passing the day in Parma

passing the day in Parma

Our last day in Bologna, we went two train stops past Modena: Parma.

At the station, we stopped to ask a carabinieri where we could get good pizza. He was very friendly and helped us navigate our way out of the station and into town. A coffee break to get our bearings, then onward.

First stop, of course: the duomo: the 11th-century Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption.

Then the pink baptistry. Construction on the pink marble octagon-shaped baptistery was begun in 1196.

The museum at the Bishop’s Residence was included in the combination ticket. Its treasures date back to the 12th century.

Helpful hint: you can buy postage stamps at any tobacco store, but mail boxes are hard to find.

Pizza at Ristorante Pizzeria la Duchessa in Piazza Garibaldi, formerly the Piazza Grande under the shadow of the Palace of Podesta.

A stroll through the open-air market and the local grocery, where we picked up Nocino. On the way back to the train station, we stopped at a little market and picked up some Parmesan cheese to bring home.

market cheese

With planning, we could have visited a cheese factory, which would have made the trip complete.

 

more than you could hope for in Modena

more than you could hope for in Modena

A 25-minute train ride, €15 per person round trip, and we were in Modena, with its tree-lined streets and quiet ambience.

First stop: Enoteca Ducale. A real find, in several ways, and we just happened to stroll past it and back up to go in. A tasting of several balsamics, and of course we went ahead and purchased. One of my rules: if you find something you like and want, get it then – you’ll likely not find it again, and you certainly can’t count on finding your way back there, especially on a day trip.

Then to the Piazza Roma, followed by the Piazza Grande and its duomo.

Headed toward Mercato Coperto Albinelli, we found a hat store, and Todd bought a Panama hat (not a Stetson, although they carried them – humorous to us Texans).

A stroll through the mercato. Then a second stroll through the mercato. We could have had lunch there, but it would have involved too many decisions, so we proceeded to the restaurant recommended by the balsamic guy.

What a lunch at Danilo Ristorante! We opted to eat inside, and that was the best decision we could have made. We were quite obviously the only non-locals there. Nonna adopted us. She’s worked there 32 years. She had an English-speaking waiter help us with our initial order, then she took over. After we had finished lunch, she brought us a plate of cookies—made fresh by her that morning—and she convinced us to order dessert. The tiramisu was a life-changer. Then she brought marinated cherries, and wouldn’t leave us alone until every one of them was gone. Then Nocino, the house-made walnut-coffee liqueur.

But we weren’t done yet. The couple sitting behind us beckoned us to follow them. An older couple and four of us, we took a chance. Professor Arrigo Guiglia and his wife took us through the Jewish quarter and talked about the war, then took us to a private Jewish museum on Via Francesco Rismondo and gave us a private tour. So many treasures, it brought tears to my eyes. And he and his wife were so welcoming and giving, even though they spoke no English and Mark’s Italian was basic. This is the kind of thing we treasure about our travel adventures.     

Mark and Vicki headed back to Bologna while we went to the Ferrari Museum. I enjoyed a glass of prosecco while Todd toured. Review: interesting, but not worth the €16 admission.

Back to the train station and back to Bologna. All of Modena was easily walkable.

IMG_0327

travel travails: Bologna

Every time we fly, we are reminded that we prefer travel by train.

We went to Bologna with our friends Mark and Vicki. Our first trip on Ryan Air—not fans! We pre-paid to check one bag and carried on a carryon, a backpack, and a backpack purse. No problem. They flagged the carryon for gate check. No problem. Then they stopped me at final check-in and told me the bag was too big and we’d have to pay to check it: €50. PROBLEM! We did it – cuz what else are you going to do? And I watched many bags bigger than mine get on the plane and put into overhead storage. GRRRRRRR.

We did 2 day trips from Bologna by train – easy!

Travel travails continued on our way home. The Bologna airport is a hot mess. We waited in line about 20 minutes to check our bag, only to discover that we apparently hadn’t paid for the check on the return trip. The check-in counter couldn’t take payment, so we headed to the ticket counter (poorly marked) to pay. The €60 that the check-in lady said we’d have to pay became €40. We took it, then returned to check-in to show proof of payment and collect our boarding passes.

