First few days in Lisbon – February 2019

We arrived in Lisbon in the afternoon on Friday, February 1st, 2019. Always a long day travelling from Canada to Europe; but must say that everyone went well. We will be in Lisbon for the month of February, with a side trip to Bilbao, Spain for three days in the middle of the month. At the end of the month, we fly to the Portuguese island of Madeira for 4 nights and then back to Amsterdam for a couple of nights before our return home.

Lisbon is situated on the Atlantic coast in the southwest part of Portugal and lies on steep hills on the north bank of the Tagus river and greater Lisbon has a population of 3.3 million.

As always, I like to know the history of where we are visiting. First of all, a little about the Lisbon airport, which was built in 1942. As a neutral airport it was open to both German and British airlines, and was a hub for smuggling people into, out of, and across Europe. Because of this, it was heavily monitored by both Axis and Allied spies. Although Portugal was neutral, the airport was used by allied flights en route to Gibraltar, North Africa and Cairo. I love reading WW1 and WW11 fiction/non-fiction so I found this little tidbit very interesting. The movie Casablanca also comes to mind.

Lisbon is said to be one of the oldest cities in the world. Mythology tells us that Ulysses founded Lisbon on his journey home from Troy. The Phoenicians established a trading post many centuries ago. It has been ruled by the Romans, the Visigoths (mentioned in my blog of Andalusia last year), then of course the Moors. The Moorish influence is evident here with the Castelo de Sao Jorge and the narrow winding streets and white washed buildings of the Alfama district.

The first King of Portugal, Alfonso Henriques, ousted the Moors in 1147. In 1256 Lisbon became the capital of Portugal. During this time the University of Lisbon was founded and the city flourished due to its trade with the rest of Europe. Then, as with the remainder of Europe, the plague destabilized the economy. Eventually prosperity returned and greatly improved, mainly due to Vasco de Gama’s successful navigation to India in 1497 setting up the spice trade. Hopefully the readers will remember Vasco de Gama from our history lessons in school!

The inquisition took place in Lisbon in the 16th century and its main purpose was to root out non believers, especially those that had converted. We know from our travels last June, that Evora, Portugal was also a site of the inquisition.

For a short period the Spanish controlled the area, but were eventually ousted. Then with the discovery of Brazilian gold a new wave of prosperity was enjoyed by Lisbon. An earthquake hit Lisbon in 1755 and along with fires and a tsunami, the city and surrounding areas were mostly destroyed.

The King was assassinated in 1908 and subsequently a lengthy dictatorship ensued with Antonio Salazar at the helm from 1926 to 1968. On April 25th, 1974 a military coup took place ending the totalitarian regime and peaceful civil resistance took place. Almost no shots were fired. The resistance was called the Carnation Revolution as the demonstrators gave carnations out and placed them in the muzzles of the army rifles.

In 1986 Portugal joined the European Community and foreign companies began to set up in Lisbon. Today the economy in Lisbon is driven by manufacturing and construction which together accounts for 30.2% of Portugal’s GDP in 2004. The largest industries are clothing, textiles, footwear, food processing, wood pulp, paper, cork, metal working, oil refining, chemicals, fish canning, wine, telecommunications, and tourism. Agriculture, forestry, hunting and fishing employs about 12.5% of the work force.  Definitely knew about the cork from our trip to Evora, Portugal last year. That area grows the most cork. I read somewhere that Portugal produces one half of the world’s cork. Most of its trade is done within the European Union. I have to wonder how much trade is done with England and how Brexit will affect Portugal.

The unemployment rate in Portugal was 6.7% as of November 2018, but 20% in the youth sector. Seems to be that youth unemployment is a problem around the world. In 2013 the overall unemployment rate reached a high of 17.50%.

The forestry and agriculture sectors are somewhat at risk, as Portugal has seen wild fires in the summer season (similar to California) and I would dare say probably due to climate change. I used to say global warming, but my 10 year old granddaughter told me that I should use the term climate change…thank you Caitriona.

In 2011, Portugal received a bailout from the EU/IMF due to its high debt load. We have been told that Portugal has repaid its debt to the IMF and I did see an article (not fake news I hope) that confirmed this.

That is probably enough history and economic data! Hopefully I haven’t put you to sleep yet.

Arrived at our rental apartment around 3:30 pm on Friday. It is located in Graca neighbourhood, bordering on the Alfama district. Not very touristy in this area, which is what we like. We are a 2 minute walk to the metro station and within walking distance of the main downtown areas of Baixa and Avenida. After unpacking we head off to stock up on groceries and get to know our way around the neighbourhood. Praca (square) de Rossio and Praca de Figueira both very near by.

We just want an easy dinner as we are very tired and opt to share a hamburger (take away) and a salad. Oh, of course, and some wine. A young man at the wine section in the grocery store took the time to recommend some good Portuguese wines. OK, another rant; why do we need to go to another store to buy our wine and not just get it in a grocery store….so civilized here. We stopped at a local hamburger shop (upscale, if there is such a thing) and while we are waiting, the owner and Robin start talking about football (soccer for those back home) and Robin tells him that we have tickets to a “Benfica” game. The owner tells us he is a rabid “Sporting Lisbon” fan. He takes out his phone and proceeds to show us pictures of his attendance at all the games, the green outfits he wears (colours of his team), a picture of him with various players of the team and tells us that he is very sorry that we won’t be able to see his team play. I love these interactions….so fun!

On our first full day, our objective is to get a metro card and a new Sim card for our phone (way cheaper that to pay roaming charges). Our metro station does not have a kiosk and only has machines. One can add to an existing metro card or buy a one way ticket. We see a small shop and ask if they have metro cards. The guy tells us to wait a minute, then another guy appears and tells us he has metro cards. Always a little leery when something like this happens, but sometimes you have to have faith in people. I ask this young man who he works for. He tells me he sub contracts to the transit system and he makes a commission on every card that he sells. The card itself only costs 1.50 Euro and you top it up at one of the machines. We finally agree and he takes us to one of the machines, he tops the cards up with 10 Euro each and we give him the required funds. He even gives us a small metro guide. This transaction works and we are off on the metro. The card is good for the metro, tram, bus, train, ferry and the elevadors in and around Lisbon.

Our next stop was Vodafone, to get a new SIM card to replace our Canadian SIM. He tells me my phone is locked and the sim card won’t work. Well that is funny as I swapped out for a Spanish sim last June. Luck is with us today and the sim card works in Robin’s phone. Really all we need is just one of our phones to make calls and get data as we are out and about. It cost us 20 Euro for the month with more than enough data for the month. Can’t understand why our telecommunication costs are so high in Canada…..well, yes I do. Not enough competition and a smaller population base.

Just as an aside, I find it interesting that in Europe, “What’sApp” app. is widely used vs North America. Not sure if you all know what this app is for, but it is great. When we landed at the airport I had used the airport internet and used the What’s app to contact our driver. It is a messenger application which crosses platforms. So basically can text from an apple to an android without cost as long as you have an internet connection; don’t need to use up data on your phone. It has other functions, but this is its main use.

The Baixa neighbourhood (two metro stops away) is full of restaurants and shops such as H & M, Mango and the like. We are told by our landlord to avoid these restaurants, as they cater to tourists and suggests much better restaurants to frequent. We do however stop at a small pastelaria/coffee shop on Rua Aurea and enjoy our first “pasteis de nata” (custard tart) which is renown in this area of Portugal. Very good.

Clockwise from top left – Teatro Nacional Dona Maria11 in Praca Rossi – Elevador de Santa Justa – Baixa neighbourhood – shopping and restaurants – Enjoying my first cappuccino and Pasteis de nata (custard tart)

Well, I spot a Muji store (a Japanese home goods and clothing store) which we have seen in major cities around the world. I have told the story before of Robin really liking their toothbrushes, so yes, he did buy more. When I want to sound “too big for my britches”, I say…..”my husband buys his toothbrushes in Paris, Barcelona and New York”. I can now add Lisbon to that list.

Walking around, many tourists waiting to take the famous ” Elevador de Santa Justa” so we decide to wait and come back during the week. Brings you up to a view point where one can see the City from above.

Continue our walk towards the river Tagus and reach the Praca de Comercio (Palace Square). Beautiful arcades with artists selling their wares as it is Saturday. I am now the owner of a new ring; just what I need, more jewellery! This was once the site of the royal palace for some 400 years. The original palace was destroyed in the earthquake and the new square and surrounding areas were designed by the Marques de Pombal incorporating a more modern grid system. The new palace was built along three sides of the square and are all arcaded buildings. They are painted the royal yellow. Shops on the main levels and government administrative offices in the remainder of the buildings. The square is used today for cultural events and festivals. There was a small demonstration going on while we are there, but couldn’t really see what it was all about. The square was also the sight of the 1974 peaceful Carnation uprising; which I referred to in my opening history comments. In the middle of the square is the equestrian statue of Jose 1 who was the King at the time of the earthquake.

There is a beautiful arch, Arco da Rua Augusta leading to the Praca de Comercio and on the other side the gateway to the Baixa area.

I love this picture of the Praca de Comercio. It had just rained as we came out of our wine tasting. Love the reflections!

Walking around the square, we spot a wine store. It turns out to be “The Wines of Portugal Tasting Room”. A very interesting concept. One can sign up for wine tastings or you can do self serve wine tasting. You purchase a card (with a chip) and you decant the wines you want to try and you can opt for three sizes of pours and you will be charged the appropriate amount depending on the size of your pour. Thought this was ingenious and must say, we tried some very good wines. They also had a section of ports that you could also taste. Their motto….”Taste and discover Wines of Portugal”, well that is not too hard to take on a Saturday afternoon.

As we finish our wine tasting, we are treated to a group of young musicians just outside the entrance. Very good music, not sure why they were wearing kilts! Well, my curiosity always gets the better of me. I looked this up and sure enough, kilts are traditional to the Trás-os-Montes area (Douro region) of Portugal. I found this on a website dedicated to kilts…..

On Sunday, February 3rd we decide to take an Uber to the Time Out Market, which is located in the Mercado de Ribeira, which was founded in 1890. It is right across the Cais do Sodre train station by the Tagus river. The existing food and fish market still exists and is open daily. The Time Out Market was opened in 2014 and has 24 restaurants, 8 bars, a dozen shops, a cooking school and a high-end music venue. Some of the restaurants/kiosk are run by Michelin chefs. A great concept. I read that they are opening more Time Out Market’s in various cities around the world this coming year including Montreal, London and Chicago.

We really weren’t hungry, but bought some meals for take-away for our dinners at the apartment later in the week. While waiting for our meals, we decide to enjoy a glass of wine. We sit next to a young English couple and had a delightful visit. They were in Lisbon for four days, they had never been away together since they had had children. I think this is so important for couples, they need time away on their own. The young mother said upon returning she might be a more patient mother and her kids might appreciate her more.

We walk along the river back towards Praca de Comercio. Lots of people out today along the paths enjoying the sunshine, eating and having drinks and riding scooters and rental bikes.

On Monday, we decide to venture to the Avenida neighbourhood. This runs along the Avenida da Liberdade, a very upscale area. Shops would include Prada, Louis Vuitton and many others that I would not even enter. Many embassies have their offices along the Avenida, including the Canadian embassy. I read in my guide book, that this area was also rebuilt after the earthquake, but it was a park restricted to Lisbon’s high society and was “surrounded by walls and gates ensuring the exclusion of the lower class”. The boulevard is built in the style of the Champs Elysees in Paris. The gates and walls were taken down in 1821 when the liberals came to power.

Enjoy a coffee in a little outdoor cafe along the large boulevard. I love the patterns of bricks on the sidewalks. We walk to the north end of the Avenida and reach the Praca Marques de Pombal on the large rotunda (traffic circle). Above this lies the Parque Eduardo V11. We both recall the surrounding area from when we were in Lisbon some 10 years ago. We continue our walk, then make our way to the Castelo Sao Jorge via Uber. The Uber driver can’t quite get us to the castle as traffic is limited to this area. He drops us off as closely as he can and he proceeds to show us where we can catch elevators that go down the hills. I had not read anywhere in my research about these elevators, one would not know they are there unless you were really looking. They are elevators located in residential/commercial buildings.

After a short two minute walk, we arrive at Castelo de Sao Jorge which was built in the mid 11th century during the Moorish period. The purpose of the castle was to house military troops and in case of a siege, take in the elite. The information tells me that it is built on the most inaccessible area of the city taking advantage of the natural slopes. Eleven towers still remain and we climbed up to the ramparts. The castle was modified and enlarged when Dom Afonso Henriques became the first king of Portugal and it became the Royal residence. I know from my research on the history of Lisbon, that the Royal residence was moved to the Praca de Comercio when buildings were erected.

Stop for lunch at a tiny little cafe called Claras em Castelo located just outside the castle gates. What a lovely surprise; great food. We shared a dish of fresh “Pescada em Caril & Leite Coco” or in english, “calamari stuffed with shrimp in coconut milk”…absolutely delicious. We had told the waiter/owner that we weren’t that hungry and we thought we would share. He says “no problem,if you want more, we just give you more”. After lunch he brings us our tea and cappuccino for me and says “Nespresso” but not the home kind, professional nespresso maker! Not sure why he felt he had to say that, but it was a very good cappuccino. Afterward I looked up this restaurant and all the reviews were excellent, might have to go back for dinner during our time here in Lisbon.

We head off and take the two separate elevators to get down to the Baixa area. Much easier than walking down all the steps from the castle or trying to take the overstuffed tram cars.

Our uber driver had told us that real estate in the inner city of Lisbon was very expensive and most people of Lisbon could not afford to buy. A lot of foreigners also buying in the inner city. This was confirmed by the representative of our apartment as well. The city of Lisbon has also put a cap on the number of AirBnB’s in the inner city.

We realized when we got home that Robin had forgotten his hat at the restaurant. We called the next morning and they did indeed have his hat. We head out Tuesday morning to pick up the hat and of course, now that we know about the elevators, we take advantage of these to make our way up to the castle.

We start heading back down to Baixa as we are off to Belem today. We spot a lovely shop and realize it is a sardine shop called Comur and was established in 1942. Lisbon is know for its sardines. We have seen t-shirts and all other sorts of tourist memorabilia with pictures of sardines. Well, this must be a very upscale sardine shop. They not only carry sardines, but all types of tinned smoked fish. On their website they mention that they are mainly known for their canned eels. The young sales lady explains all the types of tinned fish and tells us that they have the ultimate tinned sardines which have been deboned by hand. I think this is the way to go as sometimes I find the small bones in sardines a little annoying, although I know many eat them. I go to pick up this “gold” coloured tin and Robin points out the cost….20 Euro! I quickly put it down and go purchase three different types of tinned fish, not the gold! This shop was so amazing with the different coloured and artistic tins of fish and of course the beautiful chandelier just topped it off.

Back down the elevators and catch the metro to the Cais do Sodre train station, where we catch the train to Belem. The train runs along the Tagus river. There is a tram and bus that go to Belem, but for our first visit we opted for the train which is quicker and more direct. Might have to try the slower bus or tram option at a later date which would give us the opportunity to see different neighbourhoods.

Belem is at the mouth of the Tagus river and was where the caravels set sail for their voyages of discovery. We have read and been told that the Tagus river used to come much higher up in Lisbon as well as in Belem. In Belem it used to come right up to the Monastery, but today it is about 1/2 kilometre away. We enjoy a lunch of fresh fish looking onto the the Parque Alfonso de Albuquerque.

We head off to visit the “Mosteiro dos Jeronimos” which was commissioned by the King after the return of Vasco de Gama’s successful voyages around 1501. His tomb is located in the monastery. If you recall your history, Vasco de Gama successfully sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and opened the sea route to India. We visit both the church (Santa Maria) and walk through the cloisters. I thought the cloister here was so beautiful with its’ carved columns and arches. Small doors around the perimeter of the cloister were confessionals….no I did not go in!

As we are leaving the Monastery, Robin spots some “lime” scooters which is the same company that has started a bike share program in Calgary. He has the “app” on his phone, so we decide to try it. I mention that I might try it first as Robin’s balance isn’t the greatest. Well folks, they are definitely hard to balance when you first take off and I almost broke my neck! The ride didn’t last very long. Not sure how everyone manages these scooters on the cobblestones. You see young people all over Lisbon riding these and often time with two people on the scooters.

We walk by the Palacio de Belem, which is the official residence of the President of Portugal. Must say that it is not a very impressive building. The Royal family happened to be residing here during the earthquake and were kept safe.

On our way back to the train, I spot the “Antiga Confeitaria de Belem” and there is a line up going down the street. I mentioned to Robin that I had read about this pastry shop on an article posted on Pinterest. In 1837 they began making the original Pastéis de Belém, following an ancient recipe from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. We will definitely have to stop here and indulge the next time we visit.

We have seen a lot in our first few days in Lisbon and certainly enjoying our time here. Weather has been cool in the mornings but warms up to +16C in the afternoons.

Malaga – Part two and Finale – June 2018

On Saturday, June 9th we leave Evora, Portugal and drive to Malaga, Spain. Took us about 7 1/2 hours with stops; so really a travel day. I must say that although this seems a long time to be in a car, when one is travelling through new countryside, the time goes by quite quickly. We dropped off the car at the train station, which was easy to find and take a cab to our hotel, the same one we stayed at when we first arrived in Spain about a month ago. Funny thing, got the same room!

We take a few hours to relax and go out for dinner. Weather here is marvellous, nice to enjoy some hot weather, it is 25 degrees at 8 in the evening.

The first time we were in Malaga, we simply took a chance at finding restaurants (we were here for two nights); and not good experiences, just passable food. When in Evora, I checked out places on Trip Advisor and made reservations at various restaurants for our next three nights in Malaga. Well, the first of these, turned out to be a gem, a small french restaurant “La Recreation”. As we walk in, we are greeted by the owner and I say we have a reservation. Must be the way I said “reservation” probably more french than spanish in pronunciation. Robin is always correcting me, which is ok. The owner starts speaking to us in french. We find out that he and his wife (the cook) moved to Malaga and opened their restaurant 4 months ago. I would say by the reviews on TripAdvisor that they should do very well. The food was excellent. A small quiet restaurant on a side street; away from the busyness of the city. After we had finished our dinner, the owners wife came out and we had a lovely chat with her.

As we are leaving the restaurant, we turn into one of the main squares. We feel like we just got hit by a “tsunami” of noise and people. Oh my gosh, this place is packed and the noise level has gone up, enough so, that I can hardly hear Robin speaking. We try to take pictures, not sure they would do justice to the amount of people here. It is of course Saturday night and as usual in these tourist cities we see many “hen parties and stag parties” happening. One bride to be had a veil on her head topped off with a “penis”….one sees all sorts of costumes being worn by the prospective brides and grooms. One group of guys even had a megaphone, singing away. Such a change from quiet Evora and Merida where the loudest thing around was a dog barking! Not sure the pictures below even come close to capturing the number of people.

On our walk back to the hotel, we bought some fresh almonds from a street vendor, the vendors abound. The almonds have a lovely taste; slightly salted and some sweetness…nice desert!

Sunday, June 10th. Thinking of my aunt this morning, Tante Gaby who is 92 today and a force to be reckon with; she has her own Facebook account! Hope to see her soon, love spending time with her.

We head out to take in the Museo Picasso here in Malaga. Picasso was born here and is where he spent the first few years of his life. It opened in 2003 in the Buenavista Palace, and has works donated by members of Picasso’s family. Unfortunately we were unable to take pictures of any of the Picasso pictures. I did take a picture of the interior courtyard of the building which is lovely. The Picasso museum includes his early work, sculptures, pottery work, drawings and paintings from his “cubist” period. A very good range of his work and nice to see.

There was also an Andy Warhol exhibition taking place this month, so very fortunate to view that as well. Able to take pictures of the Warhol work. Always love going to the museum stores, always so many interesting things in these stores.

As we are about to enter, we see a display and it talks about taking your picture in the Andy Warhol style and posting it on Facebook. Couldn’t resist, just too different….might consider having a poster made of this….too cool!

A room in the museum where you use various mediums to copy some of Warhol’s art….below are our creations!

Make a stop at the Cathedral, mass in going on , so we are able to view only a portion of it. Time to stop for reflection and prayer.

As we were walking through the old town this morning, we saw many groups of young men and women who looked totally hung over, dragging their suitcases down the road. Guess the parties are over and they have to go back to reality!

Walk to the port where many outdoor stalls are set up and vendors are selling their wares from jewellery to clothes, clocks made out of old LP’s, baby clothes, etc. It is now late afternoon and we decide to head back to the old town for a bite to eat and go back to the hotel for a rest. Temperature gauges on stores show that it is 29C. Nice to have some heat after the cool weather that we have experienced. Lovely breeze blowing as we are near the sea, so doesn’t feel too hot.

We stopped at a pastry shop this morning and one thing we have noticed is that donuts seem to be prevalent in the shops. We have seen this in every city we have visited on this trip…must be a new trend; as have not noticed this on previous trips.

Walk by another shop and a window display catches my eye. It is a men’s store and sells specialty shoes that can make one 7cm taller! Ok, that is different.

Talking about weird signs, following is one that is on our toilet in the hotel; just had to share! “Please do not flush paper towels, tissues, wipes, hopes & dreams into the toilet. Thank you.”

Came across some good graffiti today…..love it.

We had arranged for an ebike tour on Sunday afternoon. Our young guide, Marcos, has lived his whole life in Malaga. We had done a walking tour when we were here a month ago, but decided on this tour as well to get a better sense of the city. Turned out great as with the electric bikes we were able to get up to the upper heights of the city with wonderful views of the city, the mountains in the back and the Mediterranean sea. Spent a couple of hours out on the bikes with the guide, a young English couple and a Spanish lady from Madrid who was looking to move to Malaga. A great way to see the city and surroundings and get a little exercise at the same time.

