thursdaysd Wanders South

Old Nov 23rd, 2015, 07:07 AM
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Wow! What an enjoyable report.

We will be visiting Strasbourg next summer so that portion of your trip was particularly interesting to me.

We were discouraged from staying in Zurich too, so will be spending two nights in Lucerne instead. I am excited about the stay because the pictures of Lucerne are breath-taking. Thanks for the tip about conversions from CHF to USD. That tidbit will be quite helpful. As you said Switzerland is expensive.

Sorry you were not well. I am battling a cold/sore throat now, so your words gave me a 'you are there' feeling!

Thanks for writing.
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Old Nov 23rd, 2015, 12:56 PM
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@kimhe - thanks for the Tolosa tip, and the video. I still remember how stunned I was to discover that cider in the US was just apple juice!

@Teacher91 - thanks! Glad you're enjoying it. If you click on my name and scroll down the list of TRs you'll find Nice to Paris, which has my first visit to Strasbourg. If you have time you might consider a day trip to Nancy - it's just under an hour and a half by train.
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Old Nov 23rd, 2015, 09:06 PM
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I've been silently following along from time to time, waiting for your arrival in Spain. Great report, enjoyable to read.

We were in southern Spain so it will be interesting to hear your feelings on how the regions may differ. We loved the south and the north could easily make its way to a future trip. I think you also said you were giving Madrid a second try on this trip, curious to see how that worked out.

Oct 9-12 we were in Toledo, cold a blustery there too that weekend, especially the night of the 11th. Had my last Toledo GT huddled under a tarp at the little bar next to La Ermita, but with a million dollar view of the Toledo skyline at sunset.

Anyway thanks for the report!
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Old Nov 24th, 2015, 08:53 AM
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Thanks Nelson - always nice to know people are reading, and even better when they are enjoying it!

Lucky you being in Toledo. One of the places I really enjoyed in 2004, especially as it was during the Corpus Christi celebrations. Despite all the people lining the streets for the procession, the town didn't feel overcrowded, and I got to see some of the interior patios. But this trip I chose to take a first look at Salamanca instead.
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Old Nov 25th, 2015, 06:01 AM
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Thursday I'm still following along too and enjoying your descriptions. I can practically see you enduring the foam on the food!

I was very interested to hear your take on Pamplona and the discussion with kja of the Giacometti windows.

We saw an extensive collection of Alberto Giacometti's sculpture and work at the Maeght Foundation in the south of France but I didn't know/or remember that he worked in glass. I was interested to see (thank you Wikipedia - I hope this is accurate) that the windows you were both discussing were done by his father's cousin Augusto.Whenever I hear Giacometti I presumed it's the same chap but it looks like they were a family of artists, sculptures and architects.
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Old Nov 25th, 2015, 06:24 AM
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Very interesting, wtb! I hadn't realized there were so many of them.

Actually the foam was fine, it was the sardines and sugar that threw me off.
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Old Nov 25th, 2015, 10:21 AM
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<b>October 16-19, 2015: Leon Got Popular</b>

Of course, Leon has always been an important stop on the Camino De Santiago, which explains its magnificent cathedral and the elaborate plateresque facade of the building that now houses the parador, and was once the headquarters of the Order of Santiago, responsible for caring for the pilgrims. (Pilgrims today may be footsore, and the Camino is not without its risks, but it was far more dangerous, and pilgrims much less well-equipped, in the Middle Ages. They had to walk back home, too.) Leon has also served as both a royal and a provincial capital. But the popularity I have in mind is as a tourist attraction. I previously visited in the spring of 2004, and remember having the cathedral pretty much to myself. Indeed, my photos of the outside show just a scattering of people. Not any more: the outside was busy, people queued to get in, and the inside seemed full despite its size.

In 2004 I traveled along the coast on the slow commuter trains and loved the scenery. This time I rode in Preferente class on a fast ALVIA, traveling inland. Preferente class was plenty comfortable, and mostly empty, but I found a surprise when I boarded. On the floor by my seat was a Fodor's guide to Barcelona and a small, stuffed black shoulder bag. I thought at first that a seat mate must have gone to lunch and would return to claim them, but no. When it became obvious that the owner had disembarked without them I handed them to the conductor when he finally appeared, along with an explanation on my phone, but it was a chilling reminder to check your belongings when you get off a train, not just a plane. (See also: http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...trains-too.cfm )