Off to security, where they scanned the carryon bags, then did the routine bag check. Whatever. We then dutifully followed the crowd to passport control, figuring out that there was a separate line for non-EU passports. After 40 minutes – and several groups pushed through to the front of the line to catch their flights – it was our turn: we were in the wrong line – we had been waiting in the line for travel outside the Schengen zone. GRRRRRRR. We hustled to our gate (which had not been posted before) and stood in line for another 40 minutes – no seats to be had. But Ryan Air let us on with our bag, no questions asked. And no gate check for anyone. Whaddup widdat?

an excursion to Jumilla

an excursion to Jumilla

We joined our local friends Mark and Vicki on an excursion with Tu-Tours to the town of Jumilla, a local wine mecca. The group was larger than I would have liked (54), but the size provided us the advantage of English tour guides at our stops.

We began at Bodega Finca Luzon, a century-old winery that has been modernized but still prides itself on its attention to traditional methods. Our Portuguese tour guide was very knowledgeable and had an excellent command of English, although we had to clarify the distinction between flies and fleas for her. What we didn’t know: they encourage spiders in the vaults because they eat bugs that might attack the wooden barrels. She referred to them as “guards of the wine.” The wines were lovely—and they’re available in the U.S.

Our second stop: the Monastery of Santa Ana del Monte. There was some debate as to whether it was a convent or a monastery. Apparently, Spanish doesn’t necessarily distinguish between the two. In English, a monastery is for monks and a convent is for nuns. But traditionally, a monastery lay outside the walls of a city, while a cloister (or convent) was protected inside the city walls. Makes sense, therefore, that women would be in a convent and men would be in a monastery. In any case, Santa Anna is a monastery, perched atop a mountain with views of the valleys below.

The church, founded by Franciscans in 1573, was small but beautiful. Only five monks are in residence at this time. The monk who talked to us was delightful, with a sense of humor and an ability to share a lot of information in a little time. In the early days, the monks served as priests for the surrounding villages, and they carried large crucifixes with them as they made the rounds. While the largest “only” weighed 90 pounds, it was well over 6 feet tall. Imagine lugging that up and down the mountainside!

One highlight of the visit was a large museum of reliquaries containing objects left by pilgrims who journeyed to the monastery, a good 6 kilometers uphill from the Jumilla town square. Many of the items were archaeological finds, as well as natural history-type items.

Throughout the monastery were over 100 hand-painted signs which provided texts for daily inspiration.

A long day. A lot of walking. A good day.

a day trip to Murcia

a day trip to Murcia

We went in search of a bead store. I’ve gotten itchy fingers, needing to do something crafty.

Easy train ride – 30 euro total roundtrip for the two of us. It took a little over an hour each way, with a number of stops, but it was comfortable. As we traveled inland, we saw a variety of crops – not just the oranges close to home. Lots of lemon groves, including my favorite: a rogue orange tree in the middle of a large group of lemon trees.

Murcia has—in my opinion—several advantages over Alicante:

·       Lots of parks, with actual green space and fenced-in areas for dogs (We met Inca, a striped brindle who was happy to take treats.)

·       Flat topography

·       Lots of “new” buildings: houses, apartments, businesses

But it was already hot in May – and no ocean breeze. We’ll keep Alicante.

The cathedral was closed, but we were able to tour the cathedral museum. The splendor never ceases to amaze me.

We caught a display of “street art” at the MUBAM museum – modern art we could appreciate!

 All in all, a most pleasant day – Vale!

a few days in Madrid

a few days in Madrid

Our first visitor from the States – of course we had to spend a few days in Madrid!

We cheated and took a cab from Atocha to our hotel. When the cab turned from Puerta del Sol onto a sketchy-looking side street, we were a little concerned. But the hotel, Casa de la Lirica, was lovely, and the location was perfect – just a block from the Montera “pedestrian walkway,” midway between Puerta del Sol and Gran Via. A large room, comfortable beds, a bathroom with space for a rollaway bed, and a heavenly shower. Framed posters throughout the hotel gave information about zarzuelas, including pages from the scores; it would have been much meaningful, I’m sure, if I knew anything about the Spanish operatic form.

The crowd was crazy on Montera – that evening was a match between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Bands of fans roamed the area, wearing their team jerseys proudly, bursting into song as they met fellow fans.

We grabbed a quick bite at Tapa Tapa while we watched the roving pep rally. Obligatory sangria, tempura shrimp (with maybe almonds in the tempura – yum!), and a new favorite croquet: gorgonzola and nueces. A bonus half pitcher of sangria because the waiter knocked the first pitcher over while dropping off the plates. Vale!

We opted to do the 2-day red City Tour bus, and it ended up being a good deal. Over the 2 days, we ended up riding both routes, and we were able to access all of the tourist spots at the top of our list.

