gofarther.me

Home » Articles posted by wgraumann

Author Archives: wgraumann

LAGOS–The Ocean Paradise No One’s Heard About

October 28 and 29, 2022

In coastal southern Portugal is an area known as the Algarve; Lagos is the star of the region. Blessed with wonderful weather year round, beautiful beaches and a charming old city, it is a delight. While Europeans know about the city, very few Americans have discovered it; however, that is changing. 

We arrived from Lisbon into the modern train station at Lagos—about a 2 1/2 hour journey. It was immediately obvious that this was a well-kept, clean and inviting place. White cobblestone streets with black cobblestone designs graced the streets. The buildings were primarily of white plaster, and we soon saw the Atlantic Ocean shimmering in the near distance. A yacht harbor lying inland was filled with masted boats and sleek cruisers. It was lined with little shops selling all sorts of items. We arrived at our condominium and right before us was one of the most amazing beaches I have ever seen! High craggy cliffs and numerous sea stacks (big rocks in the water) surrounded a large sandy beach where blue waves rushed toward the shore. We walked down the winding stairs to the sand and got a drink in the ocean side bar as we took in the refreshing breezes and beautiful sights. After we had quickly settled into the condo, we headed to the old town a short distance away. Once again, it was an amazing adventure with the beautiful white and black cobblestoned streets and upscale shops and restaurants. Music filled the air. Delightful! We ate a grand meal; Kathy and I had a fish soup filled with shell fish and monkfish with some vegetables. It was delicious and we could not eat it all, but Randy came to the rescue and finished it off. 

We were not in a rush in the morning and walked along the harbor and did some shopping and then ate a late lunch—once again, very good. Later, we got on a small tourist train that took us along the ocean front. We got off at one stop and walked on the myriad of trails and boardwalks that took us along the edge of the high cliffs above the ocean. The cliffs stretch for miles! We were agog with the sights of deep cliffs with crashing waves and sea caves and stone arches and giant sea stacks in the water. Many caves and arches! Some beaches intersperse the canyons below. It was nature at its best. 

We ate a light dinner and are packing up since Kathy and I leave tomorrow for Lisbon and then home. Randy and Melisa continue their journey through Spain and then take a Mediterranean cruise through Greece and Croatia before heading to the Holy Land where Kathy and I will rejoin them in December.  

Lagos, Portugal, is situated on the beautiful Western Algarve.

Photos are from the Ponta da Piedade headland in Lagos, Portugal, a series of highly weathered cliffs regarded as the finest natural feature of the Algarve.

A focal point of Lagos is the marina complex.

Drawbridge in the marina complex of Lagos, Portugal

Ancient Moorish city wall in Lagos, Portugal

Kathy could not resist experiencing one of the beautiful beaches that grace the coastline of Lagos.

LISBON VIBE

October 25-27, 2022

Settling into our city hotel near Avenue Liberty in the late afternoon, we went out for a walk. We started at Pombal Circle (Marquis of Pombal Square) which lies at the top of the Avenue Liberty. The walk down the tree-lined avenue was delightful. The white small cobblestones inlaid with black cobblestones made decorative designs all along the way. High end stores, shops and restaurants beckoned as we walked along. We were not buying today. As it grew dark, Kathy and I decided to get back to the hotel and sit in the lounge and eat a small meal, while Randy and Melisa opted for a nice restaurant along the avenue. We all slept well. 

In the morning we ate breakfast in the hotel and headed to the nearby metro to spend the day in Sintra, a suburban area north of Lisbon. Unfortunately, we did not buy the tickets in the machine properly and instead of four tickets for the day for four people, we purchased one ticket for one person for four days. One and a half hours later, after standing in line to get the proper tickets, we were on our way. The allures and sites of Sintra soon made us forget our ticket problem. What a day! 

We hired a tuk-tuk for a tour and were glad we did. Not only was Miguel, our driver, fun and informative, he was kind and helpful. We saw Penã, a colorful royal palace from the  medieval times. We saw beautiful homes overlooking verdant valleys. Our narrow roadways were lined with moss-covered stone fencing with ferns and ivies protruding. We saw the walled fortress guarding a high hill and the quaint old town of Sintra. Miguel let us off near a restaurant he recommended in the old town—it was delicious as we ate area seafood specialities. Our cod/potato cakes were tasty. After lunch we walked to the Quinta da Regaleira, the Knights Templar training site. Here is the famous training/initiating well where Knight recruits were initiated while wearing blindfolds and with swords drawn, forced to march quickly down the stair-lined deep circular well. We walked it with eyes wide open, and it was still a feat to accomplish. Melisa opted to not descend the well and walk back down instead, but Randy had her phone. No meeting spot in the very large grounds was chosen, and we were lost/separated from each other for some time. However, the beautiful grounds and gardens kept all of us soothed until we reunited. We enjoyed shopping and strolling in the old town before taking the train back to Lisbon. 

