Puerto Vallarta and Yalapa, then and now

After vacationing in Puerto Vallarta last year with my friend Susie, we decided we had to come back again this year.  Susie and I have been the closest of friends since preschool.  Her husband doesn’t like to travel much so we’ve become great travel partners!

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After a harrowing trip from Wenatchee across Stevens Pass, we made it to my apartment in Seattle to spend the night before flying out in the morning.  We thought the worse was behind us but in the wee hours of the next morning, we found out that we were still in for a few challenges.  I had scheduled the taxi the night before and after calling several times and waiting for him to arrive for about an hour, he informed me during my last conversation with him that he was stuck in the snow and wasn’t coming.  Thank goodness for the Uber driver!  I gave him a call and he was there in 8 minutes and we were soon on our way to the airport on the snowy, icy roads of Seattle.  We discovered that the flight was delayed after all so we were there in plenty of time!

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We arrived in sunny Puerto Vallarta and to our condo just in time to have our favorite guacamole and chips and of course an ice cold cerveza as we watched the sun set on beautiful Banderas Bay!

We were blessed this year to see whales and dolphins swimming and playing in the bay below our 11th floor veranda.

A perfect view from our 11th floor veranda to watch the whales, dolphins, stingray in the water below, and the pelicans in the air.

A perfect view from our 11th floor veranda to watch the whales, dolphins and stingray in the water below, and the pelicans in flight right in front of us.

It’s always fun to go to the Saturday Market in Old Town.  Susie met up with her friend Chantel who sells jewelry made from vintage silverware, and I got a new supply of lotion from Banderas Soap Blends.

Music, bakery goods, arts & crafts, and so much more at the market

Music, bakery goods, arts & crafts, and so much more at the market

We also met up with some other friends of Susies who have the pleasure of staying in PV for several months each year.  I totally enjoyed Pam and Zach’s company and the time we spent with them!

Spending some relaxing time on Playa Los Muertos with Pam and Zach.

Spending some relaxing time along the boardwalk on Playa Los Muertos with Pam and Zach.

One day we all took a bus up the Cuale River to El Rio BBQ for an early supper.  What a beautiful spot!  And look at those ribs!!!

20170301_093941And this year we decided to go to Yalapa for a day.  So we hopped on the bus to Boca where we took the water taxi to Yalapa.  It was an exhilarating ride to say the least!

Yalapa today

Yalapa today

I was anxious to go because I had been there about 25 years ago.  And boy did it bring back memories of that trip so long ago.

My daughter Heather who was 10 at the time and I were with my cousin Bruce along with his wife and son Dustin.  And what a wonderful trip that was!  It was the first time I had gone to Mexico, well, except for a trip to Tijuana but that’s another story 🙂 and when I totally fell in love with it.  I still can’t believe how lucky I have been to be able to see so many different parts of the world on my limited income.  This was not the last time I traveled with my cousin Bruce.  He is such an inspiration to me and has the same love of traveling.  Thank you Bruce for including me on these wonderful adventures of yours!  Not everyone would let an out of shape, inexperienced old lady travel with them, but he was such a good sport to let me tag along.

This is what La Cruz looked like when I was there 25 years ago

This is what La Cruz looked like when I was there 25 years ago

We rented a little house in La Cruz for a month.  La Cruz was just a small fishing village on the northern most point of Banderas Bay, but I hear that it’s grown up so much now that I wouldn’t recognize it.  I felt like I had gone back in time to a simpler, more relaxing moment in history.  We frequented little cafés like 3 Amigos and Ballena Blanca where the food was so fresh and delicious I can still taste it.  The kids walked to the neighborhood grocery store to get an ice cream every day, and I remember how good the granola and yogurt was that we had every morning for breakfast.

The Huichol Indians came down from the mountains one day to sell their crafts.  I couldn’t afford to buy much but couldn’t resist getting a small item.  I decided on a beaded prayer bowl made from a coconut shell.  I have it displayed in my little apartment to this day and think about that trip every time I look at it.

A Huichol prayer bowl similar to the one I purchased.

A Huichol prayer bowl similar to the one I purchased.

One morning I woke up early and decided to take a walk before everyone got up.  I found myself at a little café and decided to have breakfast.  I ordered eggs and toast and a cup of coffee.  As I was waiting for my breakfast (a VERY long time compared to US standards) I was smiling and thinking to myself “Are they waiting for the chicken to lay the egg?”.  But I wasn’t impatient.  As I sipped my delicious Mexican coffee I fell in love with the idea of no hurry, no worry!

