FC: EUROPE | SUMMER 2013 | OUR AMAZING JOURNEY
1: Anyone can travel. But its not about travel. It is about the JOURNEY A journey does not need elegance, nor does it need luxury . To Learn from the Journey You need an OPEN HEART ... TIME... and maybe a cup of tea..
2: 2013 has been a whirlwind. It is hard to imagine that a year ago Megan was graduating Harvard and we met Jacob for the first time, Lauren had not yet finished her preschool certification, and Julie was traveling to New York for extended stays! This year we have seen the wedding of Megan and Jacob, Lauren successfully getting work as a preschool teacher, Yarin landing a job as artistic director for a feature film, and Julie landing an exclusive, highly regarded voice acting agent. And we are so proud to be parents of well launched offspring!!! With time on our hands and on our side, we decided quite spontaneously to do something that we only dreamed about nearly forty years ago... and that was to bum around Europe, only this time with the experience of years of traveling we decided to make it easier by joining an organized tour. Intrepid Tours did the hard work of providing the itinerary, accommodation and transportation! So we took off from San Diego on the direct flight to London on Wednesday May 8, and then on to Rome, our first stop on the eight week adventure... And this is the story... | CHAPTER 1: Italy | rome
3: Hotel Camelia is close to the station, simple and basic, clean and new. Rome is a huge city with so much history, making it difficult to get one's arms around this city in just three days. The city is well worn, a lived in city unlike Prague, a little shabby in places and yet in others it is magnificent. The layers of history makes you realize how timeless this city is. Huge palaces from medieval princes are built on top of ruins of the Roman Empire. Temples to the gods are reimagined as temples to the Church of Rome. Our overall impression was one of being overwhelmed by the throngs of tourists. Every age and every nationality is represented in the throngs. A major saving grace is that much of the older sections of the city of Rome is pedestrians only and the otherwise narrow deathtrap streets are pleasant enough to stroll along if you can find one devoid of the hoards, street buskers, pan handlers and camera snapping tourists. Not the romantic Roman experience I remember from our first trip here 37 years ago. The Forum back then was an open field one could wander through at the crack of dawn and imagine: the Roman emperor emerging, and peons and gladiators wandering the streets. Now it is paid admission with the obligatory audio guide and throngs following yellow, green or red flag bearing group leaders. We stayed away! For three days, we walked from one end of town to the other! Not much time to eat and the only meals were a takeout kosher Shabbat to go from the kosher restaurant that served us for dinner and lunch! (Schnitzel and grilled veggies were actually quite delicious). The rest of the time we survived on one gelato per day and a slice of pizza... hotel breakfasts was sustenance enough. The highlights were not the usual suspects, they were the off the beaten path places that surprise you... the gelato store that has 150 flavors, number one rated restaurant on trip advisor, or the untouristed museum that is more beautiful than the must see Villa Borghese which we could not see since they require advance booking and people are lining up! The quiet respite of the park of Villa Borghese was a welcome contrast from the busyness of the streets, however, finding a restroom or a quite spot to sit remained a challenge in this overcrowded place.
5: Huge palaces of medieval princes are built on top of ruins of the Roman Empire. Temples to the gods are reimagined as temples to the Church of Rome
6: Our first day the tour of the fountains was side tracked by a visit to the Musee Barberini, in the Palazzo Barberini, a beautiful princely palace off the crowd track. Paintings by Raphael and Caravaggio and Bernini. The museum houses Raphael’s La Fornarina, a portrait of a woman he loved. The faade and staircases are by Bernini and the ceilings are sculpted and painted by famous medieval Roman artists... From there our tour took on a life of its own, past all the “must See” sights of Rome. The second day took us through quiet neighborhoods and streets of Travestere and the banks of the river Tiber, past the ruins of the forum and the palace of Campidoglio. We squeezed our way though the throngs of shoppers on Via Del Corso to the square the Piazza Del Poppola, a wonderful wide open public square at the entrance to the city aligned with Via del Corso, setting up the magnificent sense of space that comes with finding openness in cramped quarters, combined with the centrality of the axis of alignment with the main street. | From there we escaped to relative calm in the park of Villa Borgese, with tree line streets dotted with sculpted Roman figures. The night time suckered us into a tourist trap of an opera/ballet concert in a cathedral. Our experience of similar performances in France had left a good impression and we were expecting much, this being the center of the operatic world. So maybe I am a bit of a music snob, because all the other tourist from around the world found the music and dance sufficiently wonderful to deserve vigorous applause, and I guess I applauded too out of sympathy for the performers, but my first impression of the performance made me wonder whether this was supposed to be a comedic overdramatized SNL version of opera and ballet with screeching sopranos and twirling tutus and violinist off key and pianos out of tune.. Anyway, the reward for this punishment was a pleasant walk home with a stop for gelato The Hotel Stella that Intrepid had booked for us was substantially short of stellar... its name bore no resemblance at all to the dingy carpet and chintzy bedspread look of the place.. We met our fellow travelers, all Ozzies and Kiwis, and mostly 20 to 40’s it seems, and mostly single. Sunday morning was a visit to Museum Massimo, a collection of wonderful Roman artifacts, statuary, mosaics and frescos that have been recovered mostly in and around Rome. It also housed the most astounding collection of antiquarian coins, from the 7th century BC and tells the story of Italy through coins! This was a welcome respite from the crowds, having arrived early enough to do the museum tour with scarcely any other visitors. The museum was housed in a stately palace, of the Massimo family. One of the highlights was a reconstruction of the rooms of a villa, dating from the first century AD and uncovered at the end the 19th century. This villa had its beautiful frescoes immaculately preserved and was quite unique in having so much of the structure ornately decorated, indicating a home of a wealthy person.
7: Our time in Rome was concluded with a visit to the Jewish Museum and a tour of the two synagogues. The museum was beautifully presented, with the typical Italian flair for style and design. The entry was a wall of old Torah covers in Italian brocade, from the 16th to the early 20th centuries. The museum does an excellent job in outlining the role of the Jews since the Hellenistic times, including some quotes from the Talmud of our sages that spoke of their visits to Rome, being impressed with the wealth but not with the Middot of the local Romans. The tour guide of the shul tour was by a young local Roman Jewess, clearly very proud of her community and the survival of the Jews in Rome through the centuries. Clearly the community continues to thrive... 14 shuls in a total Jewish population of 13,000, all orthodox, and we counted at least 8 kosher establishments in the ghetto neighborhood. We ended up buying kosher Jewish Italian dried salami for our journey. Who knows when we will next see kosher meat! Interesting fact about the Jews of Rome: they “belong” to the community and pay a “tax” according to their income which allows them use of all community facilities shuls, old age home community center and all the rabbis are employed by the Rabbinut, who assign them to a specific shul for a specific time All very democratic and is the reason for keeping the community strong and cohesive. We should learn something from them!
8: LUCCA and TUSCANY
9: SO the train ride from Rome to Lucca in part took us past some breathtaking views of the Mediterranean coast. With some trepidation as is required if you go with Intrepid... we were told that accommodation for the next 4 days in Lucca was shared apartments. Not assigned, blind luck of the draw... we ended up with four lovely sweet girls in a yucky, dingy old apartment uchhh. Lucca is excellently preserved walled city. The 16th century fortified wall is ringed with lovely greenbelt and has a wide open pathway on top of the wall ringing the city, which provided the venue for our first excursion: a stunning bike ride around the wall to a countryside riparian trail, alongside a wide flowing river with endless views of Tuscan landscape and mountains. The next stop was Pisa: the river Arno flows through Pisa as it does through Florence and gives some of the cityscapes a similar feel that of Florence. It is a bustling town and the main sites were buzzing with tourists from all over the world. Our itinerary took us from Pisa to Florence, but... We had enough of crowds, walking, art and cathedrals and cities by now and it was time for a detour... Shavuot was coming up and we needed a plan. So it was the obligatory viewing of the Leaning Tower and the Duomo and then...
10: Rented a car in Pisa and took off to the hill towns of Tuscany. Wonderful idea.Rick Steve’s book guided us to a wonderful converted farmhouse, Ponte a Nappo, in the shadow of San Gimignano: the host Andreus Rossi escorted us to our blissful room with endless views of olive trees and vineyards, hills and vales, with the towers of the ancient town providing the exotic backdrop. The evening walk amongst the many tall towers of this rather touristy town was enjoyed by us in the quiet of dusk, after the tour busses and throngs had made their way on. A recommendation for a quaint restaurant, Dulcis in Fundo, serving a wonderful vegetarian selection with local Chianti capped off a great day and a great decision to escape the maddening crowds. The next morning we could sip in our Room with a View, Under the Tuscan Sky And relax at the pool and plan our excursion, which included the hour long scenic drive along the Crete Sinese, another great recommendation, to the quaint tiny hilltop village of Pienza, to savor their specialty hard sheep cheese. Our lunch of a selection of Pecorino cheese on the overlook was democratically selected fig, truffle, black pepper and aged, topped with local pear jam on crispy rustic bread ...Yumm Late afternoon was a struggle with the GPS to direct us to Sienna where we were at Shul and Supper for Shavuot. What a pleasant surprise to be spending Shavuot in Sienna
11: Who would have thunk... In a small community (only 50 Jews) they struggle for a minyan, yet they provide Yomtov meal where the whole community comes together... the Milchik Italian meal to satisfy the mitzvah for Shavuot Caprese, spaghetti with tomato as primi, secundi of salmon and a selection of veggie Italian quiche, green salad and topped off with Italian cheese cake and strawberries nothing wrong with any of that!!! A relaxing time for Shavuot in a shul almost 300 years old, with a Sephardic leader (Eli Rabani) from Israel and Nusach Roma services in Sienna meeting the locals (three families were farmers with guest cottages on their Tuscan farms, Ana di Castro, Phillipo, one family made kosher wine on his farm) a good and unique Shavuot.. An agricultural festival in the heart of Mediterranean breadbasket. Along with Megilat Ruth a tribute to the survival of our people. Sienna is a beautiful mountaintop city of 60,000 with the old walled city superbly preserved. The Renaissance era buildings are not as imposing as those of Florence, but with the smaller scale and fewer tourist crowds far more enjoyable. The main square Il Campo is probably the best in Italy. The unique aspect is that it is in a perfect bowl shape, surrounded by curved buildings and fronted by a magnificent city hall clock towered building. The shops are fine and the goods are probably as great as Florence and the people friendly. For future reference, I believe Sienna is a great place to base a week in Tuscany. We made our way back to drop off our car in Pisa via the Etruscan hilltop town of Volterra (a Rick Steve’s favorite in all of Italy). Volterra is situated high above the valleys and hills of Tuscany. A picnic lunch at the archaeological park, the forum for the old Etruscan town. The city is the center for alabaster work, and we witnessed an artist carving a torso in alabaster, and enjoyed a stroll around the beautifully lived in town 2000 feet above the lush countryside. The drive on SR 68 from San Gigminango to Volterra was most spectacular; more so than the famous Crete Sinese drive.