We slept well and long and arose with determination to take the tourist-friendly Tram 28 which winds its way to most tourist spots in the city. We showed our cab driver our location at the beginning of the tram line. He said something in Portuguese and then disappeared. He returned with another hotel guest he had found who could speak English. This guest told us the taxi driver wanted us to know that the site we had chosen had long lines to get tickets and he wanted to take us to the end of the line where there would be no lines and, at the conclusion of our ride, we would be much closer to our hotel; however, he stated the taxi fare would cost two Euros more. We were thrilled and thankful that he would do this for us. As advertised, there was a minimal line where he dropped us off. These old tram cars creek and jiggle as they trudge up steep hills and through narrow streets. We had fun and saw many Lisbon sites during the 45 minute ride. When we got off we saw very long queues of people waiting to buy tickets, and we were once again thankful for such a thoughtful taxi driver. We immediately hailed another taxi to take us to the Belém neighborhood where we found a great restaurant—Randy had the “best pizza I’ve had on this trip’” and Kathy had delicious sea bass in a thin potato crust over shredded mixed vegetables. Our restaurant was in the majestic Praca do Comércio (Commerce Plaza), a large harbor facing the River Tagus that flows into the nearby Atlantic Ocean. Lined with beautiful government buildings and a large equestrian statue of King Joseph I framed by a victory arch, we enjoyed the time spent there. We hailed another taxi to take us to the Belém neighborhood, specifically to the Pasteis de Belém, the confectionery that produces the famous Pastel de Nata. This puff pastry is stuffed with a creamy custard, a secret recipe. We briefly walked the area and through a park to the ocean front where we strolled a short distance to the Padrao dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) with the great Portuguese sailers on one side (Henry the Navigator, etc.) and government leaders and missionaries on the other, all who played a big part in Portugal’s Age of Discoveries looking out seaward on the monument representing a ship’s prow. From there we strolled toward the lighthouse and Belèm Tower, a 16th century fortification built during the Portuguese Renaissance, before returning to the hotel for a leisurely evening.  

     The Castelo dos Mouros, a Moorish castle in Sintra

The Palacio Nacional de Sintra, the original medieval palace of Sintra used by the early Portuguese rulers

The “haunted” mansion in Sintra, Portugal, used as the setting in the Netflix movie, “Ninth Gate”

The cork oak tree (quercus suber) is one of the most common tree species in Portugal. The process of removing the outer bark is done once every nine years.

We took a tuk-tuk tour to reach the Palacio Nacional da Pena (Pena Castle) with its vividly painted exterior.

The colorful Pena Castle in the hills of the Serra de Sintra

Sintra’s Quinta da Regaleira

The ceremonial Initiation Well on the historic estate of the Quinta da Regaleira

Part of the tunnel system at the base of the spiral staircase of the Initiation Well on the estate of Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal

We rode the vintage Remodelado Tram, Tram 28, in Lisbon, Portugal, inaugurated in 1914, which passes through popular tourist districts on its 4 1/2 mile route.

Lisbon street scene while riding Tram 28

Another Lisbon street scene from Tram 28

Sao Vicente de Fora Monastery in Lisbon, Portugal

Belem Tower and Lighthouse on the waterfront in Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon’s Ponte 25 de Abril (25th of April Bridge) is a steel suspension bridge across the Tagus River, a motorway bridge, freeway bridge, and railroad bridge reminiscent in design and even coloring to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

We could not leave Lisbon without sampling the famous cream cakes at the Pasteis de Belem bakery with its secret recipe that has not changed since the bakery opened in 1837.

A chef at Pasteis de Belem removes its famous custard tart, the Pastel de Nata, from the oven.

Lisbon’s Monument to the Discoveries

The other side of Lisbon’s Monument to the Discoveries

ROAD TRIP

October 24 & 25, 2022

We rented a car in Porto to take a two day drive to Lisbon (only four hours away). We wanted to visit the interior of this small country. Upon arrival at the car rental, we discovered that our car could not hold our luggage, and all that was available that could hold everything was a BMW station wagon-like (not sold in the U.S.) vehicle. We gritted our teeth as we paid the hefty upgrade charge!  Lovely forested areas grace the interior. We headed first to Coimbra, the home of one of the oldest universities in the world and of the library that inspired the writing of the Harry Potter series. We used Waze to navigate and it was excellent. The library was amazing. Holding 60,000 ancient volumes, it is a masterpiece of design.The room was dark with heavy curtains and soft lighting–all for the purpose of protecting the interior and its contents. The interior had three connected rooms–black/forest green and gold on each end and burnt red and gold in the middle. The library stacks were two stories high with a balcony running the entire circumference of the second tier. The balcony was supported with heavily adorned pillars. The walls and ceiling were beautifully painted with scroll work patterns. Very beautiful! 

