Mission Accomplished

The objective of this trip was to bring a car back to Craig and Annie; they could use a second car and we had an extra. Yesterday, Craig got all the legal stuff done and, with a little help from Clara and Henry, our 2005 Rav4 became an official New York resident:


We wanted to get out of Craig and Annie’s hair the day after they returned, to give them some Grandma- and Granddad-free time to re-connect with Clara and Henry. Craig suggested we drive to Kingston, about 90 minutes north, with a stop at a “rails-to-trails” bridge across the Hudson. Since they now have two cars (see above), off we went.

The bridge across the Hudson was surprising. We figured there might be a dozen people there, but no; the place was crowded with folks. The bridge, formerly a railroad bridge, is the longest and tallest walking trail bridge in the world. It provided a beautiful view of the Hudson River.

The view from the walking bridge. The bridge you see down-river is a freeway.

Laurie taking a gander at the view.

After walking across the bridge and back – along with hundreds of folks walking, running, strolling, sauntering, riding bicycles/scooters/a unicyle (yes!) – we headed to Kingston, about twenty minutes north. We found the restaurant Craig recommended and had an excellent lunch. Then we walked around town and were gob-smacked at what we saw. This town (about 22,000 folks) has many beautiful buildings: commercial, residential, governmental and churches. We just loved it.

First, four historic buildings; the last picture explains their connection to history.

Yep, these four buildings are the four corners of an intersection and all of them were built before the American Revolution.

Now, a random collection of buildings we saw on a short walk around one area of Kingston:

I could get into politics if I could find a group with the right idea about where to meet:

And one last eye-opener: the cemetery at the Dutch Reformed Church of Kingston. The flags, placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution for Memorial Day, mark the graves of men who served in the Revolutionary Army. There are seventy in this cemetery alone.

We loved Kingston and plan to return for a few days sometime.

Although we’ve come to Elmsford many times over the last five years, this was the first time we’ve had a chance to get out and see how beautiful this area is, and how history pokes its head up all the time. We’re already planning some trips to see and absorb this country.

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Okay, I know you’ve all been anxiously awaiting pictures of the grandkids, so here they are (plus one of Craig and Annie):

You’d be smiling like this if you were waiting for the car to take you to the airport — destination: Paris.

Clara enjoying a beautiful day.

Henry checking out the chairs at Stop and Shop.

Henry ready for police action.


Clara and Foxy



Henry in the garden.

Off the Hook!

Phew! Craig and Annie returned a couple nights ago and we’re now officially guests and not grandkid-sitters. We actually can sleep past 6 a.m.! A few words about our stint as grandkid sitters: “Holy cow, it’s hard!” Both kids would wake  up about 6 a.m. and need some breakfast. Clara then would get ready for the school bus, which arrives about 7:45. We’d then take Henry to three hours of daycare about an hour later. Pick him up at noon, then have a “quiet time” (also known as a nap; Henry refuses to take a nap but seemed fine with having quiet time with us and then sleeping for an hour. Semantics are important!) Clara returned about 3:15. If the weather was good, they’d play outside with friends. If the weather was bad – and it was bad much of the week – we’d all stay inside.

I think what strikes us most is the almost constant requests for our time, “Grandma/Granddad, can you play with me?” “Grandma/Granddad, can I <insert something that Craig and Annie would never allow>?”, “Grandma… Granddad… Grandma… Granddad… Grandma… Granddad…” Laurie said at one point she thought the cats were meowing “Grandma…”

Henry is quite vocal (that might be the understatement of the year) and has bunch of funny sayings. “Oh, I did not know that,” “I almost forgot,” “Not right now,” (whenever he doesn’t want to do something that we want him to do). So we definitely had some laughs.

Clara has been taking gymnastics classes and it shows: she can hardly walk ten feet without doing a cartwheel or somersault or flip. She has a balance beam (that sits on the ground) and a horizontal bar outside and she can do all sorts of amazing things on them. It’s really fun to watch her do her thing.

Overall, it was fine, excepting that Grandma and Granddad are not used to being “on-call”24/7.  Clara was just great helping us, particularly when we didn’t understand what Henry was asking for (which frustrated him and us). The kids were over-the-top happy to see Craig and Annie when they returned, and we were pretty happy too. But, you know what? We’d do it again in a minute. Although mentally draining, we had a ton of good times and fun with Clara and Henry.

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Across the U. S. of A.

