Country to City
Leiro, Santiago, Madrid, Spain
Cloudy today but no rain so far in this, the wettest region of Spain. So I guess the song should go “the rain in Spain falls mainly in… the northwest.” We said good bye to our pretty – but-cold monastery suite, stepped out on the medieval balcony overlooking the ancient grapevines, grabbed a quick breakfast and loaded the tour bus going back to Santiago Airport.
A light rain falls on the coach windows reminding us how very fortunate we’ve been this week to avoid having to use the umbrella since we got here. The forecast for the week was really dreary but we’ve had nothing but pleasant days. On the bus, someone suggested we give Richard, our guide for these last two days a big tip. So we passed an envelope and gave him and the bus driver a pile of cash just as we were pulling in to Santiago Airport.
Since we were early for the pre-flight lunch, Richard had the bus take us to downtown Santiago for one last look. We parked right on the border between the historic old town and the newer part. Richard explained that the shopping was this way and the historic district was the other way. We got right off the bus and walked directly into ZARA, a Spanish (actually Galician) designer department store that’s expanding worldwide. Then, since we’d already spent a half day in the historic district, we went up and down several shopping blocks, got a cup of coffee, and checked out some interesting and unique stores. Maybe this part of town is the real reason so many ladies dragged their husbands a thousand miles across France and Spain to get to Santiago – to shop!
TourGalicia treated us to a fine lunch at Ruta Jacobea (James Route), a restaurant/hotel near the airport. We had our first shallow wooden bowl full of chunky slices of octopus tentacles in peppery olive oil (Pulpo Gallega). We enjoyed a nice grilled fish and a plate of local dessert specialties; then everybody made sure everybody else had their business cards and we were all went to the airport. It was really fun to tour around and get to know other travel pros from all over – Belgium, Israel, Spain, Italy, UK, USA, Argentina. One experienced Dutch agent expressed to us his appreciation for American tourists whom, he said, have made his career. We Americans sometimes leave awful reputations as novice or bumbling tourists, but the people who work in the destinations we visit do appreciate our contributions to their economy and to their personal pocketbooks.
During lunch, a travel professional from Madrid told us a good place to go for tapas and flamenco, another from St. Louis, Missouri said he’d like to actively promote our tours to his symphony orchestra contacts, and another from Italy told me about a common sixth and final restaurant meal course I’d never heard of. It’s called Ammazza Café, or “to kill the coffee,” a dash of digestive served after coffee so you don’t leave with the taste of coffee in your mouth.
We arrived by taxi at our downtown Madrid hotel which is about 10 miles from the airport. Eager to get the hang of going from place to place for tapas (small servings of finger or toothpick food) we went searching for just the right places - and ended up by the beautiful Plaza Mayor, with its frescoed palace glowing in the night.
The waiter preparing our paper thin ham slices worked like a sculptor on the pig’s leg atop the bar which he arranged neatly on a plate with some triangle slices of manchego cheese. We also got a small bowl of cider-stewed sausage, a glass of sangria and a glass of cider since we’d chosen a taberna/sidreria to make our plunge into the tapas pool. We were surprised at the 29 euro tab but we were paying for an education here along with the food. We will avoid the sliced leg of pig in the future.
Since there was now a steady light rain, we thought it better to stick close to the Plaza Mayor with its four covered walkways. About half the restaurants and shops are closed but there were four or five interesting spots for a second round of tapas. We chose the one in the southeast corner filled with locals talking loud and having a good time. At the bar we ordered fried calamari and a seafood salad a glass of tinto (red wine) a pint of Spanish beer, and another cider. Everything was very tasty and the bullfighting photos and cartoons were highly entertaining. Again, the 23 euros surprised us. I guess with a group of five or six people, a couple of tapas with drinks would be an inexpensive alternative to sitting down for a normal restaurant meal (although we’ve heard that tapas is just the beginning of an evening out – a restaurant meal follows, then bars and music – Madrilenos don’t sleep much!). But for two, after one hop, we were done “tapas hopping” (except for a non-Spanish stop for a brownie sundae at the next door Ben and Jerry’s.)
