Spain 2012
Madrid, Toledo, Barcelona, Girona, Cadaques
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Arrival2012-03-29 20:00

Post by Charlie: I guess you all know that flights these days are always full and you have very little leg room unless you pay extra. Atlanta to Madrid was nine hours of being crammed into a seat with little leg room, I was surprised how little. The people in front of us reclined their seats right after takeoff and kept them reclined the whole way. We got a few hours sleep. It was easy going through passport control and got some money and checked in with the airport tourist office. So far so good, but just this far.

La Huerta General2012-03-30 22:37

Post by Charlie: The tourist office at the airport told us that our plan to go into Madrid on the subway would not be a good idea because they were on strike and offering minimal service so we might have to wait a long time. She suggested the shuttle bus. We went over there and ran the last 100 yards to catch a bus that was just leaving, good luck. On the bus we talked to a woman for Portland OR who lives in Madrid. She said the bus was a lot easier anyway. But she had waited an hour for a bus that is supposed to run every ten minutes. then she said this was not just to subway strike but a general strike for all public transportation in the whole country. Our plan was to take the train to Toledo where we had a B&B reservation. Normally the train runs every hour and takes 30 minutes. She was skeptical of our chances of getting to Toledo. Apparently the law is that that can only do an 80% strike and must have “servicios minimos” of 20% capacity. But she said they often ignore that.

We got to the main train station and went to the phone store and got Vodaphone SIMS for our (unlocked) phones. Easy peasy and nine euro for nine euro of call time, at about 8 euro cents a minute. So that worked. Next went over to where the Toledo trains were prepared for a wait. No trains for you! They said no train was going to Toledo (or anywhere) today and suggested the bus. The train station was pretty empty, just some tourists like us walking around looking  lost and wondering how they were going to get where they were going. We were thinking we might have to stay in Madrid for one night.

We stopped at a coffee place to have our first cafe con leche but they only had cafe latte and cappuccinos. We checked and found we had wandered into an Italian coffee place but they made us a coffee con leche anyway.

We called our hotel (hostel actually) in Toledo and talked with the manager and he thought there were buses but he would check and call back. He called after a while and said there was a bus from Plaza Eliptico at 3pm. It was about 11am then so not too bad. We took a taxi over there and went down to where the buses loaded. Again not much happening. the information window was closed and a few people were wandering around looking lost and/or disappointed. We looked around and found a ticket window open and the guy in a uniform comes up and says something like “bus to Toledo?” We can’t figure out how he knew. Buses went to dozens of places from this terminal. Anyway there were lots of signs about “servicos minimos” and this included a bus to Toledo at 3pm. It was the local but we were glad for anything. It was 10 euro for us both, the train would have been 20.

We walked around the area and asked about restaurants and found a place. It was okay but not great but lots of food and pretty cheap, 10 euro each for the menu of the day including two courses, dessert, wine, and coffee (con leche, of course).

The bus was very local and took an hour and 15 minutes but we saw a lot of places around Madrid. The area is quite dry, more than we expected it to be. We took another taxi to near the hostel, which is in an area where cars cannot go and we were finally there.

The place is very nice. It was a relief after 26 hours of travel to be able to unpack our bags and rest a bit. Then out for a bit of Toledo.

Paseo gone wild2012-03-30 22:53

Post by Charlie: We started walking around Toledo. It is an old city with lots of twisty little passages, some too small even for one car to go, some where cars should not go but are allowed anyway. It is about 7pm and we are walking from the main square and there are a lot of people all going our way. In Italy, every evening, they have the pasiogiata (or some spelling like that) where people stroll in the evening. Spain has a similar thing that (maybe) is called the paseo. This seems to be one so we go along enjoying it.

Then a group of young people comes along with red flags and chanting slogans, not usual for the paseo but the Spanish are a spirited group. We turn the corner and see hundreds of people in the square with lots more red flags. We finally figure out this is a rally in support of the general strike.

We hang around for a while being supportive. My “Power to the people” experience at UCLA in the 1960s proves useful. It gets pretty crowded so we wound our way out.

WWTGBSVSWMTD2012-03-30 23:00

Post by Charlie: I got some more money from the cash machine today. When I went to Europe in 1969 I remember signing dozens of $10 traveler’s checks before going. Now you just get cash from the machine. We have a Capital One ATM card which does not have foreign transaction fees.

So I start the transaction and ask for 200 euro and then it tells me what that is in dollars and asks me if I want to do the transaction in euros or dollars. Hmm. Normally in situations like this I use the WWTGBSVSWMTD (what would the giant blood-sucking vampire squid want me to do) principle and just do the opposite. But the vampire squid is crafty, it doesn’t indicate which choice it wants me to make, equal screen space is given to both choices. I think the answer is in euros so the conversion is done back at Capital One instead of paying fees here but it is hard to tell for sure.

This is a new question this trip. I did a credit card transaction and they asked me the same question. A new method for the banks to squeeze more fees out of us no doubt. I guess I need to google this.

Don’t call me late for dinner2012-03-31 11:28

Post by Charlie: The Spanish eat ridiculously late. Lunch is 2-4 and dinner is 9-11 or later. This can be a problem for tourists. Some restaurants open for lunch at 1 but usually it is 1:30. We are still jet-lagged so we fit in pretty well. We woke up at 10 were ready to go out touristing by 11 and had lunch at 2, early but within Spanish bounds.

Dinner is more of an issue. Last night we had tapas for dinner. You probably know about tapas, an old Spanish custom where you had bar food to go with your drinks. It developed into an established culinary form where you would go bar-hopping in the early evening (7 or so) and have the specialty tapas at each bar, then go have dinner at 11 or 12.

This seems to have developed into something a little different. We had  “todo tapas”, a tapas sampler, basically a dinner in the “small plate” form that seems to be popular now in lots of countries and food styles. It is a way to have an early dinner and get to bed at a decent hour. Lots of the restaurants have this.

