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Acadamia Museum

October 9th, 2017
Happy Thanksgiving to all of our blog readers. Kim and I have had a wonderful past two days visiting the sites, going to Museums and doing a little souvenir shopping. We have walked our feet off, but this is good because the food here is very good and we seem to be hungry all of the time.

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This is is one of many fascinating entrance ways in the old city.  We estimated 16-17 feet high.

We were up early yesterday morning and went to the Acadamia Museum. We arrived just as it opened and only waited an hour to get in. Not so bad. We could have bought tickets on line for about $30 more expensive, but often you wait a half hour to get in anyways. They also want you to follow behind a guide and listen to him drone on about what he thinks is interesting. In almost every museum we have been in there is a write-up below each art work giving all the important history, and any relevant story attached to the art work. So we get to choose which pieces of art we want to spend time on. It’s not possible to read and see every painting, sculpture in every museum. There are just too many. As you can appreciate the centrepiece of this museum, was Michelangelo’s Statue of David.image

 

He was finally selected to carve this gigantic slab of marble after a number of other artists couldn’t work with it. This include Leonardo Da Vinci. The size was just too big. It’s over 8 meters tall! He started this work in the early 1500’s and took a little over two years to complete.image

The finished statue is 17.5 feet high. The public immediately loved the work of art, not just because it was so perfect in completion, but as well because it represented the successful struggle of the little guy against the big bully. This was very important at a time when common people were fighting for their civil liberties. The statue has been moved a couple of times. I am not sure how they did this. It weighs over 6 tons.

imageThe beauty in this statue is the incredible detail in every part. I have included a number of picture so you can see.

After the museum, it was espresso and croissant time. We listened to an accordion player and a guitarist play together while we munched on our pre-lunch snack. Bella musica! We spent another 2 hours doing some sight seeing and shopping. We finally went to our local Cando Market and bought some fixings for a late lunch. It is so easy to get into the Italian style of eating. We had fresh olives, tomatoes in balsamic vinegar, fresh cheese, a baguette, chicken wings, potatoes and some delicious Chianti Classico. We picked up two different types of dessert. One which was some sort of sweet cake soaked in rum. OMG It was amazing.

imageWe have had three days of walking between 4-8 hours a day and so we relaxed in the apartment and enjoyed ourselves. That evening we noticed Aunt Patti had her Facebook open, so we were able to get some FaceTime with her thru a video call. It was very clear. Tomorrow we are going to sleep in and go exploring some more.

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From Spain to Italy!

October, 6th, 2017.
After two days of hectic travel, two trains, two flights, many taxis and a hotel stay in Malaga, Spain, we arrived unscathed in beautiful Florence, Italy. (Firenze to the Italians) Our day started at noon when we took a taxi to Huelva, caught the 3:00 train to Sevilla, (Remember the Barber?) then after a quick lunch in the train station, (I could write an entire blog on airport and train station food), we caught another train to Córdoba then Malaga and about 20 other stops along the way.

Spanish cities are not shy with words. We get places like Poco, Burnaby and if we get really excited something like New Westminster. In Spain it seems as if every city has to describe its location, any explorer who drove by this place, what they grow, the name of any river or mountain nearby, landmarks, 1 or 2 church references and throw in a good Spanish name on top of it all. Thus you get something like Rio del Punta de la cote a la Maria con sol d’iglisia de la mer. OK maybe a little hyperbole here, but you get the general picture.

We got a little nervous when we arrived in Córdoba and an English announcement came on to tell us we could leave the train and not to forget any bags. After a minute the next announcement told us to stay seated if we were continuing to Malaga. After a five minute wait, the train started up, but we were now going backwards. At first we thought that we were getting ready to change tracks or something, but this was not the case. We did the entire rest of our trip to Malaga in reverse.

The train station in Malaga was huge with a number of of armed Spanish soldiers looking for any problems. I know I am supposed to feel safe with those people there, but just knowing they are there is a little nerve wracking. We made it to our hotel which was a nice Holiday Inn Express and we’re delighted to see two things we missed for the past month. The first was a very comfortable bed, and the second was a bath! Kim and I both had a chicken Ceaser salad with red wine for dinner. It was a much nicer restaurant than any experience we had in Punta Umbria, but paled in comparison to any meal we had in Portugal. Land of delicious food. The bad news was we had a very early flight to Florence with a stopover in Madrid. So with 4-5 hours sleep we were up in the morning to a very crappy breakfast of toast and packaged lemon muffins. The espresso was pretty decent.

