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Europe » Spain
January 6th 2013
Published: January 6th 2013EDIT THIS ENTRY



My day starts at 6:30 with a trip to Chick-Fil-A for breakfast. A little later, our 3 animals are taken to the kennel.

We have gone over our lists for the last time. Think we have gotten everything. My brother-in-law, Bill, drives us to

the airport. Arriving at 9:00 we check in the luggage and receive the boarding passes. Bethany saw a friend from the

Univ. of Mobile Honors Band. And I saw two of my former pharmacy patients. We fly out around 11 a.m. and have a

smooth flight to Charlotte, North Carolina.

After landing at 1:30 we have about 3 hours before our next flight. Strolling the airy walkways, I liked the atrium

overhead and dozens of trees, planted in large pots. Charlotte Douglas International Airport had won an IATA Best

Airport Eagle Award in 2010. At the food court, we visit Quizno's for flatbread and submarine sandwiches. I go to

exchange 50 U.S. dollars for some Euros while Janet and Bethany do some shopping. We board at 4:15 and our U.S.

Airways flight leaves right on time at 4:45.

We are soon offered water, colas or other drinks. Later on we have our choice for supper: chicken or pasta. There

is a beautiful sunset as we continue flying east. Here comes our first of 3 movies. I forward my watch by six hours.

It is midnight in Madrid! We fly at 31,000 feet altitude. Enjoyed viewing hundreds of stars over the Atlantic Ocean.

Two more movies come on, during this long nine hour flight.

SUNDAY JULY 22, 2012

A vivid red sky brings on the dawn of our Spanish Fiesta vacation. There is a beautiful red and orange sunrise.

Janet has the window seat and sees the coastline. We are now over the Iberian Peninsula. A breakfast muffin is served

at 5:30 a.m. I think of the Cat Stephens song "Morning has broken" as we touch down at 6:35. We taxi in and see

rabbits on the runway. At 7:00 we can finally exit the plane.

Oh happy day! All three suitcases arrive. And Janet's luggage is the 2nd to come out. With 150 passengers, we are

pleased to be the first family to leave the luggage corral. Then we wait for our ride. And wait, and wait and wait. This

was not in the plans. We were expecting a small sign from the Globus driver with our name on it. Got to make a phone

call and see why we were forgotten. Made four phone calls but could not reach any company representative on a

Sunday morning. After one hour & 45 minutes we take a taxi from the airport. Our driver knows very little English

but we try to communicate with our limited Spanish vocabulary. After three years of high school Spanish, it is heart-

warming to hear our daughter carry on a limited conversation with him. After 25 minutes, we arrive at the Catalonia

Atocha Hotel at 9:20. That cost us 42 Euros. Had previously paid Globus for a ride to the hotel. Will see about some


Surprise, our room will not be ready for at least three hours. We're able to store our three suitcases in a storage room

near the front desk. Time to go out and look for some gooey pastries. A few doors down, we find some. Then we find

a cafe for some coffee. Didn't want to eat in there, since we had not bought the stuff there. But Bethany and Janet

really liked their wake up-drinks. As we left, I spoke to the owner in my best Spanish accent, "el cafe es perfecto!"

We walk down the street a few blocks and sit upon a bench. That is where we ate our breakfast treats and enjoyed

watching people go about their business.

Loved walking down the narrow curving streets and taking in the sights. I was fascinated by so many different

designs of doors. Soon came to the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid. Such a beautiful and peaceful place with

30,000 plants and flowers and 1500 trees. The garden was created in 1755 and now stands in Plaza de Murillo with

3 sections, 2 greenhouses and an herbarium comprising 20 acres.

After finishing our leisurely stroll through the tree-lined paths, we walk 5 blocks back to our hotel. We can now

check-in at 12:45 as we retrieve our luggage. Time to close the curtains and overcome the jet-lag. I slept four hours

before waking up. Then sleep until 9:30. Time for all of us to get up, walk the sidewalks and find something to eat.

Walking several blocks, we find a nice plaza, Santa Ana with hundreds of chairs surrounding cafe tables. We visit

the Miau Restaurant and happily settle into our open-air table. Thought of my Estonian friend, Maiu. First, we have

the canopies. Then, meatballs, cod fish in a tomato gravy, cold Iberian sausage, smoked cod and potatoes and thin

sliced bread. Washed it down with water and coca-cola. That took care of our Madrid munchies at midnight. There

were accordion players to entertain the people. So pleasant! Left about 12:30. Passed by many vendors in the plaza

selling trinkets and back rubs and massages. Several hundred people enjoying the atmosphere with food and drinks. I

was surprised to see so many unaccompanied young females. Of course, the police cars were riding by every few

minutes. This old city just seems so safe. Walked the one lane streets back to our hotel. In bed at 1 a.m.

MONDAY JULY 23, 2012

Slept rather late this morning...nice. Made it down to the breakfast buffet at 9:45. There were pastries, donuts,

breads, muffins, cereals, quiches, omelets, sausage, bacon, ham, cold deli meats, cheeses, fruits, coffee, plenty of

juices (apple, orange, apricot, pineapple), water and mineral water.

Took a quick walk, a few blocks down from the hotel, to a local Farmacia. Needed to buy eye-drops and dental

floss. A little later, we buy tickets on the red double-decker bus, the Madrid City Tour. There are 21 stops and we

can get on and get off as often as we wish. Stopped at the Plaza del Sol. Bethany had her picture taken with a

costumed Mickey Mouse and the Cookie Monster (who was wearing a Barcelona soccer jersey). Lots of magazines

and purses for sale. Bethany will enjoy her new colorful Madrid purse.

Getting back onto another red bus, we enjoyed the hundreds of old buildings, with their intricately designed

exteriors. So pretty. Passed by the Hotel Ritz-Madrid. The emblem showed a golden crown plus a bear leaning

onto a tree. A little while later, we made another stop. Close by was the Sabatini Restaurant. Wanted to sit at a

sidewalk table, underneath a large umbrella. Our waiter was quite helpful and took a picture of us three tourists.

Lunch today were 6 tapas: chicken, boiled ham, fried ham, anchovies, grilled pork, and omelet. Had fresh-squeezed

orange juice, water, and coke-light (we call it diet-coke). Pleasant breezes were appreciated, since it was 97 degrees.

Across the street was the Royal Palace and the Sabatini Gardens. An accordion player was taking tips for his

playing. And an "invisible man" needed to have his picture taken with Bethany and me. Wide steps took us down to

the Sabatini Gardens, which we opened to the public in 1978. We passed by the statue of Alfonso 6th of Castile. The

well sheared hedges are in symmetrical patterns. There are statues, a pool and an inviting fountain. Bethany and I

needed to just sit down and put our feet in the water, as had many others.

Time to get back on the City Madrid bus and leave. We were dropped off by the Botanical Gardens and walked

five blocks uphill to our hotel about 6:00. Janet wants to freshen up, so Bethany and I go downstairs to the meeting

with our fellow Globus traveling companions. Our tour-guide, Fernanda, talks to us and lets us know what will be

expected and general rules for all of us to go by. There are 36 tourists from 6 different countries.

Janet joins us a few minutes before dinner at 7:30. A wonderful Spanish dinner buffet awaits us. Paella, salty

cod croquets, salad, rolls, fruit and tres leches for dessert. Have a choice of Monte Pinos Natural Mineral water or

El Circulo red wine, bottled in Spain. I was reimbursed for our taxi fare by Fernanda. Everyone seems nice and

excited about the adventure we are about to embark on: the Spanish Fiesta. In bed early, about 9:45.


Up at 6 a.m. and down to breakfast by 7:00. So much to choose from as we get acquainted with our travelling

companions. In the elevator, I playfully help a short worker clean the top of the mirror. Our bus leaves at 8:30 and

Fernanda gives us some data about Spain's largest city. Madrid has a population of 3.3 million people and is the 3rd

largest city in the European Union. It has an elevation of 2100 feet, making it the highest elevation of any capital in

Europe. There is archeological evidence of the Visigoths living here. Madrid seems to have been founded by the Arabs

in the 9th century. At the Royal Palace, where we walked past yesterday, learned there are 2800 rooms there. Madrid

is one of the 12 "greenest" cities in Europe, There are over 300,000 aligned trees.

Our bus stopped at Plaza de Espana so we could visit the statue of Miguel de Cervantes, featuring Don Quixote.

First published in 1605, this first modern novel is the second most translated book in the world (more than 150 lang-

uages). We take lots of pictures of Don Quixote on his horse and his trusty squire Sancho Panza on his mule.

We continue our bus tour as Fernanda points out different and historic sights. We drive by the Parque del Oeste

or "West Garden". The famous attraction here is the Temple of Debod. The temple was built about 100 B.C. and is

the only ancient Egyptian temple which can be seen in Spain. It was donated to Spain in 1968 when relocation was

necessary, due to construction of the Aswan Dam.

One of our highlights in Madrid is a visit to the Prado Museum. It is certainly one of the world's greatest art

galleries. There are thousands of paintings in here. The great European masters whose works are here include

Velazquez, Goya, Raphael, Rubens, Bosch, Flandes and el Greco. Opened as a museum in 1819, several trips here

are needed to see it all. The most famous painting is by Diego Velasquez and is called Las Meninas. Painted in 1656,

this oil on canvas measures 125 x 109 inches. Meaning The Maids of Honour, the large room in the palace of King

Philip IV features the infant Margarita. A mirror in the background really adds life to the painting. Would like to

come back for another visit. After a few hours of our guided tour, we are taken back to the hotel. Several of us have

decided to go on an optional excursion to el Escorial and the Valley of the Fallen.

