thursdaysd Wanders South

Old Nov 5th, 2015, 04:53 AM
  #41  
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Thanks kja - it took about three weeks rather than the two the doctors predicted, but I did get better. Alas, I do have noticeably less stamina than I did when I started doing long distance travel in my mid-fifties. Good thing I didn't wait any longer!

Thanks wtb - not a good destination during the season, I'm sure, but mid-October mid-week was a great time to visit. The prices in the cafes on the shopping streets were high, and the cost of food in the historic hotel overlooking the beach shocking, but there were several cafes along the promenade that were reasonable, and I love sitting in a cafe watching the waves.

I made it back home Saturday afternoon, and am gradually getting sorted out, so I'm hoping to pick up the pace of the TRs - have the UK one to write too!

Don't have my photos on smugmug yet, but there are some Biarritz pix on the relevant blog post:

https://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com...iful-biarritz/
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Old Nov 5th, 2015, 05:30 AM
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Kathy--

I haven't followed all of this but vaguely remember thinking this was a 3.5 month trip. If I am correct, can you tell why you chose to do one super long trip of this length rather than perhaps making two shorter trips that would cover these destinations?

We too are getting older, and while we love to travel and take longer than the standard two week trip, this seems like a really long stint of time to be gone. We are also noticing that that period of being wiped out upon return from a trip and the recovery from jet lag seems to be getting longer.
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Old Nov 5th, 2015, 06:09 AM
  #43  
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julies - yes, this was a 3.5 month trip. Although far from my longest trip, which was ten months in 2004, I was thinking I might need to scale back a bit. Of course, the nasty virus I caught in London really didn't help - I decided I needed to put London at the end of any future trips, not in the middle.

One reason for longer trips is the PIA that air travel has become, not to mention amortizing the expense across more days on the ground. This trip I flew business to get to Europe and economy coming back, and the flights weren't that bad, but still you never know. (And I did NOT appreciate having my daylight flight take place in what amounted to a darkened movie theater!) Another is that the places I go don't usually have direct flights from the US and I like to limit connections. But really it's just that once I get started I like to keep going!

Re-entry hasn't been too bad. I slept twelve hours the first night and thought I was synced, but it has taken a few days. I don't usually have jet lag going the other way, which is more important. I have good friends who keep an eye on my house and drive my car every couple of weeks and field my mail, and of course I can keep track of my finances on the net these days, although it took a couple of days to get Quicken updated.
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Old Nov 5th, 2015, 06:24 AM
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Great report! Sounds like a wonderful trip! You described so many of our fav places and others which we hope to visit. Thanks for sharing so many interesting details.
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Old Nov 5th, 2015, 07:01 AM
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Thanks tom - although I'm home now, I got behind on the TR as usual. Seven locations in Spain coming up.
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Old Nov 5th, 2015, 08:17 AM
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Agree 100% with the fact that flying now is never fun and usually falls into the category of grueling. We too understand the concept of amortizing the cost of the international flight by staying longer so the overall the trip budget becomes less per day. Flights to Europe have become so much more expensive in the past 8 years or so that it takes careful planning to try to not spend a huge portion of your vacation budget just on that transatlantic flight.
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Old Nov 5th, 2015, 08:28 AM
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Forgot to mention this book that a librarian friend clued me into. I have it on request from our local library system.

http://www.amazon.com/Gap-Year-Girl-...=gap+year+girl
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Old Nov 7th, 2015, 01:42 AM
  #48  
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FWIW, I think the Giacometti windows are in Zurich's Fraumunster, not the Grossmunster. IIRC, they are just to the right upon entry, with the much moe visited Chagall windows to the left. IME, many people simply go left to see the Chagalls, oblivious to the Giacommetis Sad.
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Old Nov 7th, 2015, 03:03 AM
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kja - a little research says that they both have Giacommetti windows. The Fraumunster only has one, installed in 1940, the ones in the Grossmunster date to 1932. Photos weren't allowed inside, but there are photos on the web.
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Old Nov 7th, 2015, 06:45 AM
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Thank you very much for your trip report. I learned a lot about some places I knew I wanted to visit (Strasbourg) and places I didn't!

We have recently returned from a trip to London, and your comment about not appreciating flying home on a daylight flight in a darkened movie theatre really resonated with me, and reminded me I need to formally complain to Delta about that.