Bruce had his sailboat moored at Nuevo Vallarta so we decided to take an excursion to Yalapa which is at the southernmost end of Banderas Bay.  As we sailed along, the water got very rough.  In fact so rough I was really seasick.  Bruce saw a small inlet with a palapa on the beach and a house up on the hill behind it so we pulled in for the night.  I will never forget getting off that boat and onto shore with the owner/proprietor greeting us.  He was so kind and let us sleep under the palapa for the night.  In the morning he made delicious huevos rancheros for all of us.  I was joking (kind of) that I was going to marry that man and stay there forever.  But alas, we got back on the boat and continued our sail to Yalapa.

Sailboats moored at Yalapa today

Sailboats moored at Yalapa today

Wow!  What a cool place this was!  Very few people with a few palapas on the beach.  There was no electricity in Yalapa and we met a man who had built a solor powered house on the hill behind the beach.  He said he spent half the year here and the other half running a café in Alaska.  What an amazing life!  In the evening we went to the ‘Yacht Club’ to dance.  I remember it was a slab of cement close to the beach with a great band playing.  My kind of yacht club!

We took a hike up the mountain to the waterfall and a little café.  Along the trail was a creek where women were washing their laundry.  And the waterfall was beautiful and so refreshing after a long, hot hike!

Beautiful waterfall at Yalapa

Beautiful waterfall at Yalapa

On the beach were ladies selling slices of pie.  Heather wanted chocolate coconut so that’s what we got.  The best pie EVER!  And at night we stayed in a thatched covered room along the water.  It had a nice stone walled shower in the bathroom that was so refreshing!  It was lit with kerosene lanterns and I remember thinking that these were pretty comfortable and modern facilities for an area as remote at this.  Well, that is until I was sitting on the steps on the morning we were leaving and watching my room being cleaned and prepared for the next guest.  The maid pulled the sheets back and swept the bed before remaking it.  She then swept the floor and mopped it with kerosene to keep the critters out.  I’m sooo glad I hadn’t seen that before staying there, ha ha!

Pie lady and rooms to rent in Yalapa

Pie lady and rooms to rent in Yalapa

Today Yalapa has been discovered by all.  Tours leave every day from Puerto Vallarta for guests to spend the day snorkeling, hiking to the waterfall, or just lounging on the beach.  And water taxis leave several times a day to bring people down for the day.  It’s still a quaint and fun place to go, even with the new hotels and hundreds of umbrellas and lounges on the beach, but it’s not what it used to be.  There are a couple of things that haven’t changed however.  The pie ladies are still there selling their delicious slices of heaven, and the rooms I stayed in so very long ago are still there.  Hopefully they’re not still sweeping the sheets between guests any more though!

 

 

 

 

March 1, 2017 at 10:45 pm 2 comments

My European Vacation – Ireland and Northern Ireland!

After arriving in Dublin we checked into the Trinity Hotel.  A fabulous, but a bit ‘over the top’ for my taste hotel!

Excessive décor of the Trinity Hotel

Excessive décor of the Trinity Hotel

Then off to explore more of Dublin.  I loved the colorful doorways and homes, and oh my goodness all the pubs!

Dublin is famous for its colorful doors

Dublin is famous for its colorful doors

 

 

Pubs, pubs and more pubs in Dublin

Pubs, pubs and more pubs in Dublin

 

And of course we had to visit the famous Temple Bar, tucked away on a side street in Dublin

And of course we had to visit the famous Temple Bar, tucked away on a side street in Dublin

 

I was hesitant to try it, but I discovered that I REALLY liked Guinness!

I was hesitant to try it, but I discovered that I REALLY liked Guinness!

During our stay in Dublin as we were out sightseeing, we just happened to hit the centennial of the Easter Rising revolution.  We watched its largest ever military parade as it marked the 100th anniversary of the botched but historically significant rebellion against British rule.

The Easter Rising Centennial parade and Peace Garden

The Easter Rising Centennial parade and Peace Garden

The next day we were off on another tour to visit the Hill of Tara, Loughcrew cairns, Bective Abbey, Trim Castle, Monasterboice and the town of Deogheda.

On the ancient Hill of Tara, from whose heights the High Kings once ruled all Ireland, from where the sacred fires in pagan days announced the annual resurrection of the sun, the Easter Tide, where the magic of Patrick prevailed over the magic of the Druids, and where the hosts of the Tuatha De Danann were wont to appear at the great Feast of Samain, to-day the fairy-folk of modern times hold undisputed sovereignty. And from no point better than Tara, which thus was once the magical and political centre of the Sacred Island, could we begin our study of the Irish Fairy-Faith. Though the Hill has lain unploughed and deserted since the curses of Christian priests fell upon it, on the calm air of summer evenings, at the twilight hour, wondrous music still sounds over its slopes, and at night long, weird processions of silent spirits march round its grass-grown raths and forts. 1 It is only men who fear the curse of the Christians; the fairy-folk regard it not.

