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Portugal & Northern Spain trip – #12

January 13th, 2015 · Musings, photo of the week, Spain & Portugal 2014, travel, Walking

So, where were we?

Well, it certainly has been too long since I continued telling you about our amazing trip, isn’t it?  Now, what got in the way?  The holidays, renovating two bathrooms (down to the studs and structural issues – that’s a multi-entry story in and of itself!), and an unplanned surgery!  I began to feel not so well right after arriving home from this trip, and as it got worse and finally became an emergency room visit in late November, it all resolved itself by becoming a gall bladder removal event in late December!  I’m well on the road to feeling my old self again, and thought I’d finish blogging this trip!   I’m never sure anyone is reading it, but it serves as a diary of our trips for ourselves as well.

So, upon leaving Santiago, it was a long day on the bus.  Started out rainy, but eventually become sunny and warm – very nice indeed!  The stop this night was at a beautiful parador in Leon.  We had lunch on our own which turned out to be great fun.  We walked a few blocks from the hotel, and went into a tiny little place where no English was in use, and we had to guess our way through.  It was obvious that it was very local with regulars whose bottles of wine were brought out to them to go with their lunch!  A walking tour of the old town, and then a big dinner at the parador.

Our next long day on the bus included Santander.  I remember liking it, but unfortunately it was one of those days that did not get written about in my travel journal!  Oh well!

Finally we arrive in Bilboa.  A beautiful city on the river. We had a great walking tour of the old city with an amazing guide (Sergio), and then were dropped off at the Guggenheim where we had a guided tour.  We were on our own for the afternoon and chose to walk about the rest of the museum – inside and out.  Folks talk of how it’s so unusual and sticks out, which is done if all you do is look at it on its own.  But look at what surrounds it and it is a piece of a city becoming an amazing architectural event.  Each bridge is incredible, and so many buildings and parks are expressions of what materials can do to create wonderful spaces to live and work in.

We liked Bilboa a lot and speak of going back there, renting an apartment and living there for three or four weeks.   We were there for two nights and each night enjoyed a wonderful walk along the river.

We also visited the Fine Arts Museum on our own for the afternoon.  A real treasure.  Our dinner was in a resturant in the Guggenheim.

St. James and I outside the parador in Leon

St. James and I outside the parador in Leon

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The menu in Leon where we had lunch.

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Hubby got to have a conversation with Gaudi. One of the homes he designed is in Leon.

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Some of the Spanish countryside we saw throughout our trip – taken from the bus.

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An amazing footbridge that crosses the river in Bilbao

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Our short stay in Bilbao included a fair amount of rain. This is a wonderful shot of the Guggenheim from the bus.

 

 

 

 

 

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Santiago de Compostela – Spain & Portugal trip – #11

November 18th, 2014 · Spain & Portugal 2014, travel

As I mentioned yesterday, Santiago de Compostela was one of the highlights of this trip for me.

Where to begin?  I learned so much, and really wanted to stay several more days to explore the modern side of town, the water, the beautiful park that we only managed to stroll part of, and speak to more pilgrims.  A funny observation about the people is that it is not common, at least in my European travels, to see shorts and casual clothing on the people strolling about, and here, because of the pilgrims, I suspect, there was a lot of that.  And, as you would expect, plenty of pilgrims with backpacks and walking sticks!

You’ll find many articles online about the pilgrims, the camino (the pilgrimage way), the city and more. While there are many personal blogs written during and after individual pilgrimages that speak to each person’s experience,  I think that  the spirituality inherent in the location is often lost to those reading and certainly being a tourist there.  The small old town is so filled with people and movement, and history to think about, that it is easy to forget that this is a final destination for thousands of people over thousands of years who took a very long walk upon themselves to learn something.  Whether they wanted to learn to know God or themselves, those who got to the front of the cathedral, knelt upon the ground in front of it to celebrate in their hearts, achieved something many more thousands of us never will — and that is what I found very moving.  There was so much evidence of the pilgrim as a “sight” to see on a tourist’s agenda, that I think many people forgot to appreciate this moment that was happening all around us.

