Paris and Beyond

Our Personal Tour de France & Other Exciting Adventures!

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On to France

At this point in our journey, it was time to say “adios” to Spain and “bonjour” to France. So after a long, relaxing week in San Sebastián, we set out for our favorite French château. It turned out to be such a relaxing portion of our trip and certainly the last time we would ever undertake such a long vacation, that we completely left the blog behind in favor of being present in the moment. But now that we are finally home and almost entirely recovered, it’s time to begin to tell the rest of the story.

Every once in a great while when you are traveling, you encounter a place you could visit time and time again with equal or more delight. The Château de Courtebotte is one of those rare places. This is where we began our aborted 2016 trip so it was important that we return and do it right. Located in the tiny community of Saint-Jean-de-Blaignac on the bank of the Dordogne River at a bend that provides a spectacular view, this 17th century Château was purchased by its current owners about 10 years ago and renovated in a unique manner. While still maintaining important period features, they have redone the interior of the house with utmost attention to detail and elegance. There are modern touches and finishings everywhere making it the most inviting and comfortable historical building we have ever experienced.



There are five luxurious bed-and-breakfast type rooms located upstairs in the Château itself as well as several self-catering suites and gîtes on the property. Our favorite accommodation is the air-conditioned Suite Ô with a kitchenette and its own very lovely, private patio where Norman has spent much time drawing and painting in addition to serving up some delicious meals. We also experienced a few days in the double room Suite Capri — no kitchen but lots of comfort.

The entire Château is yours to enjoy no matter where you stay from formal living room and entertainment room to a billiards room where we brushed up on our pool skills. It would be the perfect setting for a live game of Clue.

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Outside in the spacious well-manicured grounds there is something for everyone — large swimming pool, saunas, trampoline, ping pong, swings, and playhouse for the kids.


A strikingly beautiful place such as this would be nothing without superior hospitality to match and that is exactly what you find at Courtebotte. Isabelle, your French host (whose English is fortunately way better than my French), makes sure you well taken care of. For an extra charge, she offers breakfast daily. This is no ordinary breakfast. It starts off with the best French tea, chocolate, and coffee accompanied by traditional freshly baked and delivered croissants and mini baguettes. Isabelle and her staff then prepare a dazzling array of small plates including homemade yogurt, granola, and jams, fresh fruit, juice, cheeses, tarts plus eggs made-to-order. Every morning we vowed to eat less but never succeeded in convincing Isabelle of this fact so the plates kept coming and we kept eating. It was impossible to turn down such a tasty breakfast feast.

There is also an opportunity to enjoy a gourmet dinner twice a week which consists of at least four courses with wine pairing. For this, all guests are seated at one long table turning dinner into a 3-4 hour event with much lively international conversation. We have had French, British, Dutch, German, Canadian, and Australian dinner companions on various occasions. Getting to know people from different parts of the world is definitely one of the best aspects of our travels. When we really hit if off, we even exchange open invitations to visit each other in our respective countries. That is a really exciting proposition.

Aside from simply relaxing and enjoying this unique environment, there is plenty to do just a short distance from the Château which is situated in one of the most famous wine regions in the world. The city of Bordeaux lies one hour west where you will find a new wine museum, river cruises, and the fascinating Miroir d’Eau, the world’s largest reflecting pool.


A short 15-minute drive will take you to Saint Emilion. This is a cute, touristy little town offering distinct local wines from endless shops that line the narrow, hilly, cobblestone streets. We visited in 2012 and again in 2015. This time we popped in for a quick revisit and tried out the Café Saigon for some Vietnamese fare, a pleasant change from all the rich French cuisine.


Dotted around the entire surrounding area are innumerable wineries such as the Château de Bonhoste whose wines are featured at Courtebotte. Accompanied by the winery’s adorable mascot, Gabby, we were given an outstanding tour and tasting on this visit resulting in the purchase of more than a few bottles of wine — reds, whites, rosés, and our favorite, the sparkling Crèment. While purchasing wine on a menu at a restaurant in France can be quite expensive, buying directly from a winery is extremely affordable. All our bottles ranged from $7-10 and were far superior to anything we would buy for that price in the US. By comparison, wines featured at American wineries typically run from $25-45 per bottle. At a French grocery store, $3-5 will yield excellent wines as well.

