April in Paris is indeed as charming as the song says. The weather is balmy. Everything is in bloom and the beauty of the city sparkles during the day and twinkles at night. The tourist attractions aren’t as crowded as during the summer and the cafes don’t have a line of people waiting for a table even near places like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. Americans have a false belief that the French are snooty but my friend and I didn’t encounter that at all. They were helpful and cheerful but then we always treated them with respect and weren’t demanding. We tried to use as much French as we could muster and they obliged us by using English. As one waiter told us, he needed a smattering of many languages in his job. I think Americans would do well to do the same. Paris is home to many immigrants who have acclimated to their new country and are willing to work long hours in the stands and tourist stalls that dot the city.
We tried to visit the smaller cafes and have the plat du jour. We were happy with the prices and the interesting dishes. I was surprised at one that featured what I thought was a serving of fish with mashed potatoes but when it came ended up being a casserole of fish bits and potatoes. It was tasty but then anything drenched in butter, as is common there, is rarely bad. I was determined to eat as much duck as possible and succeeded in my effort. I wish we had it on the menu in the U.S. more often. I recommend crepes for a quick treat and of course, anything from a bakery is to die for. I don’t know why we can’t get a crispy baguette in the grocery stores the states. We had a bakery by our front gate, a luxury I don’t have at home. I can’t give you any recommendations when it comes to the nightlife. I’m one of the older Baby Boomers but everywhere we went there were clubs I’m sure were hopping all night. We did walk by the Moulin Rouge one evening and the lights themselves were very impressive.
The Metro and buses were easy to use. We used Google Maps to navigate both systems and didn’t have a problem. My friend had already been in the city for a couple of weeks and we’d spent a year using subways in Japan. We had experience but it’s easy once you do it a few times. There are machines to buy tickets and the larger stations have manned booths. You can use these tickets on both the Metro and buses. Buses take longer but they’re a good way to see some of the city for a small price.
I’d been to Paris before but wasn’t able to visit the Louvre so we spent several hours there. I thought it would take the whole day but the main museum is not that big. The top floor with the Mona Lisa and Venus De Milo was hot and crowded but the rest was easy to navigate. I’d have liked to see more of the gardens but it was quite hot so we opted to visit the shops inside. There’s a Metro stop right in the building housing the museum so it’s easy to get there. Don’t miss this when you go to Paris but also take in the many other museums and attractions in the area. We also visited the Rodin Museum. Just the garden alone was worth the price of a ticket.
Even though I’ve been up in the Eiffel Tower, I wanted to visit the area again. At 1,063 feet tall the tower is the tallest structure in Paris. Just being there is the quintessential Paris experience. The wrought iron lattice tower on the Champ de Mars in Paris, France is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel. Constructed from 1887–89 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, it was initially criticized by some of France’s leading artists and intellectuals for its design but is now a global cultural icon of France and the most-visited paid monument in the world.
We took a boat ride down the Seine under all the historic bridges and past Notre-Dame. The next day we visited the famous cathedral and Sainte-Chapelle which was erected in the mid-13th century by King Louis IX. The chapel features some of the period’s stain glass, a total of 15 glass panels and a prominent large window. Notre Dame Cathedral, arguably the most stunning gothic cathedral in the world, was conceived in the 12th century and completed in the 14th. It was the very heartbeat of medieval Paris. After a period of neglect, it recaptured the popular imagination when Victor Hugo immortalized it in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. The back portions with the flying buttresses are currently being refurbished but the area was still charming enough to be a backdrop for photo shoots and wedding pictures. We also saw couples being photographed at several Paris tourist attractions. We also did some shopping on the Left Bank near Notre Dame. The flower shops had magnificent blooms that I wanted to bring home but I had to be satisfied with dried lavender which now makes my drawers smell heavenly.
The Arc de Triomphe is another tourist must see as is the neighboring high-end shopping area of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. The Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.
Our Paris Greeter took us on a tour of her home market near the Champs-Elysee We were enthralled by the variety of delectable food available to the Parisians at their small local markets. Click on the Ballade link below to see the places we visited and learn about their history.
I’d love to return some day but life is short and I have so many other places I want to visit. My next cross Atlantic trip will be to Wales, Scotland and maybe back to Port Issac with my kids. Back to writing my book and enjoying the St. Andrew’s Bay views from my window.
I’ve always loved the Sherlock Holmes novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and I’m an avid fan of the British TV and movie detective genre, in particular, the Morse, Lewis and Endeavor Series which were written by Colin Dexter. I tried to plan my own tour with a tour company for a group but ran into several roadblocks so I planned it with a friend. See my blog https://singleboomerlife.com/2017/06/04/single-baby-boomers-need-a-goal/ for how planning my trip became a positive short-term goal.
After a week in Paris, my friend and I took the Eurostar under the English Channel to London and then a train to Oxford, the fictional home of the equally fictional murder-ridden University city. I wasn’t disappointed. From the moment we got off the train it was like I was in the middle of a mystery. The first part involved finding our Airbnb. Since I have no sense of direction and am a poor listener we headed in the wrong direction. A friendly University student pointed us in the right direction so we rolled our bags down the street, past the Thames to our 2nd-floor room. I was happy I’d opted for a carryon and a backpack but my friend had been in Paris for 3 weeks and had a much larger suitcase. It took both of us to get it up the narrow stairs. We Americans are used to having everything supersized so when we travel to other countries the size of everything is an adjustment for us. However, the smaller food serving portions are a much healthier choice.
After we got settled, we went in search of my first Morse Pub, The Kings Arms. I told the bartender that I had waited years to say, “Please give me a bitter.” He welcomed me to Oxford and handed me my first half pint (I had to pace myself. We were there 3 days and I’m a lightweight.) As I savored my drink and meat pie, I looked at the familiar artifacts from the Morse TV Series and breathed in the rarified air of Oxford University. I felt like I’d died and gone to detective heaven. After dinner, we walked around several of the 38 colleges that compose the University. I was surprised to find out that no matter which college you attended you take the same final exam, are considered a graduate of Oxford University and attended its graduation ceremony. During our visit, we encountered students wearing their robes to exams and graduates of the Masters Program with caps and gowns just after their graduation ceremony.
An undergraduate student at the University of Oxford in subfusc for matriculation.
Academic dress is required for examinations, matriculation, disciplinary hearings, and when visiting university officers. A referendum held amongst the Oxford student body in 2015 showed 76% against making it voluntary in examinations – 8,671 students voted, with the 40.2% turnout the highest ever for a UK student union referendum. (Wikipedia)
I always like to get the lay of the land so the next day we took the Hop-on-Hop-off Bus for a city tour and then got off at Christ Church to see the grounds. We couldn’t go into the church because there was a special event. Little did we know that the members of all three series were inside for a memorial for the author Colin Dexter who passed away the preceding year. When I learned about it the next day from our tour director, I was so disappointed. Some of the participants had seen cast members and I was having a drink in the Morse Bar in The Randolph Hotel that very day. She did share some interesting insights with us from one of the cast and an important member of the creative team. It seems that the actor who played Hathaway in the Lewis series, Laurence Fox, said that a series about his character could be getting off the back burner. It may be filmed after the current series about the young Morse, Endeavor, is over. If you’re a fan you should check out Chris Sullivan’s blog at https://morseandlewisandendeavour.com/. He spoke at the memorial and is a real authority on all of the series. If you visit Oxford, I would also recommend the Inspector Morse and Lewis Walking Tour. You can book through Viator, at other sites and the Visitors Center. You can watch full episodes of Inspector Morse, Lewis, and Endeavor on YouTube. I guarantee you will enjoy them.