Leiro, San Pedro de Rocas Monastery in Esgos,
Parador Santo Estebo de Ribas de Sil,
Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil, Castro Caldelas, Spain
A so-so breakfast whose only redeeming feature was an outstanding chocolate croissant in no way prepared us for the journey ahead. We enjoyed looking around the hotel, its rooms arranged around a series of four cloisters, since we had arrived after dark last night. Scheduled to leave at 10AM, we actually left after 10:30 when one of the ladies who was awakened after 10 straggled on to the bus. Having left late, every stop took longer than planned and we didn’t get to lunch until around 4:30. Needless to say there were some disgruntled professional tour directors. But the guide did his best to keep everyone positive.
We passed through Ourense again (noticing in the daylight great streams of steam coming up from the many places where hot water bubbles to the surface from deep within the earth) and took another look at the Roman/Gothic bridge and kept heading east toward monastery number one, San Pedro de Rocas. Almost troglodyte, this remote monastery built into the rock at the top of a high mountain did a good job of preventing the monks from any temptation of the world. A three column “comb” like those worn by Spanish women crowned a natural stone outcropping as the monastery’s belltower, and could be seen from miles around. A community of monks began living here in the sixth century after three hermit monks established the site seeking peace and solitude so they could develop their relationship with God without distraction.
Today we’re in a smaller bus, just right for 35 passengers since we’re winding up several narrow hairpin curves through chestnut forests on the way to these three monasteries in the Ribeira Sacra region. We followed the Sil River until we got to the not at all tumble- down Santo Estebo de Ribas de Sil former monastery, now converted to a modern luxury hotel (called Paradores here when owned by the Spanish national government) with about 70 rooms.
The only signs of life there at this time of year were a flock of chickens pecking through the ice for water, and a cat in the cloister.
The caretaker met us at the entrace and walked us through all three cloisters, two sample guest rooms, the conference rooms, dining rooms and through the old monastery’s church. In the church is a nativity scene with local features including a model granary.
East of here we drove through deep canyons, stopping for photos at some overlooks on the way to the third monastery, the abandoned Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil.
Only one half of the cloister remains of this incredibly remote monastery; but very interesting frescoes surprisingly still exist after many centuries in the church.
Very scary cliff-hanging drives separated us from our long-awaited lunch (it was now 4 pm) the own of Castro Caldelas whose main feature is an ancient hilltop fortress. Before checking out the fortress we famished travelers invaded the restaurant, Caldelas Sacra the Gonzalez family prepared and served a traditional Caldo Gallego, tender young lamb (2 platter-fulls for our hungry table for four) and crepes for dessert. There is nothing pretentious about this place
. They just cook very satisfying food
without a care about the latest fads.
Afterwards, we crawled all over the mostly derelict castle at the high point of this town enjoying the vast vistas.
An hour later we were back at our hotel, and at 9PM were expected to eat again. Most of the food was wasted, since we’d just stuffed ourselves on lamb. But the group at our table was fun and we enjoyed our last meal together before scattering to the ends of the earth tomorrow.
Rias, Granaries, and Gallerias
Cambados, Combarro, Pontevedra, Ourense, Leiro, Spain
January 27, 2007
In hopes that we’ll help promote this area once we’re familiar with it, one of the exhibitors, TurGalicia, has brought 25 of us on a familiarization tour of Galicia, the northwestern corner of Spain that is above Portugal. Due to its different language, unique social structures, and distinct way of life, even the Roman conquerors acknowledged the distinction by giving this area a separate name. The people lived in round thatched-roof houses inside stone walls atop little hills called castros. Two other things that a drive into the countryside reveals are the granaries in almost every backyard and the ubiquitous use of granite. The granaries are rectangular pointed roof structures about 10 feet by 20 feet elevated about 10 feet off the ground with spaces between the vertical slats. They were used for drying corn before grinding it into cornmeal. Granite is used for street pavers, curbs, and long narrow granite poles in the shape of 6X6 lumber are used in the vineyards at the ends of the rows to hold up the wires.
