The Tower of London

by Andrada Costoiu

By Thames River, very close to the London Bridge, lies The Tower of London. This is a place where about 1000 years of history have been written, a place where medieval kings and queens have lived and a place where many people have found their death.

 I went to see it in an August summer day. I was lucky; the weather was just beautiful!!! But what do you know! The occasional London showers didn’t spare me! While I was waiting to see the Crown Jewels the rain was pouring down like crazy. I was lucky a man next to me came more prepared and offered to shelter me under his umbrella. Thank you!

The Tower is a big place and you should take your time visiting. You will need at least several hours. If you don’t plan to take a guided tour, you should get an audio guide, it’s really useful and gives you a lot of information as you move through the different buildings and exhibitions. 

The Tower! I was fascinated …….and then horrified as I discovered the place of burial for Anne Boleyn! I’ve seen the Tudors series, and this movie gave flight to my imagination about the love story between Anne and Henry VIII…. He was so in love with her and then….he ordered her decapitation.

A fortress and a palace

The construction of what is now the Tower of London started in 1070s, when William the Conqueror wanted to build a mighty castle to defend and proclaim his royal power. The Tower took around 20 years to build.

Then Henry III (1216-72) and Edward I (1272-1307) expanded William’s fortress, adding defensive walls with a series of smaller towers.

The Tower was a fortress, e medieval palace and a prison. It also controlled the supply of the nation’s money.  All coins of the realm were made at the Tower Mint until 1810. Kings and queens also locked away their jewels here and even today, the Crown Jewels are here, at the Tower.

The Crown Jewels

The jewels are displayed in the Jewel House. Waiting to see the Crown Jewels can feel like waiting in a cue for a Disney ride. It can be crowed and it can take some time to get inside, so be prepared. Also, you cannot take pictures inside; you can’t take pictures of the jewels.

This is the Jewel House, at the Tower of London, where the Crown Jewels are sheltered

The Crown Jewels have been stored and displayed at the Tower of London since 1661! They are under guard and still in use…..

A royal guard by the Jewel House, Tower of London

I’m not sure what to say about the crowns and everything that it is found inside the exhibition. They are beautiful, of course! Especially the ones with the cullinan diamonds, which are the largest diamonds ever found.  Cullinan I is the largest diamond in the world and is mounted in the head of the Sovereign’s Scepter with Cross and Cullinan II, the second largest, is mounted in the Imperial State Crown.

These diamonds were discovered in Culling, South Africa in 1905 and they were named after Thomas Culling, the mine’s chairman.

To me, the jewels were not as important as the history behind them. The stories of all these people that have worn them, their lives and what happened in England during their reign. Out of all the royals that have worn these jewels, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Tudors, and about their most famous king, Henry VIII.

The White Tower and Henry the VIII

The White Tower is the main building of the fortress and it is the very first building that was built for this place.

The White Tower has four floors. The entrance to the White Tower is made on the first floor by a door accessible only by a wooden staircase.  They say that at the time of construction instead of the wooden staircase it was probably a ladder….

The wooden staircase that leads to the entrance of the White Tower

“The Royal Armories” is located on the lower floor of the White Tower.The present collection took shape in the Reign of Henry VIII (1509-47).

It features many royal weapons and armor, real-size wooden horses and depictions of the different kings, set in a situation. There are few armors of King Henry VIII and also the armor of King Charles I and James II. 

I cannot imagine how it must have been to be under this mountain of iron, how could you more….how could you fight!!!

The Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula

In front of the chapel is the place where scaffolds were built. Statistics say than more than 400 people were executed here.

The Chapel is perhaps best known as being the burial place of some of the most famous Tower prisoners. This includes three queens of England: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Jane Grey, all of whom were executed within the Tower in the 16th century.

Anne, was Henry VIII greatest love, or at least one of them… She was accused of adultery and treason and she was decapitated at the tower. The place where you see the green book, it is thought to be the place where Anne is buried. 

The Tower Ravens

A group of at least six captive ravens are resident at the Tower of London. These days I think there are seven. They are tended by a Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster, who is clipping their wings and feathers in order not to allow them to fly off the grounds. The Ravenmaster releases the birds from their cages and prepares breakfast for them at dawn each day.

The legend has it that should the ravens leave the Tower, both it and the kingdom will fall.

There is so much more to see at the Tower: the Tower of Torture, the Yeoman Wardens and more. You got to visit! If you like history, this is truly a wonderful place!


© Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Russian Revolution, communism and the lives in between

by Andrada Costoiu

Mind tricks

I haven’t read any books about Russia for a long time. Russians have beautiful literature; they have Leo Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Chekhov, Gogol and many other wonderful writers.  I did not stop reading their books because I didn’t like their stories; I did like their literature. Though, I guess my rebellious mind unconsciously protested against anything that had to do with Russia because I grew up in a communist country and I blamed communism and everything that had to do with it on Russia.