In the pictures below, Robin is rubbing the head of the Picasso statue. They say if you rub Picasso’s head that you will return to Malaga!

Went out for dinner tonight, we notice the crowds not quite as large as on the weekend, but still busy. On our way to dinner, ran across another religious celebration where they were carrying a statue of Mary. We noticed the swaying of the platform, this is from the men underneath waking step by step causing the swaying.

Beautiful colours in the evening and we stop in a local square to enjoy life going by.

Monday, June 11th and we head out to the Alcazaba. Our guide book says that if you can’t make it to Granada to visit the Alhambra, these is second best! This is a palace/fortress from the 11th century Moorish period. It is mostly built of limestone, which crumbles easily and has required frequent rebuilding throughout its existence. The palace was largely restored in 1930. Nice to meander around the fortified walls with good views of the city. There were some decorated rooms (ceilings, some fountains) to view, but must admit, doesn’t come close to the Alhambra. It is said that in ancient times the sea reached the lower walls of the fortress. We have read that the land upon which the port shops and walkway, along with the park are all built on reclaimed land.

Our next stop is the Centre Pompidou, Malaga which is a branch of the Pompidou Centre in Paris. It opened in 2015 on the port and is housed in a low modern building which is topped with a multicoloured cube. A wonderful selection of art by multiple artists.

We decide to see if we can find a table at the famous Bodegas El Pimpi for lunch. When we arrive the outdoor area is jammed packed with patrons, but inside we are able to scoop a table. Actually, considering it is 28 degrees outside, quite happy to be indoors. Great service, even though this place is packed. The interior of the restaurant is a rabbit’s warren of rooms, containing tables and a couple of the rooms are bars only. The walls are decorated with old “feria” (fair) posters and photos of famous visitors, including of course, Antonio Banderas a native son of Malaga.

Nice dinner out tonight, once again…..going to be hard to get back to cooking our own meals!

Picked up by a driver on Tuesday morning, June 12th and flew to Paris where we had a two hour layover, then a flight to Amsterdam. We have tomorrow to spend wandering around Amsterdam. We have been here on several previous occasions, but do not tire of this vibrant city. A little hard not to say “gracias” after a month in Spain. We will be back home in Calgary on Thursday, June 14th and although we have had a wonderful trip its always nice to get back home.

This is my last post for this trip and I hope readers have enjoyed reading our adventures as much as enjoy writing about them. I alway do a photo book of our various trips when I get home and I use a lot of the narrative from my blog for these books. Good memories!

Thanks to my wonderful husband and travelling partner, Robin, who is always there by my side experiencing life with me…..in good times like these and in the hard times! We will continue to make memories together for as long as we can. Adios for now!

Evora, Portugal – June 2018

As we are driving to Evora from Merida, about 3 hours, I download the Portuguese dictionary for Google translate so we can use it offline. We start to practice a few words in Portuguese, not easy. The pronunciation of words is very different. I think I read somewhere that the Portuguese language is one of the hardest to master. For example “good morning” is spelt “bom Dia” but pronounced “bom Jia”. “Thank you” for a man is “obrigado” but when a woman says it one says “obrigada”. “Good night” is spelt “boa noite” but phonetically you say” boa noiche”. Yikes!

On the way, we decide to stop in the small town of Elvas. It is a former frontier fortress of easternmost central Portugal, located only 8 kilometres west of the Spanish fortress of Badajoz. Elvas is known for its “star fort” and the “Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications” was inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2012. We visited the fortress at the top of the town, not well maintained, really just walls, but the grounds are overgrown. Nice view of the countryside. Stop and viewed the church before heading off to Evora.

Along the way we see more vineyards, crops which are being cut, more olive groves and closer to Evora, we see what we think are cork trees. This was indeed confirmed when we arrived at the hotel, as this area is known for its cork. Arrive at the hotel, the Nobel House, a little earlier than thought due to the one hour time difference. Fortunately I had sent a message to the hotel saying we would arrive earlier than their check in time and they were good enough to give us our room right away. Beautiful view from our room to part of the city and the countryside. This place, specifically the parking lot was easy to find. Once again the parking lot is on a different street and will only accommodate six vehicles; but we were fortunate to get a spot.

Due to its well-preserved old town centre, still partially enclosed by medieval walls, and a large number of monuments dating from various historical periods, including a Roman Temple, Évora was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. Its population as of 2011 was 56,700, this being the most recent data I can find. It is the capital of the central Alentejo region; which is known for its wines.

Our hotel is said to date back to the 15th century and was a Noble’s house, fully renovated into a hotel and opened its doors about one year ago. The hotel has kept some of the original furniture in common areas (just to look at, not to sit on) and shows some original brick and tile work that are said date back centuries. A beautifully brick arched ceiling in the restaurant area.

Weather continues to be cool, 20C and everyone is saying that the weather is unusually cool for this time of year. Hasn’t stopped us from doing anything, we have avoided the rain for the most part.

Spent the afternoon walking around the town and once again getting to know our way around, although not difficult in this small town. The manager of the hotel told us to simply get lost!

We visited the Evora Cathedral. The main façade is built with rose granite, and has two massive towers completed in the 16th century. The Cathedral itself was built mainly between 1280 and 1340 and was designed following closely the floor plan of the Lisbon cathedral. Beautiful cloisters in a gothic style. I opted to climb the tower and found myself on the roof of the cathedral which is said to be the highest point in Evora. Got some great pictures from there. A museum next door of Christian artifacts and art but we opted out of visiting.

Ate at the hotel tonight and our young waiter told us that he was from a small town of about 200 residents, near Evora, and he and his mother moved here so that he could make a living to support her as she had separated from her husband. His english was quite good and he gave us a few words in Portuguese to get us by. We had two traditional dishes “Bacalhau a Bras” (A Bras Codfish ) and “Arroz de Pato” (Duck rice); both very delicious. Could not find what “a bras” meant…….possibly a peasant dish?

Thursday the 7th of June. The hotel tried to organize a walking tour, but insufficient people attending; so the tour was cancelled. Not a big issue, this is a very small old town and we can find our way around very easily. As the Manager said, just get lost.

The young lady at the front desk suggests that we go the the Univerdidade de Evora, so we head out in that direction, just a couple blocks from the hotel. The University was founded in 1559. I am always amazed when I see some of these dates in Europe…Canada wasn’t even a country! It was originally a community of Jesuit seminarians, and we know they were missionaries and teachers. In 1759 the university was closed by the Marquis of Pombal and the Jesuits were expelled from Portugal. They make it sound like we should know this Marquis!

OK, my reading on the Marquis tells me that he was basically the Prime Minister of the day. He was instrumental in acting quickly after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake to restore order to the country. From Wikipidia – [He introduced many fundamental administrative, educational, economic, and ecclesiastical reforms justified in the name of “reason” and instrumental in advancing secularisation in Portugal. However, historians argue that Pombal’s implementation of the ideas of the “Enlightenment”, while far-reaching, was primarily a mechanism for enhancing autocracy at the expense of individual liberty and especially an apparatus for crushing opposition, suppressing criticism, and furthering colonial economic exploitation as well as intensifying print censorship and consolidating personal control and profit. He was the leading opponent of the Jesuits across Europe.] Doesn’t sound all that nice!

The University remained closed for over 200 years until it reopened in 1973. During the years the building had been used for other purposes. A double-tiered limestone building with arched galleries, lovely. We tour the building, even peaking into the classrooms. Some students and teachers around, but really quite empty, assume classes are over for the summer season. Lovely mosaics in the classrooms and I particularly liked the tiles that are sculpted into designs and not square.

We are looking for the “biblioteca” and I ask a gentleman who is coming out of an office, “where is the library located”. By the way I said “perdon” probably with my french accent and he proceeded to direct us, in french” and told us we must not miss the library and to ensure we looked at the ceiling. I continue to be amazed by the people in Europe who speak multiple languages, what a gift. We find the library and enter, fantastic. Like walking back in time with the bookshelves all around and old desks where students are studying. A sign on the door said “silencio” when we walked in and indeed it was quiet and indeed the ceiling was marvellous.

We then go to view the Templo Romano with its corinthian columns but not as well preserved as the one we saw in Merida. The temple is believed to have been built in the first century. My research tells me that the temple was partially destroyed in the fifth century by “invading Germanic peoples”, probably those darn Visigoths! It is also often mistakenly called the Temple of Diana but it has no association with the Roman goddess of hunt but is from a legend created in the 17th century by the Portuguese priest and the name is still used today when people refer to it. I read that it was somewhat restored in 1871.

In front of the statue are the “Jardin de Diana”, a lovely tree lined garden which overlooks part of the town and in the distance we note an ancient aqueduct. Nice stop for a cup of coffee/tea.

We decide to take in the Modern Art Gallery which is located in a beautiful building, not sure of the style, but very imposing. The entry was free and the present installation featured several Portuguese female artists. As usual with a modern art gallery, some really weird art and some very interesting works. When we left we asked the guard what the building was originally used for…..he tells us it was the “Palace of Inquisition”. I did find out that Evora was a town where the inquisition was conducted in addition to Lisbon and Goa in India.

Head down to the main shopping area, Rua 5 de Outubro. This narrow cobblestone pedestrian street is lined with souvenir shops that hold everything “cork”……cork purses, cork hats, wallets, glass cases, key chains, fobs, etc. Some lovely homes above the shops, all whitewashed buildings, with wrought iron balconies decorated with flowers. This road leads to the main square, Praca do Giraldo. The dog below is real, not cork….thought he was just too cute…..he also had a mate with him.

While heading down to the main square, we came across a little french cafe which caught our eye, as the menu featured quiche and croissants. I know we are not in France, but we need something different to eat than tapas and meat. We came back here for lunch and indeed the owner was a French woman so we were able to converse in french. Also indulged in a “pain au raisin” and a “pain au chocolat” for our late afternoon tea back at the hotel. Some different wall art and signs in the town, always like coming across something different.

Well what a great dining experience tonight. We had a reservation at Momentos, a restaurant recommended by the hotel. From the minute we walked in, till we left a very enjoyable evening. The owner, George, is quite the character and very hands on. When he first comes to the table, he looks at me and says “I know you, I saw you today at the french cafe”. He goes on to tell us that when we were using our translator program on our phone, that the Portuguese was Brazilian Portuguese which is pronounced differently from that here in Portugal. Well, we all had a good chuckle about this. We have come across this difference in pronunciation relating to Spanish where the Spanish pronunciation in Spain is different than that of South America.

He comes to the table, welcomes us then proceeds to explain the menu which is on a chalkboard. He cooks farm to table and uses whatever is fresh at the market. He goes over the appetizers and main meals, explaining in detail the ingredients used. We opt for fresh sautéed vegetables (minus the balsamic vinegar – for Robin who has trouble with vinegar) and George tells us that he will add spices to add flavour as we asked him to omit the vinegar. All the dishes are served on slate platters. To start he provides a basket of fresh bread, local olive oil, local cheese and olives. Then a small “amuse bouche” of a vegetable soup in a shot glass. The sautéed vegetables arrive and the spices are arranged aside so that one has the option to mix them in . Robin has lamb and I had goat. Both are served with small diced vegetables and my goat also has figs. Both were served with four different purees surrounding the meat. Vegetable, onion, tomato, beet with strawberries, pumpkin and squash. So delicious. Skipped desert as simply sated with the main meals. Someone wrote on a review that George was the price of admission. Every time he would come to the table or by the table he would tap me on the shoulder or give me a big smile……had to get my picture taken with him! The waitresses were just as charming. Owners like George are those who make a total difference in one’s experience.

I have to add that while I was working on my blog, I got a message from Bob, a friend in Calgary, who had seen Robin’s pictures on FB from our time in Evora. I usually post my blogs a few days after leaving a town/city. Bob sent me a picture of his spouse, Joanne with George…..what a laugh! Not sure how long ago that picture was taken as George looked younger! I won’t tell him that. He must charm all the ladies that dine at his restaurant!

Friday, June 8th and we head out to see some of the recommended sites in Evora. Our first stop is the “Jardim Publico” the public gardens and it starts raining, so we take cover under some large umbrella at an outdoor cafe. Robin had his umbrella and I have a rain jacket on. The rain finally subsides, walk around the garden and locate some old ruins; the gardens seem a little neglected.

Then off to the “Igreja de San Francisco” and the “Capela dos Ossos; a church and its chapel. They say that this is the most impressive church after the Cathedral, but both Robin and I think it is much more ornate. It was built in the 16th century and is really quite lovely inside. The first time that we see the blue tile, that we saw in places like the University, has been incorporated into the beautification of the interior of this church. The church also had a museum of nativity scenes that were really quite interesting.

It is the chapel however that sees most of the tourists. If you haven’t figured it out yet “Ossos” means bones. There is an inscription above the chapel that reads “We, the bones that are here, await yours”. The bones of some 5,000 skeletons dug up from cemeteries in the area line the ceilings and supporting columns.A 16th century Franciscan monk placed skulls and jaws across the ceiling; arm and leg bones are stacked on the supporting columns. It is said that this monk wanted to prod his brothers into contemplation of life!

Robin and I came across a very small chapel like this last year while cycling in the countryside along the Danube in a tiny village. Very creepy!

We come across an abandoned church which is being used for a public art display, very small but interesting.

We also go down a small alley to view the “Igreja da Graca”, this building/church appears abandoned as well; but definitely has Roman themes. Then continue to the Praca do Giraldo, the arcade lined square in the centre of the old walled city where we stop for coffee/tea. we also stop in to look at the Cafe Arcada. I had read that this cafe/restaurant was an institution in Evora and that it was decorated with photos of the big bands that played there in the 1940’s. Has a bit of an art deco inside and some pictures hanging, but not many.

As I mentioned before a lot of shops that sell everything cork. My usual curiosity led me to read a little more about cork. Portugal is the world’s larges producer of cork and mainly from this region. It takes two decades before the trees can be harvested and their bark is carefully stripped once every nine years. They put numbers on the trees to indicate the last year of harvest.

Continue our walk in search of the “Termas Romanas”, the Roman baths. We enter one building and we think it is a water pumping station. They do have a display regarding water in the area and we find out that the aqueducts that the Roman’s built are still in use today. A dam was built many years ago, but they had problems with the water quality for a while, so repaired the aqueducts and started to use them again. The lady at the desk of the pumping station tells us that the Roman baths are located at City Hall. On to City Hall and indeed the city hall is built on top of the Roman baths and one can view them. Not much there, but still nice to see.

Back to the main square to get some lunch and all of a sudden we here “Bonjour” being said to us. We turn around to see George from the restaurant last night. He was having coffee with a friend and just wanted to wish us a good day. Very charming!

Some additional pictures from our time in Evora.

This evening we arranged a tour with a private guide (Jose) and driver (Hugo), to take us out to the megaliths near Evora. There are 10 megalithic enclosures in the area and we visited two that were nearby. The megalithic monuments (made up of big rocks) were placed in the Evora region because the plains in Alentejo were perfect for the last communities of hunter-gatherers to practise their way of living.

Jose is an archeologist with the City of Evora but started up his own tour company a few months ago to supplement his income. He told us that wages in Portugal are very low, even with the improvement in the economy in the last year. He told us that the main economy of Evora is its wine production, cork production and tourism. This is only his second tour in English, and although broken, he is understood.

Our first stop is a Monolith, one large stone. He tells us that these were used to mark the landscape, as sort of road marker. It stands on the highest point in the valley. Also a phallic symbol which is symbolic of reproduction. Meant to “thank Mother Earth” for all that she provides. Is also known as a centre of positive energy. Jose tells us that at summer solstice, the various monuments are inundated with people who believe in the spirits and positive energy of the megaliths. He goes on to mention that surveys have shown that only 1/3 of the monoliths and other stones are above earth with the other 2/3rds buried deep in the ground.

Evora is in the middle of 3 major sites and if one drew a line from the city of Evora to the various sites, they would each point to the cathedral. The stones are all granite and some have markings on them. The second site he takes us to is a sight of hundreds of stones, a megalith. Here the stones form two circles, one smaller inner circle, which the archeologists believe to be older and a larger circle which encompasses the smaller circle. Small excavations have been done on both sites and small shards of pottery and jewellery have been found, which they believe to be offerings.

We enjoyed touring these sights out in the countryside and the light was absolutely wonderful in the late afternoon. Quite lovely overlooking the valleys below.

We also saw lots of cork trees and Jose confirmed what I had stated earlier. He added that people who remove the cork are highly paid as it is an art to remove the cork so that the tree is not destroyed. These basically use a chisel and mark a line down the truck and then carefully peel off the cork. He told us the richest man in Portugal is the one who owns the cork business. The Evora region is the sole cork producer of Portugal.

Also saw lots of storks on their nests in the countryside, unfortunately unable to get a picture. Jose told us that they are a protected species. At one time they were in danger of extinction, but have made a great come back.

Go to another restaurant La Tabla de Nada which was recommended by our hotel. Another excellent meal. We shared an appetizer and also a main meal, “Presa de Porco Preto” a black pork loin which was the house specialty, delicious. We have been told several times that the pork used in better restaurants is from black pigs. They are smaller than a normal pig and the meat is better.

We really had no expectations of our time in Evora, but must say, we really enjoyed our time here. The people in Evora, Portugal were so friendly and we enjoyed getting lost in the streets!

Merida – June 2018

Took about 2 1/2 hours to get to Merida from Sevilla. Mérida is the capital of western Spain’s Extremadura region, which was founded by the Romans in the 1st century B.C. Remains of the ancient city include the still-used Teatro Romano, which has a double tier of columns rising onstage. The ancient Puente Romano, a 792m bridge spanning the Río Guadiana, adjoins the Alcazaba, a 9th-century Islamic fortress built over Roman walls. It is in the Province of Badajoz.

The closer we got to Merida we started to notice many vineyards, along with wheat fields.

There are flags throughout the town advertising the classical theatre festival that will take place in July. I can imagine how spectacular it would be so see a play amongst these ruins. The outdoor theatre sits up to 6,000 people

The population as of 2017 was 60,119 so a small city. The “Archaelogical Ensemble of Merida” in on the the Unesco World Heritage list as of 1993.

This is the first time we are out of the Andalusia region, main reason being that it was a stop on the way to Evora in Portugal.

We wondered why so many well preserved Roman ruins in a place that we thought was really in the middle of no where, but on further reading I find out that this city was strategically located at the junction of major Roman roads from Leon to Sevilla and Toledo to Lisbon. The guide book notes that the city has never regained the importance it had during Roman times, other than the Roman monuments, and that the city is rather plain.

We arrive to find our hotel, easily this time I might add, and Robin was ushered to the parking garage by a staff member. Seems quite common that parking garages belonging to hotels and apartments, aren’t necessarily located in the same place, let alone same block. We get settled, nice small hotel with lovely outer deck. It is quite cool here compared to Sevilla; about 19C and overcast when we arrived.

We are interested in the museum, but it is closed on Mondays, so will try to take it in tomorrow. All the major Roman ruins are within walking distance of one another.

We walk to the “Teatro Y Anfiteatro Romano” and very impressed with its size and condition. As we went to pay, the lady asked if we were “seniors”. She gave us a 50% discount and the ticket is good for the other Roman sites, with exception of the Museum. We were quite surprised, in France they only give discounts to seniors if you are part of the Euro community……bonus marks for Spain!

There are workers, assumably archeologists or their assistants, who are working on some of the site. Using small brushes to undercover some of the ruins and one lady is using a brush with some type of liquid to clean off some moss/algae. Seems very painstaking. We spend quite some time here and hardly anyone else around. They say these are the best preserved Roman ruins in Spain. While we are in the Teatro we run into two separate couples, one from Mexico and the other from Brazil. Think we are the only foreign tourists! Robin and the Brazilian strike up a conversation about the World Cup.

Some of the pictures below have explanations that were on placards on the site.

Must admit that not many foreign tourists here, mainly Spaniards visiting the area. I believe that this is off the tourist track and one must make the effort to come here. This is also evident in the fact of the food that is served and when restaurants operate. Went out for dinner on our first night at 8 pm, which we think is late and the restaurants here do not open till 8:30. My poor digestive system!

While waiting till 8:30 pm to find somewhere to eat, we walk down to the Plaza de Esapana; which is Merida’s main square. It is filled with many bars/restaurants and tables outside (even though a little cool outside) are packed with locals enjoying drinks and tapas. The city hall is at one end of the plaza and the midst of the square is the “Arco de Trajano” part of a Roman city gate. Great for people watching.

We also view the “Temple of Diana” which is literally on the same street as our hotel, basically surrounded by shops and houses. It is said to be the oldest of Merida’s Roman ruins. The Temple of Diana (Templo de Diana) was a sacred site constructed by the Romans in the early first century AD, after the conquest of the area by the Emperor Augustus. It is incredibly well preserved.

Our hotel does not provide breakfast so we have to go out. This morning we found a small trendy restaurant for breakfast; but all they serve is tostadas. Basically a large bun, similar to a small baguette with different toppings. We looked at other places, but no one serves eggs or what we would classify as a North American breakfast. A “normal” breakfast has been available every where else we have been, but as mentioned, Merida is off the beaten track. All part of the adventure.

Tuesday, the 5th of June we head off to view some of the sights of the city. Our first stop is to view the Roman bridge. There is a walking path below, which we took later, and further along the path, a pedestrian bridge which goes over to a few islands in the centre of the RIo Guadiana, which have been turned into park areas. We see cyclists, runners and walkers enjoying this area.

Next stop is the Alcazba Arabe (fortress). This was built by the Romans and strengthened by the Visogoths and Moors. Have seen reference to VIsogoths a lot in the areas we have visited, so from my reading up on them, I will provide a little bit more information. I love history, so can’t help myself.

The Visigoths were one of the most important of the Germanic peoples. They separated from the Ostrogoths in the 4th century and proceeded to raid Roman territories repeatedly, and established great kingdoms in Gaul and Spain. O.K., now we all now about the Visigoths!

