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Trip report--Peggy & Maryfran's trip to Spain

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Nov 13th, 2004, 12:24 PM
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Trip report--Peggy & Maryfran's trip to Spain

Mary brought some of her pictures from Spain, and we went through them, reminiscing about the fun we had. Our first evening in Barcelona was a Sunday, and we were hot to see the Sardana. It wasn't happening in the plaza in front of the Cathedral, so we headed off to Placa Sant Jaume to see if we could catch it there. The cathedral plaza was a busy place, with dozens of old-timers sitting on the stone benches across from it, many with their dogs. They didn't seem to be doing much but chatting and looking. We strolled across the plaza and saw what I took to be a bronze statue. I thought it must be of a local hero or dignitary, but when I was closer, I realized it was a young man with a clock on his stomach, who was standing dead still, not twitching a muscle. I put a coin in the little box in front of him in sympathy for the discomfort he must (voluntarily, of course) be feeling. He was the first of several people we saw doing this sort of thing.
As we returned from Placa Sant Jaume, we saw a rust-colored guy made up to look like Jesus on the cross, and later we saw another Jesus (in a really bad wig), this one the Sacred Heart. My favorite was a couple days later on La Rambla--the Grim Reaper, complete with scythe and skeleton face and hands. Periodically he would point at someone or else beckon to a passer-by. It was pretty funny. Kind of like, "It's time. You're next!"

The Sardana was great! There were colorfully uniformed musicians playing the traditional Sardana music, and as I watched, I knew I was seeing something really authentic, not just a show put on for tourists. On the way back to our hotel, we saw various street musicians, the most popular one being an operatic type singer with a group of old geezers singing the chorus. Also very cool! Later, we had a tasty dinner at the restaurant in the Hotel Colon. We were jet lagged and didn't want to go too far afield to find food.

The next day we took one of those hop-on, hop-off buses to La Casa Mila and the Block of Discord. Gorgeous places! I think that so much 20th century architecture doesn't stand the test of time, but the Gaudi stuff and the Modernisme buildings in general were fabulous. The Palau de Musica was equally gorgeous. We never seem to spend enough time in wonderful cities like Barcelona, and this time was certainly no exception. We voiced our regrets to each other as we dragged our suitcases, like the hick tourists we are, to the Placa de Catalunya to catch the plane to the airport, one of our regrets being the fact that as we ate dinner at an outdoor restaurant (Garduña--very good food), an extremely slick thief had managed to steal Mary's purse FROM HER LAP without our realizing it until he was out of sight around the corner. Luckily, she had given me her passport, driver's license and ATM card to me to put in my money belt, so all she lost was her digital camera. The fact that he got away with that purse is amazing because we are paranoid about thieves in countries where there's reputed to be crime against tourists. Anyway, we did love Barcelona, despite the theft.

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Nov 13th, 2004, 01:37 PM
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Hi Peg!

I'll chip in with a report and recommendation to other Fodorites about our accommodation in Barcelona, Hotel Regencia Colon, near the Cathedral. Was our room 261? It was the same room fellow Fodorite Sharon had reported on glowinglyy in her wonderful post. The room wasn't as large as some of our rooms in other hotels in Spain, but it did have a terrace to die for.

The location was great, just a short stroll to the Cathedral and the plaza in front of it, where something seemed to be going on night and day. Kids, dogs, human statues, parents, grandparents, and great-looking spanish policemen.

I liked strolling behind the cathedral, where we chipped a euro or two into the violin case of two young men playing classical music, one playing a cello and the other a violin. I love that about Europe. Here at home, the best I can hope for in terms of street musicianship is to find some guy with an acoustic guitar singing "Bye bye, American Pie."
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Nov 13th, 2004, 01:52 PM
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Oops! I pushed the "post" button before I meant to, so please pardon the typos.

The purse-snatching Peg commented on was an interesting experience, because the thief was so talented. We were having dinner on the patio outside the restaurant, and no one else was around, when a nice-looking young man approached our table in the posture of a waiter, inquiring whether our meal was satisfactory. Only when he made a rapid exit around the side of the building did I realize that my purse was missing.