I didn’t think I’d post anything about our 2019 sojourn, but since we like using the blog as a way to remember our trips, I’ve decided to do one for this year’s travels, and maybe both readers of this blog will enjoy it a bit.

This trip germinated last Christmas when we were here in Elmsford. We had already decided that we would drive our old Toyota RAV4 to Elmsford so Craig and Annie could have a second car. Then one night we were sitting around testing Craig’s Tiki-drink-mixing skills (he passed summa cum laude) when Annie mentioned that she could attend a conference in Paris in late May. Immediately, Laurie and I said, “We’ll take care of the kids so you and Craig can both go and have a vacation in Paris.” It took Craig and Annie about 3 seconds to accept that offer. So here we are.

We took seven and a half days to drive here; we didn’t exactly do any sight-seeing on the way. It was fun, really, with the exception of one day that was less than enjoyable. Rather than doing a day-by-day post I’ll smush the driving days into one post. I promise it won’t be too long; boring, yes, but not too long.

Day 1: Seattle to Superior Montana. 422 miles, about 7-½ hours of driving

This was a pretty easy drive, though tied for the longest of the whole trip. Why Superior, Montana? Well, it was a good place, distance- and time-wise, to stop. And, oddly enough, it has a motel that gets great reviews: the Big Sky Lodge. The Big Sky is right out of the 60s, except that it has been updated, had comfortable beds and was immaculately clean and well-kept up.

Superior (population 800) is not exactly a center of the culinary art; there are only two restaurants. One is in the kitchen/cafeteria of an unused school and that’s what we chose. “Food like your mother used to make” is their motto and while not exactly true (neither my mother nor Laurie’s made food like this), it was, well, copious might be the operative word.

After a walk along the river, we decided to have a nightcap at the lounge of the other restaurant. We ordered up a couple martinis which were just fine and asked for the bill. $6. Not for each, for both of them. Now that is a personal best for low-cost martinis: $3 each. We still don’t know why we didn’t order another couple rounds…

Superior is the county seat and has a beautiful county government building.

Anyway, Superior was a great place for our first night on the road.

Day 2: Superior to Billings, Montana. 403 miles, about 7 hours of driving.

Yes, we drove the whole day and never got out of Montana; this is a BIG state. In Billings we stayed at an independent hotel, the Riversage, which was quite nice and turned out to be our favorite hotel of the trip. It is well-appointed, has a nice comfortable feel to it and because it is near the hospital and away from downtown or the freeway, was quiet as can be.

But our favorite part of Billings was dinner at Uberbrew, a brew pub, and our favorite part of that was our server, a woman with more energy that any three people we know combined. She was just a kick. When we left she hugged us both and said to Laurie, “I want your skin, I want your figure. Keep it up, sister. Keep it up!”

Day 3: Billings to Rapid City, South Dakota, with a side trip to Mt. Rushmore. 373 miles, about seven hours of driving, including a long Mt. Rushmore side trip.

The highlight of this day was, of course, Mt. Rushmore. It is well worth the side trip and we recommend it to everyone.

Rapid City impressed us. It has a downtown full of beautiful old stone and brick buildings. We later found a walking tour of downtown and said, “We should come back to Rapid City to explore.” But you know what? I doubt that will happen. It’s a long ways from any place we’ll be in the future, and a long drive to get there. But we did enjoy a stroll after dinner to look at those beautiful buildings.

Day 4: Rapid City, South Dakota to Sioux City, Iowa. 422 miles, about eight hours of driving.

Not much to see in this part of the country. This was a long day because it was just not very interesting.

Day 5: Sioux City, Iowa to Davenport, Iowa. 367 miles, 6-1/2 hours.

Another day of being in one state all day long. It ended in Davenport, Iowa, and the day did have some interesting aspects. First, large parts of Iowa were really pretty, which we did not expect; rolling hills, trees and grass. Second, you should know that Davenport is part of the “Quad Cities,” which is, oddly enough, made up of five cities. Go figure.

The highlight of the day was dinner at the “Machine Shed” in Davenport. Really. “Dedicated to the American Farmer,” the Machine Shed is decorated with every farm poster and implement you can think of and the servers wear farmers’ overalls. Now, since we were definitely in beef country, it was rib-eye steaks for both of us. But first, martinis, which were really good ones. When we ordered our steaks, the server said that we got our choice of two sides to share, so we got coleslaw and baked apples; a basket of great bread came with the meal, too. The steaks arrived with a big bowl of corn. And of course we had to top it off with an apple dumpling with ice cream, which turned out to be some farmer’s entire crop of apples and a gallon of ice cream. We were able to waddle back to the hotel without assistance, so we figured it was a successful evening. Honestly, though, the Machine Shed was a hit with us; a great meal and I think the whole thing – drinks, steaks, sides, dessert, tip and all – was $72.

