Friday, July 27, 2018

More of spring's trip in Spain

While we were in Bilbao we got some rather shocking news.  We have friends where the husband is a couple months older than me and the wife a couple months older than my wife.  My wife worked with him back when we lived in the Netherlands back in 1998.  The guy was visiting relatives in Germany and while mountain biking fell and a rock pierced his right eye.  In the US you would be given a prosthetic eye and sent on your way.  Apparently Germany is quite a ways ahead of the US when it comes to eye surgery because they were willing to try to save the eye.  (This happened in April.  Now, almost August, he is still undergoing surgery and healing.)

From Bilbao it was a short drive to Pamplona.  We were careful to inquire before heading there if there was any danger from bulls!  Of course there was none so off we went.  There was the autoroute sort of way and the curvy way; of course we went for the curves.  And we sure got them and the beautiful views that can go with them.  As usual our hotel was on the outskirts of town so when we decided to walk into town we expected a fair hike.  It turned out quite a bit more than that but it was interesting. 

One thing we didn't even know was that there is a huge fort in the middle of the city that has been turned into a park.  The word 'huge' isn't right; it's way more than that.
The photo is of only a tiny portion of the fort but it does give you an idea of the size of the walls.  We walked along one side of the fort headed for an exit from the city walls.  As we were walking we found a lot of people apparently just clustered around this church.
It was only after we'd passed it that we discovered that it is on the pathway of the running of the bulls.  Oh well, it was pretty touristy.  We found our way out of the town and headed back out to the hotel.  We had to cross this bridge, the Puente de la Magdalena.  It is one of the oldest in the city and is, of course, pedestrian only.
All around Pamplona we saw people with walking sticks and backpacks and such.  It turns out that Pamplona is on a walking tour that Catholics can take to gain favor.  Some of these tours are several hundred miles long. 

After tiring ourselves out in Pamplona we headed for Zaragoza.  We arrived on a Monday following a holy day so many things were still closed.  Our first tourist stop was the cathedral, La Basilica del Pilar.  It is absolutely enormous!  Wow.  There were plenty of tourists but it was nice to see people praying as well.  It is clearly a working church.  It is along one side of a paved square and I simply couldn't get far enough away to get the entire cathedral in one photo.
The Romans spent quite a lot of time here so in the middle of the city you find an ampitheatre.  Doesn't every city have one?
We also visited the local castle; the Aljaferia - the Moorish-Christian castle of the kings of Aragon.  This one is kind of interesting because it has been used by so many rulers.  It started out being built by the Moors and just kept being useful for whoever was ruling the area.  It sustained a lot of damage over the years but has been carefully restored. 
Finally we left Zaragoza and headed for Tarragona.  Tarragona is on the Mediterranean Sea and has a LOT of Roman ruins.  Of course there is an ampitheatre - and just near the beach as well.
From the top of the ampitheatre you can look out over the water and see the remains of a fort on the other side of the beach.  Amazing.
It is kind of crazy for me but right across the street were more Roman ruins:  the Circ roma combined with the Pretori roma.  The thing that continues to surprise me is that on the other side of the street is a little shop; it is the most natural thing in the world for these people to live next to a World Heritage Site.  Finally we walked around the old city walls.  In the distance we could see the aquaduct that had moved water.  It is in the center of the photo going almost straight up.  You can also see where some of the stone for all the Roman buildings was quarried.
My wife used her telephoto lens to get a closer view.

Finally we strolled around the old city which is actually just a neighborhood like any other.  All in all we were blown away by the Roman past on display in Tarragona. 

That's it for this time.  Next we'll visit Barcelona where our visit to Spain ends.  Until then, thanks for stopping by!





Friday, July 20, 2018

Not Dead Yet!

Though I haven't blogged since May I really am alive and well.  Sorry about the erratic nature of my writing.  I don't have any good excuse, it's just a lack of discipline.  At any rate, here goes!  Back to April and Spain.

We picked up a rental car in Madrid and headed for Sergovia.  Why?  The aquaduct of course.
It really was quite amazing.  You walk downtown, turn a corner and there it is.  It's just amazing.  We were staying at a small hotel close to the outskirts of town and were able to follow the aquaduct almost the whole way back to the hotel.  It was chilly but not actually raining. 