We took a cab to the airport. Our cab fare the night before from the train station was 5.85€ and 2€ for luggage. Total 7.85€. It was about 10 km and took about 20 minutes. The Holiday Inn Express was right next to the airport. It was less than a kilometre and took less than 3-4 minutes to get there. Our fare was 24.00€ and an additional 4.00€ for luggage. Total 28.00€. According to our driver this was the airport taxes the drivers have to pay. Not sure if we were ripped off or just disliking Spanish tax laws. There is not much you can do in this situation except smile and get on your flight. I can’t complain as Kim has done a fabulous job as our travel agent. She got us amazing prices on flights, hotels, trains etc. This was all done before we got here so we aren’t fighting bad internet or services that want paper, not digital prints of your ticket. The flights were both short and uneventful, although the second pilot was a bit of a cowboy. Every turn required him to tilt the plane far steeper than most pilots, our descent was fast and steep and finally his landing was with a huge bump! 2-3 times while just taxiing down the runway he hit his brakes so hard we all jerked forward. Not sure if I imagined this but I believe he may have had an N on the tail of his plane. Who knows? Maybe he was getting used to a plane with a clutch?

image A plaza near our apartment.

 

When we pulled into the city of Florence, it was like walking back in time 400 years. Florence was at one time a walled city and was established by the Romans in 59 BC. It was a payment to Julius Ceaser for his soldiers who had served him. It became an important trade centre and is still known for its famous wines (Tuscany Region of Italy- Chianti Classico) and olive oil. It was perhaps most famous as the art centre in Europe during the Renaissance period. (1400-1700’s) artists like Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, all came and lived here and created beautiful paintings and sculptures. This was due in fact that throughout this time Florence was under the control of the Medici family. This is the family that controlled all of the banking for the Catholic Church and therefore were very well connected and to put it bluntly, very rich. This family was also very focussed on the arts. You may remember it was Catherine Medici that built the beautiful ballroom to enjoy the music and art gallery at Chateau Cheverny in France. Same family.

imageAfter an amazing pasta dinner with our dear Italian friend, Palova, we went to bed and slept in to recuperate after two days of travel. By the way, we send big kudos to Palova, who got us the apartment we are staying in. Although the building is probably over 200-300 years old, the insides are modern and clean with every amenity. We walked into to a waiting bottle of Chianti!

The next day our plan was to do our own walking tour of the old city, locate some of the sites to see and then visit them over the next few days. It is so beautiful. Check out the pictures. The streets here are mostly very narrow with a few boulevards that are much wider and can accommodate two and even sometimes four cars. When the walls of the city came down many years ago, roads were built in this area to help with the transportation.

imageWith super narrow streets and most homes about 3-4 stories high it is difficult to see any landmarks from a distance. So like the tourists, we set out on a city tour. We passed the Galleria Del Accademia home to the statue of David and many other works of art. It was only 4 blocks from our apartment.

imageWe then walked to Piazza del Djomo to see the amazing Santa Maria del Fiore. Construction on this amazing cathedral started in 1296 and it was completed in 1436. Although pictures allow you to see the fine detail in the work, you truly only get to appreciate the size of this building when you walk around the outside. It took us 25 minutes, includes dodging the tourists as well.

imageFrom there we went to the Palazzo Vecchio. This Palace/Museum was built in 1299 again under the supervision of the Medici family who lived in it for a number of years. We had walked and gawked for three hours and we’re getting hungry so we ate a lunch of salad and pasta at an outdoor cafe. Our final stop before heading home was at Piazza Santa Croce. Here there is another beautiful Basilica. It is the burial place of many famous people, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Rossini and Machiavelli to name but a few. Construction on this church was started in 1294 and continued until 1426. The legend states that it was founded by St Francis of Assisi. It is still the largest Franciscan Church in the world. With trusty map in hand, we negotiated our way back to our apartment for a break before dinner. At about 8:00 pm we were startled by a flash of lightning and a loud roll of thunder. We got ready for dinner, found a nice restaurant about 3-4 blocks away and had a dinner of spicy sausage and onion pizza and a chicken salad. All served with Italian bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Delicioso!

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Adios, Punta Umbria

Monday, October 2nd 2017
It’s our last 2 days here in Punta Umbria and of course we are making the last of our beach visits for a while. It’s 27 degrees and sunny. The ocean is beautiful and warm. If you look on a map, you can see Punta Umbria is not in the Mediterranean, but still the water is warm and inviting.  Kim and I are hoping we return to Canada with the lovely tans we have right now.

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Punta Umbria is also on a river.  You can see the River through the trees at the end of this street.

imageWe leave here Wednesday morning and have one night in Malaga, Spain before we fly to Florence, Italy. We will be right downtown on the main plaza for 8 days then fly to Athens where we will catch a ferry to the island of Paros. We will spend another twelve days on the beach there.

We were so saddened to hear that our meeting in Florence with Betty Boult was cancelled. She took a fall and was flown back to Canada in a cast. I hope she heals quickly. We were so looking forward to a dinner and evening of good Italian wine with her. Get well soon, Betty!