From Coimbra we drove to Tomar with its wonderful castle built by the Knights Templar in the early middle ages. We were able to drive up the narrow lane that wound up the high hill on which the fortress sat and park in front of the gateway into the castle. It was from this fortress that the Portuguese were able to drive out the Moors from Africa who had invaded seven centuries earlier. Besides the walls and battlements of the castle, there is a beautiful garden and chapel in the interior. We made our way down the steep hill and drove on to Fatima where it was asserted that the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children and gave them three important messages. We were impressed with the immense size of the site. A center plaza was several football fields in expanse, and we saw people shuffling on knees in prayer from the chapel on one end to the shrine church on the other end. Back in the car we headed to Nazaré, an Atlantic coastal city north of Lisbon. It was dark when we arrived at our hotel and we were hungry. Our parking in the underground hotel garage was an adventure. It took all of us and the BMW’s excellent surround cameras to get the parking accomplished. Back and forth in inches Randy moved the car on every extremely narrow curve. It took a long time to make the turn into the parking space, so narrow was the area. Our efforts were rewarded with no scratches on the car! Our meal was at a seaside restaurant specializing in fish, and it was one of the best meals we have eaten on this trip. The servers were exceptional as they elegantly deboned fish and presented our plates. Kathy ate a shell fish meal served in a wooden boat. Cool. It was an amazing day. 

We arose the next morning to visit the beaches of Nararé which are famous in the surfing world since the largest waves on record hit the beaches there. This is because right off the shore the ocean drops 5,000 feet into a canyon that causes the swells in the right winter weather conditions to produce 100+foot waves. Randy walked into the water and found it cold. We drove along the coast and realized that development is coming to that area and probably soon. The sand dunes and ocean with wide expanses of beach are inviting. Our approach to Obidos was jaw-dropping with pure white buildings and homes with terra-cotta roofs and an expansive medieval wall surrounding the city. We were excited to explore. Once again we drove up very narrow roads and parked near the entry of the castle. We walked inside and were impressed with the battlements and towers in multitudes. Families were walking the ramparts high above with no rails! Along the way we saw a large arched gate that we walked through. To our amazement we believed we had walked into a movie set! The white village inside the walls spread out before us and narrow cobblestoned streets with cascading bougainvilleas of red or purple were beautiful. The streets were lined with wonderful small shops and restaurants. Cherry liqueur served with chocolate is a “thing” here and it was good. We so enjoyed our browsing time. After several hours, we drove onward to Lisbon to return our car which was an ordeal in itself as we kept missing the rental car return garage entry and visited the same round about a dozen times. It was all fun!

Historic University of Coimbra built on the grounds of a former palace in central Portugal in 1537 is among the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

St. Michael’s University Chapel of Coimbra built upon an ancient chapel of the 12th century in the Manueline style

Coimbra University Baroque Chapel Organ is decorated with Chinese motifs similar to those in the Baroque Library shelves of the university.

Coimbra University Baroque Library, the Biblioteca Joanina, holds 60,000 books dating from the 16th century that are still consulted today. The portrait of King John V dominates the Noble Floor.

Castle Walls of the Convent of Christ in Tomar, Portugal

Castle of Tomar – The Convent of Christ, originally a 12th century Templar stronghold, now a UNESCO World Heritage site

The Sanctuary of Fatima, a Catholic pilgrimage site in Portugal

Pilgrims proceed on their knees in penitential reverence in the Sanctuary of Fatima.

The sacred Sanctuary of Fatima where the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared in 1917

Randy experiences the waves at Nazare, Portugal, the largest underwater canyon in Europe that allows the formation of giant waves.

Randy and Melisa take a “selfie” at the Castle of Obidos, a well-preserved medieval castle in Portugal.

Castle walls in Obidos

Library in Obidos, Portugal

Chapel in Obidos, Portugal

Obidos is famed for its sour cherry liqueur called Ginjinha d’Obidos often served in a little edible chocolate cup.

