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Trip Report From Portugal to the Pyrenees and onto Paris

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Our 3 week trip this past April from Portugal to Paris was ambitious as far as the distance traveled and the logistics involved in covering those miles. But as we approach our seventies, we feel the need to fit in as many of our bucket list destinations as we can on each trip. Somehow, that darn list, instead of getting shorter, seems to be lengthening as we add more places we'd like to see while we are still able.

We have travelled to Europe from our home in upstate New York several times over the years. After spending a year in Germany while my husband was stationed there in the Army back in the sixties, Europe became our favorite destination, even though there were often many years between trips as work, kids, and financial restraints got in the way. Now that we are retired, however, we try to plan an vacation somewhere in Europe every year. On this trip, we wanted first to return to Portugal which we visited last year, specifically to visit Sintra, Porto, and the Douro River Valley. After Portugal, we planned a visit to San Sebastian in Spain and then the Basque region of France before heading to the midi-Pyrenees to follow some of the famous Tour de France routes. Then we were off to the town of Ceret in the Pyrenees-Orientales in southeast France, a town that captured my imagination when I read a brief description of it while researching vacation rentals. After 5 days in Ceret, we would head to Paris, which we have visited 5 times and always love.

PLANNING - Trip planning is one of my favorite hobbies, and I often start planning the next vacation a few days after we return from our last one. I usually start with the Michelin Guide for the area plus a few other guidebooks to get a sense of the premier sights and their locations. Then I go to the Fodors Forum to research how Fodors travelers experienced these places.

Once I have an idea of where we want to go and in what order, I work on the logistics of how to get from place to place. Typically, we combine train travel with car rentals. We use trains to go long distances or between major cities, renting cars on the outskirts (usually at airports) to negotiate the countryside and small towns. The older we get, the less we like to drive anywhere challenging but we know that having a car is often necessary to really see some of those out of the way places we love.

Lodging is something I give a lot of consideration to these days. As we get older, we tend to spend more time relaxing in our own space, so we want that space to be a satisfying part of the vacation, reflecting the ambience of where ever we are. I try to find a room with a view, either of life on the street below or of a lovely bit of scenery out our window. That way, after a day seeing the sights, we can sit with a glass of wine and continue to enjoy the area around us. Advice from Fodors Forums, Tripadvisor reviews and other review sites are good resources and we usually end up in good places. Often we alternate between hotels and rentals of apartments or small houses. When we rent, we enjoy cooking our own meals. Marketing and then preparing meals with local ingredients is a great way to add to the experience of an area, plus a break from restaurant meals is not a bad thing now and then.

ITINERARY :
Flights - American to Chicago then Iberia to Madrid and onto Lisbon
Sintra - 2 nights
Porto - 1 night
Douro River Valley - 2 nights
Obidos - 1 night
Night Train - Lisbon to San Sebastian, Spain
San Sebastian - 1 night
St Jean de Luz, France - 3 nights
Loudet - Midi Pyrenees - 3 nights
Ceret - Orientale Pyrenees - 5 nights
Paris - 2 nights
Flights - American to Philadelphia and onto Syracuse

Too ambitious but it was a wonderful vacation. Next post, I will try to give some details that might be helpful to others in their trip planning.

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    Kansas, I had never heard of Ceret before I stumbled across a description of it while researching apartment rentals, as I said. But I knew right away it sounded like a perfect town for us to visit on this trip An artists colony in the early 20th century, its picturesque squares and small side streets still glow with the golden light that attracted the likes of Picasso and Matisse. Although it has a very helpful tourist office in the center of town, tourism doesn't seem to be the dominant force like it is in some other similarly attractive villages. Ceret feels authentic, with lots of traditional character, so it was easy to feel we were living like locals for the five days we were there. We wished we could have stayed longer.

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    One of my most memorable travel stories took place in Ceret. We drove into town and wondered why it was so crowded. We got to within site of our hotel but were turned down to a side street by the traffic cop. Turned out we got there only moments before a big parade started - it was their town festival. We were therefore stuck in a square within a circular parade route that continued for hours! Two of us left the third in the car and walked to the hotel, checked in and then we watched the parade until we were finally able to drive out to the hotel and park the car. Will never forget Ceret.

    I'm looking forward to your trip report - especially the San Sebastian and St Jean de Luz parts as I'm presently planning a trip to that area next summer.

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    Next time you need to visit O Grove in Galicia! I went for the first time to Galicia this past October, I have been wanting to go for ages, and what really set my mind to it was when I last year on Spainsh tv saw a clip from the Seafood Festival in O Grove ( yes LOVE food).

    Had the best of times, everything so much more economic in Galica in comparation to Barcelona where I live since 16 years, I´m originally from Sweden.

    Warm regards,
    Sara
    Appetite & other stories

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    Isabel, after one night in San Sebastian, we decided it was one of our favorite cities in Europe. Unfortunately, we only had one night there, which was probably the biggest error I made in planning this trip.

    Sara, I just looked up O Grove in Galicia. Looks like our kind of place. We need to go back to Spain, revisit San Sebastian and explore Galicia.

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    OFF TO A SLIPPERY START & FLYING IS NO FUN!

    The day before our departure, we drove to the airport to pick up a rental car. Lately, we have arranged for an airport rental so we don't have to pay for long term airport parking or recruit family or friends for a ride, usually in the early morning hours. The car rental cost this time was remarkably cheap, somewhere under $20 for a compact car at Hertz. Then, surprise! We were upgraded to a luxury class Chrysler 300. We would have a classy 30 minute ride between home and the airport. Except, the next morning, Mother Nature intervened with a freshly fallen layer of April snow and the luxury car, with rear wheel drive and no snow tires, almost didn't make it up the hill out of our driveway. Hey, we live in the hills south of Syracuse, New York, so we know all about driving on snow, but my husband pronounced this the worst driving of the whole winter. Maybe the snowplows had all been put away for the season, because even the interstate was super slick.

    But we made it to the airport after a white knuckle drive, ready to begin our wonderful journey, with our newly issued Global Entry-TSA Pre Check documents in hand. Unfortunately, the PreCheck lane was closed when we went through security so our new status was not that advantageous. Belts, shoes and jackets all came off. But hopefully, on the way home, the effort we made, filing out the applications, traveling to Buffalo for the interviews, and the money spent on this special status would pay off and we would re-enter the USA free of long lines and hassle. Let's hope.

    The flight to Chicago was on time even though the plane needed de-icing. Yes, using American Airlines frequent flyer miles, we almost always fly to Chicago from Syracuse on our way to Europe. Seems like we are going backwards to move forward, but it works out.

    The Iberia Airlines flight was also on time but we were dismayed when we settled into our assigned seats. We don't remember having such cramped quarters on a plane in a long time. My husband's knees were jammed into the seat in front of him. When the passenger ahead put that seat back it was claustrophobic. Plus the seat backs were configured in such a way that there were fairly wide gaps, allowing the person behind to have a unobstructed view of the person opposite in front. I don't know, but I like a little privacy when I'm squirming around trying to survive an overnight flight. It's often pretty undignified. I know I probably sleep with my mouth wide open. On the plus side, there were plenty of movie choices on the seat back screen. Unfortunately, the provided earphones had poor quality audio and it was hard to hear the dialogue. Add to that, no beverage service except a glass of wine with dinner. Dinner and breakfast were both pretty lame. Bottom line, we probably won't fly Iberia again if we have a choice.

    We landed in Madrid in the early morning. Frantic, hectic deplaning, long lines at customs, long distances to travel to our Lisbon connection caused some stress. And then there were the dreaded security lines to be navigated before we could access Iberia's Lisbon departure gate. Security here was close to chaos. Everyone was surging through at top speed in order to make connections. There were panicky faces, lost shoes, frenzied tossing of varied possessions into plastic bins, then more frenzied repossession of the bits and pieces sent through the x-ray machine to hopefully be repacked on the other side. Steve set off the walk through machine and had to be patted down. No idea why. We made the Lisbon flight with only a few minutes to spare. The relatively short flight ended with a windy, shaky landing, but at last we are back again in Portugal ready to begin our long anticipated adventure.

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    BACK AGAIN IN PORTUGAL - SINTRA AT LAST

    Last year, we traveled to Spain and Portugal, then back to Spain from Lisbon for 2 nights before flying home. Our last night in Portugal was supposed to be spent in Sintra, which we were really looking forward to seeing. But as we prepared to check out of our rental apartment in Lisbon, we got a message from TAP airline. Our flight to Madrid the next day had been cancelled. TAP pilots were on strike. Of course, panic set in as we first tried to call the airline only to hear a recording telling us that due to high volume, calls could not be answered at this time. About then, the kind young woman who was in charge of the apartment arrived to pick up our key and offered some very good advice. She suggested that we go to the TAP office downtown for help. She wrote down the address for us to give the cab driver and off we went. The office was mobbed when we got there, but we finally figured out that we needed to take a number, only to find out that there were 122 people in front of us. We settled in for a long day. Finally, we were booked on a flight to Madrid leaving early the next morning. We were thankful for the flight but disappointed that our overnight stay in Sintra was no longer possible. We cancelled our Sintra hotel reservation and stayed in Lisbon for one more night. Right then, we decided to return to Portugal the next year so we could finally make it to Sintra.

    And here we were. After exiting the airport, we had an easy cab ride to Lisbon's Rossio Station, where the lines for Sintra tickets were long but moved quickly. We made the next train. I don't remember much about the ride except that the train was packed full and the view out the windows was mostly of large housing complexes which were not very attractive. But finally, we pulled into the Sintra station, and with the good directions provided found our way to the Chalet Saudade, our hotel for 2 nights. Arriving at noon, we had 3 long hours till check in, and we were pretty exhausted. Three hours seemed like 3 years but we forged ahead. Lunch at Cafe Saudade, sister cafe to our hotel, was light and good. We both ordered spiced pumpkin lentil soup, plus a ham and cheese sandwich for Steve and a mini spinach pie for me.

    Revived somewhat, we headed for the Palacio Nacional. Because it would be closed tomorrow, this was our only chance to see it. Tired and jet lagged as we were, we liked it a lot. For me, it was a much smaller version of the Alhambra we had enjoyed the year before in Granada minus the beautiful gardens. Each room was a visual delight, with painted ceilings, pretty tiles, and great views out of many of the windows. The only disappointment was the kitchen closure due to renovations. We had heard that the kitchen with its monstrous chimneys was quite a sight. Unfortunately, it was not for us on this day.

    Steve's dry throat needed a beer after our walk around the palace so we settled into a sheltered table at the Cafe Paris opposite the palace on the main square. Good beer, a glass of rose for me, a nice view of passersby, and lots of friendly attention from a seemingly genuinely happy maitre'd made for a good break. After a walk back to the train station for our tickets to Porto two days from now and a stop to pick up water, etc., we finally checked into our room and took a much needed nap. The bed was comfortable and heavy wooden shutters blocked the light. The 150 year old house, near the train station, with a lovely courtyard and pretty lounge rooms, was a good place for us to stay.

    After our nap and a shower, we headed out for dinner. It was early, Just 7:00 pm, and we were the first customers at the Restaurant Regional. Decorated attractively, mostly in shades of white with a sprinkling of color, the restaurant was near our hotel in the less touristed part of town. The maitre'd, who was also the waiter and probably the owner, presented us with iPads as menus which worked great. We didn't touch the bread offered but we did finish the olives and the little cheese filled buns that were brought to the table (both delicious). Our meal began with a shared house salad, then Steve had lamb in red wine sauce and I had bacalhau with tomato, cheese, and potatoes (like homemade chips). I guess bacalhau is an acquired taste and I think I'll give up trying to acquire it. I tried it a few times on our previous trip to Portugal and just kept hoping I would like it more next time. Steve, however, said his meal was the best he'd ever had in Portugal. After dinner, we headed back to our hotel for some much needed sleep.

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    Candace, I am enjoying your trip report. We are in our 60's; my husband is almost 70, so I understand what you mean about a bucket list and trying to do everything while we are in good health & shape. I admire you for tackling such a long trip, and so many destinations!

    I haven't been to Portugal yet, but definitely want to go there within a few years. We have been to Barcelona; and I am currently planning a trip to Madrid and Andalucía for October 2017, to include Madrid, Toledo, Granada, Seville, Cordoba and perhaps Ronda. Did you have any favorites on last year's trip to Spain? Where did you go? Any advice?
    I like your style of planning a trip. Good advice and suggestions. Do you prefer an apartment over a hotel? When renting an apartment, do you miss not having hotel staff to ask for advice re sightseeing, restaurants, etc?

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    Karen, I'm glad you are enjoying my report. Unfortunately, I never got around to writing a report for our trip last year to Spain and Portugal. It was a great trip and we loved Spain. After landing in Madrid, we took the train to Córdoba for our first night. We saw the Mezquita the next morning. It was amazing. Next, we traveled by train to Granada for two nights. Of course, the Alhambra was our focus there and it is absolutely beautiful, especially the Nasrid Palace and the gorgeous gardens. From Granada, we traveled to Ronda for one night. Ronda's setting is spectacular, above a deep ravine, but in retrospect I would pass it up and add a third night to Seville which we loved. The city is so beautiful, especially in the old barrios where we were constantly getting lost. We were there during the April Feria when women young and old dress up in their colorful ruffled dresses and the brightly decorated carriages fly by on their way to the festival grounds. Fun to see. We ran into celebrations again when we spent our last day in Madrid on May 1st. Parades and big crowds, but we enjoyed all the pomp and circumstance complete with mounted cavaliers and lots of music.