Once again some “archeological types” are working around the area, one even had survey equipment, not sure what he was doing. I found that the most interesting building was the cistern. A small building, well preserved, with steps and ramp going down to a cavern still containing water today. The historians feel that beast of burden went down these ramps to haul back the water for the people.

Also an original Roman passage way/road still exists……Brenda…..an “iter” , a word often used in crosswords.

We head off down the path by the river and walk about 20 minutes to the next archeological site. The “Casa Mitreo y Columbarios” is a late-1st- or 2nd-century Roman house with a well-preserved fresco and several intricate mosaics. What is interesting about this site is the metal roof that the city has installed over the complete area for preservation of this historic site. Beautiful mosaics and original paintings still evident, although some parts are missing. Archeologist working here as well.

Next to the Casa Mitreo is Merida’s bull ring which was built in 1914 and is still used today.

We go to the main square, Plaza d’Espana for lunch. Next to us sits a local man and his dog. Before you know it, the dog has sat next to me, so I start to pet him and rub his ears. I stop, then he puts his head on my lap. I said to the dog in Spanish as we left “quieres venir a Canada”….do you want to come to Canada. His owner got quite a chuckle out of this. I continue to say “es frio”….is cold and the owner replied in Spanish “that might be better than our heat”. I love this interactions with locals.

I have to laugh….Robin posted the picture below on his Facebook page and it got the most likes of any other picture of Merida. I think deep down inside, people are all animal lovers!

Meant to comment on something peculiar that we noticed on our way from Grazalema. We were nearing Merida and stopped in a small town for coffee/tea, a kind of truck stop and there were napkins and garbage such used sugar packets, plastic stir sticks all over he floor. A cleaning woman was in process of sweeping everything up. Well, then we notice the same thing in the outdoor cafes int he main square in Merida, people simply throw their garbage on the ground. We have not noticed this anywhere else in Spain, weird! In fact, in Sevilla, there is always a small garbage bin near the table.

In the late afternoon, we head off to the “Museo Nacional de Arte Romano” which was built in 1981. The scale of this museum is quite something. The main exhibition hall is 50 feet high (cathedral like) and there is a main level in addition to two upper passageways. We were so impressed by the displays, the mosaics, some as high(big) as 30 feet, frescoes, jewelry, statues, pottery, household utensils and a variety of Roman remains. The pictures we have of the large mosaics will show some blank spaces; but for the most part, so well preserved. This museum is world class, glad we did not miss it……and yeah, the seniors, yes even Canadian seniors got in for free. Who says my grey hair doesn’t pay off!

Merida was certainly a surprise to us. The roman ruins were amazing and the museum was definitely first class.

On our last morning, we find a small cafe that serves smoothies and tostadas. Great to get some fruit, even if in the form of a smoothie. Very cloudy day and cool as we head off to Evora, Portugal for the next three days.

Sevilla – June 2018

Left Grazalema on Thursday May 31st for Sevilla. Woke up to bright blue skies in Grazalema and forecast is for 20 degrees today. Although it was cool during our three days here, it didn’t stop us from doing anything and we really enjoyed it here. Thanks to Steve F. for his recommendation.

As we were leaving Grazalema on the winding mountain roads, came across lots of cyclists. Amazing at their skill in riding these roads.

Took us about 2 1/2 hours to get to Sevilla, with a stop along the way. We have rented an apartment in Sevilla for four nights, which is about a 15-20 minute walk to the Cathedral and Alcazar. We are near the Alameda de Hercules monument.

Sevilla has a population of 704,000(2018) and stands at 12 meters (39 feet). Sevilla has the largest GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of any city in Andalusia, and is said to account for one whole quarter of Andalusia’s total GDP, and is the most populated city in Southern Spain. Agriculture is the dominant industry in the smaller villages surrounding Sevilla. Seville has the most important inland port of Andalusia, being thus an import/export hub for the whole region. The city depends on service and industry sectors: in particular trade, financial services, technology and tourism. The latter is one of the pillars of the local economy, since the city and its rich cultural heritage are appealing more and more visitors. The city has technological and aerospace research centres. The economy was hit with the downturn in 2008, but has steadily gotten better in the last few years.

The average temperature in Sevilla is 26C and the summers average over 35C. Yikes, not sure I would like the summers here. There is a Calatrava bridge here the Puente del Alamillo, which we saw from a distance on our drive into the city. We love his bridges, always very different in design. Our Peace Bridge in Calgary is one of his designs and we have seen others throughout our travels (Dublin, Buenos Aries). An update here, we drove across the Calatrava bridge as we left the city on Monday, June 4th.

We had set our GPS for the parking garage of the apartment; as you had to enter the garage from a side street. Well….talk about frustration! For 15 minutes we drive around the narrow streets trying to find the parking garage. We get near, then we see signs that indicate no entry, you know the kind I mean….a red circle with a white line through it….do not enter. We go around again and try from another direction; no luck. Robin comes up with the idea to find a parking space or parking garage and leave the car there till we figure out what to do. We contact the management company that handles this apartment and a young lady was waiting for us at the apartment. After speaking to her, we left the car in the parking garage that we had found outside the old town, and took a taxi with our luggage to the apartment. The young lady shows us around the apartment and shows us where we get into the garage. She could not understand why we had a problem. I pointed out that the sign on the street entering the alley indicated “no entry”. She pointed out a sign below that indicated “except authorized cars”. OK, guess we should have figured that out….did I mention that this sign was almost totally obliterated with graffiti and stickers! Oh well, all part of the experience. We take a taxi back to the parking garage, get our rental car and find the parking garage of our apartment. So easy…not!

Walk around our neighbourhood and get our bearings. Our guide book says that this neighbourhood was once a “no go neighbourhood, only reserved for “painted ladies and their pimps” and a wide range of “shady characters”! Today it has been transformed and has been taken over by the young and is crammed with trendy bars along the Alameda. It is also the main gay area of the city. At the end of the Alameda are two Roman columns and are said to be 2,000 years old. One column bears a statue of Hercules and the other Caesar.

We have a wonderful dinner out at a tapas bar that was highly rated on TripAdvisor. I know we said that we were somewhat tired of tapas, but this place was incredible. Edition Limitada Espacio Gastronomico; how about that for a name. I had made a reservation and they had a little sign made up welcoming us….all right, welcoming Robin! It was a twist on tapas; one could say “fusion tapas”. We had lamb stew served in a soft bread, a dish of potatoes, truffle oil and grana padano cheese, a block of boar meat with fig sauce and snap peas and grilled vegetables in a romanescu sauce. So good, think we are going to go back here.

When we stopped in a small roadside cafe on our way to Sevilla, the owner had the television on and was watching what appeared to be a political show live from the Spanish parliament. Later in the day in Sevilla when walking around noticed televisions on in several places watching the same thing. Well, now we know what was going on. The Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, lost a no confidence as his conservative People’s Party is mired in a financial scandal that last week saw 29 people linked to the party, including elected officials, receive heavy sentences while the party itself was fined for operating hidden accounts. His successor is said to be Pedro Sanchez, the leader of the center-left Socialists, the same man who helped bring down the government.

I always like to take pride on how organized I am when it comes to trip planning. Yes, I make mistakes. I totally forgot to book tickets for the Alcazar and the Real Palace. I realized this the morning we left Grazalema and when we arrived in Sevilla, I went on line to book tickets. They were totally sold out for the days that we are here! What to do. Robin goes on line and through Tripadvisor/Viator he finds a company that does guided tours. Booked tickets for Friday afternoon…..Whew!

On Friday morning, June 1st, we had arranged for an ebike tour of Sevilla. Opted for this for a change vs the free walking tours we have been doing in the other cities we have visited to date. Our guide Gabriel was incredible. There could have been up to six people on the tour, but we were the only two, so in essence our own private tour. We were gone for 2 1/2 hours. Cycling through the streets and bike paths of Sevilla felt very comfortable. Many stops along the way as Gabriel spoke about the history of Sevilla and the various monuments, historic buildings and gardens that we visited. Once again a great way to get to know your way around the city. Amazing the number of tourists here in Sevilla this weekend.

The city was founded by the Romans, still some remnants or Roman structures, and then the Moors arrived in 1085. A great mosque was built; but you know the story, it was destroyed in 1248 when the Christians arrived and a cathedral was built where the mosque once stood. Our guide tells us that mythology claims that Hercules founded the city of Sevilla. The plague did arrive in Sevilla in 1649 and we are told that 1/2 the population was lost. After the discovery of America in 1492 Sevilla became the main port for trade with the New World. When you look at a map it is hard to think of Sevilla as a port; it is classified as an inland port. In ancient times, boats could navigate down the Guadalquivir river to the ocean. In the 18th century the river became more silted and the majority of trade moved to the port of Cadiz.

Gabriel tells us that the when Sevilla hosted the Latin American Exposition of 1929 much construction took place in the city in the years prior to the exposition. The Plaza de Espana was the centrepiece. We ride by the Hotel Alfonso Xll and this hotel was built to provide upscale accommodations for the fair. He tells us that he believes that the minimal cost of the hotel is 1,000 Euro per night in the high season, it is a 4 star hotel….we are definitely not staying there. Just out of curiosity, I looked it up and we could get a room tonight for 230 Euro……probably in the basement!

The city also sponsored a world expo in 1992 and once again new construction took place, including a high speed train from Madrid.

We stop in front of the cathedral and Gabriel tells us that this is the biggest cathedral in Europe, with the exception of the Vatican of course, he says he is sure the Pope at the time had some say in the matter. There is a legend that says that the church authorities at the time said “Let’s construct a church so large that future generations will think we were mad”. The cathedral took 100 years to be built in the gothic style and was finished in 1502. We will come back on our own to visit the cathedral in the next few days. Then cycle to the other side to view the El Giraldillo, the minaret that is left from Moorish times. The Christians did install a bell tower……of course. Once again we see the ancient red writing on names on the cathedral outer walls; I mentioned this in my Granada blog.

Then on to the city hall, the Ayuntamiento built in the Neo-Classical style built in 1867 and sits at the Plaza Nueva. What is interesting about the city hall is that half the building is incredibly decorated and the other half is quite plain, apparently they ran out of money and the authorities over the years have not wanted to complete the work. Gabriel says that the majority of the population don’t even notice the fact of the different facades.

Ride to the Archivo General de Indias. This building at one time housed all of the historical trading archives of ancient times. Apparently they are now housed in a new building which has high security. These archives make up part of the Unesco World Heritage Sight of Sevilla along with the Catedral and the Alcazar. The guide book says there are more than 80 million pages of documents dating back to 1492 and up to the end of the 19th century; a statement of Spain’s power and influence during the Golden Age. The building is not much to look at, but certainly has historical meaning.

Stop to take in the Alcazar, which is very impressive. Gabriel tells us that the King and Queen of Spain stay here whenever they are in Sevilla and one can tell when they are there as the municipal flag is lowered and the royal flag goes up. They stay on the second story, which we are told is not included in a tour of the Alcazar. We will be visiting later today, thanks to Robin! All these sights are very close to one another so very easy to walk or cycle around to visit.

On to the Antigua Fabrica de Tabacos, an old tobacco factory, which was built in 1758. It was the setting for Bizet’s Carmen, and was where she toiled. Seville became the centre of the tobacco trade in the 17th century. Gabriel tells us that originally the factory employed men, but they found that women were gentler with handling the tobacco and they could pay them a lesser salary. Sounds like this has been going on for centuries, think the world has finally changed! The factory closed in 1950 an is now part of the University of Sevilla. We walked through the building which was huge.

We continue our ride and end up at Plaza de Espana. I always thought that this was just another plaza, but oh my gosh, so much more. A huge area with a large fountain and mini canals. Beautiful tile work throughout. We stop to take some pictures then Gabriel takes us through the gardens, the Parque Maria Luisa. He tells us that years ago the gardens were neglected by the city, but eventually they realized that they must invest in. Must say that the gardens were mainly free of tourists and just a small number of locals. Two beautiful buildings in the gardens built for the 1929 expo, one is now the Museo Arqueologico and the other the Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares. Gabriel is also very interested in the history of Sevilla and Spain and plays percussion instruments on nights and weekends in addition to his guiding activities. He tells us that during the hot summer, his favourite place to come is the costume museum. He loves to see the exhibits which are constantly changing, then he says he goes down to the basement where there is a cafeteria and is very cool in the summer. So he takes a good book and spends a few hours there cooling off and having a coffee at a very reasonable price!.

Then continue cycling through the gardens and he takes us to his “special bench”. He tells us that he comes here with his girlfriend on warm evenings and they bring a bottle of wine and enjoy their time together. He tells us we should come as is a magical place around 10:00 pm. Are you kidding, I tell him; that is about the time we are getting ready to go to bed. Must admit that this eating at 8 and 9 o’clock at night is difficult, but a way of life here, so one has to adjust to the local ways.

Then cycle along the river bike path to the Torre del Oro, a 13th century watchtower. It supposedly had a roof covered in gold. Gabriel tells us that it is has this name as it is said that all the gold coming from the Americas came through this port.

We then cross the Isabella bridge and view Sevilla from the other side of the river. Along the river he points out a fig tree and tells us that it reminds him of his childhood. He used to pick figs in the countryside along the roads. He says he loves figs, but just can’t bring himself to buy them in a grocery store.

He points out the bull ring, which we will visit in the next couple of days. Robin asks if they still bullfight and if so, do they still use picadors (lancers). Gabriel says that bullfighting is still very much a sport in Spain. The only place that it has been banned is in Catalonia (a province that wants to separate from Spain) as they see bullfighting as a symbol of Spain and they don’t want anything to do with Spain!

Across the river there stands one sole high rise building and is very different looking, circular in shape with a sloped roof. Gabriel tells us that this is the most hated building in Sevilla, for a couple of reasons. Firstly it is taller than the cathedral bell tower, which is thought to be a sacrilege. Christians feel that the most important building, the cathedral, should be the tallest as it is closest to God. Secondly, the building was built and is occupied by a Catalonian bank. This is the province that wants to separate from Spain, so why did the local municipality allow them to build this monstrosity!

We ask about the Gypsy women walking around in local cities with rosemary. They try to stop people, we always ignore them and wave them off. Gabriel says it is there way of earning a living. They will tell you that rosemary will bring you good luck and then they go on to read your palm and tell your fortune. He says that he has been approached on many occasions and he tells the Gypsy women that he has never heard of rosemary bringing any good luck to anyone. He thinks that they also get the rosemary from the public gardens, so funny, but ingenious on their part.

Across the river, the city also built a stadium in 1999 and seats 60,000. The stadium was one of those included in the Sevilla’s bid for the 2004 and 2008 Olympic bids. After the failure of the last bid, the stadium remained unused by either of Seville’s major football teams as both Real Betis and Sevilla each use their own stadia. It is now mainly used as a concert venue.

It is now the end of our cycle tour and Gabriel has been so great and good to get some exercise other than walking! Finally he gives up a detailed map of the city, shows us where we have been and points out more sights that we should visit. He talks about getting lost in a few neighbourhoods, which we plan on doing. We usually do this, and always fun to explore new places. Gabriel says that the residents of Sevilla have a tendency to stay in their own barrios, even as much as spending time in their own squares. This is where they come out in the evenings for their drinks and tapas and to visit in the early evening. We have definitely noticed this, Sevilla has little plazas everywhere you turn. I suppose just like us, going for coffee in Kensington area in Calgary.

We head back to the bike shop and stop for lunch prior to heading back to the apartment and a rest prior to visiting the Alcazar later today. Not sure I mentioned, but all the Jacaranda trees are in bloom, beautiful.

We noticed, as we have been walking through the streets of Sevilla, that they do of course have graffiti, as do all cities, but not with an artistic flair as we have seen in other places. The one thing they do which is different is paint the metal shutters on the store fronts with various scenes. Also, lovely ceramic inserts in the buildings; either Christian in nature or depicting a scene. I love seeing the small differences in the various cities we visit….graffiti, unique doors, flowers in windows, ceramic signs, etc. Each city with its own artistic flair!

At 5 pm we join our group of 10 to visit the Real Alcazar with our guide Vincente. Our visit lasts about two hours and once again very informative. I must add that our bike guide, Gabriel and Vincente both talk about the “Mudajar”. The word denotes a partly Gothic, partly Islamic style of architecture and art prevalent in Spain in the 12th to 15th centuries. both the Cathedral and the Real Alcazar are of this style. This late afternoon tour was great as the palace and gardens weren’t really busy.

This Alcazar was built primarily in the 1300’s and was made a Unesco World Heritage site in 1987, yes, another one added to the list. It was originally founded as a fort and has been expanded or reconstructed several times over the centuries. One of the areas that we visited was said to be the rooms of King Alfonso Xl mistress, Leonor de Guzman, who was reputedly the most beautiful woman in Spain. Our guide told us that the baths were specifically built for her as well. One aspect that we thought was really interesting is that a lot of the pillars holding up the various rooms do not match. Some are made of red marble, white marble and some from other types of stone. Our guide tells us that the builders of the time went off to an abandoned town nearby and collected columns from old Roman ruins. Talk about recycling! I somehow think that one might not notice this unless it was pointed out to you.

There all different rooms in the castle some used for entertaining and some used for trade. We also visited the throne room. One hall had very large Belgium tapestries which represented the kingdom of Spain.

The Moorish type ceramic work is interspersed with Christian symbols is again a sign of he Mudajar type of architecture, a blend of the two cultures. One must never forget to look up and see the beautifully wooden sculptured ceilings. Many fountains throughout which are guide tells us is equivalent to air conditioning. One major difference that I found between the Real Alcazar and the Alhambra is the amount of colour used here in the Real Alcazar. Blues and reds used in the plaster work, whereas a lot of the plaster work in Granada was in its natural state. Beautiful intricate ceramic work here depicting pictures of flora, fauna, emblems and characters.

The outer gardens here are absolutely magnificent with pruned hedges, fountains with fish, mazes and of course beautiful shaded treed areas, rose gardens, various benches and courtyards and statues throughout. I loved the bath area which was in a lower part of the palace. Loved to see the reflection in the water. Vincente points out an area in the garden where Game of Thrones (season 5, I think he said) was filmed here in the Alcazar. One of the American men on the tour was so excited about this, he said he was going to watch it again, just to see these gardens in the show. Thought this was so funny as he was so excited about this.

After the tour was completed, we stayed and toured the gardens for a little while longer, so nice and cool in the shade. The weather here in Sevilla has been about 25 each day, and we are enjoying it.

On our way back to our apartment we come across an Italian restaurant tucked away in an alley and opt for this change from tapas and meat. A jam packed day, but great to see so many new places and get to know the city and its history.

Saturday, June 2nd and we head off to the Catedral. The line up to get in only takes about a half hour, so not to bad at all. The total area of the Cathedral is at 11,520 square meters (124,000 square feet). The building is 135 meters (443 feet) long and 100 meters (328 feet) wide, and a ceiling height of 42 meters (138 feet). Seville Cathedral is the third-largest church in the world (after St.Peter’s in Rome and St.Paul’s in London) as well as the largest Gothic church in the world. It was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1987. Construction began in 1433 and ended in 1506.

The oldest door of the church is called the Puerta del Perdon (Door of Forgiveness) and dates from the early 16th century and is Moorish in design.

As you enter the courtyard to get to the ticket office, there is a replica of the statue and wind vane called the El Giraldillo, which sits on top of the Giralda, the original mosque minaret, now the bell tower. As one first enters you see the Church treasures, then you enter the church itself. It is indeed immense, vaulted ceilings, various chapels along the perimeter, outer chambers with paintings and church treasures, stained glass windows, and beautiful woodwork. Several alters, including one completely made of silver. The main altarpiece which is intricately carved, is said to be the largest in Christendom. As I was taking a picture, I noticed that lights kept coming on and off to highlight particular sections of the altar piece. I just read some statistics on the cathedral. Its interior is divided into: 5 naves, 43 chapels and altars, 81 stain glass windows, 28 attached pillars, 32 free standing pillars, 26 murals, 68 vaults. They say over 1.3 million people visit every year and that the cathedral has enjoyed two papal visits.

We also see Christopher Columbus’s sepulchre. He died in northern Spain and his remains were moved four separate times. Originally his remains were laid to rest in a monastery in Sevilla, then they were moved to the Dominican Republic, then to Cuba and back to Spain. There has been some question if the remains buried here in the cathedral were indeed Christopher Columbus or possibly his brother. They now say that recent DNA testing prove that these are indeed the remains of Christopher Columbus. THe sepulchre is quite grand. It shows four statues holding up the casket. These represent the four Spanish kingdoms of Castile, Leon, Aragon and Navarra which existed during Columbuses time. A beautiful work of art.

The outer courtyard the Patio de los Naranjos (the Patio of the Orange Trees) is quite lovely and is the exit of the church tour. We were about to leave and I realized that we had not seen the Giralda. We were told that we really should go up it, and that the climb was easy as it is a ramp and not steps. At the top, we noticed we went up 34 ramps. I read the reason for the ramps is that they were used by horsemen that went up to the top of the tower to see if any enemies were approaching. Good views from the top. It is said that the Giralda the best know symbol of Sevilla.

We then make our way to the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza, the bull ring. This is the oldest bull ring in Spain, building began in 1758 and this is where bull fighting began along the same time as the bull ring in Ronda. One is guided through the museum, some great pictures and memorabilia. I really loved the old posters and the drawings. The guide speaks in Spanish and English and she told us when to listen to our audio guides for a further description. The bullfighting season goes from October to April and some later and yes, they still kill the bulls here in Spain. We view the horse corrals then a chapel where the bull fighters say their prayers before there debut into the ring. We then visited the ring itself.

On our way back to our apartment we come across an artisans market, always great to come across these shops where locals show and sell their wares. I am now the proud owner of a new necklace!

