Tag Archive: Europe



My introduction of Donostia-San Sebastian kicked off with a ride on the txu txu train. From Playa de la Zurriola to Playa de la Concha to Playa de Ondarreta. Nieta enjoyed the txu txu petit train ride. But she would have gotten off if she could to dig her toes on the beach and feel the sand under her soles. Too cold for that, but her love for the beach drew her back here every single day of our stay in San Seb.

And so we walked the whole stretch of the concha (shell) shape of the beach one afternoon. Done this before but my nieta grew tired walking more than 5 kms and nearly gave up. We broke our trip with a dessert of chocolate y tarta de manzanas in Hotel Ezeiza near the funiculare to Mount Igueldo. Refreshed, energized, she walked all the way to the end.

Having painted San Sebastian with all its peculiar details like the statues and sculptures along the shore, she just had to walk it to appreciate it. 🏖⛱🚶🏻‍♀️ Especially the Peine del Viento which are the 3 iconic pieces of steel firmly anchored to the rocks. In English, they translate to “wind combs” and Eduardo Chillida couldn’t have named his sculpture better. His best work, they say.

Towards late afternoon, the air is chilly and the winds grew fiercer. Nieta took shots of the peine way too many times, each time inching nearer the edge. I couldn’t watch her! Told her she’d give me a heart attack and lose her dear abuela if she doesn’t stop. She did, with a lot of teasing and ribbing on how I’m so easily scared. The nerve!

Thankfully, we went back to watching this young artist make beach art. Amazing falls short to describe this genius. Aaaaah, art takes many forms here in Donostia. Either in its architecture, food art served on a plate, etched on the sand, painted on the door or wall, or anchored on the rocks. Well done, San Sebastian!


Finally! On our first night here, we only tried Atari Gastroteka right across Yglesia de Santa Maria in Parte Vieja. It was a leisurely meal without the tourist crowd, with wait staff not too busy to chat you up. Txikiteo can wait till tomorrow, I thought. For our first night, let it not be rushed and frenzied. Just one relaxing meal ordering the same stuff we enjoyed here the last time.

We’ve always known the Pulpo and Foie Gras here are tops but we discovered its salmon and beef cheeks too. My nieta was introduced to Ribera del Duero though she also took a swig at my Rioja. Our butts got stuck here as we were seated outside across the Yglesia at 7Celsius with a friendly waitress checking on us from time to time. The Txikiteo can wait, I repeat. For now, we savoured the peace and quiet, along with the good food and bebidas.

On our 2nd night we were ready for our txikiteo. But it so happened the whole of San Sebastian was celebrating Santo Tomas Fair and transformed the entire city into a farmers’ market. Locals donned farmers’ and peasants’ attires. I was tempted to buy an outfit but my Oriental looks would give me away. Any txikiteo idea was promptly dashed as we could hardly move across Parte Vieja. Crowd was so thick, everyone’s in high spirits (literally and figuratively) and so many drunks have dropped and broken their copas. No war freaks, just too drunk to stand steady and hold their glasses. Ergo, glass shards all over. We did the next best thing. La Viña is famous for its tarta de quezo but they do have a fine dining restaurante inside. More pulpo for us, plus jamon jabugo paired with txakoli. Perfect! Txikiteo can wait.

And so the txikiteo finally gets started on Day 3. First off, Borda Berri for bacalao al pilpil and orejas de cerdo. Next, Bar Etxeberria. That’s lunch. Kutixik para llevar so we can nib on jamon while walking around the Playas. For dinner, Bar Zeruko for La Hoguera, mushrooms and tuna. Next stop was La Cuchara de San Telmo for its cochinillo and oysters. Dessert was in Casa Urola for that torrijas to die for. You can say we took our txikiteo real seriously. After all, we were “deprived” of this famous pub crawl the last 2 days. No regrets though as we’ve discovered the relative quiet of a sit-down dinner and good txakoli in its stead.

My nieta swears she loves txakoli and ribera del duero. By the 6th copa, we have started calling ourselves “Luningning” and “Liwayway”, just for fun. The 2 wait staff flirting with each other we promptly named Mateo and Juana. Don’t ask why. The Lola (grandma) and Nieta (granddaughter) are simply enjoying their txikiteo. Salut!