Last time I had admired the parador's elaborate facade from outside, and visited the attached church and museum. Now I was looking forward to staying inside, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I expected. For one thing, the parador was a bit of a trek from everything else I wanted to see, and anywhere else I might have wanted to eat - better to do the walk once to see the parador and stay in the old town. Then, the rest of the building really didn't live up to the outside. The rooms right behind the facade may be lovely. Mine was in the "old" section to the left, fronting the river. Aside from the door and window it was quite plain, with somewhat battered furniture, a decrepit carpet and a bathroom in need of renovation. A third section to the right of the facade looked like a motel, and probably housed tour groups and pilgrims. The food was overpriced and not very good. The staff on the small reception desk were overworked and so curt as to be almost rude. I did get to wander round the cloisters whenever I chose, although part of the upstairs section stayed full of tables for assorted functions. The view into the choir stalls in the upper part of the church was excellent, and I enjoyed hanging out in the bar, where the food was better than in the dining room, but I think I would have been happier staying for a second time in the Posada Regia.

I was revisiting Leon for the cathedral, as I had heard that the stained glass had been cleaned since my first visit. All 1,800 square meters had indeed been meticulously cleaned and looked wonderful. Then, as with other Spanish cathedrals, the choir stalls were elaborately carved and fascinating. I actually visited three times. The first time I went round with the excellent audio guide. The second time I went round with binoculars and my camera. The third time I just enjoyed being there.

The other building I very much wanted to revisit was the Basilica San Isadoro. Not for the basilica, but for the associated museum and royal burial chamber. Photographs are not allowed, alas, but the twelfth century frescoes in the burial chamber were as engaging as I remembered, and the treasures in the museum as exquisite. I visited the Basilica on a Sunday, and when I reluctantly left, I found a river of women in pink T-shirts processing along the far side of the plaza. It seemed that Leon was honoring Breast Cancer Awareness on a different schedule to Pau.

Leon is also home to one of Gaudi's buildings, the Casa Botines, a neo-Gothic structure quite different from his more famous Modernisme projects in Barcelona. Wandering the streets near the old town I found several other interesting buildings, along with fountains and sculptures.
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Old Nov 25th, 2015, 12:05 PM
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Thanks Thursday! I will definitely look it up and do a little research on Nancy.
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Old Nov 25th, 2015, 02:54 PM
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welltraveledbrit wrote: "Whenever I hear Giacometti I presumed it's the same chap but it looks like they were a family of artists, sculptures and architects."

Correct -- Alberto is probably the best known, primarily for his sculptures. Augusto was, I believe, best known for his stained glass and paintings (some of which are, IMO, glorious). Other family members are not so well known, particularly outside of Switzerland. But the Swiss do honor their own artists, IME, so one can see some incredible works by a variety of Swiss artists at museums and other institutions throughout the country. I was so glad to have time for both the mountains AND the cities, with their museums and churches!

FWIW (basically, nothing ;-) ), I checked my notes and confirmed that I did, indeed, see the Giacometti windows at the Grossmunster. Unfortunately, I saw them late in a day that had become increasingly overcast. My notes say that I thought they must be wonderful if seen in the right lighting; instead, they were -- as we have now proven -- regrettably unmemorable. So my experience of them was quite in contrast to the window at the Fraumunster, which absolutely glowed when I was there. I'm glad thursdaysd got to see the ones at the Grossmunster under better lighting!


@ thursdaysd -- My experience of the Leon Parador last May was apparently better than yours. It sounds like we were in a similar part of the building, but my bathroom was in excellent shape, as was the period furniture in my room; the staff were generally pleasant and helpful (although like you, I found them busy at times); and the chance to see some of the magnificent parts of the building after "regular" visitors' hours made up for a lot of minor things, IMO. I had a very enjoyable meal there one night -- but it was a special meal in honor of a parador anniversary, so might not be at all representative of their normal fare. And the parador was just steps from the other restaurant I chose in Leon, which was very much to my liking. BUT I agree that it is a bit far from the heart of the city and wish that your experience of it had been more like mine.

I agree about San Isadoro -- what a privilege to have seen it!

Looking forward to more....
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Old Nov 28th, 2015, 12:33 PM
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FYI - I usually mix text and photos on my blog, but I felt Leon's cathedral deserved its own post with just photos. So, if you're wondering why I went back to Leon for the cathedral (I can't show you San Isadoro), here's the link:

https://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com...ons-cathedral/
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Old Nov 29th, 2015, 01:45 PM
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I enjoyed the photos, thanks for posting the link.
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Old Dec 6th, 2015, 01:21 PM
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Thanks, welltraveledbrit!

