Playas de Vera and visiting friends in Torremolimos

After the brunch at La Dulce Vida, Bill and I drove the short distance to Playas de Vera, just up the coast 15 kilometers. Vera has 15 urbanizaciónes (developments) that are clothing optional, along with a 1 KM long section of the beach that is also clothing optional. This had been part of the cancelled 2020 trip, so we had been planning this stop for a while. This, however, was one of my booking errors. I know! They don’t happend often, but I am human. I noticed while we were at Costa Natura, that the booking I had made for Vera was not in one of the 15 naturist developments. It was down the beach a bit. When I discovered the error, it was still in the free cancellation period. So, I looked for an alternative. I found one in Natura World on “La Primera Linea de la Playa.” which translates to beach front. It was a 1 BR/1BA, facing the beach. The apartment didn’t look bad, so I changed the reservation. Once we got there, the building looked something akin to a World War II bunker, with no esthetic appeal at all, and most importantly, even though the building is on “La Primera Linea.” the apartment faced a rather bland courtyard. Needless to say, we were very disappointed and I can say it impacted our overall impression. After brooding about it and thinking seriously of driving back to Costa Natura, we decided to make the best of it, check out the beach other options for future travel.

As it turns out, we really like the beach at Vera, long, wide, with several options for palapas and hamacas (loungers). We did shorten our Vera trip by one day. Afterwards, we are glad we got to know the Vera area and will be back. But now, we know which Urbanización to choose.

After departing Vera, we had a 3 1/2 hour drive back to Málaga Airport, where we would drop the car and take a taxi into Torremolinos. Our friends Ken and Andrew, who we have known since early in our time in Palm Springs, now live in Torremolimos. They remodeled and lived in two different places in Cathedral Cove. In 2016, they sold and moved back to Vancouver. A couple of years later, they decided to retire and move to Torremolinos, Spain. Torremolinos is a city of about 70,000, a short distance from Málaga airport. The town has a large and well developed gay social scene. Some say it is the gayest city in Spain.

The drive down the coast through Murcia and Almería is dotted with thousands of greenhouses. These greenhouses provide optimal growing conditions for the various fruits and vegatables that contribute to the 61 percent of Spanish fruit and vegetable production out of these two provinces. But this comes at a high price. First, most of the workers, much like the California Central Valley are immigrants. In Spain those workers come from ecomonmically stressed areas like Eastern Europe and Northern Africa. The working conditions can be extreme, temperatures up to 50 degrees celsius (122F), high humidity and very little air movement create adverse working conditions. Additionally, all that used, and no longer usable, plastic is creating millions of metric tons of plastic waste. Also, the area is Europe’s only desert, so water to support the agriculture has to be brought in via pipelines and canals. It is not dissimilar to the situation in the American west. Below are some photos from online sources showig home much of the terrain is covered by these greenhouses. There is a comparison photo showing before (1974) and after (2000) the implementation of greenhouse agriculture. Clearly it changed the landscape! Also, a few photos of the drive on the AP-7, (Autopista 7).

Since we had decided to leave Vera a day early, our room at Ken and Andrew’s place was not available. They suggested we stay at the Hotel Ritual, a gay hotel on a cliff overlooking the beach. We checked in to Ritual, and had time to enjoy both the naturist rooftop pool and the large party pool on the 2nd deck. Our room had a large terrace overlooking the party pool. Even though it was for just one night, we enjoyed out time. I particularly enjoyed the rooftop pool early before the afternoon sun was too much. But by then a large part of the 2nd floor pool was shaded by the building. Bill stayed up on the rooftop, while I moved below. Bill enjoys sun far more than I do. That first eveneng we met Andrew and Ken out for cocktails, later we were joined by their houseguests, one of whom we had met previously in Palm Springs.

The next morning, after a great breakfast at the hotel, Bill and I walked along the Torremolinos beachwalk. This walk, and bike path, stretches from one end of Torremolinos to the other. There are countless Chirinquitos (beach bars) and restaurants along the walk. As we were walking, I saw a bike rental shop. Even though I had previously sent my biking clothes and gear home, I decided to plan a ride for Sunday morning.

On Saturday, we had arranged to spend the day at Eden Beach Club. Located on the beach, just below the Hotel Ritual, Eden is a larged churinguito, with countless palapas and hamacas and a few cama balinesas. Ken and Andrew had arranged to rent one of the 4 person Cama Balinesa, a covered Balinese style bed. The rental of the bed was cheap, but it did require food and wine consumption of €25 each, which wasn’t particularly difficult. I think we exceeded the minmum by a little bit. We had a great time, people watching, walking the beach, swimming in the rather chilly waters. Remember, water temperature is impacted by the cooler Atlantic waters coming through the Strait of Gibralter. Anyway, it was a fun day. I particularly enjoyed that we weren’t wallowing in the sand and had protection from the sun. And, after getting out of the salt water, there were a nice fresh water shower. Here are some pictures. Look closely at the size of Andrew and Bill’s Club sandwiches. I really think they are made to share.

On Sunday, as I mentioned, I went on a bike ride. It was all going great. I was about 9 miles into the ride and heading toward the waterfront in Málaga, when I had a flat. First, the rental bike did not have a pump, so I have no idea if it would pump. I tried asking several cyclist riding by if they had a pump. Very few did and the couple that did just rode on by, so I called Bill told him I was walking the bike back to the rental shop. It was slow going, but finally I was back on the Torremolinos beach walk. I stopped for snack and water. Bill called again and suggested that I just wait there and Andrew would pick me up in the car. I was disappointed that I didn’t get a longer ride in. But pushing the Bike the 3+ miles back to Torremolinos, did give me a workout.