PostScript: On the day we were leaving San Sebastian, we decided to have almuerzo (lunch) in Parte Vieja, hoping some of our favorite pintxo bars are already open. They weren’t. But we enjoyed our pintxos, cafe, desserts in 2 bars which now make up our list of new favorites. Casa Alcalde where I enjoyed my txistorra and pimientos de padron (as a first meal) while nieta had her mushrooms, kebab and iberico topped with a quail egg. Bar Sport has good reviews but never tried it before because it was always crowded. Not this time. Sangria with cheese cake? Why not? Nieta liked the tarta de quezo better here so we made sure we dropped in on La Viña again just to compare. 🙄


We came for the food and the seascape. And more. The city of San Sebastian — or Donostia in Basque — is lovely any time of the year. It’s my 3rd visit in 2 years. First with my friends. Second time with my sister and niece. (Another niece and grandnephew followed) And this time, with my grandniece. The same nieta who has been dreaming of San Sebastian since she painted it on a wall in Bar Pintxos in BGC. Yes, she did the mural based on a photo of San Sebastian’s skyline and seascape. A black and white mural. Now, she’s seeing it all come to life just by being here.

We couldn’t have timed it better. Initially, we thought it was just a simple festivity. After all, it is nearly Christmas so there’s no big deal about the Christmas Market booths lining the Urumea River near the TerminiBus. But we found more stalls, booths and tents near Buen Pastor Church and observed that many locals were dressed in Basque outfits. Turned out one of Donostia’s unique Basque festivals was being celebrated on December 21. The winter solstice is celebrated as Santo Tomas Fair, where the entire city is littered with food and Basque handicraft stalls. Locals dress like rural farmers or peasants and most stalls sell txistorra, that very famous local cured sausage paired with txakoli, a typical Basque white wine or sidra (cider). Of course, there’s also pulpo to be had which I just can’t miss. That, plus the jamon jabugo.

By 11 pm the entire Parte Vieja looked like there were processions going off each corner. The peasant – dressed locals complete with aprons and berets were all milling around the bars it’s nearly impossible to do a txikiteo or pub crawl. Besides, many have had a drink too many and dropped their glasses or bottles. We took care not to step on glass shards, and dodged drunk locals who can barely walk straight. It was NOISY! But fun.

Thankfully, we found an open restaurant for a proper sit-down dinner. Txikiteo can wait till tomorrow. La Viña Restaurante may be most famous for their tarta de quezo or cheese cake (the best!) but they likewise serve good, decent dinners. By the time we finished ours and walked out of Parte Vieja, the locals were still busy downing their txakolis and sidras. But the streets outside of the old part of town were nearly deserted. We enjoyed our walk through the streets bedecked with Christmas lights and decor. Sans the crowd.

(Excuse the nocturnal iPhone shots)

Taking Paris Frame By Frame


I couldn’t wait to show our young artist around Paris. The City of Lights (and Love) lives up to its name and more so this December. Air’s crisp and cold. Sky’s cloudy and threatening to pour. My young adult is looking for Santa’s Villages and Art Booths while her grandma is on the lookout for a vin chaud (hot wine). Temps dip, it grows cold, wet and even icy, it can be dark and gloomy but our spirits soar with Christmas glee.

With only 4 days and 3 nights here, with early sundowns, we need to plan well. But this is Paris! The bohemian in us would rather walk aimlessly, linger where it feels warm and inspiring, and just go where the heart takes us. But I can’t let my first-time Paris visitor miss the iconic landmarks. And so, the “mandatory tour” begins: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Moulin Rouge, Champ Elysees, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, Tuileries, Montmartre, Madeleine, Place de Concorde, Sainte-Chapelle.

The sun set early the day we arrived. As soon as we dropped our bags in the Saint Germain des Pres apartment we’ve booked, we set off for the Montmartre area. Moulin Rouge in illuminated version can’t be missed as soon as you step out of the Blanche Metro Station. From here, we could have walked to Place du Tertre but took the Metro back to Anvers to find a dinner place before the anticipated 10pm mass in Sacre Coeur. Le Consulat was our first choice but they only offered drinks as their kitchen closed early. Our 2nd choice turned out to be perfect for us hungry souls. Le Bonne Franquette is on the same cobble-stoned street, likewise old as the other centuries-old buildings in this old part of Paris. We imagined Van Gogh, Cezanne, Renoir et al enjoying their meals here. History aside, we actually enjoyed our dinner of french onion soup and pave de boeuf in Le Bonne Franquette. Oh sure, the vintage charm helped too.

