Monday: Dublin

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It is a rainy day in Dublin but we still made the most of it. First, I was happy to see a 24-hour gym directly across the street from where we are staying. I was there at 6am and on the rower for 45 minutes, my first good exercise (aside from a ton of walking) in a week. It’s a nice place and well used. Tomorrow I’ll remember a towel!

I sat in a nearby coffee shop after that and was happy to read my book before going back to the hotel for breakfast. It’s always interesting to see what Breakfast Included ends up meaning, and this was a fine selection of coffee, tea, and cold food.

We walked to Trinity College after that, where my traveling companion/husband saw the Book of Kels (I had been there before) and the very impressive library there. I walked around the city and popped into some shops before meeting up with him again an hour later.

We walked to the river and checked out some places near there, then had lunch as it poured outside. We went back to the hotel where he left me so I could do some work.

photos: above – a pigeon staying warm on a light. below – breakfast; gym rower is perfectly positioned under a nice cool open window

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Saturday, March 28: Barcelona

I began today reading emails and Facebook, and Twitter, and the newspaper headlines over a cup of coffee in the hotel restaurant. Facebook reminded me that one year ago at this time, I posted birthday wishes to my son. I figured they knew what they were talking about, so I posted birthday wishes anew and carried on, believing that today was March 29. Of course it’s not (and last year I posted at night, the day before, because I had scanned a photo). In any case, vacation is taking its toll. We only have tomorrow, and leave early Monday morning.

Today we went to the Picasso museum. ¬†He was born in Spain and spent much of his adolescence here in Barcelona. The museum isn’t as big as the Picasso museum in Paris, but it does have about 3,800 of his works. He set this museum up during his lifetime ( in 1963) and his widow donated more to the collection after his death in 1973.

It was overwhelming to see this huge chunk of his work, and I’m not sure all of the collection was even displayed. I enjoyed seeing how his style and focus changed through his life. If I lived closer, I think it would be great to be able to look at even just a wall at a time since it is too much to take in in just a few hours.

From there we walked around in that part of the city, went down to the water for lunch, bought a new piece of luggage to hold everything we have bought over the past two weeks, and ended up at a very small leather goods store, owned by a husband and wife.

Roger wanted to buy a belt and the selection displayed was nice,but not exactly what he was looking for. Rafael, the owner said he’d make a belt and brought out a nice piece of leather. He asked us to come back in two hours.

So we walked around, window-shopped, actually shopped, people-watched, and came back for the belt a little early. Carmen, his wife welcomed us back with excitement. She dragged two chairs out for us to sit down, gave us water, Spanish magazines to read, and opened Google translator on her laptop to help us communicate. We found out that she and Rafael have also been married for thirty years, and that they’ve had the shop for 28. He makes beautiful briefcases, purses, wallets, and other goods and seems to do well.

We talked for a while and eventually the belt was ready. After we said goodbye, they asked where we were going next. I said we were going to dinner, but we were not sure where. Carmen jumped up, waved to her husband, and escorted us to a really nice tapas restaurant about ten minutes away. We were sort of amazed that she brought us in, walked us downstairs, and showed us the unique setup before hugging and kissing us goodbye and returning to Rafael.
We enjoyed dinner at this place we never would have found on our own, and sat with a nice couple from Frankfurt who were there for a long weekend.

Tomorrow we need to wind things down: pack up and prepare for an early start for our journey home on Monday.

Adios,
-Susan

The clever restaurant Carmen led us to. You walk up and select with tapas you want, then they write up a bill based on the number of toothpicks you've placed in a holder on your table.

The clever restaurant Carmen led us to. You walk up and select the tapas you want, then they write up a bill based on the number of toothpicks you’ve placed in a holder on your table.

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At the waterfront after lunch

At the waterfront after lunch

At the leather shop. I wish the photo with Carmen had come out. She was adorable and so kind.

At the leather shop. I wish the photo with Carmen had come out. She was adorable and so kind.

At the Picasso museum today

At the Picasso museum today

Friday, March 27: Barcelona

Today we took a tour of the Segrada Familia, which is a very well known and interesting place to see here in Barcelona. By taking a tour, we got a nice ride from a location near our hotel, met two nice women from Brooklyn, and were treated to details of this huge project that is taking almost literally forever to complete.

The Segrada Familia is the largest Roman Catholic church still under construction in the world, and began as just a neighborhood church in 1882. The first architect left the project after a year, and Antoni Gaudi stepped in with much, much more grand and complex plans than originally imagined. It is sort of astonishing to see, and the closer you are, the more you realize it is not just a masterpiece, it’s overwhelmingly impossible. The intricate stone work on the outside and the unbelievable detail on the inside can never be finished, at least not by 2021 (for the outside) and 20 or so years later for the inside. Gaudi died in 1921 and left his plans, which are being followed closely. The 2021 date for finishing the outside is to coincide with the 100th anniversary of his death.