Monday, Juy 4th, after 9+ weeks since leaving home, Bill and I began our trip home. We had orignally booked a non stop British Airways Málaga to Heathrow flight on Monday evening and then the non-stop Virgin Atlantic flight to LAX the next morning. You may have heard or read of the challenges BA is having, particular in Heathrow. Our non-stop to London was cancelled and we were booked on an earlier departing, Iberia to British Airways connection through Madrid. Because it left earlier, we got into Heathrow about the same time as orignially booked. However, we did have to negotiate a Termianal 5 to Terminal 3 transfer. It is interesting, they actually use the Central London to Heathrow Express which stops at both teminals as a free transfer. You have to use either a London Transport Oyster card or a Touchless Debit/Credit Card. Although there is no charge, they do use the number to track the number of riders. After trying to follow non-existent signs to our hotel, which was right in Terminal 2, and getting lost a couple of times, we finally checked in and went right to bed, because the next morning would be an early rise, so that we could the enjoy the Upper Class Wing, for breakfast before boading our non stop flight to LAX.

Time passed quickly on the flight. Upper class has fully lay flat beds and an entertainment system with a large variety of choices. Bill watched 3 moves and I binged on The Brokenwood Mysteries, a New Zealand crime series. Whatever each of us did, it made the 11+ hours fly by. Clearing customs and immigration at LAX was smooth and, amazingly, efficient. Only 45 minutes after landing, we were through all that and awaiting our house sitters, who were driving my car to LAX because they were taking a later flight to Mexico. We met at a bar/retstaurant outside security, chatted with them for a bit and then we were on our way home.

You all know that Bill and I travel a lot. But we both feel, 2+ months is too long to be away, particularly to be away from Mouse. Mouse was very glad see us, but did express his displeasure with a several loud meows, which to us sounded more like, “where have you two been.” But as you can see from the photo below, it didn’t take him long to enjoy a nap with Bill. All is right in his world.

Mouse right where he wants to be!

We are home for 3 weeks, then are off on a travel trailer trip to Wasington to see Keith and Joanette. As much as we enjoy being home, July and August can be brutal weather wise in Palm Springs. Heading up the coast and spending time in the Pacific Northwest gets us out of the heat. Mouse gets to come with us. Until then!

Estepona and Mojácar

Our stay in Estepona was 7 days, with 4 nights at Costa Natura, a naturist resort just down the beach from Estepona. As you know, Bill and I enjoy staying at naturists resorts and always look for opportunities to add a few nights textile free on our trips. Costa Natura is a family vacation resort, clothing optional throughout the resort, with no clothing permitted in the pool amd spa area. It is right on the beach, but in all fairness, not one of the prettier beaches we’ve seen. The shore is a combination of small stones, large rocks and rough dark sand. It is quite narrow directly in front of Natura. The resort grounds are well kept, with large grassy areas, and a large heated pool. There is a restaurant and a snack bar. Just across the street is Aldi Supermarket, which made it convenient for us, since we still were traveling without a car. As you can imagine, photography is strictly regulated so my pictures were focused so to avoid invading someone’s privacy.

One nice sight from Natura was off in the distance, we could see The Rock of Gibraltar and further the background the mountains of Northern Morocco.

Gibraltar is on the right and Morocco ‘s Jebel Musa, Mount Moses is on the left.

Gibraltar and Jebel Musa (Mount Moses), above the Spanish town of Cueta, were, according to mythology, two of the Pillars of Hercules. The myth goes that the Strait of Gibraltar was created by Hercules using super human strength to create a sea passage from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. In doing so, he created these two mountains marking the entry to the Mediterranean. However the Strait was formed, Gibraltar, a British Overseas Terretory, and its counter part, the Spanish Autonomous City of Cueta, on the Moroccan coast, are at strategic points at the entrance to the Mediterranean. Both have been subject to invasions, foreign control and countless wars. The current political situation is that in each case, territory that should belong to Spain (Gibraltar) and Morocco (Cueta) are held by foreign powers. Gibraltar citizens have voted twice to remain British and the Spanish majority Cueta residents seem happy with the status quo.

After our four nights at Costa Natura, we took the short taxi ride into Central Estepona. Bill’s cousin Anne and her husband Vijay, own two apartments in Estepona’s Puerto Alto Urbanización, a short distance from the Harbor. Anne and Vijay offered to let us stay at one of their units, so Bill and I checked in to Apartment Vikram, named after one of their sons. The apartment was very comfortable, had a great sea/harbor view and was very convenient for exploring this cute coastal town. We took a couple of walks exploring Estepona’s harbor, beachfront and old Town.

One of our walks included a stop ar El Orchidario de Estepona (The Estepona Orchid House). The orchid display was a little disappointing because so few were blooming. That may be a seasonal thing. It was fun walking through seeing some in bloom and imagining what it might look when things were in full bloom.

There are plenty of restaurants near the apartment. We enjoyed sushi one night. I was amused that a sushi restaurant couldn’t, at first, find their Sake, but eventually a nice warm Sake appeared at our table. The sushi was good, somewhat different in presentation that at home, but good, non-the-less. The next night we enjoyed Indian. The masala sauce was sweeter than we are used to. We had chicken tikka masala, spicy grilled shrimp, palak paneer and garlic naan. The food was good, but if you remember, we had an excellent Indian meal in Amsterdam. This did not quite meet that standard, but we certainly enjoyed it.

After three enjoyable nights in town in Estepona, we rented a car and headed east. Now you might think, “wait, you are already on the east coast of Spain, how can you drive east?” If you look at a map of Spain, the Spanish coast from Almeria to Gibraltar is a generally east-west, with a slight tilt to the North as you head east. After Almeria the coast is generally north-south. We had a four hour drive to reach Mojácar. After a two year delay, we were ready to celebrate the wedding of our nephew Kyle and his bride Ida.

The wedding was a 4 day event, starting with a family pizza night. Our restaurant for the evening was La Murralla, located high up in the Pueblo Mojácar, one of the most beautiful white houses villages in Almeria. Our hotel was on La Playa Mojácar, but the pueblo was a 10 minute drive up a costal ridge. I assume the pueblo was built high on ths ridge for defensive reasons. The food and wine were great and the views spectacular.

After dinner, we had a short walk around the pretty pueblo.

