Archive for June, 2008

The Countdown is On

Well, we spent the rest of the week saying goodbye to friends. Monday we met with Brad and Paula and sat talking in Von Blums all morning. If you are EVER in Barcelona, you have to go to their restaurant WuShu. See Alex’s blog for more info on it or go to their website

After leaving Brad and Paula we walked up towards Gracia. We HAD to say goodbye to our friends in the corner cafe. When we lived there we would stop every morning for our cortado and bocadillo de jamon y queso. Estrella and Paco greeted us as if we were long lost family and it had been over a year since we had seen them. One thing that puzzles me is some of the comments on forums that Alex reads. A lot of people say that the castillians and catalins are a standoffish and cold people. I can’t for the life of me figure out how anyone can say that. I found them ALL to be so warm, friendly and hospitable. Oh well, I guess I’ll never know where these comments come from.

As I said, we went to our cafe (A Ruta Gallega) on Rosellon to have our lunch and say farewell.  We both ordered the menu del dia for roughly 9 Euros. You can choose a drink. Alex chose water and I chose wine. They brought a 1.5 l bottle of water for Alex and a FULL bottle of wine for me.

Then I had the ensalada mixte for the primo plato……

and galtes (pork cheeks) for secundo plato ( I love galtes)

Then I had pudding, coffee and we decided on a shot of liquor de heirbus. Paco pours into frozen shot glasses, great for digestion….

We sat at the bar and chatted for a bit then we had to leave. I asked for the bill and they refused to give us one. We had to promise to return.

Wednesday came and that night we met with Sylvie to say goodbye. Had some  cava then went to eat and off to bed to rise at 6:00 AM , catch the metro to Sans and board the Ave to Madrid. This train makes travel to Madrid so easy and it operates like Air Canada’s RapidAir service between Montreal and Toronto. The two cities are almost the same distance apart and businessmen travel between the cities often. It took less than 3 hours from station to station.

Next post……Madrid

June 20, 2008 at 1:09 pm Leave a comment


At the end of our camino, we walked to the end of the beach looking for a MacDonald’s. No we weren’t eating there (as if that could ever happen) but we were meeting the group at a place called Pinocchio’s.

We found the place, I ordered a large clara (cerveza con limon) and downed it like water. The rest of the day was spent wandering Lloret and hanging out at the beach. I might mention that Alex dove into the water and was one of the few on the beach to do so.

Here are a few photos from the day.

Mireia and Maite

Maite and her daughter Laila. Maite lives in Lloret and was an amazing hostess along with her husband Jordi

Later in the afternoon we went to our hotel room to get ready for dinner at Maite and Jordi’s place. Tje family owns a beautiful hotel in Lloret and they put us all up there. I cannot say enough about the hospitality and warmth of everyone.

That night we all gathered for dinner and socializing. I consider myself so lucky to have friends like this.

We talked and ate and drank until about 3 PM when we all headed back to our rooms. Let me just say I was tired, REALLY tired but feeling great. We agreed to get meet at ten for breakfast as Maite had plans for an outing.

Off we went to the botanical gardens. We were going to spend the day at the beach but it was a little cool and cloudy.

Got some great flower pics.

Standing in front of a stand of cacti. I had never seen such big cacti before and it was kind of cool.

More flowers…………………….

After our wanderings here we went to a restaurant for lunch. In Spain we eat around 2:00 so we had had quite a full day. We had to catch a bus back to Barcelona at 4:00 because Alex and Jackie were going to a book club meeting at 6:30.

At 3:50 we left the restaurant. Now Alex and I are KNOWN to be early wherever we go, Jackie is KNOWN to be either late or exactly on time (Jackie missed the bus coming here). With buses and trains and planes you have to be on time. We had to run to get to the bus station and we made it. It made me realize that I still prefer to be early.

Well, after such a great weekend, I can honestly say that I really will miss all of our friends who live in Spain. Their warmth and friendship is something I will treasure for many years, at least until we go back and renew the memories.

June 20, 2008 at 12:23 pm Leave a comment

Our Last Weekend in Spain

This past weekend was our final weekend for this visit. We were invited to a party by Pau and Mireia in Lloret on the Costa Brava. Alex wanted to visit Tossa de Mar, a town just up from Lloret so we boarded a bus in Barcelona and headed out at 8:15 AM. Tossa has a Vila Vella (old town) enclosed by walls dating back to the 12th century.

