Madrid, Spain

Madrid oct 2010 49

D had business in Madrid on Thursday and Friday and we stayed the weekend.  We were lucky with beautiful days as the week before they had heavy rain all week.  But with beautiful skies comes crowds of people!


Madrid oct 2010 56 

Colorful Streets

Madrid has really colorful streets.  It is the capital of Spain and is the largest city.  The city dates back to the 9th century.  


Madrid oct 2010 70

Madrid oct 2010 82


Madrid oct 2010 7


Madrid oct 2010 57

Madrid oct 2010 14  



Since I was on my own for two days, I decided to do the Hop 0n - Hop Off open top bus tour.  They are always interesting and give a good overview of the city.  Here are a few buildings I thought were pretty.


Madrid oct 2010 4


Madrid oct 2010 50


Madrid oct 2010 16

For you sports fans - here is the Real Madrid football  stadium (we call it soccer).  Sapin won the 2010 World Cup.  Remember, the pulpa Paul predicted it!

Madrid oct 2010 9


The sight I enjoyed the most was my visit to the Monasterios de las Descalzas Reales - the convent of the barefoot nuns founded in 1559 in the former palace of King Charles I of Spain and Queen Isabel of Portugal.  Their daughter, Joan of Austria, founded this convent after the death of her young husband. 

Throughout the remainder of the 16th century and into the 17th century, the convent attracted young widowed or spinster noblewomen.  Each woman brought with her a dowry, which included such treasures as precious metals, paintings, and religious relics.    With all these possession, the convent became one of the richest convents in all of Europe.


Madrid oct 2010 71

By the mid-20th century it was mostly home to very poor women.   It still held its priceless collection of treasures, but the nuns were forbidden to sell anything.  The state eventually intervened and, with a special dispensation from the pope, the convent was opened to the public as a museum in 1960.

This place, with so many beautiful objects and art to look at mesmerized me.  Photos are not allowed inside.  I took D back on Saturday so he could see it.  I had a different guide and she only repeated 25% of what the first one said - so I learned quite a bit between the two tours.

They say 19 or 20 barefoot nuns still live here, growing vegetables in the garden.   Fyi - the name barefoot nuns came from the open sandals they wore.


Madrid oct 201059


One of D's all-time favorites - Jamon Iberica also called pata negral (black footed pig) is a specialty of this area.  It is cured ham.  The pigs are fed a special diet of acorns.  To cure them, they hang the meat to age for a minimum of 12 months but most cure it for 36 months before serving.  I am not a fan.  It smells just like you would expect a non-refrigerated ham that has been out for 36 months would smell.  I can't even tell you how much of this he ate the five days we were in Madrid.


Madrid oct 2010 53
FYI - it is only 10 am when this photo was taken and we had eaten a big breakfast.  D even tried to convince me to let him buy 1/2 pig to bring home.


Madrid oct 2010 32

But I won the argument with the simple fact that I needed the seat on the airplane more than he needed the pig.  Plus with the amount of weight he gained, it was like he brought one home  :  )


Madrid oct 2010 44

D's other favorite - grilled sardines.


Madrid oct 2010 84

At his favorite bocas (tapas bar), Bar Santurce.  Notice how they throw the napkins on the floor and that there are no tables.  This is very typical of the bocas.


Madrid oct 2010 25

  Madrid oct 2010 29


The grill was going non-stop the entire time we were there.


Madrid oct 2010 27


 I prefer the calamari to the sardines.


Madrid oct 2010 78

Our new favorite food discovery was the pimientos de padron with lots of salt.  We decided they might actually be healthy.


Madrid oct 2010 63


We found the best Mexican restaurant we have eaten at in Europe, Taqueria Mi Ciudad - Sabor de Mexico.  Cheap and oh so good.


Madrid oct 2010 8

Now onto my favorites - of course they are the sweets!  A tray of delectable muffins.  Guess which one I picked?


Madrid oct 2010 88

The ooey-gooey apple caramel one!


