Monday, September 30, 2019

Madrid--Day 3 Spain and Portugal in Depth

Casa Grande, AZ

This morning we took  a panoramic tour of Madrid.  Our local guide who is an expert on Madrid led us all over the city.  Estefi is also along, but the local guide is head honcho while in Madrid.

Madrid is the highest capital in Europe.  The weather once again couldn't have been any nicer.  You wouldn't believe that Madrid is the fourth more populous city in the European Union behind, London, Paris and Berlin.   

This is the Royal Palace (Palacio Real) which was inspired by Versailles.  It has 2,800 rooms.

Unfortunately, there was some kind of government function going on and the tours were closed for the day.

Here's the bull arena in Madrid.  There were no bull fights going on here during the time we were there.

Bull fighting has quite a heritage in Spain and is also a very controversial topic.

After the panoramic tour, Estefi asked if anyone wanted to visit the museum's.  She had Domingo, our bus driver throughout the trip, drop us off and made arrangement to have him come back and pick us up.  I knew where Bill wanted to go--The Prado.  Photos were not allowed inside.  The Prado was originally supposed to be a science museum in 1785, but when it was completed in 1819 it was one of the world's most renowned art galleries. It would have taken a week or more just to walk by everything they had.  Hal and Sue joined us and it was like walking through a maze.  We finally found someone to show us where the sculptures were.  Hal and Sue had also seen "David" when they were in Italy.  If you never appreciated a sculpture, once you've seen that one, you will want to see if anything compares to it.  

Did I mention that photos were not allowed inside the Prado?

We stopped and had a glass of wine in the cafeteria just to sit down for a spell.  

The bus was a happy sight when we left the Prado.  I didn't want to do anymore walking.

Lucky for us, the welcome dinner was held at a restaurant before 8 pm.  We had the restaurant for our group only.    The meal was fantastic and I must say the Spanish wine was excellent.  Left to right, Ken Mitchell, Sue and Hal Diamond, Bill and I, Betty Mitchell and Leo Grande.  It was a great meal with great company.  

Another wonderful day exploring Spain.  

Turtle Safely.......

Friday, September 27, 2019

Madrid, Spain

Casa Grande, AZ

The following morning we said goodbye to Barcelona.  Our chartered bus picked us up at the Barcelona Center Hotel at 7:45 am.  Our luggage had been taken from in front of our hotel room, to the bus so the only thing we had was one carry on.

Jaume pointed out different places along the way to the airport.  It was a very short drive.  He helped everyone get their luggage checked and then gave everyone a big hug before we went through the TSA checkpoint.  Even if you didn't have the TSA-precheck there were no long lines.  Bill has to be hand wanded because of his pacemaker so it takes longer for him.  Somehow I must have left my name badge in the trays.  

The Iberian plane was late arriving but once it emptied out the passengers we were able to take our seats.  I wish all our flights were as short as this one was.  Jaume said Grand Circle thought about having everyone take the train to Madrid but they would have had to handle their luggage so instead we flew.  Personally, I would have liked the train ride.

Estefi, our program director, was at the Madrid airport to meet us.  We had a bus to take our pre-trip group of 18 from the Madrid airport to the hotel.  

Prior to our trip Estefi had sent an email of interesting places nearby our hotel to see while she was assisting the arrivals at the airport.  She also called us on the phone the day before we left to tell us what to expect for weather and any other questions we had.  Just from the phone call I knew I'd like our program director.  I always ask if we should take our hiking sticks.  She stayed at the airport until everyone from the US had arrived.  It was nice that we took the pre-trip so we already knew more than half of the travellers. 

As everyone who was beginning the trip left the day before on their flight to Madrid, this was Day 2 of the trip.  

Our luggage arrived in our hotel room about the time we found our room.  All the tips for baggage are included in the cost of the trip.  

Estefi did a walk around the area as soon as the last traveller arrived.  She pointed out different things that you don't see in the US.  She actually lived in Scottsdale for a few years.  

