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wmtc: a quieter life, plus photos

Finally, some peace and quiet. This is the first time since the sewage flood on July 8 that our home is quiet. This lovely state of affairs exists because we filed a complaint with the Landlord Tenant Board, requesting our Landlord be ordered to stop renovations on the basement until after we move out. The complaint has not even been processed yet, but the Landlord backed down. Another lesson in Know Your Rights! (I would like to create a new tag/category for wmtc called “know your rights,” but I feel like it would apply to half my posts.)

With (Read more…)

wmtc: in which i try to mail postcards from spain

We used to send a lot of postcards from our travels, but that is a ritual lost to time and email. A few people do still get postcards, though: my mother, Allan’s great aunt in Vermont, and in this case two friends, for specific reasons. I bought the postcards, tucked them away, and kind of half forgot about them and half kept on the lookout for a post office from which to buy stamps.

Every time we saw a mailbox – yellow in Spain, marked correo – I remembered that I didn’t have stamps, but I never saw a post (Read more…)

wmtc: bilbao to madrid, but not toledo

For most of the trip, I was hoping to spend a few hours in Toledo on our last day in Spain. Allan was skeptical at best, feeling it would make the day too rushed and pressured. I was holding out hope until the last moment, but once we found the highway out of Bilbao and saw the time, I realized he was right. What’s more, the medieval synagogue in Toledo, the main site I wanted to see there, is closed on Mondays. The interior is supposed to be beautifully preserved, but we wouldn’t get to see it anyway. Ah well. (Read more…)

wmtc: cantabria to gernika and bilbao, part 2

In the Guggenheim, we took audioguides as a substitute for a tour of the building, which in this season are only in Spanish. The audioguide is included with admission, and available in a huge range of languages, including Catalan – clearly a political statement from Basque Bilbao.

We joined many other people standing in the atrium, the focal point of the interior, listening to the audioguide and looking around at the dizzying curves and cubes and ramps. The atrium is strange and wonderful. Outside on the patio, you are suddenly on the prow of a ship, a theme that is (Read more…)

wmtc: cantabria to gernika and bilbao, part 1

I almost forgot to mention, we had some interesting news from home. Everything is fine now, but Essie had her hands full for a while!

I warned Essie about the danger of skunks in our backyard after dark: absolutely never, ever let the dogs run out into the backyard after dark!! I’ve lost track of how many times our dogs have been skunked, and I’m determined to make sure it never happens again.

But there’s no accounting for early-morning skunks!

Maybe this skunk was an early riser or maybe he was staggering home from an all-nighter, but either way, a (Read more…)

wmtc: cantabria, day two

We’ve had another outstanding day of seeing cave paintings, an entirely different experience that complemented the other two cave tours.

We left Santillana del Mar early and drove on back-country roads to the town of Puente Viesgo, to see the caves known as El Castillo and Las Monedas. The countryside here is beautiful – lush green hills dotted with red-roofed stone houses, groups of cows and sheep and horses grazing here and there. The rural routes wind through little town centres with the usual shops. I know Spain is suffering under severe unemployment, but we see no evidence of it. (Read more…)

wmtc: cantabria and asturias, day one

Today we fulfilled a travel wish we’ve harboured for many, many years. We saw two sets of paleolithic cave paintings.

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The day started out a bit interesting, with an early-morning phone call that appeared to be from our dogsitter, scaring me (although it turned out to be a mistake), and a non-working shower. While we ate breakfast, the desk clerk wanted to tell us the shower was fixed, so she wrote this on a scrap of paper: “The bath this one are repaired. Forgives the inconvenience.” I have no doubt my Spanish sounds equally amusing.

(Read more…)

wmtc: madrid to segovia to cantabria

Getting out of Madrid was a whole lot easier than getting in. We found our way to the highway easily, and had a short drive to the town of Segovia, to see its famous Roman aqueduct. It’s pretty amazing to see a gigantic, completely intact stone aqueduct right in the middle of a town: see here. It’s about 32 kilometres (20 miles) long, 28.5 metres (93.5 feet) tall at its highest point, and made of more than 20,000 stones, and not a drop of mortar.

