The rest of the Eastern seaboard…

Our plan was to go to Washington DC to see the town but more importantly visit my friend Rajeev who I worked with at the Queen Elizabeth hotel in Montreal over 35 years ago. We kept in touch for many years then lost each other… then Facebook. He left Canada with his family about 30 years ago to take on the role of Hilton Executive Chef outside Washington in the Pentagon area. Once we were set up in our RV site, we set the GPS to Rajeev’s address and had a fantastic evening with him and Sarita, his wife.  We laughed and chatted like no time had passed. Alas, that was the only time we could get together as his hotel had some big VIP events which required him to work a lot and we only had a few days. Sadly, we took no pictures.

Our campground was called Fairfax Lake Park and we were there for 4 nights.

It is just 2 miles from the metro that goes into Washington DC so we bought a 3 day metro pass and hopped on and off for three days.

The subway stations were impressive and many had funny names.

Albert and I walked all over that city. We walked the Mall. This is not a shopping mall. It is a massive greenspace with the Lincoln Memorial at one end and Generals Lee and Grant at the Capitol buildings at the other. There are lake sized reflecting pools along the way. Flanking the Mall are the White House, the Smithsonian Museums and the memorials of the wars including Korea, Vietnam, World Wars and Civil Wars.

We saw the Lincoln Memorial with the two famous speeches on the walls that he gave while President.

Hard to believe he was a Republican but that was then… It seems times have certainly deteriorated in that respect. In fact, we had a look in the Trump Hotel, and left some gold deposits in the gold accented restrooms. We didn’t bother using the entrance for the Presidential suite off to the side. The hotel is quite spectacular as it was an old post office that was remodeled. 

The Martin Luther King Jr memorial was very modern and refreshing in comparison with the European style statues and fountains that line the parks. He emerges from a giant rock or mountain of granite surrounded by 14 of his quotes in the square. Very inspiring. He was a mountain of a man.

To the side of the mall are many of the Smithsonian museums. All are free. We visited the American Museum of History and saw Edith and Archie Bunkers’s chairs, Julia Child’s kitchen, Dorothee’s ruby slippers, the Batmobile, Mohammed Ali’s red boxing gloves, and the muppet chef!! Ork de Bork Bork!!

Washington has many beautiful buildings and of course lots of history that we learn in our text books. Most of it forgotten.  Impressive buildings were the train station, the irish pub with all the police logos from all over the world, the FBI headquarters that became iconic with Ephrem Zimbalist Jr as the head of the TV show “The FBI”. My career has usually considered the FBI the Food and Beverage Institute just like the CIA is the Culinary Institute of America. These spy vs spy things are for the birds.

The day we went to the Pentagon, we just hopped on the metro and got off at Pentagon stop. We knew there would be security, but really you couldn’t even go anywhere outside of the parking lot unless you had an official tour or some other sort of clearance. We stopped to look at a bird house along the sidewalk. It was from Canada to help the population of Purple Martins, so we acted like this was the reason we were there, and feeling that this was some weird sort of Canadian joke. We thought it was funny anyway.

Speaking of Canada, we went to see the embassy and sat in the iconic Red Adirondack chairs that grace all our national parks and gave a shout out to west coast aboriginal artist Bill Reid,  and our friend Doug Zilkie who assisted Bill when his Parkinson’s was so severe he could not do the finishing work on the Spirit of the Haida Gwaii. There are just two of these bronzes, one at Vancouver Airport in the International wing and one at the Canadian Embassy. We have seen both. The Vancouver one looks green like jade (the Jade Canoe) and the Washington one is outside and is black (the Black Canoe). One more that I have seen is the original plaster casting in the Canadian Museum of History, in Ottawa. We went inside the building and were allowed only to use the WIFI and see the art gallery which was completely underwhelming with a few cartoons by Lynn Johnston, of “For Better Or Worse” fame.

We considered going into the Smithsonian space museum, natural history, American Indian, Holocaust, and so many others but we also wanted to see the outside stuff and get some biking in at the park where we were camped. The Fairfax Lake park and surrounding areas around DC are very hilly and there are no straight roads. There is a fantastic transit system plus a long bikeway that joins the many surrounding communities together. This park is filled with mountain biking trails, walking and hiking trails. With spectacular fall colours and dry conditions, we poked through the well-maintained trails. With the cover of leaves over some of the rocky bits, I just relaxed and let my bike do all its own navigating. Good thing, because if I had seen some of the chunky rocks on the trail, I may have had more reservations with the speed we were traveling through them. Only fell once!! On a narrow trail that dropped off to the right. So, I tipped over to the right and watched my big heavy bike sail over me. Sigh. 

We packed up and headed for Richmond, Virginia where I was catching a flight home and Albert was continuing on to the Blue Ridge Mountains near Roanoke in the western side of Virginia near the Shenandoah mountains. Albert dropped me off at a hotel near the airport so I could get my early flights home. Even though I am newly “retired”, I am still involved with Skills Canada and BC will host the national competition in June 2020. Since that is my province, I am tasked with chairing the organization of our cooking competition and the planning meeting was at the end of October. It was good to see my folks, Alberts family, our son, a few friends, get the car insurance organized, and have a bit of time on Vancouver Island. The meeting went smoothly, and I came back to Virginia ten days later with a terrible cold and itching to get on the road again. While I was away Albert found his own adventures throughout the mountains in Virginia….(Albert’s tale to be in the next post. Guns, lost, heavy metal, bike crashes and injuries… it’s all there…)

Albert picked me up at the Richmond Airport at midnight. I left my voice in Vancouver so telling him everything at a time of day that is not my best conversationally was difficult then add the voice thing. We drove back to Pocahontas State park where he had set up our campsite earlier in the day.

He told me some of his adventures (related above) and I slept like a log for 10 hours. (add story of grocery store that has a bar in the center of it – men drink while women shop).

We stayed 2 more nights at Pocahontas as there were some good trail systems near and in the park. All the parks that we stayed at had the evidence of great family camping. They had pools with great slides and water features, tennis courts and wonderful trails for hiking and biking. Pools were emptied and deserted but the campers were still in the parks. When Albert was biking without me while I was at the coast, he had a big fall that hurt his hand and busted his dropper post on his bike seat. So while we were riding we found a bike store for some repairs. Great opportunity to catch up on blog writing. We found a library and completed another entry. The next day after picking up the bike we hit the open road. I was hoping to be healthy soon.

We were off towards Savannah. Usually we drive 3-5 hours a day and Savannah, Georgia was over 6 hours from Southern Virginia where we were camped so we found a Harvest Host winery to stop for the night. We stayed at Cartersville Winery in a small place called Timmonsville, South Carolina. We tasted his wine made with muscatel grape. Can’t say it was a favourite but we bought a bottle of white. Wine in the south is sweet with high acid, and while interesting, it is not a wine that we find easy to swallow. When he asked what kind of wine we like, and we said “dry”, he said “good luck”, and we proceeded to taste his driest offering and continued on to the sweeter ones after that. A tasting was $5 and it came with a small plastic stemless wine glass. We each tasted the wine, so he charged us twice. I couldn’t finish the small sweet pours he gave us. He was super nice, had a big BBQ camping area beside the winery and we parked there. Nice and level, and two other campers beside us. These people had booked their stays through a website membership called “BoondockersWelcome” where people can list their property and service available (electric, water, nothing) and campers can stay for free for up to a few days or a week. It is a nice way to meet travelers or to meet locals if you are traveling. We met a retired couple from Ontario that was staying a few days and another young couple from Florida who were considering becoming full timers (people like us who live in their RV’s full time) so they were trying out the lifestyle for a few months first. Turns out the young couple had a few things in common with us. He said he was a chef who grew up in Montreal apprenticing at the Queen Elizabeth hotel at least 10 years after I left there. He worked with the tyrant French chef who took over with the brigade change that followed the management change. The QE was a Hilton hotel for 25 years, the contract ended, and CN hotels took it over. They owned it. Years later all the CN and CP hotels amalgamated to become the Fairmont chain that circles the globe.  I never asked this fellows name. Why? Because he was one of those opinionated, apparently well trained, prima donna chefs. I am sure he was probably a good cook but there was no way he was going to let a “nobody chef” like me get close.  He boasted about $500 bottles of wine, working with Alain Ducasse, Paul Bocuse and being involved with the Bocuse D’Or. He had never heard of Robert Sulatyky, Canada’s highest scoring Bocuse competitor, and Bocuse Team USA mentor alongside chef Thomas Keller. He did acknowledge that Thomas Keller is famous for running a respectful calm kitchen and that being a tyrant is not necessarily helping the industry. He said he had his CMC, was teaching Certified Master Chef classes with the Miami University or College or perhaps it was the Culinary Institute. Apparently, the largest university/college in Florida. He said he set it up. Ugh. His wife/girlfriend hailed from Holland originally, and was level 4 WSET and had great knowledge of the Wine Spirits side of the equation. She was super friendly, and like many front of house people, was able to skillfully keep a gentle tone to all of the conversations we were having. He did share a nice bottle of Bordeaux with the 6 of us that he claimed to have some involvement in as an importer. The Ontario couple barely got a word in. You meet all kinds of people on the road. Maybe his story was legit but he wasn’t giving us all the facts. Perhaps he will read this blog and let us know how important he is… really…

The next morning, we headed for Savanna Oaks RV park just outside of Savannah. This little RV park was shaded by all those sleepy Live Oak trees dripping with moss that you read about in Harlequin romances. Well that’s how I remember hearing of them as a teenager. We had heard about it as a great southern city to see the old South lifestyle and the downtown with its stately manors and paddle-wheelers that still ply the waters of the Savannah River for enthusiastic tourists.