Evans-Wentz, Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, 1911

This is just one of the many legends we heard from many of our tour guides.  Legends are still very much a part of the Irish.

The oldest building at Tara is a small chambered cairn on the summit of the hill which is known as the Mound of the Hostages. This mound, dating to about 3000 BC (can you imagine!  3000 BC!), lies just within the northern edge of a massive enclosure known as Rath na Rig, The Fort of the Kings. Within this great enclosure are a pair of cojoined ringforts, the Forrad and Teach Cormaic, and within the Forrad is the famous Lia Fail or Stone of Destiny.

Hill of Tara fertility stone and Mound of the Hostages

Hill of Tara fertility stone and Mound of the Hostages

Next we stopped at Bective Abbey.  The Abbey was founded in 1147 and was used as a location for the movie Braveheart.

Bective Abbey

Bective Abbey

 

I loved exploring through Bective Abbey. These ancient buildings just fascinate me!

I loved exploring through Bective Abbey. These ancient buildings just fascinate me!

Trim Castle was our next stop.  It is the largest surviving Norman Castle in Europe.  Built in 1176, the castle took over 30 years to complete.  It was the center of administration for the Kingdon of Meath during the middle ages.

Our first glimpse of Trim Castle

Our first glimpse of Trim Castle

 

Walking across the moat into Trim Castle

Walking across the bridge into Trim Castle

 

The Keep inside the walls of Trim Castle

The Keep inside the walls of Trim Castle

The Keep in the center of the fortress is unique because it was built in the shape of a cross and has 20 corners.  It is quite an impressive building.

Bathroom solutions in the Keep

Bathroom solutions in the Keep

 

The curtain walls of Trim Castle

The curtain walls of Trim Castle

 

River Gate

River Gate

 

Other gates into Trim Castle

Other gates into Trim Castle

On our way again and on to the Loughcrew Cairns, the ancient burial tombs which housed the remains of great chieftains of the time.  Loughcrew is a passage tomb built about 3200 BC (possibly the oldest cemetery in the world!) which has some of the best preserved stone carving in Ireland.  During the equinox, the sun illuminates the passage chamber and ancient art of the cairn.

Loughcrew Cairns

Loughcrew Cairns

 

Stepping back in time in the Loughcrew Cairns

Stepping back in time in the Loughcrew Cairns

Monasterboice was our next stop.  An early Christian settlement founded in the 5th century.  The site contains important celtic high crosses, two churches, and one of the tallest round towers.

Celtic high cross and 92 ft. tall tower at Monasterboice

Celtic high cross and 92 ft. tall tower at Monasterboice

On the bus again and into the town of Drogheda.  While the others on the bus toured around town, I went straight to the Clarke & Sons Pub.  Clarke & Sons is one of the few traditions Irish pubs with old style snugs.  It had beautiful mahogany counters and drawers for various grocery items.  The bartender was so nice and told me all about the history of the place.  I sat in one of the snugs and had a pint.

Clarke & Sons Pub

Clarke & Sons Pub

The “snug”, sometimes called the smoke room, was typically a small, very private room with access to the bar that had a frosted glass external window, set above head height. A higher price was paid for beer in the snug and nobody could look in and see the drinkers. It was not only the wealthy visitors who would use these rooms. The snug was for patrons who preferred not to be seen in the public bar. Ladies would often enjoy a private drink in the snug in a time when it was frowned upon for women to be in a pub. The local police officer might nip in for a quiet pint, the parish priest for his evening whisky, or lovers for a rendezvous.

The next tour we took was to Northern Ireland to see the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, the Giants causeway and Belfast.

Carrick-a-Rede is a rope bridge that links the mainland to a tiny island.  Local fisherman erected the original bridge over the deep chasm to check their salmon nets.  While Han went to cross the bridge, Margriet and I stayed behind.  The wind was howling and I’m not too fond of heights anyway, we chose to take a quick picture and go inside for a cup of hot coffee.

Carrick-a-rede rope bridge in the distance.

Carrick-a-rede rope bridge in the distance.

I did however brave the wind to explore the Giants Causeway, a place that I have wanted to see for many, many years.  I was not disappointed.  It was an absolutely awesome place to just sit and look at the pillars spilling out into the ocean.  Legend has it that these are the remains of the bridge built by Fionn McCool between Ireland and Scotland.  Some say it was caused by a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago.  You be the judge.  I prefer to believe the legend ;-).

The awesome Giants Causeway

The awesome Giants Causeway

 

Taking in the magnificent view of the Giants Causeway

Taking in the magnificent view of the Giants Causeway

On our way back to Dublin, we made a short stop in Belfast.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland

On our last day in Dublin we had to go to the Brazen Head, officially Irelands oldest pub dating back to 1198.  We had a nice meal and a good-bye toast to Ireland.  What a fantastic trip this was!