It seems like a good deal for the restaurants. We were in the bar at a tiny little table with lots of people around us. No big dinner set-up, packed them into a small space, sell lots of high-margin alcohol, what’s not to like for the restaurant? And it worked for us too. The “small plate” idea is great because you get to have lots of tastes and, as we all know, the first bite is always the best (or is that the first toke? I forget.)

So this will be our dinner solution and the solution for lots of people it seems. The couple next to us was having an orange fanta and water so they weren’t there for the drinks. Note by Wynette: We split a pear cider.  Very good.


Looking like a tourist2012-03-31 19:03

Post by Charlie: Of course, anyone can tell we are tourists, our unstylish American clothes to start with and on from there. Still sometimes it feels funny to be standing around looking at a map. I got an app for my iPod Touch called CityMaps2Go for $2 you get access to thousands of maps from all over the world. You can download the ones you want and access them offline. We have one of Toledo. So I can stand around looking at my map but look to all the world like some guy checking out his phone, as people do for hours at a time. Plus the kindle app has eight guide books downloaded to it.

Of course, if I had a real smart phone I would have all that integrated but that is too 21st century for me, and there are no monthly charges for this. I was thinking of getting a GPS attachment for my Touch but decided against it, maybe next time.

Speaking of phones, we have a limited sample but it seems like there is less use of phones at meals here, definitely some but less. I haven’t seen any cases of two people sitting at dinner and both staring at their phones. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it just indicates that we have entered a new era in interpersonal relations and I wonder a lot exactly where it will all lead. Some communication requires a lot of “wasted” time around it before you get to the really good communication. With a phone there there is no need to put up with any “wasted” time because there is always something else you could be doing.

Our first tapas2012-03-31 19:06

I talked about tapas before. Here is “todos tapas”:

Luck of the Irish2012-03-31 19:08

What’s the deal with Irish pubs? It seems like everywhere I go there are Irish pubs: England (understandable), Albuquerque, Italy, and now Toledo, just a couple of blocks from our hotel, John Daley and Company. I’m Irish myself but not a big drinker so maybe that’s why I don’t understand.

In-Cider2012-03-31 19:13

Both Wynette and I like hard cider. We each learned about good cider in England where every pub has cider. Spain has cider too. In the north they make what we hear is really good cider. We are looking forward to it when we get to Barcelona.

We had cider with our tapas. Actually not cider but perry, pear cider. There were two choices available: Strongbow and I forgot the one we had Bulmers (you can see it in the tapas picture), both English ciders. Why not Spanish cider?

Well, maybe I can get Spanish cider at the Irish pub down the street.

Fashion report2012-03-31 19:16

We often see new fashions in our trips to Europe that we see a year or two later in the US. But maybe it is Albuquerque and the fashions are happening at the same time in New York, probably so. Anyway for those of you not living in New York, or Europe, we have been seeing a new fashion: women wearing short-shorts, often colorful, and knee-length soft leather boots. A good fashion for young women because only a young woman could pull it off without looking ridiculous.

Purple play-doh on a pretty plate2012-04-01 17:11

Here it is:

It seems obvious now and probably to you.

We ate at Alfileritos 24, at Calle de los Afilteritos 24 (cute huh?), the guidebooks said “Modern international”. Our hotel manager, Enrique, recommeded it and called it just “24”. I guess that is what the young, hip crowd calls it and Wynette and I, with our combined 125 years, always try to go where the cool kids go. Overall it was very good.

This is the appetizer we got “carpaccio de pulpo” Somehow, despite our hipness, they gave us the English menu which called it “Roast octopus”. When we got it, it seemed like the wrong order. Where’s the octopus I thought. And it seemed kind of small for 10 euro. Wynette agreed although she was looking at it from the other side of the table so I guess it is mostly my error. We were this close to asking the waiter about it when I suddenly realized that the plate was all black and the pattern on it was, in fact, our octopus. It would have been highly embarrassing and a big hit to our hipness if we had asked. Anyway, once we found the cleverly cleverly-hidden-as-a-pattern-on-the-plate octopus, it was very good and we were off to a great start with the meal.

The play-doh does look like a kid shaped it. It was potato and turnips (and purple coloring) and was good too.

I’ll refrain from posting pictures of all the other courses, which we did take.

Gaudi backlash2012-04-01 17:33

Here is the sink in our hotel:

And the toilet is squared off too:

But not as much as the one we saw in Italy last year:

Holy rectilinear Batman!

What is going on in the land of Guadi? We are looking forward to seeing the Gaudi architecture in Barcelona in a few days, and Guadi, as a sort of angular anti-Will Rogers’s never met a right angle he liked.

The sink, by the way, does not really drain well with its flat bottom.

Barcelona Markets2012-04-04 16:43

We love to go to markets when we travel. Today we went to the Santa Caterina Market, the has a festive colored and wavy roof which we didn’t get a picture of. This is not the more famous La Boqueria market just off the middle of the Ramblas, our hotel recommended this one. It was an amazing place with beautiful fruits and vegetables:

We got some strawberries for breakfast tomorrow and some tiny little bananas that we heard are really good, from Columbia I think he said.

The market is all food. Here is ome of the meat and fish:


Santa Caterina Market 22012-04-04 16:51

They had whole booths for eggs:

The goose eggs (at the far left) were pretty big but then we ran across this one:

These are ostrich eggs, only 28 euro each.

The market is mostly fresh food but they had deli stuff also. We plan to make a picnic tomorrow from there. Today we ate at a little cafe in the market. It was very good. They say Barcelona is a foodie town, that seems to be true.

We sat right by the cooks, this guy was friendly and was making jokes with us and took the above picture. He was the grill cook; to the left was the station for the guy who did things in frying pans and pots.

