Barcelona, Roses - El Bulli, Sevilla, Granada, Madrid, Jerez, Lisbon, Evora

 

April, 3 2007

Well Shannon and I are in Barcelona and it is 5:30 in the morning. We haven't quite adjusted to the local time.

We went to bed around 10:30 after the wedding, the wedding was wonderful and I wold like to thank everyone who was there, especially Cindy for her flowers as the wedding ended up being everything that Shannon and I could have hoped for.

4:00 the next morning ended up being earlier than both of us would have liked to have gotten up. Shannon did not like the fact that I was able to somehow set the alarm for 12:00 and that I just hit the snooze repeatedly until 1:30 until she finally got up and actually shut it off.

After two long flights with little (Shannon) and no (Darin) sleep, we landed in Barcelona and left the airport around 11:00am Barcelona time, 9 hours later than PST.

We were able to catch an airport bus that took us to Plaza Catalunya which, which is a major square at the top of the main tourist district, right next to where our hotel is. We went to check in (two floors walk-up to reception with our wheeled suitcases (now I remember why I have always used backpacks before), and our room wasn't quite ready so we went out to explore the area right outside the hotel.

We are about 50 meters off of Las Ramblas, which is a little over 1/2 mile long boulevard, with a very wide pedestrian center with the road and shops on either sides. It was raining (still is actually). Reading the guidebooks, they mentioned that this is a very touristy area, but I really didn't have a good understanding for how touristy until we walked around, it seems as if most of the people are tourists and there are a lot of people.

After taking a look around for a while we went back to the hotel, our room was ready (two flights farther up the stairs with our bags) and we slept for several hours. We got up and while I didn't feel fully rested I felt much better than I did before.

We went back out, and continued to explore the area. I ended up loosing my toiletries. so we went to a local supermarket and bought replacements. Foreign supermarkets are always entertaining. It is odd to see what is different and what is the same. They carry a lot of the products and brands we have but also carry a lot of different things that we don't have back home. As an example you can by a full ham (and I mean full, the entire leg) that has been air cured for up to several years(I really want to bring one home but they are illegal in the US and Shannon doesn't think that she wants to have a future career as a meat smuggler).

The end of this main boulevard, Las Ramblas, is the Mediterranean. We walked all the way to the end and saw several $100 million yachts and sail boats harbored in an area which is right next to their aquarium, which we probably won't have time to visit. We wondered around some of the back streets of of the main street and actually saw some local life. Some of the streets (more like alleys actually) are so narrow that there is no way that you could drive a car down them. Some of them have apartments and you could see the laundry hanging to dry (if it wasn't raining) off of the balconies.

We ended up wandering around and seeing what ended up being part of the old Roman walls which were built in 4 AD. It kind of surrounds an incredible cathedral(I will post pictures later once we get an opportunity to take some). Shannon is still suffering from a cld that she started to come down with just prior to the wedding, she hadn't taken any medicine, so we came back to the room to do that and went back out.

We wondered farther north from the Palaza Catalunya (this was around 9:00PM). this is just after everyone gets off work. They have siestas during the middle of the afternoon and end up working until around 8:00. They don't end up eating dinner right away but do end up having tapas, which are small two or three bite appetizer sort of things. We end up finding a busy tavern called Txapela,

The tapas menu was big, with 50 or individual tapas selections. Each tapas was between 1-2 Euros (with a Euro being worth ($1.33). We ordered 5 different ones, there was a fried potato one with sauce (kind of like spicy thousand island dressing), one that was a very small sandwich with pork loin, another was a potato with tomato on a toasted piece of bread, another that was kind of like an omelette on toasted bread and then a really good sausage on toasted bread. All of them were very good.

We then had a selction of tapas sized deserts. The was one that was supposed to be like cheese cake with blueberries, another was like apple pie, a pastry with cream, there was a chocolate with orange sauce and tangerine and lemon sorbet. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and went to bed.

During the night Shannon was woken by thunder and lightning. It seemed to be a pretty big storm that lasted for several hours. We were hoping that the weather was going to be bright and sunny but will have to see what the weather turns out to be like.

Today we are going to buy a multiple day pass for a tourist bus which visits 40 or so of the more popular tourist sites. You catch the bus at one location and ride it to the next place on the loop, getting on and off as you please.

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April 5, 2007

Well, it has been a few days since my last post so I thought I would give an update on what Shannon and I are up to.

We are currently outside the city of Figueres, about 120 kilometers or 70 miles north of Barcelona. We left Barcelona by car. Driving in Barcelona was an interesting experience. It has been a few years since I have driven outside the US and it was Shannon's first experience navigating abroad. The trip wasn't to bad. Michelin has a website similar to Mapquest that I was able to get directions from and other than being honked at a few times for getting in people's way (especially in roundabouts) and a lack of well marked roads, we made it to our hotel.

The hotel (Mas Pau), that we are staying at is incredible. It is a converted 16th century farmhouse and is gorgeous and incredibly cheap by comparison to what we were paying in Barcelona. This room is 105 Euros a night, whereas the room we had in Barcelona was 60. For 60 Euros in Barcelona we had a decent, very small but serviceable room. Here we have marble bath with both a tub and a shower with 5 or 6 shower heads, a very nice sitting area and just a gorgeous room in general.

Over the last couple of days we just toured Barcelona. We took the tourist bus around to the various sites and wondered around the area around our hotel, on Las Ramblas and in the Barrio Gothic. The Barrio Gothic is the old quarter, with very narrow winding streets (more like alleys). It is actually built on the part of the city which was occupied in Roman times. There are still a few Roman walls and in the basement of the Palua Reial and Museus d'Historia del la Ciutat, we were able to very areas underneath the main cathedral which were recent excavated which are of the Roman defensive wall, towers, houses and artisans shops.

This was one of the more interesting things that we have been able to see, they have found Roman busts, tablets with the original Roman writing and other artifacts which are incredible to see.

We also visited the main cathedral which was started in 1298, it was both of our first times in one of these massive cathedrals. It is amazing they were able to build something so big so long ago. We also visited another cathedral which they are still building. It is by Antoni Gaudi, who has several sites around Barcelona which he built. The cathedral started construction in 1890 and they estimate will take another 20-30 years to complete. All of his buildings are unlike anything you have ever seen. They are gorgeous, but are built in a very unique and creative style.

We were also able to take a aerial tram from the highest point in Barcelona down to the port area. I was very cool to be able to see Barcelona from such a high vantage point.

It has continued to rain, we had some rain free time yesterday but the weather is not that much different than I would expect at home. It is very odd here, though, and they have a lot of flooding in different parts of the country.