Mojácar Pueblo

On Friday evening, Ida’s family hosted a tapas and paella dinner at their Finca, just a 20 minute drive away. A finca is a plot of rustic land. Rustic land, was usually used for agricultural purposes, but today is oftentimes recreational. The Knutsen Finca is a little of both. Two gorgeous homes, owned by Ida’s Father and Uncle, surrounded by gorgeous grounds, a large infinity pool overlooking the valley and the family’s olive grove and vineyards. The Grove is an active olive growing farm and the vineyard produces a beautiful Vino Tinto Crianza. In fact, our departing gift was a bottle of the olive oil and the wine was served both at the Friday evening rehearsal dinner and for dinner after the wedding

The wedding was planned for 1 PM, Saturday. It was a beautiful warm sunny day. Shortly after 12:30 we boarded the 3 buses to take us to the wedding location. You might ask why so many buses, Well, there were over 120 guests, from 24 nations, a credit to the international nature of the relationship. Ida is Norwegian, but studied at Carlton College in Minnesota, where she met Kyle. Both did graduate work in the UK and now live in Norway. Her family owns the Finca in Spain and both have travel extensively and have met friends along the way, many of whom traveled to Spain to celebrate with Kyle and Ida. The wedding was originally scheduled for June of 2020, but with Covid, it was postponed twice. While waiting, Kyle and Ida got on with their lives, getting a civil marriage in Norway and giving birth to their beautiful son Thomas. But, they were not to be denied their celebration on the Spanish coast.

The location of the ceremony was in Castillo de San Ramon/Las Escobetas. Completed in 1769, the castle, along with nearby military barracks, provided the little fishing village of Garucha with protection from Berber pirates who routinely attacked villages on the Spanish coast. The Berbers have occupied North Africa, most notably Libya and Morocco since the beginning of recorded hitory. With the protection, the village bagan to grow into a more commercial center.

In the background of the picture of Bill and me is Bill’s Brother Kip, holding his Grandson, Thomas.

The wedding couple’s transportation was a 1930s vintage Rolls Royce, beautifully restored. Full disclosure: I have no idea what the beautiful car is. I was told this by one of the bus drivers that were checking it out, while waiting for the ceremony to conclude.

The wedding was a beautiful affair in this historic building. Afterwards the buses took us all back to the Parador Hotel for the reception, dinner and dancing. By dancing time, I had hit a brick wall, so I excused myself and left the dancing to others and went up to the room.

The American custom is when people clink their glasses, the couple has to kiss. The Norwegian customs is that the kiss is while standing on their chairs. And if the guests stomp their feet the kiss is under the table.

On Sunday, after 4 days of non-stop celebrations, people began to say goodbyes. Bill and I were only going a short 10 kilometers up the coast to Playa Vera, so when one of our new friends, Axel and Ginger, suggested dinner at a seafood restaurant right on the Marina in Garucha, it was only a short drive to return for one last wedding related event.

Although Kyle and Ida had to postpone the celebration twice, the weekend was a fabulous success. Bill and I enjoyed seeing our family, meeting new friends and sharing in all the weekend fun. This four day event was the kernel that grew into our 9+ week Europe trip. We are now on the tail end of the trip. Only a week remains until we fly home. And of course, waiting patiently for us is Mouse. I wonder what goes through his mind when we are gone so long.

We are now in Vera and will go to Torremolinos on Thursday to visit friends from home. With that, I will stop for now. I will have one more blog, wrapping up this trip. I will do that sitting on our patio in Cathedral City. Until then!

Bordeaux, Barcelona and Greece

We arrived at Saumur station with plenty of time to catch our 8:01 train. This trip was in 3 segments, first a 40 minute ride to Tours, Then a 5 minute trip to St. Pierre des Corps. I tried to find a way to make that a single connection, but apparently, even though the two stations are close together and frequent service between the two, there are no trains to go directly to St. Pierre des Corps from Saurmur without the change in Tours. After our mishap in Marne-La-Vallée, we were very careful and making sure we were at the right place and right time.

It wasn’t a particularly long train day, as we arrived in Bordeaux just after noon. After taking a taxi to our Airbnb, our host checked us in and gave a tour of the apartment. First, remember this was to have been for 6 of us. It would have been Brian and Gary and our friends, Peter and Mark, who recently moved from Palm Springs to Greece, joining us. The apartment is huge, just under 2000 square feet.

This was a gorgeous apartment in a 18th century building right on the Garonne River. It was conveninent to transportation, with a Tram stop right in front. The neighborhood was multi-cultural, with lots of Middle Eastern, Chinese restaurants and Eastern European cafes, and shops. I heard a lot of languanges other than French as we walked the area. As I mentioned, Peter and Mark were coming later in the day. They eventually got to the apartment around five and we chilled for a while, enjoying a little wine and then heading out for dinner. There were so many restaurants to choose from, we walked until we found a nice restuarant. We also found a cute little gay bar/cafe with sidewalk tables called Sweeney Todd’s. It was literally around the corner from our apartment.

For our first full day in Bordeaux, we decided to walk along the Garonne, as far as La Cité du Vin, The City of Wine in English, is a museum dedicted to the history of wine. It was very interesting and we would have spent hours there and not seen everything. We stayed a couple of hours, viewing several of the video presentations, playing with some of the interactive exhibits and finally enjoying a glass of Bordeaux on the observation level. It was a fun couple of hours we learned a lot about wine. Afterwards, we decided to cross the river and return on right bank. The right bank of the Garonne is far less developed that the left. Lots of open space, RV camping, boat clubs, parks and even some rather large homeless encampments. We stopped at a funky bar along the River for a nice cold beer and then continued on to the Pont Pierre, the bridge right in front of our apartment. This bridge was built by Napolean Bonaparte.

It was a nice walk along the river, the stop at the wine museum was a nice addition.

I realize I didn’t take any pictures of us in the wine museum, just shots of the building and a few of the interior exhibition rooms.