Notice the writing above on the back of his shirt, menjar i beure.  Those of you who know some Spanish know that that is not Spanish. It is a good example of Catalan.  Google Translate tells us it means “food and drink”.

Frozen food at the market2012-04-04 16:54

It was mostly fresh food but one large booth had a large selection of bowls of frozen vegetables, pasta, all sorts of things. You could get as much as you want of them, take them home and have a fast meal by unfreezing them. they all looked really good.

Down by the riverside2012-04-04 20:45

We walked along the river that borders toledo on three sides. Here is Wynette on a bench with more of those “right” angles. Even though this is by the river you can see how dry it is. Central Spain seems very dry.

Swords and knives2012-04-04 20:52

Toledo is know for swords and weaponry. The shops show a wide variety of fancy swords, seem to be the real thing. Not for people going back on the plane I guess but maybe they ship them. Also knight’s armor and especially helmets, right out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. They branched out into kitchen knives and cleavers. Does anyone really use a cleaver this big?

Church warning signs2012-04-04 20:55

Post by Charlie: This one could use some updating in the technology area although the people-related parts are just the same. Comment by Wynette: Notice we took a picture of the “take no pictures” sign.  Nearly everyone was taking pictures so we figured it was ok to take pictures as long as we were careful not to use the flash.  It was an amazing cathedral. Not a poor one.  They had many original paintings by El Greco, Goya, many other famous painters.

Open-air restaurant2012-04-04 20:59

We ate here the first day in Toledo.

This is actually two bars/restaurants sharing the same patio. On the left with the reddish chairs is our restaurant and the next two rows with the darker chairs is another bar/cafe.

Twisty little passages all the same2012-04-04 21:03

Post by Charlie: Like lots of cities in Europe, Toledo has an old town which is mainly the domain of the tourists and the people who serve them and which has lots of narrow streets and quaint old buildings. Around the old town there is usually a modern town where the locals live and work. Our hotel is a on little lane where cars cannot go. This is looking down from the door.

Gaudi2012-04-05 15:50

Post by Wynette: I haven’t posted any yet except for small comments on Charlie’s posts.  It’s overwhelming.  Hard to single in on one thing. But, we are in Barcelona so have to talk about Gaudi.  Or GaudI (accent on final syllable) as they pronounce it here.  Yesterday we toured the Sagrada Familia, the famous cathedral Gaudi started and didn’t get to finish.  But he left behind plans and the people here are slowly finishing it.  The cathedral now has a roof and much of the interior seems finished. Charlie said that when he was here 10 years ago the interior was filled with cement mixers, etc.  I knew Gaudi made beautiful and strange sculptural places but didn’t realize how well designed the places were with respect to light and comfort.  Our first day here we toured his Batllo (sp?) house.  So worth the 16 euro each admission.  Below is picture taken on the roof. Pointy things on the left are chimneys.  Roofline on the right is meant to look like a dragon’s back (St. George’s dragon). It looks like people are talking on cell phones but those are the audio guide phones. Even though this looks whimsical, everything is designed to be extremely functional as well.

Politics2012-04-05 20:55

Hey, we’re not supposed to talk about that right? I guess we all know the Europe is a bit to the left of the US. You don’t see graphitti like this in the US:

This was, by the way also by the river around Toledo. Here is one more by the river:

Electric candles2012-04-05 21:04

Am I the only one fascinated by the concept of electric candles? I have never seen them in the US. As you know in Catholic churches (and maybe other ones too, I don’t know) you have places where you can light candles to remember people or whatever. They have these little candles and matches to light them. In Italy and here in Spain you don’t see real candles much, just the electric kind. In Italy there was a switch on each candle as I remember. Here in Spain you just drop your money in and some electric bulb lights up. They have them in front of the side chapels in large churches. I noticed that on some lots of “candles” (lights) were lit and some not so many. this was for some unpopular saint I guess.

Charlie and Wynette go to Palm Sunday Mass2012-04-05 21:40

My Catholic boyhood is coming in handy. We got up, in Toledo, on Palm Sunday and I was saying to Wynette on Palm Sunday back in Duluth MN we would get these palm leaves and we would parade (process?) around the the church holding the palms. I guessed that since the Spanish seem to favor religious processions they would do that on Palm Sunday too.

We lucked out and got down to the big cathedral just as they were gathering outside. We waited along the street (a very small street) and about 10 minutes later they were parading past us. First the young boys, singing:

then the choir

then the older guys.

Holy cow! It’s the Archbishop of Toledo! They’re bringing out the big guns (or canons).

And how about those palm fronds? Back in Minnesota we had these little wimpy things but there we were far from where palms grow. I never thought about it but I guess the church had to order them months in advance and there are companies that supply palm fronds to churches all around the US.

Next came the guys with the really cools outfits:

Mixed with what seems to be people from the congregation:

including 4 or 5 women in black outfits and with small black clutch purses (which we didn’t get a photo of).

Okay, it’s over so we just fell in behind. No need to be shy. We didn’t have palms but we had some olive branches that they had provided for the crowd (you can see the bystanders holding them in the above photo). We marched right around and into the church and the service continued. There was a choir in one end of the church that was singing as we came in and then the “real” choir in the fancy choir section that we had seen the day before on the church tour. Then I never even gave a thought that a real choir might be in there singing.

The choir area is opposite the high alter which in pretty fancy:

They had a bunch of large monitors around so you could see what was happening. There must have been 4 or 5 cameras, maybe more, since they showed the high alter, the choir, both from a couple of angles and other views also. So there must have been a director somewhere in a control room deciding which camera feed to show at any time, “Cut to the choir”, “Now the congregation”, “Now the high alter”, “Zoom in on the chalice”, etc.

The video shows the priest who is reading the pulpit, and here’s the archbishop on video:

And then the part I remember so well from my boyhood, where the communion is over and you know there is only five or ten minutes to go and you are ready for it to be over. This little girls needed to move around a little during that time:

The choirs and the organ were magnificent. The acoustics in the church was very, very good. It was a bit long, as it always is, but we enjoyed it.