One thing that Shannon told me that I had to write about relates to a trip to Burger King. Sometimes I just don't want to deal with the whole language thing trying to order food and just want something fast, simple and familiar. So we went to Burger King. The one thing that I have gotten used to and Shannon couldn't believe is that they serve beer. They do this in a lot of different countries at Burger King and McDonald's, as a matter of fact the only country that I can't remember seeing it in is the US. So we both had a beer with our Whopper.

We are here in Figureres to have dinner at El Bulli, a restaurant about 30 kilometers away on the Coasta Brava, which is the Mediterranean coast in the north of Spain. We have to be at dinner at 8:00 and they will serve us 32 courses over about a 6 hour period. On the way we are going to stop by the Salvador Dali museum in Figueres.

Tomorrow we are back to Barcelona and then on Saturday we will take a flight down to Andalusia, to Seville where we will spend Easter.

More later.

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We have posted and will continue to post more pictures to:

Shannon's Flickr Spain Set

April 9, 2007

We haven't had Internet connectivity for the last few days so this is going to be a little bit longer post than the previous posts. I will update you on the things that Shannon and I have been up to the last few days.

First of all dinner at El Bulli. In a lot of ways I don't really don't know what to say, it is in some ways an indescribable experience, it is just something that you have to do for yourself. To begin with, just getting there is an experience in itself. We were staying in Figueres and the restaurant is just outside Roses which is about a 30 kilometer drive away. So we drove to Roses early and we arrived at the Dali museum 15 minutes before it closed so we weren't able to go there. Roses is about what I would expect for a town on the Coasta Brava. It is a nice seaside town, with the beach, a seaside road and then shops and restaurants. The drive from Roses to El Bulli is an experience in itself. You have to drive up over a hillside and then along the back of it. It is probably a 10-15 mile drive over a road that is barely wide enough for two cars that has lots of hair pin turns. The view from it over the Mediterranean is very dramatic. Unfortunately we have no pictures of it as I left my camera at the hotel and while it is a rather complex digital SLR with interchangeable lenses and you have to think about things like focal lengths, I seem to be incapable of using Shannon's point and shoot. All of the pictures I thought I was taking weren't actually saved.

FInally you get down to the beach and there is a hotel complex and El Bulli. The building, landscaping and location are beautiful and incredible. We were a little early and the second couple there, we went in and were immediately taken in to the kitchen where we were introduced to Ferran Adria. This is a little like going in and meeting Ralph Lauren before he makes your clothes for you, it was incredible and totally unexpected.

We were then taken to our table and given welcome cocktails, they brought the drinks and something that looks like a soda dispenser. They were gin fizzes, but in typical El Bulli style, we were told that we must drink them immediately. The top was a hot layer of white material, while the bottom layer was very cold green. The drinks were very good.

Then, over the next 4 hours, we were brought 30 some odd courses. I really don't know how many we were actually served. Some were unbelievable, others were a little outside of our normal range of dishes. The first half were mainly appetizers, including an assortment of flowers , flowers in cotton candy (also very good), a mango leaf that had somehow been dried with a flower(notice the flower theme)pineapple sticks, a cracker sort of thing with parmesan cheese. This one amazed me as the parmesan cheese was in little tiny clear eggs like caviar. The texture was incredible, they would kind of dart around your mouth and then when you bit into one you would get the overwhelming taste of parmesan.

Another of my favorites was a strawberry with wasabi. The strawberry had been dried somehow but was also filled with strawberry juice, the wasabi just added a little counter balance to the sweetness of the strawberry. I would eat these all the time if I could. After these courses we moved into the main dishes, which included tomato soup with ham, only the tomato was clear strips and the ham was 'virtual' in that it was foam. We also had a sea weed salad assortment (one of which I really liked and another almost made me puke). Several hours in and both of us were incredibly full.

The restaurant was one of the most amazingly organized groups I have ever seen. Every group had a personalized menu created by Ferran, while most of the dishes served where the same ones we were, we saw other dishes we didn't get. Ferran stands in the kitchen with a copy of every menu and supervises all of the cooks (I read that there is a one to one ratio between cooks and diners). And the serving staff is constantly moving about bringing dish after dish to the various tables, telling you exactly how to eat it - eat this one first and this one second, the second one must be eaten in a single bite or eat all of these from right to left and then eat the watermelon in the middle. At the same time they had to bring out the right utensils for us to eat each dish with as Ferran designs all of the utensils, plates and bowls that are used. The coordination and scheduling of all of this is immense, we literally had to ask for breaks and they would 'pause' the menu for us.

The final main dish that was served to us was one that they asked in the very beginning if we had any issues with as it was lamb brains cooked in their own sauce. Both of us said we would eat it. We were served three sections of bite sized brain in a light clear sauce, Shannon was able to eat one and even though I was incredibly full I actually found them to be quite tasty and I ate all three.

We were then served several desserts and departed. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and one that I am very glad we were able to enjoy. Even though I knew the price tag before we went in it was stick shocking to pay about the same as I do one my monthly car payment for a single dinner but it was well worth it.

Then Friday morning we drove back down to Barcelona. Shannon and I have the driving figured out, even though I think Shannon would be very happy to never see another roundabout again. I was not able to schedule the hotel (they actually call where we stayed a hostal, in Spain this is between a hotel and a hostel where you just rent s room in a dorm with a bunch of other people) and as it was Easter weekend I had a tough time finding a place. I used a last minute hotel service and was able to find a room at a place called the Catalanya Ramblas Hotel Barcelona which was a very nice ultra modern hotel (plasma TV, etc.) for a very reasonable rate, if you are ever in Barcelona I would fully recommend it.

We went out to wonder around and noticed that more shops than normal seemed to be closed. It was during siesta, the time between 2:00 and 5:00 when everyone takes an extended lunch prior to returning to work until 8:00 or so. We were on Las Ramblas and noticed crowds along the sidewalk and noticed that we had stumbled across the Easter procession for Barcelona.

Easter processions occur across Spain the week of Easter, but they are at their best in Seville, where we were heading to on Saturday. This was to be a preview of what we would see in Seville. The processions in Barcelona were small in comparison to the ones in Seville, there where maybe 40 or 50 people, most dressed in robes that look like KKK outfits, with tall pointy hats which cover there faces, they are sinners whose identity is only known by God. Some carry candles, others crosses, then there would be someone with a incense burner, the Bishop and finally a float. These are rather big, the size of a full sized pick-up and are carried by hand, with men underneath (really inside the float), they carry it a little ways and then sit it down and rest, then cary it a little further.