Last year, we returned from Paris on a Delta flight, but it was a code share with Air France and we had Air France food and staff. This year, our flight home from London was a US-based Delta flight crew, and was a daytime flight. I stay awake as much as possible on these flights, and sit by a window, to enjoy the sunshine and delude myself about the time. I was told off by a flight attendant to close my window shade because "people were trying to sleep." If they want to sleep, that's fine, but can't they put on eyeshades? I wanted to read and sit in the sunlight and I paid for a ticket, too. I got no such nonsense from the French staff on our flight last year (and much more courteous service). Has anyone else encountered this? Any suggestions?
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Old Nov 7th, 2015, 07:22 AM
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KyraS - glad you're enjoying the TR. My flight was AA, with individual seat-back screens, and I think most people were watching movies rather than sleeping. You might post over on the Air Travel forum and see what response you get.
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Old Nov 12th, 2015, 05:14 PM
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<b>October 11-13, 2015: So Long, San Sebastian</b>

Maybe I would have liked San Sebastian better if I hadn't just visited Biarritz. Maybe I would have liked it better if I hadn't carelessly arrived on a holiday weekend. Maybe I would have liked it better in better weather. And maybe I would have been more willing to stay for my planned five nights if the building housing my carefully chosen pension hadn't been wrapped in scaffolding which would put workmen right in front of my windows and able to look in as soon as the holiday was over. But maybe not.

Let's take those in order. I had loved Biarritz because of the rocks and the waves, and to lesser extent for the ocean-front buildings. San Sebastian is famous for its semi-circular bay and its golden sands. The bay is, obviously, enclosed by headlands, but they turned out to be a lot further apart than I expected. The bay is fronted by a promenade, but there are precious few places along its length to get so much as a cup of coffee. I did eat lunch at the Cafe de la Concha, but it was a grey day with precious little to look at. Beyond the promenade is a two lane road, and then a solid phalanx of apartment buildings, and hotels pretending to be apartment buildings - nothing so crass as a sign on the seaward side - mostly of uniform blandness. Thanks to the weather it was pointless to go up the headlands, as there would have been no view.

Holiday time at a seaside resort is precisely the kind of situation I take pains to avoid. Unfortunately, I was planning the Spanish leg of this trip at the last minute, and missed this holiday. Not that I'm sure how I would have avoided it if I had known. I understand that San Sebastian is very popular, but on this weekend it was slammed, and very loud. The old town was just not big enough for all the people who wanted to visit, and getting a table in one of the cafes required an eagle eye and a ruthless persistence. I totally abandoned any notion of eating tapas in the old town, and ate in Gros, the quieter area just across the river where I was sleeping.

The day I arrived was grey but dry. The next day the rain held off long enough for me to walk most of the length of the promenade and back, but a downpour arrived shortly after lunch and stayed for the rest of the day. By this time I was trying to remember why I had planned five nights in the town. I think I had had thoughts of day trips, and of food, but I was no longer feeling very enthusiastic about either. The scaffolding outside my window was the final straw.

All was not gloom, I had one very enjoyable evening. Arriving early for tapas at Bodega Donostierra I shared a table with a young Australian couple who had been traveling along the coast and were now headed south for Barcelona and Andalusia. When it became obvious that there was a long line of people hungrily eyeing our space I suggested having a drink somewhere else, and they introduced me to a gin bar local friends had shown them the night before.

I never expected to find a gin bar fascinating, but the Spanish have raised the making of a gin and tonic to a fine art. First, there is the choice of gin. I always thought Gordons was just fine, but no. We discussed the flavor profiles: spicy, floral, lemony, etc. That settled (I wound up drinking Hendricks), the bar tender (I feel he deserves a more elevated title), produced large balloon glasses which would be filled to the brim with sizable ice cubes. I have always felt that ice just diluted the alcohol, but these glasses held enough ice the cubes kept each other from melting. Assorted petals and peels went into the glasses, depending on the gin chosen, the gin, and something that behaved like dry ice, followed by the ice cubes. Finally, the tonic, poured ceremonially from on high. All three drinks tasted different, and all three were very good.