Seventeen of us take the bus for the trip about 25 miles from Madrid, through the town of El Escorial. After a

quick stop for lunch (sandwiches), we soon arrive at the palace and monastery complex. After winning the Battle of

St. Quentin in 1557 against the French, and as a way of thanking God for his victory, King Felipe II started construc-

tion on the San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Completed in 1584, for a time, this monastery was the largest building in the

world. It has been designated as a U.N. World Heritage Site.

The coffins of the kings are located in the Pantheon de los Reyes, directly under the high altar of the basilica. The

marble caskets of almost all the Spanish monarchs since Carlos V can be found here, as well as many of their relatives.

A stairway leading down to the crypt is beautifully adorned in marble. We counted 26 caskets of kings and queens,

going back almost 500 years. Described as the "eighth wonder of the world", this site occupies 360,000+ sq. feet. It

contains 16 patios, 15 cloisters, 88 fountains, 86 sets of stairs, 13 oratorios, 9 pipe organs, 73 statues, 9 towers, 1200

doors and 2673 windows. The library was at one time considered one of the richest in Europe. The basilica was con-

structed in the shape of a Greek cross and holds 45 chapels. There is a very impressive art collection that includes

paintings by Velasquez, Ribera, Zurbaran, Cambiasso, Tintoretto and el Greco. There are about 1600 paintings and

more than 500 frescoes in walls and ceilings. I was very impressed with the Gardens of the Friars, featuring perfectly

manicured hedges in a maze formation, small ponds and water fountains. They rival any of the gardens we have seen

in England. This was an amazing place to visit... so glad we came.

The second part of our trip this afternoon takes us to the Valle De Los Caidos or "Valley of the Fallen". The 492

foot tall cross is the first thing we see. It can be viewed from 20 miles away. Situated in the Sierra de Guadarra, this

Catholic basilica and monumental memorial honors those who fell during the Spanish Civil War (1936 - 1939). It

took 18 years to complete this project and was opened in 1959. The underground crypt has been declared a basilica.

Beneath the valley floor lie the remains of 40,000 soldiers who died on both sides of the Civil War. Generalissimo

Francisco Franco is buried here, also. At 200,000 tons this cross is the tallest memorial cross in the world.

Inside the basilica, visitors are flanked by two large metal statues of angels holding swords. A long vaulted crypt

was tunneled out of solid granite and lies exactly below the cross. The tunnel is 860 feet long and has six chapels

devoted to the Virgin Mary. The funicular that connects the basilica to the base of the cross was closed. The ceilings

are painted, and there are sculptures, paintings and tapestries. Outside, there is a spectacular view of Madrid in the

distance. Such a place of reverence, my parting memories are "rest in peace". At 5 p.m. we left and our bus brought

us back to Madrid.

About 7 p.m. and our group of 17 went to the Las Cuevas del DUQUE or "Cave of the Duke Restaurant" for

Castilian cuisine. We were seated in Dining Room # 1 and admired the old brick walls. There was a large painting

on our back wall. We were then served with large plates of salad, featuring white asparagus and tuna. Next was

gazpacho which was an excellent cold tomato soup. Sangria, water and wine filled our tables, as did the bread, ham

and cheese. Janet invited Cristiana to come join us. She is originally from Romania, now living in St. Louis, MO for

the past 14 years. Enjoyed getting to know our fellow traveler. Bethany chose roasted suckling pig for her entre, while

Janet and I ate roasted baby lamb cutlets. It was so good. Two men came in and provided musical entertainment. One

played an accordion and the other, a guitar. Decided to buy their C.D. "Tuna...Boleros Y Pasadobles". Will listen to

this when we get back home. This was so good, I realize why this restaurant won the 1984 European Gastronomic

Trophy. Afterwards, there was another scenic bus ride to our hotel.

We were told about the Atocha Railway Station, site of a 2004 al-Qaeda terrorist attack. 191 people lost their

lives and 1800 others were wounded. Nearby is the Reyna Sofia Museum, where part of the movie Dr. Zhivago

was filmed. It is now 9:30 as we arrive at the hotel. Still a little daylight left. Since this is our last night in Madrid,

we want to walk around the city. Cristiana gladly joins us.

At 10 p.m., the four of us start walking to Atocha Square. It is a very pleasant and warm evening. Seems like

thousands of people are strolling through the city tonight. A little while later, we arrive in the Plaza del Sol. So many

vendors, entertainers, mimes, musicians, painters, massages and people trying to separate you from a few coins. I

was intrigued by a skinny man sitting on a narrow seat, atop a large bamboo pole. It was held in one hand by a man

with a strong arm. The pole was not resting on his leg. I tossed one Euro into his plate, and the man sitting down

slowly nodded.

There are crowded streets as we enter Plaza Mayor. Warned to watch for pick-pockets. It is time to get some

ice cream and sit at an outdoor table. A few dozen ladies of the night, in very short skirts, were out and talking to

several young men. So obvious what they were doing. But our ice cream was real good. A nice walk back to our

hotel and it is midnight. Need to pack our stuff, for we leave tomorrow morning.


A 5:30 wakeup call instead of 6:00 will give us a little extra time to pack this morning. Need to have our luggage

outside our hotel door by 7 a.m. That's when breakfast starts, then our bus leaves at 8 a.m. Fernanda gives us more

Madrid and Spanish history as we pass by a beautiful park on the Manzanares River. I take plenty of notes, planning

on reading more about Spain when we return to Mobile. I think I may even plan on reading the book "Don Quixote".

Our route today takes us northward, and we see the huge cross, at the Valley of the Fallen.

Spain has 17 autonomous communities or regions, which contain about 50 provinces. We leave the province of

Madrid and enter Castilla and Leon. Our destination this morning is the city of Segovia which is in the province of

Segovia. This was under Roman rule since 80 B.C. The highlight of today's tour is the Roman aqueduct. Built in the

1st century, these large blocks are relatively straight after almost 2000 years. This aqueduct stretches from the walls

of the old town to the edges of Sierra de Guadarrama. It measures 2950 feet long. However, the section where the

arches are divided into two levels is about 900 feet. These massive rough-hewn granite blocks are joined without

mortar or clamps. The stones were precisely cut to transmit and bear the load in a perfect balance. The aqueduct

brought water to Segovia from the Frio River, which is 10 miles away. Some of the arches in the center of the aque-

duct were destroyed during the Muslim conquest of the 9th century, but were restored in the 15th century. The U.N.

designated the Old Town and Aqueduct as a World Heritage Site in 1985.

What a charming old city! There are twisting alleyways, pedestrian streets where no cars are allowed, and the

highest concentration of Romanesque churches in all of Europe. All this is surrounded by the city's medieval wall

which is bordered by two rivers. The famous Alcazar Castle is located here, which helped inspire Walt Disney. Also,

the Segovia cathedral where Queen Isabel promised Columbus the financial backing he needed to take his 1492

voyage to discover the Americas. As we left this city of 5000 people, our tour-bus stopped at a scenic overlook so

we could take a few more pictures. Beautiful!

As we continue the northward drive, we pass by dozens of windmills. Spain is making a concerted effort to expand

its energy sources. There are vineyards on both sides of the road. Time for lunch and we stop at a restaurant called

Tudanca. Mostly sandwiches or tapas, but I wanted another bowl of that cold tomato soup (gazpacho). There is a

little park/playground here for dogs. In a little while, as we head up the road, we see large patches of pretty sunflowers.

Our first stop this afternoon is Burgos, founded in 884. There are several statues lining a bridge as we enter the

city. There is a nice tree-lined walk for us as we go to the cathedral, located at the Plaza de Santa Maria. It continues

to amaze me the detail put into decorating and adorning these old buildings and churches. The Burgos Cathedral was

started in 1221. Construction commenced again a few hundred years later. Final completion occurred in 1567. Towers,

spires, paintings, stained glass windows, statues, balustrades and balconies, 15 chapels, traceries, knights, angels and

heraldry and Spanish gothic amazing place of splendor to visit. Plus, it is the burial place of Rodrigo Diaz

de Vicar ("El Cid").

We now are in the Basque region and drive on to Vitoria. Also known by the name, Gasteiz, it was named the

European Green Capital of 2012. With a population of 235,000 there are 170,000 trees and 250,000 bushes. Our tour

group settles in at the Barcelo Gasteiz Hotel. Bethany and I are ready to walk... go exploring. Janet will rest now as

my daughter and I try to see as much as we can before dinner.

We first walk past Lovaina Plaza, landscaped with shrubbery and flowers. This leads us to the Cathedral of Mary

Immaculate. Take a few pictures of this beautiful Catholic church, built about 100 years ago. Today's Festival of

Saint James brings out thousands of people. The folks are dressed in traditional clothing and I notice the long shoe-

strings, laced just below the knees. Bethany and I stop by four concentric designed flower gardens, each containing a

small water fountain. I was surprised to see a bed of green and purple lettuce encircling each fountain, which had a

small boy holding a big fish. We are now in La Florida Park. The white gazebo is just majestic looking and was built

in 1820. Such a fun atmosphere! There were musicians to entertain us and food vendors to keep us from starving. A

long stretch of booths tempted arts and crafts lovers. I see a wooden bench with the names of dozens of musicians,

who have played here through the years. I recognize several American names, such as Louie Armstrong and Wynton

Marsalis. With 95 different species of trees, statues and winding paths, I wanted to stay all night.