Since we spent much time in Spain on this trip, we have been particularly interested in saffron. We discovered a small winery nearby with a side crop of French saffron where the 5th generation owner gave us a pleasant tour and explanation of saffron cultivation. We learned that when you are using the “real deal” (authentic saffron), you need only use a few threads which differs greatly from the amount Norman has typically used when preparing paella. Of course, we purchased some to bring home and it will be interesting to see if less is truly more. We also bought some intriguing saffron-infused products which we had to consume during our travels: honey, orange jam, mustard, and syrup which can be added to water or sparkling wines. The saffron honey was our favorite and we had to make sure to eat all of it before we left. At home, we get high quality honey from a small local farm and are going to try to make our own saffron infusion.

We were fortunate to be able to visit the Château twice on this trip — once on the way into France headed to the Dordogne and again on the way out before returning our car to Bordeaux and taking the TGV train to Paris. If there were only one reason to return to France, the Château de Courtebotte would be it.



74142366-0EF9-474D-86FC-3936032558DBAs well-planned as they may be, every vacation has its surprises and sometimes the unplanned turns out to be the best. This was certainly true of our experience in Ezcaray, a visit brought about when we fell in love with the gorgeous mohair and wool blankets in our San Sebastián apartment. Early on the last day of our week there, I decided to ask our host where we might be able to purchase them thinking there was probably someplace nearby. He explained that these blankets could only be found in high-end stores at rather exorbitant prices none of which were in San Sebastián. He advised us to make a trip directly to the factory where we could acquire them for a mere fraction of the cost. Furthermore, he informed us that it was a beautiful drive and worth making even though it was located two hours south (back in the direction from which we had to come to arrive in San Sebastián). We looked at each other and said, “Well, what the heck? We’ve got the whole day.”

So off we went back through the truly breathtaking Basque Country to the tiny village of Ezcaray (pop. 2,000) that owes its fame to the amazing mantas (blankets) produced by the aptly named company of Mantas Ezcaray in business since 1930. Arriving at siesta time as we Americans often do, the factory was closed and were were “forced” to check out one of two stellar hotel and restaurant establishments in town, Palacio Azcárate. The small, intimate bar had an inviting tapas menu with some unique selections only costing 2-3€ each — prices and quality you often hear people talk about but never seem to find. We tried a few and they were delicious.


4E21B407-FE11-4005-A43A-B02788E6478EEventually, it was time to head over to the factory. The entrance was adorned with a bench upon which several woven products were arranged enticing the visitor to continue inside even in the heat of summer. Our first encounter was an array of looms used in the weaving process. Then we moved on to the showroom where an extremely knowledgeable and helpful assistant was waiting to show us their wares. She brought out blanket after blanket laying them all out and explaining their various qualities. There were so many designs and colors to choose from that we were like the proverbial “kid in a candy shop”. Purchasing one or two is what I originally had in mind, but Norman had other ideas. As he pointed out, we were never going to be there again. So after much hemming and hawing trying to decide which ones we liked best… we ended up buying FIVE! We chose three large ones for our two beds (so we can alternate??) and two smaller “sofa-sized” ones for each of us to use when we cozy up in front of the TV during the winter. All tolled they added up to less than the cost of a single blanket in a retail store. What a deal!


Our assistant busied herself folding our beautiful new treasures into two gigantic plastic bags specifically created for their products. While she was doing that, we pondered how on earth we were going to get them home. Our San Sebastián host offered to ship them to us, but that would have meant leaving them behind with him and we weren’t sure how that would all work out. In the end, we decided to carry them along on our journey and figure it out later.

018486EF-5B13-4C9C-8219-886164F103B8These have to be the biggest souvenirs ever, but fortunately, they don’t weigh much. That’s one of the beauties of these blankets. They are 73% mohair and 27% wool making them lusciously light and able to keep you warm or cool depending on the season. Just recently we purchased a large, lightweight, inexpensive suitcase which accommodated all five blankets perfectly. The cost of the suitcase plus the airline’s extra baggage charge will be totally worth it in order to enjoy them in our home for years to come. I know we will experience many comfortable nights and so many good memories every time we use them.


Mantas Ezcaray… Ready to Roll!

Vamos a la Playa… Again!

