First Pandemic Getaway

While I wish that I was posting about the adventure that I was supposed to be having in Switzerland at this moment, the pandemic has made that an impossible dream.  But, we decided that there were still a few things that were 1). allowed by various countries as far as travel and quarantine restrictions go and 2). safe enough for us to get a small getaway in.  With that in mind, we headed to Luxembourg City this past Friday and then to a campground in Malmedy, Belgium for a little hiking for the rest of the weekend, and thus, after months without, I am finally able to post something about our travels in Europe again!

During our couple of hours in Luxembourg, we walked around the upper level or old town of the city and the lower level referred to as the Grund.  Many people in Luxembourg were wearing masks, unlike in The Netherlands, and masks were required to go into the cathedral there.  The cathedral was the only building we were planning to go in, but as we did not have any masks with us, we were unable to.  Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable walk around the city.

The old town and The Grund are very compact areas so we could easily and quickly see many things.  We saw the cathedral, the Place d’arms, Place Guillame II, and the Passarelle Viaduc.

We walked to Place de Constitution and the Palais Grand-Ducal where we watched the guards marching out front before making our way to the Casemates du Bock.

 

There are tunnels under the casemates that were used in WWII but the casemates themselves were closed so they were not accessible.  We did, however, enjoy some great views from the casemates and a nice walk down the Chemin du Corniche on our way to The Grund.

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While in that lower level of the city, we had a short picnic lunch and walked along some gardens and orchards before heading back up to the old town.

On our way out of the city, we stopped at the American Cemetery of Luxembourg where General Patton is buried.

After arriving at our campground and setting up our tent, we took a short walk about the mountain trail that was accessible from the grounds.  There were some nice panoramic views of the area.

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On Saturday and Sunday, we hiked about 25 miles worth of trail both near Malmedy and near Spa.  Worth mentioning, between our campground and the trails, was a small town with some cute little churches and this beautiful gazebo in the center roundabout.

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Our hike on Saturday morning included trail along the river which looked almost like blood because of the red mineral running out of the earth, through a pine forest and some open meadows.

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Roots of a massive, long tree that had fallen over.
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Tree roots covering the ground.

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Mushrooms and moss growing on this tree.

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Our afternoon hike began from our campground so we decided to have an outdoor lunch at the campground restaurant which featured 44 Belgian beers.  We tried a couple of different ones including one that is brewed by the campground itself.

The afternoon trail was bit tough as it had a lot of uphill sections and sections that were a little overgrown and required sure footing to pick your way over all of the rocks.  Nonetheless, we made it through and were rewarded with views of the forest, pastureland, a small castle or manor estate and the largest waterfall in Belgium.  We even walked through a deforested area and a rock quarry before ending up hiking along the river where we saw the backside of a deer retreating into the forest.

Finally, on Sunday morning, we did our final trail which required that we climb along the riverbed crossing it many times over bridges or shallow areas and even walking in a very narrow path along the side of the hills running along the river.  The path also crossed through several forested areas and passed homes on large pastures before ending up running along a larger, fast-moving river.

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All in all, it wasn’t the trip we had planned on taking but it was fun (and tiring) and it felt good (and safe) to finally get out away from home.

 

Adventure in the Arctic Circle

We have just returned from several adventure-filled days in Tromso, Norway where there is plenty of fun (and snow) to be found!

Day 1

Our first day in Tromso was spent exploring the city.  We began the day by stopping in a cafe overlooking the water to try some Norwegian waffles.  They are served with a strawberry puree jam and a cream that is reminiscent of clotted cream.  They are also eaten with a slice of brown cheese, the taste of which is very difficult to describe.  It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either so I’m not sure what it was exactly!

 

As we made our way through a somewhat slippery Tromso, our first stop was the Polar Museum.  The museum had a lot of historical items and information regarding the trapping industry and polar explorations in the region.  I have to say that the trapping information was a bit much for some of us as it was pretty graphic and a little hard to stomach.  After the museum, we walked through the Skansen village area to the bridge connecting the island and the mainland.  The wind on the bridge was insane and we really felt like we were going to be blown away at some points.  On the other side of the bridge sits the Arctic Cathedral which has a rather unique exterior but a fairly plain interior.

 

Back across the bridge, we made our way to lunch where we tried the locally brewed Mack beer, fish soup, torrfisk (panfried fish with potato, veggies and bacon), and reindeer wraps.  And while the thought of eating seal after seeing the information at the Polar Museum was not at all appealing to some of us, one of us, who shall remain nameless, decided to go for it and ordered the seal which was toted as being caught by a 7th generation hunter.

After lunch, we walked to the domkirke and took a quick look inside.  The inside was very plain but the outside was cute.

Next, we stopped at Polaria which is an aquarium.  While they had some exhibits on fish and other sea life from the area, the main attraction was the seals.  There are many viewing points where you can watch the seals swim by and over you.  There was also a feeding and training session that you can watch which was entertaining.  The aquarium also showed a couple of panoramic films about the wildlife and scenery of the area and the Northern Lights and how they are formed.

After the town exploration, it was time to begin the real adventure by going on a nighttime snowshoe hike.  As we arrived for the hike and began suiting up in our thermal snowsuit and snowshoes, it began snowing.  After what seemed like a lengthy process of getting the shoes on correctly and finding the right sized poles, we were off.  Let me just tell you-snowshoeing is hard work!  The shoes were awkward to maneuver and it was really hard to move through the snow.  We got really hot and sweaty inside our suits and the work was exhausting.  After hiking for 20-30 minutes, we stopped in a clearing and our guide made a small fire.  Unfortunately, it was too cloudy to see any Northern Lights.  We headed back to the center and it began to ice which added to the challenge.  At the center, we went to the Alaskan Husky dog yard.  There are 300 sled dogs there.  We got to meet a few puppies and dogs before heading inside a lavvu structure (like a teepee but in this case made of wood with a fire/cooking stove inside) to have some bacalhau (fish stew), hot chocolate and chocolate cake.

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Day 2

This morning, we headed back to the center for some dog sledding.  The day began with another tour of the dog yard where we again got to meet the puppies and more of the adult huskies.  Then, we got to go on an hour-long dog sled ride.  We went two to a sledge with a musher and a team of 9-10 dogs.  During the ride, it was icing and very windy so at times it was very painful being pelted with ice, but mostly it was lovely arctic scenery and a chance to see how the mushers guide the team.  After the ride, we thanked our team by petting each one and then went back to the dog yard where we met a lot more dogs.  After all of this, we headed into the lavvu again for some lunch.  This time we had bidos which is a soup made with reindeer meat and vegetables and more hot chocolate and chocolate cake.

