Tuesday, June 30, 2009


The Yellow Jersey....as the start of the 2009 Tour de France nears I thought I'd talk about the "Jerseys" that are awarded each day. "The most important one is the "yellow jersey" or sometimes referred to as the "mellow johnny", a mispronunciation of its French name given by Lance Armstrong, who wore it many times while winning the 1999-2005 races. The phrase has also been used as a nickname for Lance Armstrong. It is awarded each day based on the totalling of the time each rider takes on the daily stages. From or to this total can be added bonuses or penalties, for winning individual stages or being first to top a mountain [you receive bonuses] or for breaking the rules [you receive a penalty]. The rider with the lowest time receives a yellow shirt, and the right to start the next stage, usually the next day, of the Tour de France in the yellow jersey. The rider to receive the shirt after the last stage in Paris is the overall winner of the Tour!" For more information go to:


Sunday, July 4th, 2004 Crossing the Border to France

We left about 9 am, the sun is shining, its a beautiful day for driving north through the mountain pass into France. One of the interesting things about spending 24/7 with another person is that you tend to discuss unusual things. Many mornings we will talk about our dreams from the previous night. This morning I mentioned that I had been dreaming about two real estate agents who had worked for us. Wow…Jim was also dreaming about two of our agents. We each had one agent in common with the other….stranger than fiction.

Arrived at Biarritz about 11 am and spent about an hour walking the beach and finding some postcards. We only saw half a dozen topless women on the beach; but, the beach was definitely crowded. Views are beautiful and the area looks very expensive! The sand is nicer than in Nice but still gravely, not smooth like we have in California. If and when we go stay on the beach; we have our rubber beach shoes on this trip! Lessons learned from previous trips when we tiptoed our way to the water on sharp little pebbles!

We took the short way north through Bordeaux, which means toll roads; we were anxious to return to St. Emillon; truly a treasure and a very expensive place to visit. It was fun to spend a night here on our way north reliving some memories of when we stayed in St. Emillon for four days in 2002. Walked the town and enjoyed seeing the ancient buildings again. We’re staying at a two star hotel this trip; a big change from the Parador Hotels in Spain and the first trip here when we splurged and stayed at the Hostellerie de Plaisance. But, it’s clean, has a bathroom, television and a fan! Shopped a bit, wine tasted along the way and then had a wonderful dinner in the outdoor café in the center of town. Since we were saving money on the hotel, Jim had duck with mushrooms for dinner!

When we arrived this afternoon our first activity was to figure out the television controls to see today’s Tour de France race and also the Formula One race in France. Lance is doing well. We plan to see the race go by on the 8th as we are driving north. We will be bisecting the tour route and will arrange to see them even if it means waiting a few hours. The first time that we’ll see more of the race will be in Dinan around the 10th. From that point on it will be a daily event to see the race until it is over in Paris on July 25th.

Tonight we watch the European Soccer Championship game in Portugal between Portugal and Greece; should be very exciting.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Thursday, July 1st, 2004 Santillana del Mar

We’re here in Santillana del Mar on the coast of Spain. We’ve spent six hours today driving along the Atlantic Ocean heading east. A beautiful day; about half of it was on two lane highway with an occasional passing lane and the last half on divided highway of two lanes in each direction. The scenery varied from coastal views to open plains to steep mountains. The bridges that they build here to span the valleys are breathtakingly beautiful; especially when you are driving on top of them.

We arrived at Parador de Santillana our home for the night and found it to located in a very old, small village near the ocean about twenty four km a3way from the large city of Santander. After checking out the village we found a Cafeteria run by an English family that could muster up hot soup for Jim and a mixed salad with meat and tuna for me; and, all before 6 pm. Good thing we enjoy eating light meals in the evening. Our breakfast at the hotel each morning is definitely our big meal. She said most of her business comes from Americans and English tourists who are looking for an early evening meal. She was a pleasure to chat with while we enjoyed our food. We were her only customers at the time so we heard the family history of how they arrived in this small town in Spain.

Friday, July 2nd: Bilbao and Argomaniz, Spain

On the road early towards Argomaniz, a hamlet just east of the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz. Its claim to fame is that Napoleon rested here in the Palace (now a Parador Hotel) on his way to fight a battle. On the way we passed through Bilbao and made a stop to see the famous new Guggenheim Museum designed by the American Architect Frank Gehry who also designed the new Disney Philharmonic Music Hall in Los Angeles. It is a huge titanium tile-clad building, looking like a huge silvery Cubist fish per our travel book guru Rick Steves. Whatever, it was truly amazing and well worth the trip into the city and time it took to find the site. We knew that it was near the port area and kept heading that way until we found it! Housing only modern art we elected to view the outside and leave.

Back on the road towards our hotel where we registered and then hit the highway again to find the Camino de Santiago trail that we had not done. Last week we started at Logrono on our way west to Santo Domingo. This time we drove south to Logrono and headed east towards Pamplona using the old road. In Los Arcos we actually drove the trail for about a mile….rather dusty but fun. It was just wide enough for our car. The topography of this area is amazing when you think that people regularly walk or ride bicycles in this terrain for days at a time. I’m talking mountain after mountain that they go over. This is definitely not for the weak of heart! Saw one very interesting couple, they were walking; he was pulling a wheeled cart (similar to a golf cart caddy) behind him using a harness. She was leisurely walking behind him without any type of backpack; probably part of her agreement was that he would carry all the gear!

Several hours later we arrived in Pamplona, another very large city. Our quest was to find the bullring and surrounding area. We knew it was near the old part of the city and kept heading in that direction. Finally spotted it, found parking across the street and had fun walking the area and taking photos. Lots of memorabilia and statutes of Hemingway dot the area. Offered to take a photo for a couple and found they were from Texas. Shared travel tales for a few minutes before heading down the street where the bulls run! The barriers are being set up, as this event is only a week away. Many of the stores have boarded up their windows and doors in preparation for the event. We had a light dinner (one of the ham and cheese or cheese and ham sandwiches at a bar) before heading back towards the hotel. We took the fast way home! I think we’re going to just relax tomorrow. We have two nights at this hotel before heading north into France.

