November 26, 2010

Twelve Days in England

Compared to earlier entries on this trip to Europe, this will be extremely brief, because we are really taking it easy for the first time.

Pinu, Nilu and Bill
IMG_2426: Pinu, Nilu and Bill
Cambridge Bidge of Sighs
The Bidge of Sighs
Javier and Bill with the Nine Ladies
IMG_2455: Javier and Bill with the Nine Ladies

On Sunday the 14th, we crossed the English channel on a French boat. We had planned to cross with the chunnel train. Unfortunately, we had no idea that you must book weeks in advance to get the low price for crossing. Weeks ago, I had read the price was 39 euro. Great, I planned on using the train, instead of the ferry, which cost 43 euro reported on the internet. WRONG on both accounts! If you pull up to the chunnel entrance and ask for a ticket with out booking ahead, then you are going to pay more than 220 euro; in other words, 180 euro more ($240). And the 43 euro ferry was really 106 euro, which we reluctantly paid.

I was surprise how quickly that I adjusted to driving on the left side of the road, especially with the steering wheel on the left side too. The most difficult road maneuver is passing through a roundabout, which is used extensively throughout Europe and even more so in England.

Press HERE to see a slideshow
from England.

In Front of the Lichfield Cathedral
IMG_2463: Bill in Front of the Cathedral
The Lincoln Castle
IMG_2473: Lincoln Castle

Our first stop was to visit the parents of Sanj in a suburb of London, called Canvey Island. Their names are Pinu and Nilu. Pinu is a semi-retired doctor. They were simply wonderful. Pinu was kind enough to cook a really great Indian dinner.

On Monday we pushed on to the north. We stopped in Cambridge for a brief hike around the town. We looked in on several of its famous colleges. After a couple of hours we continued north, heading for Nottingham. We were going to the home of two of our best friends, Javier and Guillermina. What? you may ask because you remember that they lived in Buenos Aires. Not so anymore, Guille got a post-doc position doing plant research at the University of Nottingham.

We have not been doing a lot. We have visited Nottingham and several of the nearby towns, including Birmingham, Lichfield and Lincoln. Javier took one day off work and we visited two ancient stone rings that had been created some four to six thousand years ago by the inhabitants of the region. It was a foggy day on the moors, which added a lot to the atmosphere.

We are sailing for Denmark later today. It is an 18 hour journey from Harwich to Esbjerg and we have a berth. I will let you more on my next posting.

Gille, Joaquina, Javier, Fermin and Betty
IMG_2488: Betty with the Burgos Family

Posted by bill at 08:09 AM | Comments (2)

November 17, 2010

More than Provence

Press HERE to see a slideshow
of Southern France.

The Carcassone Chateau
IMG_2265: Carcassone Chateau
The Village of Minerve
IMG_2282: Minerve
Midi Canal at Beziers
IMG_2286: Midi Canal
Arles Town Square
IMG_2302: Town Square
Betty by Door to Aix City Hall
IMG_2329: Betty and Door to City Hall
Bill at an Aix Fountain
IMG_2338: Bill at an Aix Fountain
Red Clay Cliffs
IMG_2357: Red Clay Cliffs at Roussillon
View of Gordes
IMG_2373: View of Gordes
The Palace of the Popes
IMG_2385: Palace of the Popes

After leaving the Dali Museum, we drove about 20 miles north and entered France about sundown. We were not going far, but traveling at night in Europe on its narrow roads can be difficult. Our GPS helps out when bounding through the countryside. Our only hangup was a road closed for construction and the GPS got us out of the problem. We arrived at a B-and-B outside of Carcassonne in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France. It was a nice accommodation that included breakfast for a change. The owner was a charming English woman who was kind and helpful.

On Sunday the 7th of November we spent the day visiting some small French villages. We started in Carcassonne with its fantastic walled chateau and ramparts. After an hour or so of exploring the town, we set out to see a few more villages. In one we found a working, artisan paper mill. It was set back in a woods where we walked to it. After this we drove through several more small villages. We passed a very old windmill. Unlike Spain there are not so many modern windmills in the countryside. Our last village stop was in Minerve, which is listed as one of the most villages in France. It was very beautiful. I only wish that the weather had been nicer as we were downright cold. These villages can be so small that you can walk through the entire village in half an hour. While on our walk, we stopped to taste and buy some local wine. Our final stop before going to Beziers was at a large outlet store for an olive cooperative. We got several things including two jars of olives. We have been eating so many olives of every type that we have really come to love them - especially the very fresh green ones. With some difficulty we found our hosts in Beziers. The problem was the GPS could not recognize their street and that they are on a small farm just outside the city.

