Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Necessities of an Older Traveler

As I approach the age of 50 kicking and screaming, I reluctantly admit to having to change a few of my travel habits.  Actually it's been more like gradually adding new travel necessities to my suitcase and day pack:

Reading glasses - It all started with reading glasses.  How annoying to have to fish these out of the bottom of my purse while walking on the Champs Élysées just to glance briefly at my Paris city street map!  A grave inconvenience and new to me, since I never had to bother with vision correction any time before in my life.

Magnifying mirror - Related to the nuisance of vision correction is the need to tote along on one's travels a magnifying mirror of large enough size to apply makeup.  The one I use at home has a suction cup and adheres to the wall mirror in the bathroom.  It is approximately the size of a dessert plate and is just about as inconvenient and breakable to pack as one.

Earplugs - Aha!  At least this one's not attributable to my growing old, but to my husband's growing old, as his snoring is getting worse and worse.  Eventually I might have to add "enough money for separate hotel rooms" to my list of travel necessities.

Moleskin - Why yes, I did carry a small bit of self-stick moleskin to cover the occasional heel blister caused by arduous hiking through the Alps as a spry, young backpacker in Europe; but now I plaster the soles, toes, corns, and bunions of both my tired, blistered feet with rolls and rolls of Dr. Scholl's moleskin-plus every morning on vacation before heading out just to stroll the streets for coffee.

Friction block stick - Band-Aid's Friction Block Stick was the travel product du jour for me last summer.  Reduces rubbing on skin not only from shoes, but think also friction from clothing in other nasty areas of the middle-aged body such as chicken wing arms and less-than-firm thighs.

Spanx - I'd rather not talk about it.

Extra pillow - Whether needed for lumbar support while driving, or neck contour while sitting, or between-the-knee cushion while sleeping, I sure as hell didn't need to pack this suitcase space filler when I was young.

Small portable flashlight - That's right, don't want to fall and break a hip while fumbling through an unfamiliar hotel room to the bathroom at night.  Okay, maybe I'm not that old yet, but I have rammed my bare toe into a suitcase in the dark enough times to warrant my always sleeping with a travel flashlight next to my bed now.

So, these are a few of my favorite things.  Join me in a few years when I've added orthopedic walking shoes and a day of the week pill dispenser to my must-have travel accessories!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Photo Friday: Wine and Cheese

Still in food mode after a lovely Thanksgiving dinner, I present my one and only Food & Wine-magazine-worthy photo taken in Spain last summer.  I did not stage this photo.  These items were actually sitting exactly like this on a counter in the kitchen of a tiny mom-and-pop restaurant in Arcos de la Frontera.  I'm not a foodie by any stretch of the imagination, but I think this is so cool.

This is my Photo Friday link-up post to

Thursday, November 22, 2012

I Am Thankful

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for the wonderful, diverse people we have met, learned from, or merely encountered on our travels in Europe:

Antonio, our gondola driver in Venice.

Anna from Finland who taught us to build an igloo in Switzerland.
The wooden shoe carver in Gouda.
The violin player in Budapest.
Beefeater in London.
Woman on her way to a wedding in Seville.
A lonely matador in Madrid.
A precious toddler in Bavaria, Germany.
Our waiter in Seville.
Beautiful little girl in Tarifa, Spain.

H A P P Y   T H A N K S G I V I N G ! !

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Best Flamenco Deal in Town

Casa de la Memoria de Al-Andalus has got to be the best deal in town for flamenco dancing.  Just think about it:  you're in Andalusia, Spain, so a flamenco show is a must-see.  You prefer a smaller, authentic venue rather than a big, commercialized stage performance.  You don't want to have to pay for an expensive dinner for your whole family or even for a minimum drink order.  And if you have young children, you're not sure they can sit through the standard two hour flamenco show.

Welcome to the beautiful, affordable entertainment at Casa de la Memoria in Seville.  The traditional flamenco performance we attended in July was a sensational, captivating experience for our whole family.  The shows are entirely acoustic and take place in a small, enchanting gypsy den in the Barrio de Santa Cruz every night at 9:00 p.m. for one hour.  It is an intimate setting with folding chairs circling a small wooden stage.  No alcohol, drinks, or food is served.  Tickets are 15€ for adults and 13€ for students.  In my research I found no other flamenco show at this price nor less than two hours in duration.

Since seating is limited to 90 spectators per show and often sells out, we visited the sales window a few days ahead of time and purchased our tickets.  The staff in the small office speaks English and conveniently accepts credit card payments.  A calendar of nightly acts featuring various flamenco styles is posted in case you have a preference.

Our Monday night show began with the flamenco singer alone on stage, whose deep, sad songs set the tone for the folkloric tradition of the dance.  His rhythmic hand clapping, called palmas, set the tempo and accentuated the entire evening's performance.  He was then joined by a talented young acoustic guitarist.

