Andorra

The culmination of our parador trip ended (May, 20th 2017) in the principality of Andorra as we crossed the French Alps.

The population of this whole country is 80,000 although not seen in this picture. Then as we drove through this breath taking beauty we arrived at an entrance way to the City.

Shortly thereafter we stopped for an overview for as much of the country as we could see, what with the Alps all hanging around.

 

This country became independent in 1993 and had its first democratic elections. This country became independent in 1993 and had its first democratic elections. Before that time it was the autonomous state of both the French and the Spanish since 1278.

For many years now Andorra has been the tax free paradise for shoppers and changed from the Peseta to the Euro in 2002.

 

As fascinating as the country is- we were on our way to a wine tasting area near by- and what a trip that was.

This was the overview of our room, looking up, down, and around at the magnificent Pyrenees. With all the tree coverage and homes we wondered where the Devil the wine growing was going on???


Although this Patio is not overwhelming, it made up for it as night with the sound of the river cascading down the hill side behind it… and lulled us to sleep.

The next morning the hotel owner and vintner told us that we would be going up to his winery driven by his second in command.

It started off basically at ground level and transitioned immediately to steep curves, and suicide curves, every time we went around a corner I almost fell off the back of the truck. But the driver just kept laughing and said, “It gets better.” “Better than dying?!” I asked.

When we stopped at the top my legs had to quit jittering before I could get out of the truck. But the magic words, “Come, let’s taste this wine.” Looking around and down, and down, and down. God knows how they grew grapes on this magnificent mountain.


These giant distillers were shiney, modern, and clean— and loaded with wine. We drank, smiled and drank some more. I asked out driver how we would get down, would we be going down the same way as we went up? I’d rather walk… He laughed and said, No, we have an easier way down. And I asked why he didn’t do the easier way up? He responded, “More fun this way.” Mike chimmed in, “Yeah, but I need another drink before I get on any winding road again.”

9/26/2017

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Exchange Family Reunion-Traipsing through London

May 12   After leaving Armenia  and Georgia, we flew into Paris, grabbed our luggage and hopped  the Eurostar to London.

Eurostar Paris to London

A 2 hour ride through  the outskirts of Paris, beautiful  farmland and with only 15 minutes under the  English Channel. (I was happy the time under water was so short!) A cab to Novotel Blackfriers Hotel  and smoothly checking in…until she said it would be $ 30:00 each for breakfast.  I whipped out my e-mail confirmation with “breakfast included”. She said “but the rules have changed” and I said “but my e-mail hasn’t.”  She went away and returned, all smiles, “we will honor your reservation.”

We had a 12th floor executive level  room with balcony.

Novotel Hotel, LondonVery nice view. The view straight out was of the Shard Building by Renzo Piano and the tallest building in Europe. Unobtrusive during the daytime and lit with soft colors at night. If you look to the left, a new high-rise  blocks the view of Blackfriars Bridge and the river.

Our breakfast buffet was excellent.  While we ate we watched out the window as people from the underground hurried to work. All wore black…and it seemed unusual for a mild May day. Never did find out why.

This is a picture of our “extended family”.

Exchange FamilyKate and Tom DeBrabander-Van Dessel from Antwerp and their 16 and 6 year old sons who visited us in California last summer.  Kate was our exchange student for a year—26 years ago—and continued to be family ever since. Now they had arranged to take turns flying from-and-to Antwerp (takes about an hour) so one of them would be home for the kids at night. Tom came first. We had a glass of wine on our balcony and planned our walking strategy.

The South Bank walk was crowded  and vibrant. We ate lunch at Gabriel’s Wharf in a small, Greek restaurant  continuing our “catch-up” conversation. On our walk to the London Eye, parallel to the river boats and the crowds beside the water , we approached a mob of people waiting to board the Eye.

London Eye

This symbol of modern Britain was exquisite ….and huge!   It is easy to step on, takes 45 minutes to do the circuit and from the top (on a clear day) one can see Windsor Castle 25 miles away.

We continued on but were forced to stop in front of the Park Plaza Hotel.

Park Plaza Hotel, Riverbank

A glass atrium soared from the bottom to the top of the building. (And what would one see from the other side?) Up the elevator to the top and the picture shows the view. Later we ate dinner at an excellent Indian restaurant.

The next morning Kate arrived and they joined us for breakfast in our hotel.  We entered the restaurant at 9:50 (serving stopped at 10)  but our lovely hostess winked and said “on us”. Lovely.

Our strategy: walk across the Millennium Bridge and see St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Millennium Bridge

Sun shining, we crossed this elegant pedestrian bridge, looking every which way to absorb the monumental  views. It led us to our next stop: St. Paul’s Cathedral.

St Pauls Cathedral in the Blitz

In 1942, St. Paul’s was one of the major  surviving structures  of WWII  during the London blitz.  (Notice the blown out windows and walls of the buildings in front.) Christopher Wren was the architect in 1660 after the great London fire.

St Pauls Cathedral exterior

 

The Cathedral body was so well designed that little re-structuring was needed.  Beautiful on the outside and magnificent on the inside.