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After the morning in the cold, we decided to stay in our apartment and play darts.  We entertained ourselves like that for a couple of hours before getting dinner at Art Cafe.  We had farikal (a mutton stew which is the national dish), finnbiff (a reindeer meat dish with lingonberry sauce) and fish stew.  We also tried some akveitt (alcohol made from potato) and a couple of different Mack beers (white and dark).  We finished off with some carrot cake.  It was a delicious meal!

Day 3

Today we woke up to huge snowflakes.  We drove to a reindeer center where we began by receiving a food bucket and walking through the herd of 300 reindeer.  A couple of the reindeer would eat from your hand, but most just wanted to stick their head in the bucket.  We later learned that all of the reindeer were pregnant females.  All around the snow-covered field were snowy mountains and water.  While we walked around the reindeer, it began to snow heavily.  It felt like a perfect winter scene!  We then went two to a sled for a reindeer ride.  The scenery was very pretty and we were joined by a few extra reindeer as we moved on the outskirts of the field.

When our sled ride was done, we entered a gamme, the traditional home of the Sami people for a lunch of bidos.  This was the same reindeer meat soup that we had the day before but this one was more of a stew.   

After lunch, we listened to a cultural lesson about the Sami, the indigenous people of the arctic region.  We learned about the Sami way of life, language, and clothing among other things.

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Then it was back to the apartment for more darts (somebody got a bull’s eye twice-me!) before going to get a snack of pancakes with strawberry puree jam and joining our tour group to chase the Northern Lights.

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We were in a small group tour so we were able to drive pretty far to see the lights.  On this particular night, the skies were forecasted to be the clearest in Finland so we began the several hour drive to get there.  Along the way, our guide provided a lot of information about Norwegian culture and legends, the wildlife of the area, the climate and the science and legends behind the Northern Lights.  While we encountered very heavy snow for a lot of the drive, as soon as we got close to Finland, we had clear skies, and once we reached a good stopping place, we immediately had Northern Lights.  Now, I’m not going to lie to you-Northern Lights do not look like what you see in the pictures.  Rather than appearing as a dark, emerald green, they appear more whitish to pale green to your eye.  However, once the picture is taken, you can see the green vividly.  We did get to see the lights dancing, and we also got to see a somewhat rare phenomenon of a flare going up and across the sky.  Our guide told us that it was an above-average display.  While it doesn’t look as amazing as it does in the pictures, it was still really cool and after watching for an hour (in -17C/-2F temperatures), our guide made a fire and we had hot chocolate and cooked reindeer sausage with lompe (potato pancake).  Then it was a long drive back to Tromso; we arrived at 2:30am.

 

Day 4

We woke to heavier snow than any other day but trudged out to get some Norwegian waffles and join our Fjord boat cruise.  We were a little worried as the tour began because the visibility was terrible with all of the snow, but it soon cleared and the scenery was beautiful-snowy mountains, icebergs and an ice field.  We were able to see several white-tailed eagles and watched them fly down to the water to retrieve fish with their talons.  And then, we got to see a beluga whale!  He came to the boat and interacted with the crew.  He swam around the boat a lot and then continued to follow the boat as we sailed off.  Our son got to sit in the captain’s cabin and learned all about driving the boat, the controls and navigating.  Then he got to try fishing with the crew.  It was a great experience and as we sailed back toward Tromso, we had a Norwegian salmon fish soup to top it off.

We were greeted back in Tromso with heavy snow coming down as big flakes.  We went to dinner where the boys had a smoked moose steak appetizer, and then we had reindeer filet steak, pan-fried cod with mussel risotto and some dark Mack beer.

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Day 5

It was once again snowing heavily in the morning, but we went out to get some breakfast of skoleboller (cream-filled pastry), cinnamon buns and a krumkake waffle cookie filled with cream.

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We played a last round of darts before heading to the airport in a heavy, blowing snow.  Unfortunately, we had some flight delays, but in the end, we got to watch the plane be deiced before heading out of the land of ice and snow.

It was a short trip, but it was full of really great adventures, wonderful family time and once in a lifetime experiences.  The arctic promised to be filled with amazing experiences and adventure and it definitely delivered!

Starting the Year in Sunny Spain and Africa

Our new year began with a trip to a few new places-the south of Spain and Morocco.

Day 1: Malaga

On the evening of New Year’s Day, we flew into Malaga and began exploring the next morning.  We began our day in the Plaza de la Merced where Picasso’s birthplace sits on the corner of the square.  The square itself is home to a Picasso statue, several restaurants and is lined by orange trees.

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We grabbed some pastries, which we stopped to enjoy in the square, before heading into the city center.

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We stopped in a small church where they had a small nativity scene set up which was very lovely.

Next, we walked through the center with all of the shops and restaurants to the Market Atarazanas which was a very cool building with elaborate ironwork and beautiful painted glass.  There was a lot of really great produce to be found at the market.

After this, we walked to Episcopal Palace and the Malaga Cathedral.  The cathedral only had a small portion that was free to enter but they had an amazing, large nativity scene set up in that area as well as a manger scene made of plant materials on some stone statues set up outside the door.

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We wrapped up our morning with a trip to the Roman Theater and Alcazaba, a Moorish fortress.  If you don’t know, the Moors were the Muslim people that inhabited and ruled the Iberian Penisula, which Spain is part of, during the Middle Ages.  Inside the fortress walls, there were very lovely tropical plants and floors with beautiful designs made from small stones.

After this, it was on to the beach area.  We walked through a lush park between the shops and the beach and then down to the water.  It was not exactly a beautiful beach area and as the day was a little overcast, the water was not too pretty so we didn’t stay long before going to lunch.

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At the restaurant, we began the meal with some aceitunas (olives) and Malaga sweet wine-similar to a port.  For the meal itself, we had some local beer, Ensalada Malaguena which was a cold salad with cod and orange segments atop a potato salad type mixture, Pipirrana (a tomato, pepper and onion salad with shrimp and octopus), Rabo de Torro (bull tail) and albondigas (meatballs) in almond sauce.  It was all very good!

After lunch, we walked to the bull arena and stopped in a bakery for some molletes (white baked bread) and torta de Aceite (a dry cookie).