Day 6: Davenport, Iowa to Maumee, Ohio (just outside Toledo). 396 miles, about nine hours of driving with a big delay.

Okay, ya gotta have one bad day on a trip this long and day six was it. Chronologically:

  • The drive on I-80 toward Chicago was awful: rough road, more huge trucks than cars, all going either slower or faster than we wanted to go. It was three hours of dodging crazy car drivers and crazier truck drivers.
  • As we approached the Indiana line we saw a signboard that said there had been an “incident” just past the border and we could expect delays. Yes, indeed: it took us 2 hours, 40 minutes to go 11 miles. There were so many trucks that at times, we could not see another car. When we got to a toll booth, I asked the toll-taker what was going on and she told us: a tanker truck carrying thousands of gallons of honey had overturned and spilled everything.
  • After getting through that mess, the rest of the day was in and out of work zones that reduced the two or three lanes of the interstate to one; slow going.
  • Laurie got something in her eye. By the end of the day she could hardly open it.
  • We got to our destination and saw a huge Krogers store near-by. “Ah,” we said, “we can get some eye-wash for Laurie and sandwiches from their deli.” However, no eye wash was to be found there, and we had unknowingly crossed into the Easter time zone, which meant it wasn’t a little after 6 p.m., it was a little after 7 p.m. and Krogers’ deli closed at – you guessed it – 7 p.m.
  • I found some salads on the shelf at Krogers and that was dinner. We opened a bottle of wine, drank it to the dregs, crawled into bed and called it a day. Not a good day, but a day.

Day 7: Maumee, Ohio to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. 360 miles, about six hours of driving.

A big event: we drove by Lorain, Ohio, the hometown of our wonderful friend in France, Jamie Rufin. Next time, we’ll even stop there. Maybe.

The biggest surprise for us was how beautiful Pennsylvania is. Forested hills and valleys, rivers and streams; we loved it. In Lewisburg we found the best of the chain hotels we stayed in, but there was nothing else special about our night here. Still, we want to return to this area to explore, and as it’s half a day from our Elmsford Zumsteg base, I suspect we’ll be able to do that someday.

Day 8: Lewisburg, Pennsylvania to Elmsford, New York, our home away from home! A measly 244 miles and 4 hours of driving.

Half a day of driving, and pretty easy navigation. But the New Jersey drivers – holy cow. The high point was driving on a four-lane interstate with most drivers (including those huge trucks) going 80 mph, changing lanes every three or four seconds and thinking nothing of pulling up to two feet behind us. At that point we saw a sign, “Report Aggressive Drivers #77.” Are you kidding me? We would have needed an intercom to do that. We would have just read them the license plate number of every car on the road. I am sure there were people that went home that night and raged about that stupid car with Washington plates that drove at the speed limit and stayed in the right-hand lane the whole time.

But we made it to Elmsford and were glad to be there. Geeze, were we happy to see Craig and Annie and Clara and Henry! Total mileage: 2,987 plus a few for getting to and from restaurants. Honestly, we enjoyed the whole trip except for that one day. This is, indeed, quite a country we live in. We hope we can see more of it, and spend more time in some places we whizzed through.

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One More Travel Post – From New York

We spent six days in Elmsford as we returned from France. I gotta say that having Elmsford to break up the Seattle – Paris journey is fabulous. Instead of a 11-hour Paris – Seattle flight, we have a one 7-1/2 hour flight (Paris – JFK), a six hour time change and six days to recover from it, then a six hour flight back to Seattle. And, best of all, of course, we get to spend time with Craig and Annie and Clara and Henry. Pretty hard to beat that, I gotta say.

And to add to the benefits, Craig has become an aficionado and expert of tiki drinks, so we were able to try out his Mai-Tais, Twelve-Mile-Limits (Laurie’s favorite), Fogcutters, Dr. Funks, and something else which we’ve forgotten. Good thing we had to go up only one flight of stairs to our beds…

But I know all you want to see is pictures of the New York Z’s, so here they are:

The New York Zumstegs. Craig often has that look, especially at the end of Henry’s non-preschool days, except there’s no smile.

Henry as Marshall of the Paw Patrol. Don’t ask us; we’d never heard of the Paw Patrol either

Henry on Paw Patrol

Henry – age 3.