Toasting good-bye to Ireland from the Brazen Head

Toasting good-bye to Ireland from the Brazen Head

 

September 13, 2016 at 4:57 pm Leave a comment

My European Vacation – Ireland!

On our way to Ireland!!!

On our way to Ireland!!!

After having a wonderful time in Holland visiting family and seeing the sights, my cousin Margriet along with her husband Han and I boarded a plane to explore Ireland.  I have always wanted to go to Ireland, mainly to see the castles, and I was definitely not disappointed!

Castles & towers everywhere, old and new

Castles & Towers everywhere, old and new

Our first night in Ireland we stayed at Clontarf Castle Hotel.  The site of this castle, and its history, began in the 12th century and played a key role in the Battle of Clontarf.  The current castle was constructed in 1837 and refurbished into a hotel in 1997.  What a thrill it was, and a dream come true, to actually be able to spend the night in a real castle!

The beautiful Clontarf Castle Hotel

The beautiful Clontarf Castle Hotel

 

Central rooms in Clontarf Castle Hotel

Central rooms in Clontarf Castle Hotel

 

Interior walls in Clontarf Castle Hotel

Interior walls in Clontarf Castle Hotel

 

Lobby and restaurant in Clontarf Castle Hotel

Lobby and restaurant in Clontarf Castle Hotel

 

St. John the Baptist Cemetery just steps from the Clontarf Castle

St. John the Baptist Cemetery just steps from the Clontarf Castle

As soon as we got checked in and settled, we hopped on a bus and headed back into Dublin.  First stop, Madigans Pub for a pint!

What a fun way to start out our stay in Dublin. A pint at Madigans Pub

What a fun way to start out our stay in Dublin. A pint at Madigans Pub

Dublin is a bustling city with lots to see.  I was so intrigued by its many beautiful bridges that cross the River Liffey that flows through the city.

Just a few of the many beautiful bridges crossing the River Liffey

Just a few of the many beautiful bridges crossing the River Liffey

 

The 394 ft. tall Spire on O'Connell Street, and a street artist in Dublin.

The 394 ft. tall Spire on O’Connell Street, and a street artist in Dublin.

After an afternoon in Dublin, having a fabulous dinner at the Fahrenheit Grill, and spending night at the Clontarf Castle, the next morning we took a taxi to the train station to go on our tour of Bunratty Castle, Galway and the Cliffs of Moher.

During the pleasant train ride meandered along small towns and fields, we passed vast tracts of peatland (another one of my fascinations about Ireland) and the town of Athenry (remember the song The Fields of Athenry?) before arriving at Galway City.

Galway City is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe but still has that small fishing village feel.  We enjoyed listening to street music, walking along the winding streets and the seeing the waterfront.

Enjoying street music in Galway City

Enjoying street music in Galway City

From Galway City we boarded a bus and headed to Bunratty Village.  We checked into our hotel and headed to the castle to dine at The Earl’s Banquet!  What a fun evening!  The Ladies of the Castle, aided by the Earl’s Butler and a kilted piper welcomed us at the door and entertained us while enjoying a goblet of mead during the reception and the four course feast!

Magnificent Bunratty Castle!!!

Magnificent Bunratty Castle!!!

The Earl's Butler and a kilted piper greeting us to the castle. Above is entertainment during the mead reception.

The Earl’s Butler and a kilted piper greeting us to the castle. Above is entertainment during the mead reception.

 

The fun and delicious Medieval Banquet at Bunratty Castle

The fun and delicious Medieval Banquet at Bunratty Castle

 

Looking back at Bunratty Castle after the banquet. And looking at the castle from our hotel

Looking back at Bunratty Castle after the banquet. And looking at the castle from our hotel

The next morning we took a tour of the castle and village.  Bunratty Castle, built in 1425, is the most complete and authentic medieval fortress in Ireland and contains furnishings, tapestries, and works of art from the period.  I was in my element!  My dream come true!  I used to have actual dreams of me sitting in front of a massive fireplace in a castle and spinning wool.  And now I was really there!  I explored every nook and cranny of the castle and could actually feel the life of the bygone residents and really felt like I got a glimpse through a window of the past.

Han and I in front of a couple of fireplaces in Bunratty Castle

Han and I in front of a couple of fireplaces in Bunratty Castle

 

The Great Hall, South Solar, Chapel & North Solar

The Great Hall, South Solar, Chapel & North Solar

The Great Hall was the original banquet hall and audience chamber of the Earls of Thomond.  The Earl gave judgements while sitting in his Chair of the estate.  The walls are hung with French, Belgian and Flemish tapestries.  The oak dower-cupboard is dated 1570.  The South Solar held the guest’s apartments.  It has a rare spinet dated 1661.  The North Solar was the private apartment of the Earl and his family.  The oak paneling dates to c.1500.

