree in the Cloud Garden at the World Garden

I have a thing about indoor gardens. I remember going to an exhibition at Blackpool Tower when I was about five and they had steamed up the interior and brought in tropical plants and they had monkeys and tropical birds too. It was my first taste of life in the tropics, taking place a good four years before we moved to South Africa.

The Cloud Garden at Lullingstone reminded me of that – a specially constructed polypropylene structure built to create the ideal temperate environment for plants from New Zealand, South Africa and Asia.

Oak leafed papaya in the Cloud Garden at the World Garden

The Orchid House

Purple orchids at Lullingstone Castle World Garden

I have to tell you, I had a hard time choosing two photos from the Orchid House after managing to take almost thirty! That wasn’t why this is one of the best parts of the World Garden though. Oh no, the reason is because it houses the Dendrocnide moroides or Queensland Stinger, rumoured to be be the most dangerous plant on the planet. Actually, there are no rumours about it – the entire plant is covered in stinging hairs that transmit a neurotoxin and one touch can leave you with blisters and up to nine months of intense throbbing pain. I don’t have a photo of the plant because it scared the heck out of me!

White Orchids at Lullingstone Castle World Garden

South Africa

Baobab tree at Lullingstone Castle World Garden

I loved the South Africa section of the garden and wondered around aimlessly for the longest time, running my hands through the plants and remembering our life in South Africa. For instance, we used to have feathered reed grass just like in the photo above in our very first house in South Africa.

Red hot poker at Lullingstone Castle World Garden

And so it was that I took a journey around the globe in the World Garden and had the chance to see plants that I had never even imagined as well as plants that took me on a stroll down memory lane.

The World Garden at Lullingstone Castle is open on Sundays until the end of October. It will then close for the season and reopen on Easter weekend 2017. Definitely check out their website for all the Halloween activities.

Lullingstone Castle
Tel: 01322 862114 (pls leave message)
Fax: 01322 862115

Admission Prices
Adult £8.00
Child £4.00 (5-15 yrs old)
Senior citizen £6.50
Family £18.00 (2 adults & 2 children or 1 adult & 3 children)

I’m linking up to Wanderful Wednesday today with Lauren of Lauren on Location, Van of Snow in Tromso, Isabel of The Sunny Side of This and Marcella of What a Wonderful World.