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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!
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.
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?
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!
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.
October 9 and 10, 2022
We arrived at the Mediterranean Coast early afternoon for our stay in upscale and trendy Malaga. This is one of Europe’s playgrounds for sun and fun. Our hotel was directly across from the Roman Theatre ruins carved into the hillside. Above the Theatre loomed the medieval castle/fortress, the Alcazaba. It had strong thick walls and climbed up the hillside—just like in the movies. We enjoyed exploring it, especially in that it was free entry on Sunday’s, and it was so very close to our hotel. One again, we were spoiled for choice of restaurants. There were at least 30 or more within easy walk. We found an amazing gelato shop and cheese cake store. We declared the gelato the best of the trip so far. The cheese cake was moist and creamy—not too much sugar. I am preferring the less sweet desserts of Europe. The Krahn’s and Paluch’s brought cards along, and some evenings we play various games. Fun!
The cathedral is beautiful. We have seen many on this trip. Each is distinctive in some way. This one had a beautiful pipe organ built on pillars in the center of the cathedral. Our adventure along the Mediterranean was a highlight. Our hotel recommended a city favorite restaurant overlooking the water which splashed against the wall of the restaurant built out into the water. As we entered, we noticed a chef tending a large pit fire and skewering large sardines. He would stand them up in front of the wood fire and spray them occasionally with spices. That’s what many of us ordered for our meal. Delicious. Fresh sardines are nothing like the canned ones we are used to eating. We spent several hours soaking up the beauty, and Kathy, Melisa and Randy took off shoes and ventured into the cool waters. We all thought Malaga was a wonderful stop on our journey.
Arches Multiplied in Cordoba
October 7, 2022
During our time in Seville, the Standly’s, Karen Paluch, and we took a day trip to Cordoba, the medieval capital of Moorish-controlled Spain. It was a marvelous day filled with unexpected surprises. The train ride was direct and only 45 minutes. The train stations in Spain are top notch and the trains excellent. Security is efficient and tight. There are plenty of places to eat or relax and getting to the train is done via escalators that have no steps, just a downward or upward moving sidewalk. We all said Spain train system gets an A plus.
Cordoba is know for two main structures—the Roman era bridge and the Mesquita or Mosque/Cathedral. Both are wonderful experiences; however, the Mesquita was awe inspiring! First a church, it was taken down by the African Muslim Moors after they invaded Iberia and parts were reused to build a mosque on the site. Later, after the Reconquista (the European invasions that pushed the Moors back into Africa after their 700 year occupation of Iberia), the mosque was rechristened a Christian Church (Roman Catholic Cathedral) and parts of it remodeled to reflect Christian symbolism. The result is a phenomenal sight. Row upon row of burnt red and white striped arches supported with columns in perfect symmetry reach, seemingly endlessly, in every direction. The ceiling is relatively low, casting a dark shadow into the distance. It is a mysterious sight. Then, all of the sudden, you walk into a central area with white high sculpted ceilings with windows that flood the area with light. Beautiful wood carved choir stalls with a pipe organ stand in the distance and a beautiful altar beckons worship. A guide explained that light and enlightenment piercing darkness are central teachings of Christianity, and Islam teaches shadows and mystery and this explains the difference in the architectural styles exhibited in the cathedral. We were enthralled and spent several hours exploring the Mesquita that can now hold 40,000 people within its walls.
After walking the bridge, eating in a restaurant in a building from 800 A.D. and enjoying a visit to the alcazar palace and gardens, we headed back to Sevilla. It was a glorious day!
October 4-8, 2022
We have not been back to Seville for nine years. It is the same, and it is different… different in that it is much busier, and much has been renewed…same in that it is as elegant as ever. Our VRBO is perfectly located—right on a street within view of the cathedral and filled with beautiful restaurants with outdoor seating.
We are enjoying our meals at tapas restaurants. Most restaurants have around 25 selections of the little plates. One doesn’t need more than three plates, each one with different food. I ordered one medium plate of fried fish and two small plates—one a potato dish and the other an aubergine (eggplant) dish. The waiter looked at me and said, “Too much food!” so I cancelled the potato dish. I was glad I did as I could barely finish eating the wonderful food I did receive.
The majestic Seville Cathedral with its soaring Giralda Tower is a sight to behold. The largest gothic building in the world, dwarfing most other cathedrals in Europe, sits surrounded with large fountain-filled plazas and beautiful buildings. Its massive front entry with tiers of sculpted Biblical figures is only opened for the Spanish King and the Roman Catholic Pope. First, a church, and then a mosque during the Moorish conquest, and once again a church after the Reconquista—although greatly enlarged—one can spend hours in awe inside the building. Its immense altar of wood and gold with a solid silver altar table in front is considered the most beautiful in the world. We were fortunate to arrive to hear the pipe organ and attend mass. While we did not understand the words, it was beautiful, and the huge iron gates in front of the altar were opened affording us an unobstructed view. Christopher Columbus’s grave with a casket carried by four larger-than-life bronze soldiers—representing the four regions of ancient Spain—sat to our right. Later, we spent much time in the cathedral visiting the 80 side altars, themselves richly ornamented. The pipe organ is contained in two large towers in the center of the cathedral, each tower with huge pipes on each side and the choir with beautifully carved wood stalls in between the towers.
