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Monday, 30 September 2013

A Birthday Treat

   I had a lovely day for my birthday today - lots of little treats and fun with James. It was a rather dull, dreary day but all the attention raised my spirits.
   First off, Judy arrived with James and two gorgeous cupcakes (not to be eaten until after lunch!). Then later in the morning James and I headed down to Starbucks for my free birthday coffee. We shared an oatmeal chocolate bar as I downed my decaf tall latte and he his apple juice. 
    Just before lunch Judy arrived with a sushi lunch which I decided to save for dinner. After our usual lunch we managed to find a candle and James gave me a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday to You" before blowing it out. He is really getting so big and grown up.
   The next surprise was a present from Judy and Steve - a Kobo eReader! Can't wait to get it booted up and some books downloaded. That was quite unexpected and wholly appreciated. Now to enjoy my sushi meal - no preparation required! 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

A Busy Weekend

    As well as my usual chores on a Saturday (shopping, laundry etc.) I spent the afternoon at Eastminster Church where we were holding the Scottish "Culture Days" celebration.  Arrived there at 1:00 p.m. without having had any lunch and helped set up. Lots of Scottish paraphernalia, including a piper to attract people to the event, and Keith was on hand to take the visitors through some Ceilidh dances. Then we had snacks - luckily someone brought sausage rolls as I was starving! Then some more dances; by this time there were more volunteers than visitors so we ended around 4:00  and headed home. A light supper (still full from the sausage rolls) and some TV then off to bed.

   Today I decided to give tennis a miss. After all the dancing yesterday I was late getting up. However, I managed to fill the day with gardening chores; there is always a lot to do around the garden in the Fall. I picked this humungous tomato for my lunch - it weighed more than half-a-pound - but it will likely be the last to ripen on the vine as the rest are still very green.  There's still most of it left for another day. I also picked three yellow cherry tomatoes and there are some more of them almost ready. Tonight is smoked salmon on crostini and cream cheese - my version of bagels and lox - and liver and mushrooms with some left-over quinoa. Shouldn't need any dessert after that feast!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Departure for Home

   On our return from Pamplona we had an early dinner and a short night's sleep as our departure from the hotel was scheduled for 3:30 a.m. We had to be at Bilbao airport for the 6:30 flight to Frankfurt but when we arrived there, nobody was about. However, all worked out and we departed on time, made our connection in Frankfurt and arrived in Toronto uneventfully. A very long day by the time I arrived home that evening (including a 6-hour time change) but, all in all, a successful trip. I managed to get one beautiful sunset shot of the bay at San Sebastian on our way home from the restaurant.. 
Hotel Londres y Angleterre


   This has been a glorious week of weather and it is forecast to continue for a few more days. This is one of my favourite times of year, sunny days, cool nights, the smell of Fall in the air. James and I have had fun at the park this week and I have been playing quite a bit of tennis too. Having a refreshing beer before I go off to cook a nice light dinner of salmon fillet, quinoa and roasted peppers.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Pamplona

   Our last excursion was to Pamplona and we started the day with a very interesting lecture on Ernest Hemingway and his influence in bringing Pamplona to the world's attention. The running of the bulls as described by him in his novel "The Sun Also Rises" was merely part of a once a year festival that ran for a week in July and culminated each day in a bull fight.


   Although the early morning event where the bulls run through the town to reach the arena looks dangerous and exciting, it is largely overplayed with the bulls merely following a lead steer through the town. One year when the road became blocked by an accident, the bulls merely slowed down and milled around until the blockage was cleared! No one was hurt. Although there are accidents, they are usually minor and there have been very few deaths.

   The town is all about Ernest; where he stayed, his favourite watering holes (and the prodigious amount of liquor he and his friends consumed). There are several statues of him and one particularly impressive one of the bulls in full flight with men desperately trying to avoid falling under their hooves. 
 