The Albarinas grapes are allowed to grow on central trunks up about 5 feet before being pruned onto horizontal arbors. So many vineyards appear to be covered with grape arbors rather than the typical vertical rows found in the rest of the world.
Unless you look closely at a map of Spain, you wouldn’t notice that reaching out into the Atlantic are several fingers of land corresponding to the same number of fingers of water. Appearing like fiords, or calanques, rias are different in that they were formed by rivers flowing into the sea. They are only found in two other parts of the world, Southeast Asia and Ireland. Geologists identify them by their Galego name, rias.
Our bus and tour guide, Richard, took us from Santiago westward down one of these valleys formed by a river pointing out how it got wider and explaining that the river is part salty and rises and falls somewhat with the tides. We stopped at Cambados, a seaside town with a 17th century winery in a castle-like mansion (pazo in Galego) in its historical center. We walked from the huge plaza, formerly private – just for the Gil Armada family - bordered on one side by their formerly personal church through a large gate into a vineyard, then down a 100 meter tunnel underneath the home to the tasting room with a large fireplace. There was also a bright grassy courtyard with a stone arched walkway down one side and several orange trees along another. The Armada family, descendents of the original owners from 300 years ago, poured us little glasses of Albarino white wine - very dry with a mineral and slightly citrus taste. There was a display case housing about fifty 10 inch figures which Senora Armada explained were made by her sculptor father depicting some of his friends from the town. In addition to the Albarino wine they also distill eau de vie called aguardiente (burning water) and flavor the liquors with orange, coffee, herbs, other flavorings.
We continued down the coastline to Combarro, a smaller village with ancient fishermen’s homes right on the shore built into boulders – the only village of this kind still in existence in Galicia. We wandered around looking at some of the last remaining smaller homes built by poor fishermen before motorized vessels and refrigeration enabled them to make a very good living.
We entered our seaside restaurant by climbing up candle-lit stone steps, to an unexpected lavish lunch. At a 40 foot long table with 15 guests on each side, were served mountains of already shelled mussels, sushi, and empanadas of octopus and squid for the first course. Then came slices of hard bread accompanied by olive oil in medicine droppers and a pepper sauce in a tooth
paste-like tube. A whole shrimp was followed by a hake (mild white fish) steak, then Caldo Galego (local soup) deconstructed into a frothy broth with cubes of carrots and a chunk of sausage on the side. A queso fresco dessert accompanied by a tiny cup of green cubes of aguardiente jello, and another tiny cup of foamy café con leche preceded a cup of café solo.
We must have been there close to three hours and there was a lot of snoring on the bus heading for Pontevedra - a very open mid sized town with several large plazas with interesting fountains and streets lined with giant camellia trees. Some have trunks a foot across. Our guide said they were imported from Japan in the 1700s and thrive here as street trees, rather than the bushes we’re used to, because of the almost constant rain and mild winter temperatures. After a coffee and aseos (restrooms) stop it was on to Ourense.
After crossing the “Roman” bridge which was reconstructed about 1200 years ago with Gothic arches, our first stop is a very hot steaming thermal fountain. As one lady said, it was hot enough to do the dishes in – hotter than any natural spring I’ve ever put my hand in. Under bright lights we were the subjects of a film crew. I suppose we’ll be a feature of tomorrow’s local morning news. The folks in the tourist office gave us a terrific coffee table book of Ourense bridges, sculptures, plaza, and people photos and we strolled around the town looking into churches and galleries until it was time to get back on the bus.
W have noticed that many of the third floor balconies, in Santiago as well as other towns we’ve visited, have been enclosed with white painted wood framed window panes. It rains so much here that balconies are useless (the sunny days we’ve been experiencing, wonderful for sightseeing, are extremely unusual for this time of year). The galleries let in light and enable the area to be used every day. They are used all over Galicia, never on the first or second floor but frequently on the third and fourth.