    In answer to your question about apartments and hotels, we really enjoy our rental stays as a way to settle into an area and live a little bit like a local. Generally, in Europe, when we arrive at a rental we are met by either the owner or their contact person. That person generally offers a really enthusiastic welcome full of information about the area and they are always ready to answer any questions. It is sort of like having our own personal concierge, as they are always just a phone call away. Also, most rentals have guest books that previous guests often fill with extensive tips on local restaurants and sights, so there is no lack of that type of information. That being said, hotels can be more convenient as far as checking in and checking out goes. A hotel stay doesn't require prior arrangements as to time of arrival etc. which a few times has become somewhat complicated with a rental.

    I hope I've helped. And I hope you have a great trip to Spain when you go.

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    SINTRA CONTINUED

    Last year, when the TAP strike ruined our plans to spend our last night in Portugal in Sintra, we were disappointed. As we checked into a hotel for our unexpected fourth night in Lisbon, we mentioned to the receptionist how we had missed out on visiting Sintra. He replied that one night was not enough to spend there anyway, and we should come back for at least two nights. And we are so glad we did. It is a beautiful place. Our first afternoon there, walking from the train station, jet lagged, up to the old center of town in a drizzle of cold rain, we kept saying "This is beautiful!" The curved walkway leading up to main square and the Palacio Nacional overlooks the town and green vistas, and is punctuated by marble statuary along the way, each unique and lovely. High above, the crenelated walls and towers of the Castelo dos Mauros are outlined against the sky, making a dramatic statement anytime we look up. The town center itself is dominated by the yellow and white Palacio Nacional with its unique twin chimneys. The forested hillsides below the Castelo reveal small castles and turreted mansions among the trees, sort of like a magical kingdom.

    So, in the morning, which was sunny and cool, we set out to visit the Pena Palace and the Castelo dos Mauros. We lined up by the train station for the bus that travels the circuit of major sights. The first two buses to pull up to our stop filled up as we waited our turn. When we finally boarded the next bus there were no more seats available. The packed bus lurched its way up the steep hill as we clung to straps and bars. When we finally reached the Pena Palace, there was another line to buy tickets. If its crowded in Sintra in April, it must be crazy during the summer.

    The Pena Palace is an extravaganza of deep red and orange towers, turrets, and terraces, set off against the brilliant blue sky above. A child with a box of big bright crayolas might have designed and colored the fantastic scene before us. Taking in the twisted columns, cartoonish carvings, and various patterned tiles, we walked the wall with all the views in every direction, some even of the distant sea. Moving inside , we enjoyed the interior, with rooms fit for nineteenth century royalty, luxurious, filled with rich color and lots of opulence. I was especially taken by the candelabras in the shape of full sized Persian princes holding their tapers high. Exiting the palace, we walked the pretty grounds on our way down to the Moors Castle, where the view down to town was wonderful. We walked half way around the castle wall until the scary heights combined with the lack of railings discouraged us from going further. We headed out to the road to catch the bus back down the hill.

    We had a good dinner that night at a restaurant near our hotel, the Restaurant Apeadeiro. A more casual establishment than the place we ate the night before, it was busier by far. (I did a TripAdvisor review if anyone is interested.)

    After dinner, we walked the promenade up toward the town center. It was so worthwhile to spend the night here. The crowds are gone and everything is bathed in gorgeous light. The sculptures along the way are mostly marble and glow, seeming almost to come to life. And the Moorish Castle floats above, surrounded by backlit clouds, shining like the gates of heaven. It seems to hover there in the sky.

    It is our last night at Chalet Saudade. We have been comfortable here. And I have to comment on the breakfasts, which are included with the room and are served in the Cafe Saudade around the corner by the "Cuban" as he calls himself . You are offered a menu which includes great and varied choices and the Cuban provides plenty of amusing conversation. It's a great way to start the morning.

    The next day, after our generous breakfast which included enough bread, ham and cheese for lunch, we head back to the train station. Off to our next stop, Porto.

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    Candace, thank you for responding to my question about the places you visited in Spain and about hotels vs apartments. Your response is very helpful.

    I love your description of Sintra! You should be a travel writer!

    Visiting in April sounds like fun with all the festivals. But I assume hotels and perhaps restaurants might be more expensive at that time. Did you find this to be true?

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    Thanks, all, for your kind comments. Yes, Karen, festivals do cause higher lodging costs but the increases weren't drastic in Seville. We spent two nights at the Apartmentos Suites Santa Cruz for two nights and although I can't remember the exact cost, I know we wouldn't have booked it if the price was too high. The apartment was an annex of the hotel, and the high point for us was the large private terrace with a view of the cathedral. At night, we stretched out in the lounge chairs and watched the kestrel Hawks diving like tiny shooting stars around the illuminated cathedral tower. Magical.

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    Having returned a few days ago after three weeks travelling in the north of Spain and Lisbon, your report is so timely for me! And so well-written and filled with detail. Please keep on..I will eagerly await the next installment.

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    NO PORT IN PORTO BUT A DELICIOUS DINNER

    We caught the train from Sintra to the Oriente Staion in Lisbon, where we boarded another train to Porto. The three hour ride in second class only cost 12 euros but you get what you pay for sometimes. It was a long three hours in uncomfortable, crowded seats and the toilets were nasty. Not much decent scenery on the way although we did pass by the sea a few times. But things looked up when we took a cab from the station and found our hotel easily after the cabbie let us off a block or so away. Our hotel, the Ribeira do Porto, was right on the riverbank, in the Ribeira district. The district is full of color, with eccentric old buildings jammed together, funny old boats bobbing down on the river and the music of various street performers thumping away. Our hotel room turned out to be the perfect place to experience it all. Our room, number 31, was a corner room with a wrap around balcony. From the balcony, we had a great view of the river and the Pont d Luis. We could have just stayed put and watched all the action, but we decided to walk across the bridge (on the lower level) and visit a port house for a tasting on the other side. Unfortunately, that didn't work out. The recommended spot had no English tours available so late in the day. Never the less, we did enjoy a good long walk on a nice sunny day. When we got back to our hotel, we asked the young man at the desk if he could recommend a good place for a light meal, or maybe just tapas. He could, and sent us to a place right across the square, Jimao Tapas e Vinhos.

    Our expectations were not high for Jimao Tapas e Vinhos but the friendly greeting as we stepped through the door made us feel welcome. The restaurant is small and there were only two tables free when we arrived but the hostess fussed over us, worried that the table by the door might be too drafty. We settled in and ordered four tapas to share: sausage cooked in honey, garlic, and balsamic vinegar, an omelet with sardines, asparagus toast with cheese and ham, and finally cheese toast with tomato jam. Each dish was unique and delicious. Great wine enhanced every flavor. And the young wait staff, obviously very well trained, were knowledgable and enthusiastic and just a joy to watch in action. They struck just the right note, even when turning unhappy customers away from their very full restaurant.

    Back in our room, the view from our balcony was glowing. The bridge sparkled with white lights, the waterfront and the river shimmered in gold, and the Cathedral across the way was lit up in turquoise and yellow. We hated to eventually close the curtains and go to bed.

    We took a cab to the airport the next day to rent a car. Europcar employees won our customer service award for this trip. The young man and woman at the rental desk worked long and hard trying to enter our remote and probably obscure destination for our first night on the road into the GPS. Finally, they called the hotel themselves and got the coordinates entered.

    So we were off. The GPS worked perfectly most of the way but some glitch (shortest mileage maybe) eventually took us up and over the mountains on incredibly steep and winding roads, instead through the valley on the normal, straight and level, but maybe less direct highways to our destination. Finally, in a remote little village high above the valley, the sweet and refined female voice giving us her steady straightforward directions, finally lost it and began taking us in circles which dead ended in narrow lanes with no place to turn around. The views were fantastic, as we were high above the Douro Valley in truly rural countryside. But we were really lost. Finally, after driving by him a few times, we asked a local man for help. He wrote "2 km" in mud by the roadside with a stick and waved us off in the right direction.

    The Casa do Visconde de Chanceleiros, when we finally found it, was worth the drive. Extensive gardens, immaculately cared for, surrounded the antique farmhouse. Our room was spacious, with a wisteria covered patio overlooking the distant hills. The weather was sunny and mild. I could have sat in that garden for days except this was, unfortunately, the last sunny and mild day.

    Dinner was served each night in a glass enclosed veranda with a sweeping view. Dinner the first night was pork tenderloin in a creamy wine sauce with mashed potatoes, carrots and broccoli. Shrimp bisque and marinated sausage with olives were starters with a burnt creme pudding for dessert. It was all very good and after a short stroll around the garden, we headed for bed, looking forward to the next day when we would head down to the Douro Valley and travel up the river.

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    Ekscrunchy, I have often noted your comments and followed your trip reports, especially regarding travel in Italy, where we are planning to go next April. Thank you for your kind words.

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    THE DOURO RIVER FROM PINHAO to POCINHO

    We had read that the train trip from the little town of Pinhao along the Douro River to Pocinho at the end of the line, was the best way to see the section of the Douro everyone believes to be the most scenic. In the morning, clouds and rain smudged the view from the glass enclosed veranda where breakfast is served at the Casa do Visconde but we decided not to let the weather alter our plans. After breakfast, we headed down the steep, winding road to Pinhao. The train station at Pinhao was pretty, covered with blue, white, and yellow tiles depicting local scenes. The train at Pinhoa, because it is a local line, does not require reservations. We bought our tickets and climbed on board when the train pulled into the station. We knew that seats on the right hand side would provide the best views of the river and there was no problem finding seats on the right hand side. The problem was that most of the windows by those seats were covered with graffiti, which completely obstructed the view. Even though the train was not crowded, we went through two or three cars before we found unoccupied seats with clear views through unpainted windows. Then, as the train pulled away from the station, the rain intensified and raindrops smeared those windows, further obstructing the view. But we peered out as best we could, through the rain, and we knew from what little we could see that we wanted to see more.

    It was then that the angels who sometimes look out for travelers intervened, and the sky began to clear, the rain stopped, and eventually the sun even came out. In clear view now were the steep riverbanks, with vineyards and olive groves sharing the territory. There were few structures except for the occasional Quintas, both new and prosperous, and ancient and delapitated. The river current was strong in places and the banks were mostly rocky, with occasional trees and sandy eddies. We saw a few lone fishermen with long slender poles and wondered what they were trying to catch. We passed by a few little stations,mostly deserted. One, however, was quite charming with white fences and climbing roses. Closing my eyes, I could image it as a setting for a romantic nineteenth century love story.

    But charm disappeared as we approached Pocinho. The train left the river bank for a ways before it pulled into Pocinho station. Disembarking, the first things we saw were smoke stacks spueing white and gray smoke into the cross winds, maybe from a cement factory beyond the tracks.

    We had two hours to kill before catching the train back to Pinhao. The little station had a tiny cafeteria that closed soon after the train came in. Obviously, serving train passengers was not a high priority. We asked the conductor, who might have been the cafeteria's only customer, if there was somewhere we could eat lunch in town. After first trying to sell us a 20 euro cab tour of the "city" with a female cabbie who was obviously a friend of his, but who was very unfriendly to us, he pointed us in the direction of the only (I think) cafe in town. In a nicely renovated building, the cafe was clean and basic. No one there spoke English but we ordered as best we could. Steve had red peppered pork with little fried potatoes and rice. I ordered a salad which came with delicious sweet onions and a really good vinegrette. Sharing, we had a nice light lunch. As we were lingering over coffee, the aforementioned cabbie parked her car on the street in front, came into the restaurant, frowned at us, and made her way into the kitchen. Obviously, she is a daughter of the restaurant family. We don't know her story, or the source of her unfriendliness and never will, but maybe we should have taken that 20 euro cab ride and found out a little more about life in Pocinho. Or maybe not.

    Taking advantage of the sunny, mild afternoon, we walked back to the station and were soon on the train returning to Pinhoa, enjoying the lovely views as we chugged along in the opposite direction.

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    Karen, the overnight train from Lisbon to San Sebastián left Lisbon's Oriente Station at 21:34 and arrived in San Sebastián at 10:53 the next morning. With the time difference between Portugal and Spain, it was about a twelve hour trip. Traveling on this overnight train was an unique experience. We were glad we did it but don't think we would do it again. I will describe the experience later in this trip report. We traveled from San Sebastián to St. Jean de Luz by train and then rented a car to travel to Loudet and then Ceret. We dropped the car off at the Perpignan train station and traveled by train to Paris, where we spent two nights before flying home.

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    Our 5 days in San Sebastiàn, 1 in Bilbao, and 1 in St-Jean-de-Luz were just spellbinding at the end of September. We are so grateful to live close enough to drive right back there again sometime soon. I don't think I've eaten as well as we did in St-Sebastiàn anywhere else we've traveled in Europe. What a lovely, lovely place! And if and when we do get around to leaving this corner of France for a nice little pied à terre in coming years, St-Jean-de-Luz beckons.

