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Over The Hills We Go…

The weather was up in the air today but it looked like we would avoid major rain so we decided to take the kids on a hike on the ridge from Swanage to Corfe. It’s a lovely walk once you get up the steep bit and you can see for miles. We did miss the path for the Nine Barrows from the Iron Age so the kids only saw bits as we walked by unfortunately.

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Dorset is such a gorgeous part of the world. You are hard pressed to find a bad walk. Purbeck is especially beautiful. You find all sorts of flowers on your journey.

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As soon as we get to the top the views are breathtaking as we overlook the bay.

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And we have to be mindful that we are walking through farmland and we encounter animals. This time we just saw some sheep but last time we had to make our way through a large herd of cows blocking a gate.

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It helps to be mindful of the tiniest of creatures, even the bane of English gardens everywhere. This one was pointing towards my mother in law’s but the rate it was going it would take at least a year!

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We had storms come through last night so it was still very gusty at the top. These trees are used to it though and present all sorts of bendy shapes.

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Despite the clouds coming in and some misting we were able to enjoy the walk keeping in mind there was cream tea at the end. The castle was the beacon getting closer and closer.

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After a several mile hike we rested at the base of Corfe Castle with the sparrows zipping in and out at high speed while enjoying the cream tea. Wish I could have gotten a picture of these birds but they were zooming about buzzing very close to us. I could feel the wings as they went by!

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When asked why we would move back to England I would point to this. Why wouldn’t we?

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My London Fix

Half a lifetime ago I lived in London. It’s one of my favourite cities. Even living there for a year I think I only scratched the surface of what to see. When we decided to visit with the kids it was hard to narrow down what to see. We still had a whirlwind visit.

For the most part we were lucky with the weather with the exception of the first day. Gorgeous until we were ready to see the sights then it got cold and rainy. There was a scramble for umbrellas, shawls, and jumpers. It wasn’t too bad until the Tower of London when the skies opened up. Tipping down. We saw that the first day as there is a 2 for 1 if you see it the day you arrive on train. There are loads of sights that offer the deal. I think it was day out guide.

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We did get in to see the Crown Jewels which was great timing as we had to escape the downpour. All the kids thought it was an adventure. My friend from up north came down with her family to visit. We’ve known each other for 40 years now. So we had to celebrate! Been too long as we hadn’t seen each other since 2009.

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The next day was quite the adventure. We found out about the hop on and off river cruises that included tickets to the Tower Bridge Exhibition. It stops at a ton of piers on the river including Greenwich. We had a picnic at the park looking at the Royal Observatory. It was perfect for getting away from the crowds.

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It was discovered that the Tower of London was a bit of a jinx with the weather as we had to walk by it to get to the Tower Bridge and it began raining again! As luck would have it it was the 120th anniversary of the bridge that day so we got a free guide book. I recommend going into the tower as you get fabulous views and you get to see how the steam engine rooms were like.

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The sun came out as we were exploring and finishing the tour. As soon as we got near the tower again the skies opened up. We avoided the tower for the rest of the trip.

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On our son’s bucket list was the London Eye. We couldn’t have picked a better day for it! We could see for miles. Buckingham Palace looked tiny as did Big Ben.

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We managed the British Museum, the Science Museum, and the Transport Museum so we were walked off our feet by the time we caught the train back to Swanage. It was a great visit and a good introduction for the kids. They will have to come back!

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Tanks Everywhere!!

We are having a wonderful visit here in England. Getting my fix on proper fish and chips, pork pies, and crisps. The weather for the most part has been gorgeous with roses in bloom everywhere.

On the day the weather was a bit wonky we decided to check out the Tank Museum in Bovington. What a place! Because it is the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI this summer and last Thursday was the 100th anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand the museum had a large exhibit of WWI tanks.

Parts of the museum were quite sobering with the displays about the horses being involved against the tanks. What a waste of those beautiful animals. They also had a display of items and letters that were given by loved ones, including embroidered silk.

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The Marks were the first tanks to be a success on the battlefield. There were female ones with machine guns and male ones with cannon.