12: MAY 2013 | After making our way back to Lucca, we were off to La Spezia, for our next stay on our Italian adventure. At last, the Intrepid were redeemed... a decent place to stay, clean and comfy near the center of this working city. This is the gateway to the Cinque Terra. Rather than joining our group on the tour of Portovenere, which we had been to 15 years ago, we went to the opposite end of this huge bay to the town of Lerici, which was quite a unique find. The town identified the area of the ghetto which commemorated the Jewish presence in the town from 1500 to early 1900’s We enjoyed the leisurely pace of this typical Italian Riviera town, with its imposing medieval fortress on the bluff. The marinated artichoke, stuffed grilled peppers and pesto on foccaccio at the edge of the crashing sea with beautiful romantic poetry made this a day to remember. | The landscapes and farms and olive groves, vineyards, green fields of wheat alternating with dense forest and red roadside wild poppies made picture perfect drive.
13: O Angel of the sea, transparent Lord of the Abyss, You who watch over The harmony of the waters, You who know What secret force moves wave and tide O angel of life let me enter The core of love, which the gods Know and distill, shedding Light on dim light From the invisible gulfs which divide Wave from wave And through this split join Me to me, sea to sea. Angelo Tonelli
14: La Spezia and Cinque Terra
15: LIGURIA ITALY
16: The Cinque Terra are 5 small villages clinging onto the cliffs of the Ligurian coast. Until a century ago these were totally inaccessible to the mainland, until the roadways and railway was built through the mountains to connect these towns. We first visited these towns 18 years ago, and swore that we would return one day to enjoy the ocean walk between the villages. So it was disappointing to find that the trails were still closed as a result of landslides from floods in 2011, and it was a further disappointment to find throngs of tourist and the towns being so much more commercialized and touristic. There was one redeeming feature... the views that cannot be beat, especially from the mountaintop walk (No 6d) that we took by taking the bus from Manarola, the second village to a tiny hamlet of Volastra and walking about 3 miles to Corniglia, the third town. We took the train from there to Vernazza, supposedly the most picturesque town, only to find the throngs of pasta and gelato loving tourists filling the piazzas, as Trafalgar square! The highlight: the gorgeous views and wet temperate rain forests, springs and rivers, and wandering through ancient terraces of vines and olive trees with take your breath away views of sparking villages dotting the coastline of the old sea.
18: It is STILL AS GOOD AS IT GETS | Shabbos was spent at the shul in Milan. Rabbi Mendel Kaplan, Chabad Rabbi, born in Seattle and living in Milan with his family had us over for lunch. We figured out that we probably met him when he was two years of age and his dad was at the Chabad center in Seattle when we spent our first Rosh Hashana in the US in our camper at the Chabad center in Seattle, with hospitably from the rabbis there! Also sister in law (his wife’s sister) is married to Rabbi Fradkin from Chabad of Coronado!!! What a small world. Who would have thought we would be eating gefilte fish and cholent for Shabbos lunch in Milan! Wandering the streets of Milan, clearly a center of fashion and design for Italy. A busy business oriented city with a few great sites that we had no time to see!
19: STRESA, LAKE MAGGIORE,ITALY | Stresa on Lake Maggiorre is quaint quiet town. The highlights are the three tiny Borromini Islands, accessible from Stresa by public ferry, have been in the ownership of the aristocratic Borromini family since the 1400’s. The palace and museum and gardens are a must see and a wonderful Italian day was had not as crowded as our previous destinations and quite lovely with the backdrop of sparkling clear waters and snow capped Italian Alps. A combination ticket for EU18 on Isola Bella allowed us to visit the villa/museum and the older villa and formal gardens on Isola Madre. These were wonderful spots, generally less touristic than almost anywhere we had been up till now.
20: The downstairs Grotto of the Museum was filled with ancient Etruscan and other relics that the family had collected over the centuries in rooms decorated in stone to recreate the sensation of being in an ornate grotto.
21: The Borromini family had married into the Medici family and had saints, cardinals and popes in their lineage. It never ceases to amaze us how the powerful families of these centuries past dominated all aspects of life and the excesses of privilege literally had no limits. The music room at the palace on Isola Bella was the site Mussolini signed the Stresa pact in 1935 Isola Madre was the sister island with the older and less ornate family villa and formal gardens. The gardens are home to exotic birds, quail, white peacocks, and exotic bantam fowl. Also featured was a magnificent collection of puppet show sets and puppets since apparently the Borromini family was also in the entertainment business. Who would have thought Puppeteers could live so well.. I guess they were the Walt Disney's and Steven Spielberg's of their time!
22: The tour of the islands was topped off to the Isola Pescadera, where we enjoyed a terrace view of Lake Maggiore while dining on the selection of lake fish really quite lovely in the sun!
23: The town of Stresa was once the center of old opulence for British snobbery looking to enjoy the beauty of the lake district of Italy as is evidenced by the majestic belle époque hotels dotting the lake edge. Today many of the old villas lie abandoned, with ivy covered walls and gardens growing wild. The gardens in this town were all magnificent azaleas, camellias, magnolias, wisteria, and palm trees. The small old town center is quite touristic, but nevertheless provided a good venue to enjoy the last real ITALIAN gelato before moving on to Switzerland.
24: CHAPTER 2: Switzerland | lucerne | We had never before been to Switzerland, and never really had a yearning to go, but am glad now that we went. It is an exercise in contrasts to Italy. Stresa is only 20 minute train ride from the Swiss border. Who would have thought that one could travel less than an hour and be in a place so different? Suddenly, in Switzerland, we were on a train that was clean and ran on time and the conductor actually showed up to check your ticket. We were on our way to Lucerne, travelling through the Swiss Alps. We were riding though a model train set, with settings too perfect to be real.
25: Lucerne is a quiet town, not much to see but the old wooden bridge that was burned and rebuilt in the 1990’s, but quite picturesque set on Lake Lucerne with white swans and old wooden bridges. The weather was wet and cold, so a walk in the woods was in order. We wandered around town, past the old Gutsch castle on the hill, and found ourselves in the expansive green belt above the town that the Swiss use as their 24 hour fitness No need for memberships, just miles of well marked trails that take you anywhere you want to go within a 20 mile radius, or so it seemed. We made our way up to a hill overlooking the city (Sonnenberg) and passed the cows clanging their big cowbells, welcoming us to their neighborhood. The following day in Lucerne was once again lousy weather, so rather than the main sight which is the Pilatus peak, we took the roundtrip ticket for multimodal transportation to Mt Riggi, a longer journey but lower elevation, with the hope of getting a view. The boat ride to Mt Riggi took us past some towns on the lake edge to our departure point in the town of Vita. The first cog rail tram in all of Europe in Reggi was celebrating its 150th anniversary how special! Anyway the cog rail journey up the mountain was quite an interesting experience. People actually live in these tiny hamlets all the way up the mountain and rely on this ancient railway to get to the town below for groceries and essentials. We made it after about 8 train stops to Rigi Kulm, the mountain peak, at about 6,000 feet elevation, only to find it snowing , cold and windy ( all the weather that Suzanne detests). Anyway, rather than hanging out at the hotel and restaurant at the peak, she led the way through the mini blizzard to our next stop a walk to a shelter which promised fresh cheese. After a steep 30 minute roll down the mountain, we found ourselves in a typical Swiss hamlet farmhouse that offered typical Swiss stuff. The cheese maker obliged with a cheese making tour, and showed off his cowbell trophies that he had won for some kind of Alpine mud wrestling that is popular in these parts. The winner has to get his opponent on his back. Finally we had found some friendly Swiss including the innkeeper who served up the most delicious cheese fondue made with their own cheese, bread and over boiled potatoes. After this long break we headed back to Lucerne via cable car to Weggis, and a restored 1928 paddleboat steamer called Lucerne. We snuck into the Queens Room to enjoy a coffee, so called since QE 2 rode the boat in 1950’s, only to be demeaned by our second class status (first class passengers only allowed). The boat itself was quite a treat. The mechanical pistons and gears were on display through a Plexiglas cover and the heaving of the paddles gave one a sense of times gone by. Another huge difference to Italy the restaurants in this city are geared to tourists and they are expensive and hard to find. Apparently the locals that we spoke to said most people prefer their own cooking fancy that!
26: watches,cheese and chocolates everywhere. From here on out our meals consisted primarily of chocolate. The supermarket selections of chocolates were eye opening on entire aisle devoted to chocolate bars of all makes and flavors. Suzanne’s fave: Suchard makes a marzipan chocolate bar.
27: The streets were quiet and people were quiet and the houses and cows and barns looked like Heidi’s world.