We climbed up the road towards the old town and saw the old towers and cannons that once protected the town.

The path climbs between the rocks and eventually leads up to a lighthouse on the top of the hill. It’s quite a steep climb and some chose a little train that takes tourists around the town.

The view was quite amazing and looking out over the Mediterranean gave us quite the thrill. I wonder if these guns had ever been used in earnest…

Climbing up to the lighthouse we discovered a quiet little cove where bathers were soaking up the sun. The water is crystal clear and looked really inviting.

Turning the other way gave us a view of Tossa’s beach and the coastline further up.

We wandered through the old town and found that soem of the inhabitant’s loved roses. Actually, all the inhabitants had flowers and plants all around there homes. It must be quite the thrill to live in a place like this.

More roses………………………

Our original plan had been to return to Lloret by bus in the late afternoon. After wandering around and seeing what everything we wanted to see we found we had lots of time to kill. Alex had mentioned there was a GR trail from Tossa to Lloret so we went to the information centre to enquire about it. It didn’t take much thought on our part and we decided to walk to Lloret. The trail was GR 92, section 11 and signs like the one below indicated the trail

Actually, there were only a few signs on the way and the major route indicator was the red and white band that really showed us we were on the right path. When a crossroad came up , there was a red and white band with an X going through them to tell us that was NOT the way to go.

We left the information centre and started walking UP and UP and UP. The trail for us started at Torre dels Moros (Moorish Tower)

and climber up even further. It was quite wide and not difficult to walk on as it wandered through the forest of cork trees. This part of the trail led inwards and was easy to follow.

Part of the trail was on the highway, around 2.2 kms, and at this point we almost got lost trying to find the trail again. We walked down a suburb like place and finally found the trail marker. At this point, the trail turned back to the sea.

Once we reached the sea we stopped to eat at Cala Canyelles and this ship sailed past. The roads down to here really played havoc with my knee and I was glad to rest it for a bit. I can climb for hours without any problems but going down is really tough on me.

When we started up again, we climbed stairs and once high enough we had this view of the beach we rested at.

We continued walking through the streets, following the magic markers but we missed a crossed one and ended up on a dead end. The directions spoke of steps and there were steps leading down from the dead end. Down we went and when we got to the bottom we realized this could not be the trail. We both looked up the steps we had come down and I laughed. At least I am going up again. On the way back up we met a German couple coming down. I asked if they were following the GR 92 and when they said yes, I told them it was the wrong way. We walked back up with them and chatted while looking for the proper route. Alex found the trail marker and off we went again accompanied by our new friends. He spoke quite a few languages and was very friendly. We eventually got to the final trail and headed down toward the sea.

Many people found peaceful areas to soak up the rays and the coast was very picturesque.

The trail hugged the cliffs and gave us spectacular views of the rock and water

Most of the cactii growing out of the rock were in bloom and in some places the smell of nectar was quite strong.

We finally reached the last bend in the path and the tunnel that leads to our destination. We had a lot of steps to descend and I must admit my knee was giving me a problem but we entered the tunnel and

were greeted by the beach at Lloret. After 3.5 hours of walking up trails and walking down trails we finally reached our destination. Now all we had to do was walk to the end of this beach and meet our friends in a restaurant for a much deserved clara. My next post will tell you of the rest of our weekend.

June 17, 2008 at 3:45 pm 1 comment

Wandering Barcelona

Well, before I begin I want to show you the ceiling in the post office. We had to get some stamps and I had to take a picture of it………..

Alex took the day off work and we went to MNAC in the morning (Museu Nacional D’Art De Catalunya). We’d not been when we were living here and it was on the list of things to do.

We approached from the 55 bus stop on the way up to Montjuic.

As you can see it was a gorgeous day, the type of day we had grown used to when we lived here. I took most photos of the architecture and Alex has a few of the displays.

The stairs reminded me of Escher drawings so I HAD to take some pics of them.

I loved the way you could see through the building by all shapes of doors and portals. The building itself was built for a World Exposition in the 1920s.

It is truly a grand building housing some beautiful exhibits

After the museum we went to meet Joy for lunch and slowly made our way back to the apartment.

