Spain Smorgasbord

By the 8th day of our Grand Circle tour, we had visited Madrid, Toledo, Granada, Cordoba, and Torremolinos, with a side trip to the very British Gibraltar. Next on our itinerary was Malaga, but Mike and I decided to engage in an Australian tradition and “Chuck A Sickie”. For those of you that didn’t have the pleasure of spending two weeks with an Australian Global Volunteer, that term roughly translates to “Playing Hooky”.

Although the Costa del Sol averages over 300 days of sunshine per year, today was the first time I needed to wear my sun hat.

I’m sure our fellow travelers had a perfectly marvelous day enjoying the sights of Malaga, and the home hosted lunch in a nearby village as much as Mike and I enjoyed spending the morning strolling along the beach, taking in sights like this.

I would have loved to see what this tribute to Elvis looked like before the rain decapitated him.

But what about those other glorious cities?  Don’t worry, I’ll do a little flashback, with visuals.

We got just enough of a taste to determine that one of these days, we will be back to those lovely cities, and next time, we will linger.  

Our time in Toledo was limited to a few hours enroute to Granada. The old city sits 6 escalator rides above the new city, and let me tell you, we were all very grateful we didn’t have to climb all the way up the hill in the rain.



Even after we arrived at the “top”, we still had some hills to climb.

Our stroll through Toledo’s Jewish quarter ended at the oldest synagogue in Europe. This unique building was constructed by Moors, because at that time they were reputed to be the best builders.   Of course, they were not familiar with synagogue construction, so the Jews ended up with a building that had a distinctive Muslim flavor.


Notice the cross?  This building is a reminder that at one time, all three religions were able to peacefully coexist—pre Ferdinand and Isabella reign.

For anyone planning a trip to Toledo, please be aware it is much more than amazing history, great food and panoramic vistas.  Thrill seekers, take a look.


Maybe next time, if it isn’t raining…

One of the many things that I love about traveling with Grand Circle and OAT is the unexpected stops along the way.  We had a bathroom and refreshment break in Puerto Lápice, a little village in Castille La Mancha, where we discovered a three room Don Quixote museum.

Because I spent so much time in the museum, I had to order my glass of wine “to go”, which I proudly did in Spanish.   An important phrase: “para llevar”.  But the effect was spoiled, just a bit, when the bartender started speaking to me in perfect English.

Not surprisingly, most of our time in Granada was spent at the Alhambra.  Okay, so we all know that Washington Irving wrote “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, but how many know that he also was instrumental in saving the Alhambra from being destroyed?  His “Tales of the Alhambra” caused the Spaniards to take a second look at what is now the most visited attraction in Spain.


Alhambra ( Al = “the” in Arabic ) is a palace, a fortress, a small city, overlooking Granada.  Unfortunately, when Napoleon conquered Spain, his soldiers removed all of the furniture, rugs and tapestries, ( I believe the correct term is “looted”) but the walls, ceilings and courtyards give you a hint of the grandeur that once existed.   Check out the ceiling in the women’s quarters.


The exteriors of Moorish buildings were very plain. All of the ornamentation was inside, in the private spaces, like these beautiful courtyards.



The Moors ruled Spain for almost 800 years, and their impact on the Spanish language continues today.  Many places begin with “Gua”, like Guadalcanal, Guatemala, Guanajuato — all derived from the Arabic word for water.

Another city with beautiful Moslem architecture is Cordoba.  The Roman temple/Church/Mosque/Cathedral is an architectural wonder.  Walking through its spacious interior, you literally travel through time, starting with the preserved Roman tiles, below the existing floor—


to the former mosque, built with recycled columns, which was wisely preserved by the Catholics —


and now is in the center of the mosque.


In this photo, you can see the Mosque’s red and white arches next to the cathedral’s main altar.

Cordoba is magnificent!


The church’s bell tower was constructed around the minaret.

I guess some place has to be the least favorite, and for me, Gibraltar gets that honor.  Maybe it was because the limestone WW2 tunnels were dripping water, and were dark and gloomy,


One of the few places that wasn’t too dark or wet to photograph

as was the weather.


Whatever the reason, I was not as wowed as I was by the other places we’d visited.  Even the Barbary apes were a disappointment.  We only saw four.

78E241BD-2388-4088-9601-C9A028433F2BTwo more days in Spain, three in Portugal, and then we are back to the USA.