Next for us was to follow the music and follow the crowds. It led us to the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca, by San

Miguel Church. There are tables for a few cafes. This main square, or Old Square, was built in the 17th century. A

50 foot tall monument in the middle of the plaza commemorates the Battle of Vitoria (June 1813). I was impressed

with a sign / sculpture with the name of the city VITORIA...GASTEIZ. This wire sign contained thousands of sprigs

of greenery. Unique!

At the top of the plaza is the San Miguel Church. Built in the 14th century, there are 9 different chapels inside. On

the front of the main portico is a niche with a statue of the White Virgin, the patron saint of Vitoria. As we leave the

plaza area, I see vendors selling thousands of bags of garlic. Most unusual. As Bethany and I walk the winding streets

back to our hotel, we are elbow-to-elbow with people enjoying the festival, eating and drinking. This has been a lot of


At 8:00 we get back to our room. Janet joins us as we head downstairs for dinner. Sole (fish) with grilled veggies,

fish soup and rolls are served with red wine and water. There is plenty of flan / creme brule for dessert. I thought that

Bethany would go walking with me after dinner, but she is too tired. I go out by myself around 11, but the crowds

are almost gone. I take a side-walk escalator up a very steep street. It was manufactured by ThyssenKrupp. I recall

that name from the new German steel plant back home in Mobile County. I listen to some lively music as I wander

through this beautiful medieval city. In bed at midnight.


With a 6:00 wake-up call, I can see the planet Venus. This is not funny now, maybe we'll laugh about it later,

but we cannot figure how to turn on the shower. Breakfast at 7:30 and we learn how to turn on the shower. Our bus

pulls away at 8 a.m. and we soon pass fields of sugar beets. We now enter the Cantabrian Mountain range. It runs

east-west from the Pyrenees to Galicia. Our destination this morning is the lovely and modern city of Bilbao. With

a population of 350,000 it is the second most industrialized city in Spain. With its beautiful parks, wide avenues, and

the picturesque River Nervion, this is the economic capital of the Basque country. Bilbao was founded in the year

1300 and is located 9 miles south of the Bay of Biscay.

This morning our tour group will visit the world famous Guggenheim Museum. This is yet another U.N. World

Heritage site. Designed by American architect, Frank Gehry, the museum represents an architectural landmark of

innovative design and configuration. It was built alongside the Nervion River and opened in 1997. It is a spectacular

building, having been described as the greatest building of our time and a 20th century masterpiece. There are so many

random curves on the exterior, which are covered with titanium panels. The interior is designed around a large, light-

filled atrium, with nice views of the river and surrounding hills. Containing over 250,000 square feet, it houses nine-

teen different galleries. Our special guide started us with an explanation of the interior, the atrium, the glass windows,

how there were only three components to this world class contemporary art museum: titanium, glass and cement.

Our first gallery was called "Matter of Time" by Richard Serra. This examines time, space, sound, materiality and

movement in a series of large scale sculptures. We moved through each of the nine pieces. Later, from the mezzanine

above we could see where we had been. Most interesting.

The featured gallery presented works by David Hockney. He is considered the most important living British painter.

There are 190 works of art, featuring bright landscapes, inspired by his native Yorkshire. Hockney's creativity is shown

through the use of oil paintings, charcoals, sketchbooks, iPad drawings and digital videos. I thought it was amazing! I

was rather mesmerized by one display that held 9 concurrent camera images. These were shot from a slow-moving car.

The glass windows, so much light streaming in, the titanium wall panels, the curvatures of the buildings were truly

a visual feast. One interesting permanent display is "Installation For Bilbao" by the artist, Jenny Holzer. There are nine

rows of double-sided L.E.D. digital messages, running from floor to ceiling. The messages are transmitted in three

languages: Basque, Spanish and English. There were many more galleries to attract our eye. Some were simply

outstanding, while others made us scratch our heads and ask...what does anybody see in this?

It was a treat to just walk around the complex. A modern suspension bridge, with a vibrant red arch, is known as

Puente de La Salve. It overlooks the museum and has been "incorporated" into the facility. At the riverside terrace,

there was a shallow pool of water. The 43 foot tall topiary of a terrier is adorable. Had to take a couple of photos of

Puppy. There is another outside display of polished silver balls, like a tree. There is a permanent display called

"Tulips", developed by the artist, Jeff Koons. They look like metallic balloons, each being a different color. Fifteen

feet in length, they are shiny, high chromium stainless steel. Something I was not expecting to see was a 30 foot tall,

bronze colored, steel and marble sculpture of a spider. Louise Bourgeois, the artist, calls it Maman. Thoroughly

enjoyable, but it's time to go now.

Our journey continues as we drive eastward, on our way to San Sebastian, about 60 miles away. It is known as the

Pearl of the Cantabrian, on the Bay of Biscay, at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. There are two mountain peaks that

bookend the city, Monte Urgull and Monte Igueldo. This city of 180,000 residents doubles in size during the summer

holidays. It is known as Donostia in the Basque language called Euskara. A soaring statue of Christ looks down upon

the city and gives the aura of Rio de Janeira.

We crossed a beautifully adorned bridge, spanning the Urumea River. Driving through the old city and the new

city, I was very much impressed with the flower gardens. Our bus stops and we all have about three hours on our own.

I tried to locate an A.T.M., then the three of us wandered the narrow old town streets. Seems like we passed by

hundreds of restaurants, before deciding to eat lunch at the Quebec Cafe. Lots of French paraphernalia in there. On

the menu were omelettes, with ham, turkey, eggs and cheese. Pepsi and Nestea were the drinks of choice. It was pretty

good. The Old Town is where San Sebastian was born about 1000 years ago. There are Baroque and Gothic churches,

plazas, pastry stores, produce markets and fun little shops.

After finishing, we strolled by lovely little parks. Wrought iron fences encircled some gorgeous flower beds. Saw

a couple types of trees that I had never seen before. Hey, that is what vacations are all about, getting out to explore.

Looking down into the clear, shallow water, we could see a few dozen fish. Bethany and I walk towards the 2-mile

long promenade. Seems like thousands of people showed up today on the beach. Taking the ramp down to the sand,

we are soon on the shell- shaped La Concha Beach. It is one of Europe's loveliest stretches of sand. This is a day we

shall long remember. Beautiful beach, beautiful people, beautiful flower gardens and beautiful old buildings. Did I

mention how much I liked this place? Bethany and I walked back to our pick-up location, where we soon met Janet.

Took a few minutes to remove the "souvenir" sand from my feet. Such a fun time! Life is good!

Five of our travelers were not ready to go. The bus driver had to drive through the city and then back to our

designated point to pick them up. Passed more narrow streets and saw the large Santa Maria del Coro cathedral again.

I marveled at the architecture of this mid 16th century church. As we leave the city, we are only about 12 miles from

France. As our route takes us southeasterly, we are in the Pyrenees Mountains. I was surprised to see so many green

trees at this elevation. With the pretty valleys, it reminded me of Austria.

Each city we have had the pleasure of visiting, seems to have its own distinct personality. Of course, that comes

from the people. Wish we could have stayed longer at every place we saw. Our last city to see today is Pamplona,

where we will stay for the night.

Hot temperatures as we arrive, 40 degrees Celsius. Figure that to be 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Plenty of sunshine as

we settle into our hotel at 4:15. At 5:00, we start our walking tour of the city. The main feature is to walk the route of

the "running of the bulls". The San Fermin Festival starts July 6th and concludes July 14th. San Fermin is the patron

saint of Navarra. He traveled to France to receive religious training, and became a bishop. While in the French city of

Amiens, spreading the gospel, he was captured, tortured and beheaded, in 303 A.D. The Pamplonans have been

celebrating his life since at least 1591. Some consider this festival a 204 hour party! Upwards of one million people

attend this festival yearly. There was a need to get the bulls from outside the city, through the old quarters and into

the bullring. Seems like a simple concept.

A rocket is fired from City Hall at 12 noon on July 6th, to officially open the festival (chupinazo). Then at 8 a.m.

each day, the excitement resumes. Hundreds of people run in front of 6 bulls and 6 steers on this half-mile stretch of

narrow streets. They are all clad in white, and wearing red scarves. With all the buildup, it really only takes 3 or 4

minutes before the bulls reach their destination. They await the evenings bull-fighting show. The event is dangerous

(especially watching videos of it). 15 people have been killed it the past 85 years.

This was a local festival, almost unknown to the outside world until 1923. A young journalist named Ernest

Hemingway wrote an article about it; then included it in his book "The Sun Also Rises". Hemingway visited here

nine times between 1923 - 1959. He quipped that he enjoyed seeing two wild animals running together; one on two

legs and the other on four.

Our interesting tour concluded at the bull-fighting arena. Close-by was a large sculpture of a running with the

bulls scene. Had to take a few more pictures. It was then time for our bus to take us to the Club Taurino Restaurant.

A huge salad was brought to each table, where we helped ourselves. It featured tuna and white asparagus. Delicious!

Bethany chose pork chops, while Janet and I had hake fish. Don't think I have eaten that before. Learned that hake

accounts for about 1/3 of the total fish consumed in Spain. It is similar to cod or haddock. The decor was a little un-

usual. A taxidermist helped with a bull's head; while another plaque featured bull ears and a hoof. Interesting, but it

seemed to fit, here in Pamplona. Will go to bed early tonight.