Another wonderful dinner out at a small bar in one of the many squares in our barrio. The Bodega Palo Alto was a great choice. Very unassuming from the outside, but great food, which really is all that counts. Robin had Preso con jamon (ham with prosciutto and potatoes) and I had Bacaloa in Salsa Verde con Jamon y Lagostinos (cod in a greeen sauce with ham and shrimp). Love finding these out of the way places with good food. A lot of locals here having their tapas and drinks. A lovely older couple outside enjoying their evening together, lovely to see. We can’t help but continue to relish in the European way of life!

Sunday, June 3rd and after doing some laundry (glad for the apartment washer), we head off to the Metropol Parasol. Not too far from where we are staying Prior to going up to the Parasol, we stop and have a coffee/tea and finally indulge in some churros. Well, sorry to say, not as good as the churros that we have had in Mexico. People here have their churros with hot chocolate the majority of the time, and dunk them in their drink.

Read a little about the Parasol and as anything different, there was controversy. It was designed by the German architect Jurgen Mayer and completed in April 2011. It has dimensions of 150 by 70 metres (490 by 230 ft) and an approximate height of 26 metres (85 ft) and claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world. Its appearance, location, delays and cost overruns in construction resulted in much public controversy. It was supposed to cost 50 million Euro and was originally to be completed in 2007 and it is said that the cost ballooned to 100 million Euro.

The building is popularly known as Las Setas de la Encarnación (Incarnation’s mushrooms) it has six parasols in the form of mushrooms. There are four levels to this structure. The underground level houses the Antiquarium, where Roman and Moorish remains discovered on site are displayed in a museum. Level 1 (street level) is the Central Market (closed today as is Sunday). The roof of Level 1 is the surface of the open-air public plaza, shaded by the wooden parasols above and designed for public events. Levels 2 and 3 are the two stages of the panoramic terraces (including a restaurant), offering one of the best views of the city centre. It was great to see Sevilla from a higher perspective. Took several shots of various sectors of the city from this viewpoint.

As we are on our way to the an art gallery we want to see, we come across a religious procession, very moving. It is similar to what has been explained to us as to a brotherhood carrying the statue of Mary. The procession had many men, assume the brotherhood and some of them were close to the platform carrying the statue, giving those underneath instructions as to when to turn a corner or to stop. Men carrying the platform cannot be seen as they are under it and there is a covering all around the platform. We however, did see their feet! So nice to come across this. Sometimes the best memories are unexpected ones!

We then continue further into the inner city to find the Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes. This building is a 17th century mansion which was once used as a hospice for aging priests. It is now an art gallery and also encompasses a church. We saw masterpieces by Diego Velaquez and Esteban Murillo. Wonderful typical Sevillano patios in a couple of areas. The church was quite remarkable with its painted walls.

Stop for lunch around the corner in the barrio of Santa Cruz. Must say that it drives Robin and I crazy when we hear english speaking people make no effort whatsoever to try to speak even a little Spanish….why can’t they even try to say “por favor” or “gracias”. This after all this is a Spanish speaking country….make an effort.

We follow the suggestions of our guide Gabriel and we get lost in the Santa Cruz barrio and wind our way in the various alleyways looking into the small shops. Also come across the Murillo Gardens and view the interesting statue of Isabella and a ship belonging to Columbus, we presume. These gardens are behind the Alcazar gardens and Robin and I wondered if these Murillo gardens were for the peons!

We find our way back to our barrio, La Macarena, and go to the Mercado de la Feria. I had read on their official website that they were open today, but alas, that information was wrong and they were closed. Oh well. We decide to stop in the Almada de Hercules area and enjoy a drink in the late afternoon. This area is a large open square full of bars, water features and areas for kids to play. So great on a Sunday afternoon, the square if full of families and groups of friends enjoying each others company. As we head back to our apartment, there is an area set up in the square where local kids are trying different acrobatic apparatus….trampolines, jumping mats, hula hoops, juggling, unicycles and many other items. Nice to see them having so much fun; but at times I thought the breaking of an arm or leg wasn’t too far off!

Lots of walking these past few days in Sevilla which had been great.

We are off tomorrow morning, Monday, June 4th to Merida, Spain for 2 nights. It is a couple of hours by car and our first sojourn out of the province of Andalusia. This is a stopover for our visit to Evora, Portugal.

Grazalema – May 2018

Our drive from Cadiz to Grazalema took about three hours as we stopped in the small town of Arcos de Frontera along the way.

Oh my gosh, once again very happy that we have a small car. Robin did an excellent job getting us to the top of the town of Arcos de Fontera, through the very narrow roads. As we approached the top of the village, a local lady tells us to continue as there is parking at the top. Well, when we arrive, we get the last parking stop and I have to help Robin maneuver into the spot. He almost has to hit the wall so that other cars can get by. A wonderful mirador with great views of the valley below. We then visit the church of Santa Maria de la Asuncion. Another beautiful church. Back in the car, some maneuvering to get out of the parking lot and then get down the windy narrow streets to get out of this charming town. Beautiful countryside.

As we left Arcos, the cloud ceiling dropped and it begins to rain. The road to Grazalema is one that steadily climbs up the mountain and is very windy with no shoulder. My brother Denis would not have done well due to the sheer drop offs and our daughter in law Lisa would not have like the hairpin turns. We finally arrive in Grazalema and our GPS would not pick up the address of the guest house, or the parking area. Fortunately the owner, Andres, must know this and he had sent a link to Google maps, which really helped. The only problem is that when we arrived at the road to take us down to the parking lot, it was closed due to repairs. We park the car and proceed to walk down the street. We ask a local woman where our hotel, The Mejorana, is located. She walks down the street to show us. We arrive, only about a 2 minute walk from where we have parked the car and the hotel is all locked up. We press a buzzer and it rings four times, then stops. We then see a phone number and call. The owner, Andres answers and asks where we are, I say…the front door. He is actually in the hotel, so comes to let us in. So friendly, he takes us around the hotel, shows us our room. Nothing spectacular, but seems comfortable, albeit a bit cold. He also takes the time to explain what to see around this small town, where to go and eat and sights to see in the surrounding area. This area is known for its hiking and there are numerous trails surrounding the town. Andres tells us that the weather is about 10 degrees cooler than normal at this time of year. Right now it is only 16 and have layered on the clothes.

The guide book says the population of Grazalema is 1,650 and the elevation is 825 metres (2,700 feet). It is a very old town and the local tourist bureau tell us that this town has been continually habited for at least 2,000 years. Not a significant town, but was a stopover for merchants and they provided produce and staples to surrounding areas. It is also an area that produces cheese and honey and is also know for its merino wool blankets.

He has a binder for every room, which describes in detail, all of the hiking routes, along with ratings for each hike. The binder also has suggested driving routes to nearby noteworthy towns. One town that he mentions could be overlooked is Ronda. Funny enough most guides books say this is a must see. A friend who had been there some thirty years ago said we must not miss it. Our friend Steve, who had been in the area this past November told us not to stay here and that he found it very touristy. He is the one who recommended Grazalema and this guest house. A beautiful pool and gardens but way too cool to take advantage of these amenities.

We get settled in and head off to discover this small town. Stop at a local bar for lunch, great food. The owner of the inn gives us the name of several bars and a couple of restaurants that are worth going to. Spend the afternoon walking around the town, but a lot of the shops are closed for the siesta period. These small towns still adhere to this schedule where they are usually closed from about 2 to 5 pm and then re-open for a couple of hours in the evening.

Must mention what a small world it is sometimes. When we went to one of the local bars for our lunch, there were two men speaking english behind us. They were cyclists so I struck up a conversation and asked where they were from ……Calgary! They were in Spain for three weeks doing a self guided bike tour. Pretty sure these guys were hard core, one of them has done several Gran Fondo’s in Alberta and has even lead one of them. This area is so hilly, windy and even mountainous, one would have to be very hard core; of perhaps have an electric bike!

We had read in our guide book of a bike trail called the Via Verde de la Sierra. The trail starts in a small near here and the trail crosses the countryside using an abandoned railway system. Sounds like the Kettle Valley railway in Kelowna/Penticton area. After a couple of phone calls, Robin finally reaches someone who does rent bikes for the Via Verde, but tells us the trail is closed due to the rains that the area has had of late. Oh well!

We go eat at the landlords favourite restaurant, S’Abor. We passed in the afternoon and it was filled with cyclists from a bike tour. Some people were coming out saying it was full and that they were disappointed they couldn’t get in. Robin and I made a reservation for dinner and what a great choice. I may have said this before, but was the best meal we have had on our trip so far and so reasonably priced. The presentation was beautiful, but most importantly the food was excellent. Even given a complimentary glass of very good sherry after our dinner. They have a beautiful patio, but simply too cold for anyone to take advantage of this.

On Tuesday May 29th, we head off in the car to visit the small villages around this area called the “ Pueblos Blanco” (White Villages). Grazalema is one of these as is Arcos de la Frontera which we visited yesterday. Our landlord tells us which towns are worthwhile visiting, in his opinion. Our first stop is Zahara de la Sierra. It overlooks the Embalse de Zahara ( a reservoir). We stop here and take in the views as well as stop for coffee/tea.

One thing that I have meant to mention on several occasions is how loud the Spanish women (in particular) and kids speak. It seems like they are screaming and mad at everyone. The Spanish men don’t seem to speak as loud, they probably can’t get a word in edgewise in any event!

Then on to Olvera and we try to get into the town of Setenil, but the street that leads to the top of the village is being worked on, so we simply drive on. Beautiful vistas everywhere and the countryside is diverse. Wheat fields, olive groves, goat and sheep farmers, mountains and valleys. Our last stop of the day is Ronda, and yes….this place is very touristy. We stop here for lunch, take in the views and then go visit the bull ring.

After visiting some of the other “white mountain villages” today, I do believe that Grazalema’ s inhabitants have taken great care of their homes and have made extra efforts with the beautiful plants and flowers in front of their homes. The majority of the windows on the houses are encased in iron bars which allowed windows to be left open without bandits being able to enter in ancient times. These are still there today and lots of plants and flowers hanging off of them.

One thing that is very unique in these mountain towns is the doorways. In Cordoba we saw courtyards and patios. Here they have an outer door, a vestibule which is usually decorated with tiles, then an inner door and some of these entrances are lovely indeed. Also, a lot of the outer doors have studs on the doors. This is said to be an Arabic decorative style. They say that these studs originated in India and the Arab world. Originally they were large and vicious looking to deter robbers and big animals!

Very cool again today, most of the time about 16 degrees and when the sun came out, would reach about 19. Back to the guest house and we make a cup and tea and sit in the living/common room. We visit for some time with an English couple who have just arrived. Great dinner out again; at such a reasonable price. Find it amazing that such good restaurants in such a small town.

Wednesday, May 30th and I go downstairs early to get a cup of tea. I run into Andreas and I ask him how long he has run this guest house. He tells me that he was born and raised in Grazalema and years ago he moved to Madrid for four years and met his wife there. He missed the mountains and the small town so much, his wife agreed to move to Grazamela. He told me that she was reluctant at first, but now loves it here and they have children. He tells me that it is a great place to raise children. He said that when they moved back 18 years ago, he took out a BIG mortgage and bought this home. It took him a year to renovate it, put bathrooms in each room and upgrade the electric system.

On Wednesday May 30th, we head out for a hike up the hillside from the town. This was one of the hikes recommended by our host Andreas. We head out, dressed in layers, as is cool again this morning, only 16, very cloudy and a few showers. The detailed hike information that Andreas provides for each guest is in a binder and each detailed map and hiking directions are laminated so that you can take it with you. Great for us since we don’t really know the area and the trails in the area aren’t really well marked.

As we are walking up one of the streets, we run into a couple from New Zealand staying at the same guest house. We strike up a conversation and share travelling stories. It is so funny that most people we run into who are driving, have stories to tell about their driving experiences. This couple said that in one small town, they were trying to find a place to park. An elderly gentleman came along and he actually insisted he get behind the wheel and he drove them to the parking lot. He asked for 5 Euro. They said that during their stay in this village, they saw this gentleman several times helping other tourists and always getting 5 Euro!

They were travelling for 5 weeks and said they got quite a chuckle when they contacted their daughter to see how she was doing at home. She has just finished her second year of “Uni” (this is what they call University in Australia and N.Z.). They asked if there was anything of importance in the mail, “Mail” she says. She is supposed to be looking after things when they are gone! She was also astounded as to all the leaves that had fallen on the deck, she had never seen this before. Not sure that she realizes what Mom and Dad do around the house!

We walk to the top of the village and find the trail head quite easily. This hike takes us about two hours and is quite nice, up in a forest above the village. Andreas told us that their spring is about a month late, but notwithstanding, we saw lots of wildflowers. Many similar to what we would see in the Rocky Mountains, but some very different. At the head of the trail an information board shows the type of flora and fauna in the area. Of note, they indicated that the area was known for its orchids, especially a specific orchid (nicknamed the bee orchid) as it has the same colours as a bee. Because of its colouring, it attracts bees and the flower has a sticky substance so the bee automatically pollinates the orchid.

I go a little crazy taking pictures of all the flowers, but some were so unique. Really enjoyed our hike, especially with the views of Grazalema below us. Also came across an abandoned church, very interesting.

Stop for lunch at a small bar and although it is cool, we opt to sit outside. Stop at a store that sells local goods and pick up some locally produced wine. We have also tasted some of the local cheese, which is very good, as is the wine.

OK….my wine consumption has gone up….heck I haven’t even been drinking at home….you only live once, and I am on holidays. White wine seems to be ok with my medication but do miss my red wine!

Late afternoon and I go downstairs to the common room of our guest house to get a couple of glasses of wine. Sitting in the living room is an older couple who arrived yesterday and I had heard them speaking French at breakfast this morning. I asked them if they were from France and they said they were from Belgium. They were from the southern part of Belgium where French is spoken. I told the gentleman that my French was a little rusty and at times I forgot words. I was so taken aback when he told me that if he spoke English the way I spoke French, he would give English lessons. Wow, that was flattering! Great to be able to use my French, we spoke for about 15 minutes, then I said I had to go as my husband was waiting for his glass so he could have his wine. A delightful couple.

Various picture of Grazalema, a lovely quiet “white town”.

Pictures from our hike above the town of Grazalema.

It really has been nice to spend time in a small village and a small guesthouse where you can get to know your fellow travellers.

Off to Sevilla tomorrow, May 31st, for four nights.

Cadiz – May 2018

Friday morning, May 25th and we are headed to Cadiz, situated along the south west coast of Spain. Cadiz is thought by some to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe, founded in 1100 BC by the Phoenicians who called it Gadir (means walled city) and traded Baltic amber and British tin, as well as Spanish silver. The city subsequently became a naval base for the Romans before fading into obscurity until 1262 when it was taken from the Muslims by Christians. It is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and is united to the rest of the Peninsula by a narrow isthmus.

The real boom period was with the discovery of America as Columbus sailed from this port on this second and fourth voyages. Much later the city experienced a golden age during the 18th century when it enjoyed 75% of the Spanish trade with America. It then grew into one of the wealthiest and most cosmopolitan cities in Spain which is reflected in the city’s fine buildings from this era.

As of 2017, the population of Cadiz stood at 118,000 and is at 11 meters above sea level (36 feet). It is said that Cadiz has one of the highest unemployment rates in Spain and young people continue to move to larger centres to find work. The main economy is tourism.

Our drive from Cordoba took about 3 hours. Rolling hills then valleys seeing wheat (?) crops, potato fields, some sunflower fields and lots of fruit trees. Not as many olive trees as in previous areas. Saw our first vines. Must say they eat a lot of potatoes here, so now all the potato fields make sense. As we approached Cadiz, we spot the bridge that we will be going over, Puente de la Constitucion de 1812. I read that the bridge cost a half billion Euro’s and took eight years to build (twice the budget and five years late). It links Cadiz to the port of Puerto Real and is said to be one of the tallest in the world.

The old town of Cadiz is made up of four barrios. The Bario del Populo (cathedral area and original medieval settlement), Barrio de Santa Maria (the old Roman and flamenco quarter), Barrio de la Vina (a former vineyard that is now the fishing quarter) and Barrio del Mentidero (rumour street!). We arrived at our hotel in the old quarter around 1:30pm and the hotel shows us the parking garage, just across the alley. Relatively easy to get into, and as I said previously, would certainly not like a big car here in Spain.

Once again, we spend our first afternoon getting familiar with the surrounding neighbourhood. The hotel staff here are very friendly and they take the time to go over a map of the old town, local points of interest and recommendation for tapas and dinner. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from one side of the old town to the other. The map we are given shows various walks one can take (colour coded) and the streets themselves, that are part of the walk, have a coloured line corresponding to the map. There is an small artisan fair taking place in the square Plaza de San Juan de Dios, in front of the city hall (Ayutamiento) so we take this on before walking towards the sea wall. We wind our way through the narrow streets and find ourselves in front of the cathedral. More walking and finally back to the hotel for a siesta.

These siestas are becoming habit forming……quite lovely actually. We decide to go out to the roof top terrace of our hotel to enjoy a glass of wine before venturing out for dinner. The terrace is private for guests only and one has to bring your own wine. A lovely quiet spot and we join an Australian couple who are travelling through southern Spain by train. Great hearing stories and sharing information with other travellers.

Off to dinner at a seafood restaurant, the Alamar, recommended by the hotel. I must say you can’t go wrong on the recommendations of the hotels or landlords, better than trip advisor in a lot of cases as they tell you about the local restaurants and not just the tourist places. Outside the restaurant is a viewing case of the fresh fish they are offering today. All the fish is fresh and is bought each morning from the fish market. As in the rest of Andalucia, we are served a tapa on the house, Boquerones fritos, fried sardines with salt. You eat these whole, including the head! We then share an appetizer Pulpo a la Gallega con aceite do Oliva sasl y pimento picante (Galicean octopus with olive oil, salt and spicy paprika), I opt for the Atun (red tuna which is a local specialty and in season) and Robin has Corvina (sea bass).

Saturday, May 26th and we are once again doing a walking tour of the city of Cadiz. Our guide today is Pablo and is very informative and has a good sense of humour. We meet at the City Hall and he explains the history of Cadiz and I will add to my previous comments. He points out the three flags flying on City hall. The flag of Spain, the flag of Andalucia and finally the flag for the city of Cadiz. Both the flags of Andalucia and Cadiz portray Hercules standing between two columns. Our guide tells us that according to Greek mythology, Hercules created Cadiz after splitting the the two continents of Europe and Africa and the two pillars represents the continents.

We continue and stop to look at some ancient walls, Roman ruins, along the way that are built with oyster stone from the ocean. Pablo tells us that this stone is characteristic of Cadiz, but today, not obtained from the ocean, it is manufactured. Many buildings are built using this stone. They also found remnants of Garum sauce, a condiment made of fermented fish guts which was used in ancient Greece.

Pablo points out a restaurant/bar through an arch and tells us that this bar dates back to ancient times. It is called Cafe Teatro Pay Pay. It was said to have been a brothel where sailors would frequent after long voyages at sea.

We are now by the sea wall and we can see “new Cadiz”, the locals call is Puento Terra. Pablo tells us that the weather has been cooler than normal and this winter they had extremely strong winds and high tides and some of the streets in the new town were under water. Two thirds of Cadiz residents live in the new town. Not sure if you will recall, but I mentioned that Cadiz is a city as well as a province. Pablo says that if you ask someone in Andalucia where they live, they will say Cadiz (the Province) then the name of their town. So if you happen to live in the city of Cadiz, one would say…..Cadiz, Cadiz. He tells us that the people of the old town take it one step further they say they are from. Cadiz, Cadiz, Cadiz! They also call the residents of the new city, Bedouins or Nomads as they are not part of the old city. Pablo says that the people of Cadiz have a “different” sense of humour.

The seawalls around the old town are said to be reminiscent of Havana, but since we haven’t been there, can’t comment. But what I have seen in pictures I think this is correct. A lot of the houses surrounding the sea wall are brightly coloured. There are two stories surrounding the colourful houses. One is that they are painted brightly so that the sailors coming home would be drawn to the houses and not the brothel Pay Pay! The other is that the wives changed the colour of the houses as they didn’t want their husbands back!

Onto the Roman theatre which was only recently discovered and has been preserved. Still more work to be done, but for the time being the government has run out of money for this project. This theatre dates back to 43 BC and is said to be the second biggest in Spain.

We are now on the back side of the Cathedral along the sea wall and we are looking at the Parroquia de Santa Cruz, which used to be the Cathedral, till the new one was built. One can see the top of the building has domes that are definitely Moorish so this tells us that this building was previously a mosque. The inside is quite lovely, the altar area has beautiful woodwork and Pablo tells us to look closely at the statue of Christ in one of the side chapel’s. This statue represents Christ with brown skin and the statue has a wig. This isn’t the first time we have seen it and many believe this may be more representative of what Jesus Christ truly looked like.

Must mention that I asked Pablo about a Jewish community and he said that none existed in Cadiz.

In Plaza San Martin we come across the “Admiral’s house” which was one of the first palatial homes in Cadiz. Unfortunately it has fallen into ruins, but Pablo believes that it has been purchased and will be converted to a hotel. On one of the corners we see the remains of an ancient cannon on the corner of a wall. These cannons are imbedded in corners all over the old city and they are there to preserve the buildings so that cars, carts and motorcycles do not hit the corners of the buildings. Apparently the cannons were left here by the French army around the time of the Battle of Trafalgar.

Pablo talks a little about the weather. He tells us that they have had a late spring and very strong winds this past winter. He says they can be bitterly cold as it is also very damp. The winds are called “Levante” and comes from the straits of Gibraltar and are also present in the summer. Sounds like everywhere around the world, weather patterns are changing.

Today in this area there are numerous salt farms and is one of the products that is exported. In ancient times, salt was used as a currency and it is believed this is where the term “salary” comes from.

When we visited the Cadiz museum with the theatre ruins, Pablo showed us an inscription on the bottom of one of the ancient stones. It is propped up and a mirror is placed below so one can see the inscription at the bottom. The inscription refers to the fact that the “rich patrons” of the theatre that sat on these seats, were indeed robbers/embezzlers.