Just a few of the steep and narrow stairways in the castle

Just a few of the steep and narrow stairways in the castle

 

A cozy sitting area, the Earl's bedroom and kitchen, and an entrance to the dungeon

A cozy sitting area, the Earl’s bedroom and kitchen, and an entrance to the dungeon

The Main Guard was the main living room of the common soldiers and of the Earl’s retainers.  A small gate leads to a dungeon from this room so the guards could keep an eye on the prisoners.  The medieval banquet was held in this room.

One of the many stained glass windows in the castle, and a huge oak table in the Main Guard

One of the many stained glass windows in the castle, and a huge oak table in the Main Guard

I could have stayed in the castle for hours more, but alas, the bus was waiting and I had to pull myself away.

Saying good-bye to Bunratty Castle

Saying good-bye to Bunratty Castle

 

Replicas of buildings of days gone by outside the castle

Replicas of buildings of days gone by outside the castle

The pictures above are some replicas of rural farmhouses, village shops and streets recreated and furnished as they would have appeared at the time according to their social standing.  Top left is the Blacksmiths Forge, the blue house is a simple two-bedroomed home of a fisherman.  The timber would have been salvaged from the sea and the floor is of rammed clay.  The yellow building is a poor farmer’s mountain farmhouse.  This type of home was found on the borders of Limerick and Kerry.  It has a loft for extra sleeping space.

On the bus again and off to the Cliffs of Moher.  We drove through the market town of Ennistymon with its many pubs and traditional shopfronts.

Traditional storefront of Ennistymon

Traditional storefront of Ennistymon

Then on to the majestic Cliffs of Moher.  These are among the highest sea cliffs in Western Europe and an awesome sight.

Margriet and I at The Cliffs of Moher

Margriet and I at The Cliffs of Moher

On the way back to Galway City to board the train to take us back to Dublin, we passed through beautiful pastures with rock fences and the barren Burren.  The unique lunar landscape of limestone makes up the national park.  It was described in 1649 by one of the Oliver Cromwell’s men as: “No tree to hang a man, no water deep enough to drown him and no soil deep enough to bury him”.  That pretty much sums up the Burren.

Countryside lush and barren

Countryside lush and barren

 

On the train back to Dublin. What did our tour guide serve us on our way back? Irish whiskey of course! You don't see that in the states!

On the train back to Dublin. What did our tour guide serve us on our way back? Irish whiskey of course! You don’t see that in the states!

We arrived back into Dublin and checked into the Trinity Hotel.  A fabulous, but a bit ‘over the top’ hotel!

Next we will continue our travels through Ireland and Northern Ireland!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 29, 2016 at 7:39 pm Leave a comment

My European Vacation – The Netherlands!

004 April 709After a busy and exciting week in Barcelona, Donna and I headed to Amsterdam where my cousin Margriet and her husband Han picked us up and took us to their home in Rhenen, a small town about an hours train ride from Amsterdam.  It had been many, many years since I had visited Holland, so it was wonderful to get a chance to revisit the sights and see my Dutch relatives again!

Our first meal with Margriet & Han in The Netherlands

Our first meal with Margriet & Han in The Netherlands

Visiting with my Dutch relatives

Visiting with my Dutch relatives

The first tour that Donna and I took was to the Zaanse Schans windmills, and the cute little towns of Volendam and Marken.

Zaanse Schans windmills

Zaanse Schans windmills

Around 1920 there were only about 20 windmills left of the 1000 that had made the Zaan district the oldest industrial area of the world.  On March 17th, 1925, windmill society De Zaansche Molen was founded to preserve the mills for future generations.  This society now owns thirteen industrial windmills; it keeps them in excellent condition and operates them regularly.

Working windmills and shops of Xaanse Schans

Working windmills and shops of Xaanse Schans

So wonderful to see part of my heritage here at Zaanse Schans

So wonderful to see part of my heritage here at Zaanse Schans

The quaint little fishing village of Volendam

The quaint little fishing village of Volendam

Next stop was at the quaint little fishing village of Volendam with the harbor full of classic sailing vessels and rows of brick houses featuring great examples of 17th century Dutch architecture.  We toured the Volendam Museum that contained many memories of the rich history, culture and folklore.  It held various works of art by many artists, authentic interiors, varying thematic displays and a photo gallery.  As a child I remember my Grandfather wearing the same hat and eye-glasses.  It really brought back good memories.

A couple of displays in the Volendam Museum

A couple of displays in the Volendam Museum

Crossing the canal and appreciating the Dutch architect.

Crossing the drawbridge on the canal and appreciating the Dutch architect of Volendam.