We arrived at around 8 PM at San Clodio Monastery Hotel in Leiro with barely enough time to change for dinner. We were fortunate enough to get a suite with a sitting room overlooking the vineyards out back. The walls are built of massive granite stones and the modern windows and doors are set into arched cut stones. Most monasteries in this region have been long abandoned and some are being restored for tourist interest while others are being converted to lavish hotels. The regional tourist board is hoping we’ll be sufficiently impressed with this gorgeous setting to come again with hoards of guests. Dinner was mildly impressive with a kabob of shrimp and white fish followed by slices of veal with a brown sauce.
Santiago Sights and Sounds
Santiago de Compostela, Spain
We made four more appointments (Castille and Leon, Zagreb, Holland, and Tarragona) before leaving the CULTOUR fair with lots of valuable information and some useless swag (freebies). We were especially intrigued with Tarragona, a little known beach-side neighbor of Barcelona with an almost completely intact Roman coliseum and lots of other attractive features worth a good look – such as an annual festival on Anne’s birthday! Anybody want to go with us?
The city bus stops just in front of the Palace of Congress (Convention Center) so as soon as we finished our last appointment, we hopped on and were in the historic district in no time. From the Praza (the Galego word for plaza) Galicia, narrow lanes lead uphill to the destination of thousands of pilgrims over more than the last thousand years. In the Praza do Obradoiro in front of the church is the last step of the journey. It’s a shell symbol in the pavement. Then giddy with excitement, the pilgrim would head up the stairs to the front doors of the cathedral to kneel before the body of James.
Passing shop windows full of local specialties, such as Torta de Santiago and Tetilla cheese, we skirted around the north side of the cathedral in a bit of a hurry to find O Dezaseis (The Sixteen) for lunch. It was after all after 1:30 and we wanted to be sure to get a seat. We started having doubts about our choice of restaurant when we descended to the cellar and found nobody else there. A waiter explained that they wouldn’t open for lunch until 2:00. So we came back then and were one of the first served. We both got the 11 euro menu del dia. This was the easiest option since there was no Spanish or English menu – only Galego. We both got Fabada - sausage, chunks of ham, and white beans in a clear broth- for a first course, followed by “little fishes” which we were accustomed to eating whole on the docks in southern France. Along with several glasses of local white and red wine and a basket of hearty bread, that was a lot of lunch for 11 euros. We asked about dessert and got the typical almond tart called torta de Santiago and a mousse of queso fresco with ground walnuts. I asked for café solo with dessert (I always ask, but it rarely comes til later – it’s considered the final course) and it actually came before dessert in a stainless steel kettle poured at the table into a bowl without handles. This place has great atmosphere: stone walls covered with old farm equipment big tables so work groups can come for lunch, no tourists and no English. Biggest surprise! The bill was 22 euros! None of the extras that we expected to pay for were extra. The atmosphere isn’t the only thing great about this place.
Exiting the warm and cozy restaurant, we were blown through the narrow streets by the frigid wind. Galicia is known for constant rain in the winter, but not for such cold and wind. We entered the cathedral through the north side door and went directly to the tomb of James. No Hollywood glitz here, just a kneeling bench and a silver casket with a star over it. Then we went through an open door which led to narrow steps that went up behind and actually inside the massive gilded altar. The center of attention of the entire cathedral is a stone bust of James whose shoulders are covered in a jewel encrusted gold cape. It’s customary for pilgrims to hug him from behind. We didn’t but I have never been in a cathedral that gave access to the main altar. It is a little distracting, I would think, to people sitting in the chairs to see an occasional head popping over James’ shoulder or a couple of forearms reaching around him from behind.
On top of the altar is another statue of James charging forward on a white horse. It is believed that he came down from heaven on a white horse in AD 859 and again in 1064 and helped the Spaniards rid Europe of the Arab occupation. So this place is not only the third most popular Christian pilgrimage destination in the world after Rome and Jerusalem, it is also decidedly anti-Arab with depictions of James massacring Moors prominently displayed in several of the main plazas. Security is has been ultra tight since 9-11 and the Madrid bombings.