There were two different groups, 'brotherhoods', they are called; that proceeded through the streets of the Barrio Gothic to the Cathedral. I had not taken my camera out and ran back to the hotel to get it, not thinking that the streets would fill in front of the procession so the trip was rather long and by the time I made it back to where Shannon was I was in time to just see the end. We moved closer to the cathedral and Shannon was able to see it a second time. We were able to stand in front and I was able to take a few good pictures.

We left for Seville the next day by plane to see the Easter processions there. The flight was only about an hour and twenty minutes.

The processions come from their churches where ever they might be, in the processions in Seville, they are done throughout the course of the week, which is called Semana Santa. There are a total of 55 brotherhoods which make processions through the city to the cathedral. In some cases the procession of a brotherhood can take 5 or 6 hours, rotating the people that carry the float. Some of the people carrying candles or crosses are barefoot, so imagine walking barefoot over in many cases cobblestone streets for a number of miles, it is quite an act of faith and one that is incredible to see.

The processions in Seville are huge. I don't know how many tourists show up but it could easily be several hundred thousand over the course of the week. Seville is decent sized with a population exceeding 700,000, so there are a lot of people out to watch the processions when they occur. The main area around the cathedral actually has seats available for purchase but they were sold out by the time we arrived. The processions in Seville are huge compared with the ones that we saw in Barcelona. We ended up seeing three processions in Seville, and all of them were composed of several hundred people, including children.

We stayed at the Hotel Simon which was a 17th century mansion converted into a hotel. It was very beautiful inside with a central courtyard where you could sit and both floors of rooms were open to the courtyard area (which was enclosed). Lots of marble and lovely paintings everywhere. It was only two blocks from the cathedral so it was really convenient for visiting the places we wanted to see.

Seville is a beautiful city. The town has several buildings that have origins going back to 900AD. This part of the world was invaded shortly thereafter by the Moors who were Islamic and from Africa. Their architecture is vastly different and very beautiful. In the case of the cathedral, it started out as a mosque, but was deteriorating and starting in the 1200's, it was rebuilt using some of the elements from the mosque into what is the 2nd largest cathedral in the world behind St Paul's Basillica in the Vatican.It is overwhelming, while most of the inside was blocked of the first time we went in we were able to stand in the back while they were holding Easter mass. We went in later in the day when it was open for sight seeing and were able to tour around.

Seville was the city which controlled the Spanish operations in the new world after Columbus found the Americas. They have Columbus's tomb in the cathedral which is quite a site to see. They also have the tobacco plant where all of the tobacco which was harvested in the new world was shipped to to be processed. Imagine a building the size of a super Wal-Mart only built in the 1700s with all of the wealth that was available due to tobacco, it is a very cool building.

We also saw the Real Alcazar which is one of the buildings or more accurately complexes, that was started in the 900's. It started out as a fort and then had a Moorish palace built, and then a Gothic palace. The styles of the two palaces are unique contrasts and behind both are immense gardens.

Shannon has really wanted a carriage ride since we first saw them in Barcelona, there are a lot of carriages available for tourists in Seville and we went out and took a ride in one. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit, it was a great way to see the city.

One of the things that I really wanted to do when we came to Spain is to go to a bullfight. The bullfighting season opens in Seville on Easter Sunday, which is one of the most important bullrings in the country as this is one of the places that originated fighting bulls on foot instead of just from horseback. I heard that it was one of the most important bull fights of the season. So when we arrived we went to the stadium to see if we could buy tickets, but they were sold out. I kind of expected that this might be the case so we went with option b. There are scalpers who sell tickets and from them we were able to get 21 Euro face value tickets for 50 Euros each. And it took us dealing with several scalpers before we could find someone who was willing to sell that low.

So last night Shannon and I went to our first bull fight. It started at 6:30 and we started walking over to the stadium. It was amazing how many people were in the streets. The stadium is several hundred years old and has 14,000 seats, the streets around it can barely fit cars much less that many people moving towards the stadium. With some difficulty we were able to find our seats, which were of course not only 'nosebleed' but on the very top row. As the stadium started to fill we noticed the one unique things about the stadium, when they talk about 14,000 seats they are using every available inch where someone could sit, this isn't a sport where you get up and wander out to get something to eat or go to the bathroom. Once you sit, you are there for the duration as you have probably 2 square feet of space, and the person in front or behind has there two feet that are adjoining yours. Even the better seats were very cramped.

I didn't really know what to expect when we went in. We happen to see three named or high level professional bull fighters and 6 others. What happens first is the assistant bull fighters enter the ring (they have pink and yellow or pink and purple capes) and one of them steps out and tries to entice the bull, the bull charges around the ring and charges the capes of these assistants. Then trumpets blow and bull fighters on horseback come out. The horses have padded armor of sorts covering their bodies and the bull fighters one horse back have spears. The bull charges the horse, and the bull fighter on back spears the bull in the back along the spine, these normally went on for a few minutes as the bull tries to push over the horse and the bull fighter holds the spear in its back. Once, the bull actually knocked the bull fighter off his horse and onto the ground and almost pushed the horse over.

After a few minutes of this, trumpets blow again and out come assistant bull fighters with small hand held spears which are covered in colorful decoration. They then take these and try to get the bull to charge them and when they do they jump up in the air and use them to pierce the back of the bull. At this point there is a decent amount of blood coming out of the back of the bull and you can tell it is starting to get tired. It is at this point that the actual bull fighter enters the ring. He has a red cape and essentially dances around the bull with his cape as the bull charges. They use very dramatic movements and kind of taunt and entice the bull. Several of them where quite the showmen.

After a few minutes the bull fighter, who has been armed with a sword all of this time, takes it and tries to insert it all of the way between the bulls rib cage on their back into the heart. the very first bull fighter had problems and never was really successful, he got it in part way and then the assistants used knives into the back of the bulls head in order to kill it.

Most of them did these so that the bull dropped over dead within a few moments. It is a very spectacular sport and I think an excellent Easter tradition. We should do it in the US. I didn't it cruel in anyway after we watched it, they are very humane to the animals (I think they are a better and more honorable death than most of the cattle that is slaughtered for beef in any case). Shannon didn't find it to be as bad as she thought it would be, although it was still a little difficult to think that they spent a good 20 minutes teasing the bull before killing it for entertainment. But when the bulls would attack the horses it made it a little easier for her to stomach because she didn't want to see the horses get hurt. We are also hoping to go to a bull fight in Portugal which is done in a completely different style, in one part using groups of men to try and take down the bull and then with men on horseback fighting the bull. The bull is not killed in the ring in Portuguese bull fighting.

At this moment, Shannon and I are sitting on a bus between Seville and Granada. Granada is the home to the Alhambra, which is one of the greatest example so Islamic architecture in the world and one of the I have wanted to see since I was a kid. While yesterday was a gorgeous blue-sky and warm day, the rain has returned. The weather has not been good this trip. While looking back over he last few years there has been very little rain in April there has been a lot this month. Hopefully the weather improves as we are both tired of clouds and rain.