On the left side of the Cathedral was a coffee house with a covered patio. It began to drizzle  so we snagged  a table by a fireplace, ordered coffees  and reminisced  until the sun returned.

The Temple church exterior

Next stop The Temple.

The rounded section on the left side was the original Templar World Headquarters  established in the 12th century and lasted until they were “eliminated” in  1312 by the French king and the pope. (And after all the murder and mayhem of the Templars, the king and the pope never did find TREASURES)

Knights Templar Statue

Marble effigies of some 12th century Templars are located here. Originally the Inner Temple housed the  Queen’s “Council”. Now they contain law offices and law students-in-training.  This is consistent with the Medieval Knights Templar “protecting” pilgrims to the Holy Land.

We found a typical English Pub in an alley behind the Temple where we ate lunch and said farewell to Tom, leaving to fly home.  His sharp wit will be sorely missed! (But we have Band-Aids.)

Straggling back to our hotel, we decided on dinner at the Swan, next door to the Globe Theater.The Swan at the Globe Home Swan

 

Crowded but we got a 2nd floor window table with this great view. (Of course the view became much more beautiful after two glasses of wine.)

 

Parliment

The next morning, Kate, Mike and I walked across the Westminster Bridge to the Houses of Parliament.

Known world wide for its beauty, the Westminster Abby has been here since the 11th century. Much of it was destroyed by the  1834 fire and rebuilt. We went to the public entrance but “not open till 2:30”.   So, we walked on to St. James Park for coffee….and, as usual, we talked about the trials and tribulations of life.  Since we first met Kate at 17, and Tom a few years later,  and their families …..our continued involvement with them opened our eyes and our world.

A large gathering of “peaceful protesters” gathered in the park waving signs about  Reduced wages, and began to sing.  (just like home!)

Leaving I the looked toward Buckingham Palace and saw the Changing of the Guards.  Since Kate had to fly to Antwerp  around 5, we headed to our hotel bar for a “farewell till we meet  again” toast.

Later Mike and I crossed the street to a 1930’s Prince William Henry Pub for a beer and true “pub grub”.

Prince William Henry Pub

The next morning we were traveling on to Bournemouth-on-the-Channel.

London, we will see you again!

11/30/2014

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An October family Thanksgiving in Portland, Oregon

Major holiday traveling is a headache. We tried to beat the system  by flying in and out of Portland during off-season and choosing a centrally located hotel  to limit  driving and crowds.

Portland Rose Hotel

I found Hotel Rose, along the Willamette River, facing the park, ideally located for our small family of five. Walking shoes important, cars not.

Because Mike and I arrived a day earlier,  I was able to renegotiate our “reserved” rooms to lovely adjoining  rooms for our daughter, her husband, our 10 year old granddaughter and us. The views from the balcony included the park and river. They arrived at 4 and we decided to walk River Park and choose a restaurant for later.

River parkA beautiful walk paralleling the Willamette River, busy with strollers, joggers, bikers and geese.  Beautiful , relatively friendly and fat geese. According to natives, they come every fall to fatten up for the “long haul”.

Geese, Riverside Park

Of course much of it they unload on the lawn! And here, nobody walks on the grass. We found a lovely riverside restaurant for dinner: McCormick & Schmick. We came later and sat outside under trees with sparkling lights. It was quiet and cool while inside the restaurant was a zoo.

Restaurent on riverMike had done some research so after a great hotel breakfast (unusual), we took off for Old China Town.

China Town, PortlandWhen we were touring “Lan Su Chinese Garden”, a Chinese artist, exhibiting his work, was painting names in Chinese script. I cannot describe the way he…. painted but it was fantastic. Edie was enthusiastic about seeing her own name in a vibrant and artistic Chinese style ……and so were we.

EDIE in ChineseAfterward Mike, Edie and I walked through the old town, impressed by  the 18th and 19th century buildings and how many had been rehabbed for businesses.

bikes in Portland

Steve and Bronwyn got loaner bikes from our hotel and went riding. Portland has many “pedestrian only” streets that include bikers.

Later Edie and I set off for a round of shopping.  I gave her a “cap” for purchases and she stopped  20 dollars short of the limit.  “That’s all I need Grandma” she said. (I love this kid!)

We joined Mike, Steve and Bronwyn for coffee and Steve took this picture.

Steve Taking Picture

At a Lebanese restaurant that eve I had roast goat and Mike had lamb stew. Besides the excellent food, and best of all, we had a great convivial conversation.  Even Edie, who had pulled out some of her drawings to work on and escape some boring adult conversation, contributed to ideas being expressed. She is growing up to be a very lovely and self-contained young girl.

The next morning we were all off to the Portland Saturday Craft Market.

Saturday Market, Portland

It was inspiring. All the tents were operated by the craftsman or woman and was an amazing collection of talented work. Every time I inspected an object, the craft person was there to explain it and give background. I could have spent much more time….and money there.

Edie, Mike and I went back to lunch in our hotel and watched base ball afterward. Bronwyn and Steve went running.