We made a quick visit to the Museum of the Galician people – with displays of rural ways of making fishing boats and baskets, vignettes of a carpenter table, blacksmith shop, and lots of antique agricultural implements. More interesting is the three story cylindrical tower where on the ground floor 3 separate stone spiral staircases terminate. Each staircase goes to different floors. The museum is in a 400 year old building that was at one time a convent. The staircases provided privacy for the different levels of nuns since one could only exit a staircase on certain floors. There are a lot of steps in this tower but it is a very impressive sight. And there used to be NO handrail – it was added when the complex became a museum.
After returning to the hotel, we boarded a bus for a delightful buffet dinner at a hotel that was at one time San Francisco Monastery. Part of the complex still houses Franciscan monks – one walked out as our group was entering - but there are now luxurious hotel rooms and dining rooms. We passed two cloisters on the way to the buffet which was served in the monastery’s refectory. As is common in Italy, the monks took all their meals in a large room. To one side is a pulpit from which they heard scriptures read during meals; and at one end there is typically a painting of The Last Supper. This room had both but the Last Supper was an abbreviated version showing only three disciples in an unusual three-dimensional polychrome.
The entire group walked several blocks to cross the front of the cathedral, more beautiful when lit at night than during the day, and then down several more blocks to the Teatro Principal, a lovely four tiered hall with an exquisite painted stage curtain and gilded box seats where we were to watch a Galician folk spectacle. None of us knew what to expect but some of us were counting on men in kilts playing bagpipes. What we got was an avant-garde performance of 11 young instrumentalists and interpretive dancers. The music was melodic modern jazz, very much like Pat Metheny and the highly choreographed dances had traces of Irish line dancing as inspiration while being thoroughly modern. It was highly entertaining. The dancers were dressed in all black tank tops and pants baggy to the knee with tight leggings from the knee to the ankle. At one time the tenor sax player put down his instrument and picked up a bagpipe, playing along the guitar, marimba, accordion and percussion. There were some soaring vocals and even body percussion where everybody beat their chests in unison as they sang. It was at times bizarre, but at all times pleasing good fun.
We got back on the bus at 11:30 - another typically late night in Spain.
Around the World in Galicia
Santiago de Compostela, Spain
January 25, 2007
Out our hotel window are the green hills of Galicia, but we will be indoors all day, at the CULTOUR Fair.
Since this is CULTOUR’s debut we didn’t know exactly what to expect. It’s a convention for companies that provide travel experiences focused on the cultural opportunities at a destination rather than merely luxurious pampering, relaxation, or even adventure. The organizers built an agenda for each “hosted buyer” which we received when we registered.
So today we had six appointments with exhibitors and gained valuable information that we would not have gained by just walking around as one would usually do at a convention/expo. And we didn’t experience a smidgen of pressure to buy or commit from any exhibitor. In fact, by telling, for example, the coordinator from the tourist office of the Republic of Malta, what our interests are, we learned from him what classical music concerts and festivals occur regularly in Malta. We also found out what and where Malta is: a group of three tiny islands just below Sicily, the rock that the boot of Italy is kicking. We saw some awesome photographs and learned the historical high points of Malta’s 7,000 year old civilization (including why the Maltese Cross is found on military battle ribbons all over the world) and that everyone on the Island speaks both Maltese and English.
In addition to manning the booths, exhibitors may sponsor lunch, dinner or an evening event. Today’s lunch at an adjacent hotel for all the guests was sponsored (paid for) by Xacobeo (the Galician word for James, pronounced in the local Galician language Shack-oh-bay-oh) whose mission is to protect and promote the medieval pilgrim routes that pass through this region and end at Santiago’s cathedral. For centuries, priests prescribed the long walk to Santiago from all over Europe as part of penance for sins confessed. During lunch we watched a short video produced by Xacobeo about the region before being served a four course feast accompanied by wines from the region. The first course was a scrumptious mousse-like seafood disc surrounded by mussels, shrimp, and a local delicacy - percebes - chewy nubs of barnacles - covered with a light creamy sauce. Our table mate, Peter, jokingly explained that it represented the coast of Galicia - the seaside cliffs, the seaweed, and the sealife. Next came a strip steak with zucchini and potatoes. Then a plate of desserts including turron/coffee ice cream on a chocolate wafer and queso fresco (like dense crème fraiche) wrapped in membrillo (a gummy sheet of guava paste – tastes better than it sounds).