Savannah is now a sleepy historic city with a wealth of cotton history in strategically located old buildings along the river, a fantastic candy store and the Live Oak and moss that define the flora of the south. This is not a town for people in a wheelchair. There are stairs, cobblestones, uneven sidewalks and roots of the big Live Oak trees pushing up what was a level walkway 50 years before. But it is beautiful, friendly, sleepy and calm. There are quirky shops and award-winning southern BBQ. We had to do some tasting. We tried out Wiley’s Championship BBQ. Pretty good and our first indulgence of that local food genre.

While we were in Savannah the town was setting up for the Savannah Food and Wine Festival, which by all rights you would think we would want to go to, but we didn’t. What??!! It was expensive plus 30% US/CAD exchange. We had just gone out for BBQ and we were happy shopping in the local grocery store for typical stuff that the locals cook and enjoying it at our trailer. We spent one day at the beach on Tybee Island as it was recommended for biking. But when we got there it was more of a cute little seaside tourist town with big beaches, empty streets, happy hours and wetlands. The lighthouse was interesting. We rode around and made our way back to camp and the laundry room at the RV park. Exciting!!

After Savannah we headed towards Louisiana turning right at Jacksonville, Florida and starting on our way west. This was the first time we were headed towards home. The transformation from the Washington unionist history to The South and its history of economics built on the Slave populations that grew the cotton, rice, sugar and everything else that sustained a plantation system was remarkable. On the way towards Jacksonville we stopped at the Hofwyl-Broadfield rice plantation that is a state historic site in Georgia. But it no longer has rice growing for many reasons including proximity to the ocean and hurricane storm surges that ruin the rice and the wetlands for growing rice.  The descriptions of the horrible tolls it took on its slaves is incomprehensible. We took the tour of the old house, cattle shed and slave quarters.  The tour guide was very adamant that we understand the horrible conditions the slaves endured. This plantation was also not an easy place for the owners either which spoke largely to the immensely horrible conditions of its unpaid workers. It was a very modest plantation and the last of the line of five generations of owners passed it to the State when she died in 1973. 

That night we opted to say at another Harvest Host in a community called Live Oak, Florida. It was a few miles off the I-10 highway that traverses the Southern USA. It travels from Jacksonville, Florida to Santa Monica, California and was to become our friend for the next couple of months. The Gan-Eden farm raises goats, turkeys, ducks, sheep, geese and farm dogs who would guard the animals. We had a tour of the farm, bought some goat meat, chicken, jellies, vinegars and pesto.

We bade farewell the next day and headed for Big Lagoon State Park just outside of Pensacola, Florida. We were heading into bayou gator territory…

Heading South

We arrived back in Montreal after a one nighter in New York en route from Barcelona.

It was Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and we were ready to get our woollies on and bring on the fall colours. Leaving the warm Mediterranean and arriving in Montreal wasn’t too bad. At night it was a bit frosty but our trusty trailer has a great heater and not much real estate to heat.

 We moved back into our wonderful waterfront campground on the south shore facing Montreal and proceeded to get ready to go south. We managed to pay a few final visits to our favourite markets, Jean Talon and Atwater, a few rides along the St Lawrence, the ’76 Olympics site and the Route Verte bikeways.

We were staying at the marina in Longueuil again but this time there were not as many campers. In fact, the huge marina parking lot that was empty all summer, save for the thousands of seagulls, was full of pleasure boats that were “on the hard” for the winter. The yacht club next door had hired a crane for the weekend and was pulling boats out there too. And Port de Plaisance was ready to hibernate until next year after we left.

Elly and Taylor were busy with their theatre careers and we were itching to go south. We celebrated a lovely thanksgiving dinner with their good friends (the roller derby aficionados from an earlier post) and their big family. It was very nice to be in a family setting for that holiday atmosphere and we were very thankful for Leora’s family’s hospitality. And that cranberry sauce. Tangy. Cranberries left whole so they exploded with each bite. Memorable.

On October 15 we headed across the border.  We chose to go due south in an effort to get away from all things winter as soon as possible. We drove down the New York state side of Lake Champlain. Lake Champlain is a long expansive lake that borders Quebec, New York and Vermont. Years ago, when I worked in Montreal, I went wind surfing on Lake Champlain. I went in one direction with the wind and the rental company had to come save me. Not sure if I had crossed any borders. Ha!! Driving the highway south, we couldn’t help but yelp at every bend in the road when another, rolling hill, or glassy lake reflected the scarlet red sumac, persimmon maple forest yellow aspen and sprinkling of evergreens that balanced the autumn colours. With a baseline of grasses and vertical tree lines in grey, cream, ochre and black.  I tried painting while driving. Nope. 

Crossing the border at this time in history can be a roll of the dice. This was our third crossing into the US in half as many months so we were unsure if there would be any oddities and weird screening questions. We had just heard of a Canadian couple, retired, that had been denied entry because they said they were going to volunteer at a music festival. They were not allowed back in for 5 years. Contemplating a snowy return drive through the Rockies and huge winds across the prairies if our plans were to change was the lesser of our goals. In anticipation we stayed emotionless yet friendly. The border guard asked us if we had any fruit or vegetables, how long we were staying, and we disclosed.  We told him truthfully, “half an eggplant, some spinach and an apple”,  and we were on our way to BC for the end of February 2020. “Have a great trip.” he said, and that was it!! Yay!! We weren’t going to be hung out to dry like other poor souls that had, for no apparent reason, been turned back. Quota? Who know?s…We had heard some miserable stories but it wasn’t our time. Thankfully, they didn’t want our Gin-ventory!!!

Driving the highway from Canada south is like relearning history lessons we had as kids. I remember hearing about the Adirondack mountains and here we were, driving through them. I do miss my Adirondack chairs!! Just outside of the town of Ghent was a AAA office so we stocked up on maps and guidebooks and proceeded to our first farm parking lot stay in the US. We stayed at a Harvest Host location called Love Apple Farm. This was our first HH in the USA and they were overly welcoming. Members of Harvest Host have an online access to thousands of listings of free overnight places to stay. We looked at our route, checked to see what HH listings were near the route and chose this farm because they had a farm store where we could provision the trailer since we had nothing to cross the border. We have found that the hosts are more than happy for you to choose their location as it is, more often than not, off the beaten path and travelers don’t generally find them save for these listings.  Along with some apples, we bought their home-grown vegetables, local sausages, milk, eggs and fresh sour cherry pie made from the fruit they had harvested earlier in the summer. We didn’t book any RV campgrounds until we got to Virginia just outside of Washington DC so Harvest Host onenight stays were the best choice without having to go into a truckstop, Walmart or similar, or a noisy highway rest stop. While we were having our dinner, a hot air balloon flew by. So cool. 

Earlier we found a website with top 10 mountain biking areas on the Eastern seaboard. Albert found a few places to go in Virginia for later when I was to return home to BC for the week after DC. While passing through the Catskills Albert remembered there was good biking nearby so I loaded it on the Google maps and off we went. The trail systems that Albert had read about in the Catskills were in an area known as Round Top. We made a little detour up into the mountains and turned left on Hearts Content Road (what a road name!!) and found a place to unhook the trailer and get the bikes out.

This end of the road location had a chalet shaped summer resort with pool, waterslides, tennis, mini golf, and access to these wonderful trails. We had a great hour or so on a bunch of trails with some amazing lookouts and the gorgeous fall colours. We packed up, the rains came, and we were off.

Our next Harvest Host was another orchard called Wrights Farm in a place called Modena. My second trip to Modena in 2019 (first one was Modena, Italy in March!!). We wished it wasn’t dumping rain so hard. We would have wandered in the orchards. Getting wet isn’t the issue; getting dry is. In a small environment of the trailer, moisture is not welcome. The farm had a full field set up for Harvest host and boondock camping. On the weekends they had a craft brewery open with food, music and their farm store had tons of apples, preserves, squashes and the best “Cider doughnut” we had ever tasted. We were glad we only bought one… each.  Imagine a cinnamon cake doughnut that uses fresh apple juice to moisten the flour. OMG! We spoke to the host/farmer and she said her daughter was a skier and had spent time in Whistler training with her team. 

The next day the rain held off and we had booked a Harvest Host in Kutztowne, Pennsylvania. When we stopped at the Pennsylvania information centre the staffer told us about the Yeungling brewery in Pottsville. It was the oldest brewery in the USA having survived prohibition by trading booze production for ice cream production until more clear headed souls rescinded the draconian practice of prohibition. It was a bit of a detour and we missed the brewery tour but the town was in itself a museum. The family tree shows the last 4 in the family line. All women! Each successive generation is not just given the reigns and the responsibility. They have to buy in. The old man put this in the rules of ownership.

The stately heritage homes from a prosperous coal mining era had seen some better days, the town seemed to be disintegrating, and the roads and sidewalks were dangerously uneven…not accessible…but the brewery was pristine. Pottsville is near a town called Hershey.  Yeungling made a Hershey Chocolate porter, on tap that was like dipping a chocolate bar into a Guinness. It was surprisingly quite good although not bottled or canned, so we couldn’t bring any home to share at Christmas!!

We finished up and headed to the Saucony Brewpub – Gastropub that was our Harvest Host stay for the night. We decided on dining in their in their restaurant. Patronizing these businesses is important to us and sometimes it is a bit more expensive than we hoped. This was the case here. Add 30% to the bill plus a tip and it is definitely more than a campsite. The food was ok, and the beer was ok, but didn’t scream have another, so we finished up and went home; a few steps away. Apparently “Gastro” Pub is an ambiguous restaurant niche.