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Here is a bit of Corunna which was a female tank.

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An interesting and sad fact was that more men died of carbon monoxide poisoning than bullets or mortar when they were assigned tank duty. No wonder when you see how the engine was set up in the tank.

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No surprise that by the time WWII came about technology was such that tanks were tailored to different needs. So the exhibit for the tanks from that era was massive. This tank helps clear mines. Can you imagine the racket it made?

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This tank was a small two man that brought supplies round with a trailor attached.

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They had a separate building housing many tanks awaiting refurbishment.

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It was an impressive place to visit and would be worth another go round.

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Brrr and a Fabulous Ride on the Cog Railway

There was much excitement this past Friday.  The day had finally arrived for the fourth grade to head to Mt Washington and ride the Cog Railway.  Each year there is a contest where the class produces a tourist video with the first prize being a free trip on the Railway.  We didn’t think we’d win as our teacher won last year but lo and behold the kids won!  And it wasn’t an understatement to say the parents had to be quick off the mark to get in as a chaperone.  I got my form in immediately.  :)

Fortunately the mountain was far enough that we could ride a coach bus rather than a school bus.  Much nicer.  Here is the approach to the mountain from inside the bus.

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Mt Washington is the highest peak in the northeast at 6288 ft.  At home the temperature was a high of 71F/22C while the high at the summit was forecast to be 38F/3C with a wind chill of 16F/-9C.  Winds were predicted to be 55-65 mph with gusts up to 75 mph.  If it gets to 80 mph the trains stop running.  We dug out our winter wear for the trip.  So glad we did!

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The engines were from John Deere and run on bio diesel.  They do have a steam train but that only runs first thing in the morning. I was disappointed as I love steam trains.  This is the first and oldest running cog railway that opened in 1869.  The state government thought it was a joke but approved it because they didn’t have to provide funds.  Joke was on them as it was hugely popular.

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If you look closely you can see the rails going up the mountain.  The first coach was open air with benches bolted into the base.  Halfway up they would stop and pass out blankets and warm drinks for the rest of the ride.

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They would even bring up skiers  to ski down the side of the rails.  It would be black snow because of the coal.

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This 1000 gallon water tank is spring fed and no electricity or power is required.  The water is also 99.9% pure.  The steam train only has a 700 gallon capacity but needs 1000 gallons of water to get to the top so it will stop here and top up.

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The setup is quite something and it is very steep.  They encourage the passengers to stand in the aisle and try to stay upright.  The kids had a blast with this bit.

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Jacob’s Ladder is the steepest bit at 37.41% and it is 30 feet off the surface.

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The views on the way up were spectacular.  In the olden days the top was quite busy.  They had a newspaper that would publish everyday and would be sent down the railway and they also had a hotel up there that would charge $2.50 a night which was a lot of money.

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People do love to hike up this mountain and there are cairns dotting the trails every 50 feet or so to guide the hikers.

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My son and I had to hold on tight with the gusting winds.  It was very hard to keep our footing on the rocks.  I couldn’t believe it but there was someone up there in shorts!  No surprise she was complaining about the cold.  Honestly.

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This is one of the buildings that would house visitors and feed them.  This doesn’t have to be chained down as it is made out of stone but anything wood has to be chained.

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This is the building that recorded the record wind speed, notice the chains.

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This is an anemometer that measures wind speed.  They time the clicks to determine the speed.  This one was the actual one that recorded the record on 12 April 1934.  At one point the speed dropped and they realised the instruments were icing up so one of them had to climb up a wooden ladder in winds going about 160mph and whack it with a wooden bat.  People listening in on the radio heard the clicks going faster and faster until it hit the record.  Must have been something!