June 12, 2008 at 6:43 pm Leave a comment


On Sunday we headed off to Mataró to see my friends Sara and Andres. It turned out to be a gorgeous day and we spent quite a bit of time by the beach.

We passed through one of the tunnels under the highway and I was really impressed by the graffiti on the beach side.

We just wandered around a bit before heading back to their apartment for a wonderful lunch. Alex HAD to get some recipes for the salads and pasta they served.

They have an amazing view from their apartment and yes, that is the Mediterranean in the distance.

We left Mataró around 6:00 PM and when we arrived in Barcelona we walked up Psg de Gracia to Diagonal. There was some sort of party going on to celebrate Portugal. We were meeting Sebastian, Jackie, Sylvie and Julian up there. There were lot’s of people and live entertainment (check out Alex’s blog for more info). This group was playing fado.

We had to stand in line to buy tickets for food or drink and everyone had the same ideas at the same time.

We bought tickets for ginjinha, a liquer unique to Lisbon, and I must day pretty strong. Being in a party mood we soon met more people and I hope the following photos will show just how much fun we had.

The beginning of the evening when we were still in control……

Sylvie and Julian

Crowds were getting larger and food was in demand………………

Sylvie and Sebastian, still early……………………

Sylvie and her bottle of ginjinha……………….

note the blur, the evening is moving on

Here you can see the evening is well on it’s way…………………….

Alessandro, one of the friendly people we met there, he was just too funny…………

The last subway home, good thing they had safety belts so some of us could stay standing

By the way, when we got off at our stop they closed the gates as we exited the station so we were pretty lucky we didn’t have to walk home.


June 11, 2008 at 10:17 am Leave a comment

Segovia – Day Final (June 6, 2008)

Our last day here. We went to breakfast as usual and small talk lasted until well after 10. Alex was taking the morning off and wanted to do the walk around the base of the city. I had noticed that one of the branches leading off the path led to Santuario de la Fuencisla. This building is dedicated to the patron saint of Segovia whose image, found in the 13th century, is held here. The side alters are amazing.

From there we continued on our walk around the city.

Alex returned to the conference and said goodbye to all the delegates. We picked up our bags and headed off to the train station by city bus. A very simple effort.

From there we returned to Madrid where we caught the 7:00 PM AVE back to Barcelona and we were in the apartment by 9:30 PM.

All in all a great little excursion.

June 11, 2008 at 9:30 am Leave a comment

Segovia – Day Three (June 5,2008)

This is day three for us in Segovia but only day two of the conference. I managed to talk Alex into taking the morning off. We were going to do the walk around the city that I did yesterday but decided to visit the cathedral since it was cool and cloudy. The original cathedral was situated opposite Alcazar but was destroyed in 1521.

Construction began on June 8, 1525 and was completed on 16th July, 1768. To reduce costs, the choir, cloister and baptismal font were salvaged from the original cathedral

Inside is huge and airy and is considered to the last Gothic cathedral built.

The cloister was transfered stone by stone from the original cathedral.

After our visit, we walked around a bit, touring the city. We found lot’s of interesting little passages like this one in the old jewish quarter.

Looking through closed gates also proved rewarding I caught this image through a closed iron gate and I loved the effect

Alex headed off to the conference and I headed off to look for the old Jewish cemetery. I kind of knew in a general sense, where it was. It was on the hills across from the city. I headed out of the city through Puerta del Sol and down the first set of steps. When I got to the bottom I discovered so many directions to go I wasn’t sure which one to take. I knew I had to go under the road so I headed toward the road that ran beside the ravine. I finally found thses markings in stone posts and proceeded to follow those in a direction away from the city.

Turning back to look at the city I was presented with this view, really impressive considering it’s age……

I finally found the partly excavated graves, some carved in the stone bed and others taking advantage of the many caves in the region. I wondered how they could leave this site without any kind of protection. I thought it must be a rich archaeological source considering there must be much more that had not been unearthed. The tombstones were all missing and someone mentioned that some medieval document had granted ownership of them to some nearby monastery. In the conference, a local historian gave a presentation to the group and he mentioned that they had searched the monastery from top to bottom but had not found any sign of the tombstones. There location is still a mystery. I should mention that it was common practise to use stones from old ruins to build new buildings. In Barcelona you can find many medieval buildings with partial roman inscriptions on the stone, oriented in haphazard directions. They used them to rebuild without consideration of their original use.

