27 Sep to Barcelona Arr 10:10am 28 Sep – Hotel Oriente Atiram, La Ramblas, 45

28 Sep Barcelona – Tapas for dinner

29 Sep Barcelona – Harbour stroll, La Sagrada Familia outside, HopOnHopOff

30 Sep Barcelona – HopOnHopOff, Park Guell, Pedrabes Monastery, sidewalk cafĂ© in the rain

01 Oct Barcelona – La Sagrada Familia inside and tower, Diagonal Mar (mall) and beach walk

02 Oct Barcelona – Picassa Museum, Dep 1500 by High Speed Train  to Madrid (Hotel Liabeny)

03 Oct Madrid – morning city tour and afternoon HopOnHopOff, Prado Museum (El Greco), Bull Fighting Arena, Plaza del Sol (buskers)

04 Oct Madrid – Royal Palace, Almudena Cathedral,  Parque de el Retiro, Dep Madrid to Lisbon by overnight train (Hotel Tivoli Lisboa)

05Oct Lisbon
–to Sintra by train for day, then met Intrepids and Hall Party

06Oct Lisbon
-  local half-day Lisbon tour with group (Alfama, Belem Tower,
Monument to the Discoveries, custard tarts from Casa Pasteis de Belem, El Corte Ingles for shopping and hotel Hall Party.

07Oct Lisbon
- Train to Porto & to the AmaVida ship,evening concert “TUNA”

08Oct Douro River/AmaVida, Regua,
Quinta do Seixo vineyard tour, evening fado entertainment

09Oct  Douro River/AmaVida Regua to Vega deTerron, Lamego/Shrine of Our Lady of Remedies, local market, Valeira reboard AmaVida, cruising thru locks,Captain’s cocktail party

10Oct  Douro River/AmaVida Barca d'Alvo to Salamanca (Old/New Salamanca Cathedrals, Flaminco Show/lunch, Salamanca University

11Oct Douro River/AmaVida Vega de Terron to Pinhao, tour Castelo Rodrigo, then Quinta da Avessada for dinner and entertainment,

12Oct Douro River/AmaVida Pinhao to Bitetos, tour to Mateus Palace, ship bridge tour, Monastery of Apendurada for dinner

13Oct Douro River/AmaVida Villanova de Gaia, - Porto tour, Train Station, Cathedral, Graham’s Winery, Thanksgiving Dinner on ship

14Oct Porto (Pestana Porto Hotel) - St. Francis Cathedral, shopping, Hall Party, Group dinner (upstairs restaurant)

15Oct Porto - Coimbra tour – Coimbra University, back to Porto and Group dinner

16Oct to Porto to Airport for return via Frankfurt
Saturday September 27 - Getting There
We were kind of scatty about getting ready for this trip, but after a few last-minute adjustments, drove off to Pearson Airport to start the adventure.  We like this parking service [SkyPark] we've used a couple of times.  Very easy and not over-priced.  We had time for a burger at the airport (not as good as Big Smoke, of course, but ok ) and then we boarded our AC Rouge flight to Barcelona. Rouge is a bit spartan, but it wasn't a bad flight.

Sunday September 28 - Barcelona
We landed around 10am in Barcelona and opted for but/metro to get to the hotel.  That meant a lot of steps, both up and down, but got us close to the hotel.  While we were trying to get oriented to the metro system we were approached by a dodgy character trying to get us to change money for him.  We brushed him off and have since found this a common approach by thieves - apparently rife in Barcelona.  Sure enough a few minutes later when we went to study the route map plain clothed police officers had 2 guys sitting on the floor in front of it.  They juggled them around so we could check our route, then led them away in cuffs.
At the hotel, we slept for a couple hours, by which time it was pouring rain.  Arghh!  With umbrellas, we ventured out.  We were hoping to find a tour company and book a tour for tomorrow, but no luck.  So we looked for a place to eat.  Most places near the hotel were packed, but finally we found a small restaurant/tapas bar where we really enjoyed pizza, beer, wine and a complementary schapps.  Now I can hardly keep my eyes open. [...and she didn't so I am typing this up after going down to the desk for tickets for 2 days of hop-on-hop-off.  I have now officially become nuisance here as they address me by  name as I approach the desk - well there was only the key-card that failed, the power adapter, the rejected power adapter and the booking of the tour. OK so they know me!]

Monday, September 29 - Barcelona

Well, I think I'm officially caught up on sleep now, having gotten something like 
17 hours of it since we arrived! We missed the hotel breakfast, since I slept until 
10:30. But then we got our act together. First thing, of course, was breakfast, which 
we enjoyed on the street in front of our hotel. It's La Rambla, and has a pedestrian 
boulevard down the middle, so we could watch foot and vehicle traffic while we ate.

