No fouling…

Okay, so maybe I won’t be posting about doggie toilets around the world.  But I think I have amassed enough obnoxious photos of signs about dog crap that I can post them in my blog.  Since I love the odd silly blog post, I figure it’s time.  So with much fanfare, I give you signs against doggie dumpage.

Barcelona offers a graphic that everyone can understand.  And they thank us in Spanish.


Here’s one from Puerto Rico…


The Scots don’t like doggie doo…


They provide a bin.


And neither do people in my own neighborhood in Germany…


It’s not cool in Italy, either.


Despite the signs, it’s not uncommon to come across nasty piles of doo doo anyway.  I bet if I kept looking, I might find more examples of how uncouth it is to not clean up after your dog.  But a lot of people don’t clean up after their dogs, anyway.

Notice how all the dogs are facing the same direction.  Some of the signs are really negative, while a couple take a more positive approach.  In Spain, they simply thank you for cleaning up your dog’s shit.  In Germany, they plead about health and safety.  In Scotland, they are really stern and threaten a big fine.  In Italy, they quote the law.  In Puerto Rico, it looks like people ignore that the bin is really for dog crap.

Maybe if I collect enough pictures of signs, I can publish a book.  It worked for these ladies…

I actually own a copy of the book above.  I bought it last time we lived here and wish I’d brought it with me this time.  What can I say?  I am very easily entertained.


And the winner is…

Well, we scrapped our plans to go to Belgium because we don’t have enough time to make a road trip there worthwhile.  Instead, we’re going to go to Colmar, France.  It’s a very charming city in extreme eastern France.  We meant to visit last time we were here, but we ran out of time.

Colmar is maybe a two hour drive away through the Black Forest.  Should be a pleasant ride.  I booked us in a basic and inexpensive hotel.  I’m hoping for good food and a change of scenery.  Colmar is a pretty town.

I was thinking of going to Switzerland, too.  But to go to Switzerland and use the motorway, you have to buy a vignette.  Unless things have changed, the vignette is good from December 1 until January 31 of the following year.  So if we bought one now, it would expire at the end of January 2015.  I’m not aware of any discounts, either.  No wonder Switzerland is so lush and pretty!  It’s better to wait until December to go to Switzerland, if only to get ourselves a vignette.  They cost 40 Swiss francs or, I believe, 30 euros…  That’s about $40 or so.

Vignettes are a fact of life in a lot of European countries.  Some places let you buy vignettes that are good for a few days and they don’t cost much at all.  Others, like Switzerland, require you to buy one that is good for a year or so.  The countries that don’t have vignettes usually have tolls.  Germany is a rare country where there aren’t road tolls or vignettes.

I often see people with Swiss plates driving around here.  It’s hard to imagine what would lure them to Germany, although I’m sure a lot of things are cheaper here.  Like, the other day, I saw a guy driving a big truck on A81 with four big tires strapped to his roof.  I bet he bought those tires here.

Another thing that’s kind of cool is that a lot of Europeans use English to get by in places where they don’t speak the language.  For instance, when Bill and I visited Trier a couple of years ago, we had dinner at a little gasthaus.  A French family was also dining and instead of speaking French or German, they spoke English.  I guess it makes more sense, since English is a bit more global than German is and French and German aren’t somewhat similar the way Spanish and French are.

Ooh… this reminds me of an experience we had in Barcelona at a fabulous restaurant called Cinc Sentits.  Here’s my review.  It’s from 2009, but boy did that place put a smile on Bill’s face…  Hope we can go back to Barcelona and enjoy it again.  It’s one place where you’ll hear plenty of different languages.

Cinc Sentits is a five star feast for the five senses…

Apr 21, 2009 (Updated Apr 7, 2010)
Review by   

Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Food and Presentation:  
  • Ambiance and Decor: 
  • Quality of Service: 

Pros:Outstanding food. Impeccable service.

Cons:Very expensive. Reservations required.

The Bottom Line: Cinc Sentits is an amazing place to eat in Barcelona, Spain!

My husband Bill and I recently spent a weekend in Barcelona, Spain. Whenever we go on trips, we like to dine out at fine restaurants. We’ve used online reservation service to find excellent dining spots worldwide. did not let us down on our trip to Barcelona; it was through OpenTable that we found Cinc Sentits, a very unique restaurant offering a tasting menu that engages all of the senses.  Indeed, the name itself translates to five senses and we soon found out this restaurant is aptly named.

From the very beginning of my quest to secure a table at Cinc Sentits, I knew this restaurant would be different. When I first tried to make a reservation, I found that the only reservation available on Friday and Saturday was at 10:30pm! Now, I know it’s normal for Spanish people to dine out that late, but 10:30pm was just too late for Bill and me. Luckily, I checked back and managed to grab an elusive 8:30pm reservation. I guess someone canceled.


