My job allows me to visit a lot of Alaska on a yearly basis. I wanted to capture the trips in one location!

Avila and Segovia 2 more stunning Spanish towns

Dec. 30, 2014

Left Salamanca after a morning walk and headed to Avila. Sits 3714 feet above sea level. It is the highest provincial capital in Spain. The main reason we stopped here was to see the Walls of Avila that date back to 1090 when construction on the walls began. The stone wall encircles most of town. There are 9 gates in which to enter and the average height is 39 feet tall! We found FREE parking outside of the walls and hiked up to it for the viewing. Worth a stop!

Then we took off for Segovia because I really wanted to see the Alcázar of Segovia. This castle sits at the top of Guadarrama Mountains and is said to be similar to the shape of a ships bow. Originally it was was built as a fortress and later it was used as royal palace, Royal Artillery College, state prison and military academy, and still hosts a military artillery museum. The building of the Alcazar was started in 1120 and part of the original building burnt in a fire in the 1896.

We drove out of town and up a few side roads, then hiked across a farmers field to take a picture from out of the city. Once back in town we toured the castle and got to the top for a view of the city!

One other noteworthy part of Segovia is the aqueducts. No one is sure when this was constructed though archeologists think it was during the 1st century AD. Parts were destroyed by the Moors in 1072, but restored in the 1400’s. Historically water was transferred from Fuente Fría river, about 11 miles away in the mountains, water ran just over 9 miles before arriving into the city. Again amazing city well worth a stop.








Salamanca, Spain; Historic College Town

Dec. 29, 2014

On a sunny, but cool day we pulled into Salamanca, and we’re thrilled we’d booked a room near the Cathedral Vieja, University (universidad de Salamanca) and Plaza Mayor, all highlights of our visit here. Almost all the historic buildings were built with sandstone and have a bright, golden look to them.

The University has been in existence since 1134. It is the oldest university in Spain and the fourth oldest in Europe. Columbus came to this school for travel information. Many exchange students come here, including many Americans, specifically to study the Spanish language!

I, of course, was thrilled to see “residence” buildings after I lived in U housing for many years both during college and later as a hall director! Wish I could have gotten inside one for a tour!

Cathedral Vieja is also one of the oldest in Europe. It was started to be built in 1513 and finished in 1733. It’s been a national monument since 1887. It’s stunning inside and worth the 4euro charge to enter.

Plaza Mayor is all its claimed to be, full of life especially in the evening. The alleys around it come alive around 5 pm. The plaza itself is a beautiful square that dates back to the 1700’s. Historically it held bullfights but now it is full of eateries, coffee, and trinket shops. It too is built from sandstone and has a soft look to it.

Glad it was sunny as it was around freezing, but we bundled up and enjoyed Salamanca’s old town area.










Leave a comment »

San Sebastián Spain, a summer tourist town, dead in the winter!

Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014

Let me start by saying I’m happy we came to San Sebastian if for nothing else to eat the pintrxos, the Basque word for tapas.

We drove our car to the train stopped and without much problem bought round trip tickets into town! When we got off the train in downtown San Sebastian it was pouring rain, it reminded us of Juneau on in October day. It was just before noon and downtown was absolutely dead, the only people we saw where those headed into the church for noon mass. We continue to old town where at least there was a little more activity, however nothing really came alive until about 1 PM. Suddenly all the bars were opened up and there were tons of people crowding them trying to get some food and beer and wine.

We decided to do as the locals do and as we’d read about; we hopped from bar to bar to “txiquiteo” as the locals call it. We just walked up and down the street entering different bars and filling our plates with 2 to 4 pintrxos! Some were cheese and vegetables, some seafood others were ham with toppings but my favorite or any of them that had anchovies. Paired with a glass of beer or a glass of sangria we enjoyed each stop.

