Monday, March 30, 2009


Post Script on our Weekend in Roma…

Sunday, March 29, 2009 Church Day in Roma

The time change for spring occurred in Europe last night so we lost an hour overnight. Slept very well and enjoyed breakfast before walking the four blocks to the 10 am Mass at Santa Maria Maggiore. This is one of four churches in Rome that are officially considered as being “in the Vatican” when you are inside of them. We must have had at least three dozen priests in the sanctuary during the Mass including some Bishops and a Cardinal. The choir was behind the altar and I think they were also clergymen but not sure as we couldn’t see them; but what angelic voices!

We found an Internet Shop and by using a flash drive we posted our journals for our first couple of days in Rome; again checked emails and then headed for the notorious Metro Station that is located underneath the Termini train station. Nearly everyone I know who has traveled on the Metro in Rome has an experience to share about the pickpockets. We figured out the machine and purchased one way tickets good for seventy five minutes on the Metro. Being Sunday, the travelers were fewer and we only saw one gypsy girl with a baby and toddler. When we saw her I backed against Mary who had a seat so we were well protected from any potential pickpocket. We had put our mini backpacks under our jackets and we were hanging on to our purse in front of us.

We rode the Metro to Sao Paolo Station and emerged with no problems. St. Paul’s Outside the Walls is officially known as Basilica Sao Paolo Fuori le Mura and is another one of the four churches wherein you are considered “in the Vatican” when you are in this church. This was the largest church in the Catholic World until St. Peter’s was built. The original wood church, the oldest in Rome, burned in the nineteenth century and they followed the original plans when rebuilding it with stone and marble. There are several unique things about this church. St. Paul the apostle is buried here under the main altar and there are mosaic tile portraits of each of the Pope’s that line the top of the walls. The newest one and the only one with a light shinning on it is of Pope Benedict. One of the issues is that that are only seventeen more spaces; what is to happen when we run out? End of the world? Only God knows.

Enjoyed both the inside of the church and the classic marble cloister in front of the entrance; we also spotted another Jubilee Door that is only open every twenty five years. Each of the four churches has one as well as others throughout the world that have been granted a special privilege by the church

We boarded the Metro and each had a seat heading back towards the center of the city. We again walked over to the Santa Maria Maggiore to have a better look at the relics that are located in that church. Downstairs under the altar we were able to view the relic of a piece of wood that was reportedly part of the crib used for the birth of Jesus. And also the tomb of the artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini is located to the right side of the altar.

By now it was nearly four o’clock and with the time change and the weather we decided to call it a day. It has looked like rain all afternoon and right now it is actually snowing outside our window on the fourth floor (that’s the fifth level) and melting by the time it arrives on the ground. There is still no heat in our room so we are dressed warmly and drinking hot drinks while we catch up on our journals. Tomorrow’s another travel day.

If you’re wondering about the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel…those are the only things that Mary did see in 2005 and I’ve seen them several times so we’ve elected to bypass those beautiful pieces of history in favor of seeing the things that she did not see in her previous trip. Hope you’ve enjoyed the final chapter on our weekend in Rome along with the photo slideshow that has finally arrived.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Rome for a Weekend…

No wi fi connections so we’re downloading the blogs to a jump drive and will send them by way of an Internet Shop….photos will be added tomorrow evening after we arrive in Sorrento; God willin’ and the wi fi access is as promised. The Traveling Twins M&M

Thursday, March 26, 2009 Travel Day to Rome

I took a tumble on the steps this morning and pulled some muscles; but not too bad.
So on with the move to Rome; moving a bit slower but moving!

Our train platform came up and we struggled with our luggage but managed to get everything to the train. Mary was definitely pulling her own luggage today! Got aboard and found that we were in little compartments. We had an Australian lady named Kayla with us who is a cardiac nurse and two French gentlemen from Morocco who spoke no English. We had a wonderful three hour trip after we finally got started; the train was half an hour late getting started. At the French/Italy border the police came on the train and everyone had to get out their passports and soon after we arrived at Genova.

The train from Genova to Roma was nearly empty and everyone was very friendly. At one point three conductors came together to talk to us and verify that we were twins and they were amazed when we told them we were seventy years old. During the first part of the trip we used my IPod to watch the movie “Something’s Gotta Give” that I had downloaded from ITunes before leaving home. It was a five hour trip from Genova to Roma and we arrived after dark. We didn’t cross the street soon enough and ended up walking an extra two blocks to find our lodging for the next four nights.

We’re in a B&B called the Moretti House that we’d arranged through Cross Pollination, a rental agency connected with the Beehive Hostel that we’re staying at for Easter Week. We’re right across the street from the Termini Train Station. We were met at the apartment by an agent, a young girl, who spoke no English but got us into the building and took our fees. We then went walking to see if McDonalds…they are everywhere and one only a block away…had wifi. No such luck; looks like we’ll have to use the Internet Shop this weekend. Had a bite to eat; walked around the Termini Station for Mary to see how large it is; she was amazed. She said it was like a city unto itself; Rome never sleeps.

Friday, March 27, 2009 First Day in Rome; Scavi Tour

We had an early breakfast in the room that we prepared ourselves and then ate it sitting in our bed before going to an Internet Shop to check email. We found Bus # 40 for the ride over to the Vatican. Arrived about 10 am and found that the line to get through security for entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica stretched nearly all the way around the plaza in front of the church. But we got in line and so enjoyed the young people in front of us. It was a group of students from Sorrento and by the time we’d reached the security checkpoint we had exchanged blogspot information with several of the students and taken lots of photos. Their teacher even took photos of us with the students.

We had several hours to visit St. Peters so we also ended up taking the elevator to the first level of the Bell Tower Climb and Mary was able to walk around the inside of the Dome and view the interior of the Basilica from above. I gave her the option of climbing further up to the Cupola but she very wisely declined and we took the elevator back down after taking lots of photos. We saw the Jubilee Door that is only unlocked every twenty five years. We bucked the crowds in front of the Pieta to take photos and checked out the markings down the center aisle that show the length of other churches around the world in relationship to St. Peter’s, the largest. I remembered that I’d downloaded a podcast from Rick Steves on various sites in Rome into my IPod before leaving including one on the Vatican. I got it out and Mary enjoyed learning even more about St. Peter’s from the master tour director: Rick Steves.

Finally it was 1:20 pm; our designated time to walk past the Swiss Guards into the area that the public is excluded from entering. We were headed for the Scavi Tour Office with our precious tickets that my daughter Mary had been able to arrange at the last minute for us so that we could take the very unusual and very hard to obtain Scavi Tour. They only allow two hundred and fifty people per day. This is one of the reasons that we changed our travel plans and came into Rome for this weekend. We’d not been able to obtain tickets during the week before Easter; yes we will be back in Rome for Easter.

We walked in with our paperwork and twenty euros; and the gentleman at the desk said, “These tickets were canceled because you did not make your payment!” At that time his telephone rang and while he was on the phone he continued to work at his computer. When he got off the telephone his entire attitude had changed and he very politely said that they’d had to move us to the next tour at 1:45 pm and if we’d be so kind as to wait another fifteen minutes we’d be on that tour. We think that he finally noticed that the tickets had been arranged only last week by the office of one the cardinals in Rome and there wasn’t time for any payment to have been made.

Had a wonderful tour with a small group; the 1:30 pm group was twice the size so it was great that they moved us. The tour takes you through the excavations that the church began in 1940 and continued for ten years to discover the actual tomb of St. Peter. They had always known from history that the altar in St. Peter’s is built over the tomb but now they actually believe that they have not only discovered the tomb but the skeletal remains that were found intact within the site. Most of the tour deals with a cemetery that dates back to the time before Constantine built the first church on this site after he leveled the top of the hill and filled in the tombs with dirt. At the end of the tour we saw the tomb and a small portion of the bones that are now in a glass case in the original place that they were discovered. Leaving that site we entered into the area where all of the Popes are buried right at John Paul’s burial site before exiting the area. The tour last for an hour and a half and was very informative.