29: INTERLAKEN, SWITZERLAND | Next on to INTERLAKEN The weather did not cooperate, but we were still awed by the scenery on the train ride from Lucerne to Interlaken. The first day took us to the Trummelbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen, which was a magnificent 20 minute train ride from Interlaken. The valley at Lauterbraunen: Imagine the Yosemite Valley, but much narrower, with glacier carved cliffs rising from the valley. Now add green fields, cows with bells, sheep, old Swiss barns and chalet type farm hamlets, flowers and sheep. Then add waterfalls pouring over the top of the cliffs towering above you, and the sweet smell of dairy farms and fresh rain and that is it! Heidi meets the Sound of Music!!
30: The Trummelbach Falls was a wonderful 50 minute walk through this valley. The falls are unique in that they are in caves carved out by the falling water and are accessible via an elevator through a tunnel in the mountain. The whole experience was a treat... humbling to remind us of the power of nature
32: Interlaken could have been a lovely town and I am sure that it once was, as evidenced by the regal hotel from yesteryear. Today the town has been spoiled with the insertion of some really ugly non-descript 1960’s era buildings. and worse the main street lined with tourist shops selling cuckoo clocks, Swiss army knives, faux Swiss ski hats (made in China) and of course endless watches. These tourist shops were staffed by well dressed young Chinese men and women, speaking Mandarin or whatever other dialect was necessary to coerce the Swiss Francs from as many of the visiting Chinese and Indian tourists as possible. I think Interlaken would be a good stop for a good Chinese or Indian meal since those restaurants outnumbered the Swiss, as did the number of visiting Chinese and Indians!!! The following day was a little clearer, while the mountains were still heavily weighed down in snow. We went with the group to Piz Gloria, the revolving restaurant at the Schiltzhorn peak, made famous by one James Bond movie in years past. The trip took us once again via Lauterbrunnen on a multitude of transportation modes (every thing except a boat, a plane and a donkey). The view at the top, while still pretty cloudy, was above the cloud line and the 360 degree view of the peaks of the snow covered Alps around us was breathtaking. The day concluded with a walk down from the top of Harderkulm, a 5,000 foot ridge above Interlaken that we took a 100 year old funicular railroad ride to reach. The tea with mint liqueur was something we both noted to remember for our cold San Diego winter days! As it turned out, walking downhill in wet alpine terrain is slower than we thought. Wet and cold and invigorated we arrived back to our hotel to enjoy a hot cup of tea. .
35: one cannot take away the sheer glory of the beauty of this place
36: BERNE, Switzerland We decided to take off for Shabbat in advance of our group to Berne, the capital city of Switzerland, and the city that now is proud to have Einstein as a citizen while he was working on his groundbreaking theories. It must also have the only synagogue with a social hall named the Albert Einstein Hall.
37: Berne is a real working city. The walk from our hotel to the shul took us along scenic walk behind the parliament buildings overlooking the river Aar. No lunch invites so thank goodness we were prepared for that and enjoyed our picnic lunch salad at a great overlook. No better weather though, so it was in and out of shelter wherever we could find it. See the picture of Suzanne bundled up in the main historic street of Berne. On the subject of Jewish history, Berne uncovered two interesting facts: One, on the site of the Parliament buildings we found a plaque to the evidence of a Jewish presence in the same site dating back to the 1200’s, with a fragment of a gravestone from that time. Two: The shul houses a historic Torah scroll dating from 1700, which was found in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco in the early 1950’s. The Jewish community of Berne today numbers only 350 families, yet they got a pretty decent crowd for Shabbat morning services. The Jewish community of Switzerland was 18,000 pre War II and has remained stable at the same number currently. ... two weeks down! Day 16 out of 50..
38: CHAPTER THREE: FRANCE | OUR AMAZING JOURNEY
39: Dijon, Burgundy. | The advantage of the travel itinerary as we have, with a budget operator, with a lot of flexibility to your schedule, is that it takes us to towns and places that we would definitely not ordinarily think of going to. Stresa was one such place as is our first stop in France the medieval town of Dijon in the Burgundy province. The disadvantage is that you have to deal with hotels and other lodging options that you would never in normal circumstances agree to! Up to this point we have had to endure some pretty uncomfortable conditions. Also by this point in the trip our standards were so diminished that Sue commented on how wonderful our two star hotel was! Schlepping our suitcases up two rickety staircases to find a bedroom with bath on suite and towels that were not threadbare I guess that is relative luxury!!! Dijon was once a major city in Medieval times, being the seat of the Burgundy Princes. It was the capital of the duchy of Burgundy from the 11th to the 15th century, enjoying a golden age during the 14th and 15th centuries. The old city center is excellently preserved, with many of the buildings and fine manors dating back to those times. As with many of the other cities that we have visited on this tour, most of the old city is pedestrian only and wandering the streets with wooden ancient wooden framed homes over the cobbled streets. It is all a very real and lived in city, and clearly not overwhelmed with tourists.
40: We had two easy going days in Dijon, with reasonable two star accommodations at the Hotel Le Jacquemart. The town has a marked walking tour ... The owl trail which takes one past all the interesting museums and ancient Gothic cathedrals with magnificent spires which dot the city.
41: Much of the free time day was spent chasing dead ends the bike rental shops that we were directed to after a 30 minute walk were ALL closed on Mondays (one would think that the tourist information office would know such a thing!) After much bus, train and tram hopping we eventually found ourselves at the first town south of us on the “Route des Grand Cru” the wine route through Burgundy, at the town of Montensay d’cote. This might have been a good springboard for a walking trip though the quaint farming villages had the tourist information office not been closed from 12 till 2, and no locals understood English! So instead we settled in for a delightful salad at a cute outdoor restaurant, enjoying a glass of Burgundy with the smell of vineyards in the air. Quite delightful, but not a full potential day then back to Dijon to finish up our tour of the delightful art museum in the old palace.
43: A twenty minute train ride to the next major town south of us, Beaune, was an unexpected surprise... a visit to Hotel-Dieu des Hospices de Beaune. This was both a magnificent 15th century (1443) structure as well as an interesting story A wealthy merchant Nicolas Rolin established this hospital, and set out the organizational structure that maintained this organization through the generations. The grounds included an excellent audio guide. This is a must see for anyone wanting to get his fill of Burgundy wines. Beaune is at the center of the Burgundy wine growing region, and no trip to Burgundy would be complete without a wine tasting. The proprietress of this wine tasting cellar gave us the blind taste test “ a great wine for yoga and a picnic” or “ cigars and old leather” or “crispy autumn day after a rain in a forest” With such descriptions who could resist buying? (We did resist, since my hands were full propping Suzanne up for the trip back to Dijon that evening she is a cheap drunk!)
45: off again to Reims. A three hour train ride of comfy fast train, past flat lands with low rolling hills of verdant green fields, alternating with bright yellow fields of recently flowering rapeseed the plant from which canola oil is derived. Reims is the largest town in the champagne region, with a population of over 300,000. It had played an important part in history of France, with its famous gothic cathedral being the venue for the coronation of France’s kings for over 1000 years. It is the business center of the champagne industry and also houses several champagne houses that offer tours and tastings. The city has had some military history, particularly in WWI when it was under siege by the Germans for several years and over 80 percent of the city was damaged and thousands of lives were lost. In WW2 there were no such battles as the French gave in with not too much of a fight, but not before additional damage to the city. But in Reims, at 2:41 on the morning of 7 May 1945, General Eisenhower and the Allies received the unconditional surrender of the German Wehrmacht. This can all be relived in a museum of the history of WW2. Unfortunately for us, the weather was not cooperative! It continued with the pattern of intermittent rain, which dampened our experiences! The walk of the city took us through the cathedral, which was remarkably well restored by using Rockefeller money after WW1 damage. The rose window over the main portal and the gallery beneath are of rare magnificence and the Chagall stain glass window at the center of the apse added a sublime connection of the past to the present. The city has some minor ruins from Roman times. Much of the city was reconstructed after WW1 and therefore has a very consistent art Nouveau feel to the architecture. We found the shul which was closed and read of the sad fate of the small Jewish community here that had their possessions confiscated and faced the fate of so many others in the concentration camps of Eastern Europe. This could not diminish the fact that this region once housed the most famous Jewish commentator of all times. Rashi taught in the town of Troyes, just 50 miles from Reims.
46: The city was big, cold and wet so we took off to find small warm and dry,,, This meant a train though the rolling hillside vineyards of champagne region. We did not find warm and dry but... Epernay is a wonderful town, home to some of the finest champagne houses, many of which are located along Champagne Avenue. Smaller and calmer than Reims, Epernay still radiates class. The abbey in Hartville’s was home to the famous cleric Dom Perignon, who is sometimes considered the legendary father of champagne wines. While that has been challenged, he did in reality develop improved techniques for wine production. We chose to get out of the rain fast and checked into the nearest champagne tour, which just happened to be Moet & Chandon, the makers of Dom Perignon and other fine champagnes, and the largest of all the houses. The tour took us though about 1 percent of the 35 kilometers of underground tunnels, cut into the natural chalk of the area that stores millions of bottles of champagne and we passed by the small Moorish style 19th century synagogue that serves this small country community. What a surprise.
47: Paris was a short train ride away the following day. We chose to leave our group with the considerate information from our tour leader that commented that the hotel in Paris is worse than the Rome hotel. No further encouragement was needed! We spent the first two nights at Hotel Palais de Chaillot, near the Trocodero, the high bank of the Seine with the best view of the Eiffel Tower. The last two nights were at the Athena, in the center of town near Gare St Lazare. ( too busy). Paris is a city one can never tire of. Just walking the streets present new experiences every minute and the wide boulevards are a pleasure to stroll. Much of our time was spent traversing the city, from one end at the Trocodero to the other to Marais. Of course our stay had to include a visit to L’as Falafel, for a taste of Israel in Paris and the most delicious shwarma plate.