With our tour group of maybe 20 people, we got some interesting details from our tour guide, our tickets handed to us, we were ushered in through a separate entrance, and were eventually led out. It was well worth our time. There were already thousands of tourists there today. When summer hits, I think it will be paralyzingly slow to get around.

After that we walked around for a while, did some shopping (I got some shoes) and tried to avoid pickpockets (who are all over the place and everyone everywhere warns about them. Still, there are people walking around with unzipped purses and backpacks. Easy prey.)

We went into the Gran Teatre del Liceu, the Barcelona opera house since we found ourselves walking right in front of it. We were able to have a quick tour. It opened in 1847 and is a very beautiful place. The two opera singers who died in the recent airplane crash had performed there just a few nights ago. That was very eerie in a way, and the young woman walking us around teared up talking about it.

We went back there this evening for a Beethoven orchestra concert. The music was terrific and it was a treat to be at the grand theater for a performance. Sitting next to us was a student of the pianist who was on stage for part of the concert, and he was a wealth of information about the orchestra company. So we lucked out having Edoardo and his friend Juan beside us. Juan is from Barcelona and I mentioned to him that the Segrada Familia would never be finished, and he insisted that it would be. Someday. He said he walks past it every day and sees progress.

We had a very late dinner and called it a day. By then I was having problems walking in my new shoes.

Adios,
-Susan

This building is in the shape of waves, and it's like that on the inside, too. A Japanese architect designed it.

This building is in the shape of waves, and it’s like that on the inside, too. A Japanese architect designed it.

Barcelona opera house

Barcelona opera house

There's a magic square on one part of the outside of the Sagrada Familia, where all the rows add up to 33.

There’s a magic square on one part of the outside of the Sagreda Familia, where all the rows add up to 33.

The inside of the church was massive and it sure looked finished to me. It's not though - the have at least 25 years of work left

The inside of the church was massive and it sure looked finished to me. It’s not though – they have at least 25 years of work left

The Sagrada Familia is a huge unfinished church in Barcelona. They're actively working to get the outside done by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

The Sagrada Familia is a huge unfinished church in Barcelona. They’re actively working to get the outside done by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

Wednesday, March 25 p.m. : on to Barcelona

We left Laguardia at about 10:30 this morning. It was snowing pretty hard about an hour before that, and it turned to rain as we were packing up. We have a six-hour drive to Barcelona and hotel reservations for tomorrow so we will drive for a while today to make a dent in that. We need to return the rental car tomorrow before 3pm, and that probably won’t be a problem. (We finally figured out that a warning light that was going on intermittently meant that the road was wet. It had been cause for concern.)

We drove out of the rain and of course the more south we went the warmer it got. We stopped for gas about an hour into our drive. I got out of the car and the wind was so strong it lurched the car door open when I pushed it. It easily would have blown away a small child. We noticed that there are wind-breaking trees in that section of the highway, and the doors there are all sliding, pocket doors. It must be extremely windy all the time. I wouldn’t be able to stand it.

We drove to about an hour outside of Barcelona, to the city of Lleida. It seemed a good place to stop because it was written in LARGE letters on the map. It is a busy little city and we drove all around it looking for a place to stay. We found a “hotel and spa” that looked fine, but was it very strange once we got inside. It reminded me a bit of the bar in Lisbon: there, with random collections of CDs, toys, and other sort of random things. These were all around the lounge and made it (at least to me) uninhabitable.

But the room is very nice and it seems a comfortable place to spend the night. I tried to check out the spa part of the hotel, but it is in a separate area and I couldn’t find it (the sign outside an elevator said it was on the 5th floor, but the elevator only went to the fourth (?) The pool is temporarily closed. Still,it seems fine.

We went into the city at 6:30 to find a restaurant (first, a place to park – sheesh they were scarce. We parked at the soccer stadium) and were happy to find a terrific-sounding place for dinner, Xalet Suis. We learned that it, and the other ones here, don’t open until 9. That’s typical of all of Spain, but we’ve been going to places that open earlier, probably to accommodate Americans.

So we walked around, had some coffee, checked out the city, and went back for a delicious late dinner. We were the only ones in the old, very good restaurant for most of the evening. We enjoyed the whole dinner and this little, busy city.

Tomorrow we will check out Barcelona. (See photos in post that follows)

Adios,
-Susan

Monday, March 23: Laguardia, Spain

I had heard it raining overnight, but was surprised to see it was snowing this morning. Yesterday it had been sunny and warm south of us and now, in the Rioja wine region of northern Spain, it was much, much colder.

I haven’t bought any clothes for below-freezing temperatures, but bundled up with what I have. Our plan was to walk to the gated entrance to the village (it turns out our hotel is right outside it, maybe a ten-minute walk) and check out Laguardia. We couldn’t do that because the snow turned to pouring rain. We waited it out, then drove to the entrance and dashed in through a gate.