We were alert for "take-downs" since we had seen a second one
last night at dinner,  but no such luck. We did see some quite dodgey 

behaviour though, including a guy sneaking onto the metro by more or 
less gluing himself to the back of a woman as she went through the turnstile, 
and a couple obviously spotting a "mark" and going in pursuit. There were
many beggars on the streets, too. But no one really bothered us. We caught 

a hop-on hop-off tour from the large plaza near the hotel. 

We stayed on except for a brief stroll at the harbour and to

change to another route. We saw many Gaudi masterpieces, including the awesome 

Sagrada Familia, from the bus. 

We'll head back there tomorrow, early, to get in line to see the interior. We
picked a couple of other spots to go back to tomorrow, and we want to ride one 

more route. Other than Gaudi, Barcelona is much like other European cities. 
There's a very old (mediaeval) area that we walked through,
many ultra-modern neighbourhoods and everything in between. We saw very
few houses; most people live in apartments. Not as many sophisticated, high-fashion
women as inmany other cities. Throngs of tourists everywhere, of course. Since
normal dinner time here is 8- 10, we decided to go out for dessert at 9. We found
a noisy restaurant/bar with live music andenjoyed some very good desserts and
"coffee descafinate" along with Spanish pronounciation tipsfrom the waiter.
Then we wandered with the crowds for awhile before returning to the hotel.

Link to All Photos for 29 September

Tuesday, 30 September - Barcelona

We certainly experienced "the rain in Spain" today.  We had breakfast at the hotel (an experience we won't repeat)

and left in time to catch one of the first tourist buses from the square.  It was a bit cloudy, but no worries.  So no ponchos or umbrellas.  Well before we reached our morning destination, it was raining hard enough to drive us to the lower level of the sight-seeing bus.  We fell into conversation with a lovely lady from New Zealand named Avril, whose plans for the morning matched ours. When we got off at the stop for Park Guell, our first mission was to find rain ponchos.  Once that was done, we ignored the rain as we explored this strange park area, designed by Antoni Gaudi and a team.

 It was intended to be a residential area, but too few were interested in buying (I get that - can't imagine living inside a Gaudi building).  Eventually it was turned into a park.  We got separated from Avril, so went for coffee on our own, but we met her again at the bus stop.  We all proceeded then to the Pedrabes Monastary - one of Barcelona's lesser-know gems!  It's a lovely old place, with treasures dating back to the 14th Century.

We wandered, almost alone, through its various areas for the early part of the afternoon, then parted ways with Avril to come back to our hotel.  After a short rest and dry clothes we headed out again in the sunshine for the last loop of the hop-off-hop-on tour.  We took the metro to the beginning of the route [ in the Olympics Area (1992)] and rode the full loop around an old industrial area the Mediterranean shore (now being redeveloped as a technology hub) without getting off.  By then clouds were rolling in again, and since we never learn, we were without rain gear again [4 ponchos and 2 umbrellas back in the room].  Luckily, we got to the subway and from thee to a covered, outdoor restaurant right across from our hotel, before the heavens opened.  So we sat in splendid dryness, watching everyone scurry along the street.

We had a very leisurely supper, but finally had to make the dash to the hotel.  Now we're warm and dry once again.
Link To All Photos for 30 September

Wednesday, October 1 - Barcelona

Wednesday, October 1 - Barcelona
This was certainly the best day yet in Barcelona.  For starters, the weather was perfect,  Secondly we had a plan and it worked out really well.  We'd heard from a few people that they'd been unable to get inside La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's masterpiece basilica, because of long lines and wait times.

  We'd been unable to get advance tickets online, or to book a "skip-the-line" tour, so were concerned.  We decided to devote as much of the day as necessary to seeing it.  We left our hotel early, grabbed a very fast breakfast at the McDonald's across the street, and took the subway to the nearest stop.  The lineup at 8:45 was already long, but as soon as the ticket office opened at 9, it moved quickly.  We were on our way inside at 9:30.  By then the line was about double what we'd found, so those folks would have a long wait [as after that they would wait for a period to get in at their allotted time].  Neither of us really expected to love the interior since we had seen a lot of Gaudi's work including the exterior of La Sagrada Familia itself over the last few days that we didn't really care for -- impressive yes, beautiful no. But, my goodness!! the interior is entirely different and breath-takingly gorgeous!  [ don't forget to click pictures for a full view ]

It really is a sacred space in every way.  Even with several hundred people inside it was hushed.  We sat and wandered for 90 minutes just taking it all in: the beautiful, ever changing patterns of light through the stained glass windows, the graceful columns, and all the details large and small.  So worth the effort to get there. Actually, worth the whole trip to Barcelona.  We took an elevator up one of the towers, where we could see some of the roof details close up.

