Sitges, Spain, the Antipope of Peniscola

Sitges, Spain, the Antipope of Peniscola

Driving through Peniscola
Driving through Peniscola

The present castle in Peniscola was built by the Knights Templar from 1294 to 1307. It looks like a prime piece of real estate that would be easy to defend. From 1415 to 1423 it was home of the antipope Benedict XIII. Wait…antipope? What is an antipope?

An antipope (Latin: antipapa) is a person who, in opposition to the one who is generally seen as the legitimately elected Pope, makes a significantly accepted competing claim to be the Pope,[1]the Bishop of Rome and leader of the Roman Catholic Church. At times between the 3rd and mid-15th century, antipopes were supported by a fairly significant faction of religious cardinals and secular kings and kingdoms. Persons who claim to be pope, but have few followers, such as the modern sedevacantist antipopes, are not classified with the historical antipopes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antipope#List_of_historical_antipopes

Between 1378 and 1417 there was the Western Schism in the Roman Catholic Church. During the Western Schism there were several men claiming to be Pope at the same time. The Schism was not caused by theological differences. It was about power. Each of these men was backed by a group of supporters who wanted the power and money that came with the papacy. (FYI there is also an East-West Schism which refers to the break between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.)

How does all this relate to Pensicola? In 1398, Benedict XIII was abandoned by most of his supporters as the Catholic Church worked to end the Western Schism and unite the various factions so that they all recognized the same man as Pope. Benedict refused to give up his title as Pope and had to seek refuge in Peniscola where he lived for the rest of his life. This part of Spain was then in what was called the Crown of Aragon. Benedict claimed to be Pope in opposition to the legitimately elected Pope and had enough members of the clergy backing him, so he is considered an antipope.

The view from the hill in Peniscola
The view from the hill in Peniscola

When I first started reading about Benedict XIII, I found the story intriguing. The more I learned about him, though, the less I liked him. He was an anti-Semite who wrote the Disputation of Tortosa, 1413-1414. Which was a “debate” between Christians and Jews that the Jews were forced to participate in. The purpose was the conversion of Jewish citizens. We had learned about these sorts of debates in Girona, https://blairleeblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/leaving-girona-for-the-abbaye-de-capservy-in-the-south-of-france-june-3-2015/. The result was that most wealthy Jews in the Aragon area did convert to Christianity. Benedict engaged in this to bolster flagging support for his claim to the papacy. He wasn’t successful in this, but the Dispuataion of Tortosa is considered the most prominent Jewish-Christian disputation of the Middle Ages. Pope’s preaching prejudice (even the ones who are just antipopes) should be an oxymoron not just alliterative .

Peniscola is close to Sitges which made today’s drive easy. Earlier in the week, I researched the best beach community near Barcelona to spend 3 days in. Sitges, Spain came up. I am so glad we chose there. We all liked it a lot! Right away!

The view from our apartment window in Sitges, Spain
The view from our apartment window in Sitges, Spain

In Sitges, we stayed in a second floor apartment over a cafe right across the street from a beautiful beach, https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4981447?euid=5fcbbd65-f44e-162e-ee92-0902b9ae0a98. If you think we broke the bank on our accommodations this trip, we did not. These sort of accommodations in Spain are much more reasonable than they are in the U.S.

http://www.locelecsitges.com/
http://www.locelecsitges.com/

Half a block up a walking street was Loc Elec Sitges, http://www.locelecsitges.com/en/. When you travel with two active teens, you find yourself looking at the sorts of activities we found at Loc Elec and in Ainsa. Even the most ardent history buff (me) gets burned out on historic sites if you do not break it up from time to time. This trip had more breaks than normal. Maybe that is the trend with Sean and friends for the next few years.

Xavier helped us figure out what we would like best!
Xavier helped us figure out what we would like best!
Sean chose a scooter.
Sean chose a scooter.

Loc Elec Sitges is a family run business. We dealt with Xavier. He was great. He let us try everything we wanted to. The gyropode was all I wanted to try ;-). Everyone else wanted to try more than that. We all settled on what we thought we would like best, and then we were off.

Sophia chose a gyropode, which is similar to a small Segway.
Sophia chose a gyropode, which is similar to a small Segway.
I knew right away what I wanted to ride!
I knew right away what I wanted to ride!

We rode up and down the boardwalk for a couple of hours. It was a great introduction to the town of Sitges. Sophia and I stopped occasionally and shopped from stands we rode past.

The gyropode I rented spoke Chinese. I thought Xavier was kidding when he told me this, but he wasn’t. For a short time I knew how to say, “Slow down, you are exceeding the suggested speed,” (or something close to that) in Chinese. If I ever go to China let’s hope I don’t need to know that phrase!

The skateboard goes about 20 km per hour!
The skateboard goes about 20 km per hour!
Jim chose an electric skateboard. The power comes from a lithium battery. He is holding the variable speed controller for in his hand.
Jim chose an electric skateboard. The power comes from a lithium battery. He is holding the variable speed controller in his hand.

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We had so much fun!

We had so much fun!

Sophia and I were even doing wheelies by the end.
Sophia and I were even doing wheelies by the end.
She could really sing. We all stopped to listen!
She could really sing. We all stopped to listen!

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Fun sites at the beach! This is exactly what we wanted for these three days after being on the road since May 27, 2015
Fun sights and people watching at the beach! This is exactly what we wanted for these three days after being on the road since May 27, 2015
Jim tried something new.
Jim tried something new.
Xavier came out to show him how.
Xavier came out to show him how.
It wasn't as easy as it looked. Only Sean would master this.
It wasn’t as easy as it looked. In our group only Sean would master this.
While Jim tried the electric monocycle, Sean did wheelies.
While Jim tried the electric monocycle, Sean did wheelies.

Somehow Sean managed to turn my gyropode off. By the time I figured out how to turn it back on, I changed it from Chinese to English. It was more fun to ride when I didn’t know it was telling me to slow down 😉

Check out the previous post from Spain here.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antipope_Benedict_XIII

http://www.britannica.com/topic/antipope

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disputation_of_Tortosa





There Were Mammooths in Andalusia

There Were Mammooths in Andalusia

Sean woke me up early. “Mom, I have broken out in a bad rash, or bites, or something all over!” Well, that will get a mother up and going! We could not figure it out. No one else had any bumps. Could it be that Sean was allergic to the detergent used when we washed clothes, or maybe it was the 30 to 40 nispero (fruits from the tree in the backyard) he ate over the course of 1&1/2 days? We still are not sure. In two itchy, scratchy days they were gone. It did get us going earlier than expected though.

The night before we finally planned the last bit of our trip. We would spend 1 night getting there, then stay in Sitges for three days. Sitges is a small beach community just south of Barcelona and north of Tarragona. The last night we would stay at an airport hotel in Barcelona. Today we would drive to Orce, Spain and sleep where the wind took us as long as it was in the direction of Sitges.

You might think the pronunciation of Orce is ors, but it is orth, with the th drawn out. Early in our trip. Jim noticed it sounded as if people were saying grathious instead of gracious. At first he thought it was a lisp. He quickly realized the entire population of Spain most likely did not have a lisp. When he asked about it, it was explained to him that the c is often (but not always) pronounced as th.

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When I heard there were mammoth fossils being excavated in the Granada area, I Googled it right away. Not only have they found mammoth fossils, but they found the remains of humans dated to over a million years old. This sort of detour is why we prefer to travel like we do. It does mean that sometimes we cannot get the tickets to a palace we would otherwise visit, but it also means we have the flexibility to take an unplanned detour to see fossils.

Traveler’s Tip: If you visit the Orce area between July 6 to September 7, you can visit one of the digs with people working at them. If you read about it here and go, I want photos! I will be super jealous, but I still want to hear about it!

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orce where they are finding fossils

We like to travel off the beaten path. Orce, Spain qualifies for this. We were the only 4 people in the entire museum. They unlocked it for us. Gave us some cards explaining what we were looking at, and left us to look. I should start a hashtag #PlacesInSpainWithNobodyThere. Here is what is sad, people should be visiting these places. These places have all been seriously cool.

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The scene depicts pre-historic life in Orce. There were species of tiger living in the Iberian Peninsula, but this exact species of tiger wasn’t one found here.

I am including photos from literature given to use while visiting the museum.

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Display case B

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It is now thought that the first people living on the European continent lived in Southern Spain and were from Africa. Looking at the geography this makes sense. Some scientists think people were living in Europe as early as 1.8 million year BCE. It is thought there might have been a land bridge between north Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. The countries of Spain, Portugal, and Andorra make up the Iberian Peninsula.