While I certainly regretted the loss of my purse and the camera it contained, I was so grateful that the purse hadn't contained my passport and credit credit card, that I pretty much shrugged it off.
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Nov 14th, 2004, 07:19 AM
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Ah, yes. Room 261 at the Regencia Colon. Ray and I must make a trip in May some year when the days are longer and the weather is better than what we had in Feb so we can make full use of that wonderful terrace!

So sorry to hear about the purse snatching. I tell you, I am always so super careful when we travel and although we had no similar problems in Barcelona, My father-in-law had his wallet lifted, and two European women I work with were visiting OKC on business just last week and each of them had their purses stolen in Barcelona. Seems like pretty bad odds to me. I'm so glad for you that all you lost was your camera.

Delighted to hear you saw the Sardana. So, did you see the Sardana at Placa Sant Jaume? Did you notice what time it started? And, was there a stage set up in the plaza where the musicians played?

Peg and Fran, I'm waiting for the rest of the report so I can learn about all those places we didn't get to on our trip. I think it's terrific you had three weeks in Spain!!! Wow!

Keep it coming!

By the way, have you checked out all the twists and turns that popped up in the "Trauma in the Spanish Dining Room" posting? I learned so much!!!

-Sharon
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Nov 14th, 2004, 07:46 AM
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Hi Sharon!

The Sardana is danced at Placa Sant Jaume at 6:30 Friday evening. The orchestra was seated on folding chairs but not on a stage.

For those who don't know about the Sardana, it's Catalunya's national dance. It's danced almost every week on Placa de la Seu in front of the cathedral at 6.30pm on Saturday and at noon on Sunday and also at 6:30pm Sunday at Placa Sant Jaume. These are not shows for tourists but feature ordinary Catalans doing something they enjoy. The dancers join hands to form ever-widening circles, placing their bags or coats in the centre. The accompanying music consists of brass and reed music, at times jolly, at times melancholy, rising to occasional crescendos, then quietening down again.

I got the impression there were fewer dancers at the gathering we saw at Placa Sant Juame than one would see in front of the Cathedral, but it was still delightful to watch.
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Nov 14th, 2004, 07:50 AM
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Ooops again! I meant to say the Sardana is danced SUNDAY evening, not Friday! Where did that "Friday" come from?
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Nov 14th, 2004, 09:04 AM
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Peg,

I'm cutting and pasting the separate thread you posted about the next stop on our trip, Sevilla, so we can keep track of our progress as we lay waste to the Spanish countryside:

We got a cheap Spanair flight to Sevilla. Outside the airport, we decided to take a cab into town. Somewhere we'd read what taxi fare should be, so we asked the first driver about cost; he said it was 23 euros. Assertive girls that we are, we thought that was too much, so Mary trotted inside and asked a woman at one of the counters how much the fare should be. She said 17 euros. The next driver said it would be 27 euros, which we of course said was too much-- that it should be 17 euros. The driver looked at some little chart and said, "Oh, yeah, (or the equivalent in Español) it's 20 euros," and we eventually ended up by paying 23 euros, after all that fuss.

We stayed at La Casa de los Mercaderes, which was very pleasant,quiet and elegant. We spent several hours at El Corte Inglés buying a new camera for Mary, but the walk there and back through the narrow, winding streets of the area around El Corte was fun. We saw more of the town as we walked to the Cathedral and the Alcazar. It seemed to us to be quite a distance, but when we looked at my pedometer, Mary became quite outraged by the low numbers we saw there--this was to be a pattern throughout the trip, as Mary's feet kept telling her we had walked miles and miles, and my pedometer kept contradicting her.

We did the total tourist thing one night and went to a flamenco show which we learned about at the hotel. Afterwards, we wandered along the Paseo de Colón , which follows the Guadalquivir River, until we found a taxi back to our hotel. Since we'd spend half a day finding the camera and the geegaws that went with it, we didn't get to see as much of Sevilla as we'd wanted, but we did explore the Cathedral and the Alcazar, which I'd say is my favorite Moorish palace. We also spent some time sitting in the gardens of the Alcazar, where Mary was pecked at by a quite aggressive duck who apparently took a dislike to her. The duck pretty much ignored me, but much to our amusement he kept after Mary's pant leg, obviously quite irritated with it or with her. Later we wandered through the Barrio Santa Cruz and had dinner somewhere deep in the Barrio. The first or the second evening in Seville, we were sitting at a little outdoor café, when a couple of tunas, the university students wearing medieval costumes, began singing. We were thrilled! (Well, I was, anyway.) We talked to them a little and, of course, had to take their pictures.