51: i love Paris
52: We followed the Rick Steves recommendation for our first visit to the Louvre. The palace is a destination worthy of visit, even without the wonderful works of art. The opulence of the Napoleon apartments surpasses the Versailles experience since here you witness the space fully furnished to the excesses of the time. The ancient relics from the ancient near east are spectacular. We were able to find quiet spaces away from the dizzying crowds by seeing the museum in the later evening and avoiding the galleries on the tourist bus trail. The only exception we made was to see the Mona Lisa , which once again was an experience less than optimal by the throngs. The street market near Bastille was unexceptional, but was redeemed by a visit to Place de Vosges, a beautiful 17 th century square with art galleries and perfumeries and more rain. The Jewish museum was not as noteworthy as the visit to Rome museum, especially since most of the more exceptional ritual pieces and books were from Italy, donated by the Rothschilds. The nighttime visit to the Eiffel tower lookout point required successful running the gauntlet of Nigerian trinket hawkers of gaudy tower key rings. On the hour the Eifel tower literally glitters at night, and at midnight the thongs were finally dispersing as the crepe kiosks were shutting down. A morning walk down the Champs Elyees was pleasantly surprising , especially when topped off with a tea and dessert stop at Laduree, with the elegance that made Paris famous. The weather finally begins to clear and the city sparkles. concert of Vivaldi’s Seasons at the St Chapelle was sublime. A great way to relax after a frantic visit to the crowded Musee d Orsay, which houses the greatest collection of Impressionist paintings and art Nouveau furnishings. | Shabbat was self catered from the local Mono Prix grocery with ready made in Israel products. The services at the Great Synagogue in Paris were memorable. The 19th century edifice, built with Rothschild money, was an effort to compete with the grandeur of Parisian places of worship of the predominant faith. As was the music.. Or so it seemed with a choir of men that emanated sounds reminiscent of Gregorian chants. The chazzan and choir and place were all grand and great and at time quite moving. Of course no Shabbat service is complete without the Kiddush which in this case included open sandwiches perfectly presented with swirls of cremed everything. The Jewish community in Paris appears incredibly strong. There are over 200 kosher establishments in Paris alone, our hotel at Trocadero had a kosher chocolatier next door and kosher Asian restaurant a block away. However, as with all of Europe, there are constant reminders in this city to the atrocities that happened here within the past generation. So we have experiences that begin to open up the city to us, and have now had hotels in three different parts of the city. Our intrepid tour takes on a new tour leader in Paris and 7 of the twelve participants leave us. A mediocre farewell dinner was had in an atmospheric basement restaurant in La Marais where we bid farewell to Francesco, our intrepid group leader who had successfully guided us to this point. Sunday we meet our new leader Sonya and our new mates and off to Tours. So now that we are all experienced Intrepid travelers (the five of us that are doing the three legs of the journey all the way to Morocco), we are able to forewarn the newbie’s on the trip of the trip hazards to come.. We have only three newbie’s join us; a couple about our age from New Zealand and Sasha a single guy late 40’s from the San Francisco. We were now just a group of 8, and our new group leader Sonja is a sweet and effervescent marine biologist from Croatia.
55: Tours is located in the center of the Loire Valley, between the Loire River and the Cher River, both of which were muddy and wide and running wild. The city had a history of being caught in many battles and much of it had been reconstructed over the years, however there was an old 15th and 16th century quarter which had old homes and narrow streets much like Dijon, except that the roofing material was gray slate, many times cladding the sides of the building. The Notre Dame cathedral was also noteworthy The primary attraction of the Loire Valley is clearly its grand chateaux, where the privileged few of the Middle Ages built themselves palaces along this fertile valley... The valley encompasses several medium sized cities of which Tours is the largest (about 200,000), and extends about 150 miles either side of Tours. The beauty of this area is that it has over 700km of marked bike trails that take in all of the turreted grandeur of this place. . | As Switzerland is to great hikes, this area is to bike rides. We were able to get just a taste of this experience with our group bike ride from Tours to the nearest such chateau, the Chateau de Villandry, a picture perfect setting tucked in under a hillside with the most magnificent formal gardens. The highlight of the gardens was the formal vegetable gardens, for which the French borrowed a combination of the Italian and Monastic styles of kitchen gardens. And our picnic lunch of brown bread and goat’s cheese salad and the sunshine at last! The bike ride took us past flowering red poppy fields, fields of newly planted corn and quaint renovated farmhouses that now offer accommodation. The bike maps from the tourist information provide a good guide to the area. Seven detailed bike maps take in all the major châateaux, and there are bike rentals that will allow your bike drop-off at distant locations. I believe that spending a week doing just that with a baguette or two and some cheese is just perfect! Maybe come back one day.
57: We arrived back tired after fighting a heavy headwind, with about 45 km of cycling for the day, there was no energy left but to sleep!
59: Loire Valley
60: The next morning it was getting our picnic lunch for the 5 hour train journey to Sarlat (and my butt is still tender from the bike ride!) So ... on to our next destination...Sarlat in the Dordogne Region of France.
62: It is Tuesday June 5th 2013. 12:43, on the train to the Dordogne region, where early man once roamed and left amazing cave paintings of animals? Why not some pictures of his wife? That would have been much more interesting.. The train journey though the Dordogne region is picture perfect. Much of the ride crosses or parallels the Dordogne River which runs through hilly countryside covered with low green forests and topped with ancient stone castles and forts. As the Loire Valley is the luxury chateaux and flat cultivated fields, the Dordogne is about ancient hilltop castles and fortresses, and chalky outcroppings defining the gaps in the green forests. | DORDAGNE
63: Arriving at a new destination with Intrepid awakened a very early memory of my childhood. Only those of my generation from South Africa will remember “Lucky Packets”, a occasional special treat... There were two brands, a cheap one (maybe a sixpence) and an upscale one (maybe a shilling) that had better surprise toys in them. You were very excited to get open the expensive one since you knew it would be good, but for the cheap brand you could get nothing or a “transfer” or maybe a lucky charm. On arriving at the hotels each participant in the group is handed a key to their room. We are handed the cheap “lucky packet”; and the prize is who knows? The next morning over breakfast is the post mortem, where we find out whether we are one of the luckier ones!
64: Sarlat La Caneda was a pleasant surprise. Hotel Montaigne is a cute 3 star hotel on the main street of this small town in the most picturesque countryside we have seen since Tuscany. It is also one of the best preserved medieval town in the heartland of France, where truffles and foie gras are on every menu and in every storefront. This is the town that I think Shrek would choose to live in. With the day’s perfect weather, we both agreed that the entire 8 week trip was made worthwhile by one day here! Our scheduled excursion of a river rafting trip along the Dordogne was rendered too treacherous by the high waters, but instead we spent a glorious day walking about 5 or 6 miles across fields and glorious countryside between three sparkling riverside towns. | La Roque Gageac was the starting point, tucked into a tiny band of hillside between the river and vertical chalk cliffs, with unique cliffside tropical gardens and the start of kayak trips. Chateau de Castelaud, provided a peaceful riverside picnic stop while others scrambled up 800 feet to view the ancient fort. Chateau Beynacc, a fortification and village on the limestone bluff, had waited for our visit since twelfth century, protecting itself with 700 foot high limestone cliffs. The perfect day ended with a beer in the square on our return to the town of Sarlat, and a splurge meal at the only Michelin rated restaurant in Sarlat. Some strange and unique combinations that only gourmet restaurants would try: Appetiser of Asparagus with Egg, cream sauces and black olive ice cream a first! Also a first: buying fresh black truffles at the market I hope it make it home
68: June 6th en route to Bordeaux, a city of a quarter of a million Frenchmen, a contrast I am sure to the village we are leaving. Dordogne is a great region for walking tours or kayaking excursions to come back to! Bordeaux is a port city of 250,000 people: people of all colors and creeds, many of whom appear to be from France’s ex colonies in Africa, living in the neighborhoods around the train station. Our hotel had a fabulous view of the train station, so we could hear the announcements for the next train, a signal that we wanted to get out of Bordeaux as quick as possible! Our stay improved after we moved to one of the few back rooms offered by our hotel that was nominally quieter. We spent sweltering time exploring the city,(a 15 minute tram ride) which incidentally is the largest urban area UNESCO world heritage site. The entire city is a heritage site. We could not figure out precisely why, since there was nothing particularly spectacular about the city compared to some others we had visited. A large part of the downtown was typical 18th and 19th century neo classical and renaissance styles, and the waterfront had been cleared of the docks and warehouses that separated the city from the water, and had been replaced in the 1990’s by open space and parks and the renowned water mirror.
69: Our visit to the shul in preparation for Shabbat was memorable. Our trip thus far has included meat on Shabbat from the local kosher source when available, and I had anticipated that Bordeaux would yield a bounty of kosher similar to Paris, being that it housed the synagogue that was of equal capacity as that of Paris. An elf like woman kept popping up at every turn to help us achieve our goal, although her English was nonexistent. First appearance was at the locked gates of the shul at Rue Grand Rabbin Joseph Cohen where she directed us to the unmarked door around the block to gain entrance to the shul, where we were given a tour of the shul. She popped up again in the shul to remind us what time services were on this Shabbat and that there would not be the usual Kiddush. Our guide to the synagogue (who was the Society of Israelites receptionist who took our passport info etc) gave stern warnings against wearing my kippah on the streets of Bordeaux, and general directions to the two kosher markets, one of which supposedly was a block away. On completion of the tour I dutifully removed my kippah and we set out to find this place of kosher food. A left and a short block away and another left and there she was, our little leprechaun lady to answer our desperate question where is it???? I figured from her French go through a black door before the Carrefour’s department store etc... Whew saved again and yes, we were buzzed in through the non descript black door only to find that we were at the back side of the shul again, where a prefab building housed the kosher mart!!! Anyway the kosher dried salami and kosher foie gras was worth the ordeal! And we were satisfied that we could attend services once again in a majestic shul that housed the remnants, the shadow, of the community that once existed in this historic city.