Madrid oct 2010 11


And a specialty of the region, churros and hot chocolate.


Madrid oct 2010 91


Madrid oct 2010 36


We had ours at Chocolateria San Gines, founded in 1894.  It is said to be the best.


Madrid oct 2010 19



Like Portugal, Spain has a high unemployment rate, 20 %.  So scenes like the one below, a young boy and his father selling fruit on the corner, are not uncommon.


Madrid oct 2010 43


I am always drawn to the artists painting "en plein air".  This gentleman is painting the very famous Prado Museum.


Madrid oct 2010 81


People out and about in the city.  Guess she knew I was taking this photo, as she is looking straight at me.  I took it from the bus.


Madrid oct 2010 65

Madrid oct 2010 5

Madrid oct 2010 69



Madrid oct 2010 64


Street performers

Because it was such a beautiful weekend - the street performers were out in full force. 

Elegant ones - 

Madrid oct 2010 35

....Odd ones.  She did not move, even when we gave her money.  


Madrid oct 2010 17
....Funny ones.  He had us laughing and we did not understand a word he was saying.  His face expressions said it all!


Madrid oct 2010 73
Madrid oct 2010 79
And probably one of our favorites of all time, the toilet man:


Madrid oct 2010 39
He was very entertaining and again, we could not understand what he was saying.  In fact, we could not read what we were supposed to do.  But he was made us laugh so we gave him money.  You can't tell from the photo but I am scratching behind his ear and he was cooing.


Madrid oct 2010 38
As we stood watching a woman stepped up, gave him a euro and pulled the cord.  He made a flushing noise....down went the puppet and......
Madrid oct 2010 86

And up came a new one.  BRILLIANT!


Madrid oct 2010 48

We had to get a video clip of this one.  Yes, we gave him several Euros for all the photos we took



Well hello Kermit!  We are not sure how many puppets he had; we saw at least eight of them.


Madrid oct 2010 68
If you'd like to visit the Madrid flea market and see a few more photos -  click here to hop over to my art blog, ma vie trouvee.

Andalusia Spain - WOW what a trip

Spain blog (54)

This trip started as a business trip for D.  He had a conference in Madrid and then we were going to spend a several days in the south of Spain.  The conference was canceled due to the volcano ash, but since we had such cheap flights we went anyway and WOW was it a fabulous trip!  One article I read described Andalusia as having raw passion.

  Spain blog (231)

It is a unique place with an exotic mix of Spanish, Jewish, Gypsy, and Moor influences.  The landscape is dotted with olive trees, castles, and white-washed villages.


  Spain blog (169)

Our flight landed early evening but we wanted to get a jump start on the five-hour drive south so I selected a little town for the night that was an hour and a half drive from the airport.  What was intended to be just a place to sleep ended up being a hidden gem!

    Spain blog (46)

A spectacular sight right outside of our B&B was the famous windmills immortalized in Miguel Cervantes' Don Quixote
, written in the late sixteenth century.


Spain blog (63)

The story goes that Don Quixote saw the windmills and thought they were giants; the sails were the giant's arms.  His sidekick Sancho tried to tell him they were windmills, but he tried to battle them anyway.

Spain blog (57)



What we found interesting was that we never read about or had ever seen photos of the windmills.

Spain blog (53)


They truly were a unique site and didn't we luck out on this perfect blue-skied day! 


  Spain blog (55)

We arrived on a Monday, the day most restaurants are closed.  We found one that was open but they were only serving one type of tapas (an appetizer or small snack in Spain).  D ordered a beer, a lemonade ale for me, and the tapas dish.  The bill... 2.10 euros.  That is less than $3!! 

  Spain blog (41)

A few interesting tidbits about Spain; despite all the news about the financial crisis in their country, we found it to be thriving with a lot of road and home/building construction.  People are very friendly and welcoming.

Spain blog (78)

They also take VERY long breaks in the day where EVERYTHING shuts down for their siesta from 2:00 to 5:00!