<b>October 19, 2015: Briefly, Burgos</b>

Leon had built a spiffy new train station since my last visit. I had to show a ticket to access the platforms, although I didn't have to send my bags through the accompanying X-ray machine. I'm not sure whether the new station was a response to the Madrid bombings on 11 March 2004, but it seemed possible.

Back when I was working out my itinerary for Spain, around May and June, getting from Leon to Salamanca by train was a pain, and I decided I needed to break the journey, even though I try hard to avoid one-nighters these days. With a choice of Palencia (where?), Valladolid and Burgos I picked Burgos, although its signature sight, the cathedral, sounded way too baroque for my taste. The train journey was comfortable - I was in Preferente class again - but boring, and Burgos' train station was five kilometers out of town. With no bus or bus stop in sight I shared a taxi into town with a young Spanish woman who had recently moved back from London and said she was glad to speak English again.

The cathedral was even more baroque than I expected, but held some surprises, starting with the layout. The place was huge, and the main sanctuary and choir were isolated in the middle of it. Lofty aisles ran along either side, with elaborate chapels, each with its own altar and statuary, lined up on the other side. A river runs through Burgos, and I had entered the cathedral on the river side, after buying my ticket in a large modern welcome center. The ground sloped up from the river, and the cathedral had a second entrance on the uphill side, reached by an elaborate stairway, something else I had never seen. But besides the cathedral's sheer size, the staircase, the remarkable ceiling in the sanctuary, and the heavily decorated choir stalls, what really held my attention was a painting. A Leonardo da Vinci painting of Mary Magdalen.

While the chapel that usually hosted the da Vinci was being renovated, the painting was on an easel in a small side chapel close to the staircase, separated from visitors by a simple rope and almost within touching distance. And no one else was paying it the slightest attention - not that there were many other people in the cathedral to start with. I thought about the Mona Lisa, absolutely mobbed by crazy crowds of tourists jockeying each other for photos almost bound to be inferior to those they could buy on postcards, and wondered about what makes one picture, or one artist, or one place the center of attention, and not others, arguably equally beautiful or talented or interesting.

A couple of other religious sites would have been worth visiting, except they were too far from the center. The very modern-looking Museum of Evolution, which I would have liked to visit, was closed on Mondays. So I simply admired the walkways along the river on the way to the Hotel Forum Evolucion. After a cup of green tea in the attached cafe, I had a rest in my room's small verandah, which held a lounge chair and footstool. Then I walked back across a different bridge to visit the Museum of Books, which turned out to be a collection of facsimiles of manuscripts and early printed books. Since many of them were facsimiles of unfamiliar works I enjoyed it despite preferring originals.

When I had briefly explored the town in the afternoon I had found it chilly but deserted. Now, in early evening, it was decidedly cold, but lively. I stopped for tapas - more lovely iberica ham - at La Favorita but didn't see anything else that inspired me, and moved on to La Cantina de Tenorio for some excellent lamb chops. I later discovered that La Favorita was the one place on the whole trip that had managed to pull the DCC scam on me successfully. Avoid!
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Old Dec 6th, 2015, 02:28 PM
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Isn't that da Vinci lovely? I, too, had the privilege of seeing it with no other soul in sight -- what a very special experience. And that staircase was a delight, IMO.

I think I may have recommended La Favorita? So sorry your experience wasn't like mine: I enjoyed several tasty tapas and had no trouble with DCC there.

I continue to enjoy hearing about your journey, thursdaysd!
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Old Dec 6th, 2015, 05:53 PM
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Thanks, kja. The ham at La Favorita was good, but so was most of the iberica ham. I miss it...

Honestly, I spent as much time being amazed that I had the da Vinci to myself as I did admiring it. It's just so strange how crowds propagate themselves in a few key places. Maybe it's some kind of herd instinct at work. I make a very bad herd animal.
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Old Dec 6th, 2015, 06:28 PM
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I miss the jamon, too!