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Now, it was time for an uphill climb to Castilo Gibrafaltro-former Moorish castle.  There wasn’t much left to the structure itself other than the outer wall and some garden areas but the views were nice from the top.  And we got to see a really crazy looking Spanish squirrel!

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After all that climbing, we decided we deserved a snack so we stopped at one of the restaurants at Plaza de la Merced for some gazpacheulo (a cream-based fish stew) which was delicious, anchovies on Ceasar salad wraps and melon with ham and bruschetta.

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After resting for a while, we went out in the evening for dinner at Restaurant Picasso where we had calamari, pork knuckle, roasted beef in a red wine sauce, a pineapple stuffed with greens, walnuts and cheese, albondigas, chicken croquetas, and a Spanish omelet.  We also tried two other Malaga wines and some Sangria Malaguena.

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Day 2: Gibraltar

On the next day, we drove two and a half hours to Gibraltar.  Interestingly, Gibraltar is actually its own territory which governs itself, rather than a part of Spain.  However, Gibraltar, having once been a colony of the UK and still under their protection and defense, has a large British influence.  In fact, in Gibraltar, the primary language is English although they also know and speak Spanish since they border Spain.  But aside from knowing these two languages, Gibraltarians have created their own dialect which is a blend of English and Spanish and is very interesting to hear.

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After crossing the border into Gibraltar, we made our way to the water casements market place for lunch.  Here we tried Rolitos which was ham, seasonings and chopped olives rolled inside a thin piece of beef and served with a special sauce.  We also had Huevos de la Flamenca which was a mixture of peppers and potatoes cooked in a sauce with sausage, serrano ham and a fried egg on top.

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After lunch, we took the cable car to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar, which is said to be one of the pillars of Hercules that was left when he broke the mountain between Africa and Europe, to spend the afternoon on the Rock.

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After stepping off the cable car, my mother was promptly attacked by one of the large Barbary Macaques that roam freely on the Rock.  My kids declared this to be the highlight of the trip, though I’m not sure my mother would agree.  The Macaque seemed to be going for her purse, but she managed to wrestle it free, and she and the monkey parted ways.  These monkeys are everywhere, though, and it was a while before my mother felt that she was not going to be attacked by another one!

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After this initial excitement, we headed to the skywalk to take a look at the views and then to St. Micheal’s Cave which is, according to legend, where the Macaques crossed from Africa to Europe.

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After the cave, we tested our ability to conquer our fears when we went across the suspension bridge on the side of the Rock.  I wasn’t too scared, but my height fearing children were pretty nervous.

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Finally, we took the long walk to the Great Siege Tunnels.  We didn’t have time to go very deep into the tunnels, but it was interesting to learn some of the history of Britain’s defense of Gibraltar when the Spanish attempted to regain control in the late 1700s.

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Day 3: Tangiers

The third day of our trip brought our long-awaited day trip to Africa (cue the song from Toto if you are anything like our family).  It was the first time for all of us to go to the African continent.  Our day began very early when the tour company picked us up for a one hour ride to Tarifa, Spain where we embarked on our one and a half hour ferry trip across the Strait of Gibraltar.  Upon arriving in Tangiers, we boarded a bus for a driving tour of the new city which is comprised of quarters belonging to different nationalities such as French, Spanish, American, British and Italian.  The city is comprised of all of the different nationalities because of the many countries that have controlled Tangiers at various times.  On our drive, we drove by some very expensive homes including the home of the mayor of Tangiers and the summer homes of the Moroccan king and the king of Saudi Arabia.  Somewhat surprisingly, Tangiers is very green and tropical.  Our guide informed us that while two-thirds of Morocco is Sahara, the northern parts are very lush.

Our first stop was at Cap Spartel, where the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet.

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In this coastal area, we were able to ride camels on the beach.  Our son was so excited that the tour guide allowed him to go on three rides instead of just one.  It was definitely a bit tricky to feel comfortable on the camel as they are pretty wide and quite jostly, not to mention the awkwardness of the moment that they stand up and lay down with you on their back, but it was quite the experience!  While other people in the group (and our son) took their turns, we were able to pet the smaller camels on the beach.

After our camel time was over, we went to the Cave of Hercules which was mainly cut out by man for the purpose of getting rock for use as grinding stones but did have a natural cutout from the water where it is said that you can make out the profile of Hercules.

After the cave, we were taken to the old city or Medina.

Here we walked to our lunch stop where we met a snake charmer along the way, and he did a little display for us.

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Our lunch was overlooking the city and the sea in a lovely space with beautiful light fixtures.

During lunch, some local musicians played traditional music for us.

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Our lunch consisted of Harira (a soup with chickpeas), bread, chicken kabobs, couscous and tajines (a fruit and vegetable mix).  It was all very good and was finished with a delicious mint tea and pastry with honey.

After lunch, we walked through more of the old city including the produce, olive, meat and fish markets.  In all honesty, the meat and particularly fish markets were pretty hard to take.  The conditions seemed pretty unsanitary but the sheer carnage was a bit much even for those in the group who are not normally squeamish.

After the markets, we walked to a large artisan store selling jewelry, pottery, leather and rugs among other things and then to a pharmacy where we were given a demonstration of the many argon oils and other Moroccan products that they offered (we even received nearly ten samples of products).  The pharmacy building itself was quite lovely inside with beautifully carved walls.

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After this, we walked through the streets of the Medina where, unlike the new part of the city, Morocco was everything you imagined with street vendors accosting you in an attempt to sell their wares.  It was quite overwhelming and a little nervewracking at times, and we were there in low season!

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Finally, we were given free time in the streets of the Medina (this was actually a little frightening), but we looked around a little and haggled with a few vendors to make some purchases before getting an outdoor table at Cafe Tanger for some mint tea.  The tea was really delicious and watching the street was interesting.

 

One interesting thing was hearing the call to prayer for the Muslims a couple of times during the day including while we were having our tea.  It didn’t seem that anyone stopped what they were doing to pray, but we did see some people coming out of the Mosque shortly after the call to prayer so perhaps some did.

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Before our free time was up, my husband and son went with our tour guide to find a store selling pastilla (chicken and spices inside of a flaky pastry).  Surprisingly they came back with a box filled with Moroccan pastries as well.  All of it was very good!

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Finally, our bus driver drove us around the modern area of the city and the new train station and seaport.  It was very different than the conditions and life inside the Medina.