The Science Experiment Continues

In my last post, I blogged about jamming a month’s worth of apparel into my carry on. But can I do better? What about just a backpack? What about just a backpack that was initially intended to accompany a carry on? Well, we shall find out, because Lufthansa lost my luggage. How could that be, you wonder? Isn’t the point of a carry on that you carry it on to the plane so that it is always close to you? Wonder no more, because I’m going to tell you.

When I learned that my connecting flight had been changed because of snow in Frankfurt, I envisioned several inches of wet slush. Jetways are not guaranteed in Frankfort. Sometimes you have to walk from the plane down steep metal stairs, to a bus that drives you to a door where you find yet more stairs, and if you are lucky, a working escalator. Carrying 26 pounds, plus backpack, through all that was not an appealing prospect. So, I checked said bag. But only to Frankfort. I’m no fool. What if the snow was so bad I was stuck overnight in Frankfort? I’d definitely want my jammies.

I was feeling pretty good about my decision as I walked down the stairs and onto the bus (yep, no jetway– but not much snow), but those feelings quickly evaporated as I watched bag after bag arrive. None of them being mine. How could you lose a bag that got on a plane in Newark, that landed in Frankfort? The list of life’s mysteries just got one item longer.

Here’s what immediately went through my jet lagged mind:

  • good thing I bought travel insurance
  • For once in my life, I have a complete record of everything my bag contained. Who knew blogging could be so very helpful?
  • Everything that is not easily replaced is in my backpack: my iPad, iPhone, chargers, camera, passport, money and charge cards
  • I’m so glad I only checked the bag through to Frankfort, because when Lufthansa changed my flight they put me on TAP Portugal. Can you imagine what a nightmare it might have been trying to figure out which airline was responsible for losing my bag? I know Lufthansa is responsible, and more importantly, so do they.
  • Let’s see how I do with this challenge. I only have the clothes that I am wearing and no toiletries. Snacks and a flight pillow aren’t all that helpful now, but the Motrin may come in handy.
  • Will my Amazon Prime work for deliveries in Portugal?

The line for customer service at Lufthansa was surprisingly short. When I asked the rep about the probability my bag would be found the same day, she said it was slim. So, since I was only going to be in Lisbon one night, I gave her the address of my hotel in Beja. She said they would call and email me with updates.

So what little pearls of wisdom can I share from my science experiment?

  • Lisbon has amazing malls, and the staff there actually HELP you, which was important in figuring out my size. I didn’t have the time or the energy to try things on. In Italy, I was saddened to learn only “molto grosso” fit; in Argentina, it was “muy grande”. In Lisbon, I was “medium”.
  • I didn’t need to know Portuguese to translate this sign. Bet you can figure it out too.
  • I CAN get by with one change of underwear, just not THIS one…
  • A tee shirt is still great for sleeping, just like in college
  • Next time, put an adapter in my backpack. Luckily, the mail had an electronics shop, but you can’t always count on that, plus they aren’t cheap – €20 or about $25 for a basic model.
  • My toiletry essentials are toothpaste (the hotel gave me a tiny tube but it tasted terrible), deodorant, a comb and brush
  • Shampoo works fine as laundry detergent
  • Although my underwear was perfectly dry by morning, my shirt was not. Wrapping it in a towel did NOT work. I tried the hair dryer, but it kept switching off after a few minutes. The front desk explained it was a “safety feature” to keep it from overheating. Good thing I kept the plastic bag from my shopping extravaganza for my damp shirt.
  • Not all hotels supply conditioner. It is wise to read labels so you don’t put body lotion in your hair
  • Conditioner DOES make a difference
  • In the future, avoid Frankfort airport. The gate for my flight to Lisbon changed THREE times.
  • Losing luggage caused my adrenaline to kick in. I was able to go without sleep for over 40 hours, then wake up completely jet lag free. Despite that happy side effect, I do NOT recommend you voluntarily replicate this experiment.

Bet you’re perched on the edge of your recliner, wondering how this saga ends? How long will our heroine have to wear the same corduroy pants and Keen sandals with socks? Are her air-cooled, memory foam Sketchers gone forever?

The good news? I got an email Saturday at 6 PM telling me the bag had arrived in Lisbon. The bad news? There was no way for me to get in touch with the courier to tell them to bring it to my Lisbon hotel. No phone number, no email address. The courier promised that EVENTUALLY it will make its way to Beja. I figure I can last a couple more days with what I have.


It’s ALL good. My bag arrived in Beja before I did. Not only that, but it was waiting for me in my room, so I didn’t have to carry it up a flight of stairs in this elevator deprived hotel.