Pablo thought this was quite relevant considering the fact that several Spanish bankers were just found guilty of embezzlement. The case caused an outrage in Spain, where it was uncovered at the height of a severe economic crisis that left many people struggling financially – made all the worse because Bankia later had to be nationalized.

We then walk to a small alley, which is now locked off. The El Callejón del Duende is a curved street, like almost all the streets of Cádiz, which were made to fight the wind. Duende means “quality of passion and inspiration or spirit” and the term is often used when one refers to flamenco.

One of the stories of this street, is that pirates would come here to make illegal transactions. Another legend tells us that during the Napoleonic invasion a French captain fell madly in love with a beautiful woman from Cádiz. The couple would sneak into the alley to make love, but they were discovered. The captain was killed and she died of grief … and they say that … the night of the dead, every November 1, the lovers are seen hugging in the alley. Today there is a small gnome in the alley with a small pail. People throw coins into the pail for their wishes to come true. I think someone has come up with this. I say….”start a legend….make money!”.

We then stop by the Catedral de Cadiz. Just viewed the outside, but we will come back later to view the inside. The outside of the cathedral is made of two different stones. Marble at the bottom and limestone at the top. It took 122 years to be built as they kept running out of money. Both baroque and neo-classical styles due to the time frames involved. Our guide tells us that you can climb the bell tower; but he warns us to be very careful as the bells chime every 15 minutes and can be ear shattering if you happen to be at the top when they ring. Took the picture of the interior when we visited the next day.

A few blocks from the cathedral is Plaza de Flores. At one end of the square is the beautiful main Correos (post office). Pablo points out one of the buildings in the square which has a few windows bricked in. We have seen this in other European cities. The towns used to apply a tax which was based on the number of windows. People would brick up the windows to save on taxes. Pablo tells us that the historical society here in Cadiz will not let owners of these properties open up these areas as they are classified as a historical feature, so some of these homes are quite dark. Pictured below is the Correos (post office).

Pablo points out the Flores Taberna and says it is a must for tapas. Filled with locals as is not very fancy.

Most of the apartment blocks in the old town are 4 to 5 stories high. The highest floor have lower ceilings than the remainder of the floors. We are told that in ancient times, the highest floors were reserved for the servants, these were also the hottest rooms in the summer and the coolest in the winter!

Around the block from this square is the Mercado Central. This place is so busy with both locals and tourists. It is mainly a fish market with hundreds of stalls of fish mongers and all types of fish, some very different than we have ever seen. A few vegetable vendors along the perimeter of the building. On the outer area of the market are all eating stalls and people will order food and drinks from various vendors and all stand all high tables around the perimeter, quite unique. We are told to try the local cheese made out of goat’s milk, will certainly have to give this a try at a tapas bar.

Pablo points out some towers that are built on top the top of some of the apartment buildings and houses. He tells us that there is a total of 127 towers remaining in the town. These towers were built by merchants so that they could see when the sailing ships were coming into port and get ready for trade.

We head to the Barrio de la Vina. This area is where the local Carnival takes place which happens just before Easter every year. Similar to what we were told in Malaga. Local “brotherhoods” carry around the sacred statues and after their processions are over, the party starts. He says people get dressed up for the occasion and if you know where to go, you can party till five o’clock in the morning. The party goes on for one week. He did tell us that some go on to party for a second week and they refer to them as “Carnivalists”, suppose that is something like a “party animal”!

Centuries ago there was a massive earthquake in Portugal and the effects were felt even here in Cadiz. They actually experienced a Tsunami and the water level reached 2.50 meters (8 feet) and there is a marker on one of the buildings. I did a little reading on this. The tsunami took place in 1755 and the article went on to predict that another large earthquake and tsunami will definitely happen in Spain/Portugal……hopefully that will not happen any time soon!

Pablo stops in front of a taberna which is not yet open. He gives us a list of his favourites eating places and bars. He tells us that if we are unsure about an establishment, to enter and go near the kitchen. If it smells like old fish or old oil to go somewhere else.

We end our tour at Caleta Beach. A beautiful beach with two fortresses, Castillo de San Sebastian and Castillo Carolina. We will try to come back to this area. We are told that you used to be able to walk out to San Sebastian for some great views of the city, but due to winter storms, part of the walkway out to the fortress was washed away. The city is presently repairing it.

The Havana scenes of the James Bond movie “Die Another Day” were filmed in Cádiz. He said the most famous scene was that of Halle Berry (Jinx) walking out of the water. All the men on the tour say they remember this well! Several other locations in Cadiz were also used for this film due to the sea wall and fortresses being similar to Havana.

Another great walking tour and must say, this one was more intimate. Their was only eight of us, so got to know people in the group.

We check out a taberna that Pablo had told us about; but it is jam packed with locals and tourists. No tables available and one couldn’t even get near the bar, decided to pass.

Robin and go in search of some place to eat lunch and head back to the Barrio de Vina. Pablo had told us that this barrio was the place to eat as prices were more reasonable and more locals ate here. We are offered fresh fish once again. The waiter comes out with a tray of various fresh fish and each has a different price depending on what you choose. At a seafood restaurant on our first night here, we were also given a choice of how many grams of fish we wanted. They will also cook it any way you want. They serve a lot of fried foods here, but we usually choose it grilled; much more to our preference.

You will see this picture of Robin below drinking tea……it is not always wine! Check out his new sunglasses, I think he looks pretty cool! He bought them in Granada.

I have come across a very refreshing non-alcoholic drink here in the south of Spain and it is called Aquarius. A bottled drink which is in essence watered down lemonade which I really like, not too sweet and not carbonated. It also comes in an orange flavour.

Stop by the Mercado again as we had seen some art by a local artist on the walls of the market. Love them all!

The main point of discussion this evening, as we are having a glass of wine on the hotel terrace, is where are we going to find a place to watch the Champions League Final. I google pubs, so we head out to find one. As we are leaving the hotel, we spot the tv in the lobby and Robin asks the hotel clerk if he would be able to watch the match when we got back. The lady said absolutely. Although she personally did not like football, she would call her kids and find out what channel it would be on, and she said she would see us later.

We find a local taberna, Los Flores, only about 5 minutes from the hotel. We had been told by both the hotel and our guide that this taberna was good. It is a local bar which serves basic food. We weren’t that hungry, so we shared a couple of tapas. Probably the best seafood salad we have had. The small tv was on in the bar, and local men there watching the match, it had just started. We head back to the hotel and Robin settles in to watch the rest of the match and soon a Spanish couple come along to watch as well. I work on my blog in the lobby while he is watching the game. A happy guy!

Sunday the 27th and we take things slow. Anyone who spends time in Europe will tell you that all towns and cities basically close down on Sundays. It is a day that locals spend with families. Long lunches, lots of walking, spending time in parks and along the beaches. Both Robin and I always admire the “family” aspect of European life. Many generations live together and help one another. They respect the elderly. Each night before dinner, they are out in force having an aperitif before their meal with the children playing alongside. Perhaps a good lesson to us to slow down and enjoy the small things in life!

We head to the Cathedral to view the interior. Not very spectacular, but time for some meditation and prayers. We then continue along the sea wall and make our way to Playa de la Caleta. Many families enjoying the sunshine, ocean and beach. We then continue onto the Parque Genoves, the Botanical Gardens. Beautiful trees and plants and some water features. A recently built structure appears to be half completed and has fallen into disrepair, possibly another scenario where the government has run out of funds. There is a bandstand and we wander over as we hear music. Appears to be a “Cadiz had talent” performance going on. Young children, teenagers and older adults playing the piano, drums, guitar, etc.

Continue our walk along the sea wall and back to our hotel. Lots of walking today, enjoying the quiet aspects of the city. Out for dinner tonight to a small unassuming bar/restaurant which was rated quite good on Trip Advisor. We both had fresh Dorado and the waiter went beyond expectations and even filleted our fish for us. These are the type of places that you would normally walk by, but glad we came.

Next destination – Grazalema

Cordoba – May 2018

We drive to Cordoba from Granada along secondary roads and takes us about 3 hours with a stop for coffee/tea in a small uninspiring town. Well, it can’t always be great. The views along the way were olive trees…..olive trees in the valleys, olive trees on the hills, olive trees in every small town along the way. Of course, many olive oil manufacturers along the way. So nice to have the time to drive along the secondary roads and take ones time. Some lovely looking towns along the way.

I had contacted the owners of the apartment when we first booked to arrange for parking. The parking is located in a private parking lot in the old town about a 3 minute walk away from the apartment. When I tried to put the directions into our GPS our Google Maps, it would not pick it up. The reason being that a lot of the area is pedestrian only and vehicular traffic limited to locals only. In addition to this, the parking garage is located in an alleyway. When I read the reviews of the apartment, those that had taken advantage of the parking indicated that you must have a small car and that parking was quite the experience. Well, we now know what they are taking about.

Our landlord sent clarification of how to reach the parking garage, but in the end, he sent the house cleaner to meet us near a square. That was a good thing. She walks in front of the car to direct us down several alleyways and finally to the garage. Once inside the garage, she tells Robin to proceed forward, then backup, then crank his wheels so that he can park behind a pillar……yes, you read that right….behind a pillar. After about 5 minutes of going backwards and forwards and turning his wheels every which way…..and by the way, a car right next to us between us and the pillar…Robin finally gets the car into the spot. Should be fun getting out…not! Did I say that the cleaning lady, Luisi, does not speak any english at all, so really quite interesting with our limited Spanish. Oh well, we managed.

Luisi shows us around the apartment all the while speaking very quickly in Spanish. Amazing what one can understand with pointing, sign language and the odd word of Spanish. Our apartment here is in the old town and very close to the Guadalquivir river and a 15 minute walk to the Mezquita – Catedral de Cordoba, the crowning glory of Cordoba.

Cordoba has a population of 326,000 and has an elevation of 110 meters (360 feet), so much lower than Granada. I like knowing the history of places we visit; so here goes. The Roman colony of Cordoba was founded in 152 BC, became capital of Baetica province, covering most of today’s Andalucia. In 711 Córdoba fell to the Muslim invaders and soon became the Islamic capital on the Iberian Peninsula. Córdoba’s heyday came under Abd ar-Rahman III, who in 929 named himself caliph of Al-Andalus’ and freedom from the caliphs in Baghdad. Córdoba was then the biggest city in Western Europe and it had dazzling mosques, libraries, observatories, aqueducts, a university and highly skilled artisans in leather, metal, textiles and glazed tiles. Abd ar-Rahman III’s multicultural court was frequented by Jewish, Arab and Christian scholars. Córdoba was captured in 1236 by Fernando III.

First afternoon here (Monday, May 21st) we get our bearings and stop at the Plaza de la Corredera for a light lunch. This plaza is reminiscent of the Plaza Major in Madrid, but on a much smaller scale.

Have a nap in the afternoon…. well had to after our encounter with the rooster in Granada! In the evening we head out toward the river where a great deal of restaurants are located. Our landlords have provided us with many recommendations and we try one. Robin has “Secreto Iberico a la brasa y humus de calabaza” (Gilled Iberian pork and pumpkin hummus) and I have “Puerros confitados rellenos de tape y gambas con slasa de marisco” (Candied lees stuffed with monkfish, prawns and cream of seafood). Both very delicious. I had ordered fish at this restaurant, but they were all out. They buy their fish early in the morning from the local market so once it is gone, that’s it. Most of the restaurants that cater to tourist, have english translations on the menu, but I love the Spanish names of the dishes.

We then walk along the river and make our way to the Roman bridge to take some evening pictures. A walk along the Mezquita and back to our apartment. Along the way, we see numerous ladies dressed in Flamenco style dresses and we assume that they are heading to the local fair. We saw a ferris wheel and other fair rides as we were driving into Cordoba. My guide books say that the “Feria de Mayo” takes place the last week in May and is held near the river. Music, horses, carriages and traditional dress are the mainstay and one of the big festivals of the year for the locals. I guess one could compare this to the Calgary Stampede when we locals dress in western gear.

The pictures above are of the beautiful Senoritas dressed in their traditional Flamenco dress. We asked several if we could take pictures of them and they were more than happy to oblige, were very flattered that we asked.

Another festival that is held in Cordoba is in early May and is called the “Fiesta de los Patios de Cordoba”. Cultural festivities abound during this time as well as locals open up their private patios for viewing. Must say from the courtyards/patios we have seen, there certainly are some lovely ones. I try to take pictures, but mainly in restaurants vs private patios; do not want to disturb peoples’ privacy.

The guide book talks about the food of the area. They say that the staples of the Andalusian area are jamon (cured ham) and olives. The ham is either serrano (about 90% of cured ham in Spain, made from white-coated pigs) or iberico (more expensive and comes from black pigs). Also known for their cheeses, mainly Grazalema (a goat cheese) and Cadiz (similar to manchego). Funny enough, the names of the cheese are both cities/towns we are visiting. Earlier I wrote about the olive trees we saw on our drive from Granada. Spain if the world’s largest olive-oil producer and my research tells me that there are over 100 million olive trees in Andalucia. In some shop windows you can see sandwiches piled up. I thought they would be stale, but we had some and they are very fresh and sell very quickly.

This area is also know for its vegetables, but must say you don’t see a lot served in restaurants. The local fresh food market is in Corredera Square and has fresh meat, fish and vegetables. The market is open every day and closes at 3 pm. Cordoba is also know for its gazpacho andaluz and rabo de torro (ox tails). I am not really a fan of gazpacho so will pass on that one.

On Tuesday May 23rd we meet up in Plaza de las Tendillas for our walking tour. Our guide today is Carmen and our tour last 2 1/2 hours. We find that this is certainly a good way to get to know our way around the city. This square is where the city celebrates events, such as football matches; but Carmen says not a lot of these! A clock in the square chimes to the tune of flamenco music. Our guide asks the crowd what we know about Cordoba…..everyone is silent. She says “people, we will be spending 2 1/2 hours together so it would be nice to have a conversation”! She tells us that Cordoban women are known to be strong willed with strong character, well I guess she just proved that with her previous comment.

We walk to some Roman ruins by the City Hall. There is a large hole in the middle of the roman ruins and she tells us that in ancient times this hole was filled with sand. It apparently held reduce the shock waves from earthquakes. I guess one has to believe what a guide tells us; I am not going to fact check this!

Next stop is Corredera Square, where Robin and I had lunch yesterday. It is just a couple of minutes from our apartment. This square was built to house the richest and most important people of Cordoba. Today the buildings are still used as housing and many small restaurants abound and they have tables in the square. Our guide says that these bars/restaurants are frequented by locals; so a good place to have typical food at low prices. Yesterday we shared fried squid was was very good and yes, inexpensive. Little did we know! She tells us to try oxtail and eggplants with honey as these are two local delicacies. One of the buildings in the square is totally different than the others. Legend has it that a powerful widow was fighting with the local authorities to build something different. The judge ruled in her favour, but made her put fixed shutters on the windows so that she could not see what was going on in the square. So there! A lot of the windows here are covered with raffia blinds and these would act as a type of air conditioning many years ago. Our guide tells us that temperatures reach 45 to 50 degrees centigrade in Cordoba in the summer months. Our guide book does mention that the best times to visit Cordoba are May and June or in the fall. A lot of raffia products sold in the square (baskets, purses, toys, etc). Another building in the square was used during the Inquisition.

We then walk through the narrow winding alleys to Plaza del Potro. Their is a fountain here which has a statue of a small horse on top; not sure why but there is a small plaque which refers to “the Man of La Mancha”. At the other end of the Plaza is a large monument with an archangel on the top. Carmen asks the group “which archangel is this?”. The group answers…Michael or Gabriel. She laughs as we clearly do not know our archangels. It is Raphael and he is the protector of Cordoba. Further along in our walk we see numerous statues of Raphael throughout the old town.

We head towards the Medina and the Jewish quarter which are a maze of alleyways and dead ends. Once again we are told that is to help lose one enemies, catch robbers and provide shade.

Carmen relays the history of the Mezquita. The building was originally built in ancient times as a Mosque but has since been converted to a church, which is built inside the mosque. Quite unique in the world. Will comment more after our visit to the Mezquita tomorrow.

Carmen says that today there are three mosques in Cordoba….two for men and one for women.

The Jewish quarter is located within the walls of the Medina and it is said that this was quite unique and was allowed as the Jewish intellect provided guidance and funds to the Caliph. We come across Plaza Maimonides with a statue of Maimonides named after a medieval Jewish philosopher who became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages. Legend has it that if one rubs his left foot you will gain wisdom and if you rub his right foot you will return to Cordoba. There were so many groups of tourists here I had to weasel my way to simply take a picture; did not get a chance to rub either foot!

A little further on is a synagogue. A very simple and nondescript building. Carmen says that the Jews were allowed to build their synagogue in the Medina but it had to be simple in design so that it would not out shine the Mezquita.

One again we are told that centuries ago the Arabs, Jews and Christians all lived in harmony. The Arabs controlled the political, military and religious fronts, the Jews controlled the financial world and Christians had little or no power.

There is also a statue of Seneca nearby. He was born here then moved to Rome. He acted as an advisor to Nero.

Our tour ends at the Alcazar, which we will visit tomorrow. Carmen tells us that weddings are held in the Alcazar gardens and that there is a two year waiting list and she said she just put her name on the list. I asked her if she had a boyfriends. Her reply…”will not be a problem in 2 years time!”

Once again, enjoyed the walking tour and certainly gave us a good feel of this city.

We head off to find a place to have lunch, pass on a couple of places and settle on a small bar/restaurant called Taberna 10. Funny thing, once again we realize that this was a recommendation by our landlords. They mention traditional food with a great wine list. Think what caught our eye were the casks of sherry. I try the “Berenjenas abunueladas con miel de cana” (frittered aubergines with cane syrup), one of the local specialties and Robin has “Secreto de Iberico con patata gypsy y mahonesa de ajo” (bbq pork) the same dish he had the first night. Once again, delicious. We ask the young waitress about the sherry casks and she proceeds to give us 3 different tastes of the sherry. One was one year old, another thirty and then an Amontillado. Even I had a little sip of the three and must say that the thirty year old could knock your socks off, so smooth, so flavourful.

More walking through the alleys and we pass a Hamman. OK, I know I said I wouldn’t go to a Hamman, but we look at their menu of services and find that they offer massages along with baths. We book massages at Hammam Al Andalus for later in the day and go back to the apartment. Robin is not convinced that the bath sounds like something he wants, especially after my experience in Morocco. We head back later and we are escorted in by Antonio, and told to change into our bathing suits. We are led into the interior of the Hamman and Antonio explains that after our massages, we can come back to use the baths for as long as we want. The interior is indeed very lovely with its Moorish influence. He explains that there are three different pools. One is tepid, the next one is very hot and the last is very cold and one should spend five to seven minutes in each in the order presented, and finish in the steam room. Great massage, helped the legs after all the walking and really enjoyed the baths. You could also take advantage of tea that was available either plain or with sugar. All in all a very good experience and glad we went. One is not allowed to take pictures but I have taken one of the entrance and will try to get one off their web site. The following pictures are of the courtyard of the Hamman.

Out for dinner at La Cazuela de La Esparteria, a recommended local restaurant. Our landlord describes it as a charming restaurant, with traditional food and good prices. Sounds good to us. I decide to try the Rabo de toro (oxtail) and Robin has Chuletitas de cordero lechal (lamb chops). The menus had no english translations and I used my Google translator for a few of the words I did not understand; after all this is a local restaurant. Excellent once again. We had a bit of a chuckle. While we were waiting for our meal, three Italian couples sat next to us. Between their Italian and the waiter’s Spanish they discussed the menu. One of the men asked what “cordero” was and although the waiter tried to explain, the man could not understand. Finally the waiter made the “baa” of a sheep, very cute and everyone laughed. The one thing that we find is very good is that a lot of the restaurants offer “1/2 racion” or “racion”. So, we usually end up ordering the 1/2 orders which are sufficient.

On Wednesday, May 23rd we head off to visit the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba or locally known as the Mezquita. The original building was built by Christians on this site in the mid 6th century. When the Muslims arrived, the area was divided and used by both the Christians and Muslims. The original mosque was built in 786. Unlike other Muslim mosques, the qibla wall does not point towards Mecca, but instead faces south. Apparently there are some exceptions, but not sure why in this case. One explanation is that is faces Damascus. Over the centuries the mosque was added onto, the prayer hall being expanded (year 833-848), a new minaret reaching a height of 40 meters and a large second enlargement in 962. The last extension was built in 991 adding eight new naves. With the conquest of Cordoba by the Christians the mosque was consecrated as a catholic church. In 1489 transformations were made to adapt the mosque into a church, installing a main chapel. A transept was completed in 1607 combining the caliphal naves into what was more accepted by the catholic church. When I first heard about the Mezquita, I was told that it was a church within a mosque. Hard to describe, but once you are inside you would understand. An actual church in side with an altar and pews and a church choir area. It is now a Unesco World Heritage site…..yes, another to add to our list. My guide books says that in 2004, Muslims petitioned the Vatican to be able to worship in the Mezquita again, but they were declined.

The first set of pictures below is the Mosque then below is the Catholic church which is inside the mosque. Seems hard to picture, you almost have to come and see it for yourself.

Our next stop is the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos just next to the Mezquita. At first I don’t think that this monument is very interesting, and once inside the fortress itself it isn’t, but the gardens are breathtaking. It was built in the 13th and 14th centuries on the remains of a Moorish fort/palace. Ferdinand and Isabel first met Columbus here. He petitioned them for funds for his expeditions but was turned down. There is a statue of the three of them in the gardens. If you recall from my Granada blog, Columbus was successful in getting his funds from Ferdinand and Isabel in Granada in 1492; which funding really came from the Jewish community in Granada. It is said that one of the towers of the Alcazar was used during the Inquisition period. Terraced gardens are full of fish ponds, fountains, orange trees and flowers, absolutely beautiful. Gardeners were in the process of planting additional flowers.