We took a cab back to the airport and picked up our car, which was a Renault Clio, a little bitty car which turned out to be perfect for some of the narrow, winding streets we had to squeeze through. It also handled well and despite its diminutive size was sufficiently speedy that we made good time--or what I thought was good time. I have to admit, though, that there were many times when I was at the head of a line of four or five disgruntled drivers who wanted to pass me. I usually did ten miles or so over the posted speed limit, but that was obviously not fast enough for these speedsters, who wanted to careen around the curves at twenty miles over. The roads were excellent, as good as roads in my state of Washington, and considerably better than those in my town, Spokane, a.k.a. "pothole city." In general, there wasn't much traffic. Driving was really a pleasure. We loved the countryside we saw on our way to our next destination--Ronda.
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Nov 14th, 2004, 09:19 AM
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Taxis in Spain: I just wanted to comment that taxi fares in Spain were, in my opinion, quite fair, and that we didn't run into the gouging that we sometimes did in Italy.

Shopping at El Corte Inglés for camera, purse, and accessories: I'll contradict Peg here and say that we actually didn't spend that much time SHOPPING at El Corte Inglés. The time we spent was actually in trying to FIND the three different branches we needed to visit to find the items. El Corte Inglés is a beautiful, upscale chain, but different branches carried different items, and we spent a good deal of time getting lost navigating between the stores.

The flamenco show we saw was at El Arenal. i've never seen flamenco live before, so I have no point of reference, but I felt as if something was missing from the performance.
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Nov 14th, 2004, 05:07 PM
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oops! Posted a reply to your other thread - and thanks, MaryFran, for consolidating the report, it is always easier on readers if the whole thing is in one place.

It sounds like you spent just 2 nights in Seville. Did you wish for more time?
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Nov 14th, 2004, 06:56 PM
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Yes, we did spend just two nights in Sevilla. Not enough, not nearly enough. Ditto Barcelona and a couple of other places.
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Nov 14th, 2004, 08:56 PM
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RONDA:

A cab took us from our hotel near the cathedral in Sevilla to the airport, to pick up our rental car, for the first leg of our drive, to Ronda.

The drive from Sevilla was terrific, especially as we neared Ronda, with incedible geology and scenery, and great roads, which we would find throughout the portions of spain we visited.

Hotel San Gabriel: We found the hotel without much difficulty and pulled up in front, remembering their website had promised, "We'll help you find a place to park." Indeed, they did. In fact, someone emerged from the hotel, and spirited the car away to an unknown parking spot, so we weren't troubled about parking at all.

Our room was a delight, probably the loviest of the three week trip - large, decorated in scarlet fabric, including a scarlet fabric screen that separated a little sofa from the bed, with nice dark furniture, and a view on a quiet lane. As soon as we saw the room, we were sorry we'd have only one night there.

The old bridge was just a short distance from the hotel. We marveled at the sheer ravine below, and then wandered back past our hotel on our way to Palacio de Mondragon, which contained a museum with some great dioramas about the history of the area, including prehistory, which I didn't pay enough attention to, as for the rest of the trip, especially on our drives through the incredible countryside between Ronda and Granada, I would long for knowledge about what cataclisms had happened in the past to form such a spectacular landscape.

We also visited a church in Ronda, which contained some of the loveliest altars that I would see in Spain. Many of the churches we visited in Spain were disturbing to me, extravaganzas of the gold and silver of the conquistadors, just over the top, often with grills between us and the altar, seeming dusty and dark and somber to me.

Peg and I usually light a candle in churches we visit on our travels, in memory of our beloved younger sister, who died a few years ago. Leaving the candle flickering in the church makes me feel as if Kitty's spirit were flickering, alive and with us on our travels. In Spain, however, I feared she'd smite me if I were to leave her feisty spirit flickering defiantly in front of an iron grill, fronting an extravagant and cold altar of gold and silver.