After the ferry ride back to Spain and the bus ride back to Gibraltar, we were very tired.  It had been a long but exciting day, and we felt very fortunate that we were able to take the opportunity to visit Morocco.

Day 4: Seville

Upon waking up this morning, we looked out our apartment window to find that there was an immense cemetery right behind the apartment.  It was really large with lots of stone monuments.  This was quite the surprise as we had only been in the apartment before sunrise and after sunset the other days meaning we could never have seen what was there.  It was an interesting end to our time in Gibraltar!

After crossing the border back into Spain, we drove to Seville.  The drive took us into a very arid region with lots of cacti.  Our first act in Seville was an attempt to get lunch.  Most places didn’t open until 1:00-1:30 for lunch but we did convince a small restaurant in a small neighborhood outside the city to serve us at noon.  We were the only people eating, but we tried several traditional dishes including Espinacas con garbanzos (spinach with garbanzo beans), croquetas, Solomillo al Whiskey (pork with whiskey sauce), Secreto Iberico (pork) and Presa Iberico (beef) along with some Boquerones Fritos (fried anchovies).  And since Seville is known for Manzanilla (sherry), we tried a glass, though we did not like it.

After lunch we headed into the city where we first walked along the river to the Plaza do Torros (bull arena).  We didn’t go into the actual arena, but we did walk the area between the outer wall and the arena.

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Next, we walked to the Cathedral of Seville, a massive cathedral, and the surrounding square before making our way, past many beautiful buildings and fountains, to Plaza de Espana which was a beautiful area that was quite large with gorgeous buildings, a fountain and a circular canal that people were boating on.  It really was breathtaking and a great place to sit and enjoy the sunshine and some of the musicians performing around the area.

As we left the area, we ran smack into the Epiphany parade.  Having never seen a parade to celebrate Epiphany and having been told that the one in Seville is quite nice, we decided to stay and watch.  There were several bands and close to two dozen floats, but the unusual part, aside from figuring out what some of the floats had to do with Epiphany, was the amount of candy being thrown from each and every float.  There were at least 10 people or more on each float and each one of those people was hurling the contents of bags upon bags of candy into the crowd.

By the time the parade had passed us, we saw multitudes of children (and some adults) with large sacks stuffed full of candy.  In addition, the ground was littered with crushed and whole pieces of hard, wrapped candies.  Our shoes quickly became very sticky trying to leave the area.

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But lest you were worried about this mess creating a long term problem for the city of Seville, the parade was immediately followed by what can only be described as a brigade of street sweeper vehicles.  They were lined up three per row and there were probably four to five rows coming just minutes behind the final float.  It was like an army of street sweepers descending on the sticky carnage of a candy battle.  Quite a sight to behold!  And the parade must have wound around several areas of the city because we saw people coming from other parade routes over an hour later.  That’s a lot of candy (and to our environmentally conscious brains, a lot of waste)!

After escaping the candy war zone, we went back to the Cathedral where we found a side entrance that allowed us to see a small section of the cathedral as the rest was closed for Epiphany (which seemed counterintuitive considering Ephiphany is a religious holiday).

From here, we went to see las Sestas, an immense wooden art piece.

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We decided to sit and have a coffee outside.  We also tried Roscon de Reyes, a Christmas cake, with a whipped cream type filling and candied fruit-tasty!

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After our coffee, we walked down to the Flamenco Cultural Center to watch a Flamenco show.  We were able to get seats right in the front so we had a very up-close view of the show.  You could definitely feel the passion of the performers.  It was a very interesting and enjoyable show.

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We ended our night with a dinner of mushroom and shrimp risotto, black rice with seafood and an egg, ham and vegetable dish and some local red wine.

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Day 5: Granada

As we drove the three hours from Seville to Granada, we moved from the very arid to the mountains-the Sierra Nevada Mountains to be more specific.

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Upon arriving in Granada, we went to the Cathedral of Granada and the Royal Chapel (though not inside here) where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (as in Christopher Colombus’s backers) are buried.

The sun was shining, so we had lunch outside in a plaza near the cathedral.  We tried a complimentary starter that was like a small tuna sandwich on some amazing bread, albondigas, grilled artichokes with ham, shrimp and tuna croquetas and Flamenquina (ham and cheese rolled inside a breading and fried).

After lunch, we walked through the old bazaar and silk market, Alcaceiria, to Corral del Carbon, an old Arab inn and warehouse from the 1300s.

Then we took a sunny stroll along the river Darro past many historic sites and buildings including El Banuelo, an old 11th-century Arab bathhouse.  We walked through the Albaizin district under the shadow of the Alhambra (palace and fortress) to the gardens of a former palace home.  Then we walked uphill to the Sacramonte district.

After our long walk, we headed down to dinner where we enjoyed Carne en salsa (meat in a really delicious sauce), champignon al Horno (stuffed mushrooms) and Habas con Jamon (beans and ham with a fried egg) and Sangria.

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The highlight of dinner though had to be the completely naked man walking down the street (naked except for his shoulder bag) as we sat freezing next to a heater!

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After dinner, we drove to our apartment in another section of the city and tried a little traditional dessert of Piononos before bed. It was an interesting dessert of a bread that was sticky and a little soggy with a cinnamon flavoring.  It was pretty good!

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Day 6: Granada

Our second day in Granada, we spent at a higher elevation at the Alhambra which includes the Nazarin Palaces (a palace built in stages with various sultans adding new areas), General Life (the summer palace) and Alcazaba (the fortress to protect the area).  The palace was by far my favorite area with all the beautiful, decorative buildings and garden areas.  There is such a Moorish influence in Spain, that at times it was hard to tell if you were in Spain or back in Morocco.

After a couple of hours at Alhambra, we stopped at the Ascension of Our Lady which was a former monastery for Carthusian monks.  There wasn’t much to the area as a large portion of it, including the monks sleeping quarters, did not survive the years, but the church was very interesting, especially the sacristy (for my non-Catholic friends, this is where they keep the sacraments) which is toted as the most beautiful sacristy in the world.

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Next, we headed to another portion of the city to have a lunch of Plato Alpujarrero (various sausages, potato and egg), Migas (breadcrumb mixture with sausage and bacon), Huevos Rojo (fried egg with potato) and Perenjinas con Miel de Cana (slices of fried eggplant covered in sugar cane syrup).  We also tried a Sacromonte beer.