Indeed, by the end of WWII in the countries that the Red Army ‘liberated’, communist-dominated governments took power. By 1949, all the governments of Eastern Europe, except Yugoslavia, became Stalinist regimes.

The map of Europe looked like this…. 

Romania became communist in 1947. I wasn’t born back then but my grandparents were. Unfortunately we were a noble family and that was really bad! The Communists took everything my grandparents had, all the lands and….everything. Later on they sent my father and my uncle to a correctional school because they had to “un-noble “ them and they had to be educated in the “communist spirit”. Appalling ….but other people had it worse….

My grandparents never talked much about this past.

I don’t really have a feel of what was life before communism but I do know what was like growing up under communism. Here are some things that I remember:

–It was allowed only 2 hour per day to watch television between 8 and 10 PM and usually they will put just news or documentaries about Ceausescu and his wife. As kids, we would only have cartoons 10 minutes a day and in the weekends it was half an hour. I remember all of us kids running from outside where we were playing to go in front of the TV so we can watch some Tom and Jerry….

— The communist party was trying to denigrate the image of Christmas, as it was considered too religious. So we did not have Santa Claus, Santa was banned! Instead we had  Mos Gerila,  a kind of slim, funny version of Santa. They wanted kids to believe that this guy was bringing presents from the state…..and that it wasn’t a magical creature. We still believed though, because our parents somehow managed to nurture our imagination…..

This is a picture of Mos Gerila from a newspaper in 1947. Still, our image of it was the one with beard and it pretty much looked like Santa, because our parents, the ones who dressed up like it, never looked so hunky :))).

–When my aunt who moved to Germany sent me a pair of jeans it was a miracle. In communist Romania, almost nobody owned a paired of jeans because that was a luxury. 

–I remember my parents planning to go in vacations or visits during the weekends. The planning was a whole production! Why? Because depending of your license plate you could only drive your car two weekends a month! They would alternate between even and odd license plate numbers! In some weekends you could only drive your car if the license number plate was ending in 2, 4, 6 e.g.  and in others the ones ending in 1, 3, 5, 7 e.g. If they caught you with wrong plate number you would have been arrested. How weird is that!!

–Every month you could only use 20 L gas, that is about 5 gallons a month!! Yes, that was all you had! So you had to plan your travels carefully and save gas if you wanted to take a longer trip! Also, we had a car but to own a car back then was a complete luxury.  In 1989, before the revolution, in Bucharest there were only about 200. 000 cars. Now there are millions of cars in Romania….. 

–During communism the borders were closed. Nobody could go outside the country. We never imported many goods, so imagine when after 1989 when finally products were imported! Juices, cigars, sweets were things nobody tasted in their life! 

So yes, I remember all these things and others too. Russia, communist rule, our lives. I never wanted to go back, not even in my mind. And apparently I kept everything away, even the wonderful Russian novels that were completely unrelated with the spread of communism and what it did to us……

An old trilogy: “Sisters” (1921-1922), “The Eighteenth Year” (1927-1928) and “Gloomy Morning” (1940-1941), by Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy

I’ve bought these three books from my neighborhood bookstore, in California. I think what attracted me most were the covers and the old feel! These books are over 50 years old; they were published in 1953. Who knows who left them in this bookstore ….

This author is not Leo Tolstoy, but some sources say that they were distant relatives. I don’t know much about their relationship, but whereas Aleksey was not an influential global writer as Leo Tolstoy, he did leave an interesting legacy that includes many wonderful works. 

And so, I read them….

The story revolves around 4 main characters, 2 sisters and their husbands. Dasha and Katya are the sisters and Telegin and Roshkin are their husbands. I was swept by the true love between these people but most of all I was swept by how the turmoil of historical events shaped people’s lives and their destinies.

This trilogy traces the development of the Russian society during the critical years of WWI, the 1917 Russian Revolution and the civil war in Russia. 

Russia fought WWI on the Eastern Front. As many other armies, Russian army too lost a lot of soldiers, and more …because the Russian Army had about one doctor for every 10,000 men. Thus, many wounded soldiers died from wounds that would have been treated on the Western Front.

Then the Russian Revolution started in March 1917, the monarchy was abolished. The Civil War followed….

The Civil War was between the Red Army, known as the communist Bolsheviks and the White Army, who greatly favored nationalism and monarchism. And in between, there was also the Green Army that rose from the peasantry. The Greens grew tired of the Red Army requisitioning their livestock, food, and able-bodied men so they rose to protect their communities.

As the history of Russia was being made, people’s lives were turned upside down to the point that soldiers and officers that fought together in the WWI ended up fighting against and killing each other in the revolution and in the Civil War. 

Reading these books made me think about a distant past and about these people, about how much they went through and about how much they suffered. Then about the Russian Revolution, the spread of communism and what it did to people living in Eastern Europe…

People and places, our lives

You see, we create meaning through the exchange between spheres of different rationalities. Depending to what we are exposed to, we create our identities and shape our life trajectories.