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April 12, 2007


We are currently in Madrid. We arrived yesterday morning and are enjoying the city.


Monday night we went to the Alhambra. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, just like the Pyramids, Yellow Stone and some of the other more important places in the world. I have been to several of these sites in the past and we are visiting several more on this trip.

This is a place that I have wanted to visit for a long time and it was an incredibly beautiful experience. It was built in a series of projects over about the last 700 years. It is a combination of a fort and palaces which was originally built by the Moors, who where Islamic invaders who occupied most of both Spain and Portugal between 1000 and 1500 AD. Spanish Kings also added onto it over time, so it combines Islamic and Western architecture. It has incredible gardens and various buildings.

They limit the number of people who can visit to 6600 per day and we actually had a time assigned that we could enter the main palace section. Even with these limits there where a lot of people there. But it was an incredible expereince even with all of the people.

Yesterday morning we had an early flight to Madrid, because of our hotel being in a relatively out of the way area we scheduled a cab to pick us up. When we went out to the cab, we noticed it was a Mercedes, which we have seen a few of used as cabs. When we got it we noticed that it was a very nice Mercedes. Now, the meter in the cab, which of all places was displayed in the rearview mirror, clicked by much faster than we expected. The driver passed another car at one point and I noticed that this was an incredibly powerful car. It wasn't until we got out that I noticed that this was an AMG. AMG is an in-house tuner arm of Mercedes which takes their normal cars, takes out the engine, replaces it with something much more powerful and redoes the suspension and other aspects. This cab that we were in was probaly at 450-500 horsepower and close to $100,000 car. I would love to own this car, I don't quite understand why it was used as a cab, but I loved the opportunity to ride in it even if we paid 40 Euros for what would hae normally have been a 20 Euro ride.


Yesterday we took the Metro(subway) to our hotel. Madrid (and Barcelona for that matter) has a great subway system. It worked very well to get to our hotel but we noticed one problem when we got to the final subway station, it didn't have escalators. A lot of them that we have since gone through do, but we had to lug our bags up several flights of stairs in order to get out of the subway and were pretty tired once we got to our hotel.


The schedule of people in Spain is a little different than in the US. They tend to start work a little later, they work until 2:00 or 3:00 and then take a siesta until 5:00 or 6:00 and then work to 8:00 or so. They don't eat much for breakfast, just a croissant or muffin and a small cup of espresso (which is served unbelievably hot according to Shannon). Then they eat luch during their siesta and then eat dinner around !0:00 or so. We have pretty much adopted their schedule so we are now going to bed around midnight and are getting up at 9:30 or so in the morning. Yesterday we had to get up at 6:00 which was much harder than we expected, I guess we are getting spolied. It is going to be hard to go back to work next month.


We spent some time yesterday wandering around Madrid. I really like it, it is my favorite city we have visited so far, it has a very nice feel to it, is incredibly beautiful and doesn't have the overwhelming number of tourists that Barcelona does.

We had an interesting dinner last night, they have a number of sites around here who serve a unique item. It is chocolate and churros. Churros are the doughnut sort of sticks that you also find in Mexican restaurants. The chocolate that they are served with is very thick and rich. The place that we went to pretty much serves only this, is open until 7:00 am and has been in business since the late 1800's. It was quite an experience, Shannon described it as the best thing she has ever tasted.

Today we went to the Museo Thyssen- Bornemisza, which is one of the greatest private art collections in the world. Spain bought it from the family in 1992 from the family for $300 million, it was Shannon's first experience with a world class art museum. It doesn't really cover any general area and is actually arranged historically, so it makes for a good art history lesson.


You go in on the 3rd floor(here they call it the second floor as what we consider the first floor they consider floor 0). It starts out with medival art and then goes through the various old masters, through the impressionists, experssionists and then some of the avant-garde stuff. They have works by all of the major artists; Rembrandt, El Greco, Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse, Chagal, Roy Lichtenstein, Kandinsky, Jackson Pollack were all represented. It was a great experience.

We are actually staying at the same hotel for a week, to explore both Madrid and some of the surrounding towns on day trips. We don't have any fixed plans for the next few days so we will just have to see what mood strikes us as far as what we will be doing tomorrow.

I have posted some more pictures to Shannon's Flickr account and will try to keep up posting them on a regular basis.

Shannon's Edition:

I drug Darin to a tack shop here in Madrid today Called the Equus Saddle shop. It was really a neat store! They had a lot of English riding stuff and you would not believe how cheap you can buy saddles for over here but they had a room in the back with some Spanish tack which is what I really wanted to see. it was beautiful stuff! The detail of the leather on the chaps, saddles, etc. is just amazing. Darin was a good sport and spent at least an hour in there with me and I showed very good restraint and only bought a belt (which I needed anyway since my jeans are a bit big!). We are going to go to another store that hopefully has more spanish stuff tomorrow I think.

As for the chocolate and churros - Lisa R. if you are reading this I told Darin that you would have died and gone to heaven last night when we were having that. It was a chocolate lovers fantasy. If only I could find a way to smuggle some home..... :-) I'll have it again and enjoy it for all of you!

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April 12, 2007


We are currently in Madrid. We arrived yesterday morning and are enjoying the city.


Monday night we went to the Alhambra. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, just like the Pyramids, Yellow Stone and some of the other more important places in the world. I have been to several of these sites in the past and we are visiting several more on this trip.

This is a place that I have wanted to visit for a long time and it was an incredibly beautiful experience. It was built in a series of projects over about the last 700 years. It is a combination of a fort and palaces which was originally built by the Moors, who where Islamic invaders who occupied most of both Spain and Portugal between 1000 and 1500 AD. Spanish Kings also added onto it over time, so it combines Islamic and Western architecture. It has incredible gardens and various buildings.

They limit the number of people who can visit to 6600 per day and we actually had a time assigned that we could enter the main palace section. Even with these limits there where a lot of people there. But it was an incredible expereince even with all of the people.

Yesterday morning we had an early flight to Madrid, because of our hotel being in a relatively out of the way area we scheduled a cab to pick us up. When we went out to the cab, we noticed it was a Mercedes, which we have seen a few of used as cabs. When we got it we noticed that it was a very nice Mercedes. Now, the meter in the cab, which of all places was displayed in the rearview mirror, clicked by much faster than we expected. The driver passed another car at one point and I noticed that this was an incredibly powerful car. It wasn't until we got out that I noticed that this was an AMG. AMG is an in-house tuner arm of Mercedes which takes their normal cars, takes out the engine, replaces it with something much more powerful and redoes the suspension and other aspects. This cab that we were in was probaly at 450-500 horsepower and close to $100,000 car. I would love to own this car, I don't quite understand why it was used as a cab, but I loved the opportunity to ride in it even if we paid 40 Euros for what would hae normally have been a 20 Euro ride.