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    StCirg, we couldn't agree more! What a mistake, budgeting only one night of our trip in San Sebastián, an absolutely gorgeous city. Unfortunately, we were only able to enjoy one meal there. All the more reason to go back. Thankfully, we did have three nights in the St-Jean-de-Luz area. We rented an apartment which was actually in Ciboure right across the little fishing harbor from St-Jean-de-Luz and we just loved it. We also really enjoyed driving through the countryside with those picturesque little towns like Ainhoa and Espellette. I wish, like you, we could just drive right back there. Since we spent a week in the Dordogne, we have always dreamed of a having a place of our own in France. It must be wonderful.

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    Candace, there is always so much more to see. We live here and can hop around pretty easily, and still we feel we can never, ever get to it all. It's really frustrating, especially considering I started all this European travel 40 years ago and pretty much never stopped. i need to live to be 400 to do all that I want to do, even at my doorstep! Ech.

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    Candace I am riveted by your report. I am head over heels in love with San Sebastian and that is where I would have my dream European home. (Or at least that is what I've decided today; who knows where that dream home will be tomorrow!) We spent 5 nights in San Sebastian on this recent visit, which was my third to the city. I wish I could return every year! I will look forward to the details of your train ride, as it sounds like a good way to fuse Spain and Portugal in one trip. (I think I mentioned that we flew to Lisbon from Bilbao, which worked out well also but was just a quick flight and not an "experience.") There is just SO much to see in Spain, never mind the lovely Pays Basque.....

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    Aussie, I love planning trips. The only thing I am ever really sure of when I start is the general destination. Putting together the particular destinations and sites and connecting the dots from place to place is often a puzzle of sorts. When I finally have it solved, l know it looks good on paper. Hopefully, it all works out in practice.

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    Candace, I apologize for asking more questions about your trip last year to Andalusia. I checked out the website of the Apartmentos Suites Santa Cruz in Seville where you stayed. Do you remember if they have an elevator? How many floors? It looks like a wonderful place to stay in a great location.

    Do you remember where you stayed in Granada and Cordoba?
    Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions!
    And I am looking forward to the rest of your trip report!

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    StCirq, you are right, of course, there is never enough time. It is frustrating, but it is also a challenge to make the most of that time with every opportunity. It sounds like you have been doing that for 40 years. Like you, I know we will never see all there is to see but I am thankful we can keep trying.

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    Ekscrunchy, San Sebastián really took us by surprise. Even though I had researched it pretty thoroughly, I was not prepared for how truly beautiful it was. The city is elegant. That is the word that comes to mind when I think of it and our short time there.

    But the overnight train from Lisbon was far from elegant. It was an "experience" but not necessarily one I would recommend for everyone. Flying is probably quicker and easier.

    Bilbao and the Spanish Basque Country is definitely on our to do list. We knew we couldn't fit it in this time, but we will be back.

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    Karen, the Apartmentos Suites Santo Cruz did not have an elevator. In fact, the apartment we stayed in was up two flights of narrow stairs, as I remember. There was a young man who helped us with our bags. The apartment was a great place to stay. We loved the terrace and the location was really good. Plus, the young people at the reception desk were friendly and helpful.

    We are currently out of town so I don't have the names of the Córdoba and Granada hotels right at hand. I will get that information for you when we get home.

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    ON TO OBIDOS

    The next morning, we left Casa Do Visconde de Chanceleiros in the rain, headed to Obidos. As we drove south over the mountains, the rain was mixed with snow. Because the weather was just downright nasty, we decided to forego a stop at Tomar,

    a place I had hoped we could fit into the itinerary, and instead we drove directly to Obidos. Directly, however, turned out to be not very direct at all. Peeling down the superhighway, about an hour from our destination, neon signs appeared above the road. We were almost clueless but Steve somehow figured out that the highway was closed ahead and we needed to exit. Eventually, that was the only thing that we could do, as the road abruptly ended. Our GPS lady, soft spoken as she was, was beside herself, telling us to turn here and turn there. We were not the only people lost and confused. All around us, cars were circling, stopping on the roadside and asking each other, and even us, for directions. We could see the direction we needed to go, and finally, after a few confusing passes through towns that didn't even show up on the maps, sweet Ms.GPS finally latched onto the correct route and we we were off again on our way to

    Obidos was not high on our list of places to see in Portugal. We have seen other well preserved medieval towns throughout Europe that have been just so weighted down by hoards of tourists. They are pretty, for sure, but some of the life seems squeezed out of them. But Obidos on this trip was in the right place at the right time. It was in the perfect jumping off point for our last night in Portugal before catching the night train to Spain. We booked the Hotel Real d'Obidos.

    The Hotel Real d'Obidos is located outside the town's wall. I have learned that ease of access is important when booking a hotel in small medieval towns and villages. Driving into a walled town, with streets designed for foot traffic only, is sometimes beyond stressful. As we get older, we try to find less stressful options. Hotel Real' d Obidos was easy to find, and even had a parking gara

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    even had a parking garage.
    (Wow. Not sure what happened there. Just typing along and suddenly the post was submitted.)

    Our room had a view of the castle wall and the tower high above. After all the rain, the sun came out and everything brightened up, including our moods. After settling into our room, we climbed the stairs and were soon through the main entry into the town. Unfortunately, it was the Sunday of Chocolate Festival weekend. The streets were so crowded, it was hard to make any progress, so we decided to head back to our hotel and explore the town the next morning.

    Where to have dinner with crowds like that was problematic. It would probably take forever to get a table. But surprise, it started to rain yet again and the town cleared out dramatically. We made our way to the restaurant ranked number 3 in town by TripAdvisor, Taxa Torta. We were seated right away, even though the restaurant was quite small. Dinner was good. I had a delicious chicken skewered with sausage. Steve had skewered black pork, a bit on the tough side but tasty. As rain shimmered again on the cobblestones, we walked back to the hotel, hoping to get a good nights sleep before our big day tomorrow.

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    WAITING FOR THE TRAIN

    The train to San Sebastián didn't leave until 21:34 from Lisbon's Oriente Station. So when we woke up to a sunny morning in Obidos, we had the whole day ahead of us to see and do as much as we could before we dropped the car off at the airport and headed for the train station.

    The breakfast at the Hotel Real d'Obidos was extravagant, from fresh squeezed orange juice to hot sausage and eggs, fresh fruit, all kinds of breads and cakes, cheese and sliced meats, and the crowning touch, warm pastel de natas delivered by a waitress to each table. To be honest, all our breakfasts in Portugal have been extravagant to us. Normally not big eaters in the morning, we tried hard not to overindulge when tantalized by so much temptation. Not always easy!

    After breakfast we walked up to the main gate into Obidos and headed down the Ruo Direita toward the castle, which is now a pousada. To the left of the castle, we accessed the ramparts to enjoy the view out over the countryside, then meandered through the little side streets and back on to the main thoroughfare near the small church square. With its white houses trimmed in blue and decorated everywhere with flowers, Obidos is a pretty place. We did a little souvenir shopping on our way back to check out of the hotel and then drove up the highway to the town of Nazare on the coast.

    Nazare is noted for its huge waves, and there were some big ones crashing on the beach this cold, bright morning. We found a parking space on the street that runs along the beach and walked a ways up to the funicular that heads up the cliff side to the upper town of Sitio. The view of the coastline and the town from Sitio was worth braving the powerful wind that swept the belvedere at the cliff's edge. We had a simple lunch in Sitio on a little patio protected from the wind before we left for our next destination, the monastery at Alcobaca.

    Alcobaca is a very large religious edifice that stands impressively in the center of town. We entered through the cathedral door, struck by the austere and soaring interior. After the ticket counter, we turned left and passed through the Gallery of Kings on into the cloisters surrounding the garden. Impressions of darkness and shadows broken by soft light then sunlight, followed us as we circled around. Religious allegory? The monks kitchen was huge and fascinating with gigantic open fireplaces. So still and cold now, but imagine how it must have looked, and smelled, in full production, feeding hundreds of monks.

    Because we had the deadline of the rental car return, we hurried through the last of Alcobaca. As it turned out, we arrived at the Europcar drop off at the Lisbon airport with only a few minutes to spare. Then it was off to the taxi line that stretched around the front of the airport. Finally, we got a taxi that dropped us at the Oriente Station where we had hours to kill before we could board the night train to San Sebastián. Oriente Station was designed by a prize winning architect for the Worlds Fair in Lisbon. It is large and impressive to look at with soaring sail-like elements throughout the design. But I don't think you could call it people-friendly. Its interior is totally open to the elements, with the wind blowing through the open entries and around it's dull gray concrete arches. Maybe that is good in the heat of the summer but if it is cold in mid April, it must be freezing in the winter. There are three levels and only a few escalators at each end. The waiting rooms are glass enclosed cubes here and there. The Gran Class tickets for the night train, however, allowed us the use of a special glass enclosed waiting room which was at least warm. It took us awhile to find a place to eat in the station. We wanted to sit and relax over a light meal and kill a little time. Most places, if they had tables at all, had them set up out in the cold. Finally we found a place with nice looking inside seating but we were told that if we only wanted to order a sandwich, we had to eat outside. We asked the young server what we had to order to score an inside seat. She didn't seem to understand but thankfully her boss came along and kindly helped us stack our luggage in a corner, offered us inside seats, and brought us a menu. We ordered hot sandwiches and wine, which seemed to quality for upgraded seating and we enjoyed our dinner. Our sandwiches were the famous Porto Francesinha, served with or without a fried egg on top. Steve got the egg. I didn't. Not health food but those sandwiches tasted great.

    We still had a few long hours after dinner before the train arrived at this station at 9:30. We headed to the special waiting room and hung out, watching the clock. Finally, the night train arrived and we climbed aboard.

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    I am waiting with anticipation to hear about your overnight train ride! I believe you said it was an adventure, but you wouldn't do it again.

    Your descriptions of Portugal make me want to go there SOON!

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    Karen, we came home yesterday from a visit to our daughter in Virginia to find 20 inches of snow in our driveway. Fall was gorgeous here this year and the temperature was close to 70 a few days before we left. But we knew winter would eventually arrive and now it has, with a vengeance. Oh well, only 5 months til spring.

    I promised you the names of our hotels in Córdoba and Granada. In Córdoba we stayed at the Hotel Las Casas de la Juderia. We traveled to Córdoba by train after we landed in Madrid, so by the time we got to the hotel, we were exhausted. Thankfully, we were able to check right in. Our interior room opened to the upper walkway around the enclosed courtyard so with the drapes closed it was the perfect place to nap for a few hours, which we always do after an overseas flight. Freshening up after our nap, we enjoyed the beautiful bathroom, which was fitted out with marble, emerald green tiles, mirrors, gilt, and scented soaps. We hadn't expected anything so luxurious. Nice! That evening, we decided to have dinner right at the hotel. As I remember, our meals were a combination of good food and not so good, but the restaurant itself was lovely, in a beautiful room with soft candlelight and music. Very romantic. After dinner, we walked around the old Juderia area and down to the river.

    Our hotel in Granada was the Hotel Shine Albayzin. We splurged for a suite (number 302) with a view of the Alhambra and the splurge was worth it for us. Down a narrow little alley not far from Plaza Nueva, the taxi driver had quite a time getting us to the front door. We entered into a lobby situated in the interior courtyard of what was once a grand home. The courtyard rises three or four stories, with the rooms arranged around the perimeter. Our suite on the third floor (and yes, there is an elevator) had two Juliette balconies looking out onto the tiny street and a bridge over the little river, and up to the Alcazaba of the Alhambra. Day or night, there was so much to see out those windows. One afternoon, a handsome young man set up a table on the bridge where he sold poems he wrote for whoever stopped to buy (mostly pretty young girls). The next day we watched a photo shoot involving several young models, both male and female, on the narrow stairway across the bridge. And always there was the Alhambra above, flying brightly colored flags during the day and beautifully lite up at night. We originally had wanted to stay at the Parador on the Alhambra grounds but I think the Hotel Shine Albayzin worked out better for us.

    Hope this helps.

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    Thanks, ekscrunchy, what a great title!

    ALL ABOARD FOR THE NIGHT TRAIN

    When planning our 2015 trip to Spain and Portugal, we had considered taking the night train from Lisbon to Madrid, but ultimately decided that flying TAP between the two capitals would be cheaper and easier. Turned out, after the TAP pilots' strike, it was neither. So this time, when we discovered there was a night train to San Sebastian from Lisbon, we figured that this might be the perfect way to travel from Portugal to Basque country. So, here we were, climbing on board, clutching our Trenhotel tickets purchased online. Soon we found the private Gran Class compartment that was to be our little bed-sittingroom for this trip through the night.

    I knew this train would not be the Orient-Express, but I was expecting something a little grander that the actual reality, I guess. Not that it was dirty or shabby, but it was just so basic and kind of drab. However, there was a tiny ensuite bathroom, which was a real bonus in the middle of the night, even though getting to it from the top bunk became a feat requiring both balance and coordination.