Spain blog (79)

During lunch, up until the break is over at 5:00, tapas are served.  And then they do not eat dinner until 9:00 (at the earliest).  Restaurants do not open until then.  Eating really can be a challenge.  So we ate lots of tapas!

Spain blog (147)

They love their Jamon Iberico (cured ham) considered to be a "culinary treasure".  The most desired is from the black Iberico pig that was raised on acorns.  It is cured between 24 and 36 months.  Iberico ham is one of D's favorites.  Here's the selection in the grocery store.


Spain blog (123)

Most of the bars and restaurants will hang the hams for all to see.  Note the little cones that are on the bottom, this is to catch the fat drippings.

Spain blog (77)


Enough tidbits....let's get on with the trip.  We headed south for the Andalusia region of Spain.  The landscape is said to be just about as close to paradise as possible.  And we certainly agree.  It was absolutely breathtaking and probably one of the prettiest we have ever seen.

   Spain blog (118)


Spain is the world's leading olive and olive oil producer and distributor.  There are over 300 million olive trees in Spain.  All of them perfectly spaced and perfectly manicured.  

Spain blog (67)


About 80% of the olive trees are in Andalusia, the area we were in.  They are very slow growing and produce fruit after fifteen years; up to 140 years.  There are approximately 260 different types of olive trees.   The best oil to buy - extra virgin.

Spain blog (66)

The poppy flowers (red streak in photo above) were in bloom - one of my favorites, but oh so hard to photograph.

IMG_6992 bc 4 (19)


IMG_6992 bc 4  (208)  


We decided to have a picnic lunch during our drive so we stopped at a little store that sold bread and cheese.  The cheese we selected needed cut.  So in our best Spanish, we asked the grandma running the shop if she could cut it for us.  She pulled me behind the counter, handed me the knife and showed me that she was too shaky to cut it.  Classic!

Spain blog (65)

We stayed at La Haza, a 250-year-old traditional cortijo (old farm house) nestled in acres of olive trees.  We stayed here four nights as it was a good location to explore the area.

Spain  blog (131)


We did the "white-washed" village drive and stopped at many of the small towns famous for their narrow cobble stoned streets and slow-pace of life.

Spain blog (133)



Spain blog (128)

Spain blog (151)

The drive was somewhat overwhelming visually as there was so much to take in.  Every twist and turn had unusual sites and views from goat herders with their flocks,

Spain blog (110)

to hairpin turns on a twisted road with breathtaking views,


Spain blog (161) 

to tiny perched towns with churches that sit on top like icing on a cake.

  Spain blog (72)

We had one full day as "nature day" {oh joy}.  We started off by visiting a colony of pink flamingos at Fuente de Piedra Lagoon, one of the largest lagoons in Spain. 

  IMG_6210 gc 4 (6) v2

The reason the flamingos go to this lagoon is that it has a very high salt content.  It is one of the only places in Europe were they breed.  The are here in the spring and summer and fly to Africa for the winter. 

IMG_6210 gc 4 (8)

We have never seen real pink flamingos so it was very exciting.  

   Spain blog (94)

Next we went to the Lobos Wolf Park.  

Spain blog (91)


The wolves are raised by humans, meaning bottle-fed but then are left to live in their natural setting with the pack.  They are in fenced areas but are free to roam very large spaces.

  IMG_6210 gc 4 (44)



The main reason the husband and wife team set up the park was to study the wolves and their social behavior.  It was a very interesting tour, especially watching them being fed.  

   Spain blog (96)

 They also have a few other animals including these two pot belly pigs.....which I could not resit taking a photo of. 



How about a kiss?

Spain blog (105)

Our last site for nature day was the stunning El Torcal Nature Reserve known for it's unusual limestone rock formation.   

IMG_6210 gc 4 (124)

It is said to be 150 million years old  and there we were...walking all over it!  There were unusual colorful flowers sprinkled along the path.

IMG_6992 bc 4  (137)


This vibrant green is dramatic.


IMG_6992 bc 4  (135)

Including wild orchids (they said there are 30 varieties of orchids  in the park, we only saw one).  I have never seen an orchid growing in the wild.

