A Travellerspoint blog

Prague and Pilsen, the Czech Republic, October 2017

sunny 15 °C

The capital of the Czech Republic, Praha, one of Europe's most beautiful cities, was once the capital city of the Kingdom of Bohemia.
The historic centre of Prague is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of its churches and palaces were built in the fourteenth Century under the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV.
pragueviewcastle.JPGoutsidepraguechurch.JPG
It has a population of 1.3 million and is a popular destination for tourists. Even now, in October, the historic old town and the Charles Bridge, are pulsing with ‘too much of a good thing.’
Still there are quiet spots amidst the hubbub such as this leafy park below the castle:
62218d20-474d-11e8-861b-8309f8934560.jpg

The Charles Bridge, crossing the Vitava River, dates back to the fourteenth century. It connects the Old Town, Staré Mesto, with Prague Castle.
794ae4e0-474f-11e8-90cb-d339658a1717.jpg

Two things to try: gingerbread cookies and the local spirit, slivovitz, plum brandy.
f8d89430-474c-11e8-a3cb-2dba01e79674.jpg
d62b5870-4754-11e8-be5c-ffaeab357273.jpg

The Jan Hus memorial in Old Town Square:
7b1321c0-474f-11e8-a183-13925468d4c7.jpg
Jan Hus was born in 1369 and became an early reformer since he advocated that Mass be given in the vernacular. He was burned at the stake in 1415. This led to the Hussite Wars.

Prague Astronomical Clock:
494b0fb0-474d-11e8-861b-8309f8934560.jpg
The Powder Gate:
praguegate.JPG
The gothic tower was one of the original gates to the city.

Two famous Czech authors, Franz Kafka and Milan Kundera:
0b7f8300-474d-11e8-861b-8309f8934560.jpg

Kafka:
99fe52d0-474f-11e8-8574-a7201dbadbec.jpg
Franz Kafka (1883 - 1924) was born in Prague and died from tuberculosis at the age of 40. He is buried in the family plot at the New Jewish Cemetary which is not in walking distance of the city centre.
His most famous works were published posthumously and The Trial, The Castle and other works have been translated from the original German text into English.

The term, ‘Kafkaesque’ roughly means bizarre, incomprehensible, surreal. His writing became more popular in his native country following the Velvet Revolution in 1989 - the Czech Republic’s non-violent move from 41 years of Communist rule. Today Kafka references and souvenirs abound in tourist-dense Praha.

The Jewish Quarter is located between Old Town Square and the Vitava River:

The Gothic-style Old-New Synagogue was completed in 1270 AD.
It is Europe’s oldest active synagogue.
8959c3b0-474f-11e8-8574-a7201dbadbec.jpg

Hitler decided to preserve the Jewish Quarter as ‘a monument to an extinct race’ - very chilling. Kafka died before the Nazi occupation but three of his sisters died in concentration camps.

As you walk around Prague you may notice the engraved metal tiles embedded between the cobblestones. Names of Holaucost victims are recorded:
f9fc67e0-4695-11e8-acad-21de9c36e8a0.jpg

Prague Rudolfinum opened in 1885:
8c2f51e0-474f-11e8-8574-a7201dbadbec.jpg

Reinhard Heinrich, a leading Nazi in the Second World War, was assassinated in Prague in June, 1942. Operation Anthropoid was the code name for the only successful assassination of a prominent Nazi during the war. It was a kind of drawn out process as he was merely injured in the attempt and managed to return fire but he died of sepsis in hospital a few days later.

Prague was left largely intact during the Second World War as it’s many well preserved buildings attest. However on Valentines Day 1945 American bombers mistook Prague for Dresden and over 1400 people were wounded and 400 died and a bridge, a few hospitals
and other buildings were destroyed. Another attack in March 1945 killed 500.

We attended an opera at the Estates Theatre where Mozart once received a thirty minute standing ovation:
7788c280-474f-11e8-8574-a7201dbadbec.jpg
Parts of the movie Amadeus were filmed at the Estates Theatre and Mozart’s work is frequently featured.
praguetheatre.JPG
We, however, saw Thaïs, by the French composer, Jules Massenet.
The Opera seemed quite avant- garde. We were thrilled to be in such a historic building even though we were in the nosebleed seats and caught only a glimpse of the stage!
We could clearly hear and appreciate the beautiful violin solo, Meditation.
I booked the tickets online a few months in advance and the cost for two tickets was fifteen dollars. My treat?