Clara getting a head start on her 8th birthday, which was the day after we left. Bad planning on our part, methinks.

Clara’s American Girl dolls ready to go for their hair appointment. Yes, really.

Clara and friend Daisy ready to head into Manhattan for Clara’s birthday. They went to the Statue of Liberty and had an appointment at the American Girl store.

Clara sporting her braided hair. Her hair still is pretty darn red.


The new additions to the Elmsford household: Foxy and Pumpkin.

A moment (fleeting) of sibling peace and togetherness.

And another.

Craig and Annie have to be the best hosts in the world. They let us stay as long as we want (we haven’t pushed to see just how long that would remain the case), they serve us great food and tiki drinks, and put up with us doing not much. Well, okay, me not doing much; they have a flower circle in the front yard that Laurie has adopted and spends hours working on.

Thanks to them giving us the best possible way to end a great vacation. A GREAT vacation!

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Esgrafiado, applied to architecture, describes the technique of creating 3-d patterns on walls. We loved seeing buildings with this decoration. Segovia must have hundreds of them; we saw maybe half. Once we’d noticed them, we searched them out.

Although I don’t know – yet – exactly how these esgrafiado – walls are created, essentially what happens is that a smooth surface of some kind of plaster or cement is laid on the wall and the design then cut out of it. The result is a smooth design on a rough surface where the material has been removed. Every design we saw was unique; no duplicates as near as we could tell.

Esgrafiado buildings also exist in Barcelona, but Segovia must be the prime place to see them in Spain. Here are pictures of some Segovia esgafiado buildings.

A old esgrafiado wall.

Probably the oldest design we saw.

This shows a wall with part of it repaired. The lighter area has been renovated, while the darker area has, over many years, eroded.

Tired of esgrafiado? Because if you’re not, I’ve got about 50 more pictures to show you.

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The last stop on our “Greatest Hits of Spain” tour is also the place I’ve known longest in Spain, not counting Madrid: Segovia. It is also a place with which I have some emotional ties.

In the late 1970s/early 1980s I came to Madrid half a dozen times in my work at Boeing. The people I worked with at Iberia Airlines knew I brought an expense account with me, and they loved to go to Segovia for lunch. So the Boeing salesman, Pat Finnigan, three Iberia folks and I would pile into Pat’s tiny SEAT 124 and drive 90 minutes to Segovia for lunch at a famous restaurant there, Duque. Pat Finnigan was by no small measure the best person I ever worked for or with, and we became good friends. He died four years ago, and I can tell you that I felt his presence the whole time we were in Segovia, especially when Laurie and I had lunch at Duque.

The other connection I have with Segovia is Queen Isabel – she of Isabel and Ferdinand, Christopher Columbus and all that. After I went to Madrid I started to read about Spain and quickly became interested in Isabel, reading everything I could about her. She conducted her monarchy in an almost revolutionary way. The Segovia connection comes because she lived here for quite a while, and was here when her father died. To cement her claim to the throne, she got the local church and government officals to crown her in a church in Segovia’s Plaza Mayor. It’s possible to walk the same streets she walked, and stand in that Plaza Mayor. History; gotta love it.

The Big Three

Segovia is known for three monuments: the amazing Roman aqueduct, the castle (actually, the Alcázar), and the Cathedral.

Segovia Sights – the Aqueduct

Pretty impressive. The aqueduct was built around 100 AD, when Spain was part of the Roman Empire. It stands 98 ft high at its highest point, and consists of 167 arches. Built of granite blocks, it uses no mortar to hold it together. It has been reconstructed a couple times, but is essentially as it was when finished.

I first saw the aqueduct in 1980, give or take a year. It still carried water into the old part of Segovia then. That stopped about ten years later, but think about that: this thing carried water into Segovia for somewhere around 1800 years. Amazing.

Segovia Sights – the Alcazar

This building has historic significance: in 1474, the king of Castille and León (then the biggest and most powerful part of Spain) died, and his daughter Isabel claimed the throne. She was living in the Alcázar at the time and she knew that her half-brother would also claim the throne, so it was important that she be crowned first. She gathered the local aristocrats and government officials, left the Alcázar and they all walked to Iglesia St. Miguel, in the Plaza Mayor, where she was crowned Queen of Castille and León – effectively, Queen of Spain. (Her half-brother did, indeed, also claim the throne; it took a couple battles between the armies of Isabel and Juan for her to fully claim her title.)

