Sur de Cantabria: Cradle of Iberia

Sur de Cantabria: Cradle of Iberia

This 2-plus-week road trip was not our normal travel situation. Typically, we’re city (or at least big town) people, and we stay in one place for a while. So our final stop in southern Cantabria was out of our comfort zone…

Thank God for Google maps and a good atlas! After many winding roads from San Sebastian, we arrived at Molino Tejada, which we learned about from a fellow blogger: Stitch and Sizzle.

The grounds were beautiful:

The décor was spectacular (happens when the owner is an artist):

Our cabin was amazing:

We got settled and headed into Polientes, the “capital of this valley.”

Our first stop: the local candy store. We got there just as school was out, and the proprietor was reinforcing math skills. As the kids picked out penny candies, he made them keep up with the math. If the math wasn’t right, they didn’t get the candy until it was. And they had to figure change, too!

Following Carolyn’s advice, we went into La Olma for drinks. We got there a little after 6, and the kitchen didn’t open until 9:30. So we contented ourselves with chips and people-watching with our wine and beer.

Two groups of older men were playing what we guess was spades – 10 cents per hand. Only one argument broke out while we were there, but they resolved it without spilling drinks or coming to blows.

A mother with a toddler and infant was having her afternoon coffee while the kids had their afternoon snacks. It appeared that she had brought their snacks with her, and that that was a daily visit.

In the square outside, mothers visited while school kids played soccer. Every few minutes, a boy would dash inside, rush past the bar, and scurry down the stairs to the bathroom.

Three middle-school-aged girls lugged in their school books and set up homework on a table by the front window without ordering anything – again, apparently a daily occurrrence.

Obviously, La Olma is much more than a restaurant/bar: it’s town center.

We explored one village whose only resident appeared to be a scruffy doggo – when Todd opened the car door to say hello, he jumped in, ready to come home with us. Took a bit to get him back out…dog friend

On our way back to Molino Tejada, we spotted a mother stork feeding her babies:stork mom

We awoke the next morning to this breakfast spread – we were the only guests!breakfast

A day of exploration, starting with Cascada de Orbaneja del Castillo:

The town was guarded by kissing camels framing a map of Africa:IMG_5261

Local cats kept their eyes on us:

We arrived at the 12th century Romanasque Collegiata de Sant Martin Elines in time to pick up the tour:


Finally, we headed out on our long drive home, surrounded by rising mist:

The final tally: 3000 kilometers in 2 weeksfinal mileage





San Sebastian/Donostia: Jewel of the Basque Country

San Sebastian/Donostia: Jewel of the Basque Country

San Sebastian. One of my favorite places in Spain. I’d consider living there, but it’s a bit chilly. Of course, with it currently being early August in Alicante, and me remembering May in San Sebastian, maybe…

When we left Andorra, it had just snowed. The drive into Spain was much easier than the drive from France into Andorra.

Unlike Andorra, our arrival in San Sebastian was easy driving and easy parking.

We stayed a bit out of the city center at the NH Donosti. It was quiet, and located right on the bus route, so we had no trouble exploring the city.

Sunday night, we had an early dinner at Erniope, where we joined the locals in watching a rousing handball match on TV.

On Monday, we roamed the town and took advantage of the great pintxos. We started at Iombi on Plaza Gulpuzcoa, where the total bill was 8,35:

Then Meson Martin on Calle Elkano:

Then to Nagusia Lau Bar in Old Town, where the prices doubled!

Advice: stay inland of Avenida de la Libertad – the food is just as good and costs half as much!

We had planned on seven stops, but three and we were full!

Tuesday was a wine tour with GoBasque. A friend and I had toured with them on my previous trip to San Sebastian, so they worked to set up a different experience. We started at Muga, where we had two tastings, plus some extras…

Then La Rioja Alta and another two tastings: 

Then three tastings at Luis Canas:


Finally, two tastings at Bodegas Oslatu. Happy Birthday to me!

Wednesday morning was laundry time, then a trip up the funicular to Monte Igueldo, where the views were spectacular:

We reluctantly left Thursday, with a stop at the Guggenheim in Bilbao before heading to our last stop: Molino Tejada.


Andorra: the big little country

Andorra: the big little country

On Friday we left southern France and headed toward Andorra. Windy roads that seemed to never end. Switchbacks within switchbacks within switchbacks.


But, oh, the views!

Andorra is a small country with huge vistas. An old country that seems to work continuously to stay modern.
With the construction in Andorra la Vella, we had to circle the hotel five times to find the parking and get to it! But the views while we drove were stunning – mountains surrounding the town, the town a mix of old-world stone and modern construction.