Near Prague’s Second Castle, Vyšehrad, is a great Tourist Information Office with a small cafe:
25bf0650-474d-11e8-861b-8309f8934560.jpg

The Rotunda of St Martin from the eleventh century (the oldest building in Prague):
5d5beec0-474d-11e8-861b-8309f8934560.jpg

The Church of St Peter and Paul:
fd6213f0-474c-11e8-a3cb-2dba01e79674.jpg
Vyšehrad Cemetary, the final resting place of composers, artists, poets and politicians:
98a02260-474f-11e8-8574-a7201dbadbec.jpg
Among the famous Czechs interred here is Antonin Dvořak, the composer.
cb5abab0-c1d0-11e9-8a42-ff05df97a534.JPG
‘Hello’ is an important word in the Czech Republic and saying it properly - as in any country - is a bit endearing. I have heard that tone deaf people, like me, have more difficulty speaking a foreign language and I’m prepared to go with that! I do take a stab at it though: ‘Dobrý den’. Sounds like doe-Bree-den - fairly straightforward.

A more casual greeting - used among friends, sounds like ahoy, as in ahoy Matie, but I stick with Dobrý den followed up with a bright smile and a conspiratorial, ‘Do you speak English?’ In the old town merchants and service people pretty much do know some English. Some don’t. We got by.

The best dessert is this berry cake/pie, delicious:
ff2c9ac0-474c-11e8-92ee-e729c8a3bab9.jpg
We often ate in bakery cafes and enjoyed the experience.

Ok - pot must be legal here, this is a display in a corner store:
43191010-474d-11e8-861b-8309f8934560.jpg

Just a few feet away is our hostel, we have a huge room and the garden is peaceful even though we are walking distance to everything:
578d1dc0-474d-11e8-861b-8309f8934560.jpg

Wenceslaus Square, named after Bohemia’s patron Saint, is just around the corner from our hostel:
7bc5f700-474f-11e8-a183-13925468d4c7.jpg

Pilsen, home of the Pilsner Urquell brewery, is located in western Bohemia, just 56 miles from Prague. The world’s oldest lager beer has been brewed here since 1842.

We took the train from Prague to Plzeň - the station in Prague is close to Wenceslaus Square and was walking distance from our hostel.
Although Prague is a top tourist destination, Pilsen is not. English is not widely spoken. We liked it, very quiet this time of year, 9 October.

The Great Synogogue in Plzeň is the second largest in Europe. It was completed in 1883 when the Jewish population in the city was about 2000. It was in continuous use until the Nazi occupation, and was used then for storage so was spared demolition. There are today about 70 Jewish people living in Pilzn.
pilsensynogogue.JPG
Pilzn was liberated by the 16th division of General Patton’s 3rd Army in 1945. The rest of the Czech Republic was mostly liberated by the Red Army.

Below is St Bartholmew’s Cathedral from the 16th century on Republic Square. It has the highest tower (335 feet) of any church in the Czech Republic.
pilsenchurch.JPG

There are 14 km of underground tunnels beneath Pilsen but less than a km is open to the public. An English guided tour costs seven dollars and includes a free beer at one of a selection of pubs, including the one next door to the ticket office.
The entrance is about a block from the main square and the brewery tour is adjacent. We chose the tunnel tour because it affords a glimpse of life in the Middle Ages. The underground labyrinth is about 10 metres below ground and may have been around since the 14th C.
pilsenunderground.JPG

Parts of the tunnels are quite low, you have to wear a hard hat. Also the floor is sometimes sloping and uneven, a bit of a tripping hazard.
27101760-474d-11e8-861b-8309f8934560.jpg
There were wells for water in Pilsen’s Historical Underground. Beer making and other ventures were carried out and food was stored underground where the temperature stays at about 6 degrees C year round.