On the way home tonight we went into the large nearby city of Vitoria-Gasteiz and looked around. Just another large city but we will probably go back tomorrow to find a church with a Saturday night Mass. Also want to get the car washed before going north to France. The final soccer game will be on Sunday between Greece and Portugal; but then the Tour de France is starting on Sunday so we’re never without something to watch on the television at night!

Saturday, July 3rd: A day of rest!

We enjoyed a leisurely morning around the hotel. Glad we were not driving this morning as the fog was very thick until after 10 am. We’ve decided to take a day off and had fun watching the preparations for a large wedding reception here at our hotel. They set up a special private dining room for us to have our lunch as the main dining room was being used for the wedding reception. It started out on the lawn about 2 pm and continued until nearly 9 pm.

We’d planned to go into Vitoria-Gasteiz about 6 pm to find the church and hopefully a Mass at 8 pm. But, Jim found that they were televising the first day of the Tour de France live starting about 4 pm. Needless to say, we didn’t leave for town until after the last rider came in. Lance Armstrong was the last one off the blocks and he placed second by two seconds. This was a six-kilometer time trial so it was rather short.

We left the hotel about 7:15 pm. We’d gone into town last night to find a church but hadn’t found one that had the Mass times posted. This is a rather large town, we did have a map, but we were following the vague directions that we were given at the Information Center yesterday. She assured us that there were three churches in the old center of the city. She wasn’t sure about Mass times but we’ve found an 8 pm Mass every Saturday night since we’ve been here. They always have a Rosary prior to the Mass. We arrived in town, found the City Centre, parked in the same garage as last night and headed for the nearest church steeple. God was watching out for us as we opened the door and they were just finishing the Rosary.

We’re back at the hotel; Jim is watching reruns of the time trials that were held in Belgium this morning. The Tour de France race will be in Belgium for the first three day before heading into the northeast corner of France. I’m sitting in the open window with my feet up watching the sun getting ready to set as I type on my computer. It’s now 9:40 pm and the sun will probably set about 10 pm. The flies fly in and out…no window screens in Europe. We have the afternoon sun and with no air conditioning there is no question as to whether or not we have the windows open. So far no mosquitoes; but we expect them in France. The view is mostly of fields in various stages; a large lake in the distance, mountain ranges surrounding the whole area; the large town of Vitoria-Gasteiz to the southwest and twenty or so small villages that each surround a church. The churches are only buildings as they only have Mass at the large ones in Vitoria-Gasteiz. Tomorrow we head north and enter France just south of Biarritz. Plan to stop to see the famous beaches before continuing north for a night in St. Emillon in the Bordeaux Region where we enjoyed several days during a previous trip in 2002.

For those who’d like to learn more about the 2004 Tour de France you can check the following website for more information:


That will get you in the mood for the 2009 race that starts this year on July 4th in Monaco!

Friday, June 26, 2009


Tuesday, June 29th, 2004 Ferrol, Spain

Ahh…the quiet place had a barking dog and many, many ringing bells at 7 am to get the farmers and the pilgrims up and going! Loaded the car after breakfast and took the freeway to Lugo. There we started with the trail on the side roads again and drove it all the way to Lavacolla where traditionally pilgrims stop to bath before entering the city of Santiago de Compostela. We picked up the freeway at that point and headed towards our Parador Hotel in Ferrol about fifty miles north. We’ll save our destination for tomorrow when we will drive down and spent the day savoring the history of St. James.

Ferrol is a very large old seaport on the northwest corner of Spain. It took us about half an hour of driving city streets to find the hotel. We had very bad directions from the Internet. We’re right next to the Spanish Navel Academy overlooking the shipyard and walking distance to the downtown area. And, views of the Atlantic Ocean!

For dinner we ventured out into the town. It was about six in the evening but all you could get were drinks and maybe a salad. Finally on the main square we found a Spanish type fast food shop; thanks to the wonderful instructions given to us in halting English by a waitress at a café. She was very nice and told us that this was about our only choice as the “kitchens” are closed until about 9 pm. We ordered a light meal and sat upstairs to eat with a view of the Palace and Mayor’s Plaza. There were about six teenagers eating French fries with us.

Wednesday, June 30th: Santiago de Compostela

Up about 8 am…..we had a quiet night here in this new hotel and a lovely breakfast before hitting the road to Santiago de Compostela. We decided to take the regular roads instead of the toll way for a much more scenic route; about half an hour longer but an easy road along the back bays of the coastal waters. Reach our destination about 11:30 in the morning, found parking and started our adventure.

Mass was going on so we purchased tickets to the Museum first and enjoyed seeing the artifacts that they have collected over the centuries. The outside of the Cathedral is very old looking. I don’t think it’s ever been “cleaned”; but that’s part of its charm. There are wild flowers and clumps of plants growing in various places on the walls; lots of steeples, bells and all those great things that make up a really old church in Europe. From the museum we were able to enter into the actual church and see the end of the Mass.

There was a Cardinal celebrating a high mass with all the pomp and circumstances. We arrived just at communion; you could hardly move as there were so many people. There were pilgrims all over with their backpacks stashed along the walls. At the end of the service they lowered this huge brass censer in the shape of a large lamp, put incense in, lit it and then swung it from a rope suspended from the very top of the dome like a huge pendulum for at least five plus minutes. It swings from one door to the other, that is, from south to north, along the arms of the cross. Because of its size and speed it makes a great wind. The burning incense and other odors produce a thick, fragrant smoke, which permeates the whole church. We were extremely fortunate to witness this event as it is only done on very important occasions (per our book). We still don’t know exactly what the occasion was…maybe they found out that Jim was coming! Anyway, it was very exciting and the perfect touch. Then we found the line outside the church to enter the back of the church and walk behind and touch the statute of Santiago on the main altar; then down into the crypt under the main altar to see the coffin holding the remains of the saint. By the way, this is a Holy Year for St. James. When his feast day, July 25th, falls on a Sunday as it does this year; a special door is opened on the eve of the Holy Year and then closed at midnight on December 31st. It will not happen again until 2010. We had to stand in line for about half and hour to do this part of the pilgrimage. Once more into the church to have another look before checking out the Parador Hotel that is located across the plaza from the church. It was full when we attempted to get a booking for the night last spring. That’s why we are staying in Ferrol.