On the evening of April 4th, 2009, Bill and I found ourselves on a tree lined street in Barcelona. Our taxi driver had just let us out in front of Cinc Sentits, an establishment we easily could have missed. The sign out front is very small to go along with the restaurant’s diminutive size. Moreover, there was a graffiti covered garage door pulled about two-thirds of the way down. Bill and I waited outside for 8:30pm; that’s when the restaurant opens for dinner service. We were the first party of the evening to walk into the small dining room, which appeared to have about sixteen tables or so.

Cinc Sentits is outfitted in crimson and cream. Fresh orchids are placed on every table. The small but very professional wait staff is dressed head to toe in black. Everyone we came into contact with spoke excellent English, but I also noticed that several staff members also spoke French.  Although we did have one server who appeared to take care of us more often than the others, Cinc Sentits servers seem to work as a team.  We came into contact with all of them at least once during the evening.

Reservations are an absolute must!

Although Cinc Sentits will take walk ins if a table is available, the restaurant is often fully booked. That was certainly the case when Bill and I dined there. We were seated at a nice sized table for two as more people streamed in. Every single one of them had reserved a spot.

The whole experience takes at least a couple of hours and it appeared to Bill and me that Cinc Sentits entertains only a few people a night.  We did not see any of the tables turn over while we were there.  This is not a restaurant you can just drop into or come by for a quick bite to eat. Two ladies who tried to drop in unreserved were politely turned away because the whole restaurant was booked, although the apologetic waiter who broke the bad news was kind enough to offer a suggestion for another restaurant along with directions.

The clientele at Cinc Sentits seems to be an international lot. A table of Germans was seated behind us, while the table to our left included a local and his French girlfriend. We also heard British, American, and Canadian accents in our midst.

Our evening gets underway

We sipped glasses of cava and grazed on snacks of olives, almonds, and crackers as we looked at Cinc Sentits’ unique menu. Cinc Sentits offers a tasting menu in three different lengths. Diners can choose a three, six, or eight course meal with an optional wine pairing. The food is very fresh and presented artistically with flavors that seem unlikely yet still manage to work well together.

Cinc Sentits’ chef, Jordi Artal, is a self-taught culinary genius who uses very fresh, local ingredients and prepares food in the Catalunyan style. Cinc Sentits’ was named one of Spain’s top six restaurants shortly after it opened in 2006 and was awarded a Michelin star in 2008.

Artal’s wife, Amelia Artal, is the very professional yet friendly maitre d’ at Cinc Sentits. Bill and I were surprised by her very American sounding accent. We heard her tell a table full of Germans that she got her American accent from Canada! I later found out that Jordi and Amelia Artal both spent many years in Canada before coming home to Spain.

Bill and I decided to go with the eight course meal along with an optional wine pairing for an additional 30 euros each. Had we wanted to, we could have opted for finer wines at 50 euros each, but that was getting to be too extravagant. Patrons who don’t want the wine pairing can order another beverage or a bottle of wine off Cinc Sentits’ wine list.

The food

Our meal began with a question. One of the servers asked us if there was any food we were allergic to or didn’t like. I told him that I hate mushrooms with a passion. Bill, on the other hand, likes fungus and was happy to accept optional black truffles on one of his courses. That cleared up, Amelia Artal brought us what she called the “welcome shot”, which consisted of shot glasses filled with warm maple syrup, chilled cream, cava sabayon, and rock salt. She told us to down it in one gulp and to be sure to get the salt at the end. I was amazed by that shot, which reminded me of buttermilk pancakes. It sounds like it might be sweet and cloying, but it wasn’t. it was light and creamy and a delightful way to begin the meal.

The first course was a single, cold stalk of fresh asparagus served with a mussel and a delicious cream sauce. I really enjoyed the first course, but was not as fond as the next one, foie gras coca. This course usually gets raves, but I had never tried foie gras before our trip to Cinc Sentits. I was also familiar with how foie gras is made.

In any case, the foie gras was served on a thin pastry base with carmelized leeks, burnt sugar, and chive “arrope”. This course was matched with a sweet riesling wine from Germany. The wine went well with the foie gras, but I’m just not a fan of liver or sweet wine, even when they compliment each other. When I didn’t finish this course, our waiter actually cared enough to ask me why! Even though I didn’t like the foie gras coca, many other people who have reviewed Cinc Sentits disagree with me about it. Apparently, it’s a menu highlight. If you enjoy foie gras, it will probably thrill you as much as it did Bill. Personally, I didn’t like it.

I was much more into the third course, baby squid served with “arroz a banda”, “sofregit”, and saffron allioli. Our waiter described the rice as paella, but to me it looked more like a hushpuppie! This course was served with a dry Spanish white wine that complimented it beautifully. I didn’t have much time to linger on the third course, though, because it was quickly followed by the fourth course, sea bass served with peas and a mint scented sauce. Again, the chef came up with a combination that I might not have considered. The mint went so well with the sweetness of the peas and the sea bass. It was paired with another crisp white Spanish wine.

The fifth course was probably my favorite one of the meal. It was a mouthwatering Iberian suckling pig, paired with red-wine honey glaze and two types of crisp apple, was served with a flavorful red Spanish wine. Bill opted to have his pig with black truffles, while I had mine plain.