82BFBD14-FCF2-4426-86A4-23A16245F65BWith the major sight-seeing events behind us, it was time to begin Vacation, Part 2, also known as “The Vacation from the Vacation”. In order to do that, we had to go to our favorite place in Spain and my first small introduction to the country in 2012, San Sebastián… or, as the Basques call it Donostia. What more fitting beginning to a true vacation than a week at the beach, one of the most beautiful I’ve ever experienced. We returned to San Sebastián for three days in 2015 and really found out what La Concha Bay had to offer so we knew we needed to spend more time here.



With no agenda whatsoever, we settled in to our sprawling (by Spanish standards) three bedroom, two bath art-filled luxury apartment just a few blocks from Ondarreta Beach. After shopping at our favorite grocery store, Super Amara (somewhat akin to Whole Foods), we were all set to relax… and relax we did. First, however, we had to download some user manuals so we could figure out how to work the TV, the stove, the oven, and a couple of other appliances – more challenges than we had in previous locations for some reason. It took two of us to decipher the magic to manipulating the remote control to login to Netflix, but once we succeeded, we were happy campers… watching the full three hour plus version of Spartacus we realized neither of us had ever seen. Believe it or not, these are our favorite vacation moments.


We took advantage of the first full day with 85 degree weather to make our way to the beach, rent a cabana, and chill out for the afternoon. Soaking up the sun, wiggling our toes in the sand, and wading in the cool Atlantic waters of the bay were the only physical activities we attempted. Norman started rereading The Basque History of the World then took a long nap while I finally finished Winter in Madrid. 

Returning from the beach quite rejuvenated from our journey to the Basque Country the previous day, we were able to kick back and enjoy the fruits of our Super Amara shopping spree by preparing a Langostino Salad dinner accompanied by an incredibly inexpensive but super delicious bottle of Spanish wine. It was a perfect first day of the rest of our vacation.


Madrid: Paseo del Arte

¡Ay, Madrid! Capital of Spain and object of my academic desires in 1973. ¡¡Por fin!! (Finally!!)

We exchanged our Córdoba casita for a top floor apartment in Madrid’s upscale Salamanca neighborhood, the family home of our host, Rosa. Unfortunately, she was not able to greet us in person as she spends part of the year in Florida and had not arrived in Spain for the season yet. My disappointment stems from the fact that since I first made the reservation last August, Rosa and I have become friends – pen pals of sorts – regularly exchanging e-mails and learning about each other’s lives. I was excited to have a Spanish friend again, especially one who knew my country as well as her own and had been looking forward to meeting her.

The major focus of our stay in Madrid was to tour several art museums – a paseo del arte (art walk) which was the name of the triple museum pass I purchased in advance. Most famous are those located within the “Golden Triangle of Art” – all within easy walking distance of each other though we could have done with some slightly cooler temperatures. When it’s in the 90’s and climbing, an art museum is a great place to be. You can be guaranteed of air conditioning for the artwork if not for you.

On the first day, we started off at the Thyssen Bornemisza, the newest museum which opened in 1992. This museum houses an immense and varied private collection that was once the second largest in the world. There were so many works of art here that we really appreciated, it was impossible to choose which one we wanted to take home — a game I always play. However, unlike the following two museums, there was no prohibition to photography here so we were able to come away with some nice “souvenirs”.

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After a break in the museum café for a bite to eat, we felt like we were on a roll so we bravely headed over to El Prado, the Spanish national art museum which is primarily dedicated to Spanish art from the 12th to 20th century. The collection is overwhelmingly vast with notables being the works of Goya, El Greco, and Velásquez. While the Thyssen provided endless variety expressing a multitude of emotions, for me the Prado exuded a certain sameness from room to room with a repetition of religious and political themes in dark colors evoking even darker feelings. The one salvation was the opportunity to see Velásquez’s most famous painting, “Las Meninas”. Displayed in its own special space, one of the particular attractions of this very large work is the clever way in which the artist painted it. We see Velásquez standing behind a canvas looking out at us as he paints the portrait of the king’s daughter attended by her handmaids (las meninas) and an assortment of other characters. In addition, we see the reflection in a mirror of her parents as they look on at the proceedings. This painting has been thoroughly critiqued and analyzed over the years so there are many interpretations as is always the case with great art. In the end, it is whatever the viewer chooses to see.