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When Orce man was discovered there was great excitement in the scientific community. It was then suggested that the fragment was that of an equine species. Tests done since support the scientific theory that the fragment is of human origin. The other evidence that has been excavated in Orce are several human teeth and stones that have been sharpened to make tools. Until I was back in the States I did not appreciate what I was looking at when I looked at the skull fragment. In Orce, I was more excited about the tooth on display. Little did I know that the skull fragment was one of the key pieces of “evidence” creationists use when attempting to discredit the occurrence of evolution. The skull fragment was found at one of the four excavation sites surrounding Orce.Andalusia

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This is a fossilized human tooth. The human lived over a million years ago.
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These tools show evidence of having been shaped. It made me think of finding arrowheads in Bridgeport, California.

What the creationists say about Orce man.

Orce man: Found in the southern Spanish town of Orce in 1982, and hailed as the oldest fossilized human remains ever found in Europe. One year later officials admitted the skull fragment was not human but probably came from a 4 month old donkey. Scientists had said the skull belonged to a 17-year-old man who lived 900,000 to 1.6 million years ago, and even had very detail drawings done to represent what he would have looked like. (source: “Skull fragment may not be human”, Knoxville News-Sentinel, 1983) http://www.nwcreation.net/evolutionfraud.html

The statement is misleading and they do not use a solid science reference. it also has not been updated to include the latest evidence using albumin analysis, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02436194#page-1, which isn’t very new, but I thought you would find it interesting.

I had no idea when I chose science as a discipline of study, that I was heading down a path with controversy. I am a secular, academic, homeschooling scientist who writes about evolution, the Big Bang, human causes of climate change, and living on a multi-million year old planet in a multi-billion year old universe, though, so… As you can imagine, I was over the top excited when I realized I saw the oldest human fossils to be discovered on the European continent!!!

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There are 2 floors. The carnivores and human fossils are on the first floor, and the herbivores are on the second floor.

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I love hippos!

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An extinct species of elephant. If you look hard enough you can see it.

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We drove for the night until we were ready to be done. This put us near Peniscola where we found a room for the night. I read about it on my phone and it sounded like a good place to stay. This is where the Spanish tourists hang out. (In droves! It felt like the beach area in California in the summer on steroids!) The people were friendly, the beach lovely, and we could not wait to get out of there the next morning. Imagine a Disney Hotel at max capacity and then add more people!

Sand sculpture in Peniscola
Sand sculpture in Peniscola

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People kept asking if we were British. I asked, and was told that is because Peniscola is not a destination Americans go to. It was eye-opening though, and I am glad we stayed, because now we know the Spanish do vacation. When I said something about the hotel staff not being able to distinguish between a U.S. and British accent Sean made a great point. He asked why someone who barely speaks English would notice the difference. Several people told me I speak Mexican Spanish. Sean pointed out that I couldn’t tell the difference between that and Castillian Spanish.

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After dinner we rode around Peniscola in a pedal cab. Sean and Jim did most of the peddling. Then Sean took over and did it all. Just one of the perks of bringing a fit 15-year-old boy with you! We were laughing so hard. Don’t you love the sound of kids laughing!

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Here is a list of the articles I read about the fossils in Orce.

Check out the previous post from Spain here

Mammoth fossils here

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orce

http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/june-2013/article/oldest-human-fossil-in-western-europe-found-in-spain

http://www.columbia.edu/itc/anthropology/v1007/castro/tsld006.htm

http://www.researchgate.net/publication/236037710_The_oldest_human_fossil_in_Europe_dated_to_ca._1.4_Ma_at_Orce_(Spain)

https://books.google.com/books?id=KetpijSSLv8C&pg=PA598&lpg=PA598&dq=animal+fossils+andalusia+orce&source=bl&ots=Vv-Ampr6oa&sig=Rp43up9K7gqvnwWOAofSExHcmz0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=8rqFVde3M8OqyATVz6OYBg&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=animal%20fossils%20andalusia%20orce&f=false





The Alhambra in Daylight

The Alhambra in Daylight

When you buy tickets for the Alhambra you have to choose between the morning or afternoon. We chose afternoon because the morning session started at 8 a.m.  We had yet to even be awake once that early in the morning. The problem with that is the temperature. It had been warm in the afternoons all week. Still we were glad we chose the afternoon. We were all enjoying waking late every morning.

Over the past few months in the States there have been many news stories about African refugees trying to come to Europe. We had seen and even bought things from men on the streets since we had been in Spain. Today Sean and Sophia bought a hat and sunglasses from two men who told us they were from Somalia. Over the next few days I asked and was told often by men selling things in the street that they were from Somalia. The men today seemed to be being bossed around by an older red-haired woman who had no teeth. I really hope these men are not working off their passage by hawking cheap trinkets in front of the Alhambra.

Unfortunately, I didn’t decide I wanted to tell you all about this until the Somali expats were walking away. When I was finally done fumbling with my camera they had walked away. You can just see the two walking up the tree-lined lane.

The woman with red hair and green shirt at the bench is the woman who seemed to be their boss. If she is I hope she is at least a good and fair one.

Sophia needed new sunglasses & Sean needed glasses and a new sun hat. “I can wear it camping mom.” (6/20/15: He has it with him on a camping trip he left for on the day we returned.)


It is hard to wrap your head around what it must be like to be an adult trying to feed yourself and possibly your family back home this way. I hope their life is a good one. My heart hurts that this might not be the case. I wish the dreams we all had for ourselves could be realized. (Bleeding heart, tree hugging, liberal type here 😉 in case you hadn’t figured that out yet.)

Our reason for visiting Granada was to see the Alhambra. Many people over the past 2 weeks had told us we could not visit Spain and skip the Alhambra. So we booked 2 nights in Granada. Granada turned out to be worth visiting for much more than the Alhambra. We all really like the vibe of the town, and the house where we are staying is awesome. If you are going to Granada, especially with a family, I recommend it, https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/5445326.

Here are a series of photos from inside the Alhambra. A tip I have for you is to buy your tickets 2 to 3 weeks before you need them. By the time I tried to buy the tickets they only had the Generalife tickets available. This was all the kids cared about seeing anyway, and if you have to choose one, this is what you want to see. We had admittance into every area except the Nasrid Palace. When you enter the grounds of the Alhambra you have your choice where to start. It is divided (on the map and with signage) into several areas. We went left, because that is where #1 on the audio is. I rented a handheld audio guide .  I like information on the tour, but no one else cares. They trust me to tell them about the interesting parts 😉  Jim took the photos today, because I was busy holding the guide.

Water was important to life and to the faith of the Moors. In college I learned that Moors were Berbers, and that the term Moor is not synonymous with Muslim, as some people including Jim thought. The written information on the internet is very confusing on this issue. It might have to do with the fact that the Christians conquered the Moors, and therefore wrote the history after that. During the xenophobic time when Christians were using divisive religion tactics to force mass conversions or expulsions with the confiscation of property to increase their numbers, they would have benefited greatly from stereotyping all Moors as also being Muslims, but that is just where my mind wandered as I was processing what we had seen in Girona with the history we were learning at the Alhambra. I do not know how accurate this is, but it is a very interesting list, http://www.blackhistorystudies.com/resources/resources/15-facts-on-the-moors-in-spain/. The material on this list is closer to what I learned in college than much of what is on the Internet, but I do not know much about this time or area of history.

  

Much of what is seen today has been restored. The French burned the Alhambra when they conquered this area.


Most of the photos here show the Moorish influence in their architecture and design details. The photo above is of the Santa Maria de la Alhambra. A beautiful building that was a mosque, before it was converted into a church.

Below I am standing in front of the Bano de la Mezquita. This type of communal bath was a place to take ablutions before prayer, socialize, and gather.

The roof of the bano.   This shows Charles V conquering his Moorish adversaries.

From the wall surrounding Charles V Palace. Jim says that is a good view of where we are staying.

  

The Puerta del Vino above is purportedly the oldest structure in the Alhambra.