    So we settled into the two seats in our little compartment. After a bit, the porter knocked and offered to make up the bunks. We gladly accepted his offer. Steve watched, amazed, as he turned the small space with two seats into a tiny space with two bunks and a set of collapsible steps. When he left, we wearily changed into pajamas, brushed our teeth at the little sink and climbed into bed. I should mention that we each received a little pouch of amenities, including toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, shampoo, soap, and even slippers. Once our suitcases were stowed away they were not easy to access, so we took advantage of some of these handy little toiletries. In fact, stowing suitcases in this compartment, even though we only travel with carryon luggage, was a bit of a challenge, as I remember.

    When I say we climbed into bed, I literally did, as I took the top berth, which seemed very high up even with those collapsible stairs assisting my assent. Lights out, we finally settled down for one of the most unusual night's sleep we've ever had. Shake, rattle, and roll became the theme song running through my head. We literally bounced back and forth and up and down all night long. I had visions of what it might be like to be trapped in a giant popcorn popper or to be the little steel ball in a very large pinball machine. Somehow, we finally fell asleep. Maybe the wild rocking became so familiar it was finally soothing. And to be fair, I think once the train crossed into Spain, the tracks became a little smoother. Then, in the pitch dark at 4:00 in the morning, Steve's cellphone started ringing. Immediately, fears of an emergency at home had us wide awake, lurching around in the dark trying to locate the phone. Thank God, no emergency, just a misplaced call from someone who was not aware that Steve had retired a year ago.

    How we ever got back to sleep I'm not sure but suddenly it was 7:00 am and, opening the curtain, we saw morning dawning in Spain. With almost three hours still to go, we took our time getting dressed, a difficult feat in the top berth, then went to find breakfast. We were disappointed there was no dining car on the train, but we ended up in the bar car where we ordered a petit dejeuner. Before we knew it, the porter was warning us that we would soon be arriving in San Sebastian. We lined up with some other passengers by the exit door as we came into the station and were soon in a taxi on our way to the beautiful Hotel de Londres y de Ingleterre, where we would stay during our wonderful 24 hours in San Sebastian.

    As I have said, the night train was an experience I am not sure we will repeat anytime soon. It was certainly different and it was not a bad thing to fall asleep in Portugal and wake up the next morning in Spain. If we were younger, it would have seemed like a real adventure, I think. But comfort is more important the older we get and we did not have a very comfortable night's sleep. That said, we do have the memory of a quirky ride through the night, from country to country, and I don't think we will soon forget it!

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    Candace, very interesting and well-written report. Portugal remains on our list of places to explore. Not sure we'd enjoy that overnight train, though! Thanks for sharing so many interesting details.

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    Candace, thank you for the names of the hotels and your wonderful descriptions!

    Enjoyed your description of your overnight train ride! We took an overnight train once from Krakow to Prague; a very interesting experience. I agree that you don't get a good night's sleep, and at our ages, too, we are more concerned about comfort. But it's fun to do at least once!

    I notice you mention that you travel with carry-ons only. How do you do that for a 3-week trip? I know I pack too much, but I can't imagine only bringing a carry-on. What size is yours? Mine is quite small. Think it would only hold a few changes of clothing and toiletries. I need to learn to pack lighter but can't imagine getting everything into a carry-on for a 3-week trip. When we go next year to Spain, we will actually be gone for a month because we will spend the first 2 weeks with our daughter in France.

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    Thanks, tomarkot. Portugal is a great country to visit. I just opened my December issue of Travel and Leisure magazine and found that Portugal was named their "Destination of the Year", based on its cultural riches, affordability, and everything else it has to offer.

    Karen, it does take some planning to travel with carryons only, but it is worth it if you can do it. We each have a Travelpro rolling suitcase (approximately 20x10 inches) which is designed to qualify as a carry on. We also each have a small collapsible nylon backpack. Everything we need for a three week trip can fit into these four pieces of luggage. Actually, there are many Fodorites who advocate for carry on luggage only and if you search on "packing tips" you can find some great advice. I generally stick to a black and neutral color palette with a few brighter tops and accessories so everything can be mixed and matched. And it does help that we rent places on every trip that have washing machines. On a European vacation, I like to feel good about how I look and I try to dress well in order to fit in, although I know I will never look like a Parisienne. However, on this last trip, as we were strolling together in Paris, we were twice approached and asked, in French, for directions. Maybe we did look like we belonged.

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    Looking forward to hear about your great 24 hours in San Sebastián, my favourite since the late 1980's. Have lived here and visited almost every year the past 30 years, and for your future visit, I can give tips about most things here based on your interests.

    A fun intro to the spectacular San Sebastián food scene. Starts, of course, right in front of your hotel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwmBAvqa_0U

    A fine presentation of the town: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_C4IjsVKvAA

    And more pintxos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WowXrGJdFCU

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    Kimhe, I really enjoyed the YouTube videos on San Sebastián. Thank you for the links. We know there is so much there we missed, especially the food. Next time, we plan on staying at least a week. I will definitely contact you when we are planning our return visit.

    Loncall, I am glad you are enjoying my report. Thanks for the encouragement to keep on going with it.

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    LOVELY, LOVELY SAN SEBASTIAN

    The city of San Sebastian reminds me of a stately and sophisticated nineteenth century lady, the kind of noble lady whose full length portrait would hang in the drawing room of a fine little palace. Elegant and refined, the city carries itself in my memory like royalty. With its balconied buildings lining the streets in perfect form, with its various bridges spanning the river with such grace, and with its many gardens so impeccably groomed and ornamented, it felt truly aristocratic to me. Then there was the brilliant sea and the curved and sandy beach, with its beautiful promenade like a necklace on the throat of the bay. The hills and the island beyond were the crowning touches, as we fell in love with this lovely, belle-epoque place.

    So why were we here for only one day? Good question. When I was researching San Sebastian as a stopover on our route from Portugal to Basque country, I kept running into words of caution regarding the weather there in the spring. Chances were it would be cold and rainy in April. Except that it wasn't. It was sunny and pleasant. Except for a very brief little shower, it was sunny all day. The next morning was just as nice. I usually don't worry about weather when I'm planning our trips. I wish I hadn't worried about it in this case and scheduled more time in San Sebastian. But now that we know we love this place as we do, we will come back and see much more of it along with the rest of the Spanish Basque country we missed.

    Our hotel in San Sebastian, the Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra, was our splurge hotel for this trip. The grand lobby created a great first impression which was further enhanced by the people at the reception desk who greeted us warmly. Even though it was only 11 am, they said our room would be ready in an hour, which we truly appreciated. We took advantage of the opportunity to speak to the woman at the concierge desk with questions regarding transportation to St Jean de Luz the next day. She was very helpful, and also gave us some ideas of where to go for lunch. After a walk around the promenade we made our way to the funicular, which raised us high above the city and its bay. Truly spectacular, the views stretched for miles in every direction and helped us to further realize what an amazing place this was. After enjoying the walk back around the promenade, we stopped to have lunch at a beachside cafe. We ordered a sandwich and a seafood appetizer, but there was some sort of mixup and we waited a long time after the appetizer was served for our sandwich to arrive. It was about then that the brief rain shower passed through, so we packed up half the sandwich, paid our bill and went back to the hotel to check in.

    When we opened the door to our room, we knew this room was worth every extra euro we paid. A large glass door framed a superb view of the wide beach and the sea, the promenade, and the old town to the right. Outside the door, a small balcony gave us the space to enjoy even more of our surroundings. The changing scene below was endlessly fascinating. There were a few hardy souls heading into the waves for a swim. Dogs were running joyfully on the sand, among the kids kicking soccer balls. Well turned out ladies strolled arm and arm, taking advantage, along with bicyclists and joggers, of the wide promenade. When it turned out that Steve was feeling under the weather and didn't want to go out for dinner, I was not as disappointed as I might have been to be missing those pintxos I had been so looking forward to sampling. Relaxing for the rest of the day in that beautiful hotel room, watching the world go by in San Sebastian, was not a terrible fate. The sandwich left over from lunch became our dinner, and we watched the sunset turn the beach and the sea pink and gold, then deepen those colors into glorious reds and purples. If we had gone out to dinner, we might have missed that magical scene. No number of tasty pintxos could have made up for that sunset.

    Steve was back to normal the next morning, and we ventured out into the old town looking for coffee and croissants. We found a very pretty little coffee shop/bakery and where we could enjoy our coffee and watch passersby rushing off to work. On our way back to the hotel, we wandered some of the side streets, past some enticing little shops and interesting restaurants which hopefully we can visit next time. Both of us kept commenting on how clean San Sebastian was. The streets had been washed down and there was no trash to be seen. The flower beds didn't have a flower out of place and the beach sand had been combed smooth and pristine. Amazing.

    We decided to walk to the station to catch the train on the way to St. Jean de Luz. It was an easy walk and although we hated to say goodby to San Sebastian, we looked forward to experiencing the Basque country of France.

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    Candace, I LOVE your description of San Sebastian! It is better than the guidebooks! You really should become a travel writer.
    I am looking forward to the rest of your report!

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    Thanks for your encouragement, Karen. San Sebastián is one of the most beautiful cities we have visited in Europe. Being enthusiastic as I described our visit there was so easy.

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    The whole time we were in San Sebastián the word "elegant" was in my head. Being an old, possibly jaded, European hand at this point, it's hard for me to squeal in delight at a new place, but we did just that in San Sebastián.

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    ON TO ST. JEAN DE LUZ AND OUR CIBOURE APARTMENT

    The trains from San Sebastian to St. Jean de Luz via Hendaye were cheap and easy to negotiate. The only excitement we encountered was in Hendaye on the French border. Three young men, who appeared perhaps to be from the Middle East, got off the train ahead of us. One of them asked the station master for directions to the train to St. Jean. The station master waved toward a building across the street and the three were headed that way when they were stopped by two French policemen. One, an imposing blond woman, was in uniform. She could have been central castings perfect version of a modern day Jean d'Arc. Tall, large in the sense that she looked very strong, she was impressive. The other was an older man in plain clothes, with a buzz cut, a gun, and a no-nonsense demeanor. We heard them question the men about their nationalities and then ask them for their papers. We went on into the station. We got onto the train to St. Jean but those three, presumingly detained by the police, never did.

    The taxi from the St. Jean station to our apartment in Ciboure on the fishing harbor took five minutes and cost ten Euros. Oh well, it would have been difficult to find on our own, so probably it was worth it for us to take a cab. The apartment was on the second floor of a building in a working warehouse zone, and I was startled at first to see that the area seemed so industrial. Forklifts traveled by occasionally on the asphalted area in front. There was a large ice machine directly across that the fishing boats used to fill up with ice on their way out of the harbor. There was a long low shed around the corner where the fishermen's wives sold fish every morning. Steve bought fish there twice, cleaning it himself and cooking it for dinner. It was morure (or hake) and it was delicious. Anyway, it did not take us long to feel comfortable living next to the fishing port. The apartment itself had large floor to ceiling windows that looked out onto the water. Fishing boats left the harbor in the morning and came back in the afternoon, although some left in the late afternoon and were out all night. We had a front row seat on all the comings and goings. One afternoon we walked up to the main warehouse to watch boats unloading their catch. One man proudly unstacked his plastic bins so we could see his fish. There were several different types, carefully laid out on beds of ice.

    On the afternoon we arrived in Ciboure, all the markets and little groceries were closed for lunch till 3:30, so we found a cafe in town for lunch. Steve ordered whitefish with creamy risotto on a red pepper sauce which was very good. I had a plate of ham, sausage and pickled peppers which was also good. After lunch, we walked across the bridge to St. Jean and did our grocery shopping at a little supermarket. Of course, we also had to find a bakery for a baguette and a pastry shop for some special goodies. When we were well supplied, we headed back to our apartment, where we cooked our first home cooked meal of the trip.

    The next morning, we took a bus to Biarritz where we rented a car at the airport. It was a pretty straightforward drive back to Ciboure, where we found parking directly in front of our apartment building, out of the path, we hoped, of the forklifts. That afternoon, we set off on foot to explore St. Jean de Luz, which is a very walkable little town. It is also a pretty town, from the beach to the Place Louis XIV. We were lucky enough to stumble upon the street market outside Les Halles covered market and bought some beautiful produce for dinner. We also visited the tourist office where we picked up some helpful maps, etc.

    In 1660, the marriage between Louis XIV and Maria Theresa of Spain took place in St. Jean de Luz at the Elise St. Jean-Baptiste. The wedding was an event that lasted for months and brought all the brilliance of the Sun King to St. Jean, however briefly. From our apartment window, we could see Louis's lodging house and also the pretty pink mansion where Maria Theresa stayed before the marriage. The church tower is also visible. As the sunrise tinted everything in the morning or as the lights came on at dusk, it was fun to imagine that festive time so long ago.

    Our next day in Ciboure, our plan was to drive out into the countryside to visit three scenic little Basque towns, Sare, Ainhoa, and Espellette. The circuit from town to town promised to be picturesque and interesting.

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    Kansas, it's great to hear that you are getting new ideas from my report. That's what I like so much about the Fodors forum. It is a treasure trove of ideas and information, all so willingly shared by people who love to travel.

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    A CIRCUIT THROUGH COUNTRY VILLAGES: SARE, AINHOA, AND ESPELETTE

    Every day in Ciboure some rain was predicted but somehow we were lucky enough to enjoy many hours of sun. We set out for Sare under a bright blue sky. The winding road meandered through some pretty countryside and shortly we were driving into Sare. Parking was easy on the edge of town next to a pelota court. Pelota is a traditional Basque sport and every town, we're told, has a court, called a fronton. The fronton in Sare looked like the townsfolk took particular care with its upkeep. I bet matches there are well attended.

