Thursday, December 26, 2019

Paris during the Holidays

December 16, 2019
Paris, France

Behind in blogging as usual.  We are in Paris and if I don't blog this today it won't get done.  I never finished blogging about our last trip in September to Spain and Portugal.  

George and Linda, who decided to join us after we had booked the trip, drove their car to Sky Harbor in Phoenix and we all flew out on Saturday.  We were early for our noon flight so had a great breakfast at the airport.  Our flight took us to Dallas where we had a connection to Paris.  We were happy to see a man with a motorized cart when we got off the plane that took all four of us to the other terminal.  We had a short wait before we boarded.  Linda and George had a shorter wait because they had upgraded seats and boarded first.  Both flights arrived early.

I told Bill that 8 hour flight was just practice for our 25 hour flight in March for our next trip.  Needless to say that's the part of traveling no one likes.

We arrived on Sunday morning and you could tell that a shower had past through as the runways were wet.  There were no lines at all at customs and our luggage had already arrived before we got down to the carousel.  Our Grand Circle representatives were waiting for us on the other side of the doors.  Our driver grabbed our luggage cart and showed us to the van.  The weather was mild, so we didn't need to get our jackets out.  

Grand Circle used to include the town on the guest list that is sent to you with your final documents.  I was surprised to see a couple from Arizona listed and further surprised when I saw their last name was Carr.  They arrived shortly after we did and we found out they live about 2 or 3 miles from us.  They weren't related to Bud and Cathie though.  Another couple is from Morgantown, WV which wasn't that far away from where we came from.  Nobody from West Virginia has ever been on a trip that we were on before. We talked with one lady who graduated in 1954 the same year as Bill.  After further chats we learned she went to high school in Steubenville, Ohio and was the rival school to Follansbee, WV, the one Bill graduated from.  All of this from a group of 68 travelers.

Our program director had called us a few days before we left to find out if there was anything special we wanted to see while in France.  She seemed like she was going to be a lot of fun.  We were in the air when she sent us an email about her father. When we arrived we found out that her father died a few hours before and therefore we have a different program director.  

More than half of the 68 guests had arrived and were having their first taste of french wine at lunch.  It's always nice to chat with different people at every meal and of course the icebreaker is, what trips have you taken.  I was hoping to find someone that has taken the Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand trip we have booked for March  but so far haven't found anyone. I have decided to add the South America and India trips on my trip planner list after talking with some people.

Hal and Sue from our Spain and Portugal trip wanted to know if Harry, the waiter, was still on the ship. Harry was one of the first crew members I talked with.  I told him he was the reason we returned to this ship and France.  

After lunch, our program director took us on a vicinity walk to familiarise us with the area.  Even though we are still docked in the same place by the Eiffel Tower, we saw different things on our walk.  

It looks like Bill is wearing earmuffs in this photo but he actually has his own headphones instead of the supplied ones that hook on your ear.  If you look closely you can see someone walking by in shorts.  It's nice temperatures but not that nice.

This balloon in Citroen Park  near where we are docked measures the air pollution in Paris.  You can also take rides on it.  

During our welcome briefing our program director  explained the current conditions with the protest strike.  The subways are closed down except the ones that don't have operators (operatorless?).  There are two bus lines that are operating, the 42 and 72 which are both nearby.  I really think the traffic was worse the last times we were here.  Some government places are closed but it is an hour by hour thing.  We are keeping our fingers crossed that we can visit Versailles.  

Did I mention that we didn't sleep at all on the airplane and we know the worst thing you can do is take a nap to get over jet lag.  My head kept bobbing up and down but once we got to the dining room for dinner we became wide awake again.   Of course, we skipped the nightly entertainment and went straight to bed.  

This morning we woke to rain, but by the time we left at 9:15 it had stopped and the sun came out later.  Of course, our first stop was the Eiffel tower.
George and Linda are enjoying the trip too.  

We made another stop and then visited the Christmas markets.  We've seen the ones in Germany but these are different.  These are locally crafted items that you won't find anywhere else.  They are not Christmas items but could be very nice gifts.  

We arrived back just in time for lunch.  Not that we were hungry but you would have thought we were by all the food on our plates.  

After lunch Bill and I walked for an hour or so exploring the area.  It's fun to try and chat with people who don't speak English.  

Bill is upset because inflation has hit the restrooms.  It used to be 20 cent euro to use the restrooms, now it was 80 cent euro.  

I threw this blog together and now it's time for the Captain's Welcome Dinner.  Hopefully, more tomorrow.

Turtle Safely........

Thursday, October 17, 2019

September 12 2019--Day 9 of the Spain and Portugal in Depth trip

Casa Grande, AZ

Now I am more than a month behind on blogging about our Spain and Portugal trip.  

