Thursday, June 11, 2009


What better way to prepare for the 2009 Tour de France than to relive the adventure my husband and I had following the 2004 Tour de France and witnessing our own Lance Armstrong bring home the trophy again in Paris. But I’m ahead of myself….we have a month of traveling in Spain, Portugal and France before we finally join the race in Dinan, France on July 10th. We'll hurry along so that we arrive in Dinan by July 4th, 2009, for the start of this year's race in Monaco! Buckle your seatbelts and enjoy!

If you double click on the slideshow above it will take you to the album for larger prints that also have Captions explaining each of the photos....something new on this adventure!

June 9, 2004

We headed for LAX in the afternoon and found that traffic was light and the airport was not too crowded. President Ronald Reagan was flown to Washington, D.C. this morning for his State Funeral; most were home watching the TV footage that has been playing for days. We saw flags at half mast for a month in Europe in his honor. While waiting for our plane, a large group of high school students arrived….we were happy to see them line up for the plane to Hawaii and not to New York! Nice group but kids that age can get noisy. Our plane was overbooked but we were fortunate to have two seats at the window…downside was that we were next to the kitchen and had to watch and smell the food being prepared for first class. Their dinner rolls were definitely fresher than our “heat and serve” food in coach. And, they were using real silverware with the china and stemware plus linen table service. Oh well…we’d used air miles and they probably paid several thousand dollars for the privilege. Arrived at JFK in New York six hours later…changed airplane with only a short layover…and headed over the ocean for London about 11 pm.

June 10th: Madrid, Spain

Six hours later we arrived in Heathrow Airport, we had to change terminals this time and there was a bit longer layover of several hours. Jim found a magazine with all the details of the Tour de France so that kept us busy. We boarded a British Air plane for our final journey to Spain. Two hours later and we were in Madrid. Customs was a breeze and only required us to show our passports. Once we got our luggage we walked right out the door! The plastic ties (replacing locks) had all been cut on Jim’s luggage. But, as far as we can tell…nothing was disturbed or taken. Looked for the hotel shuttle but couldn’t find one but we got a shuttle bus for only 13 Euro and had a great trip into the city with a family from San Jose. The husband was born in Portugal and his wife in Mexico so they are spending a month here so their two sons (about ten and three) can experience the culture and language. They both speak Spanish fluently. He would talk to the driver and then to us. Our first hotel is a Best Western Hotel Madrid. Location is walking distance to the Palace and Museums.

During the entire trip we took the No Jet Lag pills that I’d purchased over the internet before leaving. By the time we arrived at the hotel we’d been traveling twenty-four hours, fourteen hours in the air. We actually felt pretty good. We’d each had several short catnaps during the flights but very little sleep overall. We were able to go out walking after we unpacked and didn’t actually go to bed until after 11 pm Madrid time. This was after we tried unsuccessfully to use our new cell phone and sign on to the internet. Oh Well. Lovely evening outside…streets were again crowded with people out for the evening. We’ve learned that lunch is at 2 pm and dinner starts at 10 pm. Also noticed that women wear long pants or skirts; we don’t really see any shorts on men or women except for tourists. Same was true during the heat of the day. Looks like the shorts will stay in the luggage for now.

We walked to the Opera and then on the palace and Cathedral; a gentle walk among gracious people. Back to our hotel room we discovered that the air conditioning was not functioning….fan works but not the cooling. No extra rooms in the hotel. They’ve promised to try to fix it tomorrow. Cold showers were the order of the evening; no blankets on the bed. We survived. We’re staying at the Hotel Madrid, a Best Western, that is located in the center of the historical Madrid, just a half block off of Puerta del Sol; think of Time Square in New York City…that’s Puerta del Sol. The heart of the city of Madrid, walking distance to everything!