Years ago, we saw the Pont du Gard, a famous three-tiered Roman (Read more…)

wmtc: madrid, day two

Today was the second half of our Madrid art tour.

We were out early again, went back to the same local joint for breakfast (the counterman remembered what we wanted, which we enjoy), and were once again at the museum before it opened. This was Reina Sofia, the national art centre and museum specializing in 19th and 20th century art, and home to Picasso’s “Guernica”.

Finally seeing Guernica in person was, for me, a highlight of this trip and one of the most moving art experiences I’ve had. I was quite overcome – in tears – both at the (Read more…)

wmtc: madrid, day one

After our cheap pollo asado dinner, wine, and a shower, we had a new perspective on life. We woke up early the next day, had a little breakfast in a neighbourhood joint, and got to Museo Nacional del Prado – otherwise known as The Prado – before it opened. Our hotel in the Cuatros Caminos barrio is right near a big metro station where four different lines converge, and it was very easy to zip downtown.

The Prado is a big museum, not quite as huge and sprawling as the Metropolitan or the Louvre, but too big to see all (Read more…)

wmtc: random notes from madrid

If I get a decent sleep one night, I’m not allowed to have one the next. Apparently it’s a new law: no sleeping two nights in a row. So since I’m awake at 5:00 a.m. again, here is the latest round of notes I’ve been collecting in my notebook.

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When you drive on the highways in Spain, you see these giant billboards of a black bull. There are no words on them, just a huge shape of a bull. There’s one on the cover of our Lonely Planet guidebook: here. I thought there was (Read more…)

wmtc: zuheros to madrid / madrid, night one

This post has two parts: the clerk and the lost.

The clerk.

I had a good night’s sleep and woke up at the leisurely hour of 8:00. We had breakfast at the hotel and packed up, ready to hit the road to Madrid. And wouldn’t you know it, the desk clerk handed me a bill for one dinner and two nights. I politely explained that I had called to cancel one night, and was told that was fine. Desk clerk said I called too late, I had to be charged for two nights. Naturally, I repeated my position.

We went (Read more…)

wmtc: ronda to cordoba / cordoba / zuheros

We left Ronda very early: we had to ring a bell at the desk and get the hotel manager out of bed to settle our bill. Poor guy shuffled out in his slippers, completely confused. We had to remind him we needed our parking validated, then remind him we needed to pay! Funny.

I had been up late blogging the night before, then woke up crazy early – a theme on this trip. I spent the wee hours of the morning getting directions and booking a hotel in Madrid, before it was even a halfway decent hour to wake up (Read more…)

wmtc: random notes from ronda

We have seen many happy, well-cared-for dogs on this trip, dogs of all shapes and sizes, all obviously loved. We have seen no street dogs. There are some feral cats living in the Alhambra. That is always sad to see. But the street dogs that have broken our hearts in Mexico and Peru and elsewhere do not seem to be in Spain, at least not where we have been.

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On the drive from Barcelona to Granada, I realized that we brought no music with us. We never even thought of it. I blipped through radio stations, (Read more…)

wmtc: grenada to ronda / ronda

We changed our plans, then changed them again. Originally, we had pencilled in a drive to the very southern tip of Spain, where on a clear day you can see Morocco, and where there is a supposedly wonderfully intact set of Roman ruins, Baelo Claudio.

From the start, I was skeptical that we could do this and still do everything else on our wish-list. I think Allan had forgotten how everything takes longer than you think it’s going to, and how sleeping in a different town every night can mean not seeing anything very well. In Granada, it was time (Read more…)

wmtc: granada

The previous night, when we finally found the hotel, I asked about tickets to the Alhambra. We had read in the guidebook that only a certain number of tickets are issued for every entrance time, and going up there without tickets is not advised. As it turns out, every hotel in town has a certain number of tickets they can sell to guests. The hotel’s computer showed how many tickets were available for each hour. We purposely booked late in the day, both to avoid massive crowds and to give ourselves a break. Our friend at the desk also gave (Read more…)

wmtc: barcelona to granada

We are relaxing recuperating in our room in the Hotel Molinas in Granada, in the south of Spain. File this day under all’s well that ends well.

