This blog is posted mostly everyday when we take a break from our usual retired Life as former full-time RVer's and travel overseas.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Another Day in Madrid


The day began with another guided walk through parts of Madrid. One of our stops was the old market where they sold meats, fish, fruits, vegetables and assorted other things. I haven’t a clue as to why Linda took this photo, but I’ve used so few of her photos that this one just begs inclusion. On a good day I take about 300 photos while she takes 30. I’ll let you decide if fewer photos means a higher quality of subject material.

I take back everything thing I said. See how she has captured the very essence of what makes man the superior of the human species. The fabulous form of this grouping, showing strength yet sensitivity, an inclusion of intensity that underscores their greatness. What a photo, one that proves Linda is a truly wonderful photographer. 

Now the other side of the story. This is inside a convent where the nuns make what are arguably the best sweet treats in all of Madrid. The reason for the looks is because our wives are in the other room where the treats are being passed out and we were afraid they would eat them all. Explaining Linda’s photo’s are just like explaining a great painting. Sometimes there is great story behind them, and other times you can’t make any sense of them.

Churros and chocolate. Chocolate so thick you can eat it with a spoon. I won’t say just how much Linda ate, that would not be nice, though I was allowed to eat this churro provided I shook off the chocolate after each dip. Sometimes Linda treats me so nice I can hardly believe it myself. I did think that her using her finger to wipe out the cup was a little over the top, but sometimes the Appalachian hill girl in her still comes out.

Deciding she was thirsty after having to eat all those churros and chocolate, Linda made our next stop a table beside a square where we people watched and Linda slacked her thirst with half this pitcher of sangria. I had thought that we would trade places when it came to the sangria, she taking a glass and posing for a photo, and me drinking the rest of the pitcher. Not going to happen, no way, no how. That woman sure does like sangria.


Lest you think all we do is sit around wonderful old squares and drink sangria, here are some of the performers we were watching while sat at the edge of this wonderful old square drinking our sangria.




And yes, we did figure out how the seemingly impossible is achieved. Think realistic fiberglass casts that body parts are placed in. Believe me, there is nothing like a pitcher of sangria to get the brain to working in ways you never imagined to solve the seemingly insolvable. You didn’t want to see a bunch of photos of the insides and outsides of old buildings and more statues than you knew existed, now did you? Because that was what the rest of the photos we took today were about, and this isn't a travel blog, it's a Bob blog.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


It was back to Madrid today, where the morning was taken up with a guided sight seeing walk. Lots of history in Madrid, not all of it good. Seems like it mattered what your station in life was, and whose side you were on as to whether the good old days were good or not. What’s that saying, those who yearn for the good old days and want to turn the clock back are likely to die the same horrible death they did the first time around back then.

That doesn’t have anything to do with the photo, but it has been a couple of days since I went off on a tangent, and the Catholic Church did so many horrible things in Spain that I won’t even mention the Church today. Back to lunch: cod tapas, fried pieces of cod and cod coquettes. A wonderful white wine for Linda and a vermouth for me, both from the barrel. We are definitely eating too good. And paying virtually nothing for it. It is unreal how inexpensive good food is in Spain.

In the afternoon we visited even more churches. They seem to be on almost every corner, and horror of horrors, it isn’t enough that they charged the parishioners to get out of purgatory, some now make additional money charging visitors to look at the inside of the church. Needless to say, our shadows never darken those interior, that is unless it is one that the tour is going inside, and even then we paid in the sense that the money we paid to take the tour is paying our entry.

I’ve decided that this is going to be a food day. Cheese, goat and sheep cheeses by the window full. No! No, Linda you can not buy a piece of each. Has that woman ever changed. The last time we were in Europe she would run the other way if I dared even look at goat or sheep cheese. Now I look at one of those cheeses and she is getting her money out. Maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but that doesn’t mean a grizzly bear can't develop a taste for almost anything. And you know what a hungry grizzly can be like, or at least I do.

We absolutely loved this wine we had with dinner. You can even see Linda checking up on me to make sure I took a good photo of the label.

