Our last weeks of travel were through the beautiful Cantabrian and Pyrenees Mountain ranges in northern Spain – Basque Country. After busy, busy Portugal it was nice to settle into a quieter, more slowly paced part of the world. It felt like Mother Nature was conspiring on our behalf, and the rainy days we had were just perfect for allowing us time to catch our breath and reflect on our travels while the sunny days welcomed us to explore this intriguing area.
But first: a disclaimer: Two weeks in this part of the world resulted in almost 250 photos to sort through and choose from. I figured if I kept the text relatively short and the number of photos at around 60 it would take a person with an average reading speed and a quick mouse finger under 10 minutes to make it through this post. (And where are all those middle schoolers who ask when they are going to use math skills?) I am hoping that attention spans will accommodate… Timer starts NOW!
Just like Oliver Twist with his longing for more food, we have realized that one visit to this beautiful area will just not be enough. As I mentioned to my friend and fellow travel lover, Patty Bartscher: We dived into the vast attractions of Portugal like were like first-timers at an all-you-can-eat-buffet. We wanted to try everything and we just kept piling more on our plate.
Arrival on Easter Sunday. We had booked our digs through Airbnb and the owner recommended the services of her property manager, Abdellah, as a guide. It was our good fortune to take her suggestion as over the course of our visit we were given what felt to be a real inside view of life in this part of Morocco. This photo was taken just as we go off our ferry. The tall building to the right is a mosque. Our rental was just below that orange arrow, within the walls of the Kasbah and set amidst a warren of narrow, winding streets. (“First the Continental Hotel, then to Hawmat Zaitouna (rough translation: Olive Street), then to #73” were the directions we repeated over and over as we memorized our route.)
Okay, you sharped-eyed readers – you know those are not olive trees. They are just a sample of the hectares and hectares (1 hectare = 2.47 acres, in case you were wondering) of grape vines we drove past as we made our way from Valencia to Fuente de Piedra, a small town that put us equidistant from a number of things we wanted to see on this next leg of our travels.
Our next stop: 3 days in Tangier, Morocco. If I can sort through my photos fast enough I just might get another blog post out in the next week. On the other hand, we are now in Seixal, Portugal (across the river from Lisbon) and our list of things to do is long and tempting. An abundance of blessings, for sure.
Valencia: from our downtown third floor flat we enjoyed a week of busy urban living. We were less than a mile from the historic city center, less than a mile from the modern art museum, and within temptation’s reach of a multitude of restaurants, coffee shops, and bakeries. By walking just a few blocks from our rental we came to what was once the river Turia. The river has been diverted (a response to a flood in 1957 that inundated 60% of the city, with 60 lives lost) and the river bed has been paved over and made into this 5-mile green space of sports facilities, parks, bike and walking trails, fountains, sculptures, and event spaces.
The crown jewel of this oasis is The City of Arts and Sciences. It is a modern architectural complex that totally wowed us. And, while we had wonderful visits to The Silk Exchange, City Market, and IVAM (Institut Valencià d’Art Modern), and a road trip to Sagunda to check out the Roman Castle; the entirety of this blog post will be sharing what we thought was our best day of the stay.
What a week! Probably our busiest one yet on this year of adventure…and I must give thanks to the friends who insisted that we not just visit this area but that we allow plenty of time to enjoy the wide range of delights to be found here. As it stands, we already know we want to return to go to restaurants we missed, to linger in museums we found captivating, and to just soak up the Costa Brava vibe.
After our two months in Guanajuato it was time to move to another nest – this time to Santiago de Querétaro – the capital of the state of Querétaro. We had visited here briefly last winter (see Hanging out in Querétaro with Maria) and decided that it would be fun to spend more time getting to know this area and all it had to offer. For our first few days my sister and brother-in-law were with us and we spent the majority of our time walking into Centro (which is just eight easy blocks from our flat), shopping, eating, site seeing, and wine tasting.
Turns out Querétaro is the second most important wine growing area of Mexico and the primary wine exporter nationwide. It is also the largest producer of sheep’s milk cheeses. To sample these delights we took off on the Art, Cheese, and Wine Route – which happily includes the “Magical Towns” of Tequisquiapan, Bernal, and Cadereyta.
FYI: There are 121 Magical Towns in Mexico. Towns have to apply for the designation and show that they offer a combination of historical, cultural, and aesthetic qualities that make it wholly unique and worthy of a visit from tourists. The upside is that visitors are pretty much guaranteed a lovely experience; the downside is that lots of people head to these towns for vacations and getaways. Guanajuato has the Magical Town distinction and we can tell you we avoided the city center on weekends due to crowds.
We put Tequisquiapan into our map app and were on our way. Being a Sunday, we knew there would be lots of people, but we could not even find a place to park within walking distance of Centro. We did a bit of driving about to check out whether or not it was worth fighting for space and decided we could come back another day for town attractions, if we were so inclined. There are a number of lovely parks and an artists’ market which features pottery and wicker goods. We’ll see…
Our lovely casita rental includes a weekly cleaning service – which we much appreciate; and, though we really don’t get our nest too messy (as evidenced in the photo), it is nice to have things freshened. Our gals (they are always gals) arrive promptly at 10am, and we leave the house until they are finished – which means being gone until at least 4pm. It is not as if they are slow (though they do keep a pretty moderate pace), but they are extremely thorough. All sheets and towels get changed; floors get mopped; bathrooms get sanitized; shelves and objects on them get dusted; patio furniture is wiped down and even the outdoor areas get wet-broomed. Like I said – thorough.
This also presents us with the challenge of finding something that will keep us occupied for a day away from home. For now we are taking turns coming up with a plan. Last week it was my turn and I proposed driving to Leon to check out a couple of fabric stores and then coming back to Guanajuato to see a movie ( Mary Poppins Returns is showing in English at our local Cinamex!)