    But today, the stands were empty, and we walked past and up a few streets to the church with its neighboring cemetery. Basque cemeteries are decorated with porcelain flowers and commemorative plaques in pastels and purples. Real flowers and greenery were also carefully arranged around each gravesite. The combination of living flowers and painted china flowers was unusual but pretty. I wondered, was it meant to convey a subtle message of the impermanence of life and the permanence of death? Maybe not on purpose, but it had that effect.

    We entered the church through heavy wooden doors. Inside, the church wore the three tiers of intricately carved dark wood balconies and the barreled ceiling typical of Basque churches. The shadowed wooden spaces were punctuated by colorfully painted religious figures, also carved from wood. Golden accents, here and there, glowed in the low light. When we left the church, the sun seemed especially bright.

    The next town in the circuit, Ainhoa, was just opening up after lunch. We parked on the street opposite the church, which had a sparkling alter piece, carved from wood but painted in gold, brightening the interior. Leaving the church, we strolled past some little shops and were drawn into one selling espadrilles. I bought a colorful striped pair from an excellent young saleswoman who explained how they should be worn and where exactly they were made. (In France, of course, somewhere nearby.) These shoes made me happy whenever I put them on this summer at home.

    Our last stop was the village of Espelette. I had seen pictures of Espelette over the years, with strings of red peppers always hanging everywhere. It looked so charming and I really wanted to see it. Sure enough, red peppers were all over the place, strung in garlands in shop windows, festooning buildings in layers. One hotel must have had hundreds of them, hanging all across its facade. We bought some pepper jelly and red pepper sauce, then relaxed at a sidewalk cafe with a beer and a sangria.

    It had been a good day. When we got back to the apartment, we cooked a great fish dinner and researched our route the next day to our rental in Loudet, in the Midi-Pyrenees. The next morning before we left. we met our hostess, Elizabeth, for the first time. She had been traveling herself, on a tour to Iran, when we arrived in Ciboure and had arranged for a friend to meet us at the apartment . She was so well traveled and interesting, it would have been great to have more time to stay and talk, but we soon had to say goodby, and thank you, and were on our way to Loudet.

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    THE PYRENEES BECKON AS WE BEGIN OUR "TOUR"

    The sun was shining when we set out toward Loudet and we hadn't driven far before we could see imposing mountain peaks highlighted by the sun far in the distance. The Pyrenees. Capped by snow, they seemed immense. This part of our trip had been planned so that we could drive some of the famous mountain climbs of the Tour de France. Steve is an avid fan of the Tour, and we had looked into traveling to France to watch it in person, but decided that would be too costly. We would have to make do with traveling some of the same routes in April that the Tour would follow in July. We would miss all the excitement, but at least we could see for ourselves what the terrain was really like on some of those climbs.

    Watching the mountains come closer, we pulled off the highway into a rest stop just beyond the city of Pau and were thrilled to discover a huge metal sculpture commemorating the tour off on one side of the parking area. Tall steel arches soared high and monumental sculpted bikers, muscles bulging, ascended and descended in various depictions of speed, strength, and endurance. One steel biker painted yellow, with arms raised, was the symbol of victory. A circle of pictorial plaques surrounded the sculpture, outlining the history of the Tour. This memorial provided us with the perfect way to start our personal Tour de France experience.

    The directions to our rental in Loudet in the region of the Midi-Pyrenees were spot on and we arrived around 4 o'clock as scheduled, after stopping for groceries at a tiny little shop in the next town. Our hosts, Marianne and Brian, were there to welcome us. We learned later that they had purchased this property with its farmhouse and outbuildings four years ago after a search of six months. That search certainly paid off, as this property is beautiful. Since they bought Le Fournil they have worked hard on renovating it, turning a little building attached to the barn into a rental cottage. I think this cottage might be the loveliest rental we have ever stayed in on our travels. Brian did much of the work on his own and he obviously strives for perfection. It is also obvious that he and Marianne believe in quality, from the materials used in the reconstruction to the kitchen appliances and the bathroom fittings. Even the fruit Marianne had arranged in a basket for us to enjoy was perfectly ripened and ready to eat.

    After we settled in, we spent some time before dinner on the covered porch enjoying the view of the mountains. We were glad we didi because the next two days the mountains were obscured by clouds. Until, wouldn't you know, the morning we left, when they reappeared in all their majesty.

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    Still enjoying your report! Writing this report is a wonderful way to remember the details of your trip. Since you took the trip last April, did you keep notes so that you could remember all these great and memorable details?

    BTW, when and where is your next trip? Just curious.

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    Yes, Karen , writing a trip report is a great way to relive a trip. I kept a little journal as we were traveling where I wrote down lots of details. Without the journal, writing this report would be much more difficult.

    Next April, we plan to travel to Sicily for two weeks, then head up to the Amalfi Coast for a week. We will fly home from Rome.

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    THE PYRENEES CONTINUE TO BECKON

    Because of rain in the forecast, we decided to spend the next day exploring nearby. Loudet is a tiny village with a church and a townhall but no shops, so we first headed to the larger town of Montrejeau to stock up on groceries at the big supermarket there. Shopping in supermarkets in France, in fact anywhere in Europe, is an adventure. The setup of the supermarkets are often similar to those we frequent at home, with grocery departments, and departments for meat, fish, and frozen foods, etc. But many of the products offered in those departments are obviously different (for the most part) from the stuff on the shelves at home. It is lots of fun to fill our cart with a variety of new products to try. Eggs are eggs, and chicken is chicken, everywhere, but somehow even they seem exotic when they are purchased from a supermarket in Europe. Of course, the best shopping is done the European way, at the local butcher shop, bakery, or patisserie, or better yet at a weekly street market. But if that is not possible, the supermarket supplies us with what we need while traveling and gives us the opportunity to try lots of new things.

    After stashing our groceries and fixing lunch, we took advantage of a break in the weather to visit the remains of the Gallo-Roman villa at Montmaurin, only a short drive from Loudet. After paying the admission fee at the little office, we were given a map of the site. We were the only visitors there and could wander around at will. Begun in the first century by Roman invaders, the villa was expanded and modified over the next few centuries. Constructed of the finest materials, it covered 19 hectares, contained 200 rooms and was richly outfitted with baths, courtyards and gardens. The ruins were discovered in the nineteenth century but excavation didn't begin until 1946. Following our map, we walked up steps leading to what had been a heated bathing pool. Other rooms had heated floors. Comfort was a high priority for these aristocratic residents. Lovely marble pillars once supported the various roofs surrounding courtyards and gardens. Low walls outlined various formal rooms and more private spaces. Wouldn't it be amazing to see it all as it was, inhabited by the people who lived in those spaces. Unfortunately, thunder, then heavy rain, ended our visit before we could do any time traveling into the past.

    The storm canceled our plans to walk up a nearby narrow ravine trail recommended by our hosts. Instead, we headed back to our cottage and watched a second storm come in. This time, hail preceded the rain and we watched in horror as hail stones bounced off our rental car. Fortunately, no damage was done to the car and the drifts of hailstones on the lawn soon melted away. When the sun came out , we were even able to take a pre-dinner walk along the little canal below the house. On a nicer day, it would have been pleasant to follow the canal for a few miles , as we were told it meanders along for quite a distance through the countryside. The countryside of this area, the Haute Garonne, is pretty, with rolling hills, roads lined with plane trees between old farmsteads, pastures grazed by cows and sheep, and tidy villages with tan and grey stone houses.

    The next day was again grey and cloudy, but it would be the only opportunity we had to drive into the high Pyrenees so we set out early, hoping eventually the sun would make an appearance.

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    HIGH IN THE PYRENEES

    This year's Tour de France route through the Pyrenees started in Pau and ended in Bagneres-de-Luchon. We headed out toward Bagneres-de-Luchon from Loudet knowing we could only follow pieces of the route in the high mountains due to the snow still covering some of the passes. Our main objective was the famous Col de Tourmalet, which was open as far as the ski area, La Mongie, but closed at the top. We drove through Bagneres-de- Luchon, went up the Col de Peyresourde, part of this year's race, and then up the Col de Aspen, not included in the route this year. We have driven mountain roads before, but this drive was pretty scary. Narrow twisting roads with sheer drops and no guard rails. I gasped when a car roared past us on the narrow shoulder, veering only a few feet away from the edge in order to get around our car. Sheer drops were all along the way , but there was sheer beauty as well, as we looked down from the top into deep valleys and across to more snow covered peaks beyond. Our appreciation of the athletes of the Tour grew at every turn. Scary in a car! How do the men on bikes do it? It seems death-defying. For me, it was a relief to head down from such dizzying heights, but I knew the legendary Col de Tourmelet still lay ahead.

    We stopped for lunch in Arreau, a lovely town with a little river rushing through it. Lunch was a picnic we had packed before we left our cottage and we ate it in the car, parked by the river. I would have liked to spend more time in Arreau but it was already mid afternoon and the Col de Tourmelet still lay ahead. Fog settled around us as we headed up toward the Col. We knew the roadside probably dropped off precipitously to the right, but as the fog thickened, we could barely see the road ahead. This was frightening. We talked about turning around and going back down but unfortunately that would be easier said than done. So we continued to creep up the mountain, knowing the ski area, La Mongie, should be ahead somewhere. Finally, the first buildings of the resort appeared through the clouds, and then the parking lots in the center of the complex of hotels and condos. There was not much activity around, but we did see evidence that the area was still open for skiing. A few people walked by in ski boots, so we assumed lifts were operating somewhere nearby. We decided there was not much to see in the fog, so I looked around for a restroom, unhappily contemplating the drive back down the mountain. As I emerged from the Welcome Center, Steve motioned for me to follow him through a brick archway and then to look up. Wow! A snow covered mountain peak was right there, in our face, above the parking lot. It loomed over us like a big bully schoolboy threatening the schoolyard, or maybe more like an avenging archangel descending on a sinful congregation. Whatever, it was imposing, so big and majestic where there had been only foggy blankness before. I think my jaw dropped. Then, almost as suddenly as the mountain peak appeared, it vanished into the fog and was totally gone. I have to say, we will never forget the sight of it. It was totally worth the white knuckle drive up the Col de Tourmelet.

    The sun reappeared on our last morning in Loudet. We hated to leave the lovely little cottage with its view of the distant Pyrenees again revealed. But we said goodbye to our kind hosts, Brian and Marianne, and drove off toward our next stop, the apartment Ciel Bleu in Ceret.

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    Candace, I was pretty unnerved driving up and over Mont Ventoux, which is sometimes also used for the Tour de France. I don't think I would have liked that fog! And we're pretty accustomed to mountains, but we usually have railings along the edge of the mountain roads here where I live.

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    Your trip through the high Pyrenees to the ski resort sounds beautiful but also terrifying at the same time. During our trip to Barcelona, we visited Cadaques and Girona. My husband drove over the mountains to Cadaques, a beautiful white fishing village on the Mediterranean, and that ride was a white-knuckled drive, too, with about 2 dozen (or more) switchbacks. I would never be able to drive over roads like that. At least we didn't encounter any fog. Your husband must have nerves of steel!

    Where is your next stop on this fascinating trip?

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    This is (unfortunately) reminding me of the time we decided against all better judgment to go up on a mountain pass during the transhumance to get to Ste-Enimie as quickly as possible from ourbase in Florac. Do NOT take roads on Michelin maps that are designated with a red dotted line. It means they're dangerous....and they are. First thing that happened as we ascended what was essentially no more than a goat track was another car barreling toward us. Absolutely no way for us to pass each other, so someone had to give. We did, and that meant backing down the switchbacks of the goat track for what seemed like forever. Once past that hurdle, we ascended again to a wide plâteau, which was easy enough to navigate....except for the shepherds with their massive herds of sheep, all over the road. We finally made it to the main road along the gorge to Ste-Enimie and were breathing a hug sigh of relief when around the corner came a convoie exceptionelle. We had to pull over so close to the rocky overhang on the right of the car that I could have opened the window and licked it. I don't know how that convoie ever got past us (it took several men jumping out of the convoie and its lead car and yelling and gesturing for a good 15 minutes, with of course a backup in the works behind both us and the convoie).

    I also don't do well driving in heavy fog and almost died on the outskirts of Strasbourg one night in February, but that's another story.

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    Yes, sundriedtopepo, that fog was pretty bad. Aren't those Tour riders amazing? I was just reading about Mt. Ventoux and the memorial there to the British rider who died of heart failure on one of the hottest day ever recorded in the race. Supposedly, his last words were "Put me back on the bloody bike".

    Karen, I guess my husband does have nerves of steel but even he was unnerved by that drive. Our next stop on this trip was Ceret in southeastern France, not that far from Cadaques. Cadaques looks like a lovely place to visit. I wish we had taken a day trip there. Maybe next time.

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    Oh my gosh, St. Cirq, your trip over that mountain pass sounds absolutely terrifying. We were amazed by how fast some other drivers were traveling on those treacherous roads. We encountered the car that had passed us on the Col de Aspen again when we parked in a pull-off at a trailhead higher up on the mountain. The driver had a toddler by the hand and his wife was carrying a baby as they prepared to start a hike. I can't imagine taking the risk he took passing us, with children in his car. To him, I guess, it must not have seemed risky.