Next day we were headed for Washington DC and as we were coming to Gettysburg, we realized this was a place we had to stop. This is where the famous Lincoln speech, the Gettysburg Address, was delivered. Dim and hazy memory knew this but what I had certainly not retained was that Gettysburg is where the civil war battle of Gettysburg turned the fate of the war from separating (Confederate – South) to staying in the Union. An overly simplified history lesson once again.

The town of Gettysburg is truly a monument to the civil war, Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and all the stories that came with these leaders. The lands surrounding the town have been preserved as a military park with tours, interpretive driving route and a modern museum with a theatre, displays and the cyclorama. The cyclorama, a massive 360° circular oil on canvas painting that depicted the battle. It was researched and painted by French artist Paul Philippoteaux and his team in 1883. It traveled throughout the area on display for years, then in disrepair it was stored. The restoration effort seemed to be the catalyst that built the museum to house it properly. It came alive with narration, music, lights focussing on individual battles around the screen, plus a 3-dimensional foreground with narration on the points in the screen.

It was very impressive and well worth the stop, and the museum staff were very knowledgeable letting us know there were many Canadians who fought in the American Civil war. Apparently, Lincoln offered $300 to sign up with the Union army. 

It is impossible to take a photo of this so imagine being surrounded with the pained scenes of the American civil war while it has theatrical lighting and sound to drop you into the battle of Gettysburg.

Overwhelmed, we got in the truck, and headed to our campsite at Fairfax Lake Campground just outside of Washington DC, the Smithsonian, Julia Child’s kitchen and my old friend Rajeev, and only another hour to go.

But we didn’t want to leave…

As we publish this, we have added 3800km to our odometer between Montréal – mid October and Austin ,TX – mid November. We had such a great time in Europe we procrastinated in getting our European travels posted….

We bid farewell to our friends with a mixture of sympathy (for their journey back to snow engulfed Calgary on Sept 30) and celebration (for such an amazing shared experience through Cognac, the Basque regions, and, now the outskirts of Barcelona). The route we had taken to get to Barcelona sorely lacked something – A beachside accommodation! We knew something was amiss when we saw some pics from our friends Luba & Bill who took a different route than us for a few days. They had detoured along the way in St. Jean du Luz to take in the amazing coast from the comfort of a great Air B&B. Their pics had us rethinking our next stop. “The hell with staying and hiking in the mountains” (that can still happen) we need some beach time! 

Anywhere along the Mediterranean Coast, north and south of Barcelona, there is a multitude of destinations worthy of exploration. Lori and Mike had chosen Casteldelfels as their final accommodation destination (close proximity to Barcelona Airport BCN being a significant motivating factor). After researching the general area for inexpensive properties, we found Vendrell Platja on the Costa Dorada; a campground resort 50 meters from Calafell Beach. Perfect, a small cabin with kitchen, 2 bedrooms, living room, bathroom/ shower and outside deck and chairs for $80.00 CDN. It had a massive pool and playpark, restaurant, grocery store and laundry too.

We checked in and aimlessly wandered the endless paved beach path from quaint beach to quaint beach as the sun set. All this aimlessness can work up an appetite and we soon found ourselves ogling the abundance of menus presented to any hapless, half-starved wanderer within aroma reach of the strategically located restaurants at hand. “You know, we haven’t tried a Paella since we arrived in Spain”?  Like magic, as the sunset, the very place presented itself. We kicked back on the beach devising a plan of attack for the local area and Al’s wine culture fascination won out for the next days’ foray of regional, tourist interest.

The Villafranca del Penedes is home to the Taverna de Vinseum and many international Cava producers (Cordoniu, Segura de Viudas) have representation here. Parking seemed as scarce as needles in haystacks and when we did find a spot it was a king’s ransom, so we cashed in an RRSP for ½ hour and set out. Alas, after considering the $20 EU admission and the many wine related attractions we had absorbed along our journey, we passed up this attraction. We trekked through the town taking in the great post-modernist architecture and returned to the sanctuary of Vendrell. The next day, we were going for a mountain hike.

Montserrat is a study in how nature creates and inspires the human manifestation of art and by default religious reverence. It is spell binding as you approach. The distant furtive glimpses leave one slack jawed and groaning woowww! If you have seen the Hoodoos around the south-central interior of BC you have a sense of the shape of the mountain peaks in the overall massif that encompasses this formation. The scale comparison is a completely different subject. Larger, much Larger!

After winding around the precipitous, serpentine road that leads to the tourist access for the attraction, we parked and set off feeling giddy as the full multi peaked spectacle presented itself to us from the diminishing road. We noticed both train and gondola access as we snaked up that skinny road with tour busses and cyclists training for the next Tour. Thank goodness someone had the clear-headed foresight to establish a tourist center at the entrance that offers, among other indulgences, Cava! We imbibed in the spirit of the place and from the vantage point of the terrace took in the scope of what we had found here. Now what? It seemed that many found this to be enough?! We found our way to the funicular and paid the fair for a ride to the top. 

The funicular is an attraction on its own. Originally built in 1929 and regularly upgraded, the route climbs 248m to an elevation of 970m, it has a gradient of 62.5% and lasts about 6 min. With the thought of hiking at the top, we set out from the funicular terminus with the intent of hiking back to the tourist interpretive center where we started. The trail-ways were excellent with many steps cut into the stone. We caught glimpses of what looked like vertical climbing routes on adjacent peaks for those so inclined. As we walked we became cognizant of all the other trailways built into the massive. These trails were well beaten paths from all directions as part of The WAY that hikers take on their Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes. The place had an ancient, mythical feeling of the human multitude that preceded us for a glimpse from the top. We continued descending past religious relics that marked significant spiritual events for Christian pilgrimages to these unusual mountainsides through the ages.

There is a monastery honouring the cave where the carving of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus were found. The divinely conceived statue is now enshrined in the Basilica at the center of the village on the mountain where the hotels and services can be found.  Deb’s skeptical side was sure that the carver was never found when that Santa Maria carving was discovered in that cave. We hoped the route we chose would lead us to the monastery, but our trail of choice took us around the back of the mountain and back to the start of the funicular and the Basilica where this divine effigy presides. The line to see this important icon was intimidating with the solemn tone of the procession. Many in the line were presumably teared up with prayers for the loved and lost.  Ones immersion in surrounding religious art began to impress on your own motives (even if you are not a practicing Catholic) for the patience prevailing in the lineup. Plus, the spiritual curiosity of what an (alleged) divinely created carving looks like. We had never seen one. Unless you include the odd cheese toast that might resemble Jesus. After the innocent, unavoidable “moth to a flame” journey in the narrowing halls you get your up close and personal moment with the “La Moreneta”. Part of the lore of the statue is, with the progression of time, the darkening colour of the faces of the two Christian deities has created a unique identity to the carving that only religious devotion can make well… spiritual. Behind the bullet proof glass is the legend and you have a moment to make your introduction, ask for a miracle or two, and bid farewell. It felt anticlimactic and somehow thrilling to have been so close to the myth and legend, the experience lingered for quite a while with the unanswered questions, mostly the why questions. 

Our time in Europe was fast approaching the end and so on check out day for Vendrell Platja we headed to BCN to return our car and hit the city. We found the rental car drop off without trouble and began the final stage of our adventure in Spain without wheels. The car rental people were impressed that we had added 3500k to the odometer over the last 4 weeks.

Backpacking Europe! just like the old days. Selfie in the window near the Hotel Barbara.

We had booked into a small, inexpensive hotel in the “old city”, Raval neighborhood of Barcelona, called Hotel Barbara. This accommodation is definitely no frills but friendly, secure and location, location, location (at least as far as being at the heart of this historic city). The room we checked into was clean and the shower was quite possibly the best we used while in Europe. The staff were extremely helpful and assisted with any questions in a caring and courteous manner. This general area of the city is older and has a vibrant but edgy multicultural atmosphere. A labyrinth of old narrow streets and market squares seem to never end. We had made plans to meet up with Luba and Bill at the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia which is an amazing church designed by architect Antoni Gaudi.

Awe-inspiring is the best description for this attraction. We stood agape trying to grasp the scope of the work, which by the way, was not completed when Gaudi died (as a result of an unfortunate encounter with a streetcar in 1926) and may never be completed. However, tourism is high, and those tourist funds have grown the cranes that are building the rest of the towers and facades.

For years the cranes stood still until funding was available to continue the work. Now it is a work zone as skilled artists, sculptors and trades people bring the legacy to fruition. Gaudi is buried in a crypt inside.

Artists and skilled carvers are involved with the project that will take decades to complete. Thousands of people tour this remarkable Basilica every day and by the time we arrived all tickets for that day of touring were sold out. Oh, what to do? We grabbed a street-side table, ordered Cava and waited for our friends to arrive while we sipped and stared up at the surreal structure.

We found our way to a great Tapas restaurant and enjoyed some creative dishes accompanied, of course, by more Cava the whole experience was the best way to celebrate the introduction to Barcelona.

We said buenas noches to our friends and made our way back to Hotel Barbara. But along the way we walked through the legendary evening street festivities of Las Ramblas. After the workday world and the heat of the day start to wane, this street comes alive around 9PM. There are street vendors hawking their trinkets, strategic food kiosks tempting your appetite and an endless progression of lively street restaurants for tapas, beverage, people watching et al. We absorbed the scene with a curious but overwhelmed amusement, content with the evening’s previous indulgence to carry us through.