Laguardia is over a thousand years old and is like another world. Surrounded by huge stone walls, it is easy to see how it provided the people of the city safety from attack. What is remarkable is that 1,500 people live there in these modern times.

It is a totally inclusive walled village made of blocks of stone. By “totally inclusive” I mean that the people never have to leave the walls of the city and few, if any they have cars. There are shops, restaurants, bars, services – it seems as though they have anything they need.

As soon as I dashed in, I marveled at the narrow stone-lined streets. I couldn’t take pictures since we were running in the rain. We were not really sure where to go since there are just doors within stone walls. Everything looks very similar. Some doors are people’s homes, others are businesses. There are no storefront windows, so you have to know where you’re going. This posed a problem because of the rain, since we couldn’t just walk casually around. And of course we had no idea where we were going.

We ducked into one tiny shop that had some nice sweaters displayed near the open door. The saleswoman/owner was nice although she spoke almost no English. She was able to direct us to a great restaurant after I bought a sweater there, and we dashed up the street because it was still raining.

After a delicious lunch, the waiter suggested we check out the restaurant’s cellar. Underneath the entire walled city are wine cellars. They have been separated under businesses and homes now, so are not connected as they were when they were first built as one huge place to safely store the village’s wine. It was interesting to see the small connected rooms that snaked underneath the building.

Tomorrow we are going to tour a winery and check out more of the inside of the walled village. We are hoping it is not raining or snowing so we can walk around.

Adios,
-Susan

The old and grand restaurant where we had lunch today.

The old and grand restaurant where we had lunch today.

The wine bar was not open when we were there in the late afternoon, but it was interesting to see the setup. We may go back tomorrow evening to see what it's like with people there.

The wine bar was not open when we were there in the late afternoon, but it was interesting to see the setup. We may go back tomorrow evening to see what it’s like with people there.

A sweater and pashmina I got today in the walled city

A sweater and pashmina I got today in the walled city

At lunch today

At lunch today

The caves underneath the restaurant. Wine is stored there, but it is also a wine bar at night.

The caves underneath the restaurant. Wine is stored there, but it is also a wine bar at night.

Sunday, March 22: Laguardia, Spain

Today was long and uneventful. I really hated to leave Portugal and hope to be back – aside from it being a beautiful country, the people there are extremely kind. They seem to not have a care in the world. (They may not.) It would be great to live there a few months a year.

We left Sintra, Portugal at about eight this morning and drove all day to reach Laguardia, a small city in northern Spain, at about eight this evening. We stopped just for gas, and for lunch mid-afternoon.

Laguardia is in the Rioja wine region, and it still has its medieval entrance gates and walls. As of this evening, we have seen none of that (we probably didn’t come in through the entrance) and I was just thrilled we found our hotel in the dark on the long and winding roads. It’s very easy to miss road signs even when it’s light out.

Tomorrow we will go on a wine tour and walk around to check out the city. We are staying here three nights, because it’s a really nice hotel and because we don’t want to drive anywhere any time soon.

Adios,
-Susan

Wine from the Rioja region, and Cantabrian anchovies = I am content.

Wine from the Rioja region, and Cantabrian anchovies = I am content.

Monday, March 16: last day in Madrid

Today we went to the Prado, the main national art museum in Spain. They are featuring a Goya in Madrid temporary exhibit, but the classic (Goya and Velasquez) masterpieces were what we wanted to see. There are over a thousand pieces of art on display (out of a collection of about 7,500) at any given time, and the building is (of course) huge.

As soon as we got there, a tour guide approached us and asked whether we wanted her to show us around. I was apprehensive but the price was right so Ana escorted us through the museum.

What a wealth of very interesting information she shared! There is no way to take in everything in the hours we planned to be there, but Ana showed us the highlights, or the must-see works. She had details and trivia about each one and I found it all fascinating. I left there thinking I may take an art history course, and that I want to learn more about the Spanish royal family. Some of them were characters and I haven’t read any Spanish history in decades.

Next we went to the barrio de La Latina – the Latin neighborhood of Madrid. It has narrow streets, old shops and restaurants, and is buzzing with people and action. (There’s a picture below of a street performer who looked like a gold statue. He was just sitting in front of a chess board. It was only after a few minutes that he stared out and revealed the whites of his eyes. He drew quite a crowd and I wondered how many hours he sat there motionless.)

We had lunch at a little Latin cafe and did a some shopping (to include the peach-colored sweater pictured) then headed back to the center of the city. Dinner was light: some tapas (small plates to share) and a bottle of wine at a restaurant near our hotel.

Tomorrow we pick up a car and drive toward Lisbon. We won’t make it there in one day, but I’m not sure where we’ll stop. I’ve really enjoyed Madrid!

Adios,
-Susan

After dinner tonight

After dinner tonight

Cafe con leche is why I'm awake right now, at one a.m.

Cafe con leche is why I’m awake right now, at one a.m.

A very-believable street performer posing as a statue.

A very-believable street performer posing as a statue.