So, that was fun, but the Australians left town the next day, the rains came down, and the workmen were due in the morning. I consulted my reservation, and established that I should be able to cancel without penalty, since I would stay two nights. This took a call to booking.com, but was resolved without too much difficulty. So, where next? I could have just moved to another hotel in San Sebastian, but nothing with availability in my price range appealed and I was ready to leave.

Thanks to previous difficulties with the train system, I had no onward transport booked. Back when I planned the Spanish leg, I had found RENFE trains across northern Spain, although not along the coast, where the situation hadn't improved since 2004: slow commuter trains that meant a San Sebastian to Leon trip realistically took two days. (I had a reservation at the parador in Leon, I wasn't going to skip that.) But when I tried to book the trains in England, all but Madrid to Barcelona had disappeared. I sent a somewhat panicked email to Mark Smith, the guru behind the wonderful seat61.com site, and he replied that a high speed Valladolid to Leon train was in the works, and just wait. I waited a long time, and when the train I wanted finally showed up around the Pau-Bayonne stage I decided to keep waiting to buy my tickets until I got to San Sebastian. So, I could go anywhere a reasonable distance from San Sebastian that also had a good train connection to Leon. Nowhere along the coast qualified, because of those slow commuter trains. Where else?
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Old Nov 12th, 2015, 08:36 PM
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Still following along and marveling at your detailed descriptions.
I love your "maybe I'd have liked it better if..."

This could apply to my trip to Berlin this summer and the Dordogne a few years ago. There were just reasons, in both cases, why I wasn't wowed and like you I recognize these could be things that are personal or could be avoided by others given a different set of circumstances (weather, hotel problems etc) or timing (holiday, traffic, crowds). I think a less experience traveler tends to blame the place rather than their experience of it, I feel we read that a lot here on the board for places like Rome.
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Old Nov 13th, 2015, 09:20 AM
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Obviously, I would have had a better time with nicer weather and fewer people, but I still think San Sebastian was not really my kind of town. If I go back I'll make sure to arrange some food tours and make some reservations for dinner too. I don't blame the place, I know a lot of people like it, but a lot of people flock to NC's beaches every year, while I stay away.

I'm sure that the mountains and coast further west would be more my style, but I also think I would need to drive. The Australians had driven, and kja, on her successful trip last year, also drove.
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Old Nov 14th, 2015, 08:42 PM
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Thanks for the info about the stained glass of Zurich's Grossmunster, thursdaysd!

Looking forward to hearing more....
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Old Nov 19th, 2015, 02:19 PM
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<b>October 13-16, 2015: Pleased by Pamplona</b>

Pamplona, to me, has always (and only) meant a testosterone-fueled spectacle I would go out of my way to avoid, not to mention associated alcohol-fueled day-and-night partying, ditto. But the largely useless guide to the Basque country I was carrying included Pamplona, and when I skipped the lengthy information on the Running of the Bulls, the town sounded quite attractive. The Running of the Bulls was long over, as was the smaller autumn festival. It was only an hour by bus from San Sebastian, and a direct ALVIA train to Leon would take four hours, an hour less than the Intercity from San Sebastian. Then I found a good rate on an upmarket (for me) hotel and clicked "buy".

Although two days would probably have been long enough, I did not regret my choice. Even the bus ride was worthwhile, although I usually avoid buses (my luggage is out of sight and I can't move around). I had not realized that the whole trip would be through scenic mountains. Probably it also ran through Basque nationalist territory. A couple of times we pulled off the freeway to pause briefly for potential passengers before rejoining the main road, but once we ventured further away to a small Alpine town, where I saw plenty of Basque flags and slogans. To me it seemed more Austrian than Spanish, underlining the differences between the Spanish regions.

The Hotel Catedral Pamplona gave me a large room with an excellent view, but was on the far northern edge of the old town, while the bus and train stations were well south. Plenty of good views were on offer elsewhere, as a long stretch of the old ramparts was accessible. At one point it enclosed a large grassy area and a fortification. While I had read that swans, ducks and geese inhabited the protected area, I was stunned to see a deer posed at the edge of the fort.

