Recent overview of Russia

Ship 1

This is the Aurora Ship, which was used to counter attack the Bolsheviks in Saint Petersburg as they attacked the parliament while it was in session at the Winter Palace. This revolution was in October 1917.

Ship 2

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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.”

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Parador de Baiona: Part 2 of Series

parador-de-baiona

A fantastic location over looking the Atlantic, with rolling Pine Hills off to the left! On the right and straight  ahead, the small orange roofed  building is the Bar and Grill  with an outside patio right on the water.  In the evening it is lit with fairy lights that extend over the white path that outlines the Atlantic. Notice the circular front entrance on the road to the left.

parador-de-baiona-entranceAnd this Regal  Entrance  leads us to the Parador…guarded by ancient walls on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on  the  other….also well protected by the animals within, and currents.

 

Having the opportunity to walk, we took the path on the right and headed uphill into town. Small city (at that time) but packed with fetching shops and a beautiful  Church.

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Coming back from the upper town, we were amazed with this wonderful distant view of “our” island! Limping down to the Bar and Grill, we chilled out with a local wine.

 

 

Still tired from the long walk, we naturally headed for the heated swimming pool with the soft Atlantic breeze as a bonus.  We decided to eat in one of Baiona’s restaurants  that eve.

baiona-bedroom

 

 

 

Not our bedroom…although ours was lovely…and less expense.  I figured in another 5 years, and with  the Senior Savings, the 40% reduction would certainly be a benefit.

 

 

 

 

We could see why Christopher Columbus wanted to retire here.

parador-de-baiona_from-the-sea

That evening we walked over to the Bar & Grill, sat under the fairy-lights and toasted  the fantastic view. And this was a “keeper”!

November, 20, 2016

 

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Footsteps of the Templars- Aveyron, France. Part 1

Footsteps of the Templars- Aveyron, France.

This is a location map for the sites visited.

8-1-12 Averyon, France

We left Montpellier, France on the A-75 highway to Paris. It was heavily packed with Sunday traffic and impacted with roadwork repairs. We exited for the first stop in tracking the Footsteps of the Knights Templar at the 11th century site of Covertairade.

LA COUVERTOIRADE

This beautiful walled city is set in the middle of pastoral farmlands with distant rolling hills. The entrance to the village is through huge doors that were barred from the inside during attacks. Then crossing a tiny plaza in front of a museum, we continued walking past both ancient and some refurbished houses and shops. The streets were narrow and graveled. We came to a lovely 12th century church adjacent to the castle/armory built on top of a ridge. This height gave oversight of the stream and farmlands below…a very important factor when you live on a road that leads to the ports of the Mediterranean Sea. Although these local Templars were originally concerned with teaching farming techniques and improving the livestock of the farmers, but roving bands of attackers forced them to also become protectors. Since those mercenaries, whether attacking or not all needed water, the Templars devised means for accessibility without their entering the village. Just right of the entrance gates was a single, narrow passage up a rocky hill where only ONE person could climb and fill his container from a cistern.

Randomly scattered throughout the village were small stone barns for the animals that area farmers wanted to secure during attempted seizures. Other stone structures were used for sheep shearing and butchering cattle, pigs and chickens. Both the single and double floored buildings have deep basements for storing food and animals.

Some houses have already been rehabbed for cafes and artisan shops, and when we were there, one restaurant. The wares of a weaver were advertized on the flag above his shop and below were vibrant blankets, throws and scarves draped over tables and chairs. He said the government was selling these rustic structures cheaply and in particular wanted artisans, -restaurateurs, writers and the like to buy. There were two stipulations: the owner would remodel (plumbing, electricity et al) and would live there. The benefit being one could freely sell his or her wares. Since tourism was just beginning in this area, the weaver hoped it would become quite profitable. At a nearby jewelry and trinket shop, I bought a number of items for my granddaughter…who loved them!

Hot and overwhelmed by our surroundings, we stopped for a glass of wine. The bar was in the basement of a small house and the owner motioned for inside or out. Cooler inside but more entertaining people-watching out…and soaking up the atmosphere. The quality of the merchandise we saw (and drank) would definitely be a draw.