Time to meet Alex for lunch, amy busy morning had made me very hungry. I should mention that lunches were at 2:00 PM back at the hotel with all the conference participants. Great conversation and I had the fortunate opportunity to get to know Alex’s supervisor a little better. A very pleasant person I might add.

Lunch ended at 4:00 and I went off on a random discovery walk. Some of the things I saw along the way……..

Plaça Mayor, the main plaza of the old town and right around the corner from our hotel

I took this photo simply because it was a pleasant, relaxing scene.

I just happened to poke my head inside an open doorway and saw this. The light and simplicity struck me so I took the photo.

This is the Iglesia de San Martin, the design and materials used here make no doubt to the ancient origins of this church. I wanted to visit but it was never opened other than for mass. It was right beside the cafe Alex and I adopted.

I went into the cafe and ordered una clara. It’s beer with limon and I absolutely love it. I’m not much of a beer drinker and this suited my tastes perfectly. They give you a tapas along with the beer so I sat there writing in my moleskin, eating tapas and drinking clara, ask me if life isn’t great. I text message my friends in Barcelona “Life is Great”. It was 6 PM and Alex was presenting her paper. I started back to my hotel and when going down the steps met up with the wife of one of the delegates. She was listening to music being played by a group in the Plaça San Martin. All wind instruments and very good. We sat there for a bit and decided to go back to the cafe for a beer. Alex, her husband and two other delegates joined us a little later. From there, we went to another restaurant for dinner and had a great meal with some wonderful people.

By the way, Alex did very well presenting her paper.

June 10, 2008 at 11:53 am 1 comment

Segovia – Day Two (June 4, 2008)

Before I begin day 2 I should say a bit more about the hotel we stayed in. A group of entrepreneurs purchased the entire building with the objective of opening a hotel. The building, as purchased, was divided into may independent sections such as shops, restaurants and apartments. Workmen began to tear out the divisions and discovered a trove of art treasures hidden behind false ceilings and walls. The ceilings in particular had been protected so well that little restorative work was needed. Apart from the fantastic Mudéjar moulded ceilings from the XV century, (see photos here) the hotel also has the most important Roman remains found in Segovia, apart from the Acueduct, and that is the “Aljibe” which was the biggest cistern in the city and now has been turned into a meeting lounge in the hotel. Excavations are still ongoing in the basement as more discoveries are being made. The hotel is right across the street from the chapel where princess Isabella of Castile/Leon was crowned queen in 1474.

We got up at 7:00 and headed down to breakfast with other delegates in the conference (I forgot to mention that we were here because Alex was presenting a paper at a conference being held here). I have to say I enjoyed breakfast more than I thought I would. Having breakfast with learned historians leaves one VERY INFORMED of the area. I really enjoyed the small talk and left with a plan of touring the city on my own as Alex was working all day.

The first place I wanted to see was the Alcazar……………….

This place has a history that goes back to the early days of the 12th century. Over the centuries it served as the Royal court, state prison and a military school. I was the third one in and the place was empty, I had it all to myself. The first room I entered the Old Castle Hall containing articles of war.

The mounted knights were full sized…………

The details were amazing and I kind of got carried away with the sense of who had come before me, especially when standing in the throne room…..

The next room was as impressive, called the Galley Chamber because the shape of the ceiling resembled an inverted hull. Queen Catherine of Lancaster had this room built in 1412.

The other rooms including the centre court were filled with artifacts collected from the artillery school

They warn visitors that the climb to the top of Torre de Juan II is an arduous climb of 152 steps. I figured that wasn’t bad so I climbed up. Yes, it was 152 steps but they failed to mention that each step is much higher than normal. I climbed to the taop and was rewarded with spectacular views.

It’s funny to note that when I was leaving I had to use the washroom which was down a flight of stairs. There was a small sign leading down further to some roman ruins which aren’t mentioned anywhere.

I left Alcazar and went way down to where the rio Eresma flowed. We found a footpath yesterday and someone mentioned at breakfast that this went around the city so I wanted to walk it. I started at the bridge.

The path followed the river but there were a few branches so I kind of kept to the foot of the cliff to make sure I ended up going around the city.

