First few days in Barcelona

We were supposed to spend the month of February 2022 in Barcelona, but cancelled as Covid cases had substantially increased and we felt more comfortable staying in Canada. So having missed that opportunity, we made the decision, this summer, to come and spend a couple of weeks here. A little concerned at first with travel, as the day we were to depart, we got a text early in the morning to say our flight had been delayed by about one hour and we only had a 2 hour transfer time in Amsterdam. No issue, the time was made up during the flight and we landed in Schiphol airport in The Netherlands on time. Long line ups at passport control, but this also ran smoothly and we had plenty of time for our flight to Barcelona. Arrived in Barcelona around 1 pm on Thursday, September 15th, 2022.

We have rented an apartment in the Eixample (pronounced eye-SHAM-plah). This area is the heart of the Modernista movement, a carefully planned “new town” just beyond the Old City with wide sidewalks, shade trees, with the major road having side lanes for taxis a separate lane for scooters, and large intersections. At the edge of this area is Gaudi’s “yet to be finished” Sagrada Familia. We visited in a previous trip in 2013 when we spent 3 days here so will not be going back…..why….it still hasn’t been finished! I read an update and it says that they hope to finish two of towers by the end of 2022, but more yet to be done. They started building this church 140 years ago….glad they aren’t our contractors! Can you imagine the cost overruns! It is now estimated that the church will be completed in 2026 which is the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. The Block of Discord (three apartments) and La Pedrera are also in the area, but again, we won’t be visiting these as we have already seen. Just to give those who have visited Barcelona an idea of where our apartment is located. One of the Metro lines is just a few steps away and very easy to get around to see the major sites.

A little history – One may choose to ignore this paragraph! Barcelona was an original Roman town from the time of Christ and was contained within Roman walls. The Cathedral was the centre of the city. Churches were built outside the original walls which drew more people to the city. In the 14th century, the Mediterranean was the center of trade and Barcelona thrived and a lot of Gothic buildings were erected during that period. When new sea routes opened up, its fortunes declined. In the 19th century, Barcelona bounced back due to the Industrial Revolution. The outer wall was torn down and replaced by circular boulevards. This was the period of the Modernista architecture movement. The summer Olympics were held her in 1992 and brought more focus to the city of Barcelona. As with many other port cities, Barcelona is struggling under the pressure of cruise ship visitors. The mayor of Barcelona has recently announced that the City will look at cutting the number of cruise ships in half and this would limit the amount of visitors to 10,000 per day. Still a very large number on a daily basis. Today, the population of the city of Barcelona is 1.6 million, but up to 4.8 million including the urban areas. The native language in the province of Catalunya is Catalan. Today many Catalans are striving for increased autonomy and some even want independence from the rest of Spain. All the signs are first in Catalan, then Spanish and finally English.

On our first afternoon here, we got settled in our apartment, did some grocery shopping (handy as a small grocery just a few steps away). Jet lag is very powerful; to bed very early and then up very early. On day two we headed out towards Placa d’Espanya with our destination being the Las Arenas Mall where we could get a Spanish SIM card for our phone – mission accomplished. I still can’t get over the cost of our cell phone service in Canada as compared to the rest of the World. So affordable here in Europe. Las Arenas was originally a bullfighting arena. Bullfights were banned here in Catalunya in 2010 so the arena was transformed into a modern shopping mall; what a great re-purpose of a building.

Las Arenas

This area is known as Montjuic and was the location of the 1929 World Expo. Today the buildings are used as a convention centre, the Fira de Barcelona. The Monumental Fountain was the entrance into the World Expo site and the architect was an associate of Gaudi. One also sees ‘ The Four Columns’. These columns signify the four pillars of the Catalan movement and had been demolished in 1928, just prior to the Expo. In 2010 after pressure from the Catalan movement and independent political parties, four similar columns were commissioned and installed near there original location. At the base of Montjuic are the two large columns, a Mies van der Rohe Pavilion and the Magic Fountains. At the top of the hill is the Catalan Art Museum which is housed in the Palau National (National Palace).

Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, The Four Columns, The Two Towers, Robin in front of the Magic Fountains and the Catalan Art Museum in the distance and another fountain at the base of the hill.
The Monumental Fountain

We then took the metro to the Santa Caterina Market located in the El Born district of the City. A smaller market that was built on the ruins of an old Dominican Monastery. Our guide book indicates that the construction of the market was delayed (seems to be a recurring theme here in Barcelona!) and was known as the ‘ The Hole of Shame’. In 2006 the hall was renovated and a Gaudi-inspired roof was added. We bought a few food items in the hall, then stopped at one of the restaurants for our first taste of Tapas. We chose ham croquettes, fried calamari and potatoes bravas….yummy. Of course a glass of beer and a cold glass of white wine had to accompany our meal. Although the market wasn’t that busy, the few restaurants there were bustling. Back to the apartment after a first full day of seeing this wonderful City.

The Santa Caterina Market. Enjoying our first meal of Tapas and of course has to be accompanied by a cold beer and a glass of white wine.

Saturday and I am still suffering from jet lag, Robin seems to be doing better than me. Late get away today. Took the Metro to Placa de Catalunya, the major square of Barcelona,which covers 12 acres. The square is surrounded by four major thoroughfares, the Ramblas ( a favourite tourist promenade and also pickpockets love it here), Passeig de Gracia (Barcelona’s Champs Elysees), the Rambla de Catalunya and Avinguda del Portal de l’Angel (traffic free) which leads to the area of Barri Gotic where the Cathedral is located. We decide to stroll down the Ramblas and we are amazed at the number of people. Although it is a Saturday, it is the middle of September; would not like to be here in the height of the summer. Our property Manager, Toni, told us we had to go this market as it is the most central and the most crowded. Very good people watching I must say. We find a table at one of the many bars/restaurants located on the edge of the market. Tapas once again; this time we try garlic shrimp, calamari (I love calamari) and tortilla de patatas. Again, all very good. All these restaurants are extremely busy and I find it amazing how quickly they get the food out to you and they appreciate if you don’t lounge around, they turn the tables over very quickly. We walk around the market and once again pick up a few items which we cannot do without, such as pastries and chocolate! Weather very pleasant.

The metro here is very clean and as mentioned before a stop is located just steps from our apartment. When we decide where we are going, I chart out the route on the ‘ Metro App’ and it is so precise. Tells you which line to take, how many stops to your next transfer, where to transfer to another line and which exit to take to get to your destination and how far you need to walk to get to your destination. Must say, it certainly makes things very easy. We have also downloaded the ‘Free Now’ app which is used to get a taxi. Proliferation of official taxis here. Uber is not widely used or popular in Barcelona. They just returned about a year ago after a two year absence due to protests by the taxi industry and the City imposing very strict regulations on ride sharing companies.

This morning, Sunday, we decide to head off to Fundacion Joan Miro, which is said to have the world’s best collection of this Catalan modern artist. Both Robin and I have enjoyed seeing his work in galleries around the world . The gallery is located half way up on Montjuic. To get there we took two separate metro lines and a funicular.

Claire getting off the Funicular

The building which houses his works, was built in 1975 by Josep Lluis Sert, a friend of Miro and a student of Le Corbusier. I always get a kick out of some of the remarks in guide books. Regarding Miro’s work, our guide book says ‘ Some tips to enjoy Miro’s work – First, meditate on it, then read the title , then meditate on it again. Repeat the process until you have an epiphany.’ It goes on to say ‘Devotees of Miro say they fly with him and don’t even need drugs. Psychoanalysts liken the free for all canvases to Rorschach tests – is that a cigar in that star’s mouth?’ Although the guide book comments are interesting, we have always enjoyed Miro’s art work.

Fundacion Joan Miro

I think we will simply admire his work and the many mediums he worked with. The history of his works progresses as one proceeds through the many rooms in the gallery. I especially like the 400 square foot Tapestry of the Foundation which was designed for the space in 1979. Miro died in 1983 at 90 years of age.

Tapestry of the Foundation

Not too busy today, but quite a number of families with young children. Just as an aside, the guide book did say that ‘ Children probably understand Miro’s art the best’. Looking at one of his pieces, Robin commented that Hazel, our young 7 year old neighbour, could do better…probably even our great niece, Maeve, who is only 3 years old!

Forgot to see what this one was titled!

Above is just a small sampling of Miro’s work and the variety of mediums that he worked with…..all amazing! Following is a Calder sculpture – Mercury Fountain – which was in the lobby of the gallery. This piece was created in 1937 for an exhibition at which Picasso premiered his well known work – Guernica. Both of these works were created to honour victims of the Spanish Civil War. Note the picture above the statue showing the Guernica in the background.

Mercury Fountain by Calder
View of the City from the Joan Miro Fundacion

This afternoon, we attended a concert at the Palau de la Musica Catalana. The concert hall only took 3 years to build and was completed in 1908. Guess they had better contractors than those that are building the Sagrada and those that built the market! Its’ location, on a very narrow street, is very interesting and the interior, which is in the Modernista style, is said to be one of the finest in the city. First time using the « Free Now » taxi cab application and it worked like a charm….very similar to Uber.

The exterior of the Palau de la Musica Catalana

This concert was to honour the Catalan pianist and composer Leonora Mila who just celebrated her 80th birthday. She was a child prodigy composing her first work at the age of six and started her international career at the age of twelve. It was very special as she was in attendance. The symphony played a good number of her compositions and we thoroughly enjoyed the concert. The interior of the concert hall is one of the most beautiful we have seen and is very intimate.

The interior lobby and stairs of the music hall.
The interior of the music hall.

I am always amazed at the talent of those who can play an instrument. I was especially taken by the percussionist. Had I pursued my kindergarten instrument….the triangle….yes folks, I could have been playing in this orchestra. Mind you, I would also have had to learn to play the tambourine and wooden blocks.

As we were leaving the concert hall, I asked a young man if he would take our picture. I do not do selfies…..arms too short! He asked if we spoke English and then went on to say that he was from California and would be in Spain and Portugal for a couple of months. He had just arrived in Barcelona a few days ago and already had fallen for a scam and had all his valuables, including his passport stolen. Luckily he already had his passport replaced as there is a U.S. embassy here. Guess this young man has not read guide books advising those to safeguard their valuables and not to fall prey to these scams. He was pretty positive considering what had just happened to him.

At the Palau de la Musica Catalan

Museums, etc.

Tuesday – June 14th – Started our day by attending our local market to buy some provisions. Must say it is very convenient as it is held three days a week…Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Not too busy this morning as compared to Saturday. We bought some prepared foods; so not having to cook too much. So both yesterday morning and this morning we stop at bars/cafe in the “hood”. We have been to both of these before. We like them as they are situated around the square and great for people watching. Both times, the waiters brought me a “cafe” then they have a look of dismay on their faces as they remember I ordered a “grand cafe creme”. They both hurriedly brought some hot milk to accompany my coffee. One of the waiters even discounted the cost of the coffee! Think it’s a conspiracy!

The people who sell their wares at the market are so efficient at setting up and taking down their stalls. By 2:30 pm, everything is gone and all is clean. This is when the older people playing pétanque take over the square.

Playing Pétanque

Today we walked about half way to the old town, then caught the metro the rest of the way. Meandered the streets of the old town and had lunch at a small restaurant. I had a crepe and Robin had the traditional “Sausage Lyonnais” (almost like a ham sausage normally served with warm green beans) which was very good. Some little birds dropped by to eat the leftover bread at one of the tables near to us. By the way, the washroom was inside a traboule which split the restaurant into two sections

Enjoying leftovers!

We note that lots of rain happening back home and I almost hate to post this….ok, not.

There are separated bike paths and dedicated lanes for bikes and scooters throughout the City. The city has a shared bike and scooter system which is well used. They also have a shared vehicle system. Unlike Calgary, people use the bikes/scooters for transportation. Lots of two stroke motorcycles/scooters around and they sure make a loud noise….not a fan of these! We notice that the majority of the buses here are electric. The Europeans seem to be so much more aware of energy costs and also safeguarding the environment. Most cars are small and not many SUV’s, not even small ones.

Notice the dog of choice in France still seems to be the Jack Russell terrier….I just love these. Robin says, no designer dogs here. We have a few mourning doves around, lots of cooing in the mornings and evening. Nice sound to wake up to as we keep our windows open at night; no alarm needed.

You can certainly tell it is nearing the end of the school year. We have seen many student groups out and about on field trips. Poor teachers..looks like they are trying hard to keep the kids’ interest and trying to keep their attention. Herding cats comes to mind.

When we decide where we are going for the day, I use the TCL app (Transports en Commun Lyonnais – Lyon’s public transport operator). It covers the metro, the trams and buses. Just enter where we are leaving from and where we want to go. When I get the results, I just email to myself so I have the directions right on my phone. I could just use the app, but would need to reload each time. By emailing it, I have the ready reference. Very handy. Certainly puts things in perspective of where you are heading.

Got to love technology. If I have a question about what is taking place in the City or clarification on an event, etc. I simply “message” or “chat” with the local tourist bureau. No need to make the trek down to the Tourist office. Works very efficiently.

Today (Wednesday, June 15th) we visit the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Lyon. It is located on Place de Terreaux, the same square as the City Hall and the Opera House. This is basically the centre of Presqu’il area. We did pass here and took pictures when we were on the Hop on/off bus earlier in our stay.

Le Musee des Beaux Arts de Lyon

We enter a lovely garden with some stone statues. A few are sculpted by Rodin; I happen to really like his work. If one looks closely you can see the muscles in the bodies he has sculpted. This garden area is open to the public and as we were leaving, a lot of locals were eating their lunch here. This building was a former 17th century Benedictine abbey and hence the courtyard which used to be cloisters, lovely. This building was originally transformed into a museum in 1803 and underwent restoration in 1989 and finally reopened to the public in 1998. We spent a couple of hours touring the collection.

The beautiful gardens in the Musee Des Beaux-Arts de Lyon. Wonderful place to relax.
Some of the art work in the gardens, including the Rodin statue, bottom left.

As we enter the museum, the first work of art we come across are the statues of the Rhone and Soane. These two statues that represent the two rivers here in Lyon. These two bronze sculptures were commissioned in 1714 and sculpted by the Coustou brothers. The statues were originally placed at the bottom of the equestrian statue of Louis the XIV which is located in Place Bellecour. The statues were restored and placed in the museum in 2021.

The statues depicting the Rhone and the Soane rivers.

A lot of religious art, which is not our favourite, but a small collection of Gauguin, Manet, Rembrandt, Rubens, Chagall, Matisse and hundreds of other artists. The first floor was mainly devoted to Egyptian antiquities…..I can’t help but wonder…”who really is the rightful owner of these Egyptian artifacts?” Always love to see the tile work and mosaics that go back centuries; some of the designs, albeit possibly modernized are still used today. Our apartment happens to have beautiful tile work in the bathroom and shower area.

I really like the headless lady….maybe we could put the guys head on her torso!
The size of some of the paintings are huge, an art deco bedroom, some mosaic work and a Gauguin painting.

Massive rooms in the Museum which in themselves are pieces of art. Beautiful mosaic floors and painted frescoes on some of the walls. My investigation of this museum tells me that the Louvre in Paris is the only fine arts museum in France which is larger.

Beautiful staircase, a wall of frescoes and stone carvings in one of the empty rooms. Over 70 separate room of art/antiquities.

Lunch on the local square, Place des Terreaux. They have a water feature on the square, similar to a lot of other cities around the world. Not sure if adults really notice it or pay attention, but certainly it draws the children who run in and out of the water. The square is also the location of a beautiful fountain, la Fontaine Bartholdi. Sculpted by Frederick Bartholdi (Statue of Liberty fame) in 1892.

The Fontaine Bartholdi as seen from the square and from the entrance of the Musee des Beaux Arts.

As we are walking back to the Metro I notice a store called “C’est deux Euro”, translating to everything cost two euros. I suppose a dollar store, but inflation has hit hard….now charging two euros instead of one euro. On the metro, two young ladies give up their seats for us. This has happened several times and we always thank the young people. I comment later to Robin that they must think we are old…..he says “Honey, we are old!”.

Robin reminds me that we need to stop at our local épicerie (grocery store) to pick up a few things. I go through the list and tell him, eggs, orange juice with no pulp and some more yogurt. “Claire…..WINE.” I don’t know why he tells me this, I didn’t think one needed to write wine down on a list; not something either of us would forget. It is now 33 C at 6 pm and weather to continue to be hot.

As we cross the square, stalls are being set up. I stop and ask a vendor what is happening and she informs me that every Wednesday from 2:30 pm till 8 pm an organic market is held. Aren’t we lucky….four markets a week to choose from.

Thursday and we decide to go to the Aquarium. We stop at one of our favourite bar/resto and the usual waiter is there and he remembers what we want to drink. We get into a conversation with him and he asks us where we are from and how long are we here for. Told him we did a bike trip prior to arriving of 228 kms. He says there is no way he could do that.

I find it amusing that we go to aquariums all over the world, yet we have never gone to the one in Toronto where our kids live and that we visit on a regular basis. I plan out our route and for the first time, in addition to taking the metro, we need to transfer to a “C’ bus (a C bus is one that travels on major routes throughout the City). Takes us a few minutes to find the right stop and yes, we actually go in the right direction. We have been known to take buses in the wrong direction on occasion during our travels! More school groups at the aquarium, but they are leaving. We find the aquarium to be mediocre compared to others we have seen, but still nice to see. Lots of different fish species and love the colours of the fish.

We make our way back to Place Bellecour and decide to stop for lunch in Place Antonin Poncet, just off the main square. There is a bell tower here, which is all that is left of a Catholic hospital (Hôpital de la Charité) circa 1622. The main hospital burnt down in 1934. One of the buildings on the square was a hotbed of resistance activities. Dr. Jean Rousset used an insane asylum on the top floor to hide Allied pilots. He was eventually captured, but survived the war. He also helped Virginia Hall a famous member of the SOE (Special Operations Executive). She was an American but worked with the British and she subsequently received the Croix de Guerre and an MBE. She has an interesting history which I enjoyed reading about, but too much information to partake here.

The bell tower in Place Antonin Poncet

There is also a water feature, a beautiful flower sculpture and steps leading to the Rhone on this square. The sculpture was part of the 2003 Biennale.

Flower Tree

We stop for lunch on the square at Cafe Français and share a delicious meal. “Confit de boeuf et jus sauce de tandoori avec olives vertes et pommes de terres”. The beef is preserved/tenderized in its’ own fat for eight hours. Simply delicious….had to take a picture.

As we arrive back to our apartment around 2:30 pm it is 32 C. Very hot, so the a/c went on immediately. Must say that travelling by metro and bus is comfortable as they are all air conditioned.

Robin and I have made the decision to return to Calgary early and have been able to get a flight back tomorrow – Saturday. I have had some health issues in the last week and just thought it would be better to return home. We feel very fortunate for the time we were able to spend on our bike ride and here in Lyon. So long for now.

First few days in Lyon

Arrived back in Lyon from our bike trip yesterday afternoon (Thursday). At around 10 am Friday morning, there was a fire alarm at the hotel, so we proceeded to vacate our room and walk down four flights of stairs. Good thing we weren’t on the 10th floor and thankfully it was a false alarm, but certainly a jolt when not expecting something like this. One of the staff approached us and apologized… if it was his fault. Only out of the hotel for about 5 minutes. They are doing some renovations to the bar of the hotel and had to wonder if this wasn’t the reason.

As an aside, last night after dinner, Robin and I were watching the BBC news channel; the only english tv channel at the hotel. A banner comes across the bottom and it says “New Zealand plans to tax cow and sheep burps”. Seriously how does one or the government for that fact, keep track of burps and does the definition of burps include those coming out of both ends of the cow/sheep. Just asking!

We took possession of our apartment at noon today (Friday), which is in the 8th arrondissement of Lyon. Our landlady, Catherine and her husband Marc, met us and walked us through everything we had to know. The apartment has everything one would need or want. A bright one bedroom with a fully stocked kitchen and air conditioned. It is to reach 25 C today and get warmer next week, so that may be very welcome. Having said this, we are getting a lovely cross breeze from opening the large windows in bedroom and kitchen/dining area. This apartment belongs to our landlady’s daughter who is away in Ireland studying for a few years. Robin and I are always so impressed with the linens in France. I know they may sound strange, but the bed linens are gorgeous….you almost don’t want to sleep in them! The other thing about the bedding that one finds a lot in Europe is square pillows vs our rectangular pillows. I always find these small differences interesting and wonder how these changes evolved. Something to look into when I am really bored or can’t sleep! Maybe I will investigate this along with the New Zealand “burp” thing. If I find anything, I will be sure to report back.

There is an elementary school across the street and it is nice to hear the children’s voices. This afternoon a parade of parents picking up their kids from school. “Bon weekend”….that is by the way what the French actually say.