After settling in our hotel room at the NH, we headed for an anniversary dinner el Refugi Alpi, recommended by the desk clerk. (We usually ask, where do YOU go for a nice meal? Where do you take your mother?) Our dinner was okay, but the diners around us were having a fondue we’d never seen before: a block of cheese mounted to a dual heating unit. You scrape the cheese off as it melts and eat it with potatoes, bread, and sausage. You can move the heating units close to or away from the cheese to control the rate of melt – sort of! Next time we’re in Andorra, we’ll give it a try!

On Saturday we slept in through the rain, then set out to explore the old town.
Andorra la Vella has art everywhere – both traditional:


And modern:


When we stopped into a bodega to buy a postcard for my nephews, we stumbled onto a local liquor tasting: vermouth, olive-based, sangria, crème, arroz, cinnamon, whiskey…13 samples later, we bought a bottle and the post card was free!


A tour of the old town hall (no photos allowed inside) gave us a detailed history of Andorra.

We expected prices in this land-locked, difficult to navigate country to be outrageous, but they weren’t. And we found out that although flights are limited, Andorra la Vella is accessible by a 3-hour bus ride from Barcelona, With the 5-hour train ride from Alicante to Barcelona, it would be a long day of travel each way, but worth it for a few days in this beautiful place!
To further celebrate our anniversary, we splurged on spa time at Inuu. No photos, as we were busy spa-ing. It wasn’t Budapest, but it was a lovely evening.
A stop for pizza on the way back to the hotel, and our time in Andorra was almost over.
We awoke on Sunday morning – May 13 – to what we thought was dew on the trees on the mountains. But then we saw a car go by with several inches of snow on it – that was snow on the trees!
We headed off to San Sebastian. The Spanish side of Andorra has easier roads than the French side, and still with spectacular views.

a bit of southern France

a bit of southern France

Our experience of France had been limited to a weekend in Paris, so for the Great Road Trip of 2018, we opted to head from Barcelona across southern France into Andorra.

Our first stop was Coilloure, which had been recommended by a friend.



Despite a lovely street market and waterfront area, it was not what we expected, so we moved on to Carcassone, where we stayed at Domaine de Marseillens, a B&B in a former winery. It was charming – meaning a small, too-soft bed and uneven, creaky wood floors. But the proprietors were lovely, and the building and grounds were delightful and inviting. 


Thursday we toured the medieval city of Carcassone. A nice morning of exploration in the 19th-century recreation of the medieval city. Like most places, it would have been better without so many tourists…


From Carcassone, we headed to Mazamet for the Cathar Museum, which wasn’t open. Turns out, it was a national holiday in France: Ascension Day. We only found three restaurants and one café open. We opted for lunch at Le Grand Balcon. When I ordered the French onion soup with a salad, the waiter kindly explained to me that the portions were huge, so I should order one and have dessert later. I chose the French onion soup, and it was, indeed, huge. The crème brulee for dessert was certainly worth giving up the salad.


Thwarted in our attempt to see the Cathar Museum, we continued on to Albi and the Toulouse-Lautrac Museum and the Cathedral.



Albi is definitely on our list of places to revisit, and I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Then, on to Andorra…

a taste of Barcelona

a taste of Barcelona

Our Great Driving Adventure began with a crazy good deal on a car rental: around 100 Euros for 2 weeks!

So we started off for Barcelona – a 5 ½ hour drive. Easy enough. A friend had warned us about tolls, but he didn’t really WARN us about tolls: 60 Euros worth between Alicante and Barcelona!

Sunday evening we met up with our friends and kept it simple by having dinner on the promenade across from the port. MASSIVE seafood platters, with at least one of everything, and at least two of most!

On Monday morning we gathered with the rest of the tourists at the Palau de la Musica Catalana for a bus tour to Montserrat, followed by a cava tour and tasting. The Palau de Musica was beautiful on the outside – we can’t wait to return and explore all that it has to offer inside:


Once we arrived at Montserrat, we explored the grounds, then divided up. I opted to explore the museum, while they rode the funicular to the top for the views.


The museum is a treasure, with paintings by the Old Masters (including El Greco), modern paintings and sculpture, religious artifacts and icons, and, of course, works related to the Black Madonna. A little something for everyone.


But the funicular…and the views from the top!


A quick lunch, then to the cathedral to hear the boys choir.


Back on the bus to Cavas Codorniu, where we toured the 32 miles of cellars on a Disney-like train. And who doesn’t love a cava tasting?