Once the rain stopped and actually cleared up a bit almost becoming sunny though it was cold and windy most of the day. We were still marveling at the fact that most of the stores were closed and that it seemed to be quite quiet town considering it’s such a tourist destination. I’m sure in the summer it’s just the opposite and again, in some ways it reminds us of home, everything closed down until all the tourists come back. We are sure it had also had a lot to do with it being Sunday though it was disappointing to be such a ghost town.

San Sebastian is a community of almost 200,000 people and in the summer tourism about doubles! But on this cold rainy winter Sunday it was more or less a deserted town. The community sits on the Bay of Biscay, and the winds hollow through town, and today was no exception. I’m sure in the summer the be winds off the water are refreshing but today they made it chilly.

The main language here is not Spanish it is actually Euskara, the Basque language, which made it even more challenging for us to interact with people. All the signage and menus were also Euskara so we resorted to pointing to much of the food!

We’re glad we visited but don’t think we got a true idea of the community.











Probably our most favorite night in Europe EVER: Sos del Rey Católico

Dec. 26-27, 2014

We rolled into town as the sun was setting and arrived just before dark. Found our hotel easily and I actually cried with joyful tears as we entered our room. This was the ideal hotel and town, the one that I’d imagined in my mind small town Spain would be like.

The narrow cobblestone streets, red tiled roofs and rock/concrete buildings left you feeling as it were 1000’s of years ago. We walked through the maze of “streets” in awe of every view. One corner highlighted an old steeple, another showcased the country side farms, and another the balconies of local residents.

Upon arrival and check in we were invited to a community concert at the local community center down the ally. Of course we chose to be “one with the people”. We arrived early and got a chair, though many after us did not. The first 45 minutes was full of choir singing mostly in tune! Then the youth (with a few adults including our hotel owner) entertained us with several movie scores and Christmas songs. They were really good!

We then stopped at the tapas bar across the street from our hotel. We met a woman and husband from Madrid and told us we’d found a magical place to visit. She said that they come here for vacation to escape the city.

The history of this town dates back to 901, yes that 901! It was a border town during the Reconquista. In 1492 King Ferdinand was born here when it was known simply as Sos, but was later changed to Sis del Rey Católico meaning “of the Catholic King” in his honor.

Though it is off the beaten path I would highly recommend stopping here for a night. Our hotel, “el Peiron,” is 4 years old and family run. Mom and dad speak NO English but one son spoke enough that we could get by. I can’t say enough about how much we loved this hotel and town.






/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/99b/31551210/files/2014/12/img_3052.jpgIMG_3049 IMG_3047


Park Güell ~ Barcelona

Dec. 25, 2014

We had wanted to visit the park and headed out on Christmas morning knowing that we had tickets for 12:30 to tour Basilica de la Sagrada Familia. We rode the subway to the closet metro Lemmen, and as we offloaded the subway a nice young woman was standing there helping tourists explaining that it was necessary to take the bus to the park because it was a long walk. She shared with us that you take bus number 24 to the park. We also learned it was an 8 euro entry. At that point we decided to hold off and go to the park in the afternoon AFTER our other tour, because she said you buy tickets to enter at a specific time on the 1/2 hour you can stay as long as you want but once you leave you can not return.

The park was inspired by the craze in England to have garden parks, hence the name “Parc”. This park was requested by Count Eusebi Güell, where of course it got its name. The site very high on the hills of Barcelona was a rocky with little growth of anything but a few trees. At the time very few people wanted to go up there because it was difficult to get to, no easy way up the hill.

Eusebi Güell asked Antoni Gaudí, at the time an up and coming a architect to design the park. It took 14 years to complete from 1900-14, and became an official city park in 1926. The park was listed World Heritage Site in 1984 because it highlighted Gaudi’s work.

We found the visit to be enjoyable and again to be overloaded with Gaudi’s work. He was of course influenced greatly by nature as you notice throughout.










infamous art work at the entry to the park


amazing art work made from broken tiles.