Back in our room, I attempted to download my digital camera to my laptop computer, which proceeded to go legs up. Defunct. Deceased. Would not (and still will not) boot. For the rest of the trip, I'd need to find an alternative method for clearing my memory cards on my digital camera and preserving the photos. Drat!

NEXT: GRENADA
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Nov 25th, 2004, 06:39 PM
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Today, after a lovely Thanksgiving Buffet with my son, daughter, grandchildren, and sister, at the wonderful Davenport Hotel here in Spokane, Peg and I packed the kids and grandkids off to their subsequent repast with the ex-inlaws, and settled down for the blissful silence of home without the squeals and squawks of a delightful but exhausting six-year old boy and four-year old girl.

With the rest of the day before me, I felt inspired to take another lunge at carrying on with my portion of our trip report.

Here's an editted version of my post today on someone else's post about whether Granada is "worth it" for a couple of days:

We were in Granada two nights in October 2004. Definitely worth it, for the Alhambra and Generalife Gardens.

Peg wanted to see the Albayzin on Saturday, because the last time she'd been in Granada, her visit was on a Sunday, when the Albayzin was pretty much in lockdown.

We decided to take one of the little red trains that depart make a loop through the Albayzin every thirty minutes. Firs, however, we had to get to Plaza Nuevo, from which the buses depart. As usual in Spain, easier said than done. I've maintained that Peg, my indefatigable navigator, seems to be losing her edge. I wish that I could have watched us from a heliocopter high above, as we wound round and round, up and down, back and forth, in our search for Plaza Nuevo, which couldn't have been more than four blocks away from us at any given time, but which seemed to bob and weave, determined we would not find it.

At last, we ran it to ground and zeroed in on the Plaza Nuevo, where we had one of those teensy, tiney, weakling six ounce bottles of Coke Spanish restaurants foist off on tourists for an exhorbitant price. We needed the coke to quench our thirst after the Bataan death march we'd been on, and to wash down what would be the first of our experiences with pizza in Spain, the first of many times we would agree, "They just don't get the pizza thing, do they?"

At last, we jumped on one of the little red buses for our trip through the Albayzin. If you take this trip, lather a little extra Polident on your dentures in the morning and wear your best foundation garments, because it's going to be a bumpy ride, assuming all the drivers are aggressive and in as much of a hurry as ours was. I was nevertheless grateful to be riding, rather than trudging up those steep streets dodging the traffic.

We had made reservations for 2:30 the next day, Sunday, for entrance to Nasrid Palace, in the Alhambra. Take seriously the admonition to book your tickets early on the internet. They were already sold out for the morning entrances a couple of months before our departure for Spain.

Preparing for our trip, my sister urged me to read Washington Irving's "Tales of the Alhambra," which I didn't manage to do, but it might contribute to your enjoyment.

We also read a great and very readable Spanish history before and while we were there, "The Story of Spain," by Mark Williams, which offered a nice balance to Irving's portrayal of the Moors as entirely gentlemanly and admirable and the Catholics as completely corrupt. The truth, it seems, is something in the middle.

I was really fascinated, too, by Williams explanations about how the English, mainly, had demonized Spain, and by how successful their campaign had been over the course of history.

If you go to the Alhambra, you'll feel the ghosts of the Moors everywhere and, if you're like me, you'll wonder about them. Because their religion forbade them from making representations of people, there are few images of Moors available, at least I could find few. So I'm left with curiosity and a sense of mystery about the people who made such great art and then disappeared, it seems, from the face of Spain, as if there had been an alien abduction of a whole race/religion.

Our weekend in Granada was a National holiday, so the town was packed with students, whose comings and goings I would watch from the balcony of our room at Hotel Ingleterra.

I recommend this hotel highly. It was extremely reasonably priced, in a great location. Our room was nice, and the front desk was great.

I had been anxious to find an internet cafe when we arrived so I could upload my digital photos to Dotphoto.com, and so Peg and I set out to find the internet site listed in an old version of Rick Steves Peg was packin. Much misery and grousing resulted, before we finally gave up (the place he recommended no longer could be found at the address given).

