Zaragoza. 4/15/19

Today we head out in our very comfortable rental car for a day in Zaragoza. It is about one and a half hours from Lleida. Along the way we cross the Prime Meridian which has an arch indicating its position. The landscape seems to be drier and drier as we head north.

Prime Meridian crossing the highway

Our first visit is to the Moorish castle, Aljaferia. It was built during the second half of the 11th century. After the reconquest by the Christians in 1118 the castle underwent many renovations over the ensuing centuries and received major damage during the Napoleonic invasions. It was restored during the 20th century.

Aljaferia in Zaragoza
Mary in front of Aljaferia
Tiny John in the inner courtyard looking at a carving of St. Martin (not an Islamic decoration)

The castle has typical Islamic decoration with geometric patterns and Islamic script with no human forms which are prohibited in Islam.

Decorated arches
Intricate moulding
Interesting graffiti in the castle. Kind of like a pictograph.

It seems a shame to give up our good parking space but we want to take a look at the Zaragoza cathedral. It is located close to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar. When we come up out of the parking garage we are not sure which is which. I am not interested in the Lady of the Pillar church since it was mostly built in the 17th to the 19th century and is a pilgrimage site. Apparently the Apostle James saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary and she asked him to build a church dedicated to her on the site. I am not interested in seeing this church because it is out of my interest zone of medieval and early Renaissance art. But we go take a look just in case there is anything good inside. (There is not.)

Part of the immense plaza. Basilica on the right
Alabaster 16th century altar

The Le Seo de Zaragoza or Zaragoza Cathedral is at the end of the immense plaza. It is another gargantuan church. It is built on the site of the Roman Forum and was formerly a mosque. It has undergone a great deal of renovation.

Alabaster altar

Since I have not recovered from my fall yet, I am hurting by the time we have done all the walking to and inside the churches. I am feeling grumpy and want to stop for lunch so I can sit down. We walk most of the way back down the plaza pass the the Goya Museum and the scary looking sculpture outside the city hall when we finally find an arcade with a restaurant, El Ciclon.

Scary saint outside city hall

The waitstaff are very nice and explain the menu to us. For 14.90E you get a first course, a main course, a dessert and a glass of wine. Eating seems like such a production here. I am beginning to long for fast food. Although the lunch got off to a good start, my main course, bacalao, comes out stone cold with congealed sauce. I really don’t care because I do not want to eat it anyway.

Restaurant El Ciclon

So now it is around 3PM and we have an hour and a half ride back. I am trying hard not to fall asleep during the ride. When we got back I take a nap and shower before heading off to the dinner extravaganza.

We have a dinner reservation at 8:30 PM and show up promptly. I am not sure that any of the staff is actually expecting anyone before at least 9 PM. I do not understand why Spaniards eat so late! The dinner is lovely but I am fooded out. It all seems to take so long. Seriously if they had just given us a basket of bread with that exquisite olive oil and a glass of wine I would have been happy.

This olive oil is the bomb!

Last day of sightseeing tomorrow. Time for bed!


To Lleida, Spain by way of Vic. 4/14/19

We have several hours to drive to get to our next stop in Lleida, Spain so why not find something interesting along the way? We settled on seeing the town of Vic, Spain which has a medieval art museum.

The drive is pleasant. We stop for fuel and a cup of espresso along the way. We notice that a play yard next to the gas station/eatery has a Roomba type machine running in the area. I see another one in someone’s yard as we enter Vic. From what I can glean from the internet, it is a robotic lawn mower. Wish I had taken a picture. Here’s a picture I did take.

Traveling from France back into Spain we see the snow-capped Pyrenees

When we arrive in Vic there is some sort of festival going on and the streets are blocked off which makes the GPS very unhappy. We duck into an underground parking garage and emerge in the middle of the festival. We know we are getting close to the medieval museum when we pass the Roman temple from the 1st century.

1st century Roman temple

Finally we find the museum and it is chock-a-block full of the stuff we love. Plus they have an app you can download to your phone which tells you about the art using the WiFi in the museum. This is great. Now I have a bunch of pictures of the things we saw which I am putting in a gallery in case no one wants to look at the pictures but us. Click on one for enlarging.

After a very enjoyable visit to the museum we head out in search of lunch. Up the street not too far from the museum is a place called El Bixto Italiana.  We like Spanish Italian food so in we go.