Meditating in the Center of Barcelona2012-04-05 22:02

Post by Wynette: Our first night in Barcelona (April 3) we walked down to La Rambla and then, on the way back, through the Plaza Catalonya which is near our hotel.  Paz, who checked us into the hotel and gave us a long  and delightful introduction to the sites in Barcelona including how to get to them, told us Plaza Cataloyna is considered to be the center of Barcelona.  As we walked through the plaza we spotted a circle of young people who appeared to be meditating, sitting in the center of the circular plaza so, the very center of Barcelona.  As Charlie mentioned in an earlier post, the first day we arrived in Spain we encountered what they called the “Huelga General”, a country-wide strike, I think having to do with the terrible economic situation here in Spain.  It affected us because all the trains and 80% of buses and metro were shut down.  We saw a large peaceful demonstration in Toledo.  Paz told us that in Barcelona the protest turned violent and some of the violence was just outside our hotel — people were not able to leave the hotel for hours.  I think, perhaps, these young people meditating is part of all this.  But, emphasizing the peaceful part.  It was nice to see them.  We’ve heard that the unemployment among people younger than 24 in Spain is around 46%.

Sagrada Familia2012-04-05 22:14

Post by Wynette: Here we are approaching Sagrada Familia, the Gaudi cathedral that I mentioned in an earlier post.  That is Charlie with the blue backpack.  As you can see there’s still construction going on on the cathedral but the inside seems nearly finished.

Paella2012-04-05 22:41

Post by Wynette: Well, we haven’t had any paella yet.  We are holding out for a place that comes with a good recommendation.  Do you think we should have tried any of these places in Toledo?

I think the person who decided on the following brand name didn’t quite understand nuances around the word “ok”.

We met a couple waiting outside a restaurant, he was from New Jersey but had lived in Spain for 20 years.  She was Spanish.  He said his theory was that a company manufactured these and froze them and the bars all around sold them.  Because we saw LOTS of signs like the 3 above.

Or, how about something we saw in the market, what Charlie calls “shake and bake Paella”:

Processions in Toledo2012-04-05 22:58

Post by Wynette: In addition to the Palm Sunday procession that Charlie wrote about earlier, we saw two other semana santa (holy week) processions.  For all 3, we more or less just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

For the first, below, we were sitting on the main plaza having coffee and noticed lots of people and said “wow, people sure like to hang out on this plaza”.  Then we heard a band and saw a float with Jesus riding the donkey into Jerusalem.

Following the float was a marching band.  They were good.  Incredible trumpet playing.  Even though the songs weren’t exactly spanish songs, they sounded so spanish with the trumpet.  I was quite moved by it.

Then, our last night inToledo (April 2), as we were heading back from the restaurant to our hotel, we saw crowds lining up along one of the main streets, so we found a spot and waited for another procession.  Another float with Jesus, and, I think, the same wonderful band we heard before. That’s the top of Toledo’s stunning cathedral behind the float.

Notice that several people, in hoods, are carrying this one.  The first one, of Jesus on the donkey, was on a wagon that was pulled along by a single man.  We were amazed he could do that.


Blood in the mud2012-04-06 21:40

We came across this just outside the old wall in Girona.

Evening light in Girona2012-04-06 21:45

Our girl on the stair2012-04-06 21:52

We walked around the old city walls in Girona, they look pretty much like all city walls but there are some nice views from the towers. Here is Wynette coming down the circular staircase from a tower.

More tapas2012-04-06 22:04

We found a place that does tapas like we thought we would see. They have a lot of them out like a buffet and you pick what you want. At the end they count up your plates and toothpicks and charge you 1.60 euro for each. Here are some:

Foreign Languages2012-04-07 09:57

Wynette and I are in a foreign country, and I don’t mean Spain. It is hard to understand the signs. The menus are especially hard since they seem to have a language of their own. You see a different national flag.

I am speaking, of course, of Catalonia and Catalan. Many signs are only in Catalan, which seems to be a mixture of Spanish, French, and Italian, and maybe some Basque, who knows. The words have lots of Xx and double Ls. Often there are cognates with Spanish but they seem to be far enough off to be hard to get. We learned the Spanish menu words but they are useless for Catalan and often the dishes are something like partridge Catalan anyway which doesn’t give you much information.

The desk clerk at the hotel in Barcelona said that the schools teach only in Catalan. English and Spanish are taught as foreign languages. She wants her son to be a native Spanish speaker so he can easily live anywhere in Spain, so she has to work extra with him in Spanish.

I still have some high-school French so sometimes I am better at guessing the words than Wynette with her Spanish.

People in Spain2012-04-07 17:39

We like to take pictures of the people we encounter. People love it when you ask to take their picture. Here is Hannah from our hotel in Toledo. She cleaned the rooms, made breakfast and checked us out when we left, she does it all.

Here is the woman running a coffee bar in the Madrid train station:

Here are the two chefs at the place in the Barcelona market where we ate twice because it was so good:

And our hard-working waitress, from the back unfortunately, she never stopped moving long enough so that we could ask her to pose for a picture:


Help using this blog2012-04-07 17:43

You can click on a photo to enlarge it. Posts are in reverse chronological order. When you get to the bottom of a page you’ll find a link to see earlier posts.

Sagrada Familia2012-04-07 18:04

Berniece was saying that when she saw SF it had no roof. I was the same. When Logan and I went to Barcelona about 10 years ago the place was just a shell, no roof at all. The floor was dirt and had cement mixers and things in it. I guess after 10 years you get things done, if you have the money, because now it is a regular cathedral. Only about 10-20% of the stained glass is in but lots of progress.

When I saw it I thought it was a shame that it hadn’t been completed because it is a good example of a classical design done in a modern way.