We planned a celebratory dinner at Momma’s Italian.

Momma's Italian

We raised our wine (beer for Steve) glasses for the wonderful food and each other. It had been a splendid weekend.

When we got back to our hotel,  Steve got the concierge to take the following picture ofour  small, immediate family.

Family Portland

Wherever you are…….Happy Thanksgiving!

11/9/2014

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The Bastides: the birth of French Democracy

800px-Domme_sky_viewDomme is an almost perfect bastide: a walled village sitting on a hillside.

(credits: by Luc Viatour, August 30, 2012)

The Bastides: the birth of French Democracy

Between 1220 and 1372 about 700 bastides, also referred to as new towns, were built to colonize the wild and fertile lands of Southwest France.  They grew as small, self-sufficient  hamlets which eventually had to become fortified for   protection. The following picture is the oldest and simplest that we saw: bastide Couvertoirade.couvertoirade

 

Compare that one to a more successful bastide of Eymet.

Eymet3These bastides enabled the rulers and those wealthy enough to own land to centrally locate their population, protect them, and to make money by raising taxes on their production. BUT, most importantly, it converted the serfs into freemen! Hence the birth of Democracy in France from the 13th century.

As the bastides grew in popularity and goods, they needed stronger walls and banding together inside them. Many were built on minimally established sites or on trading routes and were open to passersby and local farmers.

They were planned to put some order into society….and did just that.

Bastide de Villefranche du PerigordThe bastides all had a central square lined with arcades that acted as a commercial hub and market. As you can see in the first picture, the arcades were rough hewn, but,  for the 12th and 13th century, they were magnificent. The buildings themselves were 2 rooms deep: the first room the store, the second living quarters and the arcade for the display of wares.

Villereal StreetThis is the square in Villereal. Since churches were not allowed on the square but were to be, in addition to the religious center, the Keep and fall-back in case of a serious attack. The façade is built as a fortress topped with large open areas where weapons and hot oil could be dispersed. Standing in front we could see the stanchion openings where the chains would either raise or lower the ramp to cover the moat….now filled with stones.

Although Villereal started in the 12th century, it must have done very well to support the family that built this castle in the 15th century.Villereal Castle

Although noting the solid wall around the castle, the marauding continued. Before we began this journey, we decided to locate near Bergerac, both for the wineries and the bastides. The beautiful Chateau Des Vigiers in Monestier, France was our residence for 5 days.

The ideal situation: the Chateau has 2 restaurants, 2 bars and is located on A hill-top with woods and a golf course. Busy days and lovely evenings.

Chateau

The next morning we drove to Montpazier.

Notice how much bigger and more elaborate the following site is. Reason: in the 12th century the King of England married Eleanor of Aquitaine. And they established  this village….in spite of the problems between the French and English. This next picture shows more of the royal grandeur in the elegant town-houses.800px-Monpazier

Notice some of the 2nd floor windows. We had lunch straight across the plaza under an umbrella and watched mini-vans plus horse drawn carts  bring produce and wine.

Chateau De Monbazillac


On our way back we stopped at this formal  bastide, fully self-contained. The Chateau was built in the 16th century and owned by the same family for over 600 years. The Chateau had a deep moat surrounding it. We also found a trap door for emergency escape in the basement….swimming out through the moat would be fine…except for the alligators.

Monbazillac Dordogne1One look at those lush vineyards reveals the success of this estate. We made sure of it by sampling in the tasting room. We stopped at the Lalinde bastide that was located right on the Dordogne River on our way to the hotel.

Lalinde Dordogne

It was well protected by the strong currents.  The water levels could vary by as much as 50 feet and it was very swift  at any level. We headed back to our Chateau to celebrate with a marvelous dinner and a clink of glasses for this wonderful discovery of the Bastides!

Dinner212/5/2013

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The Final Chapter of Cyprus…#3

The final chapter, number three. First I had to encourage Mike not to stop at every damn winery. (But later, more forcefully threatening death or dismemberment…) We stopped to see the Kolassi castle, the 14th century headquarters of Saint John and the Templars. Shortly after that the Templars were killed- but the why is the more important and lengthy than I can write about here.

They city of Lemsos shows what the typical attraction for foreign visitors is- but we moved further up the coast where it was a bit quitter.

This was the only picture that my dying camera could take. Our room on the 4th floor of the Capital Coast hotel had a wonderful view of the water. Even catching a very tiny, (if you have good eyes) boat in the distance. What I couldn’t catch was all three swimming pools in the picture.

Two draw-backs: the air conditioner in the room didn’t work- but it did 10 minutes after the janitor showed up. We ask the front desk for bedside reading lights… We never got them… older people tend to read more often than watch TV when people pound on the door to turn down the sound.

Dinner across the main street, was marvelous. The owner and Mike got into a wine discussion about the Cypriot wines we were drinking. Mutual interest often starts a friendship.

These following paragraphs, written by husband, gives a bit more background to the country as a whole. There will be a taste of the wine further along- but no test.

