Tag Archive: Europe



SLOW. Like Snails. 

Why not? It’s my 6th visit to Madrid and this time taking my oldest sister for a month-long holiday. The first day was hard for her, hardly sleeping on our long flight from Manila. We managed to go out on Day 2 but careful not to tire her out. The bus in front of our Madrid crib took us to Almudena Cathedral, right beside Palacio Real. The mandatory shots in front of the Royal Palace turned out alright. There was a long snaking line outside for those seeking admission into the Palace. We trooped to the nearby Cathedral instead where a mass was going on. Coming out, we turned right down the street to get inside La Crypta. For a €1 donativo, one finds solace in this Crypt underneath the Cathedral. An altar inside tells you that mass services must be held here too though I never heard one since I started frequenting the place. Why, you ask? I like how tranquil the place is. More so than in the Cathedral where the religious and the tourists comprise the crowd. One time, I sat beside a friendly priest visiting from Zimbabwe. We prayed quietly then. 


From La Crypta, we crossed the street to view portions of the ancient muralla (walls) before walking up along Calle Mayor. It’s a 1 kilometer walk from this corner to Puerta Del Sol. Many iconic landmarks and short detours along this main road. First off is my favorite tiny square called Plaza de la Villa. The old Town Hall can be found here. The oldest building, fully restored, in Madrid. Across it is the Tower where the French monarch Francois I was imprisoned for a year following their defeat in the Battle of Pavia. In the center of the square is a statue of a naval commander who led the Spanish Armada. Truly, a very interesting square.


Not very far, and still walking along Calle Mayor, you’d find Mercado de San Miguel. You can pick up a Sangria or a Tinto de Verano here, to go with a cone of fried calamares or octopus or boquerones. Great appetizers! The giant paelleras of greatlooking Paella Negra or Marinara may appeal to firsttimers like my sister. But I won’t be fooled a 2nd time 😜. From here, we walked just a few more steps, under one of 9 or so arched entrance ways, towards Plaza Mayor. Being a Saturday, it was way too crowded. 


Museo de Jamon. It’s a chain. Their tapas bar on the littered ground floor is packed with tourists. On the second floor, we found a table and this old waiter who fondly calls my niece La Niña. We took our seats, and ordered enough for our lunch here, and leftover dinner later! No problem having a meal replay of callos, pecaditos and boquerones. We didn’t bring home the pulpo, and we drank our sangria to the last drop. It won’t be our best meal and we’re really being touristy here, but hey, it’s my sister’s first time in Madrid. 


For dessert, we walked FASTER towards Chocolateria de San Gines. Churros con Chocolate for my sister and niece. Cafe for me. Refueled, we managed to do some shopping. Then some snapshots with the Bear and the Strawberry Tree statue, an iconic landmark to be found in the Puerta Del Sol. Before taking the metro here going home, I wanted to get inside La Mallorquina for some napoleones and marron glacé but the place looked like it’s been invaded by tourists! 


Home is in Bravo Murillo. We heard anticipated mass in the Parroquia right next to our building. Estamos Felices! 


I realize I can’t do this in one go. Not all of 800 kilometers (500 miles) in one go over a period of 6 weeks or so. But after walking my first camino spanning the last 114 kilometers from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, I knew it would be the first of many. One year after, I did the last 100 kilometers from Viterbo to Rome — what’s called Via Francigena which is the Italian equivalent of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Both tracing pilgrimage hiking trails, one ending in the northwestern part of Spain, the other ending in Vatican City. 


The same year I walked from Viterbo to Rome, I likewise tried a short leg of the famed Nakasendo Trail from Magome to Tsumago in Japan. Like a preview or sampler of a longer hike sometime in the future. In Japan. But one idea continues to occupy my mind. The Camino Frances. From St. Jean Pied de Port (SJPdP) to Santiago de Compostela (SDC). Not just a part of it. The whole 800 kilometers of it. Yet, how? The mere thought of crossing the Pyrenees freaks me out of my wits. 


First off, I accepted the reality that walking everyday for 5 to 6 weeks will make me miserable. Or fail. So I’d settle for “mini successes”.  Like breaking up the 800-km hike into 8-9 adventures, each involving 100 kms or so over 5 or so walking days. I thought the following itineraries doable: 

St. Jean PdP to Pamplona (68kms)

      SJPP to Roncesvalles

      Roncesvalles to Pamplona

Pamplona to Logroño (94 kms)

Logroño to Burgos (121 kms)

Burgos to Sahagún (124 kms)

Sahagún to Leon (56 kms)

Leon to Ponferrada (103 kms)

Ponferrada to Sarria (92 kms)

Sarria to Santiago de Compostela (114 kms)


Then, I read that the WORST, HARDEST, MOST PUNISHING walk is the first leg of Camino Frances. Specifically, the first walking day from SJPdP to Roncesvalles. Literally across the French-Spanish border in the Pyrenees area. No wonder most walking guides say most quitters do so on the first 2 days. My research taught me it’s also not as daunting as literally climbing up and down a mountain. Over time, this leg may have been “romanticized” as “crossing the Pyrenees” though that is not to say that it’s not difficult. Let’s just say there are ways to walk AROUND the mountains. 