1 Comment »

Flamenco dancers; Casa Patas, Madrid

Dec. 21, 2014

Thanks to our sweet hostess Blanca we had front row seat tickets to see the Flamenco dancers. Flamenco is a traditional folk dance in Spain. It originated in the southern region of Spain, in Andalusia.

The show we attended contained all the traditional components, “cante” (singing), toque (guitar playing), baile (dance) and palmas (handclaps). It was very strong and powerful. Reminded us of the strength of Alaska Native traditional dance. This form of dance is related to the Romani people of Spain and dates back to the late 1700’s.

Our tickets were for the Casa Patas show. They were all the traditional guitar player, violin player, percussion player, and 2 main vocals, as well as three main dancers. We left there feeling as if we’ve had a very powerful cultural experience. My only disappointment was that the vision I’d had in my of head of many women in beautiful dresses was not in this show. Only one female dancer with no flowery flowing dress.

However the two male dancers were powerful and we enjoyed it very much.

If you want to go get tickets in advance and reserve a front row seat, the dancers are in your lap and you even get some sweat tossed on you 😕http://www.flamencotickets.com/casa-patas-madrid




Andorra; the smallest state in Europe

Dec. 26, 2014

Glad we got an early start as we headed north out of Barcelona to Andorra. We had no trouble getting out of the city as it was the day after Christmas and seem to be no one was working today. We headed north and hit a lot of fog to start with however it cleared and the views became beautiful. Once we reached Andorra we thought we had to possibly clear customs or something, but we simply just crossed the border into a new country, guess that’s the European Nations way!

We stopped in the first little town center St Julia, for some breakfast and coffee and enjoy just walking around town for a bit. The town of Andorra is very reminiscent of an Aspen or Vail, a typical resort/ ski town. Andorra is in the heart of the Pyrenees mountains, sandwiched between France and Spain. It is only 180 square miles and a majority of that is forests, lakes, rivers and mountains only 8% is urbanized. Just over 75,000 people live in the country and Today tourism is it’s leading economy however agriculture was its traditional economy.

We learned that Andorra did not even become a country enjoying the UN until 1993. No wonder many are unaware it is a country.

Our visit was only about an hour and a half however on our way out of the country line to enter had extended to at least a mile to a mile and a half, Spaniards were heading to Andorra for a winter weekend getaway. We lucked out!

We had debated whether to take the highway through the mountains or the straight highway below! We decided start on a mountain route ~ for about 1 mile, until we discovered while driving a stick shift on those curvy, curvy, curvy, slow roads I’d probably kill myself or Harry before the trip was done. Backtracked the miler so and headed out on the highway we were still blessed with amazing views of the scenery around Northern Spain and the Pyrenees mountains.

Another town we stopped in was Jaca, as we noticed a beautiful fort surrounding a hillside. Upon inspection we discovered it was Castillo de San Pedro.

But I do have to say that the highlight of the day after being on the road for about 10 hours was pulling into our sweet little town up in the mountains called Sos del Rey Catoilico. The sun was setting as we drove towards it which made it even more magical. We easily found her hotel and we’re delighted when we walked in and saw the beauty of this quaint little town. The family that owns the hotel and mentioned to us that there was a concert starting at 7 PM in the church down the way. We opted to go be one with the community and enjoy the show tremendously.

No pictures of the community to add to the blog yet but I’ll try to add some tomorrow. All the other shots from today are either from Andorra for the road trip.










Basilica de la Sagrada Familia

Dec 25, 2014

Basilica de la Sagrada Familia is the 2nd most visited site in Europe after the Eiffel Tower with about 3 million visitors a year. Gaudi spent 43 years working on this project and the “life” side was finished before he died. The rest has been, and continues to be, built from his vision and models. 75% is completed but the last 25% will be the most difficult.

There will be 10 more towers built and the main entry. They will need to tear down over 1000 apartments to finish the basilica. The goal is to complete it by 2026, which would mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death ( by accident, he was hit by a train 74 years old).