Must be the freezing weather (0-3 Celsius) but Place du Tertre was stripped of the easels and actual/live paintings that fascinated me years back when I visited. I was eager to show her this art scene in the Butte Montmartre. Though a tad disappointed, excitement grew as she spotted a gallery of Dalí paintings. I hope the tiny, winding streets of Montmartre will inspire her to paint those quaint, centuries-old cafes and structures, images of which one finds in many postcards in France. So charming!

Versailles Palace was in our itinerary on our 2nd day in Paris. The chateau, the fountains, the gardens, the “fake” hamlet, the art pieces are way too much for my first-time visitor. The young artist was totally charmed. If it weren’t for her eagerness to see Tour Eiffel and Arc de Triomphe in daylight, we could have stayed in Versailles longer. And so we trooped back to the city for a couple more iconic landmarks plus a stroll through Champ Elysees towards Place Concorde. Yes, a long walk but we had a lovely break for a mussel dinner at Leon de Bruxelles. Still as crowded ss I remember it but we were early and easily found a table.

Tomorrow, we should be joining the lines for Saint Chapelle, Notre Dame and the Louvre. There may be time for Pompidou Center as my young artist has expressed her preference for modern art. Wish we can likewise throw in Musee d’ Orsay and Musee du Rodin, but I’m not hopeful. Lastly, I chose this apartment because of its proximity to Jardin du Luxembourg and the bohemian neighborhood of Saint German des Pres, but we have not even visited the gardens yet! Oh Paris. There’s so much to see and we have so limited time. But perhaps it’s best that way so our young artist’s heart continues to long for this city of lights and “finish the job”. I suspect though she’d be back, no way ever will the job get finished. Such is the allure of Paris. ❤️


Easily, you’d tick off: 




But there are smaller-sized, more manageable museums like: 


Museo Lazaro Galdiano

The museo housed in the Galdiano Mansion is actually where the childless Lazaro Galdiano lived with his Argentinian wife, Paula Florido. Along with the estate given over to the Government is Señor Galdiano’s impressive collection of paintings, sculpture and other works of art. This one generous intellectual obviously collected without regard for cost.

Sorolla Museum

This is the house where the great Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla lived with his lovely wife and muse Clotilde. This is where he painted in his spacious, lovely studio. Imagine the great painter here with his wife and 3 lovely children. And the gardens!



Museo Cerralbo

If you are in the area visiting Plaza de España and Templo de Debod, it’s a good pitstop (from the cold or all that sun) before proceeding towards Calle Bailén to view the Palacio Real or Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral. 

Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida

The mortal remains of Goya lie in this original 18th century Neo-classical church, while worship was transferred to the adjacent sister church. Both churches are tiny, with floors shaped like a Greek cross.

Monasteries de las Descalzas Reales

In this Convento, I have this feeling that the wealthy families of the barefoot royals donated what’s “BEST” from their own collections and treasures. I can only imagine them saying goodbye to a daughter or a sister and parting with a treasured work of art to keep the novice nun “company” and provide a source of joy.


For more photos and details, just click on the links/highlighted headings. 

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You can’t leave Donostia-San Sebastián without promising to be back. No, you’d actually be swearing and checking your calendar to mark off dates for your repeat txikiteo! How I love this Basque city and its txikiteo or Pintxo bar crawl. So lively, so crowded, so full of energy and if you don’t watch it, so full of calories. 






San Sebastián’s skyline, its coast, its Basque architecture, the mountains looking like bookends to the equally lovely playas, the many Pintxo bars and restaurante. How can you not be so enthralled by its magnificent beauty? You come here to swim, surf or just bake in the sun, toes digging into the sand. At night, you get ready to do the txikiteo and enjoy the gildas and pintxos and cheesecake and txakoli! Life is good in Donostia-San Sebastián. 






Whenever I’m asked which Pintxo bars to check out here, the following come top of mind: La Cuchara de San Telmo, La Viña (cheesecake, baby!), La Cepa (Jamon Jabugo), Bar Zeruko, Casa Urola, Atari Gastroteka, Borda Berri, all in Parte Vieja. All just a few steps apart. Plus Bar Azkena in Mercado La Bretxa.  There are more. But heading back, I had this list like it’s a mission. 😉










Last time, we stayed in an Airbnb apartment.  Plus a night in Pension Larrea right in Parte Vieja — so perfect for txikiteo nights when you take pub crawls real seriously! This time, I tried a very modern and hip hostel (they have private ensuite too) which I thought is very cool. My latest discovery here is A Room In The City. It actually costs more than a room right in Parte Vieja but it is more quiet here. Plus it is very near Buen Pastor Cathedral (which runs straight into Yglesia de Santa Maria in Old Town) and has a pretty neat sun deck and spacious dining hall and lounge. Next visit, I’d likely book here again. Perhaps spend more time in the deck or lounge. 