During communism, people were in a deeply flawed position. They learned gobbets of information and wrong teachings and information were stored in the society’s collective memory banks. Thus how could one give a reasoned critique to what was really happening?

I saw what happened to my family, what they took from us, how they transformed our lives. But I was just a child. Human mind displays great ingenuity and so I blocked everything that had to do with Russia, even their literature. Looking back, this was crazy……..

I will have to ponder about it more, but one thing that comes to my mind now is that are all people, we are individuals with similar fears, needs and desires.  We are all living histories; we are told or untold biographies. We have to take time to learn about the world and about other’s views of the world.  Our lives are our own and we have to keep learning.

Since tomorrow is Christmas, let’s try to give our best to the ones around us! Peace and love from me to all of you.


© Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Camille Claudel, Auguste Rodin and Constantin Brancusi

by Andrada Costoiu

This is a story of creation, rejection, madness, broken heart, pursuing your dreams. This is a story of life.

Camille Claudel, Auguste Rodin and Constantin Brancusi are three sculptors, of 19th century, each of them distinct, but also connected through their art. Claudel and Rodin were also lovers.

Camille Claudel (1864-1943): a woman genius, a broken lover, victim of her family’s betrayal

Camille was born in France, in December 1864.  She is best known as the mistress and the muse of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin and I am not sure why this relationship overshadowed her remarkable talent and work. 

Photo:Camille Claudel (December 8, 1864 – October 19, 1943)

Since early childhood she loved sculpting. She went with her brother Paul Claudel (who later became a known poet, playwright, essayist of the first half of the 20th century France) digging for clay in the woods nears their house. She used to be a rebellious girl, one that wanted to pursue her dream of doing what she loved: being a sculptor. In the end her rebellious spirit was punished but you will see how as this story follows.

Right from childhood, she felt the urge to model with clay. She used to do clay figures in her family’s barn. Her father brought the sculptor Alfred Boucher to see her work and of course, he saw her potential. Boucher pursued her father to move the entire family to Paris and there Camille started studying at the Académie Colarossi. That is because the more famous École des Beaux-Arts remained exclusively for men until 1897. Yes, that is right, this academy, which is one of the most famous art schools in the world and which was founded in 1648 by Cardinal Mazarin, was a men only school.  But Académie Colarossi was forward thinking and here female artists were not only admitted, but where they were also allowed to draw from the male nudes (this was highly controversial at that time!).

In 1882 Claudel rented her own studio space in Paris, which she shared with three British sculptors Jessie Lipscomb, Amy Page, and Emily Fawcett. That is because neither of them could afford to pay the rent on their own. They were mentored by Alfred Boucher, but he had to leave Paris for Italy. He asked his friend Auguste Rodin, who by then had established a strong reputation as a sculptor, to take his place and teach this group of women.

Photo:Camille Claudel and Jessie Lipscomb

It was in 1883 when Camille met Rodin. She started working in his workshop and she became one of his pupils and also his muse and lover.

In the meantime, while her father continued to support her life choices, the rest of her family condemned her and forced her to leave the family home. This was so very sad!

Camille thrived artistically, she become recognized for her ingenuity in the portrayal of emotion and human nature. She was an innovator, working in different mediums and her creations were driven by her own individual experience.

In order, the sculptures are: La petite chatelaine, The Waltz and Sakuntala

Camille’s relationship with Rodin lasted for 10 years. These were times filled hard work, misunderstandings and disappointments on both sides. She worked with him on some of his most famous pieces, The Kiss(1882) and on The Gates of Hell (1880-1890). But after a 10 years affair, their relationship fell apart as Rodin refused to separate from Beuret and marry Camille. Rose Beuret was one of his first women assistants that became his loyal companion. They lived together for a long time and he didn’t marry her until his last year of his life!!!

Their separation marked Camille, and you can see that in her artworks. Some of them display emotional sorrow.  She continued to work and to exhibit until 1905. Some of the most famous pieces The Gossips (1897-marble, onyx, bronze), The Mature Age (1899- bronze) and Clotho (1893, plaster) evoke her sophisticated style and her ability to work with difficult materials like onyx and marble.  Below are the pictures for each, in this order.

I feel sad when I think what happened to Camille in her later life.  As she was approaching the age of fifty, just one week after the death of her father, she was committed to a mental asylum.Doctors tried to reason with Claudel’s family that she was by no means insane, but the family wanted Claudel out of their lives. For the following 30 years, she lived in isolation at the asylum of Montdevergues.  She abandoned sculpture completely. 

She died alone in 1943 at the age of 78.

Oh Camille…….

Rodin(1840-1917) : facing rejection and standing your ground

An older Rodin

Rodin did not have an easy life either.

This is a sculptor that had a huge influence on modern art, but he did not become established until he was in his 40s.

He was born in Paris and as a young boy he struggled to follow complicated lessons in his math and science courses. That is because he had an imperfect eyesight. So he started drawing, things that he saw or that he imagined.