After our lunch, we walked around the area near our apartment and had some drinks in a cafe in the park.  The view of the river and the snow-covered mountains offset with the palm trees was really nice.

Finally, we had dinner at the same restaurant in the park where we tried a Granda red wine, Manchego cheese, Jamon de Trevelez, stuffed mushrooms, grilled vegetables, and an assorted fried fish plate.

Day 7: Malaga

Our final day was spent driving back to Malaga to get to the airport.  While it was mostly a travel day, we did make time to stop in Malaga for some Tejeringos (churros with various dipping sauces-chocolate and caramel).  It was a great ending to a fun trip!

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Our new year is definitely off to a great start with a trip in 2 continents, 2 countries, 4 cities and 1 territory, 1 monkey attack, 1 naked man, historical, natural and cultural sites, new foods, new experiences, animal encounters, educational discussions, family time and lots of laughs and memories.

Here’s to more travel adventures in 2020!

 

 

Winter Weekend in Berlin

This Thanksgiving, we headed off to Berlin for a quick weekend trip.

Day 1

We drove into the city past Tiergarten park and the famous Victory Column.

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Our first real stop was Berlin Cathedral.  On our walk there, we could see the  TV Tower which was built in East Germany as a symbol of Communist power and today is the tallest structure in Germany.   The Cathedral was located amidst the many museums and historic buildings located on Museum Island.

Upon leaving the cathedral, we wandered past several interesting buildings until we came to Gendarmenmarkt, a square containing the Berlin Concert Hall, which was heavily damaged during World War II, but on this day looked very inviting with a Christmas market.  We ducked into a store on the way into the market that featured handmade woodwork including German Christmas Pyramids and Cuckoo Clocks-very beautiful and very expensive!!

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The Christmas market itself was a real gem with lots of artisan booths, good food and plenty of holiday cheer.  We made the most of it by trying candied cashews (seriously delicious), roasted chestnuts, spaetzle with cheese and truffle, a giant pretzel, bacon cheese balls, and some currywurst.

After the Christmas market, we walked to Checkpoint Charlie, the well-known border crossing point and the scene of the Soviet-US tank standoff.

Next, we walked to the Topography of Terror.  This location houses an exhibit in photographs of the Nazi regime and the operations of the SS and Gestapo.  Outside, the remains of the building that became the SS and Gestapo headquarters during WWII sits almost directly under the remains of the Berlin Wall.  It was quite a sobering place.

After that, we headed toward the Brandenburg Gate, stopping along the way at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and Potsdamer Platz, which housed more sections of the Berlin Wall.

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We decided to finish our day by going to Friedrichstrabe Station, a former crossing point/border control point that was heavily guarded and featured various walled-off sections for transport within East Germany, transport between East and West and transport to outside areas/countries.

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We took the train to Warschauer station and walked to the water gate and East Side Gallery-another long section of the wall that has been turned into an art gallery.

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After a day of thinking about what we could be thankful for in the face of what others have had to endure, we ended our Thanksgiving with a typical German meal.  We had some pilsner, dark and Weizen beers, traditional potato soup, meatballs over fried potatoes, fried eggs over fried potatoes and Eisbein (a seriously huge ham hock!).  To finish off our traditional meal in a traditional way, we ordered a piece of apple strudel and potato pancakes.  It was all very good and a nice way to end a day of sightseeing.

 

Day 2

Today we planned to visit several museums, but first, we had to grab something to eat, so we stopped in a store for a Berliner-basically a jelly donut.  Later we also came across one that was filled with egg nog cream-and it was alcoholic egg nog!

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Our first museum was the Natural History Museum.  It was really nice.  They have the tallest mounted dinosaur in the world, many stuffed species, fossils, and a massive rock and mineral collection-we could have spent hours in just that section.

After perusing the museum, we had some lunch where we tried a beer flight that featured 5 really good beers, but after careful consideration, we settled on a black beer and the house brew-both were really good.  For the food, we tried Konigsberg Klopse (meatballs in a white sauce), Shnitzel, another meatball with crispy potatoes and a local sausage in a dark beer gravy sauce.  If I’m being honest, no one liked the Konigsberg Klopse, but everything else was very good.

After lunch, we had some time to kill before our reservation at the next museum, so we stopped at another Christmas market for some Pink Lady Gluhwein (warm drink made from rosé) and a warm kidpunch as well as a bag of candied almonds.

Our next museum was the Pergamon.  This museum featured some very old pieces which were in very good shape.  Many of the pieces were from several hundred to thousands of years B.C. including this wall that was from 3000 B.C.

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Several of the more interesting pieces were the Ishtar Gate, which was the gate to Babylon, a brick with an inscription from Nebuchadnezzar, a law book from the 12th century B.C., a reconstructed Roman market gate, and some really nice Islamic pieces.

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After the Pergamon, we visited their annex museum called the Panorama.  This museum was all about the ancient city of Pergamon and featured statues from the city as well as a huge panorama which provided a visual of what life would have been like in the city.

After a seriously freezing walk to dinner, we enjoyed some schnitzel, black pudding, potato soup, and maultaschen-a very thick layered ravioli type dish- along with a really nice Reisling.  On the way back to the apartment, we happened to walk by the first Christmas market we had visited on Thursday, so we decided that was a sign that we needed a few more roasted chestnuts and candied cashews.  Very, very cold, but very good!

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Day 3

We left Berlin very early in order to stop in Quedlinburg, a very charming little town with half-timber houses and historic buildings.  It was a perfect town for a little shopping and, of course, a Christmas market!  The market was charming and the town itself was all decorated for Christmas-aside from snow, it was a perfect Christmas scene!  We were only able to walk around for a short while due to our timing and the cold, but we did manage to try a paper cone filled with a fried dough covered in powdered sugar and a couple of pastries.

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On our way home, we had to make an unexpected stop to charge the car in Goslar, but it turned out to be a treat.  They had a really nice Christmas market and the town was very lovely with interesting old buildings.  There was a lot of Christmas decor and even a forest made from pine trees that you could go in to drink gluhwein and hot chocolate.  We did have to try some hot chocolate.  One interesting thing to note at these German Christmas markets- they charge you an added fee for your cup or plate and then when you return it, they give you the deposit back, so you can’t just order and leave the area.

After that stop, it was off to the final charging stop which included a lunch of massive schnitzels and a black beer and Octoberfest beer.