This apartment is in a residential neighbourhood, so away from the tourist centre, which is one reason we chose it. The metro is two blocks away and a ten minute metro ride to Place Bellecour, which is the major square in Lyon and is the historical centre.

We are only a couple of blocks from Place Ambroise which is the local square of this neighbourhood (Monplaisir) and is surrounded by cafes, grocery stores, butchers, bakeries and most importantly of all a chocolate shop…Jeff de Bruges, a well known chocolate maker in France. We unpack and make our way to the local butcher, Maison Vessiere. We spend a pile of money here on wonderfully prepared meals, fresh cuts of meat and some seasoned and fully cooked meats as well. Then on to the local épicerie (grocery store) Casino. There is also a UExpress nearby which we will also check out. Nice that everything we need is really within a very short walking distance.

After getting the provisions we need, we decide to stop at one of the local cafes for a late lunch. In addition to the restaurant, they also have a section of tables in the square. When we first approached the host of the restaurant, he asks if we are here to eat; to ensure we just weren’t there to have something to drink. Busy lunch time and it appears they try to maximize their earnings by insisting that one eats as well as drinks; can’t say I blame them. They did turn away a few people.

A lot of you know that I am on a special diet and the one thing I am really missing are all the wonderful/delicious salads that they make in France. Salads used to be our main staple for lunch whenever we came to France and they are so large, we used to share and still had plenty to eat. Who said this was fair! We share (a partagée) a pasta dish and some beer for Robin and white wine for myself. We engage the young waiter to find out what time the restaurant opens in the morning as we like to usually have a coffee/tea before heading out for the day. I also ask where we could get a drink nearby in the afternoon. He tells us that starting at 2:30 pm, after the lunch time crowd is finished, they do allow people to come in and simply have drinks. It is now 2:35 pm and the outdoor chairs are filling up with the University crowd…..I guess they know the rules of when to come for drinks!

OK….I know the next part might be quite boring for some readers, but I always like to know about the history of where we are visiting. Our dear nephew Marc, asked if I was going to write my blog on this trip. When I responded yes, he said he could hardly wait to read the “history” part. Think he was being sarcastic….he has trouble falling asleep and I think reading this section of my blog helps him sleep!

Lyon is the capital the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region in east-central France. It is set on a hilly site at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers. It is the third largest city in France, after Paris and Marseille and is know as the gastronomic capital of France. 

It was founded in 43BC by the Roman military and became the capital of the Gauls. In 1032 it was integrated into the Holy Roman Empire and annexed to the kingdom of France in 1312.

The Renaissance brought prosperity to the area. By the 17th century it was the silk-manufacturing capital of Europe. Printing was introduced as early as 1473, and Lyon soon became one of the most active printing centres in Europe.

The city now has a diversified economy. The textile industry is dominated by the manufacture of rayon and silk. The production of chemicals has become a key industry as it was originally connected with the treatment of textiles. The construction, food, and printing industries are prosperous.

Lyon is the third-largest city in France after Paris and Marseille with a population of 472,317 in 2019. The larger metropolitan area has a population is 1,747,246 and it’s the second-largest metro area in France behind Paris. I always find it amusing when searching out statistics or information about an area we are visiting. Depending which site you use, the numbers vary somewhat; but I’ll stick with those above.

It’s large historic centre, Le Vieux Lyon, is a Unesco World Heritage site….another one for our list! The city also has the largest ensemble of Renaissance buildings in Europe.

From Wikipedia –

“ Economically, Lyon is a major centre for banking, as well as for the chemical, pharmaceutical and biotech industries. The city contains a significant software industry with a particular focus on video games; in recent years it has fostered a growing local start-up sector. Home of renowned universities and higher education schools, Lyon is the second-largest student city in France, with a university population of nearly 200,000 students within the Metropolis of Lyon. Lyon hosts the international headquarters of Interpol, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, as well as Euronews. According to the Globalization and World Cities Research Network it ranked second in France and 40th globally in Mercer’s 2019 livability rankings.” END of history lesson…..for now!

In the News

1) This past Thursday, ground crew and firemen at Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports called a one day strike. They are demanding a raise due to the high cost of living. They have also called for another strike on July 2nd; thankfully that won’t affect us, flying home on July 1st through Amsterdam. I have to love the French workers….they always give advance of when they are going to strike….so polite. Health workers demonstrated this past Tuesday. Lack of resources have caused extreme stress…..sounds familiar! Same happening in our country. 2) Sunday, June 12th is the first round of Regional and Departmental elections. These elections are held over two Sunday’s and will affect the Assemble Nationale (the lower house) and could weaken/strengthen Macron’s efforts. Results from today’s election are posted then the public votes again on Sunday. A little confusing. Right across the street from our apartment is an elementary school and on the notice board are all the candidates posters. It has been interesting to watch the public walk by in the last few days and actually stop and look at the posters….don’t think I ever pay attention to posters during elections back in Canada. People already entering poll at eight am this morning and I did notice that the candidates’ posters have had paint thrown on them overnight….damage to political posters….my, my, what a surprise! Update at 5 pm….people still streaming in to vote and news reports that the voter turnout is 39%.
3) France football (soccer) team has qualified for the 2022 World Cup. 4) Eighteen people went on trial on Tuesday accused of running a Europe-wide giant horse meat trading network involving produce not cleared for human consumption. We know the French take their horse-meat seriously. We have actually tried horse-meat in previous travels; but not really a fan.

An interesting point of these elections is gender parity. For departmental elections, candidate duos (always a man and a woman) are paired together. All the posters show both of them. If a certain duo wins, they both get a seat and exercise their duties separately. For regional elections, parties lists must alternate candidates male and female. After reading more about the regional elections related to gender equality, I was totally confused!

On Saturday, we attended the local market, stopped for coffee/tea in an outside cafe in the park. There was a group of adults just off the square giving a concert, nice to hear.

We then headed out to the Westfield Mall in the Part Dieu area of the city. You ask “Robin and Claire going to a mall in Lyon, France…why?”. Robin decided he wanted a pair of sandals when he looked at the weather forecast for the next few weeks. Temperatures are to be in the high 20’s and low 30’s and he only brought his shoes for cycling and some dress shoes. We take the Metro to get there. This mall was built in 1975 and was one of the largest when built; not sure where is ranks now. It takes up 5 floors and has retail square footage of 1,370,000. No dilly – dallying…..find the Decathlon store, buy the shoes and get the heck out of there. Actually, we stopped at a pizza restaurant on the outer part of the mall for lunch. As the host approached us, he says “Bonjourno”….really, we are in France, not Italy. Like me ordering a cappuccino and being told I need to go to Italy. Robin decides to go to the washroom before we leave the restaurant and he tells me that their is a recording to teach one Italian!

On the way back to our apartment, we stop at the local grocery store as we missed getting a few things we needed yesterday. When I went over the list with Robin and asked if there was anything else we needed, his reply….WINE. Of course, how silly of me. Not sure why wine has go on the list though, not sure I would have forgotten. This evening in our local square a “block party” of sorts was happening; games and demonstrations for kids and bands playing.

Love some of the things I have come across in the apartment.

The “Marilyn” glass cutting board, the soccer player pizza cutter, soap dispensers, dish scrubber and tongs, the coffee maker (looks alien) and the iron.

On Sunday, our second full day in our apartment, we decide to do the Hop on/off bus. I know this sounds very touristy, but we have done this on occasion when visiting a new city. It is good at giving one a good overview of the City and where you want to return. The tour starts from Place Bellecour, which is the major square in Lyon. This square is located in the heart of the Presqu’ile (peninsula) district which is considered the heart of the City. 

We stop for a coffee/tea as we are early for our tour, we had bought tickets on line for a specified departure. I order a cafe creme and I get what looks like an expresso with a bit of milk. I have ordered a cafe creme on other occasions since arriving and I get what we would call a latte, which is what I want. The “lightbulb” in my head goes off and I realize I need to order “un grand cafe creme” (a large).

A view of the old town from the Soane

We are on the bus for about 1 1/2 hours and see the main sites. We begin in the Bellecour neighbourhood where we see an equestrian statue of Louis XlV (Le Cheval de Bronze). This statue was commissioned by the King and was cast by a couple of Lyon brothers. He wanted the statue placed in this square as it is said he fell in love with Lyon. I read that the statue was hidden during the French Revolution and put back in the square in 1826. We then view the “Grand Hotel Dieu”. This was at one time a charity hospital and was refurbished into a 5 star hotel and high end shops. Beautiful architecture in Lyon.

The Opera House, the Musee des Beaux Arts and the Hotel de Ville

The bus then proceeds to the Terreaux neighbourhood where we see the lovely Opera house. We do attend the opera in Calgary, but unfortunately no opera held here during the summer months. City Hall (Hotel de Ville) and the Palais de la Bourse are also located in this area. The Chamber of Commerce now inhabits the Palais de la Bourse as the major stock exchange and treasury are now in Paris. Beautiful painted wall murals in this section of the City. Will have to come back and get more pictures. Also note many book vendors along the river here, reminds of Paris.

Scattered throughout Lyon are more than 100 large murals/frescos.

A funny aside about Hotel de Ville. Many years ago Robin and I were travelling by car through Europe and had a very long day of driving and had some issues at a “payage” (toll road/booth). This was in the days before the EU and we ended up paying our toll in Swiss Francs, Italian Lira and Deutsche Marks. Completely stressed we finally enter France and are looking for a hotel in a small town just across the border. I spot a hotel across the square and say to Robin, there is a hotel…..he says to me “ sweetheart, that is the Hotel de Ville…the city Hall”. Kind of funny when you think I am the French person. Robin never lets me forget this.

Le Musee des Confluences, Le Musee Lumière near our apartment, the Basilica and the fountain in Place Jacobins

The bus follows the Soane, an area we have not yet seen. Along here we can see the Basilica, the Cathedrale, the Tour Metallique which are situated on the Fourviere hill above the City.

We continue and find ourselves at the Confluence. This is located at the southern most end of Presqu’ile and is where the Soane and Rhone meet. There is a spectacular Musee de Confluences and some spectacular architectural buildings along the southern part of the City.

The Orange Cube and The Green Cube (houses Euro News). Both designed by Jakob and MacFarlane based in Paris. Many interesting building designs along the Soane, will hopefully get back there to see more. One older building was an old sugar factory turned into office buildings.
View of the city from the Basilica

Up the hill to the Fourviere district and this is where we decide to disembark.

We are both hungry and want to find a restaurant. Just a few cafes up here on the hill, so we take the “funicular” down the hill and stop at a local cafe. A young lady is sitting next to us and she has the reddish/pink drink, so I ask her what she is drinking and if it is alcoholic. She tells me it is a “Monaco” and it is beer mixed with syrup. So of course I have to look this up. A Monaco is two parts beer and one part lemonade with a splash of grenadine (guess that is what gives it a pink colour). I do like the odd Radler at home on a hot day, so I will have to try one of these and will report back. Still see a lot of people drinking Aperol Spritz’s, but I just find them too sweet. It is now 29C and with the constant breeze, it is very nice sitting in the shade. The owner of the restaurant comes out and sees that the sun is now shining a little on our table, so she promptly tells me that she will move the table a little to ensure we are in the shade. Too kind, thank you. By the way, the old adage that the French are rude is totally not true. If one makes the effort, they are very kind.

More Expressions. Vous avez commander? – You have ordered? Dite moi – tell me what you would like. Pas de soucis – No problem

After getting off the bus, we stopped for lunch. During the bus tour today, we also came across the “vide-greniers” (flea market) just near where we were having lunch. Following is a picture of the funicular we caught going down from the cathedral to the old town. Also came across several local food markets. The food market in our square runs three days a week.

Chocolate ice cream (of course), the funicular, and the “vide greniers” (flea market)

Must mention that you don’t see many people here wearing masks; I would say less than 1%. Robin and I continue to wear ours on the Metro or crowded indoor areas.

Monday with Konstantin

I had booked a private tour of the City before we left Canada. Spent three hours Monday afternoon touring the old City with a local guide Konstantin. Although I say local, Konstantin was born in Belarus, moved to the Czech Republic as a young boy, as his parents thought it would be safer for the family. As an adult, he decided he wanted a French wife, so he went to China to study….makes sense so far. Believe it or not, he met a young French lady studying in China and “ergo” he made his dreams come true. They both had scholarships to study in China and they were there for a few years and travelled around. They decided to settle in a small French town of about two thousand people in the north of France. They found this town simply too small as they had come from a city of ten million in China. The lack of jobs there was also a driver to move to a larger city and they decided on Lyon. They have been here for five years. With hard work, they have been able to buy an apartment in the outskirts of Lyon. Konstantin teaches English at two Universities and runs his tour company on the side. He told us that he teaches English to reluctant French people who should have taken English in school and are finding it difficult later in life to learn a second language, which they now require in the work world. 

We start off our tour at Place Bellecour, which is the largest pedestrian square in France. It is also the heart of Lyon’s historic district. Konstantin tells us that no change can take place in the square, except for possibly planting more trees around the perimeter, as the square is part of the Unesco World Heritage site. This Unesco site includes the districts of Vieux-Lyon, Fourviere Hill (site of the Basilica and the Roman amphitheatre), the slopes of Croix-Rousse Hill (home of the silk industry) and much of the Presqu’ile (location of Place Bellecour). On the square we see the statue of Louis the XIV. He wanted this area to become a second Versailles. The land was owned by a local monastery and they did not want to give it up as they used the land for agricultural purposes. Needless to say, the King took the land. Some gardens were planted, then the French Revolution took place and the square was destroyed. It was rebuilt and two identical buildings are on either sides of the square.

Place Bellecour

We start walking along a pedestrian area which Konstantin refers to the “Champs Élysées” of Lyon as this area features many high end shops. We get to Place des Celestines, where we view the Theatre de Celestines. The theatre was rebuilt several times as it had burnt down on a couple of occasions. It is said that this was mainly due to the lighting, which in olden times was by candlelight. So the owners of the theatre decided to have its own fire brigade. One night, a fire takes place and the building burns down, once again. Where were the firefighters? Apparently enjoying a beer in a nearby local establishment…wonder if they were FIRED!

Then on to Place des Jacobins where we see a beautiful fountain. This area is bordered by 19th century Haussmann style buildings. These buildings have been refurbished over the last few years and the apartments are very expensive due to their location.
I ask Konstantin if this warm weather is usual for this time of year. He says probably a little warmer, but he feels that this has to do with the increase in buildings in the Presqu’ile area over the years and the lack of trees which were cut down to make the roads wider for more cars. He said the previous mayor, who was in power for 30 years, should take most of the blame for this. Last year the mayor was overthrown in the elections and the city is now ruled by the Green Party.

Konstantin takes us to a parking garage…..yes, a parking garage which is below the Place des Celestines. In 1996 this car park won an award for Europe’s most remarkable car park renovation. Who would think of going into a car park when touring a city…..that is why getting a private guide is so worth it.

Robin asks Konstantin about local beers. He says that growing up in the Czech Republic, he always thought they had the best beer. But having travelled in Europe and China, he has come across a lot of good beer and went on to say that Czech beer is the best Czech beer! Konstantin points out a sign which shows the height of the river during flooding.

Hope no flooding in Calgary! See the rivers rising back home.

Some of the streets in the area were known for their printing shops. Lyon has a history in the printing industry and many of its streets are named after famous printers. During WW11, Lyon was a centre for the Resistance and its printers produced many Resistance newspapers.
We view the upper town, known as the Croix Rousse. This is where the silk industry established itself. It is said the workers lived on the hills as they would have to climb up to their homes. Whereas the wealthy lived on the flats, closer to the river and fresh water. Konstantin says their are two hills….Croix Rousse, the hill that works and Fourviere (Basilica located there), the hill that prays.

Beautiful views of the City as we cross the Soane

We cross the Soane and ahead of us is the Palais de Justice. Our guide tells us that Klaus Barbie was tried here.

Robin and Konstantin walking across a pedestrian bridge on the Soane towards the Palais de Justice. The Basilica and La Tour métallique de Fourviere (Metallic tower of Fourviere).

We continue on to Vieux Lyon. On one end of Vieux Lyon is the Saint Jean Baptiste Cathedral and on the other end was (centuries ago) the banking and trading centre of Lyon. People came to Lyon to trade goods; at the time the silk industry was the largest in Europe.

The Old Town

The Cathedral was complete in 1476 and is older that the Basilica further up the hill. Inside is an astronomical clock. Konstantin points out that the last year on the clock is 2019…..just before the pandemic….he raises his eyebrows!

La Cathédrale Sain Jean Baptiste

Konstantin then takes us to several Traboules; an informal network of elusive passageways. The doors to these passageways are not evident; they look like any other door, so one needs to know where they are. It is said that some 400 existed at one time, now about 40 are accessible to the public; others being private. These are like hallways that give one a shortcut from one street to another. Some of these have access to basements and tunnels that lead to the river. These were also used by the French Resistance to avoid the Nazi’s and to spy and plot against them. One can also see the stairs that lead up to apartments. Some of the stairs had small holes in them and Konstantin tells us that these were used for carrier pigeons.

Traboules – hidden passageways.
Konstantin explaining Traboules. The door looks like an entry into an apartment building. A visitor can get a map for the Traboules.

We take the funicular up Fourviere hill to visit the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourviere. This basilica was built in the 19th century on land that was once a Roman forum. It blends both Romanesque and Byzantine architecture. It has four main towers and a bell tower with a gold top and a small chapel on the side. The basilica is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to whom is attributed the salvation of the City from the bubonic plague that swept Europe in the 1600’s. The Virgin is also credited with saving the city from a Cholera epidemic and the Prussian invasion. Interesting to see that above the altar, where one would normally see a cross with crucified Jesus, here you see a statue of the Virgin Mary. Each year in December, the city of Lyon thanks the Virgin Mary by lighting candles throughout the City; which is called the Festival of Lights. Konstantin says that the Festival now takes on a new spin by having fire works and lights throughout the city.

Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere
Beautiful mosaic walls and gilded ceilings in the Basilica. Note the statue of the Virgin Mary above the altar. A side chapel is attached to the side of the Basilica.

We also see La Tour Métallique de Fourviere in the distance. This is a television tower and not accessible to the public. Built in 1892-94 it resembles the Eiffel tower. The metallic tower was actually constructed with financial assistance from the republican/secular local council that wanted a secular monument to balance against the religious symbolism of the Basilica, which was built 10 years earlier by public subscription. Apparently once the spire was positioned on top of the tower, it was higher than the Basilica. I also read that the Nazi’s considered disassembling the tower for the metal for its war effort, but this never transpired. Not sure who built it, but it was not Eiffel.

La Tour Métallique de Fourviere

There are gardens beside the Basilica with beautiful views of the City below. This is the end of our tour. A wonderful three hours spent with our very informative guide, Konstantin.

We take the funicular back down the hill and stop for a cold beer. It is very warm today (32 C), but thankfully a breeze blowing. I think I have already drank more beer this trip than I did all of last summer!

We are also thankful that our apartment is air conditioned. It is 9:30 p.m. as I am writing my blog and still 24 C. We have the windows open and enjoying a nice cool breeze. Very tired with all the walking but certainly a worthwhile day. We always find it so interesting to view a city from a locals’ perspective and enjoy all the stories we are told, not just the history.

Arrival back in France and our Bike Trip

OH MY GOSH……Back to international travel and Europe after almost 2 1/2 years, what a feeling!

Left Calgary on Friday, June 3rd and arrived in Amsterdam on Saturday morning. The EU no longer requires passengers to wear masks on planes, so many people on our plane did not wear them, but Robin and I chose to wear ours…..a little hard to wear a mask for 8 hours straight. Do not need to get sick and thought this was the safest route for us….a personal choice.

Having arrived in Amsterdam we had a 4 hour layover, which morphed into 7 hours as our flight to Lyon was delayed. KLM told us that this was the Schiphol airport’s fault as they were having work done on one of the runways and only half of the planes could land and take off. Just wondering….what have they been doing for the last two years when no one was travelling….just asking! Must also mention that airlines must be trying to recoup some of their losses from the last couple of years. Food/service on flights really cut back!

The airport terminal in Lyon was designed by Calatrava; a spectacular piece of architecture.

The Saint Exupéry Airport, Lyon

Finally arrive in Lyon around 5 pm in the afternoon and after getting settled in our hotel, we find our way to a large mall where we find an Orange telephone store. Orange is one of the major Telco’s in France and we both arrange new SIM cards and a monthly cell phone plan as we will be here in France for the month of June. Then off to the local Carrefour grocery store (epicerie) and buy some goodies for our bike ride.

On Sunday, we take a one hour train journey to Seyssel (population about 2,200), where we will start our bike trip on Monday. We had been told by the company who arranged our bike trip that on Mondays, a lot of shops and restaurants are closed and that we should ensure we have enough food for the first day of cycling. In addition, Monday, here in France is a “jour ferie”, a public holiday. When looking into this, I find out the holiday is Whit Monday. Whit Monday is a Christian holiday that celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit onto Jesus’s disciples. The Holy Spirit’s descent is said to mark the “birthday” of the Christian church. Just wondering… many people still go to church or just think…sure glad we have today off; what should we do? Hope the restaurants/ boulangerie’s/cafe’s are open tomorrow…hey, we need nourishment on our bike ride!