FRIDAY JULY 27, 2012

Today's breakfast placed a big emphasis on fresh, organic ingredients which were high in antioxidants. I was

surprised how good the kiwi-broccoli juice tasted. And I had a second glass of carrot juice, too. We leave Pamplona

about 8:00. We soon pass fields of white asparagus. As we drive along the foothills of the Pyrenees, Fernanda points

out the cut-through which leads to France. Twenty miles south of Pamplona, we pass by some pretty castle ruins. We

were treated to a video on the history of the Running of the Bulls. We passed another stone aqueduct near the Ebro

River. This is the longest river in Spain, flowing 565 miles. Then, we are surrounded by hundreds of solar panels.

Before the morning is over, we stop in Zaragoza, which was the host city for the 2008 World's Fair.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Pillar is our morning destination. Local legend says that in 40 A.D., the Apostle Saint

James was praying on the banks of the Ebro River when the Virgin Mary appeared to him. She was atop a pillar of

jasper and carried by the angels and was holding a small wooden statue of herself. The mother of Jesus gave St. James

the small statue and the pillar made of jasper. She instructed him to build a church there. He did build a small chapel

on that spot, which would make it the first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. And this is the only time that her

apparition took place before her death, 12 years later. (St. James the Greater returned to Jerusalem to continue his

missionary work. He was martyred by King Herod in 44 A.D.) Many churches have been subsequently built on this

site. Today's version was designed in 1681 and completed in 1686. Distinguished pilgrims have visited here through

the centuries, including all of Spain's kings and queens plus Pope John Paul II in 1982.

We were able to tour the inside and it was amazing. So many beautiful pieces of artwork, including those by

Francisco Goya. There are cupolas adorned with frescoes. But the best attraction is the small 15 inch statue of Our

Lady of the Pillar. This wooden statue is located in the center of the basilica in a glittering shrine. The opening behind

the statue allows the pilgrims to kiss it. There is a curious memorial that hangs to the side of the chapel. Two bombs

are displayed there; not a symbol of violence, but of miraculous intervention. During the early days of the Spanish

Civil War in 1936, these two bombs were dropped on the church by airplanes. Neither exploded. They remain today

as a reminder of how the power of love is stronger than any armament. What a lesson.

Outside this basilica is the largest pedestrian plaza in Spain. At the far end is the cathedral of La Seo. There are

fountains, statues and cafes. But on this day, we witnessed an organized protest by the people, concerning Spain's

austerity policies. They carried banners and made lots of noise, but seemed a very respectable bunch. Took several

pictures of this beautiful Baroque Catholic church. I was really impressed with the blue, white and yellow tiled domes

and the unique Byzantine roof.

We continue driving easterly and view peach and apricot orchards. For the newly planted orchards, the trees are

just a few feet high. At ground level, their trunks are encased in white plastic pipes, to protect them from wild rabbits.

An unexpected landmark ahead of us is the Prime Meridian, known as the Greenwich Meridian. A large arch

crosses over the main motorway and designates zero degrees longitude. In a short time we arrive in Lleida for lunch.

Our rest-stop had an interesting design. The restaurant was situated "over" the road. My seat was about 30 feet

above east-bound and west-bound traffic. I could look down and see cars coming and going. I liked that view. I went

with a large salad, while Bethany and Janet bought soup and chicken-kabob. As we left we could glimpse a high-

speed train near the highway. And in a minute, it was gone from view.

Several mountains in the distance as we approach Barcelona. With a population of 1.6 million, this is a grand

city! Barcelona has the largest port on the Mediterranean Sea. We view an interesting cemetery that seems to be

carved into the side of a mountain. It is terraced or layered. Looking forward to spending a few days here.

Our 4-star hotel for the next two nights is the Hotel Rivoli Ramblas. It is located on "the Rambles". This is a huge

pedestrian walkway between two streets. There are thousands of people here, all the time. With cafes, souvenir

stands, street vendors, artists selling their paintings, and artists creating caricatures... this is a fascinating place to

experience. After check-in, 22 of us board the bus for a little tour of the city.

Several blocks away, we passed Square of the Gate of Peace. The Christopher Columbus statue is 197 feet tall.

Completed in 1888, Columbus faces the sea. We were soon at the waters edge. Awaiting us was another local tour

guide. We're ready for a walking tour by the marina. Wow, so many boats and yachts. There are nine miles of clean

beaches for the people... overlooking brilliant blue waters. There is a large, copper colored fish at the Olympic

Village. The "eye" of the fish is attached to another modern art structure. At a distance, it matches perfectly. As our

guide talks to us at the edge of the blue water, we interrupt a young couple, obviously in love.

Now is the time for our bus to drive along the longest street in Barcelona. The Calle de Alcala is 10.5 km. long.

We are heading to Guell Park, designed by architect Antoni Gaudi. Completed in 1914, this is another of Spain's U.N.

World Heritage Sites. The focal point of the park is the main terrace, surrounded by a long bench in the form of a

sea serpent. The pavilions seem to be taken out of Hansel and Gretel, with curved roofs covered with brightly

colored tiles and ornamented spires. The staircase at the entrance to the park has a dragon like-lizard at its center.

It is covered in colored broken-ceramic pieces. The double staircase has walls on each side with crenelated tops

and sides of checkerboard tiles. Behind the dragon lies a cistern, which can store 2600 gallons of rainwater. The

hypostyle chamber was designed originally as a marketplace. The roof supports the floor of the public square above

it. The original marketplace is quite unusual, consisting of close to 100 Roman inspired columns.

Gaudi incorporated natural stone into the architecture, walkways, stone palm trees, walls and ceilings. There is a

colonnaded footpath under the roadway viaduct. The external columns slope to take the diagonal thrust from the

vault supporting the road. What a concept. From the terrace at the top of the park are some of the best views of

Barcelona. And it was a treat to see the shimmering blue Mediterranean from up here. What an amazing view!

As we arrive back at our hotel, we have a few hours to enjoy before dinner. Bethany joins me as we walk "the

Rambles". I found a money exchange to convert dollars into Euros. Hey, I've got some spending money now. We

see a large market and have to go exploring. Very interesting... produce, fruit, fruit smoothies, meat, all sorts of fish.

Just an unusual variety of so much stuff. And the place is literally elbow to elbow with people. (Beware of pick-

pockets.) Back on the Rambles, we stroll for several blocks. I buy more postcards. Bethany finds a Barcelona cos-

metics bag. We pass magazine stands, and small cafes. Artists are painting pictures of folks, as well as drawing

caricatures of young tourists. One of the best places for "people watching" I've ever seen.

We arrive back at the hotel right at 8:30 and it's time for dinner. Janet joins us as we go to the La Terraza Del

Rivoli, or the large outdoor terrace. It has wooden decking and a slatted roof. The Roman fountain is bathed in a soft

green glow. And we are engulfed in a wall of green plants. Such a warm and welcoming setting. Our two fellow

table guests were from Australia. One was as nice as she could be, very friendly. Couldn't say the same for the other

woman. Dinner started with a hard roll and huge salad. Then, there was meat, potatoes, onions, plenty of fruit and

dessert. Another delicious meal.

My two girls are so tired, they went on to bed early tonight. I joined 4 others down in the lobby at 10 p.m. and we

went exploring. Time to go see the sites at night. We are a rather diverse group. Phil and Marie are from Canada.

Maryam is from Persia (Iran). Cristiana is from Romania. And you know where I'm from. We leisurely strolled

along the Ramblas. Took a side street to a square with a nice courtyard and fountain. Took more pictures. Experi-

mented with camera settings and flash. Then walked down to Square of the Gate of Peace and visited the Columbus

statue. Crossed a busy street to the docks. There was a restaurant at the end of the pier. Took several good pictures

of light reflections in the water.

A couple of comments about the strange smell. Well, several people were smoking marijuana, as we walk toward

the music. There seems to be a Caribbean sound up on the stage. People! Tables set up to sell stuff to

the tourists... mostly hand made jewelry. Enjoyed the music as we slowly walked on back. Stopped by a little shop

for ice cream. Bought a cup of dulce de leche. This has been a very nice ending to our day in Barcelona. Back to

the room at midnight, and both girls are asleep.


After breakfast, our bus headed on a city tour. Fernanda told us about the layout of Barcelona as the city was

growing. Every 10 blocks, there is a school. Every 20 blocks, there is a church. And every 40 blocks, there is a

hospital. Along the sidewalks, every 8 meters is a tree. All corners of buildings have been eliminated. There is a

45 degree angle where the corner would have been. It helps to see approaching traffic. There are 73 neighborhoods.

And there is a market in every other neighborhood. Such an interesting layout. One building we passed had a tiled

dragon on its roof. The Casa Batllo was restored by Gaudi in 1904-06 is now a museum. (google it). Unique.

The highlight of this morning is a trip to the Sagrada Familia or Church of the Holy Family. The first stone was

placed in 1882. Antoni Gaudi soon became the construction manager. This architectural masterpiece was designed

in the form of a Latin cross over the initial crypt. The major altar is surrounded by seven chapels. There are twelve

towers, dedicated to the apostles. The tallest tower in the center is 170 meters, dedicated to Jesus Christ. From the

buttresses, stained glass windows, columns, stairways, tubular bells, facades, doors and alcoves, I have never seen

such detail. Biblical stories are "built" into the outside structures. And then there are the names: Joseph, Mary and

Jesus inscribed onto the walls. And it will probably be another 20 years before this cathedral is completed. This is

another U.N. World Heritage Site. It is an amazing work in progress. As we walked toward our tour bus, I heard,

then noticed, three green parrots, which are quite common in the downtown area.