After returning to the B&B for a rest we started walking afterwards towards Trevi Fountain as the night arrived; by the time we arrived it was dark and the crowds were thick around the fountain. But, we each managed to get close enough to toss our coin in the fountain to ensure that we return again to Rome in the future. Then, to follow tradition, we purchased Italian ice cream on the corner to eat on our walk to Spanish Steps. Again, very crowded but we still climbed about half way up for photos before starting back towards the area with buses. There are no buses that go to either Trevi Fountain or the Spanish Steps so Mary was a good sport and had walked with me. Finally found a bus stop and the driver assured us that his bus would go to Termini Station. We had to stand most of the way but within minutes after we finally got a seat to share we were at the Station and after picking up some fresh fruit from a stand near our building, we were home and it was only 8:00 pm.

Saturday, March 28, 2009 Touring Rome on foot

Ate our breakfast on trays again this morning but not in bed; we sat in chairs at the foot of our bed. Fresh bananas and strawberries along with the bread and jams made for a delicious breakfast before heading out to the Internet Shop to check on emails.

Had planned to take the Hop on/off bus all day but discovered that it is only running half a day today because of a planned demonstration in the center of the city. So, we purchased an all day bus pass instead. Rode the bus to the Victor Emmanual Monument and started our walk from there. We first viewed the Trajans Column; approximately one hundred forty feet in height it is a base relief that spirals up the column depicting the story of this particular Emperor reign.

Then we continued to walk towards the Roman Colosseo (Coliseum) along the railings that allowed us to overlook the expanse of the Roman Forum below. An overview was agreed upon as neither one of us wanted to spend that much time in one place. The lines are long today as its Saturday and we decided to avoid the crowds as much as possible.

Since we’re going to be attending a Good Friday service in the Coliseum we also stopped for photos there and then continued to walk past the Palatine Hill area that was popular with wealthy Romans during the time of Caesar and is now another tourist attraction to view different types of ruins right after we passed by the Arch of Constantine. During Roman times there was also a beautiful fountain near the arch that was used by the gladiators to wash the blood off after a match in the nearby Colosseo.

We’re really doing some serious walking today as we then strolled around the Circus Maximus that is now a grassy arena where it appears they are starting some restoration work to create another tourist attraction!

Our ultimate goal this morning was to reach the church of St. Sabina that sits at the top of a hill; the park attached to the church has one of the best views of Rome that I’ve seen. You overlook the Tiber River and all of ancient Rome including the Vatican. This area is on the edge of the Trastevere area; a colorful and very old section of the city that can get a bit “edgy” at night. Just past the church you will find the Knights of Malta building that has a garden with the same views as the park. Being a private garden one generally doesn’t have access to the garden but if you can find the green gate there is a key hole that perfectly frames the view of St. Peter’s Dome in the arch of a perfectly cut hedge. It’s difficult to actually get the photo to show what the eye can see; but the crowds are continuing to grow at this door with a view; one of Rome’s best kept secrets. If you look at the slideshow you’ll see the dome from the park; visualize that in the center of the hedge that you see in the key hole photo…that’s the view we had.

We walked back down the hill towards the Tiber River and looked for a bus to give our feet a rest. We finally found one but it only took us to the Victor Emmanuel Monument and then we walked from there to the Pantheon that has recently been renovated on the inside. It still has the hole in the roof and the church inside in one of the niches looked updated; the year 2009 celebrates fourteen hundred years as a church for this building.

We were both getting pretty tired by this point but I promised Mary that it was just a bit further to the Piazza Navona where we would have a meal and find bathrooms! We soon arrived at one of my favorite places in Rome and I have always had a meal in the Piazza Navona while enjoying the festive atmosphere that reminds me of St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Pigeons, artists, people, music, fountains and lots of outdoor restaurants fill the square with delightful sounds. I generally have pizza and beer when I’m here but today we ordered lasagna and a glass of white wine. It’s a cool day but no rain and we enjoyed our meal before taking more photos of Bernini’s most famous fountain of the Four Rivers; one of three fountains in the piazza that still retains the oval shape of the racetrack from Roman times.

We walked back towards the Tiber River to take photos of the Castel S. Angelo and the Angels on the bridge that crosses over to the Castel. Mary didn’t realize that we could tour this building and was delighted to find that it was open for tours and not crowded. It was a long uphill walk but lots of history that goes back to when it was originally built as a tomb for Hadrian and beautiful paintings on the walls made for a good tour. She enjoyed looking down on the walkway atop the wall that stretches from the Vatican to S. Angelo where the popes would take refuge when under attack from their enemies.

We finally caught another bus and headed back towards our B&B near Termini Station. We found a grocery store in the station and picked up some supplies for tonight and breakfast tomorrow. Had some light sprinkles as we walked the last block but that was all the rain we had today as we arrived home about 5 pm.

Tomorrow, Sunday will be our last day before we leave for Sorrento on Monday morning.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

NICE & MONACO....Did we see Albert?

Monday, March 23, 2009 Traveling to Nice

By 8:30 am we decided to check out of the hotel and start the final leg of this journey by driving to the car rental place in Avignon at the TVG Station. Headed in the right direction with minimal maps we stopped along the way to get gasoline. We found that we were getting closer and closer to the center of Avignon without having seen any road signs for either the TVG Gare nor any streets that we could recognized. Finally stopped to ask some questions when we were practically at the city walls. A young fellow gave us some help and apologized profusely for not being able to speak English! I replied that we were in France and I should be speaking his language; not the reverse. But, he headed us in the right direction; it helped that he showed us where we were on the map I had; and soon we were speeding along the walls of the city heading towards the southwestern side of Avignon. We knew if we crossed the river we’d gone too far; we saw our first sign on top of the street where we should have (note: should have) turned and suddenly we were crossing the Rhone River on a divided highway with no possibility of turning around. I took the first off ramp and we found ourselves on a tiny little country road and it felt like we were in a village again. Our time was rapidly vanishing with all of these detours but after a couple of miles of twisting and turning blind corners, vola; a main street appeared and we were able to go back over another bridge about a mile north of the first bridge and soon there were signs directing us to the TVG Gare!

We arrived at the TVG Gare about 9:45 am with only a few more bumps but we arrived prior to 10 am, our designated return time, and that was what was important. Ironically, when we looked at our mileage, we had traveling exactly 700 km from the time we picked up the car nine days ago. So…it must have been preordained that we made those tiny deviations in our route this morning.

Our train to Nice left right on time at 12:17 pm. Pleasant ride in a full car, we worked on our computers most of the time during the three hour ride.

We had a rather uneventful trip until the end; Mary decided that we needed to get prepared to get off the train before it arrived. So in Cannes I went forward to the baggage area to get our suitcases unlocked and Mary moved forward to the end of the car nearest the baggage room. I had no sooner started doing the lock when two unsavory looking young men jumped aboard and moved into the baggage room with me. They appeared to be up to no good and were probably looking for baggage to steal. They stood there near the door and I stayed with my bags at the back. The conductor came in and spoke to them. They both got off the train and within a minute the one was back. It was a Mexican Standoff. I kept waiting for the train to move as I was sure he’d just jump off when it started to move; tick tock, tick tock, the train doesn’t leave! Suddenly four policemen come on the train and demand that he leave; he does a dead man’s drop backwards landing on my foot as I tried to move out of the way! The police didn’t fall for his sudden seizure and picked him up and carried him off the train. Then they came back to check on me and make sure I had my baggage and that I was ok. Finally the train began to move and everyone relaxed as we headed for Antibes and then Nice in rapid succession. Arrived only a few minutes late and easily walked the one hundred meters to our Hostel Baccarat.

We were looking forward to the young people but apparently there are not many staying here; we’d registered for a twelve bed mixed dorm; they’ve put us up in a four bed, with an in suite bathroom and said we probably would have it to ourselves for all three nights. Best of all … the Internet wifi works in our room; all for twenty Euros each per night. It’s not an area we’d want to be walking about in at night but since we’re always in early that’s not an issue. We do look out the window at one of the many unusual shops in the area…note the photo in the slideshow. The owner has an unusual motor scooter with dual front wheels that is parked there all day every day.

We settled in and then went out to walk to the beach; an easy half hour stroll each way. We stopped long enough to touch the Mediterranean Sea; water was cold and although there were many people at the beach everyone was fully clothed. A nice way to spend our first afternoon in Nice.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 Monaco … we saw Prince Albert, we think!

Made our breakfast in the kitchen downstairs from items purchased yesterday at the grocery store and packed our lunch at the same time to take with us to Monaco.