The Running of the Bulls
 
Pamplona Town Hall

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Bilbao

   Our next outing was to the industrial city of Bilbao. The waterfront has been rebuilt in recent years and this is where Frank Gherry designed and built the Guggenheim Museum. It is more an art gallery than a museum and I was not too interested in the exhibits housed there at the moment. The building, however, is pretty impressive. From the opposite bank of the river it looks like a great silver boat. Indoors it is light and airy with lots of exposed steel and concrete. I also loved "Puppy", a huge floral dog set just outside the upper entrance.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

San Sebastian

The only building that survived
These young ladies posed for us.
   We were very fortunate to be in San Sebastian on the day, August 31,they celebrated the survival of the town from a siege and fire that almost destroyed it. Only one building remains of the original old town. Despite it being a serious anniversary, there was much music, marching bands and jollity. The residents all dress up as the two opposing armies (British and French, but there were many different uniforms) and march through the streets firing rifles and banging drums. Then all congregate outside the Town Hall for more music and drumming. As well as squads of soldiers, there were groups of women and children, all dressed in their Basque national costumes and equipped with a small barrel which they used like a drum.

   The Old Town is very interesting and a popular hangout for the young people with many tapas bars and small shops. I happened to come across an evening event in which couples performed national dances, competing to see who won a trophy. They danced to live music, very exhilarating!
 
One of the squads of soldiers


Saturday, 21 September 2013

From Catalan Country to Basque

Town Hall
    After 4 days in Barcelona we boarded the bus for San Sebastian. The scenery was magnificent - steep gorges and wide valleys with little habitation. What did surprise me, in the flatter areas, were field upon field of solar panels. Also, there were great quantities of wind farms.

Goya
   We stopped at Zaragoza for lunch and had a tour of the main square and cathedral. We saw one of the results of the Spanish Civil War here in the church - an unexploded bomb, said to have been dropped by a pilot who was from the area and removed the detonation in order to preserve his cathedral.
 
    The city was shared with the Moors and both a mosque and church were in the main square. The city was also the birth place of the famous Spanish artist, Goya.


   Later that afternoon we arrived on the Atlantic coast and were soon ensconced in the Hotel Londres, San Sebastian, just steps from the beach. Even at that time the beach was thronged with swimmers and sun worshippers. Although undoubtedly many were tourists, some local families were also there enjoying some relaxation after a day of work or school.


Mosque tower










Thursday, 19 September 2013

Antoni Gaudi


   I have finally downloaded all my vacation photos and can start to retell the days as they occurred. Barcelona is known for its architecture and one of its most famous architects is Antoni Gaudi whose most famous work was done in the early 20th century. He was a local Catelan and built many unusual structures throughout the city. Our first visit was to an apartment building called "La Pedara" with an unusual layout around a courtyard with each circular apartment facing out with windows on all sides. The roof was also worth a visit. Another building looks like a Disney castle and "Park Guell" has a very unusual gathering area supported on pillars.

  In 1920 Gaudi also began work on the magnificent "Sagra Familia" cathedral. This is scheduled to be completed in 2020 but was dedicated by the Pope last year and is now open to the public inside. You can see the original exterior is quite in contrast to the portion being completed at this time. 





Early portion of "Sagria Familia"

"Park Guell"



Rooftop "La Pedara"
Inner courtyard "La Pedara"


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Tuesday

   Up early this morning and off to the tennis courts for breakfast - and what a meal it was! Jasmine and Nancy-Jean outdid themselves - scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, a spicy egg and cheese casserole, toast, fresh fruit, muffins, juice and coffee, all for $5! Then onto the courts to try to work off all this excess of food. It had started off cool but as the sun shone, things warmed up and we were soon stripping off layers. Finished around 11:00 a.m. and headed home. 
   Unfortunately, this was also the day of the monthly RWTO lunch so at 12:00 p.m. I was sitting down to another meal, still stuffed from the first. A nice light salad followed by chicken breast and veggies, ice cream and fruit. Managed to do it justice by skipping the bread. No supper for me tonight!
   Got a little bit of garden tidy-up done this afternoon (after a nap) as the garden refuse pick-up is tomorrow and my composter is getting full. So, a busy day today, all things considered.
   Here's a photo of the Christopher Columbus statue in Barcelona. Unfortunately, right after taking this photo I got knocked over by a bunch of illegal street vendors being chased by the police and ended up in Emergency waiting to get my lip stitched up! Before the doctor saw me I had to produce my method of payment and it wasn't cheap. Still waiting to be reimbursed from my insurance company.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Saturday