Cyprus is a small island–roughly 3500 sq. miles, making it larger than Delaware but smaller than Connecticut,–in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.  It lies 60 miles west of the Syrian coast and miles south of Turkey’s southern shores. Athens is over 500 miles to the northwest.

With its strategic position in the Mediterranean, the island has over the centuries seen many players and occupiers: the Phoenicians, the Hellenistic dynasty of Alexander the Great and the Romans.  The Byzantines had their short stay in the 10th century.  And, of course, there were the  Crusaders (11th century). 

Richard the Lionheart captured the island then turned it over to the Knights Templar who in turn sold it to the French noble family of the Lusignans (a 300 year reign). 

Then came the Genovese and Venetians. The Ottomans had a 300 year hold before Britain took administrative rights to Cyprus in 1878.  This hold lasted until 1960 when Cyprus established independence. However, animosity between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots  soon surfaced and in 1974   the Turkish government sent troops to Cyprus to put down a coup d’état–a coup that was encouraged  by Athens. 

Since that time the island has been partitioned into the ethnically Greek south Republic of Cyprus  and the northern Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (recognized  only by Turkey).  A “Green Zone” buffer border separates the two–a 112 mile border with only 5 vehicular crossing points plus two more pedestrian crossings in the walled city of Nicosia, the capital of both “counties”. One island, two cultures, two languages, two currencies (Euros, south/ Turkish Lira, north). After over 40 years the island is still resolutely divided!

Shortly thereafter we drove from Pafos and over the mountain to the North Coast of Cyprus.

We stopped at an empty border patrol station, waited a bit- and then figured they had gone to lunch and then headed on.

A few miles later a large motorcycle pulled alongside us. We stopped an explained our side of the story: there were no bars or people around to stop us at the checkpoint. He laughed and said they were eating lunch on the other side of the road. But you’ll have to pay a $25 dollars fine before flying home. “Not a problem” said Mike and thanked him.

A few miles later, (see the last 5 lines of Mike’s writing giving special details of the border arrangements.)

Dome Hotel, Kyrenia city.

Our suite was on the fourth floor and not only overlooked the Mediterranean Sea, but had two balconies- an especially good feature when you are traveling and have laundry that needs to be washed and dried.

Mike went off expecting and found the Kyrenia Castle, and loved it.

Kyrenia is right on the sea and has existed since the 10th century BC. Excavations have revealed Greek traces that date back to the 7th century BC, but the site was developed into a city under Roman rule. The castle endured several sieges but is still standing today.

Mike toured the whole place in 100 degree weather- slightly cooler inside but not much!

He returned enthusiastic from the sight and said, “That’s where we’re going to eat dinner tonight.” And I was delighted because the temperature was falling.

We ate under the white awnings in the harbor above. Once seated on the portside there were four youths who sat at the table next to us. They were very friendly and had just taken the fairy over from Turkey.

They asked, “If you don’t mind we’d like to practice out English with you.”

I said jokingly, “We only speak Californian English.” and we then enjoyed our dinner conversing with these young people. Mike left them with half a bottle of wine and they were delighted.

The next day we decided to walk around the town where we were staying. Being in a hotel right on the Mediterranean Sea with an air-conditioned restaurant is dying and going to Heaven!  

Mike had made a reservation for a sea-side table- which was great except for a strong storm came that night and large waves crashed against the canvass opening and splashed us! And I saw fish! And Mike said, “I don’t, catch yours.”

Our next big ticket stop was the Hiliarion Castle on the mountain top of the ridge behind us.

Hiliarion Castle

We parked in the lot below the Hiliarion Castle. I got out and had a drink while Mike hiked up to tour the castle. The heat and the steep- Mike went slogging up the mountain- temperature unknown but high. While I sat in an air-conditioned café below and had a glass of wine.

Mike made a wonderful sketch of the Castle as a birthday present.

We left a lot out, they’re still fighting but so are we! But we enjoyed this country enormously. Thanks Cyprus!

Guess what this is. There will be a prize for the winner!

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Georgia, the collapse of the Soviet Union and Noah’s Ark

noah-ark-grass

The history of both Armenia and Georgia begins with Noah’s Ark, pictured here, which to all accounts landed on Mount Ararat. Both countries metaphorically share this mountain and it can be said that their histories go back to the beginning of time.

Mountain Ararat

Georgians claim descent from “Kortholts” and Armenians claim their ancestry from his brother “Haik”, both great grandsons of Noah and his Ark. Georgia became the world’s  2nd  Christian country preceded only by Armenia. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, both countries were left with massive environmental problems …especially  inheriting oil polluting from heavy metals, erosion from uncontrolled logging and over-grazing….among others.

The following mill has disintegrated over about 20 years after their leaving Georgia.

And this is a good example of all of their buildings.

mill

Both Armenia and Georgia reversed this situation and are now entering world trade because of their excellent organic food products and wine development. Our guide said “We couldn’t afford the pesticides needed for crops or money for new equipment……so organic farming and wine production was our only choice. And now it’s paying off.”

