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Plague journal

Apparently William Shakespeare and Isaac Newton wrote some of their best stuff while under quarantine for the plague.  I think I can do better than those two dilettantes, so here goes, my own Plague Journal.

I knew it would come, eventually, when I heard about the “flu-like disease” epidemic in China.  People compare this to the Spanish Flu, which travelled around the world in two years.  We all knew it would come to us somehow.  It was all a matter of time. Like smallpox  Or polio.  These bygone diseases would spread through a community, sometimes decimating it.  Our time would come.

When the first cases appeared in Vancouver, just 3 weeks ago, my son and daughter-in-law asked me to stay home and not accept any temp jobs.  I assured them that I would go to the hospital at the first sign of illness.  Of course there were no more temp jobs available.  No one was letting a stranger into their spaces. And the hospitals were already filling up.

Just 10 days ago I attended a choir recital “starring” my oldest grandchild.  I had half-heartedly considered not going, but ….. I rode a crowded bus, bought a coffee at the crowded Starbucks, and sat in a crowded church and listened to those adorable children’s harmony, and watched them perfect Os with their little mouths.

But I don’t do that anymore.  I stay home. And I have been for a week.

Our government closed borders to those from stricken countries, then to most countries, then to all countries. We were urged to avoid gatherings of more than 200 people, of more than 50 people, of more than 10 people.  To stay home. Our neighbours to the south…..not so much.

I thought it summed up the different approaches to the difference between how the pandemic is being managed in Canada and the US to see how the leaders handled press conferences on St. Patrick’s Day. Our PM standing alone in front of the house where he is in a self imposed isolation. The US president crowded by other people on a dais in a closed room in close proximity to the press.

For 12 weeks, their president said that it was a hoax, that it was not serious, that the US certainly had enough tests for the virus, enough ventilators, enough beds in privately-run hospitals.  All were safe.  We wondered why he was so blind to the situation, but of course, we were naive.  The government of the US was downplaying the pandemic to prop up the stock market for long enough for a privileged few to sell their stocks before the crash.  I have never heard of anything so disgusting.  Oh wait, there was that one store in Manhattan who was selling bottled water at a highly inflated price to rescuers on 9-11.

We may see worse before the end of this.

What is our situation now?  I can only speak for myself and my husband.

We are fine.  We are better than fine, luckier than most of our neighbours.  I am retired, and those checks will continue to pop into our bank account whether we leave our house or not. He works for himself, his clients may be in Richmond or in Denmark. He provides voice production, delivered online to his customers.  I bank online, shop online.  Tuesday I awoke to a box of cat food lying outside our door beside the daily newspaper.  Monday a delivery of groceries will appear to feed us through the week.  If I need to top up throughout the week I can go to a local store that is offering special early-morning shopping for seniors. We venture out across the street to the government liquor store as we need to, keeping our distance from our fellow shoppers and dousing ourselves in Purell before we wash our hands at home.

Coffee might be a problem.  We like Starbucks ground coffee, and the local outlets are likely to close in the next few weeks.  We may have to substitute grocery store coffee.  A small price.

We know how lucky we are. I am taking an online guitar course.  I download new books for my Kindle.  I may finally watch the Marvelous Mrs. Maizel.  Yesterday I was contacted about checking my CPAP machine and reviewing my needs.  I explained that I would not be dragging the machine to their office on the bus, and was told that all data could be delivered from my machine to them by BlueTooth!  Fantastic!

We’re not exactly the citizens of Eyam during the plague. But we’re doing our parts.

Home Again

Yes, we made it home again.

Our last morning in Paris (well, CDG) we got up at 6 to be out of our pod by the deadline of 7.  I had a so-so sleep.  I use a CPAP machine when I sleep, and apart from having no distilled water to use in the machine, there was no hard surface to put it on near the bed.  So I woke up several times.  This is one of the reasons why travel when one is younger is often easier.

We showered and headed out.  In the fluorescent-lit Yotel guest “lounge” (how can it look so depressingly grim?  Are fluorescent lights even still a thing?) we found a very sad cold breakfast (American cereal and cold toast) which was only available if one had a voucher, which thankfully we did not, because just a short walk down the terminal we found a nice little cafe with excellent coffee and real croissants.  We started back to the rail link we’d taken the night before to the Yotel and were intercepted by a polite lady who directed us to a security desk (for the time of day the people there were remarkably cheery, the gentleman who checked out our backpack was singing “Baby Shark”) and then onto a shuttle and back to Terminal 2A and the Air Canada wing.  I managed to fit some shopping into the morning, as I found many of the same souvenirs I had seen at the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe at the airport shop.

We had quite a wait, but we managed to survive by reading and watching our fellow travellers.  Then onto the plane to Montreal. We had good seats and enjoyed the flight.