Returning to the hotel exhausted, I inquired, by chance, at the front desk as to whether they knew of an internet cafe. They pointed me to one a long block from our hotel, two or three minutes away.

I was quite amazed and chagrinned to find the internet connection to be very slow. Not even DSL. I was told that was common in Spain. I don't know if it's true, but I mention it for what it's worth, in case you plan to do any uploading.

If you'd like to see some images of what you might be in for in Granada, here's a link to my photos of Granada on Dotphoto:

http://www.dotphoto.com/Go.asp?l=Mar...ID=5947&Show=Y

It starts with shots of the incredible countryside between Ronda and Granada, followed by scenes from the Alhambra and Generalife Gardens, ending with photos shot out of the car window on the way to Cordoba.

Good heavens, I'm going to finish this portion of the report and join my sister in the living room for some fine television viewing, but I can hear that she's watching Scooby Doo! This is a woman with a master's in English, years of travel, a sense of savoir faire, and her spells on the sofa with her counted cross stitch are accompanied by Scooby Do. She also watches the Jackie Chan cartoon in Spanish whenever she can.

Tomorrow in Spain, as Sergeant Preston used to say, it's "On King! On you Huskies!" To Cordoba!
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Nov 25th, 2004, 07:19 PM
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Thanks for the report I have been thinking about going to Spain recently this helps.
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Nov 25th, 2004, 09:11 PM
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Cordoba: After 10:30 a.m. Sunday morning Mass at the Cathedral in Granada, we packed our 22" roll on bags, checked out of the Hotel Ingleterra, walked to the convenient garage just behind the hotel, and loaded our trusty little Renault Clio, for the next leg of our trip: to Cordoba.

The drive to Cordoba didn't offer views quite as spectacular as the road from Ronda to Granada, but it was lovely nevertheless, and the roads were the typical great Spanish two-lane highways. In great condition, but with few turnouts or passing lanes, and with sometimes long queues of anxious drivers behind us, Peg muttering and swearing that she was going neither to speed up nor to pull off because she was already going the usual "ten over," but occasionally careening off the road to let the caravan pass, wishing them all bad fortune for making her feel so inadequate.

In any event, it was a pleasant drive to Cordoba, I think about 2 1/2 hours long, with great scenery, and we arrived in Cordoba in early afternoon. The usual hotel-finding drama awaited us, in our quest for Hotel Los Omeyas. We at last spotted a sign for the hotel, which turned out not to be the hotel but a restaurant owned by the hotel. The proprietor gave us a map to the actual location of the hotel a short, but nevertheless, to us, difficult route, as we had become, by then, dumb as posts about directions in Spain.

We are, however, nothing if not persistent, so eventually we found the square near the Mezquita, where we could see the sign for Los Omeyas half block away and could tote our luggage to the entrance.

To be continued on another post, since Fodors is up to it's recent tricks and won't let me post more than this...
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Nov 25th, 2004, 09:14 PM
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Dumping our bags and me in the foyer, Peg left with an employee of the hotel, for the trip to the parking lot some distance away. On the way, she told me later, the young man made some pointed and not-very tactful comments about "Americans and manual transmissions," which annoyed her to no end, as she had driven cars with manual transmissions for 15 years in the somewhat distant past and thought she was doing just fine, thank you very much.

After what seemed like a long time to me, sitting with our bags in the lobby, Peg appeared, we checked in, and we were given the keys to our ground floor room, across a nice, bright, internal courtyard.

A moment of silence followed after we opened the door. We'd had pretty fancy digs in Spain up until now. Here were three twin beds, with faded bedspreads, an inexpensive desk, and an adequate but not stellar bathroom. In fact, the bathroom door wouldn't stay shut, so to have privacy, I would scoot the garbage can in front of the door during my visits to the loo.

At night, there was an inordinate amount of plumbing noise, water running, flushing, tubs being filled, and so on. We always travel with earplugs, so it wasn't a huge problem for us, but I mention it for the benefit of the "princess-and-the-pea" types out there who are troubled by night noises.

