Porto or is it Oporto?

I wanted to share some images that I made while I was in Porto - a quick trip I made during my days in Galicia to visit my good Irish friends O & J. So Porto / Oporto. What's with that? In English and in Spanish it's called Oporto and in Portuguese it's Porto. Somehow this seems strange. I mean wouldn't Porto have worked for all of us? Ok. I'l stop that rant, because that's pretty much all I could possibly complain about in this lovely city. It's so gorgeous, it's ridiculous. It's crumbly and old and bright and colourful all at once. And the food isn't bad either. My two new favourite things are included in the photos below.


Pasteis de Nata

. Custard tarts that are everywhere. We had them everyday! And now I've developed an addiction. How can I make these? Anyone?


Pataniscas de Bacalao

. These are yummy cod fritters that seem to be a cross between a fishcake and an onion bhajii. Seriously good.

And of course, we must not forget Port. or as the Portuguese call it

Vino Porto.

 But that's a whole other story. Enjoy!

PortoCollage ©2013 Helena McMurdo

Main Street Typography

MainStreetTypography. Photography © 2013 HelenaMcMurdo

With all things, I find I get better results when I have a theme or goal to focus on. Here's a few shots from a recent photowalk I did with a friend in Vancouver's Main Street area.  My friend smartly suggested we focus on typography.  I love the mixture and retro feel of some of these typefaces. I wish I knew the names. Anyone? Can you guess the locations?

Signs of Portland


I've always been inspired by beautiful  and interesting signage and architectural details and when I visit somewhere new, inevitably my camera roll will be filled with many pictures of signs. My recent trip to Portland provided lots of interesting examples both retro and modern. I love the strong, masculine and  heritage typographic forms found in many of the classic signs in Portland,but there were lots of fun, modern examples as well. Here are some of my favourites.


What do you think? Do you have any favourites?

Got a tall ship that needs fixing?


As the first British Colonial settlement in Nova Scotia, outside Halifax, Lunenberg dates back to 1753. If like many Canadian children, you ate the odd fish finger or two, you may be interested to know that this is also where Captain Highliner hangs out.

The brightly painted buildings, many of which date back to 1700s and 1800s, and the beautiful natural setting make Lunenberg a picturesque town, whose original plan and architecture has changed little in 250 years.


Lunenberg has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site based on its natural and cultural significance. Apparently it's also a good place to get your tall ship fixed. More on that later.


We arrived in the late afternoon, we spent some time exploring before grabbing a bottle of wine and having a pre-dinner drink on our balcony overlooking the harbour. (Compared to Halifax, we found Lunenberg to be fairly sleepy).  That said, along the waterfront, there is so much colour and texture. Many working shipbuilders make their homes here.


The bright colours were perfect agains the grey sky which had descended for just a few hours.


The next day it was up early for breakie which was hard to find before 9am. My brother and I ended up in Fulton's General Store which is one of those fabulous places that all medium sized towns have where you can buy a pair of underwear, a wedding present or a cold remedy all under one roof.  They had delicious coffee and bacon cheddar muffins individually wrapped in cling film with hand written tags.  We later met my dad at the Dockside Restaurant and had some more coffee while he had a traditional fry up which looked, and by all reports was fantastic, and later would receive the best breakfast of the trip award.


Those who know me well and have travelled with me before know that I have been afflicted with what I like to call the  almighty curse of the scaffolding. Where I go, it goes. Yep, if there's something worth seeing, chances are it's under construction. London, New York, Madrid - I've had the pleasure of viewing Big Ben, The New York Public Library and the stunning Plaza de Correos, under scaffolding. And so it was in Lunenberg, UNESCO World Heritage site and home of the Bluenose II (aka the #1 thing to see here, racing ship, fishing vessel and Canadian icon) and yes, you guessed  - it's currently being rebuilt.  So after breakfast we donned our hard hats and visited it in a massive covered shed.


It was still fairly interesting to see and it seems a massive undertaking with the hull being completely rebuilt. I’m told she will be ready for sail again in spring of 2012 so one day I hope to see her in her full glory. Until then, anyone who wants to keep tabs on the restoration can do so via live webcam. Interesting they've got quite a bit done since I was there.

This was our last day in Nova Scotia so after our tour of Bluenose II we hit the road for beautiful, sunny PEI.