In his young years he developed skills as an artist, and began taking formal art courses. At 17 he applied at École des Beaux-Arts, but he was denied admission.He then decided to pursue art in his own way and by the mid-1860s he’d completed what he would later describe as his first major work, “Mask of the Man With the Broken Nose” (1863-64). This piece was rejected twice by the Paris Salon due to the realism of the portrait! 

 “Mask of the Man With the Broken Nose” (1863-64)

Talking about what is socially accepted! Talking about times, places and cultures and about how all these shape the way we think! 

His work, “The Vanquished”(1876) that was first exhibited in 1877, encountered serious accusations that sculpture appeared so realistic that it was directly molded from the body of the model!  That is because the realism of his work contrasted so much with the work of his contemporaries! 

“The Vanquished”(1876), Rodin

His originality came from his talent, he captured the body and the soul!  His style of work was also unique. Instead of copying traditional academic postures, Rodin preferred his models to move naturally around his studio, even though they were naked. He made their sketches in clay and then fine-tuned these. They the models were cast in plaster, bronze or carved from marble. 

Rodin continued to be rejected in various competitions for monuments to be erected in London and Paris, but finally the success of The Age of Bronze (a life size nude male in bronze) established his reputation as sculptor at the salons of Paris and Brussels in 1880. He was then 40 years old.

Throughout his life, Rodin  created several iconic works, including “The Gates of Hell”, The Age of Bronze,” “The Thinker,” “The Kiss” and “The Burghers of Calais.”

The Gates of Hell, were created for a museum that the city of Paris planned to build: the Museum of Decorative Arts. Although the museum was never built, Rodin worked on this sculpture for the last 37 years of his life. This sculpture is beautiful and depicts scenes from Dante’s Inferno. The original plaster is displayed at  Musée d’Orsay in Paris and 3 other original bronze casts are found at museums in Paris, Philadelphia and Tokyo.

Photo: The “Gates of Hell”, Rodin, source Creative Commons

His work his beautiful. I like that he challenged the conventional thinking and the way sculptures were produced at the time. I think it’s only through challenge that we are able to advance, so we should all strive our best to follow our individual ways of creation. 

Although at first rejected by the official academies because of his originality, Rodin became a sculptor of success.  By the time of his death, he was likened to Michelangelo.

Brancusi(1876-1957) – a life journey from rural Romania to a world- renowned sculptor 

I am not sure how many of you, if you’re not an artist, have heard of Constantin Brancusi. He was a sculptor and his work is recognized worldwide. Just last year, Christie’s sold Brancusi’s culture “La Jeune Fille Sophistiquée” (1928/1932) for a record-breaking $71 million. I walked past some of his masterpieces almost everyday, because they are displayed in the city where I was born. 

I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by his work. I walked past some of his masterpieces almost everyday, because they are displayed in the city where I was born.  

Photo by Edward Steichen of Brâncuşi’s workshop in Voulangis, FranceConstantin Brancusi(1876-1957)

Brancusi was born in 1876 in rural Romania. His father was a peasant, and if you go visit the village where he was born, they have preserved his house. The village is called Hobita. Sometimes there are artistic festivals there, in honor of his work.  

Brancusi grew up distinctly outside of the traditional Western European narrative and like Rodin, challenged the art world to reconsider what sculpture really was and what it did. 

Although for a while he was Rodin’s student, he and Rodin had different approaches.  Brancusi’s goal was to capture the essence of his subjects—which included birds in flight, a kissing couple—and render give them life in sculpture with minimal formal means.  The history has it that cubism was the creation of two artists – Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso – but let’s not forget Brancusi. He created in the Cubist style.

His tendency towards simplification made some call his work abstract. But it wasn’t abstract, it was very much alive and you can tell the story of his work by looking at it. 

I think that like any artist, it is frustrating when your work is misunderstood, because your work is your soul and your. He said: 

“They are imbeciles who call my work abstract. That which they call abstract is the most realistic, because what is real is not the exterior but the idea, the essence of things.” —Constantin Brancusi

Brancusi’s work resides at the Centre Pompidou, the Tate Modern, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But his most famous pieces resides in a city in Romania, Targu Jiu. Below are the photographies of 3 monumental pieces, as taken by a very talented photographer and friend, Ionel Scaunasu. 

Photo credit: Ionel Scaunasu

The endless column is is a 98-foot-high (30 meter) column of zinc, brass-clad, cast-iron modules threaded onto a steel spine. This sculpture was commissioned by the Women’s League of Gorj to honor the soldiers who defended the city of Targu Jiu against a Germans during World War I. In the 1950s, the Romanian communist government planned to demolish the column. How appaling!!! Thankfully this plan was never executed!

Photo credit: Ionel Scaunasu

The table of silence is a circular stone table surrounded by twelve hourglass-seats, which symbolize time. The seats are not located close to the edges of the table. 

Photo credit: Ionel Scaunasu

The gate of kiss….where one can kiss their loved ones….

