Quiet Rainy Day in Amsterdam

Monday, September 11, 2017

We were going to go to the Rijk Museum today but I needed a down day and it is windy and raining, so we decided to stay home have a quiet day instead. Yesterday we walked almost nine miles, and the equivalent of 25 flights of stairs, or so my Fitbit tells me!  No wonder I am tired.

Some friends and family are curious about our Airbnb apartments so I thought I would include a link to each one we stay at. If you are interested take a peek.     Airbnb

Here are a few photos that never made it into previous postings.This little sculpture was in the street right outside the Oude Kirk. Bob thought it a strange placement right outside a church and asked me what it meant.  How am I to know?Our apartment host is an artist who makes tiles that are for sale in museum shops. The kitchen ones are playful takes on antique tiles and they are mounted in her bathroom and kitchen. She also very generously gave us one as a gift.We saw this couple walking Saturday and as they passed by everyone started to cheer and clap.Now, we saw this fellow with his brand new tattoo two days ago at Dam Square and the strange thing ( other than why anyone would want this tattoo on their head) is that we saw him again two times yesterday, once in the afternoon and again in the evening.  What are the chances of that happening in as big and busy city as Amsterdam? I almost felt like we should say hi! I love people watching and Amsterdam is a great place for that.  I just wish I had a chance to draw or take a photo of some of the interesting faces we have seen.

Back in Barcelona!

Monday, November 30, 2015

This is our last Airbnb apartment for this trip.  We have been very happy with the selection of accommodations available and we enjoyed staying at all of our apartments.  Yes, some were better than others but they were all more than adequate and it was great having a kitchen, living room and bedroom. Prices were very reasonable too, they ranged from $32 to $94 Canadian with an average of about $65 a night. I know it would have been much more expensive to stay in hotels and I really preferred our little apartments.  We are located in Sant Andreu, a Barcelona neighbourhood north of the main tourist area of the Old Town. There are not many tourists here, which is rather nice.  Lots of little shops in our neighbourhood and easy access to the metro and bus.  Image 2016-01-24 at 5.26 PMWe are up early to return our rental car, and catch the bus back to our apartment. I took this photo from the bus window and I kind of like the reflections in it.DSC01829That is quite enough for me today and I am looking forward to staying put the rest of the day and doing a bit of journaling and blogging. As you know, I am rather behind. This little fellow was quite happy to have me take his photo on our walk home from the bus stop. DSC01832

Bob went exploring while I had a relaxing day. We head back out tonight to check out the local fair as Bob has his heart set on a foot long hot dog for supper.DSC01835_3On the way home we peeked into this garage. All the shops here are very tiny, this one isn’t much wider than what you see here, so they need to put one car on top of the other.
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Peñiscola, Spain

Sunday, November 29th, 2015.

Our holiday is drawing to a close.  We will be in Barcelona tonight so that we can return our rental car tomorrow.  Our last nine days in Spain will be spent exploring Barcelona and visiting the sights.

As we left Valencia we were stopped by the police to allow this protest march to cross the road. We later discovered that police had evicted staff from a public broadcasting television station after it was closed by the government due to austerity measures. Check here for a short video and more information.

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On the drive to Peñiscola.FullSizeRender

There is a castle in Peñiscola, about three hours south of Barcelona, that we want to visit because the Game of Thrones Season Six had some scenes that were shot there. I found a good picture of the castle at www.spain  Somehow I missed getting a picture of the castle that shows where it is located on top of the hill in Peñiscola.r_castillo_peniscola_t1200389.jpg_369272544

We find a place to park, which isn’t always an easy task, and head towards the castle, which is near the port.FullSizeRender_2

Soon we are trudging up steep hills, past narrow streets, looking for the way to the castle, which doesn’t seem to be marked anywhere.FullSizeRender_5

We pass this interesting building which is covered with sea shells.FullSizeRender_3

Quite by luck we find the right road up to the castle and we soon are standing on one of the castle courtyards. The Peñiscola Castle was built between 1294 and 1307 by the Knights Templar. This last great fortress was to become their last refuge as they were evicted and arrested in 1307 by James II of Aragon. In 1411 Pope Benedict XIII converted the castle into his papal seat and lived there until his death in 1423.  Remember all this took place years before Colombus even set sail for North America in 1492! FullSizeRender_2

We explore this interesting castle, wondering what areas might have been used for the filming for the Game of Thrones.  The castle was never finely finished as the Knights Templar were never able to completely finish its construction.FullSizeRender FullSizeRender_5

Can you spot Bob?FullSizeRender_2

Looking down the same step narrow steps.FullSizeRender_4

We think this doorway must be a good candidate for the inclusion in the TV show.