Many break the SJPdP to Roncesvalles route into 2 walking days, either stopping and resting the night in Orisson or in Valcarlos. Others simply skip this route and start their camino past the border in Roncesvalles. I’m determined to start from St. Jean Pied de Port. I’m also realistic enough to set this goal only up to Roncesvalles so that my next camino would be entirely in Spain’s Basque Country towards Navarra and Galicia. Small victories, I reminded myself. Just go past that crucial border crossing!  


I hope to do this entire Camino Frances before I hit 71. Why 71? It’s the age I lost my old man and I just know that if he were around, he’d do this pilgrimage walk with me.  Perhaps even at a faster pace! So there. Seems like a good plan. Wish me luck. God bless me with good health and the spirit to do this. 


Do subscribe to my other blogsite “retirement suits me” for my latest blogs on our Scandinavian adventure. (https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com)

AN AMUSING SHOCKER IN BERLIN: https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2015/05/13/berlin-a-kiss-is-just-a-kiss/


POTSDAM, a day trip from Berlin: https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/poofed-in-potsdam/


Prepping for the Cruise in COPENHAGEN: https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2015/05/16/copenhagens-treats/


CRUISING ABOARD ROYAL CARRIBEAN Serenade of the Seas: https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/were-cruising-day-1-2/


A DAY IN STOCKHOLM: https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/stockholm-land-of-ocs/


A DAY IN LOVELY TALLINN, ESTONIA: https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/stunning-estonia/


PETERHOF PALACE IN ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA: https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/peterhofs-great-summer-playground/


COLD & WET HELSINKI: https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/a-glimpse-of-helsinki/


This is a Phlog. That’s short for Photo Blog. Here goes. My life in Madrid in Phlog.

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Live like it’s the last day of your life? Naaah. If that’s my mantra, I’d likely just stay home and spend time with family. Or pray in a convent or church.

 

I live like there are many days ahead to celebrate life. I go to the Prado and take in just a few. Knowing there would be other days to enjoy more. Leisurely. No rush. I visit Barcelona for a weekend thinking there would be many more weekends to spend there. I love visiting and revisiting places I enjoyed. That explains why I take photos in the exact same places where I had my photos taken years ago. The unwanted pounds. The unwanted lines and wrinkles. Little reminders of time past. Who cares? I’m enjoying life. Without the rush.

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It’s not that I recommend it, but more than a few times I find myself buying a ticket from a vending machine to catch a train departing in less than 5 minutes. Imagine the thrill of brisk walking to the escalators, down to the ramps or platform, and hearing the train doors close behind you after having just hopped in.

 

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And how about the excitement of reaching your destination? No matter how much you’ve read up on the place, I like the momentary ignorance and madness of deciding which way to go out of the train or bus station. Do I turn right, left or go straight? When I went to Aranjuez, I wondered whether I’m getting off in the middle of a forest. That’s how it looked just before the train stopped and I heard the announcement that we have reached Aranjuez. I walked for about 10 minutes to reach the Royal Palace and Gardens. No one to ask as most others who got off the train took the bus or were fetched by friends or relatives. It would feel the same way going to Valle de Los Caidos, except that most bus passengers are likely tourists like you too.

 

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Fortunately, Spain has a superb transport system. The Metro, regional trains, fast trains, buses are all so easy to deal with. And clean! I also found the Spanish very friendly and helpful. Once, there was this middle-aged lady who actually walked with me for some blocks till the last corner just before my destination. In Alcala de Henares, the young students tried to be very precise with their directions (a plaza or square lined with plane trees, a building with many columns, a house with bronze statues and a fountain, etc).

 

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It helps that google allows me to do virtual tours and obtain directions. While I do get maps and check out the attractions in each place, I always seek to get images of the palaces, museums, parks or whatever else I intend to visit. This allows me to easily “spot” the sites I intend to visit.

 

 

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What I love about traveling solo is I get to linger longer in places I like, and eat whenever it suits me. The only drawback is that I don’t get to eat all I like. I mean, you can only order so much for yourself, right? No one to share with. My routine is normally to eat small portions but more often, so I get a variety of the foods I’d like to try without appearing like a glutton.