Yesterday we took the Metro(subway) to our hotel. Madrid (and Barcelona for that matter) has a great subway system. It worked very well to get to our hotel but we noticed one problem when we got to the final subway station, it didn't have escalators. A lot of them that we have since gone through do, but we had to lug our bags up several flights of stairs in order to get out of the subway and were pretty tired once we got to our hotel.


The schedule of people in Spain is a little different than in the US. They tend to start work a little later, they work until 2:00 or 3:00 and then take a siesta until 5:00 or 6:00 and then work to 8:00 or so. They don't eat much for breakfast, just a croissant or muffin and a small cup of espresso (which is served unbelievably hot according to Shannon). Then they eat luch during their siesta and then eat dinner around !0:00 or so. We have pretty much adopted their schedule so we are now going to bed around midnight and are getting up at 9:30 or so in the morning. Yesterday we had to get up at 6:00 which was much harder than we expected, I guess we are getting spolied. It is going to be hard to go back to work next month.


We spent some time yesterday wandering around Madrid. I really like it, it is my favorite city we have visited so far, it has a very nice feel to it, is incredibly beautiful and doesn't have the overwhelming number of tourists that Barcelona does.

We had an interesting dinner last night, they have a number of sites around here who serve a unique item. It is chocolate and churros. Churros are the doughnut sort of sticks that you also find in Mexican restaurants. The chocolate that they are served with is very thick and rich. The place that we went to pretty much serves only this, is open until 7:00 am and has been in business since the late 1800's. It was quite an experience, Shannon described it as the best thing she has ever tasted.

Today we went to the Museo Thyssen- Bornemisza, which is one of the greatest private art collections in the world. Spain bought it from the family in 1992 from the family for $300 million, it was Shannon's first experience with a world class art museum. It doesn't really cover any general area and is actually arranged historically, so it makes for a good art history lesson.


You go in on the 3rd floor(here they call it the second floor as what we consider the first floor they consider floor 0). It starts out with medival art and then goes through the various old masters, through the impressionists, experssionists and then some of the avant-garde stuff. They have works by all of the major artists; Rembrandt, El Greco, Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse, Chagal, Roy Lichtenstein, Kandinsky, Jackson Pollack were all represented. It was a great experience.

We are actually staying at the same hotel for a week, to explore both Madrid and some of the surrounding towns on day trips. We don't have any fixed plans for the next few days so we will just have to see what mood strikes us as far as what we will be doing tomorrow.

I have posted some more pictures to Shannon's Flickr account and will try to keep up posting them on a regular basis.

Shannon's Edition:

I drug Darin to a tack shop here in Madrid today Called the Equus Saddle shop. It was really a neat store! They had a lot of English riding stuff and you would not believe how cheap you can buy saddles for over here but they had a room in the back with some Spanish tack which is what I really wanted to see. it was beautiful stuff! The detail of the leather on the chaps, saddles, etc. is just amazing. Darin was a good sport and spent at least an hour in there with me and I showed very good restraint and only bought a belt (which I needed anyway since my jeans are a bit big!). We are going to go to another store that hopefully has more spanish stuff tomorrow I think.

As for the chocolate and churros - Lisa R. if you are reading this I told Darin that you would have died and gone to heaven last night when we were having that. It was a chocolate lovers fantasy. If only I could find a way to smuggle some home..... :-) I'll have it again and enjoy it for all of you!

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April 17, 2007

It has been a while since our last post, things have actually been rather quiet as I have been sick the last few days. Whereas Shannon was sick at the wedding and has had a cough for the entire trip, I ended up getting sick on Friday.

Friday we went to the Palacio Real which is the royal palace here in Madrid. The royal family doesn't live here anymore although they do use it for official functions.They now have a smaller palace that they now live in. Part of it is open to the public, so we were able to see a little bit of it.

The palace is a lot smaller than what they originally planned, at only 2800 rooms. The original plan was for a building four times that size. I really can't imagine why anyone would have wanted something with 10,000 rooms; 2800 is big enough even if you have a large family. The most spectacular part was the royal armory, they have an incredible amount of medieval armor; full armor, horses in armor, swords and incredible guns. It is several rather large rooms just filled with it. We also saw the throne room, the main dining room (which was just used last week), some of their china and silver, and a room which had 5 Stradivarius violins and cellos. It is pretty amazing what so many generations of royalty can accumulate.

We didn't do much of anything on Saturday as I wasn't feeling to well, and we already had plans for Sunday. On Sunday we had a car rental scheduled to go to Segovia.

First I need to talk about the car, I had scheduled a Smartcar ForTwo. I forgot to take a picture, so you can do a Google search on Smartcars and you will see what they look like. They are made by a division of Daimler-Chrysler and have only been available in Europe and Canada for the last 5 years or so. They are going to be coming to the US shortly and you can actually get one now if you buy certain houses from a particular property development company in Portland.

I have had a fascination with them for some time. They are incredibly small, the ForTwo has two seats and that is about it. You can fit two of them in a regular parking space. The company we rented them from Pepecars, marks all of their cars with the company name in rather large letter, but the Smartcars, come to find out are painted in a bright color and then plastered with the company logo on every available surface. You tend to stand out a little.

One thing about the company which is different than those in the US is that there is no requirement to fill the tank, you get the car with however much gas the last person left. We picked it up on Sunday morning and had to immediately search for a gas station because it was on empty. It was a little stressful as there are not many gas stations in downtown Madrid and those that we found were all closed. We finally found one on the way out of the city.

The Smartcar is an interesting driving experience, the engine is small so the acceleration leaves a little to be desired, but the interior is larger than I expected. I was actually rather comfortable. Being that small it handles incredibly well, but with such a short wheel base you tend to feel every bump in the road. We found that cobblestone streets were not the most enjoyable experience.

I had to stop writing for a few minutes. It is now about 10:30 at night here and we had not had dinner yet. As tonight is our last in Madrid, Shannon and I went to have chocolate and churros for our last time.

Back to the story, we had rented the car to go to Segovia which is a small town about 50 miles northwest of Madrid. It has about 50,000 people and has a couple of reasons for going. The first is that it is an old walled city that happens to have a Roman aqueduct running into it. It is a rather spectacular site. It is a hundred or so feet high and is built from stone using no mortar. When looking up at it I was amazed at what it must have taken to build it 2000 years ago.