Inside the Alcázar is a museum and rooms furnished in period furniture. It’s interesting, but as we had visited it on a previous visit, we skipped it this trip.

Segovia Sights – the Cathedral

The Segovia Cathedral is the last major church in Europe built in Gothic style. It’s huge, but honestly, not all that interesting.

The Segovia Cathedral, from our hotel room window.

Same view, at night.

Other Segovia sights – the paseo

My friend Pat Finnigan said he believed  that Segovia keeps the tradition of the paseo, the evening walk, better than any other Spanish town. Starting about 7 p.m. folks start the walk, between the Plaza Mayor and the Aquaduct. It starts to peter out about 10 p.m.

Segovia’s famous Roman aqueduct, with the paseo in full swing.

It’s not all walking – sometimes you just have to sit and rest and watch the world go by.

Other Segovia Pictures

Iglesia de la Vera Cruz (“true cross”), outside Segovia. We walked out to visit it. Built in the 1100s, it is said to have once contained a piece of the “true cross.” If every place that says it had a piece of the “true cross” really did have a piece, that cross must have been 800 ft tall.

At the weekly market in the Plaza Mayor: that’s what I call a licorice stick. It was about three feet long and an inch thick. Oh, my aching molars.

A typical street in the old city of Segovia.

The capitol on a column in a residential house.

A wall with escrafiado on it. This wall decoration is everywhere in Segovia and we loved finding buildings decorated this way. I’ll do a separate post on this beautiful art.

The Route into Segovia

Laurie believes that I try to take the narrowest route possible into any town we visit. That is, of course, completely wrong. In Segovia, it wasn’t my fault. I knew exactly how to get to our hotel on the Plaza Mayor, having done it a few times. Besides, the GPS agreed with me on the route. So we arrived at the main entrance to the city and, whoops:

Ok, so we can’t drive to our hotel by the normal, easiest, GPS-mapped route. I know another way.

I found the other route in, and it starts by going through this gate. Easy! Yes, it is two-way, but still, no problem.

This is practically a freeway. No problem!

Ok, a little narrower…

Hmmmm. I’m still okay with this, but Laurie is starting to simper.

Getting a little narrower ahead…

Watch out! I’m coming through!

Ok, seriously narrow. I’m thinking about retracting my side mirrors, but the guy ahead of me didn’t so it must be okay. Laurie has her head between her knees by now.

Plaza Mayor straight ahead…almost there.

Ignore the “do not enter” signs and we’re in the Plaza Mayor, 50 yards from our hotel. Piece of cake!

See? Nothing to it! I’ve done this enough to not get puckered up over driving down streets like this. I’ve come to understand that I’m not the first driver to go through these streets and if the others could do it, I can do it. Laurie politely disagrees.

I’ve rambled on enough about this wonderful city. We stayed three nights and headed back to France. I’ll do one more post about the escrafiado walls of Segovia, and maybe one Spain wrap-up post. Honestly, if you could visit only one small town in Spain, Segovia would be my recommendation. Of course, you should also visit Toledo, Trujillo, Úbeda, Zamora, Santiago de Compostela, Arcos de la Frontera and any other place that looks interesting.


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Úbeda has an unusual claim to fame: in the middle of Moorish Spain, Úbeda has what many claim to be the most beautiful Renaissance square in all Europe, and has many other Renaissance buildings scattered throughout the city. We’ve been here a couple times before and knew that Úbeda belonged on our “Greatest Hits of Spain” tour.

I might mention that Úbeda also serves great tapas everywhere; that might have played into our decision to return.

How did it come about that these beautiful Renaissance buildings were built here? In the first half of the 16th century, Francisco de los Cobos, born in Úbeda, became secretary to the Spanish king. But as that king was out of the country almost all of his reign (he was also Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, which took all his time), Cobos was effectively head of the Spanish government from 1533 to 1547. For some odd reason, during that time Cobos found a ton of money to build beautiful buildings in Úbeda. He decided to have those buildings designed by architects who built Renaissance buildings. Once he’d started, several other noble Úbeda families followed suit, trying to keep up with the neighbor; Cobos, that is.

Úbeda is a great place to just walk around, because on almost every street is a surprise building.

This is our third visit to Úbeda and we enjoyed it more than ever. For one thing, we did our homework: we had some excerpts from guidebooks, we visited the Oficina de Tourism, which gave us a terrific map and a guide to walks, with information about many of the buildings we’d see. Úbeda has something like 45 buildings classified as historical monuments and I think we saw at least three-quarters of them.