We had 4 nights in Bordeaux with no particular plans for dinner, so we would walk around in evening until we found something that loooked nice. We mostly ate in the outdoor seating, which is so common in France, and has been long before Covid. As far as touristy things, we booked a city tour by bike and we booked a small group tour to St. Emilion.

It was about a half an hour walk to our bike tour meeting point and we were ready to ride. Our bilinqual tour guide who spoke English and French was informative and made our 3 hour ride around the city very interesting. We did have a little 10 minute rain which made the pavers slick. Peter hit a particular slick area and went down, the tour guide turned to see what happened and went down also. Although neither was injured, Peter’s bike did not survive and after several attempts to fix it our guide decided to park it, rent one of the many city bikes available and get on with the tour.

Our next day was filled with a 5 and 1/2 hour trip to St. Émilion There has been wine making in Saint Émilion since the Roman times and there are remants of the Roman structures still visible in the Village, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1999. The wines of Saint Émilion are typically red blends, particularly Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Savignon. Bill and I really like red blends, so we expected to enjoy our tastings. Our tour had only English speakers, since it was the four of us and one other couple from Canada. it was about an hour drive to Saint Émilion where we toured the village before heading out to the vineyards.

After the village stop, we had two additional stops to taste wine. Our first tasting was at Château Du Tailhas. It was in a fairly non-descript building, but the Château du Tailhas Pomerol blend is a complex blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. It was a dark red that had showed the complexity of its blending. A very pleasant wine. At the second stop, we toured two wineries owned by the same family. Château Tour Baladoz, is a traditional winery, with oak barrels and ceramic wine tanks. While its sister winery, Château La Croizille, is a modern facility with stainless steel wine tanks. It is very modern looking. However, the wines produced by both, from the same grapes are similar. Again, complex red blends, with a fruity nose and complex tastes that play delightfully with your palate. I think I could drink only St. Émilion blends and be very happy.

Our tour lasted almost 6 hours and with all the wine, the food and the ride, we were tired and ready for a nap when we got back to Bordeaux. After another evening stopping by Sweeney Todds and dining at Symbiose, a restaurant that Peter had heard about, that was also recommended by our hosts, and by our tour guide. Our guide offerred to call and make reservation for us. As it was, they only had space early, and since it was only a short walk from our tour drop off, we decided to forgoe our naps and head directly to dinner. The restaurant was very nice and, for once, we ate inside. The food was what you would expect at a French restaurant in France, was well prepared, with excellent service and, of course, Bordeaux wines. It was perfect for our last night in Bordeaux

Our train did not depart until 10:30 and we were a short 7 minute tram ride to the station, so we had a leisurely breakfast, packed up and headed to the station. Our ride to Bordeaux was a single connection through Narbonne and we were in Barcelona by late afternoon. Bill and I planned to stay at the Axel Hotel, a gay hotel right in the center of Barcelona. While Peter and Mark went to Sitges, to see friends of theirs, who used to live in Palm Springs. So Bill and I were on our own in Barcelona. We had a nice room, with a cute stain glassed in corner patio, which was great for morning coffee, but a little too warm the remainder of the day. We did not do any tours in Barcelona, we just opted to walk the city and see what we could find. We only had 3 nights there. We did send home one more bag, full of all the biking clothing and gear. We would not be needing that again on this trip. Although expensive, it is really nice to be down to one bag each for the remainder of the trip.

On Saturdy morning, we flew to Athens. Originally, Peter and Mark were supposed to fly with us, but one of their friends in Sitges had a 70th birthday party on Saturday night, so they decided to stay the extra night, while Bill and I flew as planned. Now we had an unplanned day in Athens. Peter and Mark would meet us at our hotel on Sunday afternoon and we would drive to their house about an hour from Athens. We didn’t get to the hotel until around 5 PM. We rested a bit and then decided to walk aroud and find something to eat. Bill had seen online, a gay cafe not far from our hotel, so we decided to check it out. The restaurant, called Rooster, had a large outside dining area right on a shaded square in the center of town. Again, dinner was a simple affair, but just what we wanted. The next day, we decided to walk up to the Acropolis. I am not yet comfortable with crowds at tourist sites, so we opted not to go inside the walls, but to walk around. We then headed back toward our hotel and stopped the Rooster for drinks and a snack. Afterwards, we went back to our hotel to wait for Peter and Mark.

While we were sitting at Rooster, I noticed a handsome young man across from us. He had classic Greek looks, enough so, he could be a model for any of the many statues from the classical Greek period.

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Peter and Mark picked us up in their car and we headed to their house. Until March, Peter and Mark lived in Palm Springs, but they decided to retire and move to Greece. Peter, who is Greek and speaks the languange and Mark, who does not, have purchased a hillside house overlooking the Gulf of Euboea. They bought the house in 2020 and between covid and construction they are just now getting settled in their new place. They have great sea views from the various terraces of the property. Across the gulf is Euboea, also known as Evia.

Our plan was to take it easy after several weeks of being on the go. A quiet few days would be most welcome. We did a walk with Peter along the coast in Oropos, we had dinners on the water front and Peter also cooked a couple of meals. Peter is a great cook and enjoys preparing tasty but healthy meals.

Peter has not fully retired, but is expected to do so next month. So, we had time with him in the mornings and then in afternoon he worked remotely from home until about dinner time. One day we decided to drive over to Evia for a little sight seeing and lunch. Evia is connected to the mainland by a bridge over the Euripos Strait, which is only 40 meters wide at its most narrow point. If was a fun, but quick day, since Peter had to be back in time for work. We took the ferry from Oropos to Evia and then drove back using the bridge.

Our last day in Greece, Peter, Bill and I went to the beach. We hung out at one of the many beach clubs just down from the house. We had a great morning, into afternoon. Bill and stayed at the beach club while Peter went shopping. Afterwards, he picked us up and we headed home.

Early the next morning, Mark drove us to Athens airport for our flight to Madrid with connecting service to Málaga. And with that, I am going to end this blog here. I know it covered a lot, but I was trying to catch up. We are now in Estepona, Spain, having arrived on Thursday and we will be here until next Thursday, when we head to our nephew, Kyle and his wife, Ida’s celebration of their wedding. But that is a story for the next blog. Until then!

