Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Naas was nice - Arcos was FABULOUS - Madrid was...just another big city

September 27 - October 9, 2014  
I can now cross off Spain from my bucket list.  I would go back to a small village in Spain again, though, if the opportunity arose - maybe close to Barcelona next time.
Richard had two speaking engagements, one in the city of Naas, Ireland, at the COSAC conference held at the Killashee House Hotel, and one in Madrid, Spain.  He spoke at this same conference in Naas once before back in September, 2009, and I blogged about it at that time.   
Our 12-day journey started in Ireland with a cab driver whose cell phone was broken and had no other GPS system in his car - AND he had never heard of Killashee House Hotel but he knew how to get us to Naas.  We racked up a taxi charge of over 100€ but he knocked off a bit for the trouble.  Kind of him.  We were happy travelers so it didn't upset us.  He was pretty meek and embarrassed about it.
After checking into our room, Richard and I decided to walk the grounds of the hotel.  We found ourselves exploring a bit beyond the grounds into a farmer's field - check out this stack!  The only thing stopping Richard from climbing was his attire.
(Feel free to click on any of the pictures to bring them up larger on your computer.)
 The city of Naas was about 2 miles from the hotel.  I walked into town on the first day of the conference with the library being my destination.  The scenery on my walk was picturesque. The Guinness sign gave me a chuckle while the store name made me laugh out loud. 
         On Tuesday, the second full day in Naas, I was invited to join two other wives who had accompanied their husbands to this conference to visit four different gardens.  It was a bit of a rainy day but that didn't stop us from enjoying the walks.  One of the wives, Vicky, hired a driver for the day.  We got started bright and early at 8:30 and returned at 5:30.  It was a lot of driving but it sure was pleasant, tooling around the Irish countryside.  Here are a few pictures from the day.  At the first garden we were greeted by 2 peacocks who accompanied us on our walk.
Oy and I took turns in the bamboo hut.

Before this trip I got a new iPhone6 which has a LOT more camera capabilities than my old iPhone4.  I was having fun with the panoramic option.  Here is Oy, looking as pretty as can be!  That is my blue umbrella to the left of Oy.
On a walk at the second garden we came across this pet cemetery.
At the third garden we found this mama and 9 piglets.  A face only her babies piglets could love.
This was the last garden of the day.
The owner of this garden set up a very rustic table with about 12 stumps as chairs at the bottom of a gully.
This is the view we saw after climbing up the hill on the other side of the gully.  The Irish hills sure are beautiful.
Each night during the conference dinner was served for all the speakers and attendees along with any significant others accompanying them.  On the first night the manager of the Killashee House Hotel spoke during dinner expressing the hotel's appreciation to David (the organizer of the conference and Oy's husband) for his continued business.  While doing so, she introduced "Gino" as a new employee on probation, telling him he had to earn his position by singing.  This is what we heard.  (Note: this is not posted as a video as it was too dark. But listen!)
Turns out "Gino" wasn't his real name; he grew up in London and he is an opera singer!  David knew nothing of this.  It was a lot of fun and quite a treat.

Time to move on from Naas, Ireland, to Arcos de la Frontera, Spain

Richard and I flew from Dublin to Madrid the night before Richard's sister, Mary, was getting in from Madison, Wisconsin.  We were so happy to see her the next morning! We picked her up from the airport and headed to the train station where we boarded a train to Seville (pronounce sah-vee-ah).  Once in Seville, we rented a car and drove to the small village of Arcos de la Frontera.
The waiting area of the Madrid train station in this picture was a great place to pass time - with all the greenery.  (I so love the pano option on my new phone!)
I believe we reached 136 mph on the train to Seville.  It looks like it was built for speed, doesn't it?  It was a very smooth ride.
Mary and me on the train before our naps.
Once we got to Seville we had to stop for lunch before making the trip down south. It was nice to sit outside in the warmth while tasting our first meal in Spain.  Ordering our food made me realize how wonderful it was to have Mary with us not only for her happy spirit but for her fluency in Spanish!
Welcome to Arcos!!

I have to pat myself on the back for finding Casa El Sueno in Arcos de la Frontera.  It was the most perfect place to stay with clean, up-to-date rooms including fantastic Internet reception.  It turns out the owner, Uko (below in the doorway), is Dutch and he was on a Dutch reality TV show (I think he said the name of it was "My Spanish Dream") that filmed him updating the B&B.  He was a great host who catered to our request for eggs and meat in the morning.  He really knows the area well including the points south and east to which we took day trips.  His restaurant suggestions were a reflection of his fine taste in food, steering us toward restaurants that served the best regional cuisine.
Here are some views from our room which faced the back of the building overlooking a lake with picturesque views.
The open door below is the doorway we came through after walking up a narrow winding stairway to get to our room, the door on the right.  If you continue walking straight instead of going into our room you walk onto the terrace.
Looking down the stairwell...
Here are some terrace pictures.
 Can't get enough panos!
 The Queen appreciated me bringing her out onto the terrace for a view.
Sunrise from our room window.  So lovely!
A video of the early morning from our window.  Note the roosters - they would start at 5:30.  Ugh.  But it was worth it to have the window open to the fresh air.  Notice the guy on the right at the very end of the video working on the roof of his place.  Uko says he does this every year, tearing up old and putting in new tile.

