Thursday, March 26: Barcelona

We left Lleida at about 9:30 this morning. There was something a little off with that hotel, the Nastis, and although I guess I slept okay, I was glad when we left.

We headed toward Barcelona and arrived in the city at about noon. Arriving was really just the first hurdle. Next we had to return the rental car by finding the Hertz drop off in the middle of the city. It was tricky because of all of the traffic on the major road, the inability to see the numbers on any building as we quickly drove by (there was no way we were going to slow down), and again: our lack of GPS.

We finally figured out where the storefront should be, but of course there was no Hertz sign there. We turned around and drove back. At the time I thought we were very close to the address, a long bus drove by us slowly, completely blocking my vision. We decided to park the car and walk and look. We found a spot in the street right away, which is as improbable as finding one quickly in New York. We were able to find Hertz and get rid of the car.

We need to get another bag to carry all of the things we have bought, but for now we have a bunch of shopping bags. They were sort of cumbersome to deal with as we tried to hail a cab, but we did it, got to our hotel in a really nice part of the city, and checked in.

Another improbability: I found an Apple Store just a five minute walk from our hotel. We went immediately because I needed to get my iPad rebooted. Fortunately they were able to do that as I waited (there were probably 60 or more people sitting at tech support tables). We were out of the store in an hour altogether, and then had some tapas and wine. My iPad now is wiped clean, but I’m okay with it and happy it works (note to self: do not upgrade until you read what people say about it.)

We walked around by our hotel this evening, and arranged to take a tour tomorrow of la Sagrada Familia, a huge church which is the major attraction of its type in Barcelona. It is interesting especially because construction began in1882 and won’t be completed until 2041.

Adios,
-Susan

A cute tapas place we went to

A cute tapas place we went to

Long drive, long ordeal, long time putting up with me :-)

Long drive, long ordeal, long time putting up with me 🙂

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

Wednesday, March 25, p.m.: Photos

Coffee shop we stopped in to bide some time before dinner

Coffee shop we stopped in to bide some time before dinner

Lunch today about two hours into our drive

Lunch today about two hours into our drive

Lounge area of the hotel we are staying (the rooms are nice though)

Lounge area of the hotel we are staying (the rooms are nice though)

Really odd seating in the lounge area at the hotel

Really odd seating in the lounge area at the hotel

Entrance to hotel where we are staying. Sort of odd

Entrance to hotel where we are staying. Sort of odd

image image

Wednesday, March 25: Laguardia and Ipad Problems

We had a nice day in Laguardia yesterday even though it was still raining and continued to most of the day. It was also very cold.

We were able to have a tour of a winery <the Fabulista> in English, and it was just a small group of us <five> so it was particularly enjoyable. They seem to have set up for groups of up to 50, which will probably be happening all summer. I am so glad we have beat the tourism rush. There have been no crowds anywhere we have visited.

We also had a nice wine tasting and it was a surprise that the bottles of the red and white wine they sell are about three to ten euros.  I mentioned that in the U. S, three dollars would hardly cover the cost of the glass bottle, or that any wine at that price would not be considered worth drinking. Of course, their wine was very good.

We spent some time checking out the walled village and had lunch at a small wine bar where we pointed to the tapas we wanted. It was good, and also fast and easy.

I am disappointed that my iPad wont start and is in the Recovery Mode. I cannot access my pictures or turn it on to write a blog post. <i wanted to check out the origin of the Fabulista winery, since the woman giving the tour said it has to do with the person who orginated fables and was not a form of the word fabulous, as I thought.>

This hotel computer is set up to type in Spanish and is tough to work with = no apostrophes or parenthesis, for examples. We are leaving here shortly and driving toward Barcelona, and maybe there will be an Apple store there <there was a big one in Madrid> where I can get them to restart it. Otherwise I will plug along on hotel computers.

Adios,

Susan

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.

Photos from 3/21

The sign on the huge, old restaurant doors

The sign on the huge, old restaurant doors

Very dark picture, because it was a very dark, very small, very cool restaurant.

Very dark picture, because it was a very dark, very small, very cool restaurant.

Travesseiros: traditional pastries that originated in Sintra. The name means "pillow," and they're stuffed with an almond, egg, and naturally sugar mixture. They're very good (again: stopped at one, could've had more)

Travesseiros: traditional pastries that originated in Sintra. The name means “pillow,” and they’re stuffed with an almond, egg, and naturally sugar mixture. They’re very good (again: stopped at one, could’ve had more)

We took the tram from the center of the city to the end of the line- the beach. It's a pretty 45-minute trip

We took the tram from the center of the city to the end of the line- the beach. It’s a pretty 45-minute trip

We had lunch in this perfect location, and tried caldeirada, a fish stew with mussels, clams, shrimp, sea bass. Tons of them. Delicious!

We had lunch in this perfect location, and tried caldeirada, a fish stew with mussels, clams, shrimp, sea bass. Tons of them. Delicious!