Since 1556, the neighbours of the Alhambra left at this gate the wine that they drunk and which was not submitted to taxation. This is a possible explanation for the gate’s name, although there is another theory, according to which the name is the result of a mistake. Apparently two words got muddled up: «Bib al-hamra’», meaning Red Gate or Gate to the Alhambra, which would be the original name of the gate, and «Bib al-jamra», meaning Wine Gate. This second theory would then prove that this was the access gate to the higher Alhambra.

http://www.alhambradegranada.org/en/info/placesandspots/winegate.asp

Across from the wine gate is more running water.Up the steps with the running water to the next area called the Alcazaba. “The word derives from the Arabic word القصبة (al-qasbah), a walled-fortification in a city,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcazaba. Which is exactly what it looked like. Sean and Sophia ran up to the top, while I caught my breath.

Here is a photo of them at the top. Good thing Sean bought that hat so he was easy to spot.   I still see Sean, where is Sophia?

  Sean waits at the tunnel from the staircase to the top of the tower of the Alcazaba.   The top of this tower has a great view looking back across the Alhambra, because it is at the far west end.

Sean trying to give me a heart attack! “Mom, I bet I could scale down from here.” “If you do that Sean, I will kill you myself!”
  AlhambraThis is the view from the other side of the tower. You can see why they built a watch tower here.  AlhambraWe strolled from there through the gardens to what is called Generalife.    Alhambra

There were several of these towers like the one above along the way. They look like watch towers, but they were not. They were living quarters, oratories, and other structures. The audio guide quoted often from the text The Alhambra written in 1832 by Washington Irving. I really wish I had read it before visiting. Here is a link for you to a free copy of the book, http://pinkmonkey.com/dl/library1/irvng001.pdf. Irving visited many of these outer buildings before the interiors were stripped, and he describes them in his text. Alhambra  Alhambra  AlhambraGeneralife is at the north-east side of the Alhambra complex. The photo below shows the view looking west and a bit north. Alhambra  

AlhambraGeneralife has water everywhere. Beautiful flowers and scents and water are a with you in most areas of the Alhambra, all except Alcazaba.  AlhambraThis view looks out on the White Church where we were last night and the Albaicin. (There are several ways to spell this. I have chosen the spelling we saw in Grenada.)The Albaicin, the area we are staying in, has been inhabited since pre-Roman times. Today this area reflects the Moorish influence over a series of centuries, not Roman or Christian. The palace of the Alhambra was completed in the 14th century by a Moorish ruler of that time, Yusuf I and his son Mohammed V. The Catholic Monarch Charles V also has a palace on the grounds built in 1526. That was the building we almost got locked in the night before. The 1500’s were a tumultuous time as the Moors and Catholics fought for who was going to rule in southern Spain. After winning a series of battles, Charles V built his palace as a symbol that a new power was in charge and it was a Catholic one. Charles V increased taxes to build the Palace which after a while led to an uprising. (Jim and I both read Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen this trip. It made us more reflective and thoughtful about the power the people actually have if they act as a collective. http://www.amazon.com/Words-Will-Break-Cement-Passion/dp/1594632197).

The walls were built in the days when those kept people out!Alhambra  Alhambra

This is an ambulance we saw at the Alhambra. This gives a great idea of how small and tight the streets are in historic medieval areas of Europe.

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We were ready to get back. The kids wanted to swim and Sean and Sophia both wanted to eat more of these!  

Check out the previous post from Spain here.





Granada Spain Must Have some Homeschoolers In It

Granada Spain Must Have some Homeschoolers In It

The kids were ready to get to Granada. The house we were staying at there had a pool, and they wanted to swim in it. It had been warm and sunny for the past three days, definitely swimming weather.

  

Jim spotted this on the way there. I wonder if asparagus is transported like this everywhere? Spain has the best produce. The Spanish are proud of this too. Organic food and food that has not been genetically modified are the norm not the exception. When they get rid of weeds from between the cracks of sidewalks they use weed-whackers not Round-up. The Spanish seem to have made a conscious decision not to poison the Earth and its inhabitants. It changes the dynamic in a very positive way when consumers are put before big corporations on food issues. It is lucky for us we have been staying in some Airbnb properties so I observed this as we have been shopping in the small markets here. 

The house we rented for 2 nights is in the Albaicin district in Granada is in the old historic Moorish area. As you will see many of the homes in the area and the streets still show the historic influence. The kids and I were dropped off with Samar, the home owner and walked to the house while Jim found a place to park where the lanes were wide enough to fit our rental car.

The entire Albaicin neighborhood was declared a world heritage site in 1984. One of the main tourist attractions in Granada is walking in this area. The cobbled streets, architecture, and small market squares transport you back in time. Here is a link to a good Wikipedia article about this area, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albayz%C3%ADn
Yeah! The pool! 

There is also a nispero tree.

The kitchen! We went right out to buy food to make dinner at the house.

Mammooth beer, we asked? We were told mammoth bones had been excavated from the surrounding mountain range, The Sierra Nevada Mountains. I wonder where our Sierra Nevada Mountains got their name?

When we were grocery shopping in the Alabicin area, Sophia turned to me and said, “We have found the hippie district of Spain. I bet there are homeschoolers here.” We Googled it, and there are.

You are a vegan and a vegetarian? Sophia and I heard many times on this trip. Spain is a meat eating, meat loving country, but it has a core of people who are passionate about not eating meat. These people loved the Americans who were vacationing in Spain and not eating meat. When the ecological food store owner (We saw this term on many store fronts. We think this is what Spain calls their organic stores.) learned about our eating habits, she gave Sophia a milk chocolate bar for a present and me candies that were vegan, figs stuffed with hazelnuts dipped in vegan chocolate. They were really good!

The furnishings in the house we stayed at were lovely. This house really was a find. It is in a lovely quiet area. It has everything you could want, and it is beautifully appointed.

Samar told us we should walk up the hill to the white church to see the Alhambra at sunset. We stopped and took photos of graffiti along the way. Sean has always loved graffiti and likes to check out any he sees and likes. Hmmm, why is the vegan taking the picture, not in it?

This entire area from Seville east has cave houses like the one below

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The view of the Alhambra from the white church on the hill.

Do you see The Alhambra at our shoulders? The photo below is of some guys we met and started talking to at the top.

On the walk down the hill, we took a different path.

This is the opening to a water well, Aljibe as they are called in Spanish. There are over 25 Aljibe in the Albaicin district. Here is a link to a walking tour through the area using the water wells as points of interest, http://www.piccavey.com/aljibes-granada/. We preferred to get lost in the Albaicin and find our way against following a set path. Getting lost was not a real problem, because once I had eaten at our house and bought food at a market, I could always find my way to either of these locations. It is a very strange trait. I have a terrible sense of direction, that is, unless I have ever eaten somewhere. Any place I have eaten or bought food at I can always find my way to again.

At 11:30 at night with the kids yawning, I said, “Let’s go check the Alhambra out.” We came very close to getting locked in. Wouldn’t that be cool (and uncool at the same time ;-). We just walked in. It is so much more relaxed than U.S.

The kids didn’t appreciate it it, but they will. Just give them a decade!

Check out the previous Spain post here.