On this day we left the Sol Don Hotel in Torremolinos after breakfast for a tour of one of the oldest cities in Spain.  Ronda was nicknamed the "Dream City" and once you see the 360 feet river gorge you'll know why.  Although, besides beauty if you've ever read Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls you'll remember the place where the Fascists were thrown to their deaths during the Spanish Civil War.  

Whenever you book a trip with this tour company, there is always so much more than what the itinerary lists.  Bill was actually afraid there was too much time on your own.  

On our way to Ronda, Estefi said we were going to take a side trip to the ranch of a famous bull fighter.  I have to apologize because I've forgotten his name.  Our tour guide showed us inside the bull ring and the first thing I noticed was the gold colored dirt.  She told us it could either be red colored or the gold.  

I was surprised that they raised horses on this ranch.
The ranch was huge and Domingo had to really show off his driving skills manuvvering that bus through all the gates.
Everyone had a chance to practice in the practice arena. The capes were very heavy.The ranch also had a museum, chapel and of course a gift shop.
When we arrived in Ronda, we had another interesting guide.  Here's the view of the gorge below.  That's the road we drove up on.Here's a better view of the gorge.Our surprise treat for the day was a visit to a ham shop and small museum where we had the acorn fed pig with wine and cheese.  I couldn't believe 200 Euro for a kilo of ham, but it did taste good. It was another fun filled adventure.  We had time to walk along the beach when we returned to Torremolinos.  I have to tell a funny story here, Hal and Sue had dinner with us the previous night and we all loved our fresh fish dinner and wine at this cute little cafe on the beach.  We decided to return to the same place for dinner this night.  We went to the cafe and sat in the same corner table as the night before.  When the waiter brought the menu, we all looked at each other and said this isn't the same menu or special.  We ordered a wine and then walked down the street a little bit further to the place we had dinner the previous night.  We all got a laugh out of it and decided the wine at the first place wasn't as good. Turtle Safely........


Sunday, October 13, 2019

Gibraltar 9/11/2019--Spain and Portugal in Depth Trip

Casa Grande, AZ

I'm still trying to catch up on blogging about last month's trip to Spain and Portugal and want to finish this trip before we leave on the next one.  Torremolinos isn't like a beach town in the US.  The beach is clean and beautiful and not crowded.

This morning Domingo drove the bus to Gibraltar.  This was our first glimpse of the island.  It looked just like the insurance commercial on TV.

Domingo would let us off the bus by the airport terminal as the bus was too large to go to the places we were going.  We would then separate into two smaller groups and take smaller buses with our local guides.  We were all waiting for Domingo to move the bus closer.  We waited about 30 minutes.  It turns out that to enter the country you have to drive over the airport runway and traffic was held up so a plane could either take off or land.  

Our local guide later told us that Gibraltar airport is the 5th most dangerous places to fly into or out of in the world.  

Finally, we all used the airport terminal for what Estefi referred to as a "Happy Stop" and crossed into the country.  Doesn't that sound better than a bathroom stop?

The runway goes across and both ends are the sea.

Maybe this photo will help you understand how scary this runway is.  My pilot family and friends, would you want to land here?

Our British local tour guide told us that Gibraltar has by far the cheapest fuel for all the ships in the area.  They all stop in Gibraltar for diesel.

The small bus drove over some very very narrow streets.  I guess I was sucking air on those streets as I didn't get any photos of them.  Our guide told us those streets were two way traffic.  I wouldn't ride a bicycle on them!  I didn't think there were narrower streets than the Amalfi coast, but I was wrong.

Our itinerary said we were going to visit  the Apes' Den.  

I don't think we could have gone any higher on the island.  

We stopped to take photos of Morocco and the Iberian Peninsula.  I was thankful we had another clear beautiful day.

As we're leaning over the stone wall taking photos of the beautiful scenery, our guide introduces everyone to an ape.  She knew the names of all of them.  

Bill wanted me to stand closer so he could take a photo.  I insisted I was close enough.

Notice how the mama ape carries the baby on her back.  

Okay, let me explain about the jacket Bill is wearing.  We knew we were going to be gone all day but also part of the tour was going to be the World War II Tunnels which we thought might be cold inside.  Bill didn't want to carry the jacket so just wore it.

Here's a better view of the baby riding on the mother's back.

As the bus started to drive away one of the apes jumped up on the roof of the bus.  One also jumped up to the window right beside me.  I screamed and jumped at the same time as it happened so fast.

A short drive from the Apes' Den were the World War II Tunnels.  Should I also mention it is only  12 minutes to go from one end of the country to the other.  