Continue walking through the Jewish quarter and yes, getting lost in the winding streets and alleyways, but that is half the fun of these places. Back to the apartment and we go scout out how to get out of our parkade and how to find the main road, as we want to go visit a mountain tomorrow. We think we have figured out, but only tomorrow will tell.

Later we head out to the Museo Julio Romero de Torres, a famous Cordoban painter. He is known for his paintings expressing his sense of Andalusian female beauty. Also inspired by flamenco and bullfighting and he did some “poster type” pictures for several exhibitions in the area. Quite enjoyed it, but unfortunately, could not take any pictures. Below are pics from the internet.

Out for a wonderful dinner tonight at Bodega Campos a restaurant suggested in our guide book and by our landlords. A more expensive restaurant but we are told a must during our stay. We are not disappointed, probably the best meal to date. Ok….here goes the descriptions of our meal…..you may want to skip over this with the exception of the foodies! We started off by sharing “Ensaladilla con Vendresca de Atun y Lagostinas” (Spanish potato salad with tuna and prawns). I know it sounds strange to have potato salad, but once again we tried this as it is a local specialty, very good. I had “Raviolis de Bacalao, Sepia and Gambas” (Cod ravioli with cuttlefish and prawns) and Robin chose the Cordoban specialty “Rabo de Toro Deshuescado con cremoso de patatas” (deboned oxtail stew with potato puree). Robin also indulged in a desert, which he doesn’t do often, “Brownie con sopa de chocolate blanco”……don’t think I need to translate that one…..I had a taste!

Thursday, May 24th and this is the real test. We want to drive to the mountain town of Zucheros about one hour away. Will we be able to get out of the parking garage and will we find our way through the winding alleys to be able to get out of the City? Then the big question is will we get back? Glad to report the answer was “YES”.

Zucheros only has a population of 700 and has an altitude of 625 meters (about 2,000 feet). The guide book describes the town as “sitting in a supremely picturesque location, and its tangle of white streets and a crag-top castle”. A wonderful drive through the countryside. The town is on the edge of the Parque Natura Sierras Subbeticas. Once we reach the town you are surrounded by craggy limestone hills on one side and olive groves in the valley below. We park the car on the edge of town and as we are walking up to the castle, a lady from the bakery tells us to watch out for the bikes. We had seen a few cyclist on our drive through the countryside and there was even a caution sign on one of the smaller roads regarding cyclist on the road. When we arrive at the town square, we see perhaps one hundred cyclists. When I ask one of them what is going on, he tells me that these cyclists are on a four day cycling tour through the area.

Drive back to Cordoba and get back to the parking lot. A little easier to park as no car next to us.

We have certainly enjoyed our time in Cordoba, lovely winding alleyways, a lot of history and great cuisine.

Next stop is Cadiz for three nights.

Granada and the Alhambra – May 2018

On Thursday morning, May 17th, we pick up our rental car and head off to Granada, a little under two hours away. We take the coastal road and make a coffee/tea stop in Nerja along the way. Must say, that the Costa del Sol is so built up. Town after town of high rise complexes along the beaches. A little much for the two of us. Would not want to spend a lot of time along this area, although we are sure that lots of people would enjoy it in the winter months!

Along the way, we wind our way on the edge of the Sierra Nevada’s and some of the peaks are still covered in snow…..a reminder of home perhaps!

We arrive in Granada about 1:30 p.m. and the parkade we were told to use is about a 10 minute walk to the apartment we have rented. We will be in Granada for four nights. Population is 233,000 as of 2017 and the city’s elevation is 738m (2,400 ft.).

Coming out of the parkade one is always trying to find your bearings. I use “Offmaps”, but that takes a little bit of walking to see in which direction you are walking. Robin asks an elderly gentleman in which direction is Plaza de la Trinidad, the square where our apartment is located. He points straight ahead, then right, then straight ahead again. We start walking and I am about to turn right and I look behind us to see this gentleman waving us straight on…..very cute.

We find our apartment and are met by Lucas, our contact for this stay. His company manages the rental of the apartment, which is very lovely and located on the 5th floor of an old mansion. The apartment looks onto the Plaza de la Trinidad and we look onto the Cathedral and can see the tip of one of the towers of the Alhambra. Lucas proceeds to explain where all the worthwhile sites to see are located, a list of his favourite tapas bars and restaurants and what neighbourhoods to explore. I had sent a text to Lucas prior to our arrival asking if he could arrange for tickets for a flamenco show. He indeed has purchased tickets for us and told us they were for an “authentic” flamenco show and not one of the many tourist shows. We will be attending tomorrow night and look forward to it. I had read that Granada was the place to experience flamenco. Following picture of the view of the cathedral from our apartment, day and night.

We head out in the afternoon to explore our new neighbourhood and to buy a few groceries. Granada is most famous for the Alhambra, but it is made up of very interesting neighbourhoods, which are not to be missed. The Albaicin (the Arab quarter), Sacramonte (the Gypsy sector) and Realego ( the Jewish area) each having its’ own character. A lot of walking on our first afternoon, finishing off along the the Carrera del Darro, a narrow quiet road along the river Darro. From here we can see the Alhambra and we stop for a drink in a small cafe along the river. We are told that the Carrero del Darro is a perfect setting for happy couples, scorned lovers and dreamers! On our first night here, we take advantage of a recommendation of a friend (thanks Steve F.) and eat at a wonderful restaurant, La Botilleria. Walk along the Calle Mesones, and Calle Reyes Catolicas streets made for shopping and drinking!

Again, so many tapas bars, every local seems to have their favourites. We have had such varied tapas and most very good. So far we have tried bacalao (cod fish), potatoes bravas (of course), ham croquettes (very tasty) and Spanish omelette. They always serve small free tapas at the bars when you order a drink. We have had hummus, green olives, pork cheeks, desert style tapas (cheesecake), Iberian and serano ham which are mostly served on bread.

ALHAMBRA, Granada

Up early….not due to jet lag…but a rooster crowing at 4 am this Friday morning, May 18th. What is a rooster doing in the middle of the old town?

We walk up to the Alhambra this morning, which takes up about 30 minutes. We have tickets to enter the Palacio Nazaries at 10 am, and you must enter at your allotted time. We have time to stop for a coffee/tea before entering the palace.

Lots of stray cats all around the grounds……even though this place is always full of people, the cats stay away. Robin would say “and this is a good thing!”.

First a little history regarding The Alhambra. It is the only surviving large medieval Islamic palace complex in the world. It’s a palace-city but also a fortress with 2 km of walls, 23 towers and a fort within a fort, the Alcazaba. Within the walls of the Alhambra there are seven separate palaces, mosques, garrisons, houses, offices, baths, a summer residence (the Generalife) and exquisite gardens. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site, so another to add to our list.

I like the description in the guide book…..”The Alhambra is Granada’s and Europe’s love letter to the Moorish culture, a place where fountains trickle, leaves rustle, and ancient spirits seem to mysteriously linger.”

The Alhambra, an Arabic name which means the red castle. The first palace was built on the site in the 11th century. In the 13th and 14th centuries the Nasrid emirs turned the area into a fortress/palace, adjoined by a village. After the Reconquista (Christian reconquest) the Alhambra mosque was replaced with a church and the Convento de San Francisco. During the Napoleonic occupation, the Alhambra was used as a barracks. The Alhambra has been restored and is definitely a must see. The Palacio Nazaries is certainly wonderfully decorated in Moorish art. Beautiful wood carvings, including the ceilings, ceramic work throughout and Islamic scriptures written on the walls. Water is a constant theme, with fountains running throughout the Palacio as well as outside in the wonderfully sculpted gardens.

When we first entered the grounds we came across a statue of the American writer Washington Irving. We find out that in the 19th century Granada became the perfect setting for romantic travellers due to the Irving’s book Tales of the Alhambra written in 1832. This book captivated writers, artists and musicians of his generation, telling them about that “fiercely magnificent” place that also fascinated Victor Hugo and and others. So Granada was reborn as a somewhat mythical place, a blend of history and legend, an essential destination for travellers from every continent.

The Alcazaba is the military part of the citadel. It is surrounded by towers and the Jardin del Adarve which was formerly a deep pit to discourage possible invaders. We go up the narrow staircase to the Torre de la Vela to enjoy the views of the city of Granada and the surrounding countryside.

Took us about 2 1/2 hours to visit (could spend longer) and we took advantage of the audio guides which were certainly worthwhile.

I could go on describing the various buildings and grounds, but will let the pictures speak from themselves. Beautiful views throughout the grounds of the city of Granada.

GRANADA

On Friday night we stop at La Bicicleta, a restaurant recommended in our guide book. Actually just come across it while walking through the streets.

Good tapas then off to the Flamenco Show. The show was one hour long and found that this was just the right amount of time. Wonderful guitar player, great singer and 2 Flamenco dancers. Although Lucas told us this was an “authentic” flamenco show, not sure what he meant by this; it was just tourists that were in attendance. Notwithstanding, an intimate venue which probably only accommodated 50 people and we enjoyed the performances.

Did I mention the rooster crowing….oh yeah…..awake at 4 am again this morning, but managed to get more sleep this time around.

Saturday and the city is humming with tourists. A lot of “guy” and “gal” stags/stagettes happening…..the locals have told us they do not like these, simply too rowdy. In a couple of instances we see the “bride to be” riding on a donkey with all her friends around her. Lots of drinking and noise involved.

Our first stop is a cafe just outside our apartment for a cappuccino/tea. The square we are located on (Plaza de la Trinidad) seems to be a quieter one than most, so thankful for that. Having said this, we were awoken yesterday morning by a rooster crowing very early. We are in the middle of the city, so not sure where it came from….maybe allowed to have chickens and roosters!

We head to Plaza Nueva to meet up with the free walking tour. This time we need to look for a red umbrella; in Malaga it was a blue umbrella. I made reservations on line prior to leaving Calgary, which is a good thing. The guides are talking about turning people aside who have not registered ahead of time.

Our guide is Pedro and is from Granada. He gives a brief history of Granada speaking about the many groups who occupied the area…the Phoenicians, Romans, the Arabs, the rule of the Nasrid dynasty and finally the Christians. He also speaks of the “Reconquista”, the name given to a long series of wars and battles between the Christian Kingdoms and the Muslim Moors for control of the Iberian Peninsula. It lasted from 718 to 1492 ending with the persecution of Muslims in 1500. At this time the Muslims are compelled to adopt the Christian religion or are banished.

At one time the Iberian Peninsula included Portugal. Pedro is quite sad that Portugal and Spain are separate countries today……he would like to see “Ronaldo” play for Spain! For those of you who don’t know, Ronaldo is a football (soccer) player who is Portuguese.

Pedro tells us that throughout our walk, he will speak about the Muslims while we are in the Christian quarter and speak about Christians while walking in the Arab quarter! We stop at “La Madraza de Granada” a university founded in the middle of the 14th century. It is said that the Muslim Kings were counselled by Ministers who were normally highly educated Jewish ministers. A library was available for everyone…ok….a little clarification here…..available to men only! He does go on to say that the role of women in the Muslim society was important, it is said that the wives of Kings had some influence. Granada society was very well advanced in the field of medicine as well. They avoided the Black Plague due to their good hygiene habits. Today the University is a cultural centre and host free events to all…..yes, even including women!

In 1492, the Catholics representing Queen Isabella entered into the Treaty of Granada with the Muslims. Islam became forbidden in Spain. The Muslims who were converted were referred to as Morisco’s.

We head towards the Cathedral and Pedro stops in front of a boarded storefront and is very excited that the first Starbucks is about to open in Granada. He also told us that there were two McDonald’s in Granada, but they were located in the outlying areas…..not sure I would be excited for either of these. We prefer the local coffee shops….much more character and charm!

At the Catedral de Granada we see once again a mishmash of styles…baroque, gothic and renaissance. Must say that looking at this from our apartment is quite lovely. He points out a “type of graffiti” on the cathedral walls. These are writings referred to as “nitoles” meaning name. The ink that was used is red in colour and is made up of plant material, iron powder and blood of a bull. People wrote their names on the cathedral when a family member finished their education or reached another memorable milestone. Also people would write their names on the cathedral in order to reach salvation. Of course they had to pay the church for the privilege of writing their names and to achieve their salvation. Don’t think it works that way!

A mosque stood on this location, was destroyed and the cathedral built in its place. The only remnant here of the mosque is an ancient well as water was needed for the Muslims to wash five times prior to their prayers. We have seen numerous ancient wells that have been preserved in Granada, both in the Arab and Jewish quarters.

We visit the “Corral del Carbon” the corn/grain exchange in the Nasrid era (14th century) and later used as a coal storage. A really uninspiring building with the exception of the entranceway. I took a picture but deleted it….really ugly….almost Soviet era looking!

We visit the fountain of Neptune in the Plaza Bib-Rambla. Neptune is held up by four giants. The statue of Neptune is classified as non-denominational and our guide interprets this to mean that all civilizations could live and co-exist together as did the Arabs, Christians and Jews in this City for eight hundred years, sharing their individual rich cultures. Very different than the north of Spain.

This square is also where the burning of books took place. When the Reconquista happened, all books on Islam where ordered burnt. Arabs were made to do this to show that they were “new” Christians.

We then wander through the “Mercado de Artesnia”. A market where tourists abound and one can buy all sorts of Arab inspired trinkets. A lot of ceramics sold here and they are typical of Granda and Andalucia and designs inspired from the Muslim period. Although nothing catches my eye, I prefer the winding alleyways of this area. At one in history this was a market made up of some 200 shops selling and trading their expensive silk all over Europe. It is said that the narrow alleyways prevented robbers from stealing the silk; could be caught very quickly.

Our guide explained the difference between the Muslim and Christian art. Although both taken from their holy scriptures (the Bible and the Koran), the Christian art displays pictures of holy icons (Jesus Christ, Mary, the saints, etc) while the Muslim art only shows writings, which in themselves are works of art.

As we are walking along our guide picks up a bottle cap on the ground and tells us that he is going to have the symbol on the cap (Arab looking design) tattooed on his ankle next week. We all laughed when he told us it was a logo of a local beer!

Next we pass the Plaza Isabella Catolica where we see the statue of Queen Isabella giving her permission and of course money to Columbus for his travels. It is said that the finances for his trip came from the Jewish sector, who gave funds to Isabella to give to Columbus. To think that Columbus had no GPS or Google maps and was seen to travel off the flat surface of the world, but only to change the course of world!

We head back to Plaza Nueva and we see the Palace of Justice which is built of sandstone. Can even see some seashells in the material.

Up the hill to the Arab quarter and we pass the Calle Beso (kiss). Our guide tells us the legend behind the name of this street. It is said that a mother and daughter who were very close lived here. One day the mother comes home to find her daughter dead. When they go to bury the daughter, the mother gives her one last kiss and lo and behold, the daughter wakes up, she was only comatose. It is said that this was somewhat common as they used to cook with copper and lead pots and created comatose states in some people. Pedro ask if any of us have heard the expression “saved by the bell”. Apparently this expression comes from the sort of experience described previously. The locals started inserting a string into a casket which was attached to a bell outside of the crypt. If the person was still alive and buried, they could always ring the bell so people would know they were still alive and then be saved. Pretty morbid!

The Albayzin (the Arab quarter) was historically a very poor area. It was inhabited by workers and the elderly. Is now becoming trendy and rents are increasing which is a real problem. First with artists coming in the 50’s and 60’s to inhabit this inexpensive neighbourhood then Pedro tells us that Property Managers convince people to move out so that they can rent out their properties to tourists. This seems to be a problem throughout tourist cities. I guess we are part of the problem as we like to rent apartments when we are in a city more than 3 days…yikes!

The Arab quarter is filled with shops offering all sorts of tourist trinkets, leather goods, numerous tea shops and restaurants in its winding alleyways.

We come across more of the water wells (all closed up, but kept visible) that were built by the Romans. Apparently their was no water in Granada and via aqueducts the Romans brought in water from villages many kilometres away and these wells functioned for over one thousand years. They used to keep turtles in the water for two reasons. The turtles would eat the algae and keep the wells clean and if the turtles were to die in the water, then one knew not to drink the water as it was bad.

We finish our tour at the top of the Albayzin neighbourhood at a great mirador (lookout) and view the Alhambra from across the valley; great views.

Robin and I stop at a small cafe for lunch then wind our way further up to the Sacromonte (Gypsy) neighbourhood.

This area is known for its’ flamenco and dug out caves that are homes, shops and restaurants built into the hillside. Then head back to the lower town along Carrera del Darro along the river of the same name. I stop in a shop as I spy a small scarf that would look lovely around my neck. The saleswoman tells us that this street was once known as the “Paseo de Los Tristes” (Street of Tears) as it lead to the cemetery.

Get back to our apartment around 3:30 pm to have a rest. Robin is lucky enough to find the FA Cup final on tv. We were going to head out for an early dinner; but decided to wait till the game was over. I kept hearing Robin shout “Shoot the ball” while I was writing my blog. His team lost…..

We head off for dinner to Bodega Castaneda recommended by our guide book and Steve. The guide book says not to expect any “new” stuff here. They say it is the tapas bar to trump all others. Lightning service, which was right on and they say that eating is a physical sport. Well, to get in to this place your timing needs to be just right or you need a reservation. When we first got here, all the tables were taken; so we decided to find elsewhere to eat, it was Saturday night after all and everywhere was very busy. As we walk past some ten minutes later, we are able to score a table. We ordered the Tabla Castaneda Caliente Combinadas. WOW……our platter was made up of croquettes, spanish omelette, grilled pork loin, broad beans with ham, fondue salmon with cheese, olives, tomatoes and blue cheese all accompanied with bread. Lots for the two of us at a price of 16 Euro. I don’t usually post pictures of food, but this was too good not to!

I was curious about Spain’s economy and other issues so I did a bit more reading. It is now the 4th largest economy in European Union. 80% of the population is urban, 54% of the land is for agricultural use. We certainly noticed this on our drive from Malaga to Granada, passing orange groves and other vegetables being grown in the valleys and hills. 68% of the population is Catholic. Lots of churches abound for them to attend, but one must wonder if the younger population even attends.

Our friend the rooster up crowing again this morning, but we seem to be able to ignore him!

Out for coffee/tea on Sunday morning and certainly still a lot of tourists around. The typical breakfast enjoyed by the Spaniards is made up of coffee, juice, a piece of toasted bread (more like a small baguette) either plain or with ham and/or jam. Have seen some munching on churros as well, they certainly love their sweets. Lots of restaurants and bars offering churro and chocolate…..would like to try this, but haven’t had an opportunity yet.

We head off to visit the interior of the local Cathedral. Although impressive from its exterior, certainly quite the opposite on the inside; quite plain. Head off toward the Basilica San Juan de Dios as the guidebook shows this as a must see. When we arrive we find out only open to tourists between 4-7 on Sundays, I guess this is due to Sunday mass service. We will come back later.

Walk back towards the Realejo, the Jewish quarter which we have yet to explore. On our way we stop at “La Veneziana, The Italiano” a gelato shop, which our guide had told us was the best shop. Well folks, Robin says the best chocolate gelato ever. I must agree, mine was very good, had caramel gelato.

Explore the Realejo area, although lots of restaurants abound, a lot of residential in the area. The Plaza Campo de Principe does have lots of tapas bars with views of the Alhambra Hotel next to the Alhambra. We do come across a couple of graffiti art works by El Nino de las Pintura (Granada’s Banksy), very interesting. Love good graffiti!

Head back to see the Basilica San Juan de Dios around 6 pm. The guide book says this is a must see and it certainly is. The church was built between 1737 and 1759. This is perhaps the most opulently decorated church we have ever been in. We were allowed to visit the sacristy, the main church and even the upstairs of the church. There is not a square inch that is not decorated with paintings tile work and the vestments, chalices and other art works that are on display are simply lavish..not sure there are enough synonyms for opulent in this case. Behind the altar are the remains of St John of God’s in a niche surrounded by gold, gold and yet more gold. Very glad we did not miss this.

Tired of tapas, so out for pizza tonight which was very good. The city seems much quieter tonight….all the rowdy tourists have gone home! A beautiful walkable city with varied neighbourhoods which we thoroughly enjoyed. The Alhambra, of course, its crowning glory.

Up at 4 am ……guess why….yes, the rooster!

Headed off to Cordoba this Monday morning and we will be there for four days.

Malaga – May 2018

On May 14th, 2018, we left Calgary to spend a month in Spain. We arrived in Malaga on the 15th and plan to spend a month travelling around Andalusia province and dip our toes into a bit of Portugal.

A LITTLE HISTORY

The Andalusia region is located in the south west area of Spain and is made up of seven provinces. Each one named for its capital city: Cadiz, Cordoba, Jaen, Huelva, Almeria, Malaga, Granada and Seville. Not sure that we will visit each province, but we will certainly see most of this region.

The most unique feature of this region is the remnants of its Moorish past. The Moors habited this area for over eight centuries starting in the year 710 and one still sees marks of their influence today.

One of their main legacies is the Moorish influence of the alcazabas (citadels), fortalezas (fortresses) and castillos(castles) that can still be seen today. Some of them are in ruins, but some have been beautifully preserved, such as the Alhambra which we will be visiting while in Granada.

Prior to the Moors occupation, the Romans had laid out irrigation systems which had fallen into disuse, after their departure at the end of the 4th century. These were recovered and extended by the Moors who brought water into their buildings through a complex network of wells and channels, fountains and pools. The water was not only for domestic purposes, it was used in public squares, patios and private gardens, and also for their hammans. Some hammans still exist in this region, but having had the experience in Morocco, not something I wish to repeat any time soon!