Then we are off for the final leg to Lleida. We are staying at the Finca Prats resort. We chose this because it is kind of equidistant from Zaragoza, Huesca, and Barcelona where we must catch the plane on Wednesday. When we check in we are told that we are being upgraded to a suite. The suite is nice and large and it has its own little outdoor area with a personal hot tub which we will probably not use.

The restaurant at the hotel does not open until 8:30PM which is typical for Spain. We had a big lunch so we ask if we can just get something small. They say sure. It turns out that the restaurant is very gourmet full of wonderful things to eat. The olive oil is superb. It turns out that Lleida is the premium center for arbequina olive oil production. We could make a whole meal of this wonderful olive oil.

The most fabulous olive oil we have ever had
Fabulous amuse bouche-the reconstructed olive is a high point and the frico tastes like a slice of pizza
We each get only a starter. Mine is smoked mushroom risotto.
John has octopus with vegetables which he says tastes great. He adds some extra olive oil.

Beyond Beziers. 4/13/19

I am turning lurid shades of purple today. I am thinking, no short sleeves today!

Where I hit the kneeler with my upper arm. I have a similar bruise on my butt where I hit the pew except it is three times bigger.

Thoroughly covered up we make our way out of Beziers with a stop to see the “Vieux Pont” or old bridge. The bridge was first built in the 12th century and improved in the 1500’s. It is still in use today.

The Old Bridge with a view of Beziers town and cathedral

After this we spend quite a bit of time trying to find Les 9 ecluses du Fonserannes on the Canal du Midi. The ecluses are nine elliptical locks on the Aub River. They were an important section of the Canal du Midi which was crucial in linking the Atlantic Ocean at Bordeaux to the Mediterranean Sea near Beziers. It was engineered by Pierre Paul Richet of Beziers who had no formal training but came up with an idea which he got his bishop to present to the king of France. It was begun in 1667 and completed in 1681. Unfortunately Richet died before its completion. The canal meant that France could ship and receive goods without the time, expense or risk of going around the Iberian peninsula.

Our first try to locate the locks with my phone’s GPS ended up with us on the wrong side of the canal.
It is still a little chilly and breezy this morning.
A holiday boat enters the lock.
After the boat is all the way in the lock behind closes and water rushes into the compartment flooding the small area and bringing the boat up to the next level.
The boat repeats the process until it has climbed up to the level of the canal.

This UNESCO World Heritage site right outside of Beziers is beautifully maintained with a boardwalk through the marshy area and lovely flowers along the walk to the canal.

Lilacs along the way to the canal

On the way to Beziers I see a sign which reads “Oppidum D’enserune.” Oppidum had a distinctive Latin ring to it. (And by Latin, I mean dead language Latin.) So I google up oppidum and find that it refers to an encampment or town of Celtic origin occupied between 6 B.C. and 1 A.D. Wow, and there is one of these just a few mikes from a Beziers? We must go take a look!

It seems that there many of these oppida in Europe. Ultimately they became Romanized as trade increased. They had in their towns a sewer system, wine manufacture, and iron works. I love walking in the footsteps of ancient peoples!

The outlines of old houses and a road. Containers in the houses for foodstuffs.
Looking down towards a field with pie shaped fields. This was originally a marshy lake which the Celtic people used to deposit their waste water.
John is busy reading a sign about the site.
This was an area for craftsman. Cistern is in front for collecting rain water.
Spout brought water from elsewhere to the cistern.

There is also a museum with many artifacts from the oppidum site including amphora, large vases, and personal items.

Large ceramic container with typical logo of the area,.
Shards with runic symbols
Flute like instrument made from a bone.

Next we hop in the car for the hour or so trip to Carcassonne. We are not here to revisit the castle complex. We are here to find an excellent restaurant that we had lunch in during our trip to this area in 2010.

John walks in through a gate and immediately finds the restaurant.

As can be seen on their awning now they are an Italian pizza place. Although they still have cassoulet as a side line, the whole lunch is a disaster and we end up feeling bad that we have come all this way for an expensive crummy lunch.

On the way back with stop at a grocery store and pick up a bottle of wine, a hunk of cheese, and some bread. We know we won’t be hungry enough for a proper dinner. At the store I see a Trader Joe’s product. Joe certainly gets around!