70: Shabbat was quite lovely. I have found myself to be quite touched by the experience of having services across Europe, in some more remote corners. It says a lot that traditional Judaism can continue to have a presence in these places where our people are so insignificant in number. With only one shul in Bordeaux, which once seated up to 1500, now has reduced the seating to seat half that number, and they are able to fill it up over the high holidays. The Shabbat morning had 150 or so attendees, all very engaged and close knit. The haftarah this week Shabbat Rosh Chodesh was my Bar mitzvah haftorah, and to hear it read by this elderly gentleman in a black Bordalino in the nusach which he called Sephardi-Portuguese, unique to this region of France brought me close to tears. I was given an aliyah after being welcomed warmly. The closing psalm of the Hallel service was sung by the whole community in a familiar Ladino tune, and the children led the Torah back from the bimah to the aron kodesh. Another observation from my travels: In France the bimah is placed in the middle of the shul, whereas Italy and Berne it was up front, in front of the aron. The architecture otherwise all shared similar elements Moorish arches, stained glass, marble or limestone columns and the two tablets of Moses over the aron and at the top of the front facade of the shul... A sadness came over me I thought of the atrocities of the Nazis. They took over this shul, desecrating it, and stealing the 25 foot brass menorah which was the centerpiece of the shul, and using the shul as the deportation center from whence two thirds of Bordeaux’s Jewish population was sent to their untimely death in the camps of Eastern Europe. It took the Jewish community ten years to reconstitute and reopen the synag0gue in the mid 1950’s, this time with a carved wooden replica of the beautiful brass menorah. We have sat through Shabbat sermons now in Italian, Swiss German, and French and we have heard the blessings in each place to the government of the respective countries AND to the Israeli defense force. If I were serving in the IDF, I would get much comfort that I had prayers for my wellbeing emanating from all these remnants of our people around the world.
71: Our wine tour or wineries in Bordeaux was a disappointment. Too much driving and not enough variety. Learning of the making of a sweet white semi raisin wine was the only new information gained, plus verifying the fact that doing big bus tours are never worth it! | Bordeaux opera house was much more spectacular than the opera that we attended that evening. The limestone edifice to the arts was stunning design with the requisite 19th century 2 ton Bohemian crystal chandelier and painted ceilings. Mozart's “ the Magic Flute” was adapted by this opera company to be set in contemporary times in the Swiss ski country with exclusive ski clubs substituting for the temples and ordeals of skiing being the tests of the gods. I found it corny and detracted from the original. But some of the voices were great and the ambiance made it all worthwhile. | Other than spending a thoughtful Shabbat here, Bordeaux is a stop we could have done without but now on to the mountains of France and Spain the Pyrenees and the quaint mountain sports town of Luchon, just 10 Km from the Spanish border
72: Located in a nook of a valley, surrounded on three sides with snow capped mountains rising up to 9000 feet, Luchon was a wonderful escape from the bustling city of Bordeaux. The main excursions here involved a strenuous mountain hike, which we cut short after two hours to return to the town to take in the waters. Hot baths, hot springs, hammams, and spas something very primordial and Jewish about that! Growing up in Cape Town, it was only the Jewish kids who knew of places like Goudini or Montague hot springs outside of Cape Town, having spent many a winter holiday at the hot springs, soaking in the warm waters and eating cheese plates, served in hotel dining rooms. Anyway, Luchon is apparently one of those European spa towns that had its heyday in years past, but still has a faithful clientele (including ourselves) who cannot resist anything to do with naturally occurring hot water. Luchon’s spa was a variation on the theme: These thermals consisted of limestone caves, accessed through the buildings which had been built around them, that emanated natural steam. The caves had been connected and extended by man, allowing one to wander through several hundred feet of rock tunnels at sauna like temperatures and to find a bench in a corner of the caves to contemplate your navel and look forward to a cooling plunge in the warmed pool.
73: We took the premium package. This is always a tricky thing as we learned when we had a similar adventure in the onsen in Kyoto. The attendants don’t speak English and while the routine is obvious to them, for the uninitiated it is like teaching a man to knit! The premium included a private Jacuzzi bath and separately, a French spa attendant in an outdated nurses uniform getting pleasure by hosing you down with what amounts to a fire hydrant hose( at least the water is warm). It was all a lot of fun and I would highly recommend it to the adventurous amongst us. The town had their equivalent of a renaissance fair going on... except the some of the participants actually were born in the times of the renaissance! They simply had to dust off their clothes and begin to dance. This local color was no doubt colorful! Our perfect respite in this sleepy town was perfected with the trout three course meal at the elegant Michelin two star restaurant at the Hotel D Epigny. all the right cutlery and plates and accouterments at least somewhere in the world they still know how to dine with class. So we say adieu to France and Hola to Spain!!!!
74: The time is marching by and the clock is ticking and “time and tide wait for no man” I have made one of the photographic themes of this trip capturing images of interesting clocks along the way. I am also immensely aware of our own vulnerability since I too will be turning the small hand on my clock to the supposed half way point to “a hundred unt tvantzik yor”, which is the imaginary lifetime wished upon all, just in case one does make it to 100 years! Also the relativity of time is made more tangible on the travels we are on Occasionally it passes slowly, other times too fast, and most of the time we have to pinch ourselves to remember the day, time, date or place.
77: Best of France
78: CHAPTER FOUR: SPAIN AND PORTUGAL The Iberian Peninsula | OUR AMAZING JOURNEY
81: Basque country | Our first stop in Spain, after a four hour bus ride from Luchon, France was the Basque city of San Sebastian also known as Donastia in the Basque tongue. Suzanne and I had been here in 1995 on our road trip though Spain, so it was interesting to note the changes after 18 years. The city has become more of tourist destination, with the old quarter which was then all residential, now tourist shops and restaurants with little sign of traditional Basque people. The city is still beautiful, on a perfect crescent bay with small hills guarding each end of the crescent and a rocky island punctuating the middle of the bay. Enjoying the warmth of the Spanish sun and the views from the old fortress on the top of one of the hills was all we needed to do, breathing in the spirit of this lovely town. The following day was adventure road trip day. With our Croatian tour leader Sonja and Kiwis John and Sandy, we took to the roads of the Basque country to discover the beauty of the back road seaside towns and stunning views. The little Opel was essential to navigate the dockside narrow one way lanes that we found ourselves on, and the winding mountain and cliffside roads that traversed the Atlantic shoreline.
82: Several highlights made this day memorable The $2 tapas of salted hake tortilla (really an omelet) for breakfast, good cafe latte (no more of that awful French stuff I have been suffering for the past two weeks), finding a great tuna salad at a small Basque town during siesta time when ALL the shops and restaurants were closed. SO beyond the FOOD the city of Bilbao was a pleasant surprise. The whole idea of the day trip was motivated by my interest in the architecture of Frank Gehry, a “starchitect” of our time, and an illustrious graduate of USC. The opening of the Guggenheim in Bilbao apparently gave this industrial port city a new life as a center of culture and art in Spain. The integration of this contemporary edifice to art into the cityscape, defining the open spaces beneath the signature bridge and the river, is one of the features that give one that “feels good” sense. It does its job!
85: The Jeff Koons statue of a dog with flowers adds a whimsical feel to what may otherwise be seen as a stark place. The art collection at the Guggenheim happened to include a special exhibit on art in wartime, highlighting the plight of so many modern artists during WW2 who were persecuted by the Nazis and other fascists for being Jewish AND/OR for their views on contemporary art. The well narrated audio guide did not sugarcoat the fact that many of the great artists of the 20th century had careers truncated by untimely death, because they were born Jewish. The trip to Bilbao on the new toll road was broken up with side trips along the scenic rural and coastal road that took us to the seaside beach and fishing villages of Zumaia ( breakfast), and Lekeitio (late lunch) and photo ops at Ondarroa and Mutriku( hair-raising edge of the harbor drive | Bilbao
86: A few things had not changed since our brief visit to Basque country 18 years ago: the people were still warm and friendly and the scenery was still memorable! Next stop: Segovia, Spain:
88: Segovia, Spain . | What a tribute to the engineering of those ancients! And who knows how many slave lives were sacrificed in making this aqueducto. With two sunny days in this ancient walled town of 10,000, we got to know it quite well. The main pedestrian walkway lined with shops which took one from the aqueduct to the main plaza and the cathedral was a well worn path by us as we searched out a place to eat that did NOT serve poor little piggies slow cooked and roasted for which Castillian town was famous. We found it at a Mediterranean restaurant owned by an Armenian Syrian who proudly shared with me his stories growing up next to the Jewish quarter and learning some of his Jewish recipes which he offered on the menu, including a lamb’s yogurt soup with cucumbers yummm (something I think my late dad would have regularly? Except the Ashkenazi version with sour milk!!!) | The Aqueduct...the largest still standing in the world today...this Roman era structure was still carrying water 9 miles from the water source in the hills to this town as recently as one hundred years ago.
90: This restaurant on a patio in the shadow of the aqueduct served us all our meals in this town, and I am pleased to report I found a homemade baba ganoush that rivals my own version! This chef added reduction of sour pomegranate as a garnish to his mezza plate, and our group of 8 fellow intrepiders voted the meal there as the best on the trip!!! (And whaddayaknow it was NOT Spanish or French!!!) Our low-key days in the lazy heat of this town were spent on the castle tour (a disneyesque medieval castle balancing precariously at the edge of a rocky hill, with moat and all!) and imagining the days pre 16th century when there were actually Jews in Castille, and Segovia was a place of princes, noblemen and wealth, before the capital was relocated to Madrid. Curiously the town tourist information offered a self guided Jewish tour, and this town was on the Route de Sephardi (a project of some clever tourist organization that marked all the sites of interest with a “Sepharad “bronze plaque in a Hebrew lettering logo. I find it ironic that so much effort is made to memorialize at most a few hundred Jews that lived here hundreds of years ago whereas the rest of Europe saw thousands lost in less than a lifetime past and bear no such memorials to the Jews that once lived there.