First a bit about the Parador where we stayed for two nights – didn’t I mention it was too short a stay!

Also known as Hostal dos Reis Catolicos it was originally a Royal Hospital and dates back to 1499. It provided lodging and shelter for the numerous pilgrims making their way to Santiago, an age old practice which continues to this day. Considered to be the oldest hotel in the world it is also one of the most luxurious”   We were very pleased to learn on our tour of the Parador that up to ten pilgrims are given free room and board each day to carry on this tradition (apparently the first ten to arrive each day).  We imagined that that was once a well kept secret, but suspect with the internet that those almost there walk faster to get there first!  During our afternoon leisure time, we did see the side entrance with the pilgrims enjoying their long deserved rest on a side patio for them.

Here is a picture of our room and our view:

Our room for two nights at the Parador.  The bathroom was just as lovely.  Old world loveliness.

Our room for two nights at the Parador. The bathroom was just as lovely. Old world loveliness.

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The view outside our room.

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Another view out of our room into the courtyard.

On our first day in the city, we were given a nearly three hour tour with a local guide.  Odysseys Unlimited local guides are excellent.  Incredibly knowledgeable, excellent English skills and well versed in managing 24 people!  During the tour, we, of course, had to stop for the never ending small cups of coffee!

After the tour, we had the afternoon to ourselves, and we walked about many of the lovely streets. The afternoon that we had arrived, we had found a lovely park and we had hoped to get back to it, but this is one of the few days that the rain did eventually catch up to us and so we didn’t get back there.

The beautiful park near by.

The beautiful park near by.

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Swans in the park.

We did manage to find some beautiful locally made jewelry gifts for self and friends.  We always try to find something made in the country to return with.  It is silver filigree type work with a black stone called jet.

During our shopping for souvenirs, we stopped to try the local specialty soup called caldo gallego  (a kale and sausage soup) and a plate of anchovies.  Marvelous!   On our walk we had spotted a shop serving churros and chocolate, so we had to go there for our dessert!  We were stuffed, but as it turned out it was the only really authentic looking churros I spotted the for the whole trip – so it was worth it!

The rain had now begun in earnest and even with good rain gear, it wasn’t going to be pleasant to walk any further.  So we returned to our room for a much needed nap and to read.  We had time before dinner – at 8 – to tour the Parador and read the museum cards more closely and have a cup of tea in the cafe.  The parador has four patios, with posted signs about the history of the parador as well as a really wonderful photographic exhibit on the walls of one of the patios.

Dinner was at 8 – lots of small plates – too much food of course – but we somehow managed to eat it!  Good thing we were doing so much walking!  We were up until almost midnight repacking.  We don’t usually move hotels so often when we travel, so I found it took me quite a few days to get the hang of what to unpack, and how to organize the dirty, rewear and clean clothing selections.

I went to bed sad that I wouldn’t get more time to visit this beautiful city.

Churros and Chocolate - best afternoon snack ever!

Churros and Chocolate – best afternoon snack ever!

Early morning when we were about to leave, two pilgrims arrived.  I photographed them as I was getting on the bus.  This is the square with the cathedral right in front of them.  Blurry but I had to get it!

Early morning when we were about to leave, two pilgrims arrived. I photographed them as I was getting on the bus. This is the square with the cathedral right in front of them. Blurry but I had to get it!

The cathedral.  It is currently under restoration.

The cathedral. It is currently under restoration.

St James.

St James.

At the end of the square is this beautiful "patio"

At the end of the square is this beautiful “patio”

 

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Spain and Portugal – #10

November 17th, 2014 · Spain & Portugal 2014

So where were we?  We’ve been home a little over two weeks and I’ve gotten distracted from posting about our trip for a good portion of that.  We have two bathrooms undergoing major renovation, and who knew it would take so much time to organize, shop and choose parts and pieces, and work with the contractors?  I didn’t – that’s for sure!