She showed us places we could have a tapas and a glass of wine.  She talked about the dinning hours of the Spanish to those we didn't take the pre-trip.  I liked the fact that she told us the Green Pepper was a very elegant restaurant if we wanted something very nice but also that the local burger joint which of course sells wine and beer had two for one on Thursday's.  Next door to the hotel was a huge department store that sold everything from perfume to guns.  There was a cafeteria on the top floor and also a grocery store in the basement.  In Europe, we've found that the basement of a department usually has a grocery store.  This one also had a deli where you could get something to eat.  

She stopped by a ham shop but the owner wouldn't allow any photos.  She explained about the acorn pigs and how expensive the ham was.  I have photos of a ham shop I'll blog later from Ronda.

After our walk, Sue and Hal joined us for dinner.  We decided we were all too tired to go far so tried out the burger joint.  We were hoping to find an outside table on the sidewalk but they were all filled.  We each had a burger and potatoes and a beer and I think I our bill was less than five euros.  It was noisy as the place was packed with young people, but the food was good.

All the travellers introduced themselves during a meeting where we had welcome drinks.  I was surprised that Bill wasn't the oldest on the trip.  One very nice lady who was travelling alone was 88 and there was also a solo man who was 87.  The man who was 87 said he lost his wife two years ago and his daughter bought the trip for him.  Two months earlier, his daughter died.  There wasn't anyone else from Arizona but there was a couple from Little Washington, PA and also a man who lived in West Virginia.  

Estefi explained the itinerary and told us places that there was a lot of steps or steep climbs and what to expect.  She kept saying "pace yourself, you don't have to do everything".  

Turtle Safely........ 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Spain and Portugal in Depth--Day 5 Barcelona

Casa Grande, AZ

We had time for a leisure breakfast with our fellow travelers.  Bill and I marvelled at all the things we've learned about this beautiful city.  

Jaume planned a discovery walk of the Gothic quarter today.  On the information sheet that he gave us at the beginning of the tour, each day was listed and also the approximate distance.  Today it said 3 miles.  No problem for us we can do that with no problems.  It wasn't until today that I realized he meant one way.

He wanted us to experience what the local do so he had all of us take the city bus a few stops to the Gothic quarter.  The buses were very clean.  I wish I would have asked how much it costs to ride.  

Notice that everyone from the group decided to join in even though we are always warned to pace ourselves.  

The Gothic area was completely different than the area by our hotel.  There are many narrow streets that Jaume led us down.  

This photo was taken inside the opera house.  

It was beautiful inside.  

The outside wasn't too shabby either.

That little tiny hole is the ticket both for the Opera House.

During our walk Jaume took the time to explain the political unrest in Barcelona.  The Catalonia people want to separate from Spain.  Jaume gave both sides of the story to us.  I must say we learned a lot from his discussion.  There are always controversial topics but the program directors always discuss these things.  

Jaume is explaining the Roman walls that are still visibly today.

It was nice that Jaume could show us the city without the normal tourist people.

We walked down narrow walkways and the next thing I knew Jaume was showing these ancient Roman pillars.

Jaume had a favorite place he wanted to show us.

You walk up to the bar and help yourself to a pincher.  Then they come by and pour your wine.  Jaume picked up all the toothpicks and the picks are counted out and that's how you pay.  I think we had squid and octopus.  It was very good and we enjoyed the experience.

We walked back over to the Ramblas and Sue and Hal suggested we take the sailboat ride of the harbor.

Here's the boat we are going to take.

I thought this was a great photo of Sue, Bill and Hal.

Bill and Hal enjoyed their time off their feet.

We're already talking about another trip with Hal and Sue.

Rather than go get our swimming suits and take a dip in the sea, we decided to walk back up the Ramblas and stop at one of the sidewalk cafes for beer and pizza.  Tomorrow we fly to Madrid in the morning.

Turtle Safely.......

