Road Trip, Costa Blanca, Spain: Days 28-32

From Malaga, we took the coastal highway to our friends’ house in Jávea. After joking about the landscape looking like the backdrop of many spaghetti westerns, we passed through the Almeria Province. We started noticing an overwhelming number of plastic grow houses. Theo asked me what I thought they were growing and my instincts were right. But to better explain it, I found this article very interesting.

Until the world learns to eat local produce in season, this phenomenon will continue. Such a waste of beautiful coastal areas.

Beautiful cactus at our hosts’ home.

We instantly felt like we were ‘at home’ upon arriving at our friends’ house in Jávea, since we stayed in the apartment in their house so many times while house hunting in the region in past years. Of course, as you know, we decided against a permanent home in Spain and, although the winter weather is lovely, this area is not for us. It was very validating that we chose the southwest of France instead!

A beautiful day on the Arenal Beach in Jávea.

But that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t enjoy spending the winter months down here! And so we called upon some of the realtors we had gotten to know over the years and went out to look at some properties. After all was said and done, we have decided to not make any hasty decisions and made some inquiries about winter rental possibilities, so that we can bring the dogs along. Made some good connections, but need to wait until about September to dial in a rental. But with the almond trees in full blossom, and the Mediterranean beckoning, it’s hard to not think about basking in the winter sun down here next year!

We enjoyed driving around our old stomping grounds to see if our attitude for the area had changed. And it’s amazing how differently we felt! Of course, we’re looking at the whole experience through different glasses—part-time winter living vs. full-time investment.

After relaxing (and catching up with laundry)  in Jávea, we headed for one of our favorite cities, Valencia. Again, a vibrant modern city with a breathtaking old town. Nice to see that renovations are still taking place and tourism is booming. A very lovely town to visit in February, as we enjoyed 20° temps and clear skies. Revisited neighborhoods and soaked in some new culture and architecture.

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See no evil, speak no evil…

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Road Trip, Cádiz/Costa del Sol/Malaga: Days 25-27

We pryed ourselves away from Seville and set out to discover what the Costa del Sol is like these days. I’ve never been and Theo was there 40+ years ago selling ‘villas’ as a 20-something, when you could score a 3 bed/2 bath for around $15,000! Shoulda, woulda, but couldn’t.

Had a quick drive through Cádiz because there was NO PARKING—we found ourselves just escaping the island before the Carnival Parade and promised ourselves to return another time. Estepona, Marbella, Fuengirola, and  Torremolinos were all ruined with dense high-rise apartment buildings. Yuk. We hardly stopped and I took no pictures of these coastline blasphemies. But the good news is that we ended up in Malaga for a couple of days…and what a DELIGHT!

Beautiful self-push floats for Carnival!

I had done a little bit of research and booked a great hotel in the old town of Malaga. More Spanish-feeling, less touristy and less busy. A very clean and proud city, with the added plus of us happening upon Carnival festivities!!!

Princess of the Malaga Carnival Parade

Fab-u-lous!

The backs of the displays were just as beautiful as the fronts!

Awesome mask. Can you find the guy’s face?

Carnival lights.

We felt very fortunate to visit Picasso’s birthplace and museum in Malaga, with a great cross-section of his work.

We walked our little tails off, but found the flat streets to be a welcome change…

Roman amphitheatre built in the first century AD, with the Alcazaba above it.

Malaga Cathedral

Wearing the ratty old coat in Malaga. There’s no hope!

Cathedral tower.

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Road Trip, Seville, Spain: Days 22-24

Theo and I have returned to Seville, because it’s one of our all-time favorite cities. Enjoyed strolling around seeing the sights again, taking time in the parks, and enjoying a few beers along the way.

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Road Trip, Day 20 to 21: Algarve, Portugal

Best part of the Algarve is this little spit of coastline, Farol da Ponta da Piedade, near Lagos.

From Lisbon, we shot down to the Algarve with high hopes that we would fall in love with the area and put it on the short list of places to go next winter. Not knowing much about the region, I secured accommodations in the middle of the southern coast (in Albufeira) with the thought that we could go west about 45 minutes and see the area around Lagos and go east about 45 minutes and experience Faro.

Beautiful rock formations and more hidden beaches.

