Saturday, September 30, 2017

5 Continents and Doubling Down on Barcelona

(Brag alert!) As our time in Europe draws to a close I'm reflecting on the year of travel I've had - 5 continents! This is a record even for me. In January I went to South Africa with an overnight stop in Dubai (Asia). In April I was in New Zealand (Oceania?);  Europe and North America round out my year of 5 continents. And I still have 3 months left!

Like most people I don't really enjoy the travel part of travelling but what I do enjoy are the new experiences, always learning (history, culture, geography), increased awareness and appreciation for everything I have, and the memories I get to keep forever.

We returned to Barcelona for a couple of nights before flying out and I double down on what I said about it - you can't make a city this fabulous and not expect to be sharing it with tourists.

I previously posted pics of the amazing Sagrada Familia and this time Sam and I booked tickets ahead to see the interior.

This pic is a small portion of one of the facades and you really have to zoom in to get some idea of the incredible detail which covers the entire structure.

Once we got inside it was an amazing feast for the eyes. The cathedral rose high above us. To give a sense of scale in the pic below there's an 'umbrella' with a life-sized Jesus hanging below it.

The back of some the pipe organ's pipes.

Sam and I took an elevator up one of the towers. The 'fruit' at the top of these towers look minuscule from the ground but are actually soccer ball size. You can also see evidence of the construction that will continue for about 10 more years.

Then we descended 300 spiral stairs.

Good grief - how do the people on this continent eat so many pastries?

Have you ever been in a place where you wish you could capture the smell as well as the sight?

The secret alley with the surprising coffee shop.

Lemon in the street with bicycle (art photo!)

We've had some great adventures here but it's been especially wonderful to be able to share it with these 3 fabulous guys. Scott and Mike are two of the nicest, most caring, funny, and kind people I know. They also have a pretty good dad!!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Peñiscola - More Than Just a Funny Name

Truth be told, we might not be here except for the humorous name. I was looking for a place to stay along the sea - perhaps a small Spanish town - and this one seemed to fit the bill. When we arrived it seemed like we had found our way to a quiet spot without many tourists and very little English spoken. The language part was correct but not the tourist part. Also the quiet part was because it was siesta time - religiously practiced here. By Saturday morning the beaches started to fill up but still not any where near capacity.

Peniscola has two main beaches - the south one which is smaller, quieter and across the road from our apartment - and the north one which is extensive, crowded with many stalls selling clothing and other tourist stuff (or crappy-do-dah as one person put it). This is the view from our window - the south beach is right there behind those trees.

In between the two beaches is a small piece of land jutting into the sea and on top of the hill is the castle built by the Knights Templar around 1300. After the popes lived in Avignon, Benedict X111 declared himself a pope and moved here (around 1400) until someone decided he couldn't be pope after all. This area, with a wall surrounding it, is called the 'old city'.

Bathed in sunlight from the south beach (where we are):

And at night from the north beach:

 I think I even found Ogopogo on the beach here.

Ham is a huge part of the food scene in Spain. There's even a Ham (Jamon) Museum in Barcelona. This larger than life-size ham (fake) is outside one of the restaurants here.

To add to my collection of fruits I've never seen before: a chirimoya (haven't tried it yet).

Today we climbed up to the top of the castle and got some fabulous views of the city. It's a pretty cool castle as far as castles go.

The 'old city' winds its way to the top with mostly restaurants, shops and housing. The balconies are beautifully tiled on the bottom.

Another view from the top where you can see the south beach on the left (that's pretty well the entire beach) and the north beach on the right (which seems to stretch all the way to France).

And looking out the other direction all the way to, I'd guess, Italy?

There was a display of falconry - lots of big, beautiful birds tethered to posts :(

Two fine looking tourists we found along the way.


As well as beautiful vistas and beaches, and interesting history, Peñiscola is a busy fishing village. Around 4 pm, just as siesta is ending, the entire fishing fleet heads back into the port. On shore, a siren sounds to alert the buyers that the fish are ready for collecting.

On the deck the fisherman sort their catch into bins which are distributed amongst the commercial buyers - I'm guessing restaurants and such. We haven't found where we can buy it yet.

So, yes, a funny name, but overall an amazing place to spend the week.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Shame on You, Barcelona

Most people who have visited here give a pretty good rating to this city and I can certainly see why. First of all it's full of architecture that ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous.

The Sagrada Familia is both ridiculous AND sublime. This is the church that has been under construction since architect Antoni Gaudi started it 130 years ago and will be finished in about another 10-15 years.
The spires already reach high into the sky over the city and the final ones will be much higher. If you zoom into the top photo you'll see very tiny people around the bottom - just to give you an idea of the scale.

Gaudi also designed many other buildings around the city - many of which make you wonder whether he was inspired or using architecture-enhancing medicines!

Barcelona is part of the Spanish area called Catalonia and this region is currently doing a Quebec-style referendum to achieve independence. Like Quebec, they have food, language, and culture that differ from the rest of Spain. Residents display their support by hanging Catalan flags, along with the 'si' sign and we encountered some marchers on Saturday. The vote was to take place Oct. 1 but apparently the Spanish government has declared it illegal and the political debate is taking a negative turn. Somehow this sounds a bit familiar to us Canadians!!

About an hour north of the city is the Monastery of Montserrat. Situated high up a hill, we took a train, a cable car, a funicular and a 15 min hike to get to this spectacular view.