So, on this very dreary rainy and bitter cold late autumn day in New England, I’ll tell you again about the delightful trip we took in October to Portugal and Northern Spain with Odysseys Unlimited.

Today we travel from Porto to Santiago de Compostela.  It was supposed to rain again, but as on every day so far on this trip, the worst of the rain manages to hold off until we are indoors.

On the way to our first stop for the day, we crossed a bridge and were able to see the amazing wooden pontoons created in the river to grow the famous local mussels.  All along the coast, from the beginning of our trip, we had seen planted forests of eucalyptus trees.  The purpose for these trees was the making of these pontoons (see this link for an interesting story of this process).  We saw the mussels for sale in the various food markets on our trip, and a couple of times on menus.  We did share a small plate of them at a dinner one evening as they were very expensive!

Eucalyptus pontoons for farming mussels

Eucalyptus pontoons for farming mussels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our first stop was the lovely town Pontevedra.  It was what we call “Columbus Day” at home (the real date, not the moved it until Monday date that happens to so many of our holidays in the US now), and it was a Sunday.  We had the good fortune to be walking about this lovely town as church was letting out.  Many of the families were dressed with extreme elegance and actually put Americans definition of “Sunday best” to shame: several couples were right out of folk tale books.  Had I been quicker and felt less intrusive about it, I would have asked or tried for a photo.  I really need to try to be “braver” in these situations and just ask.  Good practice for my poor Spanish as well!  But, I didn’t ask, but certainly enjoyed looking at all of the elegant and lovely families.

Church facade

Church facade

The first of many pilgrims we would see in Spain.  Our guide thought that these had walked the way from Toledo or Seville.

The first of many pilgrims we would see in Spain. Our guide thought that these had walked the way from Toledo or Seville.

First of the many direction signs we would see to guide the pilgrims to Santiago.

First of the many direction signs we would see to guide the pilgrims to Santiago.

Every village had beautiful old drinking fountains.

Every village had beautiful old drinking fountains.

After a tour of the village with our tour guide, we had lunch on our own and then it was back on the bus. We arrive at our destination of Santiago de Compostela about 5.  I believe we stopped at a rest stop or two, but it wasn’t until the next day we had in the bus that I realized that those stops were worthy of photos as well.

The bus drove right onto the square as the Parador was at right angles to the church and the town hall.  How magnificent.

After checking in, we had a little time to walk about the old town on our own – with the rain again holding off.

Before dinner, the assistant manager gave us a wonderful short tour of the Parador.  Our evening ended with a spectacular dinner — we ate amazing meals on this whole trip — in the Parador’s restaurant which was once it’s horse stables.  I’m going to save Santiago for a post all its own for next time.  This town was one of the highlights of the trip for me.  Stay tuned.

The front of our Parador in Santiago

The front of our Parador in Santiago

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Porto – Spain & Portugal #9

November 4th, 2014 · Spain & Portugal 2014, travel, Walking

Our day in Porto is next on this great trip.

Up early to have a great breakfast in the Pousada do Porto, Freixo Palace Hotel .   Our room faced the river, and although we could hear the nearby traffic on the bridge, the smells and sounds weren’t at all citylike.

The view from our pousada (hotel) room...

The view from our pousada (hotel) room…

Our morning included a bus tour of Porto, then a boat cruise on the Douro River on a replica of the type of boat – rebelo - once used to transport the port from the vineyards up river.  It truly must have been a skilled captain to arrive with all of his port intact for the storeroom!

It was a great weather day indeed.  We were let off, after our hour or so cruise, on the other side of the river to get back on the bus to take the most amazing ride up small roads to Graham’s tasting rooms.  Our bus driver, Pedro, was to show his skills in driving over and over this week!  We were told it was a “magic” bus! At one point, he and another full size bus managed to actually pass by each other on these small streets.

Tiny roads that our bus driver got us through (full size bus) on the hill up to the Port storage and tasting rooms.