We landed in Montreal around 1-ish in the afternoon and looked forward to about a 3-hour wait for our flight to YVR.  Not enough time to go into the city and have a meal, just enough to wander around Pierre Trudeau Airport.  We would have to feed ourselves for this leg of the trip, so decided to buy sandwiches from one of the outlets in the airport for a sky picnic once we were on the plane. We got the usual announcement that the flight was fairly full, so would someone like to check their bag for free?  I volunteered and got us bumped up from Zone 6 to Zone 3 when loading and also learned that the flight would be delayed for an hour.  We heard two stories, one was that there was a problem with the plane and it would have to be replaced;  and that the pilots were trapped in Ottawa with bad weather.  We had gone through something like this before, the pilots can only fly within a certain window and if the flight cannot take place within that window they need to find substitutes.  Which they did, only they had to come in from Toronto.  So we’d be taking off around 6 pm, about 1.75 hours after our original time.  Air Canada apologized about a hundred times and then gave us meal vouchers which was quite decent of them.

We’d already bought our picnic, but others were very happy to get the vouchers.  Airport food is expensive.

Speaking of which, when we were aloft (the pilots got there around 5:45 and we took off around 6 pm) we opened our lunches.  DH had bought a ham and cheese sandwich and some Doritos.  I had bought a sandwich where the ingredients listed included ham, bacon, cheese, chicken, hard-boiled egg, tomato, lettuce and gherkin.  There may have been more (possibly peanut butter and jelly).  I wondered if they just labeled all the sandwiches thus and one would get two or perhaps three of these ingredients.  Nope.  They were all in there.  And it tasted……weird.  But I would have eaten the armrest at this point so I soldiered on.  The potato chips were good, though.  Next time I’ll likely just buy something on the plane, we didn’t save much by buying in the airport.

We landed in Vancouver late but not horrendously so, breezed through customs (no line ups anywhere, not even the rest rooms) and got to baggage claim just as my suitcase rolled around.  Then we lined up for a cab.

The line-up was decently short, and they have a new system now where each section of the Lower Mainland is given its own fare, with maps posted along the line-up to explain how much you’d pay.  Naturally, our home being so far away from the airport, ours is $40.  But that’s fair, and we were happy to pay it, being somewhat pooped when we got here.

We loved our trip, we had a wonderful time in each of the places we visited, and of all that occurred only one incident was not great (Frankfurt Airport).

Customer service is so important when we can choose to go virtually anywhere on earth for our vacations.  For an example of how NOT to do it, DD has written of her less-than-stellar experiences (also in Germany……hmmmmm).

We are content, looking back on our travels, and looking forward to planning our next trip.

And looking at our souvenir.

The Eiffel Tower was the first thing we saw from our plane coming into Paris, the real kick-off to our vacation.

Europe – Day 17 – Seville and civility

Ha!  Funny story.  Some time ago, my sister and I travelled to Great Britain flying standby.  All went well with our flights until we tried to get home.  Oh, it was explained, we could hardly expect to get a flight to North America because it was a Bank Holiday.

We had never heard of a Bank Holiday, which is some random 3-day weekend thing the Brits do every so often.  If we HAD heard of a Bank Holiday it would not have occurred to us that everyone needed to fly to North America for a long weekend.

This amusing tale sprang to my memory last night at midnight, when all the bells in the nearby cathedral started ringing.  For Corpus Christi, a major Catholic holiday.

The lesson is:  Check out the holidays where you are going because they can really affect you.  Like all the shops will be closed tomorrow.  And all the roads in the centre of town will be closed for processions.  Plus all the streets are blocked with little shrines.

Sure enough, the bells woke me up the next morning at the crack of 7.  We packed our suitcases and then skipped out for a quick breakfast and it was time to check out.

I can’t say enough about the Hotel Dona Maria.  Originally a private home, it’s been turned into a delightful hotel, antiques everywhere, and SO convenient to everything you want to see.  Plus, the fantastic rooftop, where we could partake of a refreshing swim in the afternoons.

And a refreshing beverage in the evening.

and a view of the Cathedral Square as night fell and the lights came on. And the swallows swooped and the sky turned from blue to indigo to black.

The rooms in the hotel are so comfortable and homey!  The service is great.  This is the exterior, actually on the street Mateos Gago.

the street — so charming!

This is OUR ROOM with the aforementioned BALCONY!

Each room has a plaque beside the door. What does it mean?

If we ever find ourselves back in Seville we will come back here.  What a hotel, not just accommodation, it’s an experience!

But we did have to leave today.  As DH led me, silently weeping, from the lobby, we turned and found ourselves in the middle of the Corpus Christi celebrations in the square outside the Cathedral we’d visited yesterday.  (BTW when we arrived on Saturday we saw some people headed for the Cathedral dressed to the nines — men in tails!  women in $500 shoes!  Turns out it was a football star getting married and no, we didn’t see the Beckhams although they were there). We saw some of the celebrations of Corpus Christi today, including life-sized statues being returned to the Cathedral from the parade:

Random saint.

And bands swarming in the side streets tuning up their instruments. DH also got a good video of the bells in the tower swinging out over the square (not available here).