Friday, March 20: last day in Lisbon

..

Today we planned to take a tour of the old and grand opera house, the National Theater of Sao Carlos. The opera house was rebuilt almost right away after the 1755 earthquake that leveled Lisbon (and killed 30,000 people). The king tried to rebuild most of the city within a year, and the original theater had only opened months before the quake. So this one was built in 1756 (and took just six months!) and it’s magnificent.

Our hotel tried to arrange our visit, but didn’t get a response to two emails. The tour started at 11, so it was suggested we get there early and see if we were able to get in. They gave us a copy of the email they sent, thinking it might be helpful to have.

When we arrived at 10:30, all the doors were locked. I stopped a woman standing near the place: she spoke English, she was in charge of the guest relations, and she welcomed us with open arms. It turned out that the email address the hotel was using had a letter missing so she never got either of them. She seemed so concerned for our happiness that it was astounding.

She told us the group at 11 was made up of German and French visitors, and that we wouldn’t get anything out of it since she wasn’t going to repeat the information in three languages. So she let us sit in one of the viewing boxes for just a few minutes and watch a rehearsal in progress. We were content with that unique experience but then she said we could come back at 3 and watch the whole rehearsal of the opera that’s opening 3/25, La Cenerentola.

We did go back and we sat in a box with her friend, Maria (who quickly became my best friend in Portugal) and watched and listened to the rehearsal. It was quite a thrill to be sitting in almost the best seats in the house and watch opera stars from around the world (there’s an American in the orchestra and we were asked if we knew him, as though all of us from the U.S. know each other.)

Then she gave us a backstage tour, snapped a few photos of us, kissed us goodbye, and we were on our way – four hours later. Maria has invited us to her home in Belem, the area we visited yesterday, on our next trip – which could be soon because I love it here.
—-
(Yes, those are new spring pants and a new top seen pictured. I may have enough clothes now, but will still probably do some shopping in the week ahead (why not?!)

There’s no talk of food today because I am writing this before we go to dinner. 9:30 reservations are late for this girl but that’s what our friends from last evening arranged for us, since the live music doesn’t begin until 11. So by the time I get back to the hotel, it will be very late. )

Adios,
Susan

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At the opera house. That's the President's box/viewing chamber behind us - it used to be for the king.

At the opera house. That’s the President’s box/viewing chamber behind us – it used to be for the king.

It was a beautiful spring day here. I shouldn't have brought my jacket since I had to carry it around all day.

It was a beautiful spring day here. I shouldn’t have brought my jacket since I had to carry it around all day.

Another view of the magnificent opera house. You're not allowed to take pictures of the stage, so I didn't dare. I'm trying to be a great ambassador!

Another view of the magnificent opera house. You’re not allowed to take pictures of the stage, so I didn’t dare. I’m trying to be a great ambassador!

Wednesday, March 18: Lisbon

We drove to Lisbon today and arrived at about 2. It is a big confusing city and even with directions it was hard to find our hotel. We drove around and around looking for the particular street and I really wished we had gotten a car with GPS. We did finally find it though, and we are happily living in our hotel in Lisbon until Saturday.

We haven’t walked around the city yet because we immediately went to lunch at Five Oceans, a restaurant at the port. We had delicious sea bass and sat outside since it was nice – just a little chilly. It was nice to be right on the water.

Next we went to Pavilhao Chines, a bar we had read about. An article said it was a must-be-seen-to-be-believed place, and that was sure true. The walls are lined with cabinets – every wall of every one of the five rooms – and these are filled with all sorts of toys, knickknacks, battle helmets, small toy army men, ceramic dolls, fans – I can’t even remember everything I saw. There are easily thousands of collectibles on display, organized well. We got there at about eight and when we left about 90 minutes later it was starting to really get busy. It was a strange and interesting place.

Tomorrow we will do some shopping and walk around to see what Lisbon is all about.

Adios,
Susan

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At the port where we had lunch today

At the port where we had lunch today

Seafood is pulled from the water and plunked on the plate (pretty much)

Seafood is pulled from the water and plunked on the plate (pretty much)

Every wall in every room had cabinets covering it. These were completely filled with collectibles of all kinds. It was nuts!

Every wall in every room had cabinets covering it. These were completely filled with collectibles of all kinds. It was nuts!

At the Pavilhao Chines

At the Pavilhao Chines

Tuesday, March 17: Toledo, Spain

We figured it would be relatively simple to pick up our rental car this morning from the rail station, and it sure would have been if we read, spoke, or understood Spanish. Instead, it took forever in the very busy train station. We got dropped off a level up from the street, and right away I realized there were no car rental signs or familiar Hertz icons anywhere. So we were forced to walk through the entrance and into the train station without a clue about which way to go. With our luggage. Which is getting cumbersome.