IMG_6210 gc 4 (107)


D's climbing instinct kicked in, and no matter what shoes he's wearing, he will climb.  Look carefully and you will see him hanging on the side of the rock.

  Spain blog (100)


 Me on the other hand am just happy to be hiking in my dress,,,,,,wait does this face show "happy to be hiking?"  I don't think so.  

Spain blog (99)

I have to admit - this place was amazing, just look at how vast it is. Look very close - you can see a wee-me in the photo below.


Spain blog (113)


On our way down the mountain, our drive was delayed....

Spain blog (115)

by sheep!  We have seen this many times before but we still find it very humorous.  I was so excited I jumped out bare-footed to take photos!

Spain blog (104)

How many sheep can you count in this photo?  

Spain blog (116)

I are asking how many sheep photos is she going to post......but this photo is just so cute, I had to post just one more.



  Spain blog (117)

As we drove down the road (and I put my shoes on) we wished that our viewers could hear all their bells jingling as they crossed the road.  Well lucky you!  We came across another flock and this time we recorded them.  Make sure your volume is on.


On to our next adventure, the town of Rhonda.  Described as majestic, the town is split right down the middle by the El Tajo Gorge. 

  Spain blog (138)

Rhonda is also know as the birthplace for modern bull fighting. 


Spain blog (140)

Our third B&B was in one of the little white washed towns, Arcos de la Frontera, built on the edge of a cliff. 

  Spain blog (189)

What a challenge to park in this town.  Well, actually parking was second to driving. 
These were BY FAR the smallest streets we have ever driven on.  We had a small car, but even with this, we had to pull in the side view mirrors to go down the street. 

Spain blog (218)

We wanted to show just HOW small the streets were so we took this shot after we went down the road and parked!

  Spain blog (135)

It is amazing how the towns hang off the side of the cliffs, like they could tumble down at any minute.  Our B&B was on this cliff - just off center to the left, white with two windows.

  Spain blog (192)

It was a converted palace built in 1729.  The roof top was an open terrace and was the entrance to our room.  It was magical at night.

IMG_6355 gc 5 and 6 (176)

The neighboring town of Jerez is know for it's sherry, horses, and flamenco dancers.  While we were there, we visited the sherry bodegas of Lustau, which is D's favorite.  

  Spain blog (196)

We arrived and the sign on the door said no tours without a reservation.  D was so disappointed.  A women came out and asked us if we would like a tour (D was dressed up that day, and I think this helped).

   Spain blog (194)

They still make sherry like they have for the last hundred years and store it in barrels in their huge cellars that look like a church with arched ceilings.  The high ceilings are used to help control the humidity.  

Spain blog (193)

At the end of the tour we had a tasting of five sherries, one brandy, and a vinegar.  We bought two bottles and a vinegar.  We were limited to how much we could carry in our suitcase  :  ).


Spain blog (195)

As for the Flamenco dancers, we did not get to see any but their colorful presence could be seen throughout the region.


Spain blog (201)

Spain blog (200)



Spain blog (205)


Our funnest meal was at La Taberna de Boabdil, a restaurant our B&B recommended.  As I mentioned before, dinner in Spain does not start until 9 and we entered this one at 8 so we were the only one in the restaurant.  

   Day 8

What a crazy place, set in a cave.  Because we were the only diners - the owner/chef really gave us a lot of attention.  The food was a delight and unusual mix of Jewish, Moroccan, and Mediterranean.  It was served in small portions and drinks with each the chef is pouring tea.



Day 8 (12)

By the end of the night we were still the only couple!  It was as if we hired the chef to cook a private meal for us.  He was very friendly and gave me a big hug when we left.

Day 8 (11)

Cemeteries around the world are always very fascinating.  Each country has such different ways of burying.   This one has, by far, the most beautiful view we have ever seen.  

Spain blog (76)

They also are unique in that they are buried in condo-like structures and at the front they place flowers, photos, mementos, etc.