Loire Valley Cycling

We left Brugge midday to take the short train to Brussels. Our train to the Loire Valley departed at 6:30 AM the next day, so we could not get a train out of Brugge early enough to make the connection, not that I would have wanted to in the first place. We chose the Brussels Midi Pullman Hotel, a hotel right in the train station. You may remember the name Pullman in association of the first sleeper cars in the United States. The Pullman brand expanded to luxury hotels, often times in or near train stations. The Pullman group inspired a still famous European brand, The Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, a very popular European travel brand. In its early days in the 19th Century, Wagon-Lits mirrored the rail sleeping car and train station hotels, the Pullman was doing in the United States. Accor Hotels acquired the Pullman brand 1991 and changed all the Pullman Hotels to Sofitels. The Pullman brand was resurrected by the company in 2007, the Brussels hotel was one of the first to carry the revived brand. Our stay in Brussels was short and early the next morning we were on our way to France.

After a little confusion in Marne La Vallée, which resulted in us standing on the platform watching our train pull away, quick work on John’s part got us back on the road and we arrived into Saumur with plenty of time before out scheduled shuttle to Loire Life Cycling.

Loire Life Cycling is run out of a former farm house near the village of Parçay les Pens. Our hosts, Jon and Alison, are British ex-pats who fell in love with the Loire Valley and moved to France and in 2009 started Loire Life Cycle. Unlike the bike trip we just completed in Holland and Belgium, the activity this week is called a center based biking adventure. All week, we stayed each night in the Farmhouse and each day, a different cycling itinerary, with options were presented. All rides were self guided, with the assistance of information and suggestions from Jon, and the provided GPS tracks to make sure we didn’t get lost. Some days the rides were one-way and the shuttle took us back to the farm, other days, the ride was a round trip back to the farm.

At the farm house, breakfast was provided each day. A nice assortment of breads, cheeses, meats, cereals and fruits accompanied by french press coffee. I don’t know how French a French Press, is, but it does make a strong pot of coffee. Now a word about half and half. You may not know, that both Bill and I like half and half (lots of it) in our coffee. Half and half is not common in Europe. In the Netherlands they had a product, Koffie Room, which was a nice approximation. But in France, I had to ask Alison what I should buy. She recommended Crème Liquide and had some for me to try. It was great, but the container was so small that in a couple of days I needed to buy some more, so I went to the market found the package and bought several. But when I tried it in my coffee, if was very thick. What I had not noticed is that Crème Liguide comes in the 12 percent fat variety, perfect for coffee and the 30 percent variety. I had purchased 3 containers of 30 percent. The perfect solultion would be to combine regular milk and the 30 percent and get close to the15 percent fat product we are used to. Bill and I could now enjoy our coffee.

Our lunches were at cafes while riding the bikes. One day, we bought makings for lunch at a local market and had sandwiches on the grounds of a Château. After the tasting, we wanted to buy two glasses of wine to go with our picnic lunch. At this particular wine cave, they could sell us wines by the bottle and could give a a free wine tasting of 6 wines, but could not sell us a glass, so the host just gave each of us a glass each to enjoy with lunch.

Dinners at the farm were wonderful. Alison is a great cook. She served locally available produce and meats and made tasty and beautifully presented meals. Each meal began with a starter, had a main course, followed by a cheese course consisting of a selection of 3 cheeses, which changed daily. Then dessert. Alison is a very talented cook and clearly took pride in her culinary creations.

With the beautiful weather, dinner was outside on the patio.

In the picture above you can see the six of us. They can accomodate 8 people, but with Brian and Gary cancelling so late, the extra spaces were not filled. Our companions for the week were Christopher and Louise from England. Louise is next to me and Christopher across from Bill. The other couple was John and Heather from British Columbia. We were a great group. We enjoyed each others company. Some days we rode together and other days we met up somewhere along the route.

After getting our bikes fitted on Sunday afternoon, we were ready for our first ride Monday morning. As was the case each day, we had choices of rides. First, the basic ride as a 17 mile ride to the Loire River and the town of Langais. You could park the bikes, walk around town and take the shuttle back to the farm or wait for the shuttle in the afternoon. Or, you could chose from serveral extensions. The first was to Château Villandry, which was 7 miles upriver from Langaeis and then ride back to Langeais for the shuttle pickup. This was the option that all 6 of us chose.

After enjoying lunch at a sidewalk cafe in Langeais, we crossed the Loire and headed up river to Villandry.

We chose Villandry for its impressive gardens, but it has an impressive history. The lands where an ancient fortress once stood were known as Columbine until the 17th century. They were acquired in the early 16th century by Jean Le Breton, France’s Controller-General for War under King Francis I. A new Château was constructed around the original 14th-century keep where King Phillip II of France once met Richard I of England to discuss peace.

The château remained in the Le Breton family for more than two centuries until it was acquired by the Marquis de Castellane. During the French Reveloution  the property was confiscated and in the early 19th century, Emperor Napoleon acquired it for his brother Jerome Bonaparte.

In 1906, Joachim Carvallo purchased the property, financed by his wife Ann Coleman, who was an American steel heiress to the Coleman fortune. Extensive time, money, and devotion were then poured into repairing it and creating extraordinary gardens. Its famous Renaissance gardens include a water garden, ornamental flower gardens, and vegetable gardens. The gardens are laid out in formal patterns created with low box edges. In 1934, Château de Villandry was designated a Monument Historique. Like all the other châteaux of the Loire Valley, it is a World Hertiage Site.