Of all the pubs we visited from the three series I thought The Trout Inn was the nicest. Located in Wolvercote, just a short bus ride from Oxford, it was the location of the episode The Wolvercote Tongue. Since it was a cold day, I treated myself to an Irish Coffee and the Sticky Crispy Duck Salad. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. I also stopped in the White Horse and had an interesting chat with the bartender and a regular. We ate dinner at the Eagle and Child. I chose the Beef Bone Marrow Pie since it sounded interesting and I have to say, it was delicious especially when paired with a half pint of bitter. It was a favorite watering hole of C.S. Lewis who held academic positions at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. He’s best known for his works of fiction, The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space. He was often joined there by his drinking buddy, J.R.R. Tolkien, an English writer, poet, philologist, university professor, and the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. I’d have loved to have visited all of the pubs but 3 days wasn’t enough. I’d like to return and take a summer class. Several of the colleges offer programs for adults and high school students where you can stay on campus and enjoy the real Oxford experience.
We had our own Afternoon Tea party after visiting Alice’s Shop which features author Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland themed souvenirs. See http://aliceshop.co.uk/about/. The sumptuous tea was more than enough for two.
While my friend went to Evening Song at one of the colleges, I went on Bill Spectre’s Ghost Trails which has a 5-star rating on Trip Advisor and is one of the top 10 ghost tours in the world. I highly recommend it. This was one of his many sleights of hand tricks. He also let us try it on ourselves.
I left Oxford sooner than I wanted and took the train to London where I met a local guide for a personal tour of the Marylebone section of London. The service was free, very enjoyable and informative. My tour guide sent me the summary below. https://londongreeters.org/your-tour
Here are a few notes from the walk around Marylebone. The area expanded along with the other areas of Westminster following the Great Plague and the Fire in 1666. You have a picture of the Sherlock Homes statue by John Doubleday. You have a photograph of Sherlock Holmes but here is another piece of work from the same sculptor.
After getting the tickets to the Museum we went under the Marylebone road via the Wonderpass to 94 Baker Street which was once the home of the Apple Boutique. Here is what it would have looked like.
The next stop was Paddington Street gardens which has a little statue of an Orderly Boy who is forever polishing his shoes. Orderly boys were road Sweepers during the Victorian era. Paddington Street Gardens was a burial ground before it was opened as a public garden by Princess Louise in 1886, and laid out by Fanny Wilkinson the first female professional landscape gardener.
Running alongside the gardens are Ossington buildings and Garbutt place. This, once known as “little hell” is where the social reformer Octavia Hill started her work. Financed by John Ruskin she went on to manage 3,000 families. She is also known as the founder of the National Trust which has been largely responsible for the preservation of green spaces.
My next stop was Harley Street where Florence Nightingale worked as a nurse in a hospital for gentlewomen. It was from here that she left for the Crimea and oversaw the hospitals in Scutari in 1854 when she became known as the Lady with the Lamp.
We then went to Station 39 in Wentworth Mews and had a look at the properties that were once used for stables and would have been the home to staff employed by the hoses they backed on to. Here is the sort of coach they would have housed which would have set you back £60,000 in today’s values. It was from this mews that many women volunteered during the Second World War as ambulance drivers.
I then took you to Portland Place, home of the BBC and RIBA. Both are art deco buildings built using Portland stone. RIBA was built by Grey Wornum, a WWI veteran who lost an eye at the Battle of the Somme. It was inspired by a visit to Stockholm where he visited the Town Hall. Between the two buildings, we stopped to look at the stature of Quintin Hogg, the Philanthropist who donated his life to the building of Ragged Schools.
Next door to the BBC is the only Church built by John Nash who is more famous for the Regency Terraces that surround Regent’s park. It’s a controversial piece of work, because of the mixture of Greek and Gothic styles. Across the road is where Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde met at the Langham Hotel.
We then went onto Cavendish Square via Chandos Street, so named because of Chandos House at the end, one of the few surviving houses built by Robert Adam. It was the home of the Duke of Chandos who lends his name to the Chandos portrait of William Shakespeare which was the portrait that started the collection that now is housed in the National Portrait Gallery. Also in Chandos street is one of the oldest medical societies in the World – The Medical Society.
And I finished off in Cavendish Square and showed you the Jacob Epstein sculpture of the Madonna and Child that sits between the two buildings on the north side of the square that was once a convent.
And that was Marylebone. I hope you found it interesting. There is a rich assortment of architectural styles that start off with the Palladian influences through Georgian and Victorian styles, finishing with the Art Deco buildings on Portland Place.
I worked in as many authors that I could including Conan Doyle obviously, but also JM Barrie, AA Milne, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and George Orwell. There are many others.
After the tour, I visited the Sherlock Holmes Museum with hundreds of tourist from around the world. http://www.sherlock-holmes.co.uk/ After waiting in line for an hour, Mrs. Watson, his landlady, started our tour with a visit to his study and then let us roam the rest of the house where we viewed period pieces and vignettes of some of his most interesting cases. It amazed me that so many people pay to visit the home of a fictional character in a location that isn’t even 221B Baker Street but I patiently waited in line with the other Holmes devotees too and wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
The following day I was off on a tour to Devonshire, Cornwall, and the Cotswolds. It was a small group, only four women, three of us from the U.S. and one from Australia so we were able to ask a lot of questions. This tour had fewer frills than other more expensive ones I’d been on. It was a variation on a Hop-on-Hop-off tour of the countryside with personalized narration and traveler-guide interaction. I opted for the Bed and Breakfast option and didn’t regret it for a moment. The breakfasts were outstanding, the room more spacious than my previous hotel rooms and the service excellent. The view of the English Channel at the Cornwall B&B was amazing and better than the hotel view the other guest had. We toured in a Mercedes Passenger Coach and traveled the backroads so as to see the sites larger buses couldn’t reach. Two of the travelers arranged with the guide to see places where their ancestors lived. I was excited to walk the moors near the historic Dartmoor Prison where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got his inspiration so Sherlock Holmes could meet up with the Hound of the Baskervilles. I found there were several monster legends in the area such as the Legend of the Hairy Hands in which something seems to take over the vehicle’s steering wheel and drive it off the road and the Beast of Dartmoor. Here’s a possible explanation for the Beast. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/07/21/beast-of-bodmin-mystery-solved-as-dartmoor-zoo-released-pumas-in/. Pixies are also said to live in both Devonshire and Cornwall. Pixie (also pixy, pixi, pizkie, piskie and pigsie as it is sometimes known in Cornwall) is a mythical creature of folklore who can be both mischevious and helpful. Pixies are thought to be concentrated in the high moorland areas around Devon and Cornwall, suggesting some Celtic origin for the belief and name. They’re believed to inhabit ancient underground ancestor sites such as stone circles, barrows, dolmens, ringforts or menhirs. The story The 3 Little Pigs was originally written about pixies. Read the report at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pixie. It’s a lot of fun. See https://www.visitdartmoor.co.uk/explore-dartmoor/arts-and-literature/folklore for more information. See https://www.go-tours.co.uk/cornwall-and-the-cotswolds-tour/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwu_jYBRD8ARIsAC3EGCKqDBVluadxyjc0_SUrV7mwLqsrFOKqs9KpnzC_ZNoibRuVJG1XbmUaApNpEALw_wcB
We visited many scenic seaside villages in Devonshire and Cornwall including the filming site for Poldark and my bucket list item, Port Isaac aka Port Wenn, the village where Doc Martin is filmed. From the photos, you’ll see that it’s as beautiful as it appears in the show. The residents are very friendly even though their idyllic home is inundated with tourist during filming and from what I could see, year round. Doc Martin, played by Martin Clunes, is much loved all over the world even though he plays a surly doctor who doesn’t suffer fools in a village of eccentrics. Here’s hoping there’s another season. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doc_Martin. While these are not mystery series, they’re brilliant examples of the genius of British drama. In my opinion, these mysteries and dramas are more thought-provoking than those on American TV. If you’re interested you should also watch Midsummer Murders, Foyles War, Prime Suspect, Sherlock, Vera, Father Brown and a host of others on Netflix, Acorn, and Britbox. Some are no longer in productions but both Brits and Americans often lobby for spinoffs and reboots. Many of our most popular programs were created in the UK. Their sense of humor is fantastic.