Walked to the train station and caught the 9:36 am train to Monaco, a twenty minute ride along the Mediterranean Sea better known as the French Rivera. The villas cling to the side of the cliffs and the massive yachts bobbled in the blue waters below as we whipped in and out of tunnels along the steep coastline.

Arrived in the station and walked out to a picturesque chapel at the base of the mountainside; we never were able to figure out the name of it. From there we could see the Port filled with everything from small sailboats to some of the biggest yachts that I’ve ever seen. The Grimaldi Palace looms above the port but our first goal today was to walk up to visit the Monte Carlo Casino and the Opera House. They sit together at the top of a hill and were designed by Garnier who also did the Paris Opera House.

But, as we stopped to take a photo of the sign showing the way to the Casino across the street; we suddenly realized that a motorcade was coming towards us; about six police motorcycles with lights flashing surrounding three black Mercedes, one with a flag, whipped by us so fast we didn’t realize that our cameras were still set on telephoto and we missed the best shot of the day. But we know that Prince Albert was in the car with the flag! We later saw him drive out of the Palace just before the changing of the guard in the same car but with only one other vehicle and the police motorcycles.

We found a bicycle team in front of the Casino preparing for a day’s ride together. They were all wearing matching jerseys, white with red piping and the name of the Casino across their backs. The ages ranged from young to over sixty so it was definitely not an endurance race, but fun to watch them start on their trek. We attempted to walk into the Casino and were politely but firmly told that we were not allowed to enter. Must be the levis and backpacks. We could have gone into the other one a block away that has slot machines if we had wanted to check our backpacks but the lure of dropping a Euro into a machine was not great enough for the trouble.

We then walked past all of the hotels and stores that literally smelled of $$$$$ before heading down the hill back towards the train station and the Prince’s Palace that stands on the opposite end of town. We arrived at the Palace just in time to join the crowd that had gathered for the daily changing of the guard at 11:55 am. Drum rolls and marching pomp and circumstance with less than a dozen soldiers in colorful uniforms. We left early and walked through the old streets to the Cathedral where the Royals are buried including Princess Grace and Prince Rainer.

Sat on a bench with another couple in front of the church to eat our lunch; we saw many tourists doing exactly the same thing all over the old town. It seems as though packing a lunch is becoming popular with all age groups.

We walked back to the train station and spent some time chatting with a father, daughter and son (all adults) from Pittsburgh while we waited for our train. They are in the midst of a whirlwind one week trip and had come down from Paris yesterday and were returning today. The son is well traveled and is showing his father and sister a bit of the magic that he’s been enjoying on past trips. A big Formula One fan, they’d walked the route today in Monaco and he’d purchased a hat signed by Lewis Hamilton who is in first place in the Formula One series of races.

Back in Nice before 3 pm we were surprised with a light sprinkle of rain this afternoon. We decided to attend the 6 pm Mass at the Nice Notre Dame Cathedral that is only a couple of blocks from our Hostel. Then purchased our food and brought it home with us to eat in the kitchen where we found a young couple from Wales eating their dinner. We enjoyed sharing travel stories with our meal.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 Museum Day

Slept in and figured out my problem of being sluggish and a light headache for the past two days at breakfast today. Those little instant coffee tubes of coffee were for “tiny coffee cups” and when I put one into my large mug it was as bad as drinking decalf. This morning I put two in one cup and soon the nagging headache of two days was gone and I was invigorated and ready to face the day!

The weather outside was cool but very pleasant in our windcheaters (that’s British for windbreakers) for our walk to the Marc Chagall Museum only about a mile away from the Hostel. We arrived just as it was opening along with three large buses: two had teenagers and the other was a tour group. The museum is very small so it was a crowded view of some remarkable paintings. For modern art we both really enjoyed the paintings, stained glass and a beautiful mosaic over the pond in the center of the museum. The museum is so small that one can easily see all the art in depth within an hour.

Got out the trusty city map and found our way about an equal distance on the other side of our Hostel to the Russian Church. Built in the late nineteenth century by Nicolas II, it is the only Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia that is designated as a Cathedral per the guide book. There are many steeples with onion tops and nearly every inch is covered with mosaic tiles so that it glimmered in the sunlight. The interior was richly done in gold and more mosaic tiles. We spent about half an hour inside with the English Guide Sheet reading about the various icons and their history.

Walked back to our Hostel stopping at a small grocery store along the route where a wonderful French woman looked at us with a puzzled expression and said “twins” but in French; and we removed our hats and said “Oui” and I held up seven fingers and make a zero…she looked surprised and then she wrote the number on a pad and we shook our heads yes, and then she wrote sixty two for her age. Language is a beautiful art and its amazing how many ways it can be expressed.

Tomorrow we have a ten hour train trip to Rome; changing trains in Genova. We have four nights scheduled at a B&B apartment near the train station. Not sure just what it will be but we’re excited about being in Rome for the weekend.

From France…
Au Revoir

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Saturday, March 21, 2009 Roads Less Traveled

Slept in a bit as this was planned to be a short day trip to the town of Apt to see their Market. Arrived there before 10 am and discovered that it was indeed a very large market that stretched from one end of the town to the other; and not a parking place to find without walking a good distance. So, we headed out the other end of town to our next destination: Saignon.

Saignon is a very old hill town that sits high on the top of a hill above Apt. The last time I was there with Jim we watched old men (my, that’s a relative term these days) play Bochhi Ball on the town lawn in the afternoon sun. Today it was very cold and we bundled up as we walked to see the cemetery and also visit the church that was unlocked. Mornings are the best time to find cemeteries and churches unlocked!

Back down the hill to Apt again, no reasonable parking places so we continued to the edge of town and discovered that the two lamas that we’d seen grazing going in were actually standing in front of the Circus that is in town for the weekend.

Found the road to Roussillon where we explored the area that is known for its Ochre soil, a very red earth that is embedded in everything you see in Roussillon. After many photos as we walked around the village we ate our lunch on the bridge that has a great view of the surrounding countryside: our baguettes with the olive/basil condiment that we’d purchased yesterday at the market in Lourmarin. We walked up to view the huge sun dial before getting into the car to continue our trip.

Leaving Roussillon we were headed towards Gordes and home but we didn’t see a directional sign. So, we just turned right and headed out on a small country road, note a photo of the ditches along the road…makes it interesting when passing other cars. And this one is not nearly as narrow as most! But the “road less traveled” turned into a jewel of a find for us. I’d heard about a windmill in Provence but didn’t quite know its location. We ended in the village of Goult and when we checked there was our windmill or as it’s known: le Moulin de Jerusalem. Originally built in the fifteenth century it was restored in 1998. Our final directions to find the mill were from a gentleman in town who answered us in beautiful English after I asked for directions to the “Moulin” in my broken French. If you look at the photo of the restaurant, he’s the gray bearded gentlemen sitting at a table; they were walking towards this restaurant when we interrupted there stroll with our questions.

This was a fun day full of unexpected treasurers in Provence. Tomorrow is Sunday and we’ll stay in town to enjoy the Market here in I’Isle Sur La Sorgue and prepare for our trip to Nice on Monday morning. We’re splurging and enjoying the hotel breakfast before attending Mass and then the Market which will be in full swing by noon.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Thursday, March 19, 2009 Lazy day in I’Isle Sur La Sorgue

We took our time this morning before heading out for a day spent in our home village. Today is Thursday, the day of the Petit Market; we meandered over towards the church and sure enough they were nearly set up but not totally as it was just after 8:30 am.

We continued to wind our way out towards the main road in the direction of Cavaillon to find the cemetery. For those who knew us as children; our father was the manager of a cemetery so maybe we’re finding our roots? They do lock the gates on the cemeteries at night and even late in the afternoon. We’d driven past this one on our way into town last Saturday so we knew approximately where it was located. Enjoyed checking the dates looking for the oldest ones; there were several for sale and that’s another one for the long journal.

Back to the market where we found some fruit, some homemade candy and almonds that were reasonably priced. Back to our hotel for computer time before our next walk that we took about 2 pm. This time we headed out along the Avenue du Partage des Eaux that runs along the main channel of the Sorgue River coming into town before it reaches the basin and splits into several branches that go all around the old city center. The city is only five miles from the source and per the guide book: never floods and has a constant flow and temperature in all seasons. Mary felt the water and said it was COLD; but we did see some boys swimming later on our walk. There were some beautiful homes along the waterfront.