Upon arrival, we both agreed that this area was not for us. Albufeira was an armpit of a town. Overbuilt with now aging apartments, graffiti everywhere, and overrun with red-faced geriatric sun worshippers. The place had no soul. How could developers take such a beautiful area of the world and ruin it so badly? The weather is divine and it could have been so wonderful. But too late now.

Secluded little beaches tucked all along the coast near Lagos. And that water. Wow!

Our field trip to Lagos was the only saving grace. We liked this western part much better and found Lagos to be slightly more palatable as a town, but agreed that it wasn’t for us. But as we snaked our way down the coast, passing development after development, we happened upon this great little beach cafe. Had a wonderful lunch and chatted with a couple of gals from the Netherlands. And the views from the cliffs were breathtaking.

View from our lunch table at a jewel of a beach hut. Protected from the wind, great sun exposure, yummy fish, and cold beer. SO BEACHY!

Thank goodness the hotel turned out to be very nice, with nightly entertainment in the posh bar. Not to mention that two nights, including breakfast, was only €80 and no parking fees.

We decided the two nights was plenty for us and explored Faro on our way to Spain. It had some ancient buildings in somewhat of a downtown, but was still a real mixed bag. And so, our journey continued to Seville.

Posted in Algarve, American Expats in France, Expat Blog, Portugal, Southwest France American Expat Blog, Traveling in Europe | 5 Comments

Road Trip: Day 16-19: Lisbon, Portugal

Me and my Mozart mime…holding hands…being silly…

Lisbon. What a destination. Great city, with wonderful ambience, and lots and lots to see and do. Crowded even in February, we were relieved to be there in the off-season.

One of many vintage trams in Lisbon.

Yum, yum, and more yum.

We were so fortunate to be referred to a great driver and tour guide. Long story, but Ron and Diana, our house/dog sitters from Australia have good friends, Richard and Jo, who now live in Lisbon, that happened upon Mr. Ricardo a few years ago. We were fortunate enough to squeeze in dinner with Richard and Jo, and hope to stay in touch for many years, as Jo is planning a little trip to our home in France in a couple of weeks. Sometimes, it’s such a small world!

Ricardo was truly the smartest and most entertaining guide we could have hoped for. One of the places he took us was to the Pena Palace in Sintra. In 1838, Ferdinand II set out to transform the remains of an old monastery into a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family, seemingly to escape the putrid smells of the city in summer.

Here are some shots from our day with him.

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Theo, my little clothes whore, getting some new pants hemmed.

A bridge very similar to the Golden Gate, as well as a Jesus statue inspired by Rio De Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer.

An old storefront in Lisbon.

Sidewalk designs.

Our favorite €5 cocktail hangout, the ‘Can the Can.’ Loved their chandelier made from sardine cans. Genius!

Monument in memory of the thousands of Jews who were victimized by intolerance and religious fanaticism during the Spanish Inquisition, and were killed in 1506 in this square.

Mustache menu at Barbearia Oliveira. Hilarious!

My squid kabob hung from a chain over the table after the first serving. Delicious!!! (I know it looks a little empty, but we were the first to spill into this annex room.)

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Road Trip, Days 12-15: Silver Coast, Portugal

Beautiful bay in São Martinho do Porto.

We’ve enjoyed a wonderful four days of rest and relaxation in our  friends’ house in Rebelos, Portugal. We thank them for their generosity in allowing us to stay in their beautiful new home on the Silver Coast while they were away! With their recommendations, we enjoyed the local sights and restaurants. It is a beautiful part of Portugal and the weather was kind with lots of sun and high temperatures.

Valley view from the house.

We even hit a huge flea market when we got to town!

This impressive monastery in Alcobaça was founded in 1153!

Theo dreaming of becoming a famous surfer at Nazaré, where huge waves up to 78 feet high form due to the presence of an underwater canyon! (Just kidding about Theo…he was just thrilled to find a €2 hat!)

Vintage fishing boat ‘museum’ on the beach!

Another amazing Portuguese cobblestone walkway (and my shadow).

Our friend along the road, who we quickly named Petra, was a happy recipient of leftover apples and carrots.

It was too cold and windy to linger, but we made a short visit to the HUGE medieval fortress in Óbidos.

Love the Dão wines, this one because it had a cute owl on it!