At the end of the 15th century, the Christians regained control of this area and the Moors were either killed or banished and returned to Morocco. The Moors left behind many mosques, and the Christians either destroyed them or converted them to Christian churches adding crosses to the tops of minarets, bells in the towers, altars replacing the “mihrab” (a niche in the mosque wall which indicates the direction of Mecca, which is the way a Muslim faces when praying). In some instances if the mosque could not be converted, they actually built churches inside the mosques. We will look forward to seeing this in Sevilla.

The political history of Spain, including Andalusia, is complex. At one time in history, even the French, under Napoleon’s rule, controlled this area. Then the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 which was a coup d’état of nationalists led by General Francisco Franco, who was supported by Hitler and Mussolini. Franco’s eventual victory established him as Europe’s longest ruling dictator until his death in 1975. Democracy was restored under the symbolic monarchy of King Juan Carlos II. After Franco’s rule, Spain became involved with the European Union and their standard of living greatly improved.

During the financial crisis, Spain’s unemployment hit a high of 26%. Having said this, the current unemployment rate remains above 18 percent and is still very high for younger workers. After three decades of running a trade deficit the country attained a trade surplus in 2013. In 2017, Spain’s economy had returned to its pre-crisis size.

It is said that Expo ‘92 in Sevilla helped the fortunes of the Andalusia region. Communication improvements, new motorways, high speed trains and new airports all aided the region.

MALAGA

Thought we did quite well on our first afternoon here in Malaga, which we spent getting acquainted with our neighbourhood. Our hotel is located in the old town in a pedestrian area. We thought the area was very quiet in the afternoon as very few people/tourists in the streets. When we went out for dinner, as is the custom in Europe, the local families were out with their children and elderly. This is always so nice to see. Actually made it to 9 pm, however awake at 4:30 am due to jet lag!

On our first full day in Malaga, we head out about 9 in the morning and head towards the port. This area has been totally refurbished in the last few years and beautiful walkways along the port. Along side are ferry and cruise ship terminals along with a working port. There is also a Centre Pompidou along the port and is an offshoot of the Paris Pompidou centre. May take this in when we return to Malaga. Not many people out. Took in the local market as well. We are out for a couple of hours, get back to our hotel for a short rest before we head out for a “walking tour” with a local guide.

Along the Malaga port

Last year we opted to use “Global Greeters” where we arranged for one on one tours with locals. Unfortunately this organization has not found its’ way to Spain as of yet. The “free walking tours” that we have opted for on this trip, are like many throughout Europe. Many people take advantage of these and at the end of your tour, you pay what you feel the tour was worth. The companies who run these free tours also run paid tours and of course this is what they are promoting. A good way to learn about the city and usually the information is worthwhile.

Headed out on our walking tour our second day in Malaga. The guide Nahuel is a young Malagueno and is very knowledgeable about his city and its’ history. Our tour last 2 1/2 hours and was a great way to get a feel of the city. First of all he recaps the history of Spain and the Andalusia region. A diverse group of travellers on this tour from all over the globe.

Lots of traditions in this area with the most important being Semana Santa (the religious week working up to Easter). Each night during this period, cofradias (brotherhoods) bear holy images for several hours through the City. In Malaga alone, there are 44 brotherhoods, so many processions each night in different parts of the City. The holy image of Jesus Christ is carried on a gold altar and Mary is carried on a silver altar through the streets. It is an honour to be in a cofradias and men wait years to be part of one. The only way to become a brother is through family connections. In other words, one usually has to wait till your uncle, father or grandfather pass away. We entered a building where the altars were kept and we were amazed by the size. The altars are carried by up to 150 brothers with the most senior leading the procession. Throughout the year the brotherhoods raise money to enhance and refurbish their altars. Other participants in these processions wear nazareno (penitential robe). This garment consists of a tunic and a capirote (a hood with conical tip) used to conceal the face of the wearer. All brotherhoods have their own symbols and colours. I would think that this is really something to see. Our guide tells us that family members return to Malaga to experience this holy week, as do hundreds of other Spaniards and tourists.

Another tradition happening in late June/July is selling of “biznaga”. These are fragrant flowers that are sold in the streets and are the symbol of Malaga. Biznagas are handmade, using jasmine and the stalk of a nerdo, a kind of thistle and then they are stuck into a prickly pear for sale by Biznaguaro’s, men who wear traditional dress. We are told that biznagas are a natural mosquito repellent.

Many narrow winding streets and alleys in the old quarter of Malaga. We are told that the narrow streets were built to provide shade from the hot sun in the summer and relief from winds. It is said that one could lose his enemies in the winding streets.

Our next stop is the Catedral de Malaga which took over 200 years to be erected, starting in 1528 on the site of a former mosque. It is built in a renaissance, gothic and baroque style; quite interesting. Worked stopped in 1782, as it was decided the project was too expensive. So, to this day the Cathedral stands incomplete and the Malaguenos have no intention on finishing it, they like it the way it is. The official name of the Cathedral is Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación (Our Lady of Incarnation) but the locals call it “La Manquita” (the one armed lady) as one of the two bell towers was left incomplete. Our guide made us repeat the official name of the cathedral many times, his type of humour I suppose. We did not visit the interior of the cathedral on the tour, but when we return to Malaga it is definitely on our “must see”.

Malaga Cathedral

Next we arrive at the Teatro Echegaray, another beautiful architectural building. Our guide asks us what each nationality says when they wish an actor luck before a performance. The North Americans say “break a leg”, the Germans say “break your leg and neck” (refers to all the bowing they will have to do after a great performance) and our guide tells us that here in Malaga they say “Mucho Merda”. Well, I don’t think I need to translate, but hopefully the reader understands the meaning. Nahuel goes on to tell us that in olden times, theatre goers would take their horse and buggies to the theatre. If the play was a long and wonderful performance, they would stay till the end. The horses having waited for such a long time, of course have to “poop” and they would “poop” a lot if the performance was successful! He also told us that Antonio Banderas got his acting start at this theatre. He commented that most thought that Banderas wasn’t the worlds’ best actor, but he returns often to Malaga and is well loved here.

We stop at the famous “El Pimpi Winery”. We get a chance to go in and see pictures on the walls of all the famous people that have passed through the doors. El Pimpi is situated inside an old 18th century Málaga mansion house and is one of the longest-standing bodega bars in Málaga. We might have to return here as well.

Next stop is the base of the Alcazaba, where one finds ruins of a Roman amphitheatre. This palace dates back to the 11th century Moorish period. We will visit this on our return.

The end of our tour is is one of the cities square near the building where Picasso was born. He spent the first 10 years of his life in Malaga. There is a Picasso museum here and it is on our list of things to see.

A little cool in the evenings, but lovely mild temperatures during the day.

Robin and I have always thought it is very important to attempt to speak the language of the country one is visiting. Many years ago we both took spanish classes, Robin having taken a few more than me. I have a tendency to pronounce spanish words in French vs. Spanish. Having said this, I can be understood. We stopped into a small coffee/tea shop to get some tea to bring back to our hotel and the young lady serving us was impressed with Robin’s spanish. She asked where we were from and asked if we liked Spain. Think she misunderstood Robin to say that we did not like Spain and after seeing the horrified look on her face, he quickly reiterated that we indeed did like Spain. A laugh all around!

Many tapas bars everywhere and one is overwhelmed by the choice. After our tour we decide to stop at one, and low and behold, our guide is there with his family….had to think it would be a good one, and it is. When you stop at a bar for a drink you are always served free tapas (peanuts, green olives or chips).

I am indulging in the odd glass of wine. Most of you know that I have not been partaking in alcohol since I started my new medication. I don’t seem to be able to tolerate red wine, but white and sparkling seems fine. So….what the heck!

Although our stay in Malaga was short, we are coming back for three nights near the end of trip and that time hope to visit the sites a little more.

Paris – June 2017

We left Tours on Friday, June 23rd and took the TGV to Paris Montparnasse which took a little over 1 hour. Said goodbye to Lisa and Rich at the train station and we went our separate ways. It was great to have spent six days with them as we simply do not see them enough. 

We took a cab to our apartment which is in “Le Marais”. Historically we have always stayed in the “Quartier Latin” but the last time we were here we spent some time in The Marais and in the tiny sector of St. Paul (within Le Marais) and really enjoyed it.

“Le Marais” – It wasn’t until the 17th century that the Marais (meaning marsh) became one of Paris’s sought after neighbourhoods. This was thanks to Henri lV who commissioned the building of Place des Vosges in 1605. The success of the square made the Marais a fashionable area for the aristocracy and led to the construction of many hotels in the area. The popularity began to wane toward the end of the 17th century when the court was moved to Versailles. After the Revolution , the once elegant hotels deteriorated into working class tenements. In 1969, the Marais was the first district of Paris to be declared a historic district and this led to the restoration of its hotels, which are today museums, archives and libraries. 

Today, the Marais which covers the 3rd and 4th arrondissement is sought after again with trendy boutiques, galleries and eclectic stores. One area where stores are open on Sundays. It is also the centre for Paris’s Jewish community and the gay and lesbian community..

We have a comfortable apartment in an building that was a former convent (Couvent des Mimines). It was 27C degrees when we arrived on Friday; was a bit of a relief after the 37 degree temperature we were experiencing in Tours for the last week. Although the apartment is not air conditioned, it has two fans and with the slight breeze and windows opened, is comfortable.

Always know we are back in Paris when you hear the “klaxons” of the police and ambulances….a very distinctive sound!

Once we get settled in, we find the local grocery store and get provisions for our last four days here in Paris. We then head off to discover Le Marais. Out for a couple of hours just walking through the streets and getting to know our way around the neighbourhood. Hot evening, so many people sitting in the cafes’ enjoying an aperitif, and parents and kids in the many “mini” parks in the area. I love the shop windows and signs and can’t help but take pictures of them. I also enjoy peeking in courtyards and through entrances to see what lays behind the doors! I also love the fact that there are all these neighbourhoods gardens and playgrounds, a real must when most people live in apartments. Walked by this incredible “shirt shop” and I took a couple of pictures of the shirts in the windows, but when I saw the shirts inside, I couldn’t resist; I went inside and asked permission to take a picture of the shirts….Incroyable!

Find a Muji store and Robin bought himself some toothbrushes, he really likes them. As I once wrote in a previous blog…..my husband buys his toothbrushes in New York City, Rome and now Paris! Muji is a Japanese retail company which sells a wide variety of household and consumer goods. 

Saturday morning finds us heading off to the local market that I had read about and especially wanted to go to, “Le Marche des Enfants Rouges”. The market is the oldest covered market in Paris and was established in 1628. The name translates as “Market of the Red Children” and refers to the children clothed in red (the colour of charity) who were cared for in a nearby orphanage. Not too busy as we were quite early. A nice size market with fruit, vegetable, meat and flower vendors and a few eating places. Stopped for a coffee/tea along a side street and always love just taking the time to look at life happening around us. Locals with their baskets going to the market, at the cafe for their morning espresso and croissant, people running errands on a Saturday morning and merchants plying their trades.The Marais is quite a trendy area and one sees many different personal styles, very interesting. We also saw many parents with their children heading off to the local elementary school as seemed to be a celebration for the end of the school year. 

We visit the local “boucherie” (meat market) and have to stand in line as seems to be a locals favourite. The display cases are filled with all sorts of meats (including lamb,rabbit and horse meat), pates, prepared meats/meals, prepared salads, rotisserie chickens and meats prepared to be cooked (brochettes, breaded, etc). Watching the butchers prepare cuts of meat is very interesting, they are very quick and use very sharp knives; do not get in their way.

After a quick stop at the apartment we head off to explore Paris with the end destination being the Petit Palais. Towards the Seine, through the area of St.Paul and Le Marais, by the Hotel de Ville and the Tour de St. Jaques. I always like walking along the Seine were you find all the booksellers, some interesting characters there…..sometimes I think they have been sitting there since the last time we visited! Walk behind Notre Dame, but do not venture onto either Ile Saint Louis or Ile de la Cite, as we have been there many times on previous trips. Many tour boats going up and down the Seine. Can see the Eiffel Tower in the distance, in the same direction we are heading. Pass the Musee d’Orsay, one of my favourites in Paris, and walk pass the Louvre. Spend some time in the Tuileries Gardens and decide to have a quick lunch there. 

Hotel de. Ville (City Hall), Louvre, Eiffel Tower, booksellers along the Seine, Cleopatra’s Needle and the Grand Palais

As we were waiting for our lunch, a young boy about six years old, who had been sitting with his grandfather, got up and went to each empty table and rearranged the menus and ash trays. He was doing this with great concentration, Robin says a future waiter…. very fun to watch.

The cutest waiter in the Tuileries Gardens

Continue on, pass L’Orangerie (visited here the last time we were here, beautiful Water Lilies by Monet) and head toward the Champs Élysées.

 As we cross to go to the Petit Palais, the whole of the avenue between the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais is all cordoned off as is the Pont Alexandre lll (bridge) across the Seine, and we must go through security, including a body pat down (one line for women, the other for men). This area is blocked off and events are happening to publicize the City’s bid for the 2024 Olympics. They want to get the people of the city behind the bid. There are teams of people demonstrating and playing different olympic sports: archery, golf, soccer, hand ball, volleyball, etc. 
We enter the Petit Palais and have to go through another security check. Entrance to the Petit Palais is free. There was a trampoline set us in part of the Petit Palais as part of this Olympic bid event. Both the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais were built in 1900 when Paris hosted the Exposition Universelle. It now displays a collection of paintings, sculptures and art objects from antiquity to 1918. The building is magnificent as is its central courtyard. Mosaic floors, the grand vestibule entrance, the painted ceilings and the beautifully painted Cupola. Especially like the art deco art/glass work, even a whole room devoted to art deco furniture.

Le Petit Palais
We venture back out into the busy area hosting the Olympic bid events and make our way over to the Quai d’Orsay and exit the high security area. Some of the security police are heavily armed and all wearing body protection.; and a sign indicating that one is NOT to take pictures of the police. With everything that has happened in Paris and France in the last few years, the security seen today, probably due to this public event and number of people attending, is not surprising and in all honesty, welcome. We have to go through another security checkpoint to go into the grounds of Les Invalides. 
As we are leaving the area, we spot a Canadian flag flying; so nice to see, really gives one a good feeling. It is the Canadian Cultural Centre. It is closed, but none the less love the flag!

We decide to take the Metro back close to the Marais area. We get on the train and it says it is leaving in 4 minutes, then 2 minutes. We are all waiting and waiting and nothing happens. Now about 4 – 5 minutes after it was supposed to leave and all the doors are closed. All of a sudden two men run toward the front of the train, unlock the door (o.k., we know they work for the train) and then nothing happens. They have left this door open, so a lot of passengers, including us decide to leave the train. A young employee who assists people on the platforms informs us that some “knucklehead” pulled the emergency stop so everything electric(?) had to be reset and the train would leave shortly. We all get back on the train and eventually it leaves.

We decide to disembark at St.Michel and we walk to Ile Saint Louis……Notre Dame extremely busy as usual and so many tourists around. When I see these crowds and experience the heat (27C today) it continues to remind me never to come to Europe in July or August!

Cross the next bridge and a series of three high speed police pontoon boats are speeding down the Seine. Police patrols everywhere and carrying guns….big guns! As I said before, good to see. 

Now late afternoon, so we decide to stop and have a “cold” drink at an outdoor cafe in the 4th arrondissement , our apartment in the 3rd. Well folks, I think we picked the best place we could have, we had free entertainment for one hour. We went to a cafe in a block from the Quai d’Orsay so it wouldn’t be so busy with noise and traffic. The police have just set up a blockade and stopped traffic from entering two streets just by the Tour Saint Jaques. We find out from the waiter that the Gay Pride Parade will be starting later this afternoon, so Rue Rivoli blocked off, and they have rerouted the traffic away from this area. 

Well, let me tell you there is a lot of honking going on and very mad people driving as it is hard for all this traffic to get rerouted to the Quai d’Orsay. There is one policeman and one policewoman here. The traffic is crawling around this corner we are at, trying to all merge toward the Seine boulevard. Some try to stop and convince the police that they need to get into the sector, but these two young police guards are having nothing to do with it, whistle at them and wave for them to continue on their way.The funniest thing had to be a local gentleman who was incensed about this blockade, yelling at some of the drivers about how ridiculous being made to detour and sometimes waiving cars on as if to assist the police. In the midst of all this, motorcycles are weaving in and out between the cars and trucks. 

At one point, the young policewoman gets tired of trying to stop drivers and motorcycles from getting through as the barricade gates did not block the whole street. She finds an industrial size garbage bin and moves it, by herself, so that it forms part of the blockade…..now, no one can get through! Sometimes it can be entertaining to simply watch the world going by. 

Just a little history on the Tour Saint Jaques. This 52-metre (171 ft) gothic tower is all that remains of the former 16th-century Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie. The church was demolished in 1797, during the French Revolution, leaving only the tower which is now considered a national historic landmark. Apparently also part of the Compostela of Santiago pilgrimage route. Have been by here many times on previous trips, but never knew its’ history…now I do.

Tour Saint Jaques, picture taken on our morning walk before street blockaded in the afternoon.
Paris has a bike sharing program, Velib which seems to be well used by locals and tourists alike. A company called “CityScoot” had now introduced a scooter bike sharing program. It was launches in 2016 and has 1,000 electric scooters. One uses an “app” to find a scooter, get a code and ride (.20 Euro per minute). No, not going to try it! This is one city I for one will not drive in….just too many crazy drivers weaving in and out of traffic…..lots of mangled/scratched cars in this place.

Another great day in Paris, I think Robin’s fit bit is in overtime….not quite as much a Lisa’s though, saw her and RIch’s steps today…yikes!

Sunday we decide to go to the Picasso Museum which is just around the corner from our apartment. When you only have a few days in Paris, you really need to plan your days when it comes to visiting museums as they are closed on various days. As we are entering the museum, a young girl comes up to us and offers us free tickets, she says part of their group did not come and they could not get refunds. We offer to pay her but all I have is a 5 Euro note or a 100 and all Robin has are 50 Euro notes. She takes the 5 and everyone is happy. I told her we would pay it forward when the opportunity presented itself….I do believe in this sort of karma!


The Picasso Museum is located in the Sale Mansion which was built in 1659. It is called the Sale (which meant salty) as was owned by a gentleman who made his money collecting a tax on salt! The museum/mansion was closed from 2009-12 for renovations and they did a glorious job. Our timing was right as we were early so not too many other people around. Beautiful Picasso works covering his career and the top floor had his own collection including works by Miro, Renoir, Matisse and others. It is so interesting to see the evolution of Picasso’s work. We spent a couple of hours at the museum and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Stop for a coffee and Robin informs me that he is going to order a cappuccino. I ask him why, as he has not had a cup of coffee for fourteen years since he overdosed on coffee on a trip to Italy. He says “I just feel like it”, but afterwards he tells me that won’t be happening again anytime soon. Love just sitting in the cafes and watching the people walk by…got some great pictures here of lots of people dressed in their own personal style!


Walking through the Marais in the last few days, we have noticed lots of pop up shops featuring designer clothes for sale, very different styles, definitely not run of the mill shops. Not sure if this is just taking now or if this is ongoing. Interesting to look.

We walk to Place des Voges, which is nearby. This square was commissioned by Henri lV in 1605., and he told the nobility to build their houses around the square, but they had to respect certain rules, such as using brick (quite unusual for Paris). The square was originally called Place Royal until the Revolution. In 1799 it was renamed Place des Vosges after the department of Vosges that had raised the most taxes for the revolutionary wars. This was the first public square in Paris. Beautiful arcades/galleries surround two sides of the square. Spend some time relaxing in the square.

Place des Vosges

Then a little further we arrive at the Bastille and the Sunday market is underway. We stroll through the market and buy some lunch. Doesn’t seem to matter whether or not we need something, still enjoy the experience of going to the markets. Take in the view of the Opera House as well while we are here.

Decide to venture further out and we take the metro to the Champ de Mars, which is the large garden at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. As we are about to cross a street heading towards the Champ de Mars, we get stopped by a young gentleman. He asks us not to cross the street as there is a film scene being shot and speeding cars will be coming through. One of the bystanders asks who is in the film, but he says he is not allowed to say. The speeding cars do come through as well as police cars an armoured vehicle and several police motorcycles. Not very long and we are allowed to proceed. 

Eiffel Tower, Claire at the Picasso Museum and Robin having a coffee after 14 yrs!
Spend some time at the Champ de Mars, walk a while and decide to make our way back to the Marais. We make our way to Luxembourg Gardens. Great to see all the people enjoying the gardens. The Luxembourg Palace and gardens were built in 1612 for Marie de Medici, the widow of King Henry lV. The garden today is owned by the French Senate which meets in the Palace. It covers 23 hectares and is known for its lawns, tree-lined promenades, flowerbeds, model sailboats on its circular basin. The children playing with the sailboats is really an iconic scene. As we are leaving the gardens, we here music. A band is playing in the bandstand so we stay a while and listen to the music, very pleasant. 

Luxembourg Gardens
From the Luxembourg Gardens, we walk back to our apartment down Boulevard Saint Michelle across two bridges and into Le Marais which is packed with people. Another great day in Paris…I think I said this about yesterday as well! 

Tuesday, June 26th is our last day in Paris and weather still great, 27C today. We head off and our objective today is to discover the Montmartre area. We have been before, but just to see the Basilique du Sacre Coeur. Take the metro and start off by having a coffee/tea in Place Pigalle; very civilized. At the end of the 19th century, Montmartre was full of painters, writers and musicians, all of whom were drawn here due to the cheap rents. Still today lots of musicians and painters around. 

We walk a couple of blocks and come across the Moulin Rouge. It was established in. 1889 and was named after the local windmill and one was built above the entrance. The cabaret gained a reputation for highly provocative dancing, most notably the cancan. The Moulin Rouge was the subject of the famous painting by Toulouse Lautrec and the film by the same name. Funny enough, a taxi driver in Rennes told us we must attend the Moulin Rouge as no one can do the cancan as good as French women….somehow I think it is now probably East European women doing the cancan! All right, big assumption on my part.