June 11th: Madrid, Spain

Jim woke up about 5 am and went walking to the various museums that we are going to today. About four miles of walking and then went back to bed. I slept through until about 10 am and Jim woke back up about 11 am. We’d missed breakfast at the hotel so headed for McDonalds….seems like there’s one every two blocks. No breakfast foods on the menu so we settled for cheeseburgers. I ate the meat out of a double cheeseburger and Jim ate the rest of the sandwich and another cheese burger. After breakfast we headed back towards a phone shop to see if we could get the cell phone working. We’d purchased a new phone that allows us to change the chips for each country. Now we just need to make them work! We stopped outside of an Internet Café to read the signs and a delightful young woman said, “May I help you with something?” Oh how nice to hear the language. She was born and raised in Boston and had decided to move here after spending a year in Spain during college.

We laughed and said we were just checking the prices for the use of the Internet. And then I said…do you have a minute to spare? I’ve got this cell phone and I can’t figure out how to make it work. Everything is in Spanish since I put the new chip in! She laughed and said of course. We were lucky in that it was Zoe’s day off and she spent at least half an hour with us. Took us to two shops and by the time she left us we had a working cell phone, additional minutes and the phone was programmed for English. I called my cell phone at home and left a message…nice thing is the phone numbers that I had in the phone are all still there. I just have to modify them to add the “001” before each number. She also pointed us in the direction of one of the best plazas in town, Plaza Mayor. The rest of the day was spent at two museums: Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection and the National Museum of Art “Reina Sofia”.

The Thyseen has all the great masters: Gauguin, Monet, Renoir, El Greco, Dega, and more lesser known. The masters were under a “glare-free” glass and lots of guards. We were not allowed to take photos. This was originally a private collection donated with the building to the government. They’ve expanded the collection and spent a fortune converting the home into a first class museum.

The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is located within sight of the main train station that the terrorists hit just a few months ago. We were there primarily to see Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” painting. One whole floor was dedicated to Picasso’s art. Sculpture and paintings. Very impressive. It was fun showing our I.D. and getting in for free as Seniors (over 65)…doesn’t always work as they sometimes limit it to European’s only.

Since it was after 5 pm we went to a local bar/café called La Piconera and had a great little dinner…who says you have to wait until 10 pm! I had fresh tuna in a salad and Jim had eggs & potatoes. That with the olives and bread made a filling dinner. Hiked back to the hotel and rested before heading out about 9 pm to see the evening sights. One thing that I’ve noticed is an abundance of Starbucks, in addition to the plethora of fast food from McDonalds, Burger Kings and even Subways . Don’t remember the Starbucks or Subways two years ago. We started out by following one of the recommended walking tours in the book that friends had given to us…it was printed in 1995, but still works. Saw some neat little plazas, one huge department store and other historic places. It was still daylight by the time we reached the Palace and Cathedral area. Strolled through the parks listening to the street musicians as we watched the street performers and enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the valley’s surrounding Madrid. A very humid day, enough to make me carry an umbrella, but no rain drops.

June 12th: This morning we ate breakfast in the hotel, included in the price of the room, and it reminded us of the hearty German breakfast. Eggs, meats, cheese, rolls, fruit and cereal. Also sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. Very filling and much better than a hamburger from McDonalds. Walked over to the Cathedral to see the inside, check on the Mass times and also light candles for our siblings and children. Opps…they’re electric candles….but that’s ok…we said the same prayers.

Then on to the Palace for a tour of about twenty of the two hundred some rooms. The best part happened in the Music Room. On display were five instruments, 2 violins, a base violin, a cello and a viola. The only remaining set of instruments for the performance by a Quartet…Queen Sofia enjoys a musical now and then. These instruments are used to entertain her guests. Each instrument is valued at about three million dollars; they were created by Antonius Stradivarius in Cremona, Italy, between 1664 and 1736. Our last stop in Italy will be in Cremona in August.

But the best part is about a young high school girl from Colorado, one of a group that is touring and playing here in Spain. She is a violinist and was so emotional in seeing these instruments that she was sobbing her eyes out. I spoke briefly with the parent chaperon who was consoling her. Gave new meaning to what I was seeing there in the room.