Driving into Tbilisi, Georgia, we quickly discovered one of their city’s idiosyncrasies: any alley is considered a 2-way street. The direction is determined wholly by who gets half way first. Since the front of our rental had been damaged coming cross-county.

Photo048

(the white stuff on the ground is our front bumper ….smashed by two teenagers

backing into us…..and then poorly reattached),

I do believe oncoming drivers felt we had nothing to lose….and that worked!

We found Hotel Kapola, an original converted mansion and checked into our Suite #12.

Hotel Kapala, Tbilisi

They had overbooked.  I had reserved a 4 day stay 3 months earlier, and since no-one wanted to pay the price of the suite….we got it by default!

thT69MOWWU.jpg History from the balcony

And it was magnificent.  The large balcony overlooked the hillside, the river and the mountain. That night we ate at our roof top restaurant, overlooking the same view.

thY1J3I5V2.jpgDinner on Hotel's rooftop

Lovely music coming from a small band playing In the bar. The only problem was the waiter. Mike ordered a bottle of white wine, the waiter bought red….already uncorked and poured it without “presenting” it to Mike first. The situation was immediately solved by the manager.  The waiter was a bit hostile to Mike afterward….but he had no idea how easily he got off!

The next morning we met our local guide, Lila. For brevity’s sake I will reflect on a few sites, although all were marvelous.

Citadel and Fortress wall

The most impressive was Saint Nicolas Church (4th century) surrounded by the remaining fortress walls sitting on the hill top. The city is growing up to the ancient Citadel and has just opened a tram running from down town up to it. Our energetic tour guide felt we would enjoy walking up the historic pathway to the Citadel…….but we compromised: took a cab up and walked down.

Aerial Tramway

We saw the new tramway begin operations the day before we left Tbilisi. Afterward we walked through the Old Town Pedestrian restaurant street. While we ate, Lila, early 50’s, gave some insight on family life both before and after the Soviet Collapse.  “First”, she said, “they got rid of all the intellectuals either by transferring them to ‘work farms’ or  deporting them to Siberia. Then assigning jobs to all, regardless of experience, and paying minimum wage. Minimum housing….4 families to ONE flat.  All worked until too old or too feeble, and then received bare subsistence pay.

I had to move away to get an education and returned afterward as an educator at the  University.”  She said the older generation got used to this life, accepted it as normal  and were lost, at first, when the Soviets left.  This is what happened to her own family.

Kakheti David Gareja Complex Georgia

View of the 6,000 year old monastery that will begin the sequel.

8/24/2014

9/1/2017

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The Oslo Norway Holiday Special

May 16

The beginning of our drive to the Oslo Festival was not auspicious. The weather was drizzly and cold. We needed to pass through 3 tunnels, catch a 20 minute ferry ride and drive up a snowy mountain.

Ferry Boat Station

This is a big country and that small, yellow
building IS the ferry station.

Little did we know that the highway had been closed due to heavy snow. Even if there had been signs, we, couldn’t have read them anyway.      Nordfjord Moutains

After an hour of driving up through the snow, the sun came out and we realized that there was no one else on the road…The snowy berms reached 7 plus feet…..I know because I trailed my fingers through them. Lovely sunshine right down to Oslo.

Our first stop was at the Viking Museum just outside the city. There were ancient ships from the 9th c. AD  entirely excavated from burial sites. These were wealthy or powerful people wanting their ship and contents for the next world. One was so enormous that we had to climb to a balcony to see the inside.

Gokstad Ship

This spectacular craft was 90 feet long and 15 feet wide. Its burial chamber contained the body of a man in his 40’s. Besides the usual accouterments of guilded bronze, kitchen utensils, beds etc. it also had the bones of 12 horses, 6 dogs and a peacock. He was very special!

On into the city busy with preparations for the combined  celebration of Constitution Day and the revered 1800th century King Karl Johan Day. We drove to the town center Scandia Hotel but they were fully booked. The gracious Concierge reserved us a room at the portside Scandia KNA Hotel having a lovely view of the Fjord from our  balcony.

The mountain beyond was lit up with fairy lights after dark. Scandic hotel room view3

Mike had navigated our way through many dead-end streets and the holiday confusion down town with his uncanny sense of direction and 3 maps.

Our hotel was close to the portside and offered many restaurant choices. Some of the older buildings had been modernized with glass overviews taking full advantage of the bay. The area was very pedestrian friendly with cobbled-stone walkways and occasional fountain centered plazas.

Water-side Bar

May 17

Music from the hotel and the surrounding area woke us. Oslo’s biggest holiday of the year was starting early and with great enthusiasm.  After breakfast we walked to the park to observe the festivities. Individuals and entire families were wearing their regional costumes, some of which (we found out later) dated from the 1800’s and had not changed in color or style.

May 16th Consitution day

Families, youth groups and young adults marched from Johan’s Gate, the main street, passing the Palace with the King and Queen waving. They continued parading and singing through the park and down to the Port. There were many bands, school groups and military units; all singing and cheering with gusto. Many 3 generational families were dressed in regional costumes. The townspeople knew each other by their regional colors.