Our roads wind higher and higher until we reach the site of the 1992 Olympic Village. We are treated to more

amazing views of the city, the port and cruise ships. We stop at a very green park, filled with pretty pink oleanders.

There are hundreds of cypress trees. A South American musician entertains tourists with bamboo woodwinds. The

sun glistens on the still, quiet Mediterranean Sea below us. We are told more of the history about these Olympics,

500 years after Columbus reached the New World.

Our last stop with all the group today will be in the Old Town area. At the El Barri Gotic, some Roman ruins still

exist. There is a neo-Gothic bridge or walkway between the third floors of two of the buildings. We see Palau de la

Generalitat de Catalunya (Palace of Provincial Government). It features Renaissance and Gothic style. This houses the

offices of the Presidency and is the seat of government. 128 Presidents have governed from this office, dating back to

1359. Always like looking at the fountains and statues, especially the one of Saint George, slaying the dragon. I was

struck with how many gargoyles we could see at rooftop level. Walked through a lovely courtyard. And in the same

block was a beautiful cathedral. Enjoyed a short visit there.

After our bus dropped some of us off at the hotel, over half of us joined another optional tour. We're going 30

miles away to Montserrat (which means "jagged mountain" in Catalan / Spanish). Our young geologist took note of

the dolomite-like rocks. The highest summit of Montserrat stands at 4055 feet above sea level. The highlight of this

trip will be the Benedictine Abbey. The Santa Maria de Montserrat hosts the Virgin of Montserrat which is a statue of

the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus. The black Virgin (La Moreneta) is one of the black Madonnas of Europe. Believed

to be carved in Jerusalem in the 1100's, the monastery was built around the statue. An altar of gold surrounds this icon,

where it is now a site of pilgrimage.

Only 30 monks live at the monastery today. The three rules they live by are :poverty, chastity and obedience. The

monks have lived here since 1025. Visitors are welcomed and encouraged to discover the religious, cultural, social,

historical and environmental values that together symbolically express the life of the Catalan people. The Montserrat

Escolania, or choir school, soon followed and is considered the oldest music school in Europe. Fifty young boys live

and study in the monastery and I'm sorry we missed their daily performance.

In front of the entrance to the Cathedral is a black, circular stone vortex. It is one of the pilgrimage spots to visit.

The interior is beautifully ornate, with wonderful ceiling paintings. The favorite attraction is the Black Madonna.

While the Virgin Mary is behind a protective glass case, the royal orb she cradles in her hand is exposed. Pilgrims

can touch the orb with one hand and hold their other hand up to show they accept Jesus. Such a serene place.

After a few sandwiches for lunch, Bethany and I want to go hiking on some trails. There are several in the adjacent

Montserrat National Park. This is actually Spain's first national park. Walked past a few mountain climbers with

their gear. Saw an old dog enjoying a water fountain. We had just about 20 minutes to hike the Via Crucis (Way of

the Cross or path of suffering) and look down from our high vantage point. There were benches where we could rest

and meditate. Finally saw the three wooden crosses, with Jesus nailed to the middle one. It was a great way to spend

time in quiet reflection, serenity and spirituality.

As soon as we got back to Janet and our group, it was about time to go. If we had more time, I wanted to see the

old printing press. Montserrat was the world's first monastery to acquire a printing press, in 1499, and it still runs.

Also, the museum houses over 1300 paintings. Included are those by: Dali, Picasso, el Greco, Monet and Degas. As

we left the mountaintop, I noticed a sign reading A Safe Journey...God Bless You.

Our bus dropped us off at the hotel about an hour later. Cristiana joined us in an exciting adventure to the

Market de la Boqueria. Stalls were overflowing with fresh fruit, dry fruit, legumes and cereals, meats, seafood, offal,

olives, fish, salted fish, poultry, eggs, breads, smoothie fruit juices, ready to eat meals, wines, imported specialty items,

kitchen gadgets, strange looking animals from the oceans and even souvenirs. Such a colorful place and very crowded.

While browsing, we bought and ate boiled octopus and fried calamari. Wow, what a place to shop!

A few blocks away, we're back at the hotel and enjoy about a three hour siesta. Time to go to supper, then we try

our first encounter with the Metro, or subway system. Two blocks north of us is the Catalunya entrance. Our 5th stop

is the Plaza Espanya. Thousands of locals and tourists gather around the large fountain for a water and lights show.

Four times each night, people are treated to a spectacular show of different colored lights as they shine down on the

fountain. Colors of white, red, blue, green and yellow shade the night. The water cascades in different patterns while

lively music is played. Easy to get caught up in the fun. And when the wind changes directions, well, we enjoyed

cooling off a little bit. We stayed for a second 40 minute show and thoroughly relaxed. I found a mobile phone on a

sidewalk and wanted to return it to the owner. That phone rang about 15 times, as someone wanted to track it down.

Not speaking fluent Spanish, I turned the phone over to our desk clerk at the hotel. He was calling the owner as we

headed up to our room, exhausted but happy with a wonderful day. In bed at midnight.

SUNDAY JULY 29, 2012

The morning starts with another 6:15 wakeup call and we go down to breakfast. After getting the luggage out, our

tour bus leaves at 9 a.m. Fernanda talks about the different coasts of Spain: the Cantabrian, Gold, Sun, White and

Light Coasts. Around Valencia the farmers grow 42 varieties of vegetables. The olive trees are planted in rows, eight

meters apart. Driving along the Mediterranean Coast, we pass another small town and I see 3 parasailers. On long

stretches of the highway, pink oleanders cover the medians. And we start seeing bilingual signs: Spanish and Arabic.

We stop at an Auto Grill for lunch. Today we ate lasagna, rice with mushrooms and a vegetable medley. I liked the

sign: Food Fast, Food Good. Food Slow, Food Good. Yes it was. The restrooms had a foot washing area, for Muslims.

Viewed a large natural gas complex, where the gas is piped in from Algeria. Then we saw a desalinization plant

west of Tarragona. We finally arrive in Valencia and check into our NH Hotel at 3:00. Our window faces the river-

bed. In a little while, we leave on our 4:00 walking tour of the town center.

Valencia was founded by the Romans in 138 B.C. It now has a population of over 800 thousand. It hosted two of

the America's Cup yacht races last decade. Fernanda told us about a tremendous flood in 1957. It devastated the city,

with many lives lost. Planners came up with an ambitious idea to divert the Turia River away from the city's center. It

seems to have worked. Now, the riverbed has been converted into nine kilometers of "green" spaces. There are parks,

playgrounds, soccer fields, a science museum, a lake, fountains, well trimmed gardens, monuments, lots of trees and

the largest biopark in Europe. In one section, there is a continual fair, with ferris wheel, or festival or circus. What an

interesting concept!

Our visit today centers around the Palau de les Musica (Palace of Music). This very modern architecture was

completed in 2005. At 14 stories high, it features: an opera house, auditorium, theatre, dance performances, concerts

and recitals. Water plays into the modern theme. New age bridges are nearby, along with the Palau de les Arts (Palace

of the Arts). Such a place of beauty!

There are old buildings, churches and cathedrals for our viewing pleasure. The octagonal bell tower El Micalet is

the landmark of Valencia. After another hour of sight-seeing, our group rested at an ice-cream shop, Horchateria el

Siglo. They had the best milkshake type beverages, made with tigernuts. They claim to serve the best "horchata" since

1836. We sat at an umbrella covered table on the edge of La Plaza de la Reina. Now, as the bus takes us back to the

hotel, some of our group decides to stay and explore the area. They told us later about seeing the Holy Grail, at the

Valencia Cathedral. The cup is made of agate stone and was used by Jesus at the last supper. Wow, sorry I missed that.

Janet settled back into the room, while Bethany and I decided to go walking through the riverbed. There are ramps,

every block, leading down to this fascinating green area. We walk past the bus-station, down the ramp, then start to

explore. It was nice to just walk with my daughter and see the sites. We are back to the hotel for 8:00 dinner. Bethany

and I take the elevator to the top (11th) floor. There is a swimming pool and terrace for wonderful views of the city.

After finishing dinner, seven of us take a 90 minute walk to the medieval city-center. I was fascinated by the

Serranos Towers. Built in the late 14th century, they guarded the old city gates. At the Plaza de la Virgen, there is a

splashing fountain with the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon. He is lying down, surrounded by goddesses on pedestals.

The evening light shines on the marble tiles. So pretty. Had fun walking and talking and realizing that we are in

another beautiful, historic city. Back at the hotel at 11:30, I wanted to take a dip in the pool. Enjoyed seeing the

city lights from the terrace. Finally in bed at midnight.

MONDAY JULY 30, 2012

After another breakfast buffet, we left Valencia. Most of our trip is through the countryside. We occasionally

view the Mediterranean on our left and there are mountains to the right. Fernanda teaches us about more Spanish

history. Most of the orchards we see are orange and olive trees. Passed several castle ruins and saw a few small islands

off the coast. The scenic drive took us past troglodyte cave dwellings. That's a word we don't hear very often. There

is a stop for lunch and I invite Maryam to join us at our table. We all enjoyed getting to know her a little better. We

crossed the Mora Pass and were soon in Granada. Our room is on the 9th floor of the 5-star Hotel Nazaries. In the

lobby is the most beautiful chandelier with thousands of lights. A smaller row of 20 little chandeliers circles around

the large one.