We actually got an extra beer voucher because the lady selling tickets liked me - she asked where we were from, likely statistical purposes, so I said Calgary.
The Czechs like hockey, know of the NHL and are familiar with the Calgary Flames. The Czech Hockey team is part of the big 6 in World Hockey - the other five are Canada, US, Russia, Sweden and Finland.
Since the attendant looked pleased when I mentioned Calgary I felt encouraged to chat. ‘We just signed Yuri Petrenko to the Flames’,
I related, you know, hockey, a famous Czech player, a few gestures, lots of enthusiasm on my part.
Jeff was shifting around and kind of distancing himself from the situation, the woman looked confused - you know, I forged on, the hockey player., Czech, mimed hitting a puck, ....
Under his breath, painfully, Jeff muttered Jeremir Jagr - oh right Jeremir Jagr I said triumphantly and the woman smiled at me warmly, produced another voucher and confided she was giving us extra free beer because I was ‘so nice’.
This whole exchange was remarkable on at least two fronts.
1. I never get free beer, even in Holland.
2. Czech people are notoriously glum, staunch and not customer service oriented.
Thirdly, who the hell is Yuri Petrenko!!
Jeremir Jagr, born in the Czech Republic, is one of the greatest professional hockey players of all time.

We had pretzels, fresh and warm from the oven and a very good pickled sausage for lunch. I enjoyed two Pilsners before the tour and afterwards had another along with a pretzel.
7cffd690-474f-11e8-a183-13925468d4c7.jpg
Pilsenerbeer.JPG
I tripped at the end of our tunnel tour, my toe caught a little protrusion on the uneven floor but I broke the fall by grabbing the rough wall and sustained a scrape which bled a bit and the lady who sold us the tickets bandaged me up.
Since then I have a kind of hard lump on my palm which may be the Viking disease Dupuytren's Contacture, although my hand hasn’t taken on a claw-like appearance so I chalk it up to my small injury.

We stayed in a one bedroom apartment near the outskirts of the city, it was kind of a down-market spa but we didn’t book any of their services.
Breakfast was included, served in the back room of the pub style restaurant at the end of our block - bread with liver pate, weak coffee, a Tang-like beverage, ok.
We got around fine once we figured out the bus stops and I do not regret going to Pilsen - mainly because of the free beer incident.

pilsenparkfall.JPG
Pilsenriver.JPG

We chose Pilsen as a destination to break up the trip from Prague to Nuremberg. Online it appeared there were numerous buses, maybe even a train.
We checked into transportation on our second day, it was hours of futility and frustration. English is not widely spoken in Pilzen - we did remarkably well using
gestures and context until we tried to buy tickets to Nuremberg.
Lots of head shaking and no, no, no - and yes, some buses did go to Nuremberg because the wall-posted schedules indicated just that - but we couldn’t communicate with the ticketsellers.

As I was wandering around the depot I was asked for cash - well it was in a foreign language but you get kind of accustomed to beggars. I said ‘English’, and what do you know this guy could speak English. I toyed with the idea of enlisting him as an interpreter, but wisely, probably, refrained.
Eventually we roped in a nice young guy - a customer, to help, he showed us a kiosk outside where the ticket seller spoke fluent English - her bus left at midnight, not a good time. I know from experience that arriving in a strange city in the middle of the night has numerous drawbacks.

Long story short we decided to backtrack and take the train to Prague where more people spoke English and there were more buses leaving for Nuremberg throughout the day.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 15:49 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged architecture prague vysehrad beer tower theatre clock astronomical mozart affordable pilsen powder hus kafka estates kafta sliivovitz Comments (0)

Barcelona, Zaragoza, San Sebastian and Bilbao, Spain

semi-overcast 11 °C

On November 24 we flew from Malta to Barcelona with Vueling Airlines.
We have both been to Barcelona before but it is worth a second look. I was just here, it seems, less than a year ago. I walked on La Rambla and actually went to an opera.
It is easy to get around Barcelona on the extensive underground system. This is my third visit to Spain and Jeff's fifth! I can't explain why it is our most visited European country. It is large, diverse, the weather is good. We have never seen the Basque country and Barcelona seemed a good starting point. Also we have to be in Madrid on December 2.

The Sagrada Familia, still spectacular, still under construction:
ed313380-4a94-11e8-ac49-e7f1c2542ce3.JPG
Intricate and fantastical in detail, the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's masterpiece, has been under construction since 1882. It is expected to be finished around 2026. Over 3 million tourists view the progress every year.