The back of the label. It’s all Spanish to me, I think it says something about this being a great wine. The other reason for the label photos is because it is imported into the US. They said something about the label being somewhat different as this was private labeled for this restaurant, or at least I think that was what they said. We hoped that between the front and the back maybe we could figure it out.


During the meal the four of us at our table had gone through two bottles of wine when I realized Danny was the only one drinking wine at his table. He drove a very hard bargain, but in the end I was able to purchase a 3/4’s full bottle for .02 euro. Since the wine was furnished with the meal I thought he made out great. He thought I should pay more, but being the great guy he was, and he really was a great guy, he settled for all I had in my pocket. Note that I was careful not to tell him that my money pouch was in my other pocket. It’s little things like this that make being on tour so much fun and make for great memories.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Off to Madrid and Beyond

AVE is the name for the fast trains in Spain. We had taken one into Barcelona, but the REALLY fast AVE in Spain is the one from Barcelona to Madrid.

The entire trip wasn’t at 300 kph, but it was easy to tell when it got up to that speed. I don’t know for sure what that is in mph, but the way everything was flying past out the window, it was mighty fast.

We didn't stay in Madrid when we got off the train, rather we had our first trip on our tour bus, heading off to Segovia. It is always amazing when looking at what the Romans did, and in Segovia what they did was still standing in remarkable condition. I can remember reading about Roman aqueducts in those history classes many years ago. Now we were seeing one and it was far more impressive than I had imagined.

Next it was off to the castle, and on the way we came across this. Some people get all bent out of shape worrying whether they look like a tourist or not. We never did learn exactly why the Romans left Segovia, but I have to wonder if wasn’t because they saw something like this walking the streets of town.

This for our grandson Zachary who likes knights in shining armor. Looks like grandma likes knights in shining armor also. And here I always thought I was her knight in shining armor, even if I might be getting a worn around the edges. Looks like I’d better be on my best behavior or I could be replaced by someone who would never interrupt Linda when she is talking.

Dinner was group meal that features roast suckling pig. Skin, lots of fat which was more like liquid grease than solid fat, and accompanied by all the wine you wanted to drink. Needless to say, one of us enjoyed the meal a lot more than the the other. I think there is a meaning to the fact that there was a fire extinguisher behind Linda in this photo, but I had so much fun that night that I haven’t a clue as to what it might have been. I know she didn’t take the fist plane to Las Vegas for a quickie divorce so I couldn’t have been that bad. Don’t you just hate when you can't even remember just how much fun you had.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Day in Barcelona

We’re outside, it’s a map, it’s a city guide, but best of all, it’s not raining today. They seem to have many rules about who can give guided tours in cities in Spain, so for our tour of the Gothic Quarter, we got our first dose of English with a strong Spanish accent. At first it was hard to follow what the guide is saying, but as the minutes go by, it got easier to understand at least most of it.

Since everyone except one couple had been on Rick Steves tours before, it wasn’t one of those tours where everyone is tightly clumped to together, and the longer the walk went on, the more pronounced the straggling became. Nygil was like one of those sheep dogs, always keeping a watchful eye and getting the worst of the stragglers back towards the main body.


And then there are interesting things that have everyone paying very close attention. In this case it’s not the building, it’s what is on the building. That’s not a child’s drawing, it’s the only building that has a Picasso on it. As our guide explained, Picasso did not like Franco who was the fascist dictator of Spain, so the design is in subtle ways poking fun at Franco, something we would never have known otherwise. Probably because we do not do guide books very well. As Linda says, she wants to be looking, not reading when we are out.

Now where did that come from? It just goes to prove that not every photo we take is a brilliant piece of composition and a masterful mix of light and shadow. As I was to learn throughout this trip, I have a tendency to push the "take a photo button" before I push the "off button" when I put the camera back in my camera case.

We saw many interesting things during our tour, not the least of which were figures such as these that were for sale in a number of shops. I’ll let you guess what the ones in front represent. The humor of the Spanish people can certainly be interesting.

And just when you think you’ve seen everything, you round a corner and the Sagrada Familia rises up in front of you. Three years ago we had attended Palm Sunday services very near this same spot when we were last in Barcelona. Needless to say, we were excited about being here again, and we joked about once again stopping for a pizza and beer for lunch.