Seeing Seville on an Electric Bike and Flamencoa

Seeing Seville on an Electric Bike and Flamencoa

The Flying Dutchmen told us what a blast they had riding around Seville on a Segway. We called every Segway rental company we could find on the Internet and they were all booked. I looked on TripAdvisor to make sure we had not missed any Segway companies and what came up as the number one outdoor activity in Seville was the Electric Bicycle not the Segway. I called Elecmove Electric Bikes (If you are wondering, I use TripAdvisor a lot when we travel.) and they were able to fit us in. We even got the #1 rated English speaking guide, Marie! We had a blast. It was a great way to see the city and we learned a lot about the history of Seville. One of the things I really liked was that it didn’t make any difference that our fitness levels varied. There are 3 settings on the bike and you can choose how hard you want to work with the setting. The other perk of seeing Seville by bike is that there are bike paths throughout the city. The electric bikes have access to these. http://www.elecmove.com/en/ We walked through the lovely, old, cobbled streets of the historic district. It is much easier to walk or ride a bike through these streets than to drive a car through them. Jim did a wonderful job of driving through them for 3 weeks. You really have to pay attention.  electric bikeselectric bikeselectric bikesThis is Marie our guide talking to Jim. We learned so much from her! electric bikesThe bikes are easier than I thought they would be. There are three speeds. You choose the one you want (or none at all) depending on how hard you want to work. There is a sensor that kicks in and helps when you start to peddle.  electric bikesTo put it mildly, I am not very into riding bikes. Do not ask me why, I just am not. I was definitely the weakest rider of the bunch. Even I had a great time.  The photo above is of the Caliph’s Castle. It is over 1000 years old. Fernando the Catholic King took Seville from the Caliph in 1248. Earthquake 1356 damaged the Caliph’s Castle and the cathedral below. electric bikeselectric bikesBecause of the Earthquake the Cathedral needed to be repaired. When it was finished in 1403 it was the world’s largest cathedral. The Pope didn’t like this so he added onto the cathedral in Rome. Then the British built St James’ Cathedral. So the Pope added on to the cathedral in Rome yet again, so that once again the cathedral in Rome would be the largest. The Pope was tired at this point of living in a dust filled place that was always under construction so he made an edict that you need the Pope’s approval to build or renovate a cathedral. In all the years since then a project to make a larger cathedral than the one in Rome has never been approved. electric bikesThe steel structure at the top of the bell tower below was once tethered in place. The moorings came loose and then it became a weather vane. This was a problem as it would sometimes spin wildly and frighten people that it was going to fall when the surrounding buildings were shorter. Now that it is surrounded by taller buildings it is no longer a problem as this square does not get as much wind. electric bikesThere were many exports from the new world pouring into Seville. Isabella made Seville the site where all goods from the new world first came to. The tobacco factory processed the tobacco being imported in. A black market started as people began growing tobacco plants in their back yard. The king and queen outlawed this and a factory was built. The queen and king were losing too much tax revenue. Women were chosen to work in the factory because it was thought they were more delicate in handling the leaves. The women began to steal tobacco. One woman in particular, named Carmine, started stealing tobacco. A book and opera were written her.  electric bikesThis is the Plaza de Espana. It is beautiful. The Naboo scene in Star Wars is filmed there,   https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mVQyW1n5ECY.
electric bikesThe building above is called the Bathroom of ’29. It was the Guatemalan embassy built for the World Expo. People mistakenly thought it was a bathroom and used it as such. It has been abandoned since then.

This is Maria Luisa’s summer residence. Built by the queen for her sister.  The tower above was built by the Moors as a watch tower. The Catholics used it as the Gold Tower. This is where they would collect gold brought from the new world.  This is the gypsy quarter. The gypsies practiced magic which frightened non-gypsies so they were put in their own quarter. It is thought that it is a combination of Moorish and gypsy culture that resulted in the style of dance called flamenco. The photos below are from the show we saw at the Flamenco Museum.  

Weakest rider? Yes. Coolest shoes? I think my Wonder Woman high tops speak for themselves!

Ready and waiting for flamenco. It was a great show. There was dancing, singing, and guitar playing. http://www.flamencotickets.com/museo-del-baile-flamenco-seville Look how the paint has been chipped off the floor.These two danced together.And each danced a solo. We were in the front row, a matter of going early to get your seats. It was something to watch, and the scarf and skirt brushed over our faces a few times. In between the dancers, there would be a guitar or singing solo.The Chinese wedding fad. At the a plaza de Espana, there was a wedding photo shoot taking place. Marie told us this is the new fad in China. The couple will marry 1 or 2 months before, then they will travel all over having wedding photos taken of themselves. The groom of this duo looked to be very into it. The bride looked over it. The photographers were yawning. What a strange trend.

Check out our previous post from Spain here.





Our Man of La Menthe, Seville, and the Flying Dutchmen

Seville

Our Man of La Menthe, Seville, and the Flying Dutchmen

We woke up in the hostel after a very good night’s sleep. The woman we met last night was at the front desk. She was wonderfully friendly. She did not speak English, so it was all very basic Spanish from me as she explained that her son was working in London. I believe he is head of security at a clinic there. He loves London. She is very proud of him but thinks it is too bad so many young people are leaving Spain to find better jobs elsewhere. This was a refrain we heard several times on our trip.  We left Hostal M. Vares with gifts. If you ever need a place to stay in Valmojado, the rooms are super clean and the owners are warm and charming! The owner gave us a lighter, pen, and a Barcelona soccer team bottle opener. Many times on this trip people insisted on giving us gifts. We have also received a satchel, wine, champagne, bracelets, necklace, bread, olive oil, a chocolate bar, chocolate covered hazelnuts, and we think we must be missing some things.  We were driving for a while when I saw a castle on a hill I wanted to stop to see.   Look where it is! “What is so cool about La Mancha?” Everyone else wanted to know. “You know the Man of La Mancha… No? What about Don Quixote? A hole in your education!” So I pulled Cliff Notes up on my iPad and read the e-notes version as we drove through the countryside of Castille and Toledo, http://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/d/don-quixote/book-summary. The Man of La Mancha was a musical based on the story Don Quixote, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_of_La_Mancha.

But before that… There was a castle to climb around the outside of. La Menthe  Seville   It was a hot day and there were very few people about in town. I did find one man who we sort of talked to. After a couple of minutes I asked if we could take a photo with him. He invited us into his courtyard to show us his canaries and gave us some sprigs of mint.  SevilleThe Man of La Menthe

We drove from there to Seville. In Seville we were staying at an old hotel in the historic district. Getting there was an adventure. The historic district of Seville has tight, winding streets. It was time to pull the side mirrors in again.

I noticed men at the hotel with the words “The Flying Dutchmen” on their shirts. Who are The Flying Dutchmen? I asked the person at the front desk. He didn’t know, so I stopped the next person I saw with a Flying Dutchmen t-shirt and asked. The Flying Dutchmen is the name of a company that makes documentary films and commercials using drones to film, http://www.theflyingdutchmen.com. We sat in the courtyard in the evening talking to the group. They are in Spain filming a documentary for an insurance company. We also met Mark, the subject of the documentary. All of them are from the Netherlands. Mark owns a company that buys fruit in Spain, mostly berries, freezes them and ships them to the Netherlands to sell as frozen fruit. The insurance for something like this is a big deal. The insurance company wants the documentary for promotion. We saw some of the raw footage of Seville they had filmed in the morning. I was impressed when I saw the quality of film they captured with their drone. I cannot wait to see the finished product. It was interesting to sit and discuss their creative process. I love to hear about the creative process of others! I sat next to Harmen Commandeur, @DeManMetHoed. one of the owners and the art director. He showed me a finished documentary they made and explained some of the techniques he uses when he edits a documentary. It was inspiring to hear about his path to where he is now. His path sounds similar to the one Sean is on. Harmen is an artistic person who uses the computer, graphic design, and his own creative vision to make his form of art. If we do spend a couple of months in Norway next summer (as we are thinking we will) we will have to get over to the Netherlands and look The Flying Dutchmen up! Here is a photo of The Flying Dutchmen taken with a drone. Sevillehttps://vimeo.com/theflyingdutchmen, I prefer the film on Vimeo but here is one from YouTube, https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCmjBi8ptC0AX0_aTsJzp0ig

After we talked to them we went to Habanita to eat. We had such a great dinner we went back again the next night.  SevilleSeville 

SevilleThis beautiful church was one block from the hotel. SevilleWe stayed at the Hotel Casa Imperial, http://www.casaimperial.com. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g187443-d547935-Reviews-Hotel_Casa_Imperial-Seville_Province_of_Seville_Andalucia.html.

We prefer old historic hotel in the historic district. Seville  Seville

Check out our previous Spain post here.





Canyoning in Spain before Driving South

Canyoning

Canyoning in Spain before Driving South

With 10 days left in Spain, the vagabonds hit the road again. We decided to head south to see Seville and Granada for 4 days total with one day on the road to Seville. The last 5 days of the trip are still unplanned. As usual we had things to do before leaving.

  We had to say good bye to the cat who was waiting outside the door to our apartment in the hope the kids bought 2 cans of tuna.

Then we had to go canyoning.
  That is our guide Leo. He set us up with gear which we put in the pack and carried to the Jeep-like vehicle that Leo transported us in. When Leo met Sophia, he said, “Ay, Sophia, Sophia.” With a slight difference in the normal pronunciation than we use in the States, it is almost a caress of her name. This has been happening often with Sophia’s name. Sean’s and my name are not as well liked or well pronounced. It turns out the queen of the retired King Juan Carlos, is named Sophia and she was well liked. Juan Carlos recently gave up the throne to his son because of some legal controversy involving his daughter’s business dealings.

I started to get in the back, and Leo told me to ride in the front because my Spanish was the best of the group. Oh yes! It pays to have studied hard in high school!  

      

At about roof height for a Jeep from the road, is where floodwaters reached in 1977 when it rained steadily for 8 to 10 days. Check out how far below the road the water is on the day we canyoned.

These are photos from the road on the way to where we would canyon.