The walled village had the typically rough rock and loose stone passage ways—definitely for rubber soled shoes only. We ended our tour at the beginning, in the information booth just across from the entrance. The agent recommended the Hotel Midi-Papillon in Saint Jean-du-Brul AND SHE CALLED AHEAD for us. What a wonderful recommendation it was!

Forty-five minutes of driving through lush green hills brought us to an old mill town and farming community of Saint-Jean-du-Brul. The lovely old Hotel Midi-Papillon was built next to a deep gorge. High wooded hills surrounded the village with a rough 13th century bridge crossing the river and a 15th century church at the end.

The Hotel fronted a small patio beside the gorge where we could partake of drinks, cigarettes, and coffee—but not much conversation due to the roaring water. The 18 room hotel was full but the attached medieval building offered the “Marquis Suite” for slightly more money. Being antiquity loving Americans, we jumped on it. Our suite was on the second floor (no elevators in 14th century houses) and the original, broad curving stone stair steps were hollowed in the middle. We didn’t need to worry about damage from dragging the suitcases up—quite the reverse. The front rustic but classic bedroom had a small balcony over-looking the street and, to the left, the 15th century Church. The bathroom had been modernized and was exquisite!

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After an excellent breakfast finished with coffee overlooking the misty gorge, we continued our Circuit du Larzac.

LA CAVALERIE

This site was developed in the middle of the ancient north-south route connecting with the Mediterranean ports. Established for the cavalry and, most importantly, shelter for the horses; It became a commercial center supplying both accommodations and safety for travelers.

Within the original fortified walls with its enormous gate, 15th through 17th century houses were added. The structure was established by the Templars and completed by the Hospitallers. The large parking lot behind the compound conveniently has the information booth attached and offered site maps. We walked around the structure and entered by a side gate. On the inside, and attached to the front wall of the fortress, were the original 12th century single room houses. Practical people building their homes above the stables: cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter…if you could survive the barnyard odors. A large double gate at the end of the stables permitted multiple horses to both enter or exit simultaneously. Small groups of workmen were leveling the rough sod of the central plaza; covering the ground with handsome pavers and setting guidelines for sidewalks. (The tourists were coming!)

Most buildings were 2 floors including the first lower level basement where animals and farm equipment had been stored. We saw a few nicely finished structures with attractive small porches and single flight staircases. Some ground level places were setting up as stores or shops and one as a cafe..so far. Several of the rooms above were already inhabited.

Walking toward a garden area we saw a tiny 12th century church at the end. The front doors were open and several candles lit the alter with the only other light coming from a small barred window just above. A narrow control aisle and maybe room for 20 persons on the skinny wooden side benches. The atmosphere in here was conducive to silent prayer. No one was around.

It was wonderful to visit these sites before they had been converted for mass tourism…now I would like to revisit in a few years to see their progression.

After visiting La Cavalerie, we drove to the nearby area where the “Commanders” lived, now a small farm village inside the walled old fortress. The large parking lot had only one car in it although just beyond we saw a small herd of grazing sheep being shepherded by a young boy.

9/13/2012

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

 

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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.

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(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

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The Serendipity of Senior Malfunctions when traveling Independently

This first segment has to do with “closed” mountain passes, “bus” people,  (derogatory, yes…due to being independent-travelers), hotel and motorcycles.

Driving to Lake Bled, Slovenia  was nerve wracking with narrow roads and hairpin turns, additionally  complicated with falling snow. But on the plus side, there was little traffic and at the top of Julian Alps, none. Julian alps Then the clouds split, the sun shined and we stopped to see the spectacular scenery surrounding us.

When we drove  again, the snow returned, but stopped just before we reached Lake Bled. (We later found out the road had been “closed” but we could  not read the Slovenian signs.) Lake Bed Slovenia

This tiny lake is surrounded by lush mountains and centered with a small island containing a castle and a church. The surrounding mountains are snow-capped, but almost none around the lake.