Las Meninas by Diego Velásquez

Day Two, time for more art… but first a stop at the oldest and possibly best pastry shop in all of Madrid, La Mallorquina, conveniently situated near our metro exit in the Puerta del Sol location of kilometer zero, literally the center of Spain. What a selection! The secret here is to feast your eyes on the delectable offerings downstairs and then head upstairs to order with table service and a great view of the plaza.

Once we were plied with enough caffeine and sugar, we were ready to take on the Museo Reina Sofía which houses an impressive collection of 20th century modern art. While this genre is not usually my preference, surprisingly I found a number of works to my liking here. The central motive for this visit was to view one of the most important pieces of art in this collection, Picasso’s “Guernica” — the painter’s graphic portrayal of the horrific massacre of an entire Basque village by the Germans (with the support of Spanish General Franco) during the Spanish Civil War. We arrived early to avoid the crowds and I was able to spend some time quietly contemplating this historically and politically significant work. Informed by the reading I have been doing about this period in Spanish history, it was a very moving experience for me.


Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Norman has been an avid jazz fan and musician all his life and has introduced me to the jazz world over the many years we have been together. When we travel, we always look out for ways to connect to the jazz community. This time we hit the jackpot discovering that one of our most favorite musicians, Paquita d’Rivera, would be playing at a small local venue during our stay. So on a warm Monday evening in Madrid we set out for Club Clamores for a 10:30 PM concert. It was a very intimate club hidden away downstairs in a fairly residential neighborhood. We have seen Paquito on a couple of other occasions that were excellent but this was by far the best concert ever. Perhaps it was because Paquito, Cuban by birth, was playing to a truly Latin audience and was more at ease in his element. This was definitely the highlight of our stay especially for Norman.

Last but never least in this city and only because we ran out of days and needed just one more little dose of art, we decided to make a short trip to a museum that Rosa recommended to us… the Museo Sorolla. This museum was originally the artist’s home — one of the few lucky ones who had enough money for a very comfortable life and was able to spend all of his time painting. This is a small, very relaxing place to enjoy some interesting works of art with impressionist leanings.


Patio of the Museo Sorolla

Happily, I was able to locate another Corte Inglés not far away so we could have lunch. Of course, I did have an ulterior motive. This time I wanted to do some shopping. I just happened to notice a display of some beautiful scarves (one of my favorite accessories) through the cafeteria window. So, of course, I had to check them out. Luckily, it is the season of rebajas (sales) and they turned out to be rather affordable. Even better, I discovered the scarves were all done by Galician designer Roberto Verino making them true Spanish souvenirs. Art in fashion – a piece I could really take home and a perfect way to end our Paseo del Arte in Madrid.



La Mancha!

Leaving Andalucía and heading north we entered the region of Castilla-La Mancha where we decided to take a very brief side trip on our way to Madrid. This is the land of Don Quijote, a nobleman who imagined he was a knight and his sidekick, Sancho Panza, a farmer who served as his squire. These characters from the 17th century novel Don Quijote de La Mancha written by Miguel de Cervantes carry out an array of crazy knightly adventures including one of the most famous that involves windmills. When Quijote encounters the windmills, he is convinced they are evil giants and tries to fight them albeit rather unsuccessfully as he is thrown off his horse and injured. As part of my Spanish literature studies in college, I was assigned this book and made a valiant effort to get through all 863 pages. Don Quijote has had a great influence on literature and language inspiring other novels like The Three Musketeers, the word quixotic (extremely idealistic; unrealistic and impractical), and the idiom tilting at windmills (fighting imaginary enemies). Even if you haven’t read the book, you are probably familiar with the story due to the fame and recognition garnered by the 1965 musical The Man of La Mancha and its uber-popular theme song, “The Impossible Dream”. As we drove through this area, it appeared we had been transported to Quijote’s La Mancha…


The capital of La Mancha is Toledo, home of El Greco and one of the most well-preserved medieval towns. In fact, the entire town was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 1986. We exited the motorway, easily found a place to park in this heavily touristed town, and took a quick walk up a very steep hill and through the narrow cobblestone streets to check out a few of the sights.