The next morning was different.
Yeah, snow.  Happily it was just a bit and quite wet so it went away quickly.  We were headed north towards the Basque regions.  My wife had heard of cave paintings near a small town called Ribadesella which is a bit west of Bilbao.  So off we went.  Ribadesella is a very small place on the Bay of Biscay but quite beautiful.  Our hotel was outside of town on top of a hill.  We had nice views.
The reason for chosing this town was Tito Bustillo - caves containing ancient cave paintings.  The cave was quite easily accessible and had regular tours.  The tour was in Spanish but the guide was nice enough to add in some English for us.  No photos unfortunately but it really was very nice.  The town is proud of it's history and had a series of humorous signs showing it's history.  This is the pre-history one.
Most people go to this area for a different reason:  the beach.
It is supposed to be a nude beach but it was pretty chilly so the only people we saw were well covered!

Now we headed east towards Bilbao.  My wife is making hotel reservations looking for parking so we have another hotel on the outskirts of town in this case on top of a hill.  The hotel started as a cafe where the owners made their own wine.  They still make it and even gave us a bottle!  Pretty good stuff too.  Here is the view from behind the hotel.
 
 Bilbao has a lovely finicular railway going down to the downtown so that was pretty neat. 
It is s short ride but has great views and leaves you near a bridge that takes you into downtown. 

The big deal in Bilbao is the Guggenheim Museum.  We had read that the museum is more spectacular than the contents and I'd have to agree.  But we had to see it.  We also got to wander around the old town quite a bit and that was fun. 
In the photo above I found it interesting that the upper floors have windows that extend beyond the front of the building.  I haven't seen that often but it was all over Bilbao in older buildings like these and in newer ones as well.

I'll have to continue this another time.  But we are getting towards the end of our trip.  Take care and thanks for stopping by.




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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Onward!

So having enjoyed our stay in Funchal the ship untied and headed off to Africa!  Yes, it is a new continent for us so we were excited.  Of course it's a cruise so we get to stay in port of a day.  No time for a safari but instead we got a tour of Tangier, Morocco.  Viking is fairly new to this ocean cruising thing so I'm going to give them a break and just say the tour wasn't the best use of our time.  We got a tour around the Kasbah in these groups of about 30 people.  You would have to say the area is extreme.  A beautiful building will be next to one that looks totally uncaredfor. 


Our guide was interesting enough but it did seem that every block contained a home that had been owned by some Hollywood-type who liked drugs.  That was kind of annoying but then he brought into TWO sales rooms; one selling rugs and the other selling some sort of herbal medicine.  Those were downright insulting.  Even if we had simply walked another couple of blocks it would have been better.

We did get to visit the Kasbah Museum which was, at least, a beautifully restored building.  The tile work and the wood work was amazing. 

Soon, of course, we were off to Spain.  Oddly the voyage went to Cadiz then to Valencia and finally to Barcelona.  The reason I consider it odd is because to visit Cadiz we had to go back west a bit.  However, it gave my wife and I a chance to visit Seville so that was fun.  Unfortunately the tour was a 2 hour bus ride, 3 hours in the city and another 2 hours back to the ship.  At least this guide wasn't trying to sell us anything! 

So we leave Cadiz just after dinner so we get to go through the Straits of Gibralter about midnight.  I must admit I think it should have been in daylight.  We had an entire day at sea between Cadiz and Valencia getting in quite early in the morning.  My wife and I both enjoyed Valencia.  The tour was in the old section of town and centered around two or three churches.  Churches are ok but it was some sort of holiday and most people prefered to leave the churches to the congregations.  It was kind of interesting that buses are not allowed in the older parts of town so the bus dropped us off then came back a couple hours later.  We took a walk that took us out past a university to a city park.  It just seemed a very beautiful city.

That left us one last night onboard the ship.  Most folks were headed off to the airport but my wife and I wanted to see more of Spain so set out early to catch a train.  People who were going to the airport had their luggage all piled in a building on the pier.  We are carryon folks so we just walked out.  I've got to say some people had quite the luggage collection!  We actually did carry an extra bag this time because of all that time on the ship.  In the end it was unnecessary and was mostly unused.  We found a taxi who took us to the train station for a very reasonable 20 euros or so. 