Spain blog (75)

All of our B&B were charming with lots of personality, but the last was the most impressive - a farm where they raise bulls for the bull fights. 

Spain blog (226)

It has been in the family for over 100 years as a bull farm and training facility (bull ring below).

Spain blog (208)

Two years ago it was transformed into a B&B.  The owner did a brilliant job of making this a luxurious place to stay.  Nothing but the best linens, soaps and fresh roses in the rooms.

Spain blog (210)

The grounds of the farm were also....I am running out of words to describe Spain's about magnificent?

  Spain blog (213)


Extremely colorful?

  Spain blog (206)


Spain blog (215)

We took a tour of the farm and got to feed a few of the bulls.  You can tell by my posture I am ready to make a dash if need be!

Spain blog (225) 

Donald was a little more relaxed.

Spain blog (229)

This guy was not quite as friendly!


A peaceful shot taken in the early evening

  Spain blog (227)

Hey, what about me.  I put lipstick on for the photo and everything!

Spain blog (224)

and last but not least, my favorite photo of D, thinking so intently.....blackberry and i pod, one in each hand.

Spain album (56)

Disclosure....we actually forgot the good camera so all photos were taken with our two little point and shoots.  But this did not slow us down....we took 2183 photos!!!!!   This may be a record.

What you would like to see MORE of the 2183 photos?  :  )  Check out the album in the upper right hand corner at the beginning of this page.  Enjoy!



Basque Region of France & Spain Sept/Oct 08

We'll start with this photo, D's favorite - it captures the flavor of our entire trip......great food, great wine....lots of fun! 


We were gone for 11 days.  Except for the last two, we had blue skies with perfect weather in the low to mid 70's.  We did so many things and took so many photos (1465 photos), that it is hard to pick just a few things to share.  It is a long one, so grab a glass of wine.....and enjoy.

We hopped on the train in Brussels for a 5 hour ride to Bordeaux, France.  Here we rented a car and headed south driving along the coast, stopping in France for two nights and then on to Spain.  Our first stop was St-Jean-de-luz, a lovely seaside resort and active fishing port.

Img_8462 Horse_2

The Basque Country spans the border between France and Spain.  They speak French, Spanish, English and a language know as the Basque language.  Most street/store signs are bilingual with French-Basque or Spanish-Basque.  They have their own traditions and food that are quite different from other parts of Spain and France.

In this area, you will find wild horses.  We saw this one in a wooded area.  This photo is a bit dark, but I really loved it.  It has a magical feel with the fern lying on his head.

We never saw any large herds (said to be able to see more in the summer), but did see a few walking along the roadside.



Here we are in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques area of southwest France.  It borders the Cantabrian Sea.


It was a picture/postcard perfect day.


As we mentioned in an earlier blog, we have been to many churches and cathedrals, yet every time we go into one, there is something new and unique.  The churches here have two and three tiers of balconies (called galleries).  In early times, the men sat in the galleries and the women and children in the nave.  A wooden ship hangs from the ceiling to determine the weather.  If you click on this photo and enlarge, it is easier to see.   In France - the churches are open at all times for people to visit.  In Spain, they are only open during mass.


The first night we stayed in Chateau d' Urtubie, a beautiful castle that has been in the same family since 1341, when it was built.  In 1497, the crazy wife, Marie d'Urtubie in order to keep the castle from her ex husband burned it.  In 1505 it was rebuilt (not all of it was destroyed) so many parts date back to 1341.  How amazing it was to stay in a building this old.


Count Paul Philippe de Coral is the current owner.  The downstairs is a museum where anyone can visit the rooms with original furnishings and very old tapestries.  The count gave us a personal tour when we arrived.


The next day we went to the village of Espelette in France, famous for its red peppers.  It was a lovely village with all white houses with red shutters.  Strings of the Espelette peppers were hung everywhere to dry.


The peppers are harvested over the course of 10 weeks starting mid-august.


They are hand-picked and hand-sorted before being strung into the famous "cordes".


Some of the other local products.