   Still a bit on the cool side. 7C when I got up this morning but the sun shone all day so it has warmed up considerably. Got the back grass cut before lunch and some weeding done. A neighbour had an "Open House" this morning, which I visited. They are selling and invited the neighbours for a preview - very well kept, they should have no problem finding a buyer, even with an asking price of close to $900,000! The real estate agent told me our community is one of the top ten in the city which is very encouraging if I should decide to move.

   Nothing much on TV tonight so I will have to resort to a video. Dinner is salmon fillet with quinoa. I've picked some Swiss Chard from the garden so will steam that too. Still have some stewed plums for dessert.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Very Much Fall

   What a change in the weather! Woke up to 12C and it hasn't budged much all day. We got in a couple of hours of tennis between sprinkles of rain; luckily the courts didn't get wet enough to be slippery and dangerous. Tonight the temperature is predicted to drop to 3C with a chance of frost in some areas. I am going to ignore this and leave my delicate plants out as it just seems too early to start bringing them in.

   Got the front grass cut and then a visit to the hairdresser. What a relief to have a tidy head again. Lunch at Red Lobster with Judy - grilled tacos with tilapia, a nice change from my usual soup and sandwich. Don't think I will need any dinner though! 

Thursday, 12 September 2013

At the Zoo

   Monday was Grandparent's Day at the zoo so James and I made a morning of it. Lots of seniors and grandparents with kids in tow. The Pandas were hiding but we did manage a couple of photos. The Cape Penguins were no-shows but we did get a good look at the Polar Bears. My favourite sightings were a small Arctic Fox very obligingly snoozing near the fence and two White Owls. James was reluctant to leave but we made it home for lunch without him falling asleep in the car, so he had a good nap in the afternoon.

   Today much more pleasant so had an hour of tennis this morning. It had rained overnight which brought the temperature down and provided more comfortable sleeping conditions. More rain this afternoon, just as I was about to cut the grass - will postpone until tomorrow.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Still Summer

   Tennis this morning ....and sooo hot! The temperature reached 34C today , and that's without the humidity factored in. I only played one short set as I was manning the board. No one played too much even early before the heat started to rise. Tomorrow will be more of the same but it is due to cool off a bit after that. The house has stayed relatively cool (downstairs anyway) but I don't think I will be opening any windows tonight.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Departure

   Much to tell and where to start? Well, first off, the departure flight was delayed for 3 hours for a mechanical problem, and we sat on the tarmac at Toronto while a repair part was sought. At one point the captain promised us sandwiches but they never materialized. So we had a very long wait for dinner, by my calculations, a quarter past midnight.

   Needless to say, we missed our connecting flight in Frankfurt; but here's why it's a good idea to travel with a group - a rep from AHI was waiting for us with a new flight arranged and our new boarding passes for Barcelona. Even our luggage managed to make it onto the new flight! So we arrived there just a few hours after and made it to the welcome reception and dinner. This was our first experience of the great food and wine we were to experience on this trip - interesting tapas, lovely fresh fish and salads and yummy desserts.

    Our first day was a tour of the city including the Palace of Ferdinand and Isabella (where Christopher Columbus brought them the news of the New World) and the Cathedral. Their court was in Barcelona in the 15th century as the Muslims were occupying the rest of Spain.

Entrance on main square

16th Century Cathedral

 





a tranquil inner courtyard







Ferdinand and Isabella's Palace. They greeted Christopher Columbus on the these steps when he returned from the New World.