We stayed at a Parador here, too; our fourth of the trip. We opted for an upgraded room because we knew we could have a room with a small patio in a garden. This is where we relaxed:

Laurie and her best Úbeda friend: a geranium in the patio.

The Renaissance Buildings of Úbeda

I could probably write a bit about each building we saw, but that would bore you and me, so I’ll just throw in some pictures.

Our hotel. It was once the residence of the Bishop. Kind of makes you wonder about those vows of poverty…

The “chapel” that went with the Bishop’s house. The main church burned down centuries ago, but surely was much larger and more ornate than this.

The courtyard of the Úbeda City Hall.

The portal of Iglesia San Pablo.

A chapel in San Pablo. San Pablo had Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance aspects, from things being added to it from the 12th century to the 18th.

The town hall. The geometric design and plain facade are indicators of Renaissance architecture.

Úbeda wasn’t all Renaissance: this is a gate to the city. The horseshoe arch reveals its origin in the 10th or 11th century, when the Islamic Moors controlled this part of Spain.

Miscellanous Pictures of Úbeda

Sitting and talking is a Spanish tradition, particularly in hot weather when no one wants to be in their non-air-conditioned apartment.

Other Úbeda sights:

We loved this store. Look at the name of the store, and what it sells.

Most apartment and house entries have beautiful tiles on the walls.

The roof of Iglesia la Trinidad.

Úbeda was hot! The day we arrived was 100° and the next two days in the mid-90s. The whole Spain sojourn has been hot: the day we left Úbeda the forecast was for a high of 89°, which is the coolest day of the trip. We hoped for cooler weather in Segovia, our last stop!

As with the first three stops on our quick tour of Spain, we loved Úbeda. It’s not at all a tourist destination, just a beautiful place.

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A Night in Vejer de la Frontera and Two Days in Arcos de la Frontera

Vejer de la Frontera

We headed south from Trujillo, where it was hot, to Vejer de la Frontera, where it was hotter – approaching 100°. Vejer is a “pueblo blanco” – a white town, so named because it has been here for a thousand or more years and every building in the town is stark white, an effort to live with the hot sun here. There are many pueblos blancos in southern Spain and Vejer has been one of our favorites on two previous stays here. It’s small, not overrun with tourists, quiet, with a hotel that we really liked.

This time: not so much. First, I made reservations at the hotel and chose to take an apartment the hotel offered.  It looked beautiful in the pictures and had a private terrace overlooking one side of the city. Great…in theory. When we checked in we found the apartment was tiny (probably not more than 200 sq ft living space, on two levels); the bedroom had one small window that looked out, at foot level, on a busy pedestrian street and another window that looked onto the front door of a house; the stairs in the place reminded me of stairs on a ship: steep and narrow; and…well, a several other problems.

We immediately went back to the desk and said we were not happy with the room, but the place was full (it has only ten rooms plus the apartment). So we were stuck. We said, “Well, let’s see how it goes, see how we feel in the morning.” Then we walked out into the quiet town and found it was overrun with tourists. Our previous stays here were in September and now, in late August, tourist season was still in full swing. It was awful. (I am, of course, aware that two of this horde of tourist were Laurie and me, but we’re different, I’m sure.) At that point we knew we were not going to stay and I started looking on-line for alternatives. One that we liked: the parador in nearby Arcos de la Frontera – another white town that we’d visited years before and liked a lot – had rooms available.

The night was as bad as we feared. The bedroom was like a tomb, really. We couldn’t open the windows much, so it was hot-hot-hot, and claustrophobic to boot. Decision made! I went online and made a reservation at the Arcos parador, we packed up, checked out two days early (credit where credit is due: the manager of the hotel understood our concerns and was gracious and apologetic; she said she would help us find another hotel if we wanted and reduced the price on our room for the night we were there.)

Off we went to Arcos de la Frontera.

I’m not saying the streets in Vejer are tight, but the receptionist told me to drive down this road to a place where we could unload our bags. I got about a hundred yards down a steep hill on this very narrow street and found this car nicely parked. Now, I’ve become almost fearless about driving these streets, but I backed up those 100 yards rather than try to get around this car. Laurie kept her head between her knees the entire time.

The only nice thing about our 18 hours in Vejer: this view from our terrace.

Arcos de la Frontera

When we arrived at the Arcos parador, the nicest woman in the world checked us in. We decided to opt for an upgraded room with a view and were glad we did. Here’s the view from our room’s balcony, which was about 6 ft by 20 ft.