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    SETTLING INTO CERET

    The apartment, Ceil Bleu, in Ceret, was the first place I booked on this trip. When the whole idea of a trip to the Pyrenees was forming, I happened upon a description of this rental and was immediately sure we wanted to stay here. An artists' colony in the early 20th century, Ceret had attracted the likes of Picasso and Matisse with its soft light and pretty squares lined with plane trees, but it had never become especially touristy and still seemed authentic. The apartment had a balcony overlooking the small square which, on Saturday, became the site of the town's weekly market. It all sounded ideal for us, although it was out of the way of the original route we were considering. But after days on what could be the cold, blustery Atlantic coast, and the even colder high mountains of the central Pyrenees, perhaps being so close to the milder Mediterranean for awhile would be a good idea. Turned out, it was, although we got off to a rather uneven start.

    We left Loudet at bit later that we meant to, but the drive was almost entirely on highways and the GPS was spot on. We were right on schedule for our 3:00 pm arrival until we encountered the exit for Ceret, which was off at the far corner of a long line of multiple exits. Very confused, we missed it. Next thing we knew, we were on a highway headed for Spain, with no exits until we crossed the border. This mistake cost us 30 minutes, so we were going to be late meeting with the person who would greet us at the apartment. I called the contact person, and lo and behold, she had never gotten our message regarding arrival time. She was miles away in Perpignan and could not meet us, but assured us someone would be there to let us in. After finally finding the apartment location, we settled down outside the building to wait. We waited 45 minutes, then called again. Paul, we were told, was on his way.

    In the meantime, we had a nice chat with a lady who lived in the building. She was returning home with her shopping bags over her arm and greeted us with a friendly "Bonjour" as we scrambled to get out of her way, slumped as we were in front of her doorway. Although she spoke no English and we speak very limited French, we had quite a conversation. She was 83, she told us, and her husband was 86. She asked where we were from, and seemed happy to meet Americans. We chatted for quite awhile before she bid us "au revoir". The people in Ceret, we discovered, were all very friendly and kind to strangers. From the elderly neighbors who gathered every afternoon on sidewalk benches near our apartment to enjoy the sun and, I suppose, share gossip, to the various shopkeepers and the women at the Travel Information office, people inevitably greeted us with smiles. From the pharmacist who helped us find the antibacterial ointment I needed for what turned out to be shingles (thank heavens I had been vaccinated a few years before so didn't suffer too badly) to the lovely little lady in the pretty dress shop who wrapped a gift I purchased for my daughter so beautifully, no one could have been more helpful. Once we settled into our apartment, which we did quickly after the second phone call brought Paul to the rescue, we started exploring the town. It didn't take long before we began to feel very much at home in Ceret.

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    OUR DAY AT THE MUSEUM, ETC.

    The morning of our first full day in Ceret was rainy, so we used the time to shop, stocking up on food and drink, visiting the bakery, the patisserie, the butcher shop and the supermarket. These establishments were to become very familiar to us and part of our daily routine through the 5 days we spent here. We set aside the afternoon on our first day to visit the Musee d' Art Moderne, located in the center of town and an easy walk from our apartment. Ceret had its share of early 20th century artists who arrived to find inspiration in the golden stone of its buildings, the tall green hills above the town, and the soft and special quality of the light that settled over it all. Picasso spent a few years in a house just around the corner from our apartment and some of his work, notably a collection of decorated pottery, is displayed in the museum. Also represented are Henri Matisse, Salvadore Dali, Marc Chagall, among others. We looked forward to viewing these works. We are not modern art aficionados but we enjoy it none the less.

    Works by Maria-Helena Vieira da Silva comprised a special exhibit at the museum when we visited. The artist, we learned, was born in Lisbon but moved to Paris in her early twenties to study art. Her paintings show the influences of geometric abstraction and cubism, among other trends, with subject matter that often dealt with architectural elements and cityscapes. Entering the special exhibit area, we first went into a small auditorium where a film highlighting the artist's career was showing. Here occurred the first incident which helped make our trip to the museum less than a success. Someone must have had a huge lunch comprised of beans and cabbage because suddenly the room filled with an intense odor of intestinal gas. It was awful. We had to leave.

    So on we went, through the galleries featuring Maria Vieira da Silva's works, often interesting, often dark. It was here that the next of the less than pleasant incidents occurred: the irritation of that museum goer who has no sense of anyone's space but her own. The galleries were not crowded by any means, but I was practically pushed out of the way if I was looking at a painting she wanted to see. After this happened a few times, I tried to go in a different direction in order to avoid her but before I knew it she was back. For a moment, I wondered if she was trying to get close enough to riffle my pockets, but then I didn't think so. She just had no clue how irritating she was.

    It was after we moved from the special exhibit galleries to the main body of works in the museum that we encountered the "Hacker" family. Two of this family's kids were obviously sick, sprawled on a viewing bench together with bright red cheeks and feverish eyes. Another child was wandering around the room coughing into his hands. The parents were coughing more discreetly, but had no tissues in sight. You could almost see the germs wafting through the air. Now, I am sympathetic if someone is not feeling well. I especially hate to see sick children. But please, keep them home (or back in the hotel room) and feed them chicken soup and hot tea so they can get better. Not wishing to catch whatever it was they had, we quickly left that gallery, powered through the rest of the museum and exited, thankfully, to sunshine.

    All was not lost. We decided a good way to experience art in Ceret was to have a glass of wine and a beer at a sidewalk cafe in "Pablo's Square". Probably many of the artists whose works we saw in the museum enjoyed many hours in just this spot. We were sorry we didn't enjoy the museum more but this end to our visit was pretty nice.

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    WALKS AND DRIVES NEAR CERET

    The lovely ladies at the Ceret Tourist Information Office gave us descriptions of two walks we could take from our apartment. One was to the Devils Bridge via the river Tech. The second was up to the "viewing" table above the town. We started off on our first walk after breakfast. It was a beautiful day and we had no trouble finding the farm road that eventually followed the river toward the Devils Bridge. We walked past cherry orchards which appeared to have recently been in bloom. Bright red poppies and blue iris colored the roadside here and there. A quaint cottage behind a wrought iron gate invited photos, especially when the resident donkey showed up and stuck his nose through the fence. The river, when we came upon it, was bright and swift with banks of flat rocks. After awhile and a short steep uphill stretch, we made it to the bridge, which when it was built in the fourteenth century had the longest single arch ever constructed, with a span of 149 feet. We walked halfway across, took pictures and headed back to our apartment through town, ready for lunch.

    After our favorite noon meal of ham and cheese on a baguette, we started out on the second walk of the day, up the hill out of town to the overlook. The climb was never too strenuous, as we followed a paved road all the way. The stone "table" at the overlook had a sort of map etched into it, labeling the views lying before us, the mountains in the distance and the town just below. It was fun to see the town from above and pick out our apartment building. And later, from our apartment, we could pick out the overlook high above.

    After heading down from the overlook, we made our way back to the TI Office to gather information on Collioure, a town on the Mediterranean close to the Spanish border. Our plan was to drive there the next day. I guess I absolutely mutilated the pronunciation of Collioure, because the very pleasant ladies manning the information desk had no idea where I wanted to go. When I finally spelled it out, they laughed and laughed (in a nice way). They then tried to teach me the correct way to pronounce Collioure but I just couldn't seem to get my tongue around it.

    Driving to Collioure didn't take long, as I remember. Parking was easy, near the Chateau Royal, although it took some time wandering around the walls to find the entry to the Chateau. The most memorable part of our visit to the Chateau were the views of the harbor, the town, and the beaches, so picturesque in every direction. While gazing out over the harbor, we noticed a boat speeding across the water. As it approached the harbor, at least a dozen people could be seen leaping off the back of the boat into the waves. As they swam toward shore, the boat circled back and docked at the pier across from the castle. Eventually, we figured out that we were watching some sort of military maneuver, as a new group of young men and women started gearing up for their turn. Later, as we exited the Chateau, we saw some moored military style pontoon boats and a sign explaining that Collioure is the training site for French commandos. We thought of our grandson who loves to play with his army men. Wouldn't he be excited to see real commandos in training?

    We walked from the Chateau toward the church tower and by the beach in front of the old town, past some open air restaurants with tables set up close to the beach. It was a lovely spot on a lovely afternoon and I was tempted to pick one of these places for lunch. But Steve, glancing at some of the posted menus, wasn't impressed and we kept on going. We were glad we did because, after wandering through the little streets of the old town for awhile, we happened upon a busy cafe whose specialty was moules and frites. Other restaurants we had passed by were half empty but this place was packing them in. As soon as a table was free it was occupied but we were lucky and were almost immediately seated. All around us, steaming aluminum foil packets full of moules were set in front of diners, along with plates piled high with thick french fries. Steve followed suit and was soon digging into one of his favorite meals, which he pronounced to be delicious. My little pizza with olives was good too.

    After lunch, we walked back around the wall of the Chateau to the quieter beach on the other side. Piano music was playing somewhere nearby, sailboats bobbed out on the water, and children played in a little playground by the walkway. It was a charming moment and we sat for awhile to take it all in, glad we had driven to Collioure.

    Then, we were off to the Perpignan airport to try to sort out a problem with our rental car drop off early on a Sunday morning. The problem was resolved, we hoped, and we returned to Ceret late in the afternoon. Because it was Friday, we had to park in a more distant parking lot than our normal spot near the entry to our building. The square in front of our apartment was required to be car free early Saturday morning so that vendors could begin setting up their booths for the famous Saturday market, which we were really looking forward to the next day.

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    Funny, every time I've been in Collioure they've been doing those military meneuvers in the water, too. Interesting. Pretty town, and excellent anchovies, though a madhouse in July and August. If I remember from our last trip to that neck of the woods, Porte-Vente is the next town over, and we always found excellent food there at cheaper prices than in Collioure.

    Collioure: roughly Col-yoor, 2 syllables.

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    Candace, I want to take your trip! It sounds great! I think a trip to Collioure will work for us as an add-on some day when we visit our daughter who lives in southern France. St. Cirq, do you know approximately how far it is from Marseilles?

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    Thanks, St. Cirq, for the phonetic pronounciation of Collioure. Helps someone with a tin ear like me to see the phonetics.

    Karen, I hope you can make it to Collioure, and also Ceret, someday.

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    MARKET DAY IN CERET AND A DRIVE TO PRATS-DE-MOLLO

    Early Saturday morning, we heard trucks and vans arriving in the square below our windows. As dawn broke, we watched the busy vendors setting up their spaces for market day. Tables were unfolded and van doors slid open. Special trucks became portable kitchens. Crates of fruits and vegetables were unloaded and deftly arranged in perfect order. Bunches of flowers filled pails of varying sizes, displayed in pyramids of color. Bright arrangements of pottery pieces covered tables draped in colorful cloths. Cheeses in baskets nestled among sausages. Stacked jars of jams and jellies sparkled when rays of sun angled through them. Down the street, we could see huge pans of paella being assembled. Nearby, the chicken rotisserie started turning. Breads and cakes were piled high on the baker's counter. And that was just the beginning. The market stretched up the street from our little square and wound around the corner into the main square, then spread down another side street. Once it was in full swing, we wandered through. I was astonished at the variety of goods for sale. Vendors selling seafood were set up next to vendors selling bras and panties. Shoes and purses were displayed next to stacks of carrots. I think there were five different goat cheese farms represented. Steve bought some asparagus for our dinner but unfortunately we were leaving for Paris the next day so we couldn't stock up on food at this point. After Steve went back to the apartment, I continued wandering through the market , taking pictures of the artful displays all around. A stage had been set up in the main square and local singing groups took turns performing for the crowd. Little girls danced happily to their music as everyone applauded. On this beautiful Saturday morning in Ceret, I certainly could appreciate how the age old tradition of market day endures throughout Europe.

    It was a beautiful morning, but rain was in the forecast for the afternoon, and the sun disappeared before the market stalls were packed away. But even with the rain, we decided to go ahead with our plans to take the D115 road toward the Spanish border and the town of Prats-de-Mollo. It was a good decision. The drive followed the River Tech and once we passed through the rather nondescript town of Amelie-les-Baines, the scenery was an interesting mix of hills, curves, and rocky ledges. In the sun, it would have been really pretty, but distant rain and low clouds dampened it down.

    When we arrived in Prats-de-Mollo, the air was chilly, but at least it wasn't raining. We easily found a parking spot in the main square and walked up toward the church and the fort on the hill above it. Climbing all the way to the fort seemed like more than we wanted to attempt, but when we found that the way up was a long tunnel-like stone enclosure with no steps and just a rope for a hand rail, we had to try it. After several minutes of climbing, we saw the light at the end of the tunnel, as they say, and emerged to find ourselves halfway up to the fort. A blockhouse type structure allowed no admittance, but we could look over the wall at the view and the town below us. To proceed further, we had to enter another tunnel, steeper and longer than the first. We traveled up it part way, but the increased incline, along with the slippery wet stone footing, helped us to decide not to risk a fall, so we turned around. Back down at the church, we followed a path around the town wall, then crossed through a portal and a small bridge into the upper part of the old village. Narrow alleys with broad stone steps led every which way. Later, we learned that these passageways were designed for donkeys to maneuver. We didn't see any donkeys. In fact, we hadn't encountered many people on our walk up towards the fort or through this part of town. It almost felt deserted. But we eventually came to the main street and a few restaurants and shops were open for business. I bought my daughter a pretty Basque tablerunner which I thought she would like. Then we climbed into our car for the drive back to Ceret.

