The Loire River Valley of France – Chateaus, vineyards and snowy gardens. January 28-February 14, 2018.

From Madrid, Spain,  we flew to Nantes, France on the west end of the Loire River.  We planned to stay in Nantes for a few days and then rent a car for the rest of our stay in the Loire Valley as public transportation is limited.  The Loire Valley is considered the line that divides north from south France. It is the only ‘free’ flowing river in France in that it has no dams.  It also has hundreds of  chateaus built along it and it’s tributaries as it flows through the French countryside. Of those, 42 are UNESCO Heritage sites. Many of the chateaus are still  private residences,  some have been converted to other uses and some are open to the public as tourist attractions and historical sights.

We stayed in very nice AirBnB’s , 3 nights in Nantes,  a week each near Chinon and Amboise.  Nantes was near the train station and the others were small cottages near quaint villages and easy drives to chateaus. .

The down side to traveling in ‘off’ season is that some  things are closed and/or under construction.  Much of the area around the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne and our apartment apartment in Nantes were  under construction.  One of the main attractions of Nantes, Les Machines de l’ile, was closed.

We still managed a walk through the Chateau in Nantes and , the Passage Pommeraye-a very nice retail shopping center and the Jardin des Plantes garden.  The Nantes Cathedral had some of the nicest stain glass we had seen on the whole trip.  And the Nantes Garden Park was lovely even though it was a little wet and cool.

 

 

 

We rented a car in Nantes for the next two weeks along the Loire.  Our AirBnB was a cottage in a small village near Chinnon.  From there we took day trips to visit small villages,  chateaus and drive through the French countryside.

 

 

Chateau de Villandry.  This part of France seldom sees much in the way of snow.  They had had 5″ of snow the night before we went to Chateau de Villandry.  We were warned to be careful driving as the French ‘drive like monkeys’ by our host.  Villandry is  known for it’s beautiful garden and is usually filled with tourists any other time of year.  When the garden is dormant, not so many tourists.  We anticipated a brown, dreary garden.  The Chateau itself was closed for the season but the gardens were open.  We were the first and only visitors of the day.  Kaye and I spent almost 2 hours wandering the wintery grounds trying to capture this rare event.

For more info on Chateau de Vellandry- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Château_de_Villandry

 

 

One of the Chateau de Cheverny’s main attraction is it’s hunting dogs.  Twice a day the guy responsible for feeding the dogs makes his way into the pound where all the dogs are anticipating  being fed.  He walks into the pound and makes the dogs all move to an adjacent area while he fills the feeding troughs with food.  We had seen a Rick Steves video showing the dogs being fed juicy steaks-not this day.  Looked like ground hamburger to me.  Didn’t matter to the dogs.

 

 

 

Chateau de Chambord,  perhaps one of the most important Chateau’s architecturally and certainly the biggest in the Loire Valley.  More info here- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Château_de_Chambord

 

 

Of course,  going to chateaus was not all that we did in the Loire Valley.  We also went to  (you guessed it) the Loire Valley ZooParc de Beauval. Actually one of the best zoos we visited with spacious areas ,  a great variety of animals and the main draw,  one of the few panda’s born in captivity outside of China.

 

 

Leonardo Da Vinci spent his final years in Amboise, France where he lived at his Chateau du Clos Luce.  The chateau has been turned into a museum with excellent displays and models of various examples of Da Vinci’s many talents.

Chateau du Clos Luce in Amboise, France

 

 

Chateau Chenanceau is the most visited of all the chateaus in the Loire Valley.  It has an interesting history,  beautiful gardens and is architecturally unique.  The day we were there was also after a light snow so the place had few visitors.  As we were leaving,  a french visitor said ‘ I can’t believe we’re here with so few,  there’s usually a line to get in.’

 

 

 

 

We drove to Tours, France where we dropped off our car and caught a train to Paris for our final stop on this journey.

Madrid, Spain, Jan 21-Jan 28

We took a late Sunday morning train from Cordoba to Madrid, Spain.  Trains are a great way to travel , not only in Spain,  but throughout Europe.  They are affordable and on time and a great chance to meet people from all over the world.

The AirBnB we booked for the week was a spacious 2 bedroom on the top (7th) floor of a typical apartment complex you see around Madrid.  We had spectacular sunsets off the patio most every night.  A great place for the 4 of us (Janny and Hannah, Kaye and me)

 

 

After getting settled into our apartment,  we walked through several neighborhoods looking for something to eat and to get a feel of the city.  The parks and restaurants with outside seating were packed (especially if they were in the sun).  There were families, groups of young people and couples everywhere enjoying the good weather in almost a festive atmosphere.  The people of Madrid know how to live.