We came to Arcos on one of our first vacations trips to Spain, maybe 16-18 years ago and enjoyed it. It also is a pueblo blanco, set on a high ridge, so the houses pour down one side and a cliff, on which our hotel sat, forms the other side. It’s a beautiful town. Going from a dump of a room to a beautiful room with a view didn’t hurt, either.

That first time we were here we stumbled onto a small bar/restaurant, Bar San Marcos. It was still there and still great. We had tapas for dinner there the first night and went back for lunch the next. That first night dinner was two tapas each, then two raciones (tapas but a much larger portion, and really, way more food than we needed) and a bottle of wine: $30. Next day’s lunch was three courses: a chicken and guacamole salad for a starter, grilled calamari for Laurie and pork steak for me for the main plate, and tocino de cielo (a wonderful custard) for dessert. With two beers each: $24. Really, $24 – not each, total for both of us. This wasn’t gourmet food, but it was good and tasty and well-cooked. $24.

We walked around Arcos and just took in the sights, doing nothing special. We’ll come back, even if just to stay in that beautiful parador again.

Arcos has some tight streets, too. This is the main street to the parador and a viewpoint at the top of the town. We saw a woman driving a small car stop, cross herself, and then enter this section of road. Really!

Many Spanish churches display a style called Spanish Baroque, typified by extremely ornate and ostentatious decoration. We saw some of this in Zamora, none in Trujillo (too poor, I think) and lots in Arcos de la Frontera. The apogee (nadir?) of this style is in Santigo de Compostela, but Arcos holds its own.

Some sights from being out and about in Arcos:

Parking space was at a premium. Note that the two cars farthest away cannot move forward because there’s a foot-high wall in front of them. I have no idea what happens when one of those two need to leave.

A note about the “...de la Frontera” of these two towns. There are probably thirty or forty towns in southern Spain with “de la Frontera” attached to them. Eight hundred years ago the Spanish monarchs started to push the Arabic Moors from Spain. It took 300 years, culminating in the surrender of Granada to Ferdinand and Isabela in 1492. During that 300 years, the border – the frontera – continually and sporadically moved first south and then east. For years a town could be on that border and so add “de la Frontera” – “on the border.”

That’s it for Arcos de la Frontera. Although we did not plan to be here, we’re glad our Vejer challenge worked out as it did.

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I’ll forgive you if you’ve never heard of Monfragüe – we had not until the woman at the Officina de Tourism gave us a brochure on the new Monfragüe National Park, about an hour north of Trujillo. We decided this would make a good day trip, with the bonus of spending time in our air-conditioned car; temps were forecast to be in the upper 90s that day. So off we went.

Driving north showed how hard this land is. No crops growing, just livestock, including the famous pigs that eat acorns and are prized for the flavor from that diet.

Now, one of the things that intrigued us in the brochure was a castle named Castillo Monfragüe, in the park. We wanted to see that and when we reached the place where a road went up to the castillo, we found…a large parking lot, and a sign saying the mini-bus arrives every hour to take folks to the castle. Fortunately, our timing was good and we waited about ten minutes when, sure enough, a mini-bus arrived. We boarded and up the mountain we went.

The site of Castillo Monfragüe is amazing. Situated on a high point of land overlooking the Tajo River, it has controlled passage down the river for thousands of years. There was a fortified site here when the Romans arrived two centuries BC. The Romans fortified it further, as did the Visigoths, the Moors and the Spanish armies. Then the Catholic Church built an ermita here – a site of worship dedicated to Santa Clara. So this place has it all!

The last couple hundred feet are all uphill. In the 95° weather, we took it slow and easy.

Here’s why this castillo could control passage of opposing armies for thousands of years.

The only residents…

The castillo and ermita…

The Ghost Town of Monfargüe

After leaving the castillo of Monfargüe, we wanted to take a back road returning to Trujillo. I’d found one on Google Earth that looked interesting so down it we went. Unfortunately, after about a mile it turned to gravel and dirt and we definitely did not want to drive 40 miles on that. So I screeched to a halt, turned around and out of the corner of my eye noticed an unexpectedly large and older building a few hundred yards away. Since we were in the middle of freaking nowhere, I wondered what that building was. I found a road which led to it. What we discovered was a ghost town.

The railroad station, which now serves as  offices for the railroad.

The rest of the “town” is deserted homes and apartment buildings, all built in the same style and likely at the same time. My surmisal is that this was a home for railroad workers and their families, and at some point the railroad closed it down and moved them somewhere else. What remains is truly a ghost town, with just a couple houses on the outskirts that appear to still be occupied.