Heading home by 2:30 pm; we took the wrong road and had an opportunity to spend some extra time on the back roads; always an experience that adds to the fun of driving in Europe. But, we only spent about an extra half hour returning to Ferrol. Back to our little fast food place called Enpanes, we enjoyed another fast and early dinner. But this time we were seated with nearly twenty teenagers. Rather noisy but who cares when you haven’t eaten since breakfast. Tonight is the big soccer game between Portugal and The Netherlands. There are only four teams left.

We leave tomorrow morning and head east on the northern coast for several days before entering France on July 4th.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Sunday, June 27, 2004 Santo Domingo de la Calzada

Slept in until 8 and then had a lovely breakfast at the hotel before leaving at 10 am. Skies are clear and no rain predicted for the next several days in the north of Spain. By noon it was about ninety degrees. The drive north to our next Parador Hotel in Santo Domingo de la Calzada took about three hours. We crossed a high mountain range and on the north side found ourselves in “Monument Valley”. Huge stone plateaus rising out of the pine forests like castles created by God. Soon we were in the Rioja Region famous for its superb wines. These vineyards were upright as opposed to the southern vineyards where the grapes laid on the ground.

Our new hotel is located directly across from the Cathedral; it was a former hospital for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela in the fifteenth century. The bell tower is very close to our window. It rings on the hour twenty-four hours a day; should make an interesting night. The church is the resting place of St. Domingo. Also inside is a cage visible from the interior of the church that holds a rooster and a hen…yes, they are alive; has to do with an old story about St. Domingo.

The tale is about a young man who arrived as a pilgrim with his parents. A girl at the inn where they stayed fell in love with the youth, but he rebuffed her. She then hid some silver in his things and accused him of stealing. Under the law the punishment for stealing is death by hanging. St. Domingo saved his life by supporting his feet. When the Mayor of the city heard he was alive, he said scornfully that he was as alive as the roasted cock and hen he was about to eat. At that very moment the cock and hen leaped from the plate and began to crow. Since then, a live cock and hen, always white, are kept throughout the year in the church in a special niche built just for them. Yepp…we saw them both!

We explored the town and wandered through the magnificent hotel. During our walk we found about fifty storks nesting on the top of one old building. Ate an early dinner and watched the people in the plaza in front of the hotel from our room. (One of the things that we’d notice during our walk all afternoon were posters in the store windows. We finally looked at them carefully and realized they were notices of funeral services for two young men; one was 20 and the other 27.) Didn’t think too much more about it until suddenly we realized that the crowd in our plaza was really growing and then we saw the funeral hearse parked outside the church door. Soon the people started coming out of the church, there had to be nearly one thousand people attending the services for one of the boys.

Now we’re watching the Czech and Denmark Soccer Game…as we seem to do every night, but it keeps us entertained. The commentator is German, but one doesn’t need the running dialog to understand what is happening! We consider Portugal as our home team as our tour director was Portuguese.

Monday, June 28th: Villafranca Del Berizo

Woke up about every hour on the hour with the bells but managed to go back to sleep each time. But, I do have Jim’s cold this morning. We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel before starting out; overcast weather and actually had some very light sprinkles early in the morning but by 11 am the sun was shinning. We watched pilgrims leaving from St. Dominic de la Calzada by foot, bicycle and two with donkeys; all heading towards Santiago de Compostela.. Some had rather heavy backpacks and others only day packs. Some of the bike riders seem to have what we call a “sag wagon” with their gear. They store their bicycles inside the vans during the night.

We spent the day driving on the actual trail as much as possible. We passed hundreds of pilgrims on the road. Probably half of them were on bicycles. The pilgrims vary in age, some young people but mostly middle-aged men with a sprinkling of women. After three hours we decided to get onto the freeway and get to our destination of Villafranca Del Berizo; a small town in the mountains. The Parador here is a former country villa, very nice but nothing fancy. But it is located on the edge of the village and is QUIET.

After checking in we walked to the old part of town to see the castle and old churches. Also checked out the local Hostel where many of the pilgrims will spend the night. Outside we were able to pick up a shell on a string. That is the symbol of the pilgrim and is used to drink water with. They all have them tied to their backpacks. I told Jim that he’d definitely earned his shell with driving the trail today. It was tough work finding the road as it meandered across the mountains twisting in and out of the many villages. Most of the villages are a result of the support system that has developed over the centuries for the pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. Much different from our drive last Friday when we really had to look to find a village or town. Most of these villages are only shells of what they were in the middle ages.

On the road today we stopped in one of the towns and drove through its’ many streets. With the metal shutters down on most buildings it looks very deserted. But, we know that life happens within the walls. They love their shade. One interesting thing is that all of the churches and religious statutes face the west towards Santiago de Compostela. If you’re not familiar with this church; it’s the church of St. James the Greater(one of twelve apostles) brother of John. His body (without the head) is in this church. Santiago is Spanish for St. James. In the middle ages the church granted plenary indulgences (forgave their sins) for people who made a pilgrimage to this church. There are also many miracles connected to this church. Lots of history is connected with Santiago de Compostela. Here in Villafranca we had an opportunity to visit with a group of pilgrims that had just finished for the day. They were at the hostel we visited. Hearing English we asked where they were from. A small group of five on bicycles with more still on the trail; they were from the San Diego area of California. They were carrying their gear on their bikes and staying in Hostels or camping along the trail. We asked where they started and how long they’d been on the trail. They started in France and had been traveling for ten days. They were using walkie talkies to keep in touch with each other on the trail. They looked tired, hot and dirty. I don’t think finding the local historical places was high on their agenda for the evening!

Monday, June 22, 2009


Friday, June 25, 2004 Segovia

We said our goodbyes at breakfast this morning. The trip to the airport at 10 am went smoothly as the tour director has graciously agreed to take us with the late group as we were scheduled to pick up our car at the airport. One problem: they were all departing so we were taken to the upper level for departures. The elevator wasn’t working and we needed to get down to the arrival area. We finally took the plunge and got on the escalators with all of our luggage in tow. Scary due to the large suitcases but we survived. We telephoned the agency and they arrived in about half an hour to drive us to the pickup point.