Parade Rerouted2012-04-07 18:25

Post by Charlie: On Good Friday there was a parade at 7:30pm and a procession at 10pm. We missed the later one but we went to the parade. We had a map of the route from the tourist office. We got there a few minutes late and it seemed they were going the wrong direction. Then they looped around and we thought they would just reverse the route but then they switched again and they stopped for 10 minutes and there was a lot of back and forth conversing. We suspect that they messed up the route and were not sure how to correct it. It is hard to turn a long parade. There were barricades and people along the other route where they should have been. Finally they just decided to go with the mistake.

First came the romans on horses, note that the cafe patrons had a great view.

Then the drummers and pipers, then the Roman soldiers:

Then the people in pointed hats and robes

Semana Santa2012-04-09 10:20

Post by Charlie: Holy week. This was our bane when we were planning the trip because things were full and prices higher. We were thinking about going to Granada after Toledo but Granada is packed and expensive during Semana Santa so we went east where we we thinking they were less devout.

But it has turned out to be very nice. We have enjoyed the processions and going to Palm Sunday services. So on Easter, we thought we would go to Easter services. We showed up at the big cathedral around 10:30 for the service at 11 and no one was around. We had coffee at the “Arc” which our guidebook said is the only cafe in Girona with a cathedral on its terrace (photo below). We didn’t see many people going in but went up again a few minutes before 11. There was a service but it was not as well-attended as I would have expected for such a large cathedral, maybe 150 people were there and another 100 straggled in as it went on.

On Palm Sunday we were standing around the edges and moving around the big cathedral but this time we went and sat in the pews like I used to do on Sundays back in Duluth. They didn’t stint on the priests though, they had three alter-boys, five priests and the bishop (or possibly arch-bishop, I guess I could google it but what does it matter?) He had the golden bishop’s hat and a big scepter and looked good. He seemed a little friendlier than the archbishop of Toledo who had kind of a severe look about him. Maybe he was practicing for his portrait in the cathedral when he retired.

They had a lot of incense and were swinging it around all the time creating clouds of smoke that made me think of the smoke machines they use on Dancing with the Stars. They started by all proceeding up the aisle and it was pretty impressive. Then in the middle they all went down the aisle and the bishop was using the wand-like thing they use to sprinkle holy water on the people. People who grew up Catholic will remember these. As he was coming by and sprinkling I was thinking of the Buffy episode where she tricked the crazy vampire into drinking holy water when her Slayer powers had been temporarily lost due to Giles’ magic crystal (in a Slayer competency test, long story). I thought of the wonderful mish-mash that is our popular culture. Josh Whedon, the Catholic Church, they are all in the business of telling a good story, and they are all very good at it.

So we enjoyed the service both weeks. Maybe I’ll join those people who convert or go back to Catholicism in later life: Tony Blair, Newt Gingrich, Anne Rice,… But then Anne Rice converted back out again, I have to say I have respect for her following her beliefs.

But these were definitely the largest churches I have ever attended services at. The Girona one has the longest nave in Europe and it, like all the cathedrals is really, really tall. There was a lot of “my church is bigger, taller, wider than your church” going on over the centuries. But the result is some very cool looking churches.


The coffee in Spain2012-04-09 17:23

Post by Wynette:  If you’ve read our blogs from trips to Italy you know we were always raving about the coffee. To our surprise, we like the coffee in Spain even more.  It’s been fantastic.  We always order cafe con leche (coffee with hot milk) which is pretty much like a cappuccino except the milk is not as foamy.  So it’s really like  coffee latte in the States except in a cappuccino-sized cup.  And the coffee tastes a lot better than any coffee I’ve ever had in the States. It’s rich and full bodied but never bitter or harsh.  We liked the coffee in Toledo (where we spent the first 5 days) and we find we like the coffee in Catalonia (NE Spain) even more.

A few times, when we would leave a bar, we’d tell the person behind the counter how much we liked the coffee.  Their face would light up.  They really seemed to appreciate that we told them that.

I wanted to include this picture because it’s only one of a couple we have of us together so far. The  nice woman behind the bar asked us if we’d like a picture when she saw us taking pictures of each other.  Wouldn’t you know, this happens to be an Italian coffee bar (Illy) that we stopped into while waiting for a train in Madrid, on the way to Barcelona. (You can see our suitcase handles there behind us.)

Shrine by the bloody foot, reminds me of home2012-04-09 17:38

Post by Wynette: Earlier, Charlie posted  a picture of a plaque we saw in the ground saying that an imprint of Christ’s bloody foot had been found in the mud there in 1975.  Next to it was this shrine, below.  So far, we haven’t seen a lot of this type of thing on our trip (we were on a walk outside the city walls when we came across it) but I loved it because it reminded me of shrines you come across in northern New Mexico.  I’ve seen many things in Spain that have reminded me of northern New Mexico.  NM was settled by the Spanish long before the Anglos arrived there so I shouldn’t be too surprised.

Easter Candy2012-04-09 18:19

Post by Charlie: This is the little deli around the corner from our hotel in Girona. We have eaten there a few times you can see some of the sandwiches they have above the Easter eggs. they also have bread:

and more right next door:

Olives at the market2012-04-09 18:31

Post by Charlie: Girona also has a big covered market like the one in Barcelona. We wish we could try all the kinds of olives.

Lottery on Wheels2012-04-09 18:40

Post by Charlie: The national lottery is a big deal here. There are ticket-selling places all over. We saw this lottery ticket booth drive by while we were walking down the street.

Whipped Cream Delivery Vehicles2012-04-09 18:44

Post by Charlie: That is what Wynette called some of the pastries at the deli/bakery around the corner. Also note the pizza, which we have had for two meals so far.