The sixth course was a choice between a palate cleansing sorbet or a cheese course. Bill had the cheese and I had the sorbet, which was served in a shot glass.

Dessert started with a blood orange sorbet with naval orange segments, candied kumquat, powdered honey and garnished with Pop Rocks! As a server set the dish in front of us, she commented that if we listened, we could hear the popping of the candy. I have to admit, the Pop Rocks were certainly an interesting addition to this dessert and the blood orange sorbet was very refreshing and not too filling.

The second half of dessert was called chocolate 67% “Grand Cru”. It consisted of a small cup of olive oil ice cream (which tastes much better than it sounds) served with macadamias, “shattered bread”, and a warm chocolate sauce. Once again, there was a salty finish with rock salt at the bottom, which was well matched by the sweetness of the chocolate. This course came with a semi sweet dessert wine.

We thought we were finished eating, but there was one last course… called mandarin. The mandarin was served in a small glass with cardamom crumble, orange-blossom “air”, and passion fruit cream. It was paired with a sweet Spanish muscatel from Malaga.  Bill and I don’t usually like dessert wines that much, but we both agreed that the dessert wines we had at Cinc Sentits were very appropriately matched and enjoyable.

Final thoughts

If an eight course tasting menu isn’t your thing, I want to note that there are a few other options available at Cinc Sentits. However, I noticed that most of the patrons opted for the eight course meal and just about everybody seemed very satisfied with their choice to do so. This is a place where you can easily spend several hours and not get too full.

We left Cinc Sentits feeling very satisfied, although the experience did not come at a bargain price. Our meal, which consisted of two glasses of cava, two eight course meals with wine pairing, two bottles of sparkling water, and an extra 12 euro charge for black truffles and a tip, came to about $335. However, Bill and I both agree that this meal was among the best we’ve ever had in our lifetimes and the service was impeccable.  Even though $335 is a lot of money to us, we thought it was a fair price for what we got.

I would recommend Cinc Sentits to anyone visiting Barcelona who loves excellent, creatively prepared food and outstanding service. Just be sure to make reservations well ahead of time, plan to stay for at least two hours, bring lots of money, and an open mind!

Cinc Sentits’ Web site:

Recommend this product? Yes

Kid Friendliness: No
Vegetarian Friendly: No
Notes, Tips or Menu Recommendations This is a good place to indulge yourself. Go for the eight course tasting menu with a wine pairing!
Best Suited For: Romantic Evening
anecdotes, international moves

All my friends are traveling to Europe…

Okay, so not all of them are.  Just a few of them that I know of are headed there.  My friend Nicole, whom I met at Fort Belvoir when I was her neighbor, went to Barcelona to catch a 12 night Disney cruise.  Her cruise will take her, her husband, and their two kids from Barcelona to Venice and they’ll be hitting some prime destinations in five different countries.

While I don’t think I’d want to sail on Disney owing to the kid friendly factor and the size of their ships, I’ve heard that the Disney cruise experience is really special.  It offers a nice experience for parents with the knowledge that their kids are well looked after.  I have another friend who has done a Disney cruise with her husband and daughter and she raves about it.  If I had kids, I’m sure I’d be all for it.

Another friend is going to France to visit friends.  I don’t know as much about her trip, except that it includes her son and a trip to Euro Disney.

I have a cousin who just went to Italy, where she’ll be studying all summer.

Bill is angling for an overseas job that he might very well manage to get.  If he does, that could mean we’ll be flying over the big pond again before too long.  If not, it may mean we’re headed for the poorhouse.  I’m only slightly kidding.  I think things will work out, though.  They have a way of doing that.  Hard to believe we were just in France and Germany a couple of weeks ago.


Things I learned on my trip to Spain and Portugal…

I am a firm believer that you learn a lot when you travel to new places.  While I had been to Madrid and Seville before we took our trip, Lajes, Lisbon, and Rota were all new to me.  I love it when I experience new and exciting things when I go abroad.  So, since I think I’m pretty much done with the story of our most recent “seat of the pants” trip, here’s a list of things I learned in Spain and Portugal.

1.  Spaniards are not rude.

The last time I was in the heart of Spain– meaning not Barcelona– I picked up sort of a negative opinion of Spain.  I think part of my problem was inexperience.  Another part was that I was traveling with my older sister, who didn’t seem to like Spain much.  Somehow I came away with the idea that Spaniards are rude.  I am happy to report that on the whole, they are very warm and pleasant.  They seemed to like Americans, too… or at least, most of them seemed to like Bill and me.  I didn’t feel like I needed to tell anyone I was Canadian, for instance.

2.  Donuts are a big deal in Portugal!  

I had no idea how much the Portuguese like donuts, but I saw them offered everywhere.  I didn’t partake of any donuts in Portugal, but I did have a couple in Spain.  They put Krispy Kremes to shame!

3.  Portuguese restaurants bring out food that appears to be free but isn’t.

Food wasn’t all that expensive in Portugal, but they do make you pay for everything, including butter.  If you eat the bread or dig into the octopus salad or crab dip, you have to pay for it.  If you leave it untouched, you don’t have to pay.