    Our last night in Ceret, we put together a dinner using up our leftover food. The next day we needed to leave early to drop off the rental car catch the train to Paris.

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    GOODBY CERET - HELLO PARIS

    Waking early, we were feeling a little stressed about the rental car drop-off but looking forward to our two nights in Paris. We had done some packing the night before so we were in good shape there. The apartment looked good after a final sweep through and wipe down. Trash was emptied and we finished our entry into the guestbook. Paul showed up right on time to pick up the keys and we set the trusty GPS for the Perpignan train station. Off we went.

    We had plenty of time, or so we thought, to drop off the car and catch the train to Paris. Plenty of time, that is, until a directional misunderstanding between us and the GPS resulted in a wrong turn. Thank heaven it was Sunday morning, so traffic was fairly light. But still, by the time we found the underground parking garage at the station, and figured out exactly where we needed to leave the car and the keys, it was a rush to the platform to board the train with little time to spare.

    But we made it, and soon relaxed, looking forward to seeing our favorite city, Paris, one more time. Although the train ride took five hours, it was a pleasant journey, with comfortable seats and only a few stops. We generally love traveling by train in Europe, using the time to read up on our next location and write in our journal. On this trip, a lovely Parisian family was sitting right ahead of us in a four seat unit with a table between. Two little girls, maybe four and six years old, were traveling with their young parents. The four year old, with her pretty big eyes and light brown hair, reminded me so much of our granddaughter, who is a year or so younger. She occasionally popped into our view and it was fun to watch her. My husband was amazed at how she and her sister entertained themselves without a fuss throughout the entire five hour journey.

    The weather in Paris wasn't great when we arrived, overcast and cool, but we took a cab to our hotel, Hotel Saint-Louis en I'Isle on the Isle St. Louis. We had stayed on the Isle St. Louis once before, and we liked the village-like atmosphere and the good location. However, the Hotel Saint-Louis en I'Isle was new to us. So, when we walked into the lobby and the receptionist, a distinguished looking gentleman, greeted us by name it was surprising, and a nice touch. Our room was very small, as all our Paris hotel rooms have usually been, but it was attractive and had a window that looked out onto the street which I always like. The bathroom was tiny, also, but had a wonderful large shower with great water pressure.

    So happy to be back in Paris, we decided to take a walk and headed over the bridge to the Isle de la Cite, past the Cathedral of Notre Dame and back across the Seine to the Hotel de Ville. Our last time in Paris, we had rented a great little apartment for a week on the Ile de la Cite. The apartment had views of the river and the Hotel de Ville and I could never get enough of looking out the windows. We walked everywhere when we were there, and the neighborhood came to seem like home. So it was great to revisit it again. We wished we could stay there for another week.

    But this time, we only had two nights, and the mission of the first night was to figure out where we should go to dinner. After walking up and down the Rue St. Louis and perusing the posted menus at the various restaurants, we settled on Le Caveau de Lisle. During our very first trip to Paris almost twenty years ago, we had dined at a restaurant that was very near to this location and we had a memorable meal. That restaurant no longer exists but sentimentally we were drawn to this nearby place, hoping for a similar experience. At Le Cave de L'isle, I ordered a pate for starters and then confit of duck. It was good, but not outstanding. I love confit of duck and this version was not as flavorful as it could have been. Steve had a salad and lamb chops, which he enjoyed. The service was attentive and the atmosphere was pleasant with soft lighting and artwork featuring movie stars, as I remember. It was raining when we left the restaurant and we were tired so we headed right back to the hotel for the night. Tomorrow would be our last day in Paris.

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    Candace, I love your description of the market in Ceret. I was able to visualize what everything looked like. Your trip is the trip of a lifetime. I appreciate your adventurous spirit; you took on a lot traveling to 3 different countries, and visiting so many different places. I especially liked reading about the small towns.

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    Thank you both, Karen and St. Cirq, for your support while I have been writing this report. Reliving our trip this way has been wonderful. I'm a little sad it's almost over.

    Karen, you are right. This trip was pretty intensive and a lot to take on. I'm planning that our next trip to Sicily will be simpler with fewer days in transit and more time spent in one place.

    St. Cirq, it is absolutely wonderful to be in Paris. Next year or the year after, I would love to spend early December experiencing all the beauty of Paris at Christmas.

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    OUR LAST DAY IN PARIS

    Morning in Paris dawned cold and overcast. After breakfast at the hotel, we bundled up against the elements and began what I believe must have been miles of walking around the city. Our first stop was at a nearby shop where we bought a black and gray striped scarf for Steve. The scarf served two purposes. First it kept Steve warmer and second, it gave him the appearance of a true Parisien. There were very few men on the streets of Paris who weren't wrapped in a scarf.

    Next we crossed over in front of the large and imposing Hotel de Ville and walked on to Le BHV department store on the rue de Rivoli. Last time we were in Paris we had discovered in the toy department there some great little figures of knights in shining armour with their horses for our grandson. He loved them so we decided to add to his collection. For our granddaughter, we found a pretty pink shirt featuring ballerinas along with matching tights. We added a pink beret from a souvenir shop to complete her outfit. Our shopping done, we returned to the hotel to drop off our purchases. The weather hadn't improved much but we headed off along the Seine anyway, toward the Musee d'Orsay. We had visited the Orsay on a previous trip to Paris and we were looking forward to a revisit.

    We hadn't walked too far along the river before the overcast skies gave it up to a steady rain. Fortunately we were very near a favorite corner cafe, so we ducked inside. Perfect timing. Ready for lunch, we grabbed a table by a window and placed our order for soup and a sandwich. By the time we finished our meal, the rain had stopped and we could continue our hike to the Orsay.

    When we arrived at the museum, I realized I had committed an error befitting the most unseasoned tourist. I had never checked the museum's hours of operation and it was closed on Tuesdays. So there we were. Okay, the Rodin Museum wasn't that much further. Maybe we'd go there. Except it too was closed.

    Walking rather aimlessly, we soon found ourselves in a distinguished neighborhood of foreign embassies and French ministry buildings. This was the first time in Paris that we really noticed a police presence. Of course it made sense in this area of government buildings. Uniformed policemen patrolled the streets in groups and we noticed a few men who might even have been working undercover. This brought to mind a scene we remembered from our first trip to Paris years ago. Strolling along the Champs de elysees on our very first day in the city, we saw barricades being erected and lots of police activity along the way. It looked like the whole street was gradually being closed to traffic. We stopped to watch and asked what was going on. These were preparations, we were told, for the motorcade of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, who were visiting Paris for the celebration of ? (can't remember).
    While we watched, and waited for the appearance of royalty, we noticed one motorcycle pass by over and over again, driven by a very scruffy looking man, unshaven and donned in a well worn old leather jacket. Why does he keep coming around, Steve asked? Finally he wondered, "is he an undercover guy?" Then, sure enough, just before the Queen and her entourage motored by in an open car, this man on his motorcycle, disreputable looking as he was, swept by one last time and behind him the street was totally cleared, empty of any other traffic. So this time in Paris, when we saw a man on Embassy Row, riding a skate board down the street among the policemen, talking into his collar, we thought! "A Ha! ". But then again, if we could pick this skateboarder out as an undercover cop, how good was his cover. If he couldn't fool us, could he fool a terrorist?

    Finally we turned around, found the Blvd. St Germain, and followed it back toward the Isle St Louis. We had a long way to go, but we broke up the walk with another cafe stop, this time for a beer and a glass of wine. Further on, we ducked into a beautiful little shop selling macaroons, and bought some deep pink and lime green ones to snack on as we walked. When we finally made it back to our hotel room, we collapsed til dinner time. We had already decided to try a restaurant almost next door to the hotel. The Sorza offered primarily Italian cuisine, but actually the idea of sharing a pizza and going to bed early in preparation for our big travel day tomorrow made sense. The pizza was delicious and we had a good night's sleep, so we were up early and ready to tackle the long trip home in the morning.

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    St. Cirq, sounds like a great idea! Paris at Christmas must be incredible. The beautifully decorated department stores alone must be gorgeous. Then the Christmas markets and the special lighting everywhere all look amazing.

    TDudette, the car rental at the airport has worked out well for us, except on the trip home this last time, when no cars were available. More on that to come.

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    Hi Candace,

    What a wonderful trip! Thank you so much for posting. We have decided to add the Basque area into our April plans and follow in your footsteps before going to Barcelona. You didn't mention the name of your apt. In St. Jean de Luz, is that a detail that you still have documented? I have been looking and can't find many smaller places that allow less than a 7 night stay. Much less one with a view over a marina. Something we love and have fond memories of during a long ago stay in Rovinj.

    Glad to hear you are planning a trip to Sicily. We were there for a little over three weeks last year. Would be happy to pass on our lodging details if you are interested. Still waiting to hear the end of your car rental at the airport....

    -Annie

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    Thanks, Annie. Glad to hear you have enjoyed our report. I would love to know where you stayed in Sicily. We have one apartment already booked in Ortigia and also a few hotel rooms reserved but that's about it.

    In Ciboure, we booked through AIrbnb. If you do a search for "Ciboure, over St Jean de Luz harbor, quiet", the apartment we rented from Elisabeth should pop up. However, when I just looked the listing up, I noticed she now has a 7 day minimum stay policy. We stayed for only 3 nights in April last year. Maybe the 7 day limit isn't firm and she would accommodate you in the off season. We really enjoyed this location. (And we too stayed in a place on the harbor in Rovinj years ago.)

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    AGAIN, FLYING IS NO FUN - THE TRIP HOME

    For 65 Euros, the Hotel Saint-Louis en I'Isle provides a shuttle service to the airport. We arranged to leave for Charles de Gaulle from the hotel at 9:45 for our 1:20 American Airlines flight to Philadelphia. We shared the shuttle bus with an engaging young American couple who were also flying home, and so we had a pleasant ride to the airport chatting with them.

    We had flown out of Charles de Gaulle a few years before, and had faced long lines and controlled chaos at security check points, so we were dreading the whole experience that now loomed before us. This time, however, the lines weren't so bad and security seemed somewhat less nerve wracking. We got to our gate with plenty of time to spare. Even the boarding process went fairly smoothly and we were soon settled in for the very long afternoon which is always part of the flight home. I enjoyed a movie, finished a book on my iPad, wrote in my journal, and then we were landing in Philadelphia, right on schedule. So far, our trip home was going pretty well. And then it wasn't.

    Ahead of us we knew we faced the whole re-entry to the U.S. experience with long lines at passport control and customs, but we had our newly obtained Global Entry status, which after $100 each and a day trip to Buffalo, should expedite things for us. Right? Not quite. Somehow, we were the lucky couple singled out for a random check of Global Entry participants. We were escorted into a special cordoned off area where our suitcases and backpacks were carefully searched for (I guess) contraband. Was that little jar of red pepper sauce I had purchased in Espelette okay to bring into the States? I began to worry that it might be a prohibited farm product. It wasn't, but the whole thing was rather nerve wracking. The agent who did the searching through our stuff was pleasant and apologetic during the whole procedure. But, hey! We had never been submitted to this sort of thing when we just had plain old "regular entry" status.

    Oh well, we packed our things back up and were soon wending our way through the rest of the re-entry system to emerge finally into the terminal with almost 5 hours to kill before our flight to Syracuse. Except that our flight was delayed due to thunderstorms in Philadelphia. Then it was delayed again, and then again. Five hours stretched to eight hours. Weeks before, when we had problems renting a car in Syracuse as we usually do for the drive home from the airport, my sister and brother-in-law had volunteered to pick us up. We took them up on the offer, but when the 8:30 pick up time became an 11:30 pick up time, we called and told them thanks anyway, go to bed. We would take a cab home.

    Eight hours is a very long time to spend in the Philadelphia airport. We found a little wine bar where we each ordered a glass of wine. It was very nice wine, but the bill for 2 glasses totaled over $30. Wow! We vacated that place quickly, dreaming of our favorite cafes in Paris where the wine was just as good and lots less pricey. I can't even remember where we had dinner. We were really starting to drag.

    Speaking of dragging, we had decided that we would check our bags through to Syracuse when we had the opportunity, rather then having to drag them around the airport as we waited for our next flight. Wouldn't you know, when we finally arrived in Syracuse, our luggage did not. Our bags had missed the flight and would be on the next plane from Philly, we were told. Did we want to wait for them? Not really, but we did. Finally, bags in hand, we climbed into a cab for the 30 minute ride home, which cost us close to $100. It almost 1:00 when we finally walked through our front door, totally and completely exhausted. Finally, home.

    Home, with memories of a really spectacular trip. As much as flying is no fun, I would never give it up, for I could never give up traveling. I hope to make one more entry for this trip report, highlighting all the best of this adventure through Portugal, Spain, and France for those who are interested.

