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Joyeux Noël! Christmas in Paris. La carte postale

“Open every Sunday.” Just one of the many reasons to love Paris.

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Joyeux Noël! Christmas in Paris. Quatre

I woke early enough to spot Jupiter or perhaps Mars outside the window, a little before dawn. Tony cautiously asked, “How are you feeling?” My head felt like the size of the Hindenburg, but the rest of me felt human. Four cups of tea and some remaining Bûche de Noël later (Hey, feed a cold and starve a fever, right?) and we were all cheerily bundled and heading to the Festival du Merveilluex.

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Joyeux Noël! Christmas in Paris. Trois

Just as they have done for the past 16 years, the “children” woke at 0500 to see what Santa had brought.

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Joyeux Noël! Christmas in Paris. Deux

Christmas Eve. There is always something to do in Paris that has not been done before.

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Joyeux Noël! Christmas in Paris. Un

While chatting with a friend in late autumn we mutually discovered that her visiting family was looking for a place to stay over Christmas, while we were looking for someplace to travel for the holiday. The plan was born.

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Our Swing through Spain. Part III: Toledo

The Toledo, Ohio, USA and Toledo, Spain connection is the oldest established Sister-City relationship in the world, dating to 1931, though their cultural relationship dates to the early 1800s.

As with our journey to Segovia, the Renfe high speed train whisked us to the Toledo train station in about 25 minutes, from where we caught a short bus ride into the city center.  Toledo is a medieval walled “city of three cultures,” where centuries ago Christians, Arabs, and Jews coexisted peacefully. Imagine.

 

Our visit to the former capital of Spain was spent wandering the narrow lanes, shopping (on a Sunday!  Yay!) admiring the architecture and soaking up the lively nature of the city. This is the Toledo train station, of “Moorish Revival” architecture style that was also visible through the city.

 

The Toledo Cathedral, spectacularly intricate on the interior. Alas, no photos permitted.
And the former Jewish Quarter, with its narrow and winding streets.

 

Toledo is a noted producer of Marzipan, and it seems, most of the lovely concoctions are made by nuns.

Too cute.

The Bisgara Gate leading to the main plaza in Toledo. In Marzipan.

A few more city scenes. Toledo, we found, is better experienced in person than through photo snaps.

The city loves its medieval history; it seemed that every fifth store sold swords, knives, and shields. No kidding.

Anna Grace and I walked out of a store to the sounds of a marching band!  The Jefferson Forest Marching Cavaliers from Forest, Virginia USA were marching through the streets of Toledo, performing a mix of holiday music and other popular tunes. The mood was festive–people lined the tiny streets while the police kept the main lanes clear for the band!  Fun!

 

Having spent more time shopping than anticipated (we were in search of attire for Honors Orchestra, as we had discovered Spain has more clothing stores that appeal to Anna Grace), we had to “make do” with cones of Spanish ham and manchego cheese as we raced back to catch our return train.

Before we knew it, our lovely city break was over. Like usual with our city breaks, we missed a couple of things here and there; could always have spent a little more time in one city or the other; and definitely could have benefitted from a “Spanish History for Dummies” tutorial beforehand. But isn’t that a purpose of travel, to learn and to be inspired?

 

Our Swing through Spain. Part II: Segovia

High speed trains whisked us from Madrid to Segovia in about 35 minutes. That is, the trains whisk passengers to the Segovia station that sits 6km outside of the city, in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully the #11 regional bus is timed to transport visitors to Segovia’s Old City in just 10 minutes.

The bus deposits visitors smack in front of the Aqueduct, the city’s signature attraction. I won’t spoil the engineering details for you except to write that they are impressive.

A few segments along the aqueduct are accessible for tourists to explore, and the underground route of the aqueduct is marked throughout the city.  Thankfully the area has not been (too) polluted with tourist tchotchke vendors.

 

Segovia Cathedral commands attention in the city center, and understandably so.

 

 

The cloisters were closed to visitors on our day; hence, the reflection from the door in the photo.

From the Cathedral the medieval lanes, lined with a good mix of pleasant stores and tourist crap, lead one to Alcazar, the summer castle home of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

 

We have come to accept that no matter where we travel in Europe, there must be at least one major attraction that is under restoration.

The rooms are simple and with intricate, shimmering ceilings.

 

Anna Grace is demonstrating the proper position for the knight; the asymmetry was killing me, but I thought better than to move him.

The Throne Room. Despite this being the site where Christopher Columbus secured financing from Queen Isabella for his new world adventures, there is no mention of the meeting anywhere in the castle.

View from one of the terraces.

An inner courtyard.

An inner courtyard with charming photobomber.

 

Segovia had a thriving Jewish population for almost 300 years until their expulsion in 1492 by the “Catholic Monarchs,” Ferdinand and Isabella. Nice.

To our disappointment, the culinary offerings in Segovia were mostly limited to either the very pricey suckling pig (the local delicacy) or three course prix-fixe meals, both of which offered far more food than we were interested in eating. Thankfully, a menu board near the Jewish Quarter directed us to a Pakistani restaurant that we would not have otherwise spotted. And you know how we both love our curry.

After lunch, a little more wandering before catching the train back to Madrid.

Possibly the largest pimientos that we have ever seen.

Olive trees, as snapped from a train traveling 249km/hr. (~155mph).

 

 

 

Our Swing through Spain. Part I: Madrid

With three weeks on the winter school holiday calendar, a haphazard plan to escape the grey of Central Europe, if even for a few days, was hatched. Truth be, the grey doesn’t really bother us; Washington, D.C. isn’t all that sunny in the winter, either, but when great airfares to a typically sunny clime are available, why not soak in a little Vitamin D while you can?

Madrid was our destination. Anna Grace and I left the boys at home for a long weekend of endless college bowl games, movies and pub dinners, arriving in Spain’s capital on 1 January.

Provence, the iPhone photos.

There’s some fun stuff here!
Never far from home. In the Verona parking garage, advertisements for the other garages managed by APCOA. (Only Döbling friends will appreciate this photo.)

We were so BORED driving through Switzerland that the local Swiss folk music actually entertained us.

 Alas, we missed the running of the bulls in our Provence village by one day. Perhaps next year.

 Meringues in the window of the village boulangerie.  Only €2,50 for all that sweet, airy goodness.

 Our street.

 Jack struggled with the French version of “coffee.”

An old French Monopoly game kept Jack and Anna Grace amused on pool breaks. Spending 50.000 French Francs on a hotel was fun!

 Downtime in the yard.

 Interesting journal in one of the paper and book shops we browsed.

 Ours is not, but the sign was cute nonetheless.

A few scenes from Avignon, home to the Catholic Church before the smack down Pope-Off with Rome.

Way too many of these signs everywhere we traveled. At least the Austrians have a sense of humor about road construction.

A point of commentary. One day, in one of the markets, Tony and I overheard a slovenly, overweight and obnoxious American husband speaking to his friend on the sidelines: “I bring her to France and all she does is effing shop.” Okay, then. 
The following day, in a different market, we overheard Mr. Evolved again offering this theory to his friend. 
“We haven’t evolved too far from our hunter-gatherer time. Look at the women. Just like in the days when men hunted for food and women gathered nuts and seeds, our wives are just picking through the linens.” 

Tony recognized Mr. Evolved, too, and grabbed my elbow to steer me away before I could respond to the asshat’s statement. 
Finally, Clayton Theodore’s sad face on the evening we had begun to repack the car, sensing that his days of napping on the terrace and chasing lizards in the yard were coming to an end.
To Provence. Until we meet again.

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