Hard hats were required in the war tunnels.

Hal and Sue were the only two in the group that looked good in the hard hats.

You will have to click on this photo to enlarge it to be able to read about the ammunition explosion.

The record day for drilling the tunnel was 180 feet by 8 feet by 8 feet in one week.  Drilling began in October 1940 until 1943.  There entire garrison could hold 1,600 people with enough food to last them 16 months.  

The tunnels had hospitals, underground telephone exchange, ammunition magazines, power generating plant, water distillation plant, bakery, exercise area, and vehicle maintenance workshop.  There are approximately 34 miles of tunnels.

We passed by many historic buildings that I have since forgotten the names of.  There wasn't enough time to tour them.  After the Apes's Den and the World War II Tunnels my brain was on overload.

Our next stop was Europa Point, the southern tip of Gibraltar.  The Christian Shrine of our Lady of Europe was also here, but I failed to get a photo.

Hal and Sue insisted we should have a photo together.  There was a breeze so that's why the breezy hairdos. 

Our next stop was in a quaint fishing village of CatalanBay where we had a traditional English high tea.  We were in a beautiful ballroom with views of the sea.

Once again we had the whole room to ourselves.  So much better than our last cruise ship where there were so many people.

After our wonderful high tea we had some time to stroll around the fishing village.  I started collecting Christmas decorations from every country we visit.  It's one way that at least once a year you take your souvenirs out and see them.  They are also inexpensive and don't take up a lot of room in your luggage.  I was happy to find a decoration in that village.  

Gibraltar was a wonderful experience and not at all what I expected.  It was another great memorable day. 

Estefi did an excellent job of rounding up the group and getting them through customs without leaving anyone behind.  It was very busy at this time as a lot of workers were just getting off work and going through customs. I was surprised that Hal, Sue, Bill and I all got our passports stamped but most people didn't.

Not one person took a nap on the way back to Torremolinos as Estefi was still talking about Gibraltar on the way back to the hotel.

After dinner we walked across the street to put our feet in the Mediterranean Sea.  

We asked Hal and Sue up to our patio to drink the champagne but they were too tired.  I must say, we also were too tired.  

We pack a lot into a day and we still haven't been to Portugal yet.  

Turtle Safely.......

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Day 7--Granda, Malaga and Torremolinos

Casa Grande, AZ

How could you ever top the Alhambra, which is considered the 10th wonder of the world.  Day 7 didn't top Alhambra, but it was still a highlight of the trip.  

On this day we traveled by Mercedes bus from Granada to Torremolinos.  During our bus ride Estefi talked about the wars, politics, schools, health system and any other controversial topics anyone was interested in.  You would think this would have been a time that you could take a short nap, but her talks were so interesting that not one person was napping or reading a book.

All of a sudden Estefi asks Domingo to turn the bus around.  Now we're not talking a major highway, just a little two lane road with no shoulder.  Domingo did a fantastic job of getting a place without a huge drop off to park the bus.  

Estefi had been explaining about the olive industry and how some places still use the old ways of gathering the olives.  She spotted olive trees near the road and wanted everyone to see them up close.  

After we got back on the bus, we stopped in a little village called Salinas.  We were divided up into smaller groups for our home hosted lunch.  There were 7 in our group but we were lucky to have Rose with us as she could speak a little Spanish.  I can't remember our hosts name but she was a single retired lady who has been doing the home hosted luncheons for 20 years.  

Besides having traditional Spanish food our host made sure we also tried traditional Spanish drinks.

She showed us through her home and told us how much she paid for the home.  

Our next stop was on Costa del Sol coast, Malaga.  Here's our local guide who gave us a walking tour of Malaga.

Malaga is the 6th most populous town in Spain.

It was a very clean city and the Mediterranean Sea beaches weren't crowded at all.

Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga.

Malaga has a lot of history.  Here's ruins from the Romans.

Here is the Alcazaba Arab Citadel which is located in Malaga.

Are we getting tired yet?  Torremolinos is just a short ride away.  I saw pictures of our Sol Don hotel on the internet.  I think it had six swimming pools and a lot of different bands playing music.  

Do you think Bill was happy with our room and balcony?

I was happy for another reason......

...........and here's why I was so happy,  champagne and macaroons were in our room.  Usually they leave chocolate and champagne but I love the macaroons.  

And so ends another day's adventure in Spain.  One thing I never mentioned but anyone that knows me will understand why I enjoy traveling with this company.  Casual clothes are all you need to pack.  No putting on different clothes just for dinner.  It's not difficult to pack for almost three weeks when you only need shorts and tops.  

Turtle Safely..........