Friday, May 24, 2013

Some Drives To Remember

Renting a car in a foreign country and driving around that country can be a good thing or a bad thing, or both.  Just ask Roberto, our friend who did all the driving.  We had a love/hate relationship with the car on our trip.  We loved being able to drive around and see the country of Spain.  We could go wherever and whenever we wanted.  We did not love our car when it came to driving around small towns with very narrow, crowded streets that seemed unnavigable.  We also did not love the car when it came to paying the very high tolls, which as it turns out are well worth not having to drive among hundreds of trucks and people who drive like they have no respect for life!

We left Barcelona and headed out to Zaragoza.  I knew nothing about Zaragoza, never even heard of it until we started planning this trip.  Most people asked us "Why Zaragoza?" , except for the one person who said it was her home town and asked if she could stow away in my luggage.  The reason for Zaragoza is that it was the largest town near the Rioja wine region and our friends knew someone who said it was a lovely city.  Why not?  Turns out, it was a lovely stop.  BUT before we made it to Zaragoza we had to eat lunch....somewhere.

A common sight while driving in Spain...
Our adventurous sides lead us to a little walled city named Montblanc.  Had it not been for the restaurant outside the city being closed, we may never have found this hidden treasure.  When you look up charming and ancient in the dictionary, there should be a picture of Montblanc.

Forboding exterior
So inviting inside
Another noteworthy drive took us to a part of The Way of St. James or Camino Santiago.  TJ had researched this path and as we all got to pick a place we wanted to visit every now and then he chose this little town.  So after we tasted wine at Marqueses de Riscal and had lunch in Logrono, both note worthy but I have very little time to note.....we followed our Zara Gosa (our GPS) to this crossroads.

Along the road...
There is always a church to welcome you in every town.

Our driver, Roberto, crossing Ponte de Santiago

One huge reason I will never do the Camino Santiago, this is the communal clothesline  where all the hikers hang their stinky clothes after they wash them...probably while they were wearing them in the shower!  
It was finally time to say goodbye to Zaragoza and head south to Valencia.  We stopped along the way, of course, for some sight seeing, picture taking and just a bit of eating and drinking.  Our lunch stop was in Teruel.  Just one more cute town in Spain! 
 Note the shade seekers and the sun worshiper!
The view from our table!  I could sit and look at this all day!

Even the bottoms of the balconies were decorated with tile mosaics!
My other favorite drive brought us through Tarragona, you know...the place I have decided to  live!  Another TJ pick, which turned out to be an amazing stop!  The tour book said it was a mix of ancient Roman ruins mixed with cafes, friendly people and an active social scene.  Oh, and perennially sunny!  SOLD!   As we dusted the dirt of Valencia off our feet and headed north in the overcast sky it was as if the clouds parted right over Tarragona!  As we got closer and closer, the sun became brighter and brighter and the sky and the water ended up looking like this.....
We're so happy that we can't stop smiling!!!!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Bike Ride to Remember

The trip to Spain was just amazing.   There are just too many great stories and memories to share.  I'm going to try to break it down into chunks....not only for your sake but for mine.  Maybe the trip will last a little longer this way.  In short, it was one of the best trips I've ever had the pleasure of taking, Spain is beautiful and the people are very friendly, hospitable and helpful (except for that one bus driver in Gava del Mar), and they are very tolerant of people who butcher their language.

Our first day in Barcelona was a marathon, we arrived at 2pm and walked around like zombies for a while, took a bit of a siesta and then walked around like zombies, well into the night, to get ourselves onto Spanish time.  Spanish time is a lot different than Sugar Land time.  In Sugar Land we eat lunch at noon, dinner at 7ish, TJ falls asleep around 8:30 or 9 and we are both in bed by 11ish.  Spanish time means lunch at 1 or 2 followed by siesta and then tapas at 7 or 8 and dinner around 10pm.  I really don't know what happens after midnight, outside of our apartment, because it was all we could do to keep everyone mobile long enough to finish dinner and meander our way back to our apartment.  It seemed like it took all week for us to figure out lunch, tapas and dinner times.  One thing is for sure, you can always drink...any time!

We decided to take a bike tour on our second day in Barcelona.  I love bike tours!  They are a great way to see the highlights of a city without wearing out your feet.  Usually the bike tour has a knowledgeable guide and a few other interesting people along for the ride.  Ours was no different.

We had originally planned to go on the 11 a.m. bike tour on Sunday (our first complete day in Spain) but none of us woke up until after 10!  Great way to jump right into Spain time!  We were forced to go on the 4 pm bike tour.  Best decision we didn't have  to make.  Turns out the 4 p.m. bike tour is more laid back and easy going AND we got to stop for tapas and drinks at the end!  Bonus! 
Here we are in front of Sagrada Familia

 Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Yes, Gaudi was a genius!

We were able to see things we never could or would have seen if left to our own devices and all in 4 hours!  We only had 2 1//2 days in Barcelona so the bike tour was a very efficient way to see things and decide what we wanted to explore more on our own.  One of those places turned out to be the Palau de la Musica Catalan.  I knew from the outside that the inside was going to be amazing!  It happened to be near the Barcelona Cathedral which was also worthy of a return visit the next day. 

the ceiling alone was worth the price of admission in the Palau de la Musica Catalan!

So in the best order I can come up with, here are some highlights of "a bike ride to remember"!

Barcelona Cathedral
Arc de Triomphe
Running club in the park next to the Arc......not part of the official bike tour!

Cool fountain near the zoo
Parc de ciutadella

Bull fighting ring, but no bullfighting. It is illegal in Barcelona now

Down to la playa and the Olympic park
taking pictures while riding a bike....a new skill

tapas and drinks, the perfect way to end the perfect ride!

The night did not end with our tapas!  Oh, was only 8:30....time for drinks and walks in busy squares full of people dining al fresco or as they say in Spain,  "al aire libre".    There was no way we were calling it a night!  We learned a lot about Barcelona that day and we just could not let it end.  So... we walked a little more and finally headed "home" to our apartment.  Only to be greeted by a very sweet gift from our families to wish both couples a Happy 35th Anniversary.  We raised some really great kids!
First, there was balancing on a ball in the square!
A girl has got to have fun....

Oh, and I forgot to mention, I'm moving to Barcelona to run my new bar!

Thanks kids!!!!

We enjoyed our gifts on the roof  the next day!
Yeah, the weather was miserable....
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