Take a look at this episode. I didn’t realize this was on YouTube. I’m going to look for more things there rather than paying for streaming services. I can watch it on my TV with Comcast/Xfinity.
Next time I’ll tell you about my adventures in Gay Paree. Until then…
Before I retired I was motivated by different things.
Providing emotional, physical and monetary support for my family.
2. Furthering my education
3. Personal and career development and advancement
4. Community Service
5. Adventure seeking which led to learning to fly, travel and moving from my hometown, state and for a year, my country
6. Meeting new people and making new friends everywhere I lived or visited
7. Saving for retirement
Today I’m still motivated by most of the same things but when I retired I lost interest in some of the things that once energized me. I have a pension and social security so making money isn’t important. I don’t need a large place to live or many possessions. However, I seem to accumulate new things wherever I go even though I’d cleaned out most of them when I moved to Japan and later the beach.
When I retired I said I was never going to get up until I was ready. Now I sometimes stay in bed watching TV or listening to audiotapes until late morning. I try to schedule my appointments in the afternoon, attend meetings later in the day and only make exceptions if absolutely necessary unless I’m traveling, of course. After my last move, I started going to the Senior Center to make friends and learn how to make stained glass ornaments. While I enjoyed it, I didn’t make any lasting friends in my new home until two ladies took pity on me and invited me to join a weight loss organization. There I found support and a circle of friends whom I can call on for entertainment, advice, and help.
A couple of years ago I was disgusted with myself for never finishing the novels I’d started. At the suggestion of another blogger and life coach, I started this blog which I hoped would become a book. While there are many books, articles, and blogs written for Baby Boomers and singles there are not many that address just single Baby Boomers. I thought this would be my niche and it has been until I decided that I wanted to travel more and write a work of fiction. So I traveled and I wrote about my travels but my blog posts got fewer and farther between. The good news is that I’m about a quarter of the way through my book, Sedona Star, but I still feel that I should be doing something for my community.
My friend suggested that I be a Guardian ad Litem. I’d visit children who’d been taking from their parents due to abuse or neglect and report my findings to the court. My family who’d lived through my experiences in my job and personal life thought it was a bad idea, but I persevered until the Parkland School shootings. I’d been threatened with death while working in schools and had other harrowing experiences so I decided they were right. I felt like a quitter but I also knew that as I aged I didn’t have the same physical and emotional strength I had when I was younger.
Still, I felt like I needed to do something other than go out with family and friends, exercise, travel and write my book. I’d like to say I found that something but I’m still searching. I did join the March for our Lives for new gun laws to protect our children and I’m watching the news so I can be better informed before the midterm elections. Somehow it doesn’t seem like enough. I wish I had some answers for others who need motivation. I’ve written about it on my blog but I still struggle with it myself. One blog that may interest you is https://singleboomerlife.com/2016/01/10/single-baby-boomers-have-you-found-your-passion/
My question for myself and you is:
After a life of working toward your goals and achieving most of what you need and want, is it all right to just concentrate on what makes you happy if you’re not hurting anyone else?
So are the experts who tell us that we need to keep working and be involved in the community to stay emotionally and physically healthy right or can we now be what I used to consider selfish?
If you have any thoughts, please share them with my readers and me. As for me, I’m off to Paris, Oxford, and southern England. I may not be making a contribution to society, but it’ll be a learning experience for me and hopefully the people with whom I interact. Also, one more thing will be checked off my Bucket List. Stay tuned.
Since I’ve lived in the U.S. most of my life, but have grandparents who immigrated from Europe, I’ve always been interested in my European roots. Our recorded history is relatively brief in the States compared to other parts of the world so we have to go to another continent to find how our ancestors lived.
Spain or in Spanish, España, is a European country mostly located on the Iberian Peninsula. It also includes two large archipelagoes, the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea and the Canary Islands off the African Atlantic coast, two cities, Ceuta and Melilla, on the African mainland and several small islands in the Alboran Sea near the African coast. The mainland is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea except for a small land boundary with Gibraltar, to the north and northeast by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay and to the west and northwest by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s the only European country to have a border with an African country, Morocco. It’s the fourth largest country in the European continent. By population, Spain is the sixth largest in Europe. Major urban areas include Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Bilbao, and Málaga. It’s a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy with King Felipe VI as head of state.
Modern humans first arrived in Spain and Portugal around 35,000 years ago. Iberian cultures along with ancient Phoenician, Greek, and Carthaginian settlements developed on the peninsula until it came under Roman rule around 200 BC when it was renamed Hispania. At the end of the Western Roman Empire, Germanic tribal confederations invaded the Iberian Peninsula. Eventually, the Visigoths would integrate by force all remaining independent territories in the peninsula into the Kingdom of Toledo. The Visigothic kingdom fell to the Moors except in the north where Spain emerged as a unified country in the 15th century under the Catholic Monarchs. Spain became one of history’s first global empires, leaving a vast cultural and linguistic legacy that includes over 500 million Spanish speakers, the world’s second most spoken native language, after Mandarin Chinese.
While there are many sites of interest in all of the cities on my tour I’m going to concentrate on the places I visited in this blog.
Madrid is the capital of Spain and its largest municipality. The city has almost 3.166 million inhabitants with a metropolitan area population of approximately 6.5 million. It is the third-largest city in the European Union after London and Berlin and lies on the River Manzanares in the center of the country. As the capital city of Spain, the seat of government, and residence of the Spanish monarch, Madrid is also the political, economic and cultural center of the country.
When I arrived in Madrid in November I only had a couple of days to recover from my jet lag and investigate the area around my hotel so I took a Hop-on Hop-off bus tour through the downtown area. I find this gives me the most information and allows me to decide which sites to visit if I have limited time.
Since I stayed near the Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real de Madrid) I decided to visit this and the surrounding area which included the Opera house, Almudena Cathedral and The Plaza de Oriente with its gardens and monuments. The palace is the official residence of Felipe VI of Spain that’s only used for official acts. It’s a baroque palace full of artworks and is one of the largest European royal palaces. I visited before the U.S. Thanksgiving and there was a 20-minute wait for tickets and to get through security so you may want to buy tickets online before you go. It was well worth the wait to see its luxurious rooms and rich collections of armor and weapons, pharmaceuticals, silverware, watches, paintings, tapestries, and the most comprehensive collection of Stradivarius in the world.