We chose Park Hotel, notably for its view of the lake, which we could see from our balcony.   Park hotel The lovely  dining room was only open for breakfast and the service bar in the empty lobby was only staffed just before busses arrived …and departed. We walked down to the lake and found a small restaurant  “Rike”  overlooking the water and serving excellent trout. The next morning we arrived at the dining room at 8:30, and hordes of people  were racing from the dining room to their busses. The waiter started to close the door but we said it’s only 8:30 and he said we usually close the doors when the busses leave. Mike said we don’t have a bus. The buffet was cleaned out, only some lettuce leaves and cold toast. The waiter looked at us “What would you like?” And it was good.

There was a 5 mile pathway around the lake, the weather good and exercise was needed. Tree branches overhead, birds, frogs, water frothing on the sand…wonderful. Near the end of the trail we saw a campsite. Camp ground Lake Bed Just as we bought  coffee and sat at a table, at least 50 motorcycles  (not shown in this picture) roared in.  Guitars appeared, songs rang out, beer was flowing….a very jolly group!  With only a mile to go, and  they would be passing us on a dirt road, we decided to wait till they left. (Some less steady than others.)   We had really enjoyed their conviviality! Some of our “malfunctions” when traveling were the best part.

 

1/11/2015

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Eulogy for a dog: Update

Two years have passed since Gamba died, but the walks haven’t ended and neither have the life lessons.

Once I got over being bed-ridden and tired of my T-shirts being sopping wet from tears I decided life must go on from the passing of my beloved Gamba. Ok, I’m exaggerating the intensity of the grieving period I had for her death, but it was sad and I do miss her and the memories of the old times of my life that I associate with her.

 

Fortunately Gambas third companion, following Lobster and Coquille, Daisey is still going strong. Though stout and aging herself she still manages the various routes I’ve developed over that past near decade and a half.

Starting on Santa Clara Street and meandering through the parks, the bike path that runs along the train tracks, my old elementary school and the familiar surrounding neighborhoods. Then back to home, time and time again a steady constant in my life. Though certain parts of ones life transform drastically there are those routines and habits that can be relied upon to steady ones feet on in turbulent times. These familiar grounds, though sometimes boring and stagnant, can be of great solace when life seems to be turning upside down and falling apart.

My weekly routine on Santa Clara street that includes this dog walk, a little yard work, and visiting with my grandmother are pillars of comfort and stability in what seems to be the ever expanding and changing life around and within me.

Each dog, like each human, has its own personality and nature. Gamba was a natural guard/hunting dog- mostly disinterested in other humans and weary of other dogs. Coquille was much friendlier and timid- rather frightened of strangers but playful with dogs. She also seemed to have a bit of inclination for herding. I remember when she was young her nipping at my heels on occasion; she grew out that habit after she learned people did not enjoy being nibbled on. And Daisy, was disinterested in both humans and other dogs, but deathly loyal to her “pack”. Caroline and I have both noticed her attached nature, she is what would be deemed a, “Comfort dog”. Always nearby and attentive to her owners needs; Where you go, she goes.

There’s a unique quality of friendship a pet can provide, since there is no verbal communication the entire relationship is built upon affection, attention, and simply spending time together. There is no second guessing of the real intentions in a relationship with a dog; They simply want to be with you, to love you, and for you to love them. If it weren’t for this fact I would be a tad bit embarrassed and sad to admit that next to my own brother Daisy is one of my best friends.

I don’t need a near death experience to have my life flash before my eyes. Rather a series of slow walks with a quiet and still mind provides a perfect canvas for every memory to paint itself across and allow myself to be the witness to my own life. Then to look over at my companion, who I am always grateful to for not speaking and distracting from this experience, and gaze into her eyes and wonder, “What do you feel at this moment?”

Probably the same thing, what a trip and it’s not even over yet; It never is. Now, here’s a treat, let’s do it again next week.

Sixteen years in the making, Kevin Klimczak.