91: The Jewish tour consisted of walking though the neighborhood still known as Juderia and identifying the sites where synagogues may have once stood. The only exceptions was the city office occupying the former home of “The Rabi Abraham Senneor, is certainly the most distinguished personage in Segovian Jewish community. Born about 1410 and a citizen of Segovia from 1468, his decisive political and economic career began during the reign of the Catholic Kings. He became a faithful servant to them until his death in 1493. Senneor was outstanding in the field of finance where he occupied the highest positions in the kingdom. On a personal level, it is of note that he converted to Christianity in 1492 under the name Fernan Perez Coronel” Quoted from descriptor at the Jewish museum at his former home. Of course there is a LOT more to that story which is not quoted, especially regarding his “conversion”, at which time, it should be noted, he was an old man in his eighties!! The tour also took in the obligatory church that once was a synagogue which once was a mosque which burned down in the nineteenth century and was lovingly restored by Franciscan nuns and is now called you guessed it Corpus Christi!!! The architecture of this town is very well preserved and /or restored. Many of the buildings have the fine floral Moorish decorative exteriors, while others have immense granite portals or arches. Truncated towers on these medieval palaces remain as remnants of the years of pageantry and Juan Bravo, the legendary hero of this town. A hidden gem was the small contemporary art museum, displaying works by Segovia’s son Esteban Vincente. This museum served as a useful free clean bathroom stop as well as a preview of the Prado art experience, in an exhibition by contemporary Spanish artists of reinterpreted Prado masterpieces. See picture of the reimagined “the Three Graces” by Rubens. (1577 -1640, Flanders) | Segovia, Spain
92: Madrid, the capital of Spain and a visit to the Prado: While it is the largest collection of paintings anywhere in the world, paid for largely by the gold plundered from South American natives, much of the art was simply not my thing too many suffering religious themes. But to see the masters Velazquez, Goya, Titian, El Greco, Rubens amongst others (Velazquez 1599-1660 Las Meninas Maids of Honor, stood out from the crowd.., as did Hieronymus Bosch 1450-1516 Garden of Earthly Delights, a clear warning to all sinners), is any art historian's dream! Madrid was our Shabbat city. There is a very small Jewish community, the largest in Spain, since Jews only started returning to Spain less than 100 years ago. In fact the repeal of royal order that banished Jews from Spain more than 500 years ago was only officially adopted in 1968. The Jewish population of Madrid is less than 2,000, in a city of 6 million!
93: The other two seriously major art museums in this very artsy city: The Thyssen Bornemisza Museum houses the most valuable private art collection in the world. The museum was excellently laid out in genres and artistic periods, and included many remarkable impressionists and modern artists, surrealists, Dadaists and other –ists and –isms. The third was to the Centro de Art Reina Sofia, housed in what was Madrid's first public hospital, and houses a wonderful collection of contemporary art ( lot of Picasso, less of Miro, Gris and Dali, also Kandinsky and Braque etc), paired with works of Poets such as Lorca. And continuous classic movies which put much of the art in the social context. The highlight that brings in the crowds was a special exhibit of Dali, which we chose to miss in order to have more time to stare at Picasso's most famous work “Guernica”, the town which we drove through on our Basque country day trip that was so appallingly bombed by the Germans with Franco’s blessing during the Spanish Civil War. We stayed on the main square Plaza Sol, at Hotel Europa, and we can authoritatively state that this is certainly the liveliest of all European cities that we have visited. (Rick Steves claims that it is the liveliest in all Europe) The nighttime buzz from the square did not recede until daylight, and then it was handed off to the roar of the motorized street cleaners! Strolling the streets of Madrid with buskers and music and throngs of tapas eaters and beer drinkers lining the miles of pedestrian streets, we could drink in the flavor of this city, which was quite yummy. Crowded but orderly, noisy but restrained, rowdy but civilized. The parks and plazas overflowing with people simply out and about. It is all as good as it gets! We ended our lovely day in Madrid with a flamenco show . A small intimate venue, Las Tablas, with a black stage was the best way to experience this intense and passionate art form. The wailing of the Andalusian crier and the weeping of the guitar will stay with me for a while at least!! We moved at two a.m. to rejoin our Intrepid group at their Madrid hotel, to meet our new Sicilian group leader Marco and the 7 new Aussie/Kiwis that have joined the group for the last leg to Morocco.
95: On the train again to Salamanca, Spain, one of the oldest university towns in Europe. Much of the prestige of the university has worn off, but the charm of this old town revolving around the central square has not! With only one day/night at Salamanca, it was easy to exhaust the sites of the town. The main square, the Plaza Mayor, is known as the most beautiful in Spain. I agree that the proportionality and consistency of the design of the buildings that make up the perimeter of the square, along with its size ( not too large/not too small) all make this “communal living room” an ideal outdoor urban space to hang and enjoy a beer or gelato ( I had two of each!) The old university (founded in the 13th century, amongst the oldest in Europe, adds a romantic flavor to this town of 100,000 people (30,000 are students/faculty), the night time brings out the best of this town with multiple cathedrals and ancient walls illuminated in the cool evening dry air. This city reminded me of Jerusalem, with the hot summer sun and cool nights, the smooth golden limestone walls of the old buildings, narrow old alleys and young people serious about their studies.
96: A visit to the old University building dating back to the 16th century included a peek into the baroque library, still maintained with books from the 17th and 18th century in carved wooden bookcases with locked wire mesh doors. A civil celebration after church on Sunday paraded with drums and castanets and folk dances nobody seemed to mind that we were not in our Sunday best as we happily joined in the parade though the town. Salamanca is off the beaten path, except for those driving from Spain to Portugal. Without throngs of tourist, we can begin to enjoy these towns with as locals. We last visited Spain in 1996, and not much seemed too different too much ham hanging everywhere you look to make us feel uncomfortable and not too welcome!!! The tapas are everywhere but nothing to eat! A salad is hard to find and the occasional fish was tasteless. Highlight: Spanish share my delight in making thick dark hot chocolate, and I liked their added nice touch of dunking hot churros in the same. The Valor chocolatier encourages this diet for breakfast, lunch or dinner we obliged with a breakfast meal. Spanish people are friendly, many preferring hand gesturing to English, and the history of the Inquisition, that forced the expulsion or conversion of the Jewish people is everywhere!
98: PORTUGAL | Today on to Portugal, by bus across hilly granitic landscapes, intersected by shallow gorges cut into the stone, with an occasional glimpse of abandoned stony mountaintop fortresses. Arriving in Coimbra Portugal, our first time in this country of bacalao and sardines. The bacalao is the salted codfish, which, when first concocted hundreds of years ago, revolutionized this country. This allowed the seafarers to venture further afield since this preserved fish could be kept for years and reconstituted at any time to make a meal! So Portugal became the foremost seafaring nation in medieval times, as any good South African will know well : Portuguese Bartolommeo Diaz and Vasco Da Gama and fish and chips shops and corner cafes! Coimbra was the second ancient university town we visited in one day! Also 13th century founding, and also baroque library! How many old universities can one see in a day!! Gets old quickly The town is grimy and gritty, and much of the old Moorish hilltop citadel had been destroyed in the past two hundred years, replaced by ugly fascist era buildings occupied by the university. Our second day in the Coimbra was another Brian-rents-a- car-and-gets-outta-town day. This was to be an adrenaline packed Jewish interest day of the most unique kind. The primary motivation: 1. we had exhausted all the sites of Coimbra. 2. We had exhausted all the sites of Coimbra 3.There was a unique story in the town of Belmonte, 100 miles away that seemed hard to believe, so we had to see it to believe it! Belmonte is a town of 2000 in the hilly hinterland of Portugal, which, like so many others, once may have had a small Jewish population in pre inquisition times. It is believed that prior to the 15th century Spanish Inquisition, the Jews made up 20 percent of the population of the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain). The tale of the crypto Jews or Maranos is a well known story.
99: Architecture is the reaching out for the truth. LOUIS KAHN
100: Belmonte’s crypto Jewish community was first “discovered early in the 20th century , but it was not until late 20th century ( 1980’s) that the community accepted and acknowledged and proudly embraced their Jewish heritage, starting with Brit Milah and official conversion by several of the community. This was followed with a donation by a Moroccan Jew of Portuguese heritage of a brand new synagogue, and the flourishing of Judeo-tourism, including a Jewish museum and a Jewish research library!! The Jewish museum in this tiny Portuguese village included artifacts from the homes of the local crypto Jews that embraced their Judaism, many of which was hard to find Jewish content (nothing particularly Jewish about household implements or a wooden chair?). But what was fascinating was the memorial wall listing about 300 names of those from this region of Portugal that were tried and punished under the rules of the Portuguese Inquisition, some as late as the early 19th century.
101: JUNE 2013 | The names, location, age, and specifics of the charge and subsequent sentence were available for viewing on an interactive computer screen. Nunez-Martinez is a family name of one of Suzanne’s ancestors that moved to London from Amsterdam in the late 18th century. Nunez is still a prominent family name in this region of Portugal and prevalent family name on the list of those persecuted, many condemned to death, on the list of crypto Jews (or New Christians as they were called) accused, tried and found guilty of practicing Judaism. To see the details “in black and white” in this museum was quite chilling: Example: Name: Simoa Roiz Nunes, 33, Religion: New Christian. Charged with practicing Judaism. Sentence: death.Date: 1784. Our tour ended with a tour of the beautiful new orthodox synagogue nestled in the side of the hill in this tiny ancient Portuguese town, amongst the crucifixes and stony chapels. The translator of the orthodox president of this “shul” was happy to state that he himself (the translator) was not Jewish, but he loves the Jews because of the history and the people that now come to visit his town!!! He also interestingly concluded that Portugal today would be a powerful nation if they did not make the mistake centuries ago by criminalizing Judaism!!! Apparently it is the only historical town in all of Portugal that has recently had a new luxury hotel built. So much for the power of Judeo-tourism!!! Of course there are many sides to this story and the complexities and history of Belmonte makes for good search engine reading.