Tuesday, we headed to the Picasso Museum (no photos allowed).

Then, the ultimate tourist experience: Carrefour so our friends could buy assorted canned fish and wine to take back home for tastings with their friends.

Lunch at the port, where we saw the vendors scramble to pack up their wares, then get annoyed because the police actually didn’t show up.

Tuesday evening we headed out to sample tapas. We started with menu tapas at El Xampanyet, which was already standing room only 15 minutes after opening. Then, by popular demand, toothpick tapas at Euskal Etxea Taberna.


And we stumbled onto El Chigre, where we sampled vermouth and were treated to random tastings from the chef.


El Chigre is definitely on our return-to list – dinner there would be awesome! After a lovely evening, we said goodbye to our friends.

And I’m pleased to report that I finally got my bearings of this fabulous city!



renewing our residency

renewing our residency

I would like to apologize upfront for this text-heavy post. I just couldn’t figure out how to get sexy photos of red-tape procedures!

As with everything else here, I did much online research before we started the residency renewal process, especially after all of our false starts with the original residency. I found out that you can apply starting 60 days before the current card expires, and up to 90 days after it expires. Knowing how things work here, we started at the early end of that timeline, although we didn’t get paperwork filed until September 28, and our visa expired October 12. No problem, as long as you can show that you are in the process.

I gathered all of our paperwork:

      • EX-01 form.
      • Passport valid for 1 year more.
      • Complete copy of all pages of the passport. One posting suggested including a summary sheet listing the dates when you entered and left Spain, to make it easier for them to see that you resided in Spain at least 180 days in previous year. I did that with our original application, but not with the final application.
      • Current residency card and copy.
      • Proof of financial support – translated into Spanish by a Spain-based official translator.
      • Proof of health insurance.
      • It was also suggested that you include a current copy of your padron, to show that your address hasn’t changed. I did that with our original application, but not with the final application.
      • Tasa form 790 052 in the amount of 15.92 paid for each of us

We took all of our paperwork to our local extranjero office on September 28 – no appointment necessary. The clerk, who spoke excellent English, was very impressed with my organizational skills: I had paperclipped each section. We mentioned to him that we were returning to Texas in November for a visit, and he gave us the paperwork (Ex-13 and tasa 790 052 in the amount of 10.40) to apply for a temporary authorization to return: autorizacion de regreso. That application was a 2-day turnaround, and would allow us to travel in and out of Spain for 90 days. We returned several days later to turn in that paperwork, and we were able to pay the fee there at the extranjero office. With the authorization of regresso in hand, we felt like we had some breathing room.

A few weeks later, we were notified that our application was not approved. We went to the extranjero office for an explanation. Seems my uber-organization had resulted in a less-than-thorough review of our paperwork, and we had some issues:

  • We had renewed the medical insurance we had taken out for our initial visa, which provided for repatriation. What they wanted this time, we finally understood, was “real” Spanish medical insurance.
  • Our financial documents had to be translated into Spanish. Most of the postings I had read had mentioned that, but some people were able to get approved without having the translations done. I had gambled, and we lost.

So – we scrambled to take care of the medical insurance. After several false starts, we got insurance through Adeslas through our Caixa bank. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to cancel the year-long policy we had already purchased through World Nomads.

With our trip home looming, I decided to use the translator in Dallas that I had used with our initial visa application.

We returned from our Thanksgiving visit ready to resubmit the paperwork.

Back to the extranjero office December 11 with the new insurance and translations, as well as an official cover sheet listing what we were submitting. The non-English-speaking clerk scanned of all of our paperwork and gave us a receipt listing the submissions.

THEN we received notice December 27 that our translations had to be done in Spain. We were told that we had to get everything refiled by January 12 to fall within the 90 days after expiration. We scrambled, it being the middle of the Christmas holidays, got the translations done, and got the paperwork resubmitted. For some reason, this time they wanted us to submit the complete packages all over again, including repaying the fee. So, we did.

And we waited – again.

My approval letter arrived in the mail February 18…

We looked every day, but no approval letter for Todd. I went online and finally saw his approval and immediately booked our appointments for fingerprints. (Your NIE/passport number has to be tagged as approved in the system before you can make an appointment.) This was the end of February, and we couldn’t get in until the end of April!

Todd’s official letter finally arrived March 1.

Then, appointments were made to be fingerprinted and submit photos.

Then, another wait.

Finally we were able to pick our cards up at the end of May – 7 months after our original residency cards “expired”! So…we’re good for another year and a half!