By the time we decided to find a restaurant for dinner the winds were blowing; we were having a Mistral Wind experience, much like a light Santa Ana Wind in California. It was a cold wind coming down off the snowy peaks of Mount Ventoux. We checked out several places and Mary decided she’d rather visit on of the little shops and purchase something light and eatable as we walked. Both of us enjoyed our quiche and potato patty that they were happy to heat up for us before we left the shop; another inexpensive dinner of less than four euros each. Home to computers, cards and then early to bed. You’ll notice the photo of Mary in the stairwell; we’ve found that when we don’t want to go all the way to the lobby we can sit in the stairwell and connect to the wi-fi! One problem is the timed light keeps going on and off and we have to sit near it or we’re in the dark! We generally use this early in the morning or late at night when we only want to be one for a minute or two.

Friday, March 20, 2009 Very narrow roads

We arrived in our first scheduled hilltop village today of Ansouis about 9 am. It had taken us about an hour’s driving on country roads to find this little known gem off the main highways of tourism. An American author who had lived in France as a child had rediscovered her memories here when she returned to restore an old house as an adult. Her name is Yvone Lenard and her resulting book is “The Magic of Provence – Pleasures of Southern France”. I enjoyed reading it many years ago and had found this little village on a serendipity trip that Jim scheduled on one of our last trips to this area. Her home is located right next to the “required” chateaux … there’s one in every town… and by following the little roads up the hill we were able to drive right to it. But, there was no parking left so I continued to drive looking for a parking place. The street twisted this way and that, up hill then down, around corners that required much backing up to navigate and finally with rearview mirrors turned in and about an inch on either side of the car we had to turn an impossible corner. Mary, who was walking along side the car directing me said afterwards that at this point, one of my rear tires was a foot off the ground…sounds like an exaggeration to me! But I was sweating bullets and had the beginnings of panic. We got around the corner and down about fifteen feet when we saw that at the bottom of the very steep street was a green metal post and a car parked on the other side. We looked back and there was another green post on the only possible place I could back out of our predicament. There was no way I could back around that corner!

I set the brake, we could smell the clutch and the brakes; Mary walked to the street below looking for help. With no French she managed to convince a man to call the city for help to remove the post by unlocking the padlock at the bottom and also to go to the person’s home that owned the car and remove it. Within fifteen minutes we were out and on our way. Madam walking by said “This is not allowed, how did you do this?” I think everyone was floored that we’d managed to get ourselves into such a predicament!

The rest of the day was rather calm as we visited a weekly market in Lourmarin, took photos in Bonnieux where we couldn’t find the market and visited Lacoste. Lacoste is famous originally because it was the home of the Chateaux of the Marquis de Sade, known for his sadistic writings among other things. Today it is owned by the designer Pierre Cardin and you will see his logo: Lacoste on the clothing he sells. Now you know that it is a very old hill town in Provence.

Our last village of the day was Menerbes, made famous twenty years ago by a British Expat named Peter Mayle who wrote the book “A Year in Provence”. A fun day that ended with the cold Mistral Winds again blowing off of Mount Ventoux; something that we were looking most of the day in distant views from hilltop towns of the Luberon.

And so ends another adventure on this wonderful trip....

Wednesday, March 18, 2009



Photo Notes: Jim said he wanted to see more photos with me in them…so you’ll note that I’ve included some of Mary’s photos at the end of the slideshow.

Monday, March 16, 2009 Carpentras and points North

Up early this morning we headed for Carpentras by 8 am hitting the morning traffic which slowed us up a bit. But soon we were rapidly moving along the country roads enjoying the scenery as we drove. We saw a short section of a Roman aqueduct but other than pointing out the area where their weekly market is held we were in and out of the city very fast. We did consider stopping at one chateaux called Le Barroux in a small village but decided to continue our trip as planned.

Our initial destination for the day was “Le Vieux Moulin” an olive mill in Mirabel-Aux-Baronnie owned by Alain Farnoux who I had met when he visited California in 2007; that was so good that I gave it a special blog all of its own so you’ve probably already read about our adventure!

After stopping at a grocery store (mini Wal-Mart) for food supplies we spent several hours exploring the Ville-Haute of Vaison la Romaine, the twelfth century area surrounding the ruins of a Chateaux; all located above the river that has a two thousand year old Roman stone bridge that is so strong that it was the only bridge crossing the river that survived the floods of 1992.

On the way back we detoured to climb Mount Vontoux, famous for winds and a favorite route of the Tour de France. I’d hoped that we’d be able to drive all the way to the top and then down the other side. No such luck; snow had closed the road just short of the top so Mary got the thrilled of retracing those sharp turns on the downhill as we retraced our path to the valley. Found our way home by 3 pm and had some great Skype calls to home regarding our experience at the olive mill.

For dinner we took our canned tuna salads to the park and enjoyed our meal beside the Sorgue River that rushes through the center of the old village. We have a sign in the elevator that says that “No Food is allowed in the Rooms”. Opps…we’re very careful to not leave any food out during the day where it can be discovered and take any food trash out of the hotel with us when we leave. We decided to walk for a while afterwards and looked for one of the large meringues to share; but we discovered ice cream bars that looked even better!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 French Popes and Roman Ruins & St. Patrick’s Day

Had a great nights sleep and left the hotel about 8:30 am. We headed east to Avignon for a look at where the French Popes lived in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries when they left the evils of Italy and created a Vatican in France. Eventually there were two Popes as the Italians decided that they also wanted a Pope. It is a massive fortified palace that is fully preserved but barren as all of the interior décor was removed over the centuries by the various rulers; the free audio guides do a great job helping you envision the palace in its glory days as “le Palais des Papes”.

Left Avignon after filling the tank with Petrol…uses regular at 1,115 per liter…about four liters to a gallon. We headed north and stopped at Chateauneuf-du-Pape; famous for its wines grown in a very rocky soil and as the summer home for the Popes during their stay in Avignon. We tasted the vin, a very good 2006 blanc; but at 86 euros a bottle we only tasted and didn’t purchase any to take home! The proprietor did tell us that this wine would be good for up to five years but after that it deteriorates rapidly; but the rouge keeps forever and just gets better each year. Spent a short time at the ruins of the Chateaux on top of the hill and then pointed the Fiat north in the direction of Orange.

In Orange we visited the Roman Theatre that is still used for performances today. The massive stage wall was built by the Romans when the city was called Gaul; at the start of the Christian Era. It is the best preserved “stone theatre” in the west of the Roman Empire and still holds more than nine thousand spectators at each performance.

Home about 4 pm after a stop for an American fix at McDonald’s for an early dinner. We even sprung for the regular prices and not the “Euro Menu”. This was our first visit since Madrid and yes, they do have free wi-fi at the French McDonalds also.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 Empty Lavender fields

Eight seems to be the ideal time for us to leave each morning on our adventures and true to form that’s when we left this morning! Another beautiful sunshine day in Provence gave us pause to enjoy the scenery as we wound our way across the countryside. A serendipity stop at an old cemetery in Pernes-les-Fontaines; a quick stop for a photo of the village steeple in St. Didler; and finally our arrival at the village of Venasque, on top of a small fortified mountain east of Carpentras. Jim and I loved our stay at this quaint little village that shutters itself at dusk and is know for restaurants of cuisine that people will drive for hours to find. We stayed for several days in rooms over one of these little gems and enjoyed learning about Provence herbes and cheeses at our evening meals; each table is only reserved once each evening.

Took lots of photos as I showed Mary the village and then it was back in the car for a hair raising ride on single lane roads that have traffic both ways! We arrived at the Abbey de Senanque about 9:30 am and found nary a lavender plant in bloom. The sharp edges of the cut plants were in place in most of the fields but alas…no blooms. But, the shop was open and we were able to window shop all the items that are created by the brothers at the Abbey for sale; mostly things made from their lavender and olives, a bit pricey but we’re the worst of shoppers as we only purchased two bookmarkers for one euro.