There is a Christmas market across the street from the church.
Caga Tió and caganer are two Christmas traditions in Catalonia - both raise eyebrows and take some time to get used to! I found them disgusting last year but this year kind of endearing. Both have to do with 'poop' so if there is a four year old in your life, chances are that kid will enjoy the humour.
Caga Tio is the famous pooping log - just a little stick with a hat and a smiley face - you can find them in all sizes at any Christmas market in Barcelona.
Little kids are given the log to look after for a few weeks and then on Christmas Eve the log will poop presents - supposedly the better you look after him the more candy he poops. If he isn't pooping presents when cajoled, (there is a little song to encourage the log to poop out gifts) then the child can threaten him - 'poop out some presents or I will beat you with a stick.' One way or another the gifts are forthcoming.

The caganer is another poop-centric Christmas tradition - a pooping figurine is placed in nativity scenes. Now, in case this sounds disrespectful, disgusting and downright gross - if you are Catalan the caganer represents good luck. Some of the porcelain poopers depict famous people, Queen Elizabeth, Putin, etc.
Nativity.JPG

The market next to the Sagrada Familia had many booths selling both logs and figurines. When I got home last year I regretted not buying a caganer or Caga Tió as a souvenir - this year I got one of each.

We had the world's most expensive coffee at a cafe across the street from the church. Two tiny cups cost eight euros. Twelve dollars. Coffee was cheaper in Norway!!

We climbed a hill and many stairs to reach Guell Park:

9fc04ae0-4d97-11e8-b063-85c98fdcd55f.JPG

It is warm, about 17 degrees C at noon. but overcast.

Park Guell, another work by Antoni Gaudi.was built between 1900 and 1914. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Spain has the third highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites: 46. China has the most and Italy is a close second. We have actually seen less than half of the sites in Spain.

The Gaudi House Museum requires an entrance fee but the adjacent park is free for public use. Gaudi actually lived in the house from 1906 until he moved to his workshop at the Sagrada Familia in 1926. He was hit by a streetcar and died in June 1926.

Magenta Bougainvillea cascade on Gaudi's carved palm trees:
guelpark.JPG

We are staying near the Europa Fira Metro Station at the Eurostars Gran Via Fira Hotel. It is out of the centre, more of a business hotel but comfortable and fairly easy to access the city via the metro system. For Barcelona it is very good value for sixty nine dollars Canadian a night.
The lobby:
barcelonahotel.JPG
Breakfast is included, a decent selection of mediocre quality.

We ate in the restaurant/bar on our first evening there - terrible. Terrible service and terrible food. We were the only customers. I wish I had taken a picture - one slice of English ham placed between two slices of white bread on a plate - not cut, no butter, seven dollars. We bought groceries at a gas station later to supplement this forlorn effort. So don’t plan on eating in the bar/restaurant, even though they have printed menus.

There is a pool and sauna also so Jeff went swimming.

We purchased 48 hour bus/metro passes for 15 E each at the airport and broke even. Very convenient to use the card which includes unlimited public transportation.

On 26 November we took the ALSA bus from Barcelona's Nord Station to Zaragoza - 4 hours, includes one 15 minute stop. 16 E for one ticket.

The Nord Station is right by the Arc de Triomphe Metro Stop.

The neo-classical station was built in phases starting in 1861. It was used as the table tennis venue in the 1992 Summer Olympics.
89812720-4a97-11e8-b7b8-fd9506c00f4a.jpg

Lots of graffiti in Barcelona. If you close your garage door somebody tags it!!

One hand printed message caught my eye on the long walk from the metro station to Guell Park.
816ecec0-4a97-11e8-b7b8-fd9506c00f4a.JPG

Barcelona hosts a lot of tourists. They drink, party and litter. They jostle in line at museums and clog up the pedestrian streets taking selfies. Rising rent and clogged streets make average residents resent tourists.
Barcelona has been overwhelmed by tourists. It is estimated that over 30 million tourists may have passed some time in Barcelona last year! 16 million stayed in hotels. That is a big number for a city of 1.6 million residents to accommodate.

Some cities, like Skopje, are building monuments to attract tourists. Others, like Barcelona, Prague, Amsterdam and Dubrovnik attract too much of a good thing.
The cities where tourism has thrived were once advertising heavily to attract them. Now the anti tourism sentiment in Barcelona is growing.