The herd instinct is amazing. One of my favorite moments in the Louvre was standing alone, in front of a magnificent da Vinci and surrounded by extraordinary works of art that were being viewed by just a few others, all within view of a crowd worthy of a Serengeti migration all vying for a glimpse of the Mona Lisa, or apparently even better (as they saw it), a selfie in front of it. Sometimes it really does seem better to be a bad herd animal.
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Old Dec 15th, 2015, 11:17 AM
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<b>October 20-23, 2015: Stately Salamanca</b>

When I told the woman running my hotel in Bayonne, in 2004, that I was going to Leon she was insistent that I should go to Salamanca instead. I didn’t take her advice, as it would have required a significant detour, and I enjoyed Leon a lot more than she thought I would. But I didn’t forget her reaction. Salamanca was still a significant detour from the straightforward Leon to Madrid route, but I went anyway. Although the stop off in Burgos had been reasonably interesting – the cathedral was definitely worth seeing – I could have done without the bus ride from Burgos to Salamanca. The bus station was just down the street from my hotel, and the bus was direct. But the ride reminded me of all the reasons I prefer trains.

The hotel was just round the corner from the Plaza Mayor, on a quieter, tree lined plaza with a central fountain and several cafes. I had a small balcony overlooking the plaza and enjoyed watching the action, which in the early evening included a few kids playing soccer – girls as well as boys. Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor is justly famous, but I didn’t get the full effect, as I arrived to find a gang of workmen filling the whole square with stalls for a book fair. The square definitely falls into the magnificent category – vey big, very symmetrical, and surrounded by matching buildings. Unlike Pamplona, there were no public benches, if you wanted to admire the square while sitting down, you had to pay one of the cafes for the privilege. And just as I prefer my Art Nouveau eclectic, I prefer my squares a bit less regimented (think Krakow). The effect at night, however, when the lights came on, was almost magical.

After the square, the cathedrals were next on my sightseeing list. Yes, cathedrals, plural. The “new” cathedral (begun in the 16th century) is built onto the “old” cathedral (begun in the 12th century). Nice that they didn’t tear down the old cathedral to build the new, as I much preferred it. Fortunately the tour groups seemed to prefer the new one, and there was certainly no shortage of groups. I had to wait to visit the old university building until they had all gone to lunch. I was particularly surprised to see groups from a Viking cruise ship, as I was well inland, but a little research showed that they had been bused over from the Duoro river in Portugal. Since you’re not allowed actually into the library in the university I thought the most interesting sight was the original benches in one of the lecture rooms – backless and about six inches wide. I doubt anyone fell asleep on those. The university was founded in 1134, and remains an important part of the city.

The city itself, built on a hill overlooking the river Tormes, was founded before the Roman period. During the imperial era it was on a main Roman road, and the Roman bridge still exists and is in use for foot traffic. Looking across the river from the far bank, the cathedral dominates the city, but there is no shortage of other religious buildings. The Soto staircase in the Dominican Convento de San Estaban, one of the earliest to be cantilevered out from the wall, was interesting for the technique (although the carving was better on the university’s staircase), and I spent a long time examining the capitals in the cloister of the Convento de Los Duenos (but that’s for the next post).
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Old Dec 15th, 2015, 11:42 AM
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Salamanca looks very elegant, couldn't help but think how hot that square would get in summer though, all those hard surfaces. (We are having one of our 40-42C heatwaves, so have heat on our minds. . )
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Old Dec 15th, 2015, 01:24 PM
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Yes, I think the climate may be given to extremes. It was really cold at night when I was there, although nice in the daytime.

It's supposed to be winter where I am (North Carolina), but it's in the high 60s/low 70s F this week. I just had my heating and AC units replaced, and the new thermostat wanted to run the AC!
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Old Dec 15th, 2015, 01:35 PM
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Oops! Realized I left out the second paragraph! Seems to read fine without it, but here it is anyway.

The woman in Bayonne was half right. She was wrong about Leon, which I liked very much, but she was absolutely right about Salamanca, which I loved. It was also where I cemented my love affair with Iberica ham. I was staying in the (very nice) Salamanca Suite Studios and I spent part of my first afternoon buying supplies, as I had a surprisingly hard time finding muesli, orange juice and Nespresso capsules. Although I ate dinner one night at Bistro Zazu, right next door, I took advantage of my kitchenette to eat in the other nights – it was just too cold to wander around checking out restaurants, or even to sit outside with a cup of coffee on the main square. At least it was too cold for someone not traveling with winter clothes. The very helpful lady running my hotel sent me to a nearby shop that sold nothing but Iberica ham, and it was so good I just wished I could take some home with me.
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Old Dec 15th, 2015, 04:57 PM
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I thought Salamanca spectacular, and am glad you seem to be finding it so, too. One of the things that fascinated me there was the difference between the capitals of the Convento de Los Duenos and those of the Convento de San Esteban -- maybe you are going to speak to that?
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