Sunday, January 29, 2023

Madrid: We Have “Arrived”

We arrived in Madrid late this afternoon and checked in to the most incredible place we’ve ever stayed in. 

The name should have been a dead give away: Mandarin Oriental Ritz. 

Of course not being among the seasoned travelers who only stay at the finest hotels in the world, we suffered temporary culture shock when we walked through the front door. 

And get this … Everyone (including the doorman) knew our names. They took us on a tour of the hotel and were greeted by bartenders, hostesses, a butler (yes we had a butler for our room who gave me his cell number). 

Our room … was incredible. 

As I looked around the room I spotted two fancy water bottles with labels I recognized right away. They were the covers of two of my books. 

And the bed had two pillow sheets monogrammed with D and J. 

I kid you not. Our initials were on the pillows.

And next to the bed was a picture of Deb and I from my website. 
I realize there are many of you that read my blog laughing hysterically at my lack of sophistication … especially those of you that have stayed at a Mandarin Hotel. 

Bottom line. These folks have figured out how to make each guest feel like he or she is special, unique and important. 

On that note, we are headed to the lobby. I need to talk to my new friend, the bartender.. TTFN

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Barcelona: There's Nothing Gaudy about Gaudi

It was cold today. 

But when Deb and I stood in front of Antonio Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, the famous and one of the largest churches in the world … we barely noticed the wind. 

It took our breath away. 

It was absolutely one of the most impressive buildings we have ever seen. 

Just as background … the large-scale work that began on March 19, 1882, from a project of the diocesan architect Francisco de Paula Del Villar. In 1883, Gaudi oversaw the works of the basilica, a task that he did not abandon until his death in 1926. Since then, different architects have continued the construction always under the influence of Gaudí's final drawings.

The engineering marvel was without traditional buttresses. Instead, Gaudi worked years on creating columns the were various sizes and angles to balance the weight of the building. The result looked like a forest of trees. 

The light and color from the large windows added to the feeling of bringing nature inside. 

The doors were decorated with bible verses.

Debbie can translate each one  … she’s very talented. She quotes them to me every day. 

Tomorrow we head to Madrid. More great sites ahead!

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Barcelona: Tapas Paradise!

Tonight, after zipping along the Spanish countryside in a high speed train, we found ourselves in Barcelona. 

We checked into another Mercer Hotel (just as unique and beautiful as Mercer Sevilla with the exception that this one has hot 

Long day, cold and not conducive to walking the street … we looked for dining at the hotel and found it at Le Bouchon … a beautiful little tapas restaurant.

Our waitress (who unfortunately looked a lot like Adam Sandler’s marine assistant who took care of the walrus in 50 First Dates)  introduced the various tempting dishes and we ordered somewhere between four and thirty four dishes  …

at least that what it seemed like as one after another came from the kitchen  And each was better than the next … croquettes, short ribs, salads, guacamole on rolls, more meat dishes … everything was scorched by the chef right before 

The final dish dipped in whiskey and floated in cream was to die for !

I kid you not … the best ever tapas place I’ve ever been to …  it was like we were in … Spain, you know? 

Early to bed. There’s more to come tomorrow  

Sevilla: It's Good To Be The King (Checking out the castle!)

"My name is Angeles! Like Los Angeles."

That's the way our enthusiastic Sevilla guide introduced herself. She was a riot. Her hair stuck out the way it would be if you poked around in a wall socket. Her goal was to get us through the Palace and the Cathedral in under four hours. Based on the massive size of both ... it was certainly gonna be a challenge. They stood side by side but both were like small cities. 

Fun facts:

The King really liked Arabic architecture. It's everywhere. He probably didn't read the language because it said a lot of stuff about Allah. (Clearly enough for Angeles. I can't read Arabic and obviously neither could good Catholic King Peter.) There was also a lot of representational artwork praising Peter too that was written into the borders around the ceilings. It was the usual King stuff like: "It's Good To Be The King! Peter Is The Best! The King Is Always Right!" 

The gardens were filled with orange trees and palm trees. The gardeners must have visited Miami during the construction in 1500. I didn't see any flamingos but they did have a peacock or two walking around. 

Chris Columbus is entombed in the Cathedral. Only 16% of his bones are there. The rest apparently didn't make the trip back from the Americas. (Or wherever he landed after he got lost) 

Around the time of the great Arabic influence in the 1500, everybody got along. This was prior to The  Inquisition of course ... so even the Jews were well liked. Or maybe ignored ... same thing, I guess. We saw the Jewish District next door which is the only one I think that's not referred to as a Ghetto. 

Jews must have had to be close by the Cathedral because I assume they did the books. And a few of them did alterations to the robes.

Last night we enjoyed a Flamenco Show in the town where it was created, Triana. Our guide was a Trianese or Trianite or whatever you call someone who was born there. Her name was Maria. She knew everything about Flamenco ... what the different steps were called, the hand gestures, the costumes, why the dancers always look like they are mad at someone, the guitar player's life story and who he is married to and who his mother in law is ... you know ... important stuff. After the show we went to a bar, had too much to drink and 35 plates of tapas ... It was great!

Today we are off to Barcelona on a high speed train. TTFN   


Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Sevilla: Was that a bidet in your room or were you just happy to see me?

So we knew there was something different about our beautiful hotel in Sevilla. We checked in with four desk clerks … all of which couldn’t have been kinder and more helpful. Three more staff members took up our luggage. I think the owner turned down our bed. 

Yes. We were the only guests in the hotel tonight. 

We didn’t mind. At dinner we had the total attention of the server who doubled as our bartender earlier and probably cooked the dinner. She was a delight. 

We laughed about it as we nibbled on our chocolates in the room and checked our other amenities. 