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I love how the old stone steps are worn from all the feet that have climbed up and down them over the centuries.
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FullSizeRender_2 FullSizeRender_5These stairs lead to the dungeon. As we walk down them I imagine the terror so many people must have felt as they were dragged down these very steps.FullSizeRender_4

There was an exhibit in the dungeon about the Knights Templar that was interesting. In one of the photos below you can see a grate in the dungeon floor.  Beside it is a photo of the cell with restraints that was under that grate,  It was a weird feeling looking down into that cell, and at the table and other torture instruments in that room. I wonder if there are ghosts that linger here?Image-1After the dungeon we climb up to the top of the castle for some great views of the town and surrounding countryside. Looking down on the town shows just how close together the houses are, they really are one on top of the other as they climb the hill towards the castle. You can also see the high rise apartment buildings that are being built along the ocean front.FullSizeRender_4FullSizeRender_2 FullSizeRender_3 FullSizeRender_3

This doorway is on the outside of the castle walls.FullSizeRender_4

Around the corner and down the hill from the above photo, there is a garden area with a refuge for raptors that are wounded, sick, or born in captivity.  They are rehabilitated and once well enough they are returned to the wild.IMG_2589

Can you spot the two girls climbing the walls?FullSizeRender_2

On our way back to the car we pass what must be the biggest paella pan ever.  They were using what looked like a small shovel to mix and serve the food.FullSizeRenderWe need to reach Barcelona by 6:00 to meet our Airbnb host and we are still three hours away. About 150 km. from Barcelona the odometer on our rental car turns 6,000 kilometres!

It takes us a while to find our apartment.  It is located down a narrow side road that looked like an alley so we didn’t think we were in the right place. The only place we could find to park the car so I could go out and look for the apartment is in a handicap parking spot. There really are no parking spots anywhere around here.  Just as I was getting concerned that we wouldn’t find the apartment I hear someone call my name.  Our host has just arrived and she sees me looking rather lost and confused standing on the sidewalk.  Turns out that little alley is indeed where the apartment is located.

We put the car in the garage, which isn’t an easy job, the street is very narrow and the garage is barely big enough for the car, and we get settled in our last apartment of the trip. Later in the evening we go for a little walk and discover a fair only a few blocks from our apartment. This little girl was so intent on catching her ducks to win a prize.FullSizeRender_5

On the Road to Valencia

Thursday November 26, 2015

Bob is loading the car and we will soon be on our way to Valencia.  This is the view from our balcony.  As you can see, we were right on the edge of Los Alcázeres, just fields beside us, so it was a nice quiet location.FullSizeRender_3FullSizeRender_5

Before long we are passing lots of salt pans, which are large shallow ponds of sea water. The water evaporates and leaves behind the sea salt, which is then harvested and piled into these enormous piles of sea salt.  Seems strange to think that the salt we eat is produced in this fashion. I had visions of workers out raking up sea salt from the salt pans, not bulldozers and big machinery.  A bit naive on my part I think.Image-1We stop to stretch our legs and have lunch near this beach.  It is certainly not as pretty as other beaches we have visited.FullSizeRender_2The view in the opposite direction.  This is an area full of condos and apartments and partially constructed buildings. FullSizeRender

We stopped for another break a bit further on… FullSizeRender

and found these strange hairy balls, hundreds of them all over the beach!  Some of them were several inches in diameter.  Does anyone know what they are? FullSizeRender_4

We detoured into what we thought was a little town called Alcoi, thinking we could go for a walk in a park area near the town, but we got a bit lost in what turned out to be a rather large city. We also discovered that the park didn’t have any easily accessible areas for walking, so we were soon back on the road. Next stop was the town of Xativa where we visited the ruins of a once grand castle with 30 towers.  FullSizeRender_3FullSizeRender_2

It was getting late in the day and we only had just over a half hour before closing so we saw as much of the castle as we could before the sun set and the castle closed. This was one of the water features in the garden area of the castle. FullSizeRenderThe view from the castle was quite spectacular.FullSizeRender_5

There are lots of market gardens visible in this photo.FullSizeRender_3

We still see lots of graffiti along the highways but we also see these murals. Too bad I can only glimpse them flying by in the car.FullSizeRender_2

There are numerous orange orchards and the trees are absolutely loaded with oranges, so many that they are falling on the ground. Sorry for the blurry image, this is another photo taken from the car.  I never did find a place to pull over and get a good picture of an orange orchard.  Too bad…FullSizeRender_4

Thanks to our trusty iPad and its GPS we find our next Airbnb apartment in Valencia and we were pleasantly surprised to find that our host had very kindly stocked it with all sorts of groceries! It also has lots of artwork as our host’s husband is Nico Munuera, a Spanish artist.Image-1

Exploring Near Lagos, Portugal

First thing on the agenda this morning is a trip to Lagos to visit an Osteopath.  When we arrived there, we realized that we had left our red bag sitting on the road in front of the car back at our apartment.  We sent an email to our AIrbnb host who kindly called the cleaning lady at the apartment and located the bag for us. I was very happy, most of the stuff in the bag could have been replaced, but not my travel journal.