As we meandered the Ramblas our curiosity guided us to the world of numerous market squares off the beaten track and we soon found ourselves in the familiar surroundings of narrow, old and edgier street passageways resembling those surrounding our hotel. We knew we were close to “home” and as the realization of a conclusion to this adventure filled day became more relevant, we decided a nightcap would be fitting before turning in. But what would be the perfect place – there was every possible choice of purveyor for nightcaps that can be imagined.

Magically and just before we gave up trying, a perfect venue presented itself. Licoreria Lateria is a place you read quick notes about in a tourist info “Must See Places” while you fly out of the given airport. This time we found it before the publication found us! Do you want our sommelier to recommend a flight of wine in a range of criteria? Do you want us to recommend wine by the glass? How about a bottle of just the right this or that from here or there in this colour or that colour with bubbles or no bubbles or little bubbles in the price range that suits your budget? Oh, and how about a comfy chair after walking all over finding us? Yes, we found the treasure at the end of the rainbow of a day! We chose a bottle of a most delicious Rioja, luxuriated in the cozy atmosphere and consumed the proffered spirit with appropriate hedonistic indulgence. After, within close proximity, we found our accommodation and were quickly asleep. 

Our next and final day in Barcelona was spent on and off those double-decker sightseeing buses that are in every tourist town. They are a great way to get acquainted with the various locales that interest you and we have indulged in them more than twice. In addition, they often offer great vantage points for snapping relevant picture of worthy attractions. We toured around the city passing by four of the seven Gaudi UNESCO World Heritage sites in Barcelona (Sagrada Famillia, Casa Mila, Casa Batllo, Casa Vincens) the hospital Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site, the hillside church and ended our tour on top of Montjuic the hill that overlooks the city from the Palau Nacional / Nacional d’ Art d’ Catalunya.

St Pau Art Nouveau – hospital that is now a university and an art piece. Our smart-phone photos don’t do it justice. Worth googling.

At the Palau we marvelled at the ornate art painted on the cupola, the exhibitions on display and the vast Great Hall that is used for concerts and other performances. We meandered to a quiet tree covered concession that sold an icy cold beverage, sat and enjoyed the view and slowly walked down and into the city to find some dinner. Favouring the out of the way restaurants we found a promising purveyor of all things tapas and enjoyed a reasonably priced meal with little pretense. With the final day concluded in this historic city, we felt we had seen and experienced many aspects that others would turn their backs on but the edgy features enhanced our experience, enriching it with more visceral moments (especially the evening forays into sections that didn’t feel like the path most commonly chosen). We were never in any tense situations and the atmosphere was more festive than sinister but…

We hopped a train out of “Barcelona” for Sitges the next morning. Sitges is south down the coast about 40 Km. It is a pleasant artsy town with a penchant for zombies. In fact, they host a long running Zombie Walk with over 1000 participants, that is attended by at least two generations of zombies. The horror film festival is the main attraction here, is into its 52nd year and draws thousands to its movie presentations and related festivities. The zombie walk was being held on the first night of our stay and we found ourselves right in the middle of it all while meeting our friends Luba and Bill for dinner. The costumes and makeup were impressive, with professional makeup stations set up around the city throughout the day and the polished art of zombie walk was, well positively ghoulish! We had a great dinner while taking in the finale of the parade and went back to our accommodation. We had a rooftop apartment for four nights, a block from the beach that had a great location but also was central to some raucous parties that, no doubt, were celebrating the famous film fest. 

Our stay in Sitges was great. We visited at Luba and Bill’s seaside accommodation on a couple of occasions. They were a ½ hour walk down the beach from us with a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean. The town of Sitges was very picturesque and walking the streets was always fascinating. We managed to hit the beach twice to soak up the sun for what would be the last of some suntanning in quite some time. The novelty of swimming in the warm Mediterranean in October was a great motivator too.

During our time here the fine art of denial was creeping into our consciousness – our inevitable departure and conclusion to this epic adventure was fast approaching. We checked off the days until our final evening and dinner with Luba and Bill. We chose the same tasty restaurant that we viewed the Zombie Walk from on our second night here. They had one more night to take it all in, but we were flying out around 11 AM the next day and had a bus to catch, early. During dinner we remarked about what an amazing journey this had been, how we had all (the four couples) carried through on the planning and varied stages of getting here. The idea was theirs, and I think they were at least (or even more) surprised that we had pulled it off! We said our last salutations, bid our friends goodnight and continued safe travels. “See you in the spring!!” As we would be heading back to eastern Canada to pick up our trip from there.

We made our plane (those of you closest to us know we have had our share of angry looks from seated, belted co-passengers as we usually run for our seats with the cabin door clamping shut behind us) and watched, through clear skies, the city of Barcelona disappear beneath us. Our continued travels through New York, Jersey City, Montreal were ahead. Getting reacquainted with our “Escape Pod” was something we both looked forward to. Was it still there, unscathed in the storage facility? Was it out of battery power? Flat tires? Rotten odours? Stale and rancid water in the lines?…

Stay tuned we have another 4,000 miles of adventures awaiting you!! Or more…    

Salut France, Hola Espagne!!

While Bordeaux left butter and Cabernet taste in our bellies, we were on our way to Spain.

Biarritz surf beach called “Plage de la Petite Chamber D’Amour”

Ahhh, BUTTER…I forgot to mention that when we were on “le Boat” we had a delicious seafood risotto dinner with the Seaweed Bordier Butter stirre, (monté) into it at the end. This touch added the necessary umami of not having a rich stock to use. The butter was sweet, salty and full of oceany meroir. I knew you were wondering, “What about the butter?”…

Lori and Mike and all our gear fit nicely in the Sporty 6 speed Ford Focus we rented and we were off to the mountains. That little car purred in 5th gear at 130kph so we hung there without feeling the need to find, and use, 6th. We started out on the toll free roads but it was going to be the same view with tons of roundabouts so we splurged and threw it in 6th gear and cruised at 140kph with every car imaginable booting past us. At one point we passed a truck carrying about 6 sports cars, then another and another. We lost count at 8 of them. Lamborghinis, McLarens, Maseratis, Porsche Carrera GTs, Ferraris, Jaguars, Bentleys, Gull Wing Mercedes. We saw about 50 cars. Albert and Mike were drooling, then the convoy turned off and were gone. Gut wrenched. Sad men in the car. We continued. Weird they weren’t in a covered truck or covered at all; millions of dollars of Super Cars off on a traveling tour called Miles of Mystery 2019 edition. Our traveling roadside attraction of the day!

Just before we got to St Jean du Luz, the Pyrenees mountains appeared. Thankfully; because one minute we were ogling cars and the next minute mountains. You have to understand that Albert and I hadn’t seen large rocky outcrop mountains since the end of July when we left Alberta. The Canadian shield has mountains but they are old and rounded. The hills in Brittany and Normandy are lovely but the Pyrenees were MouNtAiNs.


St Jean de Luz, France is very close to the border of Spain. The west side of the Pyrenees is Basque Country and the East is Catalan. They have their own languages and are neither French or Spanish. So the blend of culture with the influx of tourism was welcoming yet always reminded us that civil unrest could be a conversation away. Alberts leg was still tweaking and there was a “p’tit train” tour parked right beside us so we hopped on.

During the tour only the Basque were mentioned. Not France. Not Spain. The most famous building in town was the cathedral where Louis XIV married the Princess Maria Theresa (age 14 and related to him as his second cousin) of Spain. He, of course, went on to become famous as the Sun King (also King Louis the Great) of France and built Versailles. She went on to be famous as the Queen Consort of France, putting up with Louis’s many affairs, enduring the death of  five of six children and dying in Palace Versailles at a young age of 30 due to a festering sore on her arm. Ahhh, the aristocracy and it’s wealthy soap opera-esque chess games! It was a very cute city with a large wall that skirts the shoreline protecting the old city that was built below sea level.

Our hopeful destination was San Sebastian of the northern western Spanish coast. This destination is very popular as the rocky outcrops hang out over two sheltered sandy beaches that flank the old city. There was a film festival in town on our dates so the affordable accommodations were gone and we couldn’t stay in San Seb. We chose an Agriturismo in the hills just outside of town. The room was comfortable and the breakfast had fresh squeezed orange juice, fresh baked bread, cheese, charcuiterie and eggs from their chickens.

We stayed two nights with a full day in San Sebastian touring with Lori and Mike. In San Sebastian we walked the beach, took the funicular up to the top of the mountain overlooking the city and sipped cold beverages and ate Pintxos (Basque for Tapas) at the top. We walked back and met Luba and Bill for an early 6pm Pintxo and wine meal. Europe and particularly Spain doesn’t even think about an evening meal until at least 9 pm. Restaurants generally open at 8. Compare that in Parksville where everyone is reclined either in bed or on the couch by 8!!! After eating we toured a bit of the old town, the church, and headed out. Maybe another time we can return when there isn’t a film festival taking all the affordable accommodations and we will spend some time there!! It is worth another visit for sure.

San Sebastian was a beautiful city that lead us to following the coastline for a few hours. Every corner we turned had another spectacular vista. We were at the top of cliffs, bottom of jungle valleys, and on busy roads with Basque cyclists owning the road. West of San Sebastian is a cape that has a church built out on a big rock. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, you will know this place as Dragonstone. Gaztelugatxe was dreamed up by some poor pilgrim that thought “God said put a church on it!” And so it was. This along with many of the otherworldly locations for monasteries and cathedrals was another piece of the pilgrimage puzzle. Albert’s leg wasn’t going to allow him to make the trek to the bottom, or the top on the other side (1000+ pedometer steps), so Lori, Mike and I left him for a couple of hours. We rang the bell at the top of the monastery and headed back.