Barcelona is a modern, clean, world class city - great Mediterranean climate and many natural and constructed wonders. Tourism contributes 12 % to the GDP.

Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain

We took an ALSA bus from Barcelona to Zaragoza on 26 November - about a four hour journey. The bus was clean and comfortable.
Zaragoza, the capital of Aragon, has a population of 700,000
It is midway between Madrid and Barcelona. It is also kind of midway between Barcelona and San Sebastián, which is why we stopped here, to break up our trip from Barcelona to the Basque Country.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pilar
zaragoza.JPG

An apparition of Mary on the pilar appeared to St James (Santiago) in AD 40 while he prayed beside the Ebro River. She seemingly gave him a small statue of herself standing on a Pilar.
He built a small chapel in her honour.
The current baroque style replacement, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pilar, was begun in the seventeenth century.
The interior includes two ceiling paintings by Goya as well as a section of the original pilar and statue.
This is the second most visited pilgrimage spot in Spain after Santiago (Camino).

St James = Santiago, is said to have brought Christianity to Spain.
zaragoza4.JPG

It is pretty much a miracle that the statue and Pilar were given to St James in the first place and a double miracle that they have survived and are situated in the church today.

The Pilar and statue (only about fifteen inches tall) are located in the smaller of the two altar areas. Behind this altar the wall has been cut away so that about seven inches of the back of the Pilar is exposed. There is a marble step below to kneel on and to the right is a donation box. Several worshippers paid money, knelt and kissed the Pilar during the few minutes I was in the area. The marble kneeling pad is indented from all the knees that have rested there.

I did not take a picture (not allowed) but I did air kiss the Pilar which has worn away in the spot where so many pilgrims have kissed it over the centuries.

The main altar is carved alabaster, quite spectacular but security guards are wandering around amongst us pilgrims and pictures are not allowed. I did sneak a picture or two but it was not easy!!

During the Spanish Civil War three bombs were dropped on the church but none of them exploded. One bomb ripped through the right hand side of Goya's painting:

Two of the bombs are displayed in the church:
shellcasings.JPG

Napoleon bombed the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pilar in 1808 and the marks of the cannonballs have been left on the exterior wall.

The Church of San Juan de los Panetes from 1725, is built on the same site where there once was a church of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem. The tower is leaning slightly due to uneven drying of the cement during construction:
9b8f7270-4d97-11e8-b063-85c98fdcd55f.JPG
It was heavily damaged during the Spanish Civil War
Caesar Augustus founded Zaragoza in 24 BC. The statue below was a gift to the city by Mussolini in 1940:
founder.JPG

One of eleven bridges over the Ebro River:
zaragoza2.JPG
In 1971 a bus crashed through the Roman bridge and 9 bodies disappeared (forever) into a sinkhole.

The oldest church in Zaragoza was converted from a mosque in the twelfth century. La Seo Cathedral is also on Plaza del Pilar Square.

It is considered the finest example of Mudéjar architecture in Aragon and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A feature found throughout the city centre is the covered arcade:
90e174f0-4a94-11e8-b7b8-fd9506c00f4a.jpg

We are staying at the Inca Hotel, walking distance to all of the sights, a very nice small hotel, attractive, clean and comfortable.

Very good value at fifty dollar a night.

Lobby - they printed our train tickets for us and an adorable little girl sat across from me as I waited.
Yes there are blondes in Spain.
zaragozachild.JPG

We travelled by Renfe train from Zaragoza north to San Sebastián on the Bay of Biscay on 28 November. In Basque it is known as Donastia.

Aqueduct from 1790 on the Berrioplano brought drinking water to Pamplona, Navarre:
90e91610-4a94-11e8-ac49-e7f1c2542ce3.jpg

North of Iza we passed suddenly through thick fog
Shortly the fog cleared and we could see the backdrop of hills again.
mistyspanishcountryside.JPG

We are now in the Basque Country, in the province of Gipuzkoa, heading north to the capital city, the resort town, San Sebastian.

The Basque Country straddles the western Pyranees Mountains of France and Spain along the Bay of Biscay.
The Basque people predate agriculture on the Iberian Penninsula.

We have seen a lot of beautiful scenery travelling by bus and train!!