I asked about seeing the Chapel; Jim and I had attended Vespers there when we were staying nearby; but it is reserved for the priest except if we wanted to pay seven euros for a one hour tour in French. We decided to take the tour and there was an English brochure explaining things for us. Mary froze in the old stone twelfth century buildings but it was a marvelous experience that we thoroughly enjoyed. We saw the original dormitory where the monks slept on straw; the chapel, the cloister, the warming room that was the only room heated in the whole monastery. The warming room was where the monks worked to copy manuscripts. The Chapter-House was the only room where they were allowed to speak. It was a very interesting tour even if most of the explanations went way over our heads.

Soon we were back on the road towards Gordes; the road was even narrower on this section with only small spots for passing. Found easy parking at the Chateaux and enjoyed walking around the village before heading out for the “Villege des Bories”, our last stop of the day. This is a small village of mostly beehive shaped buildings using an ancient method of building with stones using no mortar that was actually used in this area in the twentieth century. It was a long ways off the main road but fortunately I’d been there before and realized that we could drive almost all the way in before using the final parking lot right next to the park. Many people were walking from the furthest parking lot next to the road; like we did years ago.

It was a fun day and we arrived home earlier than usual after a stop at the grocery store for supplies for dinner. We’re going to the park with our food for a picnic: sandwiches of ham and cheese, lettuce for salad, wine to drink and fresh strawberries for dessert. Tomorrow is Market Day in our town so we’re taking a day off to enjoy the village.

a bientot (see you later) sorry too lazy to put the accents where they belong for those of you that speak French!

Monday, March 16, 2009


Monday, March 16, 2009 Alain’s Olive Mill

What a day we had. We were out the door by 8 am and headed north. Took about an hour and half to get to Vaison la Romaine where we found bathrooms and then headed north to Mirabel-aux-Baronnie to see if we could find Alain, the Olive Mill fellow from our wine tour in 2007 with our friends Linda & Terry. He was visiting a friend in the California and they were taking a tour of the wine country. We accidentally met at a winery in Paseo Robles. With the help of the friend and Terry (who spoke some French) I had explained that I would be visiting France with my twin sister in 2008…yes we were a year late…he gave me his telephone number and address and invited us to visit his Olive Mill when we were there. We took a photo together before leaving.

We found the shop very easily as it was in the center of the old village; we were very fortunate that the bookkeeper/clerk had gone down to check on something in the store and most importantly SHE SPOKE ENGLISH!!!! Language skills were learned when she lived in Paris; she was very good and easy to understand. When we showed her the photo and brochure that I'd brought with me she became very excited and called the house for Mr. Alain. She located him and said he'd be there shortly. Meanwhile she gave us the complete tour and all kinds of information. When I asked to purchase a small bowl with olives painted on it she insisted on giving it to me. Later, Mr. Alain insisted that Mary be given one also.

I don't know who was more excited that we'd come to visit...Alain, his friend who’d arrived with him (whose name we never learned) or us. They insisted that we follow them out to the new place where they are building a new plant, store and a couple of rental chambers on the second floor. To meet the health standards for shipping to the USA they had to upgrade their facilities to meet a certain standard. The old mill in town was just too ancient to qualify.

Best of all he brought out his shirt & hat that he'd received as a gift from Lance Armstrong when he was racing in the tour. See the photos in the slideshow that tells about Lance's visit to the Alain's Olive Mill. They also wanted us to drive to the chateaux where Lance stays with Alain's friend when racing in the area. He gave us a note to give to the owner, his friend, who would show us around. But, that's another two hour drive so I don't think we're going. I told him that I’d return again with my husband in a few years. Maybe we’ll also visit Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux then.

What a morning. We spent about two hours with them and then we also drove up Mt. Ventoux as far as we could...only got to the ski slopes and the rest was closed because of snow. Couldn’t wait for another blog to share these so thought I’d make a special one just for Alain’s Olive Mill.

L'ISLE SUR LA SORGUE...Provence France

Saturday, March 14, 2009 Travel to L’Isle sur la Sorgue

By 8:30 am we’d eaten our breakfast in our room, packed and arrived at the train station for our trip to Avignon, only a twenty minute train ride. We picked up our little blue Fiat Panda that will take us around Provence for the next nine days. It’s a stick shift, and has a very small hatchback and four doors

We zipped out of the lot and headed east to see the great Roman Aqueduct: Pont du Gard located just outside the town of Remoulins, northwest of Nimes. I was amazed at how easily we eased in and out of the round-abouts; the routes were well marked with the names of towns and we really could have survived nicely without the maps. The aqueduct was a symbol of the greatness of Rome that stretched for thirty miles, dropping one inch every three hundred fifty feet and supplied the city of Nimes, one of ancients Europe’s largest cities with water. The Pont du Gard spans a canyon on a massive bridge; one of the most remarkable surviving Roman ruins anywhere according to the guide book.

Drove back towards Avignon circling south of the city as we continued eastward towards of the town of L’Isle Sur La Sorgue, a quaint little town in the center of provence that will be our home for the next nine nights. We’re staying in the Hotel les Nevons; a little two star that Jim and I have stayed at before. I was as amazed as Mary when I was able to drive directly to the hotel without checking the maps; partially instinct and good signage that I was able to read as I drove. It’s located at the center of town making it easy to walk everywhere. We have two market days here: Sunday and Thursday. We’ll enjoy the market tomorrow after church and then enjoy a site nearby as we’re both ready for a mini break.

The best news of the day is that we’ve found out that since we have our computers with us they are providing FREE WI-FI! Wow! Totally unexpected, I asked about the Internet service but never received an answer so we “assumed” that we would not have any. Wrong! And it’s a good service except we do have to go down to the lobby area to use it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009 Market Day

We woke early after an early evening last night, played cards and read our novels. This morning we dug our fancy clothes out and dressed for breakfast and church; we left the blue jeans in the closet for today! Mary even insisted on earrings and lipstick! We enjoyed a wonderful petit dejeuner in the breakfast room of the hotel that is decorated in the bright yellows and oranges of Provence. At eight and a half euros each, that’s a treat; coffee, juice, cereal, yogurt, and all kinds of breads and jams, even homemade preserves.

We checked our emails from home after breakfast before heading out to enjoy the Sunday Market; then it was over to the church for the 10:30 am service. On the way we enjoyed a slow stroll through the huge market that was in full swing; in Provence every town has a market day and I’Isle Sur La Sorgue has two: Thursday and the big one on Sunday. Vendors go from town to town with their wares. This market is famous for the antiques that don’t appear in any other towns as their stores are based in this town.

We found “twin” purses that are perfect for our trip…the ones we have been using are just too small. It’s easy to spend money walking around the various tables, so it was good that we had to get to church. The church is located in the center of the City Center and is a twelfth century building with a rich interior decoration of an eighteenth century gold baroque choir in the sanctuary; one of the most beautiful examples of baroque art in Provence. The Mass last for an hour and a half due to the singing; but it was so wonderful no one, less of all us, seemed to mind. The choir was all behind the large altar and we could only see a few of them during the mass but what a magnificent sound. At the end of Mass they all came out and grouped on the Altar for one final song. Truly amazing!

After Mass we again walked the Market and only purchased some food for lunch before going back to the hotel for our afternoon trip. We headed out to see Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. This is the source of all the water that flows down the Sorgue River; it comes from an underground cavern that, according to the information, is so deep they’ve never gone to the bottom of it. It is located about twelve miles from town and then we had a half hour walk up the path to reach the basin from whence the water flowed. On our walk back to the car we stopped and enjoyed an apple and some cheese that we’d brought with us as we watched the torrid water flowing down from the source over random rapids that are used for kayak racing in the summers.

Back at the hotel we noted that the market was over and they were rapidly cleaning up as we gathered our laundry and headed for the Laverie to do two loads of laundry. This project took just over an hour and we were off for the hotel and computer time.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Thursday, March 12, 2009 Train trip to Arles

The train pulled out right on time. We had an open car this time instead of the small compartments. The views of the snow covered mountains made it hard to concentrate on our novels that we occasionally get out to read. It was a two hour journey with fewer stops than on our ride to Lourdes and soon we were in the station at Toulouse. Found seats in the station; not an easy thing to do because of the numbers of people and ate our lunch that we’d brought with us. Mary is learning how to read the train information boards so we took turns checking on the schedule. When it was just about time for our train track number announcement we discovered a statement that our train was delayed for possibly thirty minutes. Bottom line: we were an hour late in departing from Toulouse. I called the hotel to let them know we were delayed and would arrive beyond the 7 pm limit; they said “no problem”.