We had reservations on a late morning train so had plenty of time to just relax.  The Spanish train system seems pretty good; this one was a really high-end one and we found ourselves doing almost 300 kph (something around 185 mph) towards Madrid.  We had only one stop so made the journey in 2 hours 45 minutes.  We've been in Madrid so were only using it as a place to get a rental car.  Now we wouldn't have staff around helping with everything but we'd have to figure things out on our own. 

I'll do another installment in a few days.  Take care and thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Time for an Overview

So I figured out that I've been off-line for quite a while with no real explanation and I ought to do something about that.  So, here goes.  

Late last March my wife and I flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico.  We spent a couple days in the city before boarding a cruise on the Viking Sea.  The ship was making it's repositioning cruise.  It cruises the West Indies in the winter and the Baltic in the summer.  This cruise was to Barcelona, Spain via Sint Maarten in the Virgin Islands, Madiera, Tangiers and various ports in Spain.  We decided to also spend three weeks wandering around in Spain after the cruise.

We started, as I said, in San Juan.  We stayed in the old city never venturing into the new parts.  The old parts are in fair condition though there are some blue tarps covering damage from the hurricane but things are gradually being brought back to life.  The forts survived just fine.



The cruise is sort of a bucket-list thing.  For much of my life I wanted to buy a boat capable of ocean travel.  That never happened.  The next best thing is a cruise and it was pretty amazing.  Viking has positioned themselves as the cruise line for older folks and (aside from the crew) there might have been one person under 40 on this ship containing 900 plus vacationers.  The ship itself is only a couple years old and is nicely set up.  We chose a Deluxe Veranda stateroom.  It was 270 sq. ft. including the bath.  For rv'ers that's plenty of space.  All cabins have a balcony and there are two wrap-around decks for walking.  Of course there is also a gym and spa for those wanting them.  There is NOT a casino; NOT a Captain's night; and NOT big name shows.

The weather was close to perfect the entire cruise.  Mostly there wasn't a cloud in the sky.  Walking was definitely a shorts and shirt kind of thing.  There is a pool with a cover.  It was covered in the evenings and one or two days when we got close to Europe.  It was only then we all realized it was only April!
Not the 'bikini contest' sort of pool area!  There was also a small 'infinity' pool with hot tub on the aft deck by the bar. 
Check out the lady walking the deck.  Did I mention the age of the cruisers?  Probably only about 5% of us were using assistance meaning canes, walkers or wheelchairs but that is still 50 people.  Four laps of the ship equals one mile in case you are wondering.

There is a buffet restaurant that we used for breakfast and lunch most days.  Dinner was at a more normal restaurant with waiters and all.  There are two 'specialty' restaurants and while we tried both I couldn't honestly say the food was any better.  A little more pretentious but that's about it.  There are a a couple of things Viking is doing right.  One is that they offer free beer and wine with your meals.  I'm sure it means nothing to many people but my wife and I like a glass of wine with our meals.  Another thing is that there is a free laundromat on each floor of the ship.  I've seen people with three or four huge suitcases but since my wife and I are carry-on folks we really appreciate being able to clean our clothes rather than pay the horrendous fees most ship laundries charge.

After a few idylic days at sea we came to tie up in Funchal on the island of Madiera.  It was rather strange coming upon this piece of land after so many days at sea.  But it was a beautiful green island.
After we landed we took an 'included' tour of the island.  It was rather disappointing since it was mostly a bus ride.  We did get to stop at this huge cliff that overlooks the sea. 
Then we got dropped off to shop in the downtown area.  No thanks.  We simply walked back to the ship. 

I'll get us on towards Barcelona next time.  For now, thanks for stopping by!






Sunday, May 06, 2018

Yeah, I'm back.

I've been gone so long Google texted me checking to see if this logon was actually me!  Aside from the obvious question of who the heck is so bored that they would try to hijack my blog, gosh, maybe I should feel important.  Hmmm?

Anyway, the answer as usual is that we've been traveling.  I don't have any excuse for not blogging in the early portion of March except that I'd just be wasting the reader's time as well as my own.  However in late March we managed one of those bucket list things:  crossing an ocean on a ship. 