The gate is made of travertine and is gigantic. The pillars are decorated with a circular motif, two half-circles separated by a decorative line that runs to the ground level. Some art critics say that this motif represent eyes looking inside the gate, while others see a couple kissing in it.

These three pieces, the column, the table and the gate are arranged along an axis stretching from the floodplain of the Jiu River. During five decades of communist rule the landscape drastically changed around them. The sculptures remain emotionally charged places, there not only symbols of Brancusi’s talent but also places that encourage you to reflect about life and your purpose in it. 

I didn’t mean this to be an art lesson. But I think it turned to be one, as well as a lesson and an example of perseverance to always follow your dreams and to always do what suits you best. From small you can become big, from unknown you can become known.


© Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Picasso Museum – Barcelona

by Andrada Costoiu

Walking the streets of Barcelona with my mom and my kids, I wanted to visit Picasso Museum. The museum is hard to find, I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s on a little street, almost in hiding : – ). 

The street where you will find it is called  Moncada Street and it has many beautiful buildings. This was the main street of medieval Barcelona which was home to the city’s nobles. On this street there are few medieval palaces, such as the Palau Aguilar, Palau Meca and Palau Baró de Castellet, which houses the Museu Picasso of Barcelona, Renaissance palaces, including the Palau de Cervelló and the amazing baroque Palau Dalmases ( here they have flamenco shows where you can enjoy the best flamenco artists in the country).

To get in the museum you have to buy tickets. But, you can also visit for free if you go in first Monday of the month. 

This is a picture I took at the entrance

I liked the museum very much. The main reason why I liked it is because it showed me more of Picasso other than his cubist works that are so famous. I have heard that this is museum has one of the most complete permanent collections of Picasso’s works. To be more specific, there are 4,251 items.

It felt as the museum was an unwritten biography of the painter. Each time of his life had a different style, a different vibe, a different feel. I could tell when he was romantic, when he was mad at women….

 Here are few pictures I took ….

First communion,1896. This is one of his early works. I think he was only 14 when he painted this. His sister Lola appears in this painting. 

This one is a self portrait (1896). He was just a child when he painted this! Isn’t it very different than the other Picasso paintings that we are used to?  

I find his early work incredibly beautiful, and I think it reveals a different side of Picasso.

Then came his blue period, then the rose period and then the African period. I’m not going to put pictures for these time periods as this post would become too long.

Then came cubism: Picasso and Georges Braque pioneered this new way of representing reality. The idea behind it was to bring different views of subjects together in the same picture( objects or figures), resulting in paintings that appear fragmented and abstracted.

Flowers in a Grey Jug and Wine-Glass with Spoon, 1908

After the war, some of his work has been influenced by the painter Henri Matisse, who had been both a friend and a rival for Picasso for more than half a century.  

My workshop Pigeons (III) 1957

This one is one of his later works,  the Dwarf Dancer 1966. I love the colors and the expression on her face; she looks mischievous. 

This is a charming museum includes also some of Picasso’s lesser known works of ceramics and sculpture. 

I have always had mixed feelings about Picasso. I have a deep sense of reverence for his work but at the same time I don’t like the way he has treated his women.  I don’t know how much of the stories about him are true, I guess to really know you have had to live with him.

He said to Françoise Gilot, one of this mistresses that “women are machines for suffering,” and also that “for me there are only two kinds of women: goddesses and doormats.”

When they meet she was 21 and he was 61. She was his lover from1943 to 1953 and they had 2 children together. She left him and after 11 years from their separation, she wrote a memoir about her life with the painter. The name of the book is “Life with Picasso”. I read it;  it is good. In the book she said that Picasso physically abused her and when she left, the infuriated genius told her that she is going to be a nobody and that she was “headed straight for the desert”. Hm, she then became a great artist, so bravo Françoise!

Françoise is just one example. Besides her, others have expressed dismal at the way he was treating his lovers. Marina, his grand daughter, saw Picasso’s treatment of women as a vital part of his creative process. She said:

“He submitted them to his animal sexuality, tamed them, bewitched them, ingested them, and crushed them onto his canvas. After he had spent many nights extracting their essence, once they were bled dry, he would dispose of them.”

–Marina Picasso

I came across many misogynistic characterizations of Picasso and across fewer that present Picasso’s treatment of women in a relatively positive light. Such is his friendship with Gertrude Stein, the American novelist and poet. Hm, Mr. Picasso, I do love your work but you must have been …..a complicated man!

I am painting myself; I’m an amateur. I am closer to the impressionists and never really got into the style of cubism. After Barcelona I painted a flamenco dancer…I copied from a picture. I also bought myself a fan….

This is my flamenco dancer.

The journey through the different times of Picasso’s creation was amazing. He was truly a genius. While writing this, I’m thinking that if I would ever find myself in Barcelona, I would like to go visit the museum again.

He was such a genius and I truly enjoyed being immersed in his work.


© Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Park Guell

by Andrada Costoiu

Another Antonio Gaudi masterpiece, Park Guell is a nice place to visit if the weather is beautiful. The park was created in 1900, when Count Eusebi Güell bought a hillside and hired Gaudí to create a miniature city of houses for the wealthy. The project was abandoned, though not before Gaudi created a plaza and few other constructions in his inimitable manner. The park was inaugurated in 1926 as a public park.

To get in the central area you will need to get tickets, the rest of the park is free. The access to the central area is limited to a certain number of people every half-hour.

Just at the entrance is a former porter house, you know, the gatekeeper, the one that was supposed to screen the guests and visitors that would enter the property. The house hosts a display on Gaudí’s building methods and documents about the history of the park. It is a beautiful building, especially on the outside.  It has fantastically shaped roofs with unusual pinnacles, to me it looked like a fairytale building, built out of gingerbread….with white frosting : -).

The porter house

The inside is interesting, this is a picture I took for a set a stairs that was leading to the upper level, notice the beautiful blue color of the walls….

After the porter house there is a set of steps that are guarded by a mosaic dragon/lizard (a copy of which you can buy in the souvenir shops, there are many around this area and also downtown).

These lead to a hall and then to the main terrace, which are the focal point of the park. The hall is called the Sala Hipóstila (aka the Doric Temple) and it is breathtaking. The structure is  supported by a forest of 86 stone columns. The ceiling is decorated with beautiful mosaic. I liked it, but when I went it was under restoration and I am not sure if you should pay the money to visit it….

This is the ceiling part of the hall, with the mosaic decorations

The terrace has beautiful views of Barcelona. The views extend all the way to sea. Here you will find the Banc de Trencadís, a tiled bench curving sinuously around the perimeter of the terrace.  The bench structure was designed by one of Gaudí’s closest colleagues, architect Josep Maria Jujol (1879–1949).

The bench is decorated using broken shards of tiles and pottery to make a colorful mosaic. This decorating technique is called “trencadís”, meaning ‘chopped’ in Catalan.  Park Guell is where Gaudí pioneered this technique.

There are other interesting places to see here, such as the colonnaded footpath under the roadway viaduct. I thought this place was enchanting, the columns look so unusual……they are unusual ! 

It looks like these columns are inspired  by the shape of the trees and it does make sense, because Gaudi  was inspired and liked to imitate the natural world. He did the same in his design of the Sagrada Familia.

There is also a house called la Torre Rosa that was built as a model home in 1904. This was not built by Gaudi, but by a friend of his, Francesc Berenguer.  Gaudí lived here with his father and niece from 1906 until 1925. His father died in 1906 and his niece died in 1912
At the very end of his life Gaudí moved into his studio at the Sagrada Familia which he designed and was building on until his death in 1926. Today this house is the Gaudí house-museum where you can see Gaudi’s bedroom and pieces of furniture designed by Gaudí (including items that were once in La Pedrera, Casa Batlló and Casa Calvet- these are other buildings designed by Gaudi).

There is also the Larrard House, which is now a public school. I wondered how it looks inside, but you cannot enter, obviously, since it is school’s property.

The park is just really nice to walk through, it’s peaceful and it’s a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the city below.

If you are in town, it’s worth visiting.


© Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Samuel Johnson and Hester Thrale

by Andrada Costoiu

Perhaps because I’m fascinated with people that have left traces in our history, I feel compelled to write about Samuel Johnson and Hester Thrale. 

Who are these two English writers that lived in England in the 1700s?

Samuel Johnson is the one that created the first comprehensive English dictionary (it wasn’t the first English dictionary, the very first one belongs to Robert Cowdrey: Table Alphabeticall—in 1604). It took Johnson more than 8 years to complete it. Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used 22 years to compile his American Dictionary (for good reason!) 

Hester Thrale is probably one of the earliest cases of British feminism. Some sort of an earlier Jane Austen!

Both these writers have made great contributions to the English literature and they were linked by friendship or also by love? 

Hester Thrale

Photo: Hester Thrale, WikiCommons

Hester Thrale is part of the early women writers and her case is a classic feminist Cinderella story.  Perhaps the reason why I like her is that (like other the other women I admire) she was able to move from an image tailored for her by the social norms of the time to a self-made image of a woman with an independent way of expressing herself.  

What does it take to be like that? I think it takes the same courage and determination that you would need nowadays to go do something, write something, build something to leave to the posteriority. Women or men, we’re all the same. We all have strengths and weaknesses and we all have choices. We can easily get entangled in meaningless lifestyles or we can all be founders or supporters of something that matter for “Tomorrow”. 

Back to Hester.  She was born January 27th, 1741 at a farmhouse in Wales, UK. I don’t think she was raised for intellectual stagnation because she was encouraged early on to read and learn foreign languages. She was writing and translating French, Italian, Spanish and before her marriage she was contributing poems and political satires to newspapers.