Our hotel was in the middle of stops 6, 7, and 17 on Route 1 (the blue route) and stop 14 on Route 2 (the green route).

Our first evening in Madrid, we rode Route 2, which took us past Stadium Santiago Bernabeu. At 6:00 in the evening, crowds were already thronging for the 8:45 match. It was delightful to be able to see it all from the top of the bus, without having to fight our way through it!

Real Madrid

We stopped at a chocolateria a little off the beaten track so Rox could have her priority churros. We split an order, then I had a chocolate crepe while she had another order of churros. We ordered coffee with brandy (just because) and it was served with a lemon slice. No bueno. Once we removed the lemon and were able to add leche, things were much better. We ended up having a lovely chat with the waitress, who was newly arrived from Cuba to be closer to her daughter and family.

On Wednesday, our full day in Madrid, we began with Stop 12 on the blue route at the Almudena Cathedral. A modern cathedral, the artwork was beautiful, but not authentic cathedral to me. Rox, however, basked in all of its colorful glory.

cathedral - from patio

 

The views from the top of the cupola were amazing – every side took our breath away.

Stop 14 on the blue route took us to the Real Basilica de San Francisco el Grande. While I huddled in a doorway out of the rain, Rox circled the basilica looking for an entrance. Turns out, the basilica has office hours, so we moved on.

Back on the bus, the sun came out and we exited at Stop 16 for Plaza Mayor and the Mercado de San Miguel. The plaza was just returning to life after the rain, and we shopped our way around it, then headed to the Mercado, which was so packed we did little more than circle it in open-mouthed, drooling awe.

Mercado San Miguel

Around a few corners, and we were able to find Restaurante Botin. We were even able to get a table, so we ate, even though we weren’t hungry. Sangria – always welcome – prawns (already shelled – bonus!), and the ever-popular croquetas. Not only a hangout of Ernest Hemingway, Botin has been a restaurant since 1725 – officially, the oldest restaurant in the world!

Botin

All too soon, time for Rox to return home. Thanks to a 6:30 a.m. train from Alicante, Todd was able to make it to the airport before Rox had to go through security. Big hugs and she was off to Texas while we returned to the hotel and regrouped.

The staff at Hotel Casa de la Lirica had been quite gracious and helpful about extending our stay.  

Our first stop: the Escher retrospective at Palacio de Gaviria. The palacio itself was worth the visit, but the exhibit was fabulous. It traced Escher’s career and influence, and we saw many works we had never seen before. His works are impressive enough when you think of them as sketches, but when you remember that they were carvings, they become even more amazing.

Some general roaming, and a return visit to La Cabana Argentina for a fabulous steak dinner – the best beef we’ve had since we left Texas.

Vale!

 

A day in Segovia

A day in Segovia

Segovia is only a 30-minute, 20-Euro Renfe ride from Madrid, and the three main sights can easily be seen in a day trip, although I would love to see them in the evening light and at night.

The Guiomar train station is a ways out of town, but only an 8-Euro cab ride. The taxi dropped us off right in front of the aqueduct, which seems to stretch forever up and in either direction. Bus #11 will drop you off there, as well, after a 20-minute ride.

After a quick lunch while we watched the high school students in assorted versions of togas wrapping up a field trip, we climbed to the top of the aqueduct, marveling at every view.

view - closeup

Emperor Trajan built the nine-mile aqueduct, which culminated at the Alcazar. Over 2000 years old, 2500 feet of the original aqueduct are visible above ground at the entrance to the old city. It was made from 20,000 granite blocks without mortar and has 118 arches. The aqueduct actually functioned until the 19th century.

From there, we wound our way downhill to Plaza Mayor and toured the cathedral. Dating from the 16th century, the Cathedral of Segovia is considered to be the last Gothic cathedral, with the beginnings of Renaissance style. As with other cathedrals we’ve visited, restoration is ongoing. That’s reassuring, and we’re more than willing to pay admission in order for that to happen.

IMG_3623

Then more walking until the Alcazar loomed in front of us. Magnificent views in every direction. We opted for the (very thorough) audio tour, but passed on the 162 stairs up to the tower. An hour later, and my tourist self was saturated and ready to head home.

front

What goes downhill must eventually go uphill, so we trudged back to the aqueduct, wandering along the wall through neighborhoods for a half an hour or so. We stopped in view of the aqueduct to enjoy a pitcher of sangria at El Secreto: a bit expensive at 16 Euros, but hands down the best sangria yet!