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A better view of the railway as we descended.  My son and I had a blast, what an adventure!  It was nice to get back to the warmth though.  :)

Vigo 7 2013

Wine, Vigo, and Cambados Makes for a Lovely Day

Our last port before we shifted back to reality was Vigo.  The area is known as the Wales of Spain as it is so lush and full of green hills.  Our expectations weren’t high for this stop as we didn’t know much about it and all we could see was that Vigo was a small place.  We decided for this stop we’d do a shore excursion that took us wine tasting.  I am really glad we did as the scenery was beautiful and the wine was wonderful.  Plus it turns out two of our new friends had also signed up for the wine tasting so we had a blast with them.  They even brought crisps and chocolates for us so we didn’t go hungry.  Not sure if it is a good or bad thing they had figured out in a very short time we get cranky without snacks!  In either case it was cheers for them bringing the goods.  :)

We had the best bus driver.  He drove that thing like it was a sports car.  The bus kept up with him as well.  The toll booths had arms that would fly up once the computer sensed the bus going through.  He had it timed just right and would fly through.  The first time we all gasped as we thought he was going to bust through the arm.  Then we burst out laughing.  He just grinned.  On the way back he actually accelerated towards it.  By this time we were all for this and were very disappointed when we got stuck behind a small delivery truck.  Coming into the port we saw another arm and were egging him on but he had to stop because it was a manual arm.  A lot of sighs and nuts to that!  Guess we’re all kids at heart.

On the way to the first winery we passed large squares in the water.  We saw them as we glided into port but couldn’t figure out what they were.  They were raised just above the water so they didn’t look like fish farms but what else could they be?  Turns out we weren’t far off.  They were mussel farms.  They would attach baby mussels to ropes that hung underneath and they would harvest them 18 months later.

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The winery we went to is Granbazan Winery and the grapes they grow are Albarino grapes which makes a white wine.  They have a winery outside of Valencia that makes red and we got to taste one red.  But this place focuses on the white.

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It was a lovely place.  The way they grow the grapes is horizontally up off the ground so it makes a canopy and allows the air to circulation round the grapes.  Notice at the bottom right of the photo there is a red car.  They parked their cars under the grapes!

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Nearly every home we drove by, no matter the size of their yard, had some sort of crops growing.  Those that grew grapes would sell some to this winery and keep some to make their own wine.  Even in the villages we would come across what looked like mini churches.  These held the grains for the winter.  They are built up off the ground to keep the critters out.

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After a tour of the winery and how they make the wine it was time for the tasting.  My favourite part.  I’ve moved away from white wines and prefer red but I really enjoyed their whites.  Crisp and not too sweet which is the way I like it.

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A select amount of the wine would be oak aged but most of their whites weren’t oak aged.

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After the tasting we retraced our steps to Cambados for a sort of second wine tasting.  They took us to a hotel there where they had basic tapas and wine was out for us to have.  A bit of a disappointment as I thought we were going to two wineries and I’ve been spoilt by the tapas thus far.  The four of us then wandered the village a bit and found a pastry shop that sold meringue for a Euro.  These things were massive so we split one between the four of us.  Oh so delicious and one hell of a sugar rush.  It was a neat little village so it’s on our list of where to return.  Quiet streets with cafes and old world buildings.

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We enjoyed our visit there and the whole cruise.  It was bittersweet as we got to the end.  We missed the kids like mad but we enjoyed ourselves very much experiencing new things and making new friends.

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The Storminess of Lisbon

Lisbon was high on my list of places I wanted to see on this trip.  I follow a few blogs of people who live there.  I’ve had family and friends visit and was a bit envious once I saw the photos.  Always sunny and colourful.  I had high hopes!  It was not to be.  We had been very lucky with the weather for the trip but our luck ran out once we docked.

It is a very strange sensation waking up to the sound of millions of bees.  Once we were fully awake and poked our head out we could see that we were docked right next to the April 25th Bridge and thousands of vehicles were driving across making that sound.