We walked along the canal, went to a cheese factory (of course!) and ate in a café along the waterfront before taking a 20 minute boat ride to Marken.

Entering the tiny village of Marken

Entering the tiny village of Marken

Marken has a population of less than 2,000, but traditional architecture abounds!  We walked along the tiny paths running through the village to a wooden shoe factory where a local traditional clog maker demonstrated how a simple block of wood could be transformed into a wooden shoe in minutes.

Demonstration at the wooden shoe factory in Marken

Demonstration at the wooden shoe factory in Marken

Maybe they're a LITTLE too big Donna!

Maybe they’re a LITTLE too big Donna!

The next day we went into Amsterdam to take a canal cruise and see some of the sights.

Central Station, Amsterdam

Central Station, Amsterdam

Canals and bicycles of Amsterdam

Canals and bicycles of Amsterdam

I love taking in all the unique architecture

I love taking in all the unique architecture

The Delf Experience where you can buy anything Delf

The Delf Experience where you can buy anything Delf from an inexpensive souvenier to a beautiful piece of art.

The floating Flower Market

The floating Flower Market

We walked through the floating Flower Market, visited the Rijksmuseum, floated along the canals, then took the train into Utrecht, my very favorite town in The Netherlands, to meet Margriet and Han for dinner.

The canal level of Utrecht

The canal level of Utrecht

Utrecht is one of Netherlands’ oldest cities, with a compact medieval center set out around canals unique to the Netherlands: there’s a lower level where warehouses were located in the 13th century, now converted into restaurants and bars, giving the canals a split-level character and meaning that visitors can enjoy a meal or a drink down at water level.

While the canals form Utrecht’s restful core, and where I fell in love with the city, elsewhere the city is busy reinventing itself. Construction was everywhere.  Roads are being turned back into the canals they once were and a new train station was nearing completion.  It is home to Utrecht University, one of the oldest in the Netherlands and one of the largest in Europe with a student population of 40,000.  This city is a must to visit!

The unique little town of Giethoorn

The unique little town of Giethoorn

At Holland’s water village of Giethoorn, the loudest sound you can normally hear is the quacking of a duck or the noise made by other birds.  It is so peaceful, so different and has such simple beauty that it hardly seems real as you gently glide along small canals past old but pretty thatched-roof farmhouses.  Its nickname is “Dutch Venice”.  In the old part of the village there are no roads (though a cycling path has been added) and all transport is done by water over one of the many canals.  You can turn down a “side street” (another small canal) and drift under a wooden bridge where an elderly resident may be strolling over to see a neighbor.  The lakes in Giethoorn were formed by peat farming to heat the homes, and are a mere 3 feet deep.  What a special treat it was to experience such a place.

The gorgeous Keukenhof gardens

The gorgeous Keukenhof gardens

We could not visit Holland in the spring without visiting the Keukenhof gardens, the most beautiful spring garden in the world!  There were more than 7 million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths in bloom, with a total of 800 varieties of tulips.

80 acres of pure beauty at Keukenhof gardens

80 acres of pure beauty at Keukenhof gardens

Beautiful pictures and wonderful memories taken from the Keukenhof gardens

Beautiful pictures and wonderful memories taken from the Keukenhof gardens

After visiting the Keukenhof gardens, I sadly dropped Donna at the airport as it was time for her to return home.  I hopped on the train and headed back to Rhenen to rejoin my cousin and her husband, and to prepare for our next leg of my trip, Ireland and Northern Ireland.

August 26, 2016 at 5:03 am Leave a comment

My European Vacation – Spain!

004 April 273 BarcelonaAfter a wonderful week in the Algarve in Portugal, Donna and I hopped on a plane and headed to Barcelona, Spain to spend our next week.  What an exciting and busy city!  We stayed in an apartment in the center of the city, just a block away from the Plaza de Catalunya.

The square just outside our apartment

The square just outside our apartment

A short walk around the corner was the cathedral where we watched street performers.

The majestic cathedral and talented street performers

The majestic cathedral and talented street performers

The beautiful Plaza de Catalunya

The beautiful Plaza de Catalunya

The Plaza de Catalunya is a large public square, and the city’s busiest square.  It’s located between the old city and the Eixample district where nine streets meet including the Rambla and Passeig de Gracia.  The beautiful square is surrounded by trees and home to several works of public art and monuments…and pigeons!  It’s an absolutely lovely place to just sit and relax, but is also a main stopping place for public transportation and tour buses.

There were so many things to see in this bustling city, and we saw as much as we could in the time that we had.  Here are some of the highlights of the city.

Tapas bars and bicycles

Tapas bars and bicycles

Amazing architecture! German Pavillon on the bottom

Amazing architecture!