4.  Siesta still goes in Spain, but not Portugal.

I’ve heard that the siesta tradition may be going by the wayside because of business.  However, I did notice that shops shut down at 2:00 so people could have lunch.  I didn’t see this in Portugal as much and was told by a travel agent that they don’t do siesta there.

5.  You have to pay to go into the Seville cathedral.

As a matter of fact, I didn’t see too many churches open in Spain or Portugal like I have in other European countries.

6.  Trying to speak the language is a good thing.

My Spanish sucks, though not as much as I thought it did.  I charmed more than a couple of people by trying to speak it, even though I probably sounded ridiculous.  I have found in other European countries, if you try to speak the language, people will either appreciate it or immediately shift into their far superior English.

7.  Tipping is appreciated.  

This is especially true among cab drivers and carriage drivers.

8.  Don’t take the rosemary.

If you’re in a touristy area and pushy women try to give you anything for “free”, be sure to keep walking.  Chances are excellent that they will either try to pick your pocket or will demand payment for what they’re giving you for free.

9.  There’s a lot of value in just people watching.

Sure, it’s great to see the sights and shit, but I get a huge kick out of just watching people and listening to snippets of conversations.

10.  Street musicians selling CDs are awesome!

Some of my favorite mementos anywhere are CDs I’ve bought from buskers.  I highly recommend supporting street artists if you like what they’re doing.

11. Spanish orange juice is amazing!!!

I miss it.

12. Spanish ads are awesome!

I got a huge kick out of the one featuring the naked guy running through the street with his private parts blurred out.  I also liked the one for nose spray that apparently is so powerful that you can suck up a couple of pencils into your nostrils after using it.

13. Space A trips are very cool! 

Some people are planners, but I love traveling by the seat of my pants.  I love planning things on the spur of the moment.  I also love flying to and from Europe for less than $50.  If you are in the military or retired, I urge you to take advantage of this benefit and see the world.

14. Sometimes you have to trade one travel memory for another…

I’m sorry we lost our wee Scottish umbrella in a bar in Madrid, but I’m not sorry we spent an evening in a seedy local bar, watching the locals mingle and staring at a woman with huge tits.

15. Hit the spa.

I loved our experience at Aire.  I loved goading Bill into it, too.

I learned more than this and I’m sure I’ll write more about it later, but right now I have to snuggle Arran, who begged to get into my lap.  I missed my dogs like crazy while we were gone.


Hammam, carriage ride, funny bum, and way too much wine…

I booked our appointment at Aire for 12:00pm.  That left us with our morning to wander around Seville.  It was Monday and Bill was starting to fret about how we were going to get out of Spain and make it back to Texas in time for his leave to end at 11:59pm Texas time on Thursday, the 23rd.  I, of course, was annoyed with Bill for not arranging for leave through the weekend.  He later explained that he wanted to get to the office to take care of some stuff for a briefing with his boss.  But as we watched the flights leaving Rota Naval Base in Rota, Spain, it wasn’t looking like we’d be able to get out of Spain in time for Bill to get home before his leave ended.


Because Bill is hyper-responsible, he was super stressed out.  So we went for a walk and ended up passing a bunch of guys with horses and carriages.  One of them approached us and asked if we wanted to take a carriage ride.  They started at 11:00, when the cathedral opened.  I asked how long the ride would take, since we had the hammam appointment at noon.  The guy said it took an hour.  I said we’d have to do it in the afternoon because we didn’t have time at that point.

Alphonso XIII…  A very expensive hotel…

As we headed toward the Guadalquivir River, we were accosted by a pushy woman wanting us to sign up for a Hop On, Hop Off tour.  I was immediately turned off by her approach and also realized that for us, the bus tour would not be a particularly good buy, since we like to walk a lot.  I listened to her spiel and finally said, “I don’t think we’re interested.”  That seemed to piss her off, but at least we were able to cross the street.

We walked past the naval museum and along the river, then crossed into the beautiful park near the palace.  Bill and I were engaged in conversation when I got bombed by a pigeon of some sort.  Then I spotted some swans and ducks, so we turned toward there, just in time to see some guy hastily zip up his pants.  Apparently, we had interrupted him as he took a piss.

Rental bikes in Seville…

Naval museum

We walked along the street in front of the palace, then headed back toward the hotel, so I could pick up my bathing suit.  We went looking for Aire and, of course, got a bit lost in Seville’s narrow streets.  I think we might have been a little late when we finally found the place.

Aire offers two hour sessions in which you can get massages or other treatments and soak in one of five pools or sit in a eucalyptus scented steam room.  You’re supposed to speak in a low voice, drink lots of water and tea, and relax.  It was just what Bill needed.  Of course, it turned out that many staff members at Aire didn’t speak much English, so we had to rely on our crappy Spanish skills to figure out what to do.  I actually could understand a lot of the Spanish, but my ability to speak it is almost nil now.