We had more interesting appointments after lunch including one with Xacobeo. They really have nothing to sell, they just told us how they promote tourism in the area by publicizing the various routes pilgrims used to get to the cathedral to visit the bones of the Apostle James. Both ladies, the Spanish speaker and English interpreter, had certificates showing they’d made at least the last 100 kilometers of the hike and were very enthusiastic about the camaraderie they shared with other walkers from around the world. They told us that you have to tell the priest at the end of the journey that you have done it for religious reasons in order to get a certificate from the church. Obviously many trekkers lie at the end of their journey.
Some pilgrims make the journey from Italy through France, over the Pyrenees and across Spain to the northwestern-most point for the sense of accomplishment that persevering through adversity provides. But priests are no longer giving absolutions for walking the pilgrim trail. Some Spanish parole officers, we learned, will grant a shorter sentence to inmates who walk the trail. When asked if the story about the body of James is believed by most citizens of Santiago, they glanced at each other, said that was a good question, and answered, “It’s a popular belief, we can’t allow ourselves to believe otherwise.”
We’ve communicated by email with some of these exhibitors, especially those from national and regional tourist offices. But it’s better to talk face to face and when they tell us face to face that they’ll send information about upcoming classical music festivals, it’s more likely that they will actually do it. Maybe it’s been a long time since we’ve been to a convention but we were very impressed with the distribution of thumb drives and CDs with color copies of the brochures in pdf format, videos of the presentation, and price lists. Oooh la la, but we still have a ton of printed material to sift through to decide what we want to carry home with us.
One lady arranging tours in Portugal and Spain gave us a couple of Spanish wine tips. CVNE pronounced Cuny, is a good producer and 1994 was a good year in general for Spanish wines. But don’t tell anybody. The price may go up before I can buy a bottle.
Before the evening concert, we had a meet and greet over local wine and canapés at the concert hall. In a conversation with the prime mover of the CULTOUR fair, I learned something about the Celts in this area. I knew there were kilt-wearing, bagpipe-playing Spaniards in this area and had always believed their presence was the result of Celts voyaging down from Scotland and Ireland to settle in a balmier climate. No, the Celts were in this area of Spain first and their influence actually spread north to the British Isles and gained a foothold there. Hmm, I’ll have to get a second opinion on that. Maybe this story was born of a little too much fine Galician wine.
Anne: I was excited to see that Pieter Wispelwey, a cellist we’d seen performing with some students of his at Amsterdam’s Canal Festival, was on the program. The Royal Galician Philharmonic Orchestra opened the program with Beethoven’s playful Music for a Ballet Cabaleiresco, then Mr. Wispelwey came on stage, much more elegantly attired than when we’d seen him playing on a floating stage. In a white shirt with billowing sleeves and a gold and black brocade vest, he enthralled us with his rich deep tones in Saint Saens Concerto. Our continued applause brought him back on stage for an encore – a sensuously gorgeous Bach prelude. The applause continued and we enjoyed one more – a short, sweet and sprightly gavotte (17th century dance).
The orchestra completed the evening with Haydn’s symphony # 44 in E minor – 100 years older than the Saint-Saens concerto. I especially enjoyed the lively second movement – a menuet in canon form (think Row Row Row your Boat). This is known as the “Funeral” Symphony – but it’s hard for me to relate Haydn’s mostly joyful melodies and harmonies to a funeral – there’s always a lilt in there.
We all piled back on to the bus and made it back to the hotel by 11 PM.