Looking back on the path as I climbed back towards the walled city

The building at the end of the wall is an old slaughter house that has been turned into a museum, Museos de Castilla y Leon.

I had to hurry at this point because I need to meet Alex for lunch at 2:00. We met at Plaza san Martin and here she is waiting for me………

When lunch was over I returned to the place I had entered the city after the walk. I stood on one of the towers and walked along the wall where I came across the museum. I decided to go in and I was the only one there. It was all about the history of Segovia, describing the origins of its geology, the inhabitants and architecture. There were artifacts from the bronze age, visigoths, romans and medieval. There was even a skelton of a roman centurion with pieces of his armour still attached. I had an almost personal tour guide as each guard was more than eager to tell me about their part of the museum. I saw this water driven machine consisting of two massive wooden hammers. Someone mentioned it might have been the device that so terrified Don Quixote in the night. Once again I had to hurry because I was going to meet Alex for a visit to a chapel that was once a synagogue.

We visited and she went back to the conference. I went to our room for a nap……. Ask me if I love naps.

We met around 9:30 had dinner and off to sleep.

June 9, 2008 at 2:54 pm 1 comment

Arrival in Segovia

We arrived in Segovia around noon and headed up to our hotel by taxi (around 4 Euros), checked in and headed out right away. I have to tell you more about our hotel later.

We walked down to the aqueducts, walked around them in awe and then went for lunch.

We HAD to eat “colchinio” or baby pig as Segovia is known for this and THE place to go is Candido’s. This establishment has been in business since the 16th century (1786 to be exact). Like all guests we were greeted by the owner and presented with a signed pamphlet explaining the inn’s history. Our table overlooked the square through thick, old glass windows.

Alex was in heaven and we both kept staring out the window while enjoying a unique gastronomical experience.

After eating, we decided to walk to Iglesia de la Vera Cruz which is an 11th century Templar church outside the city walls. On the way we found a short cut that led down through the forest.

We were rewarded for our efforts…….

Parts of the original frescoes were still visible on the walls and we really had a sense of antiquity. The church was erected in 1208 by the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre.

From there we went back to the hotel for a nap, probably the bottle of wine we had at lunch and the mountain climbing we had to do to get to the church. The day ended on a quiet note.

June 9, 2008 at 10:20 am 1 comment

Off to Segovia

Up at 4 PM, showered, shaved and out the door at 5:00. We walked to las Ramblas to catch the metro at Liceu. We arrived at Sans in about 20 minutes and checked in for the train. High speed trains run much like flights. Security and check in and a waiting room until boarding is announced.

The first train for Madrid leaves at 6:00 PM, then one at 6:30, 7:00, 7:30, 8:30 and on. There are about 15 trains daily. I noticed lots of business people using the trains so I would guess the airlines are suffering on this route. The distance between Barcelona and Madrid is almost the same  as Montreal and Toronto.  I wonder why  no one is investing in rail travel in Canada given the inevitable rise in fuel costs. The interior or the trains are very comfrotable, and we weren’t in first class.

The Spanish landscape is really varied. From prairie like plains to badland like mesas. I found out later that the plains are from the same origins as the African savanahs. The views kept me awake for the whole trip. We reached speeds of over 300 kph but had no sensation of it. The trip takes approx 2 hrs and we actually arrived in Madrid’s Atocha station a bit early. We were taking cercanias (regional) train up to Segovia and had to find out where they were. The train station is huge and busier than Toronto airport at peak. One thing we noticed about dealing with Spanish tarin emplyees. Our experience’s made us beleive they do not offer any advice beyond the question you ask. For example, we went to a ticket counter for RENFE, asked for a ticket to Segovia and the agent told us the trains left from another staion. Alex informed him of the cercanias that left at 10:00. OH, the regional he says, buy that ticket over there. It’s like when we went to França station in Barcelona to buy an AVE ticket to Segovia. The agent told us the train left from the other station in Madrid but couldn’t tell us how long the connection took. Turns out it’s really simple and probable takes 15 minutes or so.

Anyhow, the trip up to Segovia was great. Once again the countryside kept me glued to the window. It seems like we were climbing up into higher regions because the towns took on distinctly alpine characteristics.

June 9, 2008 at 9:51 am 1 comment

June 2008

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