To my knowledge, I had never heard of canyoning before the day we walked into Aventura Raid Sarratillo office in Ainsa. Canyoning entails hiking, swimming, jumping, rappelling, diving, and floating. There were several options available as to canyons Leo could take us down. The canyon we were taken down took about 2 hours to go down. We traveled about 1 km an hour. They chose this canyon for us because it was one of the most beautiful, and there were so many options at each spot. You could choose from a high jump, medium jump, low jump, or to climb down. You could even do a back flip (Sean) if you wanted. Did I forget to mention we climbed under a couple of waterfalls, through little keyhole slots with water flowing through them, and through a small cave. Sophia and I did not rappel down btw. We had Leo lower us on the rope. It looked so far down! I really am not a fan of heights. It was no big deal though. Leo was a fantastic guide. Javier told us he was sending us with someone special and he was right! Poor Leo, he probably would have liked to jump, but if I wanted to climb down, he climbed down with me. Do I sound like the biggest wimp ever, LOL. I wasn’t that bad. It was awesome. Exciting, beautiful, and fun all at the same time!  

The packs we are each carrying have a wetsuit complete with the hood, helmets, water, and a wetsuit jacket in them. We were high in altitude and the water was COLD! (FYI, most European women we have seen on the beaches in Spain do not wear one piece bathing suits. If I lived in Europe I might have to ditch my grandma suit! Here even great grandmas are in bikinis!)

  
       Canyoning is so much fun!

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It takes a while for your hands to get used to the cold water. I kept my hood on longer than anyone else!

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When you canyon you jump!

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The scenery was beautiful.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Rappelling so they can jump.

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We walked through waterfalls.

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Jim rappels into the unknown. I just couldn’t do it. Leo lowered me down.
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In a cave.

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Canyoning

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Leo was a superb guide. There he is on the left.

When we got back to Ainsa we were hungry. This was a problem because it was siesta time. Everywhere we went, including the South of France, closed up for 2 to 3 hours in the middle of the day. This includes grocery stores or supermercatos as they are called no matter what size they are. Most places stay open much later at night though. It is easier than you think it would be to get used to. Sunday is another story… Just kidding, but Sunday also most stores close up. Again it is just a matter of paying attention, then you start to get used to it.

We found something very basic to eat and drove for one last time to La Cucuirala. Javier and his wife had finished washing our clothes. We needed to pick them up and say goodbye. I told Javier how beautiful the craftmanship of his units are and how comfortable they are too. He told us he built them with some help from a group of men he flew to Spain from Bolivia. He was glad we appreciated his units because when he built them his goal was too make them so comfortable that he would want to stay in them. It really showed! His next project is to build a remote Hobbit House in the woods! (I might have to come back to Spain just to stay there. I mean seriously a Hobbit House!!!! I want to stay in a Hobbit House!!!!!) Here is a link to La Cicuarala, http://www.lacicuarala.com/www.lacicuarala.com/WELCOME.html. Who knows when you stay there maybe the Hobbit House will be finished!

When we left we drove south for hours. Our goal was Seville the next day. Jim is a monster when it comes to driving long distances. He is the only one of us with an international drivers license, but he is a control freak about driving so I just let him do all of it anyway. We were unprepared for what it would be like on a main thoroughfare in Spain designed to get you from point a to point b. In the states every exit would have some amenities, and many of them would have hotels. On these types of highways in Spain, amenities and hotels are few and far between each other. We were south of Madrid at about 11 p.m. (23:00) when we began looking for something. There was nothing for miles. The first place we found at about 23:30 had no rooms. Finally we found a hostel to stay in. We had never stayed in a hostel before. It was pretty great actually. We loved the family who ran it! We rented a girl’s room and a boy’s room. Sophia is much quieter than Jim or Sean. Lucky me.

Check out the previous Spain post here.





River Rafting in the Pyrenees and an Amazing Dinner

Rafting

River Rafting in the Pyrenees and an Amazing Dinner

When you travel for an extended period everyone has a low energy moment. Today was my turn. I woke up feeling exhausted. I am usually the most up of the group, but not this morning. Luckily Jim, Sean, and Sophia realized what was going on and got me laughing and moving around in no time.
They were all excited about the day’s adventure. “Mom get up and let’s raft!”    We booked a raft trip with Adventura Raid Sarratillo, www.sarratillo.com, 974-500-725. Javier was booking guided trips. His english was great. (Isn’t it sad how important that was for us.) We booked the trip in Ainsa and drove to Campo to raft. The four of us were in one raft with our Italian guide Mimo. Mimo admitted to Sophia and me that the Spanish cannot seem to make a good Italian red sauce. For some reason it tastes like Campbell’s tomato soup on pasta ;P. With all the high quality vegetables in this country I don’t get it. The red sauce they make could not taste good to anyone older than 5.

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Rafting was fun. It was a nice mix of tranquil, work, and excitement. There were quiet stretches and white water rowing and floating.

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When traveling, like this, we have learned that everyone appreciates the historical, cultural side of things more if we break it up with something different in the middle. When we walked in to the guide shop and Sean saw all the options he wanted to do it all! We limited him to three. It was a family decision what those would be, with Sophia and I opting out of the next days kayaking.

When we returned to Ainsa, we moved to an apartment Javier rents. Javier built two apartments at his house in the small (very small) mountain hamlet of Guaso, about 15 minutes outside of Ainsa, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guaso. Many people in this area have apartments or rooms for rent. Our decision to break things up resulted in our staying at an apartment in the mountains and not the historic town of Ainsa. We were very happy with our choice. Javier calls his house La Cicuarala, http://www.lacicuarala.com/www.lacicuarala.com/Bienvenida.html. It had the most comfortable beds of the entire trip. La Cicuarala is off the grid. It was nice to stay in a house in the mountains  Once again we found a spot that was warm and welcoming. A place that felt representative of an aspect of the area where we were staying. In Barcelona, we stayed in and apartment in the city. In Girona, Casa Cundaro was like stepping back in time. At the Abbaye de Capservy was a respite in the French Countryside. At La Cicuarala, we stayed in a mountain aerie like many of the inhabitants of this region. Guaso is up in the mountains overlooking a valley and across at a series of peaks.

  

    We asked Javier for a restaurant recommendation. He called the restaurant, explained we wanted dinner sin carne, and that we were American. We went into the town of Ainsa to Restaurate Callizo, http://www.viamichelin.es/web/Restaurante/Ainsa-22330-Callizo-217208-41102. When we arrived we were greeted and then passed off to a waiter who was a native of Great Britain now living in Spain.  

 

When they started making this Sean and Sophia said, “This is so super cool!”

The meal and experience of dining at Restaurante Callizo is unique. (I must apologize about the dearth of photos. I left my camera at the apartment, and no one else is good about taking photos.) While we were deciding between the Land menu or the Stone menu, we were served a small cocktail made with dry ice served in a cucumber. We were then told we had to choose Land because we did not want meat. The chef was adapting the Land menu to prepare a special meal with no meat for us. Once we chose between these two options there were 4 courses that we had no choice over what we were served. The entire table all needs to choose the same of one of these two. Sean and Jim decided to eat meat, so they chose a meat item for the 5th course and a dessert item for the 6th course. The artistry and creativity of the presentation of the dishes can only be truely appreciated by experiencing them. Here are a few photos of what was served. At the very end a case about the size of a small antique suitcase is brought out. It contains a sweet after dinner drink and little deep fried cake balls with melted chocolate in the center. This meal involves your sense of taste, sight, smell, and hearing. If you have the opportunity, I recommend you try this one of a kind dining experience.

These delicious olives were served 1 to each of us, hanging from the branches of bonsai trees.


These are spun sugar over goat cheese with strawberries lightly around the goat cheese. They are designed to look like parasitic catapillar balls that you see in trees around here. Once the trees get these on them, it kills the tree.

The salad served to Sophia and me. They have the best asparagus in Spain. There was a salsa, saffron, and seaweed salad.


We were too busy eating to take any more photos. Sophia and I had tempura vegetables for our main course and fresh fruit for dessert. Sean and Jim had an entree they loved and with a caramel something for dessert.

The old city of Ainsa is a lovely small historic town set on a hill. It over looks the small modern town of Ainsa, http://www.villadeainsa.com. It is different from Girona, in that it does not feel like it is full of full time inhabitants. It is different than Carcassonne, in that it feels quieter do more accessible. They are all so different a comparison is not fair.

Check out our previous post from Spain here.