Catherine and Etienne
IMG_2301: Catherine and Etienne

Catherine and Etienne were wonderful hosts. They raise and race horses. Catherine is a trainer and former jockey. Their home is more than 250 years old. We loved our stay with them. We also got meet their lovely daughter Marine. On Monday we visited the town of Beziers where we found the 300 plus year old Midi Canal. The Canal connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The most amazing about the canal in Beziers was the bridge that raises the canal some twenty feet over the Orb river; just amazing! We wondered about the city after climbing the hill from the canal port. The nicest building was the cathedral, which we could not get into; we had missed the entry time by five minutes. After seeing Beziers, we drove out into the country, first to see an old Gallic ruin. Unfortunately, it too was closed. The view from near the ruin was spectacular. I especially liked the field that looked like a giant UFO landing pad - see my photo on my Flickr page.

Tuesday we left for Provence, some two hours away. We stopped in Arles. This was a great little city with a Roman amphitheater and colosseum. The theater is still used as is the colosseum, which is now used for French and Spanish style bullfighting. The other noteworthy thing about the city is the residence of Van Gogh. This is where he checked himself into the hospital for his mental problems. A cafe in the town was the subject of one of his most famous paintings, which is called Cafe Terrace at Night. After Arles we drove to St. Remy and we walked about the town for an hour or so. We found the home Nostradamus there. He is well known for his predictions today, but he was best known as an apothecary in his day and his research into cures for the plague. From here we made our way to Aix to find the home of our hosts, Sylvie and Christian.

Thomas, Sylvie and Christian
IMG_2340: Thomas, Sylvie and Christian

Sylvie and Christian were a wonderful couple. They have a lovely home a few miles from the center of Aix. Sylvie is a school teacher. We learned a lot from her about the French school system. Based on her description it is clearly a superior system to the USA. Christian works in a company that does software simulations for sound. We also got to meet two of their three children. Thomas is a university student, still living with his parents and Adrian has just finished with an EE degree and he is still looking for work. The one thing that they all love is hiking, especially in the mountains. Adrian is looking for work in Grenoble, which is in the Alps. We did not meet their daughter. Sylvie and Christian are planning a North American tour in a couple of years and we really hope that they will visit us then.

On Wednesday the 10th, we spent the day in Aix-en-Provence exploring the old city. There was so much to see from the central fountain to the city hall to its old churches. You will just have to look at my pictures to get a flavor of the place. Again the weather was not great, but it was not so bad that we could not make our way around.

On Thursday, we visited six or so villages near Aix. First we visited Lourmarin. Then we drove into a fantastic little valley with high cliffs all about. Our destination was Fort de Buoux, an ancient defensive ruin. It was a hike and a bit of a climb, but the country is so beautiful. Then we visited Bonnieux where it was a bit windy and cold. We climbed to the highest point in the village and could see for miles and miles. It was lovely place. Then we went to Roussillon, which is famous for its red clay hills. All the building in the town had that red glow from the local clay. It is also a prominent source for red pigment for paint. It was really pretty little village. Finally, we came to Gordes. Despite its great beauty, we were very tired. We walked around a bit, then stopped for a hot chocolate at about $5 per cup. Finally we headed back toward Aix. We were going to the home of a new host, Phillip, who lives about twelve miles north of Aix. Like so many of our couchsurfing hosts, we was kind and gracious. We enjoyed his company and we talked late into the evening.

Phillip - A CS Host
IMG_2419: Phillip

On Friday we went to Avignon. Avignon had a great history in the 13 hundreds when the popes left Rome and moved to Avignon. At that time Avignon was on the northern border of the Holy Roman Empire. Our main goal was to visit the Palace of the Popes and the old bridge that connected Avignon to France. Only half the bridge remains as much of it has been destroy by the flooding Rhone River over the centuries. The seat of papacy was in Avignon from 1309 to 1403. The Palace of the Popes is an astounding building. It is 700 years old. While the structure and its internal details are wonderful, it is just a shell with NO serious collection of items from those years. I suspect that nothing was left behind when the papacy moved back to Rome. After an day of wandering about the town, we returned to Philís house. Later in the evening, we all went into Aix to enjoy a local dish called Daube, a kind of beef stew, that was served on pasta.

