Monday, December 17, 2018

It's Christmastime In The City - Week 2


It was time to head west after checking out Wilmington, NC, Charleston, SC and Myrtle Beach, SC. on our quest to find "Christmastime in the city."  The first week of our adventure was so much fun and we were excited about Week 2.

We were offered a free room at Harrah's Cherokee Hotel in Cherokee, NC.  We take these offers even though we know it will cost us something after we visit their casino.  It definitely costs us less than if we had to pay for the room though.  We were frequent guests for many years of the Harrah's chain when my mom was around and soon got these offers.  Now that Mom has passed we don't go that often but we will take advantage of the free room as long as they keep offering them to us.  This gorgeous hotel is in a perfect location to enable us to get to Tennessee which is someplace I knew we could find some of the best holiday displays.  It takes just a little more than one hour over the Great Smoky Mountains to get there from Cherokee.

Week 2

We have been to Cherokee, NC and know that it is a touristy area, similar to Gatlinburg, TN, but on a much smaller scale.  Both cities have many shops that sell beautiful Native American created goods, the ice cream parlors and the zip line adventures.  I wasn't sure what to expect in Cherokee but was hoping for the town tree.  The city did have a few nice light displays but I couldn't find the town tree.  To tell you the truth we were so impressed with and really enjoyed the hotel's holiday displays that I decided to highlight the hotel.  (Although Cherokee didn't have enough to highlight their city, they did have my favorite light display!)

Harrah's Cherokee, NC

Harrah's Cherokee Hotel is so huge that it is almost a small city in itself.  There is a bowling alley  along with the spa, hairdressers, game room for the kids, one indoor pool and one outdoor pool, many restaurants and lots of shops ranging from high-end to gift shops.  Almost every shop and restaurant decorated for the holidays and there were Christmas trees everywhere!


This huge, beautiful tree was the first one we saw when we first walked into the hotel.


We found this one on the second floor near the high-end stores.


This tree was smaller to fit into one of the many lounge areas throughout the hotel.


Many of the shops at the hotel made room to put a tree in their store.  This one decorated their tree with the ornaments they were selling.


This store had an upside-down tree.  I have seen a couple of these type of trees this year, but I really don't understand them at all!  Somebody please tell me why we want to turn our Christmas tree upside down.  Does it have anything to do with Stranger Things?


I have also been seeing lots of these, the snowman tree!  We found this one behind the hostess stand at one of the restaurants.  I love these trees...

and this display!


Which tree did these giant balls fall off of we wondered?

We really had a great time on our Christmas tree hunt at the hotel.  I think we probably counted at least 15.  Now it was time to venture out of the hotel and into the cities.

Gatlinburg, TN

Gatlinburg was the city I was the most excited about seeing this second week.  We were just there in September and the fall displays around the city were some of the best I've ever seen.  I was sure that the scarecrows, haystacks and pumpkins would be replaced by snowmen, snow and poinsettias.  

We were not disappointed.  There were displays around every corner, decorations around every storefront  and "a feeling of Christmas" everywhere.


The entranceway into each small shopping area off the main street were so festive and inviting that we had to go into each and every one of them.


The downtown shops in this very touristy area are so charming and at Christmastime they are even more so.




I just had to sit for a picture at one of the many photo ops that were scattered all over the town.  I helped an adorable family of 7 take their picture here.  


We love Gatlinburg, TN because of this fun downtown area and the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains.  We will definitely be back one day soon.  On our way out of this wonderful city, we saw their gorgeous, gigantic town tree.


Our next stop was the city of Pigeon Forge.  I had heard that their light show was not to be missed.  We had to see if all the hype was true.

Pigeon Forge, TN

The city was so lit up with more than 4 million lights that I wouldn't be surprised to hear that they could be seen by the passengers in the airplanes flying above.  This festival of lights was called Winterfest Driving Tour of Lights.  There were light displays on the sides of roads that you could enjoy as you drove by them and then there were clusters of themed light displays in outdoor malls and parks where you got out of your car to view the displays.  


We went to Patriot Park where there were light displays with an Americana theme.  We loved the armed forces displays.


Most of the buildings in the city were all decked out and covered with thousands of lights including the Smoky Mountain Opry and the Pigeon Forge Information Center.