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Road Trip, Days 9 to 11: Porto

We changed our itinerary a tad, due to a rainy forecast on Thursday, so instead of traveling the slow road across the north coast of spain, we exercised our windshield wipers and high-tailed it straight to Porto.

Landscape shot across the high desert near Palencia, Spain. Reminds of my childhood home in Colorado.

After an exhausting day of driving, we had dinner and sunk into the luxurious beds of our boutique hotel. One thing about Theo’s and my travel habits…we’ve realized that at our age, we go at a slower pace compared to younger days…but realize, too, that that’s what it’s all about for us.

Old buildings along the river near our hotel.

Porto is a dazzling jewel of a city, although the steep hills offered a great workout for us. We took our time, stopping mid-hill to ‘take in the sights,’ i.e. rest our weary haunches! But we were enchanted by the beauty of the buildings, clad with tile on the outside. The reconstruction taking place here is hopeful. It seems every fifth building or so is under a major reformation.

Tiiled exteriors and sculpted stonework of Porto.

Dom Luis I Bridge, built by a disciple of Gustave Eiffel, with wrought iron work resembling details used in the famous tower.

The spectacular Liberdade Square.

Sao Bento Train Station, with walls adorned by beautifully painted azulejos tiles.

As we wandered around town with our tourist map and handy live mapping on the phone, we ended a great sight seeing afternoon at the Majestic Cafe. Built in wonderful art nouveau style in 1923, it takes you back in time with its solid marble floor and columns, fabulous chandeliers, and intricate hand-carved wood frames around the now clouded mirrors. We both ordered a dessert plate with a paired port. As I savored the last few berries that topped my rich cheeecake, of course they exploded under the force of my fork to squirt all over the front of my blouse. Never fails!

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Friday night, we searched until our feet ached for a recommended restaurant, but decided, finally, that it must be the big one under construction wrap taking advantage of the winter season to renovate!!! And so we struck out to find an alternative. Found an interesting looking one less than a block away. They herded us into a room and packed us with other unsuspecting patrons. Of course, here in tourist row, they put olives and bread on the table, bring you an undrinkable aperatif, then charge you for all of them! Anyhoo, my dinner was quite good, while Theo’s was not. Soon after our food came, they turned out all the lights and we were left with just with a tea light on the table. Two guitarists came in and started to play beautiful fado melodies, then a young man with a great voice sang. Then, dum-da-dum-dum, the mother (owner of the restaurant) sang the next one. Yikes! Not good. She continued to “entertain” and finally the lights came back on. Since we were at a tiny table-for-two inches away from the next table-for-two, we struck up a conversation with some nice folks from Valencia.

For the curious, here’s some fado…

Everyone else in the room left, as we continued our conversation with our newest friends. Two other couples were seated in the room for a late dinner. Then the lights went out again, and, uh-oh, we were in for more torture! The gentleman at the next table kept talking to us and the Madame Wanna-Be-Singer came to our table and loudly chastised us like a school marm. We apologized, and she continued to lecture us! I was embarrassed for her! The two young couples at the other tables were rolling their eyes. Wow. We marched out of the room during her next song to pay the bill outside. This was neither a purchased performance nor a professional one. The waiters were so apologetic, they followed us almost to the street. Anyway, sometimes it’s the bad experiences on a trip that are most memorable!!! Ha!

Spectacular stonework on the sidewalks.

But this diva didn’t hold us back. We hit the streets again the next day to discover the port wine houses across the river.

Sandeman port wine house.

Port transport boats with the Ribeiro sector in the background.

We wanted to visit the art nouveau Lello Bookshop, but it was swamped by Harry Potter fans because it was the inspiration for the Hogwarts library and staircases (not to mention that they wanted €4 each just to step inside!)

Horsin’ around.

 

 

 

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Road Trip, Days 5-8: Bilbao

Guggenheim Museum with Maman sculpture.

After enjoying the festivities in San Sebastián, it was almost a relief to arrive in the beautiful city of Bilbao. I felt I could breathe once again and really liked the heartbeat of the city.