Globus has arranged for a local guide, Enrique, to show us his city this afternoon. The bus takes us to the City

Center, then we're going to walk. I couldn't see enough of the blue tiles that are in front of buildings and businesses.

One of the treats was a visit to the Mercado de Artesania (the Artisan's Market). Its like a little slice of Morocco. From

rugs to blouses, scarves, brightly colored lamps, incense, ashtrays, dresses or pipes, this place has it. What character

and ambience. Bethany bought 3 sundresses and had to buy a blue tiled pharmacist for me. Such a fun adventure.

Next up for us was Granada Cathedral. Just another beautiful church with exquisite, ornate, gold-leafed paintings,

and painted ceilings? No, this is the final resting place of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Queen Isabella, in order

to furnish Christopher Columbus with money to arm his three ships, put her jewels in pawn. The box these jewels were

placed in, are on display in a glass cabinet. Inside the chapel, near the altar, are two large marble mausoleums.

A kind of trap-door leads us down narrow staircase to a small subterranean room. In here are five lead caskets. Here

lie the remains of King Ferdinand, Queen Isabella, King Philip I, Queen Joanna and her daughter, Dona Maria. So

much history to soak in.

Later this afternoon, our bus takes us up to one of the highest points in Granada. Such amazing views. And we

can see the highest mountain on the Iberian peninsula, Mulhacen. Located in the Sierra Nevada range, it stands at

11,423 feet. Take several pictures, especially the white and pink oleander. We stop to visit a church, it may have been

Santa Ana, but I'm not sure. Also stopped by the el Corral de Carbon. We then drive by our destination for tomorrow,

the Al Hambra.

Dinner is served at 8 p.m. Bethany wears a pretty purple sun-dress. Almost everyone of our ladies commented on

how pretty she looked. Proud parents! I notice that smaller white tablecloths cover larger navy-blue tablecloths. We

enjoy a marvelous buffet. Afterwards, six of us started walking towards downtown. Janet and I turned back early. for

it was already past 10:00. Bethany and the other three came back about an hour later.


The 5:30 wakeup call gets us going. Still fighting to get ready on time. We'll do better the rest of our trip. There is

a delicious breakfast awaiting our group. Windows were open and there were cool breezes blowing in. Our tour-bus

left at 8:15.

For the next three hours, we shall visit a World Heritage Site: the Alhambra. This palace and fortress and city

complex was developed by and occupied by the Arabs for hundreds of years. Such exquisite architecture, beautiful

gardens, serene fountains and lovely reflecting pools, courtyards and royal baths. Could have stayed here all day! Part

of this complex was Generalife. It was a place of leisure and recreation for the Moorish kings of Granada.

Bethany and I took over 250 pictures here. These words you're reading just don't do it justice. There are about

10,000 inscriptions carved into the buildings. The script that winds around filigree arches and pillared courtyards

are so stylized, that it's difficult to disentangle words from the decorative images. Phrases that are repeated include:

"Rejoice in good fortune", "happiness", "blessing", "There is no victor but Allah", "Be sparse in words and you will

go in peace". Very interesting to this Methodist Christian.

Learned that on January 2, 1492 the Arab occupation ended and that the "keys to the city" were turned over to

the Catholic monarchs. When this ten year war ended, the Jews and the Muslims were forced to either convert to

Christianity or be exiled. Later this same year, 1492, Christopher Columbus' voyage would change world history.

Our Globus group left about 11:30 and the bus-driver drove us by our hotel. Someone had left a baseball cap, a

study Bible and a ceramic tile in their hotel room. (That would be me). Bethany especially wanted me to have the tile

she bought in the Arab market yesterday: "Here lives a Pharmacist!" So glad they found them while cleaning our room.

On the road again and we passed through a small place called Santa Fe. We stop in Loja for lunch. New on our

menu today is swordfish and the traditional Spanish omelet. Dozens of Japanese tourists arrive for lunch a few

minutes after we did. From our table on the balcony, we enjoyed a lovely view of the town below us. Looks like

excavation work was taking place at the church. I noticed a trout hatchery as we left town.

About 3 p.m. we arrive in the coastal city of Torremolinos. At the 4-star Hotel Melia, the three of us settle into

our 3rd floor room. There are colorful tiles on the steps. Down by the swimming pool we see fun statues and some

scenic fountains. Our balcony juts out over the sidewalk, making us closer to the beach than any other room. What

a large, curving balcony. I measured it at 54 feet in length. Bethany and I walk a few blocks down the busy street and

find a store that sold beach towels. There was a small business, shaped like an orange, that sold... orange juice. After

taking a few pix from the balcony, I need to walk several blocks to the city center to buy Bethany another memory

disc for her camera. I passed by a fountain that had six dolphins. Green spots on city corners were oases of flower

gardens and more fountains. I walked down a few streets that had trees with large trunks. Don't know what species,

but read there are over 500 varieties of trees in Torremolinos. Saw a sign in an appliance center store about digital

cameras. Was able to buy the memory disc there. Had a nice long walk back. Tried cutting through a few hotels,

but was not able to connect to what I thought was the next street. Finally found the flower and bench-lined sidewalk

I needed and enjoyed the view as I found the Hotel Melia. Time to get into our swimsuits and put our feet in the sand.

Slathered on sun-screen before going out. Didn't realize it at the time, but I had dropped one of our new beach

towels. A native Spanish lady tried to communicate to us that we dropped it. Finally got the message. Settled onto

the sandy beach and talked about how blue the water was. Beautiful views up and down the beach. Far to the east,

near Malaga was an airport and we saw planes leaving about every 15 minutes. Thought that would be a good picture

if I could time it just right. It may be the end of July, but the Mediterranean is so cold!! Janet only walked in it a few

feet. I took the 15 minute approach to slowly get in. Finally took the plunge and went completely under. My goodness,

it was cold. Bethany joined me and went underwater as well. There are 9 km. of beach here in Torremolinos. It is

situated in the heart of the Sun Coast (Costa del Sol). The sun was almost setting when we made it back to our room.

After showers and a little television, we left at 10:30 p.m. Walking a few blocks from the hotel, we decided upon

the Pizzaria-Mare or "Pizza on the Sea". So, I'm the only one to order pizza, while my two girls order hamburgers

and french fries. Had seats by a window, with a pleasant view of a full moon, dancing on the sea. A wonderful end-

ing to a long day. In bed at midnight.


No wake-up call today. Slept late, then left for breakfast about 10:00. Wow! Breads, pastries, deli meats, cheeses,

milks, juices, dairy items, jellies, teas and coffees. I counted 127 different items for the breakfast plate!

Got into our swimsuits a little before 12 noon. There are landscaped entrances to the beaches, like we are entering

a park. We got some nice pictures of us, just enjoying our trip to the Mediterranean Sea. Palm trees offered a little

shade, but there were thousands of umbrellas and wooden lounge chairs to rent. We walked and swam and sunned

ourselves. Very relaxing on our "free day" of touring. If I'm on a beach, I just gotta go walking. So, Bethany and I

strolled down the beach, taking in the scenery. A great place for people-watching. Ahead of us, about 30 folks were

gathered around something. My first thought was that somebody had nearly drowned. Turns out that a 9-foot long

swordfish had washed ashore (or had beached itself). My daughter and I turn around and walk back to Janet, about

ten minutes away. Need my camera to take some photos. Back to the big fish and the gills were still slowly moving.

It was almost dead and I wondered what would happen to it. Took quite a few pictures before Bethany and I made it

back to our spot. We left our beach adventure about 2:30 and headed to the room. Need to shower to get ready for

our optional excursion.

At 4:30 the bus leaves for a little trip to Mijas. This is a typical white-washed Andalusian village, known as "White

Towns" or "Pueblos Blancos". As we enter the town, I see a shrine high upon a hill, midst the pine trees. This is the

Calvario Hermitage. It was built in 1710 and only open one day of the year, Good Friday. Iron crosses mark a winding

path to get up there. The population is about 7,500 and it seems the most popular tourist attraction is the donkey taxi-

ride. We are given a few hours of free time here and we split into several small groups. There are lots of leather shops

and restaurants. I walk away to a scenic overlook...and...misplaced my family. Oh well, I'll explore on my own, and

enjoy these narrow cobble-stoned streets. Most of the dwellings have large colored flower pots in the windows. Saw

a painter on a ladder as he was white-wash painting a building. Children played soccer on the steep little streets where

two cars could not pass at one time. I walked past the bullfight ring and found myself in a little botanical garden / park

(Parque de la Muralla). The name was spelled out in large pebbles, set in the concrete, on the sidewalk. Meandered

down some steps and saw a small goldfish pond. Did I mention beautiful views of the blue Mediterranean from up

here? It is said that on a clear day, you can see Tangier, in Morocco.

As I walked back toward the town center, I came across a chapel that seemed to have been built into a cave. Had

to visit this Hermitage of the Virgen de la Pena, the patron saint of Mijas. Monks built this chapel in 1520 and inside

is a carved wooden image of the Virgin, dating back to 850 AD. Such a serene and peaceful place for meditation and


I reconnect with my family and Janet found a beautiful, white Spanish leather jacket that Bethany "needs". My

daughter and I scoot up a few blocks and buy it, just before our tour-bus leaves us behind. I felt successful. A few

minutes later, we're driving downhill. Along the main motorway, I see the golden dome of a Buddhist temple.