But the crowds were so packed we could not force out way through the masses of celebrants.  So, luckily, after all our tours in the area, we could head in another direction and still find our way out to the Torre del Oro where we could get the Airport Shuttle.  We were HOURS early to the Seville airport, as we had to be out of the hotel by noon and I didn’t trust my abilities to deliver us to the right gate at the right time.

But we made it!  And flew back to Paris.

I’m not hip to the machinations of these smaller airlines (Vuehling in this case).  When I checked us in yesterday I had to pay for seats, so I paid for the swank seats.  On first and off (no sky-bridge on the Paris end, a staircase and a shuttle).

The countryside reminds me of flying over Great Britain, that is, every square centimetre of land is accounted for.  So unlike our flyovers in Canada with hundreds of square hectares of wild country.  But let’s face it, both France and Spain fit populations larger than Canada’s into spaces smaller than our province.

Charles de Gaulle Airport is huge.  Like gigantic.  Titanic.  Frighteningly large. We have been here before, flying from Frankfurt and finding our way into the city of Paris.  But this time we were headed for the Yotel.    This is a hostelry set up for the business commuter.  Short on charm and long on efficiency.  We knew we were going to get a totally different experience from the Dona Maria.  But I was a little…….if not disgruntled, certainly far from gruntled.

First, finding the place.  We landed in Terminal 3, but we had to make our way to Terminal 2.  Hey, no problem, we did this when we landed.  So we hopped on the rail shuttle.  There we were in Terminal 2E  and just had to get to 2L.  We sought out a nice person in an orange vest who told us we had to go through security.  Which we tried to do.  Then we got another person in orange who had to ask another person who told us to go through the police kiosk, then catch another rail shuttle, then walk through another terminal and then get to our hotel.  The Yotel.

We Found it!  Fantastic.  I had booked this room knowing it was rather …. spartan.  It’s certainly efficient.

Your faithful blogger trying to check in for the last leg of our trip.  There’s a bed.  And a TV. (only news channels) And….a drop down desk.  And a shower (glass walls! with curtains).  No space to hang up your clothes.  No furniture but the bed.  Transparent panels between the “bed room” and the “shower/toilet”. And there’s a check out time of 7 A. M.!!! But I’m so intimidated by the size and complexity of CDG airport that I’ll be happy to be out of the room and  over to the terminal at least 2.5 hours before our boarding time.

Must hit the (comfortable) bed.  It’s nice to know that the last night we are spending in Europe is in a place we’ll be happy to leave!



Europe – Day 16

Our last full day in Seville!  We were tired but still ready to give’er.  We got up and had a hearty breakfast at a local place decorated with real stuffed bull’s heads.  For real.

Then we went to join our tour of the Cathedral and the Alcazar.  We had Pablo as our guide and two nice Americans and one nice lady from the Netherlands as our tour companions.  First the cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral standing, and 3rd largest cathedral in the world.  It was built on the site of a mosque that more or less fell down in an earthquake so it’s square rather than cruciform. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, full of beautiful art and statues and paintings and yanno, catholic stuff.

The altar

The ceilings are very high and very gothic

Verified (by DNA) resting place of remains of Christopher Columbus, famous world explorer and all-round jerk

Baptismal font, still in use

Nice pipes

La Giralda tower, side with no scaffolding

Saints Junta and Ruffina, early Christian martyrs, who show up several times in the cathedral.

All the big statues are out of their niches and on litters to be carried out in procession tomorrow, Corpus Christi, and the altar is decorated with lots of white flowers.  Very impressive indeed.

This area will be action central for Corpus Christi tomorrow. Last evening a nattily attired band marched through the square, practicing

We did not walk up Giralda tower because I’m still wobbly after yesterday.  One of our members did, the bells were ringing the whole time and she was in a massive crowd so I’m not sure she really enjoyed herself.

We then had a quick tour of the Jewish quarter of Seville, which we had seen during our walking tour (and also during our tapas tour) then on to the Alcazar.  I thought it had been built during the Moorish empire in Spain but actually Pedro the 1st (the Wise or the Cruel depending) had built it to impress the Moors from Grenada.  He certainly got it right.  It’s very beautiful, all high ceilings and tiled walls and floors.  It’s been built built up over the centuries, added onto by Charles V in a slightly different style, etc. But it’s been maintained meticulously, maybe it’s because it’s still the residence of the Spanish Royal Family when they are in Seville.

Inside the Alcazar, with many courtyards

The view from inside to a courtyard with a long water feature and orange trees planted on each side. Trees and water = paradise.

Interior of the Alcazar

Another courtyard

Painting that decorates the chambers where applicants for trading licenses for the New World would be heard.

Part of the original outer wall, now part of the courtyard

An interior chamber

There’s no doubt about it, the super-walk yesterday is playing havoc with my leg joints, and we’re likely going to spend the rest of today lolling by the pool.

The pool was cool and refreshing, the deck warm but breezy and comfortable.  What a lovely afternoon.