The next day in the dark wee hours of the morning I sat in a deserted garage 2 levels under the Plaza de Oriente waiting for my tour bus entering a text on my phone telling my son my last location in case I wasn’t ever seen again. Luckily, I didn’t have to hit send since someone from the tour finally appeared and I got on a bus filled with Spanish speakers. The guide assured me the tour would be in both languages but I was happy to meet another single woman from Honduras who spoke English. She hadn’t visited the bus stop the day before and almost missed the bus looking for the entrance to the garage until she asked the Royal Palace guards where she could find the bus.
Tip: If you’re in a new place, especially one where you don’t know the language, know where you’re going well before you need to be there. Taxis and other shuttles aren’t expensive in Spain, so use these if it’s dark or you don’t feel comfortable with buses and trains. Even if you’re on a budget, you should take these modes of transportation when you’re on a schedule or dragging luggage. We deserve to spoil ourselves and stay safe.
Our first stop on the tour was Cáceres the capital of Cáceres province. The medieval walled city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Old Town (Parte Antigua) still has its ancient walls. This part of town is also well known for its multitude of storks’ nests. The walls contain a medieval town setting with no outward signs of modernity, which is why many television shows and films have been shot there. During the tour, we learned many filmmakers used the backdrop of Spain for their movies. Click on this to see a slideshow of Royalty and film stars who visited the sites I saw in Spain.https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/exhibit/TgLSYAV-1VEAIg
The small streets in the historical center have many small shops selling typical products. The convents sell homemade sweets and pastries. Typical wines from Extremadura are affordable, full-bodied reds. Local liqueurs include cherry liqueur from the nearby Jerte Valley and other original liqueurs such as chestnut and blackberry. Other produce in the Province includes sheep’s cheese or Torta del Casar, fig cake, chestnuts, hams and other pork products, lamb, game, olive oil, paprika, fried breadcrumbs (migas), trout, pastries, and honey. I had the blood sausage, migas, and eggs for breakfast. The only thing I recommend is the eggs. On the other hand, I bought sheep’s cheese in Belmonte and it’s delicious.
Córdoba is called Cordova in English. It’s a city in Andalusia, southern Spain, and the capital of the province of Córdoba. It was a Roman settlement which was later colonized by Muslim armies in the eighth century. It became the capital of the Islamic Emirate and then of the Caliphate of Córdoba which included most of the Iberian Peninsula. Córdoba consisted of hundreds of workshops that created goods such as silk. It was a center of culture and learning in the Muslim golden age. Today it’s a moderately sized modern city with a population in 2014 of about 799,400. The historic center was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it has the second largest Old town in Europe. The most important building and symbol of the city, the Great Mosque of Córdoba and current cathedral and the Roman bridge, are the city’s best-known features. The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba whose ecclesiastical name is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption is regarded as one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture.
Tip: There are many beautiful ceilings in all of the buildings we toured. Don’t do what I did and walk backward looking up in the dark while taking a photo. Even though I looked before I stepped, the old floor and the new one were not flush and I fell backward. My phone survived and so did I, but I almost gave the two guides a heart attack and barely missed hitting something that jutted out of the wall.
According to a traditional account, a small temple of Christian Visigoth origin, the Catholic Basilica of Saint Vincent of Lérins, originally stood on the site. In 784 Abd al-Rahman I ordered the construction of the Great Mosque, which was considerably expanded by later Muslim rulers. Córdoba returned to Christian rule in 1236 and the building was converted to a Roman Catholic church, culminating in the insertion of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the 16th century. This seems to be a commonplace occurrence in Spain as I’ve seen the same takeovers by the Catholic Church in many other cities. Since the early 2000s, Spanish Muslims have lobbied the Catholic Church to allow them to pray in the cathedral. This Muslim campaign has been rejected on multiple occasions, both by the church authorities in Spain and by the Vatican.
Near the cathedral is the old Jewish quarter, which consists of many irregular streets and is home to the Synagogue and the Sephardic House. In the extreme southwest of the Old Town is the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, a former royal property and the seat of the Inquisition. Adjacent to it are the Royal Stables, where Andalusian horses are bred. The medieval Baths of the Caliphate are near the walls. South of the Old town and east of the great cathedral, in the Plaza del Potro, is the Posada del Potro, a row of inns mentioned in literary works including Don Quixote which remained active until 1972.
Tip: Beware of pickpockets in the crowded narrow streets of old towns anywhere you go. There are many articles of clothing you can buy to help you hide your valuables. I bought Columbia shirts because they don’t wrinkle, dry quickly and have hidden pockets. Search for Columbia PFG Tamiama™ II Long Sleeve Shirt for deals. I also have a small purse that holds my phone, money, and passport under my clothing. It’s also handy when you want your hands free in airports or stores.
Seville is the capital and largest city of the province of Seville, Spain. It’s situated on the plain of the Guadalquivir River. The Seville harbor, located about 50 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, is the only river port in Spain. Seville is also the hottest major metropolitan area in geographical Western Europe, with summer average high temperatures of above 95 °F.
Seville was founded as the Roman city of Hispalis. It later became known as Ishbiliya after the Muslim conquest in 712 until finally being incorporated into the Christian Kingdom of Castile under Ferdinand III in 1248. After the discovery of the Americas, Seville became one of the economic centers of the Spanish Empire as its port monopolized the trans-oceanic trade opening a Golden Age of arts and literature. In 1519, Ferdinand Magellan departed from Seville for the first circumnavigation of the Earth. The 17th century in Seville brought about the most brilliant flowering of the city’s culture. Later a gradual economic and demographic decline began as silt deposited in the Guadalquivir River forced trade to relocate to the nearby port of Cádiz. In 1992, coinciding with the fifth centenary of the Discovery of the Americas, the Universal Exposition was held for six months in Seville. For the occasion the local communications network infrastructure was greatly improved, the SE-30 ring road around the city was completed, new highways were constructed and the new Santa Justa train station opened with the Spanish High-Speed Rail system, the Alta Velocidad Española which began to operate between Madrid-Seville. The Seville Airport, (Aeropuerto de Sevilla), was expanded with a new terminal building designed by the architect Rafael Moneo. The monumental Puente del Alamillo, Alamillo Bridge, over the Guadalquivir, designed by the architect Santiago Calatrava, was built to allow access to the island of La Cartuja, site of the massive exposition. Some of the installations remain at the site after the exposition was converted into the Scientific and Technological Park Cartuja.
The Alcázar of Seville is a royal palace originally developed by Moorish Muslim kings. It’s renowned as one of the most beautiful in Spain, being regarded as one of the most outstanding examples of Mudéjar architecture found on the Iberian Peninsula. The upper levels of the Alcázar are still used by the royal family as the official Seville residence. It is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe and was registered in 1987 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, along with the adjoining Seville Cathedral and the General Archive of the Indies.
I was also lucky to attend a performance of the Flamenco in both Seville and Granada. In its strictest sense, Flamenco is a professionalized art-form based on the various folkloric music traditions of Southern Spain in the communities of Andalusia, Extremadura, and Murcia. In a wider sense, it refers to these musical traditions and more modern musical styles which have themselves been deeply influenced by and become blurred with the development of Flamenco over the past two centuries. It includes cante (singing), toque (guitar playing), baile (dance), jaleo (vocalizations), palmas (handclapping) and pitos (finger snapping). The oldest record of Flamenco dates to 1774 in the book Las Cartas Marruecas by José Cadalso. The genre originated in the music and dance styles of Andalusia, of much older origin. Flamenco has also been influenced by the Romani people (Gypsies) in Spain. However, unlike Romani music in Eastern Europe, its origin and style are uniquely Andalusian.