We have a brand new 406 Peugeot with a trunk big enough to hold all of our luggage out of sight. We have to thank Jim’s sister for this nice comfortable car. Originally she’d planned to travel with us on part of the trip so we’d ordered a car large enough for all of us and our luggage. I’m delighted as it makes everything so much easier. We have been keeping the things we use in our nylon stuff bags so we won’t have to take the large suitcases into every hotel. We will use this car for the next month while we are in Spain and France. Our travels in Italy will be by train after we leave Nice on July 31st.

Our drive north to Segovia was only supposed to be an hour but we took the slower route over the mountains instead of the toll road. It was a beautiful trip on twisting roads through pine forests. On the other side we saw Segovia from a distance but as we followed our directions we seemed to be getting further and further away from it. Finally stopped and asked for directions (the only thing he understood was “Segovia”) …we’d gone about twenty miles too far. Turned around and found our home for the night. This is our first stay at a “Parador” hotel. This one was built as a hotel; but most of the others will be converted Monasteries, Convents, Palaces, etc. The Paradores Hotel system was set up by the government to use some of the empty buildings owned by the government. I think that they are now privately run. This one is very beautiful and overlooks the town of Segovia. We can see the Cathedral from our bedroom. We will be staying in seven of them from now until July 3rd. Also visible from our window is the Roman Aqueduct that was built to bring water to the city for the soldiers who were stationed here. There is about one thousand feet remaining intact and still capable of carrying water, at least a trickle of water. The remaining section transverses the mountain and is the height of a three-story building.

After checking in we ventured down into town. Jim is really suffering from his cold and really isn’t up to much of anything. But, being the good guy that he is; we did go see the Cathedral, Mayor’s Plaza and had an early dinner. The Cathedral is one of the last great Gothic Churches built and has a lot of turrets and fluff on the outside. The inside is beautiful but not as gaudy. Two unusual things: The side altars are huge and very ornate; lots of gold leaf. The crucifix on one altar had a “skirt” on the Christ figure; we’d never seen that done before. It started at the waist and went past his knees. The siesta was just ending as we left town; you can almost feel the town awakening about 6 pm and then the shops are open until about 10 pm. The eating places just get going about 10 pm and go all night long. The Spanish are definitely night people. Fortunately there are small bars, cafes and cafeterias open all day long that allow the Gringos to eat early. But they are definitely not gourmet meals. French fries seem to come with everything. At least we’ve learned to tell them to remove the bread; they automatically bring it to your table and then charge you extra for it at the end. We’re both trying to not eat bread.

Saturday, June 26th: Siguenza

Slept in this morning and didn’t leave until after 9 am. Leisurely drive to our next Parador should only take a few hours because we took a short cut over the hills on what we call a serendipity road! This worked well until we missed a turn in the road and went about twenty miles out of our way. Oh well, nice day for driving in the hills of Spain. Lots of castle ruins, a farm here and there and a sprinkling of small villages dotted the winding narrow country road. So glad we took the time to fill the gas tank this morning as almost all gas stations close from noon Saturday through Sunday.

We slowed down to see the Roman Ruins of the salt mines of Imon. What caught our eye were the flats used to dry the salt; looked very much like salt flats all over the world except that these were used by the Romans a few centuries ago. We arrived in Siguenza about 1 pm. Our Parador tonight is in a castle build prior to the 12th Century that overlooks the town. We don’t have a view from our room tonight, but the walls are at least four feet thick and we are eighty feet up with a tiny window alcove that has a stone bench on one side. The castle was in ruins when they purchased the property and began reconstruction in the 1960’s. There are photos in the lobby of the before and after. The dining room, bar and lobby quarters are in keeping with the castle motif. We have modern conveniences in the guest rooms with the grandeur of bygone ages in the public areas.

We drove down into town about 3 pm for an early dinner at the local Cafeteria and then waited for the Cathedral to open at 4:30 pm for a walk about. Very old, construction started in the 12th Century in Gothic-Cistercian style. The exterior was not completed until the 16th Century. The interior is very dark. We’re going to walk back tonight; we found a short hill that goes down from the Castle to the Major’s Plaza and Cathedral. There is supposed to be a mass at 8 pm. It will probably be a wedding as they were decorating one of the areas in the Cathedral this afternoon. Right now we’re inside enjoying the air conditioning. Yes, it’s a very warm day outside about 88 degrees and it’s after 7 pm.

About 7:30 we started walking down the hill towards the Cathedral. Saw a shop with postcards that was open and stopped to pick up a card; good thing as everything was closed after church. When we arrived at the church the area in front was crowded with a wedding party that had just left the church. They appeared to be locking everything up in the church but we found that yes indeed, there was an 8 pm Mass in the large Chapel off the main Cathedral. As the Mass started the people started arriving through a side door until it was nearly full. Mostly older people in attendance; it was a beautiful high mass with two priests co-celebrating together. Getting out the little side door afterwards took nearly as long as the Mass; Jim said he was glad there wasn’t a fire!

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Tuesday, June 22, 2004 Fatima, Portugal

We were in for another history lesson this morning as we headed north from Lisbon. This time we learned about Portugal. In 1974 there was a military “coup d ta” and they became a democracy from a dictatorship. They have slowly been building since that time. Not as wealthy as Spain they were also hindered by more than one million refugees from the African colonies. It’s been a struggle mainly due to less resources but each year is an improvement. The European Union has been very good for Portugal. As a small country, about the size of California, it’s always been important to have alliances with other countries.

We’re driving past rice fields; but they still import Uncle Ben’s to have enough. Whoops…their goes another cell phone ringing. These Australians all seem to have their cell phones with them and they are constantly getting calls from home. Not sure just what their service is but it’s the same that they use in Australia. They said it also works in the USA. They do have a “sim chip” like I have in my phone. My Spain chip doesn’t work here in Portugal…but there is a message in my phone that I think would tell me how to make it work but it’s in Spanish….oh well…I will wait until we get back into Spain today!