Announcements were made regularly but all in French. Our train was going all the way to Marseille so Mary was a bit concerned about making sure we got off at Arles. During one of the first announcements, she turned around and said to the people around us “does anyone speak English”….sure enough a nice young man said he could translate for us. Over the next three hours he would translate and actually came up several times and sat with us to talk about our trip, himself and France. When we arrived in Arles he carried both of our suitcases off the train for us. Mary negotiated her own suitcase down the track stairs and then some Americans helped her up on the other side. We’re getting pretty good a bouncing them and then someone almost always stops to help.

Found a taxi right outside the station; it was dark outside by now and there was a marvelous sky with swirls of pink in the darken skies but we were too busy to take any photos. Arrived at our Hotel de la Muette, I stayed here in 1999, and Madam put us into a downstairs room right behind the desk.

I got Mary to walk outside a bit; we found a bakery and purchased two baguettes and a large meringue to share for dessert tonight. We ate one of the breads as we walked around; most everything is closed and it’s not even 8 pm. We found the Roman Arena with all of its light on for night photos before heading back towards the Hotel that was only a few blocks away. Just before leaving Mary found a manhole cover with the name of the town so she was a happy camper! She is trying to take a photo in each town we visit of a manhole cover with the name of the city and our shoes on it! She’s going to make a composite photo for her travel wall at home with these photos.

We do have CNN here instead of BBC and again it’s a beautiful flat screened TV on the wall. We are sharing a king size bed and using the single bed in the room as a “table” for stuff! It’s interesting; at home I always sleep on the right side of the bed and she always sleeps on the left side of the bed in Florida. Mary says this is the way we always slept when we were kids. So, we are perfectly comfortable sharing a bed after fifty years.

Friday, March 13, 2009 Arles France

Arles is famous for many things: first and foremost it was a very important Roman city in the time of Julius Caesar and many of the Roman antiquities remain; the south suffered far less damage during the wars and many original building remain. It is also famous because the artist Vincent Van Gogh spent two years here painting many of his more famous canvases of sites and buildings in the town. So today we’ll visit many of those places to compare them to the paintings that are posted on “easel boards” at each of the sites. See second slideshow and descriptions at the end.

Most of the sites were very easy to get to except for the drawbridge…we walked about an hour each way to get to that one! After we returned it was time for showers…it had turned into a very warm day and we kept shedding clothes as we walked! Afterwards we shopped at the Monoprix for dinner and meals for the weekend and then attended the 6 pm Mass at the church. Dinner was a picnic on our bed before turning on the computers. We’ve really enjoyed our stay in Arles but we’re scheduled to pick up a car tomorrow in Avignon and then head for L’ Isle-sur-la-Sorgue where we’ll stay for nine nights while exploring Provence. Our first challenge will be to discover where we can get the Internet as we know for sure that our hotel does not have the service for guests.


The Yellow House…where he lived…small house in front was bombed in the war but the large building behind and the railroad bridge on the side still exist.

Starry Night Over The Rhone…bridge is and many of buildings that created the shore lights are gone … bombed during the war .. but the river and ends of bridge are still here.

Les Arenes d’Arles … A painting done of the crowds in the Roman Arena

The Jardin d’Ete and the Roman Theater….

Langlois Drawbridge…a mile and a half outside of town….we walked for an hour each way to find this sight!

Café at Night…. In the Place du Forum is the famous Café that Van Gogh not only painted but was a frequent visitor in the establishment.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Photo notes: Mary’s not pregnant…that’s her purse under her coat!

Monday, March 9, 2009 Traveling to France

Up at 6 am we had breakfast and easily made it to the bus station by 8 am. The weather was very overcast; we must be taking the rays of sunshine with us! Everyone on the bus had their own two seats so it was a very comfortable ride. We drove through the city of Girona just south of the border. That’s the city that the bicycle racer Lance Armstrong lives in when racing in Europe. Much of the route today takes us along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and gave us some glorious views with the overcast skies.

As we neared the boarder of Spain and France we could see the Pyrenees Mountains, the tallest ones capped with snow. At 12:30 pm we were in FRANCE. The sun came out for our crossing over the border but continued to disappear regularly behind the fast moving clouds. We headed towards Narbonne where we were all required to leave the bus for half an hour while the bus driver had some lunch; many of the passengers also ate at the restaurant.

Along the route we saw the walled city of Carcassonne from a distance, and soon we were driving along the Canal du Midi; this is the canal that we spent a week cruising in 1999 with two other couples. When we arrived in Toulouse we found that our Etap Hotel for the night is right next to the canal. A new one star hotel in the Accor System in a great area and has all the amenities.

Turned out the lights before 10 pm and enjoyed a good night’s sleep. We’ve watch CNN on the television all evening; the same program over and over and over…much like my 1992 experience except that the segment last longer before it repeats. The other alternatives are all in French.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 Travel to Lourdes

Slept beautifully and awoke about 6 am. By 6:30 we were off to breakfast downstairs. We’d decided to pay the extra five euros each. Good decision, we had coffee, juice, bread, cereal, yogurt, jams, etc.; as much as we wanted.

Back to the room we spent the next hour or so working on our computers before heading out to walk ten minutes along the canal to the train station for our 10 am train to Lourdes.
It was a two hour train trip with a delightful French couple who knew just enough English with our broken French to communicate. My French class last summer is finally paying off. I pronounce words better, I understand more of what they are saying and I’m better about speaking the language when asking for help. The views of the snow covered Pyrenees Mountain just got better and better the closer we came to Lourdes.

We’ve got a nice studio apartment in a residential complex for two nights; complete with cooking facilities we’ll be able to make our own meals. And, it’s an easy walk to the Lourdes Sanctuary and that’s our main purpose for being here. We walked all over the complex today, lit candles, visited the Grotto and investigated everything. Tomorrow we’ll return for an English language Mass at 9 am and then do the healing baths together. There is also a Rosary at 3:30 pm that we’re attending. We’re here in the off season so many of the hotels, stores and restaurants are closed. Actually that is good as it’s not so hectic with hordes of people. I am sorry that they don’t have the candlelight vigil this time of year as that was a beautiful sight we enjoyed on my last visit in 1999.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 Mass and the baths in Lourdes

Fixed our breakfast in our room, coffee was in bowls as the cups they provide are the very tiny ones for Espresso. We purchased instant coffee yesterday at the grocery store along with food supplies for three days…all for thirty euros. Left about 8 am and used the extra time to locate and see the huge underground Basilica of St. Pius X that was completed in 1958. Larger than a football field with an altar in the center for use in bad weather; something else I missed on previous trips.

We arrived early for the 9 am Mass in English that was held in the small St. Gabriel Chapel on the side of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception; the original church built over the Grotto. The priest was delightful and with a wonderful accent that was easy to understand, the chapel was full by the time Mass began. Communion was distributed by the priest walking down the single aisle as we stayed in our pews.

After Mass Mary and I walked over to the Baths which opened at 10 am. We were in the first group of eight that entered. We had no ideal of what would happen. There were three women to assist us; we were asked to disrobe completely as they held a cape around us for privacy. IT WAS COLD! Before I knew it I was in and out and getting dressed again. I was so cold and it was so fast I hardly knew what was happening. Mary followed me in and all I could say was “it’s very cold”! Those of you getting the full journals will enjoy a blow by blow description!

So, if you ever go to Lourdes and want to experience the baths…go for it….it was a wonderful experience and we’re both very glad that we went in. Afterwards we walked over to the water spigots from the Grotto and filled our bottles after drinking some of the water. I filled both of the small bottles that I’d purchased yesterday to take home.

From there we walked very fast back to our apartment, took some Airborne and fixed hot coffee for ourselves. This afternoon will be computer time until about three when we plan to go back for our final visit and the Rosary at the Grotto.

About 2 pm we dressed warmly and headed back to the Sanctuary for our final visit. We went back to the underground Basilica of St. Pius X to take photos first. We are still amazed by the size; we walked from end to end and counted 250 strides, about two and a half to three feet each. Then we went to the Bookstore and found that it holds twenty five thousand people for Mass; we found a bit of irony in our number of strides and the number of people it will hold.