The other reason to go is for the Alcazar (castle), it is rumored that this is the castle which was used for inspiration for the castle at Disneyland. The original burned down in the late 1800's, and this is a replacement they built after the original burned down. It is interesting to see, but I had higher expectations as they just try and let you know about what it was like.

Monday most everything was closed, and the weather was excellent for one of the first times since we have been here so we wen to the Parque Del Retiro, which is the closest thing the NYC Central Park I have seen anywhere. It is a rather large park in the middle of the city. It was the exclusive domain f the royal family up until about 150 years ago. It has a rowing pond and a number of fountains. It was a very nice place on a beautiful day.

Today we went to the Prado which is one of the greatest art museums in the world. It is essentially the art collection of the Spanish royal family and is incredible. They have over 8000 pieces, of which only a quarter are on display. They have one of the best collections of old masters that I have seen. Needless to say, the collection is Spanish art is the best but they also have pretty good collections from the Low Countries, Italy and the rest of Europe.

This afternoon a thunder and lightening storm came through, shortly after it finished raining we went to a nearby park and of all things saw an Egyptian temple. It is one of the ones which was removed from Egypt after they built the Aswan dam and was one that was going to be underwater. Kind of cool to see, as it pretty much rounds out most of the major types of art and architecture that there are in the world.

Tomorrow morning we are flying to Jerez, which is in Andalusia or southern Spain near Seville. We are going back down there due to flight ticketing error that I made. Jerez is the home to Sherry, that style of wine is grown there. It is also home to the Spanish riding school.

I have posted a couple more photos of the things that we have done the last few days to Shannon's Flickr site, there aren't that many as we have not done too much lately, though.

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April 21, 2007

We are now in Lisbon, Portugal. We left Madrid on Wednesday and flew to Jerez which is Andalusia in southern Spain near Seville, where we were eariler this month.

We went there specifically to go to the Real Escuela Andaluza de Arte Ecuestre, which is the Royal Andalusian Equestrian School. We arrived in Jerez on Wednesday morning to a very dead town. I had heard that the town was economically depressed but was somewhat shocked to see that all of the businesses were closed and there was almost no one on the streets. We checked in to our hotel and immediately went over to the equestrian school. We happened to arrive during the time that the offer tours and tours are only offered for a few hours a couple days a week so this was the only opportunity to tour the grounds.

The main purpose of the school is to keep alive the art of the Andalusian dancing horse. While Lipizzan horses are a separate breed, they are related to the Andalusian horses and the shows that they put on are based on the moves that were developed in Andalusia. This is a real school (one that was started by the King, the reason for Royal in the name), they have 4-6 students a year that are in a 4 year progam to learn how toride horses that perfrom the manuvers.

The tour happened to take place during the training time so we were able to see them work some of the horses. We also got a tour of the stables and their tack room. All of it is incredibly beautiful. The horses are amazing, on of the horses that we saw in the stable has competed in several Olympics and world championships, he one a silver medal at the Olympics in Athens in Dressage. We were also able to tour a museum that they have and a carriage museum that they have.

After touring the school we wondered around town and we able to determine that the reason that the town was totally closed was due to a general strike. We don't really know why everyone was on strike but it was due to something about education. The one thing that was nice was that the weather was improving, we haven't had many good days.

One of the things that I have noticed about traveling during strikes is that things in general become 'interesting'. The manner in which it appeared to us was that there where very few places open to eat. We ended up selecting a cafe to eat and ended up with what has to be the world's worst waitress. I had completely finished my meal by the time that Shannon's food arrived.

On Thursday we were up early to get tickets to the exhibition to the riding school. That afternoon, along with 1598 other people, we were able to see an exhibition of the Andalusian horse. It was incredible. In addition to formation riding similar to what the Blue Angels do in planes, we also were able to see several moves that take horses years to learn. The most dramatic of these are moves where the horse stands on its hind feet with its upper body at up to a 45 degree angle and a move where the horse literally leaps into the air. Unfortunately they do not allow pictures during the performance so I can't show you what we saw but we do have some pretty good postcards and a DVD of the performance. We also ended up having a 85 degree and sunny day.

That night we ended up having the opposite dining experience from what we had the previous day. We were hungry and just walked up to a nearly empty cafe (normally a big warning sign, I normally like to eat at places that are packed with locals), and ended up having an absolutely delicious 3 course meal. This place should have been in all of the guidebooks and been very busy, it is always enjoyable to have experiences like that.

Friday morning we flew from Jerez to Madrid and then on to Lisbon. When the plane was arriving in Lisbon we ran into a little storm, from the look of the delyed flights into the airport, after our arrival, it looked like we were lucky we were able to land.

We made it to our hotel in the middle of a rain storm, and were nicely surprised by the room. I had booked a room at the Sheraton several months ago. It has just finished a massive remodeling, it was closed for quite a while. We ended up getting an upgrade to a club level room on our arrival and it is a very nice room. We have a glass bathroom, a Bang & Olufsen plasma TV and several other nice features. We have a very nice 5 star experience for a fraction of the normal 460 Euro a night rate.

We went out and toured a part of the city after the rain subsided. Lisbon sits on a harbor on the Atlantic ocean and reminds me a lot of San Fransisco, only with true Old World charm. It has the hills, cable cars and water views of San Fransisco. It is a very beautiful city. One of the things that we did of all things, was take an elevator. One of Effiel's proteges, built an elevator here that gives views of the city (I posted a photo of Rossio square that I took from the top). One of the interesting things about Lisbon is that a lot of it isn't really that old. They had a devastating earthquake in 1755 which destroyed most of the city so a lot of it has been built after that time (yet another similarity with San Fransisco).

This morning we made an early start (I left my alarm on by mistake and also had it set an hour ahead as Lisbon is an hour behind Spain). The weather was gorgeous (it hit the high 70's), so we ended up taking one of the double decker open top bus tours. A couple fo the highlights were Belem tower, which was a castle which was built 500 years ago to guard the entrance to the harbor, the national coach museum which contains a number of coaches and carriages (come to find out there is a difference) that have been used by the royal family over the last few hundred years, and a monastery which was also built about 500 years ago.

We will be in Portugal until next Saturday, we are in Lisbon until Monday morning at which point we get a rental car and will then drive to Evora, which is a town just southeast of here. We will be there until Wednesday morning. We have the rental car until Friday, but no real plans, so we will just see what happens Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

I have posted a few new photos on Shannon's Flickr page.

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April 30, 2007

Sorry it has been a while since I posted. Shannon and I are currently over the Atlantic, returning to the US. Long trips are never any fun (we will have 20 some odd hours of traveling today when everything is said and done) but they are so much better when you are starting a trip and you have something to look forward to, the return trip just seems to be a lot of work after you have spent a number of weeks traveling without much of a reward, although it will be nice to be back home and to sleep in our own bed tonight.