Once in the car we were headed for our accommodation somewhere just outside of Bilbao. Our GPS couldn’t find it but the Google on Mike’s phone did and we arrived through a very narrow, hedged, laneway to a very modern agriturismo house/pension.

It looked like a bit of a fortress from the outside but inside was trés chic and comfortable

The owner met us and was super charming, a very proud “Basque” who designed his house to last for centuries. The nearby city of Bilbao was once a ship manufacturing centre, iron and steel fabrication was huge for the Basque people. So his house was designed and made with steel, concrete, tile, and featured an outside wall with iron sheeting giving it a rusted patina that was to express the Basque traditions and history. The house was lofty with a suite that he and his family lived in. The two story accommodations that we had, featured locking bedrooms upstairs each with a modern ensuite and a glass wall that opened on to a large balcony. I think there were about 6 bedrooms rented. The main floor featured two floor to cieling glass walls with one being an enormous sliding door opening onto a covered deck. This made the indoor room become an open airy covered outdoor room. The inner room was decorated with comfortable couches and two long dining tables and outside had pallet furniture and big pillows. A modern communal kitchen was ours to use as well.

Our farm hosts grew tomatoes and we had a tour of the facility before we left. They produced 80 tons of hydroponic greenhouse tomatoes each year on about 1/4 acre, and managed to go surfing for two months in the Canary Islands in the dead of winter. The dinner that we cooked that night featured tomatoes that they offered, and when we left they loaded us up with more. Good thing we had a car.

The next morning we picked his brain on how to do the town of Bilbao in about an hour because we were headed for Burgos that evening. He looked dismayed, being a proud Basque, and said we should skip Burgos. We didn’t and we aren’t sad about that but Bilbao blew our minds. He told us that Bilbao is undergoing a renovation. He was so proud that in 15 years the ugly part of the city had become modernized from the ruins and pollution of the factory shipbuilding era to a modern, artsy, educated and pretty city. He was proud that the city was still working with the plan, and that it was not corrupt and it had no debt. This was not the “Spanish way”. All this because a visionary mayor who conspired with the architects and planners that brought Bilbao the abstract Frank Gehry designed, landmark Guggenheim museum. As planned, it brought the tourism, which paid for the new buildings, transit, bridges, roads, green spaces, restaurants, etc etc. He said we must see the Guggenheim, but that is just one part of town. He said the subway was made of glass and very beautiful but we would have to return some time because it is a masterpiece on its own. Plus the old town is very nice with old Basque traditions and buildings. So we went and saw the Guggenheim, and were blown away by the museum, the bridges and the beautiful, well designed public spaces. And we left. We will come back to Bilbao area and spend some time there. We only had a taste, and it was good.

When we arrived in Burgos, we were too early to check into our apartment so we went to the Museum of Human Evolution. This museum is a big square box that is very modern in contrast with so much of the Burgos area that we saw that was ancient. In fact, the area is so ancient that the skull (reconstructed from bone fragments) of the “Gran Dolina” boy dating back 850,000 years, is housed in the museum. The Atapuerca dig, where these remains were found, is near Burgos but we were unable to go there. Too little time. Didn’t matter, the museum was full of great stuff. There was a replica of Darwin’s boat “The Beagle” and some readings from his book “On the Origin of Species”. And with all great museums, there were students in class being toured, schooled, immersed and probably assigned their reactions to all that was before them. We were full, we had seen alot that day with two cities in one day. We were off to find our accommodation.

One of the big reasons people travel to Burgos is because it has a huge cathedral, the Santa Maria, that is another stop along the Camino de Santiago. We saw many hikers, young ones with heavy backpacks, and old hikers who had day packs, so they probably had support along the way. We arrived at our apartment and outside the window was this same gorgeous church. We were in the centre of town, surrounded by restaurants, the cathedral, hikers, partiers, and we were about to make our own pilgrimage into the heart of the Ribera del Duero wine region.

This emerging wine region is to Spain as the Vancouver Island wine region is to BC but with alot more potential. If you google Spanish wine, you will more than likely see a Ribera Del Duero wine as one of the top 5 on the list. Spanish wines were not available or promoted for nearly 40 years when the country was run by dictator General Francisco Franco. Sanctions made it impossible to have these wines on the world stage and the knowledge to keep pace with the rapidly changing technology of wine-making was stifled by the autocratic Franco regime. When it did show up, the mainstream quality was usually over-oxidized Rioja wines most commonly from a popular producer by the name of Margues de Riscal. Their wines (and Spanish wine in general) have since benefited from embracing modern production techniques. The Ribera del Duero is quickly gaining popularity (both domestically and internationally) becoming known for its balance in fruit forwardness and dry, food friendly structure. We spent the night in our apartment, listened to the partying into the wee hours of the morning and set off the next day towards Amera del Duero. This city is in the heart of the Duero riverbank (ribero) region and houses many of the big winery’s that make the big full bodied Temperanillos of the region. We drove through the town and saw a sign for one of the vineyards, Martín Berdugo. Unannounced, we arrived and naively asked if we could taste or tour or both? They were very gracious, evidently drop in tours are not routine, but a very pleasant administrative type, took us on a tour of the facility. Harvest was starting the following week and there was a wine festival in the town on the weekend that they were preparing for, that we would sadly miss, so it was very generous of them to take the time. We took pictures, bought 5 bottles of wine between the 4 of us, and headed off.

Lori and Mike were heading back to Canada in two days so we were ultimately headed for the Mediterranean coast near Barcelona. We had a pretty relaxed two days drive so that we could experience some of central Spain’s high plateau. We booked a night at the Hotel des Vino in a small town called Cariñena about 30 minutes from the larger city of Zaragoza (pronounced Thare-a-go-tha – a real tongue twister for me at the time….) that I have since seen spelled Saragossa (English?). We plotted the route which was quite direct, but with my Micheline mapbook in hand, I saw some “scenic route” detours along the way and we hit the jackpot. Spain has its coastlines with the Pyrenees and the hills behind the Barcelona coast but we weren’t mentally prepared for the vast plateau between the west and east coast.

ruin of a castle on a hill… lots of ruins… everywhere

Having travelled in the US and Canadian deserts in Utah, California, Nevada, Alberta and BC, we felt we were repeating some of our North American travels. The white earth of the Spanish plain makes it just a bit different than North American desert. But the red earth made it like southern California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada. There were mesas pushing up and dropping down to winding creeks below. There were carved valleys with hoodoos like in the Badlands of Alberta. There were rolling hills with scrubby sage brush like in Kamloops, BC. and vast prairie like most of North America with corn, sunflowers and harvested white, red and grey dirt fields that grew onions, leeks and grains now shipped or stored elsewhere.

The hills around these flat areas were terraced with fruit orchards, grapes, olives and other vegetable and grain crops. As we got closer to some of the hills, we noticed there were dwellings built into the hillsides as well. Albert had read that with last summers 40+Celsius heat wave, cave owning people in France and Spain were renting their cool caves to families whose children or elderly were comprimised with the heat. Most of these dwellings that we saw looked pretty decrepit, and were possibly just used as storage, or not at all, we didn’t know.

We snaked along the scenic route and found ourselves on a mountain pass that went into the next wine region and our destination. The mountain pass was typically narrow, with tight corners over cliffs, where only one car might pass comfortably and we only met one or two trucks; thankfully. We kept being so incredibly overwhelmed at the vast quilted agriculture. The hills with their terraces were planted in varying ways to capture water, light and the best crops to fill those places. We had to stop. We had to take time to look. We stopped more than once. Then we said, “Enough!! or we will never get there!!”. We proceeded and rounded another bend to find we were on the top of a ridge with the same meticulous agriculture on both valleys below us. We all gasped “WOW, DID YOU SEE THAT?” at the same time. And kept going.

The village of Cariñena was a sleepy little working town that marked itself as the main destination in the Ruta del Vino del Cariñena. Reading about the region, we learned it is another Spanish up and coming region to watch on the world stage. Our hotel was a former wine production house that was more of a warehouse with a hotel now. It was surrounded with vines and harvest equipment. In town, we found a bar that had a restaurant who would feed us a meal, though the bartender looked worried when we asked. It was 8pm, they were open, and “please have a seat” was gestured without any English instruction. Then the chef arrived with a bag of groceries. Ha! The food was like a home cooked meal with local chilled red wine and pretty good. We were the only guests. The “chef”, who was originally from Morocco, came and chatted with us and tried to ply us with firewater. We obliged for one shot. The we got out of there.

We had to drop Lori and Mike at the train station in Zaragoza the next day so they could be near Barcelona in time to get their plane home. I couldn’t sleep so while looking online at accommodations I found some beachfront on the Mediterranean just south of Barcelona. Next day we changed the plan to driving Lori and Mike to Caseldellfels and another day of driving-touring to the coast. Perfect choice!!! With a stop for lunch and a look at the Roman Colosseum ruins in Tarragona, we pressed on to Casteldellfels where they were staying that night.

There was snow on the Calgary forecast for them returning to Canada so we had a lovely hot drive, walk on the sandy Mediterranean beach, beachside mojitos and left them to head to our accommodation.

Lori and Mike came home to this. White sand to white snow. YIKES!! We miss you guys!!