103: Other highlights of our daytrip: The semi abandoned hilltop town of Sortelha, and drive through the clouds at 600 feet in the national park of Serra de Estrela, the home of the Portuguese Mountain dog. Sortelha is a 12th century fortified village on granite boulders San Diegans: Imagine a walled city on the top of Mt Woodson. The only inhabitant of this town which may once have had 500 occupants was the woman staffing the tourist information, and an ancient couple in the artisanal boutique selling their homemade pine needle crafts. But the homemade liquor tasting and jam tasting as well as haunting feel of the old fortress made this trip memorable. Not to mention the cutest puppy Portuguese mountain doggy!
104: The trip home was white knuckling though hairpin bends at 6000 feet in the blinding clouds and whipping winds at ten miles per hour (tops!) This extended our two hour return journey by at least an hour, but was rewarded by a stop, once the clouds cleared, at the famous Portuguese Mountain Cheese and Leather and Woolen goods shop!! Along with the Portuguese widow in all black yelling at us to try more cheese or more liquor, the rewards of our purchases made the ordeal quite worthwhile! At least we could eat fresh goats milk cheese on fresh bread for dinner huddled in our Toyota Yaris and not have to stare down a cured dead pig’s leg while eating! So we saw some Portuguese landscape and villages and clearly this country could do with some Jews to set it straight!! Now on to Lisbon!!!
105: Lisbon, home of the craziest soccer fans Banners in all the shops and soccer crazy Portuguese everywhere. Lisbon was largely destroyed in one of the largest earthquake/tsunamis/fires of all times, destroying 80 percent of the city in the 18th century. The city is characterized by wide boulevards in the new town flanked by two hills that house the “old Quarters” that survived the earthquake; one of the hills crowned by an ancient fortress. The city is also notable for the 18th century townhouse buildings clad in glazed ceramic decorative tiles in all hues of blue or green or yellow; it is further notable by its lack of any huge cathedral, museum or medieval square. However if fado bars or sardines are what you are looking for, you have come to the right place! Cherry vendors on the street selling fresh cherries to go along with your jinjinha cherry liquor provided the necessary fuel to keep going through the buffeting winds to our viewpoint from the hilltop fortress, Sao Jorge Castle, only to find the view dominated by 20 storey cruise ship! No need to come all the way to Lisbon to see that! | Brian’s 60th birthday June 20 2013. Only my beloved wife, the most important person in my world to celebrate with in person! Nothing wrong with that! A massage, haircut, ( and nails for Sue), a visit to a sufficiently bizarre palace and sad wailing Portuguese song and grilled Portuguese fish to make up my celebration day nothing wrong with any of that!!! Sintra, a 30 minute train ride bedroom community of Lisbon, is also where the kings of Portugal had their summer palaces. The historic area of town where the castles of Sintra are located is a lovely change of pace from the laid-back bustle and grime of Lisbon. Sintra is clean and serene, winding streets along deep green forested river gorges, dotted with turreted fairy tale castles. Of course it didn’t hurt that we found a wonderful stop of coffee, dessert and a real salad! (also nice silver Portuguese Marquisette jewelry). Entire region should be a full day trip, since we did not have time to see all the wonderful sites or to hike in the gardens. The public bus took us on a hair-raising ride up the mountain to the Pena Castle, an attempt by the frustrated architect King Philip in the 19th century to outdo all the castles from every period in every style of every land in the entire world (short of Asia). And what a mishmash it is! Kinda like Disneyland on steroids, around every corner one finds a different fantasy land. The exterior of the building and grounds were the highlight here... interiors of the old palace at the bottom of the hill (including the most impressive Stag room) had more impressive interiors. A great time was had by all. And no.. .the Stag room is not where the guys all had a good time with the loose ladies it was stag (the animal) murals in blue and white glazed tile that were emblematic of Portuguese royalty that surrounded this beautifully proportioned meeting hall. Magpies and Swans were also favored themes in this delightfully unassuming castle. Fado is the national wailing blues of Portugal. Apparently it is a song form stolen, along with lots of gold and other things, from Brazil. Probably started as songs of Afro-Brazilian slaves longing for their freedom. Who knows? But imagine Cesaria Evora in her saddest mood singing with two old guys trying to not be too affected by her depression while accompanying her on Spanish guitar and the Portuguese fado guitar (for lack of a better name!). One more exotic language to my list of exotic languages that have sung in my “Happy Birthday”. .
108: Brian Turns 60
109: . A side trip to Belem, a neighborhood of Lisbon served those in our group who had not yet had enough of cathedrals and monasteries. It is home to the largest Manueline era cathedral/monastery complex (Jeronimo’s) that we chose to miss! Instead we visited the sidewalk map of the explorers of Portugal who discovered South Africa ( amongst other less important places like South America etc), donated by South Africa to mark the 500th anniversary of Barthomeu Diaz in 1960. Could have skipped that too! The museum of carriages was a lot of gilt and velvet and thoughts of highway robbers, but quite cool. Our trip to Lisbon ended with wandering the old quarter of Alfama, the old sailor’s quarters. Very small but quite atmospheric, a lady behind a curtain selling homemade jinjinjha and outdoor restaurants grilling fresh fish over drum barrel fire pit a perfect morning to end our Lisbon stay.
110: Shabbat was no Jewish stuff to see or do just chillin at small beach town of Olhao in the Algarve, the Portuguese equivalent of the Riviera. This town is very untouristed, and has very limited accommodation options. It is the last town in the region that still has a real fishing industry. Friendly people, small streets, unpretentious, informal, a slightly cleaner version of a Mexican beach town, but a stunning long empty sandy beach. Grilled sardines by Marco our tour leader, on the terrace of the small inn that we stayed at for Saturday dinner.family style party in the outdoor street restaurant with old ladies doing folksy dancing, like a bar mitzvah celebration | Olhao, Portugal
111: Sunday is a transit day, back to Spain, en route to Africa! A stop in Seville, Spain, with a quickie visit to the royal palace, a Christian palace built in Moorish style, one of the best examples of mujedar style in Spain. Lovely gardens. | Seville, Spain
112: One night stand in Jerez, famous for sherry (don’t ask about port) visit to bodega, Gonzalez-Byass, one of many. A consult with Rick Steves on Jerez revealed his impression that Jerez is a much overlooked town, but the REAL Andalusia, but in my short stay there, I cannot say whether or not I disagree with him. I don’t think I will come back to find out either. The dry heat of the in the 100’s daytime did not endear me to this otherwise quaint town of sherry bodegas. And off to cross the straits and enter northern Africa!!!
113: Jerez, Spain
114: Portugal in a nutshell
117: OUR TRIP THUS FAR... The last leg coming up...
119: Chapter Five MOROCCO, North Africa | The ferry ride was somewhat uneventful, besides the fact that we arrived at the port at 4 p.m. for a 4 pm ferry departure, for a ferry that only left port after five! Different people on board here strange languages and different clothes we knew we were definitely heading to foreign lands. Morocco. Northern Africa. Chefchouen, our first stop after a 3 hour private bus ride everyone is very quiet in anticipation. Our accommodation was the first surprise the best of our seven weeks with Intrepid. A chalet nestled at the base of the towering granite mountain with swimming pool and Moorish décor. Dinner at the hotel was a non-descript vegetarian tagine dish could do with more spice but the weather and environment and friendly staff are a relief
120: Chefchouen is a hillside town with white and sky blue painted buildings. Apparently the color is a legacy of the Jews that once lived here. No Jews, just the blues, and an old Jewish cemetery. Next morning was city walk with Mohammed a recast history, Berber carpets and chanukiah, Suzanne’s henna hands and my close call blade shave, spring fed stream and blue houses. So now the Jewish part Like all Moroccan towns, Chefchouan had a strong Jewish presence at one time. In Morocco the old Jewish quarter in the town is still known as the Mellah. And in this town, the blue painting on many of the homes is touted as being “from the Jews” Now both of these “facts” need some researching, and like everything in life, there are no simple answers. During our time in this town we had the opportunity to gather information from two guides (our town guide and our countryside guide) as well as interact with several shopkeepers, all of whom were very familiar with some Jewish facts, of course welcoming us as cousins and showing off their few words of Hebrew, probably gleaned from Israeli tourist that are now travelling to Morocco, since Istanbul is less friendly and this is what emerged All acknowledge that Jews were once a thriving minority, most seemed to think that they were the artisans, some saying they introduced carpet making, others saying Jewelry making, others saying salt and sugar trades people. Why was the Jewish quarter called the Mellah, which is the Arabic word for salt? Some say because they traded in salt, others because they owned salt mines, and a web entry says because the Jews had to rub the salt on those sentenced to be executed. And why were the houses painted blue: Many said it was introduced by the Jews (Jewish colors like the Israeli flag), other say “to keep away mosquitoes” or “to remind them of the sea”. A web entry suggests that the Jewish immigrants from Spain pre inquisition did this in honor of the mitzvah of wearing fringes out of Techeiles the color of which is generally thought to be the deep sky blue that these houses are painted in. Of course, no one will ever know! The other puzzlement: We kept hearing from these townsfolk about the Berbers. The Berbers are the mountain people in this region of the Rif Mountains, and of course there are large populations of Berbers in the Atlas Mountains and at the fringes of the Sahara. We met and saw many of the female Berbers on the road, carrying bundles of hay and firewood, and herding their goats and sheep.