Toledo’s Tagus, longest river in Spain


View of the outskirts from the top

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Finally, we stopped in for lunch at La Malguerida where we enjoyed some traditional local dishes including a very tasty gazpacho and a delicious pork and pea stew called carcamusas with a side of potato chips which seem to be Spain’s current favorite snack.

After returning to our car where we were greeted with a parking ticket on the windshield (Oops! Parking for residents only – no wonder it was so easy – but where was that sign??), it was time to complete the day’s journey to Madrid. Wow, that was an expensive stop but definitely worth it!

Andalucía Pt. 2

Next stop in Andalucía… Córdoba. While the previous city of Granada had a population of about 230,000 people fitted into a mere 34 square miles, the city of Córdoba spreads out over 484 square miles with 325,000 residents. If you do some quick math, you realize that there’s a great difference in population density in these two places. This along with the fact that the land is relatively flat in Córdoba creates a much more open and spacious feeling.

In Granada, sitting on the patio of our modern hilltop apartment in the ancient Albycín neighborhood, we certainly enjoyed the view and appreciated the unique beauty of the area.

However, Córdoba was a completely different experience. We had our own private two-story, three bedroom casita with surrounding gardens and pool situated behind gates on the property of some incredibly generous and gracious hosts. Every afternoon, we spent hours by that pool. It was such a delight and a bit of a welcome relief from the congestion of Granada. We found it quite easy to get around on the local bus and very comfortable to be out and about exploring.

And what did we discover? The other iconic Andalusian landmark commonly referred to as “La Mezquita” (mosque), another curious example of the melding of religious and cultural influences that has occurred over centuries of Spanish history and one of the best examples of Moorish architecture. Currently serving as a Catholic Cathedral, the Great Mosque was built on top of a small catholic basilica in 784, eventually reconverted into a Catholic Church during the Spanish Reconquista in 1236 and finally given a Renaissance remodel in the 16th century. The result is an intriguing structure with architectural features of its various predecessors still present. With each new iteration of this monument, little effort was made to tear down the old so a jumble of different architectural features on are still in place. The most notable feature is the seemingly never-ending multitude of stone columns joined by distinctive red and white arches providing the classic photo op.

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Ancient monuments are not the only draw to Córdoba. On our second full day, we set out on the bus to explore some of the modern downtown area. We encountered beautiful parks and plazas as well as wide, inviting avenues. It was here we had our first “Corte Inglés” experience… something I had been wanting to do for a long time. I learned about El Corte Inglés when I first became friends with The Spaniards. It is Spain’s only remaining department store chain, the largest in Europe, and third worldwide. It’s comparable in quality and price to Nordstrom in the US with the requisite, very affordable cafeteria generally on the top floor and often with a great view… allowing you to rest up and keep shopping, of course! With easy-access restrooms and air conditioned comfort, it’s the perfect place to take a break when you are tooling around the city, especially when it’s so hot. We headed directly to the cafeteria and yearning for something different, chose the traditional Spanish Ensalada Rusa, a non-traditional Ensalada Mexicana, and a couple of beers all for about $23.

Though our tour of the city was short and the weather quite hot, we found that Córdoba was definitely a city we would enjoy visiting again.

Andalucía Pt. 1

Ever since the early 70’s when I studied Spanish history in college, I have wanted to visit two iconic Spanish landmarks, Granada’s Alhambra and Córdoba’s Mezquita-Cathedral. Both of these monuments can be found in the region of Andalucía, largest in area and second largest in population of the 17 Spanish autonomous communities. Stretching from Alpine slopes to the Mediterranean Sea, it offers a wide-range of geographical landscapes. Andalucía has the distinction of being Europe’s southernmost point and possessing one of the warmest climates. Currently, we are enjoying very hot but dry weather reminiscent of the many years spent living in the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs, California… thankfully, minus the sand. We are certainly getting our dose of vitamin D. Fortunately, we’ve had a lot of practice staying cool and comfortable in this kind of weather.


Eight centuries of Moorish influence on the Iberian Peninsula is most notable in Andalucía and that’s what makes it so attractive to me. The unique architecture with such attention to detail, design, and especially patterns are quite intriguing.