When we couldn’t find any signs at all within 20 minutes of searching, we first asked a friendly looking woman, who directed us to go outside; then a cop, who pointed to the parking lot. Finally we put the luggage in one spot, and I waited amid the rushing commuters for Roger to figure things out. He did. The car rental was two floors below and through a long hall- quite a walk but I realized I had a newfound spring in my step.

Lisbon is eight hours from Madrid, and we didn’t plan to drive much more than half of that today. We wanted to first go to Toledo, which is an hour from Madrid. It was the capital of Spain hundreds of years ago, so it’s full of history and beautiful architecture. It is a busy city, with people, cars, and busses all over, so not easy to drive around. We learned that quickly.

Parking is a serious problem and so is not having ample change for the meter when you miraculously do find a space. We gambled that we’d get some more change before the meter ran out, although there were no stores at all to get some in the area where we were parked.

The streets are the original stone in the historic part of the city. They’re uneven and not easy to walk fast on, but the stores and restaurants (owned probably forever by the same shopkeepers) on those streets are worth the exercise. We needed to spend more time in Toledo than we were able to today – there is so much to see. We only had time to walk around a monastery from the 1500s and grab a quick bite to eat. We got back to our car just as it was being ticketed. Luckily, she let us pay the fine there, since if it went through the rental company and back to us, it would’ve multiplied at every point in the process (spoken from experience).

We drove for a few hours and stopped for lunch in a very small town. I had no idea what we were ordering when I simply pointed to two different phrases on the menu.These turned out to be pimentos and bread, and eggs with rice and sausage. Both were good Spanish fare, and the one-room restaurant was full when we left.

We continued to Badajoz, a city near the border of Spain and Portugal. The drive was pretty, with olive trees growing in farms on the side of the road, and a nice landscape. It rained heavily during parts of the drive and we considered stopping early, but that wasn’t an option since the small towns had no hotels. So we pressed on and I am glad we did. We found a nice hotel in the center of Badajoz (“Please have a room…”) and have just had dinner at the restaurant here. There’s a decent pool here and I wish I had a bathing suit! (I realized earlier that this is the first day I haven’t bought any clothes.)

Tomorrow we go across the border and drive to Lisbon, where we will spend four days.
Adios,
-Susan

Sheep being herded at the side of the road. I wished I grabbed my camera earlier.

Sheep being herded at the side of the road. I wished I grabbed my camera earlier.

Restaurant in the middle of nowhere, where we had lunch today.

Restaurant in the middle of nowhere, where we had lunch today.

The old, old stone can be seen here, plus a couple gargoyles peeking out.

The old, old stone can be seen here, plus a couple gargoyles peeking out.

Sunday, March 15: Madrid

Sunday, Madrid.

(We are here until Tuesday morning, then we pick up our rental car and begin driving – to Lisbon, then back into Barcelona, stopping all along the way. We have to finalize our route there, and may figure that out later today.)

It is nice weather to walk around Madrid, and that’s what we’ve been doing. That, and drinking more coffee than I ever drink in an effort to get myself on Spanish time.

Last night we had a delicious dinner at a restaurant sort of close to the soccer stadium, Asador Donostiarra. We shared some Spanish wine and appetizers first: prawns, anchovies, croquettes – and could have left it at that.
But, no. We ordered more food.
Me: squid. Him: steak (cooked at the table, which was interesting) . We should have left it at that and I certainly intended to. I had seen nothing chocolate on the menu, and mentioned that to the waiter as my excuse for skipping dessert. He told me they had chocolate cake in the kitchen and it was fantastico, and that I had to have some. Backed into a corner, I heard myself say “Really? Great! Uno slice, por favor,” as Roger ordered rice pudding.
It turned out the cake was good as he claimed, but it turned out I was glad we didn’t skip dessert. The young couple sitting next to us got chatty after agreeing to take our picture. They were on a weekend getaway from their home in Israel and were very interesting to talk with.
(This is known as Justifying Dessert.)

Today we went to the Museo Sofia, a contemporary art museum in a beautiful, very old building. It was fun, but some art just annoys me (did those colored wood pieces really need to be under the protection of glass?) and causes me to ask myself whether I could have made a name as an artist had I just realized a painting can be finished after drawing just a simple line down the center of the paper.

Tomorrow: the Prado museum!

I bought a couple of shirts/blouses this afternoon (but am nowhere near being wardrobed) and we had lunch at a very good tapas place. I’m loving Spanish food! Since I’m eating so much of it, I need to find and buy running shoes, shorts, and a bathing suit pronto, then put them to work!

Adios,
-Susan

This painting could be of me: jet lagged (still), eating too much (this will continue), and physically inactive (must change that).

This painting could be of me: jet lagged (still), eating too much (this will continue), and physically inactive (must change that).

I should have glued down my kids' creations and sold them!

I should have glued down my kids’ creations and sold them!

At dinner Saturday evening.

At dinner Saturday evening.