Back in Torremolinos, we have reservations at the Restaurante Juan. Our table starts with a wonderful array of

appetizers: pescaditos (little fish), fried squid and fried grouper nuggets, with a sweet pepper sauce. Next, we can

choose from a fruity Sangria, white wine or water. Our table is at the front door and we enjoy views of the nearby

beach as we await the salt-baked fish. Us tourists had to take pix of these fish, baked only in salt. So moist, it just

fell off the bone. Ice cream topped off this most excellent meal. In our hotel elevator was an interesting sign. "Enjoy

Our Free Buffet For Only 20 Euros".

After we arrived back at the room, Cristiana joined us out on our balcony. She brought fresh grapes from the

market. Watched a full moon rise and shine upon the Mediterranean Sea. Very pretty reflection. Must have talked

until 11:45. After she left, we packed our suitcases, for we leave the Sun Coast tomorrow morning.


My first thoughts were on August 2nd, 1972. It was 40 years ago today that I was born-again as a Christian. At

5:30, Bethany and I are walking down the empty streets, looking for an A.T.M. Walked 8 blocks before we found one.

She was a big help with the translation on the machine. Got some more spending money now. Our luggage was set

outside our room by 7 a.m. Then on down to a stupendous breakfast. Load the bus and change seats again. Fernanda

wanted us to move two rows each day. That way, we would all rotate and not be (stuck) in the same seats all the time.

Bethany wanted to sit with her momma. For a while, I was sitting by myself. Toward the end of our tour, I sat next

to Maryam (one row behind my wife and daughter). She was a pleasant travelling buddy. Think she even took more

pictures than I did. A cable car passed overhead as we drove west along the main motorway. Our next destination is


The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region. Originally known as the Pillars of Hercules, we know

it by the Spanish derivation of the Arabic name Jabal-i Tariq. It is a massive limestone rock, seemingly isolated from

the surrounding countryside. The peak stands at 1398 feet. Had to use our passports to cross into this English territory.

We were "Welcomed" in seven different languages. There's a poster touting Gibraltar...Home of Miss World Pageant-

2009. I quickly take a photo of a huge sculpture/statue proclaiming Gibraltar - Cradle Of History. It was neat to see

the British flag flying again. It has been seven years since our family vacationed in England & Scotland. We are now

driving along Winston Churchill Avenue. With land being so scarce, the road actually passes through the airport run-

way. First time we've done that. It has a very high population density with 30,000 inhabitants.

An Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar from Spain in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession. The 2.6

square mile territory was ceded to Britain "in perpetuity". Interesting to note that driving is done on the right side of

the road. Our bus-driver took us all over the place. Saw a huge white mosque with a very tall tower. The sign read:

"Mosque Of The Custodian Of The Two Holy mosques.. King Fahad Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud". Opened in 1997, it is

the southernmost mosque to be situated in continental Europe. Our bus stopped so we could take pictures of EUROPA

POINT- GIBRALTAR. This is one of the southernmost points of the Iberian Peninsula. Always like seeing a light-

house. Built in 1838, the light can be seen 17 miles away. This is the very point where the great Atlantic Ocean and

Mediterranean Sea meet. We slowly climbed in elevation. Looking down at the port, could see hundreds of cargo and

pleasure ships. I saw a nice bronzed marker with a map of the planet. With the epicenter at Gibraltar, and lines

extending to six continents, it read "The Modern World".

Continuing to climb a steep hill, we were surprised when one of the Barbary apes jumped into the window of our

bus driver. It was looking for food. At the parking lot, several more of these transplanted apes came to investigate us.

Certainly we had food to share with them. One of the cutest pictures I took was one young ape pulling on the pants

leg of one of the men. St. Michael's Cave will be our next tour stop. The cave winds some 700 feet downward into the

rock. Enjoyed the coolness inside. Walked through and looked at the stalactites and stalagmites. The cave formations

are colorfully lit and with great acoustics, it's easy to see why the largest of the chambers serves as an auditorium. It

will seat 100 people. Close to one million tourists per year come visit.

In 1942, the entire cave was prepared for use as an emergency military hospital. To improve air circulation, an

alternate entrance was required. While blasting the rock, another deeper system of caves were discovered. The Lower

St. Michael's Cave even includes a lake of crystal clear water. With such an extensive subterranean passageway

system, legend says that the Barbary Apes travelled 15 miles through the tunnel, under the strait of Gibraltar.

Back outside these apes, or Gibraltar Monkeys, were waiting for us. Though we had no food to share, it was fun to

see them drink water from plastic bottles.

Driving into the town center, we now have some free time for lunch. Well, since I'm in English territory, I'd like

fish and chips to eat. Bethany got a kick out of the condiments: Daddies (brand) Ketchup. After 13 days, I develop a

queasy stomach. Maybe not drinking enough fluids? After lunch, I sit on a bench while Janet and Bethany go window

shopping. A young Frenchman, who was not wearing a shirt, sat beside me. Don't think he had bathed in a week. It

was time to get up and move to another bench. My nose couldn't take it any more.

As we drive north from Gibraltar, we stop for coffee about an hour later. There is a beautiful flower garden and

tile entrance at the Los Corzos .. La Palmosa. The interior had a bullfighting motif. A quiet ride as we head on into

Seville. We check into the Ayre Sevilla Hotel. It has the distinction of being the first Sustainable (green) hotel in the

city. And I'm ready for a long nap. Not sure where my two girls went to, but I slept until about 8:00. Went downstairs

for supper and Janet and Bethany found me there. It has been a long day, but I'm feeling much better now.


After breakfast, we shall have a walking tour of Seville. Our first visit is to the Alcazar of Seville or Royal Palace.

In the 5th century, a Christian basilica occupied part of this site. Then it became a Moorish building in the 900's.

After the Reconquest in 1248, it became the residence of the kings of Castile. Later, Spanish kings continued the

rebuilding efforts which included Gothic, Christian and Muslim designs. We enter at the Puerta de la Monteria or

Gate of the Hunt. The ceramic tile above us is translated as "Prepared for All". We pass through a few patios then on

to King Don Pedro's Palace. Next was the Chapel de la Contratacion (House of Trade). A complex of rooms relates to

Spain and the Americas. In one room, Christopher Columbus was received by Queen Isabella after his second voyage.

There is a huge painting of the Madonna sheltering a group of native Americans under her cloak. On display are

several coats-of-arms in the square room. The ceiling is elaborately coffered with octagonal and star-shaped designs.

Next we see the Courtyard of the Dolls (named for the four small heads that decorate one of the arches) with a patio.

The Italian Renaissance Courtyard has semi-circular arches on marble columns with marble pedestals, balustrades

and spandrels with busts of ladies, knights and imperial heraldry. There is decorative ceramic tile on stairways, walls

and benches as we head out to the gardens (Jardin de la Danza). Many fountains and even some fish in the pools added

to the ambience. Next we toured the Halls of Charles V. The rooms had rib vaults supported by pillars. The tile dados

represented various animals plus coats-of-arms. In the Sala Grande were enormous and beautiful tapestries. I especially

admired the Conquest of Tunis by Carlos V. Who knows how many pieces of tile made up this World Heritage Site?

Or how many intricately designed patterns? Such a memorable place.

The second part of the big tour this morning is a visit to the Cathedral of Seville. It is the largest Gothic cathedral,

as well as the third largest church in the world. Different styles of architecture include: Mudejar, Gothic, Renaissance,

Baroque and Neo-Classical. Built in the 15th century, the interior measures 413 feet long x 272 feet wide x 120 feet

tall. The word "magnificent" seems inadequate. There are eighty chapels, stained glass windows, remarkable vaulted

ceilings, a beautiful choir, the golden Retablo Mayor (main altarpiece). The world's largest altar-piece consists of 36

gilded relief panels depicting scenes from the Old Testament and the lives of saints. Near the main entrance stands the

large funeral monument to Christopher Columbus. The body of the famous explorer was brought to Seville from

Havana, Cuba in the 1890s. The sarcophagus of Columbus is carried by four large statues.

The Patio de los Naranjos was originally the (orange tree) courtyard of the former mosque. (Construction began in

1184). A stone fountain in the center of the patio dates back to the Roman or Visigoth era. The doors to the Cathedral

are impressive in nature. They are decorated with statues plus reliefs of the Adoration of the Magi, Christ's entry into

Jerusalem, and the Assumption of the Virgin. The crowning piece is the Giralda Bell Tower. Originally built as the

minaret of the mosque, it stands at 322 feet in height. The tower escaped the earthquakes of the 14th century unharmed

and Christian symbols were then added to the spire.

There was a visit to the Plaza of Santa Cruz, the former Jewish quarter of the medieval city. Took a picture of the

ceramic tile sign: Juderia. There seems to be a maze of narrow streets and alleys. Tiled benches welcome the tourists.

Small squares in this area are lined with orange trees. The churches here were formerly synagogues. A pleasantly

picturesque place to stroll through. Plus, the bazaar offered lots of sidewalk cafes and souvenir shops.

Such a busy morning... but so much history surrounding old Seville. We return to our hotel at 12:30 and decide to

eat lunch there. We decided on tuna salad sandwiches and pork chops. Went to the pool to check it out, but just too

hot to stay. Then back to our room to rest. After several hours, we prepare for our evening out.