Bob waited for me near the beach which had streets with more great cobblestone designs. We both really liked this one.

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Next stop is Farol da Ponta da Piedade. This is an area near Lagos that has a lighthouse, which didn’t seem all that special, but it is situated in a pretty spectacular area. image imageWe decide we need to climb down this staircase to see what is down there. There are 191 steps down and of course, 191 steps back up!

image Here is what we found.image imageA short drive along the road takes us to Camilo Beach, with a view of Portimáo in the distance.image

Of course, to get to the beach there are more steps, another 225!image

This beach has brightly coloured rock cliffs on all sides, and the really red sand you can see in this picture at the base of the stairs was very slippery and stuck to my shoes like glue!  I have no idea why, other than it was washed down from the cliffs and was different than the rest of the sand on the beach.  I wonder if it is some sort of clay.imageBob notices a tunnel that goes right through the base of one of the cliffs so we walk through it and discover another beach area.image

We sit for a while enjoying the view, then we head back through the tunnel, up the 225 stairs, and we are on our way back to Portimáo, which is only about a half hour drive from here.image

On the way home I manage to snap a couple photos of some street art.  I’ve seen some really interesting stuff, but most of the time we have pased it before I can get a photo.  Traffic was a bit backed up so I managed to get these two pictures.image image

We leave for Seville, Spain in the morning, so we tidy up the apartment and pack most of our stuff tonight.  We are hoping for an earlier start tomorrow.

Quiet Times in Portomáo, Portugal

Saturday, October 31, Halloween

Halloween isn’t a big event in Portugal.  We see a few kids in costume on their way into a party but that is about it. I am missing my grandkids today but we do manage to connect for a great FaceTime visit and then they send us these great pictures.imageI am fighting a cold and not feeling very perky at all so I have a pyjama day and Bob goes for a walk along the river in Portimáo.  This boat is actually a restaurant.  image

Sunday, November 1

The quiet day yesterday was nice but it hasn’t helped my cold very much so I decide to stay put again today. I’m taking lots of vitamins, Echinacea and drinking lots of fluids, doing everything I can to get better quickly, but so far no luck. Bob went for a walk again today, he forgot his map and the cell phone but he managed to find his way around and get back to the apartment.

Monday, November 2

Our Airbnb hosts are so nice and they have asked us to go to a local market with them this morning.image

We get some fresh fruits and veggies and then we go for coffee and pastries.  We have a nice visit and learn a bit more about what it is like to live in Portugal. They are a lovely young couple with two children fairly close in age to our own two grandchildren. I have been using this down time to catch up on our blog and I am very happy to finally be caught up! Now, if I could just get my journal caught up And get rid of this cold all would be well.

Lisbon to the Algarves in Southern Portugal

Monday, October 26

Finding an osteopath when we are on holidays is always a bit of a challenge.  I locate one not far from us and go for a treatment this morning.  Afterwards I have a quiet time at our apartment and Bob goes into Lisbon. He went for a ferry ride to the other side of the river in Lisbon and back again on a boat like the one in the picture.imageThen he takes the famous, crowded #28 tram ride to the Castle San Jorge which is high on a hill over the old city.

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On the way home he stops for some groceries and then manges to get on an express train which tales him right past his stop.  After missing the next two trains, due to some confusion over which one he should be taking, he finally arrives home wet, cold, and an hour late.

Tuesday October 27

We set the alarm and get up early because I want to go watch the the training session at the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art. These Lusitano horses have been used for equestrian art and bullfighting for centuries but were at risk of dying out.  The stud farm was revitalized in 1942 to revive the breeding and training of these beautiful horses.  We watched the training session for about an hour and a half. I was entranced and wished that we could have seen one of their performances, but the timing for that didn’t work out.

imageThere are up to nine horses in the ring at a time, and the riders change horses over the hour and a half.imageimageThey were teaching this horse to do the Capriole, where the horse rises into the air and forcefully stretches out his back legs.  It was very impressive.image