We thought we would have to climb down the steep, winding, dark stairs, but were able to come down in the elevator.  That was a relief!!  We made a circuit of the building on foot afterward, to get the full view of the outside.   While we were in the basilica, we noticed that rules of dress have radically changed.  We had read that knees and shoulders had to be covered or admission would be refused.  Ha!!  there were short shorts,  halters, micro-minis, tanks etc etc.  I was surprised by a request to remove my hat - then I wanted to cheer!  I grew up in a time when women had to cover their heads in church.  We used to carry scarves to put on so we wouldn't be refused admission.  Now we're on an equal footing ( or heading?) with men, who've always removed their hats in churches.  Wahoo!  Let's hear it for equality! Even if the shifting etiquette is confusing.
Leaving the basilica we used our subway navigational skills to go to a large mall (Diagonal Mar) we'd seen yesterday, to pick up a few things we needed.  We found a great restaurant there, Casa Carmen, where we had the best meal yet in Barcelona.

Then we strolled to the beach and dabbled our toes in the lovely, cool, refreshing Mediterranean.  Walking along the beach we saw a few topless sunbathers, but nothing too exciting.

With more, only slightly flawed, navigation we got back to the hotel, stopping only for a fresh loaf of bread.  It'll be a self-catered supper tonight.

 Link to All Photos for  1 October

Thursday, October 2 - Barcelona to Madrid

Thursday, October 2 -- Barcelona to  Madrid
We took our time getting up and had breakfast nearby, then headed to the Picasso Museum. It isn't easy to find, but worth the search. In 1970, he apparently gave all the works still in his possession to this museum and the collection spans his career. We were comparing his work at age 10 or so with that of our grand-niece Isabelle. She might have quite a career ahead of her!

We gathered up our stuff (so much stuff -- what were we thinking?) at the hotel and took the subway to the train station. Along the way, we both had our pockets and purse rifled by a couple of women who crowded in on us. If they got anything at all, it was minor change. The important stuff was better protected. Everything they say about how rife crime is in Barcelona is true. We saw several examples of it. It's a really icky feeling to be pick-pocketed, even if there's no harm.
Once at the station, we had lunch, then boarded the sleek high-speed train to Madrid. It was a smooth and swift ride, usually around 300 km/hour.

We easily got a cab (notice -- not the subway, not any more with suitcases!) to our very nice hotel, The Liabeny. Dumping our stuff we wandered down the pedestrian road, had supper at a sidewalk cafe, then walked to a nearby square where there was all kinds of action. We enjoyed the buskers and the general atmosphere.

On the way back we bought frozen yogurt sundaes -- the best ever!
Interestingly, we had heard that Barcelona was a far more interesting city than Madrid, but Avril, who had been here first, said she much preferred Madrid's buzz. So far, we're inclined to agree. We'll see what the next 2 days bring.

Link to All Photos for 2 October

Friday, October 3 - Madrid

Friday, October 3 - Madrid
Our guided bus tour this morning was a disappointment -- the commentary was sparse, in poor English and delivered over a malfunctioning audio system. We were also dumped unceremoniously at the end of the tour at an unknown (to us) location, more than a kilometer from our hotel pick-up point. The guide gave us directions and we stopped to buy a map -- isn't that odd? Most places shower tourists with free maps, but here we had to buy one. At the hotel we immediately bought passes for the hop-on hop-off tour and hopped on. Much better! We found out a lot about the things we'd seen in the morning and picked up a bit of history. It really is a beautiful city, at the same time livelier and safer-feeling by far than Barcelona.

We hopped off at the Prado, the only must-see on our list. When we bought our tickets we had 90 minutes until our entry time, so we found a cafe and had lunch. We were fortunate to see a temporary exhibit called El Greco and Modern Painting. It traces El Greco's influence on modern masters. Filled in a few gaps in Picasso's work, too, from the exhibit we saw in Barcelona. Then we wandered through some of the permanent exhibits, and hopped back on the bus. Hopped off near our hotel to put our feet up for a bit before going in search of dinner. A nice walk through the Friday night crowds on the nearby pedestrian streets, dinner on Gran Via (still no sangria, sorry SW-E), dessert at Llaollao (again!) and back to the hotel with JAZZ FM on the internet radio. This is the life!

Link to All Photos for 3 October

Saturday, October 4 - Madrid

Saturday, October 4 - Madrid
On Saturday, the city is different. There are fewer cars, more pedestrians, more kids and the tourist spots are more crowded. It's also, apparently, the day for demonstrations, such as when the Falon Gong took over Plaza del Sol, near our hotel.

We made our way to the Royal Palace this morning. It's huge and very ornate. The Royal Family no longer lives there, but it is the site of great occasions, such as the recent abdication ceremony.

We chatted with a couple from the UK, a lady from Vancouver, and 2 young women from Germany. Yesterday at the Prado, we talked to a couple from Winnipeg. It's a real crossroads.Our second stop of the day was the cathedral across from the palace. Another lovely building.