Driving through the Pyrenees, The Peace Van Wags Its Tail

Pyrenees

Driving through the Pyrenees, The Peace Van Wags Its Tail

We really liked the Abbaye de Capservy, and we loved Odile! It was a wonderful stay. Jim and I took a walk up the road to the lake where you can fish. Then I asked to see the other rooms. I did not want people reading this to think the rooms all had low ceilings, although for us that added to the charm.   

          The last three photos are of an apartment you can rent.

I wanted to take some local wine home for a gift. Odile told me it was made by Lulu from grapes grown on the property. Lulu and his wife live in the house right next to the Abbaye. I had Lulu sign the bottles. Here is a photo of Sophis and me with Lulu. We were sorry to leave Odile. Actually we have been sorry to leave every host of this trip.  All the people we have met have been warm and welcoming. Especially considering my poor French and Spanish are the best in our group. In France I kept getting confused and speaking in Spanish, French, German, and Russian all jumbled together! Gracias, no danke, no spaciba, what is it in French again?    

 We have had small, humorous things happen this trip. One of them was that somehow we turned on the rear windshield wiper 3 days earlier and we could not figure out how to turn it off. It bothered Jim so he pulled it out away from the window. It still moved back and forth. But instead of wiping the window, it wagged in the air behind us as we drove. All of us were disappointed when Sean jumped on the peace donut in the pool and created a small leak in it, because we thought it was very funny to have the word peace in our rear window with our wiper waving. It made us think of a friendly, peaceful dog. We had Sean blow the peace donut up one last time so we could have it in the rear window for today’s drive.   

 Before leaving this area, we had two things to do. We needed to get the sticky soda off our car. 

And we wanted to stop at the lock we had been driving by between Carcasonne and the Abbaye. The lock is on the Canal du Midi. The locks were originally built of wood from 1666 to 1681, during the reign of Louis XIV. Today they are made from metal and mechanically operated by the lock operator. The operator sits in a short, elevated tower above the lock. There are a series of locks spanning 240 km (150 miles) from the Mediterranian to the Atlantic.


       

     There was a boat going through the lock when we stopped. The series of photos shows how the water level is raised and lowered by opening and closing the successive series of lock gates. The locks are needed to maintain a level of water so that boats can make their way through the canal. Lucky for us Mary from New Jersey was on the boat. She and her husband were traveling with two German couples. They were going to travel 65 miles in a week. She told us that the distance they traveled each day was dependent on timing. The lock operators go to lunch and go home for the night. When this happens you are stuck where you are until an operator returns. Many people who vacation this way take bikes so they can get around when they stop. It reminded Jim of renting a house boat in the U.S. 

                Today would be a long but beautiful drive. We are deciding where to go as we travel from place to place. We have been visiting and learning about historical sites. While researching where to go next, I read about rafting in the Pyrenees. When Jim and the kids heard about that, they were ready for a change of pace and some adventure.


        We stopped briefly in the lovely town of Mirepoix, France. We might have stayed there, but the guys were ready for some adventure! and it was hot. Sophia and Sean had to use another self cleaning toilet. What was I thinking!?! I did not even stick my head in to check one out!


We could have taken a much faster but less scenic route. We chose the scenic road complete with hairpin turns, charming vilłages, and high mountain passes. If you have the time I recommend taking D173 through the Pyrenees.


  

  

  

  

  

Once you begin the ascent on the French side of the Pyrenees it is one small, picturesque town after another. The French side is the rainy side, although both sides look like they get more moisture than the eastern side of the Sierras. The Pyrenees run north/south instead of east/west. The Pyrenees divide France and Spain. We drove through a long tunnel at the top of a pass and went from France into Spain.

Whereas the French side of the Pyrenees has charming little hamlets close to the road, the Spanish side has old castles, churches, and villages that you can see in the distance from the road.

Our ultimate destination for the night was Ainsa, Spain. We were tired when we got there! We were given directions to a place to stay. We became turned around and ended up in the small town of Gerbe. It has 50 inhabitants. Thankfully we found a room for the night in Gerbe. Gerbe was about 10 minutes outside of Ainsa. We spent the night in a small B&B that the owner is restoring.

  
   As you can see they are worried about aquatic snails just like we are in the states. At first glance we thought it might be a warning about ticks. Sophia and I spent some time discussing the morphology of the cartoon drawing and decided it could not be representing a member of class arachnida.

  
          

Jim rode a bike around a bit before dinner. We might have stayed longer in Gerbe, but at 12:30 a.m. (00:30) some guests returned from town and rang the door bell to get into the B&B. The ringer for the doorbell was in our bedroom! I didn’t want to deal with that for multiple nights!

Check out the previous post from Spain here.





Leaving Girona for the Abbaye de Capservy, South of France

Abbaye de Capservy

Leaving Girona for the Abbaye de Capservy, South of France

Before we left Girona we had to take one more walk on the wall. Again there was no one on it.


   

  


   

  

I am sitting on an old fashioned toilet. It would be an interesting feel to bare it all and go to the bathroom like this, LOL! 

Did I remember to post the link to Casa Cundaro? Here it is in case I didn’t. http://www.casacundaro.com/english.html Casa Cundaro is attached to the Historic Hotel. Where we had to have one last superb breakfast.   

Look how narrow the streets of Girona’s old town are! I got out to take this picture of our car.

Before leaving we visited the Jewish museum in Girona. We learned so much there. For instance, I did not realize many Jews converted instead of leaving. If they left they were essentially abandoning their material wealth. They did convert, but they did not always stop practicing their old ways. They also kept their relationships with those who did not convert.   The museum has a large collection of gravestones. When Judaism was outlawed in Spain, the Jewish gravestones were removed. Many of these have since been unearthed as they have restored old buildings in Girona.   

         It was in the face of mass conversions without changes in religious practices that the inquisition took place. The Catholic Church wanted to make it prohibitive to live in Catholic countries if you were a practicing Jew. This did cause most people to become more obedient in practicing the Catholic faith. I have included a series of text panels from the museum with the photos.  

      

  

That is a man I wish I could sit and speak with! Asking him so many questions 😉

  

  
      

Thinking of you, my dear friend Michelle! We wish you were here with us!

There are Roman ruins in the museum too.   

 We had one last stop to make. Sophia and I needed a cup of the best tea of the trip.   http://www.teashop.eu/en/tea-shop-girona/

We decided to follow a circuitous path to France by driving to Collioure, France. We chose this route because it was the path of the Jewish diaspora from Girona in 1492. Since most people converted there was not a large number of people who left. It seems like a pattern. The Catholic Church converted the rulers, and the rulers forced people to convert or leave. Americans are most familiar with the treatment of people of the Jewish faith and the decimation or forced conversion of Native Americans. Interesting to me is that the most tolerant people, as a whole, of any country we have visited is the predominantly polytheistic people of India. Don’t you wish you could go back in time and see all the different cultures and people before the Romans conquered so many and before mass religions took hold? 1 month ago there was a threat to the Jewish museum in Girona so they now have guards posted at it permanently.

I LOVE history. I would like to go back to the time of the dinosaurs too! The only problem with that is, I would probably get eaten right away! When you drive through Europe you see castles on hilltops all the time. #AmericansLoveCastles   

  

We drove to France along a narrow, twisting road. There were grape vines on the hillside and cyclists on the road.  Shortly after passing the border into France, we came to the top of a pass and there was a wine stand with people tasting wine. LOL, that would not fly in the U.S. It was a windy road out of  the Spanish town of Cerbere. When he saw it, Sean said, “That is the most French thing ever!”   

    
When the Jews fleeing Spain got to Collioure they must have thought it would be wonderful to live in such a beautiful place. A couple of years later the French King told the Jews to convert or leave Collioure, so it was not to be.

We were headed to the Abbaye de Capservy. Our reason for driving to the south of France was to visit the restored castle of Carcasonne. Although we wanted to visit the castle, this time we chose to stay in an old abbey. http://www.abbayedecapservy.com/en/

When we arrived we were greeted by Odile and the 2 dogs in residence. Odile was making a special vegan meal just for us. The dinner consisted of a mound of rice, surrounded with smaller mounds of beans and various vegetable sides. French bread was also served, of course! The dessert was fresh fruit in a lemon agar jelly with elderberry. Days later we were still talking about the lovely abbey, the dinner (it was one of the best of the trip), and the wonderful hospitality of Odile. If you go be sure and have Odile make dinner for you. You will not regret it. You also get Lulu’s delicious wine and Odile’s conversation. Odile has two daughters who are both living in London. We met several people on this trip whose adult children are in London working because of a lack of jobs in their area. One of Odile’s daughters works in a castle as a tour guide. She loves it. While we were at the Abbaye, Odile’s daughter was interviewed on the radio about the castle and its history. I must email Odile and get the name of the castle!