Seyssel, the small town from where we are starting our bike trip

Seyssel is a small community but seems to be a destination for cyclists. Many bike trips either start here or on the route. Some of the bike trips start in Geneva and follow the same route we are taking from Seyssel along the Rhone river. Our bike trip is self guided but we have a GPS and a hard copy guide. We did a trip very similar to this in the Bordeaux area about 4 years ago. Robin and I both prefer self guided as we can stop whenever and wherever we want. By the way….did I say…..”don’t try to tell Robin where and when he can stop”. Think that is my outside voice instead of my inside voice….oops!

Settled in our hotel in Seyssel, a boutique type of hotel; you would never know from the old exterior of the building that this is such a charming hotel inside.

Walked about 5 blocks from the train station to our hotel in Seyssel. Thank goodness for carry on luggage.

Went for a walk in the town to find somewhere to get a beer/wine; very warm here..mid to high 20’s. Only one local bar is open as it is Sunday. Robin orders a local beer and I order a glass of white wine. I do believe that this is the smallest glass of wine I have ever had in my life. I estimated it was 2 ounces; Robin says more like 3 ounce….who cares…..I wanted a glass of wine; not a vial of wine! Having said this the wine was good and I don’t think they cater to wine drinkers in this pub.

Had our first very memorable meal here in Seyssel. I had a “filet de Sandre” (perch) with riz venere (black rice). Robin chose “piece du boucher avec sauce au poivre, puree blue d’autun et patate douce ( a tendre cut of meat in pepper sauce with puree of blue potatoes and sweet potatoes). Neither of us have ever seen these blue potatoes before. The lady who owns the restaurant told us they a variety known as Vitelotte and are grown in northern France and Belgium. They are a solid blue/purple potato with a very mild taste; so different looking.

No caption required…just delicious!

Robin and I had a good chuckle remembering our days in Peru. Every guide told us that Peru was the home to many types of potatoes; which in relating stories ranged from 1,000 species and above. Just had to google that as Robin remembered it being much more than 1,000. Dr. Google tells me that there are over 4,000 kinds of potatoes in Peru! 

Going back to my story about the small glass of wine in the local pub, the restaurant in our hotel had a superb wine list. I ordered a french wine from the Seyssel region….excellent in taste and quantity! Robin had a Cote du Rhone; we are after all along the Rhone river. When we went to order desert, I ordered a creme brûlée Madagascar. The owner says; “that’s not chocolate”. She had heard Robin and I talking about chocolate. Robin had a chocolate desert called “Chocosphere”…..oh my goodness, so chocolatity and came in a dish that looked a space ship/volcano. Oh, the French know how to cook and the presentation of dishes always spectacular. By the way delicious sauces on both the steak and the fish….yum. I may actually gain some weight on this trip; which I very much need! Robin says that is why we chose to come to Lyon as it is known as the gastronomic capital of France. 

Coming back to France has brought back some wonderful memories. I just love some of the French expressions such as 

  • “Je vous entends”…this is what a waiter/waitress will say when they come to take your order. The literal translation is….I am listening
  • “Pas de souhets”…. No worries
  • “Je vous en prie”….You are welcome
  • Bonjour Monsier/Dame…good morning Mr. and Mrs.

DAY ONE of BIKE TRIP – Great breakfast on day 2 of our bike trip to get us fuelled for the day. Had a good chuckle this morning. Our waiter was a middle aged man who asked us what we would like as a hot drink for breakfast. Robin indicated he would like a green tea and I asked for a cappuccino. The gentleman told me I would have to go to Italy to get a cappuccino, but he would get me a “cafe creme” ! Guess I should have remembered this, but at the previous hotel we were at they had automatic machines with the option of a cappuccino. Nice to have a waiter with a sense of humour first thing in the morning.

The start of our bike trip in Seyssel.

Our ebikes were delivered this morning around 9 am and a representative from the bike company went over everything with us. These ebikes are heavier than the ones we have at home, but we managed well throughout the day. The company also arranges to take our luggage from town to town to our specified accommodation. We did leave half of our luggage at the hotel in Lyon as we will be returning there on the last day of our bike trip. We only took what we needed for the bike trip and evenings out while on the trip.

By the way, we still only travel with a carry on suitcase and one personal bag. We will be gone for the month of June and we always ensure that the apartments we rent have a washer. We have rented an apartment in Lyon for three weeks upon our return. The bike trip ends up in Lyon on Friday.

Today (Monday) we cycled 55 kms, mainly on bike paths along the Rhone, but some of the route on narrow secondary roads. We are cycling from Seyssel to Champagneux. Wouldn’t you know it…..the last kilometre to our gite was all uphill. Just not fair at the end of a long day of cycling. The company that we booked with for our cycling trip, provided us with the “Guido” app which, when we entered our code, has a full GPS of our route; with voice activation. You just simply follow the line, if you veer off the line, it actually has an alarm to warn you. Very easy to use and we also have a backup paper copy. Many stops along the way with one such stop being in Chanaz, which is known as the “La Petite Venise Savoyarde”. Lots of people here on boats, canoes and kayaks along the canal as well as lots of families cycling due to the holiday. The weather was perfect for riding today, about 27 degrees with a gentle breeze.

La Petite Venise Savoyard

Some of the varied countryside on the first day of our bike trip.

We ended our day in the small village of Champagneux. We are staying in a two guest room gîtes. The owner, Jean Richard, greeted us as we arrived and had graciously made a reservation for us for dinner tonight at the only restaurant in town……thank you, thank you! He even offered to drive us to the restaurant as it is again uphill….thank you Jean Richard!

The gite is made of stone and dates back to the 1800’s. Wonderful room in the basement, which is nice and cool and has some exposed brick. Needless to say, we both had a snooze upon our arrival at around 3 pm and a welcomed shower to get reinvigorated. Spending some time in the beautiful back yard of the gites doing some reading and watching the cows next door.

The gite in Champagneux and an evening shot of the countryside

Robin and I were commenting how the European’s certainly have a handle on electric consumption. The electricity in the hotel we stayed in last night in Seyssel was regulated with a card key system. Once you enter the room, one inserts the card into the slot (which is also your room card) and electricity is available as long as the card is inserted. Once you leave the room with the card key, the electricity goes off, so no errant lights left on and/or air conditioning running while no one in the room. When we arrived in our gites this afternoon, Jean Richard said that he had two special outlets for us to charge our ebike batteries. These outlets have timers on them and the electricity to these two outlets will come on at 11 pm and stay on till 6 am the following morning. This timing is when electricity is at a its lowest cost.

Last night when Jean Richard offered to drive us up to the local restaurant, he said it would take two trips as his vehicle was a small van which only sat one passenger. I told him I could sit on Robin’s lap so he wouldn’t have to make separate trips…..I said just like when we were young. He said….oh, to be in love!

DAY TWO – This morning at breakfast, Jean Richard and his wife served yogurt, fruit, thin pancakes and home made jellies. One jelly was especially different and delicious…..jelly with black bergamot tea. The prize was a baked bun called “gateau St. Agathe de Catone”. The legend is that a royal asked Agathe for her hand in marriage, she declined… he had her “boob” cut off….and that my friends is what the baked bun looks like!

“Gateau St. Agathe de Catone”

Our cycling route of 66 kilometres today took us from Champagneux to Villebois. We have been having breakfast around 8 am and usually leaving around 9 am and this has worked out very well. Today just after stopping to admire the Cascade de Glandieu.

Robin was riding ahead of me and I yelled out turn left in the small village. He kept going, so I yelled louder, he finally stopped. There was a French gentleman walking his dog who was stopped at the corner; and he had a big smile on his face. I said to him (in French of course) “my husband does not listen”. He started laughing and he said the same thing happens with his wife. We stopped and had a lovely chat with this lovely man. He had a beautiful Westie terrier, so we asked about his dog. He said that he and his wife had a previous Westie, but it had died after only 3 years and they were heartbroken and they said it would be too hard to get another dog. Time went on and they decided to get another Westie. He said he was seventy seven and if he lived to one hundred, time enough to enjoy another dog. He went on to say, if one was 23 and thought they would live to 100, that just seemed like to long a time.  I mentioned to him that Robin was seventy nine…..he bowed his head and said he respected his elders… it. We said goodbye and he wished us good travels. 

With having to bike 66 kilometres today, we took numerous breaks which worked out really well, able to manage this distance….although having said that, always seems that the last couple of kilometres seem extra hard. Did I mention it was uphill at the end…..again!

On one section of the bike path today, it was completely taken over by young school kids. The teachers noticed we were coming and they told the kids to clear the bike path. As we passed by, they all clapped and yelled and we smiled and waved …..just like the Royals!

Near our final destination of Villebois today, there was a widening of the Rhone where we saw school children taking sailing lessons and white water rafting on a side area. Also a few marinas along this section of the river.

Beautiful weather again today in the mid to high 20’s. Even though we had sunscreen on, probably need to re-apply….arms and ears a little red!

When we arrived at our lodging this afternoon around 3 pm the gates were closed. A sign on the entrance said that the guest house desk is open at 5 pm for greeting new guests…..I just about started crying! Needless to say, I rung the bell (why not) and after two attempts, a gentleman walked out and let us in. The owner, Thierry, said we were lucky to catch him as he was on his way out. Don’t think he lives here. He asked if the bike company told us about the 5 pm entry…..NO! Oh well, someone upstairs must be looking after us, as we did get our room…..snooze and shower and felt much better! I had yet another beer upon arriving this afternoon; I must say, after a warm day and biking, it went down very well…..not usually a beer drinker, but sometime just what one needs.

I love finding these signs along the way!

I always get a kick from finding odd or funny signs. The sign on the left is self explanatory, as Robin posted, an property owner with a sense of humour. The sign on the right is a warning about “cattle grates”. We found it amusing that they relate to them as “Barriere Canadienne” !

Our dinner tonight was included with our accommodation, so nice not to have to go out after a long day of riding. Thierry has a contract with a local provisioner and our supper was basically a catered set menu….very good, but way too much food for me! Two english gentlemen are the only other guests here (only 5 rooms in this guest house). They are also on a bike trip, although self planned. They had cycled about 100 kms today, as one of the them had lost their phone and had to go back and find it. Smart of them, to call the number and someone actually answered the call, so they knew where to go pick it up.

Beautiful little town with the majority of the buildings being made of stone as their is a local quarry nearby. Thierry told us that this guest house dates back to the 14th century.

This guest house also caters to cyclists. The owner has a small garage for bikes with about 8 built in power outlets to power ebike batteries. E bikes have certainly become popular and businesses have learnt to cater to this segment. 

Did I mention that this guest house is across the road from the local church? We found this out when the church bells were going off once every half hour and the relative amount of rings on the hour. At 11 pm, they rang 11 times of course, but twice and then went silent for the rest of the night. Guess what, church bells start at 5 am! Then soon after the morning doves started cooing….we finally closed the windows.

To my fashionista friends out there who usually don’t see me wearing the same clothes day after day…yes, I am wearing the same cycling outfit and washing as needed….hey, only carry on and spending three weeks in Lyon….got to have enough outfits for then.

DAY THREE – Wednesday found us cycling from Villebois to Perouges, a total of 55.6 kilometres. Once again we left the guest house about 9 am. Quite cloudy today and cooler, about 14 C when we left. The countryside today was mainly farming communities and passed by about three locations where Nuclear reactors are operating…..quite ugly in all honesty….but we all need power. On today’s leg we had to cross major highways on several occasions and rode more on secondary roads. When waiting to cross the major roads, our GPS Guy always tells us to be very careful. Lots of trucks on the road. I mentioned to Robin, considering the number of goods that are transported by truck, not just in Europe but in North America, not sure I see a future without fossil fuels!

Started raining about 11 am so we stopped and donned our rain jackets. It rained the rest of the way, but in all honesty, really not that wet by the time we reached to hotel in Meximieux. Many stops along the way in sheltered areas to take a break and fuel up on power bars for Robin and cookies/apples for me. Wouldn’t you know it, about 1/2 hour after arriving, it quit raining. Rain in forecast again for tomorrow, but we are prepared.

The countryside on our ride today, including irrigation equipment.

During the last few days of our cycling, we have seen large rolls of cable (or so we thought) in farmer’s fields. At first we simply assumed they were cables, but finally dawned on us, that these were part of irrigation systems. Today we saw a farmer hitch his tractor to the spool and draw out the flexible pipe to irrigate his fields. We have seen lots of wheat, corn and other grain crops during the last few days. This area certainly appears to be one of the “bread baskets” of France.

Again, the hotel we are staying in tonight caters to cyclists and we were able to leave our bikes in a secure covered area; great not to have to worry about the bikes. We arrived about 1:30 pm. When we arrived at the hotel, the lady at the front desk said that our luggage had not yet arrived. She was kind enough to phone the bike company and they said the luggage was on its way and we had simply cycled too fast and we beat the luggage! When checking us in the clerk confirmed our first names and said Marie Claire sounds french and the conversation was on about where we were from. Then she says…oh, Robin Alexander; just like Robin of Batman! She really thought this was funny.

There is a restaurant attached to this hotel where we went for lunch and by the time we got back to our room, our luggage had arrived. Glass of wine/beer for lunch, so had to have that snooze…..I really didn’t sleep well the previous night due to the ringing bells and unable to sleep…just because….happens to ladies my age. Mind you both Robin and I woke up about 5 am to the sounds of the church bells and then the doves. Did try to go back asleep after closing the window but not very succesful.

About 6 pm, a rain storm starts including hail….glad we are inside the hotel and not out riding. Showers/rain (?) in the forecast for tomorrow….hope the weather gods are good to us on our last day of biking.

DAY FOUR – When I went to bring our luggage to the front desk to be transported to Lyon, the lady at the front desk (same one as yesterday) says “ Oh bonjour a la femme de Batman” (good morning to the wife of Mr. Batman). It is so nice to make connections with local….even though they can be a little strange. Had a good laugh when I told Robin.

Hearty breakfast once again and weather forecast calling for more rain a little later in the morning. Last night we had a very strong storm with thunder and lots of rain. We decide to take off at 9, which we have done most mornings.

The first half of our route today was on secondary “D” roads. These roads do not have any shoulders, but must say that drivers here are very respectful towards cyclists. When going around traffic circles, I ride in the middle and stick out my hand for the direction we are headed and traffic has been great about us getting through and waiting for us. Have had to cross a couple of busy highways in the last few days, but we always take our time and wait for traffic to ease up.

A moody sky when heading off this morning and a little cool. We both had on extra layers.

For the first half of our ride we encounter some rain, but thankfully nothing too severe. We stop in the small town of Balan and I see an older lady walking, so I stop and ask her if there is a cafe. She points directly ahead where I see a very small grocery store and attached is a bar/tabac where one can always get a tea/coffee or something stronger if one wanted. As we walk into the small bar, there are two tables occupied. At one table a middle aged man and at the other two older gentlemen. As I walk in I say “Bonjour Messieurs”, and of course they all reply. We strike up a conversation (in french of course) with the two older men. They ask where we are going and where we came from….they are impressed. I say “we are Canadians and we are tough!”Then one looks out the window and says “ah, you have electric bikes”. I quickly reply, “but we still have to work hard”. He tells us that he has an electric bike at home, but he lives one kilometre away, so he has driven to the tabac for his morning coffee with his friend….we all laugh. The other asks if we have maps and I inform his that we have an app on our phone, that is a GPS of sorts with our route marked on it and we happen to get off the trail, it beeps at us. I get my phone and show them. They ask if we are going back to Canada and we advise them that we are staying in Lyon in an apartment for 3 weeks. I wish I had asked to take a picture of these two. They leave and wish us “bonne journée” and tell us to enjoy the rest of our trip. As we are ready to leave the cafe, the owner tells us that the two gentlemen paid for our coffee/tea….WOW. I ask the owner if they are regulars and he tells us they come in every day. I asked him to please ensure that he thanked them on our behalf.

A few kilometres later, we cross a bridge and the instructions tell us to go down a set of stairs. Sure enough there are stairs and a rut in which to put your bike wheels to get you down safely. Two young men come upon us just as we are trying to get my bike wheel into the channel and they offer to help. We decline and say we can manage, which we do. We are now back on a bike path for the remainder of our trip to Lyon. We cycle through “Le Grand Parc Mirabel Jonage” and “Le Parc Tete D’or”. Both these parks encompass huge areas and are being enjoyed by lots of people. Ran across of group of young teenagers, but they were not as enthusiastic about us as the young kids from a few days ago who clapped for us! These teenagers seem to be the usual sulky types and did not seem to be impressed to be forced to be outdoors, probably forced by the school!

The stairs and the bike path that will bring us into Lyon.

We arrive in Lyon and find our way to our hotel which is the same one we stayed in when we first arrived. Very convenient as it is just off the bike pathway and once again a hotel that caters to cyclists. They have an underground parking lot and a locked storage room for bikes. We store our bikes and make sure we take all our belongings. The bike company will arrange to pick up the bikes and all the gear, very convenient for us.

As we check in around 1 pm, we encounter the same lady who had checked us in when we first arrived almost a week ago. She told us she gave us a bigger room as she knew we had been cycling and she felt that a larger room would be nice and that it was ready…YES!

Tomorrow, we take possession of our apartment at noon, so looking forward to getting settled in. Robin and I both feel a sense of accomplishment today and feel fortunate that our health has allowed us to do this bike trip. We have met some wonderful locals along the way and fellow cyclists to share stories. Very enjoyable.

Last days in Porto

Well, we have been able to add two more Unesco World Heritage Sites to our list. The Douro Valley and the City of Porto. We have now visited 121 Unesco World Heritage Sites in our travels, but this still only represents 10% of the sites.

Went to the Guarnany Cafe for coffee/tea on Tuesday morning, another of the old classic cafes in Porto. It was founded in 1933 and is decorated in an art deco style. It was known as an artists cafe and catered to the artsy crowd. We opted to share a desert crepe with our drinks and it was delicious…..chocolate, whipped cream and ice cream…..what is not to like.

A mural in the Guarnary cafe

Hop on the tram to get to the grocery store and simply spend a relaxing day in the City.

Our time in Porto has come to an end and we have so enjoyed this city. On to our next adventure.

Douro Valley and other Outings

It is Friday, Valentine’s Day and we are going on an organized day tour of the Douro Valley with Manuel and Family. Manuel started the company, his cousin Jorge drives and guides and Antonio, another cousin, will guide us through the Croft winery. When Robin asked if any of the women in the family were involved, he was told that it was a male family company! We leave Porto at 8:30 am and drive out to Pinhao which is about a one hour drive. We are joined by two other couples, both from England. Our driver is Jorge, but tells us to call him George…..why…..his name is Jorge, let’s call him that! Actually found out later that you indeed say Jorge as “George” but pronounce it the French way….easy for me!

On the way to Pinhao, Jorge tells us that irrigation is not allowed in the Douro Valley except under exceptional circumstances (for the first two years of a vines growth or if the vines appear to be dying). This is controlled by the Wine authorities. The soil in the Douro Valley is comprised of shist and blue shale. The shale gathers heat during the day and releases it at night to create an even temperature in the soil. The shale also absorbs water. The composition of the ground forces the roots of the vines to go down very deep to get water which helps the vines become very strong. If irrigation was allowed, the roots of the vine would be very shallow and contribute to a weaker stock. Jorge and others during the day explained it in this way…..”the vines would get lazy, not have to search for water and eventually die”.

Once we arrive in the valley we stop at a viewpoint to see that terraced fields. One can also see many olive trees. The farmers here also produce olive oil but in small quantities for their own consumption. Manuel tells us that the olive oil here is very good and has an acidity of only .1 or .2 percent.

When we arrive in Pinhao, we get aboard a small pontoon boat and enjoy a short ride down the river with Douro Vintage Boat Tours who work with Manuel and Family. We were met by Bruno and Antonio. The boat is called ‘Syrah”….love it. Bruno talks about the Douro Valley and its wine and port trade. I asked the question about what percentage of the grapes were used for port and what percentage used for table wine. He told us that the Douro valley produces more grapes for table wine than for port; although he could not give me percentages. In Portugal, port is usually only drunk on special occasions. He went on to say that most Portuguese also prefer a dry white port which is what they consume as an aperitif or cocktail.

By the way, anything I write about port and wine is not to be taken too seriously or as fact…..I am not a wine critic like Robert Parker! I just drink the stuff….and oh….like it a lot!