 

 

 

We visited the Prado Art Museum where you can see Rembrandt’s, Matisse’s, Monet’s to name just a few.  One of the outstanding art museums in the world.  Sorry, no photos.

 

 

We also went to the Museo Reina Sofia that displays Guernica by Pablo Picasso.  Photos are allowed throughout the rest of the museum but not of Guernica.  When you walk in the room where it is displayed,  your eyes are immediately drawn to the art work  then to the guards on either side of the painting ready to approach anyone that even looks like they are going to pull out their iPhone and sneak a shot.  The guards in the back of the room are not as noticeable .   The painting is passionate and meaningful and worth understanding.  Learn more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guernica_(Picasso)

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

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The Royal Palace of Madrid the Almudena Cathedral and the Basilica of San Francisco el Grande Madrid are spectacular and should be visited.  Fortunately they are close to each other and make for a good  day of touring.

 

 

Janny and Hannah flew on to Barcelona while Kaye and I spent a few more days in Madrid and started getting ready to head to the Loire Valley in France.

 

Cordoba, Spain Jan. 14-21, 2018. Alcazar, the Roman Bridge, Mezquita, Flamenco and a visit from Janeil and Hannah.

From Granda,  Kaye and I took the train to Cordoba where we spent a week.  Cordoba’s past dates back to the first century BC with Roman rule , Muslim rule began in the 8 century and ended in the 13th. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  More can be found here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Córdoba,_Spain

Some of the things we did in Cordoba was the Andalusian Horse Show,  a mix of horse show and Flamenco. The best part was watching the  horses train before the show.  We also took in another Flamenco show.

 

 

 

Janny and Hannah had come to stay with us for a few days in Cordoba and Madrid. We took a day trip to Segovia and Avila Spain.  We had a rather cramped AirBnB in Cordoba but made the most of it.

Segovia is a beautiful small World Heritage town in southern Spain.  The highlights are the Roman viaduct which is an incredible engineered structure built in the 1st century and built with not a drop of mortar of more the 20,000 granite blocks. It was part of a larger aqueduct system that brought water from the mountains more than 15km away.

The Alcazar (Moorish Castle) of Segovia is a magnificent palace that has gone through many changes from  when it was first built in the 12th Century.

 

Avila’s old city is a very well preserved medieval fortress with high stone walls and many churches, convents and palaces.  It was a rather short visit but you could get a sense of ‘Old Spain’.

 

 

Another day trip was to Almodovar del Rio which has a castle of Muslim origin an easy bus ride from Cordoba.  The castle has been restored and was used in the 7th season of Game of Thrones.  The views of the Spanish countryside were spectacular.

 

 

Our entire stay in Scotland,  Portugal and Spain was without a car.  We used public transportation and occasionally went on bus tours that would get us  into the countryside and to some of the smaller towns.

Our next stop was Madrid, Spain.

 

Granada, Spain- Christmas and New Year’s with the kids and friends. Alhambra, Flamenco and more. Dec. 17-Jan.14.

We had planned a month in Granada, Spain before we left in April.  We  found an AirBnB that could handle 6 people in a neighborhood that was walking distance to public transportation and nearby restaurants , bars and groceries.  The idea was to have a place where our kids and their friends could visit over Christmas and New Years.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granada

Granada is in southern Spain and near the Sierra mountains. Granada  has been inhabited for thousands of years and has been influenced by Roman, Muslim and Catholic cultures.  The most famous site in the city is Alhambra, a fortress first built by the Romans and then converted to a palace/fortress in the 13th century by the Moors.  It is a fabulous, well maintained UNESCO site that can’t be missed.  You need to make reservations in advance to tour the palace and it is well worth the effort.

 

 

 

After 9 months of traveling through Europe it was great to have Christmas and New Years with Doug, Rachel, Charlie and Brita.  Besides Christmas, we spent New Years Eve together listening to a American Classic R&R   played by a Spanish rock group in a nearby square until 3 am. My ears are still ringing.

We went to a Flamenco show and traveled to Salobrena, Spain on the Mediterranean .  We also went on a tour of the Granada Bull Fighting Ring (fascinating).  There weren’t any bull fights when we were there but here is a link to a Granada Bull fight.