Then she married a rich brewer Henry Thrale and she was constantly pregnant. They had 12 children…..yes, 12! Her husband was not very nice, he neglected her and he had numerous love affairs.

I think her wits saved Hester from total misery. She continued writing. After the birth of her first daughter she started documenting the various moments in her daughter’s life in a “baby book” called The Children’s Book.

Then she met Johnson, who moved into her family estate. He was much older than her, but they had literary and other intellectual affinities. She also took care of him. Despite being so much older, he became a sort of adopted child.

Thrale narrated her life experiences throughout her work. Her writings are marked by her personal conflict between her public image of the wonderful salon hostess and the private sorrows for her husband’s infidelity.

Thraliana, her first book, is a collection of her diaries, which are focused on her experiences with her family, on the society’s life at the time and it also contains anecdotes and stories about the life of Samuel Johnson. This collection wasn’t published until 1942.

Her works, among which are Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson (1786) and Letters to and from the Late Samuel Johnson (1788), challenged the gendered conventions of writing of the time and the traditional masculine discourse. I think she was kind of an early Jane Austen! She used a “feminine” form of writing, by introducing in her narratives her observations and experiences that evoked sensations, sentiments and feelings. Imagine that, an early 18th century woman evoking her feelings in writing ….it seems scandalous :-).

Her pen remained active until her late years. She continued to publish works that revealed her intellectual vivacity, works that presented her ideas, opinions and interesting stories. 

Samuel Johnson

Photo credit: Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) – Samuel Johnson – NPG 1597 – National Portrait Gallery

Samuel Johnson, also often referred to as Dr. Johnson, was an English writer who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, biographer and as a lexicographer.  His most prominent work is A Dictionary of the English Language. You can access it online here:

Until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary 173 years later, his dictionary was viewed as the pre-eminent English dictionary. He took more than 8 years to complete it! Even today, Johnson’s Dictionary, is among the most influential dictionaries in the history of the English language.

Here are some interesting facts about his dictionary:

  1. He left out the letter X! he says that  “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language.”
  2. His definitions weren’t always so scholarly, in fact some were really funny:

oats is “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.”

luggage is “anything of more weight than value.”

—-Samuel Johnson

Ah, I shall remember his definition of “luggage” when I will pack my bags for future trips : ).

3. He left out a lot of words. His  dictionary of 42,000-words vocabulary is impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as  five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755.

Johnson was nearly blind in his left eye and suffered from tics that may have been indications of Tourette syndrome (back then nobody knew anything about this, and this disease was not even defined).

He married an older woman, who was the wife of a deceased friend. At the time they got married  he was 25, she 46. I think they were happy, he nicknamed her affectionately “Tetty”. Her marriage settlement provided with enough money to open a school in Edial, near Lichfield.

He had a long association with The Gentleman’s Magazine, often considered the first modern magazine of the time. He published here many works, including a series of a series of speeches purporting to represent the actual debates in the House of Commons.

Throughout his life he wrote so many important works, I will not mentioned them all as this is not a literary work review. Though it is important to mention the English dictionary I talked above, his Shakespeare volumes and his work on the lives of the poets:  Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, to the Works of the English Poets .

Johnson died in 1784 and is buried at Westminster Abbey.

This is a picture of the Abbey that I took this summer

Samuel Johnson and Hester Thrale relationship

He lived at Thrale’s estate for many years. In theory, their friendship was platonic. However, some letters from Johnson to Thrale were found, in florid French that suggest something more. Rumor has it that there is evidence of a masochistic element, as Johnson letters to her include images of bondage and restraint, and he entrusted to her a padlock …which she was supposed to use on him.

What do you know! The private lives …. many times they’re not always what they seem!

Also, the way he severed his ties with her after she decided to marry her daughter’s singing instructor, point to feelings deeper than just camaraderie. When he got the news she will get married he  was appalled. He wrote to her:

“ Madam, if I interpret your letter right, you are ignominiously married; if it is yet undone, let us once more talk together. If you have abandoned your children and your religion, God forgive your wickedness: if you have forfeited your fame and your country, may your folly do no further mischief. If the last act is yet to do, I who have loved you, esteemed you, reverenced you, and served you, I who long thought you the first of humankind, entreat that, before your fate is irrevocable, I may once more see you. I was, I once was——Madam, most truly yours”

— Samuel Johnson

I wrote about them because I wanted to revive the memory of both these writers. I like them both, him, for his writings and her, for her literary work and also for  her keen sense of herself as an autonomous woman and writer, which not an experience that many 18th-century women were able to enjoy. 


© Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Gordon’s Wine Bar – London’s oldest wine bar

By Andrada Costoiu

Where to find it: 47 Villiers Street, London WC2N 6NE, England

On a Sunday during my stay in London, my good friends took me to a bar: Gordon’s Wine Bar.I really liked it so I’m sharing it with you, in case you’re in town and would like the experience….

This is an underground bar that it was opened in 1890. It’s the oldest wine bar in London and they sell only wine. They also have a food bar, where you can choose from different cheeses, homemade pies, meats and other cold eats.