Trader Joe’s nut flour or something like that


Touring Beziers. 4/12/19

Since I am very sore today we are planning on taking it somewhat easy and spend the day looking around Beziers. These are pictures from our day.

Mary at the wide esplanade named after Pierre-Paul Richet of Canal du Midi fame
At one end of the Pierre-Paul Allées is the mid-19th century theater built in the bijou-Italian style
Camel city logo from patron saint and cephalophore, St. Aphrodisius who was the first bishop of Beziers. He was Egyptian and rode into town on a camel. After Aphrodisius was martyred the townspeople took turns taking care of his camel
Nothing we enjoy more than going to European marketplaces. (Well, maybe churches)
You can buy the whole of everything here and parts as well. Whole lamb.
Whole goat
Dark red beef
We had pintade for lunch yesterday. Using a translator on their phones the stall owners showed us that a pintade is a guinea hen and comes from the savannahs of Kenya.
All kinds of cheese
We are thinking of having lunch here until we see the special ris d’agneau. It brings back the horror of eating ris de veau on our honeymoon. John told me mid-bite that it was brains of veal (actually thymus)
Next we head over to the Church of the Magdalene. It is located on the site where the 13th century massacre of Cathar heretics happened. Everyone in the town was killed by order of the Pope and those who sought refuge in the church were burned as they set fire to the church. Famous quote, “Kill them all, God will know his own.”
Next we visit St. Nazaire cathedral which is another combination of styles from various centuries. This has the look of a church/castle fortress and occupies the highest point in town
Exterior view
This church has a similar pew-kneeler set up as the one I tripped over in Perpignan.
View of the valley from the promenade outside the church
We have been tromping around since early this morning. Time for lunch! We stop for lunch at Le chameau ivre, a hip sort of place near our hotel
Beef carpaccio
Ling cod with too many peas
This was called tiramisu but it was just cream and crumbled up cookies
We go out again around 3 to look for a statue and some Roman ruins. The statue is of St. Aphrodisius up in a corner niche. The story goes that he was beheaded and his head was tossed in a well. A spurt of water flung the head out where it was picked up by the headless saint and carried around. Def. according to Wiki – A cephalophore (from the Greek for “head-carrier”) is a saint who is generally depicted carrying their own head. In Christian art, this was usually meant to signify that the subject in question had been martyred by beheading.

Going out again in the afternoon is a mistake as I am really tired and very sore. Oh, and also very grumpy so we head back to the room so I can take a nap and adjust my attitude. For dinner we decide we just want a hamburger which turns out to be harder to find than expected. After attempts at closed restaurants, fully-booked place, awful kebab place, we settle on a sports bar with sub-optimal burgers and greasy, horrible fries. We are done for today.

In edible microwaved patties in a pita pocket. The dish is called “the American.” We take one bite and leave.
Our sports bar dinner. We take out the bacon and try to scrape off the orange goo and add a bunch of ketchup. Horrible fries.


Ill-fated day in Perpignan 4/11/19

We get up early because it is time to disembark. It is a much more leisurely proposition when you have your own plans rather than Viking’s. So we have room service breakfast and depart around 8 AM for the airport to pick up our rental car.

Candid photo of John eating breakfast

Everything goes smoothly at the car rental and we get some sort of Peugeot SUV. It is only about two hours to our planned stop in Perpignan, France.

What starts out as a lovely morning in Spain  turns into a really chilly and windy day in France. The wind is so strong it is hard to open the car doors when we have a pit stop just over the French border. It must be the cold Mistral wind that we have experienced in southern France before. Brrr.

Snow on the Pyrenees.

We reach Perpignan and find a parking space and make our way into the old city to try to find the cathedral. We end up finding the Church of St. James instead but, hey, it is a church so we  go in to take a look.

Romanesque entrance from the 13th century and…
weird bell tower from the 18th.

We look around. The church-minder is nice enough to turn the lights on for us. The church is pretty gloomy and macabre looking even with the lights on. There is an interesting wood-carved and painted altarpiece and a statue of St. James, the traveler, with his scallop shell hat.

St. James

We depart the church and make our way to the cathedral through a very sketchy part of town. The buildings and the people are in sad shape and the litter is blowing around in the strong wind. I feel quite uncomfortable walking down the mostly deserted streets.