View of Granada from the Alhambra

We began with the Alhambra which spans a vast property on top of a hill in Granada. Like many monuments in this region, it has gone through several architectural transformations over the centuries leaving behind remnants of each. It served as the palace of the Muslim rulers until the Christian Monarchs took over in the 13th century. Later it housed the royal court of the Reyes Católicos (Catholic Monarchs), Fernando and Isabela who received Columbus here and set him off on his legendary exploration of the Americas from an Andalusian port in 1492. Charles V, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, attempted to make his home here in the early 16th century by constructing a separate renaissance palace but never completed the project.

There is so much to see that it’s impossible to take it all in at once. We focused on the three Nasrid palaces which belonged to the last Muslim rulers.

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I have always been fascinated by patterns and symmetry. When I taught elementary school, I used M.C. Escher’s tessellations in my math instruction. My students and I were captivated by them. It was interesting to learn that Escher’s visit to the Alhambra in 1922 inspired his work in this field. There is a certain mathematical classification of two-dimensional repetitive patterns based on symmetry referred to as “wallpaper groups”. Remarkably, evidence of all the 17 possible arrangements exists in the Alhambra tiles. Much of our knowledge in math and science can be attributed to ancient Islamic scholars.

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If you are familiar with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, you might be interested to know that author Washington Irving wrote a collection of essays, verbal sketches, and stories titled Tales of the Alhambra. Irving lived in the Alhambra palace while writing the book and was instrumental in introducing the site to Western audiences.


Paella al estilo Pérez

What would a trip to Valencia be without paella? This has become such an iconic dish in the region. Its incredible popularity with tourists has simultaneously driven the price up and the quality down. We decided not to take our chances. Since Norman has prepared paella many times and quite enjoys doing so, we took advantage of the huge array of very inexpensive fresh fish easily found at the local supermarket and shopped for the ingredients instead.

The recipe Norman uses was given to me by one of my Spanish professors in college so it is certifiably authentic, but he modifies it somewhat making it even more robust in flavor and variety. This particular iteration including sea bass, mussels, clams, and shrimp turned out to be one of the best paellas he has ever made. Valencia claims to have produced the original paella recipe which is made with chicken, rabbit, and sometimes duck. This seems a bit ironic since Valencia sits right on the coast with an abundance of seafood which is what we prefer in our paella.



As you may know, the key ingredient in paella is saffron which gives it its characteristic golden color and distinctive flavor. Saffron comes from a particular crocus flower that has bright red stigmata and styles in the center referred to as threads which are collected and dried.


26423334-483B-4CD9-A845-80A71ACA31E8Saffron has long been the world’s most expensive spice by weight. It’s important to get the real deal as there are many imitations and products of lesser quality. Saffron is produced in India and Iran, but the very best comes from the La Mancha region in Spain which we were excited to find for half the price of our usual source, Trader Joe’s. We’re hoping to purchase a larger amount to take home.




Paella is rice-based dish and can be made with many types. Norman has used regular short grain rice and Arborio rice (the kind used to make risotto) with much success. However, the traditional rice used in paella is a special short grain rice primarily cultivated in eastern Spain called Bomba. It’s rather difficult to find in the US, pretty expensive, and not always fresh. Of course, we had no trouble finding it here for about a third of the price. We’ll have to try to fit some of that in our suitcase too.


Paella is one of those dishes that tastes even better the second day as the seasonings and flavors have time to meld. We divided the leftover rice into two bowls and put them in the fridge. Then Norman steamed some extra clams and mussels along with more green beans, peas, and red peppers serving up “mini” individual paellas the following day.


As they say in Spain when a meal is served, “Buen Provecho”

The Two Faces of Valencia

During our short stay in Valencia we experienced the glory of the “old” and the innovation of the “new”. In this post, we will share some of that with you.

The Old…

Like most Spanish cities large and small, Valencia has an historic “old town” area located in its city center. With a metro stop right outside the door of our apartment near the beach, we took an easy 30-minute ride into town to visit Valencia’s Ciutat Vella (old city). Here the streets are narrow, plazas are many, and massive buildings display an array of architecture from Roman to Modernist. The first stop was the Plaza del Ayunatmiento where you are surrounded by some impressive structures dedicated to the business of government that include city hall and the central post office.