One of the many beautiful, romantic street scenes in Obidos, Portugal

Francesinha; Port Wine; Cork

October 22, 23, 2022

We added to our transportation venues by taking a bus from Santiago de Compostela, Spain, to Porto, Portugal. It was really our only travel option and it was comfortable and safe as we rode through the forested hills in sometimes heavy rain. Upon arrival at our awesome Porto apartment in a palace built in the late 1600’s, we set out to explore the city. Directly across the square from our apartment was the Santa Clara church. We were not prepared for the beauty we were about to experience. Really, the complete gold baroque interior took our breath away. Awesome to the max! Fortunately, the docent inside spoke English and told us that the church was in complete ruins after years of neglect; however, corporations and various organizations banded together to completely restore it to its former glory. He was one of the rebuilders/restorers himself and glowed with pride as he spoke of the precious history of the church. 

We walked a short distance to a pedestrian area filled with shops and restaurants and picked a restaurant already packed with people. It was a delicious choice! We ordered a Porto specialty—Francesinha—Portuguese bread stuffed with beef, sausage, mortadella and goat cheese and covered with a mozzarella shell with a fried egg on top and covered with a beer sauce all heated on a grill. That’s a mouth full, right? We enjoyed the “sandwich.” With fries, of course! 

The next morning, after the rain had subsided, we headed out to the nearby famous bridge over the river Douro, designed by Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame. Unfortunately, as we approached the bridge, the rain returned in spades! Here we were, on the top of a multi-tiered bridge, hundreds of feet in the air in a driving rain. My plastic rain tunic ripped in the blasts of wind that propelled the rain sideways. There was no way to stay dry and no place to find refuge. I started to laugh, because as soon as I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did! Melisa was behind me and said she could only watch my feet as she could look no where else but down. Once safely on the other side in a building housing the sky tram, Randy, Melisa, Kathy and I looked at each other in disbelief. We waited for the rain to pass to head back to the apartment to change clothes, take showers and reassess our plans for the day. As we approached the bridge we realized that the streets were flooded and all the transportation had come to a halt. So we waited some more for the flooding to recede. By early afternoon the sun was out and the weather was pleasantly refreshing. We ordered a cab to take us to the Taylor bodega on the other side of the river. Port wine takes its name from Porto and port vineyards line the Douro River outside the city. Taylor is the oldest of the port wineries. We really enjoyed the tour past multitudes of vats and barrels (one holding 140,000 bottles of wine) and relished the port tasting at the end. From there we walked down to the riverside and to the sky tram that transported us back up the hill to the bridge. This time we enjoyed the views from the long bridge on this beautiful afternoon. Once across the bridge we walked to the old train station, noted for its Portuguese tile interior, depicting historic scenes from Portugal’s past. From there we walked to the funicular that took us down to the riverside where there are many pastel-colored buildings lining the river, with historic port wine boats bobbing in the water. We ate in a wonderful restaurant specializing in Portuguese fare. We drank more port wine! We took the funicular back up the hill and got out right by our apartment. Porto is quite hilly, but with a funicular, a street elevator, and a sky tram, you don’t necessarily have to walk up many hills. We were very blessed in that our apartment was in the center of it all and a few minutes walk got us to most of the sites. 

Santa Clara Church in Porto, Portugal
Santa Clara Church in Porto, Portugal
Santa Clara Church in Porto, Portugal
Santa Clara Church in Porto, Portugal
Beautiful tile work adorned many buildings in Porto, including this church.
Portuguese tile work adorns many buildings in Porto, including this church in Porto.
Portuguese tile work in Porto’s train station
Wayne admires Portuguese tile in Porto’s train station depicting the history of Porto.
We experienced traditional foods of Porto, including the francesinha sandwich.
The bridge designed by Eiffel over the Douro River in Porto, Portugal
We rode the gondola, or air tram, in Porto.
Riding Porto’s funicular
We visited the Taylor’s Winery in Porto and learned about the production of Porto’s
distinctive port wine.
Port wine aging at the Taylor Winery in Porto
Porto night life on the banks of the Douro River
Evening in Porto at the river’s edge