Stay tuned….chilling at the beach…and Barcelona…coming up next post……

To Bordeaux or Not To Bordeaux? that is the question…

NO LONGER Under construction….Albert’s mecca destination has required some very diligent reflection… and his inspired prose will follow soon…. IS HERE!!!

With our friends Lori and Mike in the car, we set out from Jarnac after soaking in the changing riverbank scenery along the Charente and looked forward to the very wine-oriented city of Bordeaux. Luba and Bill were meeting us in Bordeaux, while Jill and Cam headed north. We drove for an hour or so through incessant roundabouts and 50-60 Km/h secondary roads and, after very little discussion, decided to stop in for some “real coffee” at the next available Patisserie. We found a convenient spot in a small village along our route. A great “from scratch” bakery with delicious pastries and acceptable push button Café au lait. Cars and trucks whizzed by a meter or so from our table literally causing the related wind to blow our hair around.

We eased onto the highway and set a destination for Bordeaux using toll roads, enough of the roundabouts etc. It was a pleasant two-hour drive from Jarnac to Bordeaux with increasing evidence of vineyards related to this large grape growing region. It produces around 20% of France’s premium wine and is home to thousands of estates (each more commonly known as “Chateau”) encompassing around 300,000 acres. Annually they produce about 700 million bottles and within this production is about 12% of the world’s premium wine. Mecca if you like a wee tipple of the stuff now and again as we do. The region of Bordeaux is arguably the most successful and influential wine region in the world

Most of our accommodations had been booked only a few days in advance through online resources such as Booking and Hotwire so the element of surprise and anticipation of what we found ourselves in next added a real sense of adventure. Fortunately, we had not been disappointed (some choices were understandably better than others) and we accepted the fact that, sometimes, you may get a bit less than you paid for. This seemingly haphazard reservations technique is not for the faint of heart. If you are a person that can’t tolerate that sort uncertainty our methodology may be too adventurous. For the city of Bordeaux our party of six found 3 rooms in an economical hotel called Residhome Bordeaux and it turned out to be a great choice!

Located a 10-minute walk from the famous Cité/ Musée du Vin and situated on the banks of the Garonne with easy access to the heart of the city via metro tram, we were set up. The rooms were equipped with some cooking facilities and a marché downstairs, so we managed a couple of on-the-fly home-cooked meals during our stay. After checking in we wasted little time in setting out for La Musée.

La Cité du Vin is an impressive and intriguing architectural monument on the left bank of the Garonne River in the city of Bordeaux. At an estimated cost of $80,000,000€ (Wikipedia). The shape of the building evokes movement of liquid and was designed to symbolize the river that is situated beside it, a metaphoric grapevine and the swirl of wine in a glass. (Deb thought it looked like a boot) If you are within site and walking distance, it draws you closer to investigate how the shape and iridescent colours of the windows are accomplished. We were captivated and didn’t hesitate to pay the $20€  each to take it all in. There are three large floors to explore in the permanent exhibits. The immersive experience features content encompassing the full gamut of wine history, grape cultivation, science-based production techniques, sensory experiences, life sized 3D projections, animated diorama presentations from wine professionals, cultural milestones and commercial practices focusing your participation in an experiential learning format that is hard to resist.

After 2-3 hours in this overstimulating environment, we made our way to the Belvedere room for our complimentary tasting that was included in the price of admission. The Belvedere area is located on the upper floor and offers sweeping views of the surrounding city. Nice spot to savour a glass of wine.

Hungry and tired we stopped in at the wine store (because you know there had to be a wine store!) before leaving and made our way back to the hotel for a great potluck dinner.

Although Bordeaux is spread out over a large flood plain (part of the huge Gironde estuary of the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers), our one and only day to see it was limited to a small area known as the Left Bank. With time being of the essence and so much to see (just in the Left Bank) we plugged the coordinates for Chateau Margaux into the GPS and ventured into the cloudy, misty morning of Sept. 22nd.  We made our first stop in Cantenac, Haut Medoc. The wines here are some of the most sought after in the world and fall under the Margaux AOC. We took some pictures outside of a quaint (think turrets, sprawling stone wall enclosed lawns, garden and fountains – that kind of quaint!) little estate called Chateau Palmer, examined some of the plump and juicy Cabernet Sauvignon grape that was ready for picking and took note of the gravel rich soil that epitomizes the local terroir here. We hopped back into the car and poked along the D2 a little further (fighting the lack of intuition the GPS had for our requests) to go to the actual Chateau of Margaux. Everything in the sector is called Margaux something-or-other so the best we could do was drive around ogling the various luxurious estates that were abundant in, and around, the town of Margaux.

It being Sunday, the town was all but deserted and parking in the Tourist Info lot was a cinch but getting info was not going to happen. We strolled along the street, found a patisserie, drank a coffee and stumbled on a wine store called Cave L’ Avant Garde. Lucky for us, they had the very bottle (750ml) of vintage 2000 Chateau Margaux that we were looking for at a glaring deal of 1290€ ($1850 CAD).

No. We didn’t splurge, although we knew we were worth it. Maybe next time!!. We did find wine in our price range though. Our friends picked up a wine that was to be a treat with dinner. In addition, they found a souvenir bottle of unique locally produced (pardon the mixed product description – particularly to our Glaswegian friends) Bordeaux, Scotch style, Whisky. Who knew?!. While completing our purchase, the very knowledgeable and helpful, store clerk gave us her business card and cleverly mentioned they sell futures for the yearly vintage commodity of Bordeaux Wine -“Give us a call in April if you would like to purchase the En Primeur wines for last year” she said. Duly noted! Well how to follow that up…

We headed for the local cemetery… Ok it wasn’t really our plan to see the cemetery but from a distance the ancient church looked interesting and when we arrived their service was in session, so we strolled the cemetery. The ancient headstones and the names inscribed there of those who had likely been the founders of this unique world wine wonder was fascinating.

We finished our sightseeing in the Medoc by going to the ancient Fort Medoc. In the commune of Cussac. This was an important part of a three-part fort strategy to protect the Gironde Estuary back in the 16th century. This unscheduled detour was much like many of the unexpected gems we explored along our tour route. A road sign crops up and someone says “you wanna check this out?” and suddenly you are walking in a 16th century fort (or cathedral, or castle or whatever, the list is never-ending) that, in this case, protected troops defending the sovereignty of France in a bygone era! We walked through and marvelled at the silent history and time etched architecture before returning to Bordeaux in time for a dinner out.

Our friends, Lori and Mike, had been recommended a place that offered a “Steak Frites” (basically a 6oz. NY steak, shallot butter sauce and as much pommes frites as you can eat) for $20€. We hopped the tram outside the hotel and after a short walk arrived at L’ Entrecôte to find a line up 80 people deep. No problem, the restaurant opened and the line moved quickly, and we were in without too much pain and suffering. Dinner arrived quickly after ordering a nondescript bottle of red “L’Enrecôte” Bordeaux.

The meal started with a simple green salad dressed with a tangy white wine vinegar/walnut oil vinaigrette and dressed with fresh whole walnuts (Yum, simple and delicious). The steaks arrived promptly, on a platter, perfectly cooked and sliced, swimming in a delectably rich, cholesterol packed, melted shallot butter. The fries were served tableside and more arrived as we delved in. Stuffed! “Dessert? But of course, Monsieur! One of each!!”  Panna Cotta, Chocolate Pudding Explosion and profiteroles were soon set down.

We ambled out as our insulin fought off the impending hyperglycemic haze only 1.25 hours after sitting down. Before we hopped back on the tram, we took a quick detour to the Monument Des Girondins Fountain which is located next to the departing trams. The sculpture seemed to come alive in the low evening light, animated by shadows and cascading water. The plan for the following day was agreed on, get on the road early and get a prompt start on the next stage of our journey. Spain, we felt up to the task. 

Our next one will be about our time on the Spanish beaches and seeing Barcelona. Stay tuned!!

I have an idea…

When the idea was born to go to Europe this year, it was to meet up with friends and do a river cruise on the Charentes River from Jarnac in the Cognac region of France. The cruise would be 5 nights out of a 5 week trip. We were still two days away from our bare-boat charter reservation. En route to Jarnac we went inland to a small town called Descartes.

We stopped in Richelieu, a small, walled town, to buy supplies. Richelieu, France! This was the powerful man who pushed Louis XIII to colonize New France – Canada. He pushed the French aristocracy out, centralized French government, and before his death, paved the way for Louis XIV to be the most powerful monarch until the revolution broadsided that. Another history lesson…And we were in his walled town. By the way, it is paved in marble. The grocery store was ok and we bought fresh lamb, eggs, fruit and almost a few earthenware pate terrines that the deli discards after the terrines of duck, rabbit or pate de campagnes are sold. They were only 1-2Euros each. Don’t need them. They won’t fit in the trailer. Not packing them through France and Spain… And they would make good gifts too!! Nope.  But oh my, if our life were considered normal….

Why Descartes? Because we found a couple of rooms online, in a house that was affordable and quaint. It was definitely out of the way but as with many travels, sometimes the odd ones are the best. Descartes is the birthplace of philosopher René Descartes who revolutionized dualism as thinking and matter, paving the way to modern physics. His famous quotes such as “I think, therefore I am.” or ” It is not enough to have a good mind, the main thing is to use it well.” are solid ideas that still make it on to T-shirts and Pinterest posters! We were in this smarty-pants home town.