Kim has really taken to Spain quite quickly. Unlike Shanghai where you could always find someone who speaks English, Punta Umbria has very few English speaking people. It’s kind of what we were looking for, but we still had no idea how tough it would be. Kim’s Spanish is coming along great. She greets people and has enough rudimentary skills to converse with waiters and shop keepers. The streets here are usually pretty clean and well kept.

 

image Saturday night everyone comes out and the main pedestrian street, Calle Ancha, is crowded with people going out for dinner and drinks. In the morning we stop by to do our shopping, buy water, pastries, and any fresh produce we can find. We are cooking most of our meals in our apartment as the quality of food at the restaurants is quite low while prices are very high. Our best meal out was a pizza, which was bland, and very light on the toppings. Our bill was 30€ or about $45. Kim has made some delicious vegetarian stirfrys and pasta dishes. Yummy! Tomorrow, our last day will consist of us doing a load of laundry and of course 5-6 hours of the beach.

 

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Beach Bums

Sunny Spain

Friday, Sept 22, 2017
We got up late. This sea air is really making us a sleepy group. Kim was up about open 8:30 but slept in until 9:00. I made us a breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast using a toaster that hasn’t been made since the 1950’s. You know the ones that have a heating element and it only toasts one side at a time. You have to watch your toast like a hawk or it burns. That’s the one! Our toast was only slightly burned. We walked into town about 2:00. By 3:00 lunch is starting so we stopped at a little cafe and ordered a seafood salad, two bowls of gespacho (delicious cold tomato soup) and a cold beer for me and water for Kim. The meal was very rich but delicious. They always serve fresh bread with every meal, but their bread is unsalted. This really doesn’t matter very much as they also serve you a bowl of fresh olives with your meal. There’s the salt! The downtown is very quaint with lots of shops, bars and restaurants. Many places have closed for the season, and many stores are closed for the afternoon siesta, but there were still enough restaurants open for those of us who wanted a lunch. We decided it was pretty warm out and a return to our apartment then a swim at the beach was in order. The water was even warmer than yesterday. The surf tires you out before you get cold, but it’s an enjoyable beach.

 

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Saturday and Sunday, Sept 23-28th

We took a break from our blogging to enjoy the sun. We are usually up late and our typical breakfast includes toast, eggs and a piece of fruit. Then we go down to the beach for some sun, swimming and reading our kindles. We are back for lunch about 3:30 and then off for dinner about 8:30. Sunday we stayed at home for dinner and made pasta. It’s a fishing village so we are often ordering seafood at our local restaurants. It’s a hit and miss process as sometimes the food is decent and other times not so much. We think a lot of the freshness and selection has died with the end of the tourist trade in September. I also feel badly that we really haven’t had the opportunity yet to meet any Spanish people. Aside from Thomas, our one waiter who spoke some English, we haven’t been able to communicate well with the other people here. No one speaks any English. I am impressed by a couple of things.

The Spanish family unit. From looking around the beach, it’s clear that families are very important here. We’d like to think the same thing in Canada, but it doesn’t happen that way. Our kids were always with us until they were about 13 then their friends became quite important. Sure they went on holidays with us, but by the time they are 17-18 they are quite focussed on their friends. Here I see no groups of 13-14 year olds hanging out at the beach. Not even 17-18 years old. They all come down with their families. At first I thought that maybe they were just on vacation with each other. That doesn’t appear to be the case.

I am also impressed with their acceptance of different body shapes. Like Portugal, there are many topless women sunbathing on the beach. There are two types of beaches here. Playa Naturals (Natural beaches) where you can go completely naked and playa familia (family beaches) where bottoms are required. It’s not only the young and fit who go topless here, but all sizes, shapes and ages as well. No one seems to care. Note Kim and I use the family beaches.

I am very impressed with their eggs here. It looks as if they come direct from the farm and taste delicious. We are eating eggs every morning for breakfast.

I am not impressed with their fruit and produce here. We have been shopping 4-5 times to get food to cook in our apartment, but the produce is horrid. They sell the stuff Safeway would throw out at the end of the day.

In planning the trip, Kim and I thought it would be a good idea to find a very small city on the coast so we could be away from the tourist trade and all that goes with it. The mistake was no tourists means no one speaks English. So like all bright foreigners, when we ask for something and aren’t understood, we speak louder and more slowly. That or try speaking French with a Spanish accent. Also doesn’t work. Somehow,we manage to get what we need, not necessarily what we want.

 

imageWe certainly can’t complain about the beach and the beautiful warm water. That makes up a big part of regime. We also enjoy walking the 1-2 km into town and looking at all of the stores. People watching here is a great time. I am so lucky to have Kim as my travelling companion. She is so easy going and relaxed. The beach time has really mellowed us both out. It’s what a vacation should be all about. We are here for two weeks then moving on to Malaga, Spain, then Florence, Italy. We may meet up with a former colleague there if things go well. Former assistant superintendent of schools, the fabulous Dr. Betty Boult will be there when we arrive. We will try to meet up with her.