Bilbao was such a nice surprise. As far as the Guggenheim goes, what’s not to like about titanium, limestone, and glass??? A true inspiration to me architecturally, I find it hard to put into words how it moved me. But there is so much more than than the Gugg (as the locals call it), the city is woven with beautiful belle epoch and modern architecture, married into a very compatible and comfortable combination. I loved the integration of all types of commerce, retail, services, and education throughout the center of town. We were delighted to just sit and people watch the various ages interacting. We loved our first visit to Bilbao in Basque Country.

As usual, here are some photo memories:

We saw lots of adorable dogs in Bilbao, but this one covered with pansies has to be one of my favorites, combining my love of gardening with my adoration of the West Highland Terrier.

Big government building. Beautiful!

Cindy by one of her favorite stops, the Cultural Center.

Theo at the fountain.

Casa Mondero, designed by a student of Gaudi.

Theo with a close-up of Koons’ ‘Puppy’ behind.

Theatre Arriaga

Suckin’ it in!

Me…being silly…by a fountain.

Note the ancient facade utilized with a modern glass building behind.

Tall Tree & the Eye

At the Gugg.

Another beautiful beaurocratic building.

Love the construction cover printed to look like the building.

An obligatory selfie after too many cocktails. Love this guy!

 

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Road Trip, Days 1-4: From Home to San Sebastián, Spain via Biarritz

Our dog and house sitters arrived safely from Australia [we used TrustedHousesitters.com again], we prepped them as well as possible, introducing them to a few friends (just in case) and finally hit the road on Wednesday. We drove through intermittent rain to Biarritz, but it was dry and windy when we arrived. Got a beautiful room with a stunning ocean view. It was interesting to see them work the beach sand with heavy equipment at low tide to make it beautiful for morning.

View of the playa and lighthouse from our room in Biarritz.

We laughed at ourselves as we strolled around town, amongst all the “beautiful people,” and I made a comment on Theo’s now 20-year-old coat, which was a beautiful Façionable when he got it. But it had lived it’s life and was looking very tired. We don’t get out of our casual little town much, so it never really registered how shabby we looked. Well, Theo is very sensitive about these things—and so the hunt for a new jacket ensued. The weather was very pleasant in Biarritz, so we enjoyed a nice stroll around town and along the ocean before heading for San Sebastián just over the Spanish border.

Theo in front of the pristine morning ‘prepared’ beach, in his sweater (not the soon-to-be-replaced jacket!)

After weaving through San Sebastián, and despite the fact that we were hissed at by locals while unloading our luggage at the Pension we had booked, we fell in love with San Sebastián, as everyone suggested we would. (Parking on the street is for local residents only, and they do not take kindly to pulling into ‘their’ place, if even for just a few minutes!) The video below shows how popular scooters are in Old Town.

Heading out to savour the infamous Pintxos (tapas/small plates) of San Sebastián, we found the bars were mostly full, so we continued until we found a place we could sit down. Enjoyed many glasses of rioja with all kinds of different nibbles. Marvelous. And can’t wait to do it again tomorrow! Being in the thick of the shopping district, Theo finally found a coat he liked (for those of you who I know are going to ask…)

Pintxos in every bar in town.

We realized, after arriving, that January 20 is San Sebastián’s Patron Saint’s Day with the Tamborrada drum parade. How lucky we felt, to be a part of this amazing event!!! During the festival the city becomes a defeaning place for 24 hours as it comes alive with hundreds of thousands of beating drums that play throughout the streets.

It kicked off at midnight and we braved our way to the plaza, despite warnings that it was ‘crazy!’ Well, it did not disappoint. We arrived shortly after the opening ceremony, when many people were trying to get out and more people were trying to get in. Held in the Plaza of the Constitution, an old bullring, the space was limited and it was wall-to-wall bodies—rubbing, pushing, singing, leaning, squeezing, in one huge breathing mass. We were afraid at times that we would get hurt, because if you went down, there’s no telling if anyone would step aside so you could actually get up! Pretty horrifying, actually, but now we’ve done it, and don’t need to do it again!!!

Opening ceremony of the Tamborrada in the former bullring at midnight (photo borrowed from internet).

For the next twenty-four hours, the city bubbled with town pride, city flags were hung everywhere and most barkeepers were dressed in the city colors of blue and white. At noon, we attended the children’s parade. The streets were lined with parents, grandparents, residents, and visitors to watch the uniformed groups proudly play their drums. With every school represented and thousands of children, the event was an absolute delight.