Most all of us join the optional dinner with Flamenco Dance as our bus leaves at 5:45. Another beautiful ceramic

tile sign welcomes us to the El Palacio Andaluz. I notice the decoratively painted ceiling as we settle into our table.

Maryam joins us at our table for four. There are four different appetizers. The tourist in me had to take a picture. Next

we were brought bread, water, wine and sangria. The entree choices were chicken or pork or salmon.

Flamenco is a genre of Spanish music which includes singing, dancing, guitar playing and handclaps. It is known

for sweeping arm and hand movements and rhythmic feet stomping. Castanets are held in the hand for clicking and

folding fans are used for visual impact. This group of professionals was passionate and serious about their flamenco

dancing! So very talented, too. Throw in about a dozen costume changes and we truly enjoyed a memorable night.

There is still light outside as we return to our hotel at 9:00. The pool is already closed so we'll get to bed early.


We have a 5:30 wake-up alarm, then breakfast at 7:00. We leave on time at 8 a.m. We have 367 miles before

arriving in Madrid. Oleanders in the median of the motorway add a nice touch to the morning. Passing several stork

nests on power-poles, I finally got a good photo of one. In the small town of Pedro Abad, we stopped for 30 minutes

to stretch our legs. Picked up a few snacks. As we continued driving northward, we passed stretches of road with olive

trees on both sides. Saw some fun billboards of donkeys and guitar players. There is clay in the hilly lands that will

used at the ceramic factories. We see several old-fashioned windmills that reminded me of Holland. These will be

preserved as part of a national monument. A hamburger lunch break lasts from 12:30 - 1:30. See more castle ruins.

We now reach the city of Toledo. Populated since the Bronze Age, this was a major commercial center during

Roman times. Toledo served as the capital of Visigoth Spain until conquered by the Moors. The city experienced a

period of several centuries known as the La Convivencia or Co-Existence. Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in

relative peace together... cultural acceptance and even religious tolerance. What a remarkable concept. After the Re-

conquest by the Christians in 1085, the Arab libraries were not pillaged. Instead, the books in Arabic were translated

into Hebrew, Spanish or Latin.

We ride upon an old stone bridge to cross the Tagus River as we enter Toledo. Our bus stops so we can visit a

Damascene steel workshop, the Artespana. Originating in Damascus, Syria, this ancient art involves interlacing gold

on steel, then firing it. The underlying material oxidizes and becomes black, with the gold in sharp relief. The process

involves lightly etching a design with a stylus-like tool on the steel surface of the object. Gold wire is laid within the

rough edges raised by the etching. This burr is then worked down to hold the inlay, forming a delicate and intricate

pattern against the contrasting black background. In this shop we can purchase Damascene swords, plates, platters,

boxes, ash trays, pendants, necklaces and bracelets. Have I mentioned how much Janet and Bethany like jewelry? Each

found an item they just had to have. My friend, Phil, asked if I was going to purchase both items? I just told him that

"a man's got to do what a man's got to do", as I pulled out my credit card. He said he would just call me "wallet". There

are 24 shops in town where artisans create authentic damascene ware. 10 years apprenticeship to become a "master".

The bus soon drops us off and we take an escalator up to the town center. The "old city center" sits atop a craggy

granite rock, and is almost completely encircled by the river. There are more than 100 monuments in this walled area,

which also has a World Heritage Site designation. Two thousand years of history live within the walls of the city. I

enjoyed walking through narrow (sometimes very narrow) winding streets. So much beauty to take in, so little time.

The Toledo Cathedral began as a church under 6th century Visigoth rule. After the 711 Muslim invasion, it became

a mosque. The start of this new church began in 1226. There are 20 chapels, 5 naves and 88 columns. 750 stained glass

windows date back over 600 years. The cathedral is adorned with paintings and frescoes by well known artists such as

Francisco Goya, Raphael, Van Dyck, Giovanni Bellini, Rubens and the Spanish Renaissance painter el Greco. Massive

doors, detailed sculptures and intricate crucifixes gives the visitor a feeling of stepping back in time. It has an enormous

altar- piece. Built in 1504 of gilded and painted wood, it stretches to the ceiling with intricate detail. There are life size

figures of New Testament characters. Behind the Capilla Mayor is the Transparente, a huge marble and alabaster altar

dedicated to the Virgin, and topped by a painted dome. "El Transparente" has a mixture of stucco, painting, marble and

bronze elements and goes to the roof, where a hole in the roof shines light over the whole masterpiece. The impression

by the artist, Narciso Tome, is that the altar is going to Heaven. The north tower stands 295 feet high and was com-

pleted in 1440. The famous bell, Campana Gorda, weighs 17 tons. At the heart of the cathedral is the magnificent choir

(Coro). There are two tiers of carved walnut-wood stalls and abundant sculptures. The Plateresque grille that encloses

the choir was plated with gold, but has since been covered in iron. Lastly, the centerpiece of the Treasure Room is a

500 pound, 10 foot high, 15th century gilded monstrance. Made of solid silver, it was gilded in gold 70 years later.

I was totally in awe when we left this place.

Next was a short walk to the old Jewish quarter (Juderia). Took a picture of an old blue ceramic tile that featured a

seven candled menorah. There are three remaining synagogues in Spain, and two are here in Toledo. Got a nice photo

of an original brick walkway that had been preserved. We had a few minutes to stop in a shaded park area and get

Bethany some ice-cream. Our group then walked across the stone bridge, through an original town gate and onto our

waiting Globus bus. At the highest point of the city, we saw the Alcazar. Will just have to visit it on our next trip. 45

miles to go and we'll be back in Madrid.

Tonight we shall stay at the Hotel Agumar. Our farewell dinner was served at 7:30. Cristiana sits with us as we

share some of our favorite memories. Saying our good-byes, we exchange e-mail addresses with several traveling

companions. Janet, Bethany and I want to walk the streets of Madrid one last time. Maryam is happy to join us. We

walk for awhile until we find Atocha Street, then up a few blocks. Coming back we pass a university. So many people

walking the streets tonight. A fun, leisurely way to end our trip. Back at our hotel about 10:15, we all hug Maryam

good-bye. Going to miss my travel buddy. Time to pack the suit-cases for we will leave early tomorrow. Don't want

to leave anything behind.


That 5:00 wake-up call comes mighty early. It is still a few hours until sunrise. We have our luggage out at 6:15

and go check-out. There are three breakfast bags for us at the front desk. Our taxi arrives at 6:30 and we're soon on our

way to the airport.

We check in, go through security and ate our breakfast (after our 3 bottles of water were taken from us). I need to

buy a few more souvenirs and get a Customs stamp for the VAT refund. About 20 minutes to wait, then we can board.

Saw our Minnesota friends as we begin to board the U.S. Airways plane. We leave on time at 9:40 and after a few

minutes, Madrid is behind us. We fly over the mountains and up into the clouds. Time for a long flight to the U.S.A.

After 90 minutes, a chicken dinner is served. We snooze for a little while. There are a couple of movies to watch,

then take another little nap. More food as we have Italian Cheese and Pesto Panini. After 9 hours, we arrive at 12:30

in Charlotte, NC. With all the Customs workers / Border Patrol agents on break, we were required to stay on the plane

until 1:00. So, there are hundreds of passengers to be processed. Any items to declare? We had brought some food with

us. Go stand in another line. Got to throw away the banana (from breakfast bag). Show the passport again. Go stand in

another line. Now, we can pick up our luggage. Then go show the boarding pass and check the luggage in for our last

flight to Mobile. The get screened again. Empty the pockets, off with the shoes, x-ray imaging. Oh no, Janet has an

unopened juice container from breakfast. Toss it. Okay, we now have a 3-hour wait. Janet stays with our carry-on items

while Bethany and I walk a long ways for a little exercise and to buy her some ice-cream.

At 4:34 we hear the dreaded announcement: Flight Cancelled. Stormy weather between NC and AL. We had to

reschedule our flight for Monday at 9:55 a.m. Made reservations for the Country Inn and Suites and go outside the

airport to await our shuttle-bus. In the Zone-D parking area I notice several beautiful young ladies wearing pretty

dresses. They are in town for the Miss Earth Contest. From their sashes, I saw some represented New Mexico, Ohio

and the Border Cities (?). The national winner will compete in Manila, the Philippines in November. This international

pageant promotes environmental awareness.

After arriving at the hotel, Janet and Bethany quickly crawl into bed. I walk outside to the pool area, then come on

back inside. Wanted to call my friends, the Hester family, but did not have their phone number with me. We are

all in bed at 7 p.m. What a long day.


We slept for 11 hours, before the 6:00 wake-up call. Sure helped us with jet-lag. After breakfast, the shuttle-bus

leaves at 8:00. Glad to have a smooth check-in. The plane taxis out at 9:55 and we get into a line of waiting planes.

At 10:10 we're speeding down the runway and finally on our way. Our cruising altitude was 28,000 feet. Except when

we were in or above the clouds, I could see land for most of the flight. There is 1 picture left on the memory disc for

my camera. Bethany and I must have taken over 5 thousand pictures. We'll remember this Spanish Fiesta tour forever.

Flying into Mobile, we land at 10:30. Quickly find all three suitcases and take a taxi. Home at 11:00. Back to

reality, it is time for me to be at work (only 30 minutes late). Life Is Good!


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