Blizzards and Airports
Orlando, Florida - Reston, Virginia – Munich, Germany – Palma de Majorca, Madrid, and Santiago de Compostela, Spain
January23, 24, 2007
Last Sunday, while the snow fell and then got covered with ice in Northern Virginia, we were floating down the lazy river at Disney’s Blizzard Blast. Actually, we didn’t know dangerous weather had hit Virginia, so happy were we to be rafting down the Family Fun Slide in an inner tube built for six, we didn’t even check. We had an awesome time grandparenting Cassidy and Connor, taking them to school, laser tag, mini-golf, and Blizzard Blast while Sunshine and Steve were at a conference in Las Vegas. I actually enjoyed weeding and cutting dead palm fronds from the front yard of our house for rent there. It now has true curb appeal - all it needs now is renters.
We did notice this morning on our landing approach to Dulles Airport that the ground was covered with a good dusting. We were not spared, however, the headache of snow. On our approach to Munich, the Lufthansa captain announced we’d have to circle the airport a few times to give the plows time to clear us a path in the “heavy snow” to land on. Our flight to Palma de Majorca was delayed because of late arrivals (including us) to the gate due to Lufthansa’s late landing. We let the German travelers convince the extremely frazzled gate agent to reopen the boarding so about 20 of us connecting travelers could get on the flight. Eventually we got to Palma but not until after the daily flight from Palma to Santiago took off. So we waited nearly two hours for Air Berlin to decide what to do with us. It didn’t look like anyone shared our sense of urgency, or that anyone was doing anything at all as flight after flight left for Madrid and Barcelona. Finally they hurried us off to a Madrid flight on Iberia so we could make a flight from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela. When we took all our belongings down from the overhead compartment of the sixth plane (with all the required items in 2 ziplock baggies, we had planned carry-on for all flights) and walked through the sixth airport today, we were glad to be taking ground transportation to our hotel in Santiago – only 5 plus hours after we were originally scheduled to arrive. We got on our first plane at 9 o’clock on Tuesday morning in Orlando and got off our last plane at 5PM EST Wednesday (11 PM Spain time) in Santiago…6 airports in 32 hours!
Fortunately we got to land in Majorca in the daylight crossing the island from the Northeast to the Southwest. All I know about the island is what I’ve read in tourist magazines but there is plenty of evidence of real life there: farmland, greenhouses, olive groves, sheep, steep mountains, and to our surprise, windmills. More decorative than Holland’s windmills with pairs of white painted vanes but there’s one windmill attached to just about every farmhouse, supposedly providing power for irrigation pumps.
I have more formal training in Spanish than either French or Italian but somehow, I just couldn’t come up with the word for “two”. Due? Duo? Finally Anne rescued me with “Dos!” It’s going to be a long week. Registration for the CulTour conference starts at 9AM tomorrow and we have a big day of scheduled meetings with Exhibitors. They won’t have any sympathy for our traveling woes, or jet lag. After all, we’re all supposed to be professional at this, right?
An Evening in Lyon
Albertville - Lyon France
January 14, 2007
Many of the expatriates studying French with Vance and Patty go on Sunday to the local Evangelical Protestant Church in Albertville. The tiny fraction of a percent of the French population who are evangelicals are considered by most of the rest of the country to be a highly marginalized cult. We found them to be just regular folks who are united around a set of beliefs that Americans would find entirely mainstream. They welcomed the new semester’s incoming French language students, then focused our attention on worshiping God, and the native French pastor delivered a Bible-centered message. For a small town, there was a good sized congregation with lots of babies and young people. Every one of the more than 100 seats was taken and some had to stand.
Back at the apartment, we feasted on fresh pasta and sauces from the Italian vendor at the weekly market then loaded all the luggage and all five of us into the car for the hour and a half drive to the Lyon airport. After dropping the luggage off at Kyriad, a big grey boring boxy airport hotel, we followed signs to the historic center for a walk-around before dinner.