While the distant views of the mountains were good, the foreground views were arguably even better, as the town was amazingly well provided with interesting buildings. Plenty of churches of course, as it is an early stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago (wonder what the pilgrims do during the Running of the Bulls?), although aside from the cathedral they were all closed when I stopped by. Imposing gates, including a couple for the pilgrims. And lots of secular buildings too, some fronting narrow alleys, and some set back around the beautiful Plaza del Castillo. Cafes ringed the square, but so did free benches, occupied by the town folk when the town came alive around 6:00 pm. (Just as we were losing the warmth of the afternoon sun: the Spanish schedule makes more sense in the south in the summer than in the north as winter approaches.)

Besides the views, the buildings, and the cathedral, The single biggest surprise was in the museum. Aside from the carved capitals I had missed in the cathedral's cloister, the museum housed a collection of large and remarkably well preserved Roman mosaics. Just stunning. I went round twice. I am a big fan of mosaics, and Pamplona would have been worth a visit just for these.

I ate well in Pamplona, too. The breakfast buffet at my Relais et Silence hotel was way too expensive for someone who only wanted coffee, orange juice and yoghurt (muesli would have been nice, but not essential). I found a local bakery just down the street that stocked plain yoghurt, made an excellent cappuccino and squeezed me delicious fresh orange juice. Breakfast with the locals - when the woman perched next to me finished her coffee and carbs she moved behind the counter to help with serving. People dropped in for their own carbs, including one elderly woman who cleaned them out of churros, the pastry twists dipped into chocolate. While churros and chocolate are decidedly Spanish, I also saw people on the street carrying baguettes, reminding me off France, just across the mountains. Unfortunately, I don't speak Spanish, but on my last morning I typed a thank you note into the Translate app on my phone, which was well received.

I lunched on tapas at a place further down the street, but thought I was going to have less luck with dinner. I set out, on a freezing cold evening, headed for the Bar Gaucho, recommended in my guide book and online, but it was mobbed. I wandered into a couple of other places, but the tapas didn't appeal. Then I lucked into the Bodegon Sarria (a choice highly approved of by the helpful woman at my hotel). Besides tables at the front for tapas eaters, it had tables at the back for those ordering from the menu. I snagged a table, ordered something that looked like vegetables, and the always reliable shrimp in garlic. The something vegetable turned out to be baby fava beans with slivers of Iberica ham. Absolutely delicious. So good I went back my last night to eat it again, this time with a half order of Iberica ham, to which I could easily become addicted. I had forgotten that Thursday night was cheap tapas and wine night, and the old town was packed. Hurrying back to the warmth of my hotel after dinner, I noted students not just standing outside the cafes, but sitting on the very cold pavement.

The other night I ate in my hotel, mostly in solitary state. The meal served to remind me that I am not a big fan of the latest cuisine. The tomato salad included foam, sardines and sugar. The hake, cooked at 45 degrees, was accompanied only by a little sauce. The cheese balls that constituted dessert were encased in a black current crust and came with ice cream and more sugar. It was all edible, but I preferred the Bodegon Sarria.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2015, 11:52 AM
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<October 11-13, 2015: So Long, San Sebastian>

So different experiences. I was here October 15-19, tranquile and beautiful as ever, sensational food as always and very laid back and easy going, and few tourists even in the Parte vieja/Old town. We of course had better weather, and I very seldom have less than great food and nights out here after some thirty years of frequent visits. Guess you were at La Gintonería close to Bodega Donostiarra, we had our GT's elsewhere, but I'll check it out next time in town.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2015, 12:11 PM
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Since Pamplona is my second home, our experiences are always great.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2015, 12:25 PM
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Better weather and fewer people would certainly have helped, but I'm not much of a seaside person. Another time I'll try to plan better. However, if I hadn't given up on San Sebastian I wouldn't have gone to Pamplona, which would have been a pity.

La Gintoneria seems to be in the right place, and the general Yelp photos look right, although the glasses are the wrong shape. Maybe they got new ones.
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Old Nov 23rd, 2015, 01:29 AM
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Sounds like the old Gipuzkoan capital Tolosa - just South of San Sebastian - would be a place for you. Spent an ecellent day here on our last visit, mushroom festival on the traditional Saturday market, followed by the world's best steak in Casa Julian.

Tolosa: http://www.euskoguide.com/places-bas...olosa-tourism/
Casa Julian, you must see this!: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOaLtnbKOos
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