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Spain and Portugal in Depth--Day 4--Cataluna

Casa Grande, AZ

Today we left early for Montserrat.  We were suppose to leave at 8 am and when Jaume found out a cruise ship was in port, he asked if we minded if we left 15 minutes early to be ahead of the cruise line people.  

When we arrived at Montserrat I understood why.  The bus parking lot needed experienced drivers to be able to park.  Our bus driver had no problem but we watched other buses that made many attempts trying to get in there parking space.

I don't know if I mentioned this before, but you are given a "whisper" on the first day.  This way you have a speaker in your ear and you can hear your guide even when he isn't in full sight of you.  These cruise ship groups don't use them and the guides are shouting trying to get everyone to hear.
The other problem is there are international groups and some cultures get very pushy trying to stay in front so they can hear the guide.  I was glad our group is all Americans.

Montserrat is really hard to describe but the views were fantastic.

Did I mention that the weather was perfect the entire trip?

Montserrat is home to a Benedictine abbey.  We stood in a line to go into see the Virgin of Montserrat, a Black Madonna statue.  Many pilgrims visit this abbey every year.  We did not take photos inside.

You could take a cable car up the mountain if you didn't want to go up the curvy mountain.  Hiking trails were everywhere.

We were happy Jaume suggested we leave 15 minutes early.  It made a huge difference in the crowds.

After Montserrat we returned to the hotel in time for a walking tour of the Modernisme and Gaudi.  

Here's a replica of the Gaudi building.  

It's quite different and nothing is straight.

He was a genius 
and allowed a natural airflow throughout the building.

Here's Bill, Hal and Sue exploring the weird roof of the building.

Here's another view of the roof.

Don't you just love the architect in this city?

It was dark by the time we finished the tour.  But we found one more treasure in the two blocks back to the hotel.  Jaume had shown us on our walk about gelato.  He said not to get it from a place that has the gelato up over the container.  All the places we saw had nice looking gelato with it spread out over the container.  This was what we were looking for and it tasted so good.  

We were going to go up on the rooftop terrace of the hotel but we were so tired we went back to our room and collapsed on the bed.

Turtle Safely........

Monday, September 23, 2019

Spain and Portugal in Depth--Day 3 Barcelona

Casa Grande, AZ

Breakfast began at 7 am and I was surprised to see so many of our group up and at 'em.  Our walking discovery of la Rambla started at 10 am.  

Jaume guided the group the short walk over to the la Rambla.  It's a tree lined walking area that is perhaps 5 or 6 lanes wide.  Jaume showed us where the terrorist attack began by driving down the la Rambla and running over people on the la Rambla.  

The light poles have water fountains where everyone stops for a drink.  The legend says "if you drink water from this fountain, you'll return to Barcelona.  I was thirsty, so I had a nice cool drink.  Do you think I'll be able to return?

I don't know if the designs for the tiles in the la Rambla will show up but every corner of the tile has a different detail so they have to be laid perfectly.  Artist Gandhi had so much influence in Barcelona.  Closer down by the sea the tiles get wild and wavy.

Jaume took us down to show us where the Roman gates to the city were.  Here's another ancient water fountain.  Walking down the la Rambla if a light fixture has 5 lights, it was where the city gates were in Roman times. 
Here, he discussed the fact that early residents could not read, so pictures were used to communicate and learn.

He also took us in the city market and showed us how the local people shop.  The open market had breads, fruits, vegetables, fish and meat.  He showed us a ham that costs $200 per pound.  

Everyone went their own ways to visit places.  The Erotic museum seemed different but we decided to walk down to the sea and take a photo of Christopher Columbus.  We had lunch with Ken, Betty, Sue and Hal.  By the time we walked back to the hotel we'd walked a few miles.  It was just about time to leave for our afternoon adventure.  

While we still had Jaume for our program director we had another local guide to tell us about Barcelona.  Our first stop was the wooded slopes of Montjuic.  We saw the sites of the World's Fair and also the 1992 Olympic games.