Picasso Museum and motorcycles

Picasso Museum and motorcycles

I was surprised while going through the Picasso museum.  I have always known of Pablo Picasso’s abstract forms of art, but had no idea he had so many other forms.  It was enlightening to see the phases he went through as he struggled with his life and art throughout the years.  The museum has more than 4,300 works of art from Picasso’s early years of apprenticeship and youth to his ceramic works later in his life.  I discovered that we shared the same birthday, October 25th!  And that he died in 1973.  I was 22 years old.  How did I not know that?

Overlooking the city and Poble Espanyol de Barceloa

Donna and I overlooking the city, and Poble Espanyol de Barcelona

Built in 1929 for the Worlds Fair, the Poble Espanyol (meaning Spanish town) is one of the biggest attractions of the city.  The outdoor museum features exhibits on contemporary art, with streets, houses, parks, theater, school, restaurants and artisan workshops.  It was a great way to spend a few hours.

Having lunch at a local bar while listening to some good music!

Having lunch at a local bar while listening to some good music!

La Boqueria

La Boqueria

La Boqueria is an enormous indoor market with a stone floor and metal roof and one of the largest and most famous marketplaces in Europe.  In 2005 it won the prize for the best market in the world.  Many of the stall owners are 3rd and 4th generation traders.  Everything under the sun is sold here.  From bull’s tails and black eels, to hand-made pasta and seafood, to meats and cheeses, and on and on.  At the entrance to the market are Jamon shops where I purchased some of the best Jamon iberico I’ve ever had.  It was at a premium price, but what a treat!

Torre Agbar and the Columbus monument

Torre Agbar and the Columbus monument

The Agbar tower is the headquarters of the Barcelona water company, a building of ever-changing colors that has become the third tallest building in Barcelona and the new symbol of the city.  The Columbus Monument was constructed in 1888 as a tribute to the discovery of the New world (America) and to mark the Universal Exhibition of that year.  Columbus stands on a pillar adorned with images of Africa, Asia, America and Europe.

The Flamenco Cordobes

The Flamenco Cordobes

Of course while in Spain, one MUST go to a Flamenco performance!

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

Another must, if you don’t see anything else while in Barcelona, is the absolutely fascinating Sagrada Familia.  In 1882, the foundation stone of the project conceived by Francisco de Paula del Villar, the first architect of the church, was laid.  A year and a half later, Antoni Gaudi took over the works and turned the initial project around to create, all these years later, an outstanding, innovative church, which is still under construction today.

Standing outside of Sagrada Familia

Standing outside of Sagrada Familia

The detailed carvings on the exterior of the church

The detailed carvings on the exterior of the cathedral

At present there are two completed facades adorned with motifs taken from nature and Baroque decoration and 8 completed towers.  After Gaudi’s death in 1926, the building continues following the plans and models he left behind.  The hope is that the construction will be complete in 2026 which marks the centennial of Gaudi’s death.

Interior of Sagrada Familia

Interior of Sagrada Familia

Donna standing inside the Sagrada Familia

Donna standing inside the Sagrada Familia

The interior of Sagrada Familia is as fascinating as the exterior.  Everywhere you look is impressive.  There are pillars that resemble thick trees and the ceiling is a remarkable vaulted structure where the “branches” of the trees meet.  The intimacy combined with the spaciousness is that of the forest.  The light from the ceiling of the central part of the church illuminates the rows of tiles and makes the green and golden triangles shine.  It’s an absolutely beautiful, abstract, unique, fascinating place to visit.

Casa Mila and Arc de Triomf

Casa Mila and Arc de Triomf

Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera, is one of the Barcelona buildings designed by Antoni Gaudi  It was built between 1906 and 1912.  All of Gaudis buildings are unique and most unusual!  Arc de Triomf was built for the Universal Exposition in 1888 as was the Expos main access gate.

Casa Amatller and Casa Lleo-Morera

Casa Amatller and Casa Lleo-Morera

Casa Amatller and Casa Lleo-Morera stand together with Gaudi’s Casa Batllo and is called the “Block of Discord” because of its unique architecture.

Casa Ballo

Casa Batllo

Casa Batllo was originally built by a middle class family and in 1904 Gaudi was commissioned to refurbish the building.  Casa Batllo reflects Gaudi’s playful side and the strange and fantastic style he is known for.  The exterior, covered with a mosaic of colored glass and ceramic fragments,  was made to curve and bend like a wave.

The roof of Casa Batllo

The roof of Casa Batllo

The top of the building looks like the back of an animal, generally referred to as a dragon.  It appears to have scales and a spine adorned with round pieces of masonry which seem to change color as you look at it from different angles.

Interior of Casa Batllo

A doorway and cozy nook in Casa Batllo

The interior of the house

A window and hallway of the house

The interior of Casa Batllo is just as fascinating as the exterior.  There is a staircase banister which looks like the spine of an animal; a room that is decorated to look like it’s under water; relief glazed tiles; a wooden elevator which still functions; a huge central skylight; stained glass; mosaics and unexpected details in every corner.