But waddya want, for crying out loud, for 64 euros a night, plus 12 for parking? The place was brilliantly located near the Mezquita, and it seemed clean enough, although Peg did call for a broom to sweep the floor soon after we arrived, blaming me, I suspected, for tracking in debris. Anyway, I'd recommend the hotel, because it's just such a bargain.
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Nov 25th, 2004, 09:16 PM
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Our bags secure, we set out immediately for the Mezquita a short distance away.

What a marvel! Just incredible. If the spirit of the Moors was present in the Alhambra, it was absolutely palpable in the Mezquita. I kept trying to imagine a handsome Moor sweeping across the floor under those magnificent red and white arches, on the way to do some kind of business with the caliph (Peg straightened me out later about the "business" part, explaining the Moors would be here to pray, not to do business), only to find some idiot plunked a Catholic church right smack in the middle of the place.

Actually, much of the Catholic Church is truly beautiful, and I have often told my sister, whether accurately or not, "Oh, well. If the church hadn't been here, the place probably would have fallen into ruins or been destroyed entirely."

We left the Mezquita and set out in search of lunch. Unfortunately, by now it was close to 4:00, too late for us to order in the restaurant we chose. Defiantly, we set off for the nearby McDonalds, not the first nor the last time we'd cross the golden arches in our search for sustenance in Spain, where the food seemed to most often not fit our budgets, or our tastes, and usually both.

We didn't have time to see much more of Cordoba, though our drive into town had offered some great views. We had come to Cordoba to see the Mezquita and rest for a night on our way from Granada to Caceres. Mission accomplished. Tomorrow, we'd be on to Ö.

Caceres
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Nov 28th, 2004, 11:13 AM
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Beautiful photos. By the way, how do you like dotphoto?
-Sharon
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Nov 28th, 2004, 11:52 AM
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I LOVE Dotphoto. At the time I started using them, they were the only online website I could find that offered a matte finish as an option. I much prefer matte to glossy.

They print on Kodak paper, I think the quality of prints is good, and my experience is that they ship promptly.

I love the new "Show" feature, which you saw in the link I posted.
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Nov 28th, 2004, 11:54 AM
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I might give them a try. Thanks for the input... I liked the slideshow feature.
- Sharon
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Nov 28th, 2004, 12:06 PM
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Caceres: We set out from Cordoba early for the 4 1/2 hour drive to Caceres. A post by OReilly here on Fodors, I think, had painted such an evocative image that I pressed to add this stop to our Spain trip.

I'm so glad we did, because Caceres was one of my favorite places in Spain. It's a beautiful, golden city, and the old city seemed to be completely free of the tacky souvenir stands we'd seen so often in towns on our journey thus far. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage city in 1986.

Arriving at Caceres from Cordoba, we found our way to the Parador where we'd be staying two nights. The narrow street approaching the parador was blocked by two devices in the pavement that lowered after one spoke into a microphone box to the parador. A gentleman with few teeth guided us through the process and on to a parking spot behind the Parador. How thoughtful! Then, of course, came the extended hand and the demand for 5 euros, for which he promised to guard our car. We smiled at having been conned once again by a gypsy, but paid the 5 euros, which turned out to be a relative bargain compared to the 12 euros charged by the parador for indoor, secure parking with no need for gypsy-provided security.

Our room was quite lovely, spacious, with no great view. But we hadn't booked a view room, so it was fine.

Peg inquired of the front desk where we might be able to buy some ground coffee, as the supply we'd brought from the States was now running low, and we'd been enjoying our morning coffee in our room.

We were directed to Plaza Mayor, and we set out for that destination.

The walk through the old town is simply wonderful. It was not difficult at all to imagine ourselves transported to the 13th or 16th centuries, so authentic and original are the wonderful golden stone buildings.

Along the way, we stopped at the wonderful prehistory museum, where we saw fascinating relics from early man dug in the area around Caceres. This is a really neat museum.

We also stopped in a church where we dropped .50 euros in a coin box to light up a beautiful reredos. Peg thinks the church was San Mateo, but it may have been Santiago.

Here's a link to my photos of Caceres:

http://www.dotphoto.com/Go.asp?l=Mar...ID=4883&Show=Y

If you find any that you think are mislabeled, I'd be delighted if you would set me straight.

To be continued...
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