Last time, because of the huge Palm Sunday crowds we did not go inside the Basilica. This year we have been in many of the great cathedrals, but nothing prepared us for the overwhelming sense of awe we felt here. This was what the architects of those medieval structures where trying to attain. There are many books of photos of the inside of the Sagrada Familia, and the really do show what is there. The problem is that to feel what is there you must stand inside and let what your eye sees be transmuted into raw emotion.


The light high above the alter. All was designed by Gaudi. An angel seems to appear within the light. Some say that what Gaudi designed were gaudy. I side with those that say he was a genius far ahead of his time. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

On to Barcelona



Today we were traveling to Barcelona to begin our two week Rick Steves Spain and Morocco Tour. They say it is 16 days, but since it doesn’t begin until 5 PM the first day and ends immediately after breakfast on the 16th day, it is really a two week tour. Enough of that, what is interesting was our train trip.



For one thing, we were taking three different trains. For another it was raining cats and dogs all day long, with the occasional lions and tigers thrown in for good measure. We had about a half an hour for our two connections, but when our first train was 20 minutes late, it sure didn’t start off so good.


IMG_9658  With the lousy weather there sure wasn’t much to see out the window. Then we ran into some luck, our next connecting train was also delayed 20 minutes, so we had no trouble with that connection. That was at Narbonne, France, and there it was actually raining hippos and elephants, plus the wind was blowing the rain nearly horizontally at times. The inside of the station was so crowed you could barely move.



Linda surprised me by reading a French newspaper on the leg from Narbonne to Figures, Spain.



The last segment was on the AVE from Figures to Barcelona, where we had to take the metro to be closer to our hotel. The Barcelona Sants station is one of those where when you finally get done walking from the train station to the the right metro platform, you think it would have been easier to just walk to the hotel directly.



After our initial meeting in the hotel, we took to the streets for a get acquainted walking tour. Two things were apparent right off, it wasn’t going to stop raining, and a little rain wasn’t going to interfere with our tour. The rain didn’t seem to bother the people of Barcelona either, as the streets were positively crowed with people walking under umbrellas.


IMG_3296  Our tour guide, Nygil, in action. We had read that he was in the top handful of guides, and if first impressions mean anything, he very well could be the top Rick Steves tour guide. Not bad for someone from Chico, California who came to visit Spain years ago and never returned to the States. It promises to be a great two weeks.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Day Trip to Albi




There are churches and then there are churches. This is the one in Albi France. The one built after the Roman Catholic Church massacred and slaughtered thousands of Cathars because they didn’t believe as the Pope wanted then to believe. To show the power and might of the one true Church, this church, that was more fortress than church, was built. Actually it was to make sure the Cathars toed the Papal line, as much as it was to worship in, though there weren’t a whole lot of Cathars left after the Pope’s butchers were done. Sorry, but history is history, unless it gets rewritten by the victor, as is often the case. Then years or centuries later the real facts come out.



I always love how Catholic Churches display Adam and Eve. The Bible says they were naked but you never see them that way in these churches. Makes one wonder what all else they cover up with their so called faith.



No cover up here, just the plain good food. When Linda eats raw salmon it has to be good. When she eats it all and says it was good, it has to be way more than just good. And that was just our appetizer.

Just to make life interesting I got us slightly lost on the way back to the train station. Normally such a thing wouldn’t be a big deal, but since it was two hours until the next train, Linda was just a tad unhappy with me. We made it in time, plus the train was 10 minutes late, but that didn’t get me out of the doghouse. Guess I should be happy I didn’t suffer the same fate as those thousands of Cathars.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Dry Day in Toulouse



As is often the case, it is not what you look for, but what you find that is the most interesting. Earlier we had found the old bridge we were looking for, and it was most interesting, but then we walked through what might might be termed a part of town where tourist don’t often go, climbed a set of stairs and found another bridge.