These eggs have a name…..I forgot what they’re called!

The selection of wine is awesome, but what I liked the most it is the bar itself, the way it looks, the way it feels being in there. The owners have maintained the original décor! You will go in by descending some stairs; the bar is underground (there is also outside seating during the summer). Once you get in you will feel like you’re going back in time, the walls are all wood and brick and they’re covered in old historical newspaper cuttings and memorabilia. It is dark and there are candles on the tables….

Old “news” about the royal family, pictures of young Queen Elizabeth and many stories cover the walls. And all the war décor has faded with time…

The bar started in 1890, but the building where the bar is situated is a lot older and it has a history!  The building was known by various names: the York House, 14 Buckingham Street, 19 Villiers Street and then Louis Gordon.

Many personalities dwelled here at different times! Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex was one of them. He was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I; they actually had a love affair while Elizabeth was 53 and he was still in his teens! Unfortunately his life ended too early, he was decapitated at the Tower of London when we was only 35 because he lead a coup d’etat against the government. 

The house was burnt down and rebuilt in mid 1680s. If you’re interested in the timeline of this house here is a link where you can find out more : History of Gordon Bar house.

And you know who else lived here? Rudyard Kipling!!! The author of Jungle Book! He lived in this building in the 1890’s as a tenant. I didn’t see anything about him in the bar, no dancing bear….no Bare necessities song :-).

Anyway, if you’re in London, this is a nice place and is worth checking it out!


© Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


By Andrada Costoiu

If you love mountains and scenic drives, this is a place where you should go: Transfagarasan, Romania. This road is not fully open all year long! The whole road is open only from June to late October, the rest of the year a portion of about 27 km is closed because of snow and avalanches. 

Also called the “the Road to the Sky”, the Transfagarasan stretches for 71 miles (114km) and it links the highest peaks in Fagaras Monutains in Romania. It also connects two of Romania’s historic provinces Transylvania (the Center) and Walachia (the South).

This is a dynamite-forged road and it was built for military purposes, during the communist time. The views are breathtaking and it’s also nice because you will go through a series of tunnels (5), you will cross viaducts(27) and small bridges( there are 831 small bridges!!). You might not even notice all these, because your eyes would be captured by the mountain passes and peaks and by the beautiful views all over. If you are the driver though, keep your eyes on the road!! The road is relatively easy to climb but it can get very curvy.

Poenari Castle- Vlad the impaler’s home

If you enter Transfagarasan from Curtea de Arges, the first touristic objective in your way is Poenari Castle. This castle was the home of Vlad the Impaler, which was built around the beginning of the 13th century by Wallachians.

The castle is now abandoned and left in ruins. You can visit it, if the climbing path is open!!! To get up there you have to climb no less than 1.480 steps.

When we went, the climbing path was closed for safety, as bears might cross paths with the ones who would venture the way up. At least that was the explanation we got and at first I thought they just closed it because they didn’t want people to man up the castle for tourists….

But then… we were peacefully driving along Transfagarasan…..we saw something right by the edge of the road….right by the edge!! It was a bear!!! He  was eating berries……We rolled down the window and he gave us a look!

The highest point – Balea Lake

The highest point is 6.699 ft (2042 m) – Lake Balea. Here you will feel like you’re touching the clouds, because you literally are. The cloud ceiling can go much lower than Balea Lake and if that happens, you’ll feel as you’re at the top of the world.

Balea Lake is a glacier lake. So, even if it’s hot when you start your ride at the bottom, bring warms clothes because by the time you reach the lake, you will for sure need a jacket. If you want to walk by the lake, you will need some good shoes, as there is snow. 

When you get to the lake, there are many local shops and food. The shops sell all kinds of manufactured Romanian products and crystals (I am not sure if these are found on these mountains). The food is good, they sell Bluz ( a Romanian traditional dish of friend polenta with cheese in the middle), fresh grilled fish, steak with vegetables, corn….and other things. Do not expect fancy seating, as everything is set up in tents or buildings with just the roof:). 

In winter time they build here an Ice Hotel, which is made by blocks of ice all collected from the lake! Each year the hotel has a new theme. Here are some pictures from the previous years.

Vidraru Dam and Lake

Vidraru is an artificial lake, created in 1965. The only way it’s accessible is through Transfagarasan. The construction of the Vidraru dam took five and a half years starting in 1960. The lake is gigantic. To make it, it took 42 km long underground galleries, the excavation one million cubic meters of underground rock and nearly one million cubic meters of poured concrete. The dam is around 160 meters high and to get to the dam you will go through a tunnel. The views are breathtaking…

Plenty of waterfalls

Along the way you will encounter a lot of beautiful waterfalls. They take their water from the lakes in the mountains and they almost never get dry or frozen. I don’t know their names but here are a few pictures I took while we were driving.

This drive is amazing and I would do it again! If you’re planning to go there and have any questions, let me know!


© Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.