From the Palace we walked across the Historical area toward the Museo National Del Prado. The Prado is known worldwide for having the best collection of old masters. The only thing that comes close is the Louvre. Again, being 65 years of age gained us free admittance. We so enjoyed following Rick Steve’s book on Museums. Jim was beginning to feel sated. I just followed along and absorbed the art lesson.

From the Prado we continued to the East and walked through the Retiro Park, Madrid’s answer to Central Park in New York. Originally it was the playground of the royals. A small lake in the center provided rowboats for rent. Being Saturday afternoon the population was out enjoying life. We were having overcast day (weather wise) but they were sunbathing, playing games and just enjoying themselves. We walked all the way to our next hotel, Fiesta Hotel Gran Colon, about four miles from our hotel. We decided to go back by the Metro; we purchased a ticket good for ten rides. Nice to ride home and we only had one transfer. We freshened up and then went across the street to the Bar Cadiz for our light evening meal about 5 pm. After dinner we set out to find the center of Spain…a spot on the sidewalk in front of the old Franco Police Station in the center of Puerta Del Sol. As you look up you see the Pio Pepe….the first billboard in Spain.

Slowly we meandered to the Cathedral again for Saturday evening Mass. It was nearly dark as we strolled back to the hot hotel room to call it an evening. They’ve given us a portable fan so we decided that the location was top good to lose as they have no other rooms available and or only choice is another hotel out of the area.

June 13th: Sunday morning and we slept in. After breakfast in the hotel we packed our belongings, called a cab, and headed towards the new hotel. As you now know, I now have internet access. We made it a slow day so the feet could rest. Our big treat today was a trip by the Metro to the Bullfight. The Plaza Toros of Madrid. Purchased our tickets and then walked, talked and watched the people for three hours. We ate our evening meal at the Cafeteria Ceasar; across the street from the Arena.

About 6 pm we went inside and climbed to the nose-bleed section at the top…the cheap seats. But we did spring for an extra two dollars each so that we were in the shade. The program started promptly at 7 pm. Lots of drama. The first bull was really good and actually flipped the toreador during the ceremony…of course we both missed it with our cameras. The second and third bulls were allowed to live. The fourth bull was a feisty one who actually toppled a horse and gored the horse. He was finished by 8 pm and we decided we’d seen enough. Our plan was to stay for only one so we could say we’d seen a bullfight; but they go so rapidly we decided to stay a little longer. But by eight the concrete seats were getting pretty hard. Back to the Metro and home. We have an early call tomorrow morning at 6:30 am. On the bus by 8 am and headed south towards Toledo and Cordoba with our tour group.

June 14th . Toledo, Spain

Six am wake up call this morning. Arrived at breakfast and found a room full of at least four tour buses. Very crowded and everyone trying to get out and on the road early. We had some high school girls sit with us and when I asked where they were from they said Colorado Springs. I asked if they’d toured the Palace on Saturday and when they sad yes, I related my experience with the girl crying over the Stradivarius music instruments. They laughed and said yes, that was Amy. I found out that they have been playing at pre-arranged places throughout Spain and Portugal. When I mentioned that we were going to France to see the Tour, the one next to me said how much she’d love to see the race as when they lived in Texas, her father actually raced against Lance Armstrong in his early years of racing. She said he was never able to beat Lance in a race. I told them to tell Amy that she made my journal on my experience in the palace.

On the road by 8 am, we battled our way through rush hour traffic to get out of Madrid. However, the tour guide doesn’t really know what traffic is…I thought we were moving pretty good. It was about an hour and half for the drive to Toledo, our first stop.

In Toledo we exited the bus at the top of the hill and walked for about 2.5 miles down thru the town on narrow cobblestone streets. We were told to ask directions to St. Martin’s bridge if we got lost from the tour group as that is where our bus would be meeting us. We stopped outside the Cathedral. Sorry that we were not going inside as it is magnificent according to Rick Steves. Oh well, an excuse for coming back someday. But we did stop at the small church of Santo Tome to see the original oil painting done by El Greco specifically for that church and wall when he lived in Toledo. Painting is called “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz”. It was only removed from the wall once during the Spanish Civil war from 1936 to 1939.