Our journey continued along the coast of France into Spain.  The cliffs were magnificent with heart stopping vistas at every turn.  It was early evening when we walked along this cliff.  The sun just started to set, creating spectacular color.


This is along the Bay of Biscay.


A quiet moment of reflection.  It was so peaceful and not another person in sight. 


Parts of the continental shelf extend far into the bay resulting in fairly shallow water in many areas and create the rough seas the region is known for.


This is how D sneaks mountain climbing in...he lures me with pretty photos. 


The next day was spent in Bilbao where the Guggenheim Museum, Frank Gehry's signature piece, is located.  It has been touted as one of the world's most spectacular buildings and it really was.  It is made of glass, titanium, and limestone.


It is very popular with wedding couples.  We were there on a Saturday and saw seven couples.  If you look closely at the spider photos, you can see two couples.



For those of you who have never driven in Europe, most of the roads in the small towns are very narrow and look like one-way, but are intended to be used as two-way streets.  The more narrower the road, the more D will pick it to go down.  Good thing our rental car was small.  Here are a few shots I took while we were actually driving down the narrow streets: Img_2288


We usually pick one restaurant as a "splurge" restaurant.  This trip we selected Etxebarri the chef is known world-wide for his grilling.  In fact, many have called him the world's best griller.  It has been written up in many magazines, we thought this one in men's vogue captured it well (  The chef makes his own charcoal every morning and created his own grills.  The restaurant is on the 2nd floor and has only 9 tables.  The bottom floor is a very casual bar.  You really need to know about this place in advance as you would never just "stumble" upon it.


The food is very simple, no sauces, just the perfection of the grill.  We had oysters in seaweed, a delicate fish as a 2nd course and a buttery tender sliced chuleta (bone-in rib eye).  The cows are said to be 8 years old (typical American cow is 2 years old).  For dessert, D had sheep's milk ice cream in a pasty with pineapple sorbet shavings.  I had a souffle with a molten chocolate center.  Some of the best food we have ever eaten, definately the best on this trip.

It was in a very tiny town with only six cobblestoned buildings.  A picture perfect setting. 


The drive up to it was also very picturesque.


Next stop, Hotel Ansotegi, which was once an iron foundry dating back to the 15th century.  The owners did a remarkable job restoring it and creating a 15 room B&B.  We had dinner here both nights.  Good home-style food. 


It was interesting to see how they stored their hay in this area.  We are use to seeing bails, but here they stack them in a cone shape.


This part of the country was much more mountainous then we expected.  We stopped at a monastery and across the street there was a sheep dog herding sheep - I jumped out with my camera.  But no luck, they were too far away.  We walked up to the monastery and on the way back I crossed the street for another photo.  I met D at the car and he said, "good thing I locked the door".....I asked why?  He said - "you left your door wide open when you jumped out for the photo"!  Good thing there were honest people around...we had all of our luggage, etc in the car!  A photographer has to do what they have to do for a great photo  :  )


Me with our little rental car!


The good news is bathrooms are easy to come by in the villages and usually quite clean.  The bad news is, they never have any toilet paper and often times the men's room are in plain site.  We both have funny stories on this subject.  Being the prepared traveler that I am, I always carry Kleenex.  But we had used them for napkins the day before and I forgot to replenish the supply in my purse.  Having to go really bad.......I was searching for a creative alternative and I found it.  My mom had recently redone her kitchen and I had a fabric swatch of her new fabric.  It was an EMERGENCY!

And now for D....well, it might be more fun to just show it in this photo. 


We saw sunflowers fields that went on for miles and miles.  They were past peak, but still had a certain sense of beauty.


We were told that most of these crops will be harvested for the oil.


And for those who always question if D really works?  Here he is on vacation....and working!


Our next hotel was in the capital of the Basque country -  La Casa de los Arguillos, a former tailor's shop recently renovated into an 8 room boutique hotel.  They kept the integrity of the building showing the exposed stone walls and wood floor. It was in the best location, right on the main square.  Our room was the top, upper left.