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Solbrena Spain

Alhambra- More info at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alhambra .

 

In 1492,  the Moors were defeated and Granada became a Catholic city.  There are  multiple cathedrals , churches and monasteries to visit, each with its own architectural influence.

 

 

 

Kaye and I took a short trip to Seville, Spain.  Another city with a Moorish background and also the alleged tomb of Christopher Columbus.

 

 

 

Other photos from Granada and Salobrena, Spain.

 

After Granada,  Kaye and I took the train to Cordoba for a week and then Madrid for a week.   Kaye’s sister, Janeil, and her daughter, Hannah, joined us for a few days at each city.

Lisbon, Portugal, part 2: Sintra, Lisbon Oceanarium, Fado and other adventures.

Some of the places we went and things we did in Lisbon.

Seems like we’ve gone to a few zoos on this trip so why leave Lisbon Zoo out.  Zoos can tell you a lot about city and Lisbon’s was no exception.  A fair amount of space for the animals and they looked healthy but not many visitors.  There is a new Oceanarium on the other side of town and that seems to be getting all the attention both financially as well in attendance.

 

 

 

 

One of the highlites was an overnight visit to Sintra.  A small town about a 40 minute train ride west of Lisbon.  It is a Unesco Heritage site because of it many Romantic monumental estates.  It is also known for it’s natural beauty of forests, hills and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.  It’s a little bit like a fairy land that you’d encounter at Disneyland.  Also in Sintra is the remains of a castle built by the Moors in the 9th Century.

 

 

 

Spent an evening at an restaurant in Alfama that featured Fado music.  Fado is to Lisbon as Blues is to Chicago.  Down the street from where we stayed in Lisbon was the Fado Museum.  Most Portuguese we talked with weren’t big fans of Fado but you have to experience it if you’re in Portugal.  Here’s a sample of Amalia Rodrigues, a Portuguese icon of  Fado.

 

We fought off an attempted mugging of Kaye’s purse in the street.  The mugger came out with a ripped jacket and hopefully a few bruises.  We came out unscathed and intact.

We went to a exhibition of M C Escher which was excellent.  It showed his progression of work and his inspirations.  Didn’t take many photos but check out the Official MC Escher web site to find out more.  http://www.mcescher.com

 

We did a day tour that took us over the Vasco de Gama Bridge to the villages and country side south of Lisbon that included a fishing village and a Cave (wine cellar).  We returned over the April 5th Bridge.  Had a great ‘catch of the day’ lunch.

 

The National Coach Museum of Portugal.  Some coaches were the totally over the top for the wealthy aristocrats of the 17th and 18th Century.  Excellent Museum.

 

 

More images from Lisbon.

 

After Lisbon we flew to Granada, Spain on Iberian Airlines where we spent a month.  Doug, Rachel, Charlie and Brita joined for Christmas and New Years.

Lisbon (Lisboa), Portugal, part 1: sights of the city. Nov. 28-Dec. 17, 2017.

We flew Ryan Airlines from Glasgow directly to Lisbon.  Our first time with Ryan and all went well.  You just have to make sure you know what you’re doing as they will ding you a lot for little things.

We stayed in the Alfama neighborhood of  Lisbon which is the oldest part of Lisbon.  It is a labyrinth of winding, narrow, hill side  streets with bars mixed in with apartments,  restaurants and shops.  A devastating earthquake in 1755 leveled most of Lisbon but spared Alfama giving it a unique charm.  ( More can be found about the neighborhood at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfama .)

We tried to stay active during our 3 week stay.  We found a nice 50 meter pool but it took about an hour and a half to get there and the same coming back.  We managed 2 swims a week and would sometimes stop off to site-see on the way back from a  workout.

We also did  an authentic Portuguese cooking class.  We met with two other couples at a small apartment not too far from ours where an expert chef showed us how to make Portuguese steamed clams, stuffed squid, a garbanzo bean salad with chopped up tentacles.  It was a very nice evening with good company and good food.

The Portuguese Navy was established 700 years ago- that would be in 1317.  At one time it was the most powerful navy in the world and participated in the Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries.  On December 12th, 2017, the Portuguese Navy commemorated that anniversary in the Lisbon port on the River Tagus (Rio Tejo).  Parades, a variety of ships in the harbor, a dancing helicopter  and speeches by dignitaries.  Attendance was sparse as you can see.