When I was in about grade eight, we had a social studies text book and  on the cover was a picture of the aqueduct in Segovia. For some reason,  I always imagined it to be out in the country somewhere but the reality  is that it sits right inside and is part of the fabric of the city

It's fitting that we started our journey with Gehry and Gaudi and we are now here in Segovia with the Romans. Surely if these guys hadn't figured out that arch thing, it's unlikely that the others would have been able to achieve what they've done.  And both are equally spectacular.


We left Galicia at about 4 o'clock and had a lovely drive to Segovia out of the main heat of the day.  We arrived to our hotel about 5 minutes before the Spain / Germany Semi-Final of the World Cup so we headed straight to the bar for the first half.  Spirits were high and compared to the other places where we had watched previous matches (Galicia, Basque Country, Catalunya, who have their own national identities) there was considerably more favour for Spain.

We left at half time to go into town as we hadn't even seen the aqueduct at this point and we wanted to be in heart of the action.  We landed at a small bar which had a relatively tiny 36 inch flatscreen outside on the terrazza.  But the atmosphere was great and of course when Spain scored the crowd went mad.

Later, there were lots of celebrations in the streets and a dance festival, presumabably planned earlier and independently of the World Cup was going on at the foot of the aqueduct.


This was truly one of our most memorable days in Spain and sitting there in the moonlight watching this amazing performance in front of this incredible structure, it was hard not to think we were in a dream.

The next day we got up early and explored the town a bit and visited the 16th Century Gothic Cathedral. All the flying buttresses you could want!


Guggenheim & Ysios – Architour


I've wanted to come to the Guggenheim for about 10 years now. Although I've been in Spain quite a few times in that period, for whatever reason, it has not worked out so I'm thrilled that we are finally going.We had a pretty incredible morning already, setting off from Marqués de Riscal and visiting the nearby Ysios winery at La Guardia, which was designed by Calatrava. This place was designed to be photographed. With the incredible pyrenees as the backdrop, the undulating roof echoes their curves. There was not a single person there when we visited and we had a lovely few minutes on our own snapping pics and admiring. A bus tour arrived 5 minutes later so we moved on but I will really remember this special moment in La Rioja.


The drive from Marques de Riscal to Bilbao is about 1.5 hours. We went as far as Vittoria-Gasteiz on lesser national routes which I'm so glad of - we really got to see some of the beautiful Rioja countryside and I'm inspired to visit here again with more time.

Now we focussed on the point of our journey - 'the Gugg'.  Arriving in Bilbao was pretty easy, the museum is well sign-posted. Tip - if you can, park across the river from the Guggenheim. You get a beautiful view from here and can photograph it before walking over the bridge to get a closer look.  The sunlight on the fish scales dances and changes as you move and as the sun moves.


Again, what can I really say on this one? It's as incredible as I remember from photos but I'm pinching myself because I can't believe I'm actually here. Every way you look at the building you get a different view or angle. I think you could see it forever and see something new every time.


We walk around to look at 'El Perrito', Jeff Koon's dog sculpture which is hilarious and cute.


Inside, I wonder if anyone looks at the art, the building is so incredible. It's covered in glass on one side so you get a beautiful view of the river from inside.  The audio guide tells me that the central atrium is the heart of the building and that the adjacent galleries are the veins. All lead back to the heart so you visit here several times during your visit.


Outside the public art installations are wonderful and seem to  complement this already imposing building perfectly.  I love the spider  and the bullrushes which look like Koons as well.


The day is really hot and it's just lovely to walk around and look at this thing, this shining tower in the sun.


Come on over to my friend Frank’s…

On the Road Again It's Tuesday.  We left Barcelona yesterday and now find ourselves in Marqués de Riscal, near the small town of El Ciego. For those of you who have not heard, Frank Gehry designed a small hotel here. Even if you aren't an architecture fan, you may have seen it if you followed On the Road Again, on PBS. So this is somewhat of a 'station of the cross' on our way to the Guggeheim in Bilbao. For me it's a definite Pilgrimage having been a Frank Gehry fan for some time.

The initial part of the drive out of Barcelona on AP2 - is fairly boring. You hit the A68 and then head for Zaragoza, Logrono.  Lunch time happened in a roadside cafe service station. Delicious. We kept it simple, bocadillos of chorizo and spanish potato omelette, tortilla. Mmh, mmh good! In Spain, even fast food, is good food.

The countryside changes as you come into Navarra and La Rioja and becomes very lush and green, rolling wine country. El Ciego is just inside the border of Pais Vasco aka Euskadi to the Basques.