A remnant of a better time.

The main Madrid-Extremadura-Portugal railroad line runs through this station, so at one time it was an important and active place. Now, not much at all. The trains still roar through, but none stop.

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After Zamora we drove four hours south to Trujillo.

We’ve visited Trujillo at least twice before (we think maybe three times, but we’re old: our memories aren’t what they used to be). Now, most people would look at Trujillo and give it an afternoon, at most. We understand that, but Trujillo is a perfect example of an old Spanish town, in a region that is harsh; for some reason this place captivates us.

Trujillo is in the region of Extremadura, the western-most area of Spain. Its name comes from Latin and means, essentially, “the hard border.” That’s an accurate name: this is a pretty harsh area. Few crops are grown here; we see cattle, sheep, horses, hogs and goats here. The harshness of this area had a huge effect on South and Central America: Francisco Pizarro, who led the expeditions that conquered Peru in the 1500s, was born and raised in Trujillo. Hernan Cortez, conquerer of Mexico came from near here, and his half-brother, who was in Cortez’s army, was born in Trujillo. Many of the conquistadores, as we have come to call them, were from Extremadura. There was nothing here for them, so they went off to conquer other lands.

We first came to Trujillo because I’d read in a guide book that it is a “perfect set piece of a rural Spanish town.” Yes, but…this is a living set piece and that makes it really interesting to us. Some pictures are called for, methinks…

Trujillo sits on top of a hill, which means views of the countryside for miles around. There isn’t much to see…

I know panorama pictures don’t work well in a blog format, but here’s one of the countryside surrounding Trujillo. Harsh.

An overview of Trujillo from the castillo above the town. The big building is the parador where we stayed.

Those are stone walls you see. There are miles and miles of stone walls here. The stones came from trying to clear the fields enough to make something grow on them to feed livestock. And I can guarantee that those stones weren’t dug up or carried to the fences by some tractor; talk about back-breaking work!

That’s a hot sun – it was high-90s in Trujillo.

Rare in Trujillo: a bright color. Most buildings are unpainted, showing the native stone, or white.

There’s a funny story about the statue of “Pizarro” below. The scuptor, an American named Charles Rumsey, did this statue to honor Hernan Cortez, conqueror of Mexico. Then he went to Mexico to tell them he had this great statue of Cortez he wanted to give to them. Well, Cortez is not exactly a hero in Mexico, given that he conquered the country and essentially enslaved the population and stole all its treasures. So Mexico declined his offer. Then Rumsey came to Extremadura and said he had this great statue of Pizarro, who was born here, and he wanted to give it to Trujillo. Trujillo was happy to take it to honor its most famous native son.

“Pizarro” statue.

Trujillo has a great Plaza Mayor, with restaurants and bars and lots of folks just being there. There is always activity here.

Big Goings-on in the Plaza Mayor

This was a big week for Trujillo, in that the week was a festival associated with the church that sits in the Plaza Mayor. Every night there was a mass in the evening, and every night there was a comedy/puppet show for the kids. Now we couldn’t figure out how they were related, but here are the kids ready for the show to start (this picture was taken about 10 o’clock at night):

The service in the church ended at 10:15 and about 10 seconds later, with a burst of noise and music, the kids’ show began, with kids cheering and yelling and having a great time. The second night many kids came in costumes and the MC called them on stage, said a sentence or two to them, got them to make crazy movements or expressions and gave each a certificate of some sort as they left the stage. It was great fun to watch.

We’re staying at a Parador again. This one has a new wing and a wing in a 17th century convent. Proof that it was a convent: a torno, which is a turntable on which women could place an unwanted baby or a baby for which they simply couldn’t provide, and then turn the torno to send the baby into the convent where the nuns would care for it. Most convents (and convent buildings converted to another use) still have a torno, and most have maintained them as a sign of respect for the past.

In fact, tornos now have another use in many active convents. These convents are known for making and selling dulces: sweets, usually cookies and small cakes. When you go to buy dulces you stand at the torno, press a button to summon a nun, and wait. The nun talks to you from behind the torno, takes your order, and tells you the amount it will cost. You put your money on the torno and turn it. Your money goes inside, the dulces come to you. You never see the nun, which is what they want, as they have taken a vow to remain out of public view.

I think that’s it for Trujillo. Next is a post about an interesting and enjoyable daytrip we took from here.

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