 

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The French Countryside

After a pretty decent sleep at a hotel in St Malo, we were up and ready for brekkie early. We had breakfast at the hotel and I had a really strong coffee….had to add both sugar and honey in order to drink it!  Although we are still waking up at 3:30 am(hungry, hahha), we managed to get enough sleep for the drive today. We started out on the main highway, and I’m getting used to the speed everyone travels at, finally. At one point we had to slow down to 90 km/hr and it felt like we were crawling, haha! We were going to be driving through Rennes, Le Mans and finally ending up in Tours, where we will spend 3 days exploring the castles. What happened was that we got sidetracked, thinking we could pull off to one of the smaller cities and see some smaller castles on the way. Little did we know that most of them were at least 100km away from our route, so we nixed that idea pretty quickly! Back we go to get on the highway again….and then ended up on a different highway(probably the older one) that took us the long way around.(we also missed a bunch of tolls, yay!).  However, the French countryside is absolutely beautiful, and it was a much more relaxing day of driving after all, even though we had periods of crazy rain. We stopped in the little town of Chateau du Loire and had a lunch in a town square type of place, and ate outside in the sun, which felt so good!   Bruce is doing an awesome job of driving, and my French  just may be improving a teeny tiny bit, lol!

When we arrived in Tours, we had a bit of a rude awakening. Tours is a big city…with tons of one way streets and lots of shopping! We had thought that we would arrive fairly early to our hotel and drop off our bags and then head right out to see a castle. Well, after driving in circles for at least an hour, we still couldn’t find the place I had booked us. It was a rare sight to see a street name, and there was no way we could pull over and read the map or ask for directions. Even so, we ended up asking 3 different people for help and that just made things worse, hahaha! Finally, after driving in circles forever, we found the place…..and it had the tiniest sign for a hotel you have ever seen. We were so close to it twice, and drove all around it! Needless to say, we gave up on the idea of seeing a castle and had a nap instead. We were exhausted, lol! We have a teeny kitchen, so we went shopping and filled up with some goodies and just had a salad for dinner. Tomorrow, we storm the castles!! We will post some pictures when we return!

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The Start of our Adventure

After a nine hour long flight in a very stuffy airplane, we landed safely in Charles De Gaul Airport in Paris, France. It was 10:00 in the morning here in Paris, but only 1:00am in the morning Vancouver time. So while all of you were in bed asleep, we were just starting our day. It’s been over thirty years since my last visit to this country, so I am curious to see how things have changed. Here’s what I remember from last visit:

-The waiters in Paris were rude.
-Everyone smoked all of the time.
-The drivers all drive fast and were crazy.
-No body jogs.
-The wine was as cheap as bottled water.
-The coffee and baguettes were delicious.

I will check in in a later blog and review our findings.

After wandering through the airport for an hour and waiting an unbelievable 2 hours to rent a car, we were on our way on route A1 to Dunkerque. We took about 3 and a half hours to get there, found a hotel and slept for two hours and woke up at 7:00pm for dinner. We had some delicious salads, roti du dindon with potatoes and veggies and some vin rouge. We were asleep by nine and up at six for a quick breakfast buffet. We drove thru the town and it was both quaint and huge at the same time. The beach was huge. The movie really does a good job of capturing the feeling of the town. Then we headed south. We stopped at Mt. St. Michel which is the abbey built out on island in the ocean. It was late and we were tired from driving for six hours, to say nothing of trying to adjust to the jet lag. In any case we chose not to do the tour and satisfied ourselves some pics. Our final stop

Sheep in front of the abbey.

for the day was Hotel Ibis in St. Malo! We are looking forward to our next three days visiting the castles of the Loire Valley.

The beach looking south.

We stopped for lunch at a boulangerie and bought a baguette a pretzel and some water. All very yummy!

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The Next Adventure

So to clarify, we are NOT going back to China, but we are poised for another travel adventure and will blog our travels again. Rather than open up a new blog, we decided to just continue our old blog from our days living in Shanghai!  Here is our rough itinerary:

Land in Paris

Dunkirk

Mt. Ste Micheal and St Malo

The Loire Valley (The home of many castles!)

Back to Paris and fly to Lisbon.

Lisbon during a festival then drive to Lagos, Portugal with our friends Ronda and Michael for 4 days.

An apartment right on the beach in Punta Umbria, Spain for two weeks of sun!

Flight to Florence, Italy.

Another villa right on the beach 11-12 days on the island of Paros, Greece

Ferry to Athens, Greece then flight to Paris for a few days of sight seeing.

Paris, Toronto and back to Vancouver. We are back early November.  Special thanks to our friend who is house sitting for us!

Stay tuned for the newest adventure.