LOST ON THE CAMINO REAL

October 21, 2022

How do you get lost on a famous pilgrim’s route used by hundred’s of thousands every year? Although it stretches for over 400 miles from an area in southern France all the way to Santiago de Compostela (where we were visiting), we walked on it only a short way–accidentally. We had taken a taxi from our hotel to the St. James Cathedral. It is here that St. James the Greater is believed to be buried. He was an apostle and the first of Jesus’s disciples to be martyred. The purpose of the Camino Real is to bring the pilgrims to this tomb. They come to the cathedral every day, hundreds upon hundreds where they present themselves in special ceremonies. As we entered the cathedral, it appeared voluminous, yet plain. But the further into the interior we walked, we noticed a shine and light and then…an explosion of gold and silver in a very large altar room in the middle of the cathedral. Huge angels carried banners in their arms, and the story of St. James in baroque splendor unfolded before us. Before the altar is the huge incense Botafumeiro, the largest thuriblein (incense container) the world. Suspended on huge chains, it can be manipulated to swing at speeds of 45 mph over the heads of worshipers in the nave. Originally used to cover up the smell of the sweaty and dirty pilgrims, it is now used as an act of worship. Below the altar area is a tomb room with the remains of St. James in a silver casket. Inspirational, indeed! 

Leaving the cathedral, under cloudy skies, we decided to walk back to the hotel which was only a 16 minute walk. Consulting our phone map apps. both Randy and I independently came up with an identical route home, but it said it was a 35 minute walk. Oh well! Off we walked, down side streets, around flower-laden round abouts, and on and on we went. After about 10 minutes, my map said we still had 35 minutes to walk! Hmm! But on and on we went. At one point it was an upward climb on an off the map incline–150 steps–and then a marked gravel walkway–the Camino Real–cool! But we still had 25 minutes to walk. “We are probably going to the hotel on the backside,” Randy said. I was comforted by that thought. The skies were turning dark, but we soldiered forward. Finally, after about two hours, we were getting close, so our map apps. indicated. Nothing, however, looked familiar, and we were now in a rural area. On we went, until we reached the hotel street. It was sprinkling hard now. Down the street we rushed. Then the map app. said, “Arrived,” and what should we see–an abandoned restaurant!!! We were completely lost, and it was raining hard, and there were no other buildings in sight. Thankfully, the restaurant had a covered porch. What on earth? Time passed by! Finally, Kathy took the bull by the horns and walked down to the road to wave any passer by down. Amazingly, a woman came by and became our angel in disguise. She came up to the porch and called a cab for us! Within ten minutes we were on our way to the hotel several miles away. That is how you get lost on the Camino Real–use a map app. on the phone! We had walked over five miles and sadly, we later found out our hotel was truly only a sixteen minute walk following the proper route. We came via plane from Madrid–we saw amazing sights–we conquered the map app. What more can one say or do! 

Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela
The Tomb of St. James the Greater in the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela
Wayne and Randy confer on their map apps to determine our way back from the cathedral to our hotel in Santiago de Compostela while Melisa follows.

BARCELONA RAMBLINGS

October 18-20, 2022

Barcelona does not disappoint and our third time here since retirement was a charm. The Standly’s and Krahn’s were able to stand in amazement at the unique beauty of the Sagrada Familia, the masterpiece basilica of Antoni Gaudi. The unusual melted wax appearance of the interior and flower and nature embellishments bathed in light streaming through the translucent solid color-themed stained glass are mesmerizing. Gaudi was a master architect who micromanaged every aspect of his buildings—he designed everything! His unfortunate death before completion of the Sagrada Familia has not stopped the work towards completion since he left behind very detailed plans. 

Kathy and I went to Montserrat, the mountains and monastery by that name outside of Barcelona. What a surprise as we were enthralled by what we saw. The mountains gave Gaudi his inspiration for his building designs. The mountains have pillars of stone that give the same melted wax appearance as his columns and the plants and vegetation of the mountains find their way into his nature designs. The views from the heights overlooking the hills and valleys beyond were amazing. However, it was the monastery that drew our undivided attention. We were pleased to experience the monastery boys’ choir, the most celebrated choir in Spain. The chapel is a jewel box of beauty as it is one of the most important sites in the nation. The chapel houses the famous “Black Madonna”—Mary and Baby Jesus. The vision of the madonna in the mountains drew visitors for centuries with Queen Isabella of Spain and St. Francis of Assisi being among them. Eventually the image of the Madonna was copied and carved from marble and the marble was black in color. Now pilgrims worldwide come to see the statue. We joined the throng. As we walked upward in long corridors leading to the statue not a sound could be heard. People moved forward in hushed silence. Even the walking was soft and quiet. Each room on the way was more exquisite than the one before. Craftmanship in wood, mosaics, marble, ceramics and paint was superb. The room housing the Madonna was gold and silver. Protectively housed in a glass enclosure, the Madonna  holds an orb in her hand with Baby Jesus in her lap. A small portion of the orb is exposed so one can touch it. Behind the statue is a large beautiful chapel so that the Madonna can be viewed from behind. Outside the room are 1000’s of lit candles. We were thankful for the experience. 