  
  The Abbaye de Capservy has the main building where we stayed, a smaller house behind, and another house where another couple lives. Across from the Abbaye are fields of grapes.

    Odile, our wonderful host.  I love to look in people’s kitchens.

On the long driveway leading to the Abbaye, Sean put his hand out the window into stinging nettles. The Abbaye has a pool, Sean recovered by going for a swim. Unfortunately he popped the peace donut!   
  
The kids wanted to taste French wine in France.

Abbaye de Capservy

We stayed in a family room at the top of the Abbaye. The ceilings were short which for us adds to the charm. There were rooms with higher ceilings, but we preferred this one!

Check out my previous posts from the Spain trip here. Check out the Worldschooling section of our blog.





The Dali Museum, The Mediterranean, and Vegan Tapas!

Dali Museum

The Dali Museum, The Mediterranean, and Vegan Tapas!

The town of Figueres, Spain is about a 35 minute drive from Girona. There is a lot of history there, but we only went for the Dali Museum. We did not want to spend the day in Figures, because we also wanted to visit Costa Brava. Costa Brava is what the coastline of northeast Spain is called.

Salvadore Dali is a genius! He worked in almost every medium you can think of. The museum is a bit crowded but not too crowded. When we were standing in line Sean said, “What is this? Aren’t we going to the Dali Lama Museum?” A little prep about Dali might have been good on my part. He loved the museum and is now a big Dali fan! What follows is a series of photos from the Dali museum. It seems to me that the Spanish like eclectic artists. Gaudi, Dali, and Picasso all push the boundaries in so many ways. It really makes you think about their intent when you stand in front of the work of both of these artistic geniuses. http://www.salvador-dali.org/museus/teatre-museu-dali/en_index/                            The Dali Museum is on 4 floors. The top floor features works by artists other than Dali. These 2 paintings are by another artist.  More by Dali are below.  DNA!       Once Sean got over his disappointment that he was not at a museum dedicated to the Dali Lama he loved it. Sophia enjoyed it from the start.  Seriously, if you can think of a medium for art, Dali has probably created something using it!     What a cool ring! Attached to the main museum is the jewelry museum. The guys did not want to go to it, but I did, so they went along. We all loved the jewelry museum.   Jim parked our car across from the museum. The parking space seemed too good to be true. When we went back to our car there was a van parked in front of it and the car was covered in sticky drops. It was probably soda. We think we were not supposed to park where we did. It was better than a parking ticket! We have laughed so hard this trip. I am sure whoever sprayed the soda was upset. The 4 of us just laughed.

                    

We left Figueres and headed to Costa Brava. We wanted to spend half a day on the East Coast of Spain, and get in the Mediterranean. It is a beautiful coastline. The Mediterranean is a beautiful blue color. It was colder than we thought it would be. It was saltier than the Pacific Ocean which surprised us. We all got in and the kids had fun with the peace donut! The first thing that happened when we put it down was that the wind blew it away. Good thing Sean is in shape. He had to run to catch it. Most of the people on the beach seemed to be tourists like us. Languages we heard were French, German, Russian and Dutch.    Sean and I like to try different candies that you don’t see in the states. These are different types of Mentos. Sean was hungry, so he and Sophia went to get food. Sean ordered pizza and Sophia ordered pasta with sauce. It is the second time this trip that she has done that. The Spanish version of marinara sauce tastes like Campbell’s tomato soup if you don’t add water. We find it gross. I asked an Italian we met about the quality of Italian red sauce in Spain, and he agreed they don’t do it well. When they got back from eating Sean told Jim and me that something really embarrassing happened. Sean’s pizza arrived without being cut into slices. The waiter who delivered it was older. Sean said to the waiter, “Would you please cut this.” The waiter looked askance at Sean, then picked up his knife and fork, and said, “You don’t know how to cut?” Then the waiter proceeded to cut Sean’s pizza into bite sized pieces for him. Realizing what was happening, Sean said, “That’s okay, I got it.” But the waiter wouldn’t stop cutting. Instead he looked at Sean as he was cutting and said, “You like a baby.” Sophia of course was laughing at the whole ordeal. Of course this has been a running joke ever since. We have since learned that in France and Spain at least pizza is not cut into slices. When we left Jim put the peace donut in the back window, so we could drive through the Spanish countryside spreading a message of peace. Before leaving town we bought some fruit. The fruit in the North of Spain has been really delicious. The kids fell asleep in the back seat on the way back to Girona. It was quite a full day.    We were hungry so we went back to B12 to have vegan tapas, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Restaurant-Bar-B-12/175203855832255. The food there was just delicious. We asked one of the owners, Jordi, about the movement for Catalan to separate from Spain. We heard from many people in this area about their differences from the Southern people of Spain. One of their gripes is that a lot of tax dollars come from Catalan, that are spent in the rest of Spain, not in Catalan. It is easy to see that happening. The area around Costa Brava alone must bring in many tourist dollars. The people of Catalan consider themselves more relaxed and easy going too. They are right about how friendly and easy going they are. How they compare to the rest of Spain, we don’t know. We have yet to leave Catalan. We are having that good of a time in it!        After dinner, Jim and I walked the wall and the kids went to the room. We saw 2 people the entire time!                        Forgive any typos the wifi is not good so I am posting it while I can.

Check out my previous post from the Spain trip here.





Why they Chose Girona to Film the Game of Thrones, Girona, Spain

Girona

Why they Chose Girona to Film the Game of Thrones, Girona, Spain


I will not actually bore you with a written answer to that. The photos speak for themselves. Girona is magical. It is now one of my favorite towns I have visited of all time. The others are

  • The area around and walking up to Seigfreid’s castle in Germany: I walked up to this on a deserted old road, early in the morning, with only a handful of other people around. It was a magical misty morning. The castle and grounds had not been preserved. It felt like stepping back in time.
  • Amboise in France: This is the town that took in Leonardo da Vinci when he was kicked out of Italy for his heretical views. There are houses still in use that are carved into the surrounding rock walls. It also has a lovely castle that belonged to the Prince who took da Vinci in.
  • The Cliffs of Mohrer and the Burrens in Ireland: I cannot think of the name of the town we stayed in. It had a lovely inn in a small town very near to the Cliffs and Burren. It is an area with fields, stone walls, the Burrens and the Cliffs of Mohrer. There are small, abandoned castles and lots of sheep with their butts spray painted different colors.
  • Jaisalmer, India: I adored Jaiselmer! It is a magical place. It is still inhabited, so you can get a feel for how these forts used to function.
  • Both Eger and Sopron, Hungary: Eger has churches and cathedrals with a beautifully preserved muezzin. The wine dungeons are a fun experience. We stayed inside the old Roman walls in Sopron. Can you tell I like historical places?
  • An old castle we visited in the Ukraine: When my daughter-in-law’s father heard I love castles he took us to 2. The first one we went to was almost empty surrounded by stinging nettles. (Ouch!) It was the first time I could really imagine what it was like to be back in the Middle Ages!
  • Machu Picchu: We hiked in to Machu Picchu along the Santa Teresa trail. It is a magical way to get to one of the most spectacular places in the world.

Back to Girona

  
 Breakfast was at the Historic Hotel. It was delicious. We found the fruit and vegetables from Catalan to be some of the best we ever ate! There are several options for staying in Girona. We opted to stay in a historical family room. In the only Jewish residence still in use.


The following is from an interview with our Xave who with his family owns the Historic Hotel and Casa Cundaro. Girona was built in 1 before God (that is a quote). The Jewish quarter was established 8-9 centuries after God. It was designed so that the Christian District was higher on the hill than the Jewish Quarter. This area was walled, so if their families expanded and they needed more space they would block off lanes and build rooms there or build an arch over the lane and then build rooms on top. That was the only way they could expand. The dining room of the Historic Hotel have stones in its walls that were used to build walls by the Romans.


Casa Cundara was owned by a family and passed down for generations. We would learn at the Jewish Museum a couple of days later that the family would have had to convert to Christianity in order for that to happen. The family stopped using it, and it was bought by their neighbors, the current owners. When the new owners bought it they wanted to put a jacuzzi in the garden area. When they began the project, they found something buried under the garden. They had to call archaeologists in when they excavated it. They found 2 houses with a street running between them. They dated what they found to Roman times. They also discovered a mezuzah that is over 1000 years old. (I know it shows a menorah not a mezuzah.)