Most women wore long dresses with fantastic embroidery at the waist and hem. Their families were also color-coordinated, including hats. It was a very social event. Around 5 o’clock we saw groups dispersing to the train station and others evacuating the car parks.

The younger adults stayed on, having gotten into the beer early, and having a wonderful time. We were impressed to see the more sober ones assisting those who became inebriated. Around 7, looking for dinner, we walked toward Karl Johan’s Gate and found it a bit littered with celebratory trash and most of the restaurants had run out of food. We headed back to the wharf area and picked a restaurant over looking the bay. Many milling young people were having a jovial time, and, consequently, so were we.

Oslo, and all of Norway, has much more to offer!

Akershus Slott

Akershus castle has defended Oslo since 13th century and will do so for a long time to come.

5/2/2013

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Bits of Wales

HovercraftWe took the Hovercraft from the Dublin  ports  to Wales. Boarding was crowded  with noisy  congeniality. “Learn as you go by observation” and we did. The people in the  lead headed for the curved, split staircase, and ran up for the third  deck. We were right behind them.  The semi-circular tables over lookedthe center of the ship and down to the restaurant area. The booths were backed by broad windows with infinite views.

About two hours later we drove off, looking back at  Holyhead Lighthouse.

Holy Head Lighthouse

About an hour’s drive brought us to the extraordinary  walled Conwy  Castle. The huge 1243 structure overwhelmed both the city and us.

Conwy Castle2

Checking in to a hotel, we hurried off to see this walled city and breath taking Castle Conwy.  Even in the fading early September light, we were able to see that one of the abutments used to support the cast iron chains on this suspension bridge, attached to the castle. Extraordinary construction.

The next morning we toured the old, but colorful  village. People were buying fruits and vegetables from the open fronted shops and fresh fish from the boats along the quay.  Most of the crowd appeared to be local.

The Quay Conwy

That afternoon we drove to Langollen  aqueduct and were amazed with what we saw . There was the aqueduct,  180 feet above the river!

pontcysyllte13

There were narrow boats and house barges winding  along the surface. The depth of the passage was 5 feet and the width was 7 feet…all one way of course. All of the water craft were built to these specifications.  There were off-sets along the way where the barges could be parked.  I wanted to climb on one.

After seeing so many beautiful castles, we looked for a different structure with some obvious historical  wear. Montgomery Castle, built circa 1071 by Roger de Montgomery,  fit this requirement.

                          Old Casftle in Montgomery, Wales

During the Civil War it was demolished by order of the Parliament around 1650. We stayed in Montgomery village,  and walked through misty rain to see the remaining structure on top of the hill…..marvelous view.

Time was running out and we had to plot our return to Ireland so we headed to Castle  Cricieth, not too far from Holyhead and our Hovercraft departure.

Castell Cricieth

This structure was  built 1272 by Edward 1st who set about consolidating English rule in Wales. Subsequent conflicts resulted in the castle being sacked. The town expanded in the 19th century with new transportation links. In 1868 It developed as a Victorian seaside resort which is the way we found it. Looking at the picture you can see several houses below on the right….we stayed  at the second one….with both a view of the castle and the sea.

The next morning, on our way to Holyhead,  we had time to visit the last Castle of this trip and what a sight it was! Castle Caernarfon  was built in 1283 also by King Edward 1st.

Caernarfon Castle

He wanted it to reflect Constantinople, Rome and the Welsh legend. And I think it does all of that.

Because we would be on the ship shortly, and for several hours, we decided to walk through part of the Castle and did.

Caernarfon Castle Interior

2/24/2014

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Turkey: the Final Tour

Friday 6-21-12

Essentially wending our way back to Istanbul, we headed to Assos and the Caravansy Hotel by the sea. Our concierge graciously booked 2 days at this wonderful rustic resort that looked over the bay and up a hill to a castle. We had a good view of the acropolis in Pergamon as we passed, but we didn’t stop. The ride down the hills to Assos was long and hazardous but we made it and checked into our third floor room-with-balcony.

Only eight rooms had a view-with-balcony, which had a heavy overhang to keep out the weather and resembled a small watch-tower.

Walking the waterfront and the tiny village only took 30 minutes. Off to the. Pool…freezing.. .ha! The 7:30 seating for dinner offered minimal choices: fish or chicken. The food was good and the service excellent. Then the rains came down and we got to watch passing ships from our watch-tower.

Saturday 6-22-12

Breakfast overlooking the bay, with some clouds and choppy waves. We tried walking up the hill to the village above but only got as far as the crumbling but majestic amphitheater when it started to drizzle. The rain actually enhanced the appearance of this ancient structure but not the quality of the dirt road returning to the hotel. We had to step off the road when cars passed. The second time this happened we heard some noise from a fruit orchard and there was a herd of goats, chewing quietly, staring at us. I whispered and they cocked their heads, moving closer, paralleling us along the fence fearlessly. Being unused to goats on the other side of a shabby fence, we walked quietly until the road shifted away. Then, bravely, we looked back and missed their curiosity. Watching them chew made me hungry. Nearing our hotel, we stopped at Gazleme, a small restaurant with grape vines covering the overhead lattice work that kept us dry. Lovely lamb stew. Our hotel was filled with Turks. The only English spoken was by one receptionist. Our Turkish was meager but people were very hospitable.