There are many variants of cantes or palos (song forms), each expressing a unique emotion which shares a noticeable resemblance to Indian classical music. Canta Gitano (Gypsy song) means “profound” and “deep”. It refers to the original songs believed to be developed by Gypsies who immigrated in the 15th century. This intense, sad form of cante deals with themes of death, anguish, despair, or religious sentiments may be sung a palo seco (without guitar accompaniment). It’s believed to be the heart and soul of the Flamenco. The singer who sings the seguiriyas (the song) leaves in each line of the copla (verse of cante) a piece of his soul and, if not, he is deceiving the listener, perhaps even himself. It’s said that he sometimes reaches the kind of state of grace the Gypsies call duende (having soul, a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity). The Flamenco I saw in Seville was more like the ones we see in movies, more flashy and entertaining than the intense Flamenco we witnessed in a theater set in a cave in Granada where the Gypsy family has lived for centuries. The caves were found or dug during a time when the Gypsies first came to Spain. See more pictures of the caves. https://expertvagabond.com/sacromonte-gypsy-caves/
Below are videos of both types of Flamenco.
Torremolinos on the Costa del Sol
The Costa del Sol literally, “Coast of the Sun” or “Sun Coast”, is a region in the south of Spain comprising the coastal towns and communities along the coastline of the Province of Málaga.
Historically the provincial population had lived in the fishing villages and in the “white” villages (pueblos blancos) a short distance inland in the mountains running down to the coast. The area was developed to meet the demands of international tourism in the 1950s and has since been a popular destination for foreign tourists not only for its beaches but also for its local culture. Málaga province had been a relatively prosperous commercial and industrial center for most of the 19th century but an economic downturn in the 1880s and 1890s led to the end of the iron industry and weakened the trade and textile industry. The agricultural sector also suffered a deep depression that affected the raising of livestock and all the major crops, especially the cultivation of Vitis vinifera, a grape used for the wine industry. The social disruption caused by the crisis and its aftermath of job loss, business collapse, and a general economic decline led many residents to consider other means of livelihood. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Baños del Carmen beach was developed and opened in the east of Málaga. The Torremolinos golf course followed in 1928 with hotels and other attractions multiplying after the Spanish American War and World War II.
Some of the more famous British criminals fled to the Costa del Sol. It’s sometimes referred to in the UK press as the “Costa del Crime” because they would escape justice at home by moving there to live their lives in luxury. With tense relations between the UK and Spain over Gibraltar, extradition arrangements were not agreed upon until more recently. In the past, Charlie Wilson, a member of the Great Train Robbery gang, Anthony Fraser, grandson of Mad Frankie Fraser, and more recently Andrew Moran, an armed robber who escaped custody at his trial lived the high life on the coast of Spain. Another criminal resident was, John Disley nicknamed the “King of Marbella”, who masterminded a £700,000 bank fraud. Other European criminal entrepreneurs, including Russian and Dutch citizens, have also settled on this coast for the climate and functional advantages for their enterprises, as well as being active investors in the property sector.
Of course, there were many attractions in the area, but our stay was brief and we really only had time for a rainy walk on the beach and to enjoy some entertainment at the hotel. Since it was the shoulder season the usual movie stars and royalty were somewhere warmer, so senior citizens from all over the world took advantage of the low rates for a luxurious vacation at a lower price. If you go, be careful there are a lot of older visitors looking for new lovers.
Granada is the capital city of the province of Granada. Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, at the confluence of four rivers, the Darro, the Genil, the Monachil and the Beiro, it sits at an average elevation of 2,421 ft. above sea level, yet is only one hour by car from the Mediterranean coast. Nearby is the Sierra Nevada Ski Station, where the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships 1996 were held.
The Alhambra, a Moorish citadel and palace city, is in Granada. It is the most renowned building of the Andalusian Islamic historical legacy with its many cultural attractions that make Granada a popular tourist destination. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984. It consists of a defensive zone, the Alcazaba, together with others of a residential and formal state character, the Nasrid Palaces and, lastly, the palace, gardens, and orchards of El Generalife.
In the 11th century, the Castle of the Alhambra was developed as a walled town which became a military stronghold that dominated the whole city. But it was in the 13th century, with the arrival of the first monarch of the Nasrid dynasty, Mohammed, that the royal residence was established in the Alhambra. This marked the beginning of its heyday. The Alhambra became a palace, citadel, and fortress, and was the residence of the Nasrid sultans and their senior officials, including servants of the court and elite soldiers in the 13th–14th centuries. In 1492 the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabela, expelled the final Moors from the city of Granada. They established permanent residency in the Alhambra and it was here Christopher Columbus requested royal endorsement for his westward expedition that year. In 1527 Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor demolished part of the architectural complex to build his palace. During the French domination, substantial portions of the fortress were blown apart. The repair, restoration, and conservation that continues to this day did not begin until the 19th century.
The Generalife is a garden area attached to the Alhambra which became a place of recreation and rest for the Granadan Muslim kings when they wanted to flee the tedium of official life in the Palace. It was conceived as a rural village, consisting of landscaping, gardens, and architecture. Today, it’s one of the biggest attractions in the city of Granada. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984.
Toledo is a city located in central Spain. It’s the capital of the province of Toledo and the autonomous community of Castile–La Mancha. Toledo was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 for its extensive monumental and cultural heritage. It’s known as the “Imperial City” for having been the main venue of the court of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and as the “City of the Three Cultures” for the cultural influences of Christians, Muslims and Jews reflected in its history. It was also the capital of the ancient Visigothic kingdom of Hispania, which followed the fall of the Roman Empire, and the location of historic events such as the Visigothic Councils of Toledo.
Toledo has a long history in the production of bladed weapons, which are now popular souvenirs of the city. The metal-working industry has historically been Toledo’s economic base, with a great tradition in the manufacturing of swords and knives and a significant production of razor blades, medical devices, and electrical products. The Toledo Blade, the American newspaper in Toledo, Ohio namesake city, is named in honor of the sword-making tradition.
The Cathedral of Toledo (Catedral de Toledo) was built between 1226–1493 and modeled after the Bourges Cathedral, though it also combines some characteristics of the Mudéjar style. It features the Baroque altar built by Narciso Tomé called El Transparente that is several stories high with fantastic figures of stucco, paintings, bronze castings, and multiple colors of marble. Its name refers to the unique illumination provided by a large skylight cut high up into the thick wall across the ambulatory and another hole cut into the back of the altarpiece itself to allow shafts of sunlight to strike the tabernacle. This lower hole also allows persons in the ambulatory to see through the altarpiece to the tabernacle as if were transparent.
El Transparente of the Cathedra
I enjoyed the tour I took with Julia Travel, http://juliatravel.com/, and would recommend it to anyone who wants to visit the historic sites of Southern Spain. Our main tour guide and the others who went with us through some of the sites were knowledgeable and able to answer questions in both English and Spanish. Other tours joined us along the way and I wished that I’d know that this was an option as I would have liked to visit Portugal and Spain as they did. I booked it through Viator but may have had more options if I’d known to do it through Julia. People from other parts of Spain, Mexico, Columbia, Honduras and the U.S. rounded out the tour participants. We enjoyed great food and a choice of different priced hotels. I opted for the lower priced ones, but they still had all of the services I wanted and were located in areas convenient to other sites we didn’t visit on the tour. Even though I dealt with Julia Travel to book my pre-tour hotel in Madrid, I wish I’d known that they picked up and dropped off at another hotel close to mine. It would have saved me from the scary time in the underground garage and getting a bit lost dragging my suitcase uphill when the tour ended several blocks from the hotel. The Madrid police were very helpful when I asked them for directions. After getting my breath back and showing them where I wanted to go on the map, they gave me a police escort until I found the hotel. I’m currently planning a trip to France and England and I made sure I’m staying at the pick-up hotel.