The outside of Aire…

I wasn’t completely understanding what we were supposed to do, but managed to get into my swimsuit and found my way around the peaceful facility.  The lights were dim; there was relaxing music; and had it not been for a couple of chattering Spanish ladies, it would have been a very calming experience.  Bill and I only got fifteen minute massages.  I kind of wish I’d gotten a longer one, but I’d read on TripAdvisor that the massages weren’t all that great.  I ended up with a pretty good masseuse, though.  We rotated around the salt pool, jetted pool, and warm, hot, and cold pools until we heard the chime letting us know our time was up.

After we went to the hammam, we visited what turned out to be a chain restaurant called Robles.  Once again, we ordered too much food.  The restaurant was pretty quiet and I noticed a manager type walking around, looking like he was proctoring an exam or something.

Where we had lunch…

Bill’s avocado and goat cheese starter.  I skipped this because I don’t like strong cheese.

My starter… fried prawns!

Bill’s beef and potatoes.

Chicken and garlic.

Dessert!  Everybody loves a parfait, right?

After lunch, we took our carriage ride, though not from the guy who had asked us if we wanted one.  Our driver did not speak any English, but we were able to understand much of what he said.  He had a grey mare who seemed a little nervous in the heavy traffic we drove through.  As he was pointing out places of interest along our route, the driver got a call on his cell phone.  Bill and I chuckled, since the guy’s ringtone was a horse neighing.  The driver insisted on taking pictures of me and Bill in his carriage.  I’m grateful they mostly turned out okay.  I hate the way I photograph.  When we got back to the starting point, I managed to tell the guy that I used to have a horse.  We bonded and he told me his mare’s name is Rosilla.  I petted the horse and we went on our way.

That evening, we ended up at this great bar near our hotel.  Bill and I wanted some wine, though we were still pretty full from lunch.  Our server was a fatherly man who was intent on teaching me how to order shrimp fritters.  I was enjoying the music in the bar, which was all from the 80s, so we sat there and drank a shitload of wine.  The second bottle was from Jerez de la Frontera, which is where Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry is made.  The quality was excellent and the bottle wasn’t too expensive, but it packed quite a wallop at 15% alcohol.

I ended up getting pretty hammered… and when a bum came in looking for handouts, I ended up in a funny exchange with him.  He flirted with me as a means of mock begging.  I laughed in response and Bill gave him a couple of euros.  Later, when he continued to engage, I laughed again and told him to “beat it”.  He took his leave with a courtly bow.  Sadly, I don’t quite remember the end of the evening… at least until we got to the hotel and my body kicked out some of the booze.

Information center…

There are buildings related to Spanish speaking countries in Seville…

Beautiful park


Palace views!


Tickets to Seville and The Prado… and an amazing taste of real Spain

During my last visit to Madrid, my sister Becky and I visited the Prado museum.  I distinctly remember that we didn’t have time to see much because we needed to catch a train.  Also, Becky was in a foul mood and had pretty much cussed me out in a nearby park.  But Becky’s an artist and has the temperament to match her talent, so there you go.  Anyway, Bill loves to look at art and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more interested in it.  So we decided to go to The Prado and check out the exhibits.

Yummy churros con chocolate…

But first, there was some business we needed to attend to.  I wanted to go to Seville, which is my favorite Spanish city thus far.  So, after a cheap and very satisfying breakfast of churros and chocolate at an Asian owned bar near our hotel, we went by metro to the Atocha train station, one of Madrid’s two big stations.  It was interesting to take the Madrid metro again after so many years.  Bill observed that the machines offered directions in English, but there weren’t any attendants around.  So we had to be a bit more intuitive as we determined where we needed to go.

We got to the train station and made our way to the RENFE office so we could buy our tickets.  I sort of dreaded doing this, since the last time I visited Spain, I encountered some very unpleasant people in the Atocha train station.  I’m happy to report that this time, the woman who helped us was very nice and even admired Bill’s squiggly signature which doesn’t resemble a name.  She pronounced it “clever” and then made fun of all the people who signed so carefully on the credit card machine.  All the machine really cares about is that someone scribbled something in the right place.

We ended up with two tourist level tickets for the 1:00 train.  I would have opted for “club class” had the clerk offered it, but as it turned out, second class was a lot cheaper and plenty comfortable.  More on that in my next post about our bullet train ride to Seville.

Anyway, I remembered that the Prado Museum was very close to the train station.  My memory didn’t fail me.  All we had to do was cross the street and walk a little ways and there it was.

The Prado…

A cathedral near the Prado…

We got to the museum at 11:20 am and got tickets to the special temporary exhibit for 11:45am.  The exhibit was on the Velasquez family of Philip IV and it was surprisingly interesting.  Indeed, I was marveling at how much of art is also a history lesson.  After we looked at the Velasquez exhibit, we looked at some sketch books of Spanish artists who went to Rome to learn technique.  That was an even more interesting exhibit, given all that went into the training and the varying levels of talent among the artists.