Santiago Calatrava designed the Olympic Needle.

We then rode down to the sea and saw how the beaches were added for the Olympics.  It's amazing how much a city can change when they know they are in the spotlight.

The best was saved for last.  The group had to walk a few blocks as buses were not allowed near the Sagrada Familia.  I knew it was going to be spectacular but this was so much more than we could capture in photos.  

I thought our tour company did a great job of the timing for our visit.  The evening sun was shining through the stain glass.  The only problem was the battery died on one camera, the Nikon newer camera quit and I left the phone on the charger in the room.  One of the few places where you could take photos anywhere.
Our local guide told us so much about the basilica.  Every nook and cranny had some meaning.  

Here's what our itinerary had to say:  "The massive UNESCO World Heritage Site is the unfinished masterpiece of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi.  While construction of the church began in 1882, the colossal structure isn't scheduled for completion until 2026.  Originally started by architect Francisco de Paula del Villa, Gaudi took over in 1883 and then devoted his entire life to its construction.  When he died in 1926, after nearly 43 years of work on the basilica, the project was only 15 percent completed.

At first blush, the breathtaking mixture of Gothic and geometric Art Nouveau forms appear to be dripping in melted wax, but closer inspection reveals a meticulous stone tapestry depicting the life and acts of Jesus Christ.  Once completed, the church will accommodate some 13,000 worshippers." 

I didn't even mention the bull fight arena or the Catalonians but it will have to wait another day.

Turtle Safely........

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Spain and Portugal in Depth--Day1 and 2

Casa Grande, AZ

Everyone keeps asking where are the pictures of the trip.  We've been so exhausted from the jet lag and almost three weeks of laundry that I'll try and put a little something out. 

We left Sky Harbor Airport on August 31 around 10 am.  Arrived in Charlotte for our connecting flight about 30 minutes early which made for less than a 4 hour flight.  

Charlotte was a much better choice than JFK or Atlanta for connections.  It's a good thing we had over a 3 hour wait as it was a very long walk to our gate.  Of course our gate was the very last one but it was next to a nice local brewery where we decided to get something to eat.  The eight and half hour flight to Barcelona was 45 minutes early.  We arrived in Barcelona  before noon but it took awhile to get luggage and go through passport control.

Our program director, Jaume, was there to meet us and when I asked about an ATM to get Euro's he suggested we wait until we got to the hotel as there was one directly across the street with the best rates.  He helped us with our luggage and we met Ken and Betty, who arrived on a different flight.  Jaume took us to the driver who would take us to the hotel.  He said to relax and enjoy ourselves and everyone would meet in the hotel for a briefing at 4:30 followed by a walkaround to get us aware of the city.

We got 200 Euro out of the ATM as we will be going back to Europe on our next trip before the end of the year.  You really don't spend much on extras on this trip.

Bill and I explored the different areas of the hotel area while we were waiting for the briefing.  The 7th floor terrace had a bar, fitness room and hot tubs.  Here's a photo of how all the street corners look in this area of Barcelona.  Notice the corners are "chopped off" to let the light in and they use that area for parking.  

We could see the Mediterranean Sea and the Sagrada Familia basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site from the hotel terrace.

Bill and I had our first taste of Spain's wine during our welcome drink and briefing.  We met the other 14 fellow travelers who all seemed to be a fun group.  I've always wondered why we are usually the only couple from Arizona.  

Jaume walked the group around the area, showing where the pharmacy, gelato shops, tapas bars and good eating places where.  There were signs of architect Antoni Gaudi everywhere.  Jaume mentioned that he studied architecture and worked on some building restorations.  

In Spain they eat differently than other parts of the world.  Lunch is usually around 1:30 to 4. With the last lunch order taken at 3:30.  After 4 if you want something the cafes will not open until 8 pm.    

It wasn't difficult falling asleep after dinner.  

Turtle Safely......