On Tuesday, our choice of rides were a basic ride to Bourgueil, another village on the Loire, with two optional rides. Once again, all six of us chose the ride to Bourgueil with an extension to the Château de Miniere

The origins of the Château de Minière date back to the 15th century and began as a fortified farm. Later on, it became a manor house, before becoming a Château in the 16th century. The Château was extended with its final wing when Colonel du Soulier joined the Espinay family. This family also owned Château d’Ussé, located on the other side of the Loire. I tried to find out who Colonel du Soulier was. I was able to find a du Soulier, who was a French General during the Revolution, but I am not certain, this is this same one that was associated with this Château. I think this was the least impressive of the Châteaux that we saw during the week.

Our next day’s ride had a time certain for all of us to be at the Bouvet Ladubay Wine Caves. Before the caves, we rode to Saumur, spent time walking around the village right along the Loire. Then at 3:40, we had an appointment for a group tour of the Bouvet Ladubay Wine Caves. Bouvet Laubay is an important producer of sparkling wines in the Loire Valley. Remember the only sparkling wines that an be called Champagne, are wines from the Champagne wine region. Even though the wines at Bouvet Ladubay are produced in the same rigorous way of those in Champagne, by law they cannot be referred to as Champagne. Now our tour of the wine caves at Bouvet Ladubay was novel in that the whole tour in the dark caves was on vintge bicycles. After the tour, we all got to sample several of their sparking wines.

Our next riding day, did not involve the Loire River, or Châteaux along the river. It was a lovley ride through rural Anjou, a stop for coffee on Lac de Rillé and finally a stop at Cháteau de Lathan. As with all of our rides, this day featured small, low traffic volume lanes. I always felt safe and could enjoy the passing countryside. We all rode together for this day. At the Château, we were able to go inside the main house. It wasn’t as impressive as I had anticipated. First, the €5 entry fee is disparately needed. The building needs serious renovations. Our host was the great great grand daughter of the orginal owner and builder. The house is is disrepair, but the gardens are well kept. There are currently 3 different descendents of the original owner living in 3 of the other homes on the property, but the main building is open on the ground floor, for what I would not call a tour, but just an explanation of the history of the family and building. It was a nice stop, non-the-less and we all had a picnic lunch on the grounds.

Our final day of riding was questionable for a while. We woke up to fairly heavy rain. A check of the forecast indicated clearing by mid-morning. Bill and I decided to take it easy until the rains passed and then make a decision. In the end, Bill decided he had had enough riding and stayed at the farm, while I set out for the Loire, once again. Our last day included the villages of Varennes on the right bank and Montsoreau on the left bank. Once on the left bank, I rode down river, to the area known as the Troglodytes, which are homes and businesses built right into the steep cliffs that along the river. Even though it had rained hard in the morning, the afternoon was bright and sunny and because of the morning rains, quite humid. It was a perfect end to a beautiful week in the Loire.

Our week in the Loire Valley came to an end. Jon and Alison had arranged a taxi to take us back to Saumur for an 8:01 train to Tours with continuing connetions to Boardeaux, where we would spend several days with our friends, Peter and Mark.

I cannot express how much we enjoyed our Loire stop. The accomodations at the farm house, the great rides, the wonderful meals and the perfect hospitality of our hosts made for a great week.

Next stop – Boardeaux.

BTW during our train ride, we received this picture from our Loire Valley host, Alison, with a caption, “So this is what we eat Saturday lunchtime, bet you didn’t realize you’d left so much!” You would think they would get tired of cheese, well maybe not.

Amsterdam to Brugge – 7 day Bike Trip

We had originally planned to get an early start on our first day of cycling to Brugge, Belgium, However, our houseboat host heard our planned route and suggested we stop at her house on our way out of town.

She lives in a modern houseboat on the other side of the Amstel River as we were heading out of town. So we made arrangements to stop by around noon.

After our brief stop we were on the trail headed to Woerden. There are two options for the first day of the Amsterdam to Brugge bike tour. You can bike all the way to Gouda or you can break it up in two days by stopping in Woerden. Since we had planned on being with Brian and Gary, we decided to break up the ride to give everyone a chance to get acclimated to the bikes.

Our route took us along the Amstel River, next to small canals and through the low land polders. The use of polders increased the land available for agriculture and villages. A polder is a piece of land that has been reclaimed from the sea. All those windmills in the Netherlands used to have the job of keeping the water pumped out of the low lying polders. You can imagine the amout of work and infrastructure needed to keep the higher sea levels out. Around 20 percent of the land area in Holland are polders. It all made for some interesting riding.

The monument 13 Mei 1941, marks the location of a German light bomber, (Jubba 5) that crashed killing all but one on board. If interested, you can expand the text and read the English version of the story.

Here is the strava post of our Amsterdam to Woerden ride:

https://www.strava.com/activities/7179361927

After a restful sleep, we woke up in Woerden ready to get on the road to Gouda. This would be our shortest ride of the week, only 25 miles. It is actually much closer than that, but to make the ride a little longer and more interesting, the route deviated from a straight path. Again, the ride was through polders, along canals and into Gouda. So most of you are probably familiar with the name Gouda, as in cheese. Most of us woud pronounce that like “goo dah.” The Dutch pronunciation is more like “how dah,” with aspirated “h.” I expect the more common “goo dah” is just fine and if you went into a market at home and asked for “how dah” cheese, you would be met with a blank stare.

Here are a few pictures along the ride.

Once we arrived in Gouda, we took a walk around the charming town. The highlight is the town square, where the Gothic city hall is located. Finished in 1450, the Stadhuis is the oldest Gothic city hall in the Netherlands. Behind city hall is a large open space, where the Thursday cheese market is located. Unfortutunately, we weren’t in Gouda on Thursday and missed the maket. Also on the square, is the Goudse Waag, Gouda Weighing House. With all that cheese being sold by weight, it is not suprising there a large commercial scale. The Waag was completed in 1668. Today it is the Gouda Cheese Museum. The last important structure is the Gothic Sint Jan (St. John) Reformed Church. Built in the 16th century as a replacement of an earlier chuch which burned in 1552. At 123 meters, it is the longest church in the Netherlands. It is notable for its high spires and 72 stained class windows. During WWII, the windows were removed and taken to a safe place, so thay did not experience damage during the war.