Our last night in Barcelona, we had a tapas dinner at El Bixto, where we had gone two nights earlier. We got caught in the pouring rain on the way home, the first bad weather we’ve seen on the whole trip.

In the morning we took the metro to pick up our rental car, then braved a minor nightmare making it back to the hotel, what with poorly signed roundabouts, one-way streets, (Read more…)

wmtc: barcelona, day five

There’s been no shortage of things to do in Barcelona, we very easily filled 4-1/2 days, and we’ve skipped entire days of tourist destinations – Montjuic and Dali’s Figuerres. This is a wonderful city, full of history, art, architecture, urban villages, great food, shopping – everything that makes a city great. Almost every sign is posted in three languages, and a huge percentage of people speak excellent English.

Today we went to La Boqueria, the main market. It is said that there has been a market on this site since the year 1210. The present one dates back to the (Read more…)

wmtc: barcelona, day four

After breakfast in our room with our own goodies, we went into the old city – Ciutat Vella in Catalan – to the Museu Picasso. There are Picasso museums in many cities and I’d love to see them all. He is among my very favourite artists. The Barcelona Picasso museum was planned by the man himself, a gift to the city of his birth, and focuses on his earliest work – when he was a child, and then an unknown artist developing his own styles – and on a collection of later works he left to his friend and secretary, (Read more…)

wmtc: barcelona, day three

What a day we’ve had. We had two incredible architecture experiences today, one of them among the most astounding buildings we have ever seen. It was also a long day. We are currently recuperating in our hotel room. Allan’s blisters have blisters.

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We took off early today, heading for La Sagrada Familia. We booked our tickets online the night before. If you ever go, this is a must, and a tip we discovered by accident. There’s no service charge or extra fees, and you avoid hours of queueing up in the hot sun. We booked the (Read more…)

wmtc: barcelona, day two

Barcelona is amazing. Some people suggested that five days here were too many, but we can barely fit in all the things we want to do – even though we are omitting one major tourist attraction and the most popular day-trip in Spain. (More on that later.)

I managed to sleep a little more than usual today, a rare gift, and we purposely got a later start than usual. After breakfast, we took the metro to our first views of La Sagrada Familia. This building, Gaudi’s great masterpiece, is truly unique in all the world. It is also famously (Read more…)

wmtc: leaving paris / barcelona, day one

After our little breakfast at our local bistro, I decided I’d take a stab at the Rodin Museum. Allan was happier not to go, so he stayed in the room to pack up. The weather was beautiful and I set out with high hopes… but quickly found myself further away from the museum than when I started. I usually have a good sense of direction, but I found our map didn’t always correspond with reality. And then I looked up, and there was a beautiful, full-on view of the Eiffel Tower, and I thought, Allan should see this on his (Read more…)

wmtc: paris, day two

Our only full day in Paris was mostly wonderful and a bit frustrating.

We started the day with a small breakfast in a cafe, as we like to do in Europe, as opposed to eating at the hotel. Watching local people come and go, I remembered how locals always stand at the bar for their little morning coffee, and how we did that every morning when we were in Italy. Later in the morning, after breakfast, I do the same, as one little breakfast coffee is not enough for my caffeine addiction! After breakfast, we stopped at a local store (Read more…)

wmtc: paris, day two

Our only full day in Paris was mostly wonderful and a bit frustrating.

We started the day with a small breakfast in a cafe, as we like to do in Europe, as opposed to eating at the hotel. Watching local people come and go, I remembered how locals always stand at the bar for their little morning coffee, and how we did that every morning when we were in Italy. Later in the morning, after breakfast, I do the same, as one little breakfast coffee is not enough for my caffeine addiction! After breakfast, we stopped at a local store (Read more…)

wmtc: paris, day one

We were up very early this morning, which was not difficult for me, since I hardly slept all night, most likely from drinking alcohol too late at night, which keeps me up… but what are holidays for. The Eurostar train from London to Paris is twice the price later in the morning, and we’d both rather have more time in Paris than an extra hour of sleep. Although don’t ask Allan to choose when the alarm rings at six.

We’ve taken the Eurostar once before, our last time in London and Paris (1998). It now leaves from St. Pancras Station, (Read more…)