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While it was a very short trip, it was a perfect quick getaway, and we were very happy and thankful to get the opportunity to experience Berlin and the surrounding area.

 

 

Heading Down South (South of France and Spain That Is)

We spent our fall break this year in the south of France and Barcelona.  While the weather was a little rainy some of the time, the temperatures were warmer than in The Netherlands, making this an ideal trip before winter sets in.

Day 1

We began by driving to Dijon, France.  We decided to stop for a quick lunch of Oeufs de Meurette (a poached egg in red wine), escargot, boeuf bourguignon and a prawn and chorizo risotto.  We also tried a regional aperitif called kir, a sort of fruity liquor.  And of course, no meal would be complete without some dessert.  We chose chocolate mousse, a lemon meringue tart and chocolate fondant which is like a lava cake.  The meal was good, but our favorite dish, aside from dessert, of course, was the poached egg.

 

 

After our lunch, we ventured out into the city where we saw Dijon Cathedral which featured a very beautiful tile roof, Palace Ducal (the former seat for the Dukes of Burgundy), and St. Michel de Dijon (where I saw this statue featuring the women in Jesus’s life which I really enjoyed as they are not often depicted all together).

 

 

We then stopped to look at a giant sculpture outside a local museum and walked to Notre Dame of Dijon.  The cathedral had a very interesting front facade with an abundance of gargoyle type figures.  Inside, I found a tapestry that was very lovely.  On the side of the cathedral, you can find the remnants of an owl sculpture that you are supposed to touch for good luck; so we did!

 

 

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Finally, we walked down Rue de Forges looking for number 34.  At that location, behind the front wall of the building, there is a small courtyard at the end of a passageway where you will find the old walls of the building and a very nice spiral staircase.  You might never know it was there behind the modern building front.

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On our way out of town, we stopped at Regazzoni Andre, a bakery, for some gougeres, a cheese puff pastry.  It was alright but had a strong cheese flavor that not everyone was sure they liked.

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Our overall impression of Dijon was that it was a city with areas in which you could really almost feel the people walking the streets 200 or more years ago juxtaposed with very modern shops and other buildings.

After leaving Dijon, we drove to Lyon where we took a nighttime stroll around the Presquile District enjoying many cathedrals, buildings and bridges lit up.

 

 

We had dinner at Aux Trois Marie where we tried Kir Royal, a bubbly version of Kir as well as potato salad with sausage, Lyon sausage over polenta, and quenelle, a sort of souffle with a cream-based fish sauce.  All of it was very good so we decided to top it off with two kinds of cheese that are common to the area, Cervelle de Canut (which was a strange dessert as it was an almost cottage cheese-like dish with scallions in it) and Saint Marcellin.  We also tried Tarte Lyonaisse with features Lyon’s famous pink pralines.

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On our way back to our apartment, we got a special treat when we walked by a gentlemen’s club with an employee out front -a man wearing a dress with his genitalia hanging out of the bottom!

Day 2

Our second day began in Lyon.  On our way to the funicular station, we walked down some quiet streets one of which contained a large puppet show house.  The funicular took us up the side of the hill to the Fouviere Basilica and the Roman Theater ruins.  The Basilica had very pretty ceilings and tiled mosaic walls but no pictures were allowed.  From the Roman Theater, we had some nice views of the city.

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After coming down the hill, we looked at the Lyon Cathedral which was very plain on the inside, and we stopped at La Marquis, a bakery and confectionery where we tried some local treats- brioche de praline, Bugnes (fried flat dough with powdered sugar) and Coussin de Lyon (different flavored soft candies).  The building where the shop was located was built in 1489.

 

 

Next, we walked an old passageway referred to as the Long Traboules.  This passage was behind modern buildings and contained many spiral staircases like what we saw in Dijon.  The passages and stairs were used in the past by silk weavers for transporting goods.  We also walked by a silk store and got to see a real silkworm producing silk. There were also many puppet stores, some featuring the famous puppet Guignol who was inspired by the silk weavers and was created in Lyon.

 

 

Something else that we saw a lot of in Lyon was Le Petit Prince merchandise and books.  As it turns out, the author was, of course, from Lyon.

After all of this, it was time for lunch, and we stopped at a small restaurant and sat on the street for a lunch of Lyon sausage, onion soup, Bresse Terraine (a pork and chicken pate) and Salad Lyonnaise.

And since we love to try the desserts too, we stopped back at La Marquis for a piece of Tarte Lyonnaise, Pedu Saint-Jean (kind of like French Toast) and Tropezienne (a whipped cream type filling sandwiched between two layers of cake or brioche).  Apparently, it was actually created in St. Tropez in the 1950s and named by Brigitte Bardot, but this was the Lyon version.

 

 

Lyon is well known as a culinary haven, and it definitely did not disappoint.  The city had a good vibe and lots of areas to wander around so we enjoyed our time there.

But after lunch, we left Lyon behind and drove on to Avignon for a quick stop to see the Palais des Papes (Popes Palace), Notre Dame des Doms, a park next to the Palace with a view of the remains of a medieval bridge, Pont St. Benezet, the Rue de Teinteruiers (an old street) and the Place de l’Horlage (a busy square of shops and restaurants).  While we walked, we stopped at a bakery for a couple giant meringues and Calisson de Provence, a small candy that was reminiscent of marzipan.

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Finally, we ended our day by driving to Nice where we checked into our apartment and had a dinner of Farci (vegetables stuffed with a bread crumb mixture), Socca (a soft chickpea bread), Salad Nicoise, Beignets of Cauliflower, Panisse (a crispy bread made from chickpeas), Pissaladiere (kind of like pizza with toppings of olives, caramelized onion and anchovies) and Danube Nicoise (a meat stew) along with a nice Rosé from the region.

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Day 3

On the third day, we drove an hour into Monaco for the morning.  The hour drive turned into 1 and a half after we got stuck in a line of traffic, emerged and then made a wrong turn and had to sit in the line of traffic again.  After that fiasco, we had to try to find a parking garage with available spaces and the one we found was insanely small for an average-sized car, had the strangest layout of parking spaces and had an issue on one level causing the staff to try to get everyone to back up a narrow curve.  By the time we parked, everyone’s nerves were shot!  When we finally got out of the car, we decided to get a mid-morning snack of Barbagiuan (a fried dough stuffed with swiss chard and ricotta) and Pissaladiere.