Have I told you about Sister Eleanor? She is eighty years young, lives in Sidney Australia. She teaches voice (music) at the University and also has a studio in downtown Sidney where she teaches privately. What a kick! Does everything and gets to church almost daily. Her students got together and gave her this trip as a gift. She was on a thirty-one day tour with Trafalgar in Germany, France, etc before this one in Spain. From here she flies to Chicago and has a third tour of the Canadian Rocky Mountains before she returns home to Sidney. We had a twenty-minute stop on the road yesterday due to road repairs and she stood in the aisle of the bus with the younger women and led the group in singing! She’s always in her habit complete with veil…white short dress with black coat. Speaks her mind but has been a real jewel on the trip.

Back to our story, we were on the bus before 8 am this morning and we arrived in Fatima about 11 am. They gave us time for shopping for gifts and then an hour to visit the Shrine and large Basilica that was very impressive. They have just started building another church…probably will be finished about the Century Anniversary in 2017. There was a woman there who walked on her knees carrying her baby. She did have kneepads on but it was still painful I’m sure. Our guide said that people do this when prayers have been answered or they have a special request; the church frowns on the practice but it is done all the time he said. It is not as big as the Lourdes Shrine, but still huge for a religious site. The standing area for ceremonies is as big as St. Peter’s at the Vatican.

Back on the bus…this is the longest bus day of the tour; we didn’t arrive at Salamanca (back in Spain) until after 6 pm. They kept us entertained with pointing out the storks that nest on top of the church steeples and even more surprisingly on the top of many of the power poles. Salamanca is a University Town and very old. Everyone would have loved to spend a couple of days; but it is an overnight stop. Dinner tonight was in the hotel. A great meal! Afterwards we headed for an Internet Shop for a quick look at emails, as we’re not able to sign on in the hotel room. We were reminded of the trade off for being right in town….very noisy night….lots of college students…they were playing soccer with a can at 4 am below our window. We are just steps away from the main square; but we did get a fairly good nights’ sleep and we start late tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 23rd: On the Road to Madrid

Left Salamanca at 9 am on our way back to Madrid. Weather is overcast but clouds were gone by noon. On the road through the mountains; we had a one-mile long tunnel. Saw the skiing area for Madrid. Drove around Availa; has beautifully preserved walls completely surrounding the old city…over a thousand years old. This was the home of St. Theresa of Avila. By the way…we were told that gasoline in Spain is $4.00 per gallon and that’s the biggest reason that you only see small cars. Also, no olive trees in this area; they grow wheat, sunflowers, cattle and horses. They have snow in the winter months. We arrived in Madrid about noon and found a great Greek Cafeteria near the hotel for lunch. Cafeterias are not like at home; they are a combined bar, café and restaurant. Good places to grab light meals.

After lunch we walked three miles to the Archeology Museum that was started in the eighteenth century. Afterwards we walked the three miles back to the hotel so we should have a great night’s sleep; especially since we’re on the fifth floor of a relatively new hotel. Tonight we dined by ourselves at the little Greek Cafeteria next to the hotel. We already knew we’ll get an early and great meal at minimal expense! Plus we’ll be able to watch the two soccer games on T.V. tonight.

Thursday, June 24th: Madrid City Tour, Valley of the Fallen & El Escorial

Up early and on the bus by 8:30 am. Looks like another great day weather wise. However, morning traffic in Madrid is a different story. We inched our way towards the old city for a driving tour of the various sites. So nice that we arrived early and had seen the sites before our tour because most of them were a rolling look see for the tour. Since today is St. John’s feast day, King Juan Carlos’ patron saint; the palace has been closed for two days as he is using it for ceremonies to celebrate the occasion. The Mayor’s Plaza was a “look to your right and that archway leads to”, only one of the most important Plaza in Madrid. The Cathedral was a “to your right is” as we cruised past.

The streets are lined with banners proclaiming that the Olympic Torch will pass through Madrid on June 27th on its way to Greece. They are busying cleaning buildings and fountains that will be on the path of the run through Madrid. Glad we will be gone by then. Couple of interesting notes: The bear eating the berries that is the symbol of Madrid…the berries have a high alcohol level and that’s why the bears liked them so well. Also, remember the Plaza del Sol where we spent our first several days. I mentioned that they celebrate New Years Eve here like Time Square in New York. Today we learned that the tradition is to eat twelve grapes, representing the twelve months of the year, one for each stroke of the bell at midnight. This is to bring good luck for the coming year. If you can’t be in Plaza del Sol to do this…you eat your twelve grapes while watching the scene on television.

After two hours of cruising we arrived at our first stop at the Prado Museum. Yes, we’d spent several hours there but hearing the guide give us her stories about the various painters was an interesting hour. In fairness to the Tour, everyone had yesterday afternoon and this evening to go to various sights on their own. Some had elected to forgo the afternoon optional tour and stay in town to see more of Madrid.

We had signed up for the afternoon tour so after dropping about half of the tour at the hotel we were off to visit the El Escorial and El Valle De Los Caidos, The Valley of the Fallen. Both are located about an hour north of Madrid in the mountains.

We went to the Valley of the Fallen first. This was the war memorial for the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. Conceived and planned by Franco to honor the victims of the Civil War. A massive cross stand 150 meters (about 490 feet) tall on the top of a mountain in the forest above the Memorial. The mountain was hollowed out (the rock they removed was used to build the cross) and a Basilica is built inside the mountain under the cross. The Basilica is actually longer than St. Peter’s at 870 feet. It took twenty years to build this memorial. When it was finished they moved the remains of over fifty thousand people here who died in the war. Franco was buried here when he died in 1975. There is also a convent and school built on the backside of the mountain that we didn’t see.

After having lunch nearby we boarded the bus for the six mile trip over to the El Escorial. A Monastery, school, , another Basilica, and a summer palace for royalty. This is also the burial site for the Spanish Royals. There is a town by the same name. This area is only about fortyfive miles outside of Madrid but the temperature drop makes it the favorite summer home for many of the wealthy class in Madrid. The University even holds summer classes in El Escorial. The site was originally built by King Phillip II as a burial place for his parents, then the Monastery was built for the monks to take care of him in his old age. Big problem coming up is that there are only three remaining spaces for bodies! This was the place that they first used the very wide and short steps in the main stairway. They became the standard in palaces thereafter (per the tour guide). It took us nearly two hours to view the various areas and hear the history. Many beautiful paintings by famous painters grace the walls and ceilings of El Escorial. The Basilica is so beautiful that you must apply at least a year in advance to have your wedding here. There are four of the original eight pipe organs still working in the church. The Royals come here only to be buried and do not celebrate their weddings here.