It is surprisingly easy to get to the historic center of France’s second largest city. We parked underneath the Hotel de Ville and proceeded to get lost. We determined from a map that, although we’d already crossed the Rhone river we needed to also cross the Saune river to get to the historic center, or Vieux Lyon. We were on a search for open traboules, typical passageways underneath the center of Lyon town houses that enable pedestrians to get from one side of a building to the other without going around the block. You end up in several tenants’ backyard or courtyard where you can look up past multiple balustraded porches and out the top to the open sky. The first one we found had a historical marker beside the door from the sidewalk and on the door a plea to please respect the privacy of the people who live there and to be quiet. So we pushed open the heavy door, turned on the hallway light and made our way through the zig zag sometimes narrow passageways to the other side of the block to come out on the street parallel to the one we’d just left. Traboules have been in use since the fourth century as shortcuts to the river or to the wells in most of the courtyards, and as a means to get an armload of silk (Lyon has a history of fine silk production) from one street to the other without risking getting it wet or soiled from being out on the sidewalk.
Eventually we found an “Authentique Bouchon Lyonnais.” These are bistros unique to Lyon, France’s capital of gastronomy. All 21 of the registered bouchons must serve at least a core of typical Lyonnais dishes and wines from the Beaujolais and Macon regions. They are also very warm-looking and inviting from the outside and deliver friendly service on the inside. We settled in at Le Gourmand de Saint Jean, a bouchon in the ground floor of a house built in 1370. The brothers enjoyed each others company, along with the rest of us, at a fitting last meal before leaving France. Lyon is also uncharacteristically easy to get out of, retracing our drive in and following the airport signs.
After saying goodbye to our relatives at the airport, they headed home for Albertville and we set our clocks to catch the first airport shuttle of the morning to get us to the terminal and on the way home to Virginia.
Dinner in Switzerland
Albertville, France – Geneva, Switzerland
January 13, 2007
When Vance and Patty came back from Saturday morning French class, we five, including MaryAnn, packed into their car and headed almost due north for Geneva, Switzerland. It’s 90 kilometers (55 miles) of mountain curves that takes about 2 ½ hours to drive without stopping.
As we approached the south tip of Lake Annecy, I pointed out the spot where Anne videoed my tandem parasail landing after a glide off Col de la Forclaz, a cliff high above the Lake, about four years ago. There were no kites out today - not enough updrafts sweeping up the cliff face.
We stopped for lunch in Annecy. It’s as crowded today as a typical summer market day. Thousands of pitiful victims of global warming with visions of schlussing down the slopes sentenced to a week of merely trudging the crowded streets of any Savoie town trying to chase away the boredom. What’s worse, they have to drag those unused snowboards back through airports and home to tell their friends they spent their euro-skiing holiday shoulder to shoulder with other frustrated tourists at the Annecy Mall.
We found Tarte a la Folie (delicious quiches!) at the mall and had fun watching Mary Ann on a clothes shopping spree at H&M. On the way north out of Annecy, there were tons more tourists hanging out on the shoreline promenade flying kites, skateboarding and strolling by the lake.
The historic center of Geneva is not hard to find – it helped to have a map of the huge city to know where to park. Neither are all the watch shops. Most of the world’s high-end watches are made by jewelers within about an hour of here. This is in part due to the effectiveness of Calvin’s preaching. Having left France due to persecution of the Huguenots in the mid 1500’s, he found refuge here, then preached in Geneva against "rouge, powdering, jewelry, and immodest dress." Jewelers were subsequently unable to make a living making jewelry, so they transferred their tools and outstanding skills to the production of clocks and watches.
Many plaques mark the places that “The Reformer of Geneva” touched here. The prohibition against wearing immodest clothing and jewelry has since been abolished.
We went directly downhill to the riverside, saw the flower clock, and the statue by the English Garden and then did what we do best: got lost walking around the cobbled streets looking at quirky doors, boutique windows, and the architecture.
We made reservations at Mortimers (say Mor-tee-mare) for dinner and warmed up with their specialty, Vin Chaud – a sweet hot sangria.