Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tortosa Spain

There's a chain of hotels throughout Spain called Paradors that tend to be really cool old buildings in really cool locations. Most offer basic, but nice rooms at decent prices along with yummy restaurants. Some other locations are fairly luxurious. Diana and I prefer to stay with locals through airbnb when we travel but places like the Paradors provide a nice excuse for us to bust out of our routines plus it's kinda' fun for a change to stay at a place where everything is onsite.

Originally the hotels were founded, I learned recently, by a Spanish king about 100 years ago as a way to get folks to travel. Diana and I spent one night at the Tortosa Parador, which is located on a hilltop in an old, tenth-century castle/fortress.

Interesting side note: the hotel chain is government-owned and profitable. The Tortosa Parador meets both Parador requirements, a cool building and an exceptional location (overlooking the town of Tortosa).

Tortosa is an old Roman-empire city located at the mouth of the Ebre river in the southern-most corner of Catalunya about two hours away from Barcelona. The former-fortress-turned-hotel dates from 944 and still has some of its original features. We spent the early afternoon after our arrival walking around the hotel and grounds checking out the architecture, which includes lots of stone walls, defensive positions, and arches like these:

During the late afternoon, we took a boat ride on the extensive Ebre-river delta just in from where it meets the Mediterranean. The evening was fairly cold and windy but we enjoyed the provided snacks and wine along with the river views.

Once we got back to shore, we rushed over to check out one of the spots where flamingos hang out and feed. Unfortunately for seeing flamingos, we arrived a little too late but, fortunately, for sunset views, we arrived just in time.

The next morning we took a quick guided tour of the old part of town. The guide took us to see a couple of old churches (of course), a government building or two, and some other local of-note buildings. There was nothing super exciting but it was a nice mellow walking tour that left from the hotel and had a few gems.

Our bus headed back to Barcelona a little after we finished our buffet breakfast. It was a fairly uneventful trip overall (read: relaxing) but we did enjoy the short weekend away.

Oh, and during the ride back, our bus got passed by the Stuttgart professional football (soccer) team bus, which brought back some memories! Guten Tag VFB!!!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Colombia 2014

I'm writing this quite a bit after the trip. It's been a while. The reality is that I kinda' gave up on writing here. But recently I've been thinking of starting again.

Back five-plus years ago, the idea was to have a place to share what I was doing and also as a way to remember everything. It wasn't until this past week when I was searching for something that I came across a story I didn't remember writing so I started thinking about it more and more. When I read through the story, it brought back so much. Anyway, that's why I'm here again. I don't want to lose this stuff. I need to do some catching up.

Back in Colombia! I love it there. My third trip was a quick but good one - just two weeks this time. My flights took me from Barcelona through Miami and on to Bogota. It's amazing when you consider that I was on three continents within about 15 hours. The world is so small!

I'm not sure if I qualify as European now that I've been living outside the United States for over five years (!!!), but I can always spot other Americans in airports. A few years ago it was sweat pants (or pajamas) and Ugg boots. Now it's definitely yoga pants. It seemed like 50% of the females I saw during my stopover in Miami were wearing them.

This trip I spent just about half the time in Bogota and the other half in Chiquinquira where Diana's parents have a small farm house and 15 or so dairy cows. It's about three hours via car north of Bogota and it's paradise in so many ways.

Love it!

Even though it's a working farm, there's always time to enjoy the open space and fresh air with Diana's mom and dad, who still make the trip from Bogota a couple of times a month.

Having grown up in Philadelphia, my exposure to farm life was limited to an occasional school trip or a visit to Amish country. Turns out that I love the open space, the nature, and hanging out with the animals like this new-born calf. The gringo, cow, and sheep are all easy to spot but can you find the chicken?

One of the best parts of going "out to the farm" is spending some time in Chiquinquira's "downtown".

I'm sure for folks like Diana's parents who grew up there, the town's changed quite a bit but, for me, it feels like it's probably been mostly the same for a hundred years.

A shoe rack at a Chiquinquira farm-supply store:

Of course I had to stop by one of my favorite businesses to buy arepas while we were in town. Arepas are sort of like a solid, made-from-corn-meal English muffin. I prefer the ones from the Boyaca region of Colombia because they (often) have cheese in the middle. The ones from the place below (the woman standing in the doorway - that's the entire shop - can you say low overhead!) are heated on a small charcoal grill.

And there's no way I could travel all the way there and not eat longaniza in Sutamarchan. Longaniza-picada selfie with Diana and her mom:

Finally, I thought I'd share this picture of one of the cows that always gets down on her knees (are they knees?) to reach under the electrical wire to eat grass. The wire, which keeps the cows from trampling all the grass, gets moved a few feet each morning. The funny thing is that there's plenty of untrampled grass to eat but maybe she believes the grass is greener on the other side?

Thanks again to Diana's parents and family for the wonderful visit (and luxurious new bed!). Oh, and sorry there are no photos from Bogota. Definitely next time!