I hope this blog has helped you plan an adventure in Spain. If you have any travel tips, please comment on them here or on my Facebook Page, Single Boomer Life.
If you want an exciting and adventurous travel and learning experience I suggest applying to volunteer at VaughanTown in Spain. The program was designed by Richard Vaughan to advance the English skills of Spanish speakers. VaughanTown is a program of English immersion. It’s a concentrated dose of a stay abroad without leaving Spain. The website says, “You will make a noticeable jump in your English learning. In VaughanTown you will live with English-speaking native volunteers from all over the world. It will allow you to break the barrier that was preventing you from fully utilizing all your accumulated knowledge of the language.”
VaughanTown has 40 years of experience teaching English in Spain to 50,000 students annually and with the help of 2400 teachers. It offers many different programs to adults, young adults and children in several locations in Spain and some English speaking countries.
I volunteered at the 6-day Immersion in English in a Vaughan village. This is equivalent to 500 hours of class. They also offer:
FiftyFifty: A combination of classes using the Vaughan method and conversations with English speakers
Intensive English courses during school holidays for children and young people from 4 to 17 years of age in Spain and in English-speaking countries like England, Ireland and the U.S. You can also apply to be a host family.
My program supplied accommodation in a double room with a private bathroom, full board with excellent cuisine, materials and the bus transfers from the meeting point to the chosen location. The volunteers must pay for their airfare, hotel accommodations before and after the program and other transportation. Depending on the program the volunteers can be from 18 years of age and up. You can apply at http://volunteers.grupovaughan.com/.
While at the program I met volunteers from England, Wales, Scotland, New Zealand and the U.S. Some were educators, but there were Anglos from all walks of life with varied experiences aged 30-65+. The participants at my program were from Spain and included business people, police officers and teachers.
Palacio Del Infante Don Juan Manuel Hotel Spa
I was lucky enough to participate in a program in Belmonte, a small village or pueblo, and stay in a renovated castle along the path Don Quixote traveled. The hotel was next to a church and cemetery. Three windmills, reminiscent of the Man of La Mancha, and a castle sat on the nearby hills. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castillo_de_Belmonte
The day started with a buffet breakfast similar to the lavish breakfast bars you get in European hotels. Then we had our hour-long one-to-ones with our Spanish counterparts anywhere we liked. We could stay in the public spaces of the hotel, walk through the village or visit the local sites. We talked about many things and touched on English idioms which are difficult for the Spaniards to understand. We were told to try to talk about subjects other than their job and daily life but it was fun to find out about police work and business in Spain. One of the Spaniards was an owner of an olive oil company and we enjoyed his company’s products with our meals. We also did a phone call where I played the part of a customer service rep from an airline and the Spaniard was the passenger who lost his luggage. As a group, we had a conference call where the mayors of different cities tried to convince me that their city was the best location to locate a casino. The reasons they gave were very inventive. One offered my company ample room to grow and even threw in an imaginary lake for recreation when another mayor offered me a nearby police station and a school to train my employees. It wasn’t all talking and eating. We also had time to visit the castle and a winery.
I thought the entertainment which was provided by all of us was the highlight of our program. Our Master of Ceremonies took a group of people each day and prepped us for skits that were hilarious. Since most of the Spanish participants were men, they were good sports and took the female roles. One night our Master of Ceremonies brewed us the alcoholic concoction, Queimada, with the help of witches. She set it on fire and ladled the flaming liquid out of the clay bowl until the flames turned blue. Then we all made the toast “¡Arriba, abajo, al centro, pa’ dentro!” which means Arriba – up, Abajo – down, Al centro – center, andPa’ dentro or Adentro” – inside. We then drank the brew which didn’t have that much alcohol burnt off. See the toast at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dr3Q5H57kRU and the recipe at https://www.thespruce.com/queimada-recipe-fire-drink-of-galicia-3083122. We usually finished the day at the cafe playing a game or socializing. This was after the dinner at 9. Europeans eat later than I was used to but we had lunch at 2 and a siesta from 3-5 so we soon got used to the change. I’d like to show you photos of the entertainment but like Vegas “What happens at VaughanTown stays at VaughanTown.”
Video with traditional chant
I cannot say enough about how much fun I had at this program. At first, I was suffering from jet lag and after a conversation on the bus with a Spaniard who was struggling with his English, I thought that this would be difficult and tiring. Yes, the long hours wore me out, but the experience was so exhilarating that I looked forward to each day and laughed more than I have in years. It was not just immersion for the Spaniards, the Anglos were immersed in the Spanish culture and learned so much from the students. I have an invitation to Wales, Scotland and Trinidad and have been in touch with several participants. One police officer gave me tips for my novel and promised to answer any questions I have while writing it.
After VaughanTown I toured Madrid and southern Spain. I’ll tell you about that in my next blog. Right now I’m preparing for my annual Christmas trip to Minnesota. Since I live so far from my family, I found that planning a trip over a holiday like I did with Thanksgiving keeps you from being alone and maybe lonely.
My adventure started with the uncertainty of how much devastation Hurricane Irma would cause. Endless hours of watching The Weather Channel, something I won’t do again except to check the updates, put my nerves on edge. My home in the Florida Panhandle missed the brunt of the destruction but the route I had to take to my cruise with my sister posed a problem. After canceling bookings in Key West and for my timeshares which sustained damage, I booked new rooms at a low post-hurricane price on South Beach and set out with all the emergency, gas and map apps known to man to meet my sister at the Miami airport. Unlike many Floridians, luck was on my side and I didn’t have any problems along the route. Although it was less than a week since the hurricane, Miami was open to tourists with a bustling beach and bar scene so we were able to spend 2 fun-filled days there. We could see the effects of Irma but there was electricity and the store shelves were well stocked.
Then it happened—on Sunday my phone started to fade and died. I had a fully charged laptop, tablet and back-up phone, courtesy of my wonderful son and daughter-in-law who always have the latest version of everything and give me their spares, but I didn’t realize that I could just put my old sim card in the back-up to make it work. I could kick myself for not researching that since you can find anything on the internet. The next day we used my back-up, previously printed Google Maps to get to the Port of Miami and I vowed to go old school for the way back home. I’d traveled farther with less information for years.
The long awaited cruise on the Norwegian Sky was heavenly. We were overfed and hydrated at the many dining options and bars and pampered by the ship’s personnel. The ship was a small city with all the necessities for a life of luxury from a casino to a library. There was Latin music playing almost everywhere to get us in the mood for our arrival in Cuba. It wasn’t difficult to find entertainment at any time of the day and into the night.
We departed for Cuba that evening and by morning we sailed into Havana Harbor. We would soon find out that our luxury cruise was a stark contrast to everyday life in Cuba. The tour director instructed us on how to go through customs, exchange money and find our bus. We were traveling on an Educational ‘People to People’ Visa with a group so it would be easier to account for all of our time, which is required. You could also get off the ship and walk around the city if you told immigration what you planned. I don’t know if there was any follow-up on that. We just chose the easier route that would give us more information and experiences. The price was low and the tour company made it quick and easy so by 10 a.m. we were off in our air conditioned bus to see the sites.