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The announcements did warn us that the weather will get quite nasty with driving rain and high winds.  Not the most motivating of notices.  So we dressed accordingly and I left my good camera behind and just brought the iPhone, wore our trainers and braced ourselves for our adventure.  Nearly got blown away getting off the ship!  We were docked near the containers and there were high aisles where the wind tunneled through.  The shuttle bus dropped us off in the old part of the city near the cathedral.  The interesting bit about Lisbon is that in 1755 they had a massive earthquake.  It’s estimated that the scored 8.5-9 on the Moment Magnitude Scale.  The king at the time sent out surveys to all the villages asking when they felt the tremors, how strong they were, and which direction they came from.  It was the beginning of modern seismology.  Because the earthquake was so damaging most of the city is in the 18th century style after they rebuilt.  The cathedral was damaged but still stood.

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The cloister floor is now an archaeological dig.  They’ve dug back to the Islamic times as well as the Roman times.  In the picture where you see red and white, that is the Islamic style.

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At this point we were getting high winds and a bit of rain but nothing major so we continued to the castle.  There we bought tickets to walk round and the skies opened up.  Winds were whipping about and it was a downpour.  We dashed to the museum to take refuge.  Unfortunately it wasn’t a big museum and it was filling up fast with others taking cover.  We decided to brave the elements.  Within a minute or so our umbrellas were destroyed.  To be fair they were only good for being in the sun.  They were from the ship.  Many of these ended in the bin all around the city that day.

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This poor guy and his peahens were wandering around in the storm.  I did take pictures of the peahens but in the rain they blended in with the cobblestones.

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We trudged our way back down the hill in search of shelter and food.   There were pedestrian streets with shops and we wandered down one of them.  The rain was letting up finally but the wind wasn’t finished with us just yet.

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We found a bright cafe to rest a bit in.  And dry off!  The hostess was wonderful and she helped us with our Portuguese.  I had my little phrase book out and my husband and I were trying our best with the words.  I ordered a fantastic grilled sardine dish.  You can’t find something like this back home.  My mum used to make me sardine sandwiches when I was a kid.  Don’t think I was too popular at school lunch but I loved them.  These sardines were full size and grilled whole.  The flavour was strong and pungent.  Loved it.

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After that we wandered a bit more as the rain stopped and the wind died down a bit.  We found a wine tasting shop which was lovely and then it was time to get back on the ship.  We’ll come back.  It’s a lovely city and in the warm sun it must be amazing.

Cartagena 7 2013

Almost Didn’t See You Cartagena

As we glided into the port of Cartagena we were still in dreamland and were gradually brought to the surface by the fog horns.  My husband peeked out the curtains and saw nothing.  Literally nothing.  The fog was thick as can be, we couldn’t even see the water below.  As I mentioned in the post about the ship the port had been closed but the captain convinced the port to reopen for the ship.  Occasionally there were pockets of cleared air and we got glimpses of the port.  At one point a Navy ship headed out with the crew lined up and it was blasting rock music.  Because of the thick fog no one rushed off the ship.

To give you an idea of the skill needed to dock the ship in zero visibility here is a picture of the ship in bright sun.  Notice how small the port opening is and that you kind of have to do an S shape line before turning round and sidling into the dock.

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Needless to say, once we finally saw the full port we were impressed.  When we got off the ship it was still very foggy so we decided to kill some time at the underwater archaeology museum right on the water.  Archaeology fascinates me and to be able to do it underwater is something else.  So many more variables!  So I found this very interesting looking at the tools, finds, etc.

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Once the sun came out completely we started wandering around the old city which fortunately was right at the port.  We decided to stop and get a snack at one of the cafes.  It was here that I started to realise that Cartagena is a city of big food.  I asked for the calamari as a small snack and a large sandwich came out!  Maybe it would be a one off.  Not really.  First on our list to see was the Roman Theatre.  It was discovered about 120 years ago but wasn’t excavated until the late 80′s.  There was a church and several buildings on top of the theatre.  All that had to be removed or partially removed in order for that to go forward.  The museum was great as it had examples of the various occupiers and their building techniques.

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We wandered up to the castle to take in the views.  It was getting quite warm so it was nice to be up high enough to catch a breeze.  We also saw this guy wandering around the grounds.