Incredible the amount of sex shops around this area, but I guess not surprising. Needless to say I did not take pictures of these picture windows…..only suffice to say that the Eiffel Tower played a role in the “sex” toy department. 

Make our way to the Cimetiere de Montmartre. As you walk in there is a chart you can take with you which shows some of the more famous graves and mausoleums. The cemetery was opened in 1825 in an abandoned gypsum quarry. The quarry had previously been used during the French Revolution as a mass grave. It is the final resting place of many famous artists who lived and worked in the Montmartre area. Always interesting to visit these old cemeteries and see the grandeur of some of the graves.

Cimitiere de Montmartre
One of the reasons we chose Montmartre today is that the Salvador Dali museum “Espace Dali” was open. Very near the Basilica but on a side street, one could easily miss it if not looking for it. This is the largest collection of artworks by Salvador Dali in France. Sketches, bronze works, glass work and statues. Dali’s works might not appeal to everyone, but we like to see all genre’s of artwork, must keep an open mind.

Espace Dali
Robin is just reading on the Huffington post that Salvador Dali’s body is to be exhumed for a paternity test…just too weird that he is reading that while I am writing about Dali.

Stop for lunch at a small outdoor restaurant. A beautiful setting on a back street with a lovely arbour. Strike up a conversation with a French couple next to us as she had noticed Robin had a fit bit. She told us she got a fit bit about four years ago and lost a lot of weight; she says she walks at least 10 kilometres every day. Funny what can initiate a conversation. 

Go in to visit the Basilique de Sacre Coeur and now have to go through a security checkpoint; this was new since the last time we visited. A sign indicates that one is not allowed to take pictures inside the church. Everyone is taking pictures inside the church….what is wrong with this picture? On a good point, everyone is keeping quite silent so people can pray. I read that notwithstanding the pollution, the basilica remains white as it is built with Souppes stone ( a creamy white limestone) which is resistant as granite, but it exudes calcium when it comes into contact with rainwater. The construction of the basilica starter in 1875 and finished in 1914 and is built on the highest point in the city of Paris.

Head back to our apartment by metro, pick up something for dinner and pack to return back home to Canada. We have certainly enjoyed our six weeks away and have seen and experienced a lot of new sights. Met some wonderful people along the way, joined by Suzanne, Colin and James for a few days and Rich and Lisa for 6 days. Great company along the way. 
It is always nice to be away, but we are looking forward to getting home. 

This is the end of my blog, until our next adventure. Thanks to those of you who have commented and liked my blog. I enjoy doing the research of places we visit and enjoy writing my blog. Thanks especially to my favourite travelling partner and wonderful husband, Robin. 
Till the next time…..a la prochaine!

Tours and the Loire Valley – June 2017

 I am always interested in what drives the economy of the area we are visiting. The economy here in the Central part of France is mainly agricultural. The main crops are composed of grains (mainly wheat and corn) and grapes. Sugar beet,canola, and sunflowers are also cultivated in the region.

The industrial sector is getting more and more developed, benefiting from the decentralization of Parisian industries. The main manufacturing relates to the vehicle industry, with large tire, parts, and plastics plants.

Orléans, about one hour from Tours, represents a key transport and commercial centre, with production of  chemicals, processed foods, textiles, and machinery. The region is a major provider of nuclear energy. Tourism is also an important aspect of the economy.. 

I am sure that most of you are aware of the recent elections in France where Mr. Macron came into power. On the past two Sundays, the citizens of France have voted for their legislative representatives and Macron received an overwelming majority. Will be interesting to see what happens over  the next few months in France. 

Saturday the 17th of June, we left Amboise and drove to Tours, only 30 minutes by car. We will be staying in Tours for the next 6 days with our son Rich and our daughter in law Lisa. Always a little tense getting to a new city and trying to find your new digs; and today the market was happening in Tours and our apartment is in the old town. Fortunately I had gotten in touch with our landlord and asked him the best place to park so that we could drop off our luggage, as the apartment is located in a pedestrian zone. His instructions were perfect…..parked on a side street, on the sidewalk where construction was taking place! Fortunately it is Saturday and no road work happening, otherwise we would have been towed away! 

The landlord shows us around the apartment. It also has a lovely courtyard for our use. We head off to the local train station to pick up Rich and Lisa. They arrive right on time (Trains in France always seem to run on time…except if they are on strike!). We head back to the old town, but cannot take possession of the apartment until 2:30 pm as it is being cleaned. Actually not an issue, as we are all hungry so we stop for lunch. Then walk toward the Loire river and walk around a bit, then pick up Lisa and Rich’s luggage and head to the apartment. We are parked in a car park, just a few minutes walk from the apartment. 

Tours
We need to keep going as Lisa and Rich somewhat jet lagged and from experience we all know you need to adjust to the local time as quickly as possible. The market is over, they normally close up around 1 pm, so we missed picking something up there. We head over to “Les Halles”, which here in Tours is open every day. We decide to eat in tonight and we simply pick up some prepared foods. Stop by the local “Carrefour” and pick up additional groceries and some wine….of course! Very hot outside +31.

Everyone freshens up and we enjoy a nice supper and evening in our outdoor courtyard, very pleasant and great to have Rich and Lisa with us for our time here in Tours. 

Sunday is Father’s day and so great to have Rich with us, not often that Robin is able to spend Father’s day with one of his children as they both live in Toronto. Very lucky!

We head off to Amboise, where we have spent the last five days, as we know the Sunday market is happening. The town is very busy, but we just wanted Rich and Lisa to see it, as it really is quite charming. 

We then drive onto our destination for the day, Chateau de Chenonceau, which is about an additional twenty minute drive from Amboise. 

The chateau was built in the 16th century along the river Cher by Thomas Bohier and Katherine Briconnet by demolishing a fortified castle and mill that stood on the site. They went bankrupt, it passed to Francois l. Later Henri ll gave it to his mistress Diane de Poitiers. After Henri died, his not so understanding widow, Catherine de’Medici expelled Diane and took back the chateau. Well…I can certainly understand that!

Approaching Chateau Chenonceau
The most unusual part of this castle is that it is built upon a bridge, although the bridge does not quite reach the other side of the river. There are two stories constructed over the bridge (plans inspired by the Ponte Vecchio in Venice) with a gallery that runs the entirety of the chateau. There were plans, at one time, to finish the bridge and extend the chateau to the other side, but that never transpired. 

We opted to get audio guides, which I quite enjoyed. We walked through 20 of the rooms. Wonderful floral displays in each of the rooms; the tapestries, the furniture, the fireplaces and the woodwork all in wonderful condition. When visiting these chateaux, one must always to remember to look up and look at the ceilings…..either paintings or beautiful woodwork, sometimes painted as well. Spectacular gardens on either side of the castle…..Catherine’s garden on one side and Diane’s garden on the other. The gardens are built on raised terraces to protect them from flooding from the Cher river.

I loved all the floral decorations in each of the room; stunning!

The beautiful floral arrangements at Chateau Chenonceau

During WWl, Simone Menier (Menier chocolate factory family), transformed the chateau’s two galleries to look after the war wounded. They say that her bravery led to actions on behalf of the resistance during the second World War as well. 
During WWll, parts of the chapel were destroyed which included all the stained glass, so the windows are from the 20th century. The chateau was on the demarcation line in the Second World War…the entrance was on the occupied zone on the right bank and the south door of the gallery gave access to the left bank, so it made it possible for the resistance to pass a large number of people into the free zone. I do have a fascination with everything WWl and WWll related. 

I also enjoyed touring the kitchens, located in the basement of the castle. Not sure I would have wanted to cook during these times, but everything looks interesting. You could even see how worn the wooden cutting boards and can only imagine the knives and cleavers working away on these surfaces, similar to the worn treads of the staircases due to the feet going up and down over the centuries. 

The kitchens of Chateau Chenonceau

Had lunch on the grounds, lovely to sit outside. Very hot today 32C, but fortunate to have a lovely breeze.

We head back to our apartment in Tours so we can freshen up. Lovely dinner out tonight to celebrate Father’s Day, thank you to Rich and Lisa for a wonderful day and dinner!

Father’s Day Dinner at L’Embellie in Tours
 

When walking home after dinner out the other night, couldn’t help but notice this display in a window. Look more closely and it looks like an ATM. Well, as it turns out you place an order for a pizza, then you come back and pick up your pizza.Not sure how the whole process works, but certainly an interesting concept!

Monday arrives and we head out by car to the local tourist office where we were to meet our guide for a walking tour of the city of Tours. As we find a parking spot, we veer to take it, but unfortunately did not see a small truck and “smash” ; we hit him. The good news is that nobody was hurt. We told Lisa and Rich to go ahead as we would deal with the situation. Well, 6 hours later, many phone calls, a tow truck (we smashed the front panel and bumper of our car and a flat tire so unable to drive) two different car rental agencies and we have a replacement car for the next 3 days. Must say that the people that we dealt with today have been very helpful.

That is the reality of travelling, sometimes these small things happen, but you can’t get mad….go with the flow!

Got back to our apartment around 4 pm and Rich and Lisa had just gotten back. Fortunately they were able to go about their day. It was 37C here today….very hot. A heat wave has struck most of France. 

As we are relaxing later this afternoon, I can’t help but notice Robin and Rich…like father like son….both watching a soccer game while on their computers!

Out for dinner tonight at a restaurant in Place Plumereau, one of the liveliest square’s in Tours.  Walk around a little after dinner, great to see other parts of the town. Always lots of people out having drinks and dinner.  Place Plumereau is a medieval quarter with quaint streets and several wood beam houses.

Chateaux are what is thought of when one mentions the Loire Valley. There are chateaux in other parts of France, but not as concentrated as here in the Loire. There are several reasons for this. 

1) By the early Middle Ages some towns had become prosperous due to trade as they were strategically placed along the Loire. So, for defensive purposes, fortresses were built to protect their territory.

2) Also, the rich fertile land was much desired. 

I read that the King owned a great deal of the land, so the nobility began to build chateaux so they could watch over the King’s land and also to defend themselves against invaders. Interesting fact that even the furniture was built with the notion of defence as well…high back chairs to protect the sitter from being stabbed from behind. Also it is said that the credenza was a table used by the nobility’s official taster to test for poison in the food. Not sure I would like that job….short tenure perhaps!

By the 15th century the Loire was effectively functioning as the country’s capital. When the 100 year war came to an end, King Francois 1, went to Italy and came back with the Renaissance movement. As mentioned earlier, he also convinced Leonardo da Vinci to come to the Loire Valley to continue his work. Due to the influence of the Renaissance movement, the chateaux became more ornate as did the gardens. A great deal of the chateaux are built with a chalky local stone called “tuffeau” (tufa). 

Tuesday find the four of us piling into our new rental car, a fiat 500, very cozy! This was the last available car in Tours yesterday, so really no choice. Also, a basic model so no GPS. I am driving so I solicit Lisa to be the navigator. She does a great job!!

We are on our way to the town of Villandry to visit the Chateau of Villandry, built near the Cher River, some 25 minutes from Tours. It is said to be one of the best examples of the Renaissance era. The chateau was built in 1536 by Jean Le Breton, the Minister of Finance for Francois l. There was a medieval castle that was destroyed to make room for the new chateau. Only one keep (tower) was kept from the medieval structure. In 1754 it became the property of the Marquis de Castellane (from Provence) who built the outbuildings and redesigned the inside of the chateau to bring it up to 18th century standards of comfort. The traditional gardens were taken out in the 19th century to create an English style park around the chateau. In 1906 the castle was bought by Joachim Carvallo and remains in this family today. Carvallo restored the castle and then brought back the Renaissance gardens. 

Villandry, the Chateau and outer buildings

We decide to see the gardens when we arrive, it is already 25+ degrees. There are several different gardens

1) The Ornamental Garden – low boxwood hedge designs with floral centres

2) The Water Garden 

3) The Sun Garden 

4) The Maze – no dead ends, can’t get lost!

5) The Herb Garden

6) The Vegetable Garden

7) The Woods – did not go into the woods

The Group – Robin did not get lost in the maze!
Not sure how many gardeners they have on staff, but there were certainly a great number of them working while we were touring. In one section they were in the midst of taking out bean plants and lettuce. I stopped a young gardener and asked what they did with the plants they pulled out, were they given to the poor? He told me that due to government rules and health regulations, they were unable to do so; a real pity. They are now using modern organic growing methods, even to the point of introducing certain insects to reduce or negate the use of chemical plant treatments. 

Each year, in March and again in June, the planting schemes are changed. The crops are rotated every three years to ensure the quality of the soil is not depleted. Colours of plants are taken into consideration when planning out the gardens. All the water on the grounds is recycled through the various canals and fountains. The gardens are bordered by pear trees; quite a few pears on the trees. All the plants in the vegetable, herb and ornamental gardens are all marked so that one knows what is growing.

The garden plot plans and names of plants used in each area.

We then walk through the rooms of the castle which are furnished. Lovely tapestries and art work. I was especially taken with a wooden ceiling in the Drawing Room. I read later that the ceiling came from a ducal palace which was built in the 15th century in Toledo, and when it was dismantled, it was bought by Carvallo and brought back to Villandry. 
Some interior shots of Chateau VIllandry
The wooden ceiling

So……my thoughts on Chenonceau vs. Villandry…….Chenonceau is a killer chateau in a beautiful setting and Villandry has unbelievable gardens! There it is in a nutshell! In all honesty, these two chateaux are well worth visiting! Enjoyed them both.

We stop for a light lunch in the tiny village of Villandry…..a typical french lunch…a potagier salad for Lisa, a croque Monsieur for Rich and a salad of tomatoes and chevre cheese for me….yummy! It is sooooooo hot; I think around 37C!

We then drive on to the little village of Langeais, which I had wanted to visit; really can’t remember why, but glad we saw it. A sleepy little town with the centrepiece being the Chateau de Langeais and the local church. The buildings in the town looked like they have all been recently cleaned. This little town is so pretty with its flowers on the bridges, a stream running through the town and its winding streets. Funny thing is that it almost looks deserted. We peek into the courtyard of the chateau, but decide enough chateaux for the day. Walk on to the church, not sure of the name, so I try to look it up only to find out there are two churches in this small town….of course there is!

The small village of Langeais
Chateau Langeais

So it was either the Church of Saint John the Baptist or the Church of Saint-Laurent. Inside the church was a banner celebrating the 700th year of the birth of Saint Martin, which took place last year in 2016. Around Tours and the area a lot of mention of Saint Martin, also silver markers in some of the sidewalks in Tours and signposts in the countryside referring to the route of “Saint Martin of Tours” , reminiscent of the markers one sees for the Camino Compostela of Santiago. Saint Martin was a soldier in his earlier life and then became a cleric. When you see the posters or pictures of him, it shows his cloak torn in half. It is said that he once cut his cloak in half with his sword to give to a beggar. Also, Tours was a stop along the Camino of Santiago. In my reading I found out that the Path of Saint Martin is a pilgrimage walk for the towns that Saint Martin had visited. 
The church in Langeais

Back to apartment to cool down and relax prior to dinner. Out to “Mamie Bigoude” for a dinner of galettes and crepe deserts. We opt to eat inside the restaurant as is simply too hot to sit outside. The decor in this restaurant is hard to describe. Seems to be a green and pink theme. One wall is covered with needlepoint pictures and Rich pointed out that on another wall was a needlepoint of a naked woman laying on a sofa. Cuckoo clocks on the wall, light fixtures will balls of wools hanging off of them (not sure why they don’t catch on fire!), an elk head covered with plaid material as is a bike!

After dinner we take a walk to the “Cathedral of Saint Gatien” very imposing, unfortunately it is closed for the evening. Lisa and Rich visited it the following day and said their was was very impressive stained glass windows. 

Cathedral of Saint Gatien, Tours

We continue our walk through a part of town we have not yet seen, another old sector full of restaurants. Everyone is out enjoying drinks, probably trying to escape hot apartments. We saw a couple walking down the street with two fans and the next day came across recycling boxes…all discarded boxes which were at one time holding fans. It is hot, hot , hot!!
Once again, very glad that our apartment here in Tours is air conditioned, able to sleep at night. I know I have already said that; but really…..it is HOT!

Wednesday we head off early to the city of Le Mans, abut one hour by car on the motorway. We find parking, then the tourist office and we decide to separate. Rich and Lisa head off on their own as do Robin and I. We meet a couple of hours later for lunch. The local market is going on so we opt for some baked goods, then stop for a coffee/tea….in the shade. Walk up to Saint Julien Cathedral and go inside for some contemplation and prayer. It is undergoing some restoration work, but still able to get inside. Beautiful vaulted ceilings with very impressive buttresses on the outside.

Le Mans 24 hour car race held last weekend. Each person who wins imprints their hands and feet and plaques throughout the town.

Walk around the old town, then we head back to Tours around 2 p.m. 

Le Mans old town
When we got back from Le Mans today, the electronic sign at the pharmacy indicated it was 42C. We all think that may have been off a bit, but definitely high 30’s. Those crazy kids…Lisa and Rich decide to continue seeing more sights of Tours; way too hot for Robin and I, we head to the air conditioned apartment. After all, I have to work on my blog!

For the last couple of days we have seen signs posted on the road that there would be restricted parking for the music festival happening this afternoon and tonight, June 21st. Never dawned on us that it was the first day of summer. When we got home this afternoon, we could hear the start of the music. Well, it just got louder and louder. Lisa and Rich went out for dinner and we opted to eat in tonight. I sent a text to our landlord wondering when the music would end………I get a text…midnight or maybe 2! He then knocks on the door and says “Did you not know about this, it’s the first day of summer, this happens all over France” . First I hear of it!

Robin and I venture out and what a sight. The old town (our apartment in the midst of all of this) is packed with people, not only in the old town, but further out and also down by the river. People in all the restaurants and outdoor areas, eating and drinking. Also carrying their drinks while walking down the streets. We came across a group of six policeman walking down the street…I guess making sure things don’t get out of hand. I don’t think the pictures do this festival justice. All kinds of music being played on every corner, sometimes a few doors down from each other. In the courtyard across from our apartment their is a DJ playing very loud Euro techno….oh, by the way, our stone walls are reverberating! Really! We came across a young girl about 10 yrs of age playing a piano in the museum courtyard. Two DJ’s competing, a reggae band, a steel drum band, a drumming group, the Blues Brothers in another square, a guy playing inverted steel drums, an older group of people singing accompanied by a fellow playing an electronic piano and a group of young people playing all types of trombones, saxophones and trumpets. All in all, quite the event. Lisa and I were saying we might have to put in the ear plugs we had for the flight over to Europe. Will give a further report later! By the way……did I mention it is HOT. Soaking wet again after walking around the music festival tonight. 

  
Just an update on “Le Festival de la Musique”….Lisa put in her ear plugs, Robin fell asleep right away (he can sleep anywhere, anytime), Rich says took him a while and I read till about 12:30 pm and then listened to the thumping music till about 1:30 am. 

Thursday, our last day in the Loire and everyone indulges me. I wanted to see a very small town about one hour from Tours, called Montresor. We are using our IPhone maps to direct us as the Fiat 500 we now have does not have a GPS. The vocal instructions on the IPhone Maps program keeps telling us to continue onto “Mont Razor”….we laughed every time she said that. As a matter of fact, if you are the one chosen to navigate, you must read the written instructions, as you can never understand the pronunciation of the names of the roads/streets/towns. 
We arrive in Montresor and stop for coffee/tea. This small town is definitely not on the tourist route, very quiet. It is almost as if we have landed in a fairy tale. Quiet streets, no one about, a castle and a beautiful stream lined with weeping willows. 
Montresor was marked on one of the maps I had picked up, as one of the prettiest towns in France. A ancient wall, a chateau, a church, ancient Halle from the seventeeth century and a walk along a small steam all add to its charm. 


We proceed to the tiny information centre in Montresor, actually quite a cute little place. They are selling all sorts of local artisans goods. We get into a conversation with one of the ladies and ends up she is English. Lisa and Rich to proceed to pick her brain as to what day trips they can take when they get to London next week. Some good recommendations. 

We continue to Loches, where Robin and I had a quick visit last week. What a difference. When we were here last week it was market day and the town was jammed packed, could hardly find a place to park. What a difference a week makes. It is so hot, we find a restaurant with some shade, unfortunately no breeze anywhere. Walk around the “Ville Royale” and decide to head back to Tours. 

On the way back we decide to stop in Montlouis sur Loire to visit a “cave”. This Montlouis cave des Producteurs is a co-operative of fifteen wine producers. Robin and Rich do some wine tsting while Lisa and I venture into the caves where they keep the wine while it is aging. These caves were dug out when in years past they were quarrying for rock to build. 


Robin and I drop Lisa off near the apartment, then we proceed to return our car rental. Take a taxi back to the apartment and get into a lively conversation with the cab driver. When he found out we were Canadians, he told us he really like Celine Dion and that three years ago he did a motorcycle trip from Las Vegas up through Calgary and the Rocky Mountains. He said he loved Canada. When I asked him if he went on the trip with his wife, he said he wasn’t married, but he had gone on the trip with his “amie”, but he no longer had this “amie”. He now had a new “amie” but she could not have the time off to go on the trip. When he found out where we wanted to go, he laughed and asked us how we slept last night as he knew it was the music festival!

Our last night in Tours and a lovely dinner out with Lisa and Rich, a toast to his 50th birthday (gosh..that is just not possible!). Head back home to pack as we are all of tomorrow morning by TGV off to Paris, a one hour 15 minute ride. We will then go our separate ways. 


It has been a wonderful six days here in the Loire with Lisa and Rich. Saw many new sights and great to spend some quality time together. Thank you to Rich and Lisa for making the effort to come and spend some of their short vacation time with us.

Off to Paris tomorrow morning!!