Afternoon in Seville

We showered and headed out for dinner.  Then we got an ice cream cone and headed to see the preparations for Corpus Christi over by the city hall.  But the streets were jammed.  Little shrines had been set up and we could not make our way through.

The Archbishop’s Palace is all bedecked with velvet banners

Now it’s 11 pm.  The streets are still packed.  People are having dinner beneath our window, in sidewalk cafes.  And the bands have just stopped playing in the square outside the Cathedral while a drone circled above, modern technology capturing ancient traditions.

Tomorrow should be…..interesting.

Europe – Day 15

I can’t believe our time here is nearly at an end.  What a trip we have had!  Each place more magical than the last.

Today we had a wake-up call scheduled for 6:45 AM so we could meet our friend/tour guide Peter  for a trip to beautiful, legendary Cordoba. We gulped down some hotel-room coffee (which was very good BTW) but nothing nearby was open so we couldn’t get any breakfast.

We got to the train station in good time, but not quite good enough to spend precious minutes in the long lines at the coffee bar and Macdonald’s.  So we boarded the train and headed east.  After an hour and a half through the Spanish countryside we got to Cordoba and started walking toward the old ancient part of town. We were grateful that Peter took us into a nice modern coffee shop and introduced us to tostados Spanish style.  That’s a large slab of terrific bread, with olive oil, crushed tomatoes and shredded ham.  Quite a substantial breakfast.  Then it was off! A walk through some of the streets of Cordoba, and….

First stop, the Alcazar!  The site where Romans, Moors, and Christians lived. (All pix thanks to DH, Cal Koat)

The view from atop the tower.

A walk toward the entrance.

See those flat stones set vertically in concrete?  They are all over.

Part of the tower structure

Just SOME of the fountains

Roman mosaic displayed in the castle.

Alphonse the 13th. See the book? He could READ so they called him the Wise.

Statues of Ferdinand and Isabella meeting world famous explorer and all-round jerk, Christopher Columbus

Orange trees (a continuing theme)

Then we walked down the water to see the Roman Bridge.

That’s the same river that flows through Seville, Guadalquivir

The reproduction of a water wheel, there were at least 3 on the river.

They put a new top on the Roman gate.

We had a quick tour of Tower of La Calahorra across the bridge from the gate.  The museum inside tells and shows the history of Al Andalus, the Moorish nation that existed in the middle of Spain for hundreds of years.

Then a stop for a snack at Santos Bar for a beer and a tortilla.  A tortilla is not, as you may have supposed, a Mexican flatbread, but rather a potato omelet.  It was great and just the thing to keep us going.

It was on to the Mezquita.  Originally built as a mosque by the Moors, it was remade into a cathedral when the Christians (re)took the territory.  (The Visigoths were there before the Moors, they were Christians, but also had two different religious factions fighting each other.  Peter told us all about it.) So you have a cathedral INSIDE a mosque. There’s also some plexiglass in the floor so you can see the original Visigoth church under the current structure.

Beautiful Muslim calligraphy and sculpture

The original interior arches, still in place.

The exterior

Part of the Christian cathedral

The altar and ceiling

Then it was lunch at a very nice restaurant where we split two entrees between us and had some wine and sat down.  Because Peter may not look like a world class athlete exactly, but that man can WALK! It was such a pleasure walking through the deserted lanes and byways of Cordoba after the packed sidewalks and busy streets of Seville.  Quite a change.

Cal and walking partner, Peter.

We walked around Cordoba and saw so much of the old part of town:

A typical Cordoba house with traditional shades.

A large public square surrounded by private homes where loud processions are held. Why am I walking like Prince Philip?

Saint Rafael. An Archangel, so pretty important!

A Roman temple!

We then went to the Palacio de Viana to check out their beautiful gardens and patios.  There are 12 patios and one garden, all with tinkling fountains, gentle breezes, and wonderful flowers, plants and statuary.

It was the perfect end to a wonderful day, and we think we walked over 20 kilometers all told around this fascinating city.  We made it back to the train station and zipped our way back to Seville through the golden Spanish afternoon.

We took a cab to the hotel because all four of the feet on DH and I refused to walk anymore, and the route allowed us to see the preparations behind the city hall for Corpus Christi, which is taking place this weekend.  The city bands are already preparing by marching through the streets and playing. The sound pours up from the cathedral square.

Then I collapsed into a chair and decided I had to get this all down before I forgot a second of it.

Tomorrow is our last full day in Seville and Spain!




Europe – Day 14

We are regarding this as kind of a day off, so there won’t be many, if any, pictures.  We thought we might have some breakfast then go see if we could get into the Alcazar, but the very thought of the lineup made us pause.  Instead I booked us a tour of the Alcazar and the Cathedral for Wednesday and we went into the shopping district to get some swimsuits so we can enjoy the rooftop pool at the hotel.