Then we revisited the three churches in the original buildings over the Grotto before heading over to the actual Grotto for a seat for the 3:30 pm Rosary. The Rosary was said in French so a little difficult for us to follow but we said our own version of the Glorious Mysteries in English.

Walked over to the Baths afterwards for some photos of the outside; and then walked back to the hotel and commented that it was great that it is only cold and not raining nor is there any wind today. But, it is definitely cold outside. Hope you’ve enjoyed our visit to Lourdes with us. Tomorrow we travel by train all day to Arles.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Friday, March 06, 2009

We got up at 3 am to catch an early bus to Barcelona that took seven hours. Long story but we had a great trip and saw a good deal of country side along the way. We had snow for a long distance as we crossed the mountains and then we entered the southwest and finally saw the Mediterranean as we neared Barcelona. Bus travel has really been a wonderful way to see Spain and price wise it can’t be beat; about half the price of trains.

Our Hostel in Barcelona is very new, spacious and in an upscale area. We can actually safely walk on the streets at night if I could get Mary outside after dark! We’re in a dorm room with eight beds; all the bathrooms/showers are shared off of a common room where we can use our computers; cook meals and enjoy the company of young people from several different countries including Shelby from Boston. Took advantage of the great showers and washed our hair this evening after walking the area for several blocks. We found a Supermarket (much larger than we found in Madrid) and purchased a spinach pizza to cook for our dinner tonight. We’ve checked prices for bus vs train to Toulouse for Monday and have decided to go by bus; two hours longer and half the price. Looking forward to a quiet night; the advertisements tells kids who want to party to find a different hostel!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Had a good nights sleep and awoke about 8 am refreshed and ready to go see the national treasure and symbol of Barcelona: Temple de La Sagrada Familia; and unfinished work that became the final symbol of Antonio Gaudi. Work commenced in 1885 and continues today. The building is only half finished. Funds for the construction are from private donations and income from tours; one of the reasons for the slow pace of building. We arrived early by way of the Metro to beat the afternoon crowds. Shelby, our young friend from the Hostel decided to go with us; it was fun having her along. We agreed from the start that as soon as she wanted we wouldn’t mind if she said goodbye. She stayed with us until after we reach the Parc del Guinardo.

We spent over two hours touring the partially completed church and museums describing the construction of the building. Gaudi used the elements of Mother Nature to design his buildings. Columns are “trees”, animals are visible on the walls as drain spouts, sunflowers and lavender plus more plants are found incorporated everywhere you look in the building. Up and down, around and then up and down again we went; stopping every few minutes to hang out of the windows or over the ledge for another fabulous photo. We could see all over Barcelona and even the Mediterranean Sea with many sailboats enjoying their Saturday afternoon.

Back on the Metro we headed for the Parc del Guinardo; home to several houses built by Gaudi and an overlook of the city that was every bit as stunning as the views from the towers of the Church we’d just visited. To get there we had to walk about 600 meters from the Metro Station; much of it straight uphill. Several of the stretches were so steep that the city has installed escalators between the blocks. We all made it; even Mary with her pacemaker!

Leaving the park and Shelley we headed back to the Metro; very slowly down all the steps…no escalators going down…for a trip to the Barcelona Sants Bus Station. There we found our way and purchased our tickets for our Monday trip to Toulouse.

The grocery stores were closed from 2:30 to 5:30 pm; so we headed back for computer time and then at 5:30 we walked to the supermarket for food. We’d planned to have eggs but could only buy a dozen; too many so we had a green pepper, yogurt, and ham and cheese sandwiches.

Shelby, God bless her, returned about 7:30 pm and I had my companion to go to see the night lights on the Sagrada Familia! I’d threatened to go by myself and Mary was so upset I’d promised not to go unless Shelby returned to go with me. We dressed warmly and got on the Metro; arrived…took some photos and then stopped for some beer on the way back to the Hostel. We took the beer back with us. Spent the evening viewing and sharing our photos of the day before calling it a day about 10 pm….life is good!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Up about eight we were out the door by 9 am. We found the double decker Barcelona Tour Bus and signed on for the day! The loop through Barcelona takes just under three hours. We sat in the front up top and stayed on through the whole loop taking scads of photos of the Gaudi houses, the Sagrada Famila, Avinguda Diagonal where the wealthy people live, the Sports Center with the Futbol Club. They have two first class Futbol teams in Barcelona (that’s soccer in America). We saw the bull ring that is now being converted into a shopping center. The site of the 1929 World’s Fair that was later converted into the 1992 Olympic Site. It was actually converted in 1936 in anticipation of the Olympics but another country held them. More work was done in 1992. The bus climbed high into the hills and the views were wonderful of the entire city on one side and the sea on the other. We saw the Olympic stadium with the torch and another thing that we thought was for the torch but was actually a communication tower made of white steel nearby. There are several ways up to the Montjuic area of the Olympic Games: a funicular that is part of the Metro system, an aerial tramway that goes from the Port (looked like fun but not on our schedule today) and driving.

Leaving the mountain we came down on the port side where we saw all the cruise ships and the Christopher Columbus memorial monument that was erected for the 1929 World’s Fair in memory of his return to Barcelona Spain after the discovery of America at the foot of La Rambia, the famous street in the old district of Barcelona.

Shortly after we arrived at the Cathedral of Barcelona in the center of the La Rambia District where we departed the bus and attended the noon mass. After mass we headed back for the bus; stopping for a Starbucks and W.C. break. Then we enjoyed another full trip but this time we rode inside, took no photos and enjoyed listening to the English version of the history of Barcelona. Arrived home about 4 pm and now we’re getting ready for our trip tomorrow to France.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009



Monday, March 02, 2009   Madrid 

Weather is holding in the 50’s and although skies are overcast the streets are dry.  We had a wonderful nights sleep; minus the half hour lost about 6 am with the taxi cab honking it’s horn below our window.  Stayed up until nearly 11 pm and then slept until 9 am this morning!  Breakfast of one coffee, one orange juice and a grande croissant in the common room is served between 8 and 10. 

Dressed warmly with rain gear in the backpack, we headed towards our first destination today:  Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid’s modern art museum that is located across the street from the train station.  Originally the first hospital in Madrid it is a large square building with a beautiful courtyard in the center.  The addition of two large glass elevators on the front adds to the theme of the museum.  Inside we showed our passports to prove that we were over 65 years of age and got into the museum FREE.  

Neither one of us truly appreciates modern art so we headed to the main exhibit:  Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”.  A very large black and white painting that gives Picasso’s distorted view of the ravages of war.  The title of the piece comes from the bombing of a town in northern Spain in the 1930’s to test the new German Air Force planes.  Much of the second floor is devoted to this painting.  Before leaving we also found some of Salvador Dali’s work to view.

We then walked across to Madrid’s train station and were startled when we entered and found a conservatory full of palm trees that reached the glass ceilings and a variety of other green plants.  It was a very green and warm waiting area for travelers; they had misting machines operating all the time.  We took advantage and stopped to eat our bananas and some nuts.  The nuts are the last of the ones we brought from home with us. 

Out into the main train area we located the Metro System and boarded the Metro for our trip to the Ventas Metro Stop located in the eastern part of Madrid.  Only one connection at Sol and we were there in a very short time.  We came up from the Metro right in front of Madrid’s Plaza de Toros.  Saw a group of kids taking group photo and offered to take one for them…of course, they reciprocated for us!  We took lots of photos and walked all the way to the back before heading across the street to the little restaurant called Restaurant Cesar (Bocadilleria Jamoneria); inside there are at least a dozen heads of famous bulls mounted on the walls.  Jim and I ate dinner here on our visit.  We looked around, decided we really were not hungry or thirsting and walked back out to the Metro and home.  Stopped at our favorite grocery store and picked up some fruit and salad things to go with our dinner tonight…we’re cooking at the hostel.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009   trip to Lorenzo de El Escorial

Woke to light rain so after breakfast we donned our rain ponchos, put plastic bags over our socks and headed for the Metro where we purchased tickets from the machine for the first time!  Not as difficult as we thought once we found the button for English! Only one transfer but a long time on the Metro took us to the Moncloa Bus Station located on the western edge of the city near the University.  From there we caught a bus north and arrived about an hour later in Lorenzo de El Escorial; home to the Royal Monasterio famous for housing the Spanish Inquisition under Philip II in the sixteenth century.

This is a very gray and plain looking complex based on a grill shape in honor of St. Lawrence (whom the town is named after) because he was martyred on a grill…thus…patron saint of cooking.  It is the final resting place of four centuries of Spanish Kings and Queens, except Isabel and Ferdinand who are still in Granada.

We walked from the bus station to the Monastery in the rain but an hour later when we’d finished our tour the rain had stopped.

We elected to forego waiting for two hours to go out to see the Valley of the Fallen as we were chilled to the bone and ready to go back to Madrid.  Arrived back in the Hostel about 4 pm; shared an apple before turning on the computers.  The sandals and socks are an interesting experiment…Mary has bunions and trouble with enclosed shoes.  So I elected to ditch my shoes after London and join her in sandals.  We are the ONLY ones on the street in sandals.  But not a problem except with rain…we carry lots of extra dry socks with us! 

Wednesday, March 04, 2009  

We made this a Museum day and actually visited two different ones without getting wet.  It rained off and on during the day but we were inside during the storms.  Our first visit was to the Thyssen Museum:  Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.  A wealthy German married a “Miss Spain” and this museum in located in their former home that is located very close to The Prado Museum.  There were three floors of large paintings by lesser known artists and small paintings by greater known artists.  I must admit I’ve amazed myself with how much knowledge about art that I have gleaned from following Jim in his quest to see every major work of art in every museum in the world!  I really do recognize the names but not the titles of the various pieces.  

In this museum we found paintings from the very religious to modern art.  Ruben, Dyck, Cezanne, Degas, Picasso, Dali, Chagall, Tiepolo, Caravaggio, El Greco, Refael and many more; along with two by Georgia O’Keefe, a Jackson Pollock and other well known American Artists.  And the list continued with Gauguin, Toulouse, Degas, etc. etc. etc.  There were many paintings by Anonimo Aleman who I didn’t recognize but the collection contains many of his paintings. 

And for Mr. Jim:  two paintings by Emanuel de Witte, a possible ancestor several generations ago; one was a church enterior.

We took two and half hours to tour the Thyssen.  Then we were off on another quest after we ate our bananas.  Rode the Metro to the northern part of the city with only one transfer; we’d walked from our Hostel to the Thyssen.  It took a bit of work but we finally found the Museum Lazaro Galdiano; a private collection exhibited in the collector’s home in an upscale neighborhood.  We discovered the American Embassy on our walk from the Metro to the Museum.  Wanted to take a photo but Mary wouldn’t let me!  I did take some photos of a protest march along one of the streets.

This is a wonderful Museum to visit; Jim found it for us on the Internet while searching for the birthplace of Goya (that is halfway to Barcelona we discovered).  Goya was a favorite of Mr. Galdiano but he only has seven of his paintings in the collection.  The basic structure has been preserved when it was converted to a museum.  Each room had a description of the use of the room when it was a home.  This was very important as each ceiling has a painting that depicts the use of the room.  Ie:  Music room has composers in the painting; the literary room has poets and writers.  There are many pieces of beautiful furniture in every room and the paintings were 15th & 16th Century; mostly religious. 

There was a beautiful collection of miniatures paintings; per the sign one of the best in Europe.  And, a collection of pocket watches that my friend Shari would died for…ie the photo I took that I wasn’t suppose to take… 

An hour later we were back to the Metro with three changes before reaching our area.  A short stop at the grocery store for dinner supplies and we were safely back by 4 pm.  Tomorrow will be a rest and laundry day.  If it doesn’t rain we may visit the park.  Friday we have an all day bus ride to Barcelona.  Adois until we meet again in Barcelona....


Sunday, March 1, 2009


Friday Evening: February 27, 2009

Friday afternoon was busy with meeting new kids from all over the world: India, Japan, Canada and the USA. The Hostel is full tonight and we have all new roommates.

About 6 pm we headed back outside and walked back to the viewing area that we’d looked down on this morning from the Alhambra. Not dark enough for the lights so we continued up through the Albaycin area, very twisting streets of old Granada, towards the hillside Sacromonte area that has Caves inhabited by Gypsies that the kids go to visit. We didn’t go that far as we’d definitely need stronger shoes to get up the hillside where they have dug tunnels that have been made into their homes.

Walked back to Plaza Nueva looking for a grocery store that has eggs for sale; we’ve both got a yen to have some. Finally found a large enough store and after some sign language we were able to purchase six eggs and a very small canned ham that we’ll use for dinner Saturday night. It was nearly dark by that time so we walked back up to see the lights at dusk on the Alhambra; the skies are cloudy so no sun setting on the buildings but the lighting was worth the walk.

Back at the Hostel we continued meeting new kids as we all waited for the common dinner they were cooking in the kitchen in the huge electric wok. Paella: rice, vegetables, mussels, calamari and prawns for four euros each. I’d never tried the mussels or prawns before so that was a new experience and very tasty after the kids showed me how to peel the prawns and get to the meat in the mussel. We also had a wonderful green salad to go with our meal. Mary stayed with the vegetables and rice!

Everyone went up to the dorm right after dinner about 10:30 pm and believe it or not…lights were out by 11 pm. All American students and getting up early on Saturday; it was a quiet night; could still hear the music and talking in the bar downstairs but we’re getting used to that background noise and it stops about midnight.

Saturday, February 28, 2009 Granada

Awake at 7 am with the kids going skiing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and then back to sleep for an hour before finally getting up just before 9 am. We ate breakfast and then headed out the door to find a church. We’d decided we take our Sunday Missals and find one that it open so that we can do our readings just in case we don’t find an actual Mass somewhere today.

Raining lightly so we put on our rain ponchos and walked very carefully on the wet stones to Iglesia De San Gregorio Betico; a church located just up the street. They seem to have perpetual adoration twenty four hours a day; always nuns in the sanctuary that has a wrought iron wall across to separate it from the rest of the church. We’ve checked out the Internet and it says that there is a 7 pm Mass at the Cathedral tonight…we’ll see.

Right now its noon and Mary is in the kitchen cooking our eggs and ham. We’ll have part of it now and the reheat the rest for dinner tonight. It’s our day of rest as tomorrow we travel back to Madrid. By the way, we really enjoy the notes we’re receiving from many of you in response to our stories. Always nice to open the Internet and find emails to read.

Saturday, February 28, 2009 evening after a rainy day

Had a good day; talked with Jim this afternoon and also daughter Mary who is visiting for the weekend…it was early morning for them. This evening we walked out to the Cathedral in our rain ponchos; it’s a very light rain but enough to get our feet wet. We had decided to pay the fee and stay for 7 pm Mass (per the Internet) but found out that Mass was not until 7:30…too long to wait. They told us where the door is around the other side for entrance into the mass and that it would open at 7 pm. We walked around the church to find the location of the door and it was open.

We walked inside and discovered that there was a Mass being said. Found some seats in the back and then realized that it was a wedding. Everyone was very dressed up but we decided to stay and attend the Mass.

Back at the hostel we had a great story to tell the kids about crashing a Spanish wedding.
I think we’re going to have a wet trip back to Madrid tomorrow.

Sunday, March 01, 2009 On the Road Again

Up early thanks to the kids; the last one stumbled in about 5:30 am. One of the photos shows the pile of clothes they left on the floor during the night between our bunk beds. So by 7 am we had eaten our breakfast and were out the door for the four block walk to Plaza Nueva for the taxi stand and our ride to the bus station; overcast but not raining. We made the 8 am bus with minutes to spare and had a quiet ride for five hours with only one stop. I did manage to take a photo of those Don Quixote windmills that I love during the trip.

We’re back in Madrid and settled into a new room on the first floor (actually second) with six bunk beds and a bathroom only a door away in the hall. We did a load of laundry before heading out to walk, cold and overcast but streets are crowded and very festive. At Puerta del Sol we found clowns and mariachi singers and then walked to look at the Opera House before visiting Mayor Plaza again. Picked up some food at the grocery store for tomorrow and just had a great stroll for over an hour before tucking in for the night. We’re in the common room now on our computers with music videos above our heads and about thirty some people conversing around the room with each other. Yes, we’re the only ones over forty in the room but that’s ok!