Bathroom Fixture Tour, continued2012-04-09 18:51

Post by Charlie: Some of you may think that I am obsessed with bathroom fixtures. Well so be it. Here is our sink in Girona. Still square but sloped for better draining and with a slider for hotel goodies on one side.

And you fellow bathroom fixture fans should check out our sink in Sorrento from last year’s Italy blog, linked to in a previous post.

Our Corner2012-04-09 19:01

Post by Charlie: Girona has a river going through it with several bridges. Our hotel is right by one of the bridges, a red steel one, designed by Gustav Eiffel tower of Eiffel Tower fame. On the corner is this redbud tree. There are lots of redbud trees around Girona. We come back from all four directions and it is always so nice to see our redbud tree and know we are almost back.

Strictly Forbidden2012-04-10 22:07

We took the bus from Girona to the remote, coastal town of Cadaques. The bus has some strict rules:

No smoking, I am behind that 100%. No ice cream, okay, it drips and gets the seats and floor sticky. No hamburgers, okay, lots of saturated fats. But no lollypops! That is going too far. Off the bus, Lolita.

And don’t worry, we were in the second seat and not the first seat reserved for the old guy with the cane.

On the bus2012-04-10 22:15

Cadaques is in a peninsula and you have to take this winding, narrow road over the mountains to get there. I was glad I was not driving the bus. This is looking back at Roses, on the road to Cadaques:

This is the narrow road.

and this is coming down from the mountains into Cadaques:

Cadaques is very pretty

The weather is partly cloudy but often quite windy. We might be spending time in our hotel public rooms watching the bay.

It clears up on and off:


Walking along the bay2012-04-10 22:23

Post by Charlie: Cadaques was made famous by Dali and other artists hanging out here. We are going to see his house across the peninsula tomorrow. Here they frame the picture of Cadaques for you, in true Dali fashion:

and I got friendly with the locals:

This house is on a little island, pretty cool, but I see some logistical issues:

On the way back we take a picture of a woman taking a picture of the frame. Maybe not surreal but recursive at least:

Almost back

to our hotel:

Signs2012-04-12 19:15

Post by Charlie: The direction signs in Spain are pretty good. We always know which way to go,

what not to do,

and which of the servicios to use:

Stairways to the water2012-04-12 20:47

Post by Wynette: We are spending 4 days in a little village on the Mediterranean, Cadaques. Several places along the shore here we’ve found steps that go down to the water. Most look scary. I’m pretty sure in the States they’d be railed off and marked “Danger”. Or at least would be a good plot device in a Jane Austen novel. But, today we found one that didn’t look too bad. Charlie decided to check them out.  Here he is on his way down:

And at the bottom:

And with the camera zoom on:

Scary Stairs Example2012-04-17 18:20

Post by Wynette:  My mom commented on previous post that those stairs looked scary so I wanted to post a picture of some that we didn’t have the nerve to go down at all.  

Food and coffee in Madrid2012-04-17 18:53

Post by Wynette: We’ve been in Madrid for 3 days.  Tomorrow we head back for the USA.  We have liked Madrid, more than we expected.  It’s a beautiful city and relatively restful, inexpensive, and easy to navigate for a big city.  Of course, we are tucked into our hotel room by 8 each night and we hear the city really comes alive at 10 or 11.  So, we are missing the main attraction: the night life (called la marcha as I have learned from Ben and Marina).

The first 2 days we were disappointed in the food here.  And, I have to take back what I said about coffee in Spain being consistently good.  We haven’t really liked the Madrid coffee very much.  It must be Catalonia that makes such good coffee.  The coffee at the place below didn’t taste very good but they sure had a cool looking coffee machine.  And all the waiters wore pink shirts:

But this morning we did find a place with good coffee, and yesterday we found a tapas market (really!) (Mercado de San Miguel) that had tapas fenomenal! (Yes, that’s a Spanish word.)  Here is Charlie trying to decide what to have for dinner:

And today we ate in an Asturian restaurant (Asturia is a province in northern Spain, so it’s like a foreign food place in Madrid) named Casa Lastra. Delicious food. Seemed like peasant food.  We had a white bean stew with sausages and ham.  I’ll dream about that one in days to come and try to make one like it but will never come close. Here is the bread and the huge helping of (fenomenal) blue cheese spread that they brought to the table before taking our order.  The only problem is that we were stuffed when we left. No, we didn’t eat all the bread and cheese.  We couldn’t finish the stew either.

I love the description of their restaurant in English on their website. (I’m pretty sure a computer program did that translation for them. Maybe Google Translate?)  I hope we go back to Madrid so we can go back to Casa Lastra several times.  Hmm, maybe we should go to Asturia someday too.

I eat, I sleep, I suffer2012-04-17 19:05

Post by Wynette: For the past year, I’ve been studying Spanish and found a great podcast/website that provides listening practice:

It is done by a delightful young couple who live here in Madrid.  Ben is originally from England and Marina is from Madrid. In one of their conversations for listening practice they mention how people in Spain like to complain. (Charlie and I have been trying to write a song about that, maybe fitting in the word “plain” somewhere, but haven’t come up with much yet.)

When we were in Cadaques we found a little bar that served great coffee so we went there several times.  On one visit the woman behind the counter greeted us with a warm hola, took our order for dos cafe con leche, served us our coffee, then carried on her conversation with the only other person in the bar.  She was talking loudly in the small room so I was getting in some good listening practice.  I heard her say “Como, duermo, y … nada mas”.  I think she was saying, “I eat, I sleep, and nothing else.”  Then I heard her say “Yo sufro”, which means, “I suffer”.  Too bad I didn’t get many of the details.  I was thinking she might have been talking with her boss.  I hope she was just complaining and didn’t really live such a terrible life.


Cadaques catch up2012-04-17 19:15

Post by Wynette: I know we are confusing people by jumping back and forth from place to place, out of order from how we visited them.  But, I have a few more pictures I wanted to post from Cadaques even though we are now in Madrid.