According to our Cuban guide, Cuba is a socialist country and the belief of U.S. citizens that they’re communists is propaganda spread by our government. Wikipedia says, “The Republic of Cuba is one of the world’s last remaining socialist countries following the Marxist–Leninist ideology.” Other sources agree and when he told us of the opportunities affording to their residents it rang true. They have free medical and dental coverage and education including college. Taxes are low and often earnings are under-declared by farmers and business owners. It all sounded like a good system until you look around and see the aging infrastructure, the conditions of the apartments in Havana and the farmhouses in the countryside. Most of the time we saw only the outside of the homes, but it was evident that the living conditions were well below anything we have in the U.S. Outside of Havana houses along our tour route were roofed with palm fronds and appeared to have few conveniences that we consider essential. The Cuban people, like many of the citizens of tropical climates, spend much of their time outside with doors and windows left open for air circulation.
It’s not a surprise that their technology is behind ours when it comes to the internet, which is dial-up, and cell phone service. We arrived a week after they were hit by Hurricane Irma and were told their electricity was back on all over the island, but internet and cell service were still spotty. Of course, these services are expensive and with most people not able to afford cars, they probably aren’t top priorities. Information is also censored so it may not seem as vital to them to have these services.
We did see some classic 1950s American cars but they’d been rebuilt with foreign parts because of the Cuban embargo. There were other foreign cars on the roads. Our bus was built in China. Even on the outskirts of Havana, we saw horse carts used for personal transportation. The carts were sometimes filled with grass cut from the ditches which was used for feed for their livestock. Livestock was staked out along the highway to graze and taken from the farmers if they got free since they can wander into the roads causing accidents. In the city, buses were used for mass transit but in the country, we saw large trucks with benches in the back for passengers.
We were told that the Cuban people’s lives would be much improved if they had access to our products, especially prosthetics and other medical devices. Even rice, a staple of their diet, must be transported from China at great cost. These were some of the many examples given to us for reasons why we should try to influence our government into re-establishing trade. There have been many reasons why the U.S. has kept up the longest embargo in history which started in 1958 with an embargo against the sale of arms and later in 1960 due to the nationalized of American-owned Cuban oil refineries without compensation. Over the years human rights and other issues also kept it in place.
Our guide told us that our tour may be one of the last before they close the American Embassy over accusations the illness that has affected 21 diplomats at the American Embassy, with symptoms including hearing loss and cognitive difficulties, may have been an attack. After my cruise on September 29th, the New York Times reported that the State Department was withdrawing all non-essential personnel from the embassy. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson repeated the American assertion that the embassy personnel was deliberately targeted. He didn’t blame Cuba and U.S. officials held out the possibility that a third party might’ve been responsible. “Cuba has told us it will continue to investigate these attacks, and we will continue to cooperate with them in this effort,” Mr. Tillerson said. The State Department issued an advisory that Americans shouldn’t travel to Cuba because some of the attacks occurred in hotels where State Department employees were temporarily staying. See https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/29/us/politics/us-embassy-cuba-attacks.html
Back to the tour. After a ride through the countryside we arrived at a farm that grew tobacco for the famous Cuban cigar which is prized for its flavor and illegal to import into the U.S. You can, however, buy them for your personal use and bring them back to the U.S. Although this farmer was reported to be making a good living, there wasn’t indoor plumbing. They were in the process of installing a restroom that at the time of the tour needed to be flushed by getting a bucket of water from the cistern and pouring it in the tank. There was toilet tissue, but we’d been told to bring our own and future stops made us happy we did. The small store where they rolled and sold the cigars was well kept and decorated with traditional Cuban décor. As with most homes, the windows allowed the breeze to come through but it was still extremely hot. The tobacco drying barn was one large open building (see photos and video). It had a dirt floor and must have been used for decades. The farmer and his wife had cigars, brewed coffee and coffee beans for sale. I believe it was a true picture of a profitable business in Cuba.
The rest of the trip into the Viñales Valley showed us one of Cuba’s most spectacular physical landscapes with forested pincushion hills or mogotes that soared from the valley floor. It’s one of the country’s top tobacco-growing regions and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the traditional farming methods still used there and the importance of the region during Cuba’s Wars of Independence. https://insightcuba.com/blog/2013/12/16/live-from-cuba-unesco-world-heritage-sites
We made a stop at an open-air café and enjoyed a traditional meal while being serenaded by a Cuban band. We were first served Cuban rum with coke and then enjoyed a meal of mixed fruit, crisp bread, Cuban rice and beans, roast pork, taro root and for dessert Cuban-style flan and assorted drinks. I chose fresh mango juice which was made from only the juice of the fruit. A teenage cat joined us and begged for food. She ate more pork than I’d ever seen a cat consume in one sitting. We saw many dogs and cats who were even thinner than this one throughout our trip.
Our next stop was in a small town where we bargained with the merchants in an open-air market for souvenirs and saw the few local sites. Although I know that haggling is accepted, after seeing the living conditions I have to admit I later felt like I should’ve just paid full price even though I know there was a markup. The homeowners are allowed to rent parts of their homes and small rental units to locals and tourists through companies like Airbnb. The tourists have brought revenue and they’d like to have more American dollars to add to that of visitors from other countries.
After a short ride, we arrived at a small rum factory that produced Guayabita del Pinar. Guayabita means “little guava.” In the Pinar del Rio region of Cuba, there’s a particular tree whose berries are tiny guavas. The flavor from the guayabitas is infused into sugarcane liquor. In 1892 Guayabita del Pinar grew from a local homebrew to commercial production. Today it’s one of the more distinctive drinks in Cuba. The factory we toured was not state of the art. The bottles were filled by hand through a dispenser and then the tops were screwed on and the labels attached by several women sitting at a table. Again there was no AC. I know, I’m spoiled and couldn’t have worked under most of the conditions in Cuba without a great deal of discomfort but this was most likely a good job in this poor economy. The rest of the factory where they made the rum was not operating at the time of our visit. We mobbed the small store and while some learned about buying a quality cigar, I picked out a bottle of Cuban Club Rum, one of the rums produced at the factory and a large bag of coffee all for 20 Pesos a little more than $20. During the 2 hour ride back to Havana, our guide pointed out more sites and answered our many questions. Reentering and exchanging Pesos for U.S. Dollars was simple. Some of the people on the cruise enjoyed the nightlife at the clubs and some went ashore the next morning before we sailed.
We had a free day to explore the many entertainment options onboard or to rest up for our final day on the Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island, Great Stirrup Cay. There were many options from which to choose on the island from parasailing to swimming with the dolphins. We chose snorkeling which was nice but didn’t compare to the Outer Great Barrier Reef but then what does. The Cay had a nice beach but was rocky offshore. The day was well organized with music, complimentary food and drinks. Be prepared for very little shade and wear sunscreen and a hat.
We were able to disembark in Miami at our leisure after breakfast our final day just so long it was before 9 a.m. No one seemed to have a problem going through customs with their Cuban goods.
I’m glad I got the opportunity to visit Cuba. With the future of tourism in doubt there, it may not be as easy for others. The Cuban people were welcoming and I felt comfortable during my visit. Cruising is easy and enjoyable. My advice is to enjoy the food and drink, but don’t overdo it. You can get too much of a good thing. We had free liquor and food at selected restaurants. I was so happy when I found the ones that weren’t buffets because no matter how hard I try I can’t control myself at one. It’s also nice not to have to worry about tips. I was lucky enough to get a free cruise through my timeshare company. I only paid for shore excursions, fees, gratuities and a larger window. If you don’t buy the water package, you’ll be paying more for the water in the minifridge unless you have a bottle you can refill. I’d compare it to staying in a 5-star hotel but with a tiny room. There are more luxurious accommodations to be had at a price.