 

 

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Good research, with lots of allowances for spontaneity, and a good pair of walking shoes. Or boots to keep those walking legs warm when the temp drops. This is important. No way I’m walking anywhere unless I have comfortable footwear. Many make this mistake of looking fashionable rather than comfortable. Trust me, they are not mutually exclusive.

 

 

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So who says you’re too old to travel solo? I have no talent in the kitchen. Just survival cooking for moí. I’m pretty neat at home but it’s not like I enjoy domestic chores. I love to read, but my pocketbooks travel with me. A bench in the park and a cup of good brew make perfect companions. I get my adrenaline rush chasing trains, snapping photos and eating local delicacies. When I am home, I am more likely doing my “research” or blogging rather than busy with my knitting needles. C’est la vie! 😉😉😉

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Why ever not? Stayed away from my beloved pig for some weeks since Segovia. Time to have that memorable moment to savor before going home to Manila.

 

 

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Casa Botin or Sobrinos de Botin is in the Guinness Book of Records as the OLDEST RESTAURANT in continuous operation in the world. Established in 1725, its claim to fame is even bolstered by an endorsement from no less than Ernest Hemingway who once said the place serves the best cochinillo. Like Hemingway, many Spanish and Western authors have been lured to this place and actually had the restaurant as setting in their novels.

 

 

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Be warned though. The place is a tourist trap. Make sure you have reservations. Decide whether you’re having the suckling pig or the suckling lamb. Both are good. And if you’re a party of say 4pax, you can actually share a couple of cochinillo and an order of Cordero. Tell the waiter you are sharing and they’d take care of splitting the 3 orders into 4 platefuls of the coveted meat. Then share a pitcher of sangria or a bottle of house wine. No sense ordering the set menu of €43 per pax when the included dessert is just some dollop of ice cream. And if you’re skipping dessert, you might as well order the morcilla from Burgos for appetizers, if you like.

 

 

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After your Botin dinner, walk off all that cholesterol to the Mercado de San Miguel for errrrr…… more cholesterol. There’s a bounty of choices here. Nougats or turrones, crema de Catalan, meringues, yogurt, etc. And if by chance you’re able to work up an appetite other than for desserts, visit this TV guy named Senen and check out his tortilla española. Buen Provecho!

 

 

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How best to spend €3? Buy a ticket to the Museo Sorolla!

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This is the house where the great Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla lived with his lovely wife and muse Clotilde. This is where he painted in his spacious, lovely studio. Imagine the great painter here with his wife and 3 lovely children. And the gardens!

 

 

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Joaquin and Clotilde make for a truly handsome couple. Judging by their portraits, they seem to be so much in love! There is a sala exclusively for Clotilde. The Spanish Master was truly inspired to paint this lovely sitter! And their children….. my favorite is Sorolla’s painting of Clotilde and the baby. So much love and warmth there. . . . . in an expanse of white blanket!

 

 

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Have you ever been to a house with so much good vibes? For a Spanish villa this size, it’s amazing how all those positive vibes of love and adoration seem to be in the air all throughout the Casa!

 

 

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If you’re planning to visit, bring a book to read in the lovely garden. It’s not big, but I absolutely enjoyed the villa’s tiny but well-appointed garden. Hard to believe it’s just off a busy street in the city. Come to think of it, you may enjoy the garden without even paying the €3. The admission fee is for viewing the artworks inside the lovely villa. But please don’t scrimp on this one. When you come out of the villa after viewing Sorolla’s paintings and appreciating the beauty of his former art studio and residence, you’d actually be feeling good. There is something so “positive” inside that house that is worth more than the measly fee you paid.

 

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#30 HOW SPANISH ARE WE?


Luckily for me, we had more Spanish units in college than the younger set. Just the same, I am stumped whenever I’m forced to express myself in Spanish, and more so, when I’m compelled to listen to someone reply to me in Spanish. I’m telling you…… The easy part is expressing yourself in Spanish. Google Translate and all those English-Spanish dictionaries work for all those questions you have in mind. Until they give you their answers. As in DUH????

 

 

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I have been living in Madrid the past 2 months. I still don’t speak Spanish. But I go to the palenque, ride the metro, take day trips out of Madrid using the bus or train, visit museos, shop and sip good coffee along Gran Via, and feel “comfortable” in this foreign land. I would always find something “familiar” — no matter how vaguely — in every phrase or sentence uttered, or in many signposts or directions. Thank God the numbers (uno, dos, tres….), prices (quince, dies, katorse….), time (alas cinco, alas cuatro…..), days (Lunes, Martes, Miercoles….), months (enero, febrero…), are all familiar to us. These days, I confidently greet our porter “Que tal?” , hoping he would reply in “despacio” mode.