It turned out this bridge led to the university, and we had a great time walking around the “campus'’. Then we stumbled on this church. Well that might not be exactly true. I saw the back of this church and circled it until we found the entrance. It turned out to be very interesting, and included the usual huge pipe organ. I can’t imagine why every organist in the US wouldn’t want to take a tour that visited many of the great churches of Europe to hear the organ being played. Every one we have ever heard has been so spectacular, and we just stumble on them being played.



This one gave us a real laugh. She was dressed on top like the French, though her pants definitely didn’t have a “French cut” to them. And those shoes, they may be comfortable, but definitely not European. Oh, and she definitely spoke American English. A classic example of an American not trying to look like a tourist and standing out like a sore thumb. We have no problem with the way we dress. Besides, it means the waiter speaks English to us from the get go, instead of us having to ask if he speaks English.



Remember those kids in that first photo all dressed in red and sitting on the bridge? Well here is a close up of two of them. So maybe that wasn’t us on the bridge, but these are the same shirts those kids were wearing.

This is what happens when you keep visiting churches. In front of another church was that same bunch of kids, actually college age, and we found out they were from a tourism school where they studying to be able to work in tourism related jobs. One of their assignments was to interact with actual tourists, so to document that they did exactly that, they took off their shirts, we put them on, and they took our photo, first with their camera, then with ours.

I feel sorry for those tourists who have their list of six sights to see for the day, and zoom from one to the other visiting all six, but seeing nothing. We wander along, going where the streets often take and end up doing things like this. The people who have everything planned out are happy, and we are happy. I’ll not judge them, but then again, I’d sure rather live Life the way we do.



Mealtime begins with a pichet of wine. We compromise on rose since Linda doesn't do red and and I don’t really care for the whites she prefers.



This is the third photo I took like this and the first one where she had her eyes open. I think she was really looking down at her bowl of cassoulet, but claiming they were closed works for her. Another meal, another fantastic meal. Every meal in France is fantastic.



What do you mean, every meal in France can’t be fantastic? Out of my way, I’ve got to wipe that bowl clean with my bread. One could say we like the food in France so much because it is different that food in America, and they’d be 100% correct. Different in the sense it isn’t the same food we get in America, different in the sense it is healthy, and different because it tastes great. And lastly, great because it doesn’t have a bunch of grease dripping off it like most American restaurant food seems to have. In fact it is so good that the scale is probably going to say we gained over twenty pounds each. True, but what an awesome way to pack on the pounds!!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Rainy Day in Toulouse



Off to see some of the sights of Toulouse, we followed along an old friend. The Canal du Midi may not be navigable through Toulouse, but it runs right in in front of of our hotel. The only boat on this section was a permanently moored restaurant, but that still brought back many pleasant memories of canal boat trip of a few years ago.



I have a fondness for stained glass windows, and they are certainly easy to find. Just walk into one of the many churches and look up.



I have to hand it to Linda, she has her own things she is fond of, such as this mounted Koala Bear in the Natural History Museum. Will not bore you with the dozens of other photos she took, but I will say that this museum puts most of the ones we have seen in the States to shame. Plus most of the exhibits were in both French and English.


Why is this woman smiling? Because after a walk in the rain (we did have our umbrellas) we literally stumbled upon a little restaurant that had baked chicken and mashed potatoes as their plat de jour. Talk about the perfect meal, this was almost it.



And this was what made it a perfect meal, a dessert to die for. A hot crepe filled with real whipped cream and topped with thick rich chocolate. It had to be Sara N. Dippity who brought us here because you can’t just stumble onto places like this,



And to think, we could have stopped in here and had a pizza. Nothing like a little touch of home to help you appreciate just how lucky we are are to able to travel.



This plaque is located about 75 feet from the entrance to our hotel. Our friends, John and Judy know what it means in more ways than one. For everyone else, it is for the Bayard lock on the canal and gives the distances in both directions to the next lock. A rainy day at a lock on the Canal du Midi - it was one of those, you had to have been there – some three years ago to appreciate it things. (Like rain coming down so hard it literally filled your shoes to overflowing.)

To those who say they could never drive a boat on a canal in Europe, you’re right. To those who think they could do it, Do It!. It it will be something you will remember for a lifetime. I’m glad there are so many people who say they could never do things, because it makes it less crowded for those of us who do those same things.