One of the reasons Girona looks as it does, is that when movies and TV shows are made there, the town uses the revenue to continue the restoration of the historic district. Xave asked if we had seen Perfume. We had not, but I have read the book. I asked if the people from the Game of Thrones had contacted him about staying there. They called him when we were eating breakfast. This is where I would want to stay if I were them!

  
 It is no surprise to learn a lot of bike riders come here. It is lovely, quiet, and hilly. These are photos of some of the famous cyclists who have stayed here.

  
 Girona is a walled city. We woke the kids and walked the wall. There were very few people. One of the most surprising things about Girona is how few people there are visiting it. Lucky for us but surprising. It is so special! The walls and the town they surround are a mix of Roman walls and structures, buildings and walls built by the many rulers since then, and more modern work that has been done to make the structures sound.

  
 The cathedral tolls the hour. In case you are wondering, Sean is not wearing the same shirt. He has taken James’ shirt!

  
   The lady bugs we saw had an elongated shape. One of my biology professors once told us that people call this the age of man. It would be more correct to call it the age of the beetle. (Lady bugs are beetles.)


Sophia and I love tea. When we found a tea shop, we had to have some. The shop owner was very kind to us, and his English was perfect. We even treated ourselves to some tea for the rest of the trip.

  
 Then we visited the highest rated vegan restaurant in town. It was delicious!

  
 We spent some of the day wandering around Girona. There are stairs all through Girona. It is exercise getting around. There are people running the steps all through Girona.


I thought of you Sharon and Laurel when I saw these.


 


 


There is a old wall and a new wall. In the evening we walked the old wall.

Check out my previous Spain post here.





Last full day in Barcelona, Spain

Spain

Last full day in Barcelona, Spain

  
We woke up late again. Even I didn’t get up early this morning. When I finally woke the kids up before noon they were STARVING!  Even Sophia who almost never eats. Sean commented on the way over that the entire trip the 4 of us are looking for something to eat. LOL, that’s what traveling with a 15 year old boy is like. I get distracted along the way.

  

Sean need a pastry appetizer to eat on our way to the restaurant.

    

Sophia’s huge pot of soup!

  

There is a big soccer game tonight. The Bilbao fans have been celebrating since we got here. The red and white shirt are the Bilbao fans. The red and blue shirts are Barcelona. We learned today that Kate is having a boy, so we bought him a Barcelona team outfit, with Messi’s name on it!   

    

The kids wanted to go back and nap (so did Jim).We came back and I washed the second load of clothes.They dry the old fashioned way! The photos are on the wall behind where I am hanging clothes out. The kids are napping on the sofa bed together but there are three beds and three bedrooms. There is also a kitchen with all the appliances. The location is 2 and 1/2 blocks away from Gaudi’s La Perdrera. It is in a great location. I originally wanted to stay in the Gothic District. I am glad we didn’t. Every time we have been down there it has been really crowded and noisy. We are in the Modern District (named for all the Gaudi buildings in it). It is a litlle over a km to the Gothic District. Perfect! Here is a link to the apartment, https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/308166.

  
Our host Carlos.      

La Perdrera by Gaudi. The kids were seriously too hungry to go inside. They woke up from their nap starving AGAIN.

Casa Batillo, this is only about 4 blocks from where we were stayingg

Sean preferred the building next to it, below. He told us he likes symmetry.

  

  
          

Barcellona is a lovely mix of old and new. There are Roman walls with an oldchurch restored with Gaudi’s help alltogether. (Blair, “I will not stop sightseeing to eat, unless you let me get a photo of you two!)

  

Our table at the restaurant. I thought of Mark Klitsie! I should tellyou it is about 10 p.m.that we are eating dinner. It stays light until 9 p.m.here.  

  

How much did we like dinner last night? Enough to eat here again on to night.

  
            

The owner of our apartment invited us to go listen to his band, Son de la Rambla play. They played traditional cuban music. There were some wonderful dancers at this. It got off to a slowish start because of the big game where Barcelona beat Bilboa 3 to 1. Everyone was watching it. It was the national championship. They play next week for the European cup against Italia. Once the game was over the party began! That is our host in red doing a rap number. It was a wonderful night. We got to sleep about 3 a.m. The band played until 4 a.m. The kids were tired and wanted to leave. I made them promise they would go to see Gaudi in the morning if we did!

Check out my first post from Barcelona here.





Barcelona day 1

Barcelona

May 29
We woke up feeling pretty good. Sean immediately wanted to go deal with tickets to Primavera Sound.

#ILoveFunkyShoes
#ILoveFunkyShoes

My shoes for the day. I would be back after getting the tickets to the concert. They looked so comfortable when I bought them!

We figured the subway out. Once again I understand the language better than anyone else. Sophia and Jim were both going to brush up onimage

their Spanish, but we are having to wing it on my high school and college Spanish. Jim and I like to take it easy the first couple of days, and then go like the wind the rest. When we got in the train we all were a bit grumbly and it was then I realized we were not quite as alive as we felt upon waking. (Dropping grumbly teens off in a foreign country at one of the largest music festivals with about 110 rules to follow seemed good in some ways and worrisome in others.)

At Primavera Sound
At Primavera Sound

There was tight security and the crowd looked nice. There were people from all over the world, judging from the accents we heard & many groups looked about the age of our kids. They did make Jim pay for a ticket and take the

Needed for entrance to Primavera Sound
Needed for entrance to Primavera Sound

kids in, but Sophia’s ticket was free so it worked out to what we expected in the first place.

With the kids deposited, Jim and I went back to the apartment, washed a load of clothes, and went to the Gothic District. The Gothic District is the old part of Barcelona built by the Romans. It has the narrow streets, cobbled walkways, twisty turns, and old buildings I love to see. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gothic_Quarter,_Barcelona

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The lovely church spire was designed by Gaudi (more on him tomorrow).

Here is a photo of Roman ruins that are being excavated.

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I am a vegan and a foodie. Before becoming a vegan, it was hard for me to figure out what restaurants we were going to go to. Now I have many fewer to choose from, so it is easier. We went to a superb!!! restaurant last night. I am known among my friends and family for my healthy eating. I cannot get too far off my diet when we travel if I want to feel good. I have found that none of us feel good after 1 week if we eat too differently. So we stick as close as we can to what we eat at home.

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Barcelona is a good city to be getting over jet lag. It stays open late and doesn’t get started early. Every one but me woke after noon, and we are staying up until the early hours of the morning.  The time in Barcelona is 9 hours off that in California.

Eating with the kids at 1:30 a.m.
Eating with the kids at 1:30 a.m.

Check out my post on the way from San Diego to Barcelona here.





On the way to Barcelona

On the way to Barcelona

At the airport in San Diego: May 27

It takes a long time to get from the West Coast of the U.S. to Barcelona. We left in the evening of the 27th from San Diego, flew to San Francisco, next stop Frankfurt (I love Germany!), and finally we arrive in Barcelona in the evening of the 28th. I plan on sleeping most of the way! Hopefully… Sean will probably watch movies the entire way.

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This trip we are taking, Sophia, a friend of ours with us. We have asked friends of Sean’s if they want to go on trip with us before, but Sophia is the first to say, “Sure, I am okay being away from my family for almost 4 weeks.” It probably helps that she and I are super close! I had to borrow someone else’s daughter to have one to travel with us. Good thing I have 2 granddaughters!

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Sophia and I are dressed in black in super comfie clothes. No makeup either. The photos will of Spain in a day!

Made it to San Fransisco with no problems. There was a problem with engine 4 on the plane leaving for Frankfurt. We left 3 hours late from San Francisco, but we made it safely which is what really counts. I won’t bore you with the details, but that delay made us late for our connecting flight to Barcelona. The new flight we were put on was delayed… 24 hours later.

Good things Barcelona is a late night city! 😉

It is 2:42 a.m. in Barcelona. We walked around a bit, but Sean wanted to come back so he could sleep.. Sophia probably would have walked more, but she was too nice to tell Sean that. I would have walked much longer, but I Jim was ready to sleep too. Wait until you see photos of where we are staying. I found it on Aire B&B.

P.S. Typos will happen in my travel blog. I just don’t want to take the time to put every comma where it belongs. I am sorry if that bothers you. 🙂

Check out my previous post about our trip here.