121: Many still speak their native tongue in addition to Arabic, and in general seem to be trapped in that time warp where time has stood still for them. Their farms house their extended families... bread is cooked in clay outdoor ovens and donkeys operate their olive pressing wheels. What we heard from our townsfolk is that many of the Berbers are Jewish! And that the jewelry that we were buying was made by the Berber Jews and that the carpets and chanukiah were made by Berber Jews! So what are the facts: It is well known that there once was a population of Atlas Mountain Berber Jews, many of whom immigrated along with 95 percent of the rest of the Jewish Moroccan population between 1948 and 1965. The Jewish websites estimate that they may have numbered 6,000 people scattered amongst numerous small communities . Of course it may be possible that some of these people still remain in Morocco, and could well be responsible for some of the handicrafts. But not all Berbers are Jewish! I think that to the local Arab Moroccan, the Berbers represent “ the other” , just as the Jew was once “ the other” and in their minds Berbers must still be the remaining Jews that no longer occupy the Mellah. This still does not answer the question of the chanukiah and the other Judaica items which we saw in the carpet shop in Chefchouan. Massage poolside, haggling for junk jewelry .
122: Next day morning hike above town, competing for elbow room on the stony trail with shepherd boys sheep and goats. The pleasant mountainside walk included hospitality tea under the grape arbor, from a kind Berber farmer (definitely NOT Jewish) figs, goats, chickens, sheep, olives, corn, pomegranates, agave. The right medicine to relieve nerves still frazzled from waking to 30 minute call to prayer howling at 4 a.m. Lovely mountainside weather like Cape Town. Dusty, dry warm with cool breezes, safe walk around alleyways and bazaar Abul, Mohammed and Mahmud. They all remember the Jews that once lived here | Chefchouen
124: A four hour bus ride took us from the temperate mountain village to the baking hot metropolis of Fez . Fes as it is locally spelled was once the important capital of Morocco and still has the largest Royal Palace compound in Morocco that the king uses when in town. Do I look that Jewish? Right off the bus and local hustler approaches me to show me the way to the synagogue! How did he know it was yahrzeit for my late dad? Anyway, not trusting strangers, I declined his offer, and chose to stay close to hotel instead. The local guide was essential for our trip around the old Medina, a sprawling mass of high density housing, donkeys, craftsmen, winding alleys and open air shops. Donkey poop, trash, potholes, two foot wide alleys, screaming Moroccan Arabs, wailing call to prayer, severed goat heads and sheep’s tongues, heaps of figs and dates was only scratching the surface of the atmospheric nature of this foreign land. Sound exotic? How about ancient leather tanning and dye pits where peopled toiled away in 100 degree weather in pits of a mixture of pigeon poop and cow piss where the environment had stripped away their sense of smell else anyone else would be out of there in a second! Or where people still chipped away at fired ceramic tiles to create individual mosaic pieces of designs so fine that your think that they were painted. Or where behind the facade of chaos and dirt, beautiful old Moorish designed courtyard restaurants offered up Moroccan salads of delicious texture and delicate tastes. Of course the sacrifice of going with the tour guide was enduring painful demonstration of how we make (.) fill in the blank. Blankets, scarves, tiles, leather and enduring the wait in the factory shop until the requisite amount of money was fleeced from our innocent but willing fellow travelers. Our guide started his tour with the Mellah, the Jewish quarter , and gave our disinterested group of Ozzies and Kiwis a history lesson in the Jews of morocco. I guess the guides here must get so many Jewish tourists that they must assume that any white western face must be Jewish.. Or else where else did all the Jews that were once living there in Morocco go? So before most of the Jews left in the last 60 years, there were as many as 350,000 Jews in morocco , Today there are 5,000, with about 200 in Fes.From the viewpoint of our well educated official guide, he wanted to stress that the Jews were: 1 Always there, in fact before the Moslems ( this is correct), 2. They played an important part in the history of Morocco, many holding important positions over the centuries (not disputed) 3. Traded in jewelry and other fine crafts, and 4. Were never kicked out they all left voluntarily when Israel came into existence(of course he did not mention that they were no longer REALLY welcome!) A little whitewashing of history is every tour guides prerogative | Fez, Morocco
125: Clearly Fes and all of Morocco are very conscious of the Judeo tourism opportunity, as evidenced by the marked walks through the old quarters, the most prominent of the walks being the Jewish walk. The Mellah, old Jewish quarter, makes up about 20 percent of the area of the old Medina, which in total , is home to 350,000 people. It contains two renovated synagogues; the older one which we visited has a 17th century Moroccan torah scroll and is still in use for Shabbat. It also has the Jewish cemetery, which we did not have a chance to visit. And as our Arab Moroccan guide pointed out: Maimonides was here for five years and taught and wrote before leaving to Egypt! Another interesting Jewish fact: the Moroccan Jewish community of Fes distinguished the original Jews from pre Arab times from the new Jews from Andalusia that were fleeing the inquisition. According to the guide, they had different parts of the Mellah that they occupied, the Andalusia Jews being wealthier and higher status. The New Jewish quarters had wide streets and ornate balconies over their jewelry shops on street level.
126: the tannery
127: the tannery
128: A long train ride to Marrakech for our last stop of the intrepid tour, and we leave our group to enjoy our Shabbat on our own in a luxury Riad, top rated on tripadvisor, and who have made all the necessary arrangements for Shabbat directions to shul and a Moroccan kosher catered Shabbat meat meal, and shabbos lunch!! That is a great way to end our tour, luxury and exotic and kosher!!! Yummy our first Challah in 8 weeks! Never have enjoyed a Shabbat dinner and lunch as much as this one!! Catered with home baked mini challot, kosher wine, a selection of entrees, morroccan omelette, fish and a thin puff pastry roll with chicken, roast beef I could go on and on but enough of food! We had this served by our Riad staff, and we had the entire luxury riad to ourselves!! The service was old school... the first time to have wait staff serve up Shabbat dinner, pouring our wine and clearing the table! All in old world exotic luxury of leather and wood. The Shabbat services at the old synagogue were interesting... pure nusach Morroci. The local customs are always fascinating to me, and while there were only 12 local men and 6 women that made up the Shabbat morning service, they were all quite competent and confident to correct whoever was leading the service! A small synagogue which had certainly seen better times, the only one of 15 in the old Jewish quarter in the walled city that is still functioning. .
129: On our way to our Riad in Marrakech
131: Night time was time to tour the so called "red city" of Marrakech and what better place to start than the Jemaa el Fna... the huge central square at the entrance to the market that comes alive every night with snake charmers, water bearers, fortune tellers, street food vendors and row upon row of Orange Juice carts. Not to mention fresh figs and dates and camels. The ideal place for a rip off! Want your photo taken with two water carriers? Dressed up for the part? Sure.... and then.... that will be twenty dollars thank you!
132: Quite frankly it was bit overwhelming . Try walking the medina ( which we did), only do not trust the guy that says he will take you to the Berber market! Another racket that took us on a wild ride to tourist traps and tanneries and angry Arabs trying to take our money for the tour of the tannery! And then ending up completely lost in the maze of streets in the medina. Not to mention the carpet traders in the souk, each one beckoning you in to see their better deal. SO we ended up buying some rugs, so that we not go home empty handed! Brian at the back motorbike ride to the ATM through labyrinthine alleyways, swerving to avoid donkeys and pedestrians and cars and police almost ended this trip before making it back home... but I was assured I was in good hands. This was one hair-raising experience that Suzanne refused to witness. Marrakech is a mixed bag. Visiting the cultural sites such as the Madrasa Ali ben Youssef gave a glimpse of the past glory days of this country. While it is still a peaceful country , well controlled by the monarchy which seems to keep people in a state of contentment, it is dirty and poor and progress seems to be passing it by.
134: Our final destination is back to Paris, where Suzanne enjoys the pleasure of shopping at the greatest clothing and fashion center of the world! And then back home, suitcases filled and just in time for summer.
135: All good things must end... it is ALL as good as it gets!
136: We are thankful for this opportunity to see how some of the rest of the world lives. It has been an adventure to be remembered for years to come. We traveled 6 countries and 28 cities and towns for a 60 day trip from May 6 to July 2nd 2013. | We traveled by plane, automobiles, kayak, bike, cogwheel tram, paddleboat steamer, cable car, water taxi, donkey driven cart and all varieties of trains and more trains.
137: We experienced weather from balmy sunny days in Italy to icy windy days in the Alps; rain in France and baking scorching weather in Morrocco. Food equally varied and adventurous: gelato, fondue, croissants, tapas, bacalao and kosher salami! We saw places we had heard of and never seen: the Alps, Sienna, Madrid, Jerez, Fez, Lisbon, Salamanca, Lucerne, Bordeaux, Lucca etc and we saw many places we had never heard of : Olhao, Chefchouen, Sarlat, Luchon, Volterra, Pienza, Belmonte.. . We witnessed the sites of horrors of war from a time not too long ago, the worst world wars of all time. And we understood Europe in a different way. This was a trip of mingling with the local folk... and staying in the local places, and using the local transportation. Every inch of the continent has hundreds of stories to tell, and our Jewish people have been there too. The echoes of the Jews can be heard wherever we went, and while this trip was not planned as a "heritage" trip, the heritage of our people was hard to ignore. We succeeded in traveling with the less than 20 lbs of luggage each... in small roller bags that stood us in good stead. The advantages of traveling light cannot be overstated: I doubt that we will go back to big bag traveling again! The small group format worked well since we had mostly free time and the planned excursions were all worthwhile. We can honestly say now that we are seasoned travelers. A trip around Europe was originally planned as part of our leaving South Africa in 1977, but we settled in the USA instead and the trip never happened. I believe we have a much better appreciation for this traveling today. I am grateful to Suzanne for accompanying me on this journey, and trust that with help from the One Above, we will be in a position to continue on the adventure that travel provides for years to come.... what a great way to spend my 60th year... The only luxury is TIME...
141: THE BEST IS ALREADY HERE... LIVING the LIFE.. A Life worth Living....