 

 

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Going to the palenque is always an adventure. I easily found my “Suki” (favorite shops) where the vendor would actually gently correct my Spanish. Like tomate, not tomato. Cuarto (1/4) not cuatro. My fish vendor would even teach me how to cook the fish as if I understood beyond “plancha” (grill) and harina (flour). 😄 I easily spend 2 hours here, even drink coffee from a bar where the sacred brew is served in a glass! And how I remember my very first ordeal here….. How to order coffee with little milk. You see, you typically order cafe con leche (with milk) or cafe cortado (espresso). The problem is I’m not crazy over espressos and the alternative cafe has mucho leche!

 

 

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I have been very observant about signposts. More so about menus. Many Spanish dishes naturally found their way to Pinoy tables. The names ring familiar, sometimes similar, other times completely different. Like there is alBondigas here versus our alMondigas. Of course, every Pinoy loves Jamon but our Hamon is more American than Spanish. Which is a pity. And who has not heard of Arroz Valenciana? Valencia is where paella originated. How about Leche flan? Or pastillas?

 

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Even here, you don’t throw your “Basura” just anywhere. When you want to rent or lease something, you say “Alquila” or “alquiler” similar to our arkila. And it’s not difficult to figure out what entrada and salida mean.

 

 

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It will take some great effort for me to learn a new language like Spanish. Call me slow. But I’m always amazed how some Tagalog words are rooted in Spanish. After all, they ruled for nearly 400 years, didn’t they?

#27 DAY TRIP TO TOLEDO


My TravelBlog piece dwells on my day trip to Toledo — my second time here in this lovely city brimming with art, culture and history. Ten years ago, I was also here and blogged about my experience in a brief stopover on our way south from Madrid. This time around, I would not be deprived the chance to visit and LINGER in the cathedral and in this place made even more famous in many El Greco paintings.

 

 

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I choose to concentrate on the Toledo Cathedral. Having just recently visited the cathedrals in Avila, Segovia, Sevilla and Cordoba, you may think it’s overkill to visit another one. Not so in Toledo. The retablo behind the Main Altar and that “hole in the ceiling” —- the dome — are enough to justify the €7 admission here. Not to forget, I particularly love the statue of a smiling Mama Mary and a playful Infant Jesus in the Choir area just right across the Altar.

 

 

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As I leisurely walked around the Cathedral, I would always catch myself looking up towards the ceiling. That “hole” impresses me so. I wonder how it was sculpted out up there, or how they even keep it clean, or how they change the lightings up there. Or is that natural lighting? Perhaps. As with many church areas where these geniuses of the past thought of almost everything!

 

 

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What an inheritance! Spain is so lucky to have “inherited” all these treasures. And all those El Greco paintings of saints inside the capillas. Of course no photography was allowed inside the chapels which may well be art galleries by themselves given the many precious paintings inside. And as one steps outside, there’s so much more to see. Truly, Toledo’s claim as the biggest “open-air museum” rings true.

 

 

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The best way to visit Toledo is to walk all around. Easily a half day just walking around, peeking in and out of churches and museos. Just imagine El Greco walking on the same cobble-stoned paths, drawing inspiration for his paintings and Miguel Cervantes for his Don Quixote novel from Toledo’s inheritance!

 

 

You may also want to read my 10 year-old blog on Toledo. It may be my 2nd time now, but the thrill of being in this huge open-air museum remains.


Cordoba. The Mesquita. Originally a pagan temple. Then a Visigothic Christian Church. Converted into a Mosque. And finally a Catholic Church. How can one go to Cordoba without visiting the Mesquita?

 

 

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My earlier blog on Andalusia will tell you how we covered both Sevilla and Cordoba during the Semana Santa. Perfect place to be in, except that the weather hardly cooperated. Just the same, we were in luck when we reached Cordoba. Miercoles Santo had 8 processions running. All ending at the Mesquita. We didn’t watch all 8, but our attention was drawn to the young Nazarenos — trainees? Protégés? — in the crowd.

 

 

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Unlike the “regular” Nazarenos, these young protégés had no pointed hoods over their heads. We even found one barely out of his stroller, nearly knocking everyone blocking his path as he seriously took on his role in the procession. His grandfather tried, in vain, to put him back on the stroller. And we also found girl Nazarenos. Pretty and cutesy participants to the Semana Santa processions. As they passed right in front of us — we were lucky to be standing right by the elevated platforms of the Mesquita — we heard cellphones ringing, as the teenage Nazarenos likewise engaged in light banter with friends in the crowd. All spiritual meaning may have been lost …… But who’s judging?

 

 

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These young Spaniards are fortunate to have, and to keep these traditions. The processions may seem a bit unruly —- compared to the “silent processions” in Madrid —- even festive, but the tradition has not lost its meaning, and its charm, on me.

 

 

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