The side he finished which we entered through represents Life; Faith, Charity and Hope. Mary and Jesus are symbolized in the birth while there are the three wise men, Angels playing music, the star of Bethlehem. On the other side is the life of Jesus, this is sometimes called the “Bible in stone”.

At the base of the two main columns are turtles. One a sea turtle and the other a land one. This is because this Basilica is in the exact center of town 1/2 way between the water and the mountains.

Gaudi used nature as inspiration. He would say that he felt most near God when he was in the forest with giant trees and the sun filtering in through the trees. This is the feeling you get inside the church, the light flowing in through the stain glass is stunning and ever changing. It was just breathtaking.

Also inside are 52 pillars symbolic of the 52 Sunday’s a year. The balcony will hold up to 1200 choir members. Each of the windows have a name in the middle reflecting locations in the world with special sanctuaries.

The current exit side of the building reflects death, including the last supper and the burial. After Gaudi’s death another architect was brought into finish this facade. Ironically he was agnostic yet wanted to take on this challenge and insisted on living in the structure as Gaudi before him had done.

The side not built will be themed Glory, and those working on the completion continue to use the models Gaudi built and keep his vision in the forefront of all they do.

All in all stunning structure.







1 Comment »

A full day exploring Barcelona!

Dec. 24, 2014

We stayed on the outskirts of town but 2 blocks from the metro, so first stop tickets for metro! Bought a 10 pack for about 10 euro and headed into the center of town. First stop, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. We are always in awe of the churches in Europe, so detailed and beautiful. We were able to go inside, and take photos while in there.

Work began on this cathedral in 1298 and did not finish until late in the 19th century, though most of the work was done in the 14th century. Surrounding the building are many gargoyles both real and mythical animals fare represented. The inside had a stunning dome and countless stain glass windows. The organ was not in the traditional location rather along the wall on the right side.

We continued towards the water front and opted for a boat ride on a “golondrinas” which we hopped on right near the Columbus statue. The ride was about 45 minutes but gave a great view of the city.

We continued on foot to Las Rambras street probably the most famous street in Barcelona. We ate lunch here, drank sangria, walked through the market and soaked in some culture. We even saw a guy with an Alaskan Brewery shirt on! (Figured he was most likely a cruise ship employee).

Next came Gaudi’s apartment that had been designed for a wealthy couple at the turn of the century. Though interesting, NOT interesting enough to spend 20 euro/pp to go inside!

A few blocks away we spotted the Casa Terrades, Another castle in the Gothic style. The spires of this castle can been seen from many blocks away and they made us want to venture out and see it.

Last stop of the day was The Arc de Triomf. It was built as the main access gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair, and is a gathering place for many locals and tourist, a place to enjoy an evening walk, sit and people watch or be entertained by street vendors.









The Royal Palace in Madrid.

Dec. 22, 2014

The Royal Palace of Madrid is a great way to spend a few hours while in Madrid, and absolutely should be on your list. It is not lived in today though they are ceremonies that do take place in the castle. It is near the Opera station of the metro and costs 11euro to enter or is FREE from. 4-6 daily. Don’t confuse lines. The one you will see first is for group tours, go around the corner for individual tickets.

The original Castle was in 16th century but sadly burnt in 1734 and the current castle was built on the same site. It took almost 20 years to build the current structure in which Charles III first occupied it in 1764.

There are 3,418 rooms though on the tour you may only see 20-30 rooms. It is the largest square foot palace in Europe. Unlike the Versailles in Paris much of the interior of the palace is original and in tact. There are many famous paintings, much porcelain, gold, silver and even Stradivarius instruments.

All in all a must see when in Madrid. Ironically our host family here have never been! It takes guest sometimes for people to see a touristy thing in the back yard! NO PHOTOS allowed inside the palace rooms so photos are of postcards or off the website.