Back in Barcelona, all of us enjoyed Las Ramblas, the main shopping and strolling venue in the city. It is tree-lined all the way to the ocean. Along the way is the St. Josep la Boqueria market, a colorful and fun experience of every food imaginable. We didn’t think we could pry Allen away. We did, finally! As always, we found wonderful restaurants in which to eat and we discovered fried olives—muy bien! Visiting the Gothic Quarter led us up very small alleyways and into hidden squares in this medieval part of the city! We had some of the most unusual gelato ever with very dark chocolate being a favorite. Barcelona is an easy city in which to ramble on and on and never get tired of the sensory overload. 

Barcelona Cathedral
Barcelona Cathedral
Barcelona Cathedral
Barcelona Cathedral
Apartment on La Rambla
Another apartment building along Barcelona’s La Rambla
Strolling on La Rambla
At the Mercat (Market) de la Boqueria
At the Mercat (Market) de la Boqueria
More selections at the market in Barcelona
One of the beautiful outdoor shops along Barcelona’s La Rambla

Riding the Gondola to reach Montserrat
Approaching Montserrat
Montserrat
Montserrat

A Prayer Chapel in Montserrat
The Black Madonna at Montserrat

VALENCIA BEYOND EXPECTATIONS

October 16 and 17, 2022

Valencia was a place hard to leave because it way exceeded expectations. We stayed at spacious and wonderful apartments in the old town that opened up into the maze of narrow medieval lanes. You had a choice of simply walking, trusting that the twists and turns and many side streets would eventually get you somewhere you wanted to go or to use a map app. on your phone. It was a delightful adventure. Along the streets were restaurants and shops of various kinds. We found one very nice looking restaurant with flowers in pots on the exterior and paintings and chandeliers and cozy linen-covered tables in the interior. We went in and were told since we had no reservation, we could eat immediately but had to be out in an hour and fifteen minutes since the restaurant was totally booked later. We ate and were rewarded with a magnificent Italian meal. We so enjoyed it that we made a reservation for the following evening. 

We found the famous Valencia Central Market the next morning and were floored with its size and beauty. The products were in beautiful display in tiled shops with glass display cases. Everything was pristine! The building itself is a work of art—great steel girders and large painted domes formed a beautiful canopy over the aisles of market stalls. We literally spent several hours just “oohing and awing” over what we saw. If you needed anything for food preparation, it could be found. Local and/or exotic products were on display. For instance, olive stalls with olives from raw to every kind of prepared olive tempted your senses. Spice stalls caught your senses of smell and sight. On and on with meat, vegetables, fruits. It was overwhelming. We loved every minute! 

Since Valencia is the home of paella, we could not miss trying out a restaurant that specialized in its preparation and here we “lucked out.” The ones that were highly rated were all closed as it was their day off, but I saw a nice looking restaurant just down a side narrow lane and walked over to see what it was. I found a waiter and asked and he informed me that they made each order of paella fresh for the table. Since the kitchen would not open for 30 minutes, he suggested we sit down and have some freshly made sangria and small plate tapas that he would bring us as we waited for the kitchen to open and the extra 30 minutes it would take to prepare our order. We did and were we glad we did! Soon our outdoor table on a beautiful day was laden with Spanish spiced potato salad, fried peppers, olives, bread, Spanish butter (tomato puree with olive oil and spices) and, of course, pitchers of sangria. A very good saxophonist was playing in the small courtyard in which the restaurant sat. When our order arrived, we were rewarded with two large shallow pans of the rice dish—one with fish (mussels, langoustine shrimp, octopus, cuttlefish) and the other with Italian green beans, chicken and rabbit. Both were excellent with just the right amount of bottom rice crust. Our waiter asked us to pry the crust loose and mix with the other ingredients in the pan because that gave paella its excellent taste. He was right! 

We decided that Valencia was a culinary hit and its maze of streets a delight. There is so much more to see there and could it be we will return some day?

Restaurant dining in Valencia
Cathedral in Valencia
Central Market in Valencia
Valencia’s Central Market interior
Shoppers inside Valencia’s Central Market

A booth in Valencia’s Central Market

 

MADRID IS ON THE MOVE

October 13-15, 2022

Madrid is on the move! We noticed it immediately as we arrived at the mega large Atocha Train Station—crowds of people, lots of traffic, fast pace! Our more than wonderful VRBO in the center of all the attractions and action was in a quieter pedestrian-only area; however, the restaurants and upscale shops drew lots of people traffic. Frankly, it was exciting to see the hustle and bustle—even past 10pm there were many people out and about. 