I loved these strangely pruned trees (they were all over the place):

We found a restaurant at the Hotel Rocamar named Sa Conca that we ate at twice because the food was so good.  It was a long walk to the restaurant as the hotel was on the far end of town.  This picture was taken on the walk back from the restaurant our last day in Cadaques:

And here is one dish we ate there, both visits.  Fresh peas with ham:

Differences in ideas of personal responsibility2012-04-19 23:38

Post by Wynette the day after we got back: This blog has some stunning photos of Spain: Photos from Spain by Mike Randolph

This photo from his blog, posted on March 17, 2012, has the following caption:

Definitely not in Kansas anymore: A pathway along the Noguera Ribagorzana river, which separates Aragon and Catalunya in northern Spain, has no guardrails and no wire banister to hang on to. A single small sign at the trailhead tells hikers to watch their step, highlighting the difference between between Spain and places like the United States when it comes to ideas of personal responsibility.

Reminded me of the scary stairs down to the water that we saw, our photos posted April 12 and 17  with comment that I’m pretty sure in the States they’d be railed off and marked “Danger”.

I just realized, I don’t remember seeing a single sign with the word Peligrosa (Dangerous), but did see a number of things that would have been marked as such in the States.

Hotel Technology2012-04-20 01:24

In Madrid we are staying in a four star business hotel but over the weekend so the rates are pretty low (80 euro a night). It has hard-wired ethernet but none of our devices can use it. The wireless is 10 euro a day, the typical pattern, the No-Tell Motel has free wireless but the fancy hotels charge for it.

The interesting thing is that it has phones by the toilet. I’m not sure when that was big but I imagine very few business travelers use the room phone these days.

Our hotel in Girona was also a four star hotel and it had phones in the bathroom as well as Sony entertainment system in the room that seemed like it was from the 1990s. No iPod connection. I guess you have to be careful about technology as it can become outdated so quickly.

Paella and Sangria2012-04-20 01:27

Paella and sangria seem to be the main food and drink associated with Spain. In Barcelona, the Ramblas is probably the most touristy place in all of Spain. A big wide boulevard with cafes, stalls, human statues, etc. You walk down and every place offers paella on these signs that are all the same. You see people sitting at the cafes with large goblets of sangria.

I guess I am a bit of a tourist snob because I continue to be amazed that people would sit at a cafe along the Ramblas and order sangria and paella. You know they are going to be overpriced and of dubious quality.

We did, ourselves, order sangria at a tapas cafe in Toledo and it was pretty good actually. In another tapas bar ordered English cider. I don’t know where that places me.

In Cadaques we got some cheap sangria at a supermarket, which, by the way, are not that big in Spanish cities. A bit outside the cities they have supermarkets like we are used to. Anyway, we bought some oranges and plums and cut them up into little pieces and made sangria in our room a couple of nights and it was very nice.

We finally had some paella in the market in Madrid. We are less interested in rice dishes these days so that was an issue. We were sitting at the market and this young English couple was sitting across from us having paella and we got to talking. They said it was good so we had it the next night. It was pretty good, not great.

This English couple were very nice, we chatted a while. There were from outside London and in Madrid for four days. I think they said the round trip air fare was about 40 pounds (about $65 I think). They came for some nice weather. It was clear but pretty cold yesterday in Madrid so they were a bit disappointed.

Cadaques2012-04-20 02:36

Post by Charlie: Cadaques was my favorite place on this trip. It is picturesque to the max.

Everything is perfect. It is on this peninsula along the Costa Brava above Barcelona about half the way to France. It is only accessible by bus over a narrow two-lane, windy mountain road so it is pretty isolated. As the guide books say, it has managed to retain its charm. The town is all white and situated on a beautiful bay with boats moored in it. There was a perfect, small sailboat moored there the whole time. We thought maybe the Cadaques chamber of commerce owned it and just kept it there for show. It did add charm to the bay.

No real local fishing is done here any more, of course, although the locals come out with rod and reel and fish the bay from the shore.

You can walk along both sides of the bay and it is rocky and amazingly beautiful on both sides. One side has a little island that you could go out to on a little bridge and it was so charming and pretty you could hardly believe it.

And one end of the little island was a sea monster of some sort:

The bridge did have a barrier and a sign from the local police saying something along the lines of “forbidden” in Catalan but everyone, including us, just ignored that and crossed over and walked around the island anyway.

The city itself has the requisite winding little lanes and is also picturesque to a fault. The local building material is this flat stone that makes up all the walls and (do I repeat myself?) is picturesque.

Out hotel was on one side of the old town, on the water. Our room had “no view” as they said when we reserved it, but it had a little balcony with a table that looked out over some nearby gardens. We had breakfast on it every day, and sangria in the evenings and it was great.


Eating at the Rocamar2012-04-20 03:36

We walked out to the Hotel Racamar on the other side of the bay, up on the hill, the other three star hotel in town, very nice.

You always know a place is good when lots of locals eat there:

Okay, we were there at the ridiculously early lunch hour of 1:30 so no one else was there yet. The restaurant was amazingly good, much better than we expected, and not really that expensive. We ate there twice. We had some lovely dishes, including razor clams that were served on a rock, one of the stones they use for building the walls. Before:


Dessert was a traditional dish with bread soaked in wine, with the foam that seems to come on things:



Stone Walls2012-04-20 03:46

Around Cadaques all the walls are made of flat stone like this. They are all along the walkways as well as on steep mountain sides, used to create tiers for orchards of olive trees and other farming.

I assume these are traditional walls. There is a lot of rock like this all around. It must be easier to make walls out of rock like this that breaks into flat pieces. We saw one under construction. These days it looks like the stones are used just for show, like brick facing on houses. The real wall is concrete blocks with rebar.

If you look through pictures we took around Cadaques in other posts, you’ll spot many more of these walls.