From there we continued on our journey to the Jewish Synagogue, one of two that are left of the ninety some that were built in the city. The city is still decorated from the celebration for Corpus Christ feast day last Sunday. The whole town was decked out with statues, flags, flowers, etc. Due to the heat the paths for the procession were also covered with an awning strung from the tops of the buildings. The guide said that it was 110 degrees yesterday. We’re lucky this morning as it’s much cooler. Upon reaching St.Martin’s bridge, we boarded the bus for a short jaunt to the Artist Building where the government trains artist in the old method of gold threading in steel. Toledo has been known for centuries for their steel manufacturing…the best armor and swords come from Toledo. The artists use the steel to make jewelry, and intricately designed plates and other pieces of art. They take small pieces of steel. They cut fine lines into the steel to form an intricate design. Then they use threads of 24 caret gold to fill the lines. The gold is then pounded into the steel. The piece is than baked to set the gold and make it permanent. A six inch plate is worth about seven thousand euro. As an anniversary present, Jim purchased a two inch medallion with a bull and toreador design for our souvenir of Spain for the curio cabinet.

Back to the bus and a short trip to the next stop; just long enough for our director to “sell” us on the value of all the extra tours. There are ten extra tours available during the tour; we’ve decided to do five. We’re skipping the fancy dinners and will eat smaller meals…better for the waistline and the wallet. We’ve learned that if you do everything they offer on the schedule; you’re exhausted by the end of the trip.

While he was talking, we entered into the area of Spain known as La Mancha and I saw a castle on the hill surrounded by about ten windmills. Yes, just like the Man of La Mancha story that was written by a famous author from this region. This area is also known for the wine that it produces. The vineyards are different in that the grapes are left low to the ground and the grapes actually mature laying on the ground.

After a short lunch stop we were back on the bus by 2:30 for a three-hour drive to our next hotel in Cordoba. Lunch choices were slim…a salad or sandwich. In Spain you have a choice with sandwiches: Ham and cheese or cheese and ham. They also do not put any condiments on the sandwich. We ate lunch with two schoolteachers from Mission Viejo, California. Our tour consists of fifty percent Australians and fifty percent Americans. Mostly from California; but also a few from the east coast. The afternoon drive was definitely Siesta Time!

We have four teenagers traveling with parents and a nun from Australia traveling by herself. She wears her habit all the time, probably about seventy years old and seems to be having a good time. Ages for most of us are about 60 to 70 years of age. The vistas along the highway are mostly very small villages and farms. The area that we are traveling in now is known as Andaluisa. Lots of hills that are planted with producing olive trees. There are five hundred million olive trees in Spain and three hundred seventy million of those are located in the region of Andalusia. A very large industry for Spain. The harvest is from November to March. The majority of the pickers are from other countries. The soil in the plains is very rich due to the alluvial flow from the mountains known as the Sierra Nevada. The olive trees are relegated to the rocky hillsides going all the way to top of each hill. The Sierra Nevada is also their skiing resort and has snow almost year round. Fields of sunflowers are in full bloom now and the wheat crops are in the process of being harvested. Later we saw fields of asparagus, onions and other vegetables. Cherry trees and almonds trees; lots of lemon and orange trees except the oranges are more ornamental as the juice is sour. Wild Scotch Broom, a yellow bloom that is commonly seen on the way up the mountains to Big Bear in California. The buildings are all painted white to reflect the sun. The olives are all harvested by hand as the machines they’ve tried to use to shake the trees causes the roots to break.

We arrived in Cordoba, checked into the hotel located on the hillside outside of town in an area of upscale private homes. It is very beautiful and reminded me of a country club, but no cell phone reception. The evening was filled with our welcome drink…sangria…walking about the grounds and dinner in the hotel. Off to bed early as we will begin again in the early morning.

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