Well, the bulk of the last week since the last post has been spent in Portugal. On Monday morning, we got a rental car in downtown Lisbon for five days. The original plan was to drive around to a number of small towns, but that isn't what we ended up doing.

Te car that we got was another SmartCar, this time it was the ForFour, which is a subcompact four door. While it is much more practical for most purposes than the ForTwo that we rented previously (it actually had room for both of us and our luggage) and drove rather well through the entire trip, it really didn't do much of anything for me. It doesn't have the appeal of the other very small car, even if it isn't very practical for anyone who doesn't live in a very large city.

We picked up the rental car in downtown Lisbon and this time it ended up being through Hertz. This had a couple of pluses, the first being that it had a full tank of gas (although this meant that we had to return it with a full tank of gas at the end but fortunately there was a gas station directly in front of the Hertz office), the second being that we actually got a map and the people who worked there spoke English.

Actually a lot of people in Portugal speak English which made our trip much easier. I have noticed both in Spain and in a lot of other Latin American countries that not as many people speak English. I think that there is a tendency that if your language is widely spoken not to learn another one (look at everyone not only in the US but also in other English speaking countries) but in those countries where the primary language is less widely spoken more people tend to learn English or other common languages. This is not to say that a lot of people in Spain don't speak English or that everyone once you get to the countryside in Portugal speaks English.

On Monday we drove east of Lisbon inland to a town called Evora. The entire town of Evora has been declared a World Heritage site. It is a walled town, with most of the people living behind medieval walls, which make the entire town look like a castle. I had booked a hotel quite a while ago which probably ended up being the nicest place that we stayed at on our trip. It is an old converted convent which has been converted into a 5 star hotel. It is a little over 500 years old, and has quite a bit of history, a number of kings have stayed there and several important moments in Portuguese history have occurred there. While it was still, expensive to stay there, it was much less so due to our being able to use both a combination of points and dollars for each night.

I am a big believer in the frequent flier programs and with the programs for hotels. This property that we stayed at was a part of Starwood, who also owns the St. Regis, Sheraton and Westin chains. While I don't stay in hotels that often I do try to collect points whenever and however possible. While the property that we stayed at was incredible, it doesn't appear to be incredibly busy, so instead of us needing 10,000 points for a free night, it was one of the places that currently allow you to use 4,000 points and $60 dollars a night. While I didn't have that many points in my account I was able to purchase extra points and in the end we ended up saving several hundred dollars for each of the two nights we stayed there over what it would have cost for us to stay at the normal rates. I did the same thing for the last two nights when we where in Barcelona where I got one free night at the Hilton after buying a few more points. The second night we had to pay normal rates, but between the two it ended up being pretty reasonable. The one recommendation for anyone coming to Barcelona on a weekend is to book your hotel room months in advance. I did for the first few days after our arrival but did not for this last weekend. By the time I tried to, most hotels were completely full. Barcelona seems to be a very big weekend destination for people from across Europe so last minute (and that really means anything less than a month) tend to be very limited and are at the two extremes, really cheap and scary or very expensive (there were several $500-$700 a night properties that were available).

We didn't really see any sites the first day in Evora, the one thing that I really hate about traveling is laundry. The goal is to not travel with that many clothes, and both of us have about 5 days worth of clothing. We came prepared to do some laundry in the hotel sink, which works ok for socks and underwear but not much else as it takes a couple days for everything to dry (even so called quick drying travel clothes), so what we have tried to do is take our clothe to a Laundromat every 10 days or so. The guide book said that there was a Laundromat in Evora and the convent is outside the city so we drove into to find it. We really didn't have the best map of the town and I knew that the Laundromat was near the main square in town, so we set off to find the man square. I didn't actually plan on driving much in the city, hopefully we would find the main square and be able to park near it. The reason why I didn't want to drive too much is that the streets are not built for cars, they exist in many cases based on the same layout from the mediaeval layout 500 to 1000 years ago. Well, we ended up driving in several places we really shouldn't have been, we ended up getting into a section that left us no option but to drive up a street which was a very narrow pedestrian mall with shops and cafes along the sides (we didn't make any friends, needless to say) And then once we finally find a place to park and walk to where the guidebook says the Laundromat should be, it isn't there. We then went to the tourist office and find out that there is not one in town). The one problem with luxury hotels is that it costs quite a bit for the to do laundry, once we got back to the hotel we checked the price list and it would have cost us over $200 for them to do our laundry. We decided just to do t all in the sink.

One of the main reasons why we went to Portugal is that Shannon's horse is half Sorraia, which is actually a separate species of horse, and there are only 200 of them in the world with almost all of them in Portugal (there are only two full Sorraias in the US). The woman who Shannon bought her horse from knows several people in Portugal who work with Sorraias and tried to connect us with them. We finally ended up getting an e-mail from one of them a couple of weeks ago letting us know that the conditions are not good at the place where we originally planned on going to and that instead we should go to a town named Alter de Chao. Fortunately Alter de Chao ended up being pretty close to Evora, so the next morning we drive to Alter de Chao. We ended up driving by what looked like a very cool castle up on a hill and stopped by. It was a very interesting experience. It was a very small town with probably less than 100 residents inside the wall along with a castle. These ended up being one touristy sort of store, and we saw two other tourists when we where there. The view was spectacular. I can see why they built there as it has a commanding view of 10-15 miles in every direction.A ways further we ended up driving over a very cool looking one lane bridge that passed over a river, and I stopped to take a picture. Only later did we find out that this was a Roman bridge. It is kind of amazing to think that a bridge built nearly 2000 years ago is still in use and that cars drive over it everyday.

We finally arrived in Alter de Chao to find out that there was going to be a bull fight the next day. Normally bull fights are held on Sundays and this was being held on a Wednesday, which we found out is a traditionally April occurrence in the town. We both really wanted to se a Portuguese bull fight as they are vastly different than the Spanish ones, so we bought a couple of tickets and made reservations for a local hotel for the following night. We then returned to Evora to see the main sites.

There are two main attractions in Evora that are unique. The first is the bone chapel. One of the churches in town has a chapel which is constructed of human bones. About 500 years ago a couple of monks came up with the idea and so the chapel walls and columns are composed of 500 skeletons, including skulls. It is a very unique room and the most number of skulls that i have seen outside of the Killing Fields outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The second site is what is referred to as the Temple of Diana and it is one of the best preserved Roman temples in Spain and Portugal. They don't actually know which Roman god it is for, somehow the name has just kept with it. So we spent the afternoon checking out both of these places and wondering around town.