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    Candace, so sorry to hear about your delayed flight from Philadelphia, but I agree with you; I would never give up flying, despite all its trials and tribulations, because that would mean giving up traveling.

    I would love to read about your highlights of this exciting trip, so please do make one more entry!
    Thank you.

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    So sorry about your Philly airport experience. Particularly getting stopped at Global Entry. I guess someone has misused the system. What is wrong with people? Grrr.

    Thanks for the TR! Where to next???

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    Karen, I know that everyone who flies very often has encountered problems and delays. I've learned to accept the occasional hassles as part of the process, so I am not really complaining, knowing that on-schedule, straightforward flights are usually the norm. I'm always hoping for the best. It is just that the problem trips are so memorable. Our worst was many years ago and we will never forget it. Flying home from San Francisco, we were stuck on the runway for hours in Chicago in the middle of a snowstorm. When the plane finally made it back to an available gate, it was close to midnight and the airline's customer service personnel had all gone home. By then, every seat in the terminal was occupied by displaced passengers and we ended up sitting most of the night on a baggage conveyer, the only soft place to sit we could find. The next morning, we scored a flight home via Newark, but were told by the ticket agent that the storm was probably headed that way. He was right. In Newark, we boarded the plane bound for Syracuse, only to sit on the runway again for over an hour before the flight was cancelled. This time, the plane hadn't left the gate and we could get right off and head into the terminal. Thank heavens, the airline arranged for a hotel room this time, so we didn't have to spend the night again in the terminal. We made it to our final destination the next afternoon, well over two days after we started out. Wow, were we glad to finally be home.

    TDudette, we are hoping our Global Entry will go smoothly next time. We are planning a trip in April to Sicily. Our plan is to spend two weeks in Sicily, then to spend our final week traveling up to Rome via the Amalfi coast and Naples.

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    HIGHLIGHTS AND MEMORABLE MOMENTS

    I thought it might be fun to do a short list of our trip's highlights, those special places and sights that, months after the trip is over, are still so delightful to remember. We loved so much about our trip but the following are the standout memories.

    PORTUGAL

    1. SINTRA AT NIGHT - I know that many people see Sintra as a day trip from Lisbon, but we were so glad we didn't miss the magic of Sintra at night. The Moorish Castle was so beautifully lit, and was so high above the town that when we gazed up at it, it appeared to us as if the gates of heaven were beginning to open, pouring celestial light out into the sky. As we headed up the promenade toward the old town, the marble statuary along the road glowed softly against the shadows, and the Palacio Nacional, with its unique cone like towers, was also beautifully illuminated. Magical and memorable.

    2. THE RIBEIRA DISTRICT OF PORTO - We stayed in Room #31 at the Ribeira do Porto Hotel, and when we walked out onto our balcony upon arrival the colorful scene before us was pulsing with energy and music. In the square below, street performers were singing and strumming, and waiters were bustling around diners at outdoor tables. Little brightly painted houses were stacked up like a child's blocks around the square and funny old fashioned boats floated under the iron bridge with its Eiffel-type ironwork spanning the river. The Cathedral beyond was bathed in turquoise light at nightfall, as lights twinkled on the bridge and the river shimmered in the dark. Again, it was all magical and memorable and I would highly recommend this hotel room.

    3. THE DOURO VALLEY AND THE HILLS ABOVE IT - This river, as we followed it by train from the little town of Pinhao to the industrial village of Pocinho, seemed to be unchanged through history, with vineyards and olive groves climbing its banks now just as they did in ancient times. Time seemed to stand still in many places along the river and the effect was special and lovely. In the hills and little villages above the river where we stayed there was also a timeless feel. One afternoon we walked along a narrow dirt road behind a little old peasant woman. She was dressed in a black skirt and stockings with a striped kerchief and she climbed the dirt path in such a strong and resolute way that we knew she must have done it in just the same way many times before.

    Next, I hope to finish with the highlights of Basque Country and the Pyrenees, along with Ceret and Paris.

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    Hi Candace,

    Am following along after a brief hiatus....so sorry for the late reply to our earlier conversation about Sicily. As for St. Jean de Luz, we found another place to allow a 4 day stay, so I am looking forward to your highlights from that region.��

    As for Sicily, we absolutely loved our top floor studio in Ortygia. The terrace was so close to the water that we could see the waves splashing on the rocks. We rented from a private company and if you Google Riva Levante Veranda you should find it easily. In Giardina Naxos we stayed at B&B Miramare in a sea view room with a balcony big enough for sitting. The car was parked in a secure area and we used public transportation to get easily to Taormina and Catania. Would stay there again in a heartbeat.

    As for Agrigento, we decided again to stay out of the fray and closer to the water at Villa Cetta B&B. Very easy to see the sites and the owner has some fabulous suggestions for restaurants. In Marsala we booked the Best Western in the Old City. It was little hard to find, but they parked our car and we happily didn't see it for three days. We took the ferry to the Egadi Islands and played around town. Great location. As for our stays in Erice and Palermo, I am sure you could find better. Although they certainly were not bad, they just weren't memorable hotel experiences...

    BTW, I agree totally with your impressions of the Douro Valley...timeless indeed!

    Cheers,
    -Annie

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    Anniemaki, I'm glad you found a good place to stay for four days in St. Jean de Luz. I know you will enjoy the town and the area.

    Thanks for your suggestions for lodgings in Sicily. We have already booked an apartment in Ortygia, which I hope we like as much as you liked yours. We have already booked in Agrigento, also. In Palermo, we reserved a room at the Massimo Plaza Hotel. I'm hoping that is NOT where you stayed, as you were not impressed with your Palermo hotel.

    The rest of our trip is still not finalized. I like the idea of the B&B Miramare in Giardina Naxos toward the end of our trip. Hadn't considered Marsala but now I am going to look into it.

    Thanks again for your input.

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    HIGHLIGHTS AND MEMORABLE MOMENTS - BASQUE COUNTRY

    1. San Sebastian

    I believe this must be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Anyone who is planning a visit to San Sebastian should consider reserving a balcony room at the elegant Hotel de y Inglaterre. This was, for us, the perfect place to relax and enjoy the lovely scenic views in every direction, plus do some serious people watching. The promenade below the balcony and the beach beyond were always full of activity. Some people were enjoying the sand and the sea while others were undertaking their daily constitutionals on the walkway of the promenade. One sight I will never forget was the trio of older ladies in prim bathing suits and caps who, one by one, waded into the chilly waves (it was April!) and struck out across the bay with strong and measured strokes. I surely did admire them.

    2. St. Jean de Luz Fishing Harbor from the Ciboure Side

    We stayed in an apartment smack dap in the middle of what was left of the fishing industry in St. Jean. Like so many fishing ports everywhere, we were told that the number of boats going out each day in St. Jean was greatly reduced from what it used to be. None the less, we found it so interesting to watch the comings and goings of those boats that remain, plus all the rest of the activity harbor side. Late one afternoon, as a boat was loading up on ice at the big machine across from our apartment, we watched a car pull up, driven by a young woman with two young children in the back seat. The woman got out and began unloading boxes piled high with produce and groceries. As soon as the provisions were packed onto the boat by one of the two men on board, he jumped off, gave her a kiss and a hug, waved to the kids, and leaped back onto the boat as it pulled away. The sun was setting brilliantly behind the harbor as the boat headed out to sea. For us, it was a little glimpse into the lives of the men and women who must work so hard to make their living from the sea.

    3. The Circuit Drive Through Three Basque Towns

    This easy drive was a great way to see these three pretty little towns, Sare, Ainhoa, and Espelette, and experience some of the French Basque countryside. Although alike in architectural style, with half-timbered houses and public buildings, each village was worth seeing on its own. I was most struck by the church in Sare, with its dark interior highlighted by bits of gold, and its pretty churchyard, decorated with pastel porcelain flowers. Ainhoa, just opening up after lunchtime, seemed very quiet but provided us with a pleasant stroll up and down the main street. Espelette was strung with red peppers, just as I had hoped it would be. Back home, weeks later, we used the bottled red pepper sauce we purchased in Espelette to spice up some chicken breasts for dinner. Food can make for good memories. This one was delicious.

    HIGHLIGHTS AND MEMORABLE MOMENTS - THE PYRENEES

    1. The Cottage in Loudet

    Enjoying the comfort of this perfectly renovated little cottage in the midst of the French countryside was something special. The few tourist sites nearby were so low key that we had them totally to ourselves. At the ruins of the Roman villa at Montmaurin, it was very neat to walk alone among the marble columns and the sunken ruins of the baths of a luxurious Roman manor house now grown over with grass and wildflowers. Our cottage itself was in such a lovely place, surrounded by farmland and pastures, with the Pyrenees off in the distance. Totally peaceful. For Steve, a true highlight of the cottage was the host, Brian, who is an avid biker. Brian owns a bike similar to one the 2015 winner of the Tour rode and he has ridden many of the Tour routes himself. Steve was full of questions that Brian was happy to answer.

    2. Our Mini Tour of the Tour

    Even if someone is not a fan of the Tour de France, he would have to be impressed by the heights those cyclists climb through the high Pyrenees. For us, it was certainly exciting once we found our way up into the mountains via some very steep roads. The fog on the Col de Tourmalet turned exciting into scary, and we will certainly never forget that one huge and looming peak that briefly appeared for one show-stopping moment.

    3. The Town of Arreau

    We stopped in this town to briefly eat a lunch we had packed at the cottage. We parked near, I think, the town hall, and ate in the car, as we were in a hurry to continue on our tour. But I took a minute to get our of the car and walk up toward the little river roaring its way through the middle of town. The town, the river, the little bridge were all so pretty and picturesque that it has stuck like a postcard picture in my head. I won't forget it, so we will have to go back and really see Arreau some day.

    HIGHLIGHTS AND MEMORABLE MOMENTS - CERET

    1. The Squares of Ceret

    Huge plane trees, with their naked trunks, shelter the main square and the hidden little squares of Ceret, where cafe tables spill out onto the sidewalks. Older ladies, perfectly dressed, pat small dogs sitting happily under their chairs. Older men smoke over little glasses of something strong. Young people hurry by, then settle quickly, chatting on phones and with each other. We settled in, too, happy to be there.

    2. Nearby Places

    Both within easy driving distance, the towns of Collioure and Prats de Mollo, are in opposite directions and provided us with very different experiences. Collioure was a very attractive seaside town, bustling with plenty of tourists, even in April, enjoying the historic sites, the restaurants and shops and the beaches. Prats de Mollo, up the river among the mountains, also with historic buildings, walls and churches, was much quieter. The cobblestone streets of Prats de Mollo were lined with old houses and had an aura of a forgotten past, although there was a main square with restaurants and shops opened for business. We enjoyed visiting both towns and appreciated what each had to offer.

    3. The Saturday Market

    The colors, sounds and delicious smells of Ceret's Saturday market were all wonderful. I wish I could visit it every week in reality but I do visit it still in my memory.

    HIGHLIGHTS OF PARIS

    Even with cold and rainy weather, even with museums closed on the only day we could visit, even with long walks when we were a little bit lost, we loved Paris and always find highlights and memories everywhere.

    So, finally, I am finished with this trip report. I know I dragged it out but I found it hard to let it go. We just enjoyed this trip so much. Thanks for following.

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    What a great trip you had! Thank you so much for your very detailed report. We will be doing something similar later this spring and are now considering taking the night train from Lisbon to San Sebastian. How did you get tickets for this train? I find the Renfe site fairly confusing. We had thought we would fly to somewhere near SS, but the schedules are not convenient and most flights are pretty pricy.

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    What a great trip you had! Thank you so much for your very detailed report. We will be doing something similar later this spring and are now considering taking the night train from Lisbon to San Sebastian. How did you get tickets for this train? I find the Renfe site fairly confusing. We had thought we would fly to somewhere near SS, but the schedules are not convenient and most flights are pretty pricy.

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    Candace, I love your highlights report! As you know, we are planning a trip to Madrid and southern Spain in September, which I am very excited about. After reading your report and trip highlights about Portugal, I would love to make that our next trip to Europe, in 2018!

    I hope you write about your trip to Italy this spring!
    Thank you for taking the time to write such an interesting and descriptive report; I have enjoyed being the armchair traveler.

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    Maine, thank you for your kind words. When trying to book the night train, we also found the Renfe site confusing, so we booked through Rail Europe, which was pretty straightforward. I know that booking directly with Renfe is supposed to be cheaper, but for me it was worth it to use a site I could understand. We paid 148.10 euros per person for our 2 person compartment with toilet and shower, plus 13.46 tax. Not cheap, but we justified it as a combination of transportation and lodging for one night.

    Karen, I appreciated your faithful following of my report. Have a wonderful trip to Spain! I know you will love it. When we travel to Italy in April, I am definitely planning to keep a journal so I can write another report. I so enjoyed writing this one.

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    Candace, thanks for the information. Actually today, on the Renfe site, the fare per person is 148.10. So, Rail Europe didn't increase the fare for you. I know they add some fees, but good to hear they actually use the fare quoted by the rail line.

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    bookmarking...

    I thoroughly enjoyed this trip report, Candace.

    We also loved Portugal (those delicious pasteis de belem), and are looking to vacation in both Paris and southwest France again soon. Your detailed report will be helpful in our planning.

    Boots

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