Located just 12 km from France San Sebastián/Donastia faces the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean.
beachsansebastian.JPG

Guernica - the original Picasso painting is in the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid. It was produced in response to the bombing of the Basque village of Guernica in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. The mural, considered a definitive work of the twentieth century uses only 3 flat paint colours: black, grey and white.

There is a provocative temporary exhibit called The Laughter of Space at the San Treno Museum in San Sebastián - it is a tribute to the 80th anniversary of Picasso's iconic masterpiece.
picassocoloured.JPG

The museum is in a Dominican convent from the sixteenth century attached to a modern extension and is free on Tuesdays.
sansebastian.JPG
sansebastianmuseumarches.JPG

San Treno Museum is in the old town near the waterfront and includes fine art, archaeology and history.

The Basques were shipbuilders, whalers and fishermen. They may have been been to North America before Columbus - half of Columbus' crew were Basques. A famous Basque, Ignatius of Loyola, founded the Jesuits in 1540.

The Uramea River flows through San Sebastian into the Cantabrian Sea in the Bay of Biscay.

We are across the river from the old town, in the city centre.

We had coffee at the neighbourhood pub across the street, raining now on 29 November. We are doing laundry - seems expensive at eight euros for one smallish load but it is the only time we have needed this service - we have rented a lot of apartments with washing machines in the past two months. Also the laundromat is only half a block from our Pension Aida - we just hung it up to dry - we are here for two more nights.

By 1230 it had stopped raining so we headed over to the old town. The sky was an ominous shade of grey - too bad we did not bring the umbrella.

We poked around and stopped for coffee and toast.

It was pouring rain, now we stopped for hot chocolate and churros.

Basilica of Santa Maria in the old town, baroque style Catholic Church built in the eighteenth century:
sansebastianoldtown.JPG

I thought we could pass some time in the shelter of the church but it was locked so we slogged our way home and were wet to the skin. Gee, we hardly have any dry clothes to wear now, with our laundry drying - no heat coming from the pipes either - could be a long wait drying a few things with the hair dryer. Or I guess run down the street and pay the five euro minimum to use the clothes dryer!!

Eventually I figured out the heat and got the bathroom towel warmer involved - soon things got pretty toasty if a little humid with all the clothes drying.

30 November - pouring at 9 am but sunny by 1030 so we walked along the beach - very fine sand - and watched surfers enjoy the crashing waves.

Neo-Gothic architecture, San Ignacio Church - closed or we would have gone in - close to our pension - built in late 1800s - there are numerous beautiful buildings in San Sebastián, many built of limestone.
sansebastianchurch.JPG
San Sebastián has several (9) Michelin Star restaurants. To put this in perspective Canada has none.
To further put this in perspective, restaurant food here is not budget friendly.
There are three 3 star Michelin restaurants in this coastal Basque city, population 186,000.
We actually cannot afford to eat here - we have coffee and toast or churros or buy bread, cheese and Iberian ham at the grocers.
If I was going to dine in a three star Michelin restaurant I would like to dress up a little. My hair is ratty from all the rain and my Sketchers have seen better days.
At the moment they are sitting on the register, drying out.
We stayed at Pension Aida - well located and clean, private bath, free lipgloss. 137 Euros for three nights or about 60 Canadian per night.

Bilbao, Spain

On Dec 01, 2017 we took the ALSA bus from San Sebastián to Bilbao. It was the first time we have seen snow this autumn. It pretty much melted when it hit the ground but had a little more staying power in the mountains.
The going was slow, the oncoming lane was moving along well but we were in a long line up for about an hour, a bit of a rock slide into our lane, equipment was clearing it up. This made our trip one hour longer.
We passed through spectacular scenery in the mountains and also along the north coast but I was nauseous the entire trip so spent my time with eyes closed, counting breaths.
We had cafe con lache before the bus came - I may never have another one because I threw it up 20 minutes later.

It cleared up for a few hours so we walked along the river to the Guggenheim.
bilbao.JPG

The Bilbao Gugenheim opened twenty years ago and it put Bilbao on the map as a tourist destination.
One building redefined the city. It attracts one million visitors a year.