Manuela Ríos, flamenco dancer in Seville,
smiles at the end of her performance.
When Manuela Ríos, our show's fabulous flamenco dancer, entered the room we were taken aback by her profound seriousness and her intensely emotional facial expressions as she danced.  (I was actually afraid at first that my 13 year old son might burst out laughing, as kids sometimes do out of embarrassment during extremely solemn occasions, but he didn't.)  The deep, dark mood of traditional flamenco comes from its roots as an artistic expression of the sorrow and despair of the conquered peoples of Andalusia during the Moorish occupation.

The mood lightened dramatically when Manuela's partner, Juan Diego Fernández, joined her on the platform.  Juan Diego's percussive footwork is mesmerizing and the two of them together are magical.  I highly recommend Casa de la Memoria's flamenco show for family entertainment.  My son, daughter, husband, and I truly enjoyed the evening and continued tapping our feet and clapping our hands well into the night back at our apartment.

{The audience was asked not to take photographs until the last 5 minutes of the performance, so most of my shots are of two very sweaty dancers.}

Friday, November 16, 2012

I Like Donuts

Photo by Douglas Wray

Surely you've seen this clever analogy, above, float across your Facebook feed by now.  

So, in the interest of promoting useless personal information via social media and speaking of liking donuts (which I do, tremendously), I thought I'd share what my daughter and I found at a pastry shop in Seville, Spain:  a donut cake and donut gelato.

Really?  I thought donuts were strictly an American fat-fried, sugar-coated, artery-clogging confection.  I certainly knew there were more refined versions in Europe such as the Berliner (German), the Beignet (French), and the churro (Spain), but these American, glazed, dough-ring replicas really caught us by surprise!

This is my Photo Friday link-up post to

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Palaces of Oberschliessheim

Though his are the most famous, King Ludwig was not the only king who built palaces in Bavaria, Germany.  With a home base in Munich you can visit any number of interesting palaces and beautiful gardens.  One of those is Oberschliessheim Palace in the village of Oberschliessheim very near Munich, which was built as a summer residence for Bavarian rulers.

The grounds are actually home to three palaces:  Old Schliessheim Palace, Lustheim Palace, and New Schliessheim Palace.  The old palace is what was built as a country house by William V in 1598.  It was heavily destroyed in World War II but has been reconstructed and is available to tour.

Photo from
Lustheim Palace is more of an Italian villa style building built in 1684 for Maximilian II Emanuel and his wife, the Austrian princess Maria Antonia.  This residence houses the second largest collection of Meissen porcelain in Germany, and although this tour wouldn't interest young children, I have been intrigued by it both as a teenager and as an adult.  Meissen tableware and gallant figurines influenced porcelain making in all of Europe in the 18th century.

The New Schliessheim Palace was constructed in 1701 - 1704, and was enlarged two decades later.  The interior of the palace is a baroque masterpiece, especially the impressive Grand Hall, Grand Gallery, and main staircase.  Several rooms in the palace now exhibit famous baroque paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck, and other Italian, German, and Spanish artists.

As always, I love the palace garden.  Oberschliessheim's gorgeous garden is one of the rare preserved baroque gardens in Germany and is still largely in its original form.  There are canals and other water features.

Oberschliessheim Palace is closed on Mondays, but otherwise open from 9 am to 6 pm from April to September and 10 am to 4 pm from October to March.  No guided tours are offered but audio guides are available for rent.  Admission is 4.50€ for adults and free for children under 18.

Related posts:
Chocolate Making in Broc, Switzerland
Wooden Shoe Making in Gouda, the Netherlands
Cheese Making in Gruyères, Switzerland
Violin Making in Mittenwald, Germany
Glass Making in Murano, Italy
Porcelain Making in Delft, the Netherlands

Friday, November 9, 2012

Photo Friday: Lago di Garda

I've just been inspired by this glorious shot my uncle recently sent me to post about the lovely region of northern Lake Garda.  What a vacation dream destination.

This is my weekly link-up post for Photo Friday at

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Canal House Apartment in Gouda

Besides being one of my favorite towns in Europe, Gouda in the Netherlands is also affordable for a family to visit.  Our studio apartment in the attic of a cute little canal house cost us only 75€ a night for the four of us in 2010.  It wasn't the most spacious of units we've ever stayed in, nor did it have a kitchen (only a microwave), but it was clean and well-located near the main square.

Aan de Gouwe Bed and Breakfast in Gouda, the Netherlands.

The apartment, Aan de Gouwe Bed and Breakfast, is owned and run by a young family that lives downstairs.  We booked the unit on, a service we've used more than once and are always very pleased with.

What impressed us the most about our stay at Aan de Gouwe though, was the breakfast spread this young mother put out for us every morning, even whilst her toddler sat quietly in a high chair in her kitchen.