Here is the link to my Strava post for the ride Woerden to Gouda.

https://www.strava.com/activities/7184476307

Day 3, Gouda to Papendrecht was a more of the same, dykes, polders, canals and small villages with the exception of our stop in the Unesco World Heritage Site in Kinderdijk. The site of 19 extant windmills. It is a must do stop, whether traveling by boat, bike or car. The windmills are a reminder of how much wind power was required to keep the polders dry. Bill and I had been here on our Basel to Amsterdam River Cruise a few years ago. We decided not to go inside the tight quarters Windmills.

The Strava Link for Gouda to Papendrecht is:

https://www.strava.com/activities/7189125206

After 3 very nice riding days, it rained hard in the overnight in Papendrecht and was still rainy in the early morning, A check of the weather showed a break was likely mid-morning. So donning our rain gear we hit the road headed for Willemstad. The good news is the rain never was hard and really only off and on for about an hour. After that the sun caused it to get a little warm with lots of humidity. Today’s ride was on the edge of the National Park de Biesbosch, a near 20,000 acres nature preserve. There are two ferries that let you access the Park, but on our travel day, one of the ferries was not running so we elected to ride the bridge route. It would have been too many miles to use the one operating ferry for a round trip into the park.The ride across the bridge over Hollands Diep gave us a taste of the wind conditions as we turned toward the North Sea coast. After arriving in Willemstad, we walked around the city to check it out. Willemstad was founded as Ruigenhil in 1585. The city’s current named dates to 1639. Willemstad, located at a strategic location on Hollands Diep, is a fortified 7 point star shaped city wall and canal.

You can check out our Papendrecht to Willemstad ride on Strava at:

https://www.strava.com/activities/7194830694

The rains from the previous day having passed, we had what I had along assumed would be the case, strong winds coming off North Sea. Given our direction of travel changed as we rode, the common theme was strong headwinds and rarely a tailwind. Riding into the wind is a lot like biking up hill. You just have to be slow and steady. Today’s ride took us across both Hollands Diep again and the Grevelingenmeer, which is a closed off section of the Rhine- Muese estuary.

As has been the case in other stops, we did a walk in Zierikzee after we arrived. The short rides we had each day allowed for leisurely strolls in each city.

Here is the Strava Link for the ride Papendrecht to Zierikzee:

https://www.strava.com/activities/7200150006

Next up was Day 6 – Zierikzee to Vlissingen. Another day of 20 plus mph winds. The ride started off with a 7 mile ride across the Zeelanbrug (Zeeland Bridge) accross the Eastern Sheldt River estuary, then hugging the coast of the Province of Zeeland to Camperland, where we picked up a ferry to cross the Veerse Meer. After that, it was only a short distance to Vlissingen, our last stop before Brugge.

Although right on the North Sea, Vlissingen did not impress us as much as the other stops did. We were able to walk along the sea wall, stop for cocktails at a couple of the seaside (windy) bars. One of the things we did notice is how close the sea lane is from the beach. Notice the navigational buoy right off the sand. We had a quiet dinner at the hotel and prepared for our last riding day, the next morning.

Strava Link Zierikzee to Vlissingen – https://www.strava.com/activities/7205809247

Day 7 to Brugge – Our ride direction and the fact that the wind was blocked by the higher dykes made for a much easier riding on this the last day.

We arrived in Brugge, packed up the bike stuff and headed out to explore the town. Brugge is a UNESCO World Historic sight. The city is just magical. Dating from the 9th century, the area has been know by various names. It’s city charter was issued in 1128. Below are some of the interestimg sights we took in while walking Brugge

The Strava link is:

https://www.strava.com/activities/7211237104

Strava Link – Vlissingen to Brugge- https://www.strava.com/activities/7211237104

So our Amsterdam to Brugge 7 day cycle tour comes to an end. We traveled 223 miles. All things considered, only one day disrupted by rain and even that was only an hour or so. Cool riding conditions and relative flat terrain made for easy riding, even if the wind tried to knock the effort up a bit. We feel a real sense of accomplishment. Next up Loire Valley Cycling.

Just a quick word about timing of the blog. I have been, behind due to internet issues. We are already in Barcelona, so I will try to get the Loire Valley and Bordeaux stops in the next day or so. We are going to be in Greece with Peter and Mark and they have really good internet.

Le Havre, Seebrugge and Amsterdam

Now on our own! Bill and I returned to the ship after saying goodbye to Brian and Gary. A quick word about the Celebrity Apex staff. When we first went to Brian and Gary’s suite after hearing from Gary that there was a problem, the room was full of people. Our suite host/Concierge, John, was packing the suit cases, a ship officer, whose name I failed to get, was on the phone making transportation arrangements and I quickly determined I wasn’t needed for that effort. So, we were there giving Brian and Gary our support. In a few minutes we were on our way to the pier to an awaiting taxi. I noticed a small but significant gesture from ship’s officer. She quietly handled Gary a £20 note, telling him this might come in handy. I thought this a small but telling act. It made me appreciate Celebrity Cruises culture. As a Marriott manager I always encouraged my staff to show a sincere interest in our guest’s experience. Clearly that idea is alive and well at Celebrity.

Back on board, we settled in, getting used to the idea that our travel experience had changed significantly. We had a quick cross channel sailing and arrived into Le Havre early the next morning.

The ship’s excursions again had no appeal. In different times, I might have liked to visit the Normandy beaches, but they were too far for a taxi and, as I have mentioned, we were not interested in bus excursions. So, Bill and I walked from the ship into town and explored the waterfront, walked through an urban park and made our way back to the ship. I know it doesn’t sound exciting. But, it is just what we needed after the drama of the day before.

It was a short distance (186 miles) to our next stop, so I don’t know what the captain did. I doubt he sailed in circles using fuel, so I assume he just sailed very slowly up the coast. Later on Bill and I will be back in Brugge as the final stop of our Amsterdam to Brugge bike trip, so we did not leave the ship. Seebrugge is the port for Bruggee, but is actually 20 some miles away from town. Since we’re are going to be there later, we just stayed onbord.