The Maman, a huge spider ? sculpture in front of the Gugenheim, was designed by Louise Bourgeois - huge, thirty feet high, 33 feet wide.
Bourgeois designed spiders for years - her mother was a weaver, Maman. The spider-mother analogy is interesting - complicated.
f368e750-4695-11e8-acad-21de9c36e8a0.jpg

The building that made both an architect and a city famous - the Guggenheim of Bilbao - Canadian born, American architect, Frank Gehry designed the building which turned an industrial based port city into a tourist hot spot - the Guggenheim effect or the Bilbao effect.
Today is not my lucky day as my camera battery died before I got the perfect picture - look it up - shimmering gold in the sun, undulating curves, a masterpiece of titanium, glass and limestone. Cost, one hundred million euros. And came in under budget.
I am glad I saw it in real life!!!
Photo_2017.._7_57_40_AM.jpg
This is a branch of the New York Guggenheim but we came for the architecture, not for the art. 'If you build it, they will come' really worked for Bilbao.

It generates 400 million Euros annually.

The Zubizuri Footbridge (white bridge) which spans the Nervion River near the Gugenheim was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava (he designed the controversial Peace Bridge in Calgary).
bilbaobridge.JPG
Bilbao, population 500,000, has 8 Michelin star restaurants. Spain has 182 Michelin starred restaurants!! France has 616! Canada 0.
Pintxo are equivalent to tapas in Basque Country. We had some today, tortilla (potato and egg omelette) and a sandwich layered with salt fish. Good. Can a Canadian's undeveloped palate be trusted though?
We stayed at the Begona, 75 Dollars for one night, we were underwhelmed but it was walking distance to the Gugenheim and the main train station.
On December 2 we took the train from Bilbao to Madrid, 323 km.
The train was clean, comfortable and relaxing. There was quite a lot of snow north of Madrid:
fd1860c0-474c-11e8-861b-8309f8934560.jpg
We stayed one night at the Tribeca Hotel:
576c69c0-4a97-11e8-b7b8-fd9506c00f4a.jpg
This was a really lovely hotel with a great lobby.
We now went for a five day excursion teaching English as volunteers. If you like to talk and are a native English speaker, look into this gig. You get free room and board at an upscale resort style hotel.
resortroom.JPG
We enjoyed it immensely and met lots of interesting people. The day starts at 9 am with mandatory breakfast, lunch is served at 2 pm and dinner is at 9 - there is a two hour siesta break in the afternoon. The meals are substantial and a nice change of pace from our typical diet when in Spain (tapas).
Wine was included at both lunch and dinner and there was a bar available to purchase late night drinks or mid-day coffee.
There is a busy week in Spain that includes two major religious holidays - Dec 1 to 10 would be a good time not to be in Spain as much of the country is on holiday and sightseeing. Hotels are at a premium.
We were hosted by a young couple for one night in Madrid as the city was almost booked solid on Dec 8. I had made a reservation months in advance for Dec 10 but we were scrambling to get a last minute hotel during this busy time as we still needed a place for Dec 9. I think the Marriott Auditorium Hotel was a highlight. Our room was fabulous and the service impeccable.
9db3d910-4d97-11e8-b063-85c98fdcd55f.JPG
Expensive for us budget tourists at 150 Dollars, but they do have a free airport shuttle that leaves every thirty minutes.
76163be0-4d93-11e8-8f4c-7f52e5c94879.JPG
The Madrid Airport seemed very confusing but likely less so for the Spanish.
We flew Norwegian Air to Gatwick on Dec 11.
Our entire trip was 75 days and we covered 25000 km.
We visited some roads less traveled but also spent three weeks in Spain, the world’s second most popular tourist destination.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 15:41 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona spain surfing catalonia gaudi budget unesco backpacking mediterranean zaragoza tapas bilbao basque guggenheim aragon biscay pixtos gugenheim Comments (0)

Planning the Trip - Europe on Fifty Dollars a Day in 2017

All of a sudden I decided I had better take another trip to Europe while I was still capable of traveling on a tight budget.