Portuguese commemoration at Praca do Comercio of the 700th year of the Portuguese Navy.

 

Images of Lisbon:

 

 

Lisbon has a variety of methods for people to get from place to place.   Some are old like the tr network with the famous #28 and some brand new like the Oriente Train Station and the new Vasco de Gama Bridge.

 

 

 

Part 2 of our stay in Lisbon will follow shortly.

“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get”. Lewis Carroll

I’ve fallen a little (2 months) ‘behinder’  in blog posts.  I’ve got hundreds of photos to go through and not enough time.  This is the last blog post while we’re in Europe (Paris, France at the moment).  We leave from Paris  on 2/23/18 for Denver, Colorado for a week and then to Santa Fe, NM for about 2 1/2 weeks before we drive back to Minnesota.  I hope to get caught up, at least partially, along the way.

Here are a few images from upcoming places we’ve visited.

Three  weeks in Lisbon, Portugal

Granada, Spain for a month- Christmas and New Years with Doug, Rachel, Charlie and Brita.

 

A week in Cordoba and a week Madrid Spain with visits from Janeil and Hannah Tillmann.

Two weeks in the Loire Valley of France.  A winter wonderland.

Our last stop in Paris,  where we started 11 months ago.

Stay Tuned.

Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 14-27, 2017

We rode the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow,  checked into our AirBnB, which was quite close to the middle of town, and started to explore.  We usually walk around the immediate neighborhood looking for grocery stores, ATM machines and a close pub.  As we walked along a retail block we heard yelling from a store in front of us.  The shop owner was yelling ‘stop,  stop,  he’s stealing’ .  We saw a rather big, young guy come running out of the store with an armful of cashmere scarves and the shop owner not far behind.  As he ran by Kaye, she swiped her arm across the scarves and he dropped several and turned him around.  I , like and idiot, got in a position to try and block him.  He was easily 40 pounds heavier and 40 years younger than me.  He ran over me like I wasn’t there.  I managed to grab a few scarves as I fell.  I slowed him down enough so someone else was able to push him against a car and he dropped the rest of the scarves.

As I got up brushing myself off and checking for any physical damage, several people kindly asked if I was all right.  The shop owner came over and thanked me and said that I didn’t need to take such a risk-‘they’re only scarves’.  As a reward, he gave me a small bottle of scotch to help heal any bruises I might have received.  Welcome to Glasgow.

Glasgow has some wonderful free and inexpensive  museums and city buildings to visit.  They also have lots of great pubs.  Our favorite was Brew Dog, a small chain of pubs around the UK.  It was there we met, Claire, Alexis and Heather.  It was one of those nights where the intention was to stop off for a beer and it turned into 3 (or was it 4?). A few days later we had a nice afternoon walking with Claire from pub to pub.

After Glasgow we flew to Lisbon, Portugal for a 3 week stay.

Here are some images of some of the buildings in Glasgow.

The Glasgow City Chambers gives free tours.  It is a beautiful building with marble stair cases and arches and stained glass.

Various sights around Glasgow, Scotland.  In 2013,  a helicopter crashed into the Clutha Pub killing 10 people ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_Glasgow_helicopter_crash ).

 

We also took a day trip to Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, the gateway to the Highlands.  Also stopped at Dune Castle (sight of several movies -Monty Python and the Holy Grail ) and Sterling Castle which is the largest and most important castle in Scotland.   Don’t have many photos of them right now-will add later.

 

Edinburgh, Scotland. After almost 3 months in Croatia it was time for a change. Oct. 31-Nov. 14, 2017

Because we were still having to avoid the Schengen area countries,  we left Croatia after 3+ months and flew to Edinburgh, Scotland.  It was our first time flying from one location to another within the EU.  We used British Airways and didn’t encounter any problems and it was affordable.  We enjoyed our time in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro but things start to close down in November.

We had bypassed Edinburgh and Glasgow on our first pass through Scotland back in June and we both felt like we wanted to see more.

We’ve also made a transition from planning our moves months ahead to just a few weeks.  We had planned everything through Prague before we left in late March as well as Christmas in Granada, Spain which included Doug and Rachel.  The places we went in-between we planned on short notice.  That’s pretty much how the rest of the trip is going.