Of course I am just being paranoid and we reach the cathedral square without incident. The cathedral is also a mishmash of styles with different elements from various centuries. The cathedral was begun in 1326 in the Catalan Gothic style, because this area was part of the Kingdom of Majorca. The cathedral’s western façade was never finished and was restored in the 19th and 20th centuries and it has a portico and bell tower from the 18th century.

The interiors of these churches are quite dark with little light coming in through the stained glass windows.
Stained glass windows in Perpignan Cathedral
Front facade of Perpignan Cathedral

And now why this is an ill-fated day. In my haste to get an overall shot of the nave I neglect to step over a wooden spanner that connects the chair-like pews to the kneeler in front of them. Now even though I have been so thrilled by my miracle left knee which has performed beautifully over the course of the vacation, it is no match when I start to fall. So I trip with my right foot, my left knee crumples with the force of my falling and I end up on the floor between the pew and the kneeler. On the way down, which in my mind has taken on a slow motion quality, I smash my left hip and hand against the pew (all the time trying to keep my iPhone out of harm’s way) then ricochet off the pew with my right upper arm hitting the kneeler while the bulk of me is landing on the floor. I actually thought, ow, I think my right shoulder is dislocated. This causes quite a commotion in the echo-y Church. John and two British couples come running over. I am face down on the floor between the pews with my legs sticking out in the aisle. Please everyone go away and just let me lie here for a bit while I do a mental check of what has been damaged! But of course I say, don’t worry. I am fine. But the Brits want to help me up. So they start pulling at my shoulders which is really painful and I am trying to get on my knees which are banged up. After a few false starts I tell them to just let me do this on my own. This is tricky though because I cannot use my right arm to push up with because I have injured my shoulder. Finally I am upright still telling everyone that I am fine and they should continue on with their sightseeing. John has wisely not tried to get me up since he knows that what I really want to do is continue lying on the floor.

So ultimately my damage is a sore left knee and a giant bruise on my hip and a right arm that cannot reach out or up but I can use it from my elbow as long as my shoulder is not involved. I am pretty sturdy and have not broken anything.

We finish up at the cathedral with John taking pictures since I cannot hold the camera up and make our way into the square in search of some lunch.

Square in front of the church
Cute lunch place
This is a pintade which we assume is some sort of chicken with some veg (and too many peas!)

I can eat with my right hand by keeping my upper arm pinned to my chest and leaning forward from the waist but I cannot reach for my wine glass. Horrors! I have to drink left-handed. Tricky but doable.

We return to the car and finish our trip to Beziers where we will spend three nights looking at  Beziers and surrounding towns and taking a day trip up to Carcassonne. After only two passes we find our hotel which is on a pretty plaza or “place” in French. I just want to take some ibuprofen and lie down.

XIX Hotel in Beziers, France
Nice room overlooking the square

We go out for dinner at a nearby brasserie, Le Crystal. It is kind of like a French diner. We order something that has calamari in it. It turns out that it is all fried but okay we have to adjust to only knowing some of the French menu item words. The salad is good. Then it is back to the hotel to see if there is any comfortable way to sleep.

Fried calamari and fish balls with salad


Valencia. 4/10/19

I found Valencia to be a beautiful and astoundingly clean city. In my pictures there is not a single piece of trash.  It’s architecture is a blend of Art Deco and modern. These photos were taken from a bus and walking tour of Valencia.

Warehouses near port
Customs building ( ?) near port
Civic building part of science and arts center done mostly in blues and ceramic white to evoke the sea
Science museum
Concert hall looks like a fish
Beautiful Art Deco apartments
Rococo palace now repurposed as ceramics museum
Oldest store in Valencia selling traditional wares and clothing
Tapas bar
Gray door is entrance to Cervantes apartment where he wrote El Cid
Home of horchata
Traditional fan painter
Art Deco central market
Baroque Entrance to Valencia cathedral
This chapel contains two paintings by Goya
Goya painting
Holy Grail
John at Romanesque cathedral door
Gothic cathedral door
Old gate to the city

Later we have our last dinner on the boat at Chef’s Table. It is new to their menu and needs some work. The lamb chops, however, are delicious.

Lamb chops from Lotus menu


At sea again. 4/9/19

Just what we need, another day at sea! You really have to be into looking at water or the inside of a boat to enjoy this many days at sea.