Our five days in Seville were delightful. We so enjoyed the city—the Spanish Exposition; the hop on hop off tour; the food; the people dressed in finery; Santa Cruz (the old Jewish Quarter with its narrow cobbled stone streets to catch the breezes and not allow sun to touch the lanes below) and mostly white buildings with interior courtyards; the Alcazar (beautiful Moorish design with ornate gardens and home to Spanish royalty); the international festival; the “Mushrooms” (the largest wooden structure in the world); shopping and spending hours people-watching in outdoor cafes.
One last note: we went shopping at El Cortes de Ingles, the huge store that is part Nordstroms, part Walmart and part Kroger. Basically, it has everything. The goal was to buy La Taza chocolate bars to make the amazing Spanish hot chocolate when we return home. This particular chocolate is formulated specially so the chocolate will melt very smoothly in heavy cream for a sensational, thick, not too sweet, dipping sauce. Muey Bien!
TRAINS, PLANES, BUSES, AND TAXIS
October 4, 2002
It was a long travel day as we left Cochem, Germany, for Sevilla (Seville), Spain—13 hours to be exact. There was no direct line from there to here. We knew going in that in order to move half way across Europe from some inconvenient places, we would have a long travel day and we would just have to bite the bullet. We ordered a taxi from our hotel in Cochem at 7:15 AM to take us to the train station where we would board a train to Frankfurt for our flight to Madrid from where we caught a train to Seville. (I left out the busses we took on occasion.) We left 50F weather for 90F weather. We left the verdant greens behind for semiarid landscapes—and the cypress forests turned into mile after mile of olive trees. Every geography has its beauty!
Our trains have been wonderful. The seats plush, the bathrooms spacious and clean, the food cars available (even some waiters to come by your seat to take orders) and basically on time. Thankfully, almost all stations have elevators or escalators and they have food vendors. The larger stations have stores and shops, a mall-like atmosphere. We love train travel in Europe.
We will arrive at our VRBO in Sevilla around 8:30 PM, and the owners will be there to meet us. We look forward to our Spain adventure.
MOSEL WINE RIVER
October 2-3, 2022
The Mosel River Valley with Riesling vineyards on steep hills snakes beautifully along a twisting path from Trier, Germany, to Cochem, Germany, and even beyond. Delightful is an understatement.
Trier is Germany’s oldest city with deep ancient Roman roots. As the northern capital of the Roman Empire, it is filled with ancient Roman artifacts. As we walked along, I thought, “The glory that was Rome!” The Emperor Constantine’s (3rd-4th Century) Throne Room is the largest single room remaining of ancient Rome. Today, it is an Evangelical/Lutheran Worship Center. Marty and Karen attended the Sunday worship service and said it was beautiful. The Imperial Baths are monstrous. The Standly’s and we walked in underground tunnels and were amazed at the length and complexity of the baths. We thought we might get lost, but didn’t. Intriguing! The Coliseum is largely a ruin today. However, we were able to walk in its underground beneath the coliseum floor where the wild animals and gladiators were kept. A stage system was able to be employed to raise surprises to the surface during the games. The seating capacity was 22,000 spectators. The coliseum had 4 vomitoriums—places where people who were sickened by the spectacles or who had drank or eaten too much could go to “throw-up.” Another stand out site is the well preserved Porta Nigra, or city gate. It is colossal in size. Besides all this, the Altstadt (old town) is beautiful in its own right. The wonderful Roman Catholic Cathedral is actually two churches. The Gothic side is superb with beautiful paintings and stained glass and the Romanesque side is daunting with intricate plaster work and numerous archways. It is one of the finest Romanesque architectural works anywhere. Unfortunately, the remnants of the Electoral Palace of Trier were closed and we did not get to see the famous Rococo staircase. The palace was at one time one of the most beautiful in Europe with a Baroque wing, a Rococo wing and a Renaissance wing. Wars over time, especially World War II, ravaged it and now very little remains. Amazingly, the Rococo staircase was largely unscathed, although the rooms around it were destroyed. We had to comfort ourselves with pictures and maybe, another time?
Oh, how we quickly fell in love with Cochem, Germany, on the banks of the Mosel. An amazing fairy tale castle looms over the medieval city. Narrow cobble stoned streets wind through the old town. Our bus trip up very narrow passageways to the castle above was fun. Our time in the castle was awesome! Begun in the year 1000 A.D., the castle was used for defensive purposes and has had several wealthy owners over time. Today, the city owns the castle. Antique furniture from the 13th century onward filled the rooms. The painted ceilings throughout were wondrous. However, what we thought was wallpaper in many of the rooms was intricate hand painted surfaces and not wall paper at all. The wood carvings on walls and hand rails were from the 14th century and were beautiful. Outside turrets and towers reached upward and vines crawled up many surfaces, now turning bright red. We all had a very satisfying adventure at the castle. We ended our day at a great restaurant along the river. Several of us ate the venison with cranberries (mixed with lingonberry) and spaetzel (the best spaetzel I have ever eaten)—our last German meal since we leave for Spain tomorrow.