Check this out: http://jollybelly.weebly.com/blog/a-room-in-the-city-san-sebastian


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I’m nearing the end of my holiday. Just one more week. Had my sister and grandnephew with me with some friends visiting. I’ve posted blogs on my other sites to chronicle what kept us busy. Here goes. 





Madrid

Madrid is home. Have shown friends around and some a 2nd time. Always a pleasure. Each time, I can’t help pointing out some of our local heroes’ favorite haunts. Patriotic and curious? Maybe. 

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2017/03/13/lento-como-los-caracoles/

(Updated)

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2015/04/30/platea-madrid/ 





Pamplona

Friends know me well enough as a big fan of Rizal, Luna and …. Hemingway. Don’t ask me why. I just find something seriously intriguing about each of them. 

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/the-sun-also-rises-in-pamplona/

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2017/03/27/murallas-de-pamplona/

http://jollybelly.weebly.com/blog/restaurant-irunazarra






San Sebastián

You can’t leave San Sebastián without swearing you’d be back again. The coast, the mountains, the shore, the food!!!

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2017/03/29/beyond-gildas-pintxos-en-donostia-san-sebastian/

http://jollybelly.weebly.com/blog/segunda-vez-en-bar-zeruko

http://jollybelly.weebly.com/blog/la-vina-cheesecake-is

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2017/04/12/san-sebastian-lures-me-back/

http://jollybelly.weebly.com/blog/a-room-in-the-city-san-sebastian




Alcala de Henares

When touring Madrid, there’s that nagging idea of hopping on a train to be away from the city center yet still find the art, culture and character of Iberia. Here’s one just under an hour by local train. Only €6.80 yda y vuelta. 

https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2017/04/01/goofing-with-cervantes/


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SLOW. Like Snails. 

Why not? It’s my 6th visit to Madrid and this time taking my oldest sister for a month-long holiday. The first day was hard for her, hardly sleeping on our long flight from Manila. We managed to go out on Day 2 but careful not to tire her out. The bus in front of our Madrid crib took us to Almudena Cathedral, right beside Palacio Real. The mandatory shots in front of the Royal Palace turned out alright. There was a long snaking line outside for those seeking admission into the Palace. We trooped to the nearby Cathedral instead where a mass was going on. Coming out, we turned right down the street to get inside La Crypta. For a €1 donativo, one finds solace in this Crypt underneath the Cathedral. An altar inside tells you that mass services must be held here too though I never heard one since I started frequenting the place. Why, you ask? I like how tranquil the place is. More so than in the Cathedral where the religious and the tourists comprise the crowd. One time, I sat beside a friendly priest visiting from Zimbabwe. We prayed quietly then. 




From La Crypta, we crossed the street to view portions of the ancient muralla (walls) before walking up along Calle Mayor. It’s a 1 kilometer walk from this corner to Puerta Del Sol. Many iconic landmarks and short detours along this main road. First off is my favorite tiny square called Plaza de la Villa. The old Town Hall can be found here. The oldest building, fully restored, in Madrid. Across it is the Tower where the French monarch Francois I was imprisoned for a year following their defeat in the Battle of Pavia. In the center of the square is a statue of a naval commander who led the Spanish Armada. Truly, a very interesting square.




Not very far, and still walking along Calle Mayor, you’d find Mercado de San Miguel. You can pick up a Sangria or a Tinto de Verano here, to go with a cone of fried calamares or octopus or boquerones. Great appetizers! The giant paelleras of greatlooking Paella Negra or Marinara may appeal to firsttimers like my sister. But I won’t be fooled a 2nd time 😜. From here, we walked just a few more steps, under one of 9 or so arched entrance ways, towards Plaza Mayor. Being a Saturday, it was way too crowded. 




Museo de Jamon. It’s a chain. Their tapas bar on the littered ground floor is packed with tourists. On the second floor, we found a table and this old waiter who fondly calls my niece La Niña. We took our seats, and ordered enough for our lunch here, and leftover dinner later! No problem having a meal replay of callos, pecaditos and boquerones. We didn’t bring home the pulpo, and we drank our sangria to the last drop. It won’t be our best meal and we’re really being touristy here, but hey, it’s my sister’s first time in Madrid. 