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Our Spanish Parador Extravaganza with the Parador de Siguenza

 

This 12th century medieval castle was begun in 1133 and built on a Roman settlement.  Until  this last century  it was the enclave of bishops and cardinals who maintained this castle and the Cathedral in the adjacent village.

Although an exceptional entrance portal, there were a few drawbacks. There are 40 wide steps up to the massive doors…and difficult to drag the luggage behind. Happily there are 2 elevators to get to your floor…and ours was on the 4th!

A small altercation when the receptionist said “no balcony” caused me to snag my Reservations out and show her “Superior, with balcony”. Then smiles.

It had a lovely view.

The view from our balcony included part of the castle wall, the mountains and a distant peek at the town.  (If you reserve the parador ahead, are over fifty years, you get generous discounts, excellent service and  accommodations…. just  carry the receipt!)

The timing was good. We were surrounded by greenery and they were just putting up the umbrellas . From what we could see on the location map, there were only two main streets that converged in the Central Plaza. These were commercial, narrow and stoned. With no car…need better shoes.

The downtown Plaza much improved as we approached the Cathedral! The church is just behind the plaza. We went to enter and found the church was locked (probably closed for lunch). We walked around this beautiful 12th century structure that the religious owners of the palace- for almost a thousand years- had also enhanced the cathedral.

After this we limped our way back to the parador and passed this picture in the lobby.

 

This picture was the only info I could find of the original building after its destruction. During the Spanish Civil war in the 30’s the bombing wrecked havoc on the castled. Looking closely you will see there are a few structures remaining.


 

This original chapel survived! One of the service people had to lead us to the balcony so we could see. Because of its age they don’t allow tourist to enter the lower levels, nor are there any signs for it.

Lovely original and mostly formal dinning room. Mike ordered a scrumptious bottle of wine to go with his seafood and I had to accept it graciously even though I was having “kid” (baby goat). And that night we slept like babies.

The following was an evening shot from the city below the parador. And what a memory!

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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!
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Our Spanish Parador Extravaganzia continued: Parador de Alarcon

Not the biggest parador…but certainly being established in the 11th century makes it one of the oldest. Driving in, left side, bottom, and curving up to the parking lot behind, you walk through an iron portcullis to the inside of the courtyard. The village it still guards is behind the tower. Notice the high ramparts ….you will see us walking around them shortly!

This Medieval Arab Fortress was an exceptional witness to the Reconquest beginning in the 8th century and it perfectly preserves and maintains  the aura of Arabic influence.

Our bedroom, high on my priority list. I enjoyed having some of the “original” castle (left wall of rocks) to lull us to sleep.

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The window just above the staircase was our room. It looked down On the small but lovely courtyard with tables, umbrellas, greenery….and a couple  drinking wine! They were very friendly and asked us to join them. We did.

I told them what I had over heard from the concierge earlier talking to a customer: “Yes, you can go up to the battlements, walk carefully around the perimeter and please return the key.” And while we were there with Bert and Frie the couple with the key returned. Naturally, we ran and got the key for ourselves.

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This is what we saw when we got to the top of the turrets. Leaning down we saw the River Jucar below circling the ramparts.

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I could see Mike puzzling over what lie beneath us- or whether or not he was going to jump- but he looked puzzled by what he saw.

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We found out later that it was set up for paddle boats, canoes, etc for taking short trips around the river.

Mike Pondering jumping

Mike pondering jumping???

Bert and Frie added that we hand’t finished the wine yet and it was getting warm. Whoops, we were going down the stairs very quickly!

——The previous 4 photos were courtesy of Bert Haegemans.

Before meeting our friends for dinner Mike and I wanted to see the very old village the castle had guarded, and a very special church.

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Walking through the village on the rough heuwn steps, you can see the church (dark brown at the very top) but it was locked. A native offered that it was rarely opened except for special events because of its antiquity.

Interior dinning area Alacron

The dinning room that evening was beautiful with excellent roast lamb! A bit crowded but this Parador can only accommodate 28 people.

We found out that our new friends were also moving on to the next Parador that we had reserved for 2 days- how wonderful!

To be continued– with the Parador de Cuenca.

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