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Then it was time for more tapas!  We found a place on a square that had great people watching.  One street performer would pretend to do the running of the bulls.  He had tiny bulls on the ground then he would take off with a great yelp and run round the square.  Some people would race with him.  I was waiting for someone in a mobility scooter to run over the bulls.  We ordered several dishes as tapas is small.  Not in Cartagena!  The toast plate was enough for 4 people!  It was very tasty though.

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After that we decided to wander back to the ship as there wasn’t a lot of time in Cartagena.  We had a lovely day just puttering about.

Valencia 4 2013

Best in the Country, Best in Europe, No! It’s the Best in the World! – Valencia

Valencia was an interesting city.  In part because of our tour guide.  We decided to do a tour at this port as the ship was, seemingly, miles from the city, nevermind, the old city.  I think it would have taken us over an hour just to get anywhere and then we’d have all the walking to sight see.  Our tour guide was very nice and reminded me of a young Liberace, without the furs and jewels.  He seemed very knowledgeable but I believe he thinks Valencia is the centre of the universe.

As we began our tour and were driving through the port he was describing how the port throughout history was the most important port on the Mediterranean.  And then we drove by the warehouses and he described how they were the nicest warehouses in Europe.  I was beginning to see a pattern.  They were good looking buildings and all but it seemed a bit much! And he was only getting started.  :)  The blue in front of the buildings outlines the pit stops for the F1 race.

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Valencia is a city that is not afraid to keep improving and be creative with their architecture.  The river that ran through the centre of the city kept flooding so they redirected it but kept the river bed.  They then built large gardens, museums, and the opera house.  They still have the bridges going over the river bed as well.  It really is quite well done.  He stopped short of saying the opera house was the best in the world.  Instead he said the opera house was second only to the Sydney Opera House.  It looked to me like a war helmet.

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I did find the new science museum very interesting, reminded me of fossils but with a lot of light.

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We worked our way through the city and arrived at the indoor market.  Again the best in Europe.  I was wondering how they could beat the La Boqueria and was prepared to be amazed.  It was a neat, clean market.  No vibrancy and everything was sealed in cling film or containers.  I’m sure the FDA would approve.  In fact I was able to get one picture of food free from any clutches.

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I did find the roof of the building to be very pretty.

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Next was the silk market.  Now this was on my list of things we had to visit.  I love silk, the vibrant colours, the feel.  I was ready to shop.  So imagine my disappointment to find there is no longer a silk market, just the building!  I do not like shopping so for me to be ready to shop is a big thing.  However, the history of the building was fascinating.  Valencia was the end of the silk road and there was a lot of trading that went on.  Fortunes made and lost.  They painted the spiraling columns green and they painted the ceiling bright blue with the medallions yellow to imitate the sky.  That must have been something.

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On the way to the cathedral we came across this funny doorway.  Never underestimate humans doing their best to stick it to the big man.  Apparently there was a rule that you were taxed based on the width of the front of the building.  So this gentleman created building with a front only 105 cm wide then it opened wide towards the back like a triangle.  So it’s a full sized building.  Have to hand it to him!

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The cathedral took about 500 years to make as they kept having trouble with funds so it shows many different styles.  What took the cake though is the guide said the frescos were the best in Europe!  Ahem, Sistine Chapel anyone?  Credibility was completely lost at this point.  Ah well, we were having fun.

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The city used to be surrounded by a massive city wall with great big gates.  Because the city likes to continually improve they knocked down all of the walls except two gates.  Not sure how much that is an improvement as I like the history of those sort of things but thank goodness they kept some gates.  These date I believe back to the 1300′s.  They are massive!

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After the tour was over they brought us back to the ship but as we had several hours to kill we headed back in on the shuttle bus.  Back in the square where the cathedral was we found a shady spot to have tapas.  Again it was delicious.  I really miss the food!

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I’d like to explore Valencia a bit more.  There were interesting areas of history.  And I’d like to explore all the gardens in the old riverbed.

 

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A Feast for the Eyes – La Boqueria

Was there ever a point in your childhood when you were let loose in a candy store?  You were overwhelmed and couldn’t believe all the treats swimming before your eyes?  Not knowing which way to look and didn’t want to miss anything.  This is exactly how I felt when we entered the La Boqueria in Barcelona.