Back on the bus after a stop to shop for mementos in the gift shop; nearly everyone had a siesta on the trip back to Madrid. Jim has developed a cold; there has been lots of sneezing and nose blowing on the bus for several days; so it was not a surprise. We arrived back at the hotel before 6:30 pm just in time for a light dinner and more soccer games on television. Tonight is the semi-final game between Portugal and England; should be exciting. Tomorrow we go to the airport to pick up our car and start the second part of our trip: touring northern Spain before heading into France to follow the 2004 Tour de France bicycle race that begins on July 3rd in Liege, Belgium.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


I know that we're traveling at a very rapid pace...do hope that you're keeping up with us on our travels thru Spain and Portugal! We'll slow down after July 4th when the 2009 Tour de France begins and we are in Dinan where we pick up the 2004 race for the first time!

Saturday, June 19, 2004 Seville, Spain

We slept in this morning and about 9:30 am we loaded the tour bus for a morning tour of Seville or as the Spanish call it: Sevilla. Many of the structures built for the Spanish Expo in 1929 and the worldwide Expo of 1992 are still here. There were also seven new bridges built in 1992. One looks like a Harp with a single suspension column on one end.

We visited several of the local sites and ended with a walk through the Jewish Section before entering the Cathedral. A massive structure built around an Arab Moorish Mosque, it covers 23,500 square meters and was constructed between 1248 and 1517 with several major additions later. It is the third largest Christian Church in the world. Right now they are in the process of replacing two huge pillars that are falling apart. The problem seems to stem from moisture from a cesspool under the church for the latrines that were used for hundreds of years by the priests….per the guide the problem was caused by: Holy S……(you fill in the blanks) . There are several main altars. One of the most important features of this Cathedral is Christopher Columbus’s remains are kept here in this church. His body has been moved several times over the past five hundred years but he is finally back here in Spain. Seville was the main port for trade with the New World.

After the tour ended most of us took the time to climb up to the top of the bell tower of the Cathedral. Instead of steps, there were a series of 34 brick ramps. Jim says they were used for horses at one time???? But, we found them easier to use than steps. The views from the top were well worth the climb.

Walked through the shopping areas of downtown Seville; stopped along the way for our lunch; and then caught City Bus 13 for a ride back to the hotel. Well worth the price of two Euros as it was mid day (about 2 pm) and getting very hot. Maybe that’s why they sleep in the afternoon and then turn their nights into days.

Mass started at 8 pm and also dinner was at 8 pm. We elected to go to dinner; then after dinner we walked over to church. Someone was watching out for our souls as there was a 9 pm wedding just starting. We “crashed” the wedding by standing at the rear of the church and completed our Sunday obligations. Plus we were lucky to see the inside of the church, as it is the one that Seville bullfighters visit for prayers before their events. It has a magnificent Madonna on the main altar and the entire sanctuary is worth seeing. The Madonna has human hair and is very lifelike.

We returned to the hotel to pack the bags for an early morning bus time for our trip to Lisbon, Portugal.

Sunday, June 20th: Father’s Day Driving to Lisbon

At breakfast someone announced that they’d been reading their Seville book last night and indeed, Jim was correct. The King rode his horse up the bell tower and that is why it was built with a ramp. We toasted all the fathers with juice and coffee and had a discussion on the various ways that soccer/football/futbol/futebol is spelled over the world.

On the road by 8:30 am we were headed for Portugal. Weather is cooler today and somewhat overcast. We passed field after field of sunflowers in full bloom. Manual, the tour director, gave us another history lesson on the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1939. Valencia was the last major city conquered by Franco. He ruled until his death in 1975 when he reinstated the Monarchy. The King then ruled that there would be a democracy and elections were held. The King’s family had lived in exile in Portugal for many years prior to regaining control in 1975. About that time we entered an area that produces cork. He explained about the bark being cut off the trees every nine years and showed us how they laser cut the wine corks from the bark with a sample he’d obtained from a factory.

After about two and half hours we were at the border. Due to the additional security for the European Soccer games we actually were stopped at the border and had to show our passports. This is a rare occurrence today. Clocks are turned back an hour while we’re in Portugal. We’ve found that our cell phone is not working here….I didn’t get a chip as we’re only here for a few days. Also, no Internet connection at the hotel so will have to wait until I get back into Spain to connect. Jim is enjoying reading his new book by Peter Mayle, “A Good Year”. It was his father’s day gift that I’d brought with me from home as a surprise.

The group tour was an optional dinner tonight. We decided to stay in town and the bus dropped us, and a few others, off on their way to the ferry as they passed through the main square. The others were headed to the “Hard Rock Café” for dinner at the special request of the three teenage girls. The parents were great sports and took them there for dinner. We decided to do our own thing. The center was a mass of tourists getting ready for the big soccer game (quarter finals) between Portugal and Spain. Our goal was to enjoy the old part of the city, eat dinner and return before 8 pm.

We walked to the waterfront and then back to the center of the old town. Found a restaurant with outdoor tables and enjoyed a great fish dinner. The excitement of the tournaments was everywhere with flags, painted faces, team shirts and more. The majority of the tourist will never be able to purchase tickets and so will be watching televisions and large screens all over the city. After dinner we walked to the funicular called the Elevator da Gloria that took us up the hill for views of St. Jorge’s Castle from the Miradouro de Sao Pedro Alcantara Park. Walking back down the hill towards the waterfront we enjoyed the beautifully tiled buildings. Glazed tiles are a favorite decorative art in Portugal. Sometimes it’s just colored tiles and other times there are tiles that are used to create pictures. Reaching the bottom we found the Metro at Chiado. After some small errors we managed to purchase tickets and find the blue line that would take us back to the hotel. A delightful lady, probably about eighty years old, talked to us in Portuguese all the way. Jim thought that she was using several different languages but we found out later that the pronunciation sometimes has a Germanic sound. We’d seen a live snail crawling on the outside of her grocery cart and that started the conversation. She quickly tucked it back inside when I pointed it out to her. She then started talking about how she was going to cook them and never stopped talking until she got off one stop before we did. We didn’t understand everything she said but sign and body language can translate information almost as good as the verbal form. We were off at the next stop and from there it was about a mile walk to the hotel.