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Next, we walked to Monte Carlo casino where we saw lots of fancy cars-Rolls Royce, Lamborghini, Ferrari.

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After that, we walked through a heavy drizzle to the old town where we saw the palace, old streets and the cathedral where Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier were married and buried.

 

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Finally, we walked back along the Jardin St. Martin (a garden along the coast) to a bakery on one of the small old town streets to try some Fougasse (a bread similar to Foccacia).  We got a couple of different varieties-cheese, ham and cheese, gorgonzola and olive oil- but decided that the olive oil was the best.

 

 

We drove back to Nice where we tried another restaurant’s Pissaladiere, Farcis, and Socca and decided it was much better.

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Then we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Nice.  We went to Nice Cathedral which was very nice on the inside, Parc de la Colline du Chateau which was on top of the mountainside and featured a waterfall.  We stopped at an Israeli cemetery near the park and then walked down along the Cote d’Azur on the Promenade des Anglais.

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Back in town, we walked through some of the streets, checked out a few shops and had drinks and a chocolate fondant at a street cafe.

 

 

Later that night, we ate at a very small, cozy restaurant where we had spinach gratin with mussels and a tomato tart as an appetizer and then tried pasta pistou (pasta with a kind of pesto sauce made from olive oil, basil and garlic rather than pine nuts), ravioli Danube and calamari.  We followed that with chocolate mousse and creme brulee for dessert.  It was a very delicious meal!

 

 

 

Day 4

Next up, we left Nice and headed to Marseille, the oldest city in France.  We began our day at the Palais de Longchamp.  It is a very beautiful building and fountain, set in front of a large park, which was built in the 1800s to celebrate the water system of the city.

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Our next stop was the old port area.  From there, we ventured into the surrounding city streets to see a couple of churches.  Along the way, we stopped in a bakery to buy the famous orange-flavored local biscuit, Navettes.  No one was a fan.

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The first church we came to was a very small and plain church.  The second was called Major Church, and it was very large and done in a Byzantine rather than Gothic style which meant it featured pink marble, colorful ceilings, and mosaic-tiled walls and floors.

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After viewing the church, we wandered through Le Panier district and back to the Old Port which was filled with sailboats.  Overall, we found the city to be pretty dirty and very graffitied, but there were some nice features on some of the old buildings like the ironwork.  After walking around, we found a restaurant at the Old Port and settled in to try several local specialties.

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The meal began with Pastis, an aperitif that was very strong and tasted of black licorice, along with tapenade and Panisse (chickpea bread).  The main meal consisted of Bouillibaise (fish stew that originated in Marseille), aioli (garlic, olive oil and egg sauce eaten with shellfish, cod and vegetables) and Moules Marinier (steamed mussels) with Cassis (regional white wine).

 

 

As we passed on dessert at the restaurant, we stopped at Chez Magali, a small stand in a different part of town, for a piece of deliciousness called Chichi Fregis.  This is like a very large and dense orangy flavored churro served hot and covered in sugar.  It was awesome!

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After getting our fill of delicious food, we had a long drive to Barcelona.  Once there, we checked into our apartment that was across from the Sagrada Familia, the famous church by Antoni Gaudi.  We strolled around the church after dark and then went to dinner at Cal Boter.

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At dinner, we had Esqueixada (cod salad), Escalivada (grilled eggplant and red pepper in olive oil), Pa Amb Tomaquet (a toasted bread smeared with tomato), Jamon Iberico (famous Spanish ham), snails and Botifarra (sausage with white beans).  We also had to get a bottle of cava-not only is Barcelona known for cava, but it was very inexpensive.  Finally, we ended the meal with Crema Catalana (kind of like creme brulee) and Mel I Mato (cheese with honey drizzled over it).

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Upon leaving the restaurant, we discovered there was a thunderstorm outside, and we had to walk back to the apartment in the pouring rain.  It was not the most favorable end to the day, but we survived!

Day 5

Our first full day in Barcelona began with a trip to Casa Mila, one of Gaudi’s buildings in the city.

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After viewing the architecture and examples of what the rooms looked like when they were used as a residence, we stopped for a breakfast of pastry, Pa Amb Tomaquet (bread with tomato smear) and hot chocolate (which in Barcelona is served as very thick chocolate).

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Then it was off to Casa Batllo, another Gaudi building.  We found this one to be too crowded to appreciate.

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After this, we made our way to St. Pau Hospital.  It was an entire complex of buildings that used to be used as the hospital but now houses training facilities, art exhibits, a museum and parts of the college of medicine.  The exteriors of the buildings were very interesting and pretty but the insides were nothing spectacular and the layout of the museum was rather confusing.

 

 

With all of this walking, we had built up quite an appetite so we stopped for a lunch of red wine, Escalivada, Catalan beans, Iberico and chorizo, sausage, Bomba (potato croquette) and empanada.

 

 

After lunch, we decided to complete our tour of Gaudi work at Park Guell where several of his pieces are installed.  There were also some amazing views of the city and coastline from the park.  Of course, you had to be high up to get such sweeping views and the walk up to the park was a killer!

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After the park, we went to the Gracia neighborhood to sit in a square and try a snack of Coca (a large pastry with pine nuts) and Panellets Pinyons (pine nut candy).

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After this quick break, we walked around the exterior of Sagrada Familia and went to the Gothic district to see Placa del Rei and the Music Hall which was a very cool building.  We walked around the area which had many interesting buildings before heading to Las Ramblas (the famous boulevard with many stalls and shops).  Off of Las Ramblas was the open market which we walked through on our way to dinner at Can Cullertes.

 

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At dinner, we had cava, Escudella d’Olla (broth with meat which was very much like chicken noodle soup), grilled calamari (so good), paella and cannelloni followed by Crema Catalana.

 

 

Day 6

Our second day in Barcelona was a slower pace.  We began with some hot dark chocolate and churros for breakfast at La Granja M. Viader.  It was a great breakfast until one of our children proceeded to throw up in the bathroom.

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After breakfast, we walked down Las Ramblas to Barcelona Cathedral and then to a bakery where we tried Xuxo (fried pastry filled with crema Catalana) and Coca de Crema(another cream pastry).  At this point, said child threw up again in the public trashcan in the middle of the busy square.

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We decided to go ahead and head to the beach area where we sat looking at boats and ate some lunch.  We tried sangria, Bomba, Patatas Bravas (potato cubes with spicy cream sauce) and Fideua (paella made with noodles instead of rice).  Said child did not eat any of this, but instead threw up one final time in this bathroom.