Sea Glass2012-04-20 03:50

Post by Charlie: A few years ago, when we were at a beach house with my sister in California, we learned about looking for sea glass (broken pieces of glass bottles that have been smoothed by the surf). It can be hard to find in California because lots of people like to collect it. Apparently searching for sea glass is not common in Cadaques. Wynette was collecting some and a young boy, aged about 10, wanted to see what she was picking up and got all excited when she showed it to him. Next year there won’t be any left. Added by Wynette: The two of us collected the sea glass in the photo below in about 40 minutes.  The next day we went back and found about the same amount in about the same amount of time.

Meditation by the sea2012-04-20 03:52

We had coffee one morning at a cafe on the beach and saw this woman communing with the sea:

Cemetery2012-04-20 03:57

We walked over the ridge to Dali’s house. At the top was a small chapel and cemetery with a view.

A number of graves had tile decorations:

Like Italy and Slovenia (and other places we assume) they often put pictures on the graves:


Boat ride along the coast2012-04-20 04:06

We took an hour-long ride along the coast in what was advertised as Dali’s fishing boat. Gala was the name of Dali’s wife, as well as his boat.

Our boat man man spoke Calalan, Spanish and French but not much English:

We took the trip with a very nice French family:

The younger son was adorable:

We passed a natural arch under Cap Creuss, which is at the easternmost point of mainland Spain.

We passed several boats:

And to prove we were really there:

Another shrine2012-04-20 04:40

Post by Wynette: We came across this small shrine on the edge of Cadaques, perched on one of the many stone walls.

Dali’s house2012-04-20 04:41

The artists always seem to live in the cool places. Dali lived in Cadaques, actually in the port just over the ridge, a 20 minute walk from Cadaques. He lived there with his wife Gala and lots of other artists who came to Cadaques to hang out with him. He bought some fishermen’s huts and expanded from there. This is the view of it from a boat as you come into the harbor:

Rick Steves said it was the best artist’s house tour he had been on so we took it. Here is the view from the ridge as you walk over from Cadaques:

This entry room had a stuffed bear and a basket of his trade-mark canes:

A cozy fire nook with shrinking chairs:

Views of the bay from most of the house:

The swans who lived in the pool:

were later stuffed:

His studio:

General weirdness:

Colorful decoration and couch we assume his models used:

Art showing his wife Gala with their swan:

Their bedroom:

And amazingly, 3 images of Wynette in Gala’s bathroom mirrors:

Summer dining room:



Cristo de la Basura (Christ of the Trash), that Dali made from an old boat, old roof tiles, cement blocks, and other discarded items, best seen from a viewing platform.


The pool:

By the pool:

Dali in Cadaques2012-04-20 04:50

Dali lived in Cadaques. There is a statue of him looking very jaunty on the bay:

And his famous artist friends would visit him:

Another coastal walk2012-04-20 04:58

We walked along the coast past Port Lligat where the Dali house is. We wondered about the pink haze on the hillside in the distance.

Getting closer:

We found it was ice plant, clinging to the coast:

Then we came across a large man-made something in the water:

Charlie walked down these steps:

to get here:

Garden Wall2012-04-20 05:06

Literally, a wall. Just  a few doors down from our hotel in Madrid.

We walked by this several times and every time there were people looking at it and taking pictures.

We read about it later on the web: Green Vertical Garden (wall) in Madrid.

Glass Elevators2012-04-20 05:12

The Museo de Reina Sophia in Madrid is in an old building. When they added elevators they did them on the outside. A nice engineering solution (no internal changes required) and pretty too:

with nice views:

Two banks of two elevators along this wall.

Tragically Hip2012-04-20 15:25

When I tell people I’m from New Mexico the most common response is some variant of “Oh, I love Santa Fe”. Of course, I am from Albuquerque. Santa Fe has the hip image, a distinctive architecture, an identity. Albquerque is more of a mixing pot with lots of things. It is also a much bigger city.

I am familiar with this kind of competition, growing up in Los Angeles where San Francisco was the hip city and LA was the sprawling, all-inclusive metropolis.

It seems that Madrid and Barcelona have a similar relationship. In the US, at least, Barcelona has a much hipper image than Madrid. It has legendary night life, good restaurants, the whole Gaudi thing going for it, the Ramblas. Madrid is the workmanlike big city.

We felt the same way and so we were surprised when we liked staying in Madrid much better than Barcelona. Barcelona seemed like the busier, more touristy city. Madrid was surprisingly calm, with lots of small streets. It seemed more walkable than Barcelona.

Of course, Madrid wins the art competition hands down with three world-class, wonderful museums.

And you never know what to expect in the Plaza Mayor:

(We took the above in a hurry with Charlie’s iPod Touch camera and it was starting to get dark so, too bad, it came out a little blurry.)

Palacio de Cristal2012-04-20 15:35

Madrid has a wonderful, very large park, the Retiro. The park was once the exclusive domain of the Spanish royalty, but after Franco died the new king gave the park to the citizens of Madrid. As we walked through the park we came across, without knowing it was there, the Palacio de Cristal:


The lake has black swans:


Mercado de San Miguel2012-04-20 15:55

We blogged about the market in Barcelona which was a large central market with fresh fish, vegetables, fruit, etc. Looking for something similar, we went to the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid:

We found something completely different. It is a tapas food court. But don’t think of the low-quality food courts in malls and airports. This stuff is top quality. You walk around and see a wide variety of delicious looking food, all available in small quantities for 2-4 euro. There are high tables, mostly stand-up, in the center. The glasses in this picture are filled with gazpacho:

Lots of beer and wine is consumed:

and “postres”:

We ate there twice. We could have eaten every meal there, there was so much variety. It was hard to decide what to have. What we did was have something that looked good and repeated that until we weren’t hungry any more.

And then we had churros dipped in thick hot chocolate: