Tag Archives: international

Avila, Spain

7 Apr
Avila-City Walls

Avila-City Walls

Avila-City Walls

Avila-City Walls

Avila has roots to fifth century BC. No wonder we were astounded by the amazing antiquity of the city and enraptured by its beauty and simplicity. It has a long and storied history of Romans, Visigoths and others who have come and gone from its earliest origins, but in the late 11th century the current wall that stands was constructed to protect the city. It is the largest fully illuminated monument in the world; you are able to walk almost half of the wall, but many parts are inaccessible, as buildings and structures are an integral part of the fortress structure, such as the Cathedral of Avila.

Avila-View from the city wall

Avila-View from the city wall

Avila-View from the city wall

Avila-View from the city wall

Avila-Cathedral from the City Wall

Avila-Cathedral from the City Wall

Tammy and I paid the extra three euro for the audio guide while we walked along the wall. I don’t remember much from the audio guide except that Teresa of Avila felt she had an “untamed spirit” and the nuns at the convent would help her to calm it. Maybe they could tame my hair, too, because…well, let’s just say I was not having a good hair day!

Avila-Bad hair day, you say?

Avila-Bad hair day, you say?

But the views, and the thoughts rambling through my head. I cannot believe that I walked where Teresa of Avila had once walked and worshiped.

Avila-Santa Teresa

Avila-Santa Teresa

Avila - Sculpture

Avila – Sculpture

Avila-Cathedral, view of the gardens

Avila-Cathedral, view of the gardens

Avila-Cathedral

Avila-Cathedral

Avila-Cathedral

Avila-Cathedral

Avila-Cathedral

Avila-Cathedral

Avila-Cathedral

Avila-Cathedral

The Cathedral was marvelous as well. Its construction began in 1107 and ended in 1350. It has the most beautiful red and white granite stones for the ceilings in walls in parts of the building and in other parts, the walls and ceiling are pure white. Such an amazing and stark contrast. Because it was Holy Week, the pasos (the large wooden ‘stages’ with the stations of the cross and other scenes from the last hours of Christ’s life depicted in sculpture) were on display in the Cathedral as well. Unfortunately, due to the weather, Tammy and I never got to see any of them during an actual procession through the streets during Holy Week; each time we prepared for a procession, the rain began and the procession was cancelled.

Avila-Los Pasos de Semana Santa

Avila-Los Pasos de Semana Santa

Avila-los pasos de la Semana Santa

Avila-los pasos de la Semana Santa

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Salamanca, Spain

7 Apr
A most interesting sculpture, Salamanca

A most interesting sculpture, Salamanca

How old do you have to be to exist in Salamanca?

How old do you have to be to exist in Salamanca?

Of the twelve cities in thirteen days I visited this past month, Salamanca has to be my favorite. What an historical and beautiful city. Every corner I turned I was amazed by another architectural wonder and feat of this city that dates back to the times of BEFORE the Romans.

View from the Hotel Room, Salamanca. Monastery

View from the Hotel Room, Salamanca. Monastery

The University of Salamanca is the oldest in Spain, constructed in 1218, and is the most culturally diverse and largest. My friend Tammy and I had the most beautiful view outside of our hotel room (of a convent/monastery) anyone could ask for and convenient to all of the Old Town of Salamanca.

La Universidad Pontifica, Salamanca

La Universidad Pontifica, Salamanca

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Universidad Pontifica, View from the Tower

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View from the tower of the Universidad de Pontifica

View from the tower of the Universidad de Pontifica

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Casa de las Conchas

We visited the Universidad Pontifica, which, with its towers, had the most spectacular views of the city and the Casa de las Conchas. The University of Salamanca is gorgeous, with its ornate structures and carvings on the facade, one of which is the infamous frog of Salamanca.

Plaza Mayor, Salamanca

Plaza Mayor, Salamanca

The Plaza Mayor of Salamanca was beyond words and rivals that of Madrid (actually, in this blogger’s opinion is BETTER than Madrid’s) and was abuzz with activity and numerous cafes and restaurants.

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El Puente Romano, Salamanca

I believe the highlight of the trip was on our way out of town as we stopped at the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge), constructed in the first century. Despite the wind, the rain and the cold, Tammy and I walked the length of the bridge and imagined ourselves being a part of a Roman procession with Roman soldiers and chariots, two thousand years ago, stepping on the same stones, walking the same paths, and feeling the same smooth cobblestone beneath our feet as those Romans did, oh so long ago.

Salamanca…City you MUST see on a trip to Spain.

 

Burgos, Spain

7 Apr
Close up of the gate entryway, Burgos

Close up of the gate entryway, Burgos

Cold and wind greeted us upon our arrival to Burgos, but we were not deterred. The beauty and charm of the city in northern Castilla-Leon was enough to keep us warm and attentive.

Burgos city wall

Burgos city wall

Walk of Santiago de Compostela

Walk of Santiago de Compostela

The Chu-chu, tourist train

The Chu-chu, tourist train

A Garden Archway, Burgos

A Garden Archway, Burgos

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The Cathedral de Burgos  was by far the best of all the cathedrals we visited in our nine days. Of course, construction began in 1221 and was not complete until 1567 (346 years for those of you trying to do the math in your heads!) Pictures do not do justice to the architecture, art and artistry of the work inside this fabulous work of craftsmanship dedicated to the worship of God. We had only one hour to visit because it was closing shortly after we arrived and we were very disappointed we had such little time to experience the awe of the Cathedral of Burgos. It was an endless walk of wonderment and breathtaking moments, as we continued to peer into each chamber dedicated to a different saint or period of Christ’s life, each with such gorgeous and detailed statues, paintings and artwork. And don’t forget to look up at the ceiling! The arches and ceilings are decorated and entrusted with art as well. El Cid (Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, the national hero of Spain) is buried here.

Cathedral of Burgos

Cathedral of Burgos

Cathedral of Burgos

Cathedral of Burgos

Tomb of the original architect of the Cathedral of Burgos

Tomb of the original architect of the Cathedral of Burgos

PapaMoscas clock

PapaMoscas clock

Consuegra, Spain

7 Apr
Los Molinos de Consuegra

Los Molinos de Consuegra

Best known for windmills (los molinos), Consuegra is a quaint little town, not too far from Ciudad Real and Toledo in Castilla-La Mancha. The windmills were built in the 1500s to grind wheat into flour. And let me tell you, it is windy up there! The wind howls and screams and just about knocks you over! There is also a 12th Century castle that is partially restored at the end of the line of windmills. It was a fascinating walk through the castle and walk up the tower. Again, the WIND! Amazingly strong and unceasing. My friend Laurie and I spent an afternoon wandering the castle ruins and walking the path along the windmills, imagining ourselves to be don Quixote and Sancho, fighting the windmills, jousting and… most likely losing!

Consuegra

Consuegra

EL Castillo de Consuegra

EL Castillo de Consuegra

El Castillo de Consuegra

El Castillo de Consuegra

Me and my my pal Laurie!

Me and my my pal Laurie!

Vista de Molinos, Consuegra

Vista de Molinos, Consuegra

Castillo de Consuegra

Castillo de Consuegra

Heraldry Chambers, Castillo de Consuegra

Heraldry Chambers, Castillo de Consuegra

Consuegra Windmill, Spain

Consuegra Windmill, Spain

Traveling through Spain in a Rented Car

7 Apr
After 2000 km, She was a little tired!

After 2000 km, She was a little tired!

Three thousand one hundred seven kilometers (3107 km = 1864 miles) later, I am home. For 13 days, I rented a car in Spain and visited 12 different cities. I made it back to Bilbao in one piece despite the occasional horn-honking when I happened to get in the wrong lane in a rotonda or not progressing through the light fast enough when it turned green at an intersection. These Spaniards do like to honk their horns!

Yes, I put some miles on that car with my friend Tammy from Kentucky who visited nine of those thirteen days. I must say she was the most excellent navigator with the GPS on my phone. There were only a few occasions when I missed a turn or took a wrong one, but never did I go the wrong way on a one-way street or have an accident.

Mountains in Spain

Mountains in Spain

Tammy and I rented a small car for our trip because it was only the two of us. It was small, alright! Small engine with no pick-up-n-go. The first leg of our trip involved driving through many a mountain. I know very well how to drive a manual car, (drove one for three years in Germany), but this car was a real treat climbing mountains. Not knowing how the car would handle at first I didn´t downshift while going up the incline of the mountain. I stayed in fifth gear. Our speed decreased from 120 kph to 50 kph within seconds. I think we could have run faster! Then, I decided to downshift while climbing the mountains. This helped some, but in order to maintain a healthy speed (80-90 kph) I had to downshift to third gear. Who said we were in a hurry?!?

But let me tell you something. If you simply enter the name of a town into your GPS, it will take you straight to the city-center. And I mean directly in the city-center! When Tammy and I arrived to León, Castilla-León, we arrived to a huge rotonda and the GPS told us to take the first street off of the rotonda. But wait! There was a barrier there, yet a traffic signal. What was this? I missed it the first time around the rotonda and the second time I told Tammy I am NOT going there. She insisted, saying GPS says to go there. Against my better judgment, I waited at the traffic signal, and lo and behold, the barrier lowered into the ground like an elevator, and we could pass. BUT…we had crossed into the pedestrian zone! Sure cars could go there, but it should only be cars of residents and those doing legitimate business (like making deliveries). As we slowly crept up the hill, the pedestrians parted ways, just as the Red Sea did for Moses, I expect. I was panicked though, because I did not see ANY cars anywhere!

Zona Peatonal, Leon

Zona Peatonal, Leon

Then, to my surprise, I saw one and decided to follow it. Uh oh! He knew where he was going and disappeared as quickly as he appeared, leaving me stuck in an alleyway. I could not turn around nor go in reverse. I was afraid to go forward so I turned down the next alley to the left and…There was a café with tables and chairs set up! Now we were really stuck! I asked two women in Spanish how we could get out of this jam, and they assured me they thought I could pass between the wall of the building on the right and the tables/chairs of the café on the left. They chuckled and asked how we got into this mess in the first place. When I mentioned GPS, they gave the all-knowing nod. Just so you know, I got through the alley, with space on both sides of the car! When we arrived on the other side, it was a simple turn to the right and another turn to the right to find a parking space OUTSIDE of the pedestrian zone. Whew. That was nerve-racking to say the least.

El Escorial Later in the week, I was surprised again (why, I do not know–there should have bee no surprises by now on the GPS!) when I entered “El Escorial.” Call me stupid, but I didn’t know that the name of the town was “El Escorial” as well. I simply thought it was the name of the Monastery de San Lorenzo where all the kings and queens of the Bourbon and Hapsburg Dynasties are buried, among many other things. Anyway, I entered “El Escorial” into the GPS, expecting to end up at the monstrous building in the town of the same name. It was not so. I followed the directions on the GPS and had a picturesque meandering through the town and then…when the GPS said I arrived at my destination, I was facing the backside of a decrepit and crumbling building. A little disappointing, I should say! I found my way to the train station to ask where the tourist office was and they directed me to the top of the hill, next to the monastery. ‘Nuff said! Follow a road up a hill, and lo and behold, there it was, right in front of me!

Parking on the other hand was a little different. I found a parking garage with no problem and it happened to be a refreshing relief that for three hours it only cost three euros. (After the exorbitant prices I paid in Madrid, I breathed a huge sigh of relief!). The problem was, there were two entrances to the parking garage. I parked at the “inconvenient end.” You see, here in Spain, everything is automated at the parking garage. You need to carry your parking garage ticket with you and pay for your parking at a cajero (cash machine, usually near the pedestrian exits) before you leave. There are no “live” people to take your money as you leave the garage as is still so common in the US. But at this particular garage, I parked at the east end of the garage on the lower level. The cajero was on the west end (.2 km away) and on the upper level. The doors were not marked and half the lights on the upper level were burned out. It was quite a scary walk, not knowing where I was going to pay for my parking. Did I tell you it took me thirty minutes just to find the cajero?!

Parking in Madrid is ridiculously expensive. For one 24 hour period, it cost twenty-seven euro in one garage and in another, thirty-seven euro! And 24 hours starts after twelve hours, with no discount. So be prepared if driving into Madrid.

Castle on the mountainside

Castle on the mountainside

Overall, a most excellent experience. The paisaje of Spain is spectacular, just as it is in the US. Each region has its own particular beauty. Driving in Castilla-Leon and Castilla La Mancha and seeing ruins and skeletons of buildings from hundreds of years of ago, just amazes me. This was definitely the trip of a lifetime and worth every horn honked at me and every alley I turned down.

Some ruins

Some ruins

Banking in Spain

2 Nov

Money makes the world go around they say, and that is certainly no different in Spain. If I want to be paid by my primary job, I am required to have a bank account so the Basque government can directly deposit my paycheck. I was anxious to get this done when I first arrived so on advice of a colleague in another part of Spain, I went to La Caixa and began the long and arduous process of opening a bank account with my passport because I did not yet have my Spanish version of the Green Card (my NIE). Some ninety minutes and twenty pages of paper later, I emerged with my Spanish bank account, debit card ordered, and access to online banking. I had deposited fifty euros, with an understanding that there was a thirteen euro initial ingreso (charge) for opening the account with a passport.

Two weeks later, I picked up my debit card at the bank and had it activated. Imagine my surprise when I finally went to use it to withdraw twenty euros, I saw that I was thirteen euros en el rojo (yes, that’s right — in the red!) At first, I thought perhaps they banked differently in Spain. After all, they use periods where we use commas, and they use commas where we use periods. Perhaps they used red where we use black and black where we use red. It was possible, wasn’t it?! Not so when I went to the bank a couple days later to have the bank stamp my direct deposit form for my pay. Not only was I thirteen dollars in the hole, but they also wanted to charge me six more euros to fill out the direct deposit form! And when I asked where all the money had gone (sixty-three euro and some change), it was all fees! That is worse than overdraft charges in the US and I hadn’t even written a check. There was a twenty-three euro charge for a police check because I opened the account with my passport rather than a residency (NIE) card, a thirty-three euro charge for an annual fee for the debit card (that no one bothered to tell me about), and a six euro charge for a monthly service fee.

Needless to say, I closed that bank account. I now have my NIE (número de identificación de extranjeros) and went to a new bank where they didn´t charge me to fill out the direct deposit form. At my new bank, the process of opening the bank account with the NIE took about twenty minutes and there are no fees unless I have a month with no direct deposit. I can deal with that. I opened the account on Tuesday and went to the bank today and the gentleman who helped me called me by my first name already. I am quite satisfied having changed banks.

My mom always told me that patience is a virtue and she is right. Had I waited to open my bank account until I had my NIE, I could have saved sixty-three euros in expensive charges and ninety minutes of precious time.

Driving in Spain

21 Oct

 

If there is one thing that the city planners in the US know, it is how to plan streets that are parallel and perpendicular. Amen! (And maybe on a wagon wheel spoke system as in Washington DC.) Not so, in Spain. At least not here in País Vasco. Las rotondas are abundantes and can sometimes be quite confusing to the unaware driver, especially if you do not know the rule of ¨yield to the right.¨ Thankfully I was an international driver some years ago in Germany and had my share of round-a-bouts, but they are not near as numerous as they are in Spain. I have not seen a street yet without a plaza, plazuela, rotonda, or escultura at least every half mile. They even have rotondas on the carreteras and autopistas (highways and interstates!)

Driving through all of these can be quite confusing, because simply to go straight, one must enter the circle and be on the inside of the circle to yield to the person who is entering to your right. Then you must move to the outside of the circle to exit at your salida (exit.) This is done in a very short period of time , with traffic lights and pedestrians at the same time. Throw in some speed bumps and, I think you get the picture! Just somewhat confusing. And that is only the round-a-bout part of the picture. The cities in Spain date back to before the time Christopher Columbus set foot on American soil. The streets here are windy, narrow and run one way only. There is no easy way to go ¨round the block.¨ You may have to drive a half mile to get back to where you started if you make a wrong turn. Luckily, because the streets do not run parallel but generally run one into the other, if you do make a wrong turn, you will end up where you wanted to without any trouble at all!

I must say, though, the rotondas do add beauty to the city and a touch of color where otherwise none would be. The beauty of the rotondas are nothing compared to the beauty of driving through the contryside of the Vizcaya. It is mountainous here and reminds me of driving through the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina, with more narrow highways and vistas of the Cantabrian Sea, with its crashing waves and surfers in the various villages speckling the coastline. Driving through the coutryside was not much different than the

US, other than re-acquainting myself with the international road signs, which are so much easier to read and understand (they are all symbols with no words, other than STOP.)

Beware though! A veces, if you do not pay attention to an important “Dead End” sign or simply do not see it, you may end in a very tight spot. At least this time, when I found myself in a dead end and in a very curvy way in a stick shift with seemingly no way out, I

was able to maneuver my way out with no scratches to the passengers and more importantly to the rental. You see, years ago, when I lived in Germany and had recently learned to drive a stick shift, I turned down what I thought was an a street that would take me around the block when it was very dark outside. Not so. It was a dark alleyway where the buildings were narrowing into each other. When I realized I couldn’t go around the block, I tried to put the car in reverse but ended up getting the car stuck in between them and was unable to put the car in reverse to get out of the spot. After about twenty minutes, I finally managed to find reverse and gunned it out of there! (With a few minor scratches on the car.)

So while we were in Gernika, we found ourselves in a similar tight spot. We thought we were continuing on the road through Gernika, but it was a driveway , a windy, curvy, steep, downhill, straight into a garage kind of driveway. No room to do a three point turn kind of driveway. Only way out is to go in reverse kind of driveway. Complete with retaining walls at the bottom to make it even more difficult. But, I did it. With help from my companions, I was able to back up the curvy steep hill without hitting the stone wall, the cars on the street, or any other barrier for at least 150 meters! I was so proud that after all these years of driving an automatic car, I was still able to drive a car de marchas (stick shift) and get out of such a tight spot with finesse.

To tell the truth, I was very worried about driving here last weekend. But I discovered that paying attention while riding the bus surely paid off for knowing my way around Bilbao somewhat and how to make my way around the rotondas. Driving stick shift is like a riding bike, one never forgets. And the scenery and freedom driving affords one is well worth worry I had beforehand. Now I have the confidence to do it all again!

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