On Saturday we got up very early. We planned to drive all day from the south of France to the north. It was hard going. We tried to avoid the toll roads, they are so incredibly expensive at about $1.40 to drive six miles. There are almost no alternative four-lane roads. Finally after we reached Grenoble, we took the toll roads. Our final stop was at a Formule1 hotel in Arras, about 60 miles from Calais. Just a note on the Formule1 hotels: They are the only chain of inexpensive hotels in Europe. They are clean but stark and with shared baths. They cost $48 per night plus or minus $10. The charge is per room and up to three people can stay in one room.

To say the least, I really like France. Both our visit to Aquitane and Provence we wonderful. The French are delightful. Their villages are beautiful.

Sunday we crossed the English Channel to England. I had research costs weeks ago. My experience with ferries in Scandinavia has been that you pull up and pay the crossing and that the price is the price. Not so with ferries to and from England. The 39 euro Chunnel crossing must be purchased weeks or perhaps, months, in advance. Try to book on the day you cross and you pay more than 200 euro. It was a shock to find this out. The same held true for the 43 euro on the ferry boat. Purchase a ticket on the day you cross and you pay 106 euro. Finally we are in England, where we will spend ten days visiting are good friends Javier and Guille.

Posted by bill at 10:21 PM | Comments (1)

November 08, 2010

Barcelona

Press HERE to see a slideshow
of Western Spain.

Whole Cured Hams
IMG_2121: Fresh Cured Hams
Morella, Spain
IMG_2147
The Gaudi Church
IMG_2206: The Gaudi Church
Betty in the Gaudi Park
IMG_2233: Betty in the Park
Pat, Claudia and Betty
IMG_2247: Pat, Claudia and Betty
Dali's Face Furniture
IMG_2256: Face Furniture

We stopped in Valencia for two nights. It was a nice town, but we did not see anything special about it. We stayed at a nice pension on Cadiz street.

Then on Wednesday, we drove to Barcelona. As we avoid the motorways, the going was slow and beautiful. We arrived mid-afternoon at the home of our hosts, Pat and Jean Pierre. They have a nice old dog called Lola and they have a lovely eight-year old daughter, called Claudia. We spent several hours getting to know Pat. Claudia left to spent the night with her aunt Silva. Eventually, Jean Pierre got home from work. We shared a light supper before going to bed. All in all, it was a really great day.

Our Hosts: Jean Pierre and Pat
IMG_2243: Jean Pierre and Pat

On Thursday we took the subway downtown. We spent the day looking at the fantastic architecture that seems to be everywhere in the city. I took lots of photos, so be sure to check out the link Flickr set. Of course the most outstanding buildings were by Antoni Gaudi. His superb workmanship is beyond the norm, even today and when he first designed them they must have caused an uproar. If you want to see photos of his work much better than mine, press HERE to download a good powerpoint slideshow. We also walked through the Gothic barrio and down a fantastic promenade to the harbor. We we so exhausted when we returned to Pat's apartment that I could hardly walk. We spent the evening getting to know Pat and Jean Pierre even better. Claudia was there too. Their little girl speaks such good English. They say it is because she had American and British nannies before she started school and I believe it.

On Friday we went for a long walk. This time we took our time and walked to the two centers of Barcelona. We only had two goals for Friday: Visit the Gaudi church and visit the Gaudi park. The cathedral was in preparation for a visit by the pope. He was to come on Sunday to officially consecrate the church. It is the most amazing church that I have ever seen. It was started in 1882 and they do not expect to complete until 2026 - 100 years after Gaudiís death. All of his works seem a bit surrealistic, but the church is very surreal. After sometime there we made our way to the Gaudi park. It had been originally planned to be a housing development. Only two fantastic homes got built. I really loved the park and the two homes. The park has a wonderful long ceramic bench and very odd landscape structures. Again you will have to view the photos. Finally, as it was turning dark we returned for another delightful evening with Pat and Claudia. Unfortunately, Jean Pierre was working very late.

We left Saturday morning, heading north to the Dali Theater-Museum in Figueres, near the boarder with France. We have seen several Dali expositions, but this museum was by far the best. Salvador Dali was a true genius. Few artists have ever master so many media: paintings, drawings, sculpture, jewelry making and even film animation. His work is whimsical and brilliant. Check out his Walt Disney collaboration Destino on youTube.

There was one huge glitch on Saturday. When we left the museum, we could not get back to our car. The police had cordoned off the parking ramp because of a bomb threat. We waited two-and-one-half hours to retrieve the car. I was only dressed in a T-shirt and it was getting cold. Worse the city and the police really screwed up by not just letting people leave - NO they had to pay for their parking, at least up to when they blocked off the ramp. Total incompetence.
In any case, we were soon on our way to France. The only problem was driving in the dark on roads that we did not know. Thank goodness for that new gizmo - the GPS. It has proved invaluable in our travels.