For dessert, we walked FASTER towards Chocolateria de San Gines. Churros con Chocolate for my sister and niece. Cafe for me. Refueled, we managed to do some shopping. Then some snapshots with the Bear and the Strawberry Tree statue, an iconic landmark to be found in the Puerta Del Sol. Before taking the metro here going home, I wanted to get inside La Mallorquina for some napoleones and marron glacé but the place looked like it’s been invaded by tourists! 




Home is in Bravo Murillo. We heard anticipated mass in the Parroquia right next to our building. Estamos Felices! 




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I realize I can’t do this in one go. Not all of 800 kilometers (500 miles) in one go over a period of 6 weeks or so. But after walking my first camino spanning the last 114 kilometers from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, I knew it would be the first of many. One year after, I did the last 100 kilometers from Viterbo to Rome — what’s called Via Francigena which is the Italian equivalent of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Both tracing pilgrimage hiking trails, one ending in the northwestern part of Spain, the other ending in Vatican City. 




The same year I walked from Viterbo to Rome, I likewise tried a short leg of the famed Nakasendo Trail from Magome to Tsumago to Nagiso in Japan. Like a preview or sampler of a longer hike sometime in the future. In Japan. But one idea continues to occupy my mind. The Camino Frances. From St. Jean Pied de Port (SJPdP) to Santiago de Compostela (SDC). Not just a part of it. The whole 800 kilometers of it. Yet, how? The mere thought of crossing the Pyrenees freaks me out of my wits. 




First off, I accepted the reality that walking everyday for 5 to 6 weeks will make me miserable. Maybe I’d fail and go home limping, mad and frustrated with myself. So I’d settle for “mini successes”.  Like breaking up the 800-km hike into 8-9 adventures, each involving 100 kms or so over 5 or so walking days. I thought the following itineraries doable: 

St. Jean PdP to Pamplona (68kms)

      SJPP to Valcarlos (Done)

      Valcarlos to Roncesvalles (Done)

      Roncesvalles to Pamplona

Pamplona to Logroño (94 kms)

Logroño to Burgos (121 kms)

Burgos to Sahagún (124 kms)

Sahagún to Leon (56 kms)

Leon to Ponferrada (103 kms)

Ponferrada to Sarria (92 kms)

Sarria to Santiago de Compostela (114 kms) — DONE




Then, I read that the WORST, HARDEST, MOST PUNISHING walk is the first leg of Camino Frances. Specifically, the first walking day from SJPdP to Roncesvalles. Literally across the French-Spanish border in the Pyrenees area. No wonder most walking guides say most quitters do so on the first 2 days. My research taught me it’s also not as daunting as literally climbing up and down a mountain. Over time, this leg may have been “romanticized” as “crossing the Pyrenees” though that is not to say that it’s not difficult. Let’s just say there are ways to walk AROUND the mountains. 




Many break the SJPdP to Roncesvalles route into 2 walking days, either stopping and resting the night in Orisson or in Valcarlos. Others simply skip this route and start their camino past the border in Roncesvalles. I’m determined to start from St. Jean Pied de Port. I’m also realistic enough to set this goal only up to Roncesvalles so that my next camino would be entirely in Spain’s Basque Country towards Navarra and Galicia. Small victories, I reminded myself. Just go past that crucial border crossing!  




I hope to do this entire Camino Frances before I hit 71. Why 71? It’s the age I lost my old man and I just know that if he were around, he’d do this pilgrimage walk with me.  Perhaps even at a faster pace! So there. Seems like a good plan. Wish me luck. God bless me with good health and the spirit to do this. 


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Here are the links to my blogs on our cruise adventure. Click away! 


AN AMUSING SHOCKER IN BERLIN: https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2015/05/13/berlin-a-kiss-is-just-a-kiss/


POTSDAM, a day trip from Berlin: https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/poofed-in-potsdam/


Prepping for the Cruise in COPENHAGEN: https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2015/05/16/copenhagens-treats/


CRUISING ABOARD ROYAL CARRIBEAN Serenade of the Seas: https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/were-cruising-day-1-2/


A DAY IN STOCKHOLM: https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/stockholm-land-of-ocs/


A DAY IN LOVELY TALLINN, ESTONIA: https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/stunning-estonia/


PETERHOF PALACE IN ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA: https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/peterhofs-great-summer-playground/


COLD & WET HELSINKI: https://retirementsuitsme.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/a-glimpse-of-helsinki/

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