Marques de Riscal

There is no point in me describing the marvel that awaits you when you arrive at Marques de Riscal.


Actually - I do want to talk more about this...but I need to get organized with pictures etc to do it justice so expect a follow up but suffice it to say...I LOVE!

Wine Tour There was  tour of the winery starting right away so we jumped on board. The hotel was described as having been designed by the 'Canadian Architect Frank Gehry' which of course he is, but it isn't always mentioned so we puffed up our chests a little bit with pride! We toured both the modern winery and the two older ones which are used only for storage and some aging. The older wineries were really impressive, beautiful buildings. It was really what you expect an old world winery to be. They only make Reds in El Ciego - no Crianza - just Reserva and Gran Reserva. This is of course, Rioja appellation. Marques de Riscal do have another winery in Rueda where they make a Verdejo and some other lighter whites.  Of course we tasted both.


Tapear Having had our palates whet with a lovely Rioja 2005 Reserva (a very good year apparently), we headed up to the terrace to gaze out on the view and try to assimilate the information hitting us via every sense and of course sample some more wine. We settled on a beautiful rose which was just perfect in the heat of the day.   The view from the terraza is stunning, overlooking the town of El Ciego, with its sandstone Church set on a backdrop of the Pyrenees. This is a situation where you literally do not know where to look. Architectural marvel on one side, picturesque village and vines on the other.  Getting a bit peckish I think…so more tapas….these were 'posh' ones…Sardine terrine  & fried idiazabal cheese stuffed with quince paste. The sardine was tasty although not my favourite…as for the cheese. Divine. Words cannot explain. Sorry.


Regroup Having barely spent anytime in the room, we headed up to refresh and just enjoy the space.  It feels less like a hotel room and more like you are staying in your very cool friend Frank's house. He just happens to have left you a bottle of wine and some complimentary water. We are staying in the Gehry wing and our room looks out over the vines and the winery as opposed to the town of El Ciego. (view mentioned earlier). Super G says it's the kind of place you could write a novel in.

The Futbol Spain and Portugal fought it out with Spain emerging victorious after a goal in the second half. We watched this from the comfort of the hotel bar which again, is much more like your cool friend Frank's living room than a hotel bar.  There were only a handful of fans, but everyone was fully committed which is what matters most. So Spain hang on and we can continue our journey as well.

Dinner By this time it is 10:30 so we go light and opt for the traditional restaurant (as opposed to the Nueva Cocina version). For the first course we share a gorgeous salad with tuna and red peppers - always a delicious combination - and the house croquettes, creamy béchamel chicken and ham. These may be the best I've ever tasted.  For second course, we all have fish - merluza - aka hake except for Super G who opts for patitas de cordero. Lamb's feet which were explained to us as lamb shank with some feet as well. Here's the thing. No shank. Just feet, mostly knuckle grisly bits. But the sauce was delicious.  Bad ordering not bad food.  Dessert - I have Flan, described on the English language menu as 'egg yolk pudding' which I suppose technically, it is.  As a Spanish speaker, I insist on getting the Spanish language menu whenever I am in Spain, because I find the English translations often either confuse me or do nothing to whet my appetite.  Case in point - 'Clean pig's foot', 'lukewarm shrimp'….they just don't fly in English. The highlight of the dinner was definitely the wine - 150 Anniversary Edition of Marques De Riscal Rioja. Super velvety and yummy. The crowning glory on a magnificent day.

La Pedrera


We are leaving for Barcelona this morning so I'm up early - 7:30. The streets are quiet, so I wander around a bit and take a few pics of the Pedrera, or as it is also known, Casa Millá.  It opens at 9 so I decide to change my initial plan of bocadillo de jamón and slip in early before the people hit. What a treat!  Super G and I were the only ones on the Terrace in the morning sun. Every minute since I've been here, it appeared to be thronged with people.


I don't know a lot about Gaudí, so I'm not going to comment architecturally, other to say that I like what he did and it's clear to me that he brought nature into everything which his organic shapes.  The building is incredible.  5 families actually LIVE here. On the tour, you see the Attic, (my favourite part I think), the terrace and 1 apartment suite (where no-one lives).  It's so much better than seeing a social history exhibit in a museum. You can walk right up to the windows and look at Passeig de Gracia - you really can get the experience of what it might have been to have lived here.


This was something I didn't expect I'd have time for so I'm feeling delighted to have seen it and enjoyed it so much!