Now we are on our way to the Algarves where we have our next apartment in a town called Portimâo. We drive under this old looking bridge but have no information about it. imageThen we drive over the 13 kilometer long Vasco de Gama bridge as we leave Lisbon. It is probably one of the longest bridge we have travelled on.imageOne of my ‘driving ‘pictures of a garden right beside the main road just after we get off the bridge.  One of the interesting things about both Spain and Portugal is the mixed use of land.  It is common to see houses right next to apartments, industrial or commercial areas, and derelict buildings next to very well kept ones.  I find it rather fascinating, but I don’t think I would like to live somewhere with this sort of planning, or maybe it is no planning?imageWe are soon driving on roads that travel through farms of cork trees.  These trees have their cork harvested once they are 25 years old.  The cork is stripped from the trunks every nine years and the trees can live up to 300 years!  Over half of the world’s cork production comes from Portugal and Spain.image

Here’s a close up of the cork and the stripped trunk. Quite fascinating.imageThe roads here are very pretty and we enjoy the drive, stopping near here for our lunch.image

We meet our host, and his two children, at our Portimâo Airbnb apartment at 6:00.  It doesn’t take us long to decide to extend our stay here from four nights to a full week. It is a lovely apartment on the 11th floor of a new apartment building and the price is certainly right, only $35 Canadian a night!

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We are in Portugal!

Tuesday, October 20

Today we drive to Lisbon. We leave Mérida and cross the border into Portugal near Elvas. We park our car on the edge of the town and walk into the old walled part of the town to find a place to buy Portuguese SIM cards for our phone and iPad.  It isn’t that easy!  The people at the Information office tell us that the Post Office sells them, so we go there and purchase two cards.  We manage to get the first one working after calling the UZO company for help, but we are told it will take 12 hours or more to hook up our iPad internet! It appears that this isn’t the best SIM card for us, but it will get us to Lisbon until we can get a better one there.

Back on the road and I notice a town high on a hill as I am taking pictures out the car window.  I do this to help pass the time on the drive, and sometimes I actually get a decent picture or two.image

I remember my Mom telling me about a town with white houses high on a hill so I check the map and this town is Estremoz. I am pretty sure this is the town my Mom and Dad visited when they were in Portugal years ago, so we take a detour and head for Estremoz.imageAfter having lunch, we walk around and check out a few of the shops and Bob buys himself a souvenir, a big wooden spoon for making his salsa and spaghetti sauce. Orange trees are used for boulevard trees here and some of the other ciities we have been in but so far we haven’t found any that are good to eat.imageThis is one of the many interesting old buildings near the central plaza of Estremoz.
imageWe leave Estremoz by driving on a narrow one way road under some old buildings, and this is the way to the main road! Once again I think how happy I am to have the iPad GPS.  No way I could find my way around without it.image

We pass lots of cork trees but there is no place to stop so I don’t get any pictures, but I take this photo of some coniferous trees lining the road and get a weird effect happening.  No idea what caused it but I kind of like it. image

The houses we are passing have changed, they are now painted white or pastel colours instead of the brick or stone we have seen up till now.image  The clouds start to build and soon it is raining.imageWe arrive in Caxias, which is a town just outside of Lisbon and check into our apartment for the next week.  We have been very lucky with our Airbnb bookings and this apartment seems just as nice as our other bookings. It was less than a five hour drive but it seems like it has been a long day and it was nice to walk into such a nice place.imageimage

The Prado

Thursday October 15

This Mad Hatter was outside the Prado with his little white mouse.  They both looked very content and pleased with themselves!imageThe Prado has 102 rooms and we managed to visit all but 17 of them.  We spent about six hours exploring and soaking up the incredible art work but we simply ran out of time and energy.  There are no photos in the Museum but I did take these two.  I know, I am a bad girl! We saw many paintings that were familiar because of reading my art books.  It was wonderful seeing these works in person.  This is a very famous Goya work titled “The Family of Charles IV.”  I just wanted one photo to say “Yes, I was there.”  When I am home I will find a good book on the Prado as a reminder of everything we have seen today. Books are just too heavy to lug around in our suitcases!imageThe Museum encourages artists to study and paint in the Museum, as this young lady was doing.  We saw several artists at work today.  image  Pictures were allowed in the Leoni Cloister and when we looked up we could see that there were workrooms above the cloister.  I would love to be able to tour these rooms, but had to settle for zooming in for a closer look.imageimageWe headed back to our Airbnb for some much needed rest.  I love touring Museums and Art Galleries but it is quite exhausting, physically and mentally.imageThis has been home for the last ten nights but we leave the day after tomorrow.  We only planned on staying here for four nights but liked it so much, and Bob really liked taking the bus into Madrid instead of driving, so we changed our reservation to twelve nights.  image