When we first arrived in Seville, two days ago, I was completely discombobulated by the winding labyrinth of roads, how they changed names and directions.  How the buildings lining the very narrow streets blocked views of landmarks. Now I can easily find my way around.  It’s a small area that I have conquered, but I’m completely comfortable strolling the streets.  We headed straight for El Cortes Ingles department store close by.  We had a quick breakfast in their cafeteria, then DH got a nice bathing suit right away. I am a little more….difficult to fit.  I looked at the department store but no va, so we headed for Velasquez street and the shops along there.  All of Seville seemed to be shopping there this morning.  Many of the smaller shops close for lunch during the day, so we wanted to get the shopping done by 1 at the latest.

I found a bathing suit!  Yes, I paid more than I expected.  Yes, it reveals more than I wanted.  But it fits and all of me gets into it, so I bought it.

Then I had some souvenir shopping to do in Siepres street, where the beautiful fans, shawls, and mantillas are displayed in tiny shops just one or two rooms in size.

But that’s as far as our plans go for the day!  We’re just popping into our air conditioned hotel room and then we may go out for a cerveza or a fizzy water and watch the people go by…..(time elapse post)….

Hmmmm, I went so far as to enjoy a cerveza myself.  Then we went back to the hotel to get into our new suits, sit on the rooftop, enjoying the view and the delightful pool! We chatted with people from England and from Holland and may have had a beverage while we were out.

Then it was back inside for a quick shower and change and out for dinner just in time to get to Ostería L’Oca Giuliva as it opened at 8 pm, and where we were lucky to get a table and had a nice Italian dinner.

Rather than linger, we decided to head back up to the roof of the hotel for a drink while watching the sky turn to purple and the little swallows dance overhead. The lights on the cathedral lit up, the Giralda Tower appeared behind its scaffolding.

Then early to bed, we have big plans for tomorrow.

Europe – Day 13

Oh, I said.  Look how close we are to the cathedral, I said! The problem with not being religious is that you forget what religious people do!  They ring things!   We awoke to the sound of bells!  It’s Sunday in Seville.  The sound was muffled by the shutters in our room so we were quite happy to get up at 9 am and wend our way to Mateos Gago to get some breakfast in a little cafe right around the corner.

We had agreed to meet our tour guide, Peter, of Seville Concierge, in front of La Giralda, the minaret-turned-bell-tower right by our hotel.  He was there right on time and immediately sat us down on the side of the fountain in the middle of the square to tell us about Seville’s history.  It’s fascinating, starting with the Phoenicians, then the Romans, the Carthaginians, the Visigoths, the Moors, and finally the “modern” era starting in the Middle Ages. And don’t forget the Spanish Inquisition. Each culture left their mark on the city.  Then we started our tour.  Peter really knows everything and it’s great to get answers for all our questions.  Like what powers the tram that runs down the Ave de La Constitution?  It’s an electric tram, with trolleys that run along the wires — but where we were, right by the cathedral and city hall, they had to keep taking the wires down for the many processions that celebrate the religious holidays during the year.  So (and we watched this and it is SO COOL!) when the tram parks at its final stop in the Plaza Nueva, the trolleys extend to an overhead structure that charges their batteries until they can return to the trolley wires further down their route.

Very sleek, the trolleys just touch the superstructure

There’s so much that Peter told us that I just can’t write it all down.  About the Black Death, the earthquake that destroyed the old mosque and led to the building of the current cathedral, the ships that brought goods from all over the Mediterranean and beyond to Seville, the discovery of a Viking ship ruin under the city hall, the kings and the dukes and the princes, the plaques commemorating the places mentioned by Cervantes and Franco.

The Archbishop’s Front Door, those knockers are about 12 feet off the ground. Knock, knock! Who’s there? No, seriously, who the hell is THERE?

All the time showing us the streets and squares of Seville, little private places and broad public places.  So interesting!  Plus we found ourselves down where the Airport Shuttle had dropped us off, so it IS possible for us to make our way there for our flight to Paris (but why bother when Shawn told us we could get a cab to the airport for 25Euros?)

Roman wall ruins

Roman wall with other ruin.

The old ship-building site by the river. AKA a Game of Thrones location

When the tour was winding down Peter asked us if we would like to have lunch at a great place.  And it was one of the tapas bars that Shawn had shown us last night, Las Teresas.  We had some more lovely tapas, jamon (they have huge hams hanging above the bar), anchovies in olive oil and vinegar, and something with huge white beans and ham.  All delicious, accompanied by a tasty sherry.

We have seen several “sculptures” of figures bringing to mind the painting by Velasquez of Las Meninas.  They apparently are to promote recycling.  And encourage tourists to take their picture:

The copy

The original

Then back to the hotel for a short siesta and a martini on the rooftop terrace.  Tomorrow we must go out to buy swimsuits because for some reason we forgot ours.  The first time we looked at the pool it was surrounded by young women in bikinis.  But today the older ladies with the wrinkles and the pudge were out, so I may join them.