Tom Selleck (at about 18 years old) was speaking Spanish in a different voice on TV. “Me llamo es Mannix!” 

Wow I thought. It was the only thing I remembered from Mrs. Jensen’s Spanish class. 

The thermostat was in centigrade so it was set at 23 degrees. I had no idea what the other words were so I figured that was it for the night. We will freeze or sweat. 

The bathroom was by far the coolest. There was a remote by the toilet that looked like it maybe adjusted the height and a temperature gauge for the seat? 

I couldn’t resist. I pressed the one that looked like it shot the back up higher and set the temp for hot. 

A snake like silver spigot popped up in the center of the toilet and shot a stream of water right in my face. 

Debbie later explained what a bidet was, patiently put the remote back and dried my jeans and shirt with a hair dryer. 

Sevilla sure is fun so far. Can’t wait to start the tours in the morning. 

Monday, January 23, 2023

Portugal: Days Two and Three

This is our last day in Lisbon and I'm on historical overload. Trying to retain information about kings, castles, religious visions, pork dishes to die for and salted cod.

Highlights from day two ...

We start the morning at Sintra (Not Frank Sinatra ... the other one with one "a"). The "old city" has been preserved for over 500 years, which is apparently just a few years older than my back and joints as we maneuver the stones and inclines. 

At the top of one of the hills was Quinta da Regaleira one of seven noblemen's estates. From what our guide told us, this area prospered because rich people love to hang out with other rich people and when royalty lives nearby ... they love it even more.  

The Quinta estate was built with ornate designs complete with waterfalls and irrigation wells and underground passageways,   connected by a labyrinth of trees and bushes and ornate gardens.

Some folks still live in certain buildings that surround the property. The residents must agree to keep the area exactly as it was in the 1500s. So I guess if you're a fan of drafty old castles ... this is paradise. 

Funny thing is ... only the wealthy can afford to live here. I guess Bohemians still exist! 

From there we jumped back in the car and drove to the coast (or as our guide said "the Malibu Beach of Portugal". A little seaside restaurant served up  an incredible lunch ... Portuguese style Bream with vegetables. 

We dined overlooking the Atlantic.

A little slice of heaven

Today is Day Three and it started with Debbie's favorite ... one she has been looking forward to for a long time ... a visit to the Shrine of Fatima and the Chapel of Apparitions (which I assumed were ghosts until I realized it was where that three young shepherd children had visions of Mary above a tree, I think) 

I know this because a picture of Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia is in the window of every shop that sold mementos of Mary, Jesus, candles in various shapes and sizes (saw two candles that were taller than the people holding them).

The shops carried lots of goodies for the many visitors eager to buy mementos of their pilgrimage.
In one of these shops, there were numerous shapes and sizes of the baby Jesus appearing to say, "Won't you please take me home and put me on your kitchen counter?" 

Next to them were many Marys who were in solemn prayer and looking down at cigarette lighters with their images beautifully painted on.

As the story goes, Mary appeared six times to the the children as an apparition ... the last time it was well documented by 60,000 witnesses. 

I assume they must have all lit their lighters at the same time (which is why they are sold in the shops ... wouldn't you think?)

We ate lunch at Crispin's, which was originally a personal home of one of the faithful in Fatima, and seated with us is Tiago (our great tour guide).  


NOTE: Let me tell you that our hotel, Bairro Alto, was the greatest thing since sliced bread (or Portuguese croissants). The room, the service, the amenities, the food ... all five star just like the rating given this boutique hotel. Highly recommend it if you visit Lisbon.  

Tomorrow we fly to Sevilla ... TTFN


Sunday, January 22, 2023

Portugal Day one

Hi friends. 

Been a while since I’ve made a blog entry. No excuses here just laziness. 

Deb and I are taking a grown up trip for a change. Portugal and Spain for two weeks … 

Here are highlights from yesterday. 

On the plane to Lisbon we flew first class (told you it was a grown up trip). Very comfortable but challenging from the seat operations perspective. Debbie who is patient in so many more things than I … is not at all patient with electronic operations. 

“Excuse me!” She told one of the flight attendants. “Can you tell me how to operate the massage feature of my chair?”

“We have a massage feature?” She said. “I’ve been doing this flight for years and never knew that.” 

Deb was not happy. Two minutes later … “Excuse me!” To another flight attendant. “How can I adjust the air? Do I have to stand up and turn the knobs?”

“Yes. Yes you do.” 

I liked her. 

There were various other questions about reclining the seat, bag maintenance under her feet and such … but there was a little gift bag that kept her busy (a sleeping mask, slippers, a tooth brush …) she talked about those for most of the 6 hour flight. 

We landed. 

A driver whisked us away to a truly wonderful hotel in the middle of old town Lisbon. 

We napped for a couple of hours and then walked through the town with a guide who told us great stories. 

He pointed out that the buildings were in fact historical exteriors and renovated interiors (partially subsidized by the government) to retain consistent quality. 

Each had historical reference signage. 

In the center of town was a statue of the poet/bar owner … The 16th-century Portuguese poet, António Ribeiro who was fondly known as 'Chiado', which is what this district is named. Interesting guy … hung out with everyone famous at the time. Never wrote anything down but eventually was published by other writers of the time. 

There’s a glove store that is the smallest in the world. Word is … only two people at a time fit. Frequented by Asians. True story. (Note: Only one quarter of my fat body could fit)

The Church of St. Dominic took my breath away not with beauty but with horror as we were told the story in 1506 of the massacre of hundreds of Jews by order of the priest. The church burned down every decade since but was rebuilt to commemorate the tragedy. 

Sorry … wanted to end on a lighter note. Sometimes you just can’t. 

But trust me … Lisbon is a beautiful city and we love it here! The people are wonderful.

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