Bruno goes on to tell us a little about the Douro River. It runs for about 900 kilometres and is mostly in Spain. One can navigate to the border, but then the river becomes unnavigable. Once you get to Pinhao, there are no roads along the river, so the only way to really experience the valley and its terraced fields is by boat. It takes about six hours by boat to get to Porto. This is due to the fact that there are three major locks from Pinhao to Porto and the process to get through the locks is very time consuming.

Bruno points out rows of olive trees along the terraces. These trees were originally planted to help demarcate property ownership and to also help prevent erosion. He also points out rows of various bushes and trees that are planted close to the river. This helps prevent insects from invading the wines; they go after the bushes first. Next a line of roses are planted. As we know, these also help the farmers. If they see that there is a disease on the roses, they can them take preventative action with the vines. Bruno also says that with the natural barriers of trees and rose bushes that the farmers are able to use less chemicals as less insects and less disease.

The way in which the vines are planted in horizontal rows allows for maximum sun exposure. One row of vines will not shadow another. This area has a Mediterranean microclimate and temperatures in the summer sometimes reach 52 degrees. But as mentioned before the shale absorbs the heat and releases at night creating constant temperatures for the vines. These are perfect conditions for producing smaller grapes with a high concentration of sugar. Bruno also talked about the ban on irrigation. He explained that if irrigation was allowed, one would get larger grapes with more water and therefore less sugar, which contributes to a lesser quality of wine.

The grapes here are all picked by hand and when a vintner deems the crop is ready to be picked, it usually needs to be done in a matter of days and not weeks. As one could see from the steep terraces, this would be back breaking work. He tells us that the Quinta’s (farms) usually try to hire the same people year after year. The grape pickers are well paid and get about 50 Euros a day and can make up to 80 Euros a day depending on the type of work they do. For example the grapes that are picked need to be brought up to the top of the hills to be brought by truck to the wineries. This means that someone needs to carry anywhere from 40 to 50 litres of grapes in a barrel. The grape pickers are normally provided with housing and food. Today a lot of migrant workers are used during the picking season.

In the 19th century, phylloxera destroyed about 90% of European vines. This was due to an American wine maker who inadvertently brought over some diseased stock. Bruno tells us that four famous European wine makers got together to try to solve this problem. They found that if they planted the American stock and then grafted the European stock to it, the vines grew healthy. He tells us that this process is still used today.

Bruno starts bringing out some “snacks” to enjoy with our port. The port is from a small local Quinta and is exquisite. We start with some bread with some cheese and a pumpkin walnut jam. Then he serves goat cheese from the Azores and some chorizo sausage and pate made from Iberic black pigs who only eat acorns. We came across a lot of this type of sausage in the south of Spain a few years ago, very tasty. These pairings with the port are scrumptious. Drinking port at 11 am…..yikes!

He tells us that the Douro valley is at about 80 metres above sea level and that here they produce grapes for red table wines and port. About 15 minutes away and at a higher elevation they produce grapes for white, sparkling and muscat wines. There are about 130 different varietals grown in the valley, but most vintners use a combination of five or so to make their wine.

While we are on the river, Bruno points out one of the other boats which is a replica of a rabelo boat. He told us that at times the rabelo boats would get caught on sand bars on the river and that oxen were used to pull them out. The river had some rapids and boats would capsize and they would lose their barrels of wine. They soon figured out that if they only filled 75% of the barrels, they would float if the boats overturned and therefore be able to recover the barrels.

By the way, we were blessed with a gorgeous sunny day today, what a bonus! We disembark and back in the van and only about five minutes up the road we visit the Croft winery. This winery has been in business since 1588 and is said to be the oldest in the area and is referred to the “Jewel of the Douro”.

Manuel points out an old olive tree which he says is hundreds of years old. He told us to be careful when we buy olive oil. He says that Spanish buyers come to Portugal to buy their oil, they bring it back to Spain, bottle it and label it as Italian. Well…not sure I believe this, but he was quite adamant. So I guess one should buy your Italian olive oil from your local Italian store.

The big concrete vats, pictured above, are where the wine is stored before it is bottled. The concrete does not affect the wine.

We are led through the property by Antonio, another of Manuel’s cousins….how many cousins are there? In the distance we see some smoke and Antonio tells us that they are burning some roots. They then put the ashes back into the ground to be used as fertilizer. I mentioned before that the farmers use roses to act as a means of early detection of any diseases. Here they also use lavender for the same purpose. First time we come across that. At the Croft winery they use coloured posts to mark the varietals of wine, so they can easily see which vines are planted in which sector of their land. The harvest usually commences in September and all the crushing is done by human feet. Some of the port houses we have visited on the Douro tell us that they have mechanized this process but here at Croft everything is still done manually.

Sit on the patio for a port tasting. The port is filtered into a carafe and then poured into the appropriate style of glass. Antonio tells us to swirl, smell the aroma, take a small sip and breathe out through your nose. This will give one the maximum flavours and aromas.

Antonio tells us that it is a tradition for a family to buy a “vintage” port on the year of the birth of a child. It is then kept until that child turns eighteen, when the port is opened and used to celebrate the “coming of age”.

We then head off for a lunch, which is included in the tour. Tabua d’Aco is run by a “green chef” Thomas Egger and we enjoy a “farm to table” lunch. We have a breaded cod fish with potatoes and vegetables and some local pork with a gravy. This is accompanied with a wine tasting of two whites and two reds. Then desert which was two local cakes. Ok…..way too much food and wine for me. One of the ladies in our group asked me for my deserts and I happily handed them over. At the end of our lunch, our guide and driver Jorge, gives everyone a taste of “grappa” poured in a very unique manner!

Our last stop of the day is to visit the very small town of Barcos. We visit the small local church which is very ornate. A lot of the buildings in this small town have been refurbished. Jorge tells us that the mayor of the town was the major force in getting funds for the people of the village to undertake their renovations. Certainly a charming little town. We are treated to an olive oil tasting and a final glass of wine!

The small town of Barcos

Well, what a fabulous day. We get back to our apartment around six in the evening. No food for us….just water to hydrate after all that wine, port and food.

Saturday morning and we decide to head off to the local market. The market in Porto is undergoing a renovation and a temporary market has been set up in the basement area of a shopping centre. We love local markets and great to see the various vendors ….fish, vegetables, flowers, nuts and dried fruit, meat, etc. As we walked into the market, we see banners hanging from the ceilings which show pictures of the vendors….love it.

Also several port vendors, which is not a surprise. We decide to finally try a “port tonic”. We opt for a port tonic with white port vs rose port; as the lady who owns the small shop tells us that the rose port is very sweet so we opt for the drier white port. Very refreshing, would be great on a sunny day in the summer! Did I mention it was only 11:00 am when we imbibed!

We walk along Rua Santa Catarina which is a pedestrian street in this area. Lots of people here today as is the weekend so we also see many street entertainers. We come across the Majestic Cafe. All the guide books say this is a must see.

The Majestic, a belle époque cafe goes back to 1920 and was the meeting place for the writers and artists of Porto. A beautiful facade and an interior that is quite unique. It is said that J K Rowling spent a lot of time here. There is even a doorman on this Saturday morning who is controlling entry to the cafe. Robin insists we stop for a coffee/tea even though I say it will be very expensive. He asks the doorman if we can sit outside, not a problem. Our waiter arrives and we order our green tea and galao (late). Tea served in a china pot, very lovely. We get our bill……12 Euro. I just about gag and Robin just laughs. We pay about 3 Euro for the same at our regular coffee haunt. Needless to say, this cafe is packed with tourists and not locals.

We continue our walk and I come across the small shop “A Perola do Bolhao” which is one I wanted to visit. This is a small grocery cafe founded in 1917 and has an wonderful Art Nouveau exterior. Inside this tiny cluttered shop one can find port wines, cheeses, smokes meats and dried cod. Love the art work on this building.

We hop on the tram back to our apartment and go out for a lovely dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Some of the sights we saw on our walk today; including a student with his typical cape.

We have certainly noticed much Belle Epoque, Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings here in Porto. Also some very ugly modern “brutal” concrete architecture!

Sunday and we head off to the Casa da Musica for an afternoon Philarmonic Concert. This is Porto’s major concert hall and was built in 2005. It is quite an impressive building; one of the guide books says that it looks like ” a mother ship has landed”. I had booked tickets for this concert when we first arrived and it only cost us 10 Euro each to attend. The concert hall was packed for this event. Lots of families as it is an afternoon concert and the program is featuring music from films such as Star Wars, Cinema Paradiso, Robin Hood and Jurassic Park. Noticeably absent in the orchestra were the lack of stringed instruments only a harpist and one double bass. I personally loved watching the percussionists. They had all kinds of instruments from bells, gongs, drums, triangles, tambourines and cymbals. I think it would be great to be able to play all of these and just make plenty of noise! An afternoon of great music in a beautiful venue.

On the way home noticed some great black and white drawings along a construction wall.

Robin and I were commenting on the number of young children at the concert and a few around us were fidgeting after about 15 minutes into the concert. Guess their parents are trying to give them some exposure to music and considering the concert had a lot of Star Wars type music, not a bad way to start them. Although I could not understand the children, it looked like there were a lot of comments like “Is it finished yet?”

On Monday morning we headed out to the small city of Aveiro which is 76 kilometres from Porto. We went by local train and took us one hour and fifteen minutes. The train was packed both in the morning and afternoon as it stopped in about twelve towns along the way; with Aveiro being the final destination. The city of Aveiro was once a sea port and has a history of salt production. By the 16th century is was a very wealthy town due to its salt trade (we know from our travels that salt was used as a type of currency in trading throughout the world). Also a strong fishing history and our guide book says that the “bacalhoeiros” fished cod off of Newfoundland. In 1575 a storm silted the harbour and the town died off, as its’ access to the ocean was cut off. The population also declined due to fever caused by the stagnant waters.

The brick building is the City Hall, once a ceramic factory.

In 1808 the lagoon and canals were dredged to link them once again to the ocean. The lagoon that remains is 65 square kilometres and 50 kilometres long. In the 19th century Aveiro regained its’ prosperity. There are some absolutely beautiful buildings in this city, which really surprised me. After doing some reading about the city, I thought it might be a bit seedy, but it is lovely. With its’ system of canals Aveiro is known as the “Venice of Portugal”.

We took a ride in a moliceiro, a boat that was historically used for the harvesting of seaweed. These boats are now used for tourists to enjoy a ride along the canals and view the city from a different perspective. Nice views of the beautiful buildings; the guide described the majority of them as Art Nouveau. Also sailed along some of the old salt warehouses which have been refurbished into shops and restaurants. One salt vendor remains.

Some of the many pedestrians bridges crossing the canals in Aveiro

As we approached the canals, when we first arrived, we noticed ribbons hanging off some of the railings of the pedestrians bridges. This is what they do here vs putting locks on bridges…..makes so much sense as does not put extra weight on the bridges.

Another great day of discovering a new area. Sunny skies today, very welcomed.

Apologies to all, especially my teacher and newspaper friends/family for any errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation……for example, sculptor vs. sculptures for one. Sometimes when I reread my blog I don’t see these……

Port Tastings and other Discoveries

Today we decided to go for port tastings, after all, it is Robin’s birthday (Feb. 6th) and we must celebrate. Our landlord Fred has given us the names of four port houses that we must visit while we are here….Taylors, Cockburns, Pocas and Symington’s. So what do we do….we make a booking at Sandeman’s. Actually the only reason is that Sandeman’s could accommodate us early this afternoon and they are right along the river. We have booked for Cockburns for next week and will definitely take in Taylors as that is the port we usually drink at home. The tour at Taylors is a self audio guide however both Cockburns and Sandeman’s are guided tours.

So off we go to Sandeman’s. We are running late, so decide to take an Uber across the river. We really could have walked but we would have been late… time, we will walk. Great views of Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia.

A view of Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia with a traditional “Rabelo” boat in the foreground

The History of Port Wine

The following is mainly from various guidebooks. “In the 17th century, as a result of the rivalry between England and France, the English increased their interest in Iberian wines. England signed a treaty with Portugal in 1703 wherein they would increase their imports of Portuguese wines and England, in turn, would return British textiles. Due to the time it would take to ship the wines, the Portuguese starting adding a grape brandy to the wine so that it would not sour. This process, called aguardentacao, halts the fermentation and it is said that this resulted in “port”. As port exports increased there was a fear on the part of the Douro Valley producers that cheaper wines would take over the market. Therefore in 1756, the Marquis de Pombal created the General Company of Alto Douro Viticulture in order to preserve the quality of the product and stabilize the prices”.

The Marquis was the Secretary of State for Internal Affairs. I wrote at length about him in my Lisbon blog last year. He was also influential in the rebuilding of Lisbon after the great earthquake of 1711.

” The “Company” also instituted demarcation lines to note the best wines “vinho fino”. Over the years the rules have been changed and added to, mainly for the protection of the wine known as port. At one point they did have a phylloxera infestation and the production areas were expanded to allow for more production from healthy vines. Port must have a minimum alcoholic content of 16.5%. In 1932, the Casa de Douro was created and they took ove the control of the port industry. All the port companies were forced to build “lodges” to age their wines in Vila Nova de Gaia. The goal was to protect and control the production of port.”

In 2001 the Upper Douro region, consisting of 61,776 acres was classified as a Unesco World Heritage Site. We will be visiting the Douro region next week.

Historically, the wine was brought down to Vila Nova de Gaia in “Rabelo Boats” – picture of a traditional boat above. They could carry between 50 to 80 casks, depending on the size of the boats. Today, the grapes are transported in stainless steel tanker trucks.

Styles of Port Wine

As our guide told us at Sandeman’s, port is a “robust wine with unique flavours, aromas and a range of colours“.

Tawny Port (pictures on the left) Tawny port may be a blend of red and white ports.

Ruby Port (middle) Deep red in colour and has been aged two or three years. Should be full of fruit flavour.

White Port (pictured right) Made from white grapes. Very sweet and should be drank chilled.

Vintage Port Made from wines of a single year, the liquid is blended and bottled after two years and left to mature.

Late Bottled Vintage Made from wines of a single year, but bottled between four and six years after the harvest.

History of Sandeman’s

Sandeman’s was founded by a young Scotsman, George Sandeman in 1790 to trade Port Wine and Sherry. It is known for its iconic logo “The Don”, which is a man who wears two distinctive Iberian symbols: the Spanish sombrero and the black cloak worn by Portuguese students. This symbol was created in the early 20th century and our guide (dressed like the Don) told us that it was one of the first logo’s created. Sandeman’s produces sherry in the southern part of Spain in Jerez de la Frontera and port here in Porto; so that is why the two symbols. We were near Jerez in Spain a couple of years ago, but did not stop….pity!

Sandeman’s is located right along the Douro River. We take the guided tour, led by The Don (pictured above). He leads us into the caves which were dug out in 1811. The temperature is a constant 22 degrees. We walk among the rows of wine vats and large barrels and he explains the history and process of aging this special wine. They use both oak and chestnut wood casks. A large barrel, called a Bosedos (?) can hold anywhere from 1,000 litres to 50,000 litres depending on its size. The small barrels hold a maximum of 550 litres. Here in the Douro they normally use a blend of five varietals of grapes to produce some of their port. The wine is normally put into the large barrels first so that the wine stabilizes – white maximum 5 years and the reds a maximum of 7 years. They are then transferred to smaller barrels and when the wine maker decides it is time, the wine is bottled. He spoke about vintage bottles of port. If you happen to own one of the port can stay in the bottle for years if not a century. Once you open a bottle of vintage port, it should be drunk in one week, otherwise it starts to lose its flavours.

We follow this up with a tasting of the three types of port….white, ruby and tawny.

We purchase a bottle of “ruby” port and head off to get some lunch along the river. We decide on shared appetizers of a goat cheese platter and bachalau fish cakes.

We then walk across the Ponte de Dom Luis1 back to Porto. Before this bridge was built, people used to tie their boats together to cross the Douro. This bridge was constructed in 1886 by Theophile Seyrig, a student/partner of Gustave Eiffel. It was the longest metal arch bridge in the world when it was first built.

For something different, we decide to take the funicular back up to the cathedral near our apartment. When we arrive I note that the automatic ticket machine is not working so we join the line at the ticket wicket. The gentleman in the booth seems perplexed and is clicking away at his computer with nothing happening. After about five minutes, he exits his booth and tells everyone in line that we will have to wait five to ten minutes for the system to work or he tells us…..walk up the hill! This is the first person we have run into who is not overly friendly…..but hey, he is probably stressed out.

Robin and I decide to walk back up the hill and we make our away along Rua das Flores. This street was Porto’s upmarket shopping area in the 19th century. I soon realize that it is the same street where we had a glass of wine the other night. The upper part of the street is just a few steps from our apartment. Over the years, this area declined but in the last decade there has been a refurbishment of the buildings and the area. Still lots of construction happening and we do see some beautifully restored balconied buildings and tile work. New shops and cafes have sprung up. We come across one lovely shop where everything is made of wholly or partially of wood, such as purses, wallets, lamps, furniture and even bikes. Robin can’t believe his eyes.

We also pass by the “Wines of Portugal” shop which we will definitely come back to visit. We had enjoyed some wine tasting at their shop in Lisbon last year.

As it is Robin’s birthday today, we decided to book a dinner out at one of the restaurants that was recommended by our landlord and it is a short walk from the apartment. When I called for a reservation, they told me they had two seatings. Either 7:30 pm or 9:30 pm. If you chose the 7:30 pm seating you had to be out before 9:30pm and if you chose the later seating, you had to be out by midnight. I simply cannot imagine starting to eat dinner at 9:30 pm, simply too late, I would be falling asleep in my plate of food.

We make it to the restaurant “Brick” a little before 7:30 pm, but the doors do not open till then. I look inside and I am surprised that is communal seating and worse, one sits on stools…..oh no, this is not looking good. When we are being seated, Robin notices a bench that backs onto the window and asks to sit there. There is room for five other people at the table. We are given the menu and we see that the choices are limited to salads, wraps and sandwiches. Oh my, I feel so bad, it’s his birthday and here we are at a restaurant that seems to be more of a lunch venue. Well, all we can do is laugh. We opt on sharing a chicken wrap and a chorizo sausage sandwich accompanied by a bottle of wine. Hey don’t judge. The chicken wrap looks more like a quesadilla. It is accompanied with a fruit/vegetable salad. My eldest brother would not like this salad….he tells us that it is just not right to mix fruit in a salad! The chorizo sausage had been taken out of its casing and lightly fried. I wish I had taken pictures of these two entrees, the presentation was spectacular and the food was excellent. Robin opted for a chocolate cake for desert, I passed. Well this ends up to be such a tasty meal, a pleasant surprise…. think we were a little quick to judge. Notwithstanding the great meal, I still have to take Robin to a nice restaurant for his birthday… with proper chairs!

Friday comes along and not really anything on the agenda. We decide to walk down Rua de Flores which leads down to the Ribeira, the river front. Came across at least three chocolate shops, needless to say, we will be back. As mentioned before, some beautifully restored buildings along this street and the 16th century Igreja da Misericordia church.

Buildings along Rua das Flores

We continue walking along the path of the Douro river.

We find ourselves by the tram stop. We hop on and continue the ride until we arrive at one of the transfer stops, then onto another tram to get to the grocery store. The second tram we ride is at one of its final destinations and there is no place to turnaround. The driver takes his removable chair which is hung on a steel bar and walks to the other side of the tram car where there is another driving hub. He then comes back along the car, asks people to stand up and he takes the backs of the chairs and simply turns them over, we are now able to sit facing the direction in which we will be travelling…ingenious!

We know we have to buy some groceries today, and I remembered that the “Santiago” restaurant which serves the Francesinha is located right across the street from the grocery store. This specific restaurant was recommended by both our guide and landlord. When we arrive about 1 pm, there is a line of people waiting outside. Not only tourists, but locals as well. I check in with the hostess who tells us that there is about a 20 minute wait, not an issue for us.

The famous Francesinha…yummy!

Robin and I wisely choose to split the sandwich and our waiter signals that this is a good choice. We certainly enjoyed our lunch…wouldn’t want to guess how many calories this sandwich contained. The sauce that is poured over the sandwich and french fries is also very good. I noted that some locals actually ask for more sauce which is provided in a stand up gravy pitcher. Robin says he feels his arteries clogging up!

Saturday arrives and we decide to visit the Casa Museu Teixeira Lopes which is located in Vila Nova de Gaia. It is an easy metro ride and short walk to get there. This museum is the former house and studio of Portuguese sculptor Antonio Teixeria Lopes. He was born in Vila Nova de Gaia in 1866 and died in 1942. His father was also a sculptor and ceramist. The home was designed and built by Antonio’s brother Jose who was an architect. Once I started reading about this sculptor, I also found lots of references to both he and his brother. Many of Antonio’s sculptures and some buildings designed by Jose exist in Porto and in other parts of Portugal.