We arrived back at the hotel just as our tour bus returned from the dinner. Still daylight and almost time for the soccer game to begin. A very exciting game…the Portuguese team won by one point. The Spanish never scored a goal. From the end of the game the car horns never stopped blowing all night long! But, once we got to sleep, it was like a constant melody of celebration songs. The last time I remember hearing the song was about 4 am when I got up for a minute. The talk at breakfast was all about the game. Two of our thirty-some girls joined the bus driver in his private car (he and the tour director both live in Lisbon) and experienced the thrill of being in the center of town to celebrate. He purchased a Portugal flag and Kathleen held it out the window all the way back to the hotel. They were the last to arrive at breakfast!

Monday, June 21st: Touring the city of Lisbon and nearby cities

Today was a sleep in day…the bus didn’t start until 9 am. We drove through the city to see several of the sights here in Lisbon. The birthplace of St. Anthony of Padua, his name before he entered the Monastic life was Fernando. His feast day is a very important celebration in Lisbon from June 9th to 12th. The sardine season also begins at the same time and that is part of the celebration. Everyone eats sardines. After visiting the very oldest part of the city we headed along the Tagus River….the very same one we crossed back in Toledo Spain by walking across the Bridge of St. Martin…but here it is so wide that you can not see the other side at some points just before it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. There is a large suspension bridge that looks like the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge…it was built by the same company. They added a lower level several years ago for the trains. Very much like San Francisco, Lisbon is built on seven hills.

The old Belem Tower built in 1515 to protect the harbor was very impressive. Nearby is a replica of the plane used in 1922 to fly from Portugal to Brazil, the first flight across the South Atlantic. From there we went to see the huge monument to the Discoveries built in 1960 to celebrate the 500th year after the beginning of the famous discoverers that sail from this port including Magellan and Vasco da Gama. Then across the street to the Monastery of St. Jeronimos (St. Jerome) that was built by the King from the five percent tax that was levied on the merchants’ profits from the spices and goods from India. Since today is Monday and like most everything in Europe they are all closed; we were only able to view them from the outside! But, our city tour guide did an excellent job of telling us all the history of each site.

From this area we continued west along the coast of the Tagus River until we reached the area where it merged with the Atlantic Ocean. You can actually see the line of foam where it merges. Beautiful sandy beaches are located all along this area. When we reached the fishing village of Cascais we stopped for lunch. More like Laguna Beach in California than a sleepy fishing village as it was described. Enjoyed our lunch and walked the waterfront before boarding the bus. From there we continued up the coast until we arrived at the beach famous for hosting a major surfing contest every year. The winds in this area are similar to those on the Monterey Coast and their pine trees are even more bent if you can believe it! One difference is the large expanse of sand and sand dunes. For those in the know it is called Guincho Beach. This is the western most piece of land in Europe; the end of the world for centuries when they believed that the world was flat.

We then started up the Sintra Mountains to the village at the top called Sintra. For centuries, Sintra was the summer escape for Portugal Kings. Lord Byron called this area an aristocratic dream of glorious Eden. The area enjoys a great deal of moisture and is extremely lush in vegetation due to the micro climate. We were able to tour the inside of the first royal palace built in the fifteenth century. It is still in use for royal functions and has the original furnishings and décor that various kings have used over the years. This is one of the few sites open on Mondays for touring. As it was only used in September of each year, the kitchen had a very unique design. There is no ceiling. The cooking went on twenty fours a day and the ceiling goes up into two cones with an opening at the top for the smoke to escape. If it did rain, the heat from the cooking would cause the small amount of rain that could enter into the vents to evaporate. There are two other summer palaces that have been built on the mountain by two other Queens who didn’t like the existing palaces, but this was the first.

A fast trip down the mountain brought us back to the hotel about 5 pm. Elected to bypass the dinner tonight and stay at the hotel to watch the English and Croatian Soccer match on TV. The winner will play the Portugal team in the semi-finals.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


June 17, 2004 Costa Del Sol, Castles and Picasso

We’re staying in the same hotel tonight so it’s a more leisurely pace this morning. We leave at 9 am for our morning optional tour. One thing of note is that the tour director has told us and there is a sign on the table at every meal that says:

You may eat all you like but it is not permitted to take food from the Dining room. If you do, the waiter will charge you for the food.

So, if you’re planning to save time at lunch…forget about it! Saw a boy stopped at the door this morning because he was carrying, in plain sight, an apple. Many of us save some of our breakfast to take with us so that we may eat it at noon while we walk as oppossed to sitting down at a restaurant for a meal. Not happening today!

Soccer is the main sport in Europe and the television is full of the International Soccer Tournament going on it Portugal right now. The games are being played in Lisbon and will still be happening when we are staying there in a few days. That will be an exciting place to be. They had some exuberant fans that did some damage last night; but hopefully that will all be under control by the time we arrive. As most of you know, in Europe they call it “football” (Jim thinks it “futbol” but I think he’s wrong) and it is probably the most popular sport because they only need a ball and their foot to play the game. The weather has been great…sunshine but a cool breeze that makes it very comfortable. Parts of Spain have rain but we haven’t seen any so far.

Some of you may ask how I remember so much information for my journal? I’m always looking for “journal entries” during the day. I jot them done in a small notebook that I carry with me and then enjoy the evening on my computer while Jim is surfing the foreign language television channels. There’s just so much CNN and it gets repetitive. Since we don’t do the “nightlife” this gives me a channel for my evening energy. Sorry if the story of the bullfights upset some of you….we probably will never go again, but felt that it was part of “coming to Spain”….the people on our tour will not get an opportunity to see one unless they stay over in Madrid. Most feel that they’re missing an important part of Spain’s history. The talk here is that the government may soon elect to ban the sport so it may not even be around in a few years. If you are a Hemingway fan it will be a missed experience. We never found his bar that he spoke about….it probably didn’t open until after the final fights; so it didn’t really matter.