We arrived at the address, “Le 37” (also the name of the accommodation), and rang the ancient doorbell. Nothing. Tried again…then there was some thumping and the door six meters away opened. In we went into a century’s old “house” with 3 floors and a tower. The storefront was just a ruse. Each bedroom boasted a comfortable king sized bed, with crisp white sun dried linens and a private bathroom. There was a large spiral staircase up to our rooms and the kitchen was on the ground floor and a garden courtyard just outside the kitchen door. The “younger-than-us” owner, Pierre, spoke his beautiful English/Parisian French accented language, as he showed us our home for the next 20 hours. He had fresh tomatoes, nectarines from his garden, a loaf of bread, cheese and jams for us to help ourselves, and lovely stories of the area. He acquired the home from a family that had lived there for many generations. The 60+ year old son of the elderly couple who still lived in it had to sell it because they were 100+ years old and didn’t want the son to have it. Why not? Because he married a divorcée!!! Sacrè Blu! Fast forward to their deaths and he had to sell quickly, and Pierre was there at the right time. It was in pretty bad shape as the old parents had not renovated it at all and many generations of history were on the walls. This was actually fortunate because all the “bones” of the place were good without having to survive poor quality renovations.

He said his motivation to purchase the house was the tower, but discovered the most interesting part of the building was underground. Below the yard and the building was a well that he used to water his garden. It was surrounded by a tunnel entrance and a cellar that dated back to some original constructions from around 1200-1400 AD. They were typical to many small towns as the tunnels lead to the church of Saint Georges and most were under the roads. His wine cellar was below, and he took Albert and another guest (who, coincidentally was a real estate evaluator with civil engineering background from the UK) for a tour.

Pierre is an artist and truly a gentle soul, with a quick wit, keen eye and a highlight of our trip. We didn’t take enough pictures of his garden but there are great photos on booking dot com here

The next morning the whole town came alive for the Sunday market. We bought Paella and Tajine from a rotisserie food truck, drank a lovely café au lait, and hit the road en route to our next stay near Jarnac and the Charentes River. 

Our cruise was dreamed up by our friends Bill and Luba who we were traveling with. The boat had 4 staterooms so 2 more couples, and long-time friends, came along as well. Lori, my bestie for more than 50 years, Mike her hubby, from Calgary, and our friends from Qualicum, Jill and Cam. We had a fun meal in Paris with Lori and Mike before Albert and I headed to Normandy. They were continuing to Carcasson after Paris with Calgary friends then meeting us at Le Boat. The night before our cruise began, we all met in Jarnac for a meal. We brought our market finds and the rest of the menu was cheese and bread, of course!!

3/4 of the group, bread and cheese in Jarnac with Paella and Tajine…and sparkling happy water!!!

Albert and I were staying just outside of Jarnac and on the way in the next day we stopped in a vineyard, nibbled Bread with Bordier Butter (4% salé) and fresh preserves….

Bordier butter and Jam in a Pineau de Charentes vineyard….

The next day we provisioned the boat, parked the cars at the “Le Boat” secure parking, got on board, set off, opened our first bubbly, and headed downstream towards Cognac. Jill and Cam were meeting us there. They just finished an epic Morocco trip including sleeping in the Sahara in a tent and 4 days of travel on camel back. Le Boat had asked us to come early because the river keepers were closing the locks along our route on the river to work on a bridge.  What!!?? We had 3 locks to go through before they shut it down, so we made tracks.

We went under the aforementioned bridge…there was really only half a bridge, a crane and a bunch of trades guys. We got to the third lock and they wouldn’t let us through because the river was too low. One of the weirs was stuck open. The “Le Boat” staff had driven down river to meet us and we ended up going back to Jarnac for the night with the possibility the weir would be fixed quickly, and we would be able to get through the next day. We could have changed our plans and headed upstream but there were a lot more locks in that direction. The locks were not mechanized. We hand cranked every one of them to empty, fill, open and close. We contacted Jill and Cam, and they hopped aboard in Jarnac.

We pushed off upstream and camped for the night with the instructions that we could tie up anywhere unless there was a sign saying privé. The Charente river is a gentle flowing, tree lined, narrow reservoir that is full of life. The trails and paths along riverbanks were formerly roads used to drag the barges of merchandise for trade and security. There are swans that are a bit pushy and follow the boats looking for treats. There are many dens along the riverbank that may house Coypu (or another name is Nutria), beaver-like mammals that we never saw. There are many fishermen, campers, and even in parts, water-skiers. It is “clean” even though the “le Boat” staff said the sewage was macerated and flushed…into the river…

We had our first night in the bag and the next morning we were given the all clear to head down river. We had 4 more nights before the boat needed to be back. Our ultimate destination was Saintes and a return to Jarnac. These are not long distances and we had a slow boat. The weather was perfect, and we were able to be out on the top deck while we motored. The deck had loungers, two large tables, a small fridge and sink. The 4 stateroom-cabins each had a washroom with toilet, sink and shower. The kitchen was well appointed with a large fridge, stove oven and huge table. The interior was air conditioned so during a particularly hot night we ran the AC. Travelling on the river through the shade of the trees gave us a gentle and cooling breeze, so we were entirely comfortable the whole time. We did cool down with some Pineau de Charentes, beer, sparkling wines, G&T’s too!!!

We traveled into the town of Cognac where the massive Hennessy Cognac house is. Courvoisier is in Jarnac along with Louis Royer. This was Cognac after all!!! Mike and Bill did the Hennessy tour that lasted over an hour and a half on both sides of the river, including a cruise in the Hennessy launch traverse to the other side where their cognacs were aging. Albert gave everyone a lesson in why the buildings in the region were black. A mould that, due to the distillation and aging processes, feeds on “the angels share” and grows on the sides of the buildings in the town.

On the Hennessy tour day, Albert sustained an injury to his leg (fluky, weird, cramp in right quadricep mid air causing severe charlie-horse of insane proportions on landing) while jumping off the boat to go through one of the locks, so he missed the Hennessy tour. When we got to Saintes the next day, Lori, Mike, Albert and I did a mini train tour of the town. Saintes is a great little town with a large Roman Colosseum ruin. The train took us up and down all the hills and past all the great landmarks, churches, and historical sites for over an hour.

Another small town we stayed beside, Chaniers, had a free power and water hookup and a short walk to town. We toured around the centuries old town and stopped for crêpes near the river. The bakery had a sign on it, closed for a few weeks well-earned holiday and would open the next day. We made note of this and graced their doorstep before heading out the next day. They also had an after-hours baguette vending machine. We didn’t attempt push button baguette.

Most of the small towns in France that we visited or drove through seemed like ghost towns. Gone are the days of the neighbours sitting out on doorsteps, visiting and watching the world go by. Granted the siesta time in the afternoon is real, and people do relax inside away from the frantic pace the world runs at, but I also think watching kids in the playgrounds vs screen time may play a big part in the cultural landscape everywhere including small town France. Our boat trip was a lot of fun, very comfortable, relaxing and we all had a great trip. This was the first time we had stayed in the same bed since Paris for more than one or two nights. It was great to be able to cook and share a big meal with everyone. There was no shortage of laughs and suspense from 400+ collective years of travel stories. When we returned up the river, we were prepared to duck our heads under the demi bridge, but that half was gone too, so we understood the reason for the earlier closure just a few days before. Our cruise was complete, and we were on to the next adventures. Cruising on a riverboat was a great idea. Thanks Bill and Luba!!!

Stay tuned…Jill and Cam left us to travel north and the rest of us traveled to the city of Bordeaux.

To the sea!

We had been jumping from city to city for the last two weeks. Montréal, Quebec, New York City and then 5 nights in Paris so the transition to the French countryside was welcome. We headed out along the Paris Perimeter freeway, the Peripherique, past Versailles, heading for Honfleur and ultimately, Juno Beach.

First stop Giverney, where famed impressionist artist Claude Monet lived. This small town has one street going along it called, you guessed it, Rue Claude Monet. They have completely turned his estate and surroundings into a tourist destination. There is a museum, his home and garden, the little church with his resting place and a gift shop. Or two. That said, it was very calm, quaint, in fact the setting was gentle.

As we arrived, there were numerous arrows pointing to many parking lots but the feel of the area was not pushy. There are a few Gites and centuries old buildings that have been gently crafted from barns and forges or old farmhouses into tasteful, artful accommodations. We walked the path to the church first. It was modest. The graveyard was small. Monet’s plot was full of flowers that were overgrown. He was laid to rest with his loved ones. Pretty normal.

We walked back to his home, paid for entry and then the magic truly began. His house is a museum of his motivations. There were many prints of Japanese influence and some of the other artists of the time. The furniture was still displayed as if he lived there and the garden was fully visible from the large windows. Most of the European houses and accommodations that we have stayed in have small shuttered windows with thick walls. Monet’s house had large windows on all sides of the building allowing natural light to brighten even the darkest room. Then he layered colours and patterns throughout.

His dining room was bright yellow in contrast to the adjoining kitchen that was blue and lined with copper pots and pans. The walls in the hallway were a soft pastel green. We were in his colour palette!!

The garden has been maintained and continues to be an inspiration for many visitors. If you could sit on a bench, it was yours and there were a couple of people painting “en pleine air”. We walked through the colours, textures and themed displays. There is a tunnel that goes below the road and when we exited on the other side we were at the famous Monet pond. This pond had a lot of people taking pictures on the bridges, the trailways and the benches. Everywhere around that pond was beautiful. The reflection, the stillness and the colours made everyone speechless, and it was quiet even with the many people touring around the grounds. To have been there when it was a private garden would have been soothing and ever-changing depending on the light, the season, the weather, or the mood. Monet’s tribute was well worth the stop and could be a beautiful place to stay, en Gite, for a few days with day trips to nearby towns or hikes in the countryside.