What a beautiful home, almost reminiscent to me of a hacienda. Also a small intimate garden on the grounds with some of Antonio’s work. We are taken on a guided tour of the interior of the home. In addition to the sculptures, we also view Antonio’s various collections (art work, coin collection, ceramics, etc). The home is built in a circular design with a specific room built as a studio which spans two floor and large windows to allow for natural light. There is a small balcony on the upper level which allowed his students to see what he was working on.

Another building attached to the main building housed his parents. The guide told us that in the Porto area there once was some 32 ceramic manufacturers but unfortunately today, none are in business. Not sure where all the ceramic tiles that are still used in building are coming from.

I had read that it was a tradition for people from Porto to go to Matosinhos (a suburb adjacent to Porto along the ocean) for reasonably priced fish/seafood lunch on Sundays. Our landlord had told us to go to the Ramada do Mar for Sunday lunch as it was owned by his friend. By the way, I think he has rich friends….this restaurant was probably one of the more expensive ones in Matosinhos. What a great choice though….ambience and food certainly made up for the birthday dinner….even comfortable chairs to sit on! We enjoyed a delicious lunch of grilled sea bass with vegetables and potatoes. This was of course served with some white wine, desert and port. Got here by metro and a short 5 minute walk. The restaurant is only about one block from the ocean, so after our lunch we decide for a short walk along the beach. Very windy and cool, but there are locals in wet suits kite surfing and surfing.

The metro system here is very efficient, but like any other metro we have travelled on, once must validate your card each time you change lines. Good thing we noticed that a few days after we arrived, as everyones cards including ours, were checked the other day while we were on the metro. A guard simply scans your card; quite efficient on their part.

As mentioned before, it is nice to spend a month in a city. One gets to know your way around and you are in no hurry to see the sites. There is a small coffee shop that we have stopped at on several occasions and the waiter now knows that we order a chai verde (green tea) and a galao (latte).

We opt to do the “Six Bridges” cruise which in all honesty is probably a tour that everyone who visits Porto undertakes. You embark on a large “rabelo” replica boat and cruise the Douro river enjoying views of both Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.

Arrabida – This is the closest bridge to Foz do Douro (where the Douro meets the Atlantic Ocean). We can sea the ocean crashing agains the sea wall in the distance.

Dom Luis 1 – An iron bridge which dates to 1886 and connects Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia. As mentioned before the upper deck is for the metro and the lower deck for cars; while pedestrians can use either the upper or lower decks.

Dona Maria – The first metal railway bridge to link the two banks. Finished in 1877; it was designed by Eiffel Constructions Metalliques. It was deactivated in 1991 for safety reasons and has been replaced by the Sao Joao bridge.

Infante – Opened in 2003 due to the lack of road traffic once the metro started using the upper deck of the Dom Luis 1 bridge.

Sao Joao – The new railway bridge has three spans supported by two pillars grounded in the riverbed. The engineer who built this bridge described it as “a steel bridge with a concrete coating”.

Freixo – This bridge lies at the eastern part of the city and built in 1995 to relieve some of the road traffic of the Arrabida bridge.

Not sure the reader really cares about these six bridges in detail…..wrote about them to satisfy my curiosity. Hey….our tour was in spanish, yes spanish not portuguese so I had to pursue this!

On our way back to the apartment, we took the Funicular dos Guindais (2004) for the first time as it was working today. It rises 60 metres from the riverfront to Praca da Batalha; which is only about a 5 minute walk to home. Great picture of the Dom Luis 1 bridge from there.

Another day and somewhere else to visit. Today we decide to visit the Museu do Carro Electrico; so we walk up the hill about five minutes and of course, catch a tram to get to the tram museum…what other way to go! Even got a discount on our entry ticket as we had a monthly Metro pass! The museum is housed in the former power station and houses the equipment used in the metro system and its history. In 1895 the city of Porto opened the first electric tram service for public passenger transport. In the museum we saw a variety of tram cars, the oldest dating to 1872, a horse drawn tram. Lots of other trams on exhibit such as summer trams, those used to transport fish baskets from the fish markets of Matosinhos, coal wagons and even the type of specialty vehicles used to fix the tram lines and equipment.

In the afternoon, we head off to Cockburn Port Cellar in Vila Nova de Gaia. This is one of the port cellars which was highly recommended to us. This port house was founded in 1815 by a scottish wine merchant Robert Cockburn. In 1962 it was sold to Harvey’s of Bristol and eventually became part of an international group. In 2010, Cockburn was returned to family ownership, the Symington’s, descendants of Cockburn. Upon acquiring the port house they reviewed all the processes and started to introduce improvements and by 2011 were receiving accolades over the port. The Symington family not only owns Cockburn, they also own Graham’s, Dow’s and Warre’s in addition to their lands in the Douro.

They have the largest collection of oak barrels and wooden vats of any Port cellar in Porto. Once again, we are guided through the cellars where the temperature is very cool. Probably the most interesting difference in this port house, is that they have their own “cooper’s”; a dedicated team that take care of all the barrels and vats in the Lodge. We saw them working on fixing barrels during our visit. The Symington group is the only port group which has a full team of skilled coopers. They feel it is essential to making Ports of top quality. They clean and repair the oak barrels and large vats; quite interesting to see them at work.

In both port houses that we have visited to date, we have been told that the picking of the grapes is still mostly done by hand in the Douro Valley. This is mainly due to the steep and terraced landscapes. They have mechanized some processes, such as the stomping of the grapes.

For our port tasting this afternoon, we opted to taste three types of port paired with chocolates. The first was the white port with a passion fruit dark chocolate, the second was the 10 year tawny port paired with a yuzu/cinnamon chocolate (yuzu is a citrus fruit grown in China, Japan and Korea) and the final was a vintage port paired with a raspberry chocolate.

I always love the way wineries/port houses define their wines; a port with crisp flowery aromas and hints of tropical fruits, silky smooth with notes of vanilla and honey and spice flavours, a very rich red fruit flavour with minty aromas and peppery tannins…..heck, I don’t know…..they all taste really good! Robin was in heaven….port and chocolate.

In the last week, we have seen more flowers coming out in bloom….look what we came across today.

I also like the many quirky/interesting signs, displays symbols and graffiti that one comes across when visiting cities. Below are a few, including the blue logo for the City of Porto.

We decide to visit the Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis. This museum is housed in an old palace that was built in the late 18th century for a wealthy Porto family. On the main floor they manufactured epaulets and their residence took up the second and third floors. It later became a royal palace and was used by the King when he visited Porto. The state later acquired the Palace and it is now a museum. The Museum takes it name from a Portuguese sculptor Antonio Soares dos Reis. When we arrived, we were told that the second floor which exhibits comprise paintings and sculptors was closed as it was being painted. We did visit the decorative exhibit on the third floor which included some beautiful ceramics, pottery, glassware, a few paintings and some spectacular jewellery and silver work.

As we were walking through the final gallery, we saw the following on the grand stair landing.

This horse is made out of wood and duct tape! Just too funny…not sure what it was doing here as it had no signage and certainly not in keeping with the rest of the museum. By the way, it was a three legged horse with one peg leg and check the underwear hanging off the the lance on the back. Certainly made us laugh.

Our weather here in Porto has been mainly cloudy with highs of anywhere between 16C to 18C. Just a few showers which haven’t stopped us from enjoying this beautiful city.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and we are off on a tour of the Douro Valley….stay tuned!

Porto Introduction – February 2020

This February we decided to spend the month of February in Porto, Portugal.

Many of you know that I like to learn the history of the places we visit. Last year we spent the month of February in Lisbon and in that blog I wrote about the history of Portugal. So, this time, I will focus on the history of Porto and the Douro area of Portugal where we will be spending our time.

The following is mainly taken from “Wikipedia”.

“History books refer to a settlement in the Porto area dating back to 4th century and Roman times. The Roman period established Porto as a strong trading partner with Lisbon and Braga. This trade came to a halt when the Muslim Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula in the 700’s. In the late 800’s, the Moors were expelled by a Christian warlord who took over the land from the Minho river to the Douro river. The Minho river is north of Porto in Spain and the Douro river runs east into Spain. The county of Portugal was formed at that time. In 1093 the county was transferred to the rule of Spain through a royal marriage.

Wines from the Douro region were being transported down to Porto for local consumption and for trade with England in the 1700’s. When England was at war with France, this became very important, as the English access to French wines was blocked. This is when port became very popular in England.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, the shipyards of Porto spurred on the development of the Portuguese fleet. In 1415, Henry the Navigator, sailed from Porto to invade the Muslim ports in Morocco. After this assault, further expeditions were made down the coast of Africa.” I wrote about Henry the Navigator in my Lisbon blog last year.

As an aside, the people from Porto are often referred to as “tripeiros”. This comes from the fact that better cuts of meat were given to the sailing ships for their crew on the long exploratory voyages and the “offcuts” such as tripe were left behind for the locals….thus the name “tripeiros”. Not sure if they are still referred to this today; almost sounds derogatory.

” During the 18th and 19th centuries the city became an important industrial centre and saw its size and population increase. In 1820 the Liberal revolution started in Porto. The people demanded the return of a constitutional monarchy. Miguel of Portugal took the throne in 1828 but ruled as an absolute monarch and a civil war took place. After the abdication of the King, a liberal constitution was re-established. In 1920, the Portuguese republic was formed.”

As of 2019 the city of Porto has a population of 237,559 and metropolitan area has 2.4 million people; making it the second-largest urban area in Portugal. ” Porto is also known as Oporto as a result of linguistic mis-interpretation, as apparently when the Portuguese referred to the city of Porto, they would precede it with an article “O” meaning “the”, and foreign traders therefore assumed the actual name of the city was Oporto.” Still referred to as both names. “

The historic centre of Porto is a Unesco World Heritage Site…..another one for my list. Porto is mainly known for two things – its location along the Douro River (which has become very popular for cruises) and port. The town of Vila Nova de Gaia, which is across the river from Porto, is where vast quantities of port wine are blended and stored in the port houses.

From the “Britannia Encyclopedia”

“Porto has mild humid winters and generally fertile soils which have helped with agriculture including winter and summer cereals, vegetables, and tree crops (cork, oak and olive). Timber and its associated industries and the production of vinho verde (an effervescent wine) are also important.

A sizable proportion of the population is engaged in manufacturing, and fisheries and tourism is also important. 

We arrived in Porto on January 31st and our plane had to circle for about 1/2 hour due to rain and misty/foggy conditions. We stayed in a hotel the first night as we took possession of our apartment on February 1st. Jet lag has to be the worse and one has to keep going and get on a local schedule.

Once checked in to our hotel, we ventured out and our first task was to go to Vodafone kiosk to get a Portuguese SIM card for our cell phone. This makes the most sense when in a different country for a period of time. Still mist in the air and the atmosphere is interesting…grey and overcast. This makes for great “moody” pictures. Our hotel and apartment are both located in the historic centre of Porto. We continue to wander along the streets and find our way around some of the famous landmarks…..the University, Carmo church, Livraria Lello (famous book store) and the Clerigos Tower. We will visit all these places at a later date during our stay.

It is late afternoon and we are feeling very tired and decide to find a wine shop and somewhere to stop for a glass of wine as well, before we head back to our hotel. As we are walking down one of the streets, Robin spots some wine bottles in a shop window….oh….its a religious store…..sacramental wine. My comment is, that if we can’t find a wine shop, we can always come back here!!!!

Next door, is an actual wine shop. A great selection of local wines. A conundrum….is there a wine opener at the hotel? All the wines here have corks. I ask the young gentleman if he can open the wine for us, thinking this may be a very odd request. He doesn’t bat an eye. He takes out a corkscrew, opens the wine, puts the cork back in just enough so that we can open it, puts it in a bag and wishes us a good day.

A few more steps and we come across a lovely little shop which serves snacks and wine. We decide on one glass of wine before we get back to the hotel. We sit down and next to us is a couple from Germany enjoying a weekend away in Porto. We are always so envious of people living in Europe who can just fly for a couple of hours and be in a different country; they have so many options. We find out that he is Greek and she is Slovenian, but now live in Germany. They both spoke three languages and they told us that their daughter spoke six languages and that she had a gift in learning new languages. We feel so inadequate when it comes to languages. Although I speak French and Robin speaks a bit of Spanish; we have a long way to go when it comes to other languages. We enjoy chatting with them for about one hour and decide its time to make it back to our hotel before we fall asleep.

View from our hotel

We simply can’t even fathom going out for dinner. We have the hotel order us a pizza and we are in bed by 7:30 pm local time……think we have been up for about 30 hours or so. I wake up about 1:00 am, read for a while but able to go back to sleep.

Our landlord meets us at the hotel at noon on Saturday and takes our suitcases and we walk about 2 blocks to the apartment. I had chosen the hotel as it was close to the apartment. My brother would say “I’m smarter than I look”. Never can figure it if this is a complement…..I think not! Oh my, love the apartment. Nice and open with lovely large windows looking into an inner courtyard, so not too noisy. We are just a block from the Sao Bento train station. Fred (our landlord) explains everything we need to know about the apartment and even advised us where to go to buy groceries; nothing near by as we are in the historic area. The apartment still needs to be cleaned, so we leave our suitcases and head off for a couple of hours. It starts raining, so we decide to take the hop on/hop off bus to pass the time and to get a quick overview of the City of Porto. Although not necessarily our favourite way to visit a City, we are here for a month, and the tour gives us a general idea of where things are located. A great way to get ones’ bearings.

After our tour, we stop for a lunch at a little local restaurant. We enjoy a glass of local port with our lunch. The prices on the menu were 1 Euro more for each dish if you ate out on the terrace; we ate inside due to the weather.

We find our way back to the apartment and Fred has left us a bottle of red wine, a bottle of white wine and a bottle of port…..oh my gosh! We get unpacked and decide we need to get to the grocery store before it closes, as it is late Saturday afternoon by this time. Remember we are in Europe, shops close earlier and sometimes even mid day. Also, most shops close on Sundays. We get our grocery bags, call an Uber and make it to Pingo Doce. This is a local Portuguese grocery store and we used them when we spent the month in Lisbon last year. We find everything we need, including some prepared meals. You are probably wondering why I had to name the grocery store…I just like the way it sounds….Pingo Doce! I know that ” doce” means “sweet” and I looked up “pingo” which means “drop”. Nice name for a store…Sweet Drop. There you go!

On Sunday, February 2nd, I had arranged for a three hour private walking tour of the City. We meet our guide Diana at the University campus of science and engineering at the Praca Gomes Texeira. There are many other campuses around the City, but this is the main campus. The name of the square, Praca Gomes Texeira is in honour of one of the famous professors at the University. She tells us that locals refer to this square as the “Lion Square” because of the fountain which has statues of lions on the top. She says if you ask a local where Praca Gomes Texeira is, it might take them a while to make the connection. Locals normally refer to a square based on some type of sculpture or piece of art and not by its given name. She tells us that this area is the main meeting square of the historic district.

Praca Gomes Texeira (taken on our first day when it was raining)

Fonte dos Leos circa 1886

When the locals celebrate St. John’s day ( Festa de São João do Porto) on June 23rd, the Lion Square is where the action takes place. An interesting tradition among the people of Porto during the festival, is to hit each other with soft plastic hammers. This is the most important festival of the year in Porto and dates back to the 14th century when it was a pagan ritual. I forgot to ask Diana about the plastic hammers, so needless to say, I looked this up. One of the local web sites tells me that in the early 20th century, a gentleman who owned a plastic factory, came up with the idea of introducing plastic hammers to be used as a “fun” implement when University students graduated. It eventually found its way into the St. John’s festival……I think this is called “marketing”…..right Christine! (Our daughter works in marketing!).

Diana has a bachelor’s degree in tourism and is now working on her Masters degree in sustainable tourism. She speaks six languages fluently…..yes….six! She tells us that at times she comes home and starts speaking a different language to her husband as she has been conversing in another language all day.

First a little history of Portugal, Porto and area. She tells us that Porto is the 3rd oldest city in Portugal. After the “Carnation Revolution” of 1975, when the previous military dictator Salazar was overthrown, Porto underwent cultural, social and economic changes. The city made more of an effort to preserve its monuments and historic buildings. The historic centre of Porto became a “Unesco World Heritage Site” in 1996.

Diana tells us that Porto has two symbols. One being the “Azulejos” tiles. The decorative tile work dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries. I did read however that the Moors brought this craft here in the 8th century. Whatever…’s an old craft! In the 19th century, locals started using the tiles on the facades of their homes here in Porto. At this time, only one small factory survives. To protect this art, there is a law in this area which prevents people from removing tile work from the facades of their homes.

The second symbol of Porto is the “Calcada Portuguesa” (Portuguese pavement). Portuguese pavement is a traditional-style pavement used for many pedestrian areas in Portugal. It consists of small flat pieces of stones arranged in a pattern or image. We were familiar with this as we saw some beautiful patterns in Lisbon last year. Here are a few we came across today.

Across the “Lion Square” we stop to view the Carmo (on the right below) and Carmelitas churches. These are two separate churches but connected.

The Carmo church belong to the Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Brothers (that’s a mouthful) and was built from 1756-1768. The front of the church is in a Baroque and Rococo styles. Beautiful tiles on the side of the church. We did not enter this church but may visit at a later date.

The Carmelites church (left on picture above) belongs to the Convent of the Carmelitas Descalcos built between 1619 to 1650. A much simpler church from the outside, but lovely interior.

Convent Church of the Carmelites

We then walk through the Jardim da Cordoaria. There are come wonderful works of art on the far side of the garden which I want to see, but we are headed in a different direction. Diana tells us that outdoor works of art abound in Porto. This is why it is known as the “culture” capital of Portugal. Huge plane trees throughout the garden and two of the three tram lines start/stop next to the park. I must come back to take pictures of the sculptures.

She tells us that the several of the streets near the University are full of bars and restaurants and this is where a lot of the locals come for drinks and petiscos (small bites). They usually come here most weekdays except on Wednesdays when they frequent bars along the Douro river. She didn’t really know why…just because! She recommends that on a sunny day we try a “Porto Tonic”. Just like it sounds, a cocktail made with white port and tonic water. Add a slice of lemon of a garnish of mint and there you have it. Hope to try one before we leave, we always love trying local food and drinks.

Diana points out a building which is today the Photography Museum. She asks Robin what he thinks the buildings was previously used for. He answers “a jail”….yes….he is right; but no prize this time!. She goes on to tell us that the famous 19th century Portuguese book called ” Amor de Perdição was written here. The story is based on a true episode of the author’s life. The author tells the love story of a young couple, Simão and Teresa. Although they belong to enemy families, the lovers find themselves drowning in a passion that knows only the limits of tragedy and fate. They are sent to prison where she is housed in a cell for the poor and she eventually dies there and he stays in a cell for the upper class and gets out of prison in a couple of years. Apparently this book is mandatory reading in school. The book is part of the “Lucky 13” list of books by the Livraria Lello. I will refer to this later.

A bit further on our walk, Diana points out the Torre dos Clerigos. The tower was built in 1763 by the Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni. He is the individual who brought the Baroque style of architecture to Portugal. The tower is 75 meters above the city streets and when it was built it was the tallest structure in Portugal. It is said that this is the best place to get sweeping views of the city. Unfortunately you have to walk up 200+ stairs to get to the top viewing point. With Robin’s sore knees, I don’t think we will be doing the climb.

Torre dos Clerigos

In ancient times, women who were waiting for their husband’s to come back from fishing in Norway, would climb the stairs to look for their return. Their husband’s fished for cod and would salt it to preserve it for the long way home. Diana tells us that “salting cod” goes back to the days of the Vikings. In every grocery store and market in Portugal one sees “salted cod”.

Our next stop is to see the “Livraria Lello”. People are waiting in line to get into the shop. One needs a ticket at a cost of 5 Euro. If you buy a book, the 5 Euro is put against the price. We will come back to visit on a weekday afternoon when not too busy. The bookstore was established in 1906 by the Lello brothers with a Neo-Gothic exterior and an Art Nouveau interior. It is said that J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series) spent lots of time here when she lived in Porto and even worked at the bookstore for a few months. Apparently her inspiration for many things”Harry Potter” came from the bookstore and surrounding area. As an example, Diana tells us that students of the University wear capes with crests of what faculty they attend….sounds like “Hogwarts” different houses and the crests they used.

Livraria Lello

I will write more about the store once we have visited later during our time here in Porto.

We visit the Fernandes and Mattos store which is housed in the old post office. It has a Neo-Gothic exterior and an interesting interior as they have kept the old post office wickets. The store, Fernandes and Mattos, has been in existence since 1886 and sells all sorts of different items….trendy socks, large model cars, purses, t-shirts, etc. All very different and not a tourist shop. The kind of shop you would buy something for yourself as a gift. So interesting to browse but I did not buy anything….this time!

Several jewellery stores in the area and one sees beautiful filagree work (rings, necklaces, etc.) This area of Portugal is known for its filagree work.