It was interesting yesterday during the Spain verses Greece soccer match…everything stopped….even, according to the television; the government. They showed the Parliament and nearly all of the chairs were empty and the female Speaker was talking to an empty room. We were in town and the noise level (screaming, horns blaring, etc) when they scored was deafening! The stores were empty of male clerks…they were all in the bars or anywhere they could find a television or radio. They were rather downcast when they only tied with Greece. Then Portugal beat Russia….another very exciting game for this area. If Portugal had lost they would have been eliminated…they lost their first two games. Portugal plays Spain on Sunday.

We took the optional bus tour this morning back into Malaga driving as close to the coast as possible. Reached the seaport and had a photo opportunity before heading up the hill to the old fortress. It was in use until about forty years ago. Originally built in the fourteenth century by the Arabs, it is an extensive structure and reminded us of Carcassonne in France except that there is not a city within the walls. The structure is known as the Moorish castle of Gibralfaro. We walked the wall first and enjoyed splendid views over the city and harbor from the parapets.

Then we drove down into the center of the old city and toured the birthplace of Picasso in the center of the old city. We continued our walking tour into the old Jewish quarter to a two thousand year old Roman Amphitheatre that was discovered about 1951 when they were excavating to build a new library. The library was never built but they now have another tourist item to view. From there we continued our walk to the Cathedral for a walk about on our own inside the church.

After church we nearly missed the bus…we were sitting in the shade and the bus was around the corner! Luckily someone with us had listened and suggested we check around the corner where most of the group were already on the bus! After a short stop at a local winery for a taste of their wines we headed back to Torremolinos and an afternoon on our own. Most Malaga wines are not sold internationally. They are sweet and more of an after dinner drinks. The ones we had tastes of were all blended with about thirty percent alcohol. Our little winery was called Quitapenas Dorado…a place to drown your sorrows. We were a happy group for the short ride home!

The afternoon was free, some went swimming, but our toe dip the first night was sufficient for us; we rested and then used the Ascender for a quick trip to the top of the hill. Once there we walked half way down to a little restaurant for a great chicken dinner while we people watched the tourists when we tired of the view of the Mediterranean. We went home to the hotel for an early evening of TV, Internet and relaxation. Shades of evenings at home! He has bicycle races, soccer and auto races…who cares about language. On Sunday he’ll see the Formula One race from Indianapolis. That is, if I don’t drag him off for sightseeing!

Friday, June 18th Rock of Gibraltar

An early start this morning found us on the road to Gibraltar. We were anxious to be one of the first tour buses across the border as the wait can be extensive due to double customs; first Spanish and then British. Going in is easier than the return, we discovered later in the day! The Rock of Gibraltar is much bigger than we’d expected. Also they have been increasing the size of land surrounding the rock for new hotels and apartments…the government has hired the Danes to use their expertise to reclaim land under the water. To reach the town we had to drive across the airport runway. The airport was their lifeline until the European Union required Spain to open up the border. Now there is a stoplight to stop the traffic when planes land or takeoff.

We grouped into six people and boarded little taxi buses for the trip up the mountain to the top on a very steep road. Half way up we stopped at St. Michael’s and explored the underground caverns with stalagmites…deep inside was an area that is used for musical performance because the acoustics are so good and also it is very cool. Back in the van we continued up and ended at the very crest…you could look straight down on both sides of the vehicle. A stop at the top gave us wonderful views of the Mediterranean, the Straits of Gibraltar, the African Coastline, Spain and the Atlantic Ocean. There are also wild monkeys who live here at the top. Very friendly creatures, they wanted to climb into the car. For being wild they were very good about letting us take photos. There was a tiny baby only a few weeks old. In all, a great experience.

We drove back down the hill very rapidly, they dropped us in the shopping area and we walked back to the bus parking area. The only thing that caught my eye was in a jewelry store. We asked the price….only $2800. And, that was with a ten percent discount, a bit pricey for someone who rarely wears jewelry. The journey back across the boarder was a bit more tenuous as the Spanish Custom put us through the paces. We were all required to walk across with our passports and all hand luggage. They picked two large suitcases out of the hold of the bus for x-ray inspection. We passed and were happy to board the bus for the rest of our journey to Seville.

Our route today was the high western side of the Costa del Sol. We passed by Marbella and many other villages and towns. They are building a toll road as rapidly as possible and we were on and off of it all day. We were in the Ronda Mountains. I’ve noticed that in the gullies there are almost always wild oleander bushes with vibrant colors. Tourism is now the number one industry of the Costa del Sol and I think much of Spain, replacing the fishing industry. In one area there was a power plant and the power was coming from a series of large windmills just like the ones near San Francisco for those that have driven up Highway 5.

Some sidelights: We heard that cows kill more farmers than bulls. A cow charges with their eyes open…a bull closes his eyes when he charges. Seems to be a lot of golf courses, but most are very hilly. Only a few level courses per the guide.

After leaving Gibraltar we headed north along the river towards Seville. As we leveled out there were more farms with fields of produce. Also ranches with cattle and the Andalusia horses. The road is called Ruta Del Toro…road of the bulls…as the best fighting bulls come from this area. Our tour director gave us a history of the bullfight and basically said it is a part of the Spanish Culture. Should they stop the bullfights; they would no longer breed the fighting bull. Its only purpose is for the bull ring. He also pointed that the meat from the bulls killed in the bullring is given to charitable organizations and not sold for profit.

We arrived in Seville about 5 pm…giving us time to get our rooms before heading out for an evening on the town. They’d arranged for a delicious dinner at a local restaurant followed by an evening of entertainment with Flamenco Dancing. Everyone enjoyed the performance. Their feet literally fly about the stage to the beat of the castanets in their hands. Some singing involved but it was the expressions on their faces that told the story as they danced. There was one male dancer with Irish features; Jim said he was an Irishman with a Spanish soul. He did the modern Flamenco as opposed to the traditional and was extremely good. The night ended for us about the time that the local people were starting their evening meal: midnight. The Spanish are night people especially on the weekends. They party the night away ending at dawn. The town was crowded with people on the streets, young, old, families; they were all out! We were ready for bed!