If I can do it, anybody can do it.
I am 68 and on a limited income. I manage. And I travel.
So if you can rough it a little, walk, climb stairs, and don't care too much about fine dining - you can do this too!!
Choose your travel companion wisely - my oldest son came with me and he is a wonderful travel companion, patient and easy going and we like many of the same things. Some find it odd, a mother and son traveling together - nobody bats an eye when a mother and daughter travel together. I could look the world over and not find a better travel companion than him - sadly, he could not say the same about me but he recognizes that my traveling days are limited and he is a good sport and very kind.
It helps to be well matched as far as budget and expectations are concerned.
I wanted to see the place where my grandparents were born, Norway, a very expensive country!! That would be stop number one and not for many days as the cost of living is so high!! I have been to Norway once before, but not to the west coast. The best part!! Gorgeous, stunning, wonderful.
93A765FA-D..8D7F259780B.jpeg
Because Norway is so expensive we had to find some cheaper countries. Neither of us have been to Prague so the itinerary started to take shape.
I booked tickets to the opera in Prague before we left, less than eleven dollars for a seat in the nosebleed section of a famous, storied theatre.
The Balkans are cheap - easy to do most countries on a budget of fifty dollars a day. Also we have been to Serbia before and loved it. Now we wanted to see more of the former country of Yugoslavia as well as Albania, a very interesting place.
We chose Malta for good weather and because it is on the way to Spain. So our schedule was forming up, leaving it a bit loose for last minute plans but we had some must-sees and some maybes and it all worked out!!
Shoulder season is cheaper, and we would go for two and a half months. Total budget for one person, all in, six thousand dollars and you could do it for cheaper. As it was, I came in a bit under budget.
We booked our tickets with West Jet discount seats, no frills, no legroom, no food and carry on only. Calgary to Gatwick via Vancouver on 27 Sept 2017 was two hundred and fifty dollars one way, I waited awhile to book the return trip as it was more expensive coming back in December.
We returned direct from Gatwick on WestJet no frills on 13 December for three hundred and fifty dollars so six hundred for round-trip airfare, not bad, maybe could have found something cheaper but I was satisfied.
We also booked flights from Gatwick to Oslo with Norwegian Air, risky but we had a three hour layover in Gatwick, it worked but I wouldn't recommend it!! Tickets were about eighty dollars each. Much cheaper than flying directly from Calgary to Oslo but if you live in the US or close to the border then Norwegian Air, a wonderful airline, offers super cheap flights to Scandinavia and other destinations. Look it up.
Also this turned into a very long day, I was amazed by my own stamina!!
In fact I was amazed at my own stamina for much of the trip! All of a sudden I could climb 75 stairs carrying a suitcase. Travel is stimulating, motivating and energizing.
Wizz Air, out of Hungary offered super cheap flights from Nuremberg to Belgrade, Serbia - under fifty dollars each so we booked those also, in advance and left our trip from Norway to Prague to chance.

OK - carry on luggage only and we are going for two and a half months - easy in the fall when you can live in black.
I was clean and coordinated if not fancy!!
I wear a neck pouch which is camouflaged by either a jacket or a scarf. My jacket has two zippered pockets on the outside and two deep inner pockets. It folds into a pouch and can be stuffed into the suitcase.
I find a backpack uncomfortable and would rather drag a suitcase with wheels.
In 2012 we backpacked across Europe and saw seventeen countries and I found the backpack awkward. I also took a backpack to China in 2015 and after about a week bought the carry-on suitcase with wheels that I am still using!!
My suitcase is regulation size for both WestJet and other discount airlines in Europe. I also bring a small daypack which easily fits under the seat.

I packed some instant coffee pouches, an immersion heater to boil water in hotel rooms that don't offer a kettle, instant oatmeal and a few chocolate bars and bags of nuts. As I used up the emergency snacks I made room for souvenirs and gifts.
Another handy gadget is a cell phone bungee cord - since my phone is my camera it was always safe and handy around my neck.
Re cell phone - my phone wasn’t unlocked so calling was expensive but I had a plan that basically cost ten dollars for a 24 hour period - this was for emergencies and the cost kicked in if you actually got or made a call. So you need to otherwise have the phone on airplane mode as an incoming call that goes to voicemail also kickstarts the ten dollar charge. Not that good actually, check with your provider. Everybody expects you to have phone service so it is tricky but doable.
Read on about our trip - we had a wonderful time and I have awesome memories and no regrets, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
WestJet.jpg

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 13:26 Tagged packing budget cheap europe backpacking affordable carry-on frugal low-cost thrifty Comments (0)

(Entries 11 - 13 of 13) « Page 1 2 [3]