We played our last round of trivia today and did not win. Just as well because the prize was a Viking book. We really do not need anything heavier in our suitcase. We have enjoyed playing trivia on all the sea days

Since I am writing this several days after the fact, I imagine in the afternoon we did some hand laundry, watched some TV, looked out the windows, read books, and took a nap.

For dinner we ate at The Restaurant and our main was sole meunière. Too many bones for me.

Sole meunière


Cadiz, Spain. 4/8/19

Today we are in Cadiz. The optional tours are for Seville and Jerez. We visited Seville and Jerez before when we had arranged a tour in Seville and had tickets to the Andalusian equestrian center so we opt for a walking tour of Cadiz. Plus it is free.

Our docking spot and a view of Cadiz

Our boat pulls into Cadiz and soon we are on our way. The city is clean and inviting with gardens and streets with overhanging terraces. Here is some of what we saw.

Our first view is of the Plaza of Spain which celebrates the first Constitution of Spain drafted in Cadiz in 1812 and established a constitutional monarchy with many of the same freedoms as the American Constitution. Unfortunately it was repealed under King Ferdinand VII in 1814 who reestablished absolute monarchy.
The monument on the Plaza of Spain has a center column with extracts from the Constitution and is flanked by sculptures symbolizing agriculture and citizenship. The two bronze horsemen represent war and peace.
On the other side of the monument is Hercules the mythical founder of Cadiz.
An enormous ficus tree outside of the art museum
Typical narrow street
Flowers are everywhere
Church of San Antonio
Ornate bank building
Door knocker on the house of Manuel de Falla, the famous composer
We stop at the Mercato Centrale and there are wonderful looking vegetables
and pork products
and more fruits and vegetables
Then we stop at the New Cathedral and go inside
Inside is a monstrous monstrance
A grilled choir
with carved panels inside
John goes down to the crypt where Santa Victoria’s non-corrupt body lies in a glass container
Also here is the burial site of Manuel Falla, the composer and favorite son of Cadiz
We also see the City Hall
One of the motifs are tuna which is a nod to the origianal settlers of Cadiz, the Phoenicians
Then we take a couple of pictures of me in the City Hall plaza

We go down to dinner at the Chef’s Table tonight where the theme is ‘Las Route des Indes.” Here are a few highlights.

Tuna tataki
Beef tenderloin with purple potato mousseline
Incredibly delicious tarte tatin

We are hoping to see the Straits of Gibraltar before it gets too dark but it seems that we are not going to make it. However we do see the lights of Morocco on one side and the Rock of Gibraltar on the other. We wave and shout, Hi Africa! Seeing Africa was one of our agenda items to complete.

You can see the enormous Rock of Gibraltar on the other side



Another day at sea. 4/7/19

Just when you think that you might have dry land for a while there is another day at sea going from Madeira to Cadiz, Spain.  So not much happening today.

We start the day by having room service knock on the door at what seems like an hour earlier than we expect. John is still sleeping so I stumble out of the bedroom looking, I imagine, rather disheveled to answer the door. I say I thought I asked for breakfast at 8:45 AM. He says it is 8:45. Did you remember to turn clocks ahead an hour last night. Abashedly I had not. So kind of an embarrassing start to the day

We go down to play Trivia before lunch and resume our old position of second. We assign areas of expertise to study up on before the final Trivia on Tuesday. John is looking into world capitals and I am still the NASCAR expert.

We have lunch. I am so sick of luncheon boat food. John tries the porchetta since he tried making one at Christmas with so-so results. The one onboard is much prettier and John says it tastes good too. I am still not feeling particularily like eating due to my stomach distress of yesterday.

John’s magazine-ready shot of the porchetta

We take a nap and go down for the Port Talk late in the afternoon. Our next stop is Cadiz tomorrow morning. There are excursions to Seville and Jerez but we have been to those places before and have had excellent times there so we opt for a walk around Cadiz.

Dinner is at Manfredi’s and works out pretty well. We abandon our beloved octopus carpaccio for antipasti for two followed by a first course of tortelli with truffles for me and a risotto for John. We split a Fiorentina (giant steak from Florence) and still cannot eat it all. No dessert.

The fabulously delicious bread basket from Manfredi’s
Antipasto plate
My tortelli with truffles and ricotta
It’s hard to make a mushroom risotto look pretty
My half of the Fiorentina with watercress garnish