 

 

After lunch, we walked to the beach.  It was a sunny, warm day so the beach was very crowded.  We decided not to stay too long and went back to our apartment to rest for a while before dinner.

When we did head out, we decided to go to a tapas bar.  The adults tried Cruzcampo beer and cava in addition to tapas of Iberico, tortilla (egg and potato tart), Pa Amb Tomaquet, calamari (which was amazing), albondigas (meatballs), Bontifara (sausage and beans) with mushrooms and croquettes (honey and cheese, onion and cheese, ham, and chicken).  It was all very good!

 

 

After dinner, we went to Montjuic Fountain to watch the water and light show.  It was a nice show, but there were a lot of people there.

 

 

Some of you may be wondering if Barcelona was safe as they were experiencing revolutionary protests of the government.  We encountered no problems, but on our last night, we did see a small group of protestors very peacefully chanting.  Other than that, the only sign of any disturbance was the number of yellow ribbon signs painted on buildings, the sidewalk and signs as well as hanging from people’s windows.

Day 7

We drove back into France through some of the French countryside with many vineyards on our way to Carcassone to see the medieval citadel.  We toured the area inside the city walls as well as the castle and ramparts.  We enjoyed an informative movie about the citadel and the church was nice.

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We stopped for lunch inside the city walls.  We tried cassoulet (sausage, pork and beans casserole), galette of ham, cheese and egg (like a crepe filled with those items) and chicken Carcassone (chicken legs with vegetables).

 

 

After lunch, we drove to Limoge for a stopover to sleep.

Day 8

Our final day was mostly spent driving, but we did stop in Paris to see the Van Gogh immersive experience at the Ateliers Museum.  It was very cool and an interesting way to view Van Gogh’s art.  There was also an exhibit on Japanese art that was very good.

Before leaving Paris, we stopped in a small restaurant near the museum for a lunch of mushrooms in cream sauce with a poached egg, vegetable ratatouille with polenta and goat cheese and a beefsteak.  Our final hoorah was a dessert of chocolate mousse and sticky toffee pudding.  It was a great way to end the trip!

 

 

 

Overall, our trip was a culinary delight, we enjoyed many architectural pieces, historic buildings, beautiful scenery and we were able to add in an educational component as one of our children had recently studied Gaudi’s works and Van Gogh’s work last year.  We’ll call that a success and a trip well done!

“Chilling” Out in Iceland

Last week, we spent an adventurous seven days exploring Iceland.  Iceland was never a place that I had a desire to travel to nor did I know much about it, but after meeting several Icelandic people in the past year and with the constant nudging from my husband, we booked our trip.  And despite the initial lackluster response to the trip, let me just say that Iceland was great (even though it was a bit cold and windy)!

Day 1

We got right down to business with my husband fulfilling his desire to dive Silfra-the crack between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.  He really loved his dive and was blown away by the clarity of the water.  The water was really clear in a lot of places; you could see everything in the water and the reflection of items in the water was unbelievable.

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The kids and I hiked around the park that Silfra is located in, Thingviller.  We hiked to some waterfalls and through some rocky and forested areas before checking out the Silfra area including a small church and the Prime Minister of Iceland’s summer house.

We also made a quick stop for some kleinur (a popular pastry kind of like a cake donut with no icing) and Happy Marriage Cake.

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After the park, we went into Reykjavik, the largest city in Iceland, for dinner.  We had a 7-course Icelandic dinner which began with a shot of the local spirit, Brennevin.  That was followed with puffin, lamb tartare, cod, whale, sea trout, plaice (a white fish like flounder),  and a lamb rump steak.  It was topped off with a skyr cake which is made with skyr yogurt, an Icelandic favorite.

Day 2

First, we had to have breakfast, so we decided to try snudor, a giant cinnamon roll with icing, and several other pastries.

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After eating, we met up with a former colleague of my husband and his wife who are Icelandic.  They are adventurous, so they took us to Elborg Volcano.  We took an hour to pick our way through lava rocks and scrubby brush and to hike up to the rim of the volcano.

Then we headed to a nearby fishing village to have lunch of seafood soup which contained mussels, scallops and shrimp and some grilled trout with potatoes.  It was delicious!

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After lunch, we drove through the lava field, which is just bizarre.  All you can see as far as you look are lava rocks covered in white or light green moss.

Along our drive, we also drove by many waterfalls and stopped at a couple.

Our next stop was a black sand beach with unusual rock formations that looked like walls extending into the sea.

Then, it was up to a glacier through some rough roads before heading down to another black sand beach with rock and cave formations.  There were a lot of sea birds nesting there and a small cafe where we stopped for hot chocolate and swiss mocha (blend of chocolate and coffee) and Icelandic waffles with whipped cream and rhubarb jam.

After our snack, we headed to our friends’ summer house in the country (think driving on a dirt road for 30 minutes) which had really spectacular views (they invited us back to see it in the winter when it is snow-covered and you can watch the Northern Lights!).

Day 3

We began by taking the back roads (read more scenic and bumpier) to Geyser and Gullfoss, two very popular tourist spots.  Geyser, as the name suggests, features several geysers, though only 1 erupts consistently every few minutes.  Gullfoss is a huge waterfall.  We had a good time walking through the mist to various viewpoints.

After these stops, we drove to Reyninfjord to the black sand beach.  The beach was very cold and overcast but the sand was interesting as were the rock formations along the beach.

We continued our drive, which was very interesting.  We saw the strangest huge lava rocks covered in whitish moss.  It was so hard to get a picture that really conveyed the way it looked.

There were actually a lot of varying landscapes throughout the day-waterfalls in mountains that were very green with black rock, desolate black muddy sand fields, barren and rocky land, pasture like fields and glaciers and volcanoes.  The strangest part about the landscape is that you can be in one type of area, and, almost instantly, it changes to another type.  Sometimes it can even be green on one side of the road and barren rock fields on the other.

When we arrived at the hotel, we had a dinner of char (another white fish-this time coming from the glacial stream in the area) with potatoes and rack of lamb.  We had a really nice dessert of creme brulee with thyme and honey and a polenta cake with skyr yogurt.

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Day 4

In the morning, we drove to Skaftafell Park for a hike up the mountains to Black Falls.  The hike was enjoyable and the falls were pretty with nice hexagonal rock formations around them.   The views from the mountaintop were fantastic.