We stayed in a great AirBnB in Edinburgh hosted by Al and Ali.  Besides being a very comfortable, well designed and nicely outfitted  carriage house,  it was across the street from a fantastic 50 meter pool and gym.  Al and Ali were great people to meet and really made our stay in Edinburgh enjoyable.  Kaye and I worked out about 10 times in our two week stay.  We even got in with a masters swim group with Al which was great fun.

Of the two cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow, Edinburgh is probably the more touristy.  It has a castle, beautiful old buildings and a fascinating history.  They host the annual Fringe fest which brings in thousands of people  and lasts for 3 weeks in August.

From Edinburgh we took the train to Glasgow, Scotland.

 

Interior of St. Giles High Kirk in Edinburgh and the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle-more info at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_of_the_Thistle  .

 

We took a couple of day trips to smaller towns and villages while in Edinburgh.  Because we didn’t have a car, we joined a small bus tour group.  One trip went to Melrose Abbey,  burial place of many great Scots including the heart of Robert the Bruce,  and Roselyn Chapel.

Another trip took us to St. Andrews,  the fishing village of Fife and the town of Falkland.  Getting out into the countryside and small villages has been one of the highlights of this trip.

Below are other photos Kaye and I took during our 2 weeks in Edinburgh.  The Scottish National Museum was very nice.

Dubrovnik , Croatia. The most visited tourist spot in Croatia. Visits from Doug (9/17-29), Clay (Kaye’s brother) and his daughter, Emily (10/21-29).

We actually had two stays in Dubrovnik, Croatia, one with Doug as part of his 2+ week visit with us and another with Kaye’s brother , Clay, and his daughter, Emily.  It was fun to spend time with family.

We’ve had pretty good luck with AirBnB’s throughout this trip, however, we hit a bad one with Doug in Dubrovnik .  We had some reservations about the place before we even arrived.  They didn’t have many reviews but it was all we could find at the time.  It was on the side of one of the steep hills in Dubrovnik with 15% to 25% grades to get there.  When we finally found it , it was one of the many unfinished buildings that you see throughout Croatia.  Out one of the windows was  a partially built structure attached to ours.  As we looked around the apartment we found black mold throughout the bathroom, not a good sign.  We stayed about 1/2 hour, took a few pictures of the mold and left.  Doug, in the meantime, had found another AirBnB about 8 miles away.  We booked it and checked in.We showed AirBnb the photos of the mold and they gave us complete refund + a small voucher.  They were very responsive.  The place we moved into had it’s issues as well but mold wasn’t one of them.  The owner of the place we ended up in was so friendly he offered us some ‘grapa’ (home made liquor)- at 8 in the morning.

Clay and Emily showed up on October 21.  In between Doug and Clay and Emily,  Kaye and I went to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzogovina and spent some time in Split.

The photos that follow are from both Dubrovnik stays.  We had one of the best Airbnb’s we’ve had when Clay and Emily visited.

Dubrovnik is perhaps Croatia’s most visited city.  They get large ocean cruise ships in regularly which usually fills up the old town.  Our strategy was to go the old town when there were no ships in port.  Our place overlooked the harbor so we see  the ship traffic.

Dubrovnik had also gone to war with Serbia and Montenegro in the early 90’s.  It was not  a long war but the Croatians remember it.  They have a war museum on top of the hill overlooking Dubrovnik that can be reached by gondola.They hate the Serbs. Our hosts remembered the war and shook their heads when talking about it.  Kaye and I went down to the harbor on Croatian Independence day where the Navy and Army strutted their stuff and got kids into the military mood.  For more info on the war check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croatian_War_of_Independence.

Our stay in Dubrovnik ended our 3 month+ time in Croatia and the Balkans.  From Dubrovnik we flew to Edinburgh, Scotland.  We’re still having to bop in and out of the Schengen area which neither Croatia or the UK are part of.

Below are images of Dubrovnik , the walled city.  Although it was bombed quite heavily during the Balkan wars of the early 1990’s,  it has been largely restored.  A walk around the wall takes about 1 1/2 hours.

Below are some photos from our walks and boat rides in and around Dubrovnik .

 

 

Photos of family visits and other sites seen in Dubrovnik and surrounding islands.

 

The war with Serbia and Montenegro was only 25 years ago.  The generation that lived through it remembers and the new generation wants to be ready.

 

Both Kaye and I felt like we missed too much in Scotland in our last visit so planned 2 weeks in Edinburgh and 2 weeks in Glasgow.

With our kids coming into town for Christmas,  I probably won’t get much blogging done.

Hope everyone has a wonderful Holiday.