The permanent exhibit is absolutely huge and takes hours to get through.  We saw a good portion of the  museum, but I finally wimped out after about three hours.  There was so much to see that I didn’t feel like my brain could process much more.  I’m really glad we took the time to see this museum, though.  It was well worth the price of admission.  One of the favorite parts of my visit was getting to see an amazing copy of the Mona Lisa…  Check out this link from CNN for a glimpse!

The walk back to Puerta del Sol…

We walked back to our hotel from the Prado, then headed for the Puerta del Sol area, which is sort of the heart of Madrid.  I found us a nice family owned restaurant not directly in the line of tourism and we had paella and beer for lunch.  I think it was Bill’s first taste of paella and he really enjoyed it.

Bill had chocolate and I had vanilla for dessert…

Mickey and Minnie Mouse were in Puerta del Sol…  So were Bart and Homer Simpson and Spongebob Squarepants.

We went back to our hotel, where I proceeded to take another long nap.  I guess the Prado affected me more than I realized.  Once I woke up, it was time for dinner and we went walking in search of a place for something to eat.  I didn’t want to go back to the Puerta del Sol area, because it was very crowded and busy and I didn’t feel like fighting crowds.  But I also didn’t want to sit in a crowded place near our hotel.  After walking around a bit, we finally stopped at a deserted looking bar.

The place was not the usual sort of establishment I would choose, but I was tired and just wanted to get something simple to eat.  Little did I know, that sad little bar would turn into an amazing cultural experience.  We walked in, sat down, and ordered two beers.  I ordered chicken wings and Bill ordered Serrano ham, which is just as good as Iberian ham, but less expensive.  The legs of ham were right up there at the bar and we watched the bartender carve some for us.  The bartender also brought us Russian salad and potato cakes.

Bill eats ham and bread…

Those chicken wings were delicious.

 It was pretty slow at the beginning of the night…

We drank beer and wine…

As the night wore on, we seemed to endear ourselves to the bartender, who brought us olives.  More people came in, including a guy who looked like he was into sports.  A little while later, his girlfriend came in.  She was tall, a bit overweight, and wore an extremely low cut blouse that showed off her boobs.  My face must have registered shock because next thing I know, she was whispering to her man.  He gave me a dirty look.  Then I saw her turn around and she had zipped up her jacket to cover her breasts.

I felt a little badly at first.  I didn’t mean to embarrass her.  But I honestly was surprised to see her boobs.  They left and Bill and I kept drinking.  The owner of the bar brought out more tapas we didn’t order.  It was clear that if you were drinking, they were feeding you.

I got up to go to the bathroom.  There was no toilet paper in the toilet, which was not very clean.  Fortunately, I had tissues that I had gotten on our Scottish cruise on Hebridean Princess in 2012.  They really came in handy.  I left a few for the next gal to come along.

The owner brought of empanadas and potatoes and bacon… I finally had to look up at him with a look that said I was about to explode…  though it was a lot of fun watching the crowd.  Football was on the TV and we got to see some Spanish ads, which are a hell of a lot more entertaining than American ads are.  One that we saw several times involved a naked man running through the streets.  His private parts were blurred out; but still, you’d never see that in America.

When we were in Scotland, a kind-hearted cabbie gave me a “wee Scottish tartan umbrella” to help fend off the frigid, damp weather.  Bill brought it with us on our trip and had taken it along on that night at the crazy Spanish bar in Madrid.  He was a bit buzzed and forgot to take it with him when we left.  I was a little sad, since that umbrella had sentimental value.  But then I realized we had traded one cultural experience for another.  And honestly, that bar was obviously run by guys who weren’t into neatness.  I bet the umbrella is still sitting where we sat and will be there awhile.  We noticed that there was a lot of trash on the floor and no one seemed too worried about picking it up.  On the other hand, we had a wonderful time.  When I protested all the food, the guy who was bringing it out gave me a “never mind” look and rubbed his stomach as he licked his lips.  Too funny!

The front of the infamous Spanish bar…

 We passed a gay bar on the way back to our hotel and I couldn’t resist snapping these photos.


Air Europa and Madrid…

The last time I was in Madrid, it was September 1997.  I was 25 years old and broke, on my way home from my Peace Corps assignment in Armenia and traveling with friends.  We arrived by train from Barcelona and stayed in a cheap hotel in the Puerta del Sol area.  I remember hearing U2 play in my room, as they were promoting their album, Pop, at a concert that was playing in town.  My sister joined me in Madrid and I parted ways with my friends.

My sister and I were not particularly compatible travel companions and I don’t think I got as much out of Spain as I should have during that trip.  I was also preoccupied by worry and the prospect of finding a job and going home, where I would end up living with my parents for two arduous years.

Since Bill had never been to Madrid or any other city in Spain aside from Barcelona, I determined that we needed to go there.  The train seemed like it would take too long, so I searched for plane tickets.  As it turned out, Air Europa, a somewhat new airline based in Spain, offered cheap tickets from Lisbon to Madrid.  The catch was that the flight would leave early in the morning.  However, these tickets were over $100 less per person than the others I found for sale.  For about $200, Bill and I could fly from Lisbon to Madrid much faster and probably more cheaply than we could go by train.  Since there was a time change in Spain, we’d arrive at about 10:00am, giving us plenty of time to see the city.