Randy and I immediately went to a dry cleaners near our apartment. That was an experience that showed us how far behind we can be in certain areas. The establishment was ultra clean, and the workers all dressed in pressed white uniforms were visible in neat array with work stations that included presses and ironing boards and irons. It looked impressive. When we turned in our clothing, we were given a plastic card with the time the clothes would be cleaned and pressed, something like a credit card. We took it realizing it was different than what we get at home. Next day, Randy and Melisa went back for the clothes and reported that when they arrived, they simply inserted the card into a slot and the clothes racks began to spin and, wallah! the clothes appeared before them, a door slid open for them to remove the clothing, and out the door they went…Easy, peasy. The clothes were very well cleaned and pressed! 

Being close to the Grand Via, Madrid’s shopping mecca with amazing architecture all around, we decided to see what that was about. We had to stop often to view the sculptures on the impressive buildings. The stores were jammed with shoppers—we were so surprised with this. Restaurants were packed. The Krahn’s and Standly’s went to eat at Spain’s oldest restaurant, “Sobrino de Botin“, famous for roast suckling piglet. They said it was very good! For lack of a better phrase, I would say our experience on the Grand Via was glamorous. As we strolled, there were demonstrations on the main boulevard. The one for pension justice for seniors was long and had many thousands of senior marchers. The one to bring awareness to the problem of human trafficking contained about a thousand Christian teens all dressed in black. Everything was peaceful and the marchers were drawing media attention.

The Plaza Espanã at one end of the Grand Via was wonderful. A long narrow expanse, it is a pedestrian park filled with flowers and trees and walkways. Madrid is full of beautiful parks. The Plaza reaches to the Royal Palace and Madrid Cathedral. Within the Plaza is a marketplace with neat rows of wooden stalls selling all types of goods. We saw the largest loaves of bread we have ever seen for sale. Before we visited the Royal Palace, we were able to witness the Changing of the Guard outside. Stately, yet, simple. Inside the Palace we were once again absolutely surprised with the huge scale and the beauty we saw. The interior rooms were easily as beautiful, if not more so, than the other grand palaces of Europe we have experienced. Ceramic work on moldings and sculptures were eye catching and colors within rooms were totally coordinated. The artistic tapestries woven by weavers from Brussels were breathtakingly beautiful.

A very short distance away from the Palace is another huge and beautiful park that contains a 2500 year old Egyptian temple, the Templo Dobod, a gift from Egypt to Spain. Pretty cool!  

We were sad to leave Madrid! We ate well, had great experiences. We did not rush ourselves as we enjoyed a truly great VBRO in the heart of much activity and beauty! 

The Royal Palace in Madrid
Changing of the Royal Palace Guard in Madrid
View of Madrid from within the Royal Palace
Another view of Madrid from within the palace
View of a ceiling within Madrid’s Royal Palace
View of a chandelier from within Madrid’s Royal Palace

Plaza de Espana
Wayne overlooking the gardens of Madrid’s Temple of Debod
In the gardens of Madrid’s Temple of Debod
Madrid’s Temple of Debod
Wayne outside Madrid’s Temple of Debod
Oratory of Caballero de Gracia in Madrid
Madrid, Spain
Apartment dwellings in Madrid, Spain
Madrid’s Christian Youth work to bring awareness to human trafficking and eliminate it.
A march held on a major street in Madrid for pension reform

SURPRISING SEGOVIA

October 14, 2022

During our time in Madrid, Kathy and I took a day trip to Segovia while the Krahn’s and Standly’s spent time in Madrid on a hop on-hop off tour. They also went to the oldest restaurant in Spain, “Sobrino de Botin.” They had seen it on “Somebody Feed Phil” which is a Net Flix serial. The restaurant specializes in suckling piglet. They raved about the experience. 

Segovia was a very rich surprise. It is home to the 1900 year old double-tiered Roman aqueduct. Built with no filler (such as concrete), the stones were so expertly laid that the aqueduct has stood the test of time. It is a very impressive sight as you enter the city. The home to a multitude of Spanish monarchs, Segovia has a central street known as the Royal Street. It is a narrow cobblestoned lane that goes up to a crest on the hill and then down again. Over the years, Nobles and the rich, wanting to be near the Royals, built palaces along the street. Tiles on the buildings are in various styles indicating what was in vogue as the years went along. At the top of the hill is the impressive cathedral. The original cathedral was destroyed in a revolt to the rule of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Emperor Charles raised an army to defeat the rebels but, in so doing, the Segovia Cathedral lay in ruins. The people of the city were so distressed that they demanded a rebuilding, and in only 52 years, a record time, the new gothic edifice was consecrated. Further down the hill on a precipice overlooking a deep valley is the magnificent Alcazar. First, a nearly impregnable fortress built by the Moors, when the Spanish took over and under Bourbon influence, the citadel/palace was expanded and has a definite French appearance. It is beautiful. The mote around the palace has no water since the palace is built on a solid rock outcropping separated from the land with a very deep crevice. The interior is richly decorated and lavishly furnished. Encircling the ceiling, the Monarch’s Room has a statue of every monarch who served through the centuries. It was here that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella granted Columbus the money to set sail westward. Wonderful history amidst such beauty. 