We walked down to the shopping district, picking up a chocolate ice cream cone on the way, and scoped out the shops that might sell us some swimsuits.  Looks like there’s lots of sales!  Nothing is open today, Sunday, but tomorrow it’s shopping as usual.  Then we hopped into a tapas bar recommended by Shawn, right next door, La Azotea. Turns out the recommended dishes are not served at this location, but hey!  Shawn says they’re all right, and they really are.  We sat at the bar and had some white wine and tapas, cheese and ham rolled into filo pastry with a lovely sauce.  MMMMMMM! Then we broke away from the tapas and had some pork ribs slow cooked served with roast potatoes with a horseradish/sour cream concoction.  Muy bueno!  We were full by then, so just had a scotch rocks (gotta get those grains!) and cafe con leche for dessert.  It was a joy to watch the kitchen work, everyone did every job and they all were enjoying themselves so much.  Also they had

our favourite lamps, the one we have in our cucina.  So natch, we felt right at home. When we were leaving we saw a young couple perusing the menu, and told them they should go right in.  It’s bueno!

Early to bed again.  All this walking gets us tired!



Europe -Day 12

We got up nice and early on the day of our departure from Barcelona, and made our way out to the airport early, too, with memories of the dash through Frankfurt airport still in my mind.

Through security with no problems.  But the readerboard didn’t show us exactly which gate our flight would leave from, just that it would be from A, B or C.  So we sat down for a wait until closer to departure when the info would be up.  I also used the airport wifi and the Vuehling website, and asked that any flight changes be sent directly to my phone.  Eventually the website showed that the gate was B35, but that the flight would be delayed by half an hour.  OK, we got to B35 and asked the Vuehling rep if that information was correct and he checked and said yes.  OK, **whew** lots of time then.  DH went to get us some sandwiches, and I kept refreshing the website.  To see that the flight departure had been put back to its original time and was now at gate B51!  I grabbed the luggage and took off down the terminal, scooping up DH and a couple of sandwiches.  We made it in time, but I’m just saying I didn’t get any notification (they made announcements, but of course we couldn’t hear them over the background noise of a busy airport).

Don’t leave without us!

So we flew to Seville.  The flight was really full, with everyone speaking a different language.  When the pilot explained in English that we’d be delayed taking off, he said we’d be landing in Valencia.  We didn’t.

We took the airport shuttle to a stop that Google Maps had shown me was a 10 minute walk from our hotel.  That was a mistake.  We immediately got lost (Google said to walk down the street in a north-west direction.  It doesn’t run in a north-west direction).  DH flagged down a cab who took us in a magical mystery tour through one-way streets so narrow we have no idea how he got through.  And Milagro!  We got to our hotel.  It’s a real splurge for us, we’ve been staying in AirBnBs and saving on eating meals out.  But it’s just for the last few days of our vacation, and it’s wonderfully close to everything. The hotel Dona Maria.  

Wow, I stepped out on the balcony!

View of the cathedral. From our balcony!

View in the other direction — also did I mention we have a balcony?

There’s a pool on the roof!

There’s a bar beside the pool on the roof!

Tonight we’re getting a tapas tour with a local guide and checked out that the meet-up place is just 8 minutes from here. Our walking tour tomorrow starts a minute from the hotel.

Of all the places we’ve visited, Seville is the most disorienting for me.  Maybe it’s because this part of town is not laid on a grid but is a warren of narrow, winding lanes.  Maybe it’s the incredibly bright sunlight and the heat.  I’m definitely out of my comfort zone, which is fantastic of course.  Either I’ll have the best time ever or I’ll spend our vacation in the few streets by our hotel that I can recognize.

Later, we walked over to the Plaza Nuevos to meet Shawn, our guide for the tapas tour.  We were lucky enough to get a personal recommendation for Azahar Tapas Tour from my friend, Craig, who is friends with the proprietor. (Hi Craig!)

We’d tried tapas in Barcelona and all in all I was not impressed with that experience.  The food was OK but not fantastic.

But the tour we had last night completely fulfilled every fantasy I had about enjoying Spanish food! First we walked past some muy interesting buildings on our way to the city hall (Ayuntamiento) to meet Shawn, our tour guide.

Shawn took us (DH and I and a very nice couple from England, Rachel and Ash) to three different tapas bars within easy walking distance of our hotel.   At the first, Casa Morales , Shawn led us to the “back” room, lined with huge terracotta tuns of wine!  We had 3 cold tapas, jamon (ham), salt cod, and deep-fried pork crackling.  With it we drank sherry, but not Granny’s Christmas sherry!  ours was icy cold and very clean tasting.

Casa Morales

The second place, Casa Roman  we had braised pork cheeks in a rich gravy and sliced pork loin, both served with french-fried potatoes; and huge mushrooms in a green sauce. We tried a golden-coloured sherry there. While we walked from place to place Shawn would show us interesting buildings in the neighbourhood.  We also saw tiny geckos climbing inside the street lanterns (hung on the buildings, the streets are too narrow for lamp standards) while they waited for flies to be attracted to the light.  The last tapas bar we visited was the Vineria San Telmo, with a modern take on tapas.  Here we each ordered our own plate (tapas sized) and I had the panko-coated prawns served on a grilled zucchini, and DH had the chicken breast sliced and served “nugget style”.  Both were excellent, and our companions loved their choices, too.

Then Shawn suggested we try some very sweet sherry with dessert.  I chose the lemon meringue pie and Rachel the rich chocolate cake, and both were terrific matched with that rich, sweet sherry.

I was full!  And so satisfied!  Shawn (who knows her way through the labyrinth of streets, thank goodness, and speaks Spanish despite being born in Winnipeg) led us back to our neighbourhood and we got back to our hotel.  The streets were still full of people, some dining, some just strolling.

But we were ready for bed.  And looking forward to our walking tour the next day.

I was so glad we chose Ahazar for the first night of our trip.  There are over 3,000 tapas bars in Seville.  Shawn left us with a list of “must-see” places and other recommended with the specialties she personally chose.  One is right around the corner!

Europe – Day 11

I’m not kidding, I am starting to flag a little here.  Every day is packed with so much information and visual data my poor little brain is starting to fray at the edges.

So today we decided to just fit in what we could.  And we had (of course) a wonderful time.

The weather was just as hot as it had been yesterday.  So before we boarded our HOHO bus in the Placa Espanya, we visited the Arenas Shopping Centre  built into an old bullfighting ring.  I needed a sombrero, and found one!  I had been trying to buy one in the local small stores, even in the Mercat de Sant Antoni, but there was nothing that I liked, or that fit my largish melon.  Natura had one! It’s adorbs, as you will see from the photos, but also it’s comfy, crushable, made of PAPER! and it kept the glare out of my face which makes life much easier.

We then caught the City Tours bus for the West Side (Naranjas) tour which would take us through sections of the city we had not seen yesterday.


We saw quite a bit of the city that had been built in the last 50 years–but following the original plan.  So many streets of apartment buildings, all very nice and soooooo livable!

We also saw some buildings we’d seen yesterday, as the two tours overlap.  But they were definitely worth seeing again! (all photos thanx to DH, AKA Cal Koat)

We swung down by the seaside again, but this time we saw a statue of the great Italian explorer and all-round jerk, Christopher Columbus:


We found out the street we’ve been casually strolling upon, Avenida Paral Lel, had quite a history in this place.

Yes, we had a lovely trip through the West side of the city, but we’d decided to spend our last afternoon in Barcelona at Tour stop for the Poble Espanyol.  This is a “village” built for the International Exhibit of 1929-1930.  It was supposed to be a temporary structure, just to give the visitors an idea of the architecture and culture of the different areas of Spain.  But it was such a popular attraction that even though it’s gone through some tough times, it’s  a “must-see” while you’re here — especially if you’re not able to see the whole country.

Trying to fit in with the locals.

(Hey, look, I know carrying my purse across my torso like some skinny bandolero is not a “good look” but we’ve been warned countless times about pick-pockets and thieves, one nice lady at the Placa de Catalunya even going so far as to insist that I carry my daypack  backwards, in the front, and I like to be safe). (Also, cute hat, no?)

We entered and the nicest lady gave us a map and some suggestions of a route through the area.  But first…a stop for a sandwich and a coffee.  We learned our lesson yesterday.  Don’t skip meals or chances to sit down in a shady spot and re-hydrate.  We spent our mealtime watching a class of adorable youngsters in adorable school uniforms gambol in the main square.  Then we went off to see the village — and stopped into Fiesta!, a wonderful audio-visual presentation on some of the festivals that Spain is famous for.  The running of the bullsThe tomato-throwing festival (for realz). Holy week in Seville with floats and spooky costumesCastellers in Catalunya.  I wouldn’t want to be around while these events were going on (too much strangeness for me!) (and are the bulls and horses having a good time?  Asking for a friend) but they looked like fantastic festivals!

From there we went into the Fran Daurel Museum with some truly outstanding examples of modern Spanish Art.

Picasso, sure, even some Dali and Miro.  But so many Spanish artists I had never even heard of, in a peaceful and calming gallery, all part of the cost of admittance.

And a stroll through “Spain” and its regional architecture:


And after a day fighting the crowds in the various Placas and Las Ramblas and the super-crowded Sagrada Familia, it was so nice to have this quiet interlude. There are little shops throughout selling artisan’s works, terrific hand-made souvenirs.  The only downside of this area is that there are audio-visual presentations of each area of Spain, and it makes one sad that one cannot visit all of them on this trip, as each is spectacular in its own way.

We saw some wonderful sights:

The city laid before you from MontJuic

Orange trees! Naranjas!

Then back onto the tour bus for a quick ride back to Placa Espanya.  DH needs a swimsuit (he forgot his old one on this trip, but he really needs a new one and I tried to talk him into getting a Speedo because, hey! Europe! but he says no) so we went back to the Arenas but this time we took the escalators all the way to the top, where there’s a 360 degree view of the city. 

Placa Espanya with Joan Miro and the Venetian Towers

It’s not a terribly high viewpoint, so you don’t see everything, but it was worth an escalator ride.

