More so than on any other trip that we’ve made, the technology has played a more significant role than on most trips. Just the fact that I write this travel blog requires that I have some technology with me such as my laptop but this isn’t really the focus of this article.
One of the main challenges for Barb and I visiting Spain is the language. Especially making norther Spain the focus of this trip, we’ve found that tourism isn’t as big of a focus and as a result the vast majority of people that we have been dealing with in hotels and restaurants either speak no English or very little. Fair enough, we often get too used to everyone speaking our language in most of the places that we visit.
One of the technologies that we are using for the first time on this trip that has made a big difference for us is Google Translate app on my iPhone. It has the usual capability of being able to translate a written or spoken word or phrase and it will translate which many apps can do. However what the Google Translate app does which we’ve always had challenges with is being able to translate a restaurant menu while you’re looking at it. So in situations where you and a waiter can’t reasonably communicate, you can take a menu a menu in Spanish and just holding the iPhone over the menu you see a (fairly decent) translations of the Spanish words right in front of your eyes. The first time that I saw this I was pretty amazed.
As I mentioned above, many of the places that we have been to so far in northern Spain don’t seem to have a huge tourism focus. This has it’s pros and cons. One of the biggest pros is that virtually all of the restaurants that we have gone to since arriving in Spain last week have been what we would call “local” where all of the local people would usually go to eat. In fact in easily 80% of the restaurants where Barb and I have eaten we were clearly the only non-locals.
We were out driving yesterday exploring the many beaches in this region and stopped off at a small town for lunch. The place that we found was fairly crowded and we were told that there was no menu. Lunch was what was being cooked. Ok, sounds good. We have some good, local red wine which is typical and the food soon starts arriving. We’ve found that it’s typical for lunch to be a fairly large meal and it’s often been 3 courses. In yesterday’s case, it was a chicken noodle soup to start then some potatoes and some meat. Final course is a large veal scallopini (with fries) and we both can barely finish it. And then we’re asked if we want dessert and coffee!
It looks like most people here seem to get about 2 hours for lunch as we were there for 90 minutes and nobody seemed to be in a hurry to leave. Most stores seem to close in the mid-afternoon so this seems to be consistent with that.
When I posted my blog update yesterday I added a link to my Excellent Adventure photo web site. One of the items that I included on that site is a short video. This was taken a few days ago at a local restaurant called a cidrerie which specializes in selling local cider which is very popular in the northern part of Spain especially in the Basque areas. This particular restaurant had an interesting was of pouring it. Most patrons bought a bottle at a time and the waiter would pour a small amount into each glass by holding the bottle and glass far apart with a wooden bucket on the ground to catch the spills. After reading this article, it seems that what we saw might be somewhat typical for drinking cider.
The Great Outdoors
I’ve mentioned a few times that the weather that we’ve been experiencing in Spain so far has been hit and miss but generally colder temperatures than normal, occasionally mixed with rain. When we were planning on leaving Llanes we were happy to see that the weather forecast in our next destination was considerably improved in fact we expected to see nothing but sunshine for the rest of our time in Spain.
After leaving Llanes, we drove about 4 hours westward and are now in the small village of Orellán in north-western Spain, just north of Portugal.
So what is it that brought us to Orellán? I can probably answer this question by saying that most of the places that I add to our itinerary of any place that we travel to will typically be a destination know for good photographic opportunities. Orellán is no exception.
Within walking distance of the place that we are staying here is a site called Las Médulas. When I was researching possibly coming to see Las Médulas a few months ago, the first thing that struck me was that it had the same red, sandstone-coloured rock that reminded me of some places that I had visited in the past. The national parks in Utah and also some of the places we had visited in the Australian outback came to mind.
Not only does Las Médulas have a number of great places to photograph, there’s lots of hiking trails in the areas and after all of the time that Barb and I have spent driving around the Spanish countryside over the past 10 days, getting outside for some exercise is just the thing that we’ve been craving. In the past two days we’ve both been on long hikes through the Las Médulas area and the best part is that since we’ve arrived in Orellán on Friday the sun has been out all day and the temperatures in the low to mid 20’s. Perfect weather for getting out in the outdoors but not sweltering hot to make it unbearable.
The Last Stop
Saturday would be our last full day in Orellán and by Sunday morning, after three days of not driving, we would be back in our car again for the last time as we would be driving southwards to Madrid. Here we would be dropping off our rental car off at the airport and checking onto our hotel in the middle of the city. We have a few days here in Madrid and this is the only destination of this trip to Spain that overlapped with our first trip here in 2003.
Staying in Madrid will be considerably different than the previous three stages of our trip to Spain for a number of reasons. Probably the most significant is that after only being in small towns in Spain where there really wasn’t a lot of tourism, often being the only ones in a restaurant, we expect that being alone won’t be a big concern once in Madrid.
I’ve got to admit that being back in a large city is something that I really look forward to on each of our visits to Europe. Being able to have unlimited choices for dining and shopping and also being able to get around without needing to drive really appeals to me. One of the main criteria for choosing a hotel is that we’re near a subway station so getting around the city is very easy.
One of the first things that we did yesterday on our first full day in Madrid yesterday was purchase a two day unlimited subway ticket so we could get around the city very easily. As I’m writing this last section on Tuesday we’ve been in Madrid since Sunday afternoon and we’ve already done a fair amount of exploring. Barb and I often seek out the main large park in cities and in Madrid the Retiro Park was where we spend part of our day. The sun was shining and we walked along the paths watching the people in rowboats in the lake and it was one of those experiences that you have while on vacation that makes travel so enjoyable.
When you’re in Madrid, one of the must-do things to do is have Churros con Chocolate for breakfast. Basically a deep-fried donut type served with the thickest chocolate drink that you’ve ever tasted. Think chocolate pudding that hasn’t set yet. I have a photo of the churros and chocolate that we had yesterday on my photo blog here.
One of the highlights of our short stay in Madrid has got to be the night out last night to see a flamenco show. We went to a place called Cardamomo Flamenco and we had previously made the booking on their web site. Seeing a real live flamenco show is an incredible experience and if you have the opportunity to go to one we both highly recommend it. When we were in Spain last time we also saw a flamenco show but in Seville that time, not Madrid.
Today is our last day in Madrid which also means that tomorrow we’ll be returning home to Vancouver. One more unusual thing that I’ll mention that we did today was visited a “cat cafe” called La Gatoteca. The scenario is that it’s a place that has a dozen or so cats and you go there and pay for 30 or 60 minutes and get to hang around with the them. The cats would either come and check you out or just totally ignore you and keep sleeping. It was kind of fun and as you might imagine this place kind of has a target audience of people who like cats. They have a pretty substantial amount of “La Gatoteca” merchandise that you can buy and I think that this is where they make their real money. It all goes to support the cats who all seem to be living pretty well.
By this time tomorrow Barb and I will be on our flight out of Madrid and on the way home. Before we left for Spain I was reading my blog articles from our first visit here in 2003 and one of the comments that I made back then was how inexpensive Spain was. Based on our observations from this trip, Barb and I continue to feel that Spain is the best value for money of any country that we’ve been to in Europe.
We’re ending our 2nd Spanish Adventure on a very positive note. The weather has been great for the past week and we’ve had a lot of fun here in Madrid and of all of the other places throughout Spain. We’ll be taking home a lot of great memories and of we already have plans for at least two years into the future for our upcoming Excellent Adventures.