We flew out of Las Vegas to Charlotte, NC and then on to San Juan, Puerto Rico to join our ship.  Let me tell you, that was the flight from hell.  Not that they weren't smooth, polite and relatively on time; it's just a really long time to be traveling.  The time difference isn't too awful but it was just nasty.  The good thing is that you end up in Puerto Rico.

We went a couple days early so we could look around the city a bit.  We aren't hearing much about San Juan since Hurricane Maria hit there in late September 2017.  Well, let me tell you things are definitely NOT all fixed up.  Don't get me wrong, they have done a ton and as a visitor everything was great.  We stayed in a cute little hotel, ate well and visited a few of the many tourist destinations.  I've read that in the interior of the island they are still using portable generator sets for the power grid.  What you  have to be there to appreciate how many roofs are still covered in blue plastic tarps. 

San Juan has an old part of town and some of those old buildings weren't up to the stresses imposed by the hurricane.  No surprise there but just flying in over normal surburban housing provided one with a sea of blue tarps.  Whatever Chinese companies make those things must have had to go into overtime plus mode to fill the need. 

I'll write more and even add photos but right now we've only been back 4 days and I'm definitely not all here.  Take care!

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

I'm doing well - 1 post a month!

Hi there.  I hate to admit it but I have exactly no excuse for not blogging this year.  We've mostly been home, haven't been sick or anything, don't have a new job.  Nothing.  I guess the best I can come up with is that I'm just lazy.  And that is certainly not a new condition for me! 

January and February were really pretty nice around here; we even flirted with 70F (21C) on the odd day.  I feel for all those folks in the midwest and east where they are having such a lousy winter.  It was so nice that all the weeds started growing in our yard and I had to go after them with the Roundup.  Our daughter and her new boyfriend (40ish) have been out from Vegas a couple times.  He can't get over how quiet it is out here.  We were doing pretty good taking our daily walk but then we got a cold spell with consistant 15 mph (24 kph) breezes and that keeps us off the walk. 

No one has been doing any building in the valley for several years.  I remember 3 or 4 years back where there were 17 new construction permits issued all year for the entire county.  Now people are building again and entire neighborhoods are under construction.  There have been three new houses built in our vicinity and now someone is building one right in our neighborhood.  We walk past it every day.  Hopefully they will be able to sell it.  One new problem is that the state is requiring that the purchaser of a piece of land buy 'water rights'.  Up until now it was possible to just buy a piece of land and dig a well on it.  Now you have to pay the state quite a lot of money (I've read somewhere about $10,000) to dig that well.  Needless to say there is quite a backlash from the "Don't Tread on Me" crowd and I must say the state has been rather heavy-handed about the whole thing.  The problem is that people build places out here then pretend they are living in Georgia and think they can have trees and grass and flowers just like people who live in rainy climes.  We just don't have unlimited water.

We did take a trip down to visit parts of Southern California.  We visited Joshua Tree National Monument where we got in a little hiking.  We went down to San Diego, of course, to see Number One Son & his girlfriend of 23 years.  And on the way home we stopped in Palm Springs for a couple of days.  That was kind of interesting.  There is so much 'history of the stars' sort of thing.  I guess it would be appealing to some folks but the town is changing a lot so I'm not sure where it is going now. 

A few photos:  we'll start with hiking in Joshua Tree.  Turns out we didn't take a single photo of a Joshua Tree!  But there were plenty of boulders!




Farther on there was a cholla walk.  This was a short trail through an area where there are an abnormal concentration of cholla cactus.  Some were nearly 10 feet tall!
Driving down those backroads in California is a totally different experience from the freeways of LA.  You didn't meet many cars and the speed limit was mostly 55 mph (88kph).  We also saw several signs warning that there were no services for 80-100 miles (125-160 km). 


Next we spent time in the foothills northeast of San Diego where our son lives.  There are several wineries in the area and we visited one that had a huge sculpture garden:  the Salerno Winery.

It was quite nice and totally free.  We were somewhat put off by the fact they seemed to want to serve food rather than wine tasting so toured the garden and left.  I cannot say anything at all about their wine.  (That's a first!)