Sunday 6-23-12

Taking a ferry boat to “wine island” today. The approaching pier of this old fortress, “Bozcaada Castle” loomed over us. The castle was built originally in the 8th century on Roman ruins and classic Roman design. It towered over the bay guarding the Dardinelles.

After lunch we found the winery but alas, no tasting, only selling. Then we ferried back to Asia and drove to Canakkale, got another ferry to Europe and drove to Gelibolu (The Greek Gallipolis is better remembered as the site of a major battle in the 1st World War).

While crossing the Dardenelles, I noticed the many crumbling fortresses lining this most strategic body of water. More than 5 countries used the Straits to get to the Mediterranean, a vitally important access to commerce. From the looks of the many fortresses, it was not easy. We found Hotel Owa in the non-tourist town of Gelibolu and got a lovely large room. Our balcony overlooked the downtown and a very busy harbor. Our concierge recommended Ilham Restaurant for fresh seafood. We ate on the outside deck to watch the water action. Their special was grilled sea bass and it was excellent. Everything was lovely. . .except for the three kids screaming and running down the aisle. Their parents totally ignored the disruption of all the other diners while they continued chatting with their guest. There was muted applauses when they got up to leave-they pretended not to hear.

Monday 6-24-12

After breakfast served by our friendly, English speaking host, we left for Istanbul. Stopping first in Sarky for a wine adventure, but again, no tasting, no tour, wine sales only. Very frustrating to my wine educated husband whose avocation is teaching wine appreciation.

Since I do most of the driving and Mike navigates, I asked for a break in a tiny village where we could park in front of the cafe. The travel books recommended the importance of car and luggage observation. Mike preferred to review the map route and remain in the car. I climbed the porch steps and asked for a cup of “chai” (the Turkish all-day-brewed tea). An older man in a worn sports jacket walked up and asked if he could practice his English. I smiled and nodded. He said his home was Istanbul but he Summers in this village. Two more men joined in and then a fourth. They spoke no English. Getting nervous I called for Mike to join us and the three additional men immediately left. The first man continued chatting for a bit. We have found that most Turks were very friendly but the 3 guide books I read did warn that the men could be overly “friendly” to fair-haired, light-eyed foreign women. As we drive off I saw 2 women fully arrayed in black standing at the kitchen door, glaring at me. One was drying her hands and the other holding (brandishing?) a frying pan.

The remainder of our drive to the airport paralleled the Mamara Sea, and it was beautiful. The international airport, like all others, was very confusing but we successfully returned our Sun car and they graciously drove us to our hotel, describing points of interest. They would pick us up at 10:00 tomorrow for a tour…no additional charge.

I had reserved The Hotel Acropol months before, and since they were not crowded, our concierge took me on tour of the available rooms. He offered a discount for #503 mini-suite; located on the top floor with a balcony that overlooked the city. It had a clear view of Haya Sofya on our right and the beautiful Blue Mosque on the left. We looked over the main street of Old Town. We ate an excellent dinner at the nearby Suites Hotel on the outdoor patio and had an interesting conversation with a Swedish couple at the next table. Afterward we enjoyed a glass of wine in our hotel’s top floor restaurant, watching the container ships cursing through the Maramara Straits. This had been going on for centuries. What an amazing vista.

Tuesday 6-25-12

Our tour guide Acif picked us up at 10 and we walked the cobbled stone streets to Haya Sofya. Mobs of people were waiting in line. Using his “tour guide pass”, Acif swept us through. Haya Sofa was enormous and overwhelming. The bright tile work, colors and the height and breathe of the ceiling vaults were incredible. The building corresponded to, but predated St. Peter’s in Rome, and was the headquarters for the Greek Orthodox Church for the Eastern end of the Greek Empire.

Next we went to the Blue Mosque. The Sultan Ahmet donated this whole area to the neighborhood community in the 15th century: the Mosque, a school, the hospital and an alms house. There were masses of people waiting to enter but our guide flashed his pass and we moved to the head of the line. We bagged our shoes in plastic, doned slippers to walk into the carpeted building. Acif led us to a corner and showed us the typical Muslim prayer: face wipe, ears, hair and chest with prayer to give “comfort” to the prayers. Then he knelt on the carpet saying incantations while resting his head and arms on the floor. We were not the only ones who enjoyed watching him.

Then we Visited the Turkish Museum of Art noted for its extensive array of carpets. The old prayer rugs were threadbare from the knee indentations over many years, but had worn beautifully. All women were required to weave a “marriage” carpet before the wedding which could take up to five years of work. This was considered a retirement necessity and when sold 40 to 50 years later could bring a good bit of money. The ones I saw were priced from 50,000 to 200,000 thousand dollars… and they were exquisite. Strangely enough none of the museum’s female manikins had faces. Just skin colored material stretched over the head…and totally blank. After awhile, I could not look at them.