Lufthansa has not mentioned any compensation for delayed baggage, however I have saved my receipts, and so far, they owe me €99.90, or about $125. Travel Insurance would cover up to $100, but I’m going to call Lufthansa customer service to inquire where I should send my receipts and how long before I’m reimbursed.

One Month Travel With One Carry On??

Packing is one of my biggest travel challenges.  I always intend to travel light, but sometimes I get carried away at the last minute.

I’ve been able to go for two weeks with just a carry on.  But a month?  Can I get everything I will need into my trusty eagle creek carry on and my backpack?  I’m going to try.   I hope others find my attempt helpful.  If not, at least this post will allow ME to remember what the heck I stuck in my bag.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been “auditioning” my clothes to see whether they dry quickly, are versatile enough for weather that will vary between the 40’s and 70’s and, most importantly, can be crammed into my bag.  I’ve tried out different combinations to see how comfortable I am at NJ’s current cooler temperatures.  My discovery is that lightweight pants, when paired with silk long underwear work out just fine.

For past trips, I have either used local laundry facilities or I packed enough to get me through the entire trip.


In Pokhara, Nepal, doing the laundry was a cultural experience.  The promised “tumble dry” only works if the government doesn’t shut off the electricity for several hours every day.  Bet you know what happened while I was there.

THIS time, my plan is to wash as I go.  I don’t normally hand wash clothes at home, so I gave it a whirl.  I wanted to see how long it took for different items to dry, and I was also curious as to how my duds would look after I had sloshed and wrung them out.  The verdict:  I figured my technique needed a little work.  Then I remembered a tip from a fellow traveler.  She nixed the wringing, instead opting to gently squeeze, then wrap her garments in a microfiber towel.   She swore her clothes were dry by the next morning.  So, I ordered a microfiber towel  from Amazon and gave it a try.  My technique still needs work.

Because I expect to do a lot of walking, I wanted to make sure that I had comfortable shoes.  I found a pair of Sketchers that should do the trick.  Air cooled? Memory foam?  My feet may be in better shape than my head.

I have super sensitive feet, so I am reluctant to put all my toes into one basket–or one pair of shoes– so I’ll be wearing my trusty Keens on the plane.  Yes, I WILL wear those Keen sandals with a pair of socks, and YES, I DO know that is a huge fashion faux pas, but hey I’m old enough not to care.

Here’s how I started out:IMG_5673

Then I had to make some choices.  One white knit top and pink bathing suit – out.  (I found another bathing suit that squishes up smaller)  Hanging toiletries bag, replaced by a zip lock bag, which also freed up space for my hair dryer and adaptors.

There are those that swear by rolling clothes, so I thought I’d give it a try.  Some might think I am REALLY obsessive compulsive, to take everything out, and try to put it all back without rolling.  Others would realize that I am completely committed to the scientific method.  YOU can pick whichever explanation you prefer, but I’m going with the latter.

Want to know the result of my “science” project?  Both methods produced the exact same result.  Conclusion?  Do whatever brings you joy.  I wasn’t going to take everything out and roll it up again.  I’m not THAT crazy, so I left everything packed flat.  Here’s what made it into the bag.

  • 6 long pants – 1 corduroy, 1 jeans, 4 quick drying (one lined, three lightweight)
  • 6 long sleeved cotton tops. 1 knit, plus 2 short sleeve shirts
  • 1 pajamas and  1 long underwear set that can double as pajamas
  • 2 long underwear bottoms and 7 underwear, 2 bras, 8 socks
  • 2 scarves
  • hair dryer (which I can use to dry clothes, if needed)  and toiletries
  • laundry kit
  • 1 Sketchers black air cooled shoes, with memory foam and flip flops for shower (or if I’m lucky, pool)
  • index cards (for teaching). According to our team leader,  former volunteers have left supplies behind, so i don’t need to bring a white board or other teaching materials.
  • 1 waterproof windbreaker with hood

Plus, of course, I’ll have the clothes I wear on the plane, like my fleece and the zip up sweater that would have fit in the bag if I had unzipped the expandable part.  (But then, it might have been hard to get the bag into the overhead.)

My back pack will carry my money, credit cards, passport, travel info, iPhone, iPad, chargers, my mobile “pharmacy”, camera, , pens, snacks, sun glasses, water bottle and travel pillow.

Total weight of carry on–26.5 pounds, something I can easily hoist into that overhead bin.  I think I’m all set.  We shall see.