Diana also points out that the architects of buildings place their names somewhere on the exterior, interesting!

Our next stop is a “sweet” stop. We go to the famous Manteigaria – Fabrica de Pasteis de Nata, This shop is known as the best maker of Pasteis de Nata here in Porto. The shop is very small and you can see them making the tarts. You order the tarts at the counter along with a drink. They offer tea, coffee, Ginjinha liqueur (tasted this in Lisbon last year) and of course Port. Too early for liquor this early in the morning. The tarts here are a little different than those of Lisbon. Here they add lemon juice, cinnamon and more butter in the pastry. Very, very good!

Manteigaria – Fabrica de Pasteis de Nata

We continue our walk and enter the Mundo Fantastico da Sardinha Portuguesa shop. We had seen a few of these type of canned fish shops last year in Lisbon. The interiors are always quite decorative; but the items I like the best of the various decorative sardine tins that are for purchase. Now they also sell other types of tinned fish.

I quickly spotted some tins that depicted the Festival of St. John which depicts dancing and plastic hammers….love it!

We make our way to Praca da Liberdade and looking up Avenida dos Aliados one looks onto the Camara Municipal do Porto (City Hall). Diana tells us that as a young girl she would meet her cousins here and they would play on the grassy areas along the boulevard. Unfortunately years ago the green spaces were ripped up for the metro construction. She tells us that there is a move towards refurbishing this area back to “what it was”.

Looking towards the Camara Municipa do Porto (taken our first day in Porto)

Along Avenida Dos Aliados one sees many beautiful Neo-Classical buildings. Diana tells us that these were once the residences of the very wealthy. A lot of them left when Salazar took power. This was not a good period in Portugal’s history. Salazar closed the borders and many people starved. (Refer my Portugal blog from last year if you want to read more about Salazar) Some of the buildings are still empty but most are now owned by large multinational companies.

The statue in the middle of the square is that of Dom Pedro 1V, who is a hero of the Liberal wars (royal succession wars). The statue dates back to 1866. At the base is a replica of a heart. This is said to represent Dom Pedro giving his heart to the people of Porto for their loyalty. Diana tells us that his heart is said to lie in the Lapa Church in Porto. Every four years it is brought out of safekeeping and on display for the people to see. Not sure I would run right out and see that!

At the end of this avenue we come across the O Ardina statue depicting an old newspaper seller which were commonly seen in this area.

Diana tells us that we are about to see a building with beautiful art deco designs. We turn around and we are looking at a McDonald’s burgers.

She tells us that before McDonald’s took over the building it has been abandoned for many years. Not sure the last time that Robin and I would have crossed the threshold of a McDonald’s, but I can assure you it was not to eat, just took pictures.

We talk a little about the port industry. Diana touched on the fact that the port is one of the oldest “controlled” wines in the world. We will visit some of the port houses while we are here.

We see many churches during our walk and Diana says that there are 76 churches in Porto. Some like Church of Congregados, pictured below, only open on very special occasions.

Church of Congregados – dates back to 1703

We then cross the street and enter the Sao Bento train station. We had come here on our first day in Porto as I had read about the beautiful tile work and it is located very near to the hotel we stayed at. It is only about two blocks from our apartment. Looking out our windows, we can see the clock towers. The train station was completed in 1916, although the first train arrived in 1896. It is named Sao Bento as it was built on the land where once stood the Monastery of Sao Bento de Ave Maria. It was demolished to make way for the train station. The completion of the railway system in the valley allowed for easier transportation of the port from the Douro valley.

Sao Bento Railway Station

The interior of the railway station is decorated with some 20,000 azulejos tiles by the painter Jorge Colaco. These show various scenes from Portuguese history, the history of transport and every day life such as harvesting, the transportation of wine and holy events. This place is simply stunning considering it is a train station.

During our time with Diana, she tells us about local dishes that we must try while we are in Porto. The most famous, which I had read about, it called a Francesinha “little French thing”. This is a sandwich which is made with a big piece of steak, sausage and ham between toasted bread. It is covered with melted cheese and a peppery tomato and beer sauce. It was invented by a Portuguese cafe owner who had lived in France. He got this inspiration from the Croque Monsieur. We told Diana that we have seen this advertised in most restaurants but that we simply can’t fathom eating this. She insists that we must try, but warns us to share one and only eat it at mid day as you will need to walk a lot to get rid of the calories. She said she made her first Francesinha at home for herself and her husband. She even shows us a picture of her masterpiece. Her husband told her it was the best Francesinha that he had ever tasted. Did I say they have only been married for one year!

The other dish she tells us to try is “Tripas a moda Porto”. This is one of the most typical dishes of Porto which dates back to the 15th century. Earlier in this blog entry, I referred to the people of Porto being called Tripeiros (tripe eaters). Well yes, this stew has tripe, various types of meat, sausage and white beans. There is even a fraternity “Confraria das Tripas a Moda do Porto” and they meet once a year to celebrate this dish. It is classified as on the seven wonders of Portuguese gastronomy. We might actually give this one a try. Diana gave us recommendations on where to find the best Francesinha and the best Tripas a Moda Porto.

The other famous dishes are of course grilled sardines. Diana tells us that the best sardines are seasonal and to wait till June. The other is Bacalhau (cod fish). We ate a lot of cod fish in Lisbon last year and always so good. The Bacalhau specialty here in Porto is called “Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa. The codfish is cooked in the oven with olive oil, garlic, onion and is served with olives, parsley and hard boiled eggs. This is definitely on the list to try.

We cross the road and look onto the Se (Cathedral). It really looks like more of a fortress that a church. We had seen it on our first day in Porto. One guidebook referred to the Se as “a great hulk of a building” and I can certainly understand why. It sits on the eastern high point of the city above the Douro river. Construction started in the 12th century not long after the Moors left and just a few years after Portugal had become an independent country. It has been expanded over the years incorporating Gothic, Romanesque and Portuguese styles. On a walking tour you often just see the exteriors of buildings; but this is fine as we will come back to visit the interior later.

Nice views of the city of Porto from the Se.

View from the Se looking back to Torre dos Clerigos and Carmo Church

We continue our walk through one of the Santa Ana area of Porto one of the poorer areas. Diana tells us that the City of Porto has a program to help people in need to refurbish their houses in this area. That way, they don’t have to move and can stay in the city centre. We wind our way down towards the Douro river through these narrow streets. We see the “seashell” symbol of the route of the Camino de Santiago which passes through Porto.

I love coming across interesting signs… I especially like the one that refer to “wine”!

We finally make our way down to the Douro river along the Cais da Ribeira (meaning riverside). This area is full of restaurants and is probably the most people we have seen. It is of course Sunday, so lots of tourists abound and one of the most popular tourist spots is along the river. Many boat tours along the river and the port houses are just across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia. The Praca de Ribeira is also known as the “cube square” as one of the fountains has a modern cube sculpture. Once again Diana reminds us that locals do not refer to squares by their proper names….they call them by a landmark such a Lion square or Cube square.

Diana points out the Ponte de Dom Luis 1 bridge which stands just beside us. This is Porto’s iconic bridge which was designed by a colleague of Gustav Eiffel. Many pictures are taken of the bridge and from the bridge as it give great views of both Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. One can walk across the lower level of the bridge over to the port houses. Traffic also runs along this lower level. The metro travels across the top level.

I love the picture below….the tourists eating and drinking in the restaurants along the Douro and people’s laundry hanging from the windows just above! Great juxtaposition!

It is the end of our tour with Diana and we have learnt so much about the history and the sites of Porto. Lots more for us to see in the month ahead. So nice to get such a good overview from a knowledgeable local.

Robin and I decide to stop for lunch. Diana warned us that the restaurants along the river have high prices… for the view! We walked back up one of the alleys and shared cod fish cakes and a salad for lunch accompanied of course by a glass of wine and a cold beer for Robin. The temperature reached 18 C today and we were blessed with beautiful blue skies. When we first arrived, we had met two women staying at our hotel who had spent the last week in Porto and they told us it had rained every day. Looking forward we have a pretty good forecast coming up.

On Tuesday we walk over to that Sao Bento train station to buy our metro cards for the month that we are here. Once this is accomplished we decide to visit Fundacao Serralves, the “Museu de Arte Contemporanea”….Contemporary art museum. To get there we must take the 2 separate metro lines, then transfer to a bus. The instructions tell us to catch the bus on the corner of the roundabout once we get out of the metro station. The stop is just as we get out of the metro and we have to wait about 10 minutes. As we get on the bus, I realize that we are going in the wrong direction. Robin asks the bus driver and the good news is that we caught the right bus number…..but in the wrong direction! We get off and cross the road and get back on the right path. I think this happens to us at least once if not more during our travels…..all part of the adventure.

I will say that in our modern world it is certainly nice to be able to buy tickets on line and simply show the electronic version once you arrive. Fewer line ups and quicker to get in to your attraction. We did this to enter the Serralves Museum and for tomorrow at the book store.

In 1986 the State acquired the Serralves estate with the aim of creating this contemporary art museum and park. It is run by a foundation made up of the state and several large corporations and private donors. The estate is made up of 8.6 acres of land and several buildings. The main museum building was built by a Porto architect, Alvaro Vieira and is in the minimalist style. White facades and rounded edges with protruding balconies; very impressive. Oops, forgot to take a picture of the outside of the building.

There are no permanent art exhibits here, rather the exhibitions are changed on a regular basis. I think that Robin and I are pretty open minded when it comes to art, but I have to tell you that this really wasn’t to our taste…..but hey that’s art. Like music different types of art appeal to different audiences. Below is a montage of some of the art from the main exhibition.

By the way, three floors of this artist’s work! Oh well, one has to keep an open mind.

One of the guide books I was reading said “If the exhibitions aren’t to your taste, you miss nothing by just visiting the expansive, surrounding park”. I think that pretty much sums it up for us!

We make our way onto the grounds. Beautiful sculptures in the gardens. Winding gravel paths and beautiful rose bushes and camellia trees that are still somewhat in bloom.

The original Serralves Villa was refurbished and is also used for art installations.

We then venture into one of the outer buildings which features films as works of art. The guard lets us into a dark theatre; a little disconcerting at first to get your way around. There are several rooms featuring different short films. We watch a few of them but the funniest one had to be about two men and a priest who are trying to exorcise the evils spirits from a bottle of Coca Louca. Hilarious!

A recent addition to the Serralves estate is a “tree walk”; a boardwalk that is above the trees, looks down onto a small lake and their farm in the distance. Very serene and quiet.

Back home by bus and metro……and took the right one….and yes, going in the right direction!

Late afternoon and we decided to enjoy a glass of wine at a small nearby cafe before heading to our apartment for the evening. Listened to a musician playing the guitar, people watched and thankful that we can enjoy life. By the way, 2 glasses of wine cost us 5 Euro. More expensive in other places, but this was a nearby cafe in a small alleyway. We will be back!

Another day arrives and no need to be in a hurry as we have a full month here. We brought along our exercise bands, so our daily routine includes exercising a little each morning before we head out to explore more of Porto.

I had bought tickets on line to visit the Livraria Lello this morning. One of the must see locations when one is in Porto. We had walked by the bookstore on our tour with Diana. It is recognized as one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores. Oh my, what a delight when one first walks in.

The Lello brothers had a publishing house dating back to 1881 and in 1894 they bought the assets of the Livraria Chardon bookshop and on January 13th, 1906 the new Neo-Gothic style Livraria Lello building opened. The opening of the bookstore had a major impact on the city’s cultural scene. For over a century they have showcased Portuguese literature in Portugal as well as in the world at large. I love one of the dedications in their visitor’s book on the opening day back in 1906. “In a country of so many illiterate people, building such a beautiful temple to the divine worship of Emotion and Idea is a great act of merit”.

On the facade of the building there are two painted figures representing Art and Science. As you walk in you see the magnificent wooden spiral staircase. An ornamental ceiling, carved wood everywhere you look and a beautiful stained glass skylight. Carved pillars with busts of great writers. Along the carved bookshelves you can see small plaster bust of writers. They carry books in all languages.

On their 114th anniversary this year, the bookstore displayed 13 rare first editions.

– Pride and Prejudice, Le Petit Prince, The Adventures of Oliver Twist, Madame Bovary, Amor de Perdicao, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Le Avventure di Pinocchio, Os Maias, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Jungle Book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Mensagem and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.

They are selling these books (of course not the originals) and I could not resist and bought the english version of Amor de Perdicao after hearing our guide Diana tell us the story. Robin, an avid reader, bought two books. He also wanted to buy a third, which was a tome (very large book) and I reminded him we only had carry on luggage and it certainly would not fit and would be very heavy!

Robin in his “happy place”

My purchase. Can hardly wait to read it!

The famous staircase in Livraria Lello

After our visit to the bookstore, we stop for a coffee/tea in the Parada de Leitao and sit outside at the Cafe D’Ouro. We chose this coffee shop as they had glass barriers to stop the wind, a little cool this morning, but later it is going to be 18C. Well, I realize that this coffee shop was one that I wanted to visit based on some reading I had done. It was the first coffee shop in Porto to acquire the famous Italian coffee machine La Cimbali. The coffee shop is also know as “Piolho” which means “lice”. Although the origin of the name is not really known, it is said that it might relate to the large number of students crowded in a space that they say is never big enough. Lucky for us, no students here today! The coffee shop is right across the Parada from the University Campus.

We see that a tram stop is on the Parada. Two of the three trams have a stop here. We decide to catch the tram to the Batalha area. We walk to the Se (Cathedral) and decide to visit. As mentioned earlier, I felt that the exterior of the church looks more like a fortress than a church. The building of the church dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries and is Romanesque in style. Later additions were built in a Baroque style. A beautiful interior with flying buttresses and a beautiful rose window.

All of the cloister walls are filled with azulejo tiles, simply beautiful.

We wind our way down some small alleyways and are looking for a cafe/restaurant for lunch. We try to find out of the way places that are reasonable priced. We come across a very tiny and cute restaurant, Portuguesa de Gema. We shared a chorizo sausage and Bachalau a Bras (cod fish, onions, potatoes and scrambled eggs). We had a lot of this cod dish in Lisbon last year and loved it. This restaurant did not let us down, very tasty. Loved the atmosphere as well.

We must be getting into the Porto way of life. We have usually eaten lunch about 2 in the afternoon, so needless to say, eating a late supper as well. Mainly cooking in for dinner.

More to come!

Vienna – 2019

We catch the high speed train from Innsbruck to Vienna. I have booked us first class, just more comfortable when on the train for three hours. Our steward comes along and introduces himself; Mike or Magic Mike he says….without the six pack!

Beautiful countryside once again; Denis loves travelling by train so I had arranged a few legs of our trip via trains. Must say it is easy to do in these countries that have so many train routes. We left the mountain area and found ourselves in rolling countryside. We arrived in Vienna in three hours and grab a taxi to our apartment. We are met by our host who is Viennese. His AirBnB profile indicates that he speaks five languages, including Dutch as his mother was from the Netherlands. Always amazes me as to the multiple languages that Europeans’ speak, a real gift.

I believe I mentioned before that I did not write about the history of Austria on this trip, as I had covered it in my blog from two years ago. Thought I would mention though, that there is a national election on September 29th. The people will elect the 27th National Council. This snap election was called in the wake of the collapse of the ruling ÖVP–FPÖ coalition and the announcement of Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache’s resignation on 18 May 2019, following the Ibiza affair. The Ibiza affair was a recording of a secret meeting held in Ibiza between a Russian who indicated they would ensure positive press coverage for Strache’s party, the FPO, in return for government contracts. The election was called the day after Strache resigned. We keep hearing that the Russians don’t meddle in other countries politics and elections…yeah, right!

We get settled in, find the local grocery store and relax on the upper floor deck; still some sunshine for us to enjoy a glass of wine. None of us feel like walking too far to find a place for dinner. Debbie finds a Spanish restaurant that is a two minute walk from the apartment. Perfect….nice change from the heavy German/Austrian menu.

Saturday arrives and we are off to the Naschmarkt. A tourist website tells me “Vienna’s best-known market has around 120 market stands and restaurants for a colorful culinary offering ranging from Viennese to Indian, from Vietnamese to Italian. The Naschmarkt has developed into a meeting point for young and old. The Flea Market on Saturday is already a cult event.” I wasn’t aware that there was a flea market on Saturday’s. The market is about a ten minute walk from our apartment. Robin and I visited here two years ago when we were here. Walk along the market and it is already quite busy. Stop for a coffee at a small outdoor cafe at the market and enjoy the sun. A little cool this morning…..just 7 degrees. We are layered for the cool weather and it is supposed to reach 19C this afternoon.

We then make our way to the centre of Vienna. We had booked tickets to go see the famous Lipizzaner Horse Show before we left Canada. Good thing as I do believe that it was sold out. We enjoyed the program….not so sure Denis did…..thinks he likes the bucking horses at the Calgary Stampede a bit better. Took one picture of the arena before the performance started, but one could not take pictures once the horses came into the arena.

The Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule) is a Viennese institution. The horses perform a “horse ballet” to classical music.

From my guide book – “The Lipizzaner stallion breed dates back to 1520, when Ferdinand 1 imported the first horses from Spain for the Imperial Palace. His son imported new stock in the late 1500’s and Archduke Charles 11 established the imperial stud in Lipizza (in Slovenia today). Italian horses were added to the stock around the mid 1700’s and by the 18th century the Lipizzaner horses were well established and had a reputation for being Europe’s finest horses.”

During this trip we have heard a lot about the Nazi regime. Well, here we go again. When the second world war broke out, Hitler’s army wanted the Lippizaner stud so that they could breed military horses. In 1945 the American army seized the Lipizzaner and other horses and transferred them back to Austria. We weren’t sure why Hitler’s army wanted to breed military horses during WW11 as this was a mechanized war.

Love the beautiful buildings, monuments and statues in Vienna.

We then stop for lunch at an outdoor cafe where they have blankets on the chairs and they have the heaters going. We then go our own way. Debbie and Denis go off and take a Hop on Hop off bus. Robin and I went to the Albertina Museum. We missed going on our last trip here. Enjoyed the works of Monet, Picasso, Renoir, Miro, Durer and others. The building that houses the art was once used as Habsburg’s imperial apartments for guests. It is always amazing to us at how proficient these artists must have been as we have seen their art work throughout our travels at many museums and art galleries.

On the way back to the apartment, Robin and I stop at Cafe Mozart which is just across the street from the museum. This is one of the coffee shops that was recommended by our landlord. We shared a piece of the famous Viennese “Sacha Torte”. Very good… Robin would say “of course, it’s chocolate”!

On Saturday night we attended a Mozart concert at the Musikverein concert hall. I had bought tickets for this concert when we started planning this trip back in April. This concert hall is so beautiful and said to have the best acoustics of any concert hall in Austria. We were able to take pictures of the concert hall prior to the concert beginning, but not during the concert itself.

When we go to find our seats, we are escorted to the Orchestra platform; we all look at each other. We are basically seated just to the side and a little back from the orchestra. This gave us a perfect view of the Conductor of the orchestra. All of the orchestra members are dressed in period costumes and wigs which added to the performance. In addition to the orchestra, we were entertained by a Soprano and a Tenor opera singer for a few songs. We all thought that seated where we were, was absolutely wonderful. The best part; as I mentioned before was watching the conductor. You can tell this man loves his job. He would point to the violin, cello, horn or drum section and he would give a little shrug, give a little wink, raise his eyebrows, point his baton and give a little twirl. Not sure one would see this if you were seated in the main auditorium.

Just before the intermission, the conductor starts to conduct the audience by clapping. He would clap slowly, speed up, clap slower then stop. He would expect the audience to follow. If someone kept clapping when he stopped, he would simply shake his finger. He would then point at his eyes and then the audience, as if to say….”I am watching you and you better listen to what I am telling you to do”. This was so entertaining; he did it again at the end of the evening. The concert lasted almost two hours and we all enjoyed it.

On our way back to the apartment after the concert, we walk past the Karlskirche (St. Charles Church) is lit up, beautiful at night. This Baroque church was built between 1716-1739. A huge copper dome on the top and two tall twin towers anchor the church.

Love the reflection of the church in the pool below

On Sunday, we head off to Schonbrunn Palace. Although Robin and I had visited here two years ago, we decided to return so Debbie and Denis could see it. We take the subway to get there. Once again, cannot believe the crowds. We arrive at 9:30am and there must already be 10 – 12 tour buses in the parking lot.

OK, I don’t want to offend anyone, but following is a rant about rude tourists who travel in large groups. These people, often Asian, are pushy, take over the whole sidewalk or take over a whole room in a gallery or museum, making it very difficult for other’s to get by. Often during this trip, in major tourists areas, all of us have had to elbow our way through, stop them from running us over. Last night at the concert, as I was about to ask an usher a question, this Asian man tries to but in. I put my had out and stopped him and told him it was not his turn! My favourite saying when something like this happens….”Shame on you”. I was thinking it, just used my inside voice! I really think the tour guides for these large groups need to have some “tourist etiquette” lessons with these people. For example, when we toured Hitler’s Aerie, our guide would tell us to stand to one side so other people could get through and she was also respectful in keeping her voice low, but loud enough for our group to hear. Ok, that is the end of my rant.