Next we came to the Plaza de la Reina originally conceived in 1878 as a plaza Mayor, or central plaza for the city of Valencia. In fact, it is kilometer zero for all streets in Valencia as well as the starting point of reference for numbering all buildings. Located here are the offices and shops of many of Valencia’s most well-known companies. It is also the site of the first traffic light in Valencia which was installed in 1930.


Finally, we arrived at the Plaza de la Virgen, site of Valencia’s renown gothic cathedral. The majority of the buildings surrounding this plaza are of religious significance.

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Not far away, our last stop of the day adding to our list of public market visits — the overwhelmingly large Mercat Central with its intriguing Art Nouveau design.



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The New…

CF0E13BD-5C82-41F8-AC28-B83BB0B8D222La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (The City of Arts and Sciences) is a futuristic complex of buildings constructed on the former Turia riverbed between 1991 and 2006. The goal was to create an attraction that would draw tourists to Valencia year round. The complex includes a science museum, a planetarium, an aquarium, an opera house, and several other modernistic architectural structures spread over a vast area making it impossible to cover in just one day. So we chose our favorite and headed to the Oceanogràfic, the largest marine park in Europe. 

It was so refreshing to be surrounded by new and modern architecture and even more so to have such an up close and personal experience with many different species such as the beluga whales, sharks, and especially the dolphins. 



Barcelona & Gaudí

Our stay in Barcelona has been highlighted by the amazing work of Antoni Gaudí, one of the most well-known Cataláns in Spanish history. His name is practically synonymous with Barcelona and the major draw for most tourists. Gaudí was an architect from Barcelona who gained recognition for his fantastical organic designs inspired by nature. He was a major contributor to the Modernisme movement that was active around the turn of the 20th century. The focus of this trend which manifested itself in both art and literature was to revitalize Catalán culture and identity.

Gaudí developed his own particularly unique style characterized by patterned brick or stone surfaces, bright ceramic tile mosaics, and floral or reptilian metalwork. He created seven properties in and around the city which have been awarded UNESCO World Heritage distinction. We were fortunate to be within walking distance of several of them in our neighborhood of Eixample. One night at dusk, we walked one block to the main thoroughfare, Passeig de Gràcia, and enjoyed a leisurely stroll revealing this marvelous form of architecture just as the buildings were lighting up for the evening. This grand avenue, replete with all the big name designer stores, is regarded as the most expensive in Spain perhaps equivalent to the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Gaudí had a great influence on many other architects so there are multiple “gaudi-esque” examples along this route.

One of the more famous Gaudí buildings is Casa Batlló named after the prominent textile industrialist who owned the home and commissioned Gaudí to renovate it. It’s located on what is referred to as the “Block of Discord”, a row of houses designed by various Modernisme architects. Purchased by the Bernat family in the 1990’s, the house has been open to the public since 1995. Aside from from offering daily tours, the house can be rented as an event space. Gaudí designed the house spontaneously and never explained his work. There are many theories about the meanings behind all the symbols encompassed in this work, but, in the end, it’s really up to each individual’s personal interpretation. Take a virtual tour here.


Casa Milà, more commonly known as La Pedrera (the stone quarry) due to its unconventional rough-hewn appearance, is another of Gaudí’s creative architectural enterprises and quite a controversial one at that. It suffered ongoing legal battles and constant financial troubles. Commissioned by a wealthy couple who wanted to become part of the Passeig de Gràcias scene, the plan was to create a main floor home with apartments to rent on the floors above. Ironically, the budget was exceeded by such great proportions that they had to mortgage the property in order to pay Gaudí. After many years of use by the Milà family including an array of notable tenants who lived in the apartments, it fell into disrepair. Eventually, it was restored and opened to the public in 1996. Today, La Pedrera hosts a variety of shops on the ground floor, three remaining residential apartments, and daily public tours.


The most recognizable Gaudí architectural icon, of course, is La Sagrada Familia. The first cornerstone for this Roman Catholic church was laid in 1866. Gaudí became its primary architect in 1883 and spent the next 43 years until his death in 1926 imposing his unique style on its design. Still unfinished, construction continues to this day with the goal of completion to mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death on June 12, 2026. We shall see!


We have really enjoyed our city center apartment and the Gaudí sites in Barcelona. Tomorrow… off to our luxury penthouse on the beach in València!

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