We walked back to our AirBnB (it’s funny that after spending so much time on the Paris Metro, the only time we’ve ridden the Barcelona Metro is to get to the train station for Montserrat) and will spend the evening packing and finishing up the fine snacks and wine we still have.

And writing up about our adventures.  And checking in for our flight tomorrow to Seville!

And having one (or two) dry martinis at the XIX bar on the corner, saying Adeu to Alberto and hearing about how we will love Andalusia.







Europe – Day 10

What?  We are more than half-way through our Europe adventures!  No slowing down now, we still have lots to do and see!

Today once again the sound of the shutters being rolled up awakened us about 8:30.  We rose to another sunny day with big plans.  But because of a sluggish start and my getting ourselves lost (again) I was worried that we would not make it to Placa de Catalunya to start the HOHO (hop-on, hop-off) route that would take us to our final destination — La Sagrada Familia. Of course we were not going to miss our chance to see Barcelona’s most famous landmark and Gaudi masterpiece — I had booked our tickets months ago with Take Walks (through Expedia).

In the meantime I had bought us passage on a CityTours HOHO tour recommended by our AirBnB host, Arama.  We chose the East Side tour because it took us to the Sagrada Familia, but we also saw the waterfront and several interesting neighbourhoods. DH had his camera ready to capture the moments:

Some of the older buildings on the waterfront

One of the new buildings on the waterfront, very distinctive, like a sail!

We found out that, like Paris, Barcelona had a great rebuilding in the 19th century, led in this case by Ildefons Cerdà.  But although the buildings (built in a gridded block system with chamfered corners at the intersections) are all built to similar guidelines, unlike Paris each building, each block, each area has its own look and personality.  Since then the 1992 Olympics brought sweeping changes to some of the poorer neighbourhoods Barcelona truly has become a city bejewelled with architectural gems.

Gaudi, of course

An eccentric house in an upscale neighbourhood

A typical block near the beach

Frank Gehry’s fish and a lesson in architectural geometry

The entrance to a park

But all the time we were getting nearer and nearer to the Sagrada Familia — would we make it in time to join our tour?


We pulled up just in time to zip around the corner to meet up with our guide and luckily we were the first to arrive.  Anna (guide extraordinaire) even let us sneak off to get some water as some of our group hadn’t showed up yet.

It was a wonderful tour, informative and friendly, with Anna filling us in on the stories (and some Easter eggs) displayed in the exterior:

The inside was equally as beautiful and captivating:

I love the way the light shines through the stained-glass widows and makes the aisles glow!

And there’s even a little cottage, built by Gaudi as a school for the workers’ children:

Clean and surprisingly modern, though with a lack of parallel lines and right angles!

And we enjoyed the company of a member of our group who seemed quite …. bemused by some aspects.  When Anna showed us a picture of the original facade, out in the middle of an empty field with some goats in the foreground yet, the woman was totally confused.  “Did they dismantle it and put it in the city?”  When she saw the crucifix hanging beneath a canopy above the (unfinished porphyry) altar, she asked if that was Christ ascending to heaven.  No, just, how?  I mean, read the book for crying out loud.

After the tour ended in the school house Gaudi designed and built for the students of his workers, we climbed aboard the tour bus to finish the route.

We dismounted at the Placa de Catalunya (we’ll take the tour of the other side of the city tomorrow) and headed back to the AirBnB.  It was a miracle!  I remembered quite clearly how to get back, smoothly negotiating the streets and amazing DH by bringing us back by the most direct route.

We chose to have dinner in, today was surprisingly tiring (and sunny!) but we’re planning to go out to the bar on the corner to see if we can persuade someone to make us a dry martini.  No kidding, we get blank looks when we ask for one in any of the restaurants we’ve been in.  We dropped back to the Mercat de Sant Antoni and loaded up with snacks, then got some croquettes freshly deep-fried from a little shop around the corner. With some bread, cold cuts, cheese and olives it made a delicious meal.

The bar was open and the charming young bartender made us two delightful vodka martinis!  It’s called the XIX bar, which I assumed was a Catalan name, but had been calling it the “19” bar (XIX in Roman numerals).  Turns out I was right.  It’s the 19 bar.  19 carrer de Rocafort.  One of the reasons I love Barcelona is that it’s just stuffed with these little establishments.  They are very small and often very specialized.  Like making and selling only croquettes. Or a bar that specializes in gin cocktails. Or a pharmacy that’s just one room wide and two rooms deep, where I replaced my broken reading glasses.  So your neighbourhood has markets and bars and restaurants and maybe a clothing store or a bookstore or a wine store or a fabric store or a souvenir store.  But if you’re missing something don’t worry, it’s in the next block (called manzanas, or apples, in Catalan).

We left the XIX bar with the sky still slightly alight, and something soft and seductive in the air calling us to ramble.  Unfortunately, DH had been starving himself all day and he really can’t do that, plus we had TOO MUCH SUN!!! and not enough water.  So we’re heading off to bed early tonight ready for our last day in Barcelona tomorrow.

Love this city!


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