The next morning we drove to Alter de Chao. This town is not in the guidebook that we have and it is always kind of neat going to out of the way places like that. We didn't see many other tourists when we where there, the one consequence of this is that almost no one in town speaks English, which made things rather interesting.The hotel that we stayed at was a another converted convent, not quite as impressive as the one in Evora, but still very nice and much cheaper. You can get quite the bargain sometimes when you are off the main tourist track. In addition to the bull fight, there was also a dog show. Neither Shannon nor I know what kind of breed it was for, but all of the dogs where obviously from the same breed and obviously real working dogs. They also had a carnival of sorts, and vendors. Whereas with us, this normally means artists or different novelty sort of items, here it meant clothes, shoes, curtains, tools and other things that I don't think were widely represented in the local stores. They also had some food vendors so we had lunch and fruit filled churros.

We then went to the bullfight. A Portuguese bullfight is different from a Spanish one in a couple of ways, first they don't kill the bull in the ring, second the bull fighters are on horse back and third they have something that doesn't exist in Spanish bullfighting and is quite a sight to see. What basically happens is the bull fighter comes out on horseback along with a couple of assistants that have capes and do the same distracting the bull and getting them to charge their capes as in Spanish bullfighting. The bullfighter on horseback then rides around the rind and sticks several darts in the back of the bull as do on foot in Spain. After they spend a while working the bull and near the point that they would kill it with a sword in Spain, they instead bring a group of 9 men out into the ring and the bull fighter on horseback departs. One of the men comes out the the front and the rest form a straight line directly behind him. The first guy calls to the bull and gets the bull to charge him, once it does he basically takes the bull charge directly into his body and slides up onto the bulls head. The rest of the men then try and stop the bull. Their job is to bring the bull to a complete stop, if they don't they have to do it again until they do. We saw a total of seven bulls that day and in a couple of cases they were able to stop the bull on the first charge a couple of times it took two tries and once it took three. I really can't imagine doing this part. Some of the men got covered in blood (some of it was the bulls and some of it was theirs), several got knocked to the ground with the bull charging them as they play dead, a couple got stomped on with one leaving on a stretcher and one lost a shoe. There where a total of 4 groups of men and 7 bulls, so some of the groups had to go more than once. I think I would have a hard time doing it a second time.Shannon preferred this to the bullfight in Spain. I prefer the Spanish one but do like the part when the men stop the bull. The horses and horsemanship was very impressive, though.

The next morning we went to see the Sorraias. The place that we went to is basically the Portuguese version of the riding school we went to to in Jerez. At the same time it is also the nation stud farm, they do a lot of breeding of Lustianos, which is the national horse of Portugal. They are not setup to handle tourists quite as well as the one in Jerez, we were finally able to find the ticket office and found a person who spoke English to explain that while we wanted to take the tour, the main reason we where there was to see the Sorraias. She explained that tourists didn't get to see them but after explaining that Shannon owns one, she was going to talk to the vet and asked if we could come back in half an hour. So we went and explored the complex for a while and then came back. We where then able to see quite a discussion between the woman we spoke with and another woman. The other woman was obviously very mad and when she finally spoke to us was rather rude and told us that tourists didn't EVER get to see them but after explaining the situation and who had recommended we visit their herd and why, she calmed down a little bit and told us that we could go on the tour in an hour and she would talk to the vet to see if we could be taken to see them. So we wandered around and visited their gift shop and then returned for the tour. During the tour we saw a falconry exhibit which was kind of interesting and were taken to see the mares patio and barn where they keep all of the mares that are being bred along with their fillies and colts. We were then told by the lady giving us the tour that we could meet the vet at 12:30 and she pointed out where we were to go.

We went in a met the vet, who was a woman who didn't speak English. Fortunately one of the women who works there had her boyfriend there who did speak English. They were in the process of doing the breedings for the day which consisted of a mare being brought in along with her 9 day old colt or filly, the mare was then hobbled and they then brought in the stud. It was my first time seeing horses breed and it is quite the experience. It is a little more violent than I expected. They then bred a second pair for the day.The vet, the woman her boyfriend and us then hopped into a Land Rover and we took off for the pasture where they keep the Sorraias.

The Sorraias are kept in a pasture by themselves, they are the European equivalent of mustangs and are still pretty wild. The Sorraias where only found around 50 years ago. A doctor found a group of them along the river Sorraia, and noticed the fact that they all looked the same. Since then they have identified the fact that these are the only one of the original four species from which all horses come from which is still in existence. They have 13 mares, one stallion and a three month old. We were able to spend around 15 minutes with them, were able to walk into the herd and both Shannon and I were able to touch them. It was quite the experience. That afternoon we drove back to Lisbon and returned our car.

The next day we went to a town just outside of Lisbon called SIntra. Sintra is another town which is a World Heritage site, due to some of the buildings there and due to the diversity of plants and trees that they have. It is close to the sea and has a very wide diversity of trees and other plants due to a unique climate that exists in the area. They have both Redwoods and I think I saw a Madrone, neither of which I thought existed outside of our part of the world. It is a very neat town, unlike any other that I have ever seen. It draws a lot of tourists and I can see why. It is very unique, with a lot of palaces and several castles.

The next morning, Saturday we flew to Barcelona and ended up spending all day traveling. What was supposed to be a 4 hour layover between Madrid and Barcelona (on the way from Lisbon) became an almost 7 hour layover because the flight crew was delayed on another flight due to weather. The people waiting for the plane were really upset and were yelling at the airline staff. It was one of those moments like on the television show Airline - only we wished we had subtitles so we knew what was being said. It was going to be a riot at a couple of points - we were sure of it! They all got really excited when they got to fill out complaint forms and when I went up and asked what they were filling out the guy said they were official complaint forms and I asked if they did anything and he said "no". So there was no point in even filling them out but you would have thought they had gotten their flight for free with all the hurrays that went out. It was entertaining at least.

Sunday we had planed on doing some final shopping in Barcelona, but we forgot it was Sunday and almost all of the stores where closed, so there where several things for myself that I wanted to buy that I wasn't able to.

Everything that is written above was done on the flight to the US. It is now the following day, Shannon and I are now home trying to recover from the flights and time zone changes. It was an incredible trip, Spain and Portugal were both wonderful and we had some incredible experiences. I don't know if we will ever go back to Spain, it is worth visiting; Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and Granada are all incredible cities and I would recommend visiting them but the highlight for us and someplace that we definitely will return to is Portugal. It is a wonderful country with very nice, friendly people that has a lot to offer (and it is also less expensive). Now, it is time to return to the real world and our normal lives. I am posting the last of the photos to Shannon's Flickr site.