There were many displays scattered around the city that celebrated Pigeon Forge.  This one was a tribute to their southern charm.


Something I read said to look for the critters who live in the Smoky Mountains to be wandering around the city.  We found the bear family.


And also to look out for the many pigeons around town.


Are these pigeons?  I'm not sure but they were the only birds I saw so I hope they were!

Murphy, NC

Murphy is a city we discovered in the western part of NC on one of our vacations in the area.  We were looking for a place to eat and it brought us here.  It is one of those small town, USA spots for sure.  The whole town spans about 6 blocks and you can walk from the post office to the court house, to city hall, the library and police station, church and to anywhere else you need to go in a matter of a few minutes.  We were curious to see how festive this area would be for the holidays.   


The first thing we noticed when we drove into the city of Murphy was their Christmas tree.  It was placed perfectly in the center of town.  This was a good place to park the car.  We weren't going to need it to get around this tiny, adorable city.


The church and other buildings were decorated simply but you knew they were celebrating Christmas in this city.




Every lamppost was decorated and most of the storefronts were too.




 

We love this small town.  Besides for being able to walk around the entire town in less than 30 minutes, there is a shop that sells the best olive oil in every flavor imaginable.  We grabbed a couple of last minute stocking stuffers there.  And the people here are so friendly.  Not only do you get a smile and nod, you also get a "How y'all doing today" as you pass them on the street!

We had lots of fun exploring all of the cities and we felt the joy of Christmas everywhere!  I mentioned that Cherokee, NC didn't have much but they did have my favorite.


The real reason for the season.

Wishing you the very merriest Christmas and a happy and healthy new year!

*********************

We had such a fun time finding Christmas in the city in a few amazing cities last year.  This year we had a chance to visit Savannah, Georgia and have made an update to this post by adding our visit to yet another amazing city!

Christmas 2018

We had so much fun joining our grandson on his first road trip last week.  It was a big trip for a 7 month old but he seemed to be having a great time.  His trip started with his first ride in an airplane.  That got him and his family to our home in NC.  From there me and Soko joined them on a road trip that included a stop in Savannah, Georgia.  We had been wanting to visit Savannah for a long time and we were excited that we would be there in time to enjoy their holiday decorations.

We checked into The Kimpton Brice Hotel and in the middle of the lobby we watched as someone was putting up a hanging Christmas tree.  I love those trees!  I couldn't wait to see what it would look like once it got hung and decorated.  When we came down to the lobby the next morning for coffee and tea, the tree was done.


After enjoying the coffee and tea, we headed out to have brunch on Savannah's Riverfront.  The Kimpton was in a great location and we were able to walk a couple of blocks from there to get to River Street.  This street is lined with shops and restaurants and plazas and plenty of benches to relax on.  There were many festive decorations to enjoy on this street.




We knew we would find a Christmas tree somewhere along the Riverfront and we did.


We also found a really cute Gingerbread House.



Nicole found a yummy drink at River House Seafood and...


Me and Shea found Santa Claus!


After our walk on the Riverfront, it was time to see Savannah's Historic District.  We walked along streets that were lined with beautifully decorated lampposts.  


On our must-see in Savannah list was City Market.  We were sure we would find holiday cheer here and we did!


The City Market's Christmas tree was gorgeous.


Our favorite Christmas decoration in this city, though, was the beautiful Christmas tree in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.


We found so much holiday cheer here in Savannah, Georgia and we had fun finding it.  We really enjoyed our visit here.

Stay tuned for our blog post on the many other sights we found and enjoyed in this special city!




















Monday, December 3, 2018

Le Merce Festival And More - Barcelona, Spain


When we were in Barcelona before our Mediterranean cruise, we were very fortunate to be there to witness a grand celebration.  Unfortunately at the time, we didn't realize what was going on.  All we could tell was that there seemed to be a lot of excitement and fun going on all around us and we didn't know exactly why.  I have since researched and found out that the Catalans were celebrating their biggest annual 4 day festival, La Merce, often called the Festival of festivals.  It has been an official city holiday since 1871 and it celebrates the feast day of Our Lady of Mercy.  It would have been wonderful for us to know all this at the time, but we at least we did take pictures and can now understand what we were part of.