Coming back through Palm Springs was interesting.  Of course the first thing we wanted to check out was the Tramway up to Mt. San Jacinto State Park.  There are two cars on the opposite ends of a line so when one goes up the other goes down.  They move people through the place pretty efficiently and you get a timed ticket.  Ours were for 13:00.  Here's the view from the waiting area.  I didn't get a photo of it but one of the cars came down with two maintenance workers hitching a ride on top!  Clearly it's the easiest and cheapest way to get folks up there but you've gotta like heights.
The cars are round and they rotate so you get to see lots.  Once you get to the top they mostly want to sell you food or beverages.  My wife and I split a $15 beer - a large beer and good but $15? 

From the top of the tramway you can actually go hike in the state park but most of us just ohh and ahh and head back inside.  Especially when it was 16F (-9C) and spitting snow.  The view of the city is pretty spectacular.  What I found more interesting was the HUGE wind farm.  The photo shows possibly a third of it; it was massive.  While waiting to go down you can see some of the mechanical parts that make the tram go up and down.  Coming down you can see the sights again.  I spent more time looking at the actual tramway.  Here is a car that we are helping pull up by the weight of our car.
There is a recorded story while in the tram that talks about how the thing was built by having everything brought up via helicopter.  You can see one of the landing stages that is probably still in use for maintenance work.  There are a few trails as well. 
 So that was our visit to the Palm Springs Tramway. 

The other big deal that we checked out was the  Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.  The zoo is divided into two parts:  Africa and North America.  The animal exhibits were nice.  They put compatible species together in the same area quite often.
Some of the exhibits were totally child oriented but most were for children of all ages.  (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)  There was a lot of information about various desert plants as well which we, as desert residents, appreciated.  I could see where it might get kind of boring for someone from Ohio.  One thing that they don't talk a lot about is the model train exhibit.  They claim it is the largest G-size exhibit in the world.  It was spectacular.  This photo is about a huge canyon.  It made up 15-20% of the total area of the exhibit. 

That concludes our travel for the year.  So far.  By car.  Travelling by car is kind of different for us and it's got it's own challenges.  Motels can be weird.  Finding meals likewise.  Neither of us is ready to give up on the RV but this is a new interest.  We'll see what happens.

We got home and Pahrump had it's annual Balloon Fest.  It is a three day weekend thing that usually works well.  This year, unfortunately, the balloons were only in the air on the Saturday as Friday and Sunday were both too windy. 




I guess that's all the news that's fit to print from around here.  Thanks for stoping by.



Wednesday, January 24, 2018

OMG - nothing?

Jeez, I'm worried that the President has died.  I mean he hasn't Tweeted anything stupid in at least 24 hours.  He must be gone.



Yeah, I wish.  But I sure don't care for the sound of President Pence either.



However, it is a beautiful sunny morning in southern Nevada.  24F when I got up with no breeze and certainly no clouds.  Aside from the usual creaks and groans from my body I'm feeling good so I really ought to be pretty happy.  My wife and I are in the process of planning our next three trips; a bit of a stretch even for us.  The first is pretty simple though:  visiting our son in San Diego.

This time we'll leave the trailer at home and try the motel route.  We are planning to abandon the Interstate highway system as well.  We'll find backroads down to the Joshua Tree National Park and 29 Palms and spend a day or two there.  Then on down to San Diego for a short visit then back up the back roads home.  I-15 and I-5 are just kind of ordinary even if they are quicker.  What the H, we are old retired farts with plenty of time!

The second trip is a cruise so that just takes money not planning.  The final trip is a return visit to England and Northern Ireland which we just didn't have time for when we visited Ireland.  Those will be documented when we finally get there.  Trust me, it won't be next week.

I am proud of being a veteran of the US Army and have been a member of the American Legion since at least the 1980's.  Last week I attended my first American Legion Post meeting.  Yep, after 30 years, I decided to visit the local post.  I'm a real 'joiner' aren't I?  Well, anyway, it was darned dull.  I'm not sure why but, jeez.  First of all, I'm going to be 70 on my next birthday and I was feeling young in that crowd.  Not to mention fit.   So here are 15 old white guys, sounds like the beginning of a bar joke but that's the situation, most wearing Legion hats and the Chaplin wearing a uniform....  Well, it goes downhill from there.  I won't bore you.  I'll probably try to go again if only to bring some youthful enthusiasm to the place. 

I'll quit rambling on now.  Thanks for stopping by.  Have a good one!