Then our guide escorted us to a carpet store. They served us Chai and presented a remarkable history of Turkish carpets. There were sample rugs that had been laid on sand and trampled by goats, sheep or cows before they were deemed worthy to sell. They were remarkable. There were samples of “marriage” carpets that could only be worked on when the weaver was in a “good” mood (Beats not tonight honey I have headache). Some of the carpets were woven with silk and were exquisite. I asked for prices but the salesman said “not yet”. At the end of the presentation he asked me to pick out a rug I really liked. I did. The price was $13,000. I said I have a headache.

They were very disappointed. They dropped the price. My husband said we would have to talk about it and would let them know. Although Acif was disappointed we did not purchase anything, and I understand why, my husband gave him a very nice tip for the wonderful and informational tour. Later we walked to the Grand Bazaar. Old buildings connected by canopies covering alleyways and went on for miles. Shops, small stores and many individual stands selling anything and everything to the hordes of people wandering through.

We ate dinner across from our hotel at Albura Kathisma Cafe. Excellent lamb dish. We took the remaining wine from our room to our hotel’s top floor restaurant and again sat overlooking the sea of Marmarna. Passing ships, setting sun burnishing the waves. Magnificent.

Wednesday 6-26-12

After breakfast, on our last day in Istanbul, off to see the Topkapi Palace. Built next to Haya Sophia in 1560, it is an opulent campus with four courtyards separating the individual palaces. It seemed like there were thousands of people. Because of the crowds, we skipped the palace-museums and walked all      -the way to the end.

And it was worth it. A spectacular view of the Golden Horn, the sea of Marmara and the bridge across to Asia. A small breeze blew and the ships moved eternally through the straits. (see picture at end)

It was closing time so we walked to a cafe just outside the entrance for coffee. Watching the hoards rush to the busses, I wondered how many different nationalities we were seeing.

Time to pack up and get ready for our 3:30 AM airport pickup tomorrow for the 6 AM departure for Amsterdam and the USA. After organizing our luggage, we walked down the street to Premier Suites again for dinner on the outside patio. Back at our hotel in our lovely suite, I stood on the balcony looking at the night lights on Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The street noises were soft and the human voices musical.

Good night Istanbul! These two Independent Travelers would only come back in our memories.

2/12/2012
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Our Spanish Parador Extravaganza continued: Parador de Cuenca, Spain

This is one of several overviews because the area is so large!  The most noticeable sight is the Hanging Houses on the right that lead up to the old town.

Looking at the walk way below, there are a few hardy souls heading for the old town. In the ravine is the river that together with the Hanging Houses, helped keep out the attackers over hundreds of years. You can see a bit of the town in the distance.

This view of our lovely Parador was originally the site of a 16th century convent and retained some original paintings.

This area, Costilla-La Mancha, was immortalized by Cervantes (1547) in “Don Quixote de la Mancha”. The tall, skinny knight riding a sway backed horse and wearing a medal dish as a hat and accompanied by his side-kick, Sancho. Both were out to defend those who needed protection….and did!

This infrequently visited area has great mountain ranges, dramatic gorges and the two cities of Toledo and Cuenca and these were the factures that drew us to Cuenca.

Four of these hallways encircled a beautiful outdoor patio (I could not take a picture because of the bright light).  The comfortable  furniture, and nearness of the bar made social interaction available ….weather rain (rare) or heat (hot summers)….air conditioning within.

This view of our lovely Parador was originally the site of a 16th century convent  and retained some original paintings. This lovely painting above a large doorway was one.

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We separated after breakfast:  Bert, a photographer, and his wife, Frie, were off to explore.  Shortly thereafter  Mike and I followed, but a little more slowly. After crossing the track and walking steeply uphill, this was a fantastic  close-up of a Hanging House. It was open for tours.  But the first room  WAS the balcony… and there was no way I was going to look out or down from there!

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I took this lop-sided picture of this 12th-18th century Cathedral because of the horde of people surging up the steps trying to enter the church.

Little did we know that it was the beginning of May Day Celebration in the square and the church was locked. There was laughter, music, and finally prayer. This assuages my desire to see the antiquities housed inside.

IMG_48231The younger priest wending their way through the crowd to line up before the stage.

This joyful celebration was worth missing the 12th and 18th century antiquities in the Cathedral.

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My opinion is that this row of religious were older, because they got the seats. Because of the crowd (and not understanding much of what they were saying) we moved on to eat lunch and of course have a glass of lovely wine.

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These ceramic tiles shown on the back of the dinning room wall were done during the 14th century. Interestingly enough they were made by musicians of the time and they placed their work upon this wall. The parador saved it.
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                            (I dare you to try walking through the above)
—-Many of the pictures are by Burt Haegemans.
(My camera died)
Although I saw no, “Don Quixote” these Spanish people are wonderful!
1/17/2017
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