This place is insanely fabulous.  It was lively, bustling, ingredients everywhere, I mean you need it just look and you’ll find it.  All fresh food waiting to be taken home.  The hard part was it was look but don’t touch for us as our kitchen was over 3000 miles away.  I felt so inspired and could have just started cooking right there.

La Boqueria has roots going back centuries.  It began around 1217 as a meat market and just stuck around for centuries until the early 1800′s when it was finally recognised as a legal market.  It “officially” opened in 1840.  We heard a few people mention the market and just said it was a place to check out.  As we like food off we went.  So glad we did!

I took several photos as we went round and I wanted to share them with you.

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We have nothing like this where we are.  Maybe that’s a good thing in that you’d never get me to leave but on the other hand to have all these ingredients near by would be wonderful.  The things I would be able to cook!

Monaco 4 2013

Shaken not Stirred – A Trip to Monaco

We are pretty frugal in our every day lives.  We don’t like debt so we save first for special treats like this trip, save for a rainy day, that sort of thing.  So it is always interesting to get a glimpse in to how “the other half” lives.  For example, in Cannes, hotel rooms can reach the bargain price of 35000 Euros a night.  Yes, you read that right.  Granted that would be the price during the film festival but it does come with a jacuzzi tub so it’s a deal. Right?  I have wondered since how much money I would have to have in the bank account before that amount of money for a hotel room wouldn’t make me pass out.  It would have to be an insane amount in the bank.

While we stopped at Cannes we actually took a tour to Monaco as I figured when else would we get a chance to check it out, without having to get a hotel room?  Because the port is shallow and small in Cannes we had to be tendered to shore to catch the bus.

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It was a lovely drive along the coast through Nice into Monaco. I can see why people flock to this area.  Though the tour guide did say she gets away whenever there is a big event like the film festival.  The insanity of it all gets to her.  Can’t say I blame her!

This is looking back over Nice as we drove along the coastal road.

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Another reason I wanted to see Monaco is that is where the F1 has one of their grand prix races.  The cool thing is that they use the city streets.   This spot is close to the casino and you can see the rubber marks on the curves.  It must be quite something to hear and see as they also go through a lot of tunnels.  Must be deafening!

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All you James Bond fans will recognise the casino.  My son was quite happy to get a photo of it as he is a huge fan of the movies.  We are too, if truth be told.  :)  We were able to go in and see the casino.  The opulence!  They open it to groups in the morning and gambling starts at 2pm in the main rooms.  As the day goes on they open more private rooms.   Each opening gets more exclusive as well.  Very posh.

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After the casino we had a short time to wander before getting back on the bus.  We walked along some roof top parks to take in the view.  It’s pretty incredible and the weather was starting to improve as well.  It turned into a lovely day.  In this picture you can see Monaco, France and Italy.

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The next part of the tour was the rock or the old part with the palace.  Apparently about 700 years ago the original Grimaldi dressed as a monk and knocked on the door of the existing fortress and when they let him and his crew in they took the fortress and it’s been in Grimaldi control ever since.  This church was completed in 1912 and Prince Albert (II?) had all the previous princes and princesses moved to be interred there.  This is also the church were Princess Grace was married and buried.

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After the tour we were free to explore and get some lunch.  My favourite part!  We found a small restaurant that was serving langoustines.  I had seen a few blog posts mentioning these and as we can’t get them stateside it was on my list to try.  It was an amazing dish.  The little buggers are a little difficult to eat but it was worth it.  I will definitely be looking to have them again when we go back.  And the dish itself had such a flavourful sauce.  I will have to try to recreate it though as it had fish stock I’ll have to adjust that as my husband doesn’t like seafood.

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As the day improved we found more gardens with lovely flowers.

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Soon enough it was time to head back to the ship.  Once we got back on we enjoyed the view until it was time to leave.

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I can see why people are drawn to the south of France.  It is such a beautiful part of the world.