From there we were on our way to Honfleur. This little seaside town is across a massive bridge from le Havre.

small pictures make big objects seem small….this bridge was enormous

Honfleur was a major a shipping hub until le Havre took over. It was a very quaint seaside town that had the most remarkable wooden church, St Catharine’s Catholic Church, near the boat basin. The northern coast of France saw alot of destruction during the world wars and much of it has been rebuilt. So to see this church still in tact was a surprise.

We walked the many tiny streets and found the old prison, where pirates and nasty folks spent their last days in chains with their friends the rats. Honfleur has many restaurants that line the boat basin with good drinks and mediocre food. We were directed not to eat there by the woman who checked us into our accommodation. We found the restaurant she suggested and we were not disappointed. Luba and I had the Moules et Frites and wished we’d had the platter of langoustines.

We rented an apartment that was hidden away between a bunch of buildings in what was probably a courtyard at one time. Our apartment had a small window in each bedroom and a sky light.The foot print was about 40 ft by 10 ft. It was 2 floors high and remarkably light inside with white walls. The bedrooms were on opposite ends of the top floor. The architect managed to allow light through the floors with a spiral staircase and glass floor panels between the bedrooms. Unique, but no opportunity to look out a window so a bit claustrophobic and happy we were staying just the one night. Such a contrast from Giverny and Monet.

No going commando here!! Or maybe….

The road to Juno Beach has many signs of the battles won and lost. There are mini memorials along the route and what are now large fields of corn, hay and sunflowers, was mud and destruction before our lifetimes. There were references to the allies, the resistance, the names of locals who died in the wars, and the many graveyards with the military crosses in rows. We arrived at Juno Beach on a cloudy windy day. The English Channel was grey and foreboding. It was easy to imagine the action and the museum display at the Canadian “Centre Juno Beach” was also immersive.

When we walked in, there was a woman with an Anglo-Canadian accent. We asked where she was from. She said Victoria. We said Parksville. She said she went to school in Parksville. Her mom taught there. Turns out Haley was a year older than our kids, knew them a bit and her mom was Elly’s favourite teacher. Ha! She talked about her opportunity to work there as a tour guide and staffer. The Centre is funded by a foundation but her employment and that of others is through a federal government student employment grant program. She was 6 months into a 7 month contract. The Centre was staffed with bilingual Canadian youth, who were post secondary students between levels or taking a gap year. She was over the moon and loved the work she was doing, the people she met and the paid opportunity to improve her French…IN FRANCE!!

Juno Beach is one of a number of points of land that was occupied by the Germans during WWII. The area is flat and the beach is long. 150,000 allied troops advanced on the Germans from 5 different beaches spanning about 80 kilometers. On D-Day 14,000 Canadian troops were responsible for advancing on the beach codenamed Juno. There were heavy casualties that day with over 10, 000 allies including over 1000 Canadians being hurt or killed, but the sheer number of troops overwhelmed the Germans and was the pivotal moment for the allies against the Nazi occupation. The remains of Nazi bunker and tunnels throughout the region are still evident and at the Centre there are tours through the ones near the building.

We went down to the sandy beach where the sand is a tan red colour sprinkled with many scallop shells. We dipped our toes into the English Channel, acknowledged the losses and proceeded to Brittany and Saint Malo.

Normandy is known for orchards and spirits derived from the apples. Calvados and Cider are featured in many roadside markets, farms and shops. The coastal foods of both Normandy and Brittany feature oysters, whelks, mussels, scallops, cockles, limpets, various fish and the famous Agneau pré-salé, Salt Marsh Lamb. The fish are caught, cooked and eaten, but the lamb is famous for it’s diet. Sheep that graze on the marshy lands along the sea produce a meat that locals say has a much richer flavour. Sadly, we missed tasting the lamb while we were there but we did have some lovely meals. A New York Times article that I read says that the lamb is marketed and available, though very expensive, throughout the world. It also mentioned that other seaside communities around the world are growing lamb this way, including in BC. I would love to know who. We will find it…we will!!

Do you see them? Grazing on salt marsh delicacies…

In the town of Saint Malo, we went to find the butter. A while ago on Mind of a Chef, I saw the excerpt of Bordier Butter from Saint Malo. So this was my one and only planned food pilgrimage. Google it. Watch it on Netflix. Find the show. The fine craft of handmade and shaped butter. I bought the salted butter and the seaweed butter. We waited a few days to taste it with our friends….

Saint Malo was built by opportunists (pirates) who ravaged the working seafarers that shipwrecked along the rocky coastline. The fortified wall around the town now serves as a touristy walkway above the town where at one time it housed cannons and muscle. The richest merchants (pirates) built their multi story armed homes into the walls of the city in order to watch for wayward trading ships in order to steal their loot.

The church is dedicated to the many maritimers who spent their lives on the sea. Jacques Cartier, a resident of Saint Malo, was sent to find Asia and wound up finding the Saint Lawrence. He mapped it and contributed to the forming of New France. His crypt is in the church in Saint Malo along with a story of his legacy. I am not sure if I should be happy about this, the colonization of North America and the treatment of our aboriginal people, but I love where I am from and this a part of our collective story.

One of the reasons for the stay at Saint Malo was to visit Mont Saint Michel. There is a large cathedral built on top of an island and a surrounding walled town snakes up the mountain to the cathedral. It was formerly an island at high tide but now there is a dyke road that shoots out to the bottom of the island. Surrounding the road are fields of salt marsh and SHEEP!! Many of the massive tourist centre hotels and restaurants along the road advertise the “Agneau pré salé” . Who knows if they are legitimate or just serving regular lamb? The obvious tourism this landmark has produced is overwhelming.

We were advised to arrive at the island at 5 to avoid the crowds. The massive parking lots have large shuttle busses that ferry the tourists to the gate at the base of the mountain. We walked up to the cathedral only to find that it doesn’t let people in after 5. WHAT???!!! So we poked around. There are a couple of old hotels, many tourist shops, some overpriced mediocre restaurants and lots of stairs. We left there and went back to Saint Malo. We weren’t really disappointed. It is pretty spectacular, but not seeing the cathedral was ok. We have seen alot of beautiful old churches along the way. The crowds were similar to pushing our way through Versailles the Louvre and any other major tourist attraction.

We spent two nights beside the walled city of Saint Malo in an apartment on the isthmus called La Cité. We could see the walled city from our small village across one of the bays. across the street from us was a small restaurant that had two staff. The front and the back. In the front was about 25 seats, a wood fired brazier/grill, a small bar and a window through to the kitchen. The old brick, stone and mortar walls had a blackboard with the daily offerings and another wall had green leafy branches in water in glass tubes hanging from a few sticks. It was cheap, effective and gave a feeling of a fireplace in a forest beside a stone wall. Very cosy. In fact the name of the restaurant was Cozy Braise. The man on the grill also did the bartending and service, while the apprentice in the back prepared the plates for the grilled items and the salads. It was excellent! So simple and so tasty. The menu was small with steak, lamb chops, duck breast, local sausages and scallops. I ordered the lamb, unfortunately not the marsh fed lamb, but it was excellent and cooked to perfection. Luba and Bill had a mixed grill and Albert had the duck magret. Side dishes were roast potatoes that were cooked in duck fat and a salad. We shared two skewers with scallop and prawns. So simple. The guy was a master at keeping his coals perfect, working the full room, mixing drinks, opening wine then pouring the first glass, and making sure the food was done just the way the customers asked.

The next day our destination was near Carnac on the South-West side of Brittany. En route we hugged the norther coast along the English channel and went to see an old light house at Cap Fréhel. It was fairly remote and when we got there we parked and headed down the path to the large lighthouse structure. Arriving at that lighthouse we saw the old one and headed to it. There are very few trees here and the landscape is covered in heather and prickly gorse.

There are trails that hug the coastline and we could have hiked along to the next point of land 5 k away, but we were still a long way from our final destination that day. France, and probably most of Catholic Europe, is covered in trailways that have been used for millenia. The local lore said that the trails along the coast were part of the pilgrimage trails that lead to the many monasteries, churches, cathedrals that dot every town, mountain and valley throughout Europe. The Spanish Camino de Santiago de Compostela is a Hollywood-famous (if you have seen the movie “The Way” with Martin Sheen you will understand the reference) set of trails that accommodates thousands of hikers from around the globe every year. These trails join the trailways that also lead past this gorse infested French trail and the route to the Mont Saint Michel among others. So if you want to walk and walk and walk, there are plenty of pilgrim trailways to be had.

We set off away from the Cap and headed inland to cut through to the Atlantic side of Brittany. We stayed at a Gite (France’s agritourism accommodation) in Plouhinec. We brought a dinner of charcuterie, wine, cheese and bread. The garden party was on.

Next morning we headed out in search of the Carnac stones; France’s Stonehenge. The Carnac Megalithic Alignments are part of a series of large granite stones that have been placed in long rows or as dolmens throughout the region. When we left our Gite, we saw many homes and yards with similar granite displays but we were not convinced that these were authentic. Suddenly there was a series of about 80 enormous rocks in rows beside the road. We quickly pulled over, took pictures and continued on to find the rest.

Our car GPS and our friends GPS in their car obviously had different satellites to work from because that was the last we saw of them and they missed the visitor centre, interpretive centre and the road that skirts along the 4 kilometres of the rest of the stones.

In the area were also some temples, dolmens, and other structures that we had no time to find, but if we had planned to stay longer we would definitely have tried to see all the 5 areas that had these Neolithic displays from over 6000 years ago.