Tickets for Schonbrunn Palace are for a specific entry time and ours was 10 to 10:15 am. If you are later than this, you forfeit your entry. We have seen this in several places we have visited.

Schonbrunn (means beautiful spring) was the summer palace of the Habsburg’s and is now a Unesco World Heritage site. The land was purchased in 1569 by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian 11. The land was used for hunting and a recreation ground of the ruling class of the day. The Schönbrunn Palace in its present form was built and remodelled during the 1740–50s during the reign of empress Maria Theresa (spoke about her in length in my blog from 2 yrs. ago) who received the estate as a wedding gift.

In November 1918, the palace became the property of the newly founded Austrian Republic and was preserved as a museum. After WW11, the palace was made into an administrative centre for the British army. With the reestablishment of the Austrian republic in 1955, the palace once again became a museum. It is still sometimes used for important events such as the meeting between U.S. president John F. Kennedy and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1961. It is also used for concerts. In 2017, some 3.8 million people visited the palace, Vienna’s most popular tourist site. The palace and grounds cover 186 hectares (about 460 acres).

Unfortunately one cannot take pictures when touring the interior of the palace.

The palace itself is a huge building and is built in the neoclassical style and decorated in the Rococo style. It has 1441 rooms of which 40 are open to the public; we did the “Grand Tour” and visited all 40 rooms. All very opulent with the finest of materials used in the furnishings, beautiful paintings on the walls and ceilings, wonderful art work and the finest of wooden finishings. The grounds of the Schonbrunn are immense and the formal gardens, in a French style, are meticulously tended.

Subway back to the apartment and our final dinner out tonight to a traditional Viennese restaurant. Monday morning we catch an early flight to Amsterdam, overnight there and then back home to Calgary on Tuesday.

We have been very fortunate with the weather on our trip.

We have enjoyed sharing this trip with my brother Denis and our sister in law Debbie. A wonderful three weeks in Germany and Austria both of which have much history and much beauty. Thanks again to Robin for sharing these trips with me….wouldn’t have it any other way.

My final chapter on this trip. I do enjoy writing my blog and hopefully provides the readers with some insight to the places we visit.

Bischofswiesen, Germany – 2019

Left Mosern on Monday, September 16th and arrived in our latest AirBnB in Bischofswiesen, Germany about 3 p.m. When we left the apartment we decided to make a stop at the small lake just below the village and took about a 20 minute walk before heading off. We also see someone paragliding and watched them land on the golf course across the street from the park.

Seefeld walk before we left

We decided to take the smaller country roads to get from Mosern, Austria to Bischofswiesen, Germany as we were in no hurry. A wise decision as we travelled through some beautiful mountain valleys. Trip took us about five hours with stops along the way. Stopped in the town of Wattens, Austria for coffee. This town is the heart of the Swarovski crystal empire.

As I have mentioned before, always a bit of a challenge finding a new place. Our GPS takes us close to the apartment, but we are not paying close enough attention and we pass right by it. A couple of U-turns and we finally arrive. Not sure where to park, so we just leave the car in the parking lot. Find the lock box and finally find our apartment, located on the first floor of a very Alpine looking apartment block. Need to park the car in the right location.

We chose this town as is some 40 minutes from Salzburg and we wanted to be in the countryside to explore some of the alpine towns surrounding this area and Salzburg. So, we will be crossing back and forth from Germany to Austria several times in the next three days.

We get settled and find a local grocery store in the nearby town of Berchtesgaden. We decide to eat in, so we come back to the apartment and enjoy a glass of wine out on the deck.

Tuesday, September 17th, we head out to Salzburg for a walking tour that we have arranged. We meet our guide Peter, an Austrian gentleman in his ’70’s, who is dressed in traditional Alpine clothing. He tells us that he has been leading the “Salzburg Historical Walking Tour” for fourteen years. During his lifetime he also lived in the U.S. and in Australia. He also mentions that he visited Toronto. We are ten people on the tour (U.S citizens, Australians and we four Canadians). A nice size group so you can keep close to Peter and hear everything he is telling us.

Our guide Peter in Mozart square

A little history of Salzburg. The name Salzburg means “salt fortress”. Ancient settlements have been dated going back to 15 BC when the Celts were in this region. They were looking for copper but also found salt. We know that salt was used as a currency in ancient times. St. Rupert established the first Christian kingdom and founded St. Peter’s church and monastery around 700 AD. Gradually successive bishops increased their power and eventually were given the titles of Princes of the Holy Roman Empire.

Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau, Salzburg’s most influential archbishop, spearheaded the total baroque makeover of the city. He fell from power after losing a fierce battle over the salt trade against the rulers of Bavaria.

During the Napoleonic Wars, Salzburg came under the rule of France and Bavaria. In 1816 it became part of the Austrian Empire. Salzburg historic Altstadt (old town) became a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1997…another one for my list. Robin and I had visited here some 30 years ago.

Salzburg is the fourth largest city in Austria and is know for its Baroque architecture. My guide book says the joke in Salzburg is ” If it’s Baroque, don’t fix it”. The two biggest money makers for this city are anything related to “Mozart” or “The Sound of Music”. The city is built along the Salzach River which appears a milky green in colour. Our guide tells us that the colour comes from the limestone mountains. Salt was transported via the river. Today only one salt mine is still in production in Austria and it is located in Hallstatt which we hope to visit later this week. Peter says that Austria still wants to produce its own salt as they do not want to become to dependent on other countries. The mine is probably running at a deficit but that is not the issue.

Peter tells us that the population of Salzburg is 150,000 and they have ten million tourists a year……yikes!

We start our tour in the newer part of Salzburg near the Schloss Mirabell. Peter tells us that this part of Salzburg was badly damaged during a big fire in 1818, so many of the building here were rebuilt. The train station is also on this side of the river. During WWll the allies bombed the train station. They would get their bearings from the Hohensalzburg cliff top fortress which was in direct line to the train station. About 40% of the city was damaged during this war.

We cross the street to visit the gardens of Schloss Mirabell. These gardens were the location of many of the scenes from “The Sound of Music”…, we do not break into singing! Peter tells us that the flowers in the garden are changed three times a year. Some of the marble statues in the garden are already turning black due to pollution. Peter tells us that they were cleaned only three years ago and they are already turning black. A side note….The four of us had a discussion about this when we got back to our apartment that evening. I asked, why would these marble statues be turning black only after three years. Robin commented on the number of tourists buses and D & D talked about the amount of houses still being heated by wood. Guess this is the reason why. We all wonder what the air quality would be like during the winter when everyone is heating their homes with wood fireplaces.

The Palace itself was built in 1606 in a Baroque style then rebuilt in a classic style by Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich to impress his mistress Salome Alt. He went on to have 15 children with her. One must remember that in those days, Austria was ruled by the church and it was not frowned upon by the church for the clergy to have relations. We go into the palace to view one of the famous rooms where many couples get married. In high season Peter tells us that weddings take place in this room every 20 minutes. We take a quick peek into the room as a wedding just finished and we get told we must leave as another wedding is about to take place. This building now houses the City Hall.

Schloss Mirabell

Next to the palace is the modern building of the Mozarteum Universitat, the music faculty of Salzburg. Peter tells us that graduates from this music school are able to join a major orchestra anywhere in the world. They teach all aspects of music including voice. On the other side of the gardens is the Marionette Theatre who put on a Sound of Music performance. Peter tells us that it is very popular and well attended….not our thing! There is something creepy about puppets and marionettes!

We then walk by the Mozart residence where Amadeus composed some 150 pieces of music. From Salzburg, Mozart moved to Vienna where he died. Peter tells us that he was basically destitute when he died and was buried in a paupers grave with 5 other souls… one knows for sure which is his burial site.

The next house that we view from the exterior is Christian Doppler’s home. He studied mathematics and physics in Salzburg. Definition of Doppler effect as per internet. “Doppler effect, the apparent difference between the frequency at which sound or light waves leave a source and that at which they reach an observer, caused by relative motion of the observer and the wave source. ” Today it is used in astronomical studies and medical tests.

We then cross the Makartsteg pedestrian bridge, also known as the “Love Locks Bridge” to get from the new town to the old town. As in other cities the metal on the side of the bridge has been filled with locks with peoples initials. Very similar to what is happening in cities throughout the world. The last time we were in Paris, they were cutting locks off the Pont Neuf bridge. Here in Salzburg, Peter tells us that they have come up with quite a simple solution. Instead of having steel fencing on the side of the bridge they use mesh. When the locks fill the mesh they simply remove the mesh from the side of the railings and all the locks come off with the mesh. They then sell the metal to a metal recycler and get money back.

Peter goes on to tell us that during the rule of the Prince Archbishops, they set up various monasteries so that they could attract monks that could read and write. Various sects of monks were tasked with different duties. The Benedictine monks taught, The Capuchins’s looked after the ill and poor and the Augustine built a brewery.

When Robin and I heard about the Augustine Brewery, we remembered that our son Rich had told us about the brewery…..more to come!

We walk a little further through the old town and come across a mural on one of the ancient walls. The mural depicts a man washing a cow. Peter tells us the legend of the “Salzburger Stierwascher”. In the middle ages, the castle was under siege and the ruler wanted to show that they had lots of food supplies. So a few times a day they would parade the one cow they had around the fortress walls; but every time they would parade the cow they would have painted it a different colour. They the “Stierwascher” would wash the cow and paint it a different colour. This would give the pretence that they had lots of cows. How ingenious!

The Stierwascher

Peter also told us that one of the co-founders of “Red Bull”, an Austrian, has a home in Salzburg and that he has been very generous to the city of Salzburg. Not only does he support racing apparently he has donated millions of dollars to the Universities and to other philanthropic causes. Apparently he donated 75 million Euro to the University last year.

As we are walking around the old town, we walk through arcades/alleys that lead to other streets. Peter tells us that these thoroughfares are called “through streets”. An easy way to get around without having to go around full blocks…..makes sense. Another interesting fact that he points out is dates that we see painted under the roofs of buildings. For example the earliest date shown would be the original date of construction and subsequent dates would be those of updates/remodelling. He also points out all of the shop signs. We have seen these in most small towns in Europe. The signs will depict what business is being run in that specific location. So a hairdresser would have a depiction of someones hair being cut and a bookshop would have a sign shaped as a book. This was done so that illiterate people could tell what type of business was located in that shop. OK…..I just misspelt “illiterate”….funny!

Then we come across Mozart’s birthplace. This house is in a Rococo style on the back and much simpler style on the front of the house; not sure why. One can see an old system of bells on the front of the house with wires leading to various floors. These served as doorbells. Peter tells us that they were disconnected years ago as everyone was ringing the bells….oh..tourists!

Enter another square where we see yet another Baroque church. Peter tells us that there are 72 parishes in Salzburg, all catholic. Each parish has at least one service per week. Then to the Festival Hall which is used for operas and concerts. Salzburg is famous for its summer musical festival.

We then see St. Peter’s Abbey in another square. Also in this square is a restaurant which has operated since 803 AD, the Stiftskeller St. Peter. It was originally run by the monks. It is said to be the oldest restaurant in Europe. Peter tells us that if patrons drank too much, they could always confess their sins.

Most of the churches we have seen on this tour have been built in the Baroque style. Peter refers to these as having “curvy steeples” while the few Gothic style churches have steeples that “reach to the skies”. We see the outside of the Salzburg Dom (cathedral). The first inauguration of the cathedral was in the year 774. It then burnt as it had a wooden roof and the second inauguration was in 1628. The dome caved in at one point and was rebuilt in 1959.

Our last stop is Mozart square where one sees the famous Mozart statue. Today they are setting up the square with stalls and rides for the St. Rupert festival which will be happening this weekend.

Our tour with Peter has been great. We loved his little anecdotes, he made this historic tour of Salzburg so worth while.

During our tour today we saw lots of Belgium football (soccer) fans as their team was playing against Salzburg. We find out that the game isn’t starting until 8 pm and the fans are already drinking beer at 11:30 in the morning. As we were leaving town, we saw lots of police vehicles getting “ready for action”.

After the tour we decide to make our way to the Augustine Brewery (Augustiner Braustubl). It is about a 20 minute walk from where we are and we have already walked for 2 hours on our tour. We stop along the river for a rest. The monks at this brewery have been making beer since 1621. Finally get to the Brewery only to find out that it is not opening till 3 pm….how disappointing.

We head back into the old town and just across the street from the brewery we see a little pub. Guess what? They only sell the Augustiner beer, which has no preservatives. We all have a beer and for lunch another bratwurst and sauerkraut for Denis and I and Debbie and Robin have potatoes with theirs. Denis says its the best beer he has had on this trip….so far!

We comment that sometimes the most unplanned things are the most wonderful experiences. Had a wonderful lunch and good beer in a wonderful small pub with an intimate small balcony. Denis and I start to tell stories of when we grew up and we are laughing. At one point (our family will appreciate this) Denis and I are laughing so hard that we can hardly talk!

After lunch we make our way back to the parkade, but I insist on a coffee before heading out as I am driving back to our apartment, about 40 minutes from Salzburg and I had a small beer for lunch….good decision. Debbie navigates back home while the two guys have naps in the back seat!

Another full day….weather is great….life is good!

It is now Wednesday, September 18th and it is Debbie’s birthday. What have I planned for today….a tour of Hitler’s Aerie in Berchtesgaden….aren’t I thoughtful.

Prior to heading off on the tour we stop in the small town of Berchtesgaden only five minutes down the hill from our apartment. Stroll through the old town and must say that the shops in this small town are incredible. The shoe stores have such different styles, absolutely lovely. We travel with carry-on; so the shoes are staying in the store.


We stop in a small “backerei” for coffee and a pastry. We buy sandwiches for our lunch and head off to meet our tour.

We drive down into the town and our meeting place is just across the train station. We had booked our tickets for this tour prior to leaving Canada; good thing, the tour bus is full. As we are leaving the town, the guide tells us that the train station was built for Hitler and at the time was the largest train station in the area. No redeeming features in this train station. She points out an arch on one of the sides of the station, which was Hitler’s private entrance. When the US forces arrived in this area, apparently they found 3 rail cars in a tunnel full of artwork that had been taken by Goering.

Following is an excerpt from the company’s website.

” Starting with a brief account of Hitler’s life, the bus takes you up steep mountain roads to Obersalzberg, a tiny community above Berchtesgaden. Here the history of Obersalzberg’s takeover by the Nazi Party and Martin Bormann’s transformation of the mountain into Hitler’s Southern Headquarters will be told. During the driving tour you will view some original Third Reich buildings dating back to when the area was Hitler’s second seat of government. Within the former compound, you’ll catch glimpses of buildings that were used as Albert Speer’s home, Speer’s architectural studio, Martin Bormann’s model farm, Nazi Party headquarters, the Platterhof’s theater, SS-Officers’ housing, Göring’s adjutancy, State Security Service headquarters and the location of Hitler’s home, the Berghof, (no longer standing today). The description of Obersalzberg and the historic importance of Hitler’s Berghof in world history will be made easy to understand with the use of original photographs and a model of the compound’s main buildings.

Our guide relays a glimpse of Hitler’s life. He was interested in art and as a young man had applied to the Vienna School of Fine Art, but was turned down as his paintings were “dead”. It is said that he sold painted postcards to make a living and that he lived in apartments for single men. It is in one of these homes that he developed his political thoughts. He moved to Munich to escape having to serve his military time in the Austrian army, he was Austrian. Hitler said he did not like the politics of Austria. He was brought back to Austria, but he was exempted having to serve as he wasn’t physically fit.

Hitler volunteered for the German military during WW1 and worked as a messenger. He then joined the German Labour party and he continued to rise up the echelons of the party. At one point, Hitler was tried for treason for trying to overthrow the government and was to serve five years in prison; but apparently only spent nine months in prison. While in prison he wrote part of Mein Kampf. The rest is history!

Our guide goes on to tell us that Hitler spent about 75% of his time at these southern headquarter’s making many major decisions here. When the war started he spent most of his time in Berlin. Any traffic up the mountain was strictly controlled. The road up the mountain is certainly an engineering feat. The road is very narrow, very steep and rises quickly. But must say, the views of the valley below were quite spectacular…..not enjoyed by everyone though!

We are in a “tourist bus” until we reach mid way up the mountain where we visit the bunkers and the museum. We walk into the bunkers that are built in the mountain. The bunkers had offices, filing rooms, ventilation shafts, quarters where people could live, if need be, toilet facilities, storage rooms and tunnels throughout the mountain that led to various outer buildings. Very cool in these bunkers, but during the Nazi presence, these bunkers were heated. The electricity in the tunnels were generated by a submarine engine which was located in one of the bunkers.

Views on the way up to Hitler’s Aerie – The Eagle’s Nest

Many buildings on the mountain; barracks for 2,000 soldiers, homes for Hitler and other high ranking officials. There was also a large hotel built for officials and their families to take vacations. The mountain even had a school, a theatre that could sear 2,000 people, a post office and a grocery store. They had everything to be self sufficient on this mountain. We are told that there was even an underground shooting range where the SS would practice. This was so that people would not know what was on the mountain. We are also told that when the rock was removed to make the tunnels/bunkers, it would be shipped further away, so the extent of this complex was not readily apparent.

The picture above (bottom right) shows the tunnel that one enters to reach the very top of the mountain, where the workers built a tea house for Hitler. Once you go through the tunnel, you arrive at an elevator, which takes you up the rest of the way to the teahouse. The inside of the elevator is all polished brass and was beautiful, but you are not allowed to take pictures of it. Cloud cover at the very top, so the views were better fro the central point.

At one time there was 6,000 workers on the mountain. Mainly workers from Italy, Poland, Austria and other countries where tradespeople had special skills. They apparently even had a brothel for the foreign workers.

The museum covers a lot of the same material we saw in Berlin, but a good reminder. A section on “The Führer”, the importance to the Nazi party of a “National Community”, the Nazi party’s “Racial Policy” and finally a section of the Nazi “Terror Apparatus”.

We then get on a local bus which takes us to the top of the mountain. From Wikipedia – “At the top of the mountain is the “Kehlsteinhaus “(known as the Eagle’s Nest in English-speaking countries) is a Third Reich-era building erected atop the summit of the Kehlstein, a rocky outcrop that rises above the Obersalzberg near the town of Berchtesgaden. It was used exclusively by members of the Nazi Party for government and social meetings. This tea house was visited on 14 documented instances by Adolf Hitler, who disliked the location due to his fear of heights, the risk of bad weather, and the thin mountain air.” He did however spend time in his house lower down on the mountain.

The local buses that go from the mid point to the top of the mountain have been specially built to go up the steep and curvy road. They are lower to the ground, have four brake systems and are overall smaller than a regular bus. We ran into an older American couple who told us that they had been up to the Eagle’s nest some 40 years ago. At the time they were very concerned with getting back down the hill on the bus and they walked around and took the bus where they felt the bus driver looked for the oldest bus driver!

Our guide told us that Hitler’s house, which was still standing at the end of the war, was totally demolished. They say this was done to stop “Brown Tourism”; stop the site from becoming a shrine.

Another very interesting tour which we really enjoyed. We head back to the apartment and later on go out for dinner at a local restaurant Gasthof zum Neuhaus which was established in 1576. We celebrated Debbie’s birthday on this wonderful evening. Great food and great company. The waiter brought us each a glass of Schnapps’ to celebrate Debbie’s birthday; a nice touch.

Have to say that European appliances always amaze me. In the apartment that we are now renting they have an appliance that is a coffee maker, a kettle and a toaster all in one. Simply amazing!

On Thursday, the 19th we head off to Hallstatt. Robin and I had been here a couple of years ago, but really wanted Debbie and Denis to see this wonderful little village built along a lake and against the mountainside, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Lake Hallstatt

On the way to Hallstatt we took the back roads……some very narrow where you have to pull over to let another car by. Having said this, absolutely beautiful countryside. Villages dot the mountainside, cows grazing in the fields and beautiful blue skies to look at.

The region is a World Unesco Heritage Site since 1997.

The number of tourists here in the town is overwhelming and this is classified as the shoulder season. My travel book says that the population of Hallstatt is only 790 people. The town is set on the Hallstatter See (lake). Would hate to see this place in the summer. Dozens of large tourist buses sit in the various parking lots. We stop at a small cafe for a pastry and coffee.

We then drive back toward our apartment and make a stop at the small town of St.Gilgen which is only some 29 kms from Salzburg. This town is much quieter than St. Wolfgang on the other side of the lake which is much more touristy.

St. Gilgen

A lovely day out in the country, mountain and lake district; absolutely beautiful. We eat in tonight.