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Throughout the rest of the day you could find adult drum brigades every couple of blocks. They would give a performance, go to the bar and slam down some cocktails, then reassemble for another show on a different corner! So lively and fun, despite there being only about 3 or 4 different songs being played. By the end of it all, you’re humming the damned songs in your head, with the drum beats still banging in your soul! Theo felt like he was in the middle of Karneval!

The uniforms worn by participants resembled either a military uniform, banging on traditional drums, or that of a cook, using a barrel as a drum. Story goes, that the tradition originated in 1720, when a baker began singing while filling barrels at a fountain. Some girls passed by and joined in on the fun by banging on some barrels and soon a crowd had formed and an impromptu jam session began, which evolved into the Tamborrada festival!

So, just in case you didn’t get the song memorized before, here it is one more time, or for those of you who just can’t get enough!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the rest of the day you could find adult drum brigades every couple of blocks. They would give a performance, go to the bar and slam down some cocktails, then reassemble for another show on a different corner! So lively and fun, despite there being only about 3 or 4 different songs being played. By the end of it all, you’re humming the damned songs in your head, with the drum beats still banging in your soul!

The uniforms worn by participants resembled either a military uniform, banging on traditional drums, or that of a cook, using a barrel as a drum. Story goes, that the tradition originated in 1720, when a baker began singing while filling barrels at a fountain. Some girls passed by and joined in on the fun by banging on some barrels and soon a crowd had formed and an impromptu jam session began, which evolved into the Tamborrada festival!

 

Posted in American Expats in France, Expat Blog, Northern Spain Tour, Traveling in Europe | 3 Comments

From Rice to Riches

Le Coudeau Welcome

Now that the frosty days of winter are here, I’ve done due diligence by adding a little bit of weather stripping here and there, where there were gaps. We’ve really noticed a difference, even with that little effort.

Don’t know if I ever mentioned it, but our contractor talked us into having the custom doors and windows made in Portugal. Admittedly, they are beautiful, solid oak units, with wood grates that appear as separate panes, but open for ease of cleaning to one huge pane of double glass (both inside and out).

Well, I guess the standards in Portugal are a little different than I anticipated. The doors did not come with thresholds. Another learning curve of doing construction in a foreign country—not only are customs different, the language barrier is huge, as I’ve mentioned before. Anyhoo, we’ve made a few little additions, but still feel a few gaps under doors. Enter Cindy to save the day…

I decided to use some wonderful Italian designer fabric that I packed in our boxes to make some “snakes” to stop any cold air from entering under the doors. The project has been on my to-do list for months. Needless to say, I didn’t start until yesterday.

Decided it was time to put up the Christmas tree, but wanted to get the snakes in front of the doors first. And so, I set up my work station in the freezing studio. Started the petrol heater to take the chill off, measured and cut my fabric, set up the sewing machine (also stupidly schlepped from the States and plugged into the transformer), and started to create. Had bought some dingle-bop fringe just for fun and decided to use the wrong side of the fabric to lessen it’s formal appeal!!!

For orders, call 1-800-noo-wayy.

Well, the funny part of this whole exercise came when I went to store to get rice to fill the snakes. Found the el-cheapo rice, only available in 1 kg bags and loaded every blasted bag they had into my cart. Standing in line, the people behind us were sniggering. Not only were we speaking some crazy language, I’m bundled up like I just arrived from Siberia, and our cart was full of rice! Jzeez! They probably wanted to give us a handout, if all we could afford was rice! Of course I just straighten my posture and acted like this is the most common thing anyone could do on a Thursday afternoon. Don’t know if it’s relevant that Papa picked up some ice cream too…to go with our rice!!!

My trash can after the first three snakes are finished.

Well, got the first three snakes done to go in front of the triple doors where the tree is to go. What do you think? Theo’s thinking of it as a business idea… !!!

Now the tree can go up. Note my antique iron, one of many in house used as door stops.

Decided on a white and gold tree this year, again with my enormous collection of owls. Also put some cheer on our new driveway gates. Wishing everyone a joyous holiday season!

This year’s tree, all owl-ed out!

 

Posted in American Expats in France, Buying a House in France, Renovating a Home in France, Southwest France American Expat Blog | 6 Comments