As the sun sets...
Below is the view out Mary's room window which faced the street.  Notice how incredibly narrow the street is.  All the streets in Arcos are like this until you get into the heart of the village, then you will find them two-way.  Uko advised us not to drive our SUV to the B&B saying it wouldn't fit so we parked it in the heart of the village.  Uko arranged a cab for us when we first arrived.  It took us 20 meandering minutes to walk to our car the next two mornings.  It gave us a chance to learn the city and get to know the area a bit.  Mary found her room to be a bit noisy the first night with all the motor scooters going past.  I believe she kept her window closed the next three nights and turned on the air conditioner to drown out the noise.
Mary's view to the left...
...and to the right.

Watch the next two videos for a taste of Casa El Sueno.

 We saw Uko across the street talking on the phone up on the balcony.
 Mary through her bathroom window...
 ...and ready to head out for the day.
The doors to peoples' homes were always works of art.  This is the inside door of two to the B&B.  When coming in if you found this door latched, you had to reach in the hole and unlatch it.
A woman who worked for Uko sold jewelry that her husband made.  Of course I had to buy a couple of pieces!
I've shown you where we settled in at night so now I'm going to take you on a walk.  Heading out, 
I passed a woman painting the exterior of her home.  Arcos is part of Andalusia's pueblos blancos - white towns.  I spoke with this woman about the fact that she had to get permission to paint her trim yellow.  Her cat was sweet!
On this same walk I turned to try to find our room at the B&B.  You can see it here inside the red rectangle.
 I stood for a while and watched as sheep made their way down to the water for a drink.
I love the charming and simple decorations on the exterior of the homes...
...and the color!...
...and the texture.
As narrow as the streets are they still make room for outdoor seating at the restaurants.  We ate lunch at San Marcos one afternoon.

 This is the proud owner of San Marcos.
 There were a lot of small streets going this way and that.
We did a double-take at this and never really found out the history but it looked ominous.
Stunning architecture.  This is the front of the basilica that to the side form...
...these arches and...
...the reason Uko told us not to drive our SUV to the B&B.  We would have had to pass through this, the narrowest passage framed by the three arches.

This is the city 'bus,' actually a van that drove through the city taking people from one end to the other.  You can see how tight this passage is.

The arches are actually the back side of this view.
At the spot I'm standing here looking through the arch to the basilica...
...I can turn and see these views.

At this same spot tucked under a linen awning were some people who seem to make their living by keeping certain birds captive and getting paid when people want their picture taken with them.  Richard and Mary partook, me only by taking pictures.  I felt sorry for these creatures.  You can see the birds in the background.

Sister and brother.
 Best of friends and of traveling companions.
More pictures from around Arcos.  I thought this doorknob was fun!  Notice the shape of the keyhole to the right of the hand.
 Mary enjoying yet another view.
 Richard explaining the construction.
Women of Arcos.
Saturday must have been the designated laundry day.
As we were strolling through the streets of Arcos we would come across open doors to homes.  I couldn't help myself!  I was struck by how clean they were and how much light I could see coming into the room.
Love these tiles.
 We ate at this restaurant one evening...
...where we were entertained watching cars trying to drive through the narrow alleyway with the three arches.  Where you see the man walking up the street in the background is the alleyway.  We would watch as cars stopped and turned in their rear-view mirrors so as not to scrape. 
This might be too much information but more often than not I would find the toilet without its seat.  The seat next to the toilet...that was the only one I saw of the toilets without a seat.

Our favorite restaurant in Arcos was Taberna Jovenes Flamencos, half for the food and half for the friendly young owners who also were the ones to serve you your food.  I nick-named it 'the polkadot restaurant.'

The owners the polkadot restaurant.
We liked it so much we ate there the first night (upon Uko's suggestion)...
...and our last night in Arcos.
I loved listening to Mary talk with people.  Here she is talking to the owner of the polkadot restaurant.

From inside the polkadot restaurant.  Notice the floor tile and the beams.

