Monday: Vichy

We drove four hours northwest to Vichy today, a step toward Paris where our car is due back in a week. The massive strikes throughout France leave our exit plans somewhat questionable.

Regardless, we stopped in the town of Vienne, France for a long lunch and then drove on to Vichy – about three hours from Paris. We will spend a few days here and see how things go. The city is busy and nicely lit up for Christmas. We walked around a bit but since it is Monday most stores are closed. We will check them out tomorrow.

photos: Vichy’s entrance to a paet of the city; Vienne, where we stopped for lunch; interesting Julius Caesar chocolate heads being sold in a bakery in Arles this morning.

Tuesday: Budapest

Today was a terrific Tuesday. It started off with finding a laundromat first thing after breakfast. As we waited, we met an interesting young barista from Baltimore at a coffee shop near the laundry. She made the 90 minutes go by quickly.

We dropped our clean clothes at our hotel and headed to the meeting place for a food sampler tour we had signed up for. There could be up to 12 on the tour, but only four of us were doing it today. Perfect! The mother and her 25-year old daughter were visiting from outside London.

We began in a giant food market. We learned about different kinds of sausage that are specific to the area and tried four different kinds. We checked out varieties of paprika, honey, and Hungarian Christmas candy as we walked through the huge 200-year-old building.

We left the market and walked to a fish restaurant, where we tried a sample of pates and small bites of well prepared fish as we learned about typical ways fish is served.

We visited a family-owned chocolate store, an eccentric old wine bar, a “ruins” bar – an idea developed about 20 years ago as a way to rejuvenate ancient rundown buildings. These are very popular and the one we visited was fabulous.

We had delicious matzo ball soup at a restaurant in the Jewish Quarter, then chicken paprikash and a tiramisu-type Hungarian dessert at another restaurant a few streets away. I’ve probably forgotten something, but the four-hour tour was five stars – with a very kind and able guide and fun fellow participants. Our food sampling ended up being quite a bit of delicious Hungarian foods.

photos: a quirky wine bar we visited; a family- owned, exquisite chocolate store; inside a ruins bar

Sunday: Trieste

We said goodbye to our excellent Viareggio host, Roberto, and left for Trieste at about 9:30. It was a nice, sunny morning – perfect for our five-hour drive.We stopped in Rovigo, a city about three hours outside Viareggio and had lunch at Tavernetta Dante 1936, a small place where we were lucky to get a table. When we walked in and said we hadn’t called first, it looked at first as though we didn’t have a chance. After a moment, we were seated and content. The restaurant’s eight tables filled up quickly.The menu was included mainly fish dishes and we both decided on spaghetti with clams. Whenever I see tiny clams being served, it brings me back to my youth and growing up on the bay. Little clams there were seed clams and illegal to dig. This is certainly a different variety but I still reminisce about clamming in the bay.We continued our drive to Trieste, and it is so close to Slovenia we may check it out while we are here over the next few days. Now it is dark and we are happy to have easily found our Clams; a crazy 20€ ($25) lollipop at a rest stop; our neighborhood in Trieste at night

Thursday: Cherasco

Today we visited Cherasco, the self-proclaimed snail capital of Italy and also a big chocolate/hazelnut town. They say they were the first to add hazelnuts to chocolate, and okay – we will believe it.

The small town is charming and of course like the entire Piedmont area, very old. Thursday turns out to be the market day in Cherasco, so everyone was out and about. We checked out their ancient and beautiful church, strolled around the town, and had a delicious lunch. I had to have lumache (snails) and was glad I did.

We drove to Alba on some back roads – the long way – to take in the perfect views in this part of Italy.

photos: snails for lunch❤

the ornate ceiling insiijs the church in town; market day beyond the arch

Sunday: Dublin

We left Edinburgh after breakfast this morning, and the bus to the airport was conveniently across the street from our hotel. We hopped on (well, our luggage weighs a ton so we didn’t exactly hop).

Our flight left about a half-hour late, but we were in no rush. The flight was on a small plane(70 passengers) and packed.

Once at the airport and through customs, we got our baggage and looked for the bus to Dublin Centre. We found it pretty easily, and an hour later we were at our hotel.

The hotel is hip and terrific. Our room is spare but nice, and we are in such a great location, within walking distance to some great pubs, restaurants, and shops. It is a happening place here and (bonus) I’m happy to have found a gym right across the street. I’ll be there in the morning.

We found a restaurant in our walk around the hotel neighborhood and I was able to get Sunday brunch: eggs, corn, polenta plus a delicious mojito.

We left and were sucked into a chocolate shoppe where we sat outside with a dark chocolate hot chocolate (me) and a latte (him). Drinks come with a complimentary chocolate, so there was that.

Tomorrow, Trinity College.

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!


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.