The trip to Segovia took us through various terrain. Dry flatland, then scrub brush, sheep and cattle areas with rich walls and finally, ascending the mountains, pine forested highlands and then down again to dry land areas with rivers coursing through the area. We ended the day in our wonderful apartment with our friends eating pizza and other goodies from the bakery next door and reminiscing about our day’s experiences. 

The kitchen preparations at the oldest restaurant in Spain, “Sobrino de Botin.”
Inside Segovia’s Alcazar

Inside Segovia’s Alcazar
Segovia’s Alcazar decor
From Segovia’s Monarch Room in the Alcazar
Exterior view of Segovia’s Alcazar
Segovia’s beautiful Alcazar

Segovia, Spain
Segovia’s Roman Aqueduct
Segovia’s Roman Aqueduct honoring the Virgin Mary
Roman remnants in Segovia
View from Segovia’s Alcazar

GRAND GRANADA

October 11, 12, 2022

When the Sultans of the Nasrid Emirate built the Alhambra in the 13th century, little did they know that it would become a treasure of Spanish architecture today. This Granada landmark is one of the great tourist draws of Europe and a grand adventure. The Standly’s, Krahn’s and Paluch’s discovered the tranquil beauty that Kathy and I discovered in a previous trip. The snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada range behind the Alhambra were utilized to bring ice cold water to refrigerate the palace where nary a drop of water was wasted as it created pools and fountains and irrigated  gardens while slowly descending down the slopes of the massive palace grounds. It is a marvel of ancient engineering and is a showcase of Moorish wall and ceiling carvings. After the Reconquista ended the 700 year rule of the Moors in Spain in 1692, the Alhambra became a royal palace of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and it was from here that their interaction with Columbus led to the European discovery of the “new” world. 

Granada’s Roman Catholic Cathedral is also magnificent. The second largest in Europe, its use of gold highlights throughout the light-filled space is marvelous. The gold pipe organ cases (four) reaching toward the high ceilings were stellar. 

We enjoyed eating at area restaurants where tapas were popular. By this time on our journey through Spain, we have a judging system of which restaurants in which cities have the best individual tapas plates—i.e. garlic shrimp or fried camembert. That is fun as we all have our favorites and debate the merits of the individual small plates. 

An amazing side note: 5,000 plus miles from home we have run into young friends and had delightful conversations. First, we ran into Rock Graham in Seville on a busy side street near the cathedral. He called out, “Pastor Graumann!” What a surprise! Visiting Spain for a wedding, he said he heard my voice, which was unmistakable to him. He commented later, “I met the pastor who baptized and confirmed me over 5,000 miles from home.” A few days later in Granada, in the cathedral, there was a tap on my shoulder and Hunter Gatewood was quick to give Kathy and me a hug. Our shock at seeing him only increased as Nick and Matt Wanner appeared. All were excellent students at Salem Lutheran School back in the day. The three young men were on a trip to Europe. We had a grand visit as the Paluch’s and Standly’s also knew the young men. We had a marvelous visit catching up. These accidental encounters in Seville and Granada were a highlight for us, and we know their parents are very proud of the young men their sons have become! 

Joyful encounter with Hunter Gatewood and Nick and Matthew Wanner in Granada’s Cathedral
Joyful encounter with Rock Graham in Sevilla, Spain
Friends together in the Alhambra observing the elaborate water system
Shopping in Granada
Allen found his “twin” in Granada, a local celebrity
Parade in Granada celebrating the Virgin Mary
Parade in Granada celebrating the Virgin Mary
Granada Monument honoring Ferdinand and Isabella and Christopher Columbus
A garden in Granada’s Alhambra

A ceiling in Granada’s Alhambra
A scene in Granada’s Alhambra
Altar within the Alhambra
Granada’s Alhambra
The Standly’s and Krahn’s in the gardens of Granada’s Alhambra
Granada’s Alhambra