On our first day in Barcelona we noticed some large puppets a few blocks ahead of us.  We raced to catch up with this unusual sight but whatever was going on was over before we could get any closer.  Luckily, the next day we stumbled upon a building filled with the "stars" of the parade of the night before, the giants.  This parade marks the start of the La Merce festival.


The building turned out to be Palau de la Virreina.  It was formally a palace that is partially open to the public for cultural events and art exhibitions.  At the exhibition we saw, along with the giants, the Beasts of Barcelona.    I am not sure if any of the beasts were in the parade because we could only see the heads of the giants over the crowd of people.  But, I've since learned that you will see these beasts at festivals and in parades.

One of the beasts we saw at this exhibition was the imaginary animal, la tarasca.  This monster has the body of a turtle and a human face.  He can suddenly spray out fire, water or candy and will stretch out his neck to bite the nearest victim!


On the other hand, the ox is calm and peaceful.  I found out by reading the plaque near the animal, that the ox made it's first appearances in 1467 and 1568.  And, like many of the other animals, has his own music and dance.


The following day we paid more attention to the billboards all over the neighborhood and finally realized that there would be festivities in the evening to enjoy.  We spent the afternoon following Rick Steves' Ramblas Ramble self-guided walking tour and decided that we would spend the evening enjoying the celebration.

We didn't know exactly where or when the festivities were taking place so we just walked around and hoped that we would be in the right place at the right time.  We started our walk at Placa de Catalunya.  When we were there earlier in the day waiting for a bus to take us to La Sagrada Familia, we saw lots of preparations being made for something that was going to happen there and also saw what looked like a list of entertainment.


We were right.  When we returned to the plaza in the evening, there were two stages set up.  We really enjoyed the traditional performances of the singers and dancers at the first stage.



The speakers at the second stage seemed to be getting the crowd riled up about something as the audience was yelling and cheering very loudly.  I know the Catalans are fighting for independence from Spain and we did see evidence of protests and such around the city.  We couldn't say for sure that anything political was happening here, but we avoided going near that stage!

We walked around the plaza to see what else was happening here and saw boards set up and markers available for people to leave their messages.  I had to add my message.  I took a marker and joined the others.  I couldn't understand very much of what was written on those boards or what kind of message we were supposed to leave, but I did see the word POWER!!    This was my message:


We had fun in the plaza but we never saw a Le Merce sign and started to think that what was happening here was a normal weekend event and not a part of the festivities so we left the plaza and headed for the Barri Gotic area.

When we got to Avinguda del Portal de l'Angel, the boulevard lined with the most expensive stores in Barcelona, we heard drums but couldn't see a thing.  We followed the crowd of people who were following the parade and finally caught up with a high energy, very intense group of drummers.  They were so much fun to watch and we followed them along with the rest of the crowd.


They brought us near the Barcelona Cathedral where we saw preparations being made for what looked like a concert of some sort.  We thought we would get back to this area to see the entertainment but we didn't.  I read, after we got back from vacation, that there was also a light show projected on the cathedral.  We missed that also.


There were kiosks in this square, in front of the cathedral, selling all sorts of things.  The cutest sight we saw all night, though, was this group of children having a ball with a gentleman making hundreds of bubbles to be popped.


Now that we know about the Le Merce festival we would love to go back one day to appreciate it.
My dream would be going to Barcelona in September, 2026 to really enjoy this festival and also to see the finished La Sagrada Familia.

This was the last evening of our stay in Barcelona and we were ready to go back to our hotel to relax on their balcony.  We were ready to have the beer and cookies that we knew were waiting for us at their buffet.  Tomorrow we would be checking out of Hotel Continental Barcelona and checking into our cabin on our cruise ship, Vision of the Seas.  


The next morning and our final day in Barcelona, we went to mass at Barcelona Cathedral and then had brunch with our son Mike and DIL Chrissy who happened to be arriving in Barcelona, after their European cruise honeymoon, the day we were leaving, !


Then we made sure that Mike and Chrissy drank from the Fountain of Canaletes that would guarantee their return to Barcelona, which was not the fountain we found the day before.  Thank goodness we found the right fountain today.


It was a little sad leaving Barcelona because we were having a great time and loved this city.  But we had an exciting Mediterranean cruise ahead of us!


Our first stop would be Nice, France!  To be continued...