Tiny roads that our bus driver got us through (full size bus) on the hill up to the Port storage and tasting rooms.

Graham's cask of port...wouldn't you like to share some of this?

Graham’s cask of port…wouldn’t you like to share some of this?

We were there!  Looking down at Porto from Graham's

We were there! Looking down at Porto from Graham’s

The afternoon was a choice to either get driven back to the hotel, or dropped off in downtown Porto.  We choose Porto and enjoyed a great walk about poking our noses into the train station with some amazing tile work and just walk about the city.  We decided not to see the church or the old stock exchange — already a little tired of paying money to get to look at history for a few moments.

The incredible tile work inside the Porto train station - all four walls floor to ceiling.

The incredible tile work inside the Porto train station – all four walls floor to ceiling.

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We stopped a couple of times to have a small snack and a drink. At some point we decided it was time to walk back along the river to our hotel.  The city began to smell so heavily of car exhaust it was really sickening.  It took about 45 minutes to get back.  We were able to walk on a fairly wide sidewalk with the river on our right and a small, but heavily traveled – and at high speed – two lane car road.  Unfortunately, we saw a biker crash while avoiding a terrible pothole with a small lorry just missing him.  There were fisherman along the way as well.  We wondered what they were fishing for, and noted that they were “saving” the seaweed that came in on their lines.

Picturesque Porto

Picturesque Porto

A side street we spotted as we were walking around Porto

A side street we spotted as we were walking around Porto

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Cherries in Portugal – #8

October 31st, 2014 · Spain & Portugal 2014, travel

Ginja cherries that is!  This day was one of my favorites of this trip with Odysseys.

The day began with packing and loading onto the bus.  Our end goal of the day was Porto, but on the way we would visit the towns of Obidos and Navaree.

Less than an hour outside from Lisbon we stopped at the walled city of Obidos.  Unfortunately, like so many sites, it is no longer a town where people live, but a tourist stop with bus parking and bathrooms and souvenir stands outside the gorgeous stone gates and walls.  We did ask an employee as we peeked into what turned out to be a garden for a restaurant about if folks lived in the town, and she said that everyone lived outside the walls now.  While we’re glad to have visited it, it is sad that tourism has interrupted a centuries old way of life.

Obidos – a gift of the kings.

Once the wedding present of a queen, the preserved medieval town of Óbidos lying 100 km north of Lisbon is without doubt one of Portugal’s most classic walled settlements. Walking the ramparts, visitors can enjoy views of windmills, vineyards and surrounding farmlands. In the residential area below, narrow cobblestone streets are lined with whitewashed houses sporting terracotta roofs. The shops are piled high with local handicrafts, while in spring the town is ablaze with geraniums, morning glories and bougainvillaea.

It was a gorgeous day and we headed right for the ramparts!  We ended up walking about halfway around the town as there was no way down except go back to the way up; and why do that?

On the ramparts - notice no edge....

On the ramparts – notice no edge….

Another look at the ramparts

Another look at the ramparts

After this, the tour went onto Nazaree – where the world surfing record was set, and where we did something more simple and ate a wonderful “sardinias assadas (grilled sardines) for lunch.  By the end of the day we were in Porto in a beautiful pousada (hotel).

We climbed down the “staircase” and through some of the town, finding our way to a cafe where we tried the local liquor called Ginja made from Ginja cherries.  It was a short size drink served in a chocolate cup – yum!  And it wasn’t even 11 in the morning – nice!

Ginja drink in chocolate cups

Ginja drink in chocolate cups

After Obidos we were back on the bus, had a stop in Nazaree where we had terrific saradinias assadas (grilled sardines) for lunch.  By the evening we were in Porto at our Pousada.

Here’s a few more pictures of the day:

An interesting museum in Obidos - we think it was a famous fashion/stage designer.

An interesting museum in Obidos – we think it was a famous fashion/stage designer.

A lovely street view of Obidos

A lovely street view of Obidos

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