Saying "Good-bye" from the top floor balcony of Casa Batllo

Saying “Good-bye” from the top floor balcony of Casa Batllo

And from the tiny balcony high atop Casa Batllo, we will say good-bye!  We are now off to The Netherlands!

 

 

 

August 21, 2016 at 5:02 am Leave a comment

My European Vacation – Portugal!

How time flies!  I’m just getting around to posting about my wonderful vacation to Europe that I took in April of this year.  I traveled to five countries in four weeks.  It was fantastic and I saw so many wonderful things!

I started in Portugal with my friend Donna.  We stayed in the Algarve, the southern coastal area of Portugal.  This is the second time that Donna invited me to join her in her condo in Albufeira.

The amazing Oura-View Beach Club where we stayed in the Algarve.

The amazing Oura-View Beach Club where we stayed in the Algarve.

Of course we had to have dinner just up the street at our favorite restaurant Donaldos

Enjoying delicious Fish Cataplana at Donaldos

Enjoying delicious Fish Cataplana at Donaldos

We drove along the coastline and visited some places that we missed the last time we were there.  There are so many beautiful beaches!  These are just a few.

Praia da Oura

Praia da Oura

Praia Da Oura is the beach just steps from the condo.  It was relaxing walking along the water and discovering all of the rock formations.  What a beautiful place!

Golden sands of Praia da Marinha

Golden sands of Praia da Marinha

Overlooking the cliffs of Praia da Marinha

Overlooking the cliffs of Praia da Marinha

Praia da Marinha with its golden beach and magnificent cliffs is one of the most beautiful beaches of Portugal, and is considered one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in Europe, and one of the 100 most beautiful beaches in the world!  I can definitely see why!

Standing on the hill overlooking Praia da Carvoeiro

Standing on the hill overlooking Praia de Carvoeiro

White stucco houses with terra cotta roof tiles. And a lone pine tree on the cliffs of Carvoeiro.

White stucco houses with terra cotta roof tiles. And a lone pine tree on the cliffs of Carvoeiro.

Praia de Carvoeiro, a traditional, small fishing village originally surviving on tuna catches now has, not surprisingly, become a popular resort.  The beach town has a beautifully sheltered sandy bay and spreads out just in front of the square with cliffs protecting it on either side.  I love the stucco buildings with the terra cotta roof tiles we saw all throughout Portugal.

Listening to Fado music at Vivaldos

Listening to Fado music at Vivaldos

Another of our favorite restaurants is Vivaldos, a seaside restaurant just steps from our condo along the boardwalk.  We were thrilled to find that there would be a Fado singer one evening.  Fado music, originating along the waterfront in the early 1800’s, speak of life, struggle and passion. It is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and is infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia. It is beautiful to listen to, and to watch the expressions of the lovely singer.

Castelo De Silves

Castelo De Silves

Excavation sites and garden area of the Castelo de Silves

Excavation sites and garden area of the Castelo de Silves

The Castelo de Silves is a castle in the town of Silves.  Built between the 8th and 13th century, the castle is one of the best preserved of the Moorish fortifications in Portugal, the most important Moorish fortification resulting in its classification as a National Monument in 1910.  It was fascinating to see the archaeological excavations, and to imagine how the people lived all those many years ago.  It is believed that around 201 B.C. the Romans conquered Silves, transforming it into a citadel of their occupation, and commercial center that prospered for the next five centuries.

Several artifacts on display at the museum

Several artifacts on display at the museum

While in Silves we also visited the Municipal Museum of Archaeology of Silves.  The exhibition begins with an array of prehistoric artifacts dating from the Paleolithic period (1,5000,000 to 10,000 BC) to the Modern Period (15th to 17th centuries).

The picture above shows a gravestone in the upper left from the Iron Age (7th to 2nd Centuries BC), a head in the upper right from the Christian Medieval Period (13th – 14th Centuries) and some vases from the Bronze Age (2nd Millennium BC).

Model of the cistern-well found in the 1980's

The cistern-well found in the 1980’s

In the center of the museum, and the reason the museum was initially built, stands a Cistern-Well discovered in the 1980’s.  The shaft with a diameter of about 8 ft. surrounded by a 4 ft. wide spiral stairway gallery covered with a semi-circular domed ceiling.  For lighting and ventilation purposes three semicircle domed windows were open between the gallery and the shaft.  Access to the water was accessed through the circular opening.  The well was constructed of red sandstone.

Now we’re off to Spain!  My next post will tell of our adventures in Barcelona!

August 16, 2016 at 7:15 am Leave a comment

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