This kind owner would set a table right outside on the sidewalk and bring out dish after dish after dish of food, fresh and warm from her own kitchen.  Stacks of pancakes with butter and syrup, a pile of bacon, scrambled and hard-boiled eggs, cheeses, yogurt, a large breakfast crumb cake, stroopwafels, a variety of American cold cereals, juices, coffee, cold milk, toast and Nutella.  What a great way to start each and every travel day!

And did I mention the owner was about 9 1/2 months pregnant when we were there, yet she climbed up and down these steep, narrow canal house stairs (below) with more vigor than even my kids could muster?  It made me nervous every time she ambled up balancing a tray of coffee and tea or fresh flowers for our room.

Room with a view towards Gouda.

Gouda is only a 50 minute train ride from Amsterdam, and Aan de Gouwe Bed and Breakfast is an easy walk from the train station.

Bicycles can be rented at NS Rijwielshop Gouda on the north side of the main train station and are not only a great way to get around Holland, fun for the whole family, but also a Dutch way of life.  The tourist office, known as the VVV, in Gouda at Markt 27, is very helpful with accommodations and other activities.

Aan de Gouwe Bed and Breakfast.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Night Spain Won the Euro Soccer Championship

The reference at the bottom is hoping
for a third straight major tournament title.
Without even planning it, we have been, on two occasions, in the right place at the right time with regard to soccer championships in Europe.  As even most Americans now know, soccer is colossal in Europe.  It is not just a sport, but a lifestyle, a matter of national identity and fierce loyalty.  Thus to witness a European country's celebration of an international soccer championship can be a cultural event as unique as Oktoberfest, Carnival, or a royal wedding.  Or it can be just mass chaos and craziness.

One day visiting Amsterdam in July 2010, we began to wonder why the streets and canals seemed to be closing down and residents were suspiciously appearing in droves dressed in bright orange.  We were surprised to find ourselves in the middle of the wild celebrations to greet Holland's returning World Cup soccer team from their second place victory in South Africa in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

So we were amused by the coincidence, especially since we don't follow international soccer, to find ourselves in Spain this summer on the day of the final match of the European soccer championships:  Italy against defending champion Spain.

Souvenir soccer jerseys were for sale on every corner in Seville, but my 13 year old son was disappointed to find the going price well over 50€ and not worth almost his entire souvenir budget.  He did make sure to get a flag though, to show his support that night during the game.

By late afternoon little television sets were being wheeled out of every restaurant and tapas bar to the patio where large groups were expected to gather.  Not to be stuck without seating for this major event, we donned any red outerwear we could find in our luggage (my daughter had no luck with this) and headed out early for our favorite little tapas bar just steps away from the front door of our apartment in the Barrio de Santa Cruz.

We had already befriended a cute young waiter at tiny little Casa Carmelo earlier that week and he eagerly greeted us this night to paint the Spanish colors on my son's face and daughter's arm.  Hubby and I ordered our daily ration of sangria and a variety of tapas:  patatas bravas, pescaito frito, calamares, and pollo al ajillo.  Yummmmmm.

The game was very exciting.  Each time there was a goal the crowd roared and the cooks from several surrounding restaurants would rush out of their kitchens balancing white chef's hats on their heads to watch the replay.  Particularly entertaining for our group of spectators was the large family of Italians seated at the bar who unfortunately for them chose this night to be in Spain, but I think they handled the jeering and in-your-face fist pumps with a fine show of sportsmanship.

The growing crowds on Avenida de la Constitucíon.
After Spain's 4-0 victory, my daughter and I were bushed and went to bed, but my husband and son decided to brave the crowds and craziness on the streets of Seville.  My husband is surely glad I didn't go because in retrospect he would've had to fight off my panic with a stick when our son was heedlessly separated from him on the grand Avenida de la Constitucíon.  It is a testament to how often we had already navigated the narrow twisting alleys of the barrio before that night, that my son managed to find his way back to the apartment by himself.  I don't know who looked more shocked when he knocked on the door - him or me.

Photos from the frenzy:

Climbing into the fountain at Puerte de Jerez.

We had to laugh the following day when we ate dinner at an Italian restaurant in Ronda, Spain, and saw this little bit of mischievousness below:

Friday, November 2, 2012

Photo Friday: Ornamental Ironwork in Spain

They sure have a dazzling way with ornamental ironwork in Spain.  A few of my favorites:

In the town of Ronda, Spain.

Entrance to a residential patio in Seville.

Royal Palace gates in Madrid.

This beautiful forged cross is in the tiny Plaza de Santa Cruz in Seville.

Window decoration in Seville.

On the Puente Nuevo Bridge in Ronda.

Lots of wrought iron in Ronda.

This is my weekly link-up post to Photo Friday at
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