Again, a quick sail up the coast brought us to the entry to the canal that would take us into Amsterdam. Much of the land mass of the Netherlands is below sea level and the system of dykes and pumps manages the water and keeps the towns, villages and countryside from flooding. The windmills that you see all over The Netherlands were an integral part of this system. Today there are electrical and diesel powered pumps that do the jobs once done by the windmills. Today’s windmills are mostly homes, museums and serve other functions. Very few actually do the job they were originally built for.

Before retiring on our last night aboard Celebrity Apex, the Captain told us if we wanted to watch us transit the Ijmuiden Locks that we needed to be up around 3 AM. Well, as it happened, I had to get up for a bathroom break just bout that time and I was able to go out onto the balcony and see our large ship entering the lock.

The Ijmuiden Lock was opened in January of this year. It is a much larger lock that the one it replaced and has increase the size of vessls that can enter Amsterdam harbor.

Celebrity Apex in the Ijmuiden Locks
Since the nightime picture was not very revealing. Here is a picture from the internet of the new lock.

Bill and I have been to Amsterdam many times, and we had planned to have dinner at a few nice restaurants and enjoy our time on our houseboat. Brian, Gary, Bill and I decided to really do Amsterdam right and rent one of the canal boats in central Amsterdam. Our houseboat, the Prince Royal, was on Prinsengracht, directly across the canal from Anne Frank House. We had booked this large two bedroom, two bath housboat to share with Brian and Gary. Since they were no longer with us, we had lots of space.

The houseboat has a large modern kitchen and great room. Two fun areas were the pilot house, which you can see at the stern. This was a great room to see the passing boats on the canal, but still be warm and inside. The other place we liked to stay was the sitting area, on the deck in the bow of the ship. Below is a picture of Bill sitting on deck.

Below are some of the many boats passing our houseboat. Directly across from as was a pier for the boat tours to stop, to let passengers off for the Anne Frank House and museum. Our first full day was a beautiful sunny Sunday and the boat traffic constant.

When Bill and I were checking out the houseboat, we notice several flower pots on deck that seriously needed repotting. Bill offered to help our host, Chemelli, do the repotting. So on Wednesday afternoon, Chemelli came by with all the supplies and Bill and Chemelli made quick work of the repotting. Afterwards, as a thank you, Chemelli and her partner opened a bottlle of champagne and Bill and I supplied the hors d’oeuvres. It was a pleasant afternoon getting to know Chemelli and her partner.

Most of our time in Amsterdam was spent walking the city. All told, I logged 22.78 walking miles on Strava. We did have several nice dinners. Our favorite, was Restaurant Blauw, near Vondel Park. We have always enjoyed the Indonesan influence in Amsteram and one of our favorite meals is a Rijsttafel (Rice Table in English). This meal is a large bowl of rice accompanied by small portions of savory Indonesian meat dishes. It is an Indonesian version of Tapas.

Far More Food than we needed, but oh so delicious!

One thing we like to do when traveling is to say hello for cats we meet along the way. Here are a couple. We don’t see cats being walked very often, but it can happen. The owner of this one let me try it out.

So our quick six nights in Amsterdam came to a close. On Friday night, our last in Amsterday, we moved from our lovely houseboat to the Westcord Art Hotel. There we picked up up our rental bikes and trip information to begin the Amsterdam to Brugge 7 day bike ride. And that, is a good stopping point. Next up a fantastic 223 miles ride through Holland and into Belgium, to the Unesco World Heritage City – Brugge.

Ponta Delgada, Brest and Weymouth

After our 6 day crossing we arrived into Ponta Delgada, São Miguel Island, Azores, Açores in Portuguese. The Azores have been occupied by Europeans since the 15th Century. Although situated in the North Atlantic, the Azores have a mild climate due to the nearby passing, Gulf Stream. Portuguese is the official language. In all except São Miguel the dialect is very similar to the Portuguese spoken on the mainland. On São Miguel a very distinct dialect can be heard. But, to my untuned ear, it was all Portuguese to me.

Bill and I, along with our travel companions, Brian and Gary, had decided to avoid the bus tours offered by the cruise as a covid19 exposure management measure. The idea of being crammed into a bus with 60 others for any period of time was not appealing. Instead we booked a tour with a local taxi and it was just us and the fully vaccinated taxi driver. We planned a 4 hour circle tour that would get us back to the town with time for a walking tour.

Our tour stopped at a couple of vista points on our way up to the rim of the caldera of the long extinct Sete Cidades volcano.

These are pictures from the viewpoint on the eastern side of the island.

After stopping at the Vista point, we headed to a tea plantation to sample some tea, and as it turned out, to buy a selection of teas from their locally grown and produced teas.

It was a short stop at the tea farm, then on to Furnas. Furnas is a village in the caldera of the eponymous Furnas Volcano. Approximately 1400 residents live in houses surrounded by various steam vents from the Volcano. In my opinion, where there is steam, there is most likely magma. I don’t think I would be comfortable living on top of a Volcano.

After our stop in Furnas, we headed down the mountain, making our way back to Ponta Delgada. Along the way, we made a quick stop at Lagoa de Furnas.

Our taxi driver did not have a polished presentation that a tour guide might, but he was informative and we saw the same things the big bus tours have and we felt much safer on our own. Once back in Ponta Delgada, we walked around town and then headed back to the ship. Bill made one last stop. There was a public swimming area in the bay and Bill took a dip in Atlantic waters.

After Ponta Delgada, we had two more days at sea. We both spent time in the Spa and gym. I had a massage and a manicure/ pedicure, while Bill hung out in the Sea Thermal Suite, with its steamroom, dry sauna and relaxation room. I also did one of the Spin classes. During the two weekcruise, I did 7 spin classes. It is my way of getting some exercise to offset, the alcohol and food consumed on board. We had the 2nd Celebrity Chic night during our transit from the Azores to Brest, France.