I booked the tickets.  In retrospect, it was a good thing that I didn’t read the reviews written about Air Europa before I booked, or I might have been scared off.  Our experience was actually pretty decent.  We checked our bags and headed to the gate.  It turned out the plane was pretty small, with two by one seating.  Everyone with a bag of any size had to check it, so I was relieved of my carry on before I got on the aircraft.

Our flight was no frills.  The lone flight attendant didn’t pass out any snacks or beverages and there was no entertainment.  But honestly, I didn’t miss the lack of amenities.  We had a smooth, safe flight and all our luggage got to the destination.  We did have to pick up my carry on after we got off the plane, but the other two bags were at baggage claim, safe and sound.

The views on the way into Madrid…

We walked out of Madrid’s Barajas Airport and got a cab.  Refreshingly enough, our cab driver was female and very friendly.  It was 30 euros to get to our hotel, Hotel Atlantico, which was located on the Gran Via.  I didn’t know it when I booked, but this hotel used to be a Best Western.  But it was actually a pretty nice place to stay.  We booked a cheap room with a view into a shaft.  Since the weather was rainy and cold, that wasn’t a huge deal.  The room was ready on our arrival, so we dropped our bags and then went exploring.

I had forgotten how grand and ornate Madrid is.

I think this was a stage production of Dinner With Schmucks…

I had to take a photo of a restaurant called Nebraska.  It just struck me as weird.

Someone with a Jim Morrison fetish made this… “This Is The End”

We found a great restaurant here called Roll.  I think it might have been owned by Spanish-Americans, since it boasted a Spanish-American menu.  Plus, I heard a guy come in who obviously was important there and he had a distinctly American accent.

We got to Roll before 1:00pm, which is when the kitchen opened.  It was cold outside, so we decided to drink some rioja while we waited.

Bill and I enjoy munchies while we wait.  Unlike Portugal, it seems that in Spain, the pre-meal munchies are free…

First courses.  That tomato soup was absolutely delicious and perfect for a cold afternoon.


I originally ordered the chicken in front of Bill, but it was loaded with mushrooms, which I can’t eat. We switched plates and I got the fish and chips, which were surprisingly good.

We were too full for dessert, but we did enjoy coffee and another glass of wine.  The waitress had some leftover from a recent wine tasting.  All in all, it was a very nice meal and I’m delighted we stumbled across this place.  Here’s a write up by someone else who liked Roll, too.

The following photos were shots I took on the way back to the hotel.  We decided to go back and take a quick nap.

Ham is BIG in Spain… and it’s uniformly delicious.

Love the blurry photo of the Spanish dancer mannequin…


At one point, we looked inside a cathedral and I took a couple of photos.

Right after I took a picture of the above cathedral, I took a picture of this door.  Suddenly, an older woman in a thick white coat started yelling at me.  I don’t know what she said because I wasn’t listening until I heard her say “camera”.   She seemed a bit strange, so Bill and I ignored her and left the area.  She must have lived in the area because we saw her several times over the course of our two days in Madrid.

Plaza Mayor

I was eager to show Bill this Spanish landmark.  The weather was chilly and rainy and the plaza was overrun with a lot of homeless folks.  However, there was yet another great street musician playing guitar there and the plaza is still pretty impressive despite the smell of stale urine and sight of the downtrodden seeking shelter there. The last time I was in Madrid, I stayed in a hotel very near this landmark.  I was surprised I still remembered so well how to get around.

Just beyond the Plaza Mayor, there was a great food market that had all sorts of tempting food and drink.  Bill and I went in there to warm up with some hot beverages.

My hot chocolate…

After we left the food market, we walked back to the area around our hotel and looked for dinner.

The storefront of El Corte Ingles.  This is a pretty cool Spanish department store chain that seems a lot like Harrod’s.  I remember stopping there when I was traveling with my friends in 1997.

We had dinner at a small bar called Desengano 13.  Bill ordered Iberian ham, which is made from pigs who have eaten acorns.  It’s quite delicious.

We also had fried cheese tapas dressed with balsamic vinegar…  I drank fizzy water and a little wine…  

All in all, it was a successful day in Madrid.  Stay tuned for my post about the Prado museum.


The pooping nun… AKA Caganer!

In April 2009, Bill and I paid a visit to Barcelona, Spain.  While we were there, I did some shopping.  If you read my blogs, you might have noticed that I have a disgusting affection for scatological humor.  Therefore, I was delighted when I first encountered caganers.

What is a caganer, you ask?  It’s a sympathetic character from Catalan tradition.  According to the Web site,, the caganer was an obliged figure in the Christmas cribs of the eighteenth century.  At the time, people believed that the caganer’s “deposits” would enrich and fertilize the soil, thus promoting healthy crops.  The caganer was also supposed to bring good health and calm to the body and soul.  In other words, having a caganer was supposed to be good luck.