There was a large medieval fair going on the day we arrived.  Thousands of people. Usually we would not have been interested in a medieval fair but how could you resist when it was taking place in a city that was founded in 1181 and is 827 years old?  It was so much fun.  Almost as soon as we stepped out into the fair, three stilt walkers were starting a show. 

Img_1801_2   Img_1823_3

Guess who they picked to "play" in their little show?   D!!

They walked up to D and asked him a question in Spanish - he replied (in Spanish), that he did not speak Spanish....everyone bust out laughing and the man whisper to D - really? 

D became the star!  The best we could figure out with our extremely limited knowledge of the language, the man with the blue hat was accusing his girlfriend of cheating.....and the man in green was the judge.  When he pointed to D - he was accusing D of doing the when D said he did not speak made him really look guilty. 


So the play went on and they decided to get married.  At that point, they pulled D back into the play to be her "papa".  The man asked D for the women's hand in marriage.  D agreed to give her up and they proceeded to have the ceremony.  Now keep in mind, NOT A WORD of English was spoken during the entire show. 

The crowd was laughing so was I.  I could barely take the photos. 


Pouring cider at the festival. 


This photo was taken at night from our bedroom window - the medieval festival still going strong.


The next stop took us into the Rioja Region in Spain, famous for their wines.  The green rolling hills were so plush and beautiful. 


Img_8591Rioja wines are usually a blend of various grape varietals and can be either red (tinto), white (blanco) or rose (rosado).  The harvest time for most Rioja vineyards is September - October so the grapes were at peak and full on the vines. 

Stunningly beautiful.  I have always had a passion for taking close up photos of grapes.  D said that 1000 of the 1465 photos were of grapes. 

For more grape photos, check out the album on the right- hand side of the blog, titled "grapes".


The blue on the grapes is fertilizer. 



I think this one is cool because the shape of the leaf in the bottom left (near the tip of the bottom grape) looks like the outline of a wine bottle.


We visited the Dinastia Wine Museum, said to be the largest wine museum in the world.  It was built in 2006 by King Juan Carlos. It was very impressive.  We learned a lot in this museum which walked through the entire wine making process and history.  They also house a collection of 3000 corkscrews. 


D very happy with his wine purchase at the museum.

In their gardens, they have 200 different grapes vines one right next to the other and each one is labeled as to the type of grape.  No one was there, so we tasted about 15 different grapes off the vines.  It was fascinating to taste how different they were.  Not only between the green/yellow ones, but also between the different purple varietals.


These capture the fall colors so beautifully.


This is another structure built by  Frank Gehry.  It is the headquarter of the oldest wine producer in the area, Marques de Riscal.  It also houses a 5 star hotel.  It is a striking contrast next to the ancient cathedral and buildings. 


In Spain, they do not eat dinner until 9:00.  But at around 7:00, the tapas bars start to open up.  In Spain, they have drinks and tapas before dinner, we just ate tapas for dinner.  Img_1907 Img_8380_2


At the tapas bars, they lay all the food out on the bar table.  You then go and pick what you want, order your drink and in most places, you stand and eat.  The tapas can be as simple as a ham sandwich or gourmet, like the ones we had above.  The top one is duck and left are grilled sardines.


Ohhhh and did I mention a popular dish in Spain is horse?  Here is a photo of the horse butcher.  And no, we did not taste any horse.  Or at least, not that we were aware of!


Our forth stay, Villa de Abalos, a rural hotel called a hospederia.  It was a converted 17th century mansion.  It was really a special place.  They served Rioja specialties in their restaurant which we ate in twice.  It is so nice when the B&B's serve meals.  This way you do not have to worry about driving home.  They also made their own wine which we drank and purchased. 


One the way back to France we drove through the Pyrenees but unfortunately it was very foggy and we did not get to see many views.  The landscape did change significantly as we entered France, back to the idyllic country house settings.......


peaceful cows......


and little castles every where.