We will be in the south of France the rest of this week before heading to England.

Taking it Easy at the Gaudi Park
IMG_2222: Taking it Easy

Posted by bill at 12:40 PM | Comments (2)

November 01, 2010

Andalucia

Press HERE to see a slideshow
of Southern Spain.

Cathedral of Sevilla
IMG_1911: The Cathedral
Plaza de Espana
IMG_1940: Plaza de Espana
Betty by an Old Olive Press
IMG_1959: Ancient Olive Press
Paulo and Elena
IMG_1967: Paulo and Elena
Old City in Cadiz
IMG_1981: Cadiz
Plaza in Ronda
IMG_2015: Plaza in Ronda

Andalucia is a large province in the south of Spain. All the cities are beautiful and tinged with a strong Moorish influence seen in its architecture.

Bridge in Ronda
IMG_2021: Bridge Over the Gorge
In the Alhambra Garden
IMG_2041: In the Alhambra Garden
Alhambra Palace
IMG_1959: Ancient Olive Press
Betty at the Alhambra
IMG_2079: Betty
Bill in the Palace
IMG_2113: Bill at the Alhambra

Saturday and Sunday we were in Seville. I found it to be the most charming of the large cities that we have visited. The streets are so narrow, and still little cars passed down them. The cathedral was extremely beautiful, both inside and out. It seemed there was a church every two blocks. Not only did we see structures built hundreds of years ago, we saw a wonderful 20th century structure, the Plaza Espania. It was built 90 years ago for huge exposition. Check out my photos of the plaza. We also found a wonderful plaza called Alameda de Hercules. It is several hundred meters long and about 200 meters wide. We found families and friends enjoying the late afternoon sun, having a drink and a bite to eat.

Monday we went to Jerez de la Frontera, where we spent the day exploring the old city. We saw churches, a castle and monuments. In the evening we when to the home of our couchsurfing hosts, Paulo and Elena. They are wonderful people. We went out for a bite to eat and talked late into the evening.

On Tuesday we visited Cadiz. This is one of the oldest city in europe. It was a nice city to wander through with wide streets and many plazas. We enjoyed it a lot.

Wednesday, we drove along the coast, stopping in in a couple of towns and once to look at the beach. Our first destination was Vejer de la Frontera. This is one of the more beautiful hilltop white villages. They are called white, because all the homes are white washed. From a distance the the white buildings can be quite a sight. We stopped to look at all the old buildings. From Vejer we traveled to Arcos de la Frontera. It is on a higher hilltop and was even more striking than Verjer.

We drove to Ronda and found a hotel. Ronda is known because it is built on a 200-foot high rock. Through the middle of the rock, there is a gorge. The old bridges that cross it are beautiful. The surrounding countryside is easy to see from the top of the rock. There are a number of sites in the town. It seems that there are so many tourists here, that they have taken to asking an entrance fee into everything, even the churches. We kind of expect the locals to exploit their popular location, but charging to go into a fairly ordinary church seems a bit over the top.

Granada turned out to be not a nice as we had hoped. We found an an excellent pension on Friday. Unfortunately they could only provide a room of one night, once again we were caught be a holiday weekend. We left to see about tickets to Alhambra. Alhambra is a fantastic castle founded abound 1100 by the Moors. It was surrendered to the Christians in 1392, who continued to use in for another 200 years. Tickets can be purchased online. But none we available for us on Saturday. We discovered that the only way to get the tickets was to arrive before 8:00 AM on Saturday. With this knowledge we continued to explore the city.

On Saturday, we were up early and made our way to the fortress and its palaces. We waited two hours to buy our tickets. Then we spent hours exploring the gardens and buildings of the fortress. Finally we were able to see the palaces of the Moorish sultans of Granada. They were simply fantastic. We

We left Granada on Saturday and stopped at a guesthouse out in the countryside. On Sunday we drove along the eastern coast to Altea. The most striking thing about the drive was the tremendous amount of construction that had taken place during the past ten years. Like the USA, thousands of new condos sit empty and unsold and thousands more condos were started but never finished.

From here we are moving north to Valencia and Barcelona.

Rainbow at the Altea Beach
IMG_1819: Sunset in Prova

Posted by bill at 12:35 PM | Comments (2)