I purchased two caganers on our trip to Spain.  One is a painted tile of a shepherd pooping.  It’s hanging in my bathroom, of course.  The other is a small pooping nun.  Last night, Zane woke up in the middle of the night and threw up on the rug in our bedroom.  Bill took him out, but on his way to the door, he rubbed up against my nun and knocked her off her perch.  She broke in several pieces.  Fortunately, I was able to glue her back together.

Now I have an excuse to go back to Barcelona.  Not only is it a beautiful city full of interesting architecture, amazing food, beautiful beaches, and vibrant culture; it’s also a place where I can replace my broken pooping nun caganer!


A month on a train in Europe… Spain

Dawn, Chris, and I marveled as we watched the insanely beautiful Spanish countryside fly by.  We had stopped briefly in Port Bou, France, because the train tracks in Spain are different than they are in France and we had to change trains.  A gaggle of American sorority girls were on our train, making me feel both old and slightly irritated.

I remember sitting in my second class seat and looking at the stunning landscape.  A Spanish native said “Welcome to Espana” with a proud smile on his face.

It was bright and sunny as we passed Girona and its cathedral on our way south.  We finally landed in Barcelona in the early evening.  We had been traveling all day and we were tired… and somehow, we ended up at a dirt cheap hostel a few blocks from Barcelona’s train station.  The room was dark, small, and had a window that literally opened into the elevator shaft.  But for three poverty stricken travelers, it would work.

Dawn, Chris and I walked around downtown Barcelona, strolling on Las Ramblas and meeting up with Chris’s friend, Javier, who lived in Barcelona.  I remember getting into his tiny compact car and going on a tour of the city, which highlighted the Olympic stadium.  I also remember eating paella for the first time and discovering bocadillos at Pan and Company, a Barcelona area healthy fast food chain.  We visited the cathedral and stood outside La Sagrada Familia, because we were too poor to pay the admission to go inside.

In 2009, my husband and I went back to Barcelona and stayed in a very nice hotel in Montjuic, which is an area on hill that overlooks the city.  Our 2009 trip was sort of a dream come true, since I had shown my husband my picture of La Sagrada Familia several years prior and he didn’t know what it was.  When I told him about it, he wanted to go there… and we managed to do that, courtesy of a “blind booking” on Germanwings, a discount airline in Germany that lets people book mystery flights (lots of fun– we’ve done it three times so far).

Taken in April 2009.  My husband cried when we went inside because he was overwhelmed by how cool it is…


After a couple of days in Barcelona, Dawn, Chris, and I went to Madrid, where I would be meeting my older sister.  We booked a stay in a comfortable hotel suggested by Rick Steves.  I got a single room and Dawn and Chris stayed in a double.  I remember going to the airport to pick up my sister, Becky, and then after lunch, Dawn, Chris, and I parted ways.  They were headed to see another one of Chris’s friends up north and then take Dawn to Salamanca.  My sister and I, on the other hand, planned to head south to Seville.

But first we spent a few nights in Madrid…  I remember on the first night, U2 was playing and I could hear their concert in my hotel room.  It was right around the time they had released Pop, an album I don’t own but should probably buy because I heard their concert in my Madrid hotel room.

La Plaza Mayor in Madrid

Courtesy of Wikipedia (

In retrospect, it probably wasn’t that smart to travel with Becky.  She’s a high maintenance person and immediately objected to the cheap places I had gotten used to staying at.  But we got along okay at first… I was excited about going to Seville, which I had heard was amazing.  We went to the Prado, which Becky insisted on because she’s an artist.  I don’t think we got to see much of it, though, because we had a train to catch.  We had book a bullet train to Seville, cutting down the travel time to something manageable.

When we got to Seville, we managed to find a small bed and breakfast in the maze-like old town, Santa Cruz (Jewish Quarter).  We saw a flamenco show, saw Seville’s massive cathedral, and took a carriage ride around the Plaza de Espana… and I remember it was about this time that Becky and I started to bicker.  She objected to the frantic pace I had been keeping and my cheapness.  And she also didn’t seem to like Spain that much, because people eat later at night.  My sister was an ugly American to the extreme and said Spain was like a third world country.  Having just come from Armenia, where 24 hour power still wasn’t guaranteed, I thought that was a pretty foolish remark.

Plaza de Espana

Courtesy of Wikipedia: (ña_-_Sevilla.jpeg)

Anyway, between stories about her love life and complaints about how dirty Spain was, I was quickly realizing I was better off traveling alone.

Becky and I went to Cadiz, Spain next.  Cadiz is in the extreme southern part of Spain, on the Mediterranean coast.  It was in Cadiz that we stayed in very poor accommodations.  I remember it being a simple room with crucifixes on the walls.  After a day strolling around the very hot city and taking a swim at the beach, we went to an Irish pub, where I proceeded to drink five Irish coffees.  I was up all night because there was a loud party going on in the building next to ours.

Cadiz Cathedral

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Though it was very cool to be so close to Morocco, we got up early the next day for a train heading to France…  Becky’s patience with Spain was wearing dangerously thin…  and my patience with Becky was also becoming pretty short.