I had heard that the oldest boys choir in Europe resides there and they sing in the basilica every day at 1:00. We got seats near the front just after 12 and by 12:30 the spectators were about 5 deep in the standing-room only aisles (no doubt a security person's nightmare). When they started to sing it was sooo beautiful - unfortunately the people holding up their phones and ipads to record in front of us was incredibly distracting. They sang one song, then an anthem (perhaps the Spanish anthem) then THAT WAS IT. I was pretty disappointed to have come all that way for basically just one song. I took this pic AFTER they finished singing.

Food is another pretty big draw in this city. How many patatas bravas can one person eat? (Apparently quite a few.) Lots of inexpensive wine and cheese!! Great tapas, seafood and paella. Ross even tried the octopus (not my cup of tea).

Barcleona has many wide boulevards lined with park like areas down the middle or along the sides. Lots of market areas and plazas and walking streets. Beautiful beaches, shopping galore.

Lots of fountains and surprising public art. The 'Magic Fountain' below is about a block from our apartment and has a show about 5 nights a week.

Before we came here I'd been reading about the backlash against tourists in this city. It's basically been overrun by the likes of us - costs for accommodation and food have made it difficult for residents to stay here and have affected their quality of life. Tourist buses crowd the streets and make travel difficult. The city has put a moratorium on new hotels.

I'm sorry Barcelona that you feel that way about us - but shame on you for building a city with such beauty and vibrancy and then not expecting us to come and enjoy it with you.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

So I Brought My Own Peanut Butter, and other food stories

If you want foie gras (liver pate) in this part of France be prepared to take quite a while to make your selection. There are cans or jars, there is duck (mostly) or goose, there are different percentages of FG (i.e. 50% foie gras), there's whole or block, semi-cooked, preserved etc, etc. There are huge sections in every supermarket dedicated to it and every village market has FG vendors.

The other day we drove about 50 km to Sarlat-la-Canéda (no relation to Canada) which has to be the foie gras capital of the world. We must have seen more than a dozen stores that sold ONLY FG.

But like most places in the world except North America, don't expect to find peanut butter which is why I've started travelling with my own little jar which is almost gone since some of my travelling companions (Scott?) may have been enjoying it as well. Fortunately for me he has also been researching where to find it in Barcelona which is our next stop. Not sure why Europeans haven't embraced this wonderful food that I can't get through a day without having!!

Sarlat is a very beautiful medieval town with lots of towers, 14th c. architecture, quaint shops and quite a few tourists, which so far this trip we actually haven't seen much of.

Ross and Mike managed to find this interesting little nook to hang out in.

One of the main squares:

An old interesting looking building:

More old buildings:

A cheese shop with various flavoured cheeses one could sample - saffron, basil, tomato, etc.

It's hard to say if we've had more cheese or more wine here but there's been no shortage of either.

Like Foie Gras, baguettes are ubiquitous and come in many permutations. You also have to decide if you like them cooked a little (blanche) or a lot (bien cuite). Or you might be like the lady in front of us in the line up who didn't even bother ordering - the baker had her order ready for her before she asked. I'm sure she's there every day.

Finding food at the right time takes plenty of planning. Don't even think about going for lunch past 2 pm - all the restaurants will be closed and won't open again until 7:30. Even the little store in our village is closed from 12:30 - 3:30 every day. Sunday afternoon there's probably nothing open and Monday everything's closed. And maybe Tuesday too. PLAN AHEAD for those days!

We were fortunate to be able to go for dinner at Le Gindrau last night. It's a Michelin restaurant about 15 minutes away from here and not only is the food delicious but it is beautifully presented.

My entree/starter (which arrived after 2 other small courses of deliciousness) - foie gras with hazelnuts and potatoes in amandine vinaigrette.

A few courses later my dessert - some kind of raspberry compote with chocolate pieces and sorbet:

The cheese tray from which you could select as many and as much:

A few little après-dessert desserts (?):

This unusual, yet highly impractical, device was used to serve up thin tomato or basil flavoured crackers. However since it was made of stone it never moved from its position on the table.

We are very fortunate to be able to enjoy this time with our family and our friends Rod and Cathy who so kindly lent us their house last time we were here.

I hope I haven't made you hungry :) and wish us luck finding PB in Barcelona!

Thursday, September 07, 2017


In 2012 Ross and I were fortunate to spend about 6 weeks in this region of France known as "The Lot".  Here we are back again and it is just as lovely. The village we were in previously, Prayssac, was quite small - about 1500 residents, but the village we are in now is much smaller - it's listed as having about 400 people. We've seen 3! There's the guy that runs the bar/restaurant (below) - about 100m from our house - we sampled some of their wares while waiting for the property manager to arrive with the key to our house (that's another story).

Then there's the woman who sells us baguettes and pain au chocolat at the boulangerie/patisserie. About 200 m down the road.

A nice selection of baked goods.

Then around the corner from the bakery, down the little stairs

and across the creek with the river rats in it, is the little grocery store where we buy our cheeses and other things.

The church, of course, in the middle of town. The bells ring on the hour, then mysteriously again 2 minutes later.

In front of the church is where you'll find the monument to the 15 children in WW2 that were executed by the Nazis. (The sad story is told here)

Our accommodation is a place called The Old Distillery because in fact at one time it housed a cassis distillery.  Cassis is a liqueur made from blackcurrants and some large casks still remain in the Chai (an above ground wine storeroom) beside the house. Empty, sadly.

The pool looks lovely, although the weather has become a bit cooler so we haven't had the opportunity to use it.

The house is quite large and roomy.

According to Scott there are a lot of little paths and trails (some are part of the Camino) to venture down. We're here for about another week so we'll undoubtedly check some of those out. Maybe we'll even find a few more people who live here!

Recent Popular Posts