This was an adventure that I’m happy I made. Cruising will be one of my travel options especially as it becomes more difficult to travel. Although I hope that’ll never happen, I’ll be ready so I can keep exploring the world on my own and with others. In November I’m off to Spain to teach English to Spaniards and for a tour of the country. I’ll need to keep studying Spanish because my skills are still dismal.
Victoria isn’t just the capital of British Columbia, Canada. It’s home to some of the most stunning flora and fauna in the world. Also called the “City of Gardens” Victoria is located in northern North America. In spite of its northern location, the residents enjoy a temperate climate with winter temperatures ranging from the average daily high and low temperatures of 8 and 4°C (46.4 and 39.2°F), respectively. The summer months are also relatively mild, with an average high temperature of 20°C (68°F) and low of 11°C (51.8°F). It’s the second sunniest city in British Columbia and drier than most areas in the region due to the rain shadow effect of the nearby Olympic Mountains.
Victoria and the surrounding area are known for its large retiree population. Some 6.4% are over 80 years of age, the highest proportion for any of Canada’s metropolitan areas. The city also boasts the country’s third-highest concentration of people 65 and older (17.8%). Retirees are drawn to Victoria’s mild climate, beautiful scenery, year-round golf season and easy-going pace of life. It’s been said of the city that it’s for “the newly wed and nearly dead” according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria,_British_Columbia.
On the ferry trip to the island, I missed seeing my first whale in the wild while talking to a fellow traveler that I spent time with on my Australia and New Zealand tour. Even though we live on opposite sides of the U.S. we were lucky to reconnect on our travels and talk about traveling together again. Since I didn’t see the whale I booked a whale watching and Butchard Garden tour with The Prince of Whales before my son, daughter-in-law and I took off for a walking tour of the local sites. The majestic British Columbia Parliament Buildings which face the harbor are home to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. First Nations, British and Asian cultural histories make modern Victoria a vibrant and diverse cosmopolitan city. Museums, heritage and historic buildings, statues and sites showcase the people and art of the past while stores, such as the Hudson’s Bay Company and the shops in the oldest China Town in Canada and second oldest in North America, offer endless shopping opportunities.
When shopping and dining out, the Canadian exchange rate of 80% made all of our purchases even more attractive. I always make sure I have a credit and an ATM card with me that don’t charge a service fee for foreign purchases and exchanges.
Food from all over the world can be found downtown and we happily waited in lines to dine at some superb moderately priced restaurants. Friday is pizza night for my kids so we headed to Pizzeria Prima Strada which served Neapolitan wood-fired pizza on Fort Street (https://pizzeriaprimastrada.com/). I ordered the Four Season which featured tomatoes, homemade sausage, peppers, anchovies, olives, mushrooms, onions, fresh mozzarella and basil fashioned into 4 separate sections for 19 CAD and glass of wine. It was fantastic and I had leftovers for breakfast so I reluctantly skipped the gelato.
The Jam Café on Herald Street offers all day breakfast and lunch. It had many intriguing dishes. I chose The Charlie Bowl – their version of a hash with a crumbled biscuit, hash browns, diced ham, bacon, corn salsa, peas, green onions, cheddar and sausage gravy topped with two sunny side eggs for $14.50 CAD. It was a large serving and there was no way I could finish it even though it was delicious. http://jamcafes.com/victoria/menu/. Saturday night saw us lined up in front of Pagliaccis on Broad Street. (http://www.pagliaccis.ca/). My order, the small portion for of The Sophia ($18 CAD) named for Sophia Loren, had the quote, “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.” on the menu. It had a sauce of Canadian Dungeness & Rock crab, baby shrimp, pine nuts, white wine cream sauce and smoked salmon on fettuccine. I added a great white wine and a bite of New York Cheese cake. This time I cleaned the plate. We ended our culinary expedition at The Fish Store at Fishman’s Wharf. On a quest for the best salmon, I tried the fry bar deep fried sockeye salmon with twice fried chips and slaw. The 1 piece basket cost $13 CAD. I’d never had salmon, my favorite fish, deep fried. It was tasty, but I prefer my salmon without the breading. I also enjoyed strolling around the wharf and looking at the colorful house boats. See https://floatingfishstore.com/.
It’s not too surprising that in the past people believed in sea monsters. When an enormous whale fin or fluke breaks the water, it’s a sight to behold. When the creature jumps out of the water or breaches, you experience an adrenalin rush. A Humpback Whale gave us our money’s worth on our Prince of Whales Tour by breaching 5 times right in front of our boat. He put on a show while we clicked away with our cameras and smart phones. The show lasted almost an hour before we continued on to Butchard Gardens. On our 3 hour tour, we saw a bald eagle, baby and mother seals, and a variety of sea birds. I was disappointed that I didn’t see an Orca. The crew explained that they see fewer and fewer since they’re trapped for entertainment purposes. The crew was trained mariners and naturalists who provided a running commentary and answered our many questions. I’d recommend this tour to anyone who wants a scenic and breathtaking experience.
When we disembarked at Butchart Gardens we skipped the line thanks to our VIP pass. Over a century ago Jennie Butchart, wife of Portland Cement manufacturer Robert Pim Butchart, began building what’s now one of the world’s premier floral show gardens. In 1977 their great-grandson, Christopher, introduced fireworks shows featuring aerial and French ground displays accompanied by show tunes on Saturday evenings during the summer. There’s a Sunken Garden, Japanese Garden, Rose Garden, Mediterranean Garden, Italian Garden, and Concert Lawn Walk all of which are well kept and change with the seasons. They advertise 5 seasons with Christmas as their 5th with its Twelve Days of Christmas lighted displays.
So any time of the year Victoria will offer you comfortable weather with beautiful scenery, wildlife and activities. You can get there by ferry and bring your car, whale watching tours or the V2V luxury cruise. If you want to fly, you can land at the Victoria International Airport or the Victoria Inner Harbour Airport which is for floatplanes and seaplanes from small airlines with less than 15 passengers and general aviation aircraft. Helijets also fly from the Vancouver waterfront to Victoria’s When you add the sightseeing planes to the landings in the harbor there always seems to be an aircraft landing and taking off on the waterfront. http://blog.hellobc.com/four-ways-to-get-from-vancouver-to-victoria/
This is just a snapshot of all that you can do in Victoria. Needless to say, I would recommend it as a vacation destination or a side trip if you’re in Seattle or Vancouver. Not too surprising, summer is a busy time. If you’re driving from Seattle to the ferry in Port Angeles, WA, a GPS for rerouting and a patient driver are invaluable. Between my son, the navigator, and my daughter-in-law, the driver, we had a pleasurable drive and enjoyed several podcasts.
Another thing I like when I travel with others is when my travel partner doesn’t feel that we have to always do the same things. While I went on the whale and garden tour, they went to the Vegetoria, a festival for healthy eating, and rented bikes to tour Government House and the local area. Just because you’re traveling together doesn’t mean you can’t all see what interests you the most and join up for meals and things you all enjoy.
Next month I’m joining my sister for a trip to Miami and a cruise to Cuba. After I drop her off at the airport, I’ll visit the Florida Keys on my own. I’ll let you know how the rum drinks taste and maybe work on my Spanish in preparation for my trip to Spain. I’m sure it’ll be a fantástica aventuras.