We had a mid-afternoon panini at a sidewalk cafe and decided that we needed some garden time. Madrid came through with the Parque de el Retiro. We sat on a bench in a very quiet area for awhile, then strolled around the large artificial lake. We discussed renting a rowboat, but neither of us wanted to row.

The monument to Alfonso XII that sits beside the lake is very imposing and extremely detailed. Finally, we felt we'd seen and done all we could, so we hopped on a bus and headed back to LLAULLAU -- for the third time in 3 days! Love that frozen yogurt!

We picked up our bags and took a cab to Madrid Chamartin Estacione. Lots of time for a beer, then some quiet time in the first class lounge before boarding.

Link to All Photos for 4 October

Sunday, October 5 - Lisbon

Sunday, October 5 - Lisbon
Last night we spent about 90 minutes in the first class lounge at the Madrid train station, enjoying snacks and drinks, then squashed ourselves into our sleeping compartment for the night. It was small, but we both slept well.

We drank coffee in the bar car while we watched the sun come up as we entered Lisbon. Our taxi driver was an interesting guy, perhaps in his 50s or 60s, who says he's never been out of Lisbo or worn a hat except when he was in the army. He's driven a taxi since he was 19 and says his mind has turned into an automatic GPS. He told us traffic patterns in the city are very messeed up because he thinks "they were on drugs when they planned the changes". Of course at 8:15 am our hotel room wasn't ready, so we left our luggage and walked to the nearby train station and went to Sintra. We decided to visit just the Pena Palace and then return to Lisbon.

The palace was well-worth the visit. The last king of Portugal lived there as well as a couple of his predecessors. We both thought it was a liveable palace, compared to many we've seen. Our timing arriving back at the Tivoli Lisboa was perfect -- the rest of the group arrived just as we were arranging for our luggage to be sent to our room. They were all tired after their long trip. We felt guilty for not being jet-lagged anymore. And also for not scoping out a local source of wine! About an hour later, our luggage still had  not appeared, so Larry called the front desk about it. A few minutes later we saw Fred & Alma arriving at their room across the hall, and chatted a few minutes with them. When they went in, Alma said "Look, there's already a bunch of luggage here". It was, of course, ours. It had been delivered there during the day. Meanwhile, of course, the folks in reception were going crazy trying to figure out where our luggage had disappeared to. Relief all 'round!
The gang might be tired, but that didn't stop the hall party tonight. Nice to spend some time chatting and getting on the same wave-length before we start serious touring tomorrow.

Link to All Photos for 5 October

Monday October 6 -- Lisbon

Monday October 6 -- Lisbon
The Tivoli Lisboa has a great breakfast buffet, which we all enjoyed to the fullest. We linked up with the Grants, who were the last to arrive last night. They'd enjoyed Barcelona, but like us, they vow never again to fly AC Rouge. Not an airline to spend time with. Our flights home appear not to be Rouge, so we're optimistic.
Our driver and guide picked us up at 9 for a half-day tour of the city. Our reaction: Lisboa e lina, Portugal e un pais lindo.

 (I apologize for the missing accents, can't make this laptop do them.) We saw many parts of the city, and heard some of its colourful history, walked in the old area of Alfama,

 visited the Belem Tower (a defensive and trade tower from centuries past on the waterfront),

 as well as the Monument to the Discoveries. It was all a reminder of long-ago history classes when we heard the romantic stories of Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus, Henry the Navigator and so many others with connections to Portugal.

A monument at one of the highest points in the city commemorates the end of Salazar's dictatorship and the return to democracy in Portugal.
We saw evidence of the reconstruction after the big earthquake of 1755 and admired beautiful tiles on many walls. The tour ended with the to-die-for custard tarts from Casa Pasteis de Belem.

Alexandra was one of the best tour guides we've met anywhere.
Larry and I decided to walk to the El Corte Ingles that we kept hearing about -- a super-department store the size of most shopping malls. It was a very long, uphill walk,  back to the high point from which we'd viewed the city earlier, then a few more blocks.

Once there we found him some new shoes (desert boots, in fact -- talk about a throw-back) and a couple bottles of wine. The long downhill walk from the monument to the end of dictatorship, to the main roundabout featured some great views of the city, under lovely shady trees. The sidewalks and many of the streets are cobbled, with designs in darker cobbles, making for somewhat uneven walking, but oh so pretty.
Another lively "hall" party -- 15 chatting and laughing people in 1 hotel room, drinking wine and beer and nibbling on an array of snacks.

Dinner was at a local seafood place, where we really enjoyed the food, but felt we'd been "had" on the bill.

We had heard about the wonderful views from the roof of our hotel, so went there for drinks and to enjoy the lights and nearly-full moon. Four of us shared a large jug of sangria. When it started to rain, we called it a night.  [ Click "Older Posts" below to continue ]
Link to All Photos for 6 October