On Friday morning we catch the train to Vienna. We head off from our apartment, return the rental car and walk to the train station..all went very smoothly. Onto our next chapter……Vienna for 3 days.

Mosern – 2019

We leave Munich on Thursday, September 12th and walk to Hauptbahnhof, the main train station. As the track finally shows on the main information board, we head off to Track 27 to catch our train to Innsbruck. We have opted to take the slower scenic train (3 hours) vs a high speed train (1 1/2 hrs). We enter the 1st class section, however only a few seats and they are already taken. We find one of the stewards from the train company and ask him about the first class and he simply shrugs his shoulders. Seats are not assigned on these local trains. He takes us into the 2nd class and asks a gentleman to move so that the four of us could sit together. Thought this was very good of him. We have also brought our own sandwiches on board as no dining car on these local trains.

Beautiful rolling countryside along the way. Many school kids getting on and off the train. We are in rural areas so imagine that they must have to go to larger centres for school. Many stops along the way, a nice relaxing way to travel.

View from the train


We will be spending time in the Tyrol regions of Austria and Germany so thought I should write a little of the history of this region. I have written about Austrian history in a previous blog from a few years ago.

Some of the following is excerpts from one of my guide books:

” Despite its difficult Alpine terrain, the Tyrol area has been settled since the neolithic age.”

Some of you might remember reading about about a 5400 year old body of a man that was found preserved in ice in the Alps. This substantiates the claim.

Tyrol fell to the Habsburg’s in 1363, but it wasn’t until the rule of Emperor Maximillian (1490-1519) (we will visit one of his castles later in our travels) that the province made progress. He transformed Innsbruck into the administrative and cultural capital. An interesting fact is that Maximillian drew up the Landibell legislation allowing Tyrolleans to defend their own borders, thus creating the Schutzen (marksmen and militia) who apparently still exist today. In the mid 1600’s the rule of the Tyrol area was taken over directly by Vienna. This is the fact that I find interesting…in 1703 the Bavarians attempted to capture Tyrol in the War of the Spanish Succession in alliance with the French. My research tells me that when they reached the Brenner pass, they were beaten back the the Schutzen….yeah!

“In 1919 a treaty divided the Tyrol region. The south Tyrol area was eded to Italy and East Tyrol became isolated…..wait…..this isn’t as bad as it seems. A staunch ally of Mussolini, Hitler did not claim back the Tyrol region. In the aftermath of WWll, Tyrol was divided into zones occupied by Allied forces until Austria claimed neutrality in 1955. Since then, the country has enjoyed peace and prosperity. “In this part of the Tyrol region, the main income source is from tourism.

We arrive in Innsbruck and walk across a plaza and find the car rental agency. The vehicle is very comfortable for the four of us. Robin and I will be sharing the driving. The young lady from the car rental asks us where we are going and she says she will set up the GPS for us; changing language and entering the address of our apartment. While she is doing this I am watching her and she keys in the address; “Broch Weg 9” and nothing comes up for her. I tell her I was able to get that address on my maps program on my phone. She uses her phone to find the address and she keys in “Hermann Broch Weg 9”. I question her, but she assures me this is correct.

We head off. Robin is driving and I am navigating with help of the GPS. We are on the Autobahn heading out of Innsbruck and we arrive at the address. We park in the parking pad in front of the apartment, Hermann Broch Weg 9, but something just doesn’t seem right. There is no lock box and I remember that the outside doesn’t look anything like the pictures on the website. I run back to the main road to check the address. In the interim, the neighbour next door asks what we are doing. Robin is trying to explain that we are looking for the apartment we have rented. I arrive and ask her if there is a difference between Broch Weg and Hermann Broch Weg. Her english isn’t that good, but she smiles and says yes…..we are on the wrong side of the mountain. Tels West vs Tels East (Mosern).

We get back in the car, I get my phone and key in the right address. We head off and have to go over the mountain using a very windy road with many switchbacks. We finally arrive at the right place. We get parked and we are looking for a lock box that should be on the main door of the building. Finally dawns on me that it is a key pad and not a lock box. Get in the building and we go down the hall to the apartment with the symbol I had seen on the website and there is a lock mechanism on the door handle. The landlords instructions had mentioned this. I try keying in the code twice and it doesn’t work….ok, what is wrong. Oh! We are in front of door number 1, we need door number 7. OK, not the best day of finding places, but we finally get in.

A beautiful alpine apartment overlooking a valley and we are only 30 minutes northwest from Innsbruck; but feels like a world away. The altitude here is 1,237 metres. We are surrounded by the Wetterstein and Karwendel Alps. We are in a very small town called Mosern, Austria and the next town which is 5 kms away by car is Seefeld with a population of 3300. This area is known for cross country skiing over downhill; although a ski resort does exist in Seefeld. In the winter there is some 270 kms of groomed cross country ski trails. Seefeld also co-hosted the Olympic Games in 1964 and 1976.

Views from our apartment balcony

We get settled in our apartment and then drive to Seefeld to get groceries for the next few days. Seefeld is such a beautiful little town. We are in the Tyrol area of Austria; and as my guide book says…”being in the Alps with a big blue sky overhead makes you glad to be alive”.


The next morning we head off back to Seefeld and make our way to Rosshutte Bergbahnen the ski and hiking area of this area. We take a funicular which starts from the bottom of the hill at 1,230 meters and goes to the mid station at 1,760 meters. Here we stop for a coffee/tea.

Robin and I take a gondola to Seefelder Joch at the top station on the mountain at 2,064 meters. One can take a hike up the ridge of the mountain, but we are really not properly equipped to do so. We take in the views then start our descent by foot back to the mid station. Quite a narrow gravel path, so encounter some slipping. We finally make it down. We then proceed to the bottom of the hill by taking the funicular.

We stop in Seefeld for lunch and a stroll around the town. Mostly German and Austrian tourists around; all hiking. Lovely dinner out at a small local restaurant in Mosern.

The next morning we head out early to visit the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles in Fussen, Germany some 2 hours away. Denis had booked tickets before we left on this trip. Drive through a mountain pass, very picturesque. We need to pick up our tickets by 10:55 am and they say if you don’t pick them up in time, you forfeit your visit. We stand in the reservations line and get our tickets within five minutes. Our tickets indicate we visit one castle at 11:30 am and the other at 2:45. Glad we reserved our tickets ahead of time. The line up to get tickets for those who had not reserved was very long, and the information boards indicated that next visits to castles were late in the afternoon. Would hate to see what this place is like in the summer.

We have time to stop for coffee, then walk up to the Hohenschwangau castle. We arrive a little early so we visit the gardens and then sit in the courtyard till our tour number is called. It is an electronic system with a display board that shows when your tour can enter. Your ticket has a tour number and a bar code. Once your number is called you scan your ticket and are allowed through the turnstile. We are met by our English speaking guide and there are about twenty five people. A tour takes place every five minutes; a well oiled machine at work. The castle was built by Maximillian 11 atop a 12th century ruin and was his hunting and summer castle. It is built above a small lake. It took only four years to build this castle. Unfortunately one is not allowed to take pictures in either castle. Our guide is very informative and relays some interesting stories of the family. We tour the various furnished rooms (original furniture) and the guide points out interesting paintings and pieces of furniture….an antique wheelchair and the first elevator (built by Siemens of course, a German company). Richard Wagner, the famous composer spent a lot of time at Hohenschwangau and apparently it is here where he composed the famous “Wedding March”.

As this was a summer castle there was little need of heat, but if it was required there were ceramic stoves for heating. In the walls there were hidden corridors that led to these stoves. Servants would crawl through these small corridors with wood to feed the ceramic ovens. The royalty did not want to be bothered by servants coming into the rooms. The guide tells us that the servants could probably hear everything that was happening in the rooms as they were preparing the stoves….she tells us that the saying “The Walls have ears” comes from this practice. Interesting, I had never heard this. Another interesting story is that the beds were shorter than they are today. The people of the time did not want to lay flat in a bed as they may mistaken as being “dead”. So they would lay in bed in an upright position, therefore the beds did not have to be as long.

Our tour last about 35 minutes, then we have time for lunch and we opt to take a bus up the road for our tour of the Neuschwanstein castle.

They say that Neuschwanstein Castle was the model for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. The castle was the dream of King Ludwig 11, the son of Maximillian. The two castles we visited are in the same vicinity and apparently King Ludwig watched the building of Neuschwanstein from his rooms in Hohenschwangau. He started having the castle built in 1869. Neuschwanstein took seventeen years to build and was never really finished. Ludwig only resided in the castle for 170 days before his death. Although the palace was made to look like a medieval palace, there were many modern facilites. Hot air heating, internal phones and running water. The various rooms in the castle that we toured were meant to showcase art, historical scenes and Ludwig’s love of art. A “Tristan and Isolde” themed bedroom, an artificial grotto and a Throne room with a beautiful mosaic floor. A large room that looks like a ballroom that depicts yet another opera scene of Wagner’s; a frequent visitor.

The day prior to coming to visit the castles, Debbie and I had read about a parade that would be happening in the area on the day we were visiting. This parade is called the “Almabtrieb”. It is a parade of people moving cattle from the high alpine regions to the lower valleys for the fall and winter. Quite something to see. Actually, we heard them coming long before we saw them. A lot of the larger cattle had huge cow bells hanging from their necks.

We walk down the path back to the parking lot which takes us about 20 minutes. We drive back to Mosern and a nice dinner out.

The next day, we decide to drive to the medieval town of Hall in Tyrol, about a 30 minute drive from Mosern and 9 kms east of Innsbruck. This town made its fortune in the salt trade during the 13th century. It is Sunday and of course, all the shops are closed; so needless to say, it is very quiet in this small town. We stop for coffee in the main “old town square” and then amble through the various narrow streets.

The medieval village of Hall in Tyrol

Then head back to our apartment in Mosern, stopping in Seefeld for a cold beer and a sandwich. As we are sitting on the outdoor patio of a pub, we start talking to an English couple who have holidayed in this area for over twenty years. They tell us that last Sunday, the day of the annual fall festival, that it snowed in Seefeld. The gentleman told us that it was twenty degrees warmer on this Sunday than the previous one. We have been so fortunate with our weather. We head back to our apartment and eat in. Enjoy a glass of wine out on our deck, overlooking the beautiful valley below.

A picture from our deck on our last evening in Mosern.

We have so enjoyed our time in this area, so beautiful and peaceful. Tomorrow morning, Monday, September 16th, we are headed off to our next destination. We will be staying in the small town of Bischofswiesen in Germany, some 40 minutes north of Salzburg.

Munich – 2019

Arrived in Munich by train from Berlin about 4 pm on Monday September 9th. We get our bearings and we walk about 10 minutes from the main train station to our apartment. Pays off to have carry on!

Areas around train stations are usually not the best places to rent, but we decided to rent here as we need to catch the train to Innsbruck on Thursday morning and we are taking a tour out to Dachau on Tuesday morning. The tour is also leaving from the main train station. The area we are in is full of hotels, ranging anywhere from 2 to 4 stars. A very Arab neighbourhood and seems that a lot of unemployed men standing around every shop entrance and every corner. We also see lot of Arab women begging in the area.

Having said this, our apartment once again is very modern and very comfortable. We are met by the owners son and he tells us everything we need to know about the apartment and surrounding areas. We do a grocery run and have some down time at the apartment.

In early evening, we make our way to the Marienplatz, the epicentre of Munich. They say that this is the busiest site in Munich with lots of tourists from sun up to sun down. It is quite late already, so we decide to find a place to have dinner. Happenstance finds us at the famous Ratskeller restaurant which is in the basement of the Neues Rathaus, the Town Hall. The Ratskeller was built from 1867 to 1874. My research tells me that many German towns in earlier times had a traditional Ratskeller restaurant or inn, housed in the cellar of the their town hall. The restaurant seats 1,100 people indoors and another 200 in an outside courtyard. From a website “When entering the Ratskeller you will find the Bavarian hand painted murals, lighting, furniture design and dishware fascinating. Numerous rooms in the Ratskeller, provide everything from traditional elegant Bavarian to cozy and down-to-earth interiors that are artistic and inviting.

The Marientplaz at night

Debbie and I had looked into going to the famous Hofbrauhaus. This beer hall/restaurant serves up to 6,000 people. The reviews we read were all horrible, so we decided to give that a pass.

On Tuesday morning we decide to head back to the Marienplatz and take in the local market, the Viktualienmarkt. This is just off the main square. The market is open every day and is made up of food stalls, coffee shops, beer vendors and various other kiosks. It is described as a “feast of flavours and one of Europe’s finest gourmet markets”. We decide to stop for a coffee and pastry and sit in one of the open garden areas. There are several locals enjoying their first beer of the day… is 10:30 in the morning!

We take the underground to the Main train station (Hauptbahnhof) where we are meeting for the tour to Dachau. We are amazed at the transportation system in Munich. This city has a population of 1.4 million, so just a little larger than Calgary, and they have a suburban train system, a substantial underground and a tram and bus system and very reasonably priced. We also noted that their system is much greater than that of Berlin. Kind of makes sense considering East Berlin would not have seen any infrastructure building during the Communist era.

We take the train and then a local bus to get to the site of the Dachau concentration camp. Our guide Jeff is English and has lived in Germany for over 30 years. He told us that he came to the area as a youngster, ran out of money and just stayed on. There are twenty seven people on the tour. We found Jeff to be very knowledgeable and factual, not emotional. Our tour lasted about 3 hours; once again very powerful.

Dachau – In 1933 just after a few weeks after Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor, a concentration camp for political prisoners was set up in Dachau; a site of a disused ammunitions factory. It was built by orders of Heinrich Himler. It served as a prototype for all subsequent concentration camps and as a “school of violence” for the S.S under whose commanded this camp. The one fact that we were all surprised to learn were the multiple “satellite camps” that existed throughout Europe. There were some 100 sub camps attached to Dachau alone; mainly work camps supporting the Nazi machine. The camp is said to have “processed” more that 200,000 inmates, killing at least 43,000.

On the road leading to the camp, we notice some beautiful old apartments. We are told that these homes were for the S.S. Senior Officers. Low barracks behind these were for the young Hitler youth who had been chosen to be taught the SS means of torture and interrogation. Basically a school of violence meant to teach those the dehumanization of man

One crosses into the camp through the iron gates. A chilling slogan at the top of the gate says “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Sets You Free). A very powerful symbol. We are told that the original gates were stolen years ago and subsequently found in a field in Norway. The original gates now sit in one of the buildings under security.

It was the longest operating concentration camp. There were a total of 34 barracks. Eventually the camp also housed Jews, Romas, Homosexuals, religious men and repeat criminals. Each specific group had its own symbol. A red triangle indicated a political prisoner, green – criminals, blue – immigrants, black – social outcasts, purple – Jehovah Witnesses (conscientious objectors), etc.

One of the displays shows pictures and stories of some of the various prisoners as they entered the camp. All their clothing and any private belongings they had would be confiscated. They were then de-liced, fumigated and heads shaven…..once again….the dehumanization. We see a story of the Mayor of Vienna. When the Nazi’s arrived in Vienna, he refused to hand over the keys to the City. He was imprisoned in Dachau as a political prisoner. He survived the camp and eventually made his way back to Vienna and once again became Mayor. Love that story!

There was a roll call done twice a day to ensure no one had escaped from the camp. If one of the prisoners was to weak to attend the roll call, other prisoners would carry them so the numbers of prisoners counted was correct. If someone was missing, it is said that roll call would last till that person showed up. The prisoners had to stand upright with their hands at their sides and looking downward. Again, the dehumanization. We were told that one roll call lasted 1 1/2 days. In each barrack, a Kapo was in charge of the barracks. Jeff tells us that this person was chosen amongst the prisoners, usually one with a criminal background, and were often even more cruel than the guards. They maltreated the prisoners for the slightest thing and by keeping order in the barracks, they were often given more food and/or privileges.

Our guide tells us that one prisoner did indeed escape. We are also told the story of a political prisoner, Georg Elser. He had been imprisoned as he had tried to assassinate Hitler in Munich. He had a bomb which was to detonate at a certain time during a speech being made by Hitler. Unfortunately, Hitler left the meeting abruptly; and survived this assassination attempt. Georg Elser was executed days before the liberation.

One of the buildings was used to interrogate and torture the prisoners. They used to hang the prisoners by their wrists and eventually the prisoners arms would dislocate. If they survived, other prisoners would help put their arms back into the sockets.

Prisoners suffered from malnutrition and many diseases, including typhoid.

This building was also used for medical experiments on some of the prisoners. Some were injected with “malaria” to see how long they would survive. BIo chemicals experiments also conducted. We are also told of an aeronautical experiment where a prisoner is subjected to high pressure. This was to help the Nazi’s understand what could happen to some of their pilots. Another experiment was to plunge a prisoner in ice cold water to see how long one could survive. Many prisoners died during these experiments.

We walk outside down a ramp which serves as a memorial for the camp. The ramp goes down to reflect the “hell” that the prisoners are entering. At the bottom there is a glass sculpture which depicts the cloth coloured triangles that identified the various prisoner groups. We look above the walkway to an iron sculpture which is erected above the barracks. The statue depicts emaciated figures (being reconditioned) throwing themselves into the barb wire electrified fences. Jeff tells us that some prisoners did indeed do this to liberate themselves from the torture and horrible living conditions.

There was crematorium (Krematorium) here which was used to dispose of dead bodies. A new crematorium “gas chamber” was built and we visited it. We are told that it was never used, and no one is sure why not. There was a disrobing chamber a “shower room”. This is where the gas would have come through the shower heads. The next room was where the furnaces would have been used to cremate the bodies after they died in the “shower room”. The final room would have been used to remove gold teeth and anything else of value that would have been taken from the prisoners. Anything of value taken from the prisoners when they arrived or upon their death would have been shared amongst the SS elite.

When the camp was liberated, the US army also found several train cars loaded with dead and decaying corpses. In the museum, we see a short film of the liberation of the camp; and must say that the images were disturbing. Our guide tells us that even with the liberation, the prisoners could not eat very much as their stomachs had shrunk so much during the previous years. Large numbers of prisoners also died after liberation due to disease and malnutrition.

The camp was liberated by the US Army in April of 1945. We viewed a film that showed the liberation. It is said that one army officer said that the first seven barracks were basically morgues.

Eventually all the barracks were torn down. Today a replica of one of the barracks has been built as a memorial. Rooms in this barrack proceed to show wooden bunks where 52 prisoners would sleep with 4 bunks in each room for a total of 208. When the camp was liberated, it is said that some 2,000 men habited these rooms.

Another very emotionally disturbing day, but I would encourage anyone to visit a concentration camp….we must not forget!

We go out to an Italian restaurant for dinner in the Marienplatz area. Need a change from the heavy “Geman” food.

On Wednesday, we take the SBahn to the Englischer Garten. A short walk after we leave the train, passing the Residenz on our way to the garden. A beautiful building and grounds, once home to Bavaria’s rulers. Today, it is a museum, but we do not have the time to visit.

We walk through the north part of the garden. It is said to be one of the biggest city parks in Europe. There is a little lake and some people are using paddle boats. We continue on our walk and find the main area where there is a food area and a beer garden. Denis had said that one thing he wanted while we were in Munich was to have bratwurst and sauerkraut. We all opt for the bratwurst. Denis and I have sauerkraut and are not disappointed. Debbie and Robin have theirs with friend potatoes. All very good with a cold beer and cold wine. In 1790 the Chinese Tower (Chinesischer Turm) was built; kind of odd looking, considering we are in a beer garden.

Debbie and I make our way back to Marienplatz and Denis and Robin head off to the BMW museum. Debbie and I did some browsing through some of the shops. Beautiful shoe and clothing stores. We stop at a small cafe for coffee and do some people watching. A nice “chill out” afternoon.

We stop into one of the churches, believe it is the cathedral. Beautiful interior. A striking sculpture, which I have since found out is the cenotaph of Louis 1V the Holy Roman Emperor who ruled from 1249 – 1347.

We stop in a large Munich department store and eventually make our way back to the apartment. We arrive about 4:15 pm and the guys shortly after us.

They were quite impressed by the vintage BMW’s they saw at the museum. Across the road from the museum was a BMW dealership….no they did not order any vehicles.

Octoberfest – This is happening about one week after we leave. Two separate cab drivers told us that the locals “hate” Octoberfest. The main reason is that is has become just one big “drunk” not only by tourists but some locals as well. They tell us that when they grew up in Munich, Octoberfest was a family festival to celebrate the harvest. They do not like what it has become with drunks urinating and throwing up everywhere. Good time for us to leave!

Tomorrow morning, Thursday the 12th, we will be catching the “slow scenic” train from Munich to Innsbruck. We will pick up a car in Innsbruck for the next 8 days while we visit the Innsbruck and Salzburg areas.

Apologies for any typos/errors!