Img_2310_2Our last two nights ww were back in France at the lovely Le Logis de Saint Vincent, a former mansion.  A couple (Sophie and Marcel) about our age purchased it four years ago.  It had been empty for 40 years.  The glass in all the windows was gone and many of the floors were caving in.  In just two years they restored it and opened the B&B.  Marcel was a trained chef and we enjoyed wonderful dinners both evenings we were there.

There are a "few" more photos in an album on the left hand side of the Blog's main page.

Another successful adventure in Europe!  Where to next?


Two train tickets to Paris......50 euros
Boutique hotel in trendy Paris neighborhood.......200 euros
Waking up knowing you can eat Parisian pastries for breakfast........priceless!

We spent Friday and Saturday in Paris -----  It is the land of the fashionable, beautiful people.  Oh yes, and women with the skinniest legs in the world!  I seriously think my calf is bigger than most of their thighs.  Oh well, pass that pastry anyway!

The weather was unseasonable warm in Paris with sunny skies.  We visited the Orangerie museum ( and ate at several good restaurants. 
Unfortunately we do not have any photos because of the malfunction that occurred in Madrid......someone had too many Sangrias and tried to download the photos from the day (which included the Paris photos),
but she deleted them instead.  Yes, the Paris photos and one
day of Madrid - deleted!    She was oh so happy, yet oh so sad.


We arrived home late Saturday night from Paris and turned around Sunday morning for an early flight out to Madrid, Spain.  Donald was in business, me slumming in the back of the plane.  He was the ONLY one in the first 6 rows.  And they would NOT let me sit with him.  Nor would they let D switch with the man next to me.  But hey, my ticket was only $10!  He was very sweet and shared his breakfast with me ( I did not get any food). 

This is our hotel, Room Mate Laura. 
It was very large (especially for a city) with two bathrooms.  One was up the stairs on the 2nd floor in a glass cube.  The head board was quite unique.  It had a cool lobby as well. 
Cool things about Madrid:

* it is the capital of Spain
* the city never sleeps
* people are very friendly
* great tapas & sangrias
* great art museums
* stores are open on Sunday
* the cherry blossoms were blooming!

We were there for 5 nights and ate at 13 different Tapas bars.  Most restaurants do not open until 9 and people do not eat until 10.  This was too late for us so we ate at the Tapas Bars - hopping from one to another.

The most popular tapas are: grilled or pickled sardines, papas bravas, calamari - grilled, fried or as sandwiches, olives, and the biggest one......Iberico
ham (hanging behind D's head).  We ate at down and dirty dives to upscale Tapas.  We never quite figured out when they were open and closed.  But Sunday was by far the most crowded day.  Unfortunately, Spain is not a smoke free country yet.  We were lucky and were able to find bars that were not too smoky or had their doors open.  About half were standing only - meaning they did not have tables. 

Yes, Tammy, we do spend time doing things other than eating and drinking.  We hit many art museums on this trip.  The Prado Museum,(, the ReinaSofia  ( where there was an excellent Picasso exhibit, and the Thyssen-BorneMisza (  There was a very good exhibit on Modigliana. 

Madrid is not as fashionable or as cosmopolitan as Paris, Rome, or Barcelona, but it did have interesting buildings with very colorful pictures and tiles.

Children peeking through the gate at the royal Palace.

Okay, back to food.  A typical afternoon snack in Spain is very thick hot chocolate and churros.  Need I say more?

And last but not least, we would like to address the question in many of your minds, many of you have even asked.....does donald really work?  He would like everyone to know, that last week, he traveled on a sunday, worked all day monday and tuesday, got off at noon on wednesday, had off on thursday, traveled on Friday...oh yes, and he did take a conference call at 7 pm on Friday night.  Here is a photo of him checking his blackberry in the main square, Plaza Mayor.  So, mystery solved...he works {occassionally}!

We are home this week and off to Amsterdam for 7 days on Sunday!

Almost forgot.....Wednesday, March 5th will be our 6 month anniversary in Brussels.  Hard to believe!  We are going to dinner to celebrate.