While we were sitting at Taberna Jovenes, a bride with a photographer showed up.  She sat on this step for a short while as if she were waiting for someone.
This police car drove by while while we were sitting at the polkadot restaurant.  You can see how tight the space is.  If you were walking and a car came by you usually found a doorway to jump into.
On our walk back from Taberna Jovenes we heard music coming from another establishment.  I popped in to see these two and had wished we weren't so tired.  I would have liked to stay.
 We ventured out on our first full day to a city called Ronda.  If you click on this picture you will see that I have marked up three areas.  The bold yellow is Arcos de la Frontera, the finer yellow rectangle is Ronda, and the area in green at the bottom is where we went the second full day, to see Roman ruins in the village of Bolonia.
Off we go to Ronda!  Richard did all the driving and Mary sat in front to help with the interpretation of signs.
This one's for you, Mary.  I know you got a kick out of seeing green guardrail posts.  It sure is more interesting.
Ronda is known for its Puente Nuevo (new bridge).
Construction started in 1751 and took 42 years to complete.
We explored down around the bridge.
This door and the stairway inside it lead to a room inside the structure of the bridge.  It's the window above the center arch.  According to Wikipedia, this room was used as a prison during the Spanish civil war.

A few shots of the views around Ronda and its bridge.
A flock of birds took off from the side of the rock.
Around Ronda.

This guy was entertaining the tourists.
 This horse was decorated and just tied to the fence.
Another of Uko's suggestions, Bristo Casa Maria was more than incredible.  After Mary spoke with the waitress we decided to order 'a little of everything.'  I don't remember all of the five dishes they brought to the table in the relaxed hour or so we were there but the dish of broad beans (I don't remember what they called the dish) were so good we couldn't stop eating them.
I got a kick out of the purple gorilla in the park across the street.
Check out these shoes made of chocolate at a store called Daver.  I had to take this picture for Hannah.  I popped in to grab some bonbons. 
We had planned to go to Gibraltar on the second day in Arcos but Uko warned us that because we would be entering a different country, the wait to get through the border could take hours so we opted not to chance wasting all that time.  Instead we headed to the southern coast, to Bolonia to see Roman ruins that were founded in 200AD.  There is also a beautiful beach and on the day we went, plenty of wind and TONS of windsurfers.
First we stopped for a bite to eat on the beach...
...then headed out to explore the ruins.
They must actually use this colosseum because they have added seating.
This bridge-looking structure was actually part of the water system.
I took this next shot while walking closer to the water.  The land mass you see in the distance is Africa.
Even the trees were old.
This panorama is hilarious.  Click on it to make it larger and take a close look at the guy on the left...and on the right!  He's always coming up with something.
I took this of Mary before we walked around.  She always has such a nice smile!
Here we are after our walk.
On our ride back to Arcos we started seeing trees whose lower halves were bright orange.  Mary knew exactly what kind of trees these were - cork trees.
After 4 marvelous days in the south of Spain we had to move on to Madrid.  I was excited to experience a new city and to see what it had to offer.  Mary and I visited the famous Prado art museum downtown Madrid then headed almost across the street to the botanical gardens.  There wasn't much in bloom at the time.  I thought this huge cactus was pretty cool looking.
This flowering cactus was exceptionally pretty.
This was a wall of a building across the street from the botanical gardens.
There were a ton of street performers in Madrid.  The man with the mallet in his hand and the witch were the performers and would move every now and again.  It was kind of eerie. 
One thing you can find A LOT of in Madrid is Iberico ham.  There are stores dedicated to ham.
This guy is slowly slicing the ham and packaging it.
Just a few doors down from our hotel was a toy store that thought this display wasn't creepy.  These shots really don't capture that because you are not seeing the whole window.
We found ourselves in Plaza Mayor, an open area surrounded by shops and buildings looking like apartments or offices.  We decided to eat outside at one of the restaurants.  This was the worst place we ate.  I ordered a paella even though it was mostly rice and I don't eat rice.  I thought there would be a ton of veggies and chicken in it but I was wrong.  That was the first experience with Madrid cuisine, NOTHING like the food in Arcos and Ronda.  Night and day.
We stayed at the Emperador Hotel in downtown Madrid.  Mary and the Queen wait for us to get ready for flamenco on our last night in Madrid.
After having a little bit of a difficult time finding the place, we arrived at Cafe de Chinitas.  They served an okay meal, better than the rest we experienced in Madrid (but still nothing like the regional cuisine of the smaller villages).  The show was terrific.  When we first arrived to our table, the front of the cafe toward the stage was packed with an Asian tour group.  Before the show started this group was having a good time, even getting up on stage.  For some reason, though, almost all of them left right when the show was starting which was great because I could move to a spot unencumbered with heads in front of me.  I found the show to be quite entertaining.
 There was also a bit of eye-candy for us ladies!
After all the dancers minus the male dancer were on stage they all took turns doing solos.

Then a couple of them danced together.

 Back at the hotel I played around taking shots out our window which faced Calle Gran Via.  The Queen liked watching the traffic.
 One last photo of the Amsterdam airport.  They have the absolute best food of any airport I have ever experienced.  They cook food to order!  And check out how cute